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Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community Paperback – February 1, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The title of this tightly woven, consistently challenging meditation on Christian spiritual formation serves notice that this book is going to be more than another self-help manual. Indeed, Wheaton College professor Wilhoit, author of The Christian Educator's Handbook on Spiritual Formation, asserts that although developing Christlikeness in its members is the church's main job, many congregations have either abandoned old practices without developing new ones or have relied on stratagems instead of on God's grace. Because he views spiritual growth as a lifelong process, Wilhoit delineates a communal perspective on responding to Jesus' invitation to love God and neighbor, emphasizing shared practice and learning. His four pillars of formation include receiving, or being open to God's grace; remembering, or understanding who we are and why we were created; responding in service to neighbors and the world; and building relationships in the context of community. In alternating chapters, Wilhoit gives readers theological and biblical foundations for each principle, then suggests a set of practices. While it would be easy to get lost in the sober volume, this skilled writer uses many pedagogical tools to keep his audience focused. Clearly written from an evangelical perspective, this cogent and passionate book deserves to have wide appeal. (Feb.)
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From the Back Cover

"James Wilhoit has written a book of special urgency for our times. . . . With a warm heart and a gentle and intelligent manner, [he] helps us see, in great detail, what we can do to relocate spiritual transformation at the center of what we do in gathering as disciples of Jesus. He helps any serious person engage the project from where they are, discover what really works for Christlikeness and what doesn't, and assess outcomes realistically to make needed adjustments as they go."--Dallas Willard (from the foreword)

"Clearly written from an evangelical perspective, this cogent and passionate book deserves to have wide appeal."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Wilhoit presents an exciting paradigm for spiritual transformation in the community of faith--God's setting for transformation. It is a seminal work that I trust will be taken seriously."--Larry Richards, author and distinguished educator, North American Professors of Christian Education

"Theologically grounded, educationally sound, and gracious in tone, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered is a robust response to Dallas Willard's challenge to the church to give greater attention to congregation-wide spiritual formation. Pastors and church teachers will appreciate this rich resource--well versed in the spiritual formation literature, with its summaries, stories, and practical steps--to guide and discern growth toward Christlikeness."--Klaus Issler, author of Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God

"Wilhoit offers a means for the church to provide an accessible pathway for growth in the ordinary events, relationships, and brokenness of our lives. This lovely work nourished my heart, instructed my mind, and opened my spirit to the Spirit of Christ."--Adele Calhoun, pastor of spiritual formation, Christ Church of Oak Brook, IL

"Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered is the mature fruit of a devout scholar. Here Jim Wilhoit weaves theory, passion, and practice together into a rich re-presentation of the gospel for the local church. He takes the discussion about spiritual formation an important step forward, shifting the emphasis from private pursuit to corporate culture. Sensitive to the seldom-noticed dangers along the path of growth toward Christlikeness, this book is loaded with wisdom for those who desire to facilitate communities of formation."--Evan Howard, author of The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (February 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801027764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801027765
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Spiritual formation has become a catchphrase in churches and is gathering as much attention as churches that are `emerging.' Unfortunately, different people understands spiritual formation differently. To some, it is the practice of spiritual disciplines, to others the introduction of ancient spiritual practices, while in yet other churches, it is adding candles to the church service. James C. Wilhoit is the Scripture Press Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College. He explains that "Christian spiritual formation refers to the intentional communal process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming conformed to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit" (2008, 23).

The key words of note are Christian, intentional, communal, process, Christ-likeness, and the Holy Spirit. Wilhoit proposes a `curriculum for Christlikeness' which have the following dimensions (1) receiving, (2) remembering, (3) responding, and (4) relating. Each dimension has a few `community practices' to achieve it. This curriculum is for community spiritual formation. Receiving is to be open to the grace of God and involve `worship, confession, sacraments, and prayer' as community practices. Remembering means `tranformational teaching' leading to knowing that we are part of God's community. The community practices are `teaching, preaching, evangelism, meditation, spiritual guidance, and small groups'. Responding is in service and involves `discernment, honouring relational commitment, setting aside prejudices, ministries of compassion.' Relating is living in a faith community and involves `hospitality, handling conflict well, honouring relationships, Sabbath observance, (and) attending to pace of life.
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This book was required reading for a Spiritual Formation module on my theology degree, but it has taken a special and enduring place in my heart and on my bookshelf. As a church leader I have felt for a while a sense of drifting, not quite being able to put my thumb on what exactly the Church is meant to be and do. Sure, I have believed firmly that the Church exists primarily to worship and enjoy God, to follow him as his disciples and to present the gospel message to the rest of the world too. But, like many others, I have struggled to get to grips with all that in a true community sense instead of a bunch of individuals who meet together. Reading this book presented me with one of those rare reading experiences wherein every page had me nodding my head in agreement and eagerly ploughing through the sections. Wilhoit has incorporated decades of experience and wisdom into his writing and this shows on every page. A good portion of the book is made up of adapted excerpts from other books by Christian leaders and thinkers on a huge variety of subjects. But these never feel like rabbit trails - they always contribute something to his underlying argument. The chapters are detailed but short enough to make a concise argument, and each chapter ends with a reading list for further study.

Wilhoit's wisdom also shines through in the fact that this is an eminently practical book. While he does not go so far (too far) as to prescribe exact practices to achieve the goals he describes, he certainly gives plenty of distinct and clear goals for ways in which we can organise and conduct our churches in such a way as to create an environment conducive to spiritual formation in community.

I especially appreciated Wilhoit's emphasis on reading and obeying Scripture.
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The title of this book gives its direction. So much spiritual formation (his word for discipleship) tends to be treated as though being formed in Christ might take place primarily in private. Wilhoit argues against this and says that discipleship is meant to take place in the context of community. Bill Hull, who has written extensively on discipleship, explains that discipleship in the New Testament moves from being centered in Christ as he is physically present to a new context where the church is the main context. Wilhoit states, "Spiritual formation is the task of the church. Period" (15). The church is to be a "transformative culture" 913).

His definition of spiritual formation is that it is both intentional and communal (23). He explains spiritual formation by means of three biblical images: life and nurture, journey and struggle, and life and resurrection (24-26). He also points out that being formed as a believer means not seeing the gospel as the beginning but permeating the whole of Christian experience. This reviewer agrees whole-heartedly with his statement: "A bifurcation of salvation into a grace-filled regeneration followed by a human-striving sanctification leads to so many spiritual sorrows. The gospel is the power of God for the beginning, middle, and end of salvation. It is not merely what we need to proclaim to unbelievers; the gospel also needs to permeate our entire Christian experience" (27).

The author then explains Christ's gracious invitations to us as receiving, remembering, and relating done personally and in community. Anyone concerned about discipleship as primary in the church will profit from each aspect of these three experiences.
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