Note from CM: Michael Spencer asked the following questions ten years ago. Has anything changed? I no longer live as a participant in the evangelical world. At times I have heard rumblings of evangelicals talking about “spiritual practices” and so on, but it’s pretty obvious to me that if I want to go somewhere for a silent retreat or meet with a spiritual director or read material with true spiritual depth on the subject of contemplation or personal formation, I must find it in a historic tradition such as Roman Catholicism. I’d love to hear from people in evangelical churches about this one.
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So….imagine that a Baptist (or other evangelical) — like my dear wife used to be, for example — were to decide that she wanted to deepen her spiritual life; to grow spiritually and in spiritual disciplines; to seek out spiritual direction and pursue spiritual formation.
Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?
OK. I can hear the Catholics and Orthodox giggling already. Cut it out.
Let me say that this is a real problem.
No one knows how many Protestants and Evangelicals develop a hunger for holiness and spiritual growth, then discover that what awaits them in their own tradition is paltry, often shallow and frequently almost completely unaware of what that hunger needs to be satisfied.
Is it any wonder that it is at the point of seeking out spiritual growth and formation that so many evangelicals are first introduced to the riches of the Catholic tradition, and soon conclude that the greatest resources for the spiritual journey are on the other side of great denominational divide?
Why is it that entire segments of Protestantism have such a comparatively thin understanding of the spiritual disciplines, find contemplation to be suspiciously new age and have almost nothing to say to the spiritually hungry person other than “Get more involved at church?”
Why does evangelicalism produce so few spiritual directors? Why is a pastor like Eugene Peterson- attuned to the importance of the life of reading and prayer — such an anomaly in evangelicalism?
Where are the Protestant and Evangelical places — retreat centers and houses, for example — dedicated to prayer, withdrawal from the world and focus on God?
Why are evangelicals so surprised when they discover that so many of their leaders and celebrities are spiritual empty, stunted or phony?
Once you’ve read My Utmost for His Highest during your quiet time, what then? Where is spiritual growth as a priority in churches and pastoral ministry? Is it inevitable, because of the Protestant spirit, that the person interested in spiritual growth must look to Catholicism for help?
Is this the fruit of the Reformation gospel’s emphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness? Is it Protestant to be “weak on sanctification?” Can the wholesale emphasis on evangelism have made us so spiritually shallow that the only thing we know to do is tell someone to “pray more and read the Bible?”
It’s a very important topic.