Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spirit-Filled Spiritual Formation

Francis Schaeffer, sometime philosophical guru of Evangelicalism--and paradoxically (in my mind) a champion of the arts AND propositionalism--wrote in his excellent book True Spirituality that we eventually come full circle in terms of our understanding and practice of faith. In other words, we start out doing things for one reason (e.g., parental influence, peer pressure, church authority, etc), stop doing them because we find them oppressive, strange, irrelevant, etc, only to eventually find ourselves embracing them again, only for entirely different reasons.

Case in point for me:
The phrase "spirit-filled" has held for sometime a kind of tinny hollowness in my lexicon of meaning. It was something I wanted (for primarily emotional and social reasons) in my younger days and have since spurned because of associations--in my mind--with over-emotionalism and a destructively non-reflective group-think.
Forget for the moment its biblical origins. As is often the case, what we experience often eclipses what Scripture teaches, negating our ability to live and be spiritually formed by Scripture and the church's practice of Scripture. "Spirit-filled", "full of the spirit", et al was just such a thing for me.

Enter an epiphany.
In true Schaefferian form, however, I've come to embrace it. I've realized that the phrase "full of the spirit" denotes for the writers of Scripture that kind of person who displays and lives a fully-orbed Christlike existence. The person who is formed and being formed into the image of Christ. In other words, being "filled with the Spirit" is metaphor, is code for a person who is shot through with love, joy, kindness, patience, peace, self-control and the like. It is a reference to a certain kind of person. As John Wesley noted--the spirit-filled person is the person in which "love so fills the heart there is no room for sin."

There is still the matter of equating "spirit-filled" with "instantaneous," but far be it from me to say that couldn't happen. (It should be noted here that the other often concept often equated with "spirit-filled is "on-fire"). God can, after all, do whatever God wants.
But I don't think it necessarily follows that because God does/did something it necessarily happens/happened in an instant.

To sum up my epiphany, spirit-filled spiritual formation is essentially a redundancy. Both refer to the same process by means of the same Spirit.
Viva the spirit-filled life!

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