“Spiritual Formation ?????”

That was the beginning of a kind email we received this morning related to the School of Ministry test pilot course we are offering this fall.

As many of you know, Calvary Chapel University has partnered with the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry to offer some of their courses online. For the next twelve months we are running a test pilot program to get acclimated and work out the kinks. The current course that is being offered is called “Spiritual Formation”. The SOM course description can be found here.

This morning’s email went on to express concern that the Spiritual Formation course could be a part of the contemplative prayer movement that currently exists. The writer went on to say, “Spiritual Formation is being promoted in many denominations and at the center of it, in most cases, is Contemplative prayer, a form or Eastern Mysticism. A popular item in Spiritual Formation is also Lectio Divina, a basis for contemplative prayer and no different from transcendental meditation.”

This is a valid concern and an easy misunderstanding for someone reading the title of the course. We were grateful that someone would reach out to us by email rather than jump to wild conclusions. When we saw the email our Director of Operations picked up the phone and explained the following.

First, the Spiritual Formation course taught by Carl Westerlund is based on an essential course taught at Dallas Theological Seminary that carries the same name. The course has been a part of the DTS curriculum since the origin of the school in 1927. Obviously, the course and its content predates the recent emergence of eastern mysticism in the church.

Second, the DTS course was originally designed by Lewis Sperry Chaffer to emphasize the spiritual growth and spiritual disciplines of the pastor in training. Chaffer’s concern with Seminaries at the time was that pastors were being trained to do ministry, but the spiritual health of the pastor was being neglected. Scholars were being produced, but sanctification was almost ignored entirely. It was out of this concern that Chaffer produced the Spiritual Formation course. He also wrote a book called He That is Spiritual on the same subject. If you are interested in the DTS description of the current Spiritual Formation courses you can find their FAQ sheet here. (http://www.dts.edu/departments/academic/sfl/sf/faq/) We would also recommend the recent history of Dallas Theological Seminary written by John Hannah; An Uncommon Union.

Third, The School of Ministry and those in Calvary Chapel recognizes the fact that there are some out there that use the term “Spiritual Formation” to represent a pagan philosophy in Eastern Mysticism. The term has been hijacked — along with many others — to mean something that is against the clear teachings of scripture. This being the case, we are continually faced with a choice on whether we should change the terms we use. In this particular instance, we have decided to continue using the term and then explain the distinctions when necessary.

Fourth, Here is a copy of Carl’s Syllabus if anyone would like to look in depth at the content of the course. I (Josh) have been editing the audio and helping Carl get all the lectures online. I’m deeply impressed with the content and I hope that more students get a chance to enroll. Carl is a gem in the Calvary Chapel movement and he (and the SOM program) has not been utilized enough. That, of course, is my editorial opinion.

So before anyone goes off and says that Calvary Chapel University is teaching Eastern Mysticism, we thought we would provide this short explanation. For further inquiries, please direct your questions to our office through our contact page.