Thursday, 4 February 2010

Spiritual Fitness

Spent an interesting and challenging afternoon yesterday at a theological society seminar led by Graham Tomlin. Graham’s theme was taken from his book Spiritual Fitness in which he explores how we can build Christian Character in a consumer culture. The approach Graham shared compared and contrasted today’s gym culture and preoccupation with physical fitness with the church as a place to develop spiritual fitness. The session explored Biblical, Patristic and Reformation sources as well as different spiritual disciplines and other contemporary material.spiritual fitness

Graham argued that we need to see the building of Christian character as part of a theology of mission. The gym is seen as a place where people go to experience physical transformation, enabling them to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. The church should be a community enabling transformation and the cultivation of those virtues which our communities so desperately need to experience.

There were some interesting quotes from Stanley Hauerwas to reflect upon including:

Churches spend far too much time thinking about those who do not come…

The most important social task of Christians is to be nothing less than a community capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God’s truth in the world…

the most important service the church does for any society is to be a community capable of developing people of virtue…

The second part of the seminar suggested approaches to how we might develop communities building Christian character.

  • Indentify the virtue you need
  • Relate theology to character
  • Give practical guidance
  • Suggest spiritual disciplines
  • Build a culture of character formation

The subject is one I’ve been reflecting on for some time. As I look around church on Sundays I wonder how many have actually come expecting to experience transformation; for the experience to make any difference to their lives?

David Keen posted a blog recently on a new book that Tom Wright is bringing out called Virtue Reborn on the theme of Christian character and how it is formed.

I’ve been reading some fascinating findings from recent research on preaching published as The View from the Pew. The research revealed the following:

  • People respond positively to sermons in terms of looking forward to them.
  • Sermons do not tend to be well applied in terms of making a frequent difference to people’s attitudes and behaviour.
  • Respondents think sermons should challenge, encourage and motivate.
  • There is an interiority about the reception of sermons which does not express itself in attitudinal/behavioural effect – that sermons affect us on the inside of our lives rather than the outside.

These insights suggest that many do not see our churches, and the preaching offered in them, as places of transformation and character building. How much more attractive and challenging would they be if they were places where people really believed they would be supported and equipped in being transformed into the image of Christ.

1 comment:

Sam Norton said...

Not sure why I didn't pick up on this the first time round - it's definitely where my thinking is at the moment too (strongly ties in with how we need to respond to the ecological crisis etc). I'll get the book - had our house groups reading his 'provocative church' a year or two ago and that went down very well.