I have encountered a number of Christian apologists that have some serious concerns about the concept of spiritual formation. That seems strange as you would think that every Christian would agree with growing spiritually. What they really mean is they have issues with some of the “techniques” of spiritual formation, taught be such people as Richard Foster. My impression is that this concern is based on three fears:
1) Too Catholic – If one is “into” spiritual formation, it is not long before encountering the Roman Catholic mystics, people such as St. John of the Cross or Brother Lawrence. Even before looking at the details of their writings (and how many critics actually read their books?), their Catholicism sets off some red flags. Many evangelicals are not excited about learning spirituality from Roman Catholics, who they see as having a very different theology. While prepared to discuss any specific teachings, I would suggest that being Catholic does not stop someone from being close to God or being a good example for evangelicals to follow. Surely we would not reject taking care of the poor because Mother Theresa was Catholic?
2) Too Eastern – Some of the talk of meditating and fasting and other exercises seem a bit too New Age or too much like Eastern religions for some people. What is next? Christian astral projection or Christian tarot reading? I would suggest that the measure of spiritual formation should not be how close it is to Eastern religions but how close it is to the Bible. My reading of authors such as Richard Foster has shown me how biblical spiritual formation really is. Things such as meditation are actually very biblical. There are more verses telling us to meditate on God’s Word than there are to study God’s Word.
3) Too Experiential – Many apologists and others interested in the academic side are very skeptical of anything that smacks of experientialism. Experience is too subjective. How do you know if it is God or bad pizza? While as a person who enjoys logic and rationalism, I can sympathize, I would also like to suggest another perspective. The Bible does not teach a strictly rational faith. Paul became a Christian, not because he read a book on ten reasons Jesus was the Messiah, but because he experienced Jesus. Paul had visions and even seemed to have a spiritual trip to heaven. Christianity seeks a balance between a rational faith and an experiential faith.
I am not giving blanket approval to every teaching on spiritual formation. There probably are some Christian authors who step beyond biblical teachings and attempt to blend with New Age or popular ideas. At the same time, I believe that we are to seek to grow spiritually and that spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, silence, service, giving, and biblical meditation are very helpful in this endeavor.