A Twitter Exchange And How Spiritual Formation Will Save the World

A Twitter Exchange And How Spiritual Formation Will Save the World June 27, 2019

Let me say that again, differently: the wisdom of spiritual formation will save the world. 

This week, I was scrolling through Twitter (which I try not to do) and came upon a rather one-sided exchange  where Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. attacked Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore.

Moore had tweeted that the situation with migrants at the border was an issue of Christian compassion and character. Strangely Falwell attacked Moore for the statement. It is strange considering both he and Moore are part of the same Christian tradition (Southern Baptist Convention).

But notice: he didn’t attack the statement. He attacked Moore himself. 

The response – which I won’t include here because it isn’t worth reading – is an attempt to belittle, degrade, and reduce Russell Moore as a person. Granted, we all lose our temper sometimes and say things we don’t mean. There has been no apology, retraction, or otherwise since the statement was made. The assumption is that this was meant to stick.

When I read that statement the thought that came to mind is this: “This isn’t about issues or perspectives. This is an issue of character formation. It is an issue of spiritual formation.”

And I believe spiritual formation will save the world.

The reason I believe this so strongly is that spiritual formation, as I define it, is this:

the process by which God, through the Holy Spirit and our participation, leads us to live in the wisdom of Jesus as His apprentices.

The response of Falwell, Jr. to Moore wasn’t about disagreeing over politics or policy. It was an unwise, unkind, and judgmental move to reduce another person’s argument to rubble.

Spiritual formation will save the world because it moves beyond factoids and hot takes, and begs a simple question. The question is this: “Given who you are and who you have become, what is the wise thing to do here?”

So many times I watch fellow followers of Jesus wrestle with an action or response by asking, “What does the Bible say?” While not a bad question, it’s more of a starter than a closer. The better question is actually several questions:

“What does the Bible say?”
“How do I in my tradition interpret what it says?”
“What does my past experience (positive or negative) have to say about this?”
“When it comes to what makes sense, what is reasonable to do here?”
“Given all of the above, what is the wise thing to do?”

We are tempted to say, “Wow, that’s really complicated. I’d rather just do what the Bible says.”

That way of living is problematic, honestly. No one really lives that way.

There is plenty that the Bible says that would not be wise given the situation and setting we’re in. For example, greeting one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16) is basically assault in a culture where handshakes are culturally acceptable. They are the new “holy kiss.”

But it is complicated to follow Jesus. And it should be. We are attempting to discern what the Divine One who designed all of creation desires from us. The hope is to walk in the steps of the most compassionate, selfless, and wise people to ever grow to maturity – Jesus. The energy for this kind of life comes from making more and more space in our heart and mind for the animating Spirit of God.

The formation of souls is more like string theory than simple arithmetic. It takes time, thought, and energy.

And yet, this is the ground of being for every human under the sun. Formation happens in the midst of this reality. We’re all being formed into something – every choice we make, word we say, and thought we nurture is making (or unmaking) us.

Which brings me to a bigger point about why spiritual formation will save the world.

The wisdom of spiritual formation will save the world largely because it will teach us how to die.

I’m starting to wonder if we should hold back on our speech about the Divine until we have learned how to die. The witness of people who were around Jesus and His people suggests that Jesus’ greatest teaching gave us the ability to lose our fear of a great many “deaths.”

We’ve limited our thinking on this kind of “dying” to literal, physical death but there are all kinds of little deaths that come along the journey of spiritual formation.

But we need to learn to die to our need to be right. Especially on Twitter, but in all spheres of conversation and interaction.

Why? Because the journey to staying “right” often leads to the diminishment of the image of God in others. I do believe that includes being right AND safe by diminishing the image of God in those who are different from us.

Spiritual formation saves us from the world of slavishly maintaining our “right-ness.”

We need to die to maintaining appearances. I’m not talking about “only God can judge me” type ethics here. I’m taking about the “me” we want to present to the world, what is often called the “false self.” The ego we develop early in life is important, but it will become an obstacle to the healthy formation of Jesus-wisdom if we allow it to take control.

Put simply, ego is what drives us to denigrate a person rather than disagree with their perspective.

Ego preservation is what causes us to cling to principles that have long outlived their usefulness because they keep us in our position of leadership or power.

The preservation of the false self is what keeps the lights on when the most beautiful pieces of the spiritual journey await us – in the dark.

I believe spiritual formation will save the world because the primary fruit of formation is wisdom.

Even if you take all of the fruits of the Spirit from Paul’s run in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23). It is a wonderful list, honestly. Two things to notice though.

First, these are a result of the Spirit. The point is not to “be more patient,” the point is that the deeper the Spirit is formed in us the more patience that flows out of us. Spiritual formation is the shaping of our spirit by God’s Spirit. The wise move is not to try harder to be patient, but to allow as much space as possible for the Spirit to correct, teach, and guide us.

Second, underneath the whole “fruit” list is this question: “So how do we use these things?” How do we utilize love and joy, especially when we see unlovable and joyless situations like desperate migrants drowned in a river?

The word “how” is the hallmark of wisdom.

When we give ourselves fully to the process of being formed by and into the wisdom of Jesus, we will begin to see our responses to others change. We will begin to read, interpret, and engage with Scripture differently. The realization we will cherish is that winning an argument on social media isn’t actually winning anything.

Spiritual formation will change the world because it will make us wise.

Now more than ever, we need wise people with a deep reservoir for the Spirit to fill and overflow. There is a need for wise people; people formed by both patience and compassion as well as righteous anger and love for justice.

The wisdom of Jesus is our guide for dancing with the divine paradox of dying the little deaths. The point of the little deaths is so that we can live again in that very same wisdom.

So what’s forming you these days? Are you wiser than you were a month ago?
Are you responding to disagreements by attacking people or premises? What is the action forming in your thoughts, emotions, and even your body?

May you discover the way of listening, correcting, and then acting. And may we all grow to be wise enough to know when to die: in public, in private, and yes, even on Twitter.

(Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash)

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  • C_Alan_Nault

    ” How Spiritual Formation Will Save the World”

    A meaningless statement until the person employing it clearly defines what they mean by ” Spiritual Formation” .

  • Kate Johnson

    An excellent article and good reminder. Sometimes it seems the Christian community wants to hold everyone else accountable, but not ourselves, and that’s a real turn off for many.

  • Kate Johnson

    Did you read the article? He does define it “the process by which God, through the Holy Spirit and our participation, leads us to live in the wisdom of Jesus as His apprentices.”

  • C_Alan_Nault

    OK, I did not read that portion, I just skimmed the article.

    So, his definition for spiritual formation is “the process by which God, through the Holy Spirit and our participation, leads us to live in the wisdom of Jesus as His apprentices.””

    Now that the definition has been established, all that needs to be done now is:
    – prove this god exists
    – prove the holy spirit exists
    – prove that god used a process involving this holy spirit to allow us to participate in the process
    – prove Jesus existed
    – prove Jesus was divine
    – prove Jesus had wisdom

  • Kate Johnson

    Why would the author of this article need to prove any of those things? This article was written to a specific audience. That audience already believes all those things. If you don’t believe those things, this article was not really written for you.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    The article appears in a public forum. Being a public forum, the public ( of which I am a member) is free to peruse the article and comment on it.

    If an article is based on several unproven assertions, I ( or any other member of the public) is free to point this out.

    If this writer ( or anyone else) is going to present articles where the entire premise of the article requires that you have faith-based beliefs on the article’s points, the writer should show intellectual honesty and admit that the assertions are based on faith, not evidence.

    Failing that, they have no cause for complaint when their logical fallacies & unproven assertions are pointed out.

  • Julian Holdsworth

    You cannot say everything in every article or else it’s an endless regress of argumentation.. This is a forum for those who have found those foundational Christian axioms satisfactory. Try the ‘Unbelievable’ facebook group if you want to argue with Christians about their basic beliefs. There are PHD candidates and lay folks on all sides of the philosophical spectrum in that group.

  • Julian Holdsworth

    I watch soccer. Theoretically it is a non-contact sport. You play the ball, not the man. Disagree if you like, but don’t cast aspersions on character. Play the ball, not the man.

  • Kate Johnson

    Yawn. So what you’re telling me is you are a troll.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    What I am saying is someone who posts vague undefined terms and cannot present proof for their claims has no cause to be upset if their vague unproven claims are dismissed.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Every article on a public forum is fair game for comment/criticism.

    “There are PHD candidates”

    A logical fallacy: appeal to authority.

  • Kate Johnson

    Why are you even reading this? To troll? Seems so to me.

  • cktygrett

    Hey Alan, thanks for the comment. And you’re right, I didn’t go through the proofs you mentioned. The other commenters hit on a reason or two namely assumptions about my audience. But I’m glad to know someone without the same assumptions is reading! I’d say 4 of the 6 proofs you listed are genuine challenges. I’m a believer in the way of Jesus, as you’ve no doubt surmised, but I also know how incredibly mysterious and even irrational (given one’s definition of rationality) the existence of God, Spirit, and Jesus as part of that divine gathering appear. I do believe there is historical evidence for Jesus as a person, though I’d be open to hearing what you have to offer. The final proof in the list is one where I feel rather confident. Jesus’ wisdom (at least as we have it moderated through his teaching in the New Testament) is apparent to me because I see how it resonates with the experiences of human beings in relationship, conflict, political systems, etc. In other words, forgiveness in concept is always wiser than bitterness/grudges. We can get into the pragmatics of it, but ultimately forgiveness is wise because it leads us to live well. So that’s where I begin. Thanks again for the comment, and the discussion.

  • Julian Holdsworth

    It seems that C_Alan_Nault wants every post to have an interminably long justification of all its axioms. Waste of time talking to him Kate.

  • billwald

    I have grown wiser in the last several years. I now leave “spiritual formation” to the Holy Spirit and quit thinking about things over which I have no control and have no need to know.

  • A helpful, well done article. One thing I like is that it can be understood and applied across a broad spectrum of Christian beliefs and practices. In my own work on the spiritual formation process, I’ve noted how we “live the questions” and, in coming to accept the tensions and the joys of that, we can “love the journey”.