Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Book Review - Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom

I wrote this book review back in 2006 for an online seminary class from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I still stand behind these words:

Johnson has written a fascinating book, loaded with many strong arguments.  I appreciate her thoughts on the rise of the “Psycho-Culture” especially.  To think psychology would make someone Christian is to think a woman can accurately teach on true manhood.  A woman cannot develop manliness in a man, and psychology will not develop people into Christ-like individuals.  The chapter titles reflect the foolishness of such thought patterns.  If the church keeps drinking from the wrong wells of psychology, the church can expect to look less like Jesus and more like Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung.  Johnson’s presentation was strong and convincing.  Psychology is taking over the world.  I have personally witnessed multiple church members laugh off the authority of scripture to the predominant psychological doctrines heard on TV and radio programs.  Obviously these chapters were an oversimplification of psychological ideas, but it appeared to reflect the 21st Century American culture.
Johnson’s emphasis of the church as the decisive and dynamic context for spiritual formation hits home as well.  Numerous parachurch organizations have overemphasized personal discipleship to the detriment of both the local church and Protestantism as a whole.  Unfortunately, many local bodies have bought into this harmful self-actualizing ideology.  Churches have become factories to disciple and produce individual “mature” Christians.  By highlighting the bible’s mandate for corporate growth, Johnson is attempting to bring down this unbiblical behavior of independent spiritual formation into a more family-centered, dare I say biblical, affair. 
Johnson’s inconsistent view of scripture is the main weakness that wreaks havoc on her desire for the church to have authority in the world.  She says, “The recovery of Christian spirituality, therefore, cannot come through a debunking of Scripture and tradition.” (23)  She also uses God’s Word as the foundation for much of her ideas throughout the book.  She remarks later that “the Bible is at the heart of the church.” (91)  But in the same book she questions the inerrancy and historicity of Scripture. (93-94) She also encourages the Bible to be studied with a hermeneutic of suspicion. (101) She mentions on a few occasions that the Bible’s backwardness and strong patriarchy is meant to be interpreted out of scripture through a more modern feminist lens. (101)  She calls modern historical-critical scholarship a “liberating power . . . [for] unlocking the Bible for Christians.”  Many of her statements match the statements of her mainline liberal companions.  These statements strip God’s Word of the very power and authority she hopes to see alive and working in the church.  Maybe she should take some of her own advice, “We must not only teach persons how to read the Bible, but to resist their dominant culture.” (150)  The dominant culture has been devaluing the Bible and making it a fantasy tale for over a hundred years, and Johnson is dangerously close to joining them.  Perhaps, the mainline liberal church will never experience the prominence Johnson is hoping for until they return to a more conservative evangelical perspective on Scripture.
            “Protestantism lacks authority, clarity and direction.” (137)  These words reveal the deep concern in Johnson’s heart for a renewal of the Protestant faith community.  In response, Johnson has produced this text to rally the church into a position to transform lives in a powerful way.  Johnson longs for an authentic Christian spiritual formation in the lives and communities of Christian people.  She dreams of a day when human beings embrace their ability “to recognize and to participate in God’s creative and redemptive activity in all of creation.” (22)  The world is full of interest in “spirituality” and “psycho-analysis,” but Johnson presses the church’s to authoritatively teach that true Christian spirituality is marked by love for God and neighbor. (28) 

Bibliography


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