According to author Dr. James Bryan Smith, spiritual formation is defined as “the process of being transformed in the image of Christ through the intimacy of God.”
Smith and nearly 200 other attendees of Regent University’s School of Divinity (DIV) explored this definition at the annual renewal theology conference titled “The Holy Spirit and Christian Formation” together with the School of Psychology & Counseling and the College of Arts & Sciences.
From March 20-21, students, faculty and guests of Regent explored intellectual, relational, emotional and spiritual formation across the spectrum of the Christian faith. The event was composed of paper presentations from scholars from Biola University, Duke University Divinity School, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and other universities of note.
The conference also featured four distinct plenary sessions led by Dr. James Smith, professor at Friends University; Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, author and professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke University; Dr. M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall, professor of psychology at Biola University; and Dr. Stephen G. Post, professor of preventative medicine and bioethics at Stony Brook University.
“The theme couldn’t be more pertinent to Christian academy and the Church,” said Dr. Wolfgang Vondey, associate DIV professor and director of the Center for Renewal Studies. “We hope you come away from this conference with the understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian formation and how we participate in it.”
Smith, author of popular books such as The Good and Beautiful Life spoke on “the Holy Spirit and Christian Formation.” He explained that all persons, regardless of their faith positions, are in the process of spiritual formation.
“Even an atheist is a spiritual being,” said Smith. “We’re spiritual beings having a human experience.”
According to Smith, the Holy Spirit teaches those who are open to it four things: the truth about God and the reality of the Trinity; the truth about ourselves; and the fact that God’s powers are made perfect in His follower’s weakness.
“Being transformed by the Holy Spirit is not about putting on a Christian suit, it’s about being authentically Christ-like,” said Smith. “Growth in Christ is not about trying, it’s about training. Trying will fail. We need to train our faculties to listen to the voice of the spirit.”
Becoming more like Christ, or “to be made holy,” has the opportunity to be a “frightening prospect,” according to Hauerwas. He explored the work of John and Charles Wesley, the Methodist denomination and what it means to live a sanctified life.
“To be sanctified is not to try very hard to achieve some ideal,” said Hauerwas. “Such a misconception of trying very hard can lead to narcissism, self-righteousness or guilt.”
Instead, Hauerwas explained that to be sanctified is to be so drawn into the Holy Spirit and so full of love that “our words and actions are accordingly governed.”
Learn more about Regent University’s School of Divinity.