The process by which God forms Christ’s character in believers by the ministry of the Spirit, in the context of community, and in accordance with biblical standards. This process involves the transformation of the whole person in desires, thoughts, behaviors, and styles of relating with God and others. Such life change is manifest in a growing love for God and others—a dying to self and living for Christ.
At the core, spiritual formation is profoundly Trinitarian. It is simply this: the process by which God forms believers into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This beautiful reality is woven through the fabric of the New Testament. In Greek, the morphē (μορφή /μορφόω) word group is used to describe concepts related to formation and transformation. This spiritual formation is the earnest desire of Paul and the goal of his ministry (Gal 4.19). More significant than that is what we find in Romans 8.28–29 where we see (among many other things) that this spiritual formation is God’s goal for us!
Far more than being God’s goal for us, the tensing of the verb in 2 Corinthians 3.18 demonstrates that not only is our transformation God’s future goal for us, it is also a present reality! “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This present reality, this formation, is happening through the agency of the third Person of the Trinity.
Interestingly, we find that not only is this formation God’s goal for us and a present reality done in us through the Holy Spirit, it is also a command to us! The two imperatives in Romans 12.2 exhort believers not to conform to the world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of the mind—something that can only be done by yielding to the Holy Spirit to work in us as he will. Finally, it is this formation by the third Person of the Trinity into the image of the second Person of the Trinity for the Glory of the first Person of the Trinity that should drive the Christian life. In Colossians 1.27–29 we see spiritual formation presented as our hope, our motivation, and our telos. Praise God for his continued work in our lives!
Recognizing that this formation is of the Spirit and not through any work of man, our program is an intentional attempt to provide a vital context for life change. Through a scripturally grounded study of what it is to be in Christ, in authentic Christian community, and called to a life of faithfulness, our prayer is that students would be equipped and encouraged. Our prayer is that each of our students would look more like Jesus at the end of each semester than they did when they walked in. To God alone be the glory!
We recognize that in some circles the term “spiritual formation” has taken on a very different connotation than the above. Spiritual Formation at Dallas Theological Seminary should be in no way associated with the so-called “contemplative prayer movement” that pursues enlightenment of the self rather than Christlikeness. We do not promote or endorse any form of eastern mysticism, higher consciousness, divinity within the self, or any practice that promotes entering into an altered or transcendent state of consciousness. These dangerous and heterodox teachings often masquerade as Christian spirituality. We categorically reject these practices and their claims. Our foundation is Scriptural. Our goal is Christological. The method is Pneumatalogical. Our intentions are doxological.