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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Engaging Dallas... II


"Everyone receives spiritual formation, just as everyone gets an education. The only question is whether it is a good one or a bad one."--Dallas Willard

Isn't that so true? Psychologists talk about nature and nurture and how our cultural/ family environment shapes who we are. The Greek word psuche means "soul" (or sometimes spirit), and the word psycho-logy is built off of it, originally meaning the study of (logy, from logos, which is, incidentally, the word used in the Gospel of John to describe Christ as the "Word") the soul. How far psychology has gotten from the study of the soul - in some ways. In other words, it still bears an important connection.

If, as Dallas maintains, we are all spiritually formed, then we all take shape and are shaped by someone or something. Often our shaping influences are our parents, our family, or our particular cultural environment. If we aren't dualists (believing that the physical and spiritual are separate) but believe that the spiritual and physical are intertwined, then what happens in our environment shapes our spiritual selves - our souls. What we expose ourselves to and in forms us in the inner world.

That is one of the greatest arguments behind creating boundaries around what music we listen to, what video games we play, what movies we watch, and what friends we hang around with. Depending on our spiritual maturity, our strength of the inner person, and our awareness of being spiritually formed, different levels of boundary are needed. That's what Paul was getting at when he talked about some people stumbling over things others would not, and how everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.

"Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything. [1 Corinthians 6:12] "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. [1 Corinthians 10:23]

That's because the things and people and environments with which we interact shape who we are and contribute to our spiritual formation. We have to be careful about what is beneficial, what is constructive and not just what the law says is permissible.

Too often, we are unaware of how we are being formed and shaped moment by moment, day by day. We are often unaware of how our actions are a part of the spiritual formation of others as well. The cultures and environments that we create in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our relationships, in our workplaces, and in our churches are directly related to the indirect spiritual formation of people for better or worse. CS Lewis maintains (I think in Screwtape Letters) that we are either helping one another to become our eternal beings - someone worshipful and prepared for heaven, or someone hideous fit for hell. When we talk about "spiritual fitness" the question remains how we are being formed. There is often a passive formation happening through the creation of cultures and environments that are either forming us to be fit for heaven or not.

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