Reader Alex Tang posted to my “Ask Dr. Church History” page: “What is your current assessment of the ressourcement or spiritual formation movement? I believe you have written earlier that you think it is ‘stalled.'” The assessment Alex mentions is not mine–or to be exact, it is mine, but I take it from conversations I had with Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston.
I had those conversations while preparing the following article, “The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement” for the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 2009, Vol. 2, No. 1, 113–121:
The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement
Chris Armstrong, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN)
It started in the 1950s and 1960s. It “broke out” in 1978, with the publication of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. But today, evangelicalism’s recovery of spiritual traditions from past centuries—led by such popularizers as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston—seems to have reached an impasse. What opened evangelicals to the riches of spiritual tradition? Why has this movement seemingly stalled out? Are there grounds for hope that it will soon move forward again?
There is no denying that by the time Foster’s Celebration hit bookstores in 1978, the conciliatory, culture-engaging “new evangelicals” (represented by the National Association of Evangelicals [NAE], Christianity Today, and Fuller and Gordon-Conwell) had already begun to initiate themselves into the world of traditional Christian spirituality. They were using contemplative prayer techniques, attending retreats, sitting under spiritual directors, and reading Catholic and Orthodox books.
This new openness emerged out of two decades of radical change and barrier-crossing within evangelicalism. The Age of Aquarius saw evangelicals hungering for genuine spiritual experience. If this meant breaking out from the narrow biblicism and constrictive intellectual boundaries of their fundamentalist roots, then so be it. They sought a deeper Christian wisdom both about what makes disciples truly Christ-like and, simply, about what makes people tick. Continue reading