Teaching Spiritual Formation

In light of our recent post on spiritual formation and the seminary, I thought I would share a bit about my recent teaching experience. I have been off of the blog for a little while now as I teach a spiritual formation class at Talbot School of Theology on “Jonathan Edwards’ Spiritual Theology.” I have never taught a semester length class before, so I was baptized with fire as I taught for three weeks, five days a week for three hours a day!

The way I approached the class was to try and help the students understand what it means to honor someone like Edwards. Following Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous talk “The Anachronism of Jonathan Edwards,” I suggestd that the only way to honor Edwards was to take on the spiritual and practical nature of his theology as we worked through the content of it. Therefore, I put together an hour long “Edwardsian prayer exercise” utilizing Edwards understanding of aesthetics, nature and spiritual imagination. Likewise, the class was oriented towards developing a spiritual discipline (for the final project), which would be grounded in the overarching movement of Edwards’ thought, starting with the doctrine of the Trinity, and working one’s way down to creation, fall, redemption on to glorification. My hope was to help students understand the systematic and practical nature of theology, and hopefully help them to see how important doctrinal development is for spiritual formation.

Has anyone else taught a class like this? I’m thinking through how to make this class better, as well as how to teach other classes like it. Has anyone found a way they find helpful to integrate prayer and the student’s spiritual lives in with the material of theology? I would love to hear any ideas.

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7 thoughts on “Teaching Spiritual Formation

  1. Great question Kyle…I would love to hear any responses that your students had with the prayer exercise. How do you think that it went?

  2. I had good feedback. I think every class at Talbot has something like this, although most classes probably wouldn’t have them do it through an alien theology (in this case, Edwards account of nature, aesthetics, etc. which was certainly different from what most of them were used to). So, that being said, the students were used to this general kind of thing already. If I were to do it again, which I plan to, I would provide more specific instructions for their response paper. I want to bring in the reality of life with God into the theology class so that these exercises are more than just descriptive accounts but truly existential reflections on the content itself through prayerfulness, if that makes sense.

  3. Kyle,

    I’m doing a Trinity seminar next term, focused on classic readings in the history of the doctrine. John, Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Warfield, Barth, Rahner, Pannenberg, etc. But we’re also reading John Owen’s Communion with God, and I am trying to figure out how to help students engage the book with an appropriately devout frame of mind. In the past, students have recognized on their own that it’s just not the kind of book you argue about, but they seemed at a loss for what to do with it. I’ve decided to provide more guidance for them this time around, and a formal “spiritual formation exercise” in class might be the route I take.

    Maybe.

    Fred Sanders

  4. Hi Kyle,

    I T.A’d for a class on Christian Spirituality, and taught one class, awhile ago at my seminary. It engaged some of the medieval mystics, Puritans, and some more modern theologians. It sounds very similar to what you were trying to do, framing it trinitarianly.

    On a more personal note (and maybe off topic here), I find your background and current educational preoccupation curious. How did you transition in your thinking from Talbot’s Philosophy of Religion program (which I was accepted to, and I know quite a few guys who have graduated from that program, you might know Cory Miller) and the analytic frame; to an apparently more Continental and Reformed (theologically) trajectory that you currently appear to inhabit? Does your predisposition for Spiritual Formation have something to do with this interdisciplinarianism?

    I guess I ask this, because what I know of Talbot, and esp. their Philosophy program; there seems to be a mutual exclusivity between where you’re at now, and where you came from then . . . esp. knowing some of the graduates from the program there — you seem unique in this area. I don’t know, maybe I’m over-reading things here. I’m glad to see that you are introducing folks at Talbot to Jonathan Edwards and that whole stream of Christian thought.

  5. My predisposition to spiritual formation (although I might deny the “pre” on that!), does have a lot to do with my interdisciplinary interests. This is actually very “Talbot” if I can put it that way. The spiritual formation department is reformed theologically, and run by John Coe who has his background in philosophy, Biblical studies, and has done work in psychology and theology (all the while studying Catholic spiritual theology).
    I approach these questions theologically, because I believe they are theological questions. Certain Talbot grads do try to answer them philosophically, but I just think that is misguided.

  6. Cool, Kyle. Yeah I’ve heard of Coe (I have a friend who got her doctorate from Rosemead, and she used to speak of him, she really liked him), sounds like he is making a healthy impact upon Talbot.

    Glad to have stumbled upon your guys’ blog, I look forward to reading you guys more. And btw, I agree with you on your approach; relative to approaching things “theologically” contra philosophically, some of the guys I know seem to be more of the “misguided” types. Thanks for the feedback.

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