Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy - Lesson 11

Historical Overview of Christian Spirituality (Part 2)

The lesson is on the historical overview of Christian Spirituality and covers several historical movements within Christianity. One of them is the monastic movement, which emphasizes asceticism and the pursuit of spiritual purity through the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Another is the Puritan movement, which focuses on the mortification of sin and intense commitment to scripture, and the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing.
Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Lesson 11
Watching Now
Historical Overview of Christian Spirituality (Part 2)

I. Introduction

A. Background on Christian Spirituality

B. Overview of Historical Movements

II. Monastic Movement

A. Origins in the Desert Tradition

B. Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience

C. Ascetic Approach

D. Influence on Contemplative Prayer and Mysticism

E. Decline in later centuries

III. Puritan Movement

A. Mortification of Sin

B. Intense Commitment to Scripture

C. God-centeredness

D. Emphasis on Family

IV. Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement

A. Emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit

B. Gifts of the Spirit

1. Speaking in Tongues

2. Prophecy

3. Healing

C. Differences between Pentecostal and Charismatic

D. Influence on Contemporary Christianity

V. Conclusion

A. Importance of studying Christian spiritual classics

B. Encouragement to explore the historical movements and their teachings.

  • This lesson focuses on the concept of spiritual formation, which is the process of growing in one's relationship with God and becoming more like Christ. You'll learn about the role of historical figures such as Perpetua and Francis of Assisi in spiritual formation, the importance of more than just belief in doctrine, the need to cooperate with God and surrender to his will, and the challenges and opportunities of spiritual formation.
  • This lesson discusses the distinction between static and dynamic holiness. You will learn about the importance of being available to God and the potential for transformation in one's relationship with him.
  • In this lesson, Gary Thomas discusses the societal pressure to conform to a certain physical standard and how this can lead to insecurity and self-doubt. He contrasts this societal view with the Christian view of the body, which holds a respect for the aging process, and acknowledges that our bodies have a purpose because they were created by God and that God incarnated himself in human form in Jesus Christ and how our bodies will also be raised on the last day.
  • This lesson focuses on the transformation of our physical bodies to become spiritually alive, and the idea that worship is not limited to singing and music, but encompasses all aspects of our lives. An example of Madame Galen Jean, a historical figure who lost her physical beauty but found spiritual depth and wrote books that inspired others, is used to illustrate the idea that surrendering oneself to God can lead to spiritual growth. The class also suggests that individuals can bring Jesus to others by approaching them with love and understanding, and by focusing on bringing Jesus to others rather than personal ambition and people pleasing.
  • The lesson highlights that God desires a personal and intimate relationship with each individual and that different people will have different ways of relating to him. It is emphasized that there is no one right way to connect with God, and that we should be open to exploring different ways that resonate with us personally. Throughout scripture, various forms of worship are celebrated and it's encouraged to find the way that works best for us.

  • The lesson discusses the idea that spiritual growth does not happen by accident and that it requires purposeful and intentional effort. The main focus is on humility and gentleness as two important qualities necessary for spiritual growth. The lesson cites Proverbs 3:34 and James 4:6 as biblical references to the idea that God opposes those who let pride reign in their lives, and that humility is not thinking less of oneself but thinking less about oneself and putting others first, and gentleness is the way of being like a mother caring for her children.
  • This lesson delves into the idea of spiritual formation, discussing three paths through which one can grow: practicing virtues, experiencing difficulty and suffering, and practicing spiritual disciplines. One of the virtues discussed is thankfulness, which is counterintuitive to the way the world thinks, and that maturity in faith is marked by being malleable in God's hands and surrendering our own desires. It is emphasized that when difficult times come in our lives, it is a opportunity to grow spiritually, but it can also be used as an opportunity by Satan to create bitterness and resentment in our souls. The lecture also provides several suggestions for books that can help deepen the understanding and practice of spiritual disciplines in one's life.
  • Marriage can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth and holiness as it can help reveal and work through one's sin and selfishness. However, we need to understand and accept that all people stumble in many ways, and that it's important to adopt God's agenda for our marriages rather than trying to impose our own expectations and desires on it. This way we can have a healthy and fulfilling marriage.
  • In this lesson, it is discussed how marriage and parenting can be used by God as tools for spiritual growth and personal development. It is shown that by putting the needs of others first, as in caring for a spouse when they are sick or teaching and guiding children, individuals can learn to become more like Jesus Christ and grow in their faith. The speaker emphasizes that despite the challenges and mistakes that may come with these roles, they present opportunities for personal and spiritual growth.
  • This lesson covers the historical development of Christian spirituality including the Desert Experience, various forms of prayer, Eastern Orthodox approach and challenges for Western-minded Christians.
  • The lesson covers historical movements in Christianity, including monasticism, Puritanism, and Pentecostal/Charismatic, and their emphasis on asceticism, scripture, and the Holy Spirit.

In this class, you will learn about the process of spiritual formation and the importance of developing a deep devotional intimacy with God. The lesson will explore the biblical foundations of spiritual growth, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the individual's personal responsibility in their own spiritual development. You will also delve into various spiritual disciplines and practices that help foster a closer relationship with God, such as prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, worship, and fellowship. Finally, you will examine common obstacles and challenges faced in the journey of spiritual growth and discover strategies to overcome them.


Dr. Gary Thomas
Spiritual Formation and Devotional Intimacy
Historical Overview of Christian Spirituality (Part 2)
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:10] The third element is monastic living. You had the Eastern tradition going on. You had the desert tradition and monastic living sort of grew out of the desert experience, and their pursuit was to embody the teaching of Christ. Most commonly, they would take three vows the vow of poverty, the vow of chastity, sexual abstinence, and the vow of obedience. And those were designed to confront the most intense human temptations materialism, lust and arrogance, or the amassing of of pride and position. It sort of grew out of. First you had the desert fathers that lived as a hermit. That was a desert experience. But then what happened is others would go out into the desert and would feel lost. They wouldn't know how to pray. They wouldn't know how to make the best use of their time. And so you begin to have a master and a disciple a do over that would work. And then there started to be not enough masters to go around. And so some hermits would draw several disciples, and so they would have sort of a a small group. And then it became large communities with an abbot, which we kind of think of as monasteries today, where there'd be one abbot and there could be hundreds of monks there. Of course, the case with nuns as well in convents and the ascetic approach was pretty much if there's a temptation in life, it's taking Jesus's words so forcefully. Jesus, if you're I lost, you know, gouge it out. You know, if your hand steals, you know, you just cut it off. And that's what they tried to do with sexual temptation. Chastity, We're not even going to have sex be a part of our life. Is materialism a problem? We give away everything we own.

[00:01:58] Nothing. There were disputes about whether you could own a needle for your clothing. You certainly weren't supposed to own a Bible or a book. You were to own nothing. Pride is a problem when you cut it off with obedience, and it would shock modern minds to realize the whole nature of obedience where you did what your master told you to do. One time a master felt like his disciple had a lot of pride, and so he had him stand at the gate and confess to an odious sin that he had never committed to every passer by in the city gate. Forgive me for I ama and he described the sin and that's what he did for a year, even though he never committed that because the guy was working in it. Most Christians say we couldn't even imagine taking on that. But they saw. Here's what I like about reading the classics. They saw pride for the danger it is, and we don't see that today. When I hear Christians preach, I hear them preach against materialism. I hear them preach against sexual lust. I'll hear me preach against gossip. I don't see us taking pride as seriously as the ancients did. And so it lifts our cultural blinders. It takes us out of our generation to to read those in the East. Basil, the Great added social work to his in the West. Perhaps the best monastic influence was the great rule of Benedict. Benedict added to poverty, chastity, obedience, stability. What happened is that monks started traveling from house to house seeking new experiences. And Benedict said, No, you should live in the same place your entire life. So you'd have monks that had never really lived outside of their area. They thought there was great spiritual benefit in stability and staying.

[00:03:54] And in one place, the Reformation dealt a severe blow to the monasteries. They called it empty spirituality. The Enlightenment sort of finished it off. It was seen as useless, a wasted life. Now there still are monasteries today, but nothing like the influence they had in medieval times. And so in the midst of that, a fourth historical movement I want to mention that sort of grew out of the monastic movement was contemplative prayer and mysticism. And I want to put that in historical context because, again, some people, their whole focus today is to combat any semblance of contemplative prayer in the evangelical church, thinking themselves, God's servants, as they do that by 1100, the monasteries have become unimaginably wealthy. For this reason it is brilliant. And they said, You're going to go to purgatory. It's a bad place to be. We can get you 10,000 years taken off if you give us a lot of money that we hire monks to pray for you. Well, if you're wealthy, you think you're going to die anyway. If you leave a whole lot of money to the monastery, you've got a thousand monks praying you out of purgatory. Where you going to give your money if you really believe that. I mean, it was just amazing the wealth that went into the monasteries. And because of that, that also became a place where noble men would drop off sons that weren't going to inherit their property, but they were kind of didn't have anything else to do with them. So they would drop them off. And then convents often became holding pens for women waiting to be married, never intended to become nuns, but the fathers didn't know what to do with them there. The convent, say, would stay there until they got married.

[00:05:42] So they became very worldly places because of their success. So out of that, out of the compromise there developed the desire to make the monastic experience more authentic, because even in itself it had been compromised. And so they emphasized contemplative prayer, the sense of living in the presence of God. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians were distinct. They only allowed adults focused on contemplative life. And that's when you really begin to see the debate about the active life of the contemplative life. Is it better to devote your life to prayer as a developer, devote your life to active service? They really began to see the need to focus almost exclusively on the contemplative life. Francis of Assisi came out of this same type of situation, founded, of course, of Franciscans stressing poverty. The way he built humility was the whole design of the Franciscan habit mimicked children's clothing. And we look at a monk today and we see what he's wearing and we think, Oh, there goes a monk. But in the early days of the Franciscan movement, they didn't know that they'd never heard of a Franciscan monk. Francis wasn't famous yet, and it would be as if I showed up to speak to you today and is wearing one of those onesie pajamas that little kids wear with Winnie the Pooh right here and a zipper right here, and a little white plastic covering over my toes. And I didn't use it as a sermon analogy. I just walk up here in pajamas and I'm speaking to you and not addressing it. You'd think Dr. Ganske is the speaker lost his mind. Yep. Who are you bringing to talk to us? So their clothing invited ridicule. It was a way of expressing humility and they valued ridicule.

[00:07:38] Bernhard was Francis's first official follower, and he told Francis about how he walked into a town. And because he was dressed in children's clothing, he was ridiculed. They were making fun of him. Kids would throw rocks at him. They would just they thought he was just a man who had lost his mind. And there was a wealthy man in that community. He was the wealthiest man in the community. Pass by this for weeks. He saw how Bernard accepted this abuse verbal mistreatment. He finally he stopped. Everybody said, Don't, don't you guys get it? This guy must be a saint. I mean, look at his forbearance, Look at his patience, Look at his sweet demeanor when he's being treated like this. And so now they sat at his feet not to ridicule him, but to learn from him. They would ask him questions. Now they instead of throwing food at him, they would bring him their best meals, at which point Bernard left telling Francis he needed to find another village that didn't know who he was because it was doing too much damage to his soul to be praised. He needed to find someone else who would ridicule him. And I just love that because, you know, I just think as pastors and speakers, when we want to go where we're appreciated, where we're praise, where we're complimented, these guys would seek ridicule. They would seek abuse because they thought it created an authentic Christian spirit. I'm not recommending that. I'm just saying that Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross founded the Discalced Carmelites. This is a little bit later, a few hundred years after Francis. It was in the 16th century. They were contemporaries. John of the Cross actually served as Teresa's spiritual director, although Teresa was was older then than Francis, better than John.

[00:09:20] By 15, 20 years or so. Teresa was a brilliant administrator. She was troubled because the Carmelites at that point again had gotten away from their roots. Discalced simply means shoeless. And so she had them walk without shoes as as part of their expression of poverty. And to show that they weren't in it for for comfort and really stressed a very rigorous, contemplative life, she thought that's where the rubber meets the road. She says. It's one thing to say you're a Christian, hobnobbing with people, talking with people, even gardening. But if you can sit alone in prayer for two or 3 hours, that's the real stuff. And so they really stressed that in and out of that came John of the Cross Dark Night of the Soul and and some pretty deep mystical experiences they talk about. I say that just to help you understand, in this day and age, when they're attacking contemplative prayer, some aspects of which probably they do well to attack. That's why it arose for an authentic Christian experience, rather than just celebrate nominal spirituality for the sake of spirituality. Then I want to mention the pure and spiritual that would be number five, a later movement, 17th, 18th century John Edwards. Jonathan Edwards often called the last of the Puritans. He died in 1758, which kind of sets them. The name comes from their efforts to purify the Church of England. And again, here is a spirituality movement that's birth in its frustration with the powers that be. They felt like the Church of England had fallen into Nominalism and they wanted to purify it. The background as it Luther had come around stressed justification by grace through faith almost to the exclusion of sanctification. He was so zealous to preserve the free gift of the Gospel, to oppose the whole concept of indulgences and the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church and all of that, that he stressed justification the extent that it almost, I don't think, fairly completely eclipsed sanctification, but it came close.

[00:11:35] And so the Puritan movement really became a movement of sanctification. Do you know what I mean when I say that holiness, sanctification, sanctified, set apart, They that's what they wanted to stress. They said, look, we know we're saved by grace, but we should grow in holiness. And that's when they got that reputation about being hard nosed about it. They have a high view of justification by grace through faith. But they did believe, as I've taught earlier today, that saints are obligated to cooperate in the process of sanctification. I think they've given us a great gift. By separating those two, we cannot cooperate in justification. God provides that. But there is an aspect of cooperation in sanctification, and they helped us understand that there are two aspects of being sanctified. We are sanctified positionally, we are declared righteous, and we are righteous in Jesus Christ, but we also must grow, sanctified experientially. That's the aspect of sanctification that we cooperate in, that God, by His grace, will allow us to. They tried to rebuild the whole notion of the Christian life on Protestant foundations, distinguishing between a notional faith and a spirit illuminated force that's dynamic life changing, kills sin and transforms lives as just the other. This past week, going through a book by Ralph Venning, renowned preacher from the 16th century, wrote a whole volume called The Sinfulness of Sin. Now, I think when he published it was called Sin the Plague of Plagues. It was rereleased under the sinfulness of sin, and it's just pure and model. You read it. I just. I just love it. He tell he spends probably 60 pages telling you why sin is bad, what it does, what it does to us intellectually, what it does to our hearts, what it does to a socially just breaks it down in a very academic way.

[00:13:24] This is why sin is bad for this. And this is. And I love his phrase. He goes, He speaks the best. Who speaks the worst of sin? He speaks the best. He speaks the word. So so that's sort of the Puritan model, talking about the mortification of sin, really trying to do an academic approach to conquering sin, intense commitment to Scripture, loved Scripture characterized by a God centeredness, wanting to bring all aspects of life under the purview of God. And when it became impossible governmentally to do that because Roman Catholics would take charge or whatnot, they began to focus on the family. And so it's true that because the Puritans were shut out of political power, that we have so many rich works about how God uses spirituality within family life. So that's a great gift that we got from that historical circumstance. Then the last one I want to mention before we go on to reading the classics is a Pentecostal charismatic movement. The stirrings in mid to late 19th century had the Catholic movement. It really stressed a separate Holy Spirit. Experienced experience in Pentecostalism is kind of known as being burned in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas, when seemingly out of nowhere, a student began speaking with glass. Alleluia. They called it the Tongues from the New Testament. This just kind of came forth. It led to the is is a street revival in 1906. And so the baptism in the Holy Spirit was marked by speaking in tongues that was always seen as initial evidence. And then it was seen as a second infill. And where this. Excuse me. The spirit empowers you. It gives you increased ability to withstand sin. It releases new empowering for ministry. It releases the the miraculous gifts of the spirit that are often evidence in the Bible prophecy.

[00:15:25] Even healing things like that. But again, it was a sense of Christianity that time was so based on intellectual ism and doctrine. Here comes this Holy Spirit empowered movement. They believe that that releases the gifts that you don't study for, that that God just gives. And in some ways, the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement has been sort of just consumed by the wider church. When I make a distinction between Pentecostalism and Charismatic Movement, the Charismatic movement sort of accepted the reality of the gifts of the spirit and sort of the free form of worship without the Pentecostal notion of the Holy Spirit baptism as a second act of grace. Without saying that tongues must be part of the initial evidence. And I think what I've seen is that I'd say by the 1990s, when I would travel around and speak in churches, there was virtually no difference in worship whether I was in an Assemblies of God church or a Southern Baptist church. They would sing the sing songs. About the same number of people would have their hands raised. Now, in some sectors of the country, there were still some holdovers. But but basically, I think the Charismatic Movement found its way into most congregations, even found its way into Eastern orthodoxy in the Roman Catholic Church. And fewer churches hold to that classical Pentecostal doctrine that I've even heard that Assemblies of God is reevaluating tongues as initial evidence, some of God being the largest Pentecostal doctrine. So it seems like, you know, these movements come forward and the church deals with them and rearranges things, but they, they leave their emphasis. Then before I leave you, if you look in your bibliography, you'll see the selected bibliography of the Christian spiritual classics. If there's one thing I can leave you with from this class, if one of the workshops Focus didn't particularly strike you, I'd really like to encourage you to consider digging in the minds of the Christian past.

[00:17:40] I found them to be so rich. You see my disclaimer there at the top of the bibliography? I shouldn't have to say it, but whenever I mention a book, I don't want to fight anybody by email. If you have a problem with one of these books, I'm sorry, I can't endorse everything in one of these books. People have found them helpful. I don't know that there's a single even one of my books that I might I might disagree with some things in my own books. So I certainly am not saying that when I put a book on a list, everything I believe theologically they believe. What I'm saying is that people have found benefit in these books. And what fascinates me is how, like, for instance, Fenelon and Wesley both read read Jean Gibbon Francis to Sells, who's listed on that list, carried around school poems. But Lorenzo's Coppola, he wrote Spiritual Combat. Very rich book. The sells carry that around for 18 years and you can really see evidence is as Coppola and in in the cells and as amazing me when I read through Coppola and I read through Jonathan Edwards as I did recently I'm reading him kind of both at the same time. It's amazing to me that Jonathan Edwards is this staunch, reformed puritan. Schapelle, we get this worked in the Counter-Reformation, all right? Theologically, they're at war with each other and obviously lived in different ages. But theologically, they're they're literally at war with each other. And yet when they talk about temptation and the spiritual life and prayer and mortification of sin, and it's amazing to me how they sound so similar, I can give you quotes that each one gave that are virtually sound like they're parroting each other.

[00:19:25] Now, the reason sometimes evangelicals push back. When I mentioned reading the classics, if you read all the way through Coppola, you're going to come up to the chapter on how you incorporate Praying to Mary, and that freaks people out. You know, why do we have and I don't apply that, I don't read that, but I found great benefit. And what I learned is like Ralph Venning, very staunch, reformed Calvinist five pointer all the way, recommended What was his name? I forget his name, but he was a staunch Armenian. And yet when he recommended to his church that they read this Armenians work and they said, Why? Because while I disagree with this theological point, he says, I see a lot of spiritual truth there. And and he's not really addressing the theology there. I want them to get the passion of his heart. And for me, that's what reading the classics is. I talked to some of you at lunch and some in the break. You know, when we talk about the the social influence, we talked about that for fitness and for spirituality. If you're not challenged by contemporary Christians, if they don't seem to take spirituality as seriously as you do, if they think, why would you spend 6 hours on a Saturday, listen to a guy with a pipe voice, talk about Christian spiritual. I think you're out of your mind. You go to the classics and you see the depth of faith by a John climax or Lorenzo Coppola or a Jonathan Edwards or a John Calvin. And I just can't even begin to describe to you the riches that await you. I, I am jealous. For those of you who haven't read the classics because you have such a treasure trove in front of you, but you haven't even begun to taste.

[00:21:15] And if you start to stick your toe in. And the reason I mention that is because when I mentioned the classics, so many Christians begin with Augustine's confessions, because it's the best known and it's the most available and some of the most difficult to get through a lot of stuff with. I mean, my son would disagree with me, but he for Christmas, he asked for confessions in Latin from Augustine. So he is way past me in in that regard. But I think for most of us mortals, starting with confessions isn't the easiest place to stick your toe into a pure in that you can probably understand, Brother Lawrence if you don't go pure. Brother Lawrence Practicing the presence of God is a very accessible William Law series. Call to a devout and holy life would be a good place to start. Oh, the cells and Fenelon. Wesley's journals. These. These are just great things to start out with. For me, it's what William Law said. He We need to look for those things that will, quote, inflame the holy ardor of your soul. Spirituality is about maintaining that passion for God. And I found the spiritual classics really help to do that is that I don't read them for theology. I'm not reading them to talk about the doctrine of God, the nature of the church, the whole concept of so trilogy salvation, saying I'm reading them to have my soul challenged and inflamed with love and devotion for God, and I find their very rarely will fail me on that. I laughed at the account of a bunch of engineers that used to get together for a barbecue, and because they were engineers, they had a contest to see who could light the coals the fastest.

[00:23:01] And by lighting the coals, I don't mean just getting them going. I mean white hot, ready to cook. And finally one of them blew all the others away because he had it ready in about 3 seconds and it was with like a ten foot pole. Liquid oxygen and a remote ignition device. And it was poosh went up and he had them ready. So for me, classics, they're liquid oxygen to my soul. On a rare day goes by when I don't mind that incredible wisdom, and I would encourage you to do the same.

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