The latest edition of the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care includes a book review by Brian Owen. I’d like to share some of his wording to prompt our conversation. I won’t name the book as I haven’t read it and for this post it doesn’t matter. The book is about being an apprentice of Jesus. The focus is on “being with” – a central feature of apprenticeship or, in contemporary terms, mentoring (as opposed to simply “being taught” the basic acts and facts, as discipleship has typically become in our day).
In the reviewer’s critique of the book he writes of the temptation faced by men and women who are “frustrated and discouraged by the current lack of spiritual transformation in their lives and who might be tempted to view this invitation to a life of training with Jesus in the wrong way. Instead of perceiving it as a life of participation in what Christ has done and is doing, they might mistakenly see it as an opportunity to deal with their lack of transformation, and the resulting guilt and shame, through their own efforts.”
And here’s the particular paragraph that stood out to me:
“In his legitimate desire to move us away from a solely forensic understanding of the Christian life to one that sees it as a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus, or in his own words, from the ‘courtroom to the bedroom,’ I fear that some readers of this book might inadvertently find themselves in an entirely different room, the gymnasium. Those who inhabit the gymnasium falsely believe that vigorous spiritual exercise alone will shape up flabby souls and provide a place to hide guilt and cover shame through hard work and spiritual discipline.”
The risk of this approach is either dropping out through exhaustion and failure, or achieving some level of perceived success through our own efforts. Gymnasium spirituality leads to being either a spiritual dropout, or a smug Pharisee. But Christian training “involves opening up to a person, not a procedure.”
(Incidentally, the review concludes with a second critique worth mentioning on this site: Owen suggests the book would be “strengthened by suggesting that this journey be pursued in a community with others who are engaged in the same experiment.” Amen!)
Now, can we take up this idea of trying to move from the “courtroom” to the “bedroom” but ending up in the “gymnasium” and chase that out some more? Please, you are very welcome to join the conversation . . .