Posted by: Brian Musser | August 18, 2012

The Shape of Faith to Come (A Book Review)

The Shape of Faith to Come: 

Spiritual Formation and the Future of Discipleship

Waggoner, Brad J. (Author)

Description from Lifeway

In The Shape of Faith to Come, research expert Brad J. Waggoner and his team measure the beliefs and actions of 2,500 active Protestant churchgoers from across the country against seven key standards of biblical spiritual formation:

Learning the truth, obeying God and denying self, sharing faith, serving God and others, exercising biblical faith, building solid relationships, seeking God. The findings reveal the current state and potential forecast of spiritual formation in the U.S. Adding encouragement to his insights, Waggoner calls all Christians to spiritual maturity and challenges church leaders to intentionally take up the mantle of making true disciples.

The ministry at Drexel is built upon intentional discipleship through accountability.  Disciples InDeed has both Male and Female Discipleship groups that are oriented around weekly Bible Studies and accountability questions.  PEACE & POWER asks each and every student that comes through the fellowship, “What part of your life do you want to change through the PEACE of Jesus Christ?”  Both Christian ministries are serious about walking with students as they grow to become more like Christ.  We use accountability to do this for several reasons.  We hold each other responsible in growing.  We commit to grow and to be interested in the growth of others.  It is important enough to us to ask regularly.  It is important enough to us to be asked regularly.

The second reason for the use of accountability is that it gives a good idea of where we are and how we are growing.  Have you ever been asked about your spiritual growth and have given a generic answer?  You think you are growing but you are not sure if that is true?  Are you reading the Bible more than you used too?  Has your prayer life developed in the last year?  Are you actually making progress in an area that you struggle?  Often we have a general sense that we are but not completely sure.  I find that weekly accountability helps Christians identify with real data where they are growing, how they are growing and where they still need to grow.  If you answer questions weekly about your devotional life you now have a record of what your life is like.  You can answer those questions accurately and precisely.

In this context I stepped into The Shape of Faith to Come with great enthusiasm.  A substantial research project about discipleship excited me.  (You might be wondering about me.  I do have a background in Biological research so … Yes, I admit that I like statistics.  Will you still be my friend?)  What I was actually interested in I found in the book.  I am seriously considering using the list of questions with some possible modifications to help monitor the discipleship process we have established at Drexel.  I can imagine having my student leadership team working through the survey on a yearly basis and comparing their answers with previous years.  I’m not sure I want to compare them with a certain imagined standard but with themselves over time.  Are they growing?  In what areas have they grown?  In what areas have they not grown?  This will be useful for their own personal lives but more importantly this will help us evaluate how well we are doing in discipleship.  I highly recommend this book if just for the fact that it helps you think in a consistent way of evaluating how your ministry is doing with discipleship.  Discipleship is what we are called to do.

Now as I think about using the questions in the future, I will make some modifications.  There were several questions that I think need to be adjusted in some way especially for use with younger generations.  Some of them are worded in such a way that younger generations will never answer with the strongest response.  For example in Chapter Seven – Exercising Faith: The Faith Quotient tries to measure how much someone trusts God in all situations in their life.  One of the questions is:

How much do you agree/disagree:  During difficult circumstances, I sometimes doubt that God loves me and will provide for my life?

I understand the importance of this question.  I see what the author and the researchers are trying to measure.  But it comes in conflict in the mind of younger generations. Because transparency, honesty are virtues, they tend to overemphasize their faults.  Because hypocrisy and fraud are some of the greatest flaws they see in the world they tend to be extremely cautious of ever saying words like never and always.  I know persons from younger generations that would never, no matter how strong their faith is, answer this question with the strongly disagree.  You will walk up to them and ask them why and their response would be that this one time this one fleeting moment during one of their darkest moments they doubted God’s provision.  Younger generations will be very reticent to answer in the strongest positive response.  They are designed to be overly cautious about their strengths.

With that said, I find the research more important for a measure of individual growth over a time frame and not to make sweeping statements of the overall condition of discipleship.  I plan to use it to find out about discipleship in my local context and in individual lives.  I’m not sure how applicable it is to make a general statement of the state of the church even though I have grave concerns about the state of discipleship within the American church.  The Shape of Faith to Come is a useful book and will be a piece to the process of discipleship at Drexel but like all books it does have some limits.

What I am reading now:  Lessons from the Sandbox: Using the 13 Gifts of Childhood to Rediscover the Keys to Business Success by Dr. Alan Gregerman

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