Social, Evangelical, and Contemplative Approaches to Spiritual Formation in the Baptist Tradition
A precise definition for Christian spiritual formation is elusive and how it is described varies from one faith tradition to another. It also varies over periods of time, as a faith community meets the challenges which they encounter. One of the primary roles of pastoral leaders is to “make disciples” of Jesus Christ by communicating and embedding the essentials of the Christian faith into the lives of congregants and to evaluate the spiritual formation process, which guides them into spiritual maturity. Historically, methodologies concerning Christian spiritual formation have approached spiritual development in one of three ways: through ideas, through embodied habits and practices, or a combination of both.
This thesis traces spiritual formation in the African American Baptist tradition from the early twentieth century to modern time by using a typology which describes the combination of African American Baptist religious thoughts and ideas as well as the spiritual habits and practices they embodied. The spiritual formation types discussed are social, evangelical, and contemplative. Each spiritual formation type offers its own fundamental precepts from Christian Scripture, tradition, and doctrine and guides spiritual development towards a specific destination or purpose. The primary context for this research is African American Baptist churches; however, it will be drawing upon resources from the wider scope of Baptists in America and American Christianity. The questions raised in this thesis are whether there is a typology for spiritual formation that describes African American Baptist spirituality and is there a way to discern the spiritual formation types as useful indicators for guiding pastoral leadership, administration, and management. This thesis makes connections between the spiritual formation types and biblical leadership motifs in order to place spiritual formation into conversation with pastoral leadership, in hopes of discovering new ways to understand and serve the spiritual need of the congregation and community.
The methodology of this thesis employs qualitative research which includes church historical records, literary and scholarly journals, autobiographical resources, and contemporary internet source material. The theological approach taken in the thesis is to consider the hermeneutical lens that is being used by the pastoral leader, church, or Baptist organization and view the telos from their point of view. This thesis does not argue for one spiritual formation type over another but rather argues that African American Baptist spirituality utilizes all three types, most times simultaneously, but one is usually predominate with respect to the others. The claim that is made is that by discerning the spiritual formation type, pastoral leadership is empowered with insight on how to best guide and nurture spiritual formation in African American Baptist churches.
African American Baptists
African American Spirituality
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