Was Paul among the contemplatives?

HTS Theological Studies 72 (3) (2016)

Abstract

This article offers a critique of the contemporary Contemplative Tradition’s view of spiritual transformation from the lens of the universally accepted letters of Paul. The article argues that contemporary contemplatives, especially Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, differ from Paul in three principle areas. Firstly, whereas Paul’s concept of transformation is based largely on objective realities, representatives of the Contemplative Tradition tend to focus on subjective realities. Secondly, contemporary contemplatives view transformation as coming as one imitates the life of Christ, his daily disciplines and activities, whereas Paul’s view centres on the death of Christ as foundational to the Christian’s identity and thus vital to the way they live out their faith. Finally, the cornerstone of the contemporary Contemplative Tradition’s view of spiritual transformation is the belief that the essential means by which transformation takes place is engagement in the spiritual disciplines. It is argued that many of the activities that are denominated as ‘spiritual disciplines’ are not in fact ‘transformative’ activities, and thus do not fit the category of spiritual disciplines. Furthermore, this study insists that Paul seldom links the practice of the disciplines with the means of transformation, offering instead five examples of specific means of transformation that flow out of Paul’s accepted letters.

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