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Kyle Strobel: Formed for the Glory of God

Kyle Strobel, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP, 2013), 191 pages, ISBN 9780830856534.

In Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, Kyle Strobel aims to set forth an evangelical understanding of spiritual formation as inspired by Jonathan Edwards, an eighteenth century Puritan. Spiritual formation is “how Christ forms us by his Spirit that we may live a life for his glory” (p. 14). It is a continual journey that is focused on God, rather than a quick fix that is focused on self. Strobel divides his book into two parts. Part one paints the big picture of the path down which we travel as we aim to live for God’s glory. Part two describes the tools that are given for this journey.

In part one, Strobel identifies the destination of spiritual formation, the path to this destination, and how to walk this path well. The destination of this path is heaven, which is not the end of growth but rather a place where we continue to grow in our relational knowledge of God by seeing him more clearly. Seeing him makes us perfectly happy because the purpose of our lives is to know and love him.

The path to this destination is salvation, which goes beyond forgiveness to include continuous communion with God, in Christ and by the Spirit, as our glorious and beautiful Father. Since he is perfectly good and beautiful, his glory begins with glorifying himself, and extends to draw us into the love relationship within the Trinity. In Strobel’s words, “God knows and loves himself infinitely, enjoys and delights in his own life fully for eternity, and now calls us into that life,” which is a life characterized by beauty (p. 49). This beauty is “primarily a personal and relational reality” wherein we are “captivated, from the depths of [our] heart, by the other person” (p. 50).

Walking this path well involves orienting not only our minds towards God but also our affections because in salvation the Spirit changes our entire beings, not just a part of us. Orienting our affections to God means “having [our] heart inclined to [God] as beautiful” (p. 57). Edwards said that in order to walk in this way we must constantly see and taste God’s glory and beauty.

Spiritual postures instead of spiritual disciplines.

In part two, Strobel describes the tools given for this journey. These are typically called spiritual disciplines, which are often understood as practices that will get us from point A to point B in our spiritual journeys. However, Strobel argues that they should rather be called spiritual postures or means of grace, which should be understood as opportunities “to come to God in a posture of dependence” and receive what he wants to give us (p. 78). In short, he gives us himself by communing with us. This changes us entirely and enables us to bear fruit. Strobel explains various means of grace at length, including self-examination, meditation, contemplation, Sabbath, fasting, conferencing, soliloquy, silence and solitude, and prayer. In their own way, all of these are postures of weakness and openness before God, a readiness to receive from and respond to him. Most can be done on both individual and communal levels, but all are always oriented towards God rather than self. For example, self-examination does not start and end merely with yourself, but rather is a call to “unveil yourself to the God who really knows what your heart is like, so that he can unveil to you the reality of who you actually are” (p. 108). Though some of these means of grace are more specific to Edwards’s context and do not fit seamlessly into ours, the heart of these practices may be duplicated in churches today. Thus, after his description of each means of grace, Strobel includes a section on how we might imitate Edwards today. Furthermore, he attaches three appendices that give practical examples of how to pray, conference, and go on a retreat in light of Edwards’s practices.

Overall, Strobel mines the depths of Edwards’s view of spiritual formation in a way that makes it accessible to readers today. Those wanting to begin or revitalize their devotional practices by grounding them in Scripture and learning from the saints of old (notably, those from a tradition that is known for its emphasis on the importance of spiritual formation as experiencing communion with God on a personal and practical level) would benefit from reading this work, regardless of denominational or academic background. In light of other contemporary books about spiritual disciplines that I have read, Edwards’s view and Strobel’s appropriation of Edwards regarding the topic at hand stands out as one that maintains a balance between God’s role and ours, Scripture and experience, and the mind and affections. Evangelicals today would do well to learn from the Puritans in this area and Strobel’s book provides an excellent starting point.

Reviewed by Jenny-Lyn de Klerk


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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2016

About the Author: Jenny-Lyn de Klerk, PhD (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), has a BA in Christian Studies and an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Ambrose Seminary, specializing in Puritan theology. She is the author of 5 Puritan Women: Portraits of Faith and Love (2023). She and her husband live in Tsawwassen, BC, Canada. Twitter: @puritanjenny

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