“Go . . . Do . . . Be . . .” These are the common mantras of spiritual formation. Works like Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life remain classics for their practical guidance on discipleship. Both speak to the motivation and rationale for growth, but they focus primarily on the disciplines themselves.
Formed in His Image: A Guide for Christian Formation takes a different approach. Coleman Ford focuses on why formation matters and what should drive such a pursuit. He addresses the disciplines briefly and broadly, instead emphasizing a more foundational discussion with deep roots in theological convictions and historical understandings.
Ford is assistant professor of humanities at Texas Baptist College. His primary fields of interest have been in the theology of Augustine, patristic theology, and the history of Christian spirituality and formation. In this book, he frames spiritual formation as the process of becoming more like God through the pursuit of his goodness, truth, and beauty. He offers a powerful motivation to grow in Christlikeness.
Formed in His Image
Every day, we are being formed by what we consume and engage. From social media to the latest Netflix binge, our minds are being led by what we ingest with our eyes. Yet, the call of the Christian is this: to be conformed to Christ.
The work of Christian formation is an exercise in surrender of the whole self, dwelling in God’s Word and allowing Him to shape and mold His people.
Lay a Foundation
There is clearly a call for both belief and action in the Christian life. Too much emphasis on discipline can lead to legalistic routine. Too much emphasis on foundational matters can lead to deep contemplations with little action.
Within the limits of his concise volume, Ford addresses many of the aspects not plumbed in the discipline-heavy works while still hitting on the practices that need to be cultivated.
Too much emphasis on discipline can lead to legalistic routine. Too much emphasis on foundational matters can lead to deep contemplations with little action.
Formed in His Image serves a role much like the first half of Ephesians: it covers the theological basis for right living. Ford makes a concerted effort to articulate this driving force and wrestles with how our union with Christ and our Trinitarian convictions affect our understanding of Christian formation.
We have to get the big picture right in order for the practical disciplines to be sustainably effective. For Ford, this process is tied to the ideas of beauty, imagination, and the good life. These concepts are frequently mentioned in the arts and philosophy, but they’re rarely tied so intimately to something as tangible as formation.
This is what makes Ford’s text so critical in this field of study. Practice without purpose is futile. Whitney clearly establishes this principle when he ties the disciplines to the cultivation of godliness; Ford builds on that same idea but with a focus on creativity and flourishing.
Build a Superstructure
Though primarily foundational, Formed in His Image is also practical. These practical disciplines aren’t as developed as in other books in the field, but they’re still instrumental in providing a robust picture of Christian formation.
Isolation and individualism are common in society, even among our churches. This has contributed to an epidemic of loneliness and stunted the spiritual growth of believers. Ford emphasizes the need to practice spiritual discipline in community.
Cultivating meaningful connections to others is a primary way for Christians to reveal Christ to the watching world. We’re designed to be in community with God and others; any fracturing of this design is to our detriment. Ford emphasizes formation through the church and through intentional friendships with others, both of which require resisting the tendencies of our culture. This book is a needed reminder that we cannot grow alone.
Formed in His Image belongs on the shelf with other significant works on spiritual formation. It’s casual, accessible, and relatively short.
In some cases, these positive qualities of the book left me longing for more. For example, though the title of the book mentions the image of God, only a few pages discuss what imago Dei means. Ford does a great job at tying formation to our union with Christ. However, an expanded explanation of the image would have enhanced the vision of God’s design and of our need for sanctification.
This book is a needed reminder that we cannot grow alone.
There are also occasions of possible overstatement, such as Ford’s declaration that establishing a hospitality ministry is “the most theological thing one can do” (48). Or when he describes friendship with God as the “relationship that will define us most in eternity” (189). These superlatives deserved more discussion and defense.
Formed in His Image is a theologically rich book, grounded in historical orthodoxy. It left me with a desire for continued exploration of models of sanctification and of the ordinances as a means of grace. This is the beginning of what promises to be a fruitful journey. As we struggle with our motivation to grow spiritually, Ford demonstrates that a firm foundation is essential. He provides compelling reasons for Christians to pursue formation in God’s image.