Tag Archives: spirituality

Deep in the Burbs Bibliography

Arens, Edmund. Christopraxis: A Theology of Action. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Barnes, Michael R. “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology.” Theological Studies 56, no. 2 (1995): 237-250.

Baum, Fran, Colin MacDougall, and Danielle Smith. “Participatory Action Research.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 60, no. 10 (2006): 854-857.

Bennett, Marlyn. “A Review of the Literature on the Benefits and Drawbacks of Participatory Action Research.” First Peoples Child & Family Review 1, no.! (September 2004): 19-32.

Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. “Missiology after Bosch: Reverencing a Classic by Moving Beyond.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29, no. 2 (2005): 69-72.

Black, Gary. The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

Bliese, Richard H., and Craig Van Gelder. The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005.

Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.

Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series no 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.

Brookfield, Stephen. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

———. The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

———. Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices. The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986.

Cameron, Helen, Deborah Bhatti, and Catherine Duce. Talking About God in Practice: Theological Action Research and Practical Theology. London: SCM Press, 2010.

Charmaz, Kathy. Constructing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006.

Coakley, Sarah. God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘on the Trinity’. 2013.

Conde-Frazier, Elizabeth. “Participatory Action Research: Practical Theology for Social Justice.” Religious Education 101, no. 3 (2006): 321-329.

Conn, Walter E. Christian Conversion: A Developmental Interpretation of Autonomy and Surrender. New York: Paulist Press, 1986.

Davis, Dent C. “Dialogue of the Soul: The Phenomenon of Intrapersonal Peace and the Adult Experience of Protestant Religious Education.” Religious Education 102, no. 4 (2007): 387-402.

Deshler, David, and Merrill Ewert. “Participatory Action Research: Traditions and Major Assumptions.” http://actmad.net/madness_library/POV/DESHLER.PAR (accessed March 20).

Dirkx, John M. “Images, Transformative Learning the Work of Soul.” Adult Learning 12, no. 3 (Summer2001 2001): 15.

ELCA. “Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”  (2011): 232 p.

Ellison, Pat Taylor, and Patrick Keifert. Dwelling in the Word. St. Paul: Church Innovations Institute, 2011.

Engelsviken, T. “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology.” International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (2003): 481-497.

Farley, Edward. Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Fink, Ben. “Organized Ideas, or Defeating the Culture Wars (What We Need to Know, and How We Need to Know It).” PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2014.

Fishman, Robert. Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

Flett, John G. The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010.

Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline : The Path to Spiritual Growth. 20th anniversary ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

———. “Spiritual Formation Agenda: Richard Foster Shares His Three Priorities for the Next 30 Years.” Christianity Today 53, no. 1 (2009): 28-33.

Foster, Richard J., and Julia L. Roller. A Year with God: Living out the Spiritual Disciplines. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Continuum, 2000.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. London: Sheed & Ward, 1975.

Garreau, Joel. Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Gorringe, Timothy. “Living toward a Vision: Cities, the Common Good, and the Christian Imagination.” Anglican Theological Review 91, no. 4 (2009): 521-537.

Grenz, Stanley J. Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004.

Grenz, Stanley J., and John R. Franke. Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Groome, Thomas H. Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures. Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.

———. The Theory of Communicative Action. 2 vols. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Hall, Budd L. “In from the Cold? Reflections on Participatory Research from 1970-2005.” Convergence 38, no. 1 (2005): 5-24.

Hatch, Mary Jo, and Ann L. Cunliffe. Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.

Heifetz, Ronald A., and Martin Linsky. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Hess, Mary E. “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education.” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 271-293.

———. “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education.” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001).

———. Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind. Communication, Culture, and Religion Series. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

———. “Pedagogy and Theology in Cyberspace: All That We Cant Leave Behind.” Teaching Theology & Religion 5, no. 1 (2002).

———. “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community.” Word & World 30, no. 3 (2010): 281-290.

Horsfield, Peter G., Mary E. Hess, and Adán M. Medrano, eds. Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

Hunsberger, George R., and Craig Van Gelder, eds. The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996.

Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Jennings, Willie James. The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology. 2 vols. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

———. The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982.

Kegan, Robert. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

———. In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Kegan, Robert, and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Leadership for the Common Good. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Keifert, Patrick R. Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009.

———. “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum.” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998): 282-290.

———. We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery. Eagle, ID: Allelon Publishing, 2006.

———. Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Kelsey, David H. To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological About a Theological School. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Knowles, Malcolm S., Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 7th ed. Boston: Elsevier, 2011.

Martin, Bruce. “Transforming a Local Church Congregation through Action Research.” Educational Action Research 9, no. 2 (2001/06/01 2001): 261-278.

Mead, George Herbert, and Charles W. Morris. Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago press, 1934.

Melancthon, Philip. The Augsburg Confession. Edited by F. Bente and W.H.T. Dau. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921. .pdf.

Merriam, Sharan B., Rosemary S. Caffarella, and Lisa Baumgartner. Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Mitchell, Jolyon P. Media Violence and Christian Ethics. New Studies in Christian Ethics 30. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1986.

———. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans; WCC Publications 1989.

Norton, Christine Lynn, Amy Russell, Betsy Wisner, and John Uriarte. “Reflective Teaching in Social Work Education: Findings from a Participatory Action Research Study.” Social Work Education 30, no. 4 (2011): 392-407.

Orfield, Myron. Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability. Cambridge, MA: Brookings Institution Press; Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1997.

Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. 10th anniversary ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

———. To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. 1st HarperCollins pbk ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Placher, William C. The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Platt, David. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. 1st ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010.

Polkinghorne, J. C. The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010.

Powell, Samuel M. Participating in God: Creation and Trinity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Reynhout, Kenneth A. Interdisciplinary Interpretation: Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Theology and Science. text.

Roxburgh, Alan J. Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition. Leadership Network. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Scandrette, Mark. Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011.

Scharer, Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen. The Practice of Communicative Theology: Introduction to a New Theological Culture. New York: Crossroad Pub. CO, 2008.

Schneiders, Sandra M. “A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows. Balitmore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

———. “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Democratizing Biblical Studies: Toward an Emancipatory Educational Space. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Sheldrake, Philip. “Christian Spirituality as a Way of Living Publicly: A Dialectic of the Mystical and Prophetic.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

———. Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998.

Shults, F. LeRon. The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999.

Simmons, Ernest L. The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

Simpson, Gary M. Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination. Guides to Theological Inquiry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

———. “No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity.” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998): 264-271.

Stoecker, Randy. “Are Academics Irrelevant? Roles for Scholars in Participatory Research.” In American Sociologcial Society Annual Meeting, 1997.

Tanner, Kathryn. Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology. Guides to Theological Inquiry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

Teaford, Jon C. The American Suburb: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Thomason, Steven P. “Thketch of Kegan’s Five Orders.” 13:09, 2012.

Tisdell, Elizabeth J. Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Van Gelder, Craig. “Effects of Auto-Mobility on Church Life and Culture.” Word & World 28, no. 3 (2008): 237-249.

———. The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

———. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

Van Gelder, Craig, and Dwight J. Zscheile. The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation. The Missional Network. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011.

Vella, Jane Kathryn. Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Sacra Doctrina. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Wallis, Allan D. “Filling the Governance Gap.” National Civic Review 87, no. 1 (1998).

Welker, Michael. God the Spirit. 1st English-language ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.

Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002.

Wuthnow, Robert. After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Zizioulas, Jean, and Paul McPartlan. Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. New York: T & T Clark, 2006.

Spirituality and Spiritual Formation | Defining Terms

The DITB project is an exercise both about and of spiritual formation. It is necessary, therefore, to clearly define this term. What is spiritual formation, and more precisely, how do I use this term in the context of this research? In order to answer that question, I must briefly address the relationship between the terms spiritual formation and spirituality. Many people today are more comfortable with the term spirituality, because it has broader application than Christianity or any form of organized religion. I prefer the term spiritual formation because it implies movement and change. This is, admittedly, a personal preference and I will use the terms interchangeably throughout this paper.[1]

Schneiders makes a distinction between the definition of spirituality and the definition of Christian spirituality. Spirituality, she says, is “the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life-integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”[2] Christian spirituality “as an academic discipline is an attempt to realize, by bringing serious and personally transforming study to bear on the ultimate human value of union with God, what is arguably the most cited text in the Christian canon, Jesus’ promise, ‘if you remain in my word you will become my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’ (Jn. 8:31-33).”[3] She states that “the primary aim of the discipline of spirituality…is to understand the phenomena of the Christian spiritual life as experience…it is a function of interpretation (hermeneutics).”[4]

Schneiders’ perspective on spirituality gives further justification for the use of participatory action research and constructivist methodologies. The act of the research itself was a form of spiritual formation as the RT interacted with the social Trinity, each other, and the neighbor.

Another important aspect of spirituality that frames this research is the idea that spirituality is inherently a public practice, not only a private one. Philip Sheldrake is a key voice in this perspective.[5] He says

the mystical-contemplative dimension of spirituality—often described in terms of interiority—is a vital ingredient in our engagement with transformative practice in the outer, public world. Unfortunately, however, Western culture remains deeply polarized. The private sphere (inwardness, family, and close friends) is privileged as the backstage where the individual is truly him/herself, relaxing unobserved before putting on various personae which the self needs in order to play out different roles on the stage of social life. But, from a Christian point of view, is living in public a matter of a role that it is possible to shed or opt not to play…. Human existence and Christian discipleship inherently embody a common task. “The public” is thus better thought of as a dimension of identity, an aspect of the individual self.[6]

Schneiders’ and Sheldrakes’ definition create an important focus for the issues to which we must attend in this research project. Schneiders, in an attempt to create the broadest definition of spirituality possible, indicates that spirituality is:[7]

  1. Conscious involvement: Let us call this intentionality. Spirituality requires doing something. The individual has some agency.
  2. Life-integration through self-transcendence: Let us call this the means. There is a process in which (1) all of life takes on integrated meaning—it has purpose, and (2) the means to get there is to get beyond one’s self.
  3. Toward the ultimate value one perceives: Let us call this vision. Spirituality requires a goal—a telos—that compels the individual to take action and move toward self-transcendence.[8]

These categories are like empty boxes allowing each individual, operating from his or her own lifeworld, to fill in the blanks. What unifies all spiritualities is that they have these boxes, but what distinguishes them is what they place inside the boxes.

This system correlates with Dallas Willard’s proposal of VIM—Vision, Intention, Means.[9] I mention Dallas Willard in this context for the following reasons. First, it is my observation that there are two camps in the Spiritual Formation/Spirituality conversation in the academy today. The line seems to be drawn along similar contours of the classic fault line between Ecumenical Christians and Evangelical Christians that has characterized Western theology in the twentieth century.[10] Schneiders and Sheldrake represent the former and Willard and Foster[11] represent the latter. Second, Dallas Willard was a significant part of my spiritual formation.[12] Third, I believe an important move for the future of the missional church is for these two camps to begin cross-pollinating with more frequency.[13] Fourth, I believe that one of the primary reasons for this division is the ongoing debate between transcendence and immanence.[14]

The fourth point mentioned above is worth parsing out further. It gets at the heart of what I am trying to discern through this research project. It is my assumption that the model of the Trinity an individual operates within—either the Transcendent Immanent Trinity or the Immanent Economic Trinity—is related to how she “fills in the blanks” of Schneiders’ boxes.

Allow me to draw a caricature of each lifeworld in order to demonstrate the differences. On the one hand, the typical evangelical Christian functions within the lifeworld of dualistic, substance ontology—the Transcendent Immanent Trinity. This informs the Vision, Intention, and Means accordingly. The vision is to escape the physical world so that the individual might be united with God in Heaven. The intention rests solely on personal agency, fueled by radical individualism. The means, and definition of self-transcendence, is to (a) pray to accept Jesus as Savior (this is dying to self), and (b) work diligently to practice spiritual disciplines to promote personal holiness (read as separateness from the fallen world) and to be empowered to share the Gospel with others so that they might also escape the physical world. Self-Transcendence, then, is the ultimate, substantive transcendence to be with God in Heaven when you die, or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first.

On the other hand, the typical ecumenical Christian functions within the immanence lifeworld, in which there is only one substance—the physical universe—of which God is indistinguishable—the Immanent Economic Trinity. The vision is to either (a) bring about peace on earth through the eradication of war, poverty, hunger, and disease, or, (b) to find inner peace, tranquility, and to find resonance with the energy of the universe (God). The intention is pure individual agency. The means is through either (a) community participation—understanding that community is the voluntary association of individuals—getting everyone involved to work together toward the common good, or (b) spiritual practices like meditation and yoga that are intended to bring the physical body into alignment with the universe (God). The self-transcendence of the former is to put the good of the many over the good of the self. The self-transcendence of the latter is to release the illusion of the false-self—Ego—and connect to the true self that is one with the universe (God).[15]

These two Christian Spiritualities are radically different and form a seemingly irreconcilable duality. Ironically, they exist as two sides of the same modern dogma. They exist because of the dualisms prevalent in modernity—the Platonic dualism that divides God from creation, the Cartesian dualism that divides observer from object and spawns rationalism, and the Kantian dualism that divides perceiver from object, and spawns subjectivism. It is my proposal that a postfoundational theology—which is formed within the social Trinity—provides a third way that can reconcile these divergent Christian Spiritualities and invite the body of Christ to imagine new rhythms of spiritual formation that reform the church in a missional imagination to be prophetic public companions witnessing to the hope of God’s preferred and promised future. It is my further proposition that both Schneiders/Sheldrake—on the ecumenical side—and Willard—on the Evangelical side—are already making those moves through a phenomenological understanding of knowledge and communicative action.[16]


[1] I agree with Wuthnow that the spirituality needed today is beyond the sedimentary spirituality of dwelling common in the 1950s, and more grounded than the spirituality of seeking common in the 1960s-90s. Wuthnow proposes a practiced spirituality, akin to the Exercises of Ignatius Loyola or the Rules of Benedict. Some, in the Lutheran tradition, have resisted the term spiritual formation because it denotes a theology of glory or a works-based righteousness. I disagree. Yes, God has given us the gift of salvation and for this there is nothing we can do. However, God has also called us into relationship with God and others. All relationships require work. We are God’s children and our relationship with God is one of ongoing development, not for earning love or grace, but for growing within the gift of grace as we relate to the others around us. See Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

[2] Schneiders, “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline,” 6.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Schneiders, “A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality,” 57.

[5] Sheldrake, A Brief History of Spirituality; Sheldrake, Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology, and Social Practice; Philip Sheldrake, “Practicing Catholic “Place”: The Eucharist,” Horizons 28, no. 2 (2001); Sheldrake, “Spirituality and Social Change: Rebuilding the Human City; Sheldrake, “Imaginative Theology: A Strategy of Subversion; Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God; Sheldrake, “Spirituality and the Integrity of Theology; Philip Sheldrake, “The Study of Spirituality,” Theological Trends.

[6] Philip Sheldrake, “Christian Spirituality as a Way of Living Publicly: A Dialectic of the Mystical and Prophetic,” in Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, ed. Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 289.

[7] Schneiders, “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline,” 6.

[8] Schwartz provides an excellent discussion of telos as it relates to practical wisdom—which I associate with spirituality. Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe, Practical Wisdom the Right Way to Do the Right Thing (New York: Simon & Schuster Audio,), sound recording

[9] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 85-91.

[10] We can also label this the classic theologically liberal vs. conservative schism.

[11] See Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline : The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th anniversary ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998); Richard J. Foster, “Spiritual Formation Agenda: Richard Foster Shares His Three Priorities for the Next 30 Years,” Christianity Today 53, no. 1 (2009); Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller, A Year with God: Living out the Spiritual Disciplines, 1st ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009).

[12] See appendix A.

[13] There is hopeful evidence of this happening in the membership of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality which is a sub-set of the American Academy of Religion.

[14] I will discuss this in the next chapter.

[15] The topic of self-transcendence is much more nuanced than the polarities that I am presenting in this argument, of course. I have engaged in the discussion of this apparent dichotomy to (a) further explore the dichotomies of my own lived experience between the ecumenical and evangelical perspectives, and (b) further demonstrate how the social Trinity provides an alternative “third way” that brings both extremes into constructive dialogue. For more on self-transcendence, see Conn, Christian Conversion: A Developmental Interpretation of Autonomy and Surrender.

[16] I am deeply indebted to Gary Black for helping me draw these lines of connection between Willard and phenomenology. Gary Black, The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013).

Age Matters: How Spiritual Formation in the Suburbs Must Address the Age Gap

One thing that surprised me about the DITB Project was the average age of the team. Most of the team members were over 50. I must confess that I was initially disappointed and discouraged by this, but was ultimately humbled. The disappointment and discouragement stemmed from my initial expectation that I would focus in this project on the stereotypical suburban family that has children in late elementary or secondary school and spends exorbitant amounts of time taxiing children to various extra curricular activities. I was interested to know how an engagement in spiritual and theological conversation might impact their spiritual formation. I reached out to many families within this demographic and was repeatedly and politely denied. “We’d love to participate. Thank you for asking. But, we’re just (you guessed it) too busy.”

What was I thinking? One of the biggest challenges that face the suburban family is the overwhelming amount of opportunities for activity and the social pressure to engage and excel in all of them. What family, given all the opportunities available to them, would choose to dedicate nine months of their lives to talk about social Trinity and spiritual formation to help a pastor in the pursuit of a PhD? The thing that I hoped to explore was the thing that kept them from engaging. This reflects one of the core issues that every suburban church faces. How does the church compete with all the other opportunities that vie for the suburban family’s attention and allegiance?

The people that did have more time to devote to a nine-month project, and an interest in the topic of spiritual formation, were those over the age of fifty. So, I was discouraged and disappointed that the median age of the DITB team was over 50. There were fifteen household units represented on the team and only four of them represented the family-with-active-children category. The other eleven households were all past that phase and had adult children. Some had grandchildren and some did not. How would we truly get after the issues of suburban living that I felt were at the heart of my questions?

These thoughts of discouragement and disappointment were all present prior to our first meeting. My feelings of disappointment and discouragement were replaced with feelings of humility and gratitude after the first meeting. God had assembled a far better team than the one I had envisioned. We did have four households that were in the thick of the suburban family situation, so that was good. However, the eleven households that were beyond that phase offered two things that those within it could never offer. First, they offered experience. They had raised their children in the suburban context during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and some as recent as the 00s. Granted, society was pre-internet at that time, but the pressure to succeed and the carting to various activities were very much real. They had lived it and could speak to it. However, the second thing they offered was priceless. They offered the wisdom that comes from perspective. They had been there, done that, and have lived to tell about it.

I came to realize that the presence of older team members became vital to the research for three reasons. First, the wisdom and perspective had a mentoring effect on the younger members of the team. Second, it reflected Kegan’s theory of cognitive development and gives credence to Bob’s Big Idea. Finally, it represents the future of the suburban landscape as the average age of the suburbs is increasing each year. Each of these points has practical implication for missional church leaders, and I will address them each in turn.

Addressing the Age Gap

The typical suburban Lutheran church has three generations always present: the grandparents, the parents, and the children. These generations have always been present, but, of course, shift with the passing of time. The current snapshot of these generations, at the time of this writing, offers a unique moment in the history of Western society as it relates to both the postmodern shift and the rapid change in technology. The older generation, born in the 1930s and 1940s, was educated during the 1950s when the average American small town or suburban context was (a) racially segregated, (b) dominated by modern rationalist epistemological and pedagogical philosophies, and (c) surrounded by a dominant Judeo-Christian Culture in which Biblical themes were present in public media and local church attendance was considered a civic duty.[1] This is important to note in the context of this study since this generation was part of the urban sprawl that took place during the post-WWII 1950s and 1960s in which young families followed the highways and cheap housing out of the urban centers and sought the garden utopia that the suburban lifestyle offered under the contract of the American Dream.[2] While many Lutherans followed the migration from the city to the suburbs, the typical story of this generation, at least within the congregations represented in the DITB project, is one of people who were raised in the rural mid-west in a context dominated by one particular type of Lutheran church. It was only in their adult lives that they moved into the suburban context and sought churches that preserved their Lutheran heritage. In either case, the older generation is first-generation suburban Lutherans who bring a Christian-cultured perspective to the role of the local congregation.

The middle generation are those born in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these people were born in the suburbs and have lived their entire lives in the suburban context, or have moved from the economically struggling small town into the suburban context as young adults. They spent the first half of their lives in pre-computer Reaganomics and their adult lives experiencing the quantum leap into the digital age: from microwave ovens, to cable television, to personal computers, to the internet, to HD television, to smart phones and social media. Some of this generation has been early adopters of digital media, others still function in a paper-based world. This generation, often referred to as Generation X in the 1990s, was the first to experience the mainstream effects of postmodern thought and the disillusionment of the American Dream. This is the first generation of adults to experience a culture in which local church attendance is not the dominant cultural expectation. It is also the first adult generation to experience a globalized world in which career advancement often requires transcontinental and often international relocation. It is the first generation to actualize the radical individual self and the displacement experienced by self-actualization.[3]

The younger generation, born in the 1990s and 2000s, are often called the Millenials. This is the first generation to never know life without the internet and instant access to various forms of information and entertainment via personal digital devices and social media. This generation lives with a global awareness and connectivity never before imagined by the older generations. This is the first generation to experience a globalized, pluralistic world in which the white, middle-class, Christian culture is not the dominant culture of their experience, but is simply one culture among many cultures that are offered up as a smorgasbord of preference for the informed consumer. It is the first generation to experience globalized equality as the norm rather than the voice of the minority raging against the system.

This simplified, almost caricatured portrait of these three generations articulates an obvious gap between them. Each generation can safely say that the suburb of 2014 is not our parent’s world. The challenge that lies before us in the missional suburban church is one of addressing the gap between the generations and cultivating generative spaces between them. The younger generation needs the wisdom of age, and the older generation needs the skills to navigate the digital world. This brings us to our second issue of age matters.

Bob’s Big Idea

I noted in chapter two that Kegan’s theory of the five orders of consciousness offers a helpful framework for understanding the dynamics of spiritual formation. It becomes helpful again in this specific issue of age matters that I have listed above. Let me briefly review Kegan’s theory. He states that there are five basic phases through which the neuro-typical human being evolves throughout the course of life. The first three phases are fairly automatic and happen as a result of development from childhood to adolescence. Most adults remain in third-order consciousness for the remainder of their lives, and, prior to Kegan’s research in the 1980s, it was believed were unable to move beyond it.

Third order consciousness is that in which the individual perceives herself as a part of a larger system, and that the larger system is the sum-total of reality. The individual knows her place in society and has the choice to either accept that place, or rebel against it. In either case, there is basically one reality in which life functions. Kegan uses a historical metaphor to explain these orders. The third-order is the Traditionalist period in which the laws and mores of the tradition are the lived reality of every member of society.

Fourth-order consciousness, Kegan argues, is that phase in which the individual is faced with contradictory and competing cultural systems and realizes that the world is bigger than his own system of origin. This is the modern problem in which most of us feel “in over our heads.”[4] The individual that moves into fourth-order consciousness perceives himself as a radical, atomistic, individual who is a free-agent in the universe and able to negotiate his way through transactional-relational spaces. Kegan uses the historical metaphor of the Modern Era to describe the fourth-order and claims that it still dominates Western society.

I would like to add a geographical metaphor to Kegan’s historical metaphor. We might compare the third order to a small town and the fourth-order to the suburbs. Third-order consciousness is akin to the small town/rural mid-west context of the 1940s and 1950s, in which the older generation began. Several team members described their small town upbringing as one in which one particular religious tradition (typically a Lutheran church) dominated the town. This churched-culture provided a centralizing, unifying, and homogenizing effect on the society. The homogeneity and ubiquitous nature of the churched-culture created a third-order reality in which the typical young adult believed that the ways of this small town were the ways of the entire world.

Fourth-order consciousness is akin to the suburban context. The suburban ideal is one of radical individualism in which the self-sufficient free-agent marks off his own property with fences and garage doors, moves himself through space in his automobile, and chooses his own use of private time to achieve the maximum benefit for his own perceived objectives. Any relationships he has are transactional, conditional, and utilitarian. This includes work, marriage, friendship, civic, and religious affiliations, in that order of priority. This is the modern suburbanite.

Before we discuss the fifth-order consciousness and Bob’s Big Idea, it is important to note the danger of my geographical metaphor. It would be dangerous to suggest that all small town people are third-order thinkers and that all suburbanites are fourth-order thinkers. This is simply false. The point of my metaphor is to imagine the simplicity, homogeneity, and centrality of the church in the small town in contrast to the urban sprawl, disconnectedness, and propensity for independence fostered by the suburban city planning and architecture.

The truth is that the suburbs are full of a mixture of third and fourth-order consciousness. In fact, according to Kegan, the majority of adults, regardless of location, function in third-order thinking. The challenging aspect of the suburbs is that, due to the transient, mobile nature of the globalized world, the typical suburb is a potpourri of various systems-of-origin. Very few suburban residents are from the suburbs, thus they come from somewhere else and bring with them their own cultural system. If they are functioning in third-order consciousness, then they believe that their own cultural system is the same system within which everyone else functions. When this individual has the inevitable encounter with a person from another cultural system, she will usually either respond by withdrawing and seeking a like-minded enclave, or reacting and seeking to eliminate the “wrong” point of view. The survival tactic of the modern era, Kegan argues, is to evolve into fourth-order thinking in which one acknowledges the potpourri nature of the suburban context and learns to utilize the differences for personal advantage. This is the enlightened, modern suburbanite who feels she has adapted.

Let us bring this conversation into the context of the suburban congregation and spiritual formation. There are two basic categories of suburbanites with respect to faith. There are those who fully embrace the secular age and have completely removed themselves from the cultural expectations of religious involvement and seek to live fully in the public sector. Then, there are those who choose to engage in various levels of faith, realizing that this has been relegated to the private sector of life. Within this segment of the faith-engaged population there is a wide assortment of people-groups represented in the suburbs. The diversity of this population is increasing each year as the demographics of the suburbs shift. The faith-engaged suburbanite is faced with an overwhelming amount of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples from which to choose. Now, with the increasing population of “nones” there is also the increasing choice of self-actuated spirituality in which the discerning suburbanite can engage.

The member of the suburban ELCA congregation is left with a dizzying array of choices and pressures from many angles. Typically, the older generation has been part of the same church which transplanted the Lutheran tradition into the suburban context and they consider themselves cradle-to-grave Lutherans and, thus, feel no pressure to leave the church. The middle generation, however, especially those whose parents come from the third-order, small-town Lutheran system, feel pressure to get their kids involved in Sunday School and Confirmation. Yet, the traditional Lutheran liturgy leaves many of the middle-generation, and even more of the millenials, wanting. The younger generations are faced with multiple church options. There are many denominations, and supposedly non-denominational, suburban churches that seek, and market themselves, to meet the felt needs of the overwhelmed, middle-aged suburbanite who is disillusioned with the traditional church, but feels a need for spirituality. This marketing strategy often pulls the middle-generation Lutheran away from the familial allegiance of their parent’s church. The Millenials sense the inconsistency of their parents and the disconnect between their grandparent’s faith and the pluralistic, globalized landscape of their lived experience. How do these generations navigate this space?

A further complication in this scenario comes with Kegan’s argument that the human being is not able to evolve past the third and fourth order of consciousness until after middle age. In other words, the Millenials live in a pluralistic world but function cognitively within a third-order consciousness. Therefore, they can only recognize the cognitive dissonance between the generational and denominational worlds, but do not have the cognitive ability to process it constructively. This is an anxiety-producing predicament. Similarly, the middle-generation is able to evolve into the fourth order, but, for those who do so, this leaves them in a self-focused, utilitarian space of transactional relationships. Perhaps it is the combination of these things which is increasingly motivating the middle-generation and the Millenials to either opt-out of faith altogether or to self-identity in the “none” zone as spiritual but not religious. This, too, leaves the older generation—many of whom are also in third- or fourth-order thinking—wringing their hands as they watch their children and grandchildren walk out the church doors and wonder, “What did we do wrong?”

Kegan suggests that a solution to these problems comes with the evolution to fifth-order consciousness. He labels this with the metaphor of the Postmodern era. The fifth-order consciousness recognizes that the individual is not actually an independent agent in the universe. Rather, the individual exists in an interdependent relationship with her system of origin and, further, her system of origin exists in an interdependent relationship with all other world-systems. Fifth-order thinking situates the individual in a place of humility that acknowledges one’s own limitations and need for the other. This humility opens space for communicative action to take place and, Kegan argues, is the only hope for true peace on earth.

Bob’s Big Idea, as Kegan calls it, states that humanity is evolving toward the fifth-order of consciousness.[5] He notes that advancements in medical technology over the past century have extended the average life expectancy from 45 years to 70 years. This development means that there will be a larger number of people over the age of fifty than has ever been alive at the same time in human history. Since fifth-order consciousness cannot be reached until after the age of fifty, there will be a higher chance of more people who will be functioning in fifth-order thinking. This, Kegan suggests, is an evolutionary adaptation in which the human species is trying to get enough people to reach the ability to figure out world peace before we, through our majority third-order thinkers, annihilate ourselves.

In other words, I became grateful that the RT represented the older generation more than the middle generation. It became apparent to me that the older generation brought with it the capacity to move into the fifth-order thinking and bring larger perspective to the conversation.

The Aging Suburbs

I have noted two reasons why I was grateful for the older age of the RT. First, there was a sense of mentoring going on between the older and younger team members. Second, it demonstrated Kegan’s theory of the five orders of consciousness. The third and final reason why the older age of the team was important for this study is that it represents the future of the suburbs. The Met Council report on the future of the suburbs indicates that the median age of the suburbs will increase dramatically over the next two decades. This is true for two reasons. First, the baby-boomer generation is retiring and living longer. There are simply more people in this age bracket than in any other, and the majority of them live in the suburbs. Second, an increasing number of younger families are moving into the city where they are closer to amenities and less dependent on automobile transportation.

The aging suburban population leaves the missional suburban church leader with the challenge to cultivate spaces that connects with the aging middle generation and the emerging Millenial generation.


[1] Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s.

[2] Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia; Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States; Teaford, The American Suburb: The Basics.

[3] Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race; Taylor, A Secular Age.

[4] Thus the title of Kegan’s seminal work. Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

[5] RSA Blog. “Searching for a Way Out of Hell: Mental Complexity, Wellbeing, and Bob’s Big Idea.” http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2013/socialbrain/searching-hell-mental-complexity-wellbeing-bobs-big-idea/ (accessed January 7, 2015)



I am a suburban pastor. I love the suburbs and the busy suburbanites that live in them. It is my native environment and I would not trade it. However, I must confess something. It is difficult to be a suburban pastor. It is especially difficult to be a suburban pastor who is trying to cultivate spaces for spiritual formation and a missional imagination for a Lutheran congregation.

Suburbanites are busy people who are pulled in a hundred directions and feel immense societal pressures to be successful and productive in every area of life. Beyond that, they are expected to produce even more successful children. The suburban Lutheran family has the additional pressure to make sure that their children are not only the best in sports, academics, and the arts, but are also properly baptized, catechized, and confirmed along the way. Suburbanites find themselves running from one activity to the next, constantly trying to decide which is the most efficient use of their precious time to yield that greatest result to meet all of the expectations placed upon them.

The suburban pastor is faced with a challenge. How do we cultivate spaces of spiritual formation when church involvement is merely one item on a vast menu of choices? Is it possible to cultivate missional spirituality in the suburbs? Can we be deep in the burbs? That is the heart of the question I will try to address in the pages that follow.

Outline To The Introduction

Life Is Story

This dissertation is more than an academic endeavor. It is a story. It is the convergence of four stories, actually. First, it is my story. Deep in the Burbs is not merely a research project for me. It is part of my ongoing spiritual formation and a direct result of how God has led me to this place in my life. Second, this dissertation is the story of the Deep in the Burbs research team. Eighteen people from three suburban ELCA congregations joined me in a participatory action research project to explore spiritual formation in the suburbs. Third, it is the story of the church in Western society and how we currently find ourselves in an era of massive cultural shifts that cause us to reimagine what it means to be the church. Finally, this is God’s story from which, in which, and for which all these other stories exist.

It is also the story of a single question. We asked: How might an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations?

I had an idea about the social Trinity and I wanted to see what would happen if I introduced this idea to a group of suburbanites. I invited people from ELCA congregations in three adjacent suburbs to form a participatory action research team at the end of Feburary, 2014. We met eight times to discuss and reflect upon our ideas about the Trinity, spiritual formation, and life in the suburbs. I invited the team to dream new dreams about spiritual formation in the suburban context. The team members created action projects that expressed their new ideas about the social Trinity and spiritual formation. They carried out those projects in their own contexts over the course of seven months. Finally, the team regrouped in November, 2014 and tried to make sense out of what happened in our experiences. This dissertation is the story of that team, what we learned, and why we think it matters for the missional church in the suburbs.

There is a theological reason for presenting this dissertation as a story. Life is story. Notice that I didn’t say life is a story, as if it were a single story being told by a single narrator. No, life is story, or, perhaps more accurately, life is the communicative process of living in and making sense through story. Perhaps we might call it storying. It is the human activity of shared, lived experiences. Stories do not exist in a vacuum. They require personal interaction. They are the interaction between the narrator, the audience, and the meaning-making that happens in the process of the telling, the listening, the retelling, and the acting. It is a dynamic process that is created by and carried out within human community. Human beings are creatures that live into and make meaning through stories. We are more than homo sapiens, we are homo narrans.[1]

Every Story Has A Prologue

Before I move any further into the story of this dissertation, let us first address some questions that will serve as an introduction to the story and the storytellers. There are four basic questions that will provide an outline for the introduction. How am I writing it? To whom am I writing? Why am I doing this? Why is this question important?

How Am I Writing This?

I will intentionally write in the first person and imagine my reader as an individual who brings his or her own story to the telling of mine. I do not believe this diminishes the scholarly pursuit in any way. Further, I think it enhances the scholarship since it tears through the facade of objectivity and invites you, the reader, to engage in your own experience of these stories as you read them in your own time and in your own way.[2]

I will also write with the RT specifically in mind. This creates an interesting challenge for me as an academic writer. No one on the RT is a professional academic. I will strive to avoid academic jargon as much as possible and to communicate with clear, accessible language. Please do not misunderstand me. This has nothing to do with intelligence. Each member of the RT is a well-educated professional within his or her own context. The issue at hand is the tendency of any group to create a vocabulary that serves as insider shorthand to communicate a large set of assumptions in concise language. Academic theologians have a large vocabulary that may be helpful for scholars to communicate with scholars, but the same vocabulary tends to create a rigid boundary between the academy and the local congregation. It will become clear throughout this dissertation that one of our primary findings is that the work of the missional church leader is to cultivate spaces in which these types of rigid boundaries become more porous and a more democratic communication can open up between previously divided groups. The barrier between the academy and the church needs to become more porous. It is my desire to write this dissertation in such a way that I maintain both academic integrity and communicate clearly so that the church can connect to the research findings and use them for fruitful ministry.

I attempt to write clearly for the non-academic reader in this dissertation, but let the readers take note: Not all chapters are equally successful. Each chapter has its own flavor—and degree of academic jargon—that reflects its intention. Chapter two is the least narrative and the most academic chapter of them all. The goal of chapter two is to provide the theoretical and theological framework for why I asked the question and how I framed the project. It covers a large landscape and often requires the efficiency of language that can only be achieved through academic shorthand. Chapter three is the most narrative of them all. It simply tells the story of the RT, using a human life cycle as a motif: conception, gestation, birth, life, and death. Chapter four is the bravest attempt to communicate the findings of the RT in clear, accessible, narrative language that maintains academic integrity and also provides useful suggestions for missional suburban church leaders.

To Whom Am I Writing?

I have three intended audiences and one accidental audience in mind as I write this dissertation. It is important to name these audiences, since the process of storying is an embodied one in which my lived experience meets yours. Keeping you in mind—whichever audience you may be—will help to focus my telling of this story.

To The Research Team

The first audience is the Deep in the Burbs Research Team. This project, and the findings that emerge from it, belong to the RT as much as they do to me.[3] Yes, I invited the team members to be part of the project. I asked the question. I set the table for discussion. Beyond that, however, the team participated in a communicative, collaborative, co-creative process that took this research to places that I could have never imagined on my own. It is my job to express, in writing, what we discovered and created together. I write this dissertation with them and for them.

The RT is comprised of eighteen people from three ELCA congregations in three adjacent suburban cities in an Upper-Midwestern Metropolitan area. One of these congregations is my own congregation where I serve as the Pastor of Spiritual Formation. The other two congregations are members of the same conference and synod in which our congregation is a member. All of the RT members are white, middle-class, educated, English-speaking, adult, male and female suburbanites that grew up in the Midwest United States and are actively involved in one of these congregations.[4] Some are life-long Lutherans, others are not, and thus they all bring to the conversation a fairly diverse range of Christian experiences. It is important to note these demographics because this research focuses on spiritual formation in the ELCA suburban context. The RT is a good representation of the kinds of people that comprise the majority of the three congregations, and most suburban ELCA congregations in general.[5]

To The Academy

The second intended audience is the academy. You might find it curious that I have placed the academy second. Is this not an academic, doctoral dissertation? I place the academy second, behind the RT, for one simple reason. I know my own academic context within the department of Congregational Mission and Leadership at Luther Seminary. Our goal in this program is to explore and live into a new imagination—a missional imagination—that will encourage church leaders to discern what God is doing in the world and join God in God’s mission.[6] We believe that a reasonably adequate Christian theology is done in, with, under, against, and for the local congregation.[7] The purpose of this dissertation is not to demonstrate my ability to use academic jargon and join an elite club. The goal is to engage in robust academic research and then clearly communicate the findings to the RT and the church. I believe that one of God’s primary callings on my life is to be able to bridge the gap between the academic world and the local congregation. I seek to practice that calling in the writing of this dissertation.

To God

It is important that you understand how I understand God to be present in, with, and through the research process and the writing of this paper. I write this paper as I participate in the Trinity—the three persons of God in dynamic, creative, sustaining relationship.[8] The first person—God the Creator—has given me life and calls me into a preferred and promised future in which my vocation as a pastor and theologian is an integral part. The second person—God the Redeemer—has embodied this calling through the incarnation of the Word-became-flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, recorded in the canon of scripture, embody God’s self-emptying, other-oriented love that demonstrates, in physical ways, how God invites me into the way of the cross, to be emptied of my false self, so that I might fully engage with other human beings for the purpose of love and peace. It is through the reconciling advocacy of Jesus with the Creator that I am at peace with God and find direction for my vocation. The third person—God the Sustainer, the Holy Spirit—is the ever-present, animating force of life that moves throughout the world like wind, fire, and water. The Spirit is that which indwells, illumines, empowers, convicts, and compels me to follow the way of the cross and unites me to all things in God’s created universe and, ultimately with God. It is the dynamic relationship of these three persons that creates my life and in which I live and move and have my being. I write these words cognizant of the fact that it is for the Creator, through the Redeemer, and in the power of the Sustainer that I am able to write anything and contribute anything of value to anyone.

To The Accidental Reader

Finally, it is important to note one last audience. The accidental audience. A text like this takes on a life of its own and may be read by many different people over a long span of time.[9] This is especially true in the digital, internet age. You may be reading this in the year 2073, orbiting around Mars, or you may be in the year 2016, in the next suburb over from me, with no idea that we’ve walked past each other in WalMart. I invite you, the accidental, but beloved reader, to engage in your own experience of these stories as you read them in your own time, through your medium of choice—laptop, tablet, phone, printed copy—in your own space—coffee shop, office, public bus, bamboo hut—for your own reasons, and interpret them in light of your own story. My hope, and prayer, is that you will learn something new, see something in a new way, and be inspired to move further into your own set of stories with hope for God’s preferred and promised future.

Why Am I Doing This?

The reason I am writing this dissertation boils down to one simple word. Love. I love God, the church, and the world. I realize that this may sound trite, but I truly mean this. Let me explain. First, when I say love, I don’t mean that sentimental feeling we get when we watch a Hallmark movie, or see a cute puppy, or go on a first date. No, love is something much deeper than that. It is like a root that burrows deep into the core of your being that wraps so tightly inside of you that when it seems that all else has been stripped away by the storms of stress and conflict, the root remains.

I Love God

I cannot explain God. In fact, the more I study theology the less I can explain anything and the more I stand in awe at the complexity, beauty, and incomprehensible love and grace that is the Triune Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of this amazing universe. I have known God’s love since I was a child. It was first manifest through my parents as they demonstrated faithful love to me, to my brothers, and to the congregations they served. I have always wanted to live my life in service to and for the glory of God. My understanding of God has been viewed through my experiences in the Baptist lens, the Mega-church Evangelical lens, the Emerging/House Church lens, and now is expanding exponentially through the missional/Lutheran lens. The constant throughout all these lenses is my personal experience of God’s love and grace in my own life and the deep sense that God has led me to each place that I have lived and served. I have followed these leadings, because I love God and trust in God’s love and faithfulness to me and to the world God is creating. Now, I believe that God has led me to this research project. It is my prayer that the things we learned will help others grow deeper into the love of God.

I Love The Church

My love for the church is not a naïve love. I grew up as a pastor’s kid and watched the church repeatedly abuse my parents through angry disagreements and church splits. I have been a pastor in the local suburban church for over twenty years and have also experienced the same kind of anger and division in the church. So, why do I love the church? Because the church is people and people are a wonderful mess that are loved by God and are in the complex process of growing up and growing into the grace of God. I am just as messed up as anyone else. The Church, with all its faults, is the only place where people are gathered around the risen Christ and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are sent to be prophetic partners in the world.

I write this dissertation because I think the church is deeply divided over many issues. These divisions cause a destructive polarity—an us against them mentality—in the body of Christ. If the church is going to be the prophetic public companion that it is called to be, then the things we learned in this project may prove helpful for the church to find a third way of peace between warring factions.[10] Hopefully, this will create spaces for God’s love to flow more freely in the church and in society as a whole.

I Love The World

I’m not referring to the world that the Apostle John noted when he said, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). He was referring to the distorted thinking of human systems that is contrary to the grace of God. That is not what I mean when I say that I love the world. What I mean is that I love this universe that is God’s creation. The universe is eternally being created by the relationship of the Triune God. The vast complexity and diversity of the universe is the natural reflection and essence of God and the medium through which God is continually speaking.[11] I love the world because I am part of this world and cannot be anything other than that. Additionally, the world that the Apostle John mentioned—the broken human systems of pain and violence—needs to know the grace and love of God that is a peace that passes all understanding, demonstrated through Jesus, and made accessible through the Holy Spirit. This is God’s mission in the world and we are invited to join it every day.

Why Is This Question Important?

The Question

The question that drives this story is: How might an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations?

The Importance Of This Question

This is an important question on three levels. It is important for me personally, for the academy, and for the whole church.

Personal importance

This topic is important to me for many reasons. I have already stated that this dissertation is part of my story. It is not merely an academic exercise. It is a spiritual practice in which I am engaging. It is also an expression of my vocation as a pastor of spiritual formation and a theologian. I want to know how to cultivate spaces in which the Holy Spirit can ignite the members of the congregation to be active participants with God’s mission in their local context. The process of engaging with the RT for nine months has changed me and plunged me deeper into the life of the Triune God.

Academic importance

The research question is interdisciplinary. It weaves together three fairly new fields of academic study—social Trinity, missional ecclesiology, and Christian spirituality. Each of these disciplines has found its own academic footing only recently. Therefore, little academic work has been done on their interdisciplinary connections. This research will offer a very helpful new lens into each individual discipline by demonstrating how they are vitally connected in the life of the local congregation.

Congregational importance

The research question is important for the local church for the same reasons it is important to me. The DITB project is the story of a specific group of suburban Christians who experienced an encounter with the social Trinity and made some important discoveries. Our findings regarding spiritual formation, the Trinity, and life in the suburbs may offer helpful suggestions to encourage the local suburban congregation to grow toward a reimagined and/or deepened missional identity.

Warning: There Be Monsters Here

Sandra Schneiders identifies two dangers inherent within the academic study of Christian spirituality. The first is its inderdisciplinarity. The second is its self-implicating nature.

The Danger Of Interdisciplinarity

The study of spirituality itself is an interdisciplinary field as it covers history, sociology, psychology, theology, etc. My research is even more interdisciplinary than that since the interdisciplinary field of spirituality is only one of the disciplines I will explore. The research also looks at Adult Learning Theory, Epistemology, Suburban Studies, and Theology. The fear for me is that, in an academic sense, I will be a mile wide and an inch deep. Schneiders says,

One implication of this intrinsically interdisciplinary character of the study of spirituality is that the scholar in the field is usually not an ‘expert’ in the traditional sense of one who dominates the subject matter and controls the literature in a particular recognized academic sphere. I venture to affirm that no one is, or ever will be, a universal expert in spirituality. Rather, the scholar becomes a specialist in some area or aspect of spirituality and continue to learn throughout his or her career. However, the panic or sense of generalized incompetence that this can generate in students, and even in established scholars is probably unfounded….What we need to avoid in ourselves and prevent in our students is, on the one hand, and ‘undisciplined’ mixing of methods used without sufficient attention to the demands of the disciplines involved and, on the other hand, imprisonment in narrow disciplinary enclaves through fear of being less than expert.[12]

Interdisciplinary methodology, then, requires a fine balance between breadth and depth. It must be “sufficiently broad and sufficiently focused that the [researcher] will be neither a shallow generalist nor an academic lone ranger.”[13] Kenneth Reynhout explores this issue through an investigation of Paul Ricouer’s work. Reynhout warns that “one discourse should not colonize another discourse, or carelessly co-opt terms and ideas as if they are automatically univocal from one disciplinary context to another. This can result, Ricoeur warns, from ‘the hegemonic tendency of every scientific discipline to redefine the aims of adjacent fields in its own terms.’”[14] How then can we have interdisciplinary study? Reynhout continues, “Interdisciplinarity…involves a form of hermeneutical translation where terms and concepts from one discipline are appropriated (and interpreted) by another. This is more than an academic exercise; for Ricoeur it is also a matter of ethics: ‘To translate is to do justice to a foreign intelligence, to install the just distance from one linguistic whole to another.’”[15]

The Danger Of Self-Implication

Another danger in the study of spirituality is its self-implicating nature. Modern scientific methodology is built upon a positivist notion that the researcher is a detached, objective observer of reality. The researcher is looking for “just the facts, ma’am.”[16] The data retrieved from quantitative research is believed to be broad enough and statistically viable so that it can be generalized and construed as an accurate representation of reality. The study of spirituality is difficult to fit into that positivist mold. Schneiders says,

Many of us probably felt drawn into spirituality precisely because our questions about spirituality were not heuristic devices to generate research projects or ways of participating in a scholarly guild. They were real, intensely personal questions that had implications for our own lives….Hidden in the attraction to the study of spirituality is probably, for many people, a deep yearning to see God….Somehow, the researcher has to gain methodologically valid access to subjective data without denaturing the experience or getting mired in the purely private and idiosyncratic.”[17]

Schneiders’ statement is most definitely true for me and for the motivation behind this research project. I am not interested in dead facts about spiritual practices, the church, or God. I am vibrantly involved in a relationship with God, the church, and the world and I believe that this research has changed me in the process of its unfolding.

How Do We Navigate These Dangers?

Schneiders offers us a perspective that brings comfort and legitimacy to the interdisciplinary and self-implicating nature of this research.

While we affirm the critical ideals of modern scholarship, it is past time to admit that the Enlightenment ideal of scientific objectivity is, and always has been, an illusion. A benefit of the recent explosion of “social location” theory has been to make us all aware that the only kind of knowing available to us as humans is subjective. There is no presuppositionless, non-perspectival knowing mind that conforms to a free-standing object known in its totality and without affecting it. All human inquiry is self-implicating and all knowledge is personal to some degree. The only true critical approach to the knowing process is self-knowledge and honesty about our social location and presuppositions, and methodological control of their effects.[18]

Schneiders claims that this form of research has found its place within the academy with the rise of constructive postmodern thought. She contrasts this to deconstructive postmodern thought which, she claims, leads only to nihilism. However,

Such constructive postmodernism is perhaps a context in which Christian spirituality as an academic discipline can find dialogue partners. The conversation will be humbler, no doubt, but perhaps more in tune with reality than either the totalizing discourse of medieval Christendom which knew it was the only game in town, or the inflated rhetoric of the Enlightenment “man” who was the exultant measure of all things, or yet the deconstructivist who makes and unmakes a tinker toy reality as a playful diversion until cosmic bedtime. For the immediate future, spirituality, in the context of the modern academy, will have to march to a different drummer. But the postmodern beat is getting louder. In a constructive postmodern context, spirituality as a self-implicating discipline will be no stranger.[19]

I name these dangers and I claim the limitations involved in qualitative, interdisciplinary research. The findings that I will present in chapter four cannot provide grand generalizations that are universally true, according to the measurements of statistical reliability. I will only be able to name the lived experience of this very small group of people, in one small section of a tiny part of a Metropolitan area, which is only one of thousands in the world. I am also aware of how much my bias is present in the data.

Some scholars may dismiss this research as anecdotal. Yet, I believe that the lived experience of this group of people is valuable. It is like the sparrow that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 10:29. It is small, but it is an important particularity in God’s vast universe. It is worth studying, and, in the studying, we encounter God. You are invited to bring your story into conversation with our story. As you dwell in this text, I pray that you hear the Word of God as the Word, through this story, dwells deeply in you.


[1] See Walter R. Fisher, Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1987).

[2] Fink argues for a conversational, first person style in his dissertation. He claims that the nature of his topic—public discourse—necessitated his choice. I make a similar move here. I will be making a case that spiritual formation flows from the relationality of God and is embodied in a communicative rationality. We are called to listen to God in the other as well as tell God’s story as it is lived out in our experience. By directing the reader in the first person I am embodying the very thing that I propose. See Ben Fink, “Organized Ideas, or Defeating the Culture Wars (What We Need to Know, and How We Need to Know It)” (Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2014), ix-xii.

[3] Here I am writing to the fictitious, disembodied “reader” which is a larger category that addresses any potential reader. The process of writing sometimes requires language that speaks to all audiences, even though specific audiences are identified. You, as a specific reader within one of the identified audiences are invited to grant me the necessity to slip in and out of the direct address as the context demands.

[4] Ages range from 30-75 years old

[5] This is speculation, of course, but the demographic data from the ELCA indicate that the RT represents the majority of the ELCA in all regions–urban, suburban, or rural.

[6] This is the missio dei. This concept has been at the heart of the missional church conversation since it first came to the forefront during the IMC meetings of the 50s and 60s. I choose not to dwell on the term missio dei because it has become muddied in the last decade as different camps have tried to frame it within their own imagination of the God-Word-World relationship.

[7] I am indebted to Dr. Patrick Keifert for this theological imagination.

[8] See Samuel M. Powell, Participating in God: Creation and Trinity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).

[9] I also name the accidental reader to acknowledge the theoretical bias from which I am writing. I will explore this more fully in the postfoundational frame in chapter two. For now, let me simply acknowledge that this text will take on a life of its own—a horizon—and become a subject with which the reader will engage and bring his or her own horizon. May the fusion of those horizons produce the fruit of God’s Spirit in the world.

[10] I am indebted to Dr. Gary Simpson for the phrase prophetic public companion. I will expound more fully on this concept as we progress. Gary M. Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination, Guides to Theological Inquiry (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 144-145.

[11] I will articulate this theological perspective more clearly in chapter two under the Trinity frame.

[12] Sandra Schneiders, “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline” in Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows, eds., Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 14.

[13] Ibid., 13.

[14] Ricoeur quoted in Kenneth A. Reynhout, Interdisciplinary Interpretation: Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Theology and Science, 221.

[15] Ibid., 226.

[16] An allusion to the character Sergeant Friday on the 1960s television show Dragnet.

[17] Sandra Schneiders, “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline” in Dreyer and Burrows, eds., 17-18.

[18] Ibid., 20.

[19] Ibid., 21.