Christian Books

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Invitation to a Journey by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation
M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993
173 pages

Who might this book interest? Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation is intended for a broad Christian audience, and apparently, it has met that goal.  While it has not been revised, it is still in print and has been integrated into InterVarsity’s “Formatio” series.  My copy is from 1993, and my daughter’s copy is a more recent printing with a different cover.  We use it as one of our freshman spiritual formation textbooks at the college level, but it is a very accessible book for most audiences.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: After teaching there for many years, Dr. M. Robert Mulholland Jr. became professor emeritus of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Asbury is usually described as an interdenominational evangelical seminary in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition.  He earned his MDiv from Wesley Theological Seminary and his ThD from Harvard Divinity School.  In addition to having published New Testament commentaries, Mulholland has produced several of the “must-read” books on spiritual formation such as: Invitation, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, and more recently, The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self.

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation is developed in four parts: The Road Map, The Vehicle, The Journey, and Companions on the Inner Way.  He develops spiritual formation in a relational way, instead of the sometimes mechanistic way that some teachers use. 

In Part I: The Road Map, Mulholland compares spiritual growth and physical growth, which is a useful way of looking at it.  I often used a similar analogy when I taught spiritual formation.  In addition, I appreciate his emphasis on wholeness, which is the movement back toward the image of God.  Lastly, he stresses the biblical and classical emphasis on relationships as the testing place and context for spiritual growth.

In Part II: The Vehicle, Mulholland draws heavily on Jungian personality types and developmental psychology.  He shows the need for overall development of both our personality preferences and dislikes.  He makes us of the Jungian concept of the shadow side of our personalities. 

In Part III: The Journey, Mulholland focuses on spiritual disciplines.  Chapter 8 begins with the four stages of Christian spiritual formation.  These are drawn from the history of Christian spiritual formation.  Then, he proceeds to the classical spiritual disciplines, the nature of the disciplines, and the inner dynamics of them.  His emphasis remains on the relational as he discusses the spiritual disciplines.  This guards against antinomianism and legalism.

 In Part IV: Companions on the Inner Way, Mulholland discusses corporate spirituality and social spirituality.  We do not journey alone, but community provides the context and support for personal and corporate disciplines.  Also, he notes the connection between personal and social holiness.  These are intricately connected.

Evangelical Assessment: I have a few minor criticisms of Invitation.  First, I wish that Mulholland had developed an integrated model of spiritual formation in his book.  When I used this book in teaching spiritual formation, I would go through Part I, the definitions, and then skip to Part III for the Classical Christian Pilgrimage.  Once I did this, I would then fill-in the stages with the rest of his material and some of my own.

Second, I do not hold to his definition and expansion of the term “liturgy.”  He defines it as “the work of the people,” and proceeds to broaden far beyond the general meaning to include several spiritual disciplines.  In my Lutheran tradition, we call our worship the “Divine Liturgy.”  It is not because we work for God, but because God works on our behalf in Christ Jesus.  Our liturgy celebrates His work for us, not our work from Him.

Third, I believe that Mulholland overuses the Jungian types.  Admittedly, he may have corrected and further developed his theological thought in this area in his book, The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self, but in Invitation, I think that this is a valid criticism.  In addition, I would like to see some solid, empirical research on relating the personality preferences to spirituality because it seems that these are deductions from them without adequate support.  This is a criticism of several books which relate the personality types to Christian spirituality.

Yet, these are minor criticisms in the view of the overall usefulness of this book.  I think that because it is a well-written, accessible book, it has become something of a modern classic on spiritual formation.

I purchased the copy of this book used in the review and was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own, and are based on my observations while reading it.

© Christopher W. Gibson, The Christian Book Revue, 2015.

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