March 27, 2017—In Family the Forming Center, Marjorie Thompson gives a unique balance of theological basis and practical application for the family interested in spiritual formation. She states that “family life is inevitably formative in a spiritual as well as a physical and emotional sense” (page 11). She adds that “families of committed faith are the initial and most natural context for the positive spiritual formation of children.” Thompson develops these ideas thoroughly, and yet offers plenty of practical ideas for families to make the home a place of spiritual formation for each of its members.
Thompson begins by discussing the importance of family life for the developing child. She asserts that whatever happens in the family life “inevitably touches our spiritual lives, whether for good or for ill” (page 20). She reminds the reader that children absorb what parents show them – feelings, values, beliefs, and living patterns. She then describes the difficulties that families face through the ills of society, including individualism and competition. In this kind of world, the family offers what Thompson calls a place of “sacred shelter” through the practices of presence, acceptance, affirmation, accountability, forgiveness, and hospitality (chapter 4). Her descriptions of the practices of “sacred shelter” were encouraging and thorough, focusing on inner disciplines as well as outward expressions of faith.
Next, Thompson examines various spiritual disciplines families can use to create this sacred shelter, including prayer, family worship, seasonal rituals, reading and studying scripture, and knowing the family’s ancestral stories. In each of these areas, Thompson encourages parents to be models, while also reminding adults that inspiration can be found in watching the ways that children approach God. Thompson then turns outward as she discusses the importance of the family in service to the greater world. In each of these chapters, she offers biblical and theological insight as well as practical advice for the family looking to incorporate these elements.
Thompson presents a cohesive case throughout the book, with the exception of the first part of chapter nine, in which she discusses what she calls “the problem” between “leaving family to follow Christ” and family being foundational to the growth and development of the person. While the rest of the book’s theological explanations are directly related to the practical uses within the family, this section does not seem necessary to her overall purpose. However, Thompson refocuses as she concludes the chapter by charging families and congregations to work together, supporting each other in the development of a child’s faith.
In a world that is already so hectic, a list of spiritual things that our family is not doing might seem a bit daunting. Thompson offers a word of encouragement that busy families “can make faithful choices about their use of time, they can be intentional about structuring spiritual practices in the home, and they can view the ordinary events of life together as windows onto God’s abundant grace” (page 144). While it is hard to imagine implementing all these practices in a hectic family schedule, any family can benefit from adding just a few of her ideas to their routines.
This practical, theologically sound, and comprehensive book would be helpful to a wide variety of people – ministers looking to increase ministry to families, parents seeking to develop experiences of faith within the home, or any other individual interested in faith formation within the family and congregation.
By Tanya Parks, MDiv