Issler, Klaus. Living into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 240 pp. $16.00. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.
Dr. Issler is professor of Christian education and theology in the doctoral program in educational studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He also wrote Wasting Time With God.
Divided into three parts with eight chapters, Dr. Issler offers a basic primer on spiritual formation. In part one he looks at how the formation of Christian character is more a life-long process than a one and one phenomenon. His first chapter offers a much needed foundation repair to so much of the spiritual-formation thinking prevalent today. Here he explains how we must look at our heart rather then seeking to change our own behaviors.
The second part offers three divine resources for formation. Those are love, the Holy Spirit, and Scripture. The final part looks at how we can follow Jesus in our own lives. Each chapter concludes with key points and a few reflection questions.
Dr. Issler’s work centers on the importance of recognizing the gaps in our spiritual walk. These include the disconnected gap (not regularly abiding in Christ), the distressed gap, the dismissive gap (resistance to truths that seem impossible), the discrepancy gap, and the distracted gap. The value of this book will depend on your understanding and view of chapter two. If, as I struggled with, these gaps seem to be more man-centered and an excuse, then you will struggle with the applications of this book. If, on the other hand, his gap-theory (sorry, I had to!) resonates with you, then you will do well to heed much of the advice in this book.
I struggled with this resource only because of the seeming hat tip to the necessity of heart change while centering on what we can do to change the heart. It is like the evangelistic resource that rails against all methods of evangelism and then, in the end, offers you yet another method of evangelism. At any rate, I share this only as a personal bias I have when reading resources like this.
That being said, there is much in the way of practical application found in these pages that will leave you more the wiser than before you read it. At first glance, I was wary of love being one of the divine resources of formation grace…until I read the chapter. In the end, his points are worthwhile and ought to be understood in the context of our sinful thoughts about God.
In the end, each chapter is saturated with our need of the Holy Spirit as we seek to walk closer with Christ. The important point is that spiritual formation is neither devoid of the Holy Spirit nor is a “Let go and let God” mentality. We must always keep the balance that God is sovereign and we are to act. I think Dr. Issler does a fine job of walking that narrow line.
I admittedly come from a Puritanical and Reformed stream of thinking when it comes to spiritual formation. I did find, however, that Dr. Issler’s work was very well written and offers some legitimate advice in the realm of spiritual formation. Again, read with discernment while being willing to put into action what the Spirit is laying on your heart.