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Jesus Still Sanctifies and Heals

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The academic year 2018–19 marks my 20th year teaching as a Bible professor at Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS) in New York. In these 20 years, the most remarkable thing I have witnessed is adoption of “soul care” as a model for the spiritual formation of our students.

In the past 20 years, an entire generation of C&MA students, both graduate and undergraduate, have experienced the old Alliance tradition of the “deeper life” in a fresh new way—by the care of their own soul.

Freedom Found

When I arrived as a rookie Bible professor in 1999–2000, Ron Walborn, then the new head of the Pastoral Ministries Department, said to me, “Our Personal Spiritual Formation class will no longer be learning about spiritual formation; it will be undergoing spiritual formation.” The rest is history.

Personal Spiritual Formation (PSF), has been the flagship course that set in motion the soul-care ethos that has marked our Rockland campus for the past 20 years. The key lectures that explained soul-care—for the first time to many of our students—are now being put into action among many Alliance pastors and international workers serving today: “The Discipline of Honesty,” “What We Fear Most We Need Most—Intimacy,” “Bounded Set vs. Centered Set,” “Grieving the Seasons of Our Lives,” and “Who Are You Really? Dealing with Shame and Performance.” As Nithin Thompson, now a pastor in New Jersey, describes the importance of these courses, “Learning about the brokenness in my heart and how that impacts my life has been an invaluable tool.”

Students who took these lectures to heart learned to live in such a way that “what was on the inside” matched “what was on the outside,” an experience they would all call “freedom.” In PSF, the students would write “grief journals” and process their emotional wounds in the safety of a small group led by an older adult spiritual director (I was one of the early spiritual directors). Nyack College had never seen anything like this before. “PSF profoundly changed me—and not just my personal life or personal faith. My whole worldview was re-oriented,” says one Bible major. “If anything, I would say that PSF is all about the journey that lasts a lifetime. The instructors understand that every student is at a different stage in their journey, and they treat each student accordingly. I, for one, found myself traveling in some brand new directions!”

The student testimonies, especially at the PSF retreat toward the end of the course, made it clear to me that freedom from forces both soulish and demonic that had once “controlled” our students was, at the same time, an experience of intimacy with God through the power of Jesus Christ. Looking back on his time as a PSF student, Thompson reflects,

I am always using the tools from that experience to help go beneath the surface in order to process whether I’m motivated by the Spirit or my own struggles to show that I’m worth God’s time. It has helped me be less of a people pleaser and more aware of those tendencies. This class was life changing for me, and when I teach those principles to others, it also has the same effect.

As we know, the steps of “soul care” became the path to what A. B. Simpson called “the Higher Life”—the “crisis experience” that leads to the filling of the Holy Spirit. I was at an Alliance college in 1999 witnessing a resurgence of the “Christ our Sanctifier” and “Christ our Healer” beliefs.

Core Curriculum

This resurgence has had many ripple effects throughout Nyack College and ATS. As a Bible professor, I began to address new student interest in the power of Jesus today as a result of the PSF class. I revised my lectures in the New Testament Literature class.

When we covered the healings of Jesus in the Gospels, I taught on how to conduct healing prayer. When we covered Jesus’ exorcisms in the Gospels, I taught on how to conduct deliverance prayer. When we covered spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, I taught about the difference between “expectant evangelicalism” (what some might call “charismatic Christianity”) and “unexpectant evangelicalsm” (what some might call “cessationism”).

No one in the Bible Department had taught this way before. In time, the faculty of the College of Bible and Christian Ministry voted to make PSF a requirement for all ministry students: Bible majors, Intercultural Studies majors, Youth and Family Studies majors, as well as Pastoral Ministry majors. “Spiritual Formation at Nyack College altered my life!” says Charles Galbreath, who now pastors in Brooklyn. “It messed me up from ministry as the usual maintenance model and introduced me to deep holistic healing. As a result of Spiritual Formation at Nyack, I serve and lead in ministry from a place of personal transformation, which overflows into public proclamation.”

In addition, when our curriculum committee revised the core curriculum, they changed a required freshman Bible class called Christian Foundations to Introduction to Spiritual Formation (ISF), incorporating many of the principles in PSF. Soul care had become a basic part of a Nyack College education.

Spreading the Wealth

The ripple effects continued into our graduate programs at ATS. The first-year course in our Master of Divinity program, Personal Professional and Theological Foundations for Ministry (PPTFM), began teaching the same basic principles of PSF. Further, when ATS created its Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program in Global Leadership, the designers placed as its first core class Spiritual Formation for Leadership. Rob Reimer, who teaches this DMin course, takes doctoral students through “seven transformational principles of a healthy soul” (the subtitle of his book Soul Care).

Soul care is a foundational part of a Nyack College education. Photo by Daron Short.

The chance to undergo spiritual formation has been a major draw in our DMin program. As the ATS coordinator of DMin dissertations, I have seen the impact of this course firsthand in the students’ selection of dissertation topics. Many of our doctoral students choose to do a soul-care-type project in their churches for their dissertation, implementing in ministry what they experience in the Spiritual Formation course. I even know of one student who almost completed his DMin degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and opted to redo his DMin degree at ATS just to undergo the spiritual formation. After he passed his oral defense, he shared how the doctoral program has transformed his marriage as well as his ministry.

I am now completing my 20th year at my place of employment. I am convinced I came at just the right time. I have seen a silent revolution. I believe many C&MA personnel today who came through Nyack College and ATS during this era—bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels—have learned to have healthier souls and in so doing, have gotten the best teaching on the Fourfold Gospel imaginable, tasting firsthand the sweetness of Christ our Sanctifier and Christ our Healer.

At the time of this writing, my school is preparing for a move to New York City (see p. 24). I believe the soul-care ethos of the Rockland campus will find new and wonderful expressions for our students in Manhattan for my “second” 20 years.

1 response to Jesus Still Sanctifies and Heals

  1. Loved: “The instructors understand that every student is at a different stage in their journey, and they treat each student accordingly.” This is the essence of grace winning.
    How blessed Liquid is to have Nithan!

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