Much of what I'm reading these days is addressing the need for more specifics, more interactivity, and more practicality in writing. The field of spiritual formation is getting a great deal of attention in these areas, with many of the the new resources that gain success being augmented by some sort of workbook or study guide. What I love about Stephen Macchia's Crafting a Rule of Life is that it skips right to the point. Training, discipline, and transformation are all subjects I talk about often on this blog and Macchia's book is a schematic drawing of how to build a life that embodies all those characteristics and more in our pursuit of being formed into Christlikeness.
Of course, it isn't original - and Macchia says so in the first chapter.
Focusing in on the classic "Rule of St. Benedict", Macchia leads the reader through exercises that educate, correct and also help to prioritize the various areas of human life that need to be brought under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Each chapter focuses on a basic truth, a deep and bracing study of a Biblical text complete with study questions, followed by sketches of historical figures who embody that particular truth. The chapter then ends with questions that are also appropriate for group study, all of which lead the reader to begin crafting a rule of life for themselves.
The basic goodness of this book is its practicality and portability. The book is one that can be engaged in deeply over a long period of time and the reader will leave that engagement with practical next steps for his or her formation. The book also has the potential for multiple venues of use, including groups and individual study, which makes it highly portable for different contexts including campus ministries and mentoring relationships.
The downside of the book is one that is common amongst some of the spiritual formation literature of today, which is that it seems to cater to a certain personality type more readily than others. Shockingly, in this case it is not the contemplative pathway but the organizational/detail-oriented personality type that will gravitate easily toward Macchia's diagrams (see the chapters on "Time" and "Talents" for example) and fill-in-the-blank tables. Granted, there is a need for us to develop our personalities to include the good of other personality types but the book provides a bit of a roadblock for those of us who need less structure in our formation reading.
It's likely something I'll have to get over when I grow up.
I would recommend this book to any individual or group who is looking for a practical plan for creating space and guidance for formation into Christlikeness in their everyday existence. Macchia has done an impressive job of drawing the reader in and engaging them while still leaving the work to the Holy Spirit, who then asks the reader to respond. Well worth the time.