Published on June 11, 2018 by Joshua R Monroe

IVP, 2014 | 229 pages

Reviewed by Alex Gowler



What do you get when you cross missional theology with a primer on spiritual formation? The answer is Barry D. Jones’ book Dwell: Life With God For the World.

Jones serves as Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary and as a teaching pastor at Irving Bible Church in his native Texas. From the unique vantage point of professor and pastor, Jones’ desire is to train leaders who are deeply rooted in their faith and vitally engaged in the world. His first book, Dwell, drives towards this end by acquainting readers with what he terms a “missional spirituality” (18).



In his introduction, Jones laments the paucity of meaningful interaction between the sages of spiritual formation and the champions of missional engagement (13-14). He argues that “the greatest need of the church in North America today is to recover a spirituality [that is] deeply informed by the logic of the incarnation” (15). The rest of Jones’ work articulates the theology and practice of such a spirituality.

The book is clearly divided into two main sections. Chapters one through four lay the foundation of “missional spirituality” in the visio Dei (“vision of God”). Chapters five through nine discuss the practices associated with living out this vision in everyday life. The final chapter reiterates the importance of the social and cultural contexts within which missional spiritually is lived out.

In chapter one, Jones introduces readers to the visio Dei: the “vision of God” towards which all creation is moving and which the missio Dei (“mission of God”) seeks to realize (32-33). This vision has three distinct emphases: God’s personal presence, his just reign over the world, and his perfect peace. Jones then takes the next three chapters to explore the implications of those emphases for how we practice our spirituality.

Chapter two addresses how humanity’s sinful rebellion against God has disrupted God’s perfect peace in his world. For the people of God, sin’s “vandalism of shalom” can drive us in one of two directions: out of the world through ever-increasing detachment or back into the world, living simultaneously against sin and for the good of what God has created.

For those who respond to the world’s brokenness by seeking it’s good, chapter three addresses the need of God’s personal presence for this task. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers Christians to bear witness to the good news of Christ, experience new life, be conformed to the image of Christ, and receive empowerment for mission (not just as individuals, but as a body).

In chapter four, Jones discusses God’s just reign as it was evident in the life of Jesus. As God, Jesus showed what God is like. As a human, he showed us what humanity was intended to be under the rule of God. A spirituality deeply informed by the logic of the incarnation will therefore necessarily be patterned after the life of Jesus.

Having laid the foundation of the visio Dei in chapters one through four, Jones moves into the second section of his work. He introduces spiritual disciplines in chapter five as the “set of embodied practices … though which the spirit does his work of making us more like Jesus” (99). Jones then provides readers with a “grammar of the disciplines”, which he describes as “an articulation of the ways in which the disciplines are to be appropriately engaged” (103).

With his grammar in place, chapter six begins Jones’ discussion of spiritual-missional practices with a focus on prayer as the “practice on which all the other disciplines depend” and to which “each of the [other disciplines] is vitally connected to” (119). He addresses the difficulty of this particular practice and uses the verbiage of the Lord’s Prayer to instruct readers in the implications of incarnate spirituality for our conversation with God and for others.

Jones then moves to a discussion of corporate worship in chapter seven as “the spiritually forming liturgical rhythms of the church’s life together” (139). Between the pitfalls of unreflective traditionalism and unreflective consumerism exists a spiritually-formative, communal rhythm that continually reorients our affections and sends us into the world with God and one another.

In chapter eight, Jones decries the corrosive effect of “the cult of speed” on our life with God and very humanity. Into the North American “cultural cult of productivity” Jones prescribes the enjoyment of the Sabbath not as a means towards greater productivity, but as a simple and habitual delight in God’s good gifts.

Chapter nine presents readers with Jones’ final, two-fold discipline of feasting and fasting. The former is not sanctified over-indulgence, but sacred celebration. The latter is not self-denial, but an expression of a deeper desire for what only God can give.

Finally, Jones concludes his work with a caveat on the context of our spirituality: what does it mean to work out our faith in the unique cultural moment and social location in which we find ourselves? (195) Drawing on the ideas of exile, parish, and neighborhood, Jones argues that a missional spirituality will necessarily contribute to the flourishing of those around us even as we are conformed to the image of Christ.



Jones opens his work with an allusion to the impoverishment that occurs when spiritual formation and mission are treated as separate and unrelated topics. Readers of Dwell, then, will find themselves enriched as the author skillfully incorporates these two topics into one tremendously helpful conversation.

Jones’ explanation of the visio Dei as the foundation of a missional spirituality is not only accessible, but a perfect common ground upon which the conversation about the relationship between missionality and spiritual formation can begin. In addition, the author’s chapter on the “grammar of the disciplines” is the kind of chapter that one wishes would be included in every work regarding spiritual practices. Not only does it emphasize the Holy Spirit’s role in spiritual formation, but it articulates the posture from which any discipline (whether it’s lectio divina or dinner with close friends) should be practiced.

Readers of Dwell who are versed in the spiritual formation conversation, though, will come away with a few unanswered questions when it comes to two specific topics. The first is the role of personal engagement in Scripture when it comes to missional spirituality. Looking over the Table of Contents, some may be surprised to see an entire chapter dedicated to feasting and fasting, yet no mention of private Bible study or reading. To be fair, Jones seems to presume that practitioners of missional spirituality will engage with Scripture. Chapter one emphasizes an understanding of the biblical narrative as essential to grasping the visio Dei. Additionally, engagement with Scripture is also present in his chapters on prayer (119) and corporate worship (152-154). Since Jones’ approach emphasizes the corporate nature of spiritual formation, personal habits of study and reading may simply be outside the author’s scope. However, those who are looking for a robust articulation of the role that personal engagement with Scripture plays within missional spirituality will come away from Dwell unsatisfied.

The second topic is Jones’ articulation of sin with regard to God’s holiness. Drawing on the work of Neal Plantinga, Jones describes sin as the “vandalism of shalom” (52-53). Sin is spoken of primarily with regard to its effect(s) on humanity and our world: brokenness, injustice, hurt, etc. Less emphasis is placed on sin as an affront to God’s holiness and provocateur of his just judgment. Once again, the nature of Jones’ project has guided his explanation. A spirituality lived out in and for the world must necessarily reckon with the effects of sin on the world and seek to be a foretaste and instrument of God’s shalom (defined as “the dream of God for a world set right”; 34). The discussion of how God’s holiness influences an incarnationally-informed spirituality, though, will have to wait for another book.



Any Christian who has wondered what spiritual formation has to do with mission (and vice-versa) would greatly benefit from adding Dwell to their library. A thoughtful and coherent explanation of how these two aspects of Christian living work together, Dwell could serve as an introductory text for students enrolled in a spiritual formation course, an “all-staff read” for pastoral teams, or a conversation starter for any team entrusted with the task of making disciples. May Jones’ work be the first of many to mention “mission” and “spiritual formation” in the same breath.


Alex Gowler (MDiv ’15, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Spiritual Development Pastor at Alpine Chapel in Lake Zurich, IL.

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Dwell: Life with God for the World

IVP, 2014 | 229 pages

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