Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney
My Rating –Put it on the List
Level – Not very readable, seems longer than it is
The book is exactly what you think it is based on the title. He jumps straight in with the first chapter explaining what he thinks (based on scripture) the spiritual disciplines are and why they are important. There are 10 disciplines and he devotes two chapters to the first, and then one each to the others – Reading the Bible, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, and Learning. He wraps up the book with a chapter on ‘perseverance in the disciplines’ and the importance of making them habits.
I assume most are quite familiar with the first five, and likely stewardship as well, however he has a bit of a twist. When most people here that word in context of church, they think money (though, presently, some may start to associate it with the environment), but he talks about time as well. I think this is an interesting point, that I’ve never really heard discussed. Often in the American church it’s about what not to do, as in, avoiding sin, not instead, focused on what to do. Don’t spend your time getting hammered. Makes sense, that’d be a sin. However, what if you spent 12 hours on Saturday watching college football? Not a sin, but…is it really the best use of your time? Are you really being disciplined, are you gaining from that? Obviously, this hit home for me.
The others, many people are familiar with, but in the American Evangelical church, things like fasting and solitude sound a little too Catholicy, so I’ve never really heard them taught. I was especially intrigued with fasting. It is abundantly clear in scripture that this is something we ought to do. But, I’ve never in my life done it. I’ll admit, though he says you really aren’t supposed to ever tell, but I tried fasting based on this chapter and bits of Piper’s A Hunger for God, on Fridays during lent. I’ll write more on that later, but the book is probably worth the price just to read that chapter.
We get a little silence and solitude, and some journaling in the American church. However, I think journaling is still mostly considered a feminine thing or something for children. The list of men, great Christians giants of the past (as well as statesmen and thinkers) that judiciously journaled was astounding. So, that is something I’ve tried to do as well.
The final of the disciplines is learning. I think this is important in our era of anti-intellectualism and poor knowledge of scripture, theology and history. He points out the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God …with all your mind” (Mark 12:30). As well as Paul’s command to not be conformed, but transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The final chapter, as mentioned above, is focused on encouraging you to stick with the disciplines. They all help to build on each other, and if you are focusing on doing them all, you will start to form habits, which will help you stay disciplined.
This book was originally recommended to me by a friend, maybe a year or so ago, and he absolutely loved it. In fact, none other than J.I. Packer, in the foreword, says every Christian should read it, wait another month then read it again, and finally, read it again. I think this is an important book which offers great guidance to Christians trying to develop biblically based disciplines; however, I didn’t like his style. I felt he was overlay wordy and repetitive.
That is the main reason I couldn’t rate this a ‘must read.’ I felt as though I was slogging through too much of it. In fact, on telling someone in a Bible Study recently, that I had finished the book, he responded – reading that book takes discipline on its own. So, apparently, I’m not the only one to find it difficult to get through. However, I guess I will take Packer’s advice and read it twice more. Maybe I’ll have an update to this review accordingly.