Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Don Whitney
Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Revised and Updated). NavPress, 2014. 352 pp. $15.99.
Gratefully, Don Whitney’s new edition of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has removed all references to sermon tapes and subscription services. I confess it led to a little bit of snickering and apologizing to the college students I work with. But if that’s all that we think about when we see that Spiritual Disciplines has been updated and revised, we will miss a re-wrapped gift for the church.
MOST NOTABLE IMPROVEMENTS
Perhaps one of the greatest improvements Whitney provides in this second edition is a proper understanding of how believers ought to pursue spiritual disciplines in relation to their acceptance before the Lord. Indeed, he wisely states, “It’s crucial—crucial—to understand that it’s not our pursuit of holiness that qualifies us to see the Lord. Rather, we are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not the by good things we do” (3, emphasis original). From the beginning of his book, Whitney rightly and wisely situates spiritual disciplines in the context of the gospel. Since Christians are loved by the Father through the work of Christ and empowered by the Spirit, they now have the freedom and ability to grow in holiness. Later, Whitney teaches, “The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom he resides to have new holyhungers they didn’t have before” (ibid., emph. orig.).
Another strength of this book is its focus on Scripture. Everything Whitney writes revolves around the gravitational pull of the Word of God. Every discipline Whitney addresses is intended to serve believers as they grow in their understanding of the Word of God and the God of the Word. For instance, in his chapter “Bible Intake (Part 2),” Whitney suggests seventeen different methods for meditating on Scripture! Seventeen! The type of spirituality Whitney is advocating is a Bible-saturated, sola scriptura spirituality.
HOW THIS BOOK WILL HELP
Without question, this updated and revised book will continue to do what its predecessor has done for nearly a quarter-century: serve the church. What’s more, in my view every update and revision will increase the impact and accessibility of Whitney’s words. But how?
First, this book will serve the church by serving pastors. If pastors have read this book previously, they’ve no doubt been encouraged and exhorted to discipline themselves for the purpose of godliness (4; 1 Tim 4:7). However, this book should be studied more than once. A scholar as weathered and Bible-filled as J. I. Packer instructs readers to read this work three times. Clearly, the centrality of our personal spiritual discipline never expires. Pastors, allow Whitney’s writing to reveal places and practices that have atrophied overtime due to inattention or lethargy. Then, allow him and the Holy Spirit working in you to renew your zeal for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
Secondly, this book is a great resource for one-on-one discipleship or small group study. Individuals or a group could work through each chapter and slowly seek to implement spiritual disciplines into their lives, and thereby grow in holiness. Whitney, chapter after chapter, encourages and instructs on various disciplines that foster growth in godliness, and at the end of each chapter Whitney calls his readers to action. He doesn’t want believers to approach the book passively; rather, he wants every reader to be active in their pursuit of holiness. The phrase from D. A. Carson comes to mind: “People do not drift toward holiness.” Whitney obviously agrees and will not allow his readers to learn about fasting or evangelism or prayer without calling them to implement what they’ve learned.
As an aside, Whitney, has also updated and revised the companion Study Guide to Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The Study Guide would benefit small groups as they seek to unpack and apply Whitney’s instruction in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life to their daily lives.
Don Whitney has served the church in the past, having originally published this work nearly a quarter of a century ago. Whitney continues to serve the church in the present, both as he oversees The Center for Biblical Spirituality where he frequently blogs (www.biblicalspirituality.org), and as he teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Lastly, with this updated and revised edition, he will continue to serve the church in the days to come, having produced something that is more accessible and more saturated with Scripture than its first iteration.
Pastors and church members, allow this book to instill in you a greater desire for holiness. It’s something we must strive and discipline ourselves for, because in so doing we will see the Lord.