Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney. Published by NavPress, 1991. Reviewed by Pastor McShaffrey.
Whitney’s stated purpose for writing this book is to unpack and apply the meaning of 1 Timothy 4:7, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” This verse, church history, and Mr. Whitney’s own personal experience proves that the only way to attain Christian maturity and godliness is to practice the Spiritual Disciplines .
This goal of practicing these disciplines is godliness (which the author describes as becoming more like Jesus). It is only with this goal set ever before us, that the disciplines become a delight to the Christian rather than drudgery.
The disciplines Whitney seeks to commend to the reader are those personal and corporate disciplines/habits that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times. With each given discipline, then, Whitney attempts to demonstrate that Jesus did it, that Jesus expects you to do it, and to share some ways to practice said discipline in your walk with the Lord.
While Whitney is quick to admits the need of sovereign justifying grace, he is just as quick to remind us of the co-operative aspect of sanctification. Whitney calls us to “agonize” with Paul, make proper use of the freedom we have been granted, and, thereby, experience all that the Lord intends for his children.
The disciplines addressed are these: Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence/solitude, journaling, and learning.
With each discipline, Whitney uses the Bible to explain the nature and need for such (his use of the Scripture is sometimes “loose” but we would not say illegitimate) and then uses examples and quotes from both modern and ancient church history.
Whitney’s use of the Puritans is both responsible and refreshing. His obvious acquaintance with this tradition strengthened his arguments, elucidated his points, and put the reader in intimate touch with the piety of our fathers in the faith. However, he makes full and appropriate use of other traditions (i.e., Wesleyan, Baptist, Anglican, etc.) Further, his own recollections, stories, and analogies are as vivid as they are valuable.
Granted, any attempt to provide practical guidelines for personal discipline has its dangers. Whitney seems both aware and cautious. Therefore, he frequently reminds the reader of the goal (godliness) and admits that flexibility and personal adaptation must be applied to his methods.
This book is balanced, well written, and quite convicting. We are thankful that Whitney is attempting to recover and reintroduce to the Church the long-lost practice of deliberate exercises of personal piety. I have no complaints and no recommendations for this book’s improvement (though I do question his inclusion of ‘journaling’ as it is not as biblically-established or historically-attested as the other disciplines).
Admittedly, this book does require a certain level of spiritual maturity and theological balance from the reader – but what book doesn’t? I do plan to re-read this book for my own personal edification and am also contemplating using it for the edification of the Church.