In his book, Whitney presents “the Spiritual Disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning” (17). However, the author admits that his list is my no means exhaustive and many others qualify as Spiritual Disciplines. These are all to be cultivated by the Christian, “for the purpose of godliness” (17).
In the first chapter, Whitney explains his purpose for writing the book by asserting the necessity of discipline in the Christian life as a means of obtaining godliness. He attempts to steer clear of any legalistic connotations of the word “discipline” by presenting the disciplines as the means to the end of Christlikeness. Since to be like Christ is the Christian’s hope and joy, the disciplines are transformed from drudgery to the glorious vehicle God provides that enable us to pursue holiness. Whitney begins and concludes the introductory chapter by referring to “Kevin,” a six-year-old enrolled in music lessons. If Kevin sees no purpose in the lessons, they become drudgery. But, if Kevin is allowed to see a performance by an accomplished musician, his desire to obtain the mastery of the instrument displayed by the virtuoso transforms the lessons from drudgery to delight (15-16, 24).
Presenting the disciplines as a delightful means to godliness is a theme that pervades all thirteen chapters of this book. By building on the works of those who have gone before him in the articulation of the need for disciplines, Whitney places himself in the ongoing conversation among evangelicals on this important topic. The awareness that the author has of others who have written in this field is evident by the ease with which he refers to their works. Also, his ability to interweave quotations and illustrations from the Puritans and other forefathers of the Evangelical tradition creates an atmosphere of credibility that permeates the book’s pages.
The book begins with a chapter which sets forth the author’s arguments for disciplines in the Christian life and concludes with a chapter exhorting the reader to perseverance in the disciplines. In between are eleven chapters presenting the ten disciplines of: Bible Intake, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, and, Learning. Each chapter begins with a quotation by a church leader (from the past and present) extolling the virtues of discipline in the Christian life. Whitney then provides argumentation for each discipline; quotations and illustrations from church history supporting the use of the discipline; and, practical suggestions for application of the discipline to your life. The concluding chapter of the book closes with two consecutive convicting questions: “Will you ‘discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness’?” and “Where and when will you begin?” (249). In these ways Whitney presents a compelling case for the use of the spiritual disciplines in the life of the Christian.
Consistently throughout the book, Whitney uses quotations and illustrations from prominent figures in the history of the church, as well as, contemporaries who have authored in the field of disciplines for the Christian. These insights from the past and present serve to fortify a frame-work which securely supports the arguments made in each chapter. Equally noteworthy is the saturation of this volume with Scripture. Nearly every page has a Scripture reference noted and they are not the obligatory “proof-text” type of reference which is all too common in contemporary Christian literature). The flow of Whitney’s work suggests that as an author, he is saturated with the Word of God to such a degree that it is obvious as you read these pages. Spurgeon spoke of John Bunyan’s blood as being ‘bibline,’ Whitney’s conversancy with Scripture indicates that the same could be said of him.
The fact that Whitney considers himself to be a recipient of the heritage of Protestantism, particularly the Reformed, substantially influences the way he presents his material. It is for this reason he seems comfortable continuing this dialogue with them throughout his book. Someone who did not share the theological beliefs of the men (and women) mentioned by Whitney as influential (pp.11-12, 17) would not be able to write a book on this topic in exactly the same way.
Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life is a book to be recommended to those interested in pursuing godliness. It’s practical instruction is both an encouragement and challenge for Christian living in the 21st Century. It is believed that if you prazctice the disciplines suggested in this book, in the spirit with which it was written, you will steer clear of legalism and will begin progressing toward the goal of godliness in your personal life.
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