The founder and president of The Center for Biblical Spirituality, Don Whitney has served as a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theology Seminary and currently serves as a professor and dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has done so since 2005. He received his undergraduate degree at Arkansas State University and received graduate degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Ministry), and University of the Free State (Doctor of Philosophy). Whitney’s labor is not limited to the academy. Don has previously served local churches in pastoral ministry for nearly a quarter of a century.
Don Whitney’s experience as a professor and pastor gives him the proper credentials to speak on the critical subject of spiritual disciplines. In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Don Whitney instructs and exhorts Christians to know and practice various spiritual disciplines for the purpose of godliness. Spiritual disciplines find their basis in the Word of God. Spiritual disciplines are not to be carried out legalistically. Spiritual disciplines are not an end in themselves. They serve to glorify God by growing Christians in godliness.
The Content of the Book
Chapter 1 lays the foundation by emphasizing the purpose of spiritual disciplines is godliness. Whitney wants to be clear from the start the spiritual disciplines are not an end, or the telos. Rather, spiritual disciplines are seen as the means to godliness and they “are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times” (Whitney 17). The Christian life is not a life of spontaneous effort but intentional training. Simply put, “Godliness comes through discipline” (Whitney 18).
Chapters 2–3 begin looking into specific disciplines by examining the spiritual discipline of Bible intake. As Whitney explains, Bible intake is more than simply reading or studying the Bible. Bible intake involves hearing God’s Word, reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, meditating on God’s Word, memorizing God’s Word, and applying God’s Word. Whitney’s reason for starting with Bible intake is “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word” (Whitney 28). Whitney finishes the discussion on the subject by addressing the spiritual opposition Christians can expect to face.
Chapter 4 moves to the next spiritual discipline of prayer. A connection is made between Bible intake and prayer (Whitney 71). As with Bible intake and the following spiritual disciplines, Don Whitney lays the biblical foundation of how the specific discipline is expected and how it can be practiced within the life of the Christian. Whitney keeps the purpose of his book in view, answering why to pray, “for the purpose of godliness” (Whitney 82).
Chapter 5 observes the all-encompassing discipline of worship. Explaining what worship entails, Whitney includes the important feature worship is both public and private (Whitney 92). Worship, however, is not like every other discipline. Where other disciplines are a means to godliness, there is a sense in which worship is a means and an end (Whitney 94–95).
Chapter 6 turns the focus to the discipline of evangelism for the purpose of godliness. While not getting caught up in methods, Whitney brings clarity to what evangelism is and calls for Christians to not be overcome with fear or other excuses in practicing evangelism. From there, he moves into chapter 7 by addressing the discipline of service and the importance of motivation in service.
Chapters 8–12 list disciplines that are not necessarily described in terms of disciplines. Chapter 8 discusses stewardship of money and time. Chapter 9 looks at the contested discipline of fasting. Chapter 10 considers silence and solitude as spiritual disciplines. Chapter 11 adds journaling to the list of disciplines. Chapter 12 finishes the list of disciplines with learning.
Chapter 13 ends the book by reminding the reader perseverance will be needed in the disciplines, again for the purpose of godliness. Essential in this is understanding the role of the Holy Spirit, the role of fellowship, and the role of struggle. Godliness and holiness are not accomplished on our own and it does not happen without challenges.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life accomplishes the purpose it sets out to tackle, namely explaining the spiritual discipline, how it can be practiced, and done for the purpose of godliness. Whitney does a solid job laying out the disciplines and pointing back that they serve the purpose of godliness.
The Structure of the Book: A Critique
While the purpose of the book seems to be fulfilled, the structure of the book does not come without some critiques. For instance, the chapters on worship (chapter 5) and stewardship (chapter 8) come to mind. Because worship is both a means and an end, the book may be better served by leading off with the discipline of worship. All other disciplines seem to flow out of worship. Furthermore, the language of stewardship should not be limited to giving of money and time. The Christian life is a life of stewardship. A better-framed title may be the discipline of giving.
Other disciplines such as silence, solitude, and journaling, are harder to see as separate disciplines because there does not seem to be an explicit and convincing biblical basis for the disciplines. To be more specific, it seems silence and solitude may fit under the discipline of prayer and journaling may work under or alongside Bible intake.
A Tool for the Christian Life
The minor critiques of this book do not take away from the effectiveness of the book. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life uniquely centers the discussion of spiritual disciplines around the purpose of godliness. The book serves as a tool for leading a godly and fruitful Christian life. For any Christian who is seeking to grow in an intentional way, Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is the book to read and to apply.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this book, you can find it here.