Friday, December 2, 2011

Spiritual Disciplines or Not

Don Carson at the Gospel Coalition offers a pretty narrow view of what constitute as and what don't constitute as spiritual disciplines. Essentially he narrows them to bible reading and prayer. I'm more broad in my appreciation of what could be considered a 'spiritual discipline.'

You can read his thoughts and rationale here = D.A Carson 'Spiritual Disciplines'

The point of this post is not to get into a debate or argument with Carson on the issue but rather to offer a different opinion and give you something to think on in regards to what may or may not work as a spiritual discipline in your life i.e. a practice that leads to spiritual growth and development as a Christ follower in areas of right believing, right affections and right living.

My comments on Carson's article...

I think Carson presents a very narrow few of how God can and does work in the lives of His people and of the practices which His people can engage in that as spiritual disciplines, lead to spiritual growth.

Yes spirit, spiritual, spirituality are notoriously fuzzy words. There has been massive debate about Christian Spirituality and how that can possible be defined for many years.

I don’t think 1 Cor 2:14 or 1 Cor 3:1 are references to intrinsic reality of humanities make up as created in the image of God, but rather to the regenerate state of certain individuals/communities. There is a big difference.

I love the gospel and I’m not nervous about the language of ‘spiritual disciplines’ extending itself into all sorts of arenas, such as Bible reading, meditation, worship, giving away money, fasting, solitude, fellowship, deeds of service, evangelism, almsgiving, creation care, journaling, missionary work, and more. Popular use may divorce them from specific doctrine Christian or otherwise, but Christian use should always anchor them in the grand narrative of scripture. Indeed I concur with Carson that in general they will only increase one’s ‘spirituality’ with the presence of the Holy Spirit, all being that they are likely still good practices in character development even apart from a recognised knowledge of God.

I think plenty can be listed as a spiritual discipline without being particularly mentioned in Scripture, i.e. despite the bible saying precious little (debatable!) about creation care and chanting mantras.

Yes of course the disciplines can be done for disciplines sake and do not necessarily make one holier than another. When done with an openness to the Spirit they certainly create space to hear from God though, to re-orientate one’s life around the Way of Jesus and to help one grow healthy.

One of my main points of contention is that I would disagree with Carson and 100% assert that Christian responsibilities can and should be labelled as spiritual disciplines. The very running of one's Christian race 1 Cor 9:24-27 (towards orthodoxy, orthopathy and orthopraxy) is exercise in itself. Any movement towards right(eous) living, towards clothing oneself or taking off the old self and putting on the new self Eph 4:22-24, is exercise, discipline, a pressing on, which leads to what can only be described as ‘spiritual growth.’ This does not mean there is nothing special about prayer and the reading of God’s Word, indeed not all disciplines are equal, though all can be healthy. In some seasons people need to lean more into some disciplines than others. Likewise, this does not mean that one is sucked into thinking that growth in spirituality is but conformity to rules. The very acts of creation care, giving away money and fellowship (when truly engaged in, in a disciplined and committed manner) demand growth in love, trust, understanding of the ways of God and the work of the Spirit in filling and empowering us. All practices which can help us in our journey of sanctification, conformity to Jesus Christ and spiritual maturation.

What would you class or not class as a spiritual discipline? What disciplines do you practice that have lead to life in the Spirit and growth in the things of God?

Further reading try...

Bradley Holt - Thirsty for God
Gary Thomas - Sacred Pathways

Grace and peace

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