Spiritual Disciplines – page 3


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From the Winter 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

Spiritual Disciplines

by D.A. Carson, Ph.D.
Research Professor of New Testament,
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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(2) We ought to ask what warrants including any particular item on a list of spiritual disciplines. For Christians with any sense of the regulative function of Scripture, nothing, surely, can be deemed a spiritual discipline if it is not so much as mentioned in the New Testament. That rather eliminates not only self-flagellation but creation care. Doubtless the latter, at least, is a good thing to do: it is part of our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation. But it is difficult to think of scriptural warrant to view such activity as a spiritual discipline – that is, as a discipline that increases our spirituality. The Bible says quite a lot about prayer and hiding God’s Word in our hearts, but precious little about creation care and chanting mantras.

(3) Some of the entries on the list are slightly ambiguous. At one level, the Bible says nothing at all about journaling. On the other hand, if journaling is merely a convenient label for careful self-examination, contrition, thoughtful Bible reading, and honest praying, using the habit of writing a journal to foster all four, it cannot be ruled outside the camp the way self-flagellation must be. The apostle declares celibacy to be an excellent thing, provided one has the gift (both marriage and celibacy are labeled charismata, “grace gifts”), and provided it is for the sake of increased ministry (1 Cor 7). On the other hand, there is nothing that suggests celibacy is an intrinsically holier state, and absolutely nothing under the terms of the new covenant warrants withdrawing into cloisters of celibate monks or nuns who have physically retreated from the world to become more spiritual. Meditation is not an intrinsic good. A huge amount depends on the focus of one’s meditation. Is it one imagined dark spot on a sheet of white? Or is it the law of the Lord (Ps 1:2)?

(4) Even those spiritual disciplines that virtually all would acknowledge to be such must not be misunderstood or abused. The very expression is potentially misleading: spiritual discipline, as if there is something intrinsic to self-control, to the imposition of self-discipline, that qualifies one to be more spiritual. Such assumptions and mental associations can lead only to arrogance; worse, they often lead to condescending judgmentalism: others may not be as spiritual as I am since I am disciplined enough to have an excellent prayer time or a superb Bible-reading scheme. But the truly transformative element is not the discipline itself, but the worthiness of the task undertaken: the value of prayer, the value of reading God’s Word.

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