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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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(5) It is not helpful to list assorted Christian responsibilities and label them spiritual disciplines. That seems to be the reasoning behind the theology that smuggles in, say, creation care and almsgiving. But by the same logic, if out of Christian kindness you give a back rub to an old lady with a stiff neck and a sore shoulder, then back rubbing becomes a spiritual discipline. By such logic, any Christian obedience is a spiritual discipline, that is, it makes us more spiritual. Using the category of spiritual disciplines in that way has two unfortunate entailments. First, if every instance of obedience is a spiritual discipline, then there is nothing special about the emphatically emphasized, biblically mandated means of grace: prayer, for instance, and serious reading of and meditation on the Word of God. Second, such a way of thinking about spiritual disciplines subtly cajoles us into thinking that growth in spirituality is a function of nothing more than conformity to the demands of a lot of rules, of a lot of obedience. Certainly Christian maturity is not manifest where there is not obedience. Yet there is also a great deal of emphasis on growth in love, in trust, in understanding the ways of the living God, in the work of the Spirit in filling and empowering us.

(6) For these reasons it seems the part of wisdom to restrict the label “spiritual disciplines” to those Bible-prescribed activities that are explicitly said to increase our sanctification, our conformity to Christ Jesus, our spiritual maturation. When Jesus in John 17 prays that His Father will sanctify His followers through the truth, He adds, “Your word is truth.” Small wonder that believers have long labeled things like the study of the truth of the gospel “means of grace” – a lovely expression less susceptible to misinterpretation than spiritual disciplines.

[This article was previously published in Themelios 36.3 (2011). Used with permission.]


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1 JETS 37 (1994): 381-94.
2 Editor’s note: Cf. D. A. Carson, “The Cross and the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16,” in The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 43-66.
3 Cf. Keith Yandell and Harold Netland, Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009).

D.A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois and president of The Gospel Coalition. He has written or edited about sixty other books, including the Pillar New Testament Commentary volume on the Gospel according to John, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, The Intolerance of Tolerance, Christ and Culture Revisited, the long-popular New Testament Commentary Survey, and The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures.


Recommended Reading:
D.A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 1 (Crossway, 2006)

In a world that views absolute truth, right and wrong, and salvation as being subject to individual interpretation, the Bible's unwavering proclamations and miraculous stories seem obsolete in modern times. But it is not God's Word that has changed. Indeed, its relevancy and its power to transform lives are intact. What has changed is the number of people who consult it. Now more than ever the need to read the Bible, to understand the big picture of its storyline, and to grasp the relevance this has for your life is critical.

As with its companion volume, For the Love of God—Volume 2, this devotional contains a systematic 365-day plan, based on the M'Cheyne Bible-reading schedule, that will in the course of a year guide you through the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once.

In an effort to help preserve biblical thinking and living, D. A. Carson has also written thought-provoking comments and reflections regarding each day's scriptural passages. And, most uniquely, he offers you perspective that places each reading into the larger framework of history and God's eternal plan to deepen your understanding of his sovereignty—and the unity and power of his Word.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.



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