What is spirituality? Is it related to religion or opposed to it? Is it a subjective experience or an objective reality? Is it both? Many have jettisoned the adjective “religious” for the much more friendly (and ambiguous) term “spiritual.” When individuals fly planes into buildings and groups protests funerals of soldiers in the name of religion, the adjective “spiritual” becomes a much more appealing title. Those who are spiritual are peaceful and open-minded; those who are religious are intolerant and destructive. In our day, spirituality is touted as the soothing salve against rigid religiosity and can be personally tailored to fit the individual’s wants and needs. This has caused many Christians to question what it means to be spiritual. Recognizing this trend, Dr. Michael A.G. Hakyin, professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has provided the church with a text which seeks to answer the question everyone seems to be asking. Haykin provides a biblical and historical introduction to calm the turbulent waters of the spirituality debate for Christian readers.
In nine succinct chapters, Haykin defines the nature of spirituality rooted in Scripture and exhibited by faithful saints of old. Haykin orients readers to the necessarily Trinitarian shape of biblical spirituality. Focusing mainly on various citations from Paul’s letters and Matthew 28:19-20, Haykin scratches the surface of Trinitarian language found in the New Testament. Upon establishing the Trinitarian foundation of biblical spirituality, Haykin emphasizes God’s holiness. Highlighting Isaiah 6, Haykin demonstrates the need (echoing Calvin) to know God and know self. Confessing God’s holiness leads to acknowledging man’s sinfulness and total inability to save oneself. This balance of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness (with God’s grace in cleansing sin as with Isaiah) must be maintained at all costs. The Wesylan distinctive of total sanctification in this life is thus rejected, including any theology that gives man more credit or diminishes God’s holiness. Interspersing quotations from the Puritan John Owen, Haykin stresses the role of the Spirit in sanctification. Upon experiencing God’s holiness and being changed by his grace, man through the ever-present aid of the Spirit, should be about the business of destroying sin in one’s life.
The next facet of Haykin’s case for biblical spirituality is the necessity of Christ-centeredness. This love for the Savior marks the entirety of the New Testament. Haykin, following Hebrews 11:23-26, spends the remainder of the chapter focusing on Moses as the OT type of “true New Testament spirituality” (29). Moses’ desire to forsake the wisdom and riches of his Egyptian upbringing is the model for Christians wishing to forsake all for following Christ. Haykin magnifies the necessity of a cross-centered spirituality, devoting an entire chapter to crucicentrism. Haykin states, “[C]rucicentism…is a central feature of any spirituality claiming to be biblical and evangelical” (37). The work of Christ on the cross is unique among the sea of competing spiritualties. Citing Luther on justification, Haykin maintains the necessity of faith in a crucified savior for our sins. This faith is a Holy Spirit wrought endowment upon the believer, therefore making justification and salvation a total work of God. With this in mind, biblical spirituality must be thoroughly cross-centered.
A particular distinctive of biblical spirituality is the focus on the text of Scripture itself. The temptation in spirituality (Christian or otherwise) is the reliance upon inner guidance. While believers are assured of the guidance of the Spirit, any such guidance is never superior to the revealed Word of God. A spirituality of the word brings all such leanings under the authority of Scripture, which according to Haykin, is the primary authority based on “the One who stands behind them as their author” (45). Any spiritual insight which gives authority above the revealed word of God deserves scrutiny. The Puritan understanding of the Spirit and the Word is helpful, as Haykin indicates, convicting them of what He has already revealed in Scripture to be true. Though given a separate chapter, Haykin links the Word-centered spiritual life with the call to meditate. Highlighting the various themes worthy of meditation, Haykin helpfully asserts that meditation for the Christian “does not lie in the technique but in the content” (65). Meditation does not happen on the freeway in the middle of rushhour traffic, rather it is a deliberate cessation of busyness in order to bring one’s heart and mind to God’s word. For his exemplar, Haykin directs readers’ attention to the great Jonathan Edwards. Edwards’ life and ministry demonstrates that the waters of true affection for God are stirred by the staff of deliberate meditation upon God’s word. Haykin asserts that this meditation naturally leads to prayer and praise. A sure sign of salvation is the desire to pray, though as Haykin highlights, this desire is an ongoing struggle in the life of the believer. Haykin states, “[P]rayer demands discipline and hard work….prayer is a struggle” (59). . Apart from His help, there is no possibility for consistent and sincere prayer. God’s sovereignty likewise is a pathway to the praying Christian, not a barrier. Haykin declares, “Mature spiritual prayers never leave God’s sovereignty out of the picture” (61).
Perhaps the most unique contribution to this text is Haykin’s attention to the necessity of friendship. Haykin observes, “Friendships among men in our culture are often superficial, rarely deep or close” (71). This chapter was extremely helpful, especially in light of modern day evangelicalism’s prevalence towards the individual. Highlighting the relationships of Jonathan and David as well as Paul and Timothy, Haykin then moves to more recent historical examples. These examples help to solidify the need for solid spirit-filled believers in the journey of the spiritual life. The concept of friendship surpasses that of discipleship as it presupposes sacrifice and love necessary for rich and vibrant relationships. In his final chapter, Haykin demonstrates that the natural consequence of true biblical Spirituality is mission. A life intensely focused on God and his works should lead believers to communicate the need for that intimacy with God to others. This is more than gaining converts but, as Haykin suggests, should lead new believers to be “nurtured on the Word of God and grow into Christian maturity” (89-90). This mission demonstrates the love of Christ both in the initial gospel message as well as the well-lived life of spiritual pursuits.
While this text provides a great (and much needed) outline of biblical spirituality, this work would benefit from some additions. First, it would be helpful to extend the Trinitarian foundation to the entire canon Scripture, rather than limiting the discussion to the New Testament witness. For Trinitarian spirituality to be truly biblical, the Old Testament scriptures must be included for consideration. Second, a cruciform spirituality (in the opinion of this author) necessarily includes Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). Haykin’s crucicentrism discussion neglects this necessary part of the spiritual life modeled after our Savior. Lastly, Haykin would have done well to add a commentary on the changing nature of friendship in the digital age. Should Christians adapt or should they buck the trends? Is technology a friend or foe (or neither) towards the task of nurturing spiritual friendships?
Readers wishing to anchor themselves in the choppy waters of spirituality should first read The God Who Draws Near. The introductory nature of this volume necessarily leaves room for much more exploration, but its thorough reliance upon Scripture and the testimony from the voices of history make this text a good starting point towards further exploration. Readers looking for a “how-to” guide or practical steps for living the spiritual life should look elsewhere (see Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life). So what is spirituality? For the Christian, Haykin continually asserts, it is the life grounded in the Spirit-inspired Scriptures, molded in the community of faith, modeled on the lives of the faithful, and rooted in the knowledge of a holy God and sinful man who needs a sinless Savior. A soul nourished through the means demonstrated in The God Who Draws Near, should bring about a life which declares the majesty of the God who in fact drew near to us through his Son and continues to draw near by the power the His Holy Spirit.