Biblical spirituality centers on God, new book by SBTS professor asserts

Communications Staff — March 11, 2008

Contemporary culture is awash in spirituality, but there is a vast difference between what it asserts and how the Bible describes Christian spirituality, noted historian Michael Haykin asserts in a book.

In “The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction to Biblical Spirituality” (Evangelical Press), Haykin shows the profound difference between popular spirituality and spirituality as Christians have historically understood it; contemporary spirituality puts self at center, while Scripture makes God the measure of all things. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“There is a wide plethora of spirituality out there,” Haykin said in an interview. “In fact, I saw recently a handbook for atheist spirituality. It is important that we are bound to Scripture because in our life in Christ, we are not left to our own devices. God has given us very clear guidance as to how to form our life in Christ and he has not left it to our imagination to cobble a bit here and a bit there.

“The culture we live in takes a very eclectic approach. Someone might say, ‘I like Zen Buddhism, and I‘ll add a little bit of Islam, maybe a bit of Suphism, a bit of Francis of Assisi and even a dash of Jesus, because I kind of like him.’ That’s the typical approach to spirituality, but that’s not at all the way Scripture sees itself in terms of the formation of God’s people.”

The proper starting point for Christian spirituality is not self, but God, Haykin argues, for one accurately understands himself only when he accurately knows God.

Evangelicals since the Protestant Reformation have practiced spirituality through the lens of Scripture, understanding God as infinitely holy and man as deeply sinful and in need of redeeming grace, Haykin argues.

“Self-centered spirituality is the prime characteristic of pagan culture, be it ancient or modern,” Haykin writes. “Self-knowledge is not wrong per se, but it must be pursued in light of the knowledge of God.”

The book is arranged around nine marks of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, marks that constitute genuine, God-centered biblical spirituality. Haykin cites many figures from church history, particularly the Reformers and their Puritan progeny, to illustrate genuine Christian spirituality.

One of the distinguishing marks of biblical spirituality is that it is centered on the cross of Christ, Haykin asserts. The cross is central to Christian spirituality because it is through Christ’s atoning death that a sinner is reconciled and brought near to God in the first place, Haykin writes.

“We live in a culture that encourages a pluralistic attitude towards God and religion,” Haykin writes.

“All religions, it (pluralism) would have us believe, are pathways to God…But this pluralistic perspective is a complete denial of what Peter is saying in 1 Peter 3.

Peter and the rest of the Scriptures tell us there is only one way to God and that is through Christ and his cross. He died ‘that he might bring us to God.’ If other ways to God were possible, Christ would not have had to die.”

Other marks of biblical spirituality include understanding its Trinitarian nature, knowing God and ourselves, the Word of God, Prayer, Christian meditation, spiritual friendship and the mission of spirituality.

In the final chapter, “Mission—the inevitable Fruit of True Spirituality,” Haykin examines the lives of three well-known ministers from Baptist history: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Andrew Fuller and John Bunyan. All three serve as examples of Christians who knew God deeply and whose lives clearly possessed the fruit of the Holy Spirit, Haykin argues. All three men demonstrated their spiritual maturity through a profound concerned for lost souls, Haykin asserts.

“What helped fuel these three men’s zeal for the salvation of lost men and women was the example of early Christians like the apostle Paul,” Haykin writes.

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