Whitney revises bestselling ‘Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life’

Communications Staff — September 11, 2014

Donald S. Whitney's bestselling book on biblical spirituality is used to train one out of four seminary students in the country.
Donald S. Whitney’s bestselling book on biblical spirituality is used to train one out of four seminary students in the country.

Discipline without direction is drudgery,” writes Donald S. Whitney in a familiar opening to the revised and updated edition of his classic book on biblical spirituality. The book contains new material with more emphasis on the gospel that will help both first-time readers and those who enjoyed the first edition to ground their disciplines soundly in Scripture.

Whitney’s bestselling work, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, is used to train one out of four seminary students in the country. According to Whitney, NavPress approached him to revise it for a 20th anniversary edition, in keeping with a tradition established with the spirituality books of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. “As it turns out, it is a 23rd anniversary edition, so it is just called revised and updated,” said Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Whitney improved on the 1991 edition of his most influential work by adding 11 new methods of meditation on Scripture and including a more explicit Christocentric focus in each chapter. He bolstered the content with more Scripture references in order to distance himself from a mystical approach to spirituality and removed any cultural references that would fade with the passing of time.

“If you do not get justification right, you are not likely to get sanctification right. In my revision, I removed some sources and statements that might be misconstrued or implied to support connections to mysticism,” said Whitney, referring to the absence of Christian spirituality writers Willard and Foster. “I want students to focus primarily on trusted sources as it relates to the gospel and living out the gospel.”

Donald S. Whitney, associate dean of the School of Theology and professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary
Donald S. Whitney, associate dean of the School of Theology and professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary

The expanded methods of meditation on Scripture carry on the legacy of the original edition, which introduced praying through the text as an enriching exercise for many Christians.

“That’s the most instantaneously and permanently transformational thing I think I teach outside of the gospel,” said Whitney. “Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer said statistics show the most important pitch on which to throw a strike is the one-and-one count — that’s the most determinative in getting the batter out. For me, the one-and-one count in the devotional life is meditation on Scripture. That tends to make all the other disciplines fall into place.”

Newer methods prescribed in the revised edition include formulating a principle from the text, asking how the text points to Jesus, creating an artistic expression, and using meditation mapping.

“A mind map is a diagram that outlines information in a more visually appealing and memorable way than words on lines,” writes Whitney, explaining the intellectually stimulating practice of meditation mapping with the example of Romans 8:28. “It’s not a different way to think, just a different way to write down what you think.”

Whitney also revised and updated the companion study guide for his bestselling work,  a 140-page resource for small group discussion and personal study that is regularly priced at $9.99.

“I hope it continues the impact on Christian spirituality that’s a biblically based, theologically driven spirituality but that is clear, plain, and workable,” Whitney said. “Anything God expects of all of his children like spiritual disciplines has to be fundamentally simple.”

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