By Michael A.G. Haykin
Stephen W. Hiemstra, A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples (Centreville, VA: T2Pneuma Publishers, 2014), xx+206 pages.
During Easter 1985, Thomas Howard—a graduate of Wheaton College and a professor of English at Gordon College, both long-standing bastions of Evangelicalism, and himself the product of a staunch Evangelical family, whose sister is Elisabeth Eliot, author and widow of the Evangelical martyr Jim Eliot—became a Roman Catholic. His conversion to Roman Catholicism caused quite a stir at the time in Evangelical circles, and Christianity Today, that quintessential Evangelical publication, ran a nine-page special report on the event. It makes for fascinating reading. When asked why he had decided to make the journey to Rome he cited the “shallowness” of Evangelicalism, “the desperate, barren, parched nature” of its worship, and its “poverty when it comes to the deeper riches of Christian spirituality.”
Howard’s observation that contemporary Evangelical spirituality is poor and shallow, indeed “gossamer-thin,” is something that many others have also apparently recognized, for a growing number of Evangelicals in the past thirty years or so have begun to pay more attention to this vital subject. In fact, in Evangelical circles, “spirituality” has become what American Evangelical historian Richard Lovelace has called “a growth industry.” A helpful contribution to this “industry” is this new book by Stephen Hiemstra, who is described on the website of his publisher as “a slave of Christ, husband, father, aspiring pastor, economist, and writer.” Based mainly on the very familiar texts of the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the ten commandments, the book comprises fifty meditations that flesh out each of the phrases of these texts with rich reflections, prayers and follow-up questions. There are also fifteen other meditations that deal with basic questions about knowing God and various spiritual disciplines (Hiemstra includes music, physical exercise, and marriage among these disciplines). The inclusion of questions at the close of each meditation will enable the work to be used in small groups that want to advance their understanding of what is biblical and reformed spirituality.
Upon an initial read I thought the title inappropriate: the book’s design is clearly that of a devotional, not a systematic study of Christian spirituality. But as I began to read the various meditations, I perceived that though each one is short—usually no more than 190 words or so—together they give the reader a rich overview of Christian spirituality from a reformed perspective.
Michael A.G. Haykin Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Michael A.G. Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Haykin and his wife Alison have two grown children, Victoria and Nigel.