Yesterday evening I began reading a book entitled Beyond the Quiet Time: Practical Evangelical Spirituality. For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that on the subject of faith, I tend to prefer matters of an intellectual nature – sometimes, unfortunately, to the degradation of my personal devotional life. In my mind, I know that devotion is a necessary part of faith; but my heart is too often hard when it comes to expressing that devotion itself. I so despise that practice common among too many modern Evangelicals – that is, “zeal without knowledge” (Prov. 19:2) – that I have taken great pains to prevent this error in my own life. But in my good intentions, I have found myself devaluing devotional practices and pushing them to the side.
While I recognize the shortcomings of my own position, I find that I am not impressed by the frequently shallow “devotional” modes of life advocated by large portions of the Church. And so I have sought in my own life to find a balance between mind and heart faith, often unsuccessfully. Enter the book I have above mentioned. In this work, the theologian Alister McGrath attempts to reintroduce a joint heart/head approach to devotion. But rather than explaining what he says, I find it simpler (and more accurate) to let him speak for himself:
“We can read the Bible as a guidebook to Jesus Christ, appreciating the way in which the many strands of the Old Testament find their fulfilment in him. Yet there is another way of reading the Bible, which supplements this. It is to read Scripture in order to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ; and that means learning more about him (the objective side of things), and deepening our commitment and love for him (the subjective side of things). These two both need to be there. The head and the heart are both caught up in Christian faith” (17).
“Faith is related to both our minds and our experience; it concerns both Word and Spirit. Christians do not just believe; they believe certain things. Yet Christian faith is about far more than understanding ideas: it is about the transformation of our experience and the renewal of our lives. A fully developed Christian spirituality will thus deal with both these aspects” (21).
Building on this premise, McGrath rightly criticizes Evangelicalism for failing to provide the tools necessary for Christians to engage with Scripture in this deeply important way. The book in question seeks to reverse this problem by providing a structured format for devotion, recognizing the importance of both intellectual aspects [as we seek to gain maturity as we use “the mind to uncover the way in which Christian doctrines relate to and reinforce one another” (21)] while pursuing experiential aspects [as we seek to use “the imagination as to identify and appreciate the emotional aspects of the gospel, and their implications for Christian living” (22)]. The Scripture studies in the book provide (to name but a few of the elements therein) moments where the reader is invited to visualize themselves in various situations, moments for reflection upon the commentary of great Christian writers, and moments to express and exercise their responses to the devotions.
This book is an excellent devotional tool, and I commend it to any who may be seeking to reinvigorate their quiet times with God. The introductory essay is itself an excellent resource, to say nothing of the studies themselves.
For more information on Alister McGrath, check out his official website here or read the Wikipedia entry. Alister McGrath, formerly Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, is currently Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education, and Head of Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London. He is the author of numerous books (both popular and academic) including The Dawkins Delusion, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, and A Passion for Truth.