Donald S. Whitney,
Spiritual Disciplines for the
DSMN 520 D03 LUO (Fall 2013)
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
November 17, 2013
This is a reading report on Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, published in 1991. Whitney serves as a Associate Professor and Associate Dean at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after working as a pastor for twenty-four years. He holds degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has written five other books, several on this same subject.
This work will be a summary of the book including notes on each chapter. A critique of the book will be presented. Personal application of the Whitney’s ideas will be suggested and detailed. The last portion of this work will be a conclusion of the summary.
Whitney’s thesis is that we should follow the direction of I Timothy 4:7 to “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” He presents his view of the ten most important spiritual disciplines taught by the Bible to “promote spiritual growth.” Following these disciplines, or habits, will allow the development of godliness or holiness in ourlives. Spiritual disciplines are among the three biblical change agents given to us to help us become Christ-like.
There are three “catalysts” or change agents described by Whitney. These are other people, the circumstances of our lives and spiritual disciplines or habits. The distinctive characteristic of spiritual disciplines is that they are completely within our control, in contrast to the other two which impact our lives in many ways that are out of our control. The first two work from the outside in on our lives and behavior. The third change agent of spiritual disciplines molds us from the inside out. It is completely up to each individual whether these habits are formed or developed. Each person much choose to participate or develop these practices. There is both freedom and danger associated with the spiritual disciplines.
The freedom comes from “embracing” them and developing into one’s personal spiritual potential. That potential leads to the freedom of spiritual fulfilment. The danger of these habits comes from the lack of their practice. Each person is in danger of an unfufiled sprititual life if these habits or ignored. Practicing a habit makes it “look easy” to other observers and gives a “intimacy and freedom” in the habit to the person developing it. The danger is in the missed fulfilment from lack of effort.
Whitney begins his ten disciplines with a two part presentation of the first habit, Bible intake. The first part is exposing yourself to the Bible through hearing, reading and studying God’s word. Giving yourself the opportunity to learn from God by first opening his book and exposing yourself to it is the first primary habit or step. The second part of this first discipline is to memorize, meditate on and attempt to apply what you hear, read and learn by study. First expose yourself to the Bible, then make it real in your life by learning key verses by memory, thinking about them in disciplined way and then work to apply the benefits and methods of the Bible you have learned. This first habit is the key to all others that follow. It is the foundation of spiritual development. God promises we will be blessed by developing this habit. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)
The second discipline is prayer. While God promises blessings to those who study his word, he expects us to pray. There are many examples of Jesus praying in his time on Earth. His language also gives his expections that we will pray in the words “when you pray” that appear at least three times in the New Testament. He does not say if you pray you will be blessed. He says when you pray you should pray as he modeled.
Prayer is expected but as with most disciplines or habits, it must be learned. It takes practice. Meditating on scripture as you pray, praying with others and reading about prayer are suggested techniques. And of course, with prayer comes the answers to prayer. “Ask and it will be given unto you.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Worship is the third discipline. Proper worship is done when we focus on and respond to God in spirit and in truth. It can be done on public or in private. While worship can be done in private as part of personal Bible study and prayer, “Christianity is not an isolationist religion.” There are clear indications in the New Testament that part of the worship habit of a believer should be done with others. Worship, like prayer, is a habit that must be practiced or “cultivated.” It does not come naturally to everyone.
Evangelism is the fourth discipline. To develop holiness, the word and love of Christ must be shared. This too is expected of believers. The Great Commission is one of many biblical admonitions to share the good news we have been given. Jesus again taught by example. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
The next discipline is serving others. This is also biblically expected in both Old and New Testaments. “Serve the Lord with gladness” and “serve the living God” are two well known references. (Psalm 100:2, Hebrews 9:14) Serving others is expected and may be motivated by a sense of obedience. It may also be motivated by gratitude, gladness, forgiveness, humility or love. We are equipped to serve with one of the seven spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:4-8. God gives us the ability and expects us to serve.
Stewardship is the next discipline. Whitney illustrates this habit as the returning to God of those things we have been given, primarily time and money. The returning of both of these things to God take discipline; the discipline developed by Bible study, prayer, worship, evangelism and serving others! Time is our most precious blessing or commodity and we are accountable to God for its use, just as we are with the money or other blessings we have been granted. Whitney devotes more pages in this book on spiritual disciplines to this discipline than to any of the other nine except for Bible intake. He is very detailed in his discussion of the use and stewardship of both time and money. Whitney believes that this discipline is one ignored by many believers and encourages that his readers “do not harden your hearts” in regard to this spiritual discipline or habit.
Disciplines seven through ten are often neglected by many of the most devoted Christians. Fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning and not habits that quickly come to mind to many believers. Whitney’s biblical support for these disciplines is just as deep and through as for the previous six.
Jesus modeled fasting several times including passages in Matthes 4 and Luke 4. Ezra fasted in the Old Testament and Paul, like Jesus, was documented to fast in the New Testament. The Bible also describes several types of fasts that can be used to develop holiness and Christlikeness. And, fasting is expected. In Matthew 6:16-17, Jesus said “and when you fast” in his instructions to those around him. He clearly expected that they would participate in this practice.
Silence and solitude is a discipline not often discussed. It is the “withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” It is presented as a compliment to fellowship with others. Solitude gives personal depth and along with fellowship leads to a balanced life. Jesus modeled this behavior as he did many of those previously mentioned. He practiced solitude in the desert, in the mountains and often just in a private place early in the morning. Whitney concludes that “to be like Jesus we must discipline ourselves to find times of silence and solitude.”
Journaling is the ninth discipline, the act of recording “the works and ways of God in your life.” While not a behavior modeled by Jesus, it is presented as a habit that will help in meditation, help in remembering the Lord’s work in our lives and help create a spiritual heritage for our friends and family. It can also help us monitor goals, priorities and answered prayer. It can assist in the tracking of our development of the other disciplines as well, recording our plan and progress.
Whitney’s tenth discipline is learning. “Learning characterizes the wise person.” For this habit, there is both Old and New Testament support. “Wise men store up knowledge” and to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” are clear references to the practice of continual learning for every believer. (Proverbs 10:14, Romans 12:2) Learning, as the other habit, occurs by discipline, not by accident.
After his detailing of the ten disciplines, Whitney concludes this work with a guide to pursueing and preserving the ten disciplines in the life of a believer. The role of the Holy Spirit is discussed in detail. Fellowship with other Christians is also presented as a tool to aid in the struggle of spiritual development. This conludes the summary of Whitney’s work on spiritual disciplines. A critique of the work will now be presented.
The strength of Whitney’s work lies in three areas. First is its simplicity. Beginning with the study of the Bible, a path to spiritual discipline is paved for the reader, each step logically following the one before it. Prayer is built on Bible Study. Worship is built on Prayer. The path is logical and easy to follow.
The second strength is the depth of biblical support for each discipline. There are both Old and New Testament references for each habit. Some references are very direct while some are more subtle, but all are effective.
The third strength is the use of the life of Jesus as a model for all but one of the disciplines. To be more Christ-like is to attempt to live more like Jesus lived. Using the life and words of Jesus to illustrate his ideas is a strong approach.
This writer finds no significant weakness in Whitney’s work. It is difficult to dispute either the primary thesis of the attempt to be more godly or the proposed plan. The support for journaling is not as biblical or Jesus-life supported as the others, but is a logical extenstion of the idea overall. This work is thought provoking and simple all at the same time. It is written in an easy to read style and draws the reader in with its promise of a more Christ-like life at the end of the process.
The personal application of Whitney’s work is easy to see. Starting with a foundation of first Bible study and then prayer, the path to a more disciplines spiritual life is easy for this reader to envision. To follow the modeled examples from the life of Jesus seems a simple task to understand while nearly impossible to achieve. The journey will prove both rewarding and interesting.
Whitney’s work is a must-read for any serious believer or a new believer seeking a path to spiritual fulfillment. Whitney’s ten key spiritual disciplines and the supporting argument for each are well presented and convincing. At the end of the examination of this work comes a desire to begin the journey.
Futher study is indicated in the life of Jesus and a more complete list of the practical things he did regularly. There may be other habits he modeled regularly for his believers to learn and practice. Whitney’s list is a good start but may not be complete or exhaustive.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website,
Whitney, Donald S., Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1991.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website,
< http://www.sbts.edu/theology/faculty/donald-whitney/>, Accessed 11.13/13.
 Donald S. Whitney, Spritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1994), p16.