Book Review: "Spiritual Life: The Foundation of Preaching and Teaching"

John Westerhoff is the director of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia. For twenty years he serves as Professor of Theology and Christian Nurture at Duke University Divinity School. Noted author of “Will Our Children Have Faith?” & “Bringing Up Children in the Christian Faith” he was a key contributor to “Called to Teach and Learn.”

The importance of biblical preaching is needed in today’s culture. Westerhoff gives a clear picture of the importance of the spiritual relationship that one has with God in the ministry. The need for pastors to be close to God in their personal life is paramount in relation to their public life. The book used the example of a “pilgrimage” as an explanation of a Christian’s life. The journey is a life of becoming more dependent upon the power of God than one’s own strength.

The book highlights the importance of preaching and teaching the way Jesus did during his earthly ministry. This highlighted the power of the master teacher and how to apply it to today’s culture. The spiritual truth of discipline is explained in detail for the minister to put in action. The book explains the power that comes when a minister responds with grace to persecution. The heart of the gospel is to be dependent upon God for salvation and this book explains the importance of responding with obedience. Overall, the book was a clear explanation of the importance of spiritual formation for teaching and preaching.

The author gives a clear explanation of the importance for every believer to grow spiritually. The power of a personal life filled with God’s Word, prayer, encouragement and love for people is a priority for longevity in life and ministry. Westerhoff gives practical help to explain that the foundation for preaching is to be an obedient student to God’s Word. The theme is convincing because it focuses upon the internal part of ministry. Ministers have to handle many important aspects of ministry and the focus of this book must be a priority. The secret sins and issues will eventually come out in the light.

The issue that arises when reading this book is the lofty wordage that points to a dictionary more than clear understanding for any lay person. The illustrations at times can become misunderstood due to the irrelevance of current situations. One of the negative issues is the use of a Buddhist quote referring to spirituality. The important part is to fill the book full of scripture and not only quotes from other religions. Although it is important to understand other worldviews, the importance is to find truth from God’s Word. The feeling that comes from reading this book is that the author is not sure there is a certain set of beliefs to adhere to in life. The problem that this opens up is a liberal view of spirituality that is not based upon the original intent of scripture. The author does not use many scriptures in the first sections of the book but highlights many towards the end. It would have been greater to see scripture being the main theme of the entire book and not just the ending. The issue of using imagination was mentioned in the book and this is a weakness that arises. The problem that can come with this teaching is that some can easily make scripture into their own meaning. The truth comes from scripture and it is what makes up the theological beliefs of the Christian. Imagination is wonderful in the meditation upon scripture but it should never take the place of biblical exegesis and clear application of it into today’s culture.

The book teaches the importance of the spiritual health of the believer. If a person’s life is not focused upon the fruit if the spirit, it is devoid of true understanding of the gospel. The book explains the practical ways to lead a growing spiritual life. The essence of spirituality is to not only have disciplines, but also continually listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The search that is explained is that each minister is to lay out the truth and trust the Holy Spirit to bring the growth. It cannot be formulated or coerced, it is a movement of God within the heart of people who have repented and put their full faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation. This book gives clear insights into the importance of being close and clean to God. Without the heart to seek God on a daily basis, the pulpit will become devoid of the power of God. This book reveals the need for a daily time with God that is focused upon listening more than doing. If ministers applied what is taught in this book, the pulpit would be more potent with the gospel. People are searching for meaning in life and this book explains the wonderful pilgrimage of growing spiritually into the likeness of Jesus Christ.