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LIBERTY UNIVERSITY

BOOK CRITIQUE OF JOHN WESTERHOFF SPIRITUAL LIFE: THE FOUNDATION FOR PREACHING AND TEACHING

A PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. JON BISHOP IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE COURSE PLED 520

LIBERTY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

BY ELKE SPELIOPOULOS

DOWNINGTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2011

CONTENTS

Bibliographical Entry ...................................................................................................................... 1 Introduction and Author Information.............................................................................................. 1 Content Summary of Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching....................... 2 Evaluation and Critique .................................................................................................................. 5 Conclusion ...................................................................................................................................... 6 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................... 7

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Bibliographical Entry Westerhoff, John. Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994. Introduction and Author Information The chapters of the short book Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching are based on a series of lectures author John Westerhoff gave at a conference, The Spirituality of Preaching, which took place at the College of Preachers in Washington, DC, in 1992.1 They are intended to be a practical and inspirational for people in teaching or preaching roles, whether ordained clergy or lay leaders. In order to review Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching, it is important to understand the authors upbringing and spiritual journey. According to Talbot School of Theologys page on Christian educators, John H. Westerhoff III may be one of the more familiar names in Christian education in North America during the last quarter of the twentieth century.2 Brought up in a non-religious home, albeit nominally Presbyterian and attending church on occasion, he nevertheless found his own way to faith through a series of spiritual influencers. From a non-denominational, fundamentalist congregation to a Dutch Reformed Church to ultimately becoming a priest in the Episcopal Church, he began to embrace Catholic substance and the Protestant principle, a path which led him to Anglican monastic community, St. John's House, after the end of his marriage. Now remarried, he founded the Institute for Pastoral Studies3 and has authored many works.
. John Westerhoff, Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), xv. . Talbot School of Theology, John H. Westerhoff, III, http://www2.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/view.cfm?n=john_westerhoff (accessed September 2, 2011).
3 2 1

. Ibid.

Content Summary of Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching Westerhoff breaks down his short book into six chapters. In the section Exploring the Spiritual Life, Westerhoff sets the tone for the rest of the book. He postulates that no one can love their neighbor if they do not love God first, and that even this relationship to God could not happen if God had not loved first. Westerhoff wants to take away the barrier between secular and sacred and cites Pope John XXIII on the lack of distinction between the perfection of the soul and the business of life4 to make his point. This interplay also comes to bear in prayer life where, according to Westerhoff, the life of prayer should move from being relevant to devotional life and being relevant to daily living seamlessly.5 Westerhoff states that the only God we are able to experience is the God we image6 and that this majestic, transcendent mystery7 can be best experienced in a setting that resembles human friendship. To engage with God, quality time has to be invested in the relationship in order for it to grow. Westerhoff states that God speaks to us through interior emotions, dreams, visions, intuitions, and the likeGod speaks to us through our feelings, our hearts.8 In Preaching and Teaching in a New Day, Westerhoff speaks out against the tradition of preaching that leverages the historical-critical method and in turn, by use of language that is no longer relevant, loses the listeners or turns them into crypto-fundamentalists, some of whom may ultimately turn into magna cum laude atheists.9 At the same time, he pleads with
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. Talbot School of Theology, Westerhoff, III, 2. . Ibid., 3. . Ibid., 4. . Ibid., 5. . Ibid., 7. . Ibid., 17.

his readers not to cast out wisdom gained in days of old in favor of influences from a new world situation. Westerhoff cites Andrew Louths writing who believes that to be a Christian means not simply to believe something, to have heard or learned something, but to be someone who participates in a community where the mystery of faith is experienced.10 In chapter three, The Spirituality of Preachers and Teachers, Westerhoff describes four elements that are requirements for the spiritual life of preachers and teachers, being willing to embrace suffering, readily accepting and practicing silence and solitude, an attention to restlessness, and portraying the image of Christ to others. Westerhoff spends quite a bit of time on the topic of suffering, and how it helps the preacher or teacher to engage with others. He cites the example of the word vacation in contrast to that most other English speakers outside of the US use, holiday, to highlight how difficult it is to most people in the United States to just be still and have a time of reflection. Paying attention to restlessness to Westerhoff means to regularly disengage from human relationships.11 Finally, Westerhoff sees a great need to be the image of Christ in the community, not just through words, but through actions. In turning to spirituality aspect of preaching and teaching in the chapter The Spirituality of Preaching and Teaching, Westerhoff uses stories from Buddhism and Taoism to highlight that spiritual teaching and learning requires three key elements: a person who is searching, another person who permits the use of his or her life to be a resource to use in learning, and finally, if truth can be found, both the seeker and the teacher will be illumined.12
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. Ibid., 19. . Ibid., 36. . Ibid., 41.

Westhoff states that authority simply means to have earned the right to be heard, but not necessarily to be either believed or obeyed13, and goes on to say that for Christians, this authority is the triune God, a God whose way we come to know through the foundational authority of the Holy Scriptures and the interpretative authorities of reason and tradition.14 In the fifth chapter, Various Ways of Living Spiritually, Westerhoff describes four schools of spirituality, the speculative-kataphatic, the affective-kataphatic, the affectiveapophatic, and the speculative-apophatic. The first has as its primary aim to aid persons in fulfilling their vocation in the world.15 The second one concerns itself with achieving holiness. The third seeks to be united with God, and the fourth aims to obey Gods will completely.16 After a discussion of Jungian type personality typing, Westerhoff postulates that the stronger of the two middle traits (T, S, N, and F) can be aligned with the already discussed schools of spirituality. In the final chapter, Developing a Spiritual Discipline, Westerhoff offers a recipe for developing a spiritual discipline and lists time and place, preparation, presence, journaling, spiritual friends and lectio divina, which he breaks up into reading (lectio), meditation (meditatio), prayer (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio)17. He concludes that a life needs to be lived in the rhythm of daily prayer, study, work, and leisure.18
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. Ibid., 48. . Ibid., 49. . Ibid., 54. . Ibid., 56-58. . Ibid., 72-74. . Ibid., 74.

Evaluation and Critique From the initial pages, it is clear that Westerhoff seeks to draw closer to the God he desires to understand more fully. He writes many things that resonate with the believing reader, such as The love affair with God is the one and only end of human life. All else is means. It was for this relationship that we were created and have our being. This sounds almost a bit like Westminster Catechism and as such feels familiar. Yet soon Westerhoff veers off into territories that have the potential to make the reader quite uneasy, such as when he writes We also need to be sure that our spiritual life is not hampered by the absence of feminine images of God.19 He uses the imagery of Matthew 23:37, in which Jesus speaks to His people that He often longed to gather them like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, yet to deduce from this that God has a feminine side truly feels like a stretch. There are elements of feminist theology in this passage, whereas hints of liberation theology seem to touch other parts of his writing. Westerhoff speaks of a God who speaks to us through our feelings, our hearts20, yet Scripture very clearly tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV). In general, the author stipulates apparent rules of spiritual living that lack Scripture references. Likewise, it resembles a contradiction in terms when Westerhoff on one hand speaks of the majestic, transcendent mystery21 of God, but then a few chapters later portrays the believers perception as being the sole source of making God a God of mystery, when really He is a loving parent and friend to him or her.
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. Ibid., 5. . Westerhoff, Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching, 7. . Ibid., 5.

Stories told from Buddhism and Taoism traditions to make a point seem to go hand-inhand with statements such as the one that describes Maria Harris model of a framework for a model of teaching: The first movement of contemplation: a centering of ourselves, a standing back, a letting go, a being present, an opening of ourselves to the new22. This smacks more of Eastern mysticism than biblically based doctrine. Westerhoffs mention of Henri Nouwen, known in connection with contemplative prayer, seen by many as closely linked to Eastern mysticism, does not ease the discomfort felt when reading this book. Ultimately, Westerhoff does little to dispel this by focusing on salvation through repentance and a personal faith in Jesus Christ and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit to empower prayer life. Conclusion While many useful thoughts on the importance of not separating secular and sacred worlds and on developing a strong focus on prayer can be lifted from Westerhoffs short book, on close examination, the reader has to be critical of the methods employed and the lack of scriptural clarity and direction given in the guidelines to a stronger spiritual life. Westerhoff himself lets his readers know in his conclusion that his disposition is more toward the Orthodox and Roman Catholic spiritual traditions. He describes himself as longing for God23, but one simply cannot help but wonder whether Westerhoff sees the experience as more important than the revealed Word of God. It is with this in mind that this reader would be careful to recommend this book to someone seeking to grow spiritually.

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. Ibid., 25. . Ibid., 78.

Bibliography Talbot School of Theology. John H. Westerhoff, III. http://www2.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/view.cfm?n=john_westerhoff (accessed September 2, 2011). Westerhoff, John. Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.