Reviewed by J. Stephen Yuille
I first met Dr. Michael Haykin at Toronto Baptist Seminary where I studied in the 1990s. His enthusiasm for ecclesiastical history and biblical spirituality was contagious, and proved instrumental in shaping the future of my own academic studies. It was with great delight, therefore, that I received this festschrift composed in his honor.
The Pure Flame of Devotion begins and ends with biographical sketches that provide an encouraging glimpse into Dr. Haykin’s life and ministry. In between these sketches, there are twenty essays from various scholars on the theme of Christian spirituality. They fall into four categories – “each dealing with a major period in church history” (p. 12). The first includes four essays covering the Patristic/Medieval era, the second includes five essays covering the Reformation/Puritan era, the third includes four essays covering the Evangelical/Modern era, and the fourth includes seven essays covering the Baptists – technically speaking, not really “a major period in church history” as much as a part of the Evangelical/Modern era; but we will overlook this little foible given the editors’ obvious (and understandable) intent of highlighting Dr. Haykin’s own ecclesiastical allegiance.
The festschrift does not present a working thesis or a unifying theme other than the broadly defined discipline of Christian spirituality. This should not be taken as a criticism, but simply an acknowledgment of the fact that the book reads like most festschrifts – diverse scholars with diverse interests writing on diverse themes. Its strength, therefore, is not its continuity but diversity.
Alister McGrath defines spirituality as “the outworking in real life of a person’s religious faith – what a person does with what he believes.”1 In this sense, the festschrift probes the “outworking” of the Christian faith across a broad spectrum. For example, it includes essays on the personal piety of towering figures such as Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield, and Charles Spurgeon. It also contains essays on the collective spirituality of movements such as the Puritans and Anabaptists. It also offers essays on specific subjects such as prayer (Anselm of Canterbury), preaching (William Perkins), and poetry (John Owen).
As stated in its introduction, the book’s aim is “to serve as a model for students and educated laypeople for how to approach the history of Christian spirituality” (p. 12). This might seem like an innocuous statement, but it actually raises a couple of potential problems for the reader.
For starters, much of “the history of Christian spirituality” is absent from the book. With the exception of the essay on Anselm of Canterbury, the festschrift sheds little light on the spirituality of the numerous movements within the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, or Charismatic denominations. Yet, together, these groups represent the vast majority of Christians. The reader ought to be aware of the fact that the focus of the festschrift is far more restricted than the subtitle suggests.
Furthermore, several of the essays seem to be out of place. While they provide an interesting read in themselves, it is unclear how they relate to the overall subject of spirituality, let alone contribute to a better understanding of the “history of Christian spirituality.” I will refrain from naming any of the chapters I have in mind, so as not to prejudice the reader. I leave it to you to decide.
Those minor criticisms aside, collectively, the essays elucidate numerous important themes in their historical context; moreover, they present a clear challenge to many modern-day trends within the church. It is well beyond the parameters of this review to interact with all of the essays, but I will touch on (albeit briefly) two noteworthy examples. I select these because of their contemporary significance.
The first is Dr. Carl Trueman’s essay: “Martin Luther: Preaching and Protestant Spirituality.” Historically, Roman Catholicism had majored on symbols and images as the means for cultivating spirituality, but the Reformers turned to words. Why? Trueman explains that, for Luther, “God is the supreme reality and . . . he is ultimately the one who speaks and whose speech is therefore the ground of existence and of difference” (p. 119). Just as God spoke the old creation into existence, he speaks the new creation (his kingdom) into existence. He does so through the preaching of his Word – the means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart. The Holy Spirit, therefore, unites the heavenly and the creaturely, whereby human activity (preaching) becomes the means of divine activity. As Trueman explains, the implication for Luther is simple: “the absence of God’s Word is the absence of God” (p. 125). Understandably, this conviction led Luther (and other Reformers) to elevate the preaching of God’s Word to a place of utmost importance. This, in turn, shaped their approach to worship, their use of time and space in worship, and ultimately their cultivation of Christian piety. Trueman concludes his essay with a challenge to today’s church. Have we abandoned this bulwark of Protestant spirituality? Quite rightly, he stresses the need for today’s “preachers to understand the nature of the theological action they perform when they stand in the pulpit” (p. 130).
The second example is Dr. Malcolm Yarnell’s essay: “Anabaptist Spirituality.” While I disagreed with some of Yarnell’s caricatures of the Magisterial Reformers and (dare I say) some of his representations of Reformed Theology, I appreciated the overall intent of his essay. He argues that the Anabaptists (generally speaking) held to what he calls a “cruciform spirituality,” meaning they believed “the cross of Christ both saved them and provided the paradigm for their own journey through the darkness of this world and into the light of eternity” (p. 152). Furthermore, they believed that the “divine encounter” between transforming grace and sinful humanity always expresses itself visibly in life. Yarnell traces the historical and theological development of this view, and affirms its relevance for today — namely, it acts as a deterrent to antinomianism; it undermines the practice of cheap grace; it challenges the underlying assumptions of a therapeutic culture; and it encourages the interconnectedness between the individual and community (pp. 173–175). These are timely insights, indeed.
These two chapters are but a small sampling of what the festschrift provides as a whole. In all, it is a valuable contribution to the study of Christian spirituality. The editors, G. Stephen Weaver and Ian Hugh Clary, have given Dr. Haykin a great honor, and the church a great resource.
1Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 2.
Dr. J. Stephen Yuille is Pastor of Grace Community Church, Glen Rose, TX, and Book Review Editor for Spirituality and Christian Living here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
THE PURE FLAME OF DEVOTION, THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, edited by G. Stephen Weaver Jr. and Ian Hugh Clary