Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pilgrim Heart

Author: Darryl Tippens
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers
ISBN: 0-9767790-7-2

Darryl Tippens, provost of Pepperdine University, believes that many contemporary Christians practice what he calls a “privatized spirituality” (p. 22). Throughout Pilgrim Heart, Tippens uses the metaphor of the life of faith as a journey to explain his conviction that, far from being a matter of one’s inner life, “spirituality is learned and confirmed in relationship” (p. 27). Accordingly, he makes a strong case throughout the book that the Christian life is not a solo journey, it is a shared one.

Each chapter of Pilgrim Heart explains a distinct spiritual discipline and demonstrates how each is most fully realized in the context of a community of believers. Although the communal context for such disciplines as humility, hospitality, confessing and forgiving may seem self-evident, Tippens brings fresh insight to each of them. For example, in discussing humility, he notes, with regret, that many spiritual leaders have abusively imposed upon their followers forms of humility that reinforce illegitimate gender and racial distinctions. He also makes it clear that the humble, risky act of confession requires a response of forgiveness. Christians who have wronged others must confess their wrongs and those Christians who have been the victims of wrongdoing must forgive those who have wronged them. The relationship between these two disciplines is reciprocal and essential to a full Christian life.

One might argue that, even though the communal nature of the disciplines described above is obvious, surely some abilities, such as discernment, are more personal. The ability to discern, however, is not necessarily inherent in some people and absent in others. Rather, discernment can be learned and developed, and, therefore, taught. Thus, Tippens contends that those who are blessed with wisdom should act as mentors to their fellow believers. In his view, “Like all spiritual gifts, discernment is not intended primarily for personal benefit but for the good of the community” (p. 140).

Much Christian devotional literature touches upon the disciplines described thus far. Tippens’ refreshing, and perhaps rather unique, contribution to this literature is his discussion of such disciplines as friendship, story-telling, and the use of music and the arts in worship. He discusses three types of friendship and the role that each plays in the life of the Christian and in the life of the Church. The first is a general love for all humankind that is expressed in charitable works, hospitality and so on. The second is a more specific love for other Christians. The third, most neglected one is a close relationship with a partner in faith who shares in one’s struggles and holds one accountable for keeping the faith appropriately. Following his discussion of friendship, Tippens acknowledges that the role of the arts in Christian worship has always been an area of tension between believers. Therefore, he discusses the importance of music, story-telling and other arts in allowing the faithful to express their beliefs and preserve those beliefs for transmission to successive generations.

The fact that Pilgrim Heart is lucidly written and easily absorbed should not lead the reader to conclude that the content is shallow. Tippens is well-read and he draws from an impressively diverse array of authors to develop and support his ideas. In order to teach the foundations and traditions of the spiritual disciplines, Tippens offers incisive biblical exegesis and cites the writings of several early Church fathers. Knowing that Christian faith must be reinvigorated by each generation of believers, Tippens also draws on the works of assorted twentieth century theologians and contemporary authors. Thus, he shows the origins of Christian faith and various ways in which that faith has developed in the intervening centuries since its founding. Tippens is also aware that Christian faith has developed in a context that includes secular ideas. Accordingly, he explains the relationships between philosophical and theological trends through the ages, and draws on the works of philosophers (some Christian, some not) as well as Christian clergy and lay writers to illustrate and support his thoughts.

Christians interested in deepening their understanding of the spiritual disciplines will benefit greatly from reading Pilgrim Heart. Upon finishing, they will be challenged to examine and deepen their commitments to their faith communities. Pastors and church leaders looking for a “textbook” to use in Bible study groups or discipleship classes should consider this book. The author would be gratified if his work was adopted for such purposes and many congregations would be enriched by applying the principles taught therein.


Erik said...

Why "lady book note"? This is also relevant for men. Thank you Evie for this co-Christian gift. One addition I would like to make: Christian sprituality can only grow on a soil that's ready to receive the education mentors can give, so I think all humans are ready from their birth on to receive and develop further spiritual growth. When not given, either no growth takes place or distorted growth. Furthermore I find many of the remarks you made are also valid for other religions as well. (Carl G. Jung: Psychology and Religion).

Evie Sears said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evie Sears said...

Erik - The blog title is not intended to exclude men. I just figure I'm a lady and I enjoy writing book notes, reviews, etc., so it seemed like an apt title.

When this book arrived in the mail, I got a kick out of the way it was addressed. Displayed prominently above my name was the title: Lady Book Notes, as if it identified a business or something. I thought it looked quite impressive.