A Review of “Disciplines of the Holy Spirit” by Tan & Gregg

The so-called spiritual disciplines are an important aspect of personal spiritual growth and a means of joyful sanctification. Numerous books have been written on these disciplines but often the key emphasis has tended to be on the word “disciplines.” Christians hover real responsibility for the personal spiritual growth, and yet these disciplines have often been disconnected from the power of and life in the Spirit of God. Siang-Yang Tan and Douglas Gregg offer an exploration of the spiritual disciplines with an emphasis on the word “Spiritual,” connecting each discipline uniquely and centrally to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The premise of the book is, however, more compelling than its presentation.

The authors are attempting to write an accessible “how-to” volume on walking closer with God through the ministry of the Spirit. Siang-Yang Tan is a respected Christian psychologist and professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Douglas Gregg is president of Christian Formation & Direction Ministries, but both men have served in pastoral ministry and their pastoral hearts shine through in the book. At the end of each chapter there are directives to guide the reader into the cultivation of the chapters corresponding discipline. The focus is on application and implementation of the discipline in the immediate moment and in the “next few days.” While the book explores, then, theological ideas, it is geared towards practical living.

The book is broken down into four parts, corresponding to the authors’ breakdown of the disciplines themselves. Part One focuses on introducing readers to the power of the Holy Spirit and the idea of “connecting to that power.” The authors utilize their own personal stories to help crystalize the concept and encourage the possibilities. Part two turns to the disciplines of Solitude, which include: solitude and silence, listening and guidance, prayer and intercession, and study and meditation. Part three directs readers to the disciplines of Surrender, which include: repentance and confession, yielding and submission, fasting, and worship. Finally, part four focuses on the disciplines of Service, including: fellowship, simplicity, service, and witness.

Readers will note that Tan and Gregg’s list of disciplines looks a bit different from some other lists and their discussions may look distinct as well. The authors are Pentecostal and their discussion of subjects like “guidance” reveal that. Yet, readers of all theological stripes need not fear the book, the more charismatic theology is not overpowering and non-Pentecostal Christians can still benefit from the book.

The books weakness, however, is not related to its theological perspective. There’s much in the book that I appreciated and yet none of the content was very thoroughly developed. The text, for example, often quotes Scripture but does not do a very thorough job of executing the passages and demonstrating their conclusions. They quote other authors, and point to incidents from their own lives. All of which can be helpful, but fail to give a very thorough treatment of a particular discipline. In the chapter on Listening and Guidance, the authors list ten means of guidance (57 – 60). Each mean, however, has one short paragraph of explanation, none of which is very detailed. So, on the means of prayer we are told that “dialogue with God,” but we’re not really given any detail on what this means or looks like in practice. In the category of “visions and dreams” we are told that God does speak through visions, and we’re giving a couple of Biblical examples, but the paragraph ends before it has hardly begun and we are left with uncertainty about how to process visions, determine their legitimacy, etc. The other chapters follow suit, providing good content that is not fully fleshed-out.

Disciplines of the Holy Spirit is a good book in many respects. It’s emphasis is welcomed but its development is lacking. It is broad as it approaches the various disciplines, but its depth is too shallow.

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