Spiritual Life - Book Critique

A Book Critique Of Spiritual Life The Foundation For Preaching And Teaching By John Westerhoff


The book Spiritual Life The Foundation For Preaching And Teaching by John Westerhoff will be summarized and analyzed in this paper for the purposes of understanding it’s implications in the everyday life of the Christ-follower.

Spiritual Life - Critique

In the movie Dan In Real Life, starring Steve Carrel, one sees the story of a widower father of three girls trying to keep “everyday life in perspective”. Dan is columnist in a reputable paper entitled in which he weekly publishes his column, “Dan In Real Life” where readers can send Dan questions dealing with anything in “Real Life”. The topics of the column seem to mainly deal with parenting and the family. Through a series of events in the movie we see that Dan is really just trying to hold it all together and in a very telling moment he confesses. “So I haven’t been reading my own column”. This is unfortunately where many preachers and teachers of God’s word find themselves, figuratively, in their relationships with Christ and their congregations. They haven’t been able to live out a life that echoes their teaching.

In his book Spiritual Life The Foundation For Preaching And Teaching, John Westerhoff’s heart is to bring pastors and church leaders some encouragement. He’s attempting if you will to write a column on “Pastor’s In Real Life”. He gives carefully guided and thought out steps in order to help aid the preacher or teacher in the areas of his or her own spiritual life.

Westerhoff defines the spiritual life as “…ordinary everyday life lived in an ever-deepening and loving relationship to God and therefore to one’s true and healthy self, all people and the whole of creation.”[1] His major emphasis is how to make ones spiritual life it’s absolute best from Sunday through Saturday, 24/7.

Westerhoff begins with one’s relationship with God stating, “This 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.”[2] He spends a great deal of time explaining how “The health of our spiritual life is also directly related to our image of God.”[3] It’s in this mindset that everything else is based.

However it seems as though it is in how Westerhoff asks the reader to view God in which one might find themselves both intrigued and cautious. Westerhoff tends to lean towards the spiritual journey and imagination being key elements to the correct and fruitful spiritual life. He encourages a “shift in perfection from the God who is total mystery, the one who is majestic and unknowable, to the God who is loving parent and friend.”[4] Knowing God as friend is indeed biblical. That’s what the cross was all about. Jesus atoning sacrifice on the cross paid for the sins of mankind and made away to make an infinite, “majestic and unknowable” God intimate, personal and knowable. God made Himself human so He could have a relationship with us. One might be cautioned however to not forget that God is still indeed God. Just because He became knowable doesn’t dilute the fact or take away from His deity. He is still God and still on the throne of heaven.

With that being said, it is still important for the preacher or teacher to understand and know God not only on a intellectual theology level but, on a personal and intimate level as well. Westerhoff would say “We need to turn from abstract theological concepts about God to narrative, poetry, and song. We nee a new awareness of the visual, the artistic, imaginative, associative, and relational activities of the mind.”[5] While these things are good and necessary to explore in ones journey to be shaped and molded more into the image of Christ one must be careful to find a balance. Too much of one side or the other and it’s easy to stray into the realms of legalism or liberalism depending on which end of the spectrum one finds themselves in.

While it’s true that imaginations and or images of God are foundational for the spiritual life when those imaginations and images stray from guidelines of scripture one must be very cautious. One must be careful that their image of God is determined by God and not by flawed human imagination.

Another highlight of Spiritual Life is the section on embracing suffering. Westerhoff tells the sort of a rabbi and his student in which the student tells the rabbi he loves him. The rabbi questions the student with “Do you know what hurts me?” The student a bit taken back replies that he doesn’t know what hurts the rabbi but, that he merely wanted to express the fact that he loves him. The rabbi responds with “…don’t you understand? You cannot love me if you do not know what hurts me.”[6] Westerhoff wraps up this section with the statement of “It is those who have been able to identify with the weaknesses, the sin, the misery, and the needs of others, because they know their own, who are able to explain to others the nature of God’s providence.”[7]

Recently there has been a large resurgence of Christ-followers interested in the “Love your neighbor as yourself” part of Matthew 22:35-40 “Love God. Love People.” passage. This resurgence has caused a great deal of amazing things to happen in many lives. Christ-followers have started to take responsibility for past actions and are trying to live out their faith before they speak it. While this is a beautiful and tangible expression of the love God has shown for His followers one must be careful again with balance. Serve with love? Yes. Serve and never share the love of Christ? Let this never be. If one has a cure for this disease of sin, how then are they loving if they choose not to speak?


While Spiritual Life The Foundation For Preaching And Teaching by John Westerhoff has it’s high points one might do best to not take the entire volume for truth and exhortation of the believers. Some of what Westerhoff states could end up leading a young Christ-follower down a path of cultic ideas and thoughts. One should use caution when reading and hold the text to a tight scrutiny when held up to the truths of Scripture.


Westerhoff, John, Spiritual Life The Foundation Of Preaching And Teaching. Louisville:Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

[1] Westerhoff, John, Spiritual Life The Foundation For Preaching And Teaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994,) 1.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 21.

[5] Westerhoff, John, Spiritual Life The Foundation For Preaching And Teaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994,) 21.

[6] Ibid., 30-31.

[7] Ibid., 32.

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