[A version of the following review was first published in July 2004 on the UK Christian Bookshops Directory website, which contains lots of other reviews, and is also an excellent source for finding out the location of Christian bookshops around the country. Thanks to Phil Groom for giving me the opportunity to review the book.]
Peter Adam, Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Leicester: Apollos, 2004), 237pp., ISBN 9781844740024.
For all its common use, and perhaps because of its common use, ‘spirituality’ remains a slippery term, each person doing with it what seems right in their own eyes. In all the hubbub, the regular working assumption is that evangelicals lack spirituality, and it remains unclear what the Bible has to do with it. Even evangelicals can reduce the Bible’s role in spirituality to the traditional ‘quiet time’, and remain largely unaware of the rich resources provided in, and mandated by, Scripture itself for a spirituality of the Word.
It’s for those who feel the Bible is an ‘unlikely source for spirituality’ (44) that Peter Adam has written this book, hoping to show the shape of biblical spirituality in its content and focus on God in Christ, its practice in hearing the word of God by faith, its experience in meeting God in his Spirit-given words, and its result in trust in Christ and our heavenly father (44-45).
Adam thus seeks to show how central the word of God is for God’s people, whether in the words of creation and covenant promise in Genesis, the instructions of Deuteronomy, the debate set around words in Job, the verbal response to God’s self-disclosure in the Psalms, the voice of wisdom in Proverbs, the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, the teaching of Jesus in Luke 24, the proclamation of the gospel in Romans, the word of Christ dwelling in us richly in Colossians, the God who has spoken in the past and has now spoken in his Son in Hebrews, the living and enduring word in 1 Peter, the word of God that abides in 1 John, and listening to what the Spirit says to the churches in Revelation. (Phew!) Despite some quibbles here and there, and that these individual sections vary somewhat in style and approach, I consider this to be the richest part of the book.
Adam anticipates someone asking what the basis might be for such a spirituality of the word, and he finds help from John Calvin. Staying close to the Reformer, he argues that the Bible is the one, final, and complete word of God, and that Christ is the subject of the Old and New Testaments; its words are brought home to us by the witness of the Spirit, and it calls for a response in faith and obedience. Such a strong defence of Bible as the resource for spirituality has to face up to ‘alternatives’ on offer. Biblical theology, according to Adam, helps us to put images and sacred times, places, objects, and actions in their proper perspective, as reconfigured in Christ. Adam also finds illumination in historical examples of corporate spirituality of the word in the early church, the role of word and Spirit in Puritan-Quaker debate (a not too subtle cipher for Reformed-charismatic conflict), and Richard Baxter on meditation.
I found the book a little uneven, with the chapters on biblical theology not tied tightly enough to the other chapters; that won’t help those who require more convincing than I do that Reformed theology ‘corresponds most closely with the theological structure of the Bible’, and so ‘Reformed spirituality is most likely to reflect biblical spirituality’ (27). I have other niggles here and there as well, but all of them would pale into insignificance beside the significant call both to recover a biblical spirituality and to test our spirituality by the Bible. I suspect Peter Adam will be delighted if the book serves that greater end.