“Spiritual formation” is a term used often and explained seldom. Simply put, spiritual formation is the process of being conformed inwardly and outwardly to the character of Christ. Darryl Tippens’ Pilgrim Heart is a book aimed at such spiritual formation of the church. The book opens with a hearty invitation to seek conformity to the heart of Jesus. This will involve both soul (what we believe and feel), and body (what we practice). Tippens says: “…belief prompts action, but action also gives birth to belief. It’s true that people who really believe act in a certain way. It’s also true that people who act in a certain way grow in faith”. This conviction guides all that follows. The practices the author commends are those which he believes cultivate Christlikeness.
The first practice Tippens fleshes out is what he calls, “emptying.” This is the practice of pouring oneself out—as Jesus did for us. This “emptying is necessary to the Pilgrim heart,” he writes. “The journey with Jesus towards God requires, in one form or another, an emptying of one’s pockets, a casting off of any baggage that might inhibit our free travel towards him.”
“Welcoming,” is the practice of showing hospitality to all—and strangers in particular. Noting astutely Christianity’s explosive growth through the calamitous plagues in Europe from roughly A.D. 165 and 260, Tippens writes, “While we can be grateful for this legacy, the notion of hospitality as a personal and collective discipline in the life of the believer and the church must be renewed in our time”.
Even as hundreds of thousands died (perhaps millions), Christians welcomed those cast out by society because of their illness. This witness won thousands upon thousands to Christ as his love was preached through actions as well as words. One wonders what revival might take place in our time were such hospitality practiced by today’s church on a wide-spread basis.
Chapters five and six focus on the rarely-practiced discipline of “resting.” These chapters can be summed up by the author’s “Beattitudes for our time”: 1) Happy are those who serve the world by abandoning it for a while. 2) Happy are those who rest, for they will get their work done. 3) Happy are the playful, for they will be serious achievers. 4) Happy are the imperfectionists, for they will achieve much. 5) Happy are those who drive in the slow lane, for they will arrive in peace (or in one piece). 6) Blessed are those who build walls, for they will be fully connected. 7) Happy are those who say ‘no’ for they will be affirmed. 8) Blessed are those who know the tie that binds, for they will know the freedom of belonging.
In the strongest section of the book, chapters seven through nine deal with the spirituality of Christian relationship to others. Befriending, confessing, truth-telling, forgiving, and listening are the pillars of relational discipleship, Tippens argues. In an age in which real community is increasingly difficult to cultivate, Tippens’ insights offer much both to individuals and to churches on how to follow Jesus in our interactions with others.
Silence is one important practice for dealing with others in a Christlike way. Learning to keep and appreciate times of silence allows us to hear the voice of God more clearly. He writes, “The pilgrim heart is an attentive heart, one skilled at screening out the endless chatter, the distracting ambient ‘white noise’ of daily existence”. This isn’t mere escapism, but the intentional practice of making room for God’s voice to be heard over all else.
Like silence, spiritual discernment is “both a skill to be developed and the product of spiritual transformation”. Discernment is the ability to choose wisely—to think what Jesus would think. Historically, few have seen discernment itself as a spiritual practice. Most have held that the spiritual practices of prayer, bible study, community, etc., produce the capacity for the discernment for which Christians thirst. The author certainly agrees, but also believes the practice of spiritual discernment can be transformational in and of itself. Discernment humbles us as we receive wisdom from God without whom holy wisdom would not be possible. Tippens writes that discernment “…is the fruit of a comprehensive way of life that God makes possible”.
This book also discusses additional ways of life for those in search of Christlikeness. These include singing, enjoying creation’s beauty, feasting, reading and storytelling with God in mind. Each of these everyday practices are alive with spiritual meaning for those in search of God’s transforming work in their lives.
Pilgrim Heart finishes by addressing suffering and seeking. Each spiritual journey involves both. Christianity, when lived faithfully, is sure to involve suffering. Jesus said it would. So what is it that keeps disciples from giving in to their weak hands and feeble knees in times of suffering? It is the conviction that God loves us and has drawn near to us in Christ that makes us certain of what we cannot see. This is what keeps us thirsty for more—more of God. This book leads readers toward this truth.
Tippens ends this wonderful book with these words: “In the end, the followers of Jesus know only love. We were created in love in order to love, so that we may finally be embraced forever by a greater Love that will never let us go. This is the way of the pilgrim heart” (205).
All great writing on spiritual formation is written in a meek tone. Pilgrim Heart is no exception. Pilgrim Heart is written in a style that is sophisticated and elegant; it is nonetheless accessible to the average Christian.
One of the most refreshing features of Pilgrim Heart is the breadth of Tippens’ illustrative material. Beyond providing a strong biblical basis for his thoughts, Tippens brings the reader into dialogue with many of the “usual suspects” of spiritual formation such as Thomas Merton, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Henri Nouwen. However, Tippens is unusually deft at drawing on the strengths of his native field (literature), as well as the fields of history, philosophy, science, music, film, the arts, and more. Tippens takes the reader on a delightful journey through the insights of disciples ancient, modern, and present-day.
When I read the book jacket and saw that Mike Cope said, “This incredible book belongs on the shelf right next to Richard Foster and Dallas Willard,” I must admit my early skepticism. Such is high praise indeed. Having now read Pilgrim Heart, I agree with his assessment. In the final analysis, Pilgrim Heart is an outstanding book on the Spiritual Disciplines and should be on every family’s bookshelf and in every church library.
Tim Spivey is Senior Minister of the Highland Oaks church in Dallas and author of Jesus the Powerful Servant .
Oct. 1, 2006