Donald Whitney on “Evangelism . . . for the Purpose of Godliness”

This is the fifth article in my series on Donald Whitney’s acclaimed classic, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Donald Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. If you missed the earlier articles in this series, please follow this link and scroll to read them. Today I will provide a brief summary of Whitney’s chapter on the spiritual discipline of evangelism. This may serve as primer for Whitney’s excellent work. All of the quotations below are also from Whitney’s book, including page references.


Whitney opens his discussion asserting, “Only the sheer rapture of being lost in the worship of God is as exhilarating as telling someone about Jesus Christ” (119). Although God does not expect us all to use the same methods, He clearly expects us all to evangelize. As Scriptural proof texts, Whitney cites Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24: 46-47, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8. Although these commands were given directly to the Apostles, common sense tells us that by extension they are given to us as well. Christianity simply cannot be propagated by any other method than relating the message of the Gospel. As Americans we should be aware of the fact that we would never have received the Gospel if no one obeyed the command to “make disciples of all nations.” This logic should be enough to convince us that not only those with the gift of evangelism should be telling others about Jesus. 1 Peter 2:9 makes the is clear: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (120-22). I would add that this verse and it’s context (verses 1-11) make clear implications not only for evangelism but worship as well—as neither can be sustained by mankind on this earth without the other.


Whitney addresses the many fears that plague Christians when they think about evangelism. These range from a lack of confidence in our biblical knowledge or ability to answer questions to fear of rejection for being different. (122). However, Whitney believes that the most paralyzing fear comes from the sheer weightiness of the subject—that heaven and hell hang in the balance for those who are the recipients of our message. Fear of failure in seeing those we share with receive the gospel can grip us. However, Whitney gives us a tool to irradiate this fear. We need to evaluate success in terms of  “careful and accurate delivery of the message, not by the response of the recipient.” In other words we need to see ourselves as mail persons—simply deliverers of the message (123-24).

Another fear, however, can be the mode of witness. Whitney affirms that speaking the gospel can take a variety of forms whether they be “. . . spoken, written, or recorded; delivered to one person or to a crowd” (120). I hear this as incredibly refreshing! This means that the message can even be artistic—through texted music—or through a form like you are reading now on the internet. Related to this, Whitney states, “the preconceived style of evangelism you fear may not rank among the best ways for you to help make disciples for Christ” (132).

Although a sense of personal inadequacy or lack of eloquence may make us self-conscious about witnessing, Whitney affirms that our witness is empowered in two senses. We learn of the first sense in Acts 1:8, where Jesus tells us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Whitney affirms that as each believer is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we are empowered by Him “in ways and methods compatible with. . . [our] personality, spiritual gift[s] opportunities, and so on . . .” to share the gospel (124-25). The second sense in which our witness is empowered is by the message of the gospel itself. Romans 1:16 tells us, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (125). This assures us that when we are faithful to share, although we do not know when or where persons will respond, we know that God’s power in the gospel will bring those whom He is calling to Himself (126).


Whitney makes this point emphatically clear, quoting Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Interpreting this for us, he says that we must see the word “let” as a command to act intentionally, “Let there be the light of good works shining in your life; let there be the evidence of God-honoring change radiating from you. Let it begin! Make room for it!” (127-28). That said, he lists reasons why people often don’t evangelize, including busy schedules, working and living primarily among believers, or the limitations of a busy secular workplace where there seems to be no opportunity for the topic to be pursued. This is precisely why Whitney says evangelism is a discipline, we have to work to find opportunities to make it happen. He points us to the instruction found in Colossians 4:5-6 where Paul states, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (emphasis Whitney’s, 129-30). Including examples beyond the limitations of this short article, Whitney encourages us to use our creativity in coming up with opportunities and means to share our faith (131-33).


In closing, Whitey asserts that “. . . we can find long- term solutions to our inconsistency and frequent lack of witnessing if we will discipline ourselves for evangelism (135). Whitney understands that many people fear sharing the gospel, because of their own public sinfulness. He acknowledges that while a holy life certainly bears witness to the message of the gospel, we will never be perfect in this life. Also, as evidence of the gospel’s work in us, we can repent and ask forgiveness of those we have wronged. Repentance such as this sets us apart from those who don’t know Christ, opening up the door for a powerful witness (136-37). Through the very title of his chapter, Whitney affirms that obeying God by sharing the gospel leads to godliness, but he also affirms this truth with these words: “May we discipline ourselves to live so that we can say with the apostle Paul, ‘I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it’ (I Corinthians 9:23, NASB)” (139).

I recommend this excellent book that you may grow in all of the spiritual disciplines. Such growth will garner a greater witness from the impact of your life radically transformed by the gospel.

Source:  Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Rev. Ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.


Matt Capps Teaches “5 Reasons Christians Neglect Beauty in Theology”

Today I want point to a July article on The Gospel Coalition site that I think is spot-on: “5 Reasons Christians Avoid Beauty in Theology,” by Matt Capps. For several sinuous reasons that Matt quickly names for us, the evangelical Church has avoided pursuing a theology of beauty and aesthetics. Such a pursuit would include how beauty correlates with the other two transcendentals, truth and goodness. Capps encourages Christians to lead in such studies. Capps says, “A distinctly Christian vision of beauty and aesthetics. . . could enable us to better discern and understand the God-intended purpose for sensory pleasures. For unless our affections are grounded and guided by biblical parameters, they’re spurious and ungenuine.” Capps short article is an excellent and important read. Since beauty is a wondrous gift from God referenced by Scripture in many and varied situations, certainly not the least of which relate to God-centered worship, it is incumbent upon Christians to understand its meaning and purpose.


Capps, Matt. “5 Reasons Christians Avoid Beauty in Theology.” The Gospel Coalition. Accessed December 25, 2016. Available from; Interntet.

Matt Capps is senior pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, North Carolina. He holds an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a DMin candidate at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Matt blogs at

Dr. James K.A. Smith, “You Are What You Love: Worship at the Heart of Discipleship”

James K.A. Smith is on a quest to help us rediscover something the ancient Christian Church understood. There is a very real connection between what we really want or love and who we are (see Matthew 6:21). Three of Smith’s recent books (Desiring the Kingdom (2009), Imagining the Kingdom (2013), and his newest book, You Are What You Love (2016) deal with what he calls “secular liturgies,” the practices and habits in culture that—similar to historical worship liturgies—work to form us as persons. Smith is professor of philosophy (Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview) at Calvin College, and has published articles in Christianity Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reformed Worship, among other notable periodicals. In March of last year, he spoke at Berry College giving a stunning presentation I would highly recommend watching, “You Are What You Love: Worship at the Heart of Discipleship.” Smith’s presentation encourages a more historical approach to discipleship than what we have seen in the evangelical church in recent decades. I see this as a welcome corrective. Here I will briefly outline key aspects of his presentation and include direct quotations.

Our worldview is what defines us, right?   Smith begins his talk exposing a significant hole in what has defaulted as the defining substance of evangelical discipleship the last several decades—worldview. He explains that today’s Protestants today typically look to their beliefs as that which most essentially defines them as persons. There are problems with this, Smith says, one of which is that we may fall into a simplistic rationalism, thinking that simply “right information” is enough. Smith is not saying that our beliefs and our worldview are not important. What he is saying is we are more than this because we are more than containers of information. There is a difference between our worldview (what we think) and what we really “want. . . long for. . . crave. . . desire.” Thus the biblical language of the heart has much to do with who we really are. Smith offers the gap between what we know and how we live as proof of the inadequacy of the belief-equals-being mentality.

“We are what we love”:  Smith explains that we are essentially beings that love. Thus it is “what . . . you want” that provides the most telling description of who you are. Humans are intentional beings, and “the most fundamental mode in which we aim at something . . . is love.” The gap mentioned above plays out here. The effects of sin and the fall result in love not “turned off” but rather wrongly aimed. Smith’s teaching recalls Augustine’s understanding of the affections—that our loves must be rightly ordered [thus rightly aimed]. In The Confessions Augustine addresses God with these words, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Smith teaches that whether or not our loves actually represent Christian or unhealthy secular ends, they form our practices, and these practices form habits. What you love is a product of cultural formation of habits that train your affections. This process trains us on a level “that sometimes almost intentionally bypasses the intellect.” Therefore, Smith says—

More hangs in the balance regarding our cultural immersion than we may understand:  Cultural practices are not neutral or benign. These may work upon us according to their ends at a subconscious level. Smith gives the stinging example of the mall, a place that his son jokingly refers to as “the temple.” In all reality though, according to Smith, this is a prime place to observe secular liturgies at work. He explains that when he talked to an architectural historian at UVA, he explained to him that there are “intentional historic echoes between malls and medieval cathedrals.” When you enter, you cannot see the outside world anymore, so time has the effect of standing still. Malls even have their own liturgical colors (decorations changing according to season), and saints lining the walls (manikins sporting the latest style). Rather than informing our minds, consumerism prompts our imaginations or longings, “and once it captures your imagination, it captures your loves—which means its got you.” All of this is to form in us the vision that the mall management wants us to have of “the good life”—their version of “flourishing.” Of course this has huge implications upon worship—we are shaped by what we worship or love. I would add here that Matthew 6:21 makes this clear: “Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Conclusion—“You are what you love, but you might not love what you think”:  So regarding cultural habits, customs, or conventions we should ask, as Smith suggests, “What does this institution want me to become? . . . What does it want me to love?” Thinking through the answer to this question in regard to various aspects of our society will then enlighten our understanding regarding cultural, not to mention Christian, formation. Worldview is important but not enough. Actions and habits as an outgrowth of our loves are key to who we really are. I’m enthusiastic about these rich insights informing us of the deep connections between worship and discipleship. There is one critique I would make of Smith’s presentation. As Scott Aniol points out in his review of Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom, in the Berry College video Smith does not clearly distinguish between the ancient Church’s understanding of the passions and the affections. To learn about this distinction, I would point you to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man or David De Bruyn’s The Conservative Church.

Following are links to an interview with James Smith and some thoughtful reviews of Smith’s books on the topic of worship:

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos, 2016):

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker Academic, 2013): Follow this link and scroll for Scott Aniol’s review of Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.

Desiring the Kingdom: Worldview, Worship, and Culture (Baker Academic, 2009):


Source:  Smith, David K.A. “You Are What You Love: Worship at the Heart of Discipleship.” You Tube , video file, 103:36. Accessed December 19, 2016. Available from This video was made at Berry College.


Donald Whitney on “Worship . . . for the Purpose of Godliness”

This is the fourth article in my series on Donald Whitney’s acclaimed classic, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. If you missed the earlier articles in this series, please follow this link and scroll to read them. Today I will provide a brief summary of Whitney’s chapter on the spiritual discipline of worship. All of the quotations below are also from Whitney’s book, including page references.


Whitney derives his definition from biblical accounts of worship, emphasizing those seen in Revelation 4 and 5. These passages boldly proclaim God’s unsurpassable worthiness of worship. Interpreting such descriptions of  worship Whitney teaches,

To worship God means to ascribe the proper worth to God, to magnify His worthiness of praise, or better to approach and address God as He is worthy. As the holy and almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Sovereign Judge to whom we must give an account, He is worthy of all the worth and honor we can give Him and then infinitely more. Notice, for instance, how those around the throne of God in Revelation 4:11 and 5:12 addressed God as “worthy” of so many things (103-04).

To understand God’s worthiness, unlike the heavenly creatures in these passages, we must turn to other sources than his physical presence to understand who He is and appropriately respond. These sources include God’s revelation of Himself through creation, Scripture, and the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14; Hebrews 1:1-2) (104). Through the latter two of these we learn that God is holy [the summation of His character] (Rev. 4:8). In order to comprehend his holiness, Whitney teaches that meditating upon Scripture and the “person and work of Christ as found in the Bible” is essential. Furthermore, this comprehension is what in turn compels us to worship God (emphasis mine). Whitney makes this simple: “much revelation of God fosters much focus on God, which in turn evokes much worship of God” (104-05).

Whitney emphasizes that the truth of the above principle is why it is so important that “all worship of God—public, family, and private worship should be based upon and include much of the Bible” (105). Scripture teaches us the right responses to God in worship. One of the reasons Whitney calls our attention to Revelation 4 and 5 is because this passage clearly demonstrates the responses of the heavenly beings to God in worship. Their compulsion to worship prompts not only words of worship and singing, but a shift in physical posture—falling on their faces prostrate before God and the Lamb. Similarly, Whitney asserts that we should “sing biblically saturated songs as both a musical declaration of God’s truth and a biblical response (praise and thanksgiving) to the revelation of God.” In addition, Whitney cites prayer and the observance of the sacraments/ordinances of baptism as biblical responses (105).

Whitney states,

Worship often includes words and actions, but it goes beyond them to the focus of the mind and heart. Worship is the God-centered focus and response of the soul; it is being preoccupied with God. So no matter what you are saying or singing or doing at any moment, you are worshiping only when He is at the center of your attention. But whenever you do focus on the infinite worth of God you will respond in worship as surely as the moon reflects the sun. This kind of worship is not in vain. (106).


Whitney affirms, as Scripture teaches,—that only those who have become Christ’s disciples by repentance and faith can truly worship Him. This is because these are the only people who have in them the Holy Spirit. This truth is taught by Jesus in John 4:23-24 (106): “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Secondly, as Whitney teaches, “we worship God as He is revealed in the Bible, not as we might want Him to be.” Thus we worship Him according to the truth of Scripture, meaning also that “we worship God in the ways to which He has given His approval in Scripture” (107). Whitney emphasizes the richness of this enterprise, teaching (according to Mark 12:30) that worshiping in spirit and in truth “involves both heart and head . . . both emotion and thought.” Wonderfully, he further explains that these two complement one another, as a “heart for God” longs for more of His truth, and knowledge of the truth leads to a heart for God (109).


Whitney cites Hebrews 10:25 as evidence of the necessity of public worship, concluding, “[T]he core of the Discipline of worship involves developing the habit of faithfully assembling with other Christians where the primary purpose is to worship God.” Clearly we cannot be the church if we are isolated [an ever-increasing problem in modern culture]! Jesus was faithful to Sabbath worship in the synagogue (Luke 4:16) and to significant time in private prayer. Finally, Whitney cites God’s eager desire to “bless us” as one of the reasons for private devotions—the blessing that comes from seeking “the glory and enjoyment of God forever” (111-13).


True worship requires discipline of every believer (113). Whitney states, “. . . [worship] is the response of a heart evoked by the beauty, glory, and allure of the object of your mental focus—holy God.” No one can do this for us, we must discipline ourselves to worship, thus it is “a Discipline that must be cultivated” (emphasis mine). The cultivation of this discipline serves as both “an end and a means.” As Whitney states, “No higher goal or greater spiritual pleasure exists than focusing on and responding to God.” However, the discipline of worship is also a means to our own sanctification, resulting in godliness—“because people become like their focus” (114). Whitney asserts that we should not expect to be able to develop the skills of worship in isolation. He states, “The development of any Discipline, from hitting a golf ball to playing the piano, almost always requires outside help from those with more experience.” We should not shy away from seeking the help of others (115).


How can we honor and glorify God through the spiritual discipline of worship? We follow Whitney’s counsel and understand that worship requires focusing upon God through the means He has provided—the revelation of Himself through creation, Scripture, and Christ the Son. Also we recognize that worship is a response to God according to the ways that He has prescribed in his Word, understanding that worship must be done in spirit and in truth. Finally we discipline ourselves to grow in both public and private worship realizing that worship is not only an end in itself, but a means to godliness. Whitney’s instruction can help each of us in these areas. I commend to you this excellent book, that in everything the Church may deepen its practice of God-centered worship.

Source:  Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Rev. Ed. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.