Spiritual Direction: A Practical Introduction

Christian counselling

Author MARTIN THORNTON

Publisher SPCK

ISBN 0-281-04051-6

Martin Thornton was an Anglican minister who died in 1986.  He wrote in a very engaging style and was strong on matters of spiritual direction and ascetical theology.  The tradition of spiritual direction is centuries old and has been practiced in many Christian traditions.  It is one person intentionally and prayerfully becoming deeply involved in the life of another Christian and wisely and from deep experience both understanding and discerning the ‘type’ of person they are seeking to help and assisting and pointing them to those ways apposite to their need to develop and deepen in spiritual life and prayer.  Spiritual directors must have knowledge of theology and long experience of walking with God and prayer.  Such persons are not necessarily preachers or even ministers, they can be of both sexes and of necessity they must be people of the Holy Spirit, able to discern His ways with souls.  As far as literature on this subject is concerned this particular book is regarded as just about the best exposition and investigation available.  Thornton categorically refutes the idea that spiritual direction is therapeutic, instead he affirms that is it ‘the creative cultivation of the charismata; the gifts and graces that all have received.”   By charismata he does not mean the narrowly conceived nine gifts often emphasized by the Charismatic churches but the riches of God’s grace bestowed on each believing soul.  He indicates that a spiritual director is a ‘physician of the soul,’ ‘a spiritual coach’ and one engaged somewhat like John the Baptist who declared himself to be ‘the friend of the Bridegroom’ who introduced the bride of Christ to her Heavenly Groom.  Thornton writes a lot of a certain necessary disconnection between the director and his (or her) subject, the one that is being directed and helped.  He also indicates that spiritual direction is not to be confused with Christian counseling, a distinction not firstly apparent but as the book proceeds the distinction becomes clearer.  He uses the phrase ‘on the slab’ to convey this appropriate disconnection and emphasizes analysis of ‘types’ of person.  The language is far from that which is familiar to the evangelical/charismatic Christian of today but the interest in ‘spirituality’ has brought this subject increasingly to the fore.  Many of today’s believers are unwilling to be ‘directed’ into those spiritual disciplines that are vital to their spiritual maturation.  Thornton writes of those who are ‘speculative-affective’ and others who are ‘renunciative-affirming’ and further categorizes human beings into ‘types.’  This analytical approach may seem overstretched to some readers but as he proceeds it becomes clearer and clearer that there is truth in what he writes.  This book is faithful to Christian tradition and contains quite a wealth of spiritual insight.

Last modified: October 21, 2013

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