Book Review of Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching

Author Information

Westerhoff describes himself in relation to Duke University Divinity School as he described his context for writing his book as one that was very lacking in regard to the commonly perceived view of the subject. (Westerhoff, ix) What is very unique about Westerhoff is that he describes himself as being from a background such that he taught pastoral theology and not only that but also he became rector of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. (Westerhoff, x) The individual also showed a great deal of personal development as he went so far as to become an associate of the Society of St. John the Evangelist as he thus became part of an Anglo-Catholic men’s order. (Westerhoff, x) As Director of the Institute of Pastoral Studies at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Alanta, Georgia and as someone with at least twenty years experience in serving as a theology professor and Christian Nuture at Duke University with many published books to his record, (Westerhoff, back cover) he has become a profound figure in his field. Overall, as a priest, Westerhoff, wrote his work in order to provide a resource on the spiritual life that could aid Christians in having a rebirth of vitality and fruitfulness (Westerhoff, xii) in their own practical work in serving the Lord.

Content Summary

The central teaching that Westerhoff presents throughout his work is how the union of God’s will and our will occurs, and Westerhoff makes this union central to having a spiritual life. Westerhoff shows Saint Teresa of Avila describing humans as a house for the Holy Ghost such that people find God already residing within a room of the home (closer than one’s own breath) when they search for him, and by people offering to give their own souls to God as a home for the Holy Ghost, growth can occur in a ever deepening relationship. (Westerhoff, 76) Westerhoff describes how people are to imagine angels crying out as a person walks down the street, “make way for the image of God” (Westerhoff, 38) the point that can be drawn from the text is that Westerhoff makes blazingly clear that other people are to see God in others as if people are portraits of God. The point that a person could thus make is that union with God is not just taught as an inside occurrence like in the case of Saint Teresa of Avila’s work regarding the concept of homes for the Holy Ghost, but instead union with God also takes on an outside appearance with people showing the image of God as can be seen from the outside of a person.

Westerhoff reminds readers that, “we cannot love God except in response to God’s love for us.” (Westerhoff, 1) For Westerhoff the idea thus is to see prayer as paying attention because without this skill no one will ever have anything worth repeating. (Westerhoff, xii) A point that can be drawn is that union with God is about responding to God’s love and paying attention (prayer for) what God wants us to focus upon.

Westerhoff also makes very clear that prayer is the personal love relationship between individuals and God. (Westerhoff, 8) After description is given for several stages of prayer in Saint Teresa of Avila’s writings and obtainment of greater closeness to God through those stages, Westerhoff concludes that the spiritual life eventually is made whole and perfect as union with God is obtained. (Westerhoff, 13) The greatest conclusion that a person could thus draw is that prayer is intended to unify both God and man by allowing man to draw closer to God.


The main theme of Westerhoff’s work regarding union with God is very convincing in many ways, but Philippians 1:6 describes Christ finishing a work that he started. A theological point that a person could raise is that if God has started a work, then he will complete that work regardless of the human process that man undergoes. If a person (in this example) attempts to draw closer to God, then what results is only believing that real progress is happening when that progress would otherwise go unnoticed because God would work quietly beyond ordinary notice, and then spiritual development in this case would be like watching the grass grow and believing that results do indeed occur because it can be noticed when concentrated upon. Overall, Jesus Christ promises that just remaining in him renders much fruit according to John 15:5, and what this means is that regardless of human effort just being in Christ results in fruitfulness of that relationship by the work of the Holy Ghost to produce that fruit.

Of course if Westerhoff is correct, then the promises of John 15:5 that show Jesus bestowing fruit upon people that remain in him would suggest that entering into a closer relationship with Christ would provide more fruit because it would transform more resources at the core part of Christ (the vine). On the other hand all the fruit that a person would produce would be that of Christ’s fruit anyway because it would be produced by Christ himself, so being in closer union with God in this example would only cause a person to transform to a part of the body that is more central to supporting a greater part of the vine. Overall, if Westerhoff is indeed correct, then the spiritual life of prayer could be seen to develop in stages of graduation such that the individual becomes a more and more supportive part of the body of Christ as time progresses.

Some may argue that what Westerhoff does is to provide a private system of graduation that people can go through in order to obtain union with God when in fact the local church body is sufficient for salvation and does not rely upon the individual to operate but instead utilizes the community to do interpretation of the doctrine and practices regarding salvation. The point is that some would fear that if everyone had their own ability to unite to God, then they would not need the institution of the church to join in a community in order to prosper through uniting to Christ communally. Overall, isolation can occur of believers if they put all of their trust into a private union with God but find the local church body to be not as fruitful and thus forsake it.

Bibliographical Entry

Westerhoff, John H. Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

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