Here’s how D. A. Carson introduces Peter Adam‘s Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality (ed. D. A. Carson; New Studies in Biblical Theology 16; Downers Grove: IVP, 2004) in the series preface (pp. 9–10):
In recent decades the notion of ‘spirituality’ has become astonishingly plastic. People judge themselves to be ‘spiritual’ if they have some aesthetic sense, or if they are not philosophical materialists, or if they have adopted a pantheistic view of reality, or if they feel helped or reinvigorated by the ‘vibrations’ of crystals. Even within a broadly Christian heritage, many writers appeal to ‘spiritual disciplines’ that are utterly divorced from the gospel and detached from the teaching of Scripture. Against the backdrop of these cultural developments, Dr Peter Adam encourages clear thinking: he traces the notion of spirituality through some of the turning points of Scripture, and finally grounds it in the gospel of Jesus Christ and its full-blown application to our lives. By appealing both to the Bible and to influential voices in the history of the church (notably John Calvin), Dr Adam manages to combine biblical theology and historical theology in an admirable synthesis. His academic training, years of pastoral ministry, and now principalship of a theological college, ensure that this book simultaneously informs the mind, warms the heart, and strengthens the will. And from the vantage of three decades of personal friendship, I gratefully attest that what Dr Adam writes, he also lives.
Adam asks, “What devices do we use to hear God’s Word today and yet avoid its intended impact?” He answers, “We can best answer this in terms of different types of personality” (p. 171). (In the following quotation, I’ve replaced bullet points with numbers [pp. 171–72]).
- Emotional people can easily deflect the Word by turning the hearing of it into an emotional experience. This means that they can test the reality of the coming of the Word by means of testing its emotional impact, and then focus their response on that emotional experience. But once the emotion has passed, so has the Word.
- Cerebral people can easily deflect the Word by turning the hearing of it into an intellectual exercise. They substitute understanding it for responding to it, fitting it into their theological grid so that it does not impact their lives.
- Ministry people can easily deflect the Word by receiving it as a message to be passed on to others. They can always see the application to others, but not to themselves.
- Practical people can easily deflect the impact of the Word of God by reducing it to something easy to understand and to do. They will have no time for anything not immediately relevant. They will reduce the Bible to a set of instructions for daily living, and develop a legalism that blunts the power of God’s Word.
- Superficial people will pay as much attention to the words of the Bible as to anything, and so will never be able to receive the words that can change them.
- Reactionary people are those who always want to contradict what anyone has asserted about anything. They too will find that their habit of life makes it very difficult for them to receive the Word of God and let it bear fruit in their lives.
Adam concludes this section (p. 172),
People use a God-given strength, but for the wrong purpose. It is good to be emotional, cerebral, ministry-minded and practical. It can even be useful to know how to avoid being overwhelmed by ideas, or how to critique what we hear. But these strengths can be used to avoid the impact of God’s words, and then they become great weaknesses.
It must also be the case that, in Western society, the massive increase in busyness must have a deleterious effect on our having time to hear God’s words; and the increase in the sheer quantity of words we hear every day must make it more difficult to focus on the Word of God.
In every age it has taken self-discipline to be able to hear what God is saying: though the particular pressures have varied, the central task remains the same. The Word of God addresses every part of us: mind, emotions, heart, intellect will, desires, fears, hopes, intentions, relationships and actions. No wonder hearing and obeying God’s Word is so demanding!