We live in a society that is increasingly reluctant to grow up. I recognize the boldness of that statement, but the plethora of books released in 2017 addressing the same issue often make the same claim (see The Death of Expertise, The Vanishing American Adult, Hillbilly Elegy as a few examples). There is a great need, both inside and outside of the church, for a renewed intentionality towards growing mature people. Such a task is especially important when we discuss the aspect of spiritual maturity because it is God-oriented. Dividing people into spiritually mature, spiritually immature, and spiritually decadent, J. Oswald Sanders has gifted Christians his book, Spiritual Maturity.
This year, Moody Publishers has been redesigning and reissuing Sanders well-known trilogy of books, Spiritual Leadership, Spiritual Discipleship, and Spiritual Maturity. The last one certainly being the lesser known and utilized of the three. The book is designed to compel Christian growth through reading, interpretation, and application of the word. Each of the 21 chapters begins with a Scripture reading with Sanders’ exposition and application of the passages in the realm of spiritual maturity. Editors have included some follow-up questions for reflection that can prove helpful to many readers.
Truthfully, I am quick to recommend the trilogy to believers as there is much to learn from the author’s writings. J. Oswald Sanders writes in a way that recognizes both the great difficulty of God’s call and yet the great graces of that same call. His teaching comes not from the New Testament alone, but instead he does well at bringing forth Old Testament passages as well, something that is more frequently needed today (and yes, I recognize that in making that note I also need to need to draw more attention to the Old Testament theology in my own teachings). One of the fascinating aspects of this particular book that is extremely helpful is Sander’s division into three parts. Each part focuses on a person of the Godhead so that part one (chapters 1-7) focuses on God the Father, his attributes, and his role while parts two emphasizes God the Son (chapters 8-14), and as expected the final part (chapters 15-21) emphasizes the Holy Spirit. Because of this combined with the necessity of the topic, the book fills a void.
While I am quick to recommend the books, the caliber of Spiritual Maturity is not to the same level of the other two books and comes with some reservations. There are two principal concerns: clarity and theology. It’s worth noting that the theology employed in the book is not heretical, there are points in which one may find themselves confused or questioning. Most directly, the final two chapters of the book deal with speaking in tongues which he advocates a bit more than I would be comfortable with. However, he is very specific in noting that if tongues are in place today, there are biblical standards that must be utilized, a distinction that I am thankful to see him make. Furthermore, his clarity is not up to the same level as the other books causing readers to invest more time reading read the same points. Even more, there is an intersection in which both the questions of theology and lack of clarity interact that also take away from the value of the book. For example, in chapter four Sanders notes that God treats people differently based on who they (this is my paraphrase). His point here is that, as a sovereign God who knows his people, he knows what is necessary for their lives and so will act accordingly. Yet, clarity with some applicable theology proper that explains how God’s character connects with this point would be helpful (i.e. explain that God is just, merciful, and unchangeable, so he is not changing his standards for each person, but merely the way in which he influences them may be different). So when reading this particular book, or recommending it to others, it is important to keep these things in mind.
Sanders has been gifted with the ability to communicate and challenge believers in their testimony for the Lord and before the Lord. While Spiritual Maturity is probably the least of his books, it draws forth some important facets that Christians should consider. I would recommend though, that if a person is interested in reading Spiritual Maturity, then he or she should also at least check out Spiritual Discipleship as well.
To purchase a copy of any of the trilogy of books by J. Oswald Sanders, click the following titles:
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, my review was not influenced in any way by the author, publisher, or anyone associated with the book and is the result of my own reading.