Are the Spiritual Disciplines of “Silence and Solitude” Really Biblical? -- By: Robert L. Plummer

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 10:4 (Winter 2006)
Article: Are the Spiritual Disciplines of “Silence and Solitude” Really Biblical?
Author: Robert L. Plummer


Are the Spiritual Disciplines of “Silence and Solitude” Really Biblical?

Robert L. Plummer

Robert L. Plummer is Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, from which he received his Ph.D. Dr. Plummer has served as a missionary in East Asia and has completed several shorter assignments in Israel, Central Asia, Trinidad, and Ghana. He has written numerous scholarly articles and is the author of Paul’s Understanding of the Church’s Mission (Paternoster, 2006).

Much recent Christian literature on spiritual disciplines advocates the practices of “silence and solitude” (e.g., Invitation to Solitude and Silence, by Ruth Haley Barton, InterVarsity, 2004). Scriptural precedents for solitude and silence are given from both Old and New Testament texts (e.g., 1 Kgs 19; Mark 1:35). Such texts, however, usually come from narrative portions of Scripture, and little thought has gone into determining whether the patterns described are normative. Furthermore, other portions of Scripture that seem to speak in a praise-worthy way about a biblical figure’s lack of solitude and silence go ignored (e.g., Mark 6:32–34; 2 Cor 11:26–27).

Is the evangelical church’s increasing adoption of silence and solitude really a return to biblically-sanctioned practices? Or, is the evangelical church simply parroting the secular culture’s fascination with Eastern religious meditation and more “holistic” approaches to life management? In answering these questions, this article seeks to provide a balanced, biblical understanding of the spiritual disciplines of “silence and solitude.”1

Introduction

Within the last twenty years, evangelicals have shown a growing interest in spiritual formation.2 We have recognized that one can have a stadium-full of people who affirm certain theological propositions, but who demonstrate little fruit of the Spirit. The paraphrased words of James 2:19 seem to apply: “So, you believe in one God—you affirm certain doctrinally orthodox statements? Well, congratulations, you have reached the spiritual maturity level of a demon!”3

Numerous books have been written on spiritual disciplines in recent years.4 I will be using the term “spiritual disciplines” ...

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