Cultivating the Garden

“Protestantism… rightly acknowledges that God the gardener has cleared the wilderness and prepared the ground [of the human soul]. But it has neither the comprehensive theory nor the technical know-how necessary to turn the barren plot into a garden. The Protestant is one who enjoys warm fellowship with the gardener but fails to work the garden afterward [though] not for lack of trying.”
– Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology

spiritual formation, spiritual growth, spiritual development, garden. soulI was struck by this quote the other day. I’m reminded of the old adage, “Read your Bible and pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” Is that true? I think it is true for some people. I remember a conversation with someone years ago who was working with some material from Jerry Bridges and said that this kind of method probably worked perfectly for him – he read his Bible and prayed, and he did indeed grow. But I’m not sure it’s true of everybody. For some people, for one reason or another, something more is necessary.

I’m also reminded of something my father once said, and it’s probably been said many times before and after him: “If self-help books really worked, would we need more than one?” The fact that we have more than one suggests that people are complex. One book will help people, but perhaps not all the way towards whatever end-point we’re seeking. Another book will help some people but leaves others in the same place where they started. We’re complicated. While we are very similar and have a particular design and nature, we’re also very unique, and circumstances differ for each of us.

So given this, is it possible to construct a comprehensive theory of soul-gardening? I want to say there is, or at least there’s got to be one better than what I fear most Evangelicals are working with. We need a structure that we can work within in order to become more like our Lord, one that can handle exceptions and abnormalities and things that “don’t work”.

That’s rough. Like I said, we’re complicated and unique. But our relationship with God and our joy, maturity, happiness, virtue, and so on are on the line…


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