Strobel correctly identifies that habits aren’t really what makes us change. “Spiritual practices cannot form you, you cannot habituate holiness in this way.” He’s right. We don’t grow simply by becoming better habit-keepers. How do we grow, then?
It’s a good talk, but I was alarmed to hear him say this:
Today we have a litany of problems when it comes to Christian spirituality, the lived life of the Christian. We are inundated with self-help … It’s really just Aristotle dressed up like a Christian. Develop habits, habituate yourself into good character. That isn’t Christian, that’s self-help. It’s Aristotle, and Aristotle is brilliant. It’s brilliant self-help, but it’s self-help. It’s not a Bible doctrine of sanctification … What we discover is a whole discussion of practices and liturgy as formation that is more akin to magic than it is to the Christian understanding of sanctification. We have a whole discussion of spiritual formation as spiritual discipline, as if you can boil down the spiritual life to a bunch of practices we’re supposed to do…
My worry is, at the end of the day, I see very little other than Aristotle being sold, that we’re just offered habits to change our lives. But let me suggest that this isn’t Christian, and it’s certainly not how anyone in the Christian tradition has talked, at least in the West.
Is he right? Are habitual approaches to spiritual growth really just a dressed-up version of Aristotle that has nothing to do with the Christian view of sanctification? Should we toss out books like The Common Rule, Habits of Grace, and How to Grow?
What’s Wrong With Habits?
On one hand, Strobel is right. His concern is that Christians will adopt the same approach to spiritual growth as, say, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. Is there anything that distinguishes Christian approaches to habits from mainstream self-help literature?
Strobel correctly identifies that habits aren’t really what makes us change. “Spiritual practices cannot form you, you cannot habituate holiness in this way.” He’s right. We don’t grow simply by becoming better habit-keepers.
How do we grow, then? He compares habit-keeping to Elijah’s act of stacking wood and drenching it with water:
When you do a spiritual practice, whether it’s reading the Bible, listening to a sermon, praying, whatever it’s doing, you’re stacking wood and you’re drenching it with water. You have no ability to start fire, only God can do that. The only way that this becomes meaningful is if God by his grace offers the fire of love in the heart of the person. That’s it.