I read this book multiple times in the 1980s. Though I’ve not reread it since, I still cite from memory many significant Lovelace insights: “characteristic flesh,” “the sanctification gap,” “n-step sanctification,” “the need for a tuned and adapted form of nouthetic counseling.”
There is not another book quite like Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979).
It was published before Tim Keller and John Piper had written any popular books.
It was written back when Jonathan Edwards was hardly anybody’s homeboy.
It was written by an author who is a bit eccentric, but whose every page—agree or disagree—is worth wrestling with and pondering.
Tim Keller says that if you read this book, you’ll say that you now know where he got all his material. He still thinks we can’t do without this book.
David Powlison says he read the book multiple times in the 1980s.
Ray Ortlund has said that this book is rarely far from his thoughts.
Knowing of the effect this book has had on these guys, I once asked if they would mind explaining a bit more about how this book—written nearly 40 years ago—shaped their lives and ministries.
I took several courses with Richard Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, including the first course “Dynamics of Spiritual Life” in Fall of 1972 that eventually became Lovelace’s book. Along with that course I also took a course he did on Evangelical Awakenings—a history of revivals. To say that these courses were seminal to my thinking and way of doing ministry is a pretty big understatement. Anyone who knows my ministry and reads this book will say, “So that’s where Keller got all this stuff!”
Thirty years ago, when church planters came to me and asked me “what should I read?” I always gave them two books—Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life and Michael Green’s Evangelism through the Local Church. The former gave them a way of using the gospel in people’s lives that not only brought them to saving faith but also kept renewing them individually and corporately. The Green book was a practical how-to book on getting that gospel out in a hundred different ways.
Dynamics of Spiritual Life is somewhat long and a bit repetitious—but it’s still a book that I think we can’t do without. It was amazingly prescient and will be found still quite relevant to many of today’s debates.
There is nothing quite like learning from a church historian who really cares about the outcome of the church’s history—who wants to shape what could happen, not just study what did happen. Richard Lovelace, who formerly taught at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, is just such a pastoral historian. With good reason, his Dynamics of Spiritual Life is still in print after more than 35 years, whereas many current best-sellers will be forgotten by next year.
I read this book multiple times in the 1980s. Though I’ve not reread it since, I still cite from memory many significant Lovelace insights: “characteristic flesh,” “the sanctification gap,” “n-step sanctification,” “the need for a tuned and adapted form of nouthetic counseling.” We all gain from his wisdom on the interrelationship of individual and corporate sanctification, and on the relationship between justification and sanctification.
Lovelace’s breadth of knowledge and judicious sense for “We’ve seen that before” can shape wise ministries able to combine both earnestness and patience, able to combine the right kind of enthusiasm with the right kind of caution. Of course, some of his examples are dated, and you may not always draw the same conclusions he did. But Lovelace’s sense for how Christian wisdom balances many complementary emphases is worth more than gold.