Book Review: The Art of Christian Listening
By Thomas Hart
Publisher: Paulist Press; 128 pages
Over the past few years I have read a number of books on the topic of spiritual direction and “Christian listening.” The Art of Christian Listening was not on my “to read” list when it found me; it was electronically recommended to me through other books I had purchased from Amazon. I took a chance and purchased it which turned out to be a very good gamble. I think this little book ranks as one of the very best I have ever read on the discipline (art) and ministry of spiritual listening and direction.
Hart describes the Christian listener as a helper and uses the first half of the book to describe the gentle, subservient, and very holy relationship the helper occupies in the ministry of “listening” to the soul of fellow sojourners. I dearly loved the beautifully uncomplicated descriptions of each facet of listening direction the helper must be attuned to. These details are covered in the first six chapters, highlighting the role of the spiritual director (aka Christian listener aka helper) as a sacrament described in spiritual orientation, counseling, spiritual formation, and prayer.
This is definitely not a formulaic “how-to-by-following-these-steps” book; however, there are some excellent experiential wisdom and helpful pointers shared by Hart that can be very beneficial for directors and listeners in helping them to avoid “pitfalls.”
Now, as much I as enjoyed this book, there were some things I didn’t care for. Hart references Carl Jung from beginning to end (Jung is known as one of the fathers of contemporary psychology). I don’t have a strict aversion to the use of psychology in counseling, but some of the methods employed are suspect (in my opinion). Secondly, I am opposed to a couple of doctrinal positions that Hart promotes. He seems to follow the belief of Process Theology. He also makes reference to, it seems by description of practice although he doesn’t mention it by name, Open Theism. Personally, I find these doctrinal beliefs about the character and nature of God to be in contradiction to Scripture. Consequently, I did not enjoy chapters seven and eight nearly as much as I did the rest of the book. These chapters, incidentally, involve making decisions and knowing the will of God for our lives. No matter… I still enjoyed the book and find it sitting near the top of the collection I have read on spiritual direction. The good in it is that good.
Regardless of the things I find disagreement with, I think The Art of Christian Listening is a special book. It is as valuable for the beginning helper as it is for the most seasoned of Christian listeners. The book is not loaded with lofty words or over-spiritualized conversation. It is full of wisdom and practical insight wrapped in humility and a genuine desire for the people of God to grow in His grace. Most Highly Recommended.