A quick chat with John H. Coe (’79, M.A. ’83), director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation and professor of spiritual theology, and Kyle C. Strobel (M.A. ’02, M.A. ’05), associate professor of spiritual theology, co-editors of Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice (IVP Academic, February 2019).
Q: How would you describe contemplation?
A: The term “contemplation” is what Paul calls us to in Colossians 3:2, to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” It is our response to Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16–19, that we come to know the love of Christ in our inner person that surpasses knowledge. Contemplation is setting one’s heart on God, as the center of one’s life, and seeking life the only place it is to be found — in him. The “contemplative” orientation of Christian existence simply names the truth that God is with us in the Spirit, and that we are truly with God in Christ. It is merely a synonym for “walking in the Spirit” as Paul mentions in Galatians 5.
Q: Why are some Christians tentative about this spiritual practice?
A: The few Christians who are worried about contemplation tend to assume it is something it isn’t, and they don’t seem to know that evangelicals have always seen contemplation as a fundamental practice of the Christian faith. This is why throughout our book you find Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, John Calvin, Richard Baxter and other Puritan men and women embracing contemplation. Many assume that contemplation is either pagan, or else a Roman Catholic practice, but that assumption isn’t based on knowledge of the evangelical tradition.
Q: Why is contemplation important to a Christian’s spiritual growth?
A: To contemplate is simply to walk with, and be with, God in all I do. The core of the Christian life is contemplation, a life of openness to God’s work in the Spirit, binding us to the life of Christ, that forms our fundamental posture of presenting ourselves to God.