Rabbit Reads: Sacred Pathways

By

Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas (Zondervan, 1996)
Christian Living / Spiritual Growth

Why We Love It: If you’ve grown up in the evangelical church, you’ve probably heard plenty about the importance of “quiet time.” I know I have. And yet, prayer (at least the “close your eyes and talk to Jesus like he’s your buddy” approach) has often been hard, and while I’m good at being quiet, I’ve struggled with making the time. What do you do with a one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual growth?

Enter a thrift store find I didn’t know I needed: Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.

In this book, Thomas introduces a theory of spiritual temperaments, the idea of different natural bents toward understanding and growing in faith. From there he explores nine spiritual types in depth, and suggests practices that work well for each temperament. So for example, the ascetic needs a quiet, distraction free space to pray, and while the intellectual meets God in rigorous theological study, a contemplative may find encouragement in ancient monastic practices like centering prayer.

This is a book from the ’90s, so the writing and references feel dated sometimes.* (The New Age movement is the acid-washed jeans of fad spirituality, amirite?) But don’t let that deter you from the helpful ideas. Each chapter has short quiz to get you in the ballpark of your favored types, and I found this discovery encouraging and illuminating. I wish I’d read this book in my formative years while trying to understand why I wasn’t thriving in the enthusiastic evangelicalism where I so desperately wanted to belong.

Mostly, I’m grateful that this book helped me feel a little more compassion for folks who worship and grow differently from me. It’s interesting to note that Thomas highlights the ways Jesus displays all the different types throughout his life — cleansing the temple in activism, studying in the synagogue with intellectuals, honoring feasts with traditionalists, or going off to the desert like an ascetic. With him as our model, we can find our path to closeness with God, while honoring his precedents and stretching ourselves in ways that are foreign to us.

* I read the original version, but I just found out there’s a revised and updated edition out there. Perhaps the new one is not so totally ’90s.

Go Deeper: If you’re already fascinated by personality theories (looking at you, dear Enneagram friends) then you might want to add this to your reading list. And if you’re intrigued but unsure, here’s a short overview of the nine types with a link to Thomas’s original assessment questions from the book. Granted, the questions are sort of vague and straightforward and you’d want to read the book for a deeper look, but this can at least help you figure out if it might be a helpful tool for you. Plus, personality quizzes are fun!

If you take the quiz, I’d love to hear what your top three types are! What do you think of this concept? (For the record: my top three are ascetic, traditionalist, and sensate, and I’m not surprised at all that enthusiast and activist came dead last. #introvert)

Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. Her words have appeared in TS Poetry’s Every Day Poems, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she recently released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores, good coffee, messing about in the kitchen, and local adventures with her husband Chris.


6 Comments

  1. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    i took the quiz and halfway through was thinking “am i any of these things?” and then scored nearly every point on ascetic. Ha. (Contemplative and intellectual were my other two.) But i felt differently about all of the categories when i read the descriptions. And every once in awhile a question would sound like a perfect match right up until the end, and then there would be a tacked-on thing that felt irrelevant.

    This felt a little tricky because there were questions i would once have answered yes to and no longer feel that those things fit. And some of the areas where i feel most connected to G-d weren’t even clearly represented, which leaves me guessing as to which category i’d likely find myself in if the questions were different. Also, that my highest score was in ascetic but i have next to no self-discipline? Hm.

    Probably all of this starts feeling a bit more clear when reading the book, though.

  2. Lisa Eldred

    @firstcrusader

    Yeah, I’m pretty much straight-up intellectual on this; I got a 20 on Ascetic, but I think that has more to do with the intellectual aspects (quiet time set aside!)  But this feels like a quiz where you could easily mistype yourself… a blog post I read on Myers-Briggs recently talked about how if you’re taking self-assessments, you’re comparing things only to yourself, vs. having an outside expert type you, who would compare you to the rest of the world. Am I an intellectual? Probably… but I have never, ever been the type to do what people teach as “studying” the Bible – blocking out an hour for a quiet time and doing rigorous cross-checks and whatnot. I read theology books, but not regularly. So am I really an intellectual?

  3. Jen Rose Yokel

    @jroseyokel

    @mrs-hittle @firstcrusader Yeah, the quiz is awfully vague and not the most helpful. But I think it can get you in the general area of your temperament. If we’re comparing it to personality typing systems, I think it’s a little more like the Enneagram than Myers-Briggs. It’s supposed to be fluid, not put you in a box, and you’ll most likely relate to a few different categories. (Ascetic and sensate is a super weird combo, yet they both resonate for me. Sometimes I need to hear a bunch of people harmonize the doxology in a beautiful space. Sometimes I need total silence.)

    “This felt a little tricky because there were questions i would once have answered yes to and no longer feel that those things fit.”

    Yup. He talks about that in the book… I think he said he used to be mostly intellectual, but moved more toward naturalist when he got older. I experienced that too. 🙂 I find that room for growth and change very freeing…

    It’s been over a year since I read this now… I’ll have to find my quiz results and report back. Might be interesting to take it again and see if anything has shifted.

  4. Reagan Dregge

    @rdregge

    Intellectual (27), naturalist (22), and caregiver (20) are my top three.

    I was surprised caregiver came in last, but still feel those fit well with my Enneagram Type 1 and Guardian-ISFJ-ness, ha. Maybe I’m a bit burnt out in my season of caregiving? Maybe naturalist was higher right at this moment because a storm is brewing right outside my window?

    @firstcrusader I think you’re really an intellectual! I don’t think of myself as a bible student, I’d use relentless questioner to describe myself. I love immersing myself in it, learning about the history and language and context, and constantly wrestling with the meaning. @mrs-hittle I would call you disciplined, in the sense of filling your life with good things and not letting less important things get pushed out. When it comes to discipline, though, we call all use more. @jroseyokel I’m intrigued to look at the gospel through this lens to see what else it reveals–thanks for the rec!

  5. Reagan Dregge

    @rdregge

    Intellectual (27), naturalist (22), and caregiver (20) are my top three.

    I was surprised caregiver came in last, but still feel those fit well with my Enneagram Type 1 and Guardian-ISFJ-ness, ha. Maybe I’m a bit burnt out in my season of caregiving? Maybe my naturalist tendency is stronger because a storm is brewing right outside my window as I type this?

    @firstcursader I think you’re really an intellectual. I don’t think of myself as a bible student either, I’d use relentless questioner to describe myself. I love immersing myself in scripture, learning about the history and language and context, and constantly wrestling with the meaning. @mrs-hittle I would call you disciplined, in the sense of filling your life with good things while not letting important things get pushed out. Although when it comes to discipline, we could all use more I suppose. @jroseyokel I’m intrigued to look at the gospel through this lens to see what else it reveals–thanks for the rec!

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