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 Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.