Book Review – “He That Is Spiritual” by Lewis Sperry Chafer

This was my first exposure to the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary – Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer. This book, entitled He That Is Spiritual, was published in 1918, so its prose is a bit dense at times. And pieces of Dr. Chafer’s theology seem a bit off. But this is a short, sweet read, one that has great insight on Christian spirituality. Here’s the good and the bad (my opinions only).

The good:  Nobody can say Chafer doesn’t write clearly. As long as you don’t speed, you will know exactly what Chafer meant by what he said. The book is chiefly concerned with the spiritual interaction between the Christian and God. Nowadays we’d call it our “daily walk” I suppose. The book, therefore, deals chiefly with the interaction of the believer with the Holy Spirit in day-to-day life. It’s interesting stuff, and richly written. There are some gems to be found if you dig a little bit. Here’s one:

“There is such a thing as ‘ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.’ Truth must become real to us. We may know by faith that we are forgiven and justified forever:  it is quite another thing to have a heart experience wherein all is as real as it is true. We may believe in our security and coming glory:  it is different to feel its power in the heart.”

There are many more great words like this to be found in the book. You’ll need to be careful not to read a paragraph like this one and commit the very foul that it condemns – acknowledging the words as logical and clever but not contemplating what they mean for your life. Slow down and feel what you read.

The bad:  Dr. Chafer has some interesting views when it comes to ecclesiological matters. He divides humanity into three categories:  The natural man, the carnal man, and the spiritual man. The natural man is unregenerate and therefore unsaved. The carnal man is regenerate and brought into right relationship with Jesus Christ, but not the Spirit (the carnal man’s walk is marked by worldly objectives and affections). And the spiritual man is regenerate and brought into right relationship with Jesus and the Spirit. The majority of the book describes the distinct walk of the spiritual man.

I think that there are a multitude of issues with this approach. For one, how can one come into a right relationship with one member of the Trinity but not another? I do not believe that is a biblical concept. Another issue is the unnecessary and unbiblical bifurcation of the body of Christ by making two categories of Christians based on their spiritual maturity. Rather, we know that “there is one body” (Eph 4:4). B.B. Warfield, a contemporary of Dr. Chafer, hammered Chafer’s ecclesiology in a review of the original edition of this book, essentially saying that God will “complete the good work he began” in all believers, although we do not all mature at the same pace. This idea is rooted in Philippians chapter 1.

In any case, let’s not miss the point (or get kicked out of school for going where angels dare not tread). Dr. Chafer was an ingenious man with great insight for living. And the way to avoid getting sidetracked by his “threefold man” framework is simply to ignore it – to assume the book is designed to encourage and instruct all Christians instead of just a few.

I was glad to read Dr. Chafer’s book and I’m thankful to be studying at the Seminary God led him to found. This was an enjoyable read.


2 Comments on “Book Review – “He That Is Spiritual” by Lewis Sperry Chafer”

  1. Although FTH’s review and opinion of this book should be considered mindfully and in context…. Lewis Sperry Chafer’s prose of the deep things of God in Christ Jesus is a must read for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The Spirit of God, as promised, will reveal that which you need in your daily walk with our LORD Christ Jesus. A must read for every saint of God. Bravo!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is true that “God will complete the work that He began” in all believers. One day all believers will be conformed to the image of Christ … when they are glorified. And, yet, there is still this life to live and the Judgment Seat of Christ awaiting every believer, which is why Paul spoke so much about not just running the race, but running the race so as to win the prize. Unfortunately, what Chafer writes is all too true. There are many Christians who do not live their lives as though they are striving for the prize. They seem content to merely “finish the race.” The Apostle Paul called such Christians “carnal.”

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