There have been dozens of books published on the doctrine of work in the past few years. These books are part of a larger resurgence in interest in engaging the culture in all of life, particularly through vocation as Christians seek to break down the sacred/secular divide in their lives.
On the other hand, there have been few books published on rest, leisure, and recreation from Christian thinkers. Some of those that have picked up the topic of rest, like Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance, tend emphasize opposition to economic systems rather than presenting a comprehensive biblical perspective on the subject. This has given rise to an imbalance which has left some Christians wondering what they should do with their free time, and perhaps whether they should have any.
As such, Paul Heintzman’s recent book from Baker Academic, Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives, is a welcome addition to the topic. This is the most ample, comprehensive presentation of a Christian perspective on leisure I have encountered. I do not expect it to be surpassed in the near future.
In Part One, Heintzman surveys current concepts of leisure as well as the actual state of leisure time in the West. Part Two is an overview of historical understandings of leisure. The reality, Heintzman points out, is many myths about the amount of leisure time people have now compared to other times in history are unfounded or rely on mistaken terms. In fact, the concept that we have more leisure time than previous civilizations is founded largely in reaction to the Industrial Revolution, during which time lower classes spent nearly all their time in work. According to Heintzman’s history, many earlier civilizations had more frequent opportunities for leisure.
The third part provides a biblical background to leisure. Here Heintzman has carefully outlined the texts in Scripture that relate to leisure, including discussions of the Sabbath, the concept of rest, and touching on other work/recreation topics. It is in this section Heintzman connects the whole Christian life, including leisure, to spirituality. His development of the Sabbath shows that in part, the day of rest was designed to be spiritually refreshing, not just a legalistic observance. Part Four then summarizes scholarship on the doctrine of work, laying out a biblical vision for work in a single chapter.
Part Five critically explores Christian perspectives on leisure, arguing the concept has often been misunderstood. At times, errors relating to the concept of leisure have led to guilt over any sort of rest and recreation. Heintzman carefully and concisely critiques these errors throughout history. He then seeks to positively articulate a positive ethics of leisure, which he builds off of the Golden Rule. The final section, Part Six, Heintzman unites the concepts of leisure and spirituality. He provides examples of ways that leisure is significant for spiritual growth and points the reader to growth in Christ through those things. Heintzman closes the volume with a summary chapter that illustrates his ideal work-leisure balance through the life of one of his mentors whose life holistically blended a sense of vocation and faithfulness, which allowed smooth transitions between leisure and work.
This is the most thorough book on the concept of leisure available. Heintzman’s historical summaries bring together a number of streams of discussions in a comprehensive fashion. His biblical outline of leisure and rest covers the relevant passages in a manner that is fair to the text. This is a book that is both critical and constructive. In short, this is a reference volume that anyone interested in doing scholarship on work and leisure should own.
Leisure and Spirituality is an adaptation of Heintzman’s master’s thesis. This explains the thorough scholarship, but it also gives the prose a sometimes ponderous feel to it. I would not provide this volume to the average church member as an introduction to the topic. While never laborious, the book is geared toward an academic audience that is familiar with the concepts. This does not diminish the value of the volume, though it does shape the audience.
In sum, I recommend this book to those engaged in research on faith and work. Heintzman’s book is a key piece of scholarship that will be significant in the field for the foreseeable future. We should be thankful to Heintzman for his thorough and comprehensive portrait of the connection between leisure and spirituality.
Note: A gratis copy of this volume was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.