Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives

May 21, 2015 — 1 Comment


In general, I try to keep up with Baker Academic’s Engaging Culture series. In fact, I’m hoping to share more about the titles in that series over the summer. The most recent title is Paul Heintzman’s Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives. It is, in short, “an exploration of how Christians and the church can address the phenomenon of leisure in contemporary society” (xv). He argues there are four reasons Christians should want to study the topic (xv):

  • Problems with current leisure practice that need to be addressed
  • Potential benefits of leisure to be appropriated
  • Understanding leisure as a spiritual need
  • Lack of theological reflection on the topic

Heinztman explains these issues in more detail in the introduction before getting into the argument of the book, which is split into 6 parts. In the first, he surveys understandings of leisure from contemporary society. There are seven main views (6):

  • Classical Leisure (a state of being; an attitude)
  • Leisure as Activity (non-work activities)
  • Leisure as Free Time (time after work and existence tasks)
  • Leisure as a Symbol of Social Class (conspicuous consumption)
  • Leisure as a State of Mind (an optimal psychological experience)
  • Feminist Leisure (meaningful experience; enjoyment)
  • Holistic Leisure (leisure in all of life)

Heintzman will return to these categories regularly throughout the book. After giving an expositional survey of them in the first chapter, he discusses trends and issues in the second. These include our use of time, boredom, issues in the work-leisure relationship, and the lack of spiritual dimension in many leisure activities. This then provides context for the second part of the book which traces the history of leisure concepts. Chapter 3 explains the history of classical understanding of leisure and chapter 4 offers a short history of leisure activities.

From here, Heintzman digs into the biblical understanding in part 3. Chapter 5 gives a short biblical theology of the Sabbath, while chapter 6 does the same for the concept of rest. Since this does not exhaust the relevant biblical teaching, chapter 7 gives a glimpse of other words and themes that relate. This includes a short look at festivals and feasts, dance, and hospitality in select Scripture passages. In part 4, the focus turns to our understandings of work. Chapter 8 gives a history, including references to how the Protestant work ethic has been misunderstood. Chapter 9 then turns to the biblical material in order to sketch out a theology of work.

This all provides context for part 5. There Heintzman begins critiquing the different Christian concepts of leisure, before offering a constructive way forward (chapter 10). Then he argues for an “identity” approach to the relationship of work and leisure (chapter 11). In short, this means that the distinction between work and leisure is not as well defined as one might think and there is no need to be liberated from work in order to enjoy leisure (206). This then leads to Heintzman’s discussion in part 6 about the relationship of leisure and spirituality. He connects leisure with our spiritual well-being (chapter 12), and also our ability to cope with life (chapter 13). His epilogue offers a concise and illustrated theology of leisure.

Heintzman’s book is both an interesting an important read. Interesting because it’s not a topic I think many of us have studied in detail, yet it is something we are engaged in on a daily if not weekly basis. It is also interesting because of the source material he draws on, which lies outside most of my normal reading. It is an important read because it has direct bearing on how we use our time and whether we are living spiritually healthy lives in our approach to work and leisure. While I wasn’t particularly riveted by the study, Heintzman presents his ideas and argument clearly, making a persuasive case. It is probably something I’ll be reflecting on further over the summer with the extra leisure time I’ll have on my hands.

Paul Heintzman, Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary PerspectivesGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, April 2015. 352 pp. Paperback, $24.99.

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Read an excerpt

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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  1. BA Books & Authors on the Web – May 22, 2015 - May 22, 2015

    […] Paul Heintzman’s Leisure and Spirituality was reviewed by Andrew Spencer at Ethics & Culture, Conrade Yap at Panorama of a Book Saint, Casey Hough at The Renewed Church, and Nate Claiborne. […]

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