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Christian Spirituality

Zondervan Publishers has an excellent blog called Koinonia (Greek for fellowship).  It is a great place to learn about new books and current trends in Christianity.  Every once in awhile they provide books to be reviewed.  I recently received a copy of the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality.  I really like it and provide some of my thoughts below:

This book is exceptional on two fronts.  First, it provides a wonderful overview of the topic of Christian spirituality.  It is a great initial resource if you want to learn about Christian spirituality.  But second, and perhaps more importantly, it is a wonderful place to become familiar with some new practices of Christian spirituality.  This is important because Christian spirituality is about a lived relationship with God.  It cannot remain simply an academic exercise.  Therefore, while it is odd that a dictionary would be a good place to practice spirituality, it serves its purpose as an introduction. Obviously it is necessary to go beyond a dictionary to truly experience and practice Christian spirituality, but that is true with any book.   This resource provides an entrance point to familiarize people with Christian spirituality and, perhaps, open new avenues to relating with God, especially through different Christian traditions.

The book itself is divided into 2 major sections.  The first section is comprised of 34 brief essays that cover major topics in Christian spirituality.  These include “Overview of Christian Spirituality,” “Survey of the History of Christian Spirituality,” “A Comparison of Major Christian Traditions,” “Contours of Evangelical Spirituality,” “Spirituality in Relationship to Psychology and Therapy,” and “Spirituality and Transformation.”  Each essay averages 6 pages and, importantly, contains Sources Cited and Further Reading.

These essays introduce the major concepts in Christian spirituality.  Reading through them is like taking a survey course in spirituality.  The first essay defines Christian spirituality as “the domain of lived Christian experience.  It is about living all of life – not just some esoteric portion of it – before God, through Christ, in the transforming and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit” (p. 27).  In other words spirituality is not merely a feeling or experience but it is about living Romans 12:1-2.  Although Christian spirituality is dependent upon the Holy Spirit, we are not to remain passive but engage every aspect of our being and learn from Christians throughout the centuries.  These essays point us in this direction.

The second section is comprised of nearly 700 alphabetical dictionary entries on a number of topics and influential people in Christian spirituality.  These are much briefer, from a couple paragraphs to a couple pages.  These also contain For Further Reading which directs the reader to more detailed works on the topic.  Any student of Christian spirituality should be somewhat familiar with Antony, Benedict, centering prayer, consolation and desolation, Francis, Ignatius, lectio divina, meditation, and much more.  These entries are a great place to begin.

So this is a great resource and introduces the topic as well as any other book with which I am familiar.  However, as stated above, books can only go so far.  Christian spirituality is about living.  May this book spur your life with God!

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