The Bloomsbury Guide to Christian Spirituality

The Bloomsbury Guide to Christian Spirituality
Editors: Richard Woods and Peter Tyler
ISBN: 978-1-4411-8484-9
Date: 2012
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Publisher: Bloomsbury

I read much of this book during spare moments at a recent theological conference, in which at one point two distinguished figures described 'something called spirituality' as 'malign', 'fuzziness' and 'tree-hugging' ? in the presence of one of the book?s editors.

The Bloomsbury Guide of Christian Spirituality is a brilliant response to that view, sometimes to be found among theologians, which sees spirituality as something intellectually lightweight, at best. The very nature of the topic means that guides and dictionaries need constant updating. Personally I think part of the problem is the word itself, and some have tried to avoid it and use the term ?Spiritual Theology? instead.

What is spirituality? A good, pithy definition is given by Gerry O?Collins in an early chapter, ?The Origins and Scope of Biblical Spirituality?: ?A way to God and of living in relationship with God.? That chapter is part of part I of the book, ?Building blocks? which give an excellent basis for the whole survey. The very first chapter by Margaret Barker shows the roots of our spiritual tradition in the Old Testament ? the worship in the Temple, Jewish angelology and Wisdom literature. Also in this section is a very helpful resum? of the Desert tradition by the renowned Sister Benedicta Ward, and a brief overview of the whole of Christian mysticism by Bernard McGinn. The second part of the book looks at a wide selection of ?schools of spirituality?, many centred on different religious orders in the western Church: it also encompasses traditions in Orthodoxy, together with the Anglican and Protestant communities; there is also a chapter on the ?French School?. This section is invaluable for quick reference which gives information readily: a strength of the book is that the editors have carefully kept the chapters to very concise lengths. Part III looks at three ways in which the Christian spiritual tradition is being ?lived out? among contemporary Christians ? Spirituality and politics, spiritual direction and the charismatic movement.

The remaining three parts of the book are perhaps the ?newest? in terms of the issues which they examine. Part IV gives fascinating insights about the relationship between Christian spirituality and other world faiths ? Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. Much of this will be unfamiliar with ordinary Christian readers, who can easily be misled into seeing other faiths as hostile. Even more unfamiliar to many will be the next fascinating section, ?Christian and Indigenous Spiritualities?, which explores the growing awareness among Christians of points of contact with other ways of being aware of the transcendent ? African traditional religion and African-led churches, Native American spirituality, the history and tradition of the mistreated Nasranis in south India, the very popular Celtic tradition and the indigenous spirituality of Australia and Oceania. For British readers the information and perspectives given about African, south Asian and Celtic traditions are particularly useful, as it is so important to be well-informed and objective. The final part looks at some contemporary issues ? contrasting spiritualities for women and men, the relationship between Christian spirituality and both art and the environmental movement, and the place of spirituality in our reaction to contemporary atheism. Dr Tyler finishes the collection with a thought-provoking conclusion about the future.

This is an outstanding collection and deserves to be a standard reference work for many years. Of course, not everything can be covered: for example, although the chapter on John Calvin is written by a distinguished Methodist scholar and minister, Judith Rossall, there is nothing in the book about John or Charles Wesley; the Quakers would be another gap, but I think there are plans for a second volume. The academic rigour of the contributions to this book by distinguished scholars from all over the world, and the ways in which spirituality is at the heart of how we experience contemporary Christianity, should be enough to silence its critics.

Ashley Beck,St Mary?s University College, Twickenham