By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
June 27, 2014—Exploring Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader, edited by Kenneth J. Collins, is a collection of twenty-four essays in which Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist writers describe the unique forms of spirituality that have emerged from their traditions. The book begins with a thoughtful historical treatment of the development of the idea of spirituality. The introductory chapters explore the etymology of the term spirituality, providing delimitations to a term that more often is misused than understood. Philip Sheldrake focuses on three periods in his exploration of historical uses of the term: the New Testament era’s seminal understanding of spirituality (primarily through Pauline writings); the twelfth century during which spirituality was dichotomized from liturgy and theology; epistemologically (the affective from the rational), the personal from the communal, and moved to an focus on the interior life; and contemporary views of spirituality that evidence a move toward integration. Walter Principe’s chapter surveys the changing definitions of spirituality in the history of the church. His valuable contribution to this volume, however, is in offering a contemporary definition of spirituality that arguably should serve as normative in modern explorations of spirituality.
Part Two of the book proves to be the most interesting. This section explores “contemporary modulations” in the definition and understanding of spirituality. John Macquarrie’s article succeeds in flattening the understanding of spirituality as a totally human phenomenon while arguing for transcendence over against modern reductionist tendencies. By way of arguing for a transcendent definition of spirituality, he coins a new term, “exience,” which refers to a more dynamic understanding of the spiritual being beyond the phenomenological. Lawrence LaPierre’s article offers a six-component model for contemporary spirituality. He delineates the distinction between spirituality and institutional religion and in doing so, argues for a broader, more inclusive understanding of spirituality. The section concludes with Ewert Cousin’s examination of spirituality within the development of human consciousness. This final chapter provides an even broader vision of spirituality that is global, communal, inclusive and ecological in scope.
The seven essays that make up Part Three explore the Christian traditions of spirituality. The Christian traditions represented are: the Carmalite spirituality of the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, and Evangelical. While each chapter’s coverage of historical background and issues of spirituality within their Protestant faith tradition is well done and informative (each could serve as a useful introduction to spirituality for members of the corresponding tradition), the section lacks any ecumenical dialogue concerning the topic in question.
The final four major parts of the book approach the theme of spirituality topically: Spirituality and Theology, Spirituality and the Trinity, Spirituality and Scripture, and Spirituality and Feminism. Part Four explores views on the relation between spirituality and theology and the place of spirituality in the academy. Bradley Hanson, for example, argues that spirituality cannot qualify as a separate academic discipline given that it is not distinct enough from other religious studies or subject matters. Other authors in this section struggle with the matter of spirituality’s experiential dimension in relation to theology.
Part Five seeks to relate spirituality to the doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that however defined, spirituality must be relational, incarnational, and sacramental if it is to be authentic and Christian. Parts Six and Seven, Spirituality and Scripture, and Spirituality and Feminism respectively, are, in the opinion of this writer, the weakest in the book. While the chapters were well-written, and the subject matters relevant, little new territory is explored.
Collins has provided a rich resource in the study of spirituality. The grounding of the exploration of spirituality in history, etymology, and the ecclesiastical traditions and in the biblical text serves to reclaim it from subjective contemporary notions that color much of today’s writing on the subject. Highly recommended for your bookshelf!
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.