Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader

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Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader. Edited by Kenneth J. Collins. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2000. 400 pp. $26.99 (paper).

Spirituality is almost an industry these days. Which is mostly a good thing, I think. It's no surprise, then, that academics have gotten interested in spirituality (still a good thing, I think, though with more hesitation). There is a new journal, Spiritus (Johns Hopkins University Press), sponsored by the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, a group within the American Academy of Religion. Academic books on spirituality appear regularly, if not voluminously. The chief virtue of Exploring Christian Spirituality is that its contributors are, well, spiritual-or at least believers (which is definitely not a given in academic endeavors).

"Spirituality," John Macquarrie rightfully observes here, is "a term of doubtful repute" (p. 63) and one that is even harder to define. A great virtue of this volume is the effort made by the editor and contributors to offer definitions. In a lucid introduction, Kenneth J. Collins says that "spirituality" tells us of "the importance of surpassing oneself into a wider circle of meaning with its resultant enlightenment or greater knowledge of God." Christian spirituality necessarily involves "the revelation of God manifested in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit" (p. 13; his emphasis). Collins helpfully follows his own efforts with two definitional essays: "What is Spirituality?" by Philip Sheldrake and "Toward Defining Spirituality" by Walter Principe. Thus the volume begins with a clear focus.

Exploring Christian Spirituality is divided into seven parts: Historical Considerations (discussed above), Contemporary Modulations, Christian Traditions, Spirituality and Theology, Spirituality and the Trinity, Spirituality and Scripture, and Spirituality and Feminism. After the three essays mentioned above, the volume offers twenty-one more contributions, "each one illustrating a vital aspect of the Christian contribution" (p. 15). Collins observes that "the discipline of spirituality is bringing together Christians of various traditions who might not otherwise talk to each other" and, in what is clearly an effort toward improved conversation, Exploring Christian Spirituality gathers Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant scholars. …