Christian Spirituality: An Introduction. By Alister E. McGrath. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999, x + 202 nn., $26.95 paper.
Few areas of religious appeal are expanding today as rapidly as the subject of spirituality. The diversity of published books alone witnesses to the wide scope of interest, ranging from serious investigation into the spirituality of various world religious traditions to spiritual handbooks and do-it-yourself manuals. In this flourishing religious marketplace a need exists for a thoughtful and discriminating explanation of the nature of Christian spirituality. Alister McGrath's book fits this need admirably.
While several introductory books on Christian spirituality can be found on my bookshelf, McGrath's book is, in my opinion, superior to them all. The reasons for my conclusion are several. First, he offers the reader a comprehensive introduction without interjecting, at least obviously, his own preconceptions and without neglecting the broad perimeters Christian spirituality occupies.
Second, the book is exceptionally reader-friendly. Its organizational formatting enhances communication and facilitates learning by blocking off for emphasis definitions of key terms and numerically summarizing important explanations and arguments. In addition, the writing style is marked by extraordinary clarity, avoiding technical jargon and carefully defining special terms when they are unavoidable.
Third, the content of the book is significantly inclusive. After defining spirituality generally and Christian spirituality specifically, McGrath clarifies the meaning and relationship between mysticism and spirituality. Following these clarifications, he introduces the reader to the three fundamental expressions of Christian spirituality-Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant-concluding with an examination of the premise that the basic beliefs of an individual and a community have a profound impact in the formulation of one's spiritual perspective. In this context McGrath also explores the attitude a tradition possesses toward the world, culture, and history as being equally consequential in giving content to a spiritual outlook.
A major section of the book centers on theological-Biblical foundations of Christian spirituality. After discussing the negative and positive relationship between spirituality and theology, McGrath presents seven areas of Christian theology (creation, Trinity, incarnation, etc.) that form the theological substructure of Christian spirituality and "illustrate the manner in which theology and spirituality interact" (p. 35). The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, exerts an impact on Christian spirituality in that it gathers together the richness of the complex Christian understanding of God, to yield a vision of God to which the only appropriate response is adoration and devotion" (p. …