Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today

Article excerpt

Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today. By Diogenes Allen. Boston, MA: Cowley, 1997. 170 pp. $11.95 (paper).

Written by a prominent Protestant theologian for Protestants, this book has a decidedly Catholic tone and content. It is an attractive, accessible book that reflects not only the great learning of its author, but also his personal experience of Christian life and striving. Allen dares to cross disciplinary, generic, and denominational boundaries in order to appeal to all Christians to recall an ancient theological tradition that has almost been forgotten, even within Catholic circles.

Allen joins his voice to those of a growing number of theologians who are deploring "a widespread theological amnesia in the church" (p. 5), as a result of which "academic theology has narrowed its focus and neglected the field of spiritual theology" (p. 3). In fact, the classic Christian works of ascetical, natural, exegetical and mystical theology are routinely dismissed as "devotional" rather than "theological." It is high time, Allen insists, for us to address the "noticeable gap today between theology as it is taught in the academy and the practice of Christian devotion" (p. 152) by recovering these lost branches of theological study, which enable us to focus on the questions intrinsic to theology, namely, "the nature of God's reality and our human capacity to know God" (p. 153).

"For most of Christian history," Allen observes, "intellectual inquiry and spiritual aspiration toward God have gone hand-in-hand" (p. 154), and that is necessarily so, because Christian belief affirms that "receiving God's revelation require[s] repentance" (p. 153). Only very recently have theologians mistakenly assumed that a personal practice of the faith is unnecessary for them as academicians. Only recently, too, have people begun to embrace vague, popular forms of "spirituality" that entail little or no doctrinal commitment.

These recent phenomena are related, Allen suggests, and stem from mechanically taking apart what was for most of Christian history a continuous, three-stage narrative of personal and communal quest. Hoping to "recover our heritage in a useable form" (p. 6), Allen concentrates "on showing how Christians today can explore and use the spiritual disciplines and practices of the past, with a focus on the age-old image of the three-fold way" (p. …

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