Category Archives: Books

Book: Mysticism in the Reformation (1500-1650), by Bernard McGinn

The first of two volumes focusing on the Reformation, this title is the latest in Bernard McGinn’s multi-volume history of Christian mysticism in the West called The Presence of God.  Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Mysticism in the Reformation, Part I of Volume 6 of The Presence of God Series, is the first full account of the role of the mystical element of Christianity in the Reformers who broke with Rome in the period 1500-1650. Although some modern Protestant theologians tried to distance the Reformation from any contact with mysticism, recent scholarship, by both Protestants and Catholics, has shown that Protestant mysticism is an important part of the heritage of the Reformation. After an “Introduction” surveying modern disputes about the nature of the Reformation and the Catholic reaction to it (both Catholic Reform and Counter-Reformation), Chapter One deals with how the pioneering Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin reacted to the heritage of Christian mysticism, concentrating on Luther’s complicated relation to mystical traditions. Chapter Two turns to the role of mysticism in select “Radical Reformers” of the sixteenth century, who created models of interior mystical religion that continued to have an effect over the centuries. Chapter Three analyzes the writings of the two most famous Lutheran mystics of the early seventeenth century, Johann Arndt and Jacob Boehme, whose impact in later Western religious traditions has been both powerful and controversial. Finally, Chapter Four considers the significance of mysticism in the English Reformation, both among those who accepted the Elizabethan Settlement that established the Anglican Church, as well as with the dissident Puritans who rejected it.

Here is the full citation for this work:
McGinn, Bernard. 2016. Mysticism in the Reformation (1500-1650). The Presence of God, V. 6, Pt. 1. New York: Crossroad Pub.

A review of the book appears in the latest issue of Spiritus.

Burrows, M. S. “The Presence of God. A History of Western Christian Mysticism, vol. VI:1: Mysticism in the Reformation (1500–1650) by Bernard McGinn (review).” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 17 no. 1, 2017, pp. 117-121. Available to SSCS members.

 

Book: Ordinary Saints: Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life, by Stuart C. Devenish

SSCS member Stuart Devenish’s book, Ordinary Saints, offers a definition of sainthood applicable to the people we encounter in our everyday lives who are deeply committed to living out the Gospel message. Here is the book’s abstract:

In the post-Christian age, after the death of institutional religion, is there any place left for holy people to live as lovers of God? Yes! God’s favorite way of making himself present in the world is through the righteous lives of his holy people. This is a book about saints (defined as activated disciples), who are alive now, and whose everyday goodness announces that God is at work in the world.

Saints are blood-bought, love-steeped, twice-born, re-made people who are Christianity’s living witnesses. Like Jesus, their Master, they are the message, the messenger, and the working model of the kingdom of God. In following Jesus, ordinary saints are invited to give away their lives and spend out of their resources to convey the substance of their faith to a waiting and watching world.

If ever there was a time when Saints need to live courageously for Christ in the world, it is now. But it will take conviction, credibility, and a great deal of audacity. Ordinary Saints explores what it means to be a saint in the 21st-century, by exploring the depth-dimension of saints’ lives, bodies, emotions, values, and relationships.

It offers the simple recipe that if God exists, if the Bible is true, if Jesus saves … What’s going to prove it are the lives of ordinary saints. Thinking of the great saints of the early era of Christian history, St Augustine asked himself, “If they, why not I? – If those men and women could become saints, why cannot I with the help of Him who is all-powerful?”

Stuart Devenish, Ph.D., is the Director of Postgraduate Studies at the School of Ministry, Theology, and Culture, Tabor College of Higher Education, Adelaide, Australia.

Book: Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril, edited by Lisa E. Dahill and Jim B. Martin-Schramm

Former SSCS President Lisa Dahill has co-edited Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), a book of essays by sixteen Lutherans writing about climate crisis. Taking next year’s 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting his 95 theses as their cue, the essayists explore the theme of a new theological reformation which addresses the ecological challenges facing the world today. Here is the publisher’s blurb:

In 2017 Christians around the world will mark the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. In the midst of many appeals for reformation today, a growing number of theologians, scholars, and activists around the world believe Reformation celebrations in 2017 and beyond need to focus now on the urgent need for an Eco-Reformation. The rise of industrial, fossil fuel-driven capitalism and the explosive growth in human population endanger the fundamental planetary life-support systems on which life as we know it has evolved. The collective impact of human production, consumption, and reproduction is undermining the ecological systems that support human life on Earth. If human beings do not reform their relationship with God’s creation, unspeakable suffering will befall many–especially the weakest and most vulnerable among all species.

The conviction at the heart of this collection of essays is that a gospel call for ecological justice belongs at the heart of the five hundredth anniversary observance of the Reformation in 2017 and as a–if not the–central dimension of Christian conversion, faith, and practice into the foreseeable future. Like Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, this volume brings together critical biblical, pastoral, theological, historical, and ethical perspectives that constructively advance the vision of a socially and ecologically flourishing Earth.

Book: Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections, edited by Rebecca Giselbrecht and Ralph Kunz

This book, co-edited by SSCS member Rebecca Giselbrecht and published this year by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, contains essays by other SSCS members. Here’s a summary from the publisher’s website:

Christian theology traditionally regards the sacramental as the polar opposite of the profane. The polarity is a memorial of contemporary desacralization, profanization, and sacralization that stands as a portal to the story of modern reality. In our liminal space, we neither de-sacralize our environs nor re-sacralize the world. The lines are blurred and our perception of spirituality is neither immanent nor transcendent.
This conference volume seeks to reply to the questions: Where does the sacred intersect with the material? What happens when they meet?

Rebecca is the Director of the Center for the Study of Christian Spirituality, a research network for scholars located at the Theological Faculty of the University of Zurich.

Book: Thinking Prayer: Theology and Spirituality amid the Crises of Modernity, by Andrew Prevot

Published in 2015 by the University of Notre Dame Press, Andrew Prevot’s book argues for prayer having a crucial role to play in theology today. He grounds his argument in the work of a number of recent thinkers in philosophy and theology. Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

In Thinking Prayer, Andrew Prevot presents a new, integrated approach to Christian theology and spirituality, focusing on the centrality of prayer to theology in the modern age. Prevot’s clear and in-depth analysis of notable philosophical and theological thinkers’ responses to modernity through the theme of prayer charts a new spiritual path through the crises of modernity.

Prevot offers critical interpretations of Martin Heidegger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Johann Baptist Metz, Ignacio Ellacuría, and James Cone, among others, integrating their insights into a constructive synthesis. He explains how doxological and contemplative forms of prayer help one avoid dangers associated with metaphysics, including nihilism, conceptual idolatry, and the concealment of difference. He considers the powerful impact that the prayers of oppressed peoples have on their efforts to resist socioeconomic and racialized violence. The book upholds modern aspirations to critical freedom, while arguing that such freedom can best be preserved and deepened through prayerful interactions with the infinite freedom of God. Throughout, the book uncovers the contemplative dimensions of postmodern phenomenology and liberation theology and suggests how prayer shapes liberative ways of thinking (theology) and living (spirituality) that are crucial for the future of this crisis-ridden world.

More information about the book can be found on the publisher’s website.

Book: Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones, by Elizabeth Drescher

For those of us still following a religious tradition, the growing number of people who are religiously unaffiliated raises many questions. Perhaps Elizabeth Drescher’s new book, Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Oxford University Press, 2016), can help start a dialogue between believers and “nones” that will enrich our understanding of what it means to be a spiritual being.

To the dismay of religious leaders, study after study has shown a steady decline in affiliation and identification with traditional religions in America. By 2014, more than twenty percent of adults identified as unaffiliated–up more than seven percent just since 2007. Even more startling, more than thirty percent of those under the age of thirty now identify as “Nones”–answering “none” when queried about their religious affiliation. Is America losing its religion? Or, as more and more Americans choose different spiritual paths, are they changing what it means to be religious in the United States today?
In Choosing Our Religion, Elizabeth Drescher explores the diverse, complex spiritual lives of Nones across generations and across categories of self-identification as “Spiritual-But-Not-Religious,” “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” “Humanist,” “just Spiritual,” and more. Drawing on more than one hundred interviews conducted across the United States, Drescher opens a window into the lives of a broad cross-section of Nones, diverse with respect to age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and prior religious background. She allows Nones to speak eloquently for themselves, illuminating the processes by which they became None, the sources of information and inspiration that enrich their spiritual lives, the practices they find spiritually meaningful, how prayer functions in spiritual lives not centered on doctrinal belief, how morals and values are shaped outside of institutional religions, and how Nones approach the spiritual development of their own children.
These compelling stories are deeply revealing about how religion is changing in America–both for Nones and for the religiously affiliated family, friends, and neighbors with whom their lives remain intertwined.

Book: Fruit of the Spirit: Pauline Mysticism for the Church Today, by Michael Crosby

Michael Crosby’s new book, published by Orbis Books in 2015, employs an interdisciplinary approach to interpreting Paul. His reading of the Pauline letters leads Crosby to describe Paul’s theology as mystical. From the publisher’s description:

When Saint Paul writes about the “Fruit of the Spirit” in his Letter to the Galatians, what does he really mean? What are we to make of the list Paul provides (and that others have elaborated on over the centuries)? Spiritual writer Michael H. Crosby argues that by exploring Paul’s understanding of the Spirit’s fruit, we can envision a “mystical theology” that would transcend the divide between “episcopal nomists” who think the church can simply be equated with the bishops, and the many disaffected Catholics of the past 30 years who found little in institutional Catholicism that gave them joy or hope. Using insights from biology, neuroscience, scripture, spirituality, and literature, Crosby also includes suggestions for spiritual practices to help the reader achieve the graces of the Fruit of the Spirit.

Book: Accidental Theologians: Four Women Who Shaped Christianity, by Elizabeth A. Dreyer

Elizabeth Dreyer’s new book offers an introduction to four of the most important women theologians and spiritual teachers in the Christian tradition. Its publisher, Franciscan Media, offers the following summary:

One might well be tempted to think that the history of Christianity, particularly its theology, has been largely shaped by men. This book dispels that notion to some degree by highlighting the four women Doctors of the Catholic Church (someone who contributes significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching): Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux. Though they did not intend to be theologians, their teachings about Christian belief and practice mark them as key figures in the history of Christianity.

While most of the books written about these four women deals mainly with their spirituality, Accidental Theologians shows how they came to know God, as well as how they changed and challenged the Church in their day. It looks at these women from several perspectives: their life and works, the times in which they lived, the core of their theology, and the implications of their theology for us. Cogent questions for reflection at the end of each chapter prompt readers to delve deeper into the significance of these women for their own lives, and a comprehensive resource list provides opportunities to learn more about these saints.

Book: From Despair to Faith: The Spirituality of Søren Kierkegaard, by Christopher B. Barnett

In From Despair to Faith (Fortress Press, 2014), Chris Barnett (Villanova University) goes beyond the usual approach to Kierkegaard as philosopher or theologian to explore his contributions to Christian spirituality. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Søren Kierkegaard has been called many things, from brooding genius and “melancholy Dane” to the father of existentialism. Yet, rather than clarify the nature of Kierkegaard’s writings, such labels have often obscured other important aspects of his authorship. Such, indeed, is the case with Kierkegaard’s standing as a spiritual author.

In From Despair to Faith: The Spirituality of Søren Kierkegaard, Christopher B. Barnett endeavors to remedy this problem. He does so in two overarching ways. First, he orients the reader to Kierkegaard’s grounding in the Christian spiritual tradition, as well as to the Dane’s own authorial stress on themes such as upbuilding, spiritual journey, and faith. Second, Barnett maintains that Kierkegaard’s spirituality is best understood through the various “pictures” that populate his authorship. These pictures are deemed “icons of faith,” since Kierkegaard consistently recommends that the reader contemplate them. In this way, they both represent and communicate what Kierkegaard sees as the fulfillment of Christian existence.

In the end, then, From Despair to Faith not only offers a new way of approaching Kierkegaard’s writings, but also shows how they might serve to illuminate and to deepen one’s relationship with the divine.

Book: Spiritual Connection in Daily Life, by Lynn Underwood

Lynn Underwood’s book has just been published, along with a web page with information about it.

According to Lynn, “The book uses sixteen questions, the scientifically validated Daily Spiritual Experience Scale (DSES), developed using extensive cross-cultural and in depth interviews.  This included people from an international sample from many faiths as well as in-depth interviews with many from the US including people from the inner city and Cistercian monks.  The scale has been used in DMin theses in a number of denominations and as an outcome measure in many Christian and secular organizations.  It has been used by graduate students at the University of Notre Dame, Fordham and Fuller Theological Seminary.  The DSES has been used in over 150 published studies linking it to a variety of good things such as positive health behaviors, mental well-being, and less burnout, as well as being used as an outcome in and of itself. It has been translated into over 30 languages including Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, and Mandarin Chinese. It has been useful in Christian contexts, but works for religions more widely and for those less comfortable with religion and in the context of inter-religious and religious-secular dialog.”

A web page is available with information about the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale with links to three scholarly articles about the scale authored or co-authored by Lynn.