Alister McGrath is a prolific Evangelical Anglican scholar. He’s written on a wide variety of subjects related to Christianity, ranging from very scholarly works to popular works. “Christian Spirituality” occupies the middle ground: it can be used as a brief reference for more serious study but is also accessible by the literate laymen. McGrath is a reliable scholar who understands theology and church history and writes from the perspective of one who is himself an orthodox believer.
The best part of “Christian Spirituality” is the range of topics it covers. These include:
Definitions of “Spirituality”
Types of Christian Spirituality – Denominations, Attitudes to Culture
Theological Foundations – Creation, Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption, Resurrection, Consummation
Biblical Images – feast, journey, exile, struggle, purification, ascent, darkness and light, silence
Faces, Places, and Spaces
Engaging the Tradition – excerpts from 13 classic texts
McGrath’s work is fairly comprehensive – about as much as you can get in 175 pages. He is also very readable and manages to cover a lot of things in a fairly brief book for such a comprehensive topic.
However, there are some limitations and things lacking in the volume. First, McGrath only spends a page or so each on Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. One of the most important aspects of spirituality, however, is the large variety of ways that different traditions have developed their own spiritualities and how each differs. McGrath should greatly expand this section. McGrath should also have had a section that was more historical in nature, giving an overview of Christian spirituality through the ages.
The definitions of spirituality that McGrath highlights are both cumbersome and not the most useful ones. Also, why include something from the obscure Hugh of Balma as one of only 13 classic spirituality texts when there are so many more important ones to include in an introductory work?
In spite of these limitations, “Christian Spirituality” is a good introduction to Christian Spirituality. Although it’s currently out of print, I like Holt’s” Brief History of Christian Spirituality” better. “Christian Spirituality,” volumes I-III, edited by Dupre and Saliers, is also good if you’re looking for a comprehensive historical approach.
Category: Book Reviews