Thursday, May 14, 2009

Christian Spirituality Throughout the Centuries: 2 New Books

Reading Paul Miller's A Praying Life (see here) has whet my appetite for finding and reading other books aimed specifically at growing the spiritual life. I usually turn to the Puritans for devotional works of this nature, although I recognize that there are plenty of capable contemporary authors available. I suppose the reason for this tendency is my fascination with Church history.

IVP Books has published two books that have caught my attention because they both draw upon Church history and deal with matters of spiritual growth. The first was published in late December of 2007: Gerald L. Sittser's Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. In a sense it is eclectic, drawing from the vast spectrum of Christianity throughout the centuries. Sittser sets out "to explore the diversity of Christian spirituality" (23) from the first century to the 21st century.
From the apostolic age to the present, the vast majority of Christians have believed that God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is both divine and human, and that God is therefore one in community. My goal is to explore how these various spiritual traditions--ascetic, monastic, sacramental, evangelical and the like--reveal who God is, how we can know him intimately, and what we can become in and through him. (23-24)

In other words, this is an introduction to the variety of expressions of living the Christian life in light of the ebb and flow of historical circumstances. I've been enjoying this; check it out.
Book Excerpts
PDF Introduction: There Is More! »
PDF 1. Witness: The Spirituality of the Early Christian Martyrs »

IVP Extra!
Download a short biography of Gerald Sittser.
Download questions and answers with the author.

Table of Contents »
Reviews & Endorsements »
Features & Benefits »
The second book is a brand new addition to IVP's FORMATIO line of spiritual formation books: Richard J. Foster & Gayle D. Beebe's Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion (2009). This title goes a step further than the title above by introducing the reader to numerous individuals from Church history and there devotional reflections. In doing so the book is organized according to seven identifiable paths. The different paths are not exclusive from one anther, but rather, particular emphases to which Christians tend to drift: some more emotive, others more cognitive, etc. The paths are defined as such:

  • Path One: The Right Ordering of Our Love for God (Origen, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Blaise Pascal)
  • Path Two: The Spiritual Life as Journey (Evagrius of Ponticus, George Herbert, John Bunyan, Thomas Merton)
  • Path Three: The Recovery of Knowledge of God Lost in the Fall (Aquinas, Luther, Calvin)
  • Path Four: Intimacy with Jesus Christ (Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, Thomas á Kempis, Ignatius of Loyola)
  • Path Five: The Right Ordering of Our Experiences of God (Julian of Norwich, George Fox, John Wesley, Friedrich Schleiermacher)
  • Path Six: Action and Contemplation (John Cassian, Benedict of Nursia, Gregory the Great)
  • Path Seven: Divine Ascent (Pseudo-Dionysius, The Cloud of Unknowing, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross)
As you can see, the list here is also eclectic. Some may object to discussing one or more of the names, but as it stands, it is interesting to observe how distinctive these groups are. It makes me consider which path I lean toward the most, and what I could (or should) learn from the other groups.

So far, I am thoroughly enjoying this introduction to the spiritual struggles of each of these figures from Church history. It has been very informative. Here are some details about the book:

Book Excerpts

PDF Preface »
PDF Introduction »
PDF Part One: The Right Ordering of Our Love for God »

IVP Extra!

Download an author bio sheet about Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe.
Download a book excerpt from Longing for God.
Download a Q & A with the authors of Longing for God.

Table of Contents »
Reviews & Endorsements »
Features & Benefits »