Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: Spiritual Theology

Some reflections on Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life by Simon Chan (Inter-Varsity Press, 1998)

Theology is "the doctrine of living unto God," wrote the Puritan theologian William Ames. As such, true theological reflections ought to arise from personal encounter with God in Jesus Christ and lead to a deeper spiritual life. However, since the Enlightenment period, theology becomes increasingly fragmented into specialized, merely “academic” branches (dogmatic, biblical, philosophical and so on) that are often disconnected from its goal of guiding us to godliness. As a result, the church is impoverished if her devotional books are doctrinally thin and her theological works are spiritually vacuous. In his book Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life, Dr Simon Chan seeks to address this modern weakness by placing Christian spirituality on solid theological foundations while exploring the practical implications of various Christian doctrines.

In the first part of the book, “The Theological Principles of Spiritual Theology,” he argues that our knowledge of who God is determines the shape of our spirituality. In spite of the Trinitarian language that pervades the church’s liturgy and creeds, our practice is often inconsistently focused on only one Person of the Godhead. A spirituality of the Father affirms our common humanity as His children and therefore, undercuts all forms of discrimination. But it may lead to the universalistic notions that “all will be saved since God is the Father of all” if uncoupled from the salvific work of the Son (page 46).

Similarly, a Christological spirituality that focuses on forgiveness of sins and personal relationship with Jesus engenders a warm piety over against impersonal religiosity (page 47). But it may also lead to individualistic tendencies that see church life as optional and secondary.

According to Chan, the spirituality of the Spirit as represented by Pentecostalism instils an expectant openness to God’s surprising work beyond what we can predict or control. Its weakness lies in attempts to ‘routinize the extraordinary’, making miracles the stuffs of daily living (page 48).

In contrast, a Trinitarian spirituality is modelled after the inner life of the Godhead. It is characterized by a personal intimacy with God through Christ (the Son) and openness to the powerful works of the Spirit that finds its inter-penetrating unity in a basic ascetical structure of life (the Father).

For more information about this book review, contact me at hedonese at yahoo dot com

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