Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Course reading tips: the spirituality of theology

At the college where I teach (which now has a new website), I take a small postgraduate seminar each year on contemporary theology. In the coming semester, I've decided to focus on "the spirituality of theology" (sorry, I'll try to think of a better title). My idea is to explore the work of Rowan Williams, Sarah Coakley and Mark McIntosh, focusing on the way these three writers have articulated (and modelled) a distinctive integration of theology and spirituality. In their work, systematic theology itself becomes a kind of spiritual discipline, more akin to prayer and contemplation than to Wissenschaft.

So anyway, I'm looking for some tips and suggestions. Do you think it's a good idea to stick with Williams, Coakley and McIntosh? Or are there one or two other writers whom you'd include? (I don't want to include too many writers: I'm aiming for depth rather than breadth.)

And which primary or secondary texts would you suggest? At this stage, I'm thinking of including a couple of full books, together with various chapters and essays. Each week we'll discuss a particular text, so the choice of readings is important. Any suggestions would be very welcome!


Anonymous said...


If "contemporary" includes historical work, I think Denys Turner's The Darkness of God is an exceptional book, particularly in its utter demolition of a host of errant notions about what mystical means, and what "theology" was for many of our theological fathers.

I also think Griffiths' "Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar" contains some exceptionally challenging material that could raise serious and importants questions in the kind of seminar you describe.

Robert Minto said...

I recommend Bernard McGinn's fabulous series on the history of Christian Mysticism, "The Presence of God." Esp. the long essay which comprises the appendix to his first volume, in which he gives the best overview of modern views of mysticism I have ever read.

Jason Goroncy said...

Ben, you may like to consider James Wm. McClendon Jr.'s stimulating book Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today's Theology. The three other books that immediately come to mind are John McIntyre's Theology After the Storm, George Pattison's The End of Theology - and the Task of Thinking about God, and something by John Owen, perhaps Communion with God. One thing for sure, you gotta shoot for something outside of the past century.

Daniel Imburgia said...

Well, heck, given what you said about him in your previous post howsabout "Christ: The Experience of Jesus as Lord," or "God Is New Each Moment" by our very dearly departed Schillebeeckx? obliged.

CCW said...

I'm sure you've probably thought about this, but I wonder if some of Barth's work wouldn't be helpful. Perhaps his short work Evangelical Theology, which has some nice chapters on prayer and hope. Another work that I profited from, which may not hit what you're after, is Ellen Charry's work By the Renewing of Your Minds. Sounds like a great course!

PS: Thanks for posting the recent Sarah Coakley article; I found it very helpful.

Anonymous said...

"To know a primrose is a higher thing than to know all the botany of it - just as to know Christ is an infinitely higher thing than to know all theology."
George MacDonald, Scottish writer (& preacher)

saint egregious said...

I assume, given his importance to the Anglicans you're looking at, that you'll do something from von Balthasar ('Convergences', maybe or the theology and sanctity essay from ExT 1.) Oh, and Lossky's Mystical Theology. would be required, I think.

adhunt said...

As far as Williams goes I think an obvious choice would be part or all of "The Wound of Knowledge." While I understand this is a "history" of spirituality I find it to be profound as an example of how to read theology, theologically. His readings are always sympathetic but, and this is a point he makes in other works, he allows the past to be the past, he doesn't read it ahistorically or "off the page" if you will and he doesn't co-opt them to win theological points.

His works on praying with Icons comes to mind, as does his delightfully revisionist reading of the Desert Monastics in "Where God Happens." As I understand it this book may have different titles in different countries.

Several essays in "On Christian Theology" could also qualify. "The Judgement of the World," "Trinity and Revelation," and "Between The Cherubim" I think could all qualify.

Brian Lugioyo said...


Leron Shults's co-authored book with Sandage Transforming Theology is a great book that you might want to use for this course. Ray Anderson's book Self Care is a great book looking at theological anthropology in a pastoral light - I use portions of it for a spiritual formation course at the undergraduate level. TF Torrance's Christ the Mediator or some of James Torrance's essays on the theology of worship might be good additions. I'll be interested in your final reading list.



Iain said...

How about John Colwell's "Rhythm of Doctrine"
Might be well outside the remit of the course, but it's a very good book.

He moves away from the traditional structure of theology as doctrines of God / church etc and ties theology to the liturgical year - so theology is structured around 'the one who comes (Advent); the One who takes our humanity (Christmas); the one who is revealed (Epiphany); the one who journeys to the cross (Lent)' etc

Again, it may not fit well with the content of the course, but it's definitely worth a look

Radim said...


I recommend the British Jesuit theologian Philip Endean:

Endean, Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Endean, ‘Christian Spirituality and the Theology of the Human Person’, in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality, edited by Arthur Holder (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 223-238.

Endean, ‘Spirituality and the University’, The Way Supplement, 84 (Autumn 1995), 87-99.

Endean, ‘Spirituality and Religious Experience: A Perspective from Rahner’, in Christian Identity in a Postmodern Age: Celebrating the Legacies of Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, edited by Declan Marmion (Dublin: Veritas, 2005), 201-218.

Robert H. said...

Diogenes Allen's Spiritual Theology? http://bit.ly/7bnI3z

James K.A. Smith said...

I second the nomination of Griffiths' "Intellectual Appetite." An outstanding book that deserves more attention than it's gotten.

Patrik said...

How about Hauerwas' Gifford lectures? Theology as witness?

myleswerntz said...

I second Lossky. Williams, Coakley, and Turner seem like good secondary staples, but why not go with primaries like the medieval mystics? Catherine of Sienna? Julian of Norwich? Teresa of Avila? The three you've mentioned are good commentators and the best of the contemporary, but do something what THEIR sources. Perhaps Brother Lawrence as well.

Kevin said...

I don't know whether Coakley's long-awaited "Essay on the Trinity" will have been published in time for your course, but if not, you should consider asking for her permission to use a few manuscript chapters. Seeing as it's the first in a multi-volume dogmatics, Coakley spends a couple of chapters laying the theoretical-methodological groundwork for that which follows, the highlight of which is her account of ascetic spirituality's relationship to "theologie totale." (Her claims about "theologie totale," in turn, can be connected in interesting ways with Paul DeHart's claims about the trial of witness--but stalking that connection is unlikely to be the best use of your students' energies.)

Cate MacDonald said...

I don't have a suggestion, but I'd be VERY inerested in your reading list when it's finished.

Stewart said...

To follow up on St. E's comment, I would highly recommend Balthasar's "Love Alone Is Credible".

R. Thomas Richard said...

I don't know how you can approach the spirituality of theology without first being grounded in spirituality, or spiritual theology. I would think that a thorough understanding of traditional Catholic spirituality would be a prerequisite. I'm thinking of that presented so well by Fr. R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, in his two-volume classic, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, and/or the overview by Fr. J. Aumann, OP, Spiritual Theology. Both of those of course are rich with original sources.

I might also suggest my own humble work meant to present this traditional spirituality to Catholics today - so many of whom know nothing at all of the treasure we hold - the book The Ordinary Path to Holiness.

David Hymes said...

May I suggest two works by Simone Chan that may provide a Pentecostal angle. I realize that it is not too popular in biblioblogs to give Pentecostalism a positive hearing, but it may be time to start dealing with some of the academic voices within this large Christian tradition. The two works that I suggest are: Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life and Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition. Chan, who did his Ph.D. research at Cambridge University, brings both a critical Pentecostal perspective as well as sensitivity to Asian Christian issues.

tim yoder said...

I will go along with St. Egreg and suggest the short essay "Theology and Sanctity" which presents an historical analysis of the way things have shifted, especially in the medieval/reformation period.

Also, Andrew Louth has a work called "Discerning the Mystery" that might have something in it.

::aaron g:: said...

Edward Farley, Theologia

Anonymous said...

Wayne Teasdale's The Mystic Heart

Anonymous said...

you've picked the best three, but James Alison is worth considering. 'on being liked' is short; the chapter on john 9 in 'faith beyond resentment' is beautiful. For williams i'd have to go with his essay on creation in 'on christian theology'. Louth's 'discerning the mystery' is ok but McIntosh is better on the subject i think.

roger flyer said...

Kathleen Norris. Let's dumb down the intellect (just a little) and lift the poet... Amazing Grace and The Cloister Walk

Anonymous said...

Here's a few of my favorites, which are good selections from the history of this kind of theology. It should be required reading for anybody seeking to probe the depths of the spiritual life.

"The Cloud of Unknowing"
Anselm's "Proslogium"
Jean-Pierre de Casaude's "Abandonment to Divine Providence"
Thomas Merton's "New Seeds of Contemplation."

myleswerntz said...

Yes, I second Anonymous. Again, Williams, Coakley and Turner are great, but maybe use them as commentators on the ancient and medievals.

Ben Myers said...

Many thanks for these comments. I should probably have been a bit clearer about the nature of the seminar: it's entitled "Issues in Contemporary Theology", and I've chosen Williams, Coakley and McIntosh because I think they represent an interesting and important trend in current theology. So although I won't be using earlier writers, the seminar will of course largely be preoccupied with the way patristic and medieval writers are informing/stimulating contemporary theology.

So anyway, I really like the idea of including Denys Turner's "Darkness of God"; and I'll definitely take a look at the Paul Griffiths book too (I found a review here - it sounds good!).

I must admit, I'm also tempted to kick things off with a bit of Balthasar, since (as someone observes above) he's such a huge influence on Williams and McIntosh. If I was to include one or two texts by Balthasar (on this theme of "spiritual theology"), which would be the best ones...?

Thanks again for all the help!

Justin said...

I think that Gregory of Nyssa would be important especially because he seems important to Williams and especially Coakley. Perhaps Life of Moses would be the best.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,

I'm clearly a bit late on this conversation, but Andrew Louth's book Discerning the Mystery provides an excellent account of spirituality as theology, especially as a critique of Enlightenment epistemology. It's beautifully written and concise.

Unfortunately, it's a little bit difficult to get ahold of, but a bookstore in Wichita, Kansas, called Eighth Day Books, has put it back into print for an affordable price.

Jason said...

Hi Ben,
This is uncanny, I'm teaching those very same theologians this term in a class on contemporary Anglican theology! We're reading On Christian Theology (selected essays), Mystical Theology, and several of Coakley's essays which will eventually be parts of her systematic theology. In addition, I am having them look at Sykes (Power and Christian Theology) and Mackinnon (selected essays). As for a secondary reference, there are a number of good ones on Williams - Higton has to be at the top for a theology class, but Shortt's biography is definitely worth a look too. As to getting the lay of the land in this realm of theology, David Ford wrote a great series (3-4) of essays in the Christian Century in 2000 which gave a great overview of British theology since the war. It is called, I think, British Theology: Movements and Churches. It might be helpful for you as you prepare or perhaps your students too (although not as on-point to your topic as mine!).

Hope something here might be useful - I wish I could sit in on your class (and have you sit in on mine!), but will look forward to hearing about how yours goes in any event.

Annette said...

mmm tempting - i'm halfway through 'Powers and Submissions' atm - she is good. You'll have to let me know the class time when it's scheduled if you don't mind me tagging along again

Jane said...

thanks for this Ben ... What about some GRace Jantzen? She's challenging, not establishment in the same way that some of your other writers are. You might see her as being too philosophical and not quite theological enough but her reason for writing came from deep convictions about the spirituality of theology. Just an idea.

Anonymous said...


I'd suggest two good compilations, both with several scholars on the forefront of the emerging field of the "contemporary study of spirituality." You'll find essays by the likes of Sheldrake, Principe, Cousins, Egan, Schneiders, Lane, Burton-Christie, etc. I'd also second the voice above who endorsed Louth's text.

"Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader" ed. Kenneth Collings (Baker Books, 2000)

"Exploring Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Sandra Schneiders" (Paulist Press, 2006)

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