Published on April 21, 2014 by Igor Mateski

unknown, 2012 | 230 pages

Reviewed by Dr. Stephen Yuille

The purpose of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series is to provide a forum for comparing different views on issues deemed important to Christians. Recognizing the recent surge of interest in the topic of spirituality, Counterpoints has produced the present volume: Four Views on Christian Spirituality.

In the introduction, Bruce Demarest sets the stage for the four views by identifying the cause of the recent rise of interest in spirituality: “dissatisfaction with materialism and consumerism” (p. 11). Increasingly, people are aware of the emptiness intrinsic to a naturalist worldview and, as a result, are looking for meaning beyond the natural realm. As Demarest explains, this trend has produced three broad “options” for seekers: Secular Spirituality — the quest for self-realization; Religious Spirituality — the pursuit of the absolute in non-Christian religions; and Christian Spirituality (pp. 12–20). He identifies four traditions within this last category: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Progressive Protestantism, and Evangelicalism.

The book explores how these four traditions address what it means to live out a relationship with God (p. 25). Expectedly, it follows the format of other books in the Counterpoints series: one contributor presents his position while the other three respond.

The first contributor, Bradley Nassif, represents Eastern Orthodoxy. He begins by identifying three key-aspects of Orthodox spirituality: beauty, liturgy, and doxology (pp. 27–28). He proceeds to identify the heart of Orthodox spirituality as the gospel “centered on Jesus Christ in his Trinitarian relations” (p. 32). This leads to a discussion of Orthodoxy’s understanding of gospel emphases, spiritual practices, church dogmas, and — of course — deification: “the goal that integrates all Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality” (p. 53).

The second contributor, Scott Hahn, represents Roman Catholicism. He maintains that the “foundation” of Catholic spirituality is “divine filiation,” which encompasses the “fact” of salvation: justification, sanctification, the remission of sin, the infusion of grace, and spiritual regeneration (p. 75). Hahn affirms that God is a family. Baptism is the door into this family. Mary is the mother of this family. The saints on earth and in heaven are siblings in this family. And God directs his family through the visible creation, meaning he works through the seven sacraments of the church (p. 89). These sacraments, therefore, are central to Catholic spirituality.

The third contributor, Joseph Driskell, represents Progressive Protestantism. He identifies a number of factors that have shaped this tradition’s spirituality. The first is an approach to biblical interpretation based on “form,” “source,” and “redaction” criticism (p. 119). The second is a rejection of supernatural theism; in short, God is not a person out there, but a force right here (p. 123). The third factor is a portrayal of Christ as merely an “inspired leader,” who proclaimed an ethic of love even in the face of martyrdom (p. 124). The fourth factor is a concept of the Holy Spirit as “the sense of goodwill and well-being that occurs as any community of friends and associates gathers for fellowship” (p. 133). Emptied of its supernatural emphasis, Driskell explains that Progressive Protestantism is committed to a spirituality of social justice.

The fourth contributor, Evan Howard, represents Evangelicalism. He defines its spirituality as “the manner by which we live in communion with Christ in response to the Spirit in pursuit of holiness resulting in service to others” (p. 160). He divides his discussion into two major sections. In the first, he considers the marks of Evangelical spirituality; in brief, it is protestant (distinguished from medieval Catholic scholasticism, asceticism, mysticism, etc.), orthodox (founded upon historic Nicene belief), conversion-based (committed to a radical turning to Christ), and active (involved in social engagement). In the second section, Howard surveys the practices of Evangelical spirituality such as reading, studying, meditating, preaching, singing, and praying.

Bruce Demarest concludes the volume by attempting to provide “a brief integrative exposition of Christian spirituality” (p. 205). For starters, he claims that it is “thoroughly Trinitarian,” “rigorously Christological,” and “robustly pneumatic” (p. 207). Moreover, it is “nurtured in the Christ-centered body of believers in which Scripture is taught and preached, the sacraments observed, and discipline exercised” (p. 208). Demarest is careful to note that there are basic theological differences between the four traditions (pp. 208–211). Yet, despite these differences, he concludes: “we are learning that considerable common ground exists between committed Christians in the four traditions” (p. 217).

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The contributors’ essays are well-researched and well-organized. They engage in a very cordial discussion while representing their respective positions. That being said, I have three significant concerns.

First, the chapter on Progressive Protestantism is out of place. I do not say this to disparage Joseph Driskell; his chapter is well-written. Nevertheless, I am confused as to why it is included in a volume on Christian spirituality. Proponents of Progressive Protestantism deny the doctrine of the Trinity along with Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. They also dismiss the doctrine of the atonement. By their own admission, they reject supernatural theism. It leaves me wondering why Progressive Protestantism is even classified as Christian. To put it another way, I fail to see how Progressive Protestants are any different from the average members of a local Rotary Club.

Second, the chapter on Orthodox spirituality is potentially misleading. Evan Howard picks up on this, claiming that Bradley Nassif “speaks with a new voice” (p. 67). In saying this, Howard means that Nassif is so deeply indebted (personally and theologically) to Evangelicalism that his presentation of Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t really reflect the Orthodox Church. Howard comments, “What we have before us then, is a presentation of a vision of Orthodox spiritual theology” (p. 67, italics mine). The same can be said of Scott Hahn’s presentation of Catholic spirituality. Is it truly reflective of Roman Catholicism, or is it merely a vision of Catholic spirituality deeply influenced by a very specific context — American Evangelicalism?

Third, the chapter on Evangelicalism is far too broad. Evan Howard has attempted the impossible: to define the spirituality of a nebulous movement. He adopts what is widely touted as the standard definition of Evangelicalism — namely, David Bebbington’s four marks: activism, biblicism, conversionism, and crucicentrism (p. 16).1 But do these marks really constitute an identifiable movement? Is it really possible to include Pietism, Puritanism, Quakerism, Methodism, Arminianism, Fundamentalism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, Calvinism, and a host of other isms under the same umbrella? I am inclined to think the marked differences between these groups render any discussion of a common Evangelical spirituality meaningless.

I submit that—when it comes to Christian spirituality—the place to begin is with how people think God communicates with them. When we do, we discover four main views: senses, feelings, symbols, and words. In the history of Christianity, different groups have embraced one or more of these as the means by which God communicates with the soul. This conviction has, in turn, shaped their spirituality: a spirituality of senses, a spirituality of feelings, a spirituality of symbols, and a spirituality of words. What are the biblical, philosophical, and theological paradigms that underpin each of these views? How are these views formative? What groups (churches, denominations, and movements) have championed each of these views? Personally, I believe this would have been a far more profitable approach.

But that isn’t how this volume addresses the subject. That’s no surprise. At the outset, Bruce Demarest makes it clear that the goal of the book is to find “an integrated and viable spirituality” (p. 20). In other words, the book is shaped by a pre-determined objective; namely, the desire to arrive at an “ecumenical” spirituality (p. 218). Does it achieve this goal? Yes. But, in so doing, it never really addresses the main issues behind the competing (and, at times, contradictory) views of Christian spirituality. For this reason, it leaves the reader wondering to what extent ecumenical spirituality is biblical spirituality.

1 For an evaluation of David Bebbington’s four marks of Evangelicalism, see Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart (eds.), The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008).

Dr. Stephen Yuille is Pastor of Grace Community Church, Glen Rose, TX, and he is Book Review Editor for Spirituality and Christian Living here at Books At a Glance.



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Four Views On Christian Spirituality

unknown, 2012 | 230 pages

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