- Dictionary of Christian Spirituality
Reading this new Dictionary of Christian Spirituality published by Zondervan was like going to a family reunion. I discovered lots of cousins I hadn’t known before and whom I really liked, once I got to meet them. The editors and nearly all of the contributors are self-identified evangelicals engaged in the academic discipline of Christian Spirituality, understood here as “the domain of lived Christian experience” (27). These scholars are doing the same thing that I try to do, and they do it very well. Even though I consider myself pretty well connected in the field, I recognized only about twenty names in the list of over two hundred contributors. Obviously I need to get out more, because these colleagues are doing significant work of excellent quality. I look forward to spending more time with them, both within and beyond the pages of this valuable reference work.
Perhaps the first thing to say about this volume for readers of Spiritus is that the contributors are in active conversation with recent developments in the discipline of Christian Spirituality. Indeed, Glen Scorgie’s preface graciously acknowledges the volume’s indebtedness to a host of familiar book series, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks. This is not an evangelical alternative presented as a rival to existing Catholic or mainline Protestant resources, but a complementary initiative that seeks to offer “a discerning orientation to the wealth of ecumenical resources available while still highlighting the distinct heritage and affirming the core grace-centered values of classic evangelical spirituality” (8). As in every Christian tradition, there are certainly some evangelicals who are prone to discount (or even unchurch) the rest of the Christian population. But the contributors to this volume seem comfortable with a notion of evangelicalism as one of several authentic expressions of Christian spirituality. Typical of the volume’s approach is the essay on “Contours of Evangelical Spirituality” in which D. Bruce Hindmarsh suggests that the evangelical movement can be understood by an analogy of a religious order with its distinctive charism, or a school of spirituality like the [End Page 304] French school following Francis de Sales, or a particular form of life emphasizing “convertedness” that represents a mainstream current within the broader flow of Catholic Christianity’s Great Tradition. The evangelicalism represented in this volume is non-sectarian, non-defensive, and open to truth and beauty wherever they may be found. At the same time, this is an evangelicalism that is justly proud of the particular gifts it has to offer and confident in the integrity of its own identity.
Given the volume’s generosity of spirit in engaging with other Christian traditions, it is appropriate to compare this volume with what may be considered its two closest cousins, The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality edited by Michael Downey (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993) and The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality edited by Philip Sheldrake (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005). As might be expected, there is considerable overlap in the topical entries appearing in the three dictionaries, whether the reader is interested in particular movements and traditions (Benedictine, Ignatian, Orthodox, charismatic), practices (meditation, pilgrimage, bible reading, fasting), or themes (love, mysticism, virtues, work). All three dictionaries include entries on other religious traditions (Buddhism, Islam, Native American spirituality); although they approach those topics in somewhat different ways. Downey’s volume usually presents non-Christian spiritualities from an appreciatively descriptive stance (as though an insider were explaining the tradition to an outsider), while Sheldrake’s dictionary typically focuses on the historical and contemporary interaction between Christianity and the other tradition, as seen from the Christian point of view. The comparable entries in Scorgie’s dictionary generally follow the appreciatively descriptive approach (even when treating such potentially controversial topics as Scientology or New Age Spirituality), but the article on “Buddhist Spirituality” cautions that in spite of many similarities in spiritual practice, Buddhism and Christianity have very different metaphysical foundations and understandings of salvation. Generally speaking...