Within the last ten years or so it has been the habit of publishers to make books in dictionary form that are dedicated to a particular subject, person or idea that has within it a multitude of words, concepts and ideas. Some of these are broad like the Old Testament and others are more specific like Paul. Since many of these dictionaries deal with subjects like hermeneutics, theology or backgrounds they naturally carry with them a more academic feel though the layperson can greatly benefit from them.

The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is the newest in a long line of needed and useful dictionaries. As a book that centers on Christian spirituality, and therefore the Christian life, it is a book that will benefit a broad range of believers beyond the pastor, student and theologian. This is a book that every Christian can benefit from both in their knowledge of Christian spirituality and in their growth as a Christian.

As the title indicates this is a book about spirituality within the Christian tradition. As such there is plenty of material not covered on the topic of spirituality. This is by no means a downfall as the book is seeking to service Christians in their walk with the true and living God.

Before this book even gets to the dictionary part for which it was made it deals with a number of necessary introductory issues. The idea and Biblical basis for Christian spirituality are laid out. The various methods of Christian spirituality are presented with pros and cons. Two chapters deal with spirituality in both testaments. Several chapters deal with the triune nature of God and the role each member of the trinity plays in the Christians life. A number of chapters provide a brief overview of the history and development of Christian spirituality beginning with the early church to the present. Many of the key aspects of the spiritual life are discussed such as the role of prayer, experience, music and the arts and church liturgy.

Borrowing from Aumann, John Coe sets forth the following as a definition of Spiritual theology:

Spiritual theology is that part of theology that brings together (1) a study of the truths of Scripture with (2) a study of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the experience of human beings (3) in dependence on the illuminating work of the indwelling Christ, in order to (a) define the nature of this spiritual life in Christ, (b) explain the process of growth by which persons advance from he beginning of the spiritual life to its full perfection in the next life, and (c) formulate directives for spiritual growth and development (38).

Setting up this definition Coe offers four implications for the study of Christian spirituality. First, despite the often esoteric, mythical and subjective idea of spirituality as found in many religions, Christian spirituality stems from a revealed faith. God defines Christian spirituality and not man. Second, Christianity derives its theology of spirituality and the spiritual life from a revealed base – namely, Scripture. As such, the nature and outworkings of Christian spirituality are not left to the person themselves but are grounded in and guided by the revealed word of God in Scripture. Third, inherent in the word spiritual is reference to the Spirit of God Himself. Spirituality for the Christian is an interest in the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. In this sense, the only true spirituality is Christian spirituality. Finally, foundational to the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer is the Spirit’s preparing of a persons heart and mind for the work of the Word in bringing spiritual growth. This preparing starts with initial salvation and continues in the life of the believer as they grow in their spiritual walk.

The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is a great addition to ones personal library of spiritual works. It is a broadly evangelical work not just by the wide range of denominational representatives who contributed but it also seeks to tie in the contribution of Christians outside North America. The first 240 pages provide the reader with much needed and useful information and enriching discussion on the multifaceted nature of Christian spirituality. One stand out aspect of this work is that it draws on and connects Christian spirituality with many of the major doctrines of Scripture such as the doctrine of man, sin, the church and the end times. Most fundamentally is the relating of Christian spirituality with the triune nature of God. Simon Chan contends that “spiritual theology may be understood as the exploration of the nature of life in relation to the Trinitarian economy (p. 53).” Thus, the spiritual life is the exploration of the persons “relation to the distinct works of the persons of the Trinity (53).”

The dictionary portion of the book itself includes entries that fall under a number of categories:

  1. Christians known for their work on spiritual theology like Francis of Assisi and Jonathan Edwards.
  2. Spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation and reading.
  3. Christian denominational spiritualities like Fundamentalist Spirituality and Reformed (Calvinist) Spirituality.
  4. Spiritualities of other religions such as Hindu Spirituality and Nature Mysticism.

It was Lovelace who coined the term “the sanctification gap” which as Coe defines it is “a gap that exists in the minds of many believers between what they know to be the goal of sanctification and growth, the spiritual ideal clearly set forth in the Bible, and where they actually know they are in their lives (p. 37).” It is an effort to aid the church in filing this gap that the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality exists. At the end of each chapter in the beginning of the book is a list of books for further study on the given subject. These suggestions will greatly aid the reader in gaining a better grasp of the spiritual life as defined by the Christian faith.

NOTE: I received this book for free and am under no obligation to provide a favorable review.