Dictionary of Christian Spirituality destined to have long, useful life

Evangelical spirituality has emphasized the wide. It's getting deeper.

Let's begin with some stereotyping. Evangelicals typically look to the Bible as the supreme source of spiritual authority and put Christ at the very centre of religious devotion. We are also known for a compelling desire to see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, and often bring a great deal of marketing moxie to the task.

At the same time, evangelicals have often been quick to disdain the stale traditions of established churches. And we tend to be more concerned with action than with reflection, more likely to seek a fix-it solution than to meditate a while on a mystery.

But things are changing. While continuing to cling closely to both Christ and Scripture, evangelicals are becoming increasingly aware and appreciative of the riches of the Christian spiritual tradition. And with a wealth of new and well-seasoned material now circulating, the new Dictionary of Christian Spirituality aims to provide "an accessible and reliable academic resource" for the global evangelical community.

To that end, general editor Glen Scorgie has compiled articles from more than 200 contributors (including some three dozen Canadians) and bound them in a single substantial volume. It offers "a discerning orientation to the wealth of ecumenical resources available while still highlighting the distinct heritage and affirming the core grace-centred values of classic evangelical spirituality."

The dictionary entries cover the books of the Bible, major Christian traditions, major players in the landscape of Christian spirituality and major Christian spiritual practices. According to Scorgie, it also addresses key doctrines (e.g. Holy Spirit) and different periods in history (like the middle ages), and interacts with other disciplines (e.g. psychology and therapy) and other important topics, such as mysticism.

This makes it sound like a textbook (it is academically reliable and useful for this purpose), but the Dictionary also aims to be practical in congregational settings. It deals with many of the kinds of questions church people raise with pastors. Scorgie points out that it has entries on adolescent and children's spirituality, as well as topics like personal devotions, evangelism, small groups and worship.

The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is divided into two distinct sections. The first presents 34 longer essays, including an overview of Christian spirituality, Old and New Testament foundations of Christian spirituality, historical perspectives, prayer, mysticism and music and the arts. An essay by Regent College founding principal James M. Houston concludes the section with a discussion about the future of Christian spirituality. He yearns for "revival of true Bible readers for a deepening of Christian spirituality."

The second section contains more than 700 alphabetized entries from abandonment to Zinzendorf—Chrysostom, discernment, envy, humanism, footwashing, forgiveness, icons, hymns, parenting, Pannenberg, second coming, secularization, soul and more.

One that caught my eye was "midlife transition," which "often involves a vocational crisis in the form of career dislocation," observes contributor Bruce Demarest. "Yet the Christian may discover in a midlife transition the opportunity to work and pray through the summons to healing and transformation, rather than flee its challenges."

A 600-word description cannot do justice to a 600-page volume. A wide range of students, pastors and lay Christians will be thanking Scorgie and his colleagues for years to come for their excellent effort in making this useful resource available.

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