UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Spirituality and Mysticism
Spirituality and Mysticism Spirituality and Mysticism
A Global View (Theology in Global Perspective Series)

James A Wiseman
ISBN 1570756562 (9781570756566)
Orbis Books, 2006

Category: Prayer, Poetry and Spirituality

If I could recommend only one book for an overview of Christian Spirituality, this would be it: well written, thoroughly researched and — within the constraints of the space available (242 pages, including select bibliography and index, plus contents, foreword by Peter C Phan [the Series Editor] and Preface) — comprehensive in its coverage. This is a book that's ideal either for personal study or as a core text on a course in Christian spirituality.

More than a detached observer, Wiseman, a Benedictine monk, takes his readers on a guided tour of the history of Christian spirituality: these are well-trodden paths and Wiseman evidently writes out of the depths of his own experience. Starting out in Chapter 1 with the question What is Spirituality?, the book moves forward steadily: Chapter 2, Biblical Spirituality, examines the roots of Christian spirituality; then, through Chapters 3 - 7 we gain an historical overview from the Early Church period through to the Reformation; and finally, Chapters 8 - 10 expand our horizons to consider Christian spirituality in Asian, African and American contexts through to the present day. The full list of chapter headings is:

  1. What is Spirituality?
  2. Biblical Spirituality
  3. Martyrs and Other Witnesses in the Early Church
  4. The Beginnings of the Monastic Movement
  5. The Patristic Era
  6. Spiritual Renewal in the Medieval West and East
  7. Reformation Spirituality, Protestant and Roman Catholic
  8. Asian Christian Spirituality
  9. African Christian Spirituality
  10. Christian Spirituality in the Americas

The focus throughout the book is on the people, the practioners of spirituality and mysticism, and Wiseman draws carefully on the vast resources and writings available, ensuring that both men and women are as fairly represented as possible.

To name but a handful, some well known, others less so: Clement of Alexandria, Benedict of Nursia, Dhuoda, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Evelyn Underhill, Ignatius of Loyola, Bede Griffiths, Mary John Manazan, Desmond Tutu, Sandra Schneiders and, finally, Thomas Merton. Some are given portraits, others only snapshots, but each chapter ends with a helpful selection of 'Questions for Reflection' followed by 'Suggestions for Further Reading and Study' — for those whose appetites are whetted, there's plenty more available!

There are, of course, more colourful alternatives available (Gordon Mursell's The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years from East to West (0745936415, Lion, 2001) and Alister McGrath's Christian Spirituality (0631212817, Blackwell, 1999) are two that spring immediately to mind), but — for this reviewer at least — this book's broader global perspective gives it a definite edge over these. An illustrated edition should certainly be considered by the publisher, but in the meantime this is as good as it gets. If you're looking for just one book to help you get to grips with the history — and the mystery — of Christian spirituality, this is it.

Phil Groom, July 2006

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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