Dictionary of Christian Spirituality

Written by Glen G. Scorgie, ed Reviewed By Joanne J. Jung

Glen Scorgie has been professor of theology at Bethel Seminary San Diego, CA since 1996. He has served as academic vice-president of North American Baptist College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and as president of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association. He has authored various books on Christian spirituality and on biblical and theological themes, and he presently teaches and preaches at Chinese Bible Church of San Diego.

In the words of its general editor, the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality seeks to provide an “accessible and reliable academic resource” on Christian spiritual theology, spirituality, and spiritual formation “that will offer a discerning orientation to the wealth of ecumenical resources available while highlighting the distinct heritage and affirming the core grace-centered values of classical evangelical spirituality” (p. 8).

To achieve this, Scorgie sets out seven characteristics as goals for this project, namely, that it be:

  1. biblically engaged
  2. accessible and relevant to contemporary Christian practitioners
  3. generous in its regard for the full range of Christian traditions of spirituality
  4. attentive to otherwise neglected topics, concerns, and formative figures in the evangelical tradition of spirituality
  5. global and international in both topical scope and contributors
  6. reflective of interdisciplinary engagement with related fields of inquiry
  7. reasonably priced

Two hundred thirteen contributors to this work come from a variety of disciplines (OT, NT, spiritual formation, church history, to name a few) and roles (professors, associate deans, emeritus professors, rectors, pastors, recent graduates, PhD candidates, seminary vice presidents, etc.), from formation communities/organizations and churches, each offering knowledgeable expertise. And so far-reaching is this book’s global cast of contributors that every continent except Antarctica is represented.

One need turn only a few pages to discover this book’s unique format. Part One is comprised of thirty-four “Integrative Perspectives” essays that together form 25% of the volume. Each of the six-to-eight-page essays ends with “Sources Cited” and “Further Reading” components. The integrative subjects include chapters on the OT and NT Foundations of Christian Spirituality, Doctrine of Assurance, Angels and Demons, numerous chapters giving historical surveys or developments of Christian spirituality, Music and the Arts, Spirit Baptism, the Illumination of Scripture, Incarnation, and the Sabbath.

As for the dictionary itself, entries cover a wide range of topics and persons related to Christian spirituality. These topics, comprising over 60% of the total number of contributions, include Addiction/Recovery, African and Russian Christian Spirituality, the Internet, Technology and Spirituality, Marriage, Poverty, Puritan Spirituality, Saints, Yoga, and Zen. Each entry is concise yet without absences of substance or insight. Entries about people who have made a lasting impact on Christian spirituality—both classic and more recent figures—include the likes of Ambrose of Milan, Athanasius, Anne Bradstreet, George Whitefield, William Wilberforce, Fanny Crosby, Toyohiko Kagawa, Billy Graham, David Yonggi Cho, and Dallas Willard.

The breadth and depth—though limited by space—of both the essays and topical entries included in the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality will pleasantly surprise readers. The intentional sequencing of the essays gives a broad landscape of Christian spiritual formation. Many topics under-represented elsewhere are found collected together here in a single volume. The essays and articles are technical enough to earn a scholar’s nod of approval yet user-friendly enough for laity to understand with little difficulty. Scholars, oftentimes steeped in their specialized fields, will find the broad range of contributions helpful. Readers should approach this resource with a desire to broaden their understanding of the multifaceted nature of spiritual formation, especially as it applies to the dynamics of Christian spiritual transformation.

The book meets all of the goals it establishes at the outset in at least good measure. Readers, however, may find a few of the following incidentals on their wish list. The scope of the essays (and even the dictionary articles) makes one automatically want to turn to an index of subjects, which won’t be found. An index would help readers see with even greater clarity the broad expanse of topics found not only in article titles and topics but also within the text of these essays and entries. Similarly, some readers will be drawn to the list of the prominent and not-as-prominent contributors, although the desire to read a particular author’s submission will be met with frustration in locating those specific articles. Perhaps a future edition will address these minor concerns with subject and author indices. An interesting omission, especially having included an essay on Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is an essay on “God the Father.” Because God the Father is seen as the Architect who planned sanctification and who wills (1 Thess 4:3), commands (Heb 12:14), and is the ultimate source of it (1 Cor 8:6; Heb 10:10), this entry would complete a trinitarian theme.

Many of those in our churches, classrooms, and marketplaces in increasing numbers will have come from, have an acquaintance with, read about, or have some knowledge of a wide variety of spiritual perspectives. It befits practitioners in these venues to be able to engage in informed dialogue. Be warned: a casual perusal of the contents of this dictionary may prove time-consuming, as one discovers a growing number of appealing subjects that consume one’s attention, as this reviewer has experienced firsthand.

Scorgie should be applauded in the editorial fortitude and tenacity required for the coordination of this dictionary project. It will serve as an “immediately helpful and a serviceable benchmark for future editions” (p. 8).

Joanne J. Jung

Joanne J. Jung
Biola University
La Mirada, California, USA

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