Although spiritual formation has always been with us, it seems that the field has exploded with books and articles in just the last two decades. For those unfamiliar with the very wide field of spiritual formation and its development in the last twenty years…this book can bring you up to speed on the most significant themes and issues faced in the field of spiritual formation.
The dictionary is essentially divided into two main parts. The first part has 34 substantive articles representing almost a quarter of the book. The second part is approximately 700 articles of varying length, but often shorter than what one would like (which is where the helpfulness of the lists for further reading come into play).
While the majority of articles are of necessity quite short at times, the initial articles lay a great foundation concerning the history, theology, and practices of spiritual formation. Moreover, although you’ll see some familiar names associated with “spiritual formation” like Dallas Willard for instance, you’ll also see names of people who have specialized in other fields (like Missions, Theology, and Church History) and bring those specialties to bear on spirituality.
As an example, Terry Muck’s article, “Christian Spirituality in Interfaith Encounter” builds on Terry’s knowledge of other religions (particular those from India) and provides some helpful suggestions concerning the relationship of Christianity’s view of spirituality and alternative views. The interplay between multiple views of spirituality is only going to increase as we realize more and more that America is not so much a melting pot as it is a rich stew with a wide variety of ingredients.
Speaking of variety…although the dictionary’s goal is to present a wide survey of evangelical views on spirituality…recognize that the vast majority of the articles deal with Western (and often merely American) views and practices. No book can deal with all aspects, but it is an unfortunate weakness…especially since the church is very much vibrant in the 2/3rds world. I would have especially liked to have seen more articles dealing with spirituality in Latin America, Africa, and Korea, but perhaps they can find a place in volume two.
One other critique…in the electronic age…it is unconscionable not to publish an electronic edition of a reference work. Clearly this book will find a welcome place in the shelves of many a library (including church libraries)…but shelf space is precious and for reference works in particular I would prefer to purchase a Logos Bible Software edition (or at least have the choice to do so).
In the end…this dictionary is a great place to begin a journey to discovering the breadth of American Evangelical spirituality. It is not a final destination, but it provides the tools to enable you to go further in your journey and for that it is a recommended purchase for anyone desiring to take the journey. And in case I haven’t been clear…I would highly recommend all church libraries purchasing a copy (along with some of the recent classics by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and others).
* I received this book as a gift from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review