This book explores the role of emotions and affections in the Christian tradition from historical and theological perspectives, especially related to the work of the Holy Spirit. Although historians and scholars from a range of traditions―including Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Pietist―have engaged these issues, there has yet to be a sustained examination of the role of emotions and affectivity across the Christian tradition. By retrieving the complex discussion about affectivity in Christian tradition and bringing its many voices into dialogue within a contemporary ecumenical context, the contributors also point toward a number of new research trajectories. The essays underscore the need to understand the shift in Western views of emotion that began in the late eighteenth century. They also explore in detail the vocabulary of affectivity as it has developed in the Christian tradition. As part of this development, the contributors reveal the importance of pneumatology in Western as well as Eastern Christianity, calling into question the idea of a pneumatological deficit advanced by some constructive theologians and addressing the relationship between affectivity and the pedagogical strategies that enable persons to cooperate with the work of grace in the soul. Finally, several essays explore the relationship between the erotic, the ecstatic, and affectivity in religious belief. This volume will interest scholars and students of historical theology, of emotions in theology, and of Christian renewal or charismatic movements.
Dale Coulter and Amos Yong (eds.)
The Spirit, the Affections, and the Christian Tradition. Notre Dame: University of
Notre Dame Press, 2016. Hardcover $60.00.isbn9780268100049.
Dale Coulter and Amos Yong have done renewal studies a great service by drawing together a collection of essays that form a historiography of affectivity in the Christian tradition with a particular focus on the Spirit’s pursuit of the holistic person in spiritual formation. The book includes essays that were given as lectures and presentations at the Regent University Center for Renewal Studies between 2011 and 2013 (p. x). A central claim of the book is that renewal has been present throughout Christianity’s entire existence and even earlier as can be recounted in some Old Testament stories and motifs. Affection can thus be seen in biblical stories and folk theologies throughout history. Mining the history of Christian thought through a pneumatocentric and charismatic lens can “… provide a new window onto the development of Christian ideas about the affective life” (p. 3). So this book not only allows us to revision Christian thought as having always engaged affection as a necessary part of being human, but also allows us to deepen our theological understanding of the Spirit by considering the insight of preceding traditions.
The essays in the book identify seeds of pneumatocentric spiritual holism throughout Christian history that existed before the Holiness and Pietist move- ments, which are are often cited as the origin of pentecostal and charismatic spirituality. The chapters boast a wide range of analysis beginning with the church fathers, continuing with Eastern and Western medieval theologians, and ending with more familiar dialogue partners such as Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards.
Coulter introduces the book by tracing the language of affectivity in Chris- tian history, highlighting the individual contributions of each chapter. His introduction portrays the book as ecumenical and interdisciplinary, allow- ing for a number of future research trajectories (p. 7). The first two chapters (Wilkins and Smith) show how the biblical writers and patristic authors allude to the function of eros (even while using terms like agape and philia) in godly love towards each other (p. 31), and through artistic expression (p. 44). They consider how the language of erotic love can be used for understanding Chris- tian life (p. 33). The argument here is that what is needed is not a whole- sale denial of affectivity, but rather an appropriate directing of the affections towards God.
As Christian history moves towards the Middle Ages, so do the next set of chapters. Eastern and Western thought is brought together as several aspects of faith and practice are engaged. Nassif, for instance, looks at how the church’s
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03804009
liturgical texts and rites shape a person’s religious affections, preparing them for the Eucharist where they join with Christ in unity (p. 75), while McClymond discusses the idea of “holy tears”, which acts as a symbol for rightly directed cathartic affection in the Christian life. This is a practice that allows us to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Dreyer looks at two medieval theologians Hadewijch of Brabant and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio to discuss their understanding of eros in the mystical union of Christ and his church (pp. 115–116), while Boyd engages the Thomistic idea that grace perfects human affections (p. 144). In each case the question addressed is how the Spirit perfects a person’s affections and directs them towards God.
The last set of chapters engages theology from the Reformers to the Revival- ists, engaging Martin Luther (Zahl), Blaise Pascal (Bom), John Wesley (Clap- per), Jonathan Edwards (McDermott), and the Quakers and Puritans (Lim). These chapters all form a dialectic between the positive and negative forces of affectivity. Each thinker knows that a true transformation requires a change of affections, but there must nevertheless be an avoidance of powerful and destructive affections like lust, anger, and fear (pp. 192–193). What follows then is a discourse as to how a Christian can have his or her soul “warmed towards God” (p. 282) without falling into worldly emotionalism. Both Wesley and Edwards use the language of affection throughout their works, but both see affect as something greater than mere emotion. Religious affections are tied to our wills and determine how close our hearts and desires turn towards God (p. 273).Thus it is the religious affection that must be engaged for us to properly grow in spiritual formation.
Yong then closes the book with a conclusion that asks why the affections should be studied in renewal theology in the first place. It is because the heart is “… the locus of the Spirit’s work (p. 298)”, and any serious pneumatology must “… probe the inner recesses” of the human soul lest it neglect the very significance of what it means to be a holistic human being (p. 299). So from beginning to end this book traces the nature, power, and extent of human affections as they relate to God, spiritual practices, and the Christian tradition in general.
The strength and weakness of this book is the diversity of historical thought that it displays. Each chapter does its job of portraying affection as it was histor- ically understood in the work of significant theologians and showing how the Spirit is engaged in their respective theologies. In this way it offers something that is new to renewal studies. But, while this compilation is no doubt an impor- tant addition to the corpus of renewal studies, it borders on becoming merely a valuable sourcebook. This book could have benefited from consistent engage- ment with how these historical teachings help us better understand and engage
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affectivity in renewal studies today. In other words, perhaps a concluding sec- tion that deals with application and further inquiry would have benefitted each chapter. Moreover, the book could have concluded by bringing together all of the themes and implications that the historiography developed, leading us towards a historical theology of affection.
The two essayists in this volume that best approach contemporary implica- tions of affection are Smith and Dreyer. After discussing Augustine’s view of theater, Smith used Augustine’s writing to develop a Christian aesthetic that could be applied to drama today. Smith saw three themes that would be needed to ground such an aesthetic: “the goodness of creation, the enfleshing of God in the Incarnate (and Crucified) One, and the eternal affirmation of embodiment in the doctrine of the resurrection” (p. 49). Not only do these themes have his- torical precedent in Augustine, they can be used to understand the importance of embodiment in contemporary drama from a renewal perspective. Dreyer also discusses contemporary issues claiming that we can easily be disillusioned by media’s manipulation of our feelings, and our perpetual desire to be enter- tained “deadens our affections” (p. 115). So for Dreyer a Christian would do well expressing his or her affections in a genuine manner that opposes the over- saturation of media propaganda. These are both pertinent issues today that benefit from the thoughtful considerations of our rich Christian tradition. All things considered, however, this volume remains a triumph. This book helps us underscore a historical foundation to our contemporary pneumatologies, and allows us to see Christian history from the vantage point of twenty-first century renewal.
Steven Félix-Jäger Southeastern University, Florida
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