Review: Water from a Deep Well

I just finished working through Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well: Chrisitan Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries (IVP: 2007) while on retreat this weekend. For those who aren’t terribly familiar with much of Christian history or those who aren’t terribly familiar with various expressions of Christian spirituality, it isn’t a bad place to start.  Sittser does an excellent job of writing in a very easy style that captures the attention and provides a good summary of his ideas without getting bogged down in unnecessary details or technical language and concepts.  His inclusion of stories of various Chrisitans who, in his mind, exemplify the particular movements give the text a more human touch and makes it more personal rather than a mere collection of facts.

I do have a few qualms with it (I’m a pessimist, so I have qualms with almost everything), though they’re all pretty minor.  For those who are already fairly familiar with Christian history or spiritual movements, this isn’t going to provide you with anything new.  It’s a rather nice overview, but there isn’t a great deal of detail in any given chapter.  Good for feel, not so much for depth.  In addition, he never really seems to define what spirituality is, and I was left with the impression that his understanding of spirituality was a bit more broad than mine.  That’s not entirely a bad thing, but it would have been nice to have that laid out right at the beginning.  What makes the collective willingness of the martyrs to endure torture a spiritual movement?  Maybe I’m just too picky (or maybe I’m too squeamish about enduring torture!).  I also recoiled a bit at some of the example people described in later chapters, seeing their more neurotic drives pushing them rather than the Holy Spirit, but Sittser acknowledges that they were perhaps too fanatical, and who’s to say that God can’t or doesn’t use the fallen parts of our souls to accomplish good?  He enjoys redeeming things, after all.

In the end, Water from a Deep Well is a pretty decent introductory text for looking into the history of spirituality.  Very readable while still being informative and providing a good feel of the time as well.  Even if I didn’t take away anything particularly new or insightful, I enjoyed the read.

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