Book Review: Christian Spirituality by Pannenberg

Pannenberg - Christian SpiritualitySince I’m technically studying theology, I had in the back of my mind the idea that I really should read something by Wolfhart Pannenberg, a major, global 20th century theological voice. When I stumbled onto his Christian Spirituality in the library, I thought what could be better?

It’s a short book, maybe 110 pages, and it ends up feeling more like a small anthology than a sustained consideration of the topic. His first chapter was a short, but very astute analysis of the historical development and decay of the relationship between guilt and the spiritual climate of Christianity, particularly in Protestantism and was unquestionably the most significant writing in the book. His second chapter offered his suggestion for a new way of perceiving Protestant spirituality that accepts the decay of the guilt conscience and rise of social disconnection in the wider Western world, and while the suggestion is sound, it feels naive in that simply making the suggestion for how contemporary spirituality ought to be centered is not sufficient to bring forces sufficient to change the cultural tenor. Telling us all where we ought to go isn’t enough to get us to go there. He unfortunately makes no suggestions as to how to make his ideas take root in the church practically.

The remaining chapters, comprising the second half of the book, were far less relevant to his topic, though not without merit. He analyzes the proper relationship between the church and politics, the influence of how changing ideas of the self have altered the cultural affinity for Buddhism and Christianity’s place in understanding the self and the person, and one additional topic that was, sadly, forgettable.

As is not surprising, Pannenberg is highly thoughtful, analytical, and articulate, though much more heady and intellectual than is really compatible with a holistic spirituality. He makes some exceedingly astute observations and critiques in the first and last chapters, but what happens in between was too philosophical and abstract for my taste.

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