The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today

Diogenes Allen “Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today” [Cowley Publications, 1997)]
spiritual theology
“Often spirituality today is isolated from church teaching and doctrine, as in Joseph Campbell’s treatment of myth and the many forms of New Age theologies, but doctrine apart from the life of prayer is abstract and sterile. In Spiritual Theology Allen turns to the great teachers of the past—the church fathers, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Bonaventure, Hugh of St. Victor, Calvin and Luther, George Herbert—to recover a spirituality that is rich with the doctrines and disciplines of theology.

Allen covers the great questions of the spiritual life: what is the Christian goal? what leads us toward that goal, and what hinders us? what is conversion? how can we discern our progress in the spiritual life? what are the fruits of the Spirit?

A second purpose of the book is to introduce readers to the disciplines and texts of the threefold way, found in the eastern church from the fourth century on. Allen writes simply and clearly of the active life and the development of virtue, and the contemplative life, which includes coming to know God through the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture as well as directly, face to face, which is the domain of mystical theology.

This book is a basic and accessible introduction to the classic writings and doctrines of the spiritual life.”

“Written by a prominent Protestant theologian for Protestants, this book has a decidedly Catholic tone and content. It is an attractive, accessible book that reflects not only the great learning of its author, but also his personal experience of Christian life and striving. Allen dares to cross disciplinary, generic, and denominational boundaries in order to appeal to all Christians to recall an ancient theological tradition that has almost been forgotten, even within Catholic circles.

Allen joins his voice to those of a growing number of theologians who are deploring “a widespread theological amnesia in the church” (p. 5), as a result of which “academic theology has narrowed its focus and neglected the field of spiritual theology” (p. 3). In fact, the classic Christian works of ascetical, natural, exegetical and mystical theology are routinely dismissed as “devotional” rather than “theological.” It is high time, Allen insists, for us to address the “noticeable gap today between theology as it is taught in the academy and the practice of Christian devotion” (p. 152) by recovering these lost branches of theological study, which enable us to focus on the questions intrinsic to theology, namely, “the nature of God’s reality and our human capacity to know God” (p. 153).

“For most of Christian history,” Allen observes, “intellectual inquiry and spiritual aspiration toward God have gone hand-in-hand” (p. 154), and that is necessarily so, because Christian belief affirms that “receiving God’s revelation require[s] repentance” (p. 153). Only very recently have theologians mistakenly assumed that a personal practice of the faith is unnecessary for them as academicians. Only recently, too, have people begun to embrace vague, popular forms of “spirituality” that entail little or no doctrinal commitment.
These recent phenomena are related, Allen suggests, and stem from mechanically taking apart what was for most of Christian history a continuous, three-stage narrative of personal and communal quest.”
Ann W. Astell “Anglican Theological Review”, Vol. 81, No. 1 , Winter 1999
“Dr. Diogenes Allen (1932-2013) was a distinguished scholar in the field of the philosophy of religion, and the Stuart Professor of Philosophy emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. Allen was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on October 17, 1932. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kentucky in 1954, and went on to study at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He earned a B.A. (1957) and later an M.A. (1961) from Oxford. He earned the B.D. (1959), the M.A. (1962) and the Ph.D. (1965) from Yale University. His thesis for his Ph.D. was titled “Faith as a Ground for Religious Beliefs.”
Before joining the Princeton Seminary faculty, he taught at York University in Ontario, Canada, from 1964 to 1967. He also was a visiting professor at Drew University and at the University of Notre Dame during his career.”


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