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God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity' Paperback – August 29, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In the beginning was the Word ... Where the Christian account of divine trinity is traced back to the Johannine correlation of God and the Logos, the third Person may be no more than a necessary postscript. In this remarkable first volume of her Systematic Theology, Sarah Coakley proposes an alternative, Pauline trinitarianism in which the Holy Spirit is fundamental rather than marginal - the Spirit who 'helps us in our weakness' by redirecting human desire towards God. From this starting point, the argument opens out to incorporate patristic traditions of ascetic spirituality and contemplation, the trinity as represented in the visual arts, and fieldwork in a modern charismatic church. The book is an extraordinary achievement, lucid and nuanced yet passionate and provocative in its plea for a reintegrated theology."
Francis Watson, Chair of Biblical Interpretation, Durham University

"Sarah Coakley does some very interesting things in [God, Sexuality, and the Self] ... She 'risks' writing for a general Christian audience, and her readable, even entertaining book shows that it was worth the risk."
Peter J. Leithart, First Things

"... reading God, Sexuality, and the Self is like watching the world premiere of a brilliant new opera - one whose story draws on fascinating bits of regional history so viewers come away understanding their own home better, even though the art itself is new."
Christian Century

"This book, God, Sexuality, and the Self, has been a joy to read. ... Capturing the energy of God, sexuality, and the self in such a clever, comprehensive and challenging way, is truly impressive. The language is challenging, the academic standard [is] very high."
Faith and Freedom

"Admirably, Coakley aims to approach a wider audience whilst remaining academically rigorous."
Aaron P. Edwards, Theological Book Review

"The utterly compelling heart of the book, in which Coakley interprets a selected history of Trinitarian iconography, stands as a masterclass in the use of visual resources for systematic theologians."
Linn Marie Tonstad, Theology and Sexuality

Book Description

This new and creative venture in systematic theology unearths the profound relation of God, prayer and 'sexuality' and ends up mapping a new landscape of theological endeavour. Accessible, clear and challenging, it will be of great interest to all scholars and students of theology.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521558263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521558266
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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In perhaps his most famous maxim, the 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus wrote, "If you are a theologian, you pray truly; if you pray truly, you are a theologian." Sarah Coakley's text is, without question, the product of a theologian's prayer. It is, furthermore, a theologian's invitation to pray and to develop the art of Christian contemplation.

A critical book review would praise the book's erudition and accessibility. No doubt, this is the work of a theological master. Each page crackles with brilliant retrievals of the tradition and results in a creative, refreshing, and empowering synthesis.

Its brilliance as a scholarly text aside, let me say simply: this book enkindled within me the desire to pray. Coakley describes the act of contemplative prayer as inculcating "patterns of un-mastery" whereby one allows God, through the Spirit, to refashion one's life in the pattern of the Son. I finished the book yesterday afternoon and attended the Palm Sunday liturgy at a local parish. I found myself newly caught up in the Passion narrative anew. I cannot escape the sense that this probing text contributed enormously to carving out new space within my heart and mind, making possible a new experience of liturgical and personal prayer.

This is not a dispassionate book "about" theology. It is, itself, an exercise in theology because it is book arising from, and leading toward, prayer. Written in a flowing and accessible manner, this is an indispensable book for readers who desire to know what it would be "to enter, willingly and consciously, to the life of divine desire." For Coakley, theology is always "a recommendation for life." Read this text as an itinerary, as a program of theological exercise of mind and spirit, and be open to the transformative power of ascetic prayer led by the Spirit.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first volume in Coakley's systematics is rich with insight, and I'll try and inevitably fail to give some sense of what she achieves here in this review.

Coakley's overall goal is to articulate a view of the Trinity that is based in contemplative prayer, prayer that is infused with the simultaneously alluring and purgative presence of the Spirit. This is a 'Spirit-led' view of the Trinity, modeled on Romans 8 (the major precedent here is Origen). In order to get at this view of the Trinity, Coakley employs what she calls "theologie totale" (a nod to the Annales school of historiography). With this method, Coakley draws in a number of heterogenous elements into her systematic development, including iconography and gender theory, but--most strikingly--sociology, in the form of a field study of two north England churches where she discovers varieties of pneumatology in action. This great variety of material is enthralling, as one begins to see how different views of the Trinity seep into every aspect of life. One feels a great sense of excitement when she discusses orthodoxy as a spiritual project (again, a la Origen), rather than simple propositional assent.

Absolutely the most striking aspect of Coakley's text, however, is that its resolute commitment to feminism ends up producing a a more orthodox view of the Trinity than any traditionalist repetition. She exposes how many of these traditionalist viewpoints implicitly exclude the Spirit from equality with the other members of the Trinity, even if they explicitly claim otherwise. A recovery of the Romans 8 incorporative understanding of the Trinity, where the Spirit leads ones participation in the triune reality, is necessary.
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The content of this book is excellent. In the spirit of 'creative fidelity,' Rev. Coakley writes a beautiful orthodox exposition about how the issue of right Trinitarianism cannot be separated from the way we understand and act out gendered relationships. Sexual desire is intrinsically related to our desire for God, and this can be known experientially through contemplative prayer in the Holy Spirit (Romans 8 being the Scriptural hinge on which the essay turns). This is a book about spirituality first, so it refreshingly does not come across as a political polemic. In truth, this work recalls the old saw, "A theologian is one who prays."

The extensive bibliographies at the end of each chapter provide an excellent directory for further study, and the study of Trinitarian iconography in chapter 5 is indispensable to the education of any serious Christian. I look forward to the next book in Coakley's theologie totale series.

My only criticism is that I feel the editing could have been tighter, and that sometimes the importance of the author's point is lost in wordiness. Especially in the first few chapters, the author falls prey to telling us what she is going to tell us, telling us, then telling us what she told us. (This is the only reason I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5.)
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"In God, 'desire' of course signifies no lack – as it manifestly does in humans. Rather, it connotes that plenitude of longing love that God has for God's own creation and for its full and ecstatic participation in the divine, trinitarian, life." From p. 10.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable to read. Each chapter contained original, creative insights from Coakley that kept the reader on their toes and looking towards what would appear next. Most systematic theology, in contrast to this work, is extremely orderly and, quite often, rather dry even for those accustomed to academic writing. Another norm in the field of systematic theology is that it normally comes from the pen of male theologians. Coakley's work disregards both typical conventions, opting for a creative venture into the Trinity that speaks afresh to the issues of the modern world.

God sexuality and the self coverAs merely the first book of an eventual 4-volume systematic project (vol. 2 upcoming in 2016), one should not judge this book, as some commentators have already begun to do, by the completeness of her system. This book aims to add complexity to traditional histories of Trinitarian development. Her own approach to the doctrine, dubbed a "Contemplative Trinity," seeks to recover a neglected prayer-based model of the Trinity. In tandem with this doctrinal concern, Coakley addresses the contemporary controversies of sexuality and gender. Any Christian today, regardless of which side of the aisle they stand on in any specific issue, recognizes that gender issues and problems of sexuality abound for the Church. Recently, main denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, have openly admitted their need for a new strategy in tackling these controversies.
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