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God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity' Paperback – August 29, 2013
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"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."
"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
"Coakley's work is engaging and fascinating as a means of critiquing a number of strains of contemporary theology."
Jack Kilcrease, Anglican and Episcopal History
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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Top customer reviews
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.
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.)
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. And the brilliant conclusion is that this Spirit-led vision of the Trinity destroys the patriarchal idols that a false dyad of Father-Son can sustain. The Trinity, then--that 'old boys club' according to Baroness von Blixen--is shown by Coakley to have such a transformative force that it can indeed sustain the highest feminist aims. The divine desire reaches out to us and frees us of any false and idolatrous prisons in which we've been placed. And, through the rule established in consistently practiced contemplative silence, it also frees us from ourself.
I've really only scratched the surface here. For more, you'll have to crack the pages of this transformative book.