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God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity' [Hardcover]

Sarah Coakley
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Aug 2013
God, Sexuality and the Self is a new venture in systematic theology. Sarah Coakley invites the reader to re-conceive the relation of sexual desire and the desire for God and - through the lens of prayer practice - to chart the intrinsic connection of this relation to a theology of the Trinity. The goal is to integrate the demanding ascetical undertaking of prayer with the recovery of lost and neglected materials from the tradition and thus to reanimate doctrinal reflection both imaginatively and spiritually. What emerges is a vision of human longing for the triune God which is both edgy and compelling: Coakley's théologie totale questions standard shibboleths on 'sexuality' and 'gender' and thereby suggests a way beyond current destructive impasses in the churches. The book is clearly and accessibly written and will be of great interest to all scholars and students of theology.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (29 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521552281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521552288
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,528,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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

'Wonderfully refreshing … an astonishingly rich and deep theological and spiritual exploration.' Church Times

'Rich, suggestive and controversial.' The Times Literary Supplement

'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

'… brilliant.' The Tablet

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A profound and timely book 13 Oct 2013
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In this fine book, Sarah Coakley argues that in seeking to engage with the mystery of the Trinity today we need also to take on board the `intrinsic entanglement of human sexuality and spirituality'. Here she offers a systematic theology, a theologie totale, that honours the practice of contemplation, offers a theology that is always in transit, explores the inter-relating between theology and psychology and attends to art, poetry and music. Her `total theology' seeks to overcome all false divides between what we believe and how we live, and between the worlds of thought and feeling.

In this enterprise, Coakley sees Romans 8 as the touchstone for an emerging understanding of the Trinity, including: `When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...' (vv. 15-17). She then traces the story of contemplation and Christian ecstasy within the context of the life-changing equality between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, where appropriate, their relevance to gender. For example, she shows the link between the Spirit-filled ecstasies of Montanism and the honouring of women in positions of power and authority. A further instance is found in John of the Cross, who alludes to Romans 8 and the `Holy Spirit's action on the "feminized" soul'.

In the later chapters, she offers an intriguing discussion on the tendency to demote the Spirit in the depiction of the Trinity by Christian artists and engages in detail with Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, their views on the Trinity and their references to gender.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very thought-provoking 18 Mar 2014
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While not always an easy read if you are unfamiliar with theological terminology, this is a stimulating and thought-provoking book that gives new insight into the Holy Spirit in particular.
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The book arrived promptly and well packaged.
It's a very sophisticated and intellectual read.
Not for those with just a casual interest.in the
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 27 July 2014
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strikingly original, yet fiercely orthodox 8 Feb 2014
By sculpting/time - Published on Amazon.com
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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. 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Transformative Text 14 April 2014
By Ryan Duns, SJ - Published on Amazon.com
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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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book 11 Jun 2014
By Kenneth Semon - Published on Amazon.com
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Sarah Coakley brings a contemplative spirit and practice to theology I have not seen in American theologians. She opens up the discussion of sexuality in a way that leaves behind the present parameters. I think this is an extremely important contribution to what has hung up the "mainline" churches.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 24 July 2014
By charles g. westwater - Published on Amazon.com
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An exceptionally well articulated view of an ancient but extremely important theological subject.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very helpful to an amateur. 9 April 2014
By Dan - Published on Amazon.com
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Sarah Coakley helps me. a reader untrained in theology and philosophy but aware of the delicate balance between faith and reason, i.e., between negative revealed theology and positive revealed and natural theology---Coakley helps me to get insight into the defects of, for instance, Aquinas. Thomas in ST: all humans are made in the image of God and women are also not made in the image of God--presumably in Milton's sense: see Adam and Eve in P. L., "He for God; she for God in him".
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