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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mystical Theology, 30 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Mystical Theology: Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) (Paperback)
This is a book that I admit I would have never read had it not been a set book on a course I was studying and there is no doubt that it is targeted at an academic audience. As I have continued within the field of spirituality I have now read and re-read this book many times and each time it delivers something knew, or perhaps as my own understanding of the field has matured a little I am able to better see his argument.

Closely argued it certainly is; his basic theme is kept alive with tenacity through each of his chapters. McIntosh notes at the outset that if popular interest in organised religion has declined our thirst for 'spiritualities' remains unabated. His starting point is the disjunction that has grown up in Christianity between Theology and Spirituality. He is of course not the first writer to address this subject area but he leaves few stones un-turned in his investigation. He takes us through some of the giants of the first millennium of Christianity to show that theologies in this time emerged from people who practiced prayer. He then deals with the gradual split where theology becomes an intellectual subject often divorced from practice. He sees this accelerated by the move towards a growing sense of individualism in society (the 'discovery of the inner self') throughout the period of Modernity.

I fear that these few inexpert words can do scant justice to the carefully detailed and well illustrated development of his argument. He covers the subject from several important angles (such as doctrine and hermeneutics) and to bring us up to date he looks at how thinkers such as Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar position themselves in the face of this dilemma. Von Balthasar indeed often seems to be advocating a recovery of the role of the 'mystic' or saint in his own writing, a position with which McIntosh appears to have some sympathy when he moves into the final section of the book. Here he sets out to draw parallels between several mystics from the Christian tradition with some thinkers of the post-Modern worldview, a worldview which we can note often appears to deploy a somewhat paradoxical and quasi-mystical language.

The choice of the picture of Bernini's beautiful but melodramatic statue of St Teresa in Ecstasy on the front cover of the book is curiously emblematic of the problem. Since the end of the Middle Ages mysticism in the minds of most people seems to have been hived off into the zone of funny experiences and hysteria. McIntosh gives us good reason to look behind the texts of what the mystics wrote and suggest ways that we might re-engage with a hidden wisdom that may be of relevance to our current problems.

This is not a book for beginners but I feel sure that anyone who has already spent sometime thinking about this problematic but interesting subject area will find it very rewarding.
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