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Books reviewed are

Boa, Kenneth D., Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, Grand Rapids. Michigan,  Zondervan, 2001. ISBN-13: 978-0-310-23848-5


Chan, Simon, Spiritual Theology: A systematic study of the Christian life, Downers Grove. Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0-8308-1542-5


Bailey, Kenneth E., Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, Downers Grove. Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8308-2568-4

summarizing their contents (key personalities, ideas, concepts, principles and/or theories) in a detailed outline

Kenneth E. Bailey’s book, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, is best understood in light of a short biography of the author since it is significant to the depth of understanding portrayed in its pages.

Bailey has more than four decades of experience in the Middle Eastern Semitic Christian world and has lived in the Middle East for sixty years. He claims familiarity with Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic literature and the text shows deep understanding of the rifts caused by Westernizing an essentially Eastern set of documents, our Bible as we read it in the King James, NIV, American Standard or other westernized versions.

Bailey focuses on six areas of the gospels to illustrate this fact. These will be dealt with in

"Part One: The birth of Jesus", mainly focuses on Luke 2:1-20. False interpretations from the protoevangelium of James and traditional thinking (on how Mary was treated ) is described, as well as the authenticity of the biblical account (evaluated with the geography, the name of Bethlehem as "City of David", Joseph’s linage, etc.) to corroborate this fact. The "Inn"(Western term) is described by the word "Katalyma" which he shows means "guest chamber" and is in fact what is referred to as the upper room(Eastern term). Houses had upper and family rooms and a lower level where the animals were kept. The manger was at the one side of family room between the family room and the animal area. He gives significant evidence to support that Jesus would have been born to Mary in such a room among friends.

In "Part Two: The Beatitudes" contrast Matthew’s four pairs of blessings and woes with Luke’s nine blessings. Blessings are shown to be God’s spiritual gift that is already present rather than a future reward due to requirement fulfillments. The depth of this analysis is best illustrated by his treatment of beatitude ten that is interpreted in light of its chiasmic structure pointing out that Jesus is the model for the beatitudes and they point through him to God.

In "Part Three: The Lord’s Prayer" Bailey contrasts this prayer with general prayer of the time, showing similarities and differences. The petitions ommitted, and the six requested are shown to be due to an act of God. The prayer is compared to Islamic and Jewish prayers and he points out that the end is a summary of 1 Chr 29:11-13 and could have been added at a later date.

For "Part Four: Dramatic Actions of Jesus" he selects to address the call of Peter, the inauguration of Jesus ministry and the story of the blind man and Zaccheus. The call of Peter is shown to be in a seven step chiasmic structure with the catching of fish being the central theme. The inauguration of Jesus’ ministry is shown in Luke 4:14-15 to be a complex 3 part chiasmic structure focusing on the Spirit being upon Jesus. This is compared to Isaiah and omitted sections are discussed. He discusses Luke 4:25-27 pointing out that Jesus was saying that to receive the benefits of the Messianic age one had to imitate faith of the Gentiles. A radical statement! The conclusion of the part contrasts the two Jericho stories of the blind man and Zaccheus showing that grace is not cheap and that the four main characteristics which Jesus revealed were proclamation, justice advocacy and compassion.

"Part Five: Jesus and Women" shows the unusual counter traditional approach which Jesus took in dealing with women that while never compromising the characteristics just discussed, extended the role of women and explains the roles in the Eastern settings of the time. The stories of the woman at the well, the Syro-Phoenecian women, the lady caught in adultery, the woman who wiped Jesus feet with her tears and perfume, the parable of the widow and the judge, and the parable of the wise and foolish women are detailed explaining various aspects of these unusual, abnormal interactions that Jesus enabled.

The final part, "Part six: the parables of Jesus" takes each of eleven different parables and explains them from a middle eastern context, revealing additional information in each that would fail to immediately catch a westerner’s eye. These parables are: parable of the good Samaritan; parable of the rich fool, parable of the great banquet, parable of the two builders, parable of the unjust steward, parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, parable of the compassionate employer, parable of the serving master, parable of Lazarus and the rich man, parable of the minas, and the parable of the noble vineyard owner and his son.

The value of this work is in the unique perspective Bailey brings to the traditional view of the text. His discourse scrubs years of false perspectives from the truth revealing gems that serve to glorify our God further. In so doing he delivers to the Western world a much needed check against the infiltration of traditional interpretations that seem to have proliferated due to ignorance and without biblical basis.


Simon Chan in his book "Spiritual Theology: A systematic study of the Christian life" provides a practical interpretation of theology with interspersed references to the differences between the perspectives of the Asian and Western cultures.

He divides his treatment of the subject into two sections, the first addressing the principles of spiritual theology and the second being the practices of spiritual life.

When addressing the theological principles he chooses to address as subjects the nature and criteria of spiritual theology, the doctrine of God, sin and human nature, salvation, spiritual progress and the church as a community of saints as subjects.

The nature of spiritual theology he addresses in the broad and narrow definitions of the term, i.e. both in the way certain spiritual reflections should be undertaken and also as the branch of studies concerned with the principles and practices of Christian life. The discipline is described as addressing life renewed by Jesus and concerned with formulating directives for growth and development. It describes how souls proceed from initiation to perfection in Christ. He describes comprehensiveness, coherence and evocability as formal evaluative criteria.

In describing Christian doctrine, he discusses the trinity and the problem of divine immanence and transcendence. The risk of distorting the trinity by either overemphasizing the oneness of God, or alternatively extending the three persons into becoming a predominant emphasis is elucidated by Chan. The nature of trinitarian spirituality is described with reference to unity and plurality, modern interpretations, the worshiping community, spirituality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and implications. He confirms the fact that we have one God that is three persons.

In addressing sin and human nature, Chan discusses reductionism with its components of materialism, psychologism and spiritual reductionalism. The functional dichotomy of body, soul and spirit is discussed as he deliberates on the problem of sin. He deals with sin as changing predispositions from evil to good and the purification process of a spiritual pollutant. The sinful nature is described as a disorder or weakness of the will, as a basic condition and affront against God. Sin is described as an infringement of divine law eliciting God’s wrath.

Chan then discusses salvation emphasizing that salvation is to be seen within the context of the historical process but is not constrained by it. Salvation is more than attaining heaven and avoiding hell. He discusses grace and work but points out that salvation and justification do not necessarily translate to changed life activities. He defines work as a person’s actions upon themselves in the way they are led and moved rather than externally focused activities. Grace is described as divine unmerited favor to undeserving sinners, but also as an empowering gift. He discusses justification, sanctification and glorification as key components of grace, pointing out that sinless perfection cannot be realized in this life since it has to do with the perfection of love.

In his treatment of the church as a community of saints, he discusses the visible church. Here he describes the conflicting perspectives between the West and Asia and how denominational agencies reproducing after their kind producing community conflicts in Christian witness in Asia. He also warns that non-denominational agencies also fail since they fail to bring forth the sense of history or tradition. Small groups and the Anabaptist traditions are explained with their strengths and weaknesses. He also discusses the formation of a small group core of church members as a microcosm of the universal church, completely focused on righteousness and prayer and supporting growth by demonstrating excellence to the public. Chan describes the nature of the visible church as a life created by Christ, and being sacramental. The church is a community where Christ stands between the members as they seek the common good becoming a channel of grace supported by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He describes this community as being on the move, able to deal with suffering, healing, celebrations and worship. He emphasizes the importance of public reading and listening, and concludes by pointing out that the church is established by the virtues of a community of individual believers.

The second part of his book, the practices of spiritual life interpret the concepts described in the first portion of the book. Chan starts at the core aspect, "prayer". This first aspect links doctrine to practice. He warns that spiritual helps are not developed in individuals by become capable in as many of them as possible, but that they come through practice and to be successful, they have to be integrated into everyday life.

He addresses prayer as an act and habit. We must pray without ceasing while acknowledging we are not in control, that God is, and that through prayer we enlarge our vision of ourselves and the world in which we reside. Prayer spiritualizes all aspects of life. Growth in intimacy with God both results in and correlates with a growth in prayer. This growth is not stage based but is continual. Praying according to a planned schedule is discussed and he concludes describing petitionary prayer.

Other aspects that Chan describes are practicing the presence of God, conformity to God’s will, immersion in scripture, obedience, and fidelity to grace. Self examining prayer is also explained regarding its need, nature, and journaling.

In regard to the word, Chan spends considerable time discussing spiritual reading, both individual and public. He describes the modern mindset, our approach to books, attitude and the need to feel good afterwards as obstacles to spiritual reading. He reinforces meditating on the word, giving advice on how to do this. These include the use of aphorisms and the Salesian method of meditation.

Chan discusses the world, elucidating on spiritual friendship with a need for enduring relationships based on something that exists beyond them uniting traditions of East and West but focusing on a friendship focused "in Christ". He talks of the stages of friendship as selection, probation, admission, and perfect harmony. On a different tack, he talks of occasional meditation focused on the glory of God in natural expression and extends this to the spirituality of social involvement.

Chan advocates establishing a rule of life in which one plans devotions and life guidelines and links these from a personal viewpoint into the public rules of our Christian communities. Discernment is dealt with in depth as a necessary skill that builds with maturity and cannot be triggered by rules. Corporate discernment is explained in comparison to individual discernment. Problems and extraordinary phenomena in discernment are explained with words of caution on how to deal with these.

Chan concludes his book with a chapter on how to provide spiritual direction to others describing its nature, its place in the Christian community, and the qualitys required in a spiritual director.

Kenneth Boa in his book "Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation", breaks his book into what he terms facets, which are all perspectives of spirituality. His treatment may be summarized as "unity in diversity" as he points out that all facets are to provide a unity of understanding by varying the viewpoints from which it is addressed.

His first facet is "Relational Spirituality" in which he discusses communion with the three persons of God in a loving manner. We need to love God completely having a personal relationship with him because his love is causeless, ceaseless, measureless, unconditional and irreducible! Our response should be to "know more clearly, love more dearly, and follow more nearly" seeing ourselves as we truly are in greatness and smallness so that we love ourselves correctly and can love and serve others compassionately.

The second facet is "Paradigm spirituality" where he emphasizes three aspects; moving from culture to a biblical way of seeing God, life as a journey, and our need to trust God. We need to transfer hope from seen to unseen treating each moment as precious and shape our priorities by shaping our perspectives. He discusses the paradigms of the temporal (all is here and now) and the eternal (all is not here and now) with reference to how the adopted paradigm shapes our activities. The temporal resulting in emptiness, delusions and foolishness, while the eternal results in fulfillment, reality and wisdom.

"Disciplined Spirituality" is the third facet. Boa defines this as "a radical dependence on God and a personal discipline" He points out that the extremes of either overemphasis of our role or that of God lead to error. Benefits of personal discipline are an enhancement in personal freedom and connection with God. He lists and describes the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence, prayer, journaling, study and meditation, fasting and chastity, secrecy, confession, fellowship, submission and guidance, simplicity, stewardship, sacrifice, worship, celebration, service, witness, abstinence and engagement.

The next facet is "Exchanged life spirituality" in which he covers works to grace, grasping our true identity in Christ and God’s plan to meet our needs. The substitution of Christ’s life for self life and our identification with the crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension are explained. Truth can be accepted independent of feelings. The basis of salvation as the basis of sanctification is also discussed. God’s plan for translating our old nature to a new nature and our need for love, acceptance, significance, identity, competence and fulfillment is described.

The facet "Motivated spirituality" describes how we need to look to Christ rather than the world. It describes why we do what we do in terms of horizontal and vertical motivators. It identifies in these axes love, happiness, fear, rewards, identity, hope, purpose and longing for God.

"Devotional Spirituality" explains how we should enjoy and trust God forming an image of God that directs us to become conformed to him because we love him most. It describes contemplative mechanisms such as meditation and contemplation tied to scripture. It covers aspects of detachment and desire as well as dealing with seasons of darkness and dryness. Sacred reading and prayer are added to this to show a way in which passion for Christ can be enflamed.

In "Holistic Spirituality" Boa explains how Christ incorporates all aspects of life. He describes a divine orientation and avoiding the pursuit of false happiness. He describes true wisdom is to look for Christ in everything. He explains how life has God’s and the world’s rules on which we can focus our hearts and how temptations un-focus our life. He addresses four quadrants of an integrated life which he explains are relationships with God, self, the world, the body, and then addresses how these four quadrants relate to the 12 facets that are topics of his chapters. Work and society as well as stewardship and purpose are the concluding discussions of this facet.

The eighth facet is "Process spirituality" and talks of growth that is inside to out, rather than vice versa. It describes a step by step journey of being versus doing where trust, gratitude and contentment come from letting God control our opportunities, where we are obedient and the outcome is divine sovereignty in our lives.

"Spirit filled spirituality" is the facet that focuses on a personal presence of the Spirit pointing out that the Spirit is not a "force". It describes walking in the power of the Spirit and what we can expect as gifts of the Spirit. The need to approach these with openness and discernment is explained as being paramount. Time is spent explaining the dangers of abuse and how to develop the spiritual gifts.

The facet "Warfare spirituality" describes a spiritual war with the devil, the world, and fleshly desires. World views of rationalism, materialism, animism and spiritism are explained with reference to their reality as exposed in the Old and New Testament. The armor of God, angels and their relationship to demons is described. The nature and work of demons and Satan are elaborated and the weapons of warfare explained. The need for a balance and use of discernment is emphasized. The fact that the war is won is explained.

"Nurturing spirituality" is the next facet and covers how we are to reproduce the life of Christ in others. The philosophy of discipleship in terms of evangelism, establishing disciples, equipping and empowering is explained. The biblical basis for discipleship is provided covering the process, product and context. The significance of evangelism, its context and biblical philosophy is described with advice on how to overcome barriers to evangelism.

The last facet is "Corporate spirituality". The need for encouragement, worship and accountability is part of the need for community and Boa describes the nature and purpose of the church with special focus on soul care, leadership and renewal. Servant leadership resulting in renewal of community is the future of our corporate Christian community.

Boa ends on "finishing well" concluding his work by bringing together seven characteristics that he lists as intimacy with Christ, fidelity in spiritual disciplines, biblical perspective, teachable, responsive humble and obedient spirits, a clear sense of purpose and calling, healthy relationships, and an ongoing ministry investment.