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God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’

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

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.

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  1. 20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A Transformative Text, April 14, 2014

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    This review is from: God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Paperback)
    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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  2. 26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Strikingly original, yet fiercely orthodox, February 8, 2014
    sculpting/time (Indianapolis, USA) –

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    This review is from: God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Paperback)
    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.

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  3. 8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Christian Platonism, and Eros, March 5, 2015

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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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