Christian Books

Friday, February 11, 2011

Soul Friend by Kenneth Leech

Soul Friend: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction
Kenneth Leech
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992
 250 pages

Rating: 8 out of 10

Quick Summary: Retired Anglican priest and theologian, Kenneth Leech, authored this “modern classic” on Christian spiritual direction.  Almost every current book on spiritual direction will quote or comment on this book.  It is like Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines.  Everyone respects it and refers to it, but no one really wants to read it because of its scholarly depth and difficult prose.  In addition, this book is also thorough and scholarly.
  Leech says, “The purpose of this study is to try to provide some nourishment for this important ministry [spiritual direction] by drawing on the teachings of the great spiritual guides and to try to help those who are themselves seeking direction on the spiritual way, and wish to know more about the Christian tradition of prayer” (Preface). I believe that he accomplishes his purpose.
Chapter one is horribly dated, but is useful in that it presents a snapshot of the climate at the time it was written.  Chapter two traces and interacts with the entire history of spiritual direction.  Chapter three distinguishes direction, counseling, and psychotherapy.  While they often cover the same territory, they stride across it in different ways.  Chapter four reviews six traditions of Christian spiritual traditions on prayer and summarizes their major contributions.  By most estimates, chapter five is worth the entire price of the book!  It covers the practice of and obstacles to prayer.  Chapter six draws out the social implications of contemplation and spiritual direction before ending with an appendix on spiritual direction and the sacrament of reconciliation. 
In terms of scholarship, this book lives up to its grand reputation, but it is not for the weak-hearted.

Evangelical Assessment: Like many of the mainstream Anglican books that I have read, this one is difficult to assess.  It is historical, orthodox, and experiential in its orientation.  I have a deep appreciation for his view on pastoral work.  Leech comments, “Spiritual direction…is an integral part of the ordinary pastoral work to which every priest is called.  To suggest this is to suggest that every priest in fact is called to be a theologian.”  In terms of pastoral ministry, I find myself in agreement with him.  Pastors are called to be Practical Theologians and do Applied Theology, yet this is often neglected for secular counseling and management courses. 
        He has some interesting comments on exorcism for those preoccupied with spiritual warfare (133) as well as presents a historical and biblical understanding of spiritual growth (157ff.).  In addition, he argues from Scripture that the first and primary hindrance to prayer is sin (168ff.).  There is much to commend this book to evangelicals.  The primary issue that many evangelicals will have with this book is that it is primarily historical, not biblical, and while generally orthodox, it is lacking in several of the emphases typical of evangelicalism.  This may make some evangelicals uncomfortable, yet these should not dissuade one from reading it.

Who might this book interest? Anyone interested in spiritual direction would enjoy this book, especially pastors who desire to add more depth to their ministry.

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