by Ivana Noble
Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010
Reviewed by Spiritual Directors International
“I want to distinguish between ecumenism, ecumenics, and ecumenical theology. They do not signify the same thing.”
The basis for Tracking God: An Ecumenical Fundamental Theology is developed from a course author and professor Ivana Noble has, “…taught in different versions since 1994, first at the Institute of Ecumenical Studies in Prague, which was founded by several theologians from different confessions after the fall of Communism, and later in the Theology of Christian Traditional program of the Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University in Prague” (vii). She explains, “As the main aim of this book is to offer an ecumenical introduction to theology, I need to explain what I mean by this. In order to do so, I want first to distinguish between ecumenism, ecumenics, and ecumenical theology. They do not signify the same thing” (xiii). Furthermore, she writes, “In the lived context of my students, my fellow teachers, and even my own, we do not encounter the sort of “pure” Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox or Hussites with whom the church documents operate. Not only would we experience a wide plurality of positions within each of the confessional families, with similarities and differences grouped across them, but also that practicing in more than one of them subsequently or simultaneously would be common (xiv).
Why will this be of importance to spiritual directors? Noble, in her own words tells us, “Theology begins when a person wants to understand his or her life-journey and realizes that, for it to be complete, it has to include a spiritual dimension and, moreover, that this spiritual dimension is a source of life for all other dimensions of our existence” (235). Spiritual directors know that spiritual directees may question their understanding of God, the childhood God they experienced, and a growing understanding of God through time, experience, and encounter with others. This then, becomes theological inquiry. Noble addresses the notion of theology as “existential, dialectical, and historical science, each of which in different ways determined its classical methods” (xv) and she complements this inquiry with, “more recent phenomenological, hermeneutical, and epistemological approaches” (xvi). Throughout Tracking God she utilizes both contemporary and classic methods. The five chapters are titled: “Theology and the Problem of Method,” “Revealing God,” “The Problem of Authority,” “History and Culture,” and “Religious Experience.”
The chapter, “Revealing God” will be of particular interest to spiritual directors. Noble says, “Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, understands itself as a revealed religion. This means that it is based on the belief that at its beginnings there were events that disclosed truths about human life and its fulfillment, about the world in which we live. Moreover, all this is in relationship to a personal God, who is the giver as well as the revealer of such truths. Yet, as Balthasar points out in the opening quotation, for the truths, such as that God loves the world, to be known, two sides are necessary. There must also be someone who recognizes the revelation as revelation, who receives it and understands it as revelation, i.e., as something different, as that which fulfils as well as transcends our ordinary experience” (45-46). This is a fundamental understanding for spiritual directors who accompany Christian spiritual directees.
Tracking God: An Ecumenical Fundamental Theology includes an extensive bibliography. Noble explains that although she could address issues that arise in other world religions, she remains specific to Christian theological inquiry in Tracking God. Spiritual directors and programs that offer formation and training for spiritual directors will find this a comprehensive and clearly written book.