Kevin B. McCRUDEN. A Body You Have Prepared For Me: The Spirituality of the Letter to the Hebrews. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013. pp. 146. $19.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-5888-8. Reviewed by Kyle M. NICHOLAS, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA. 98119
Kevin B. McCruden has produced a volume that seeks to understand spirituality as "articulated in the Letter to the Hebrews" (ix). This intricate and difficult epistle is mined for its vision of the Christian life and person in community: given that the letter has been a battleground for historical criticism in regards to its audience and authorship, this is a welcome pursuit.
This short, accessible volume unfolds in four chapters. McCruden states that while spirituality "resists precise definition" (1), one begins to grasp Christian spirituality in the opening of concrete human experience to "the idea of luminescence of the transcendent" (8). Rich with biblical quotations and sensitivity to the complex nature of defining spirituality, this convincing definition will ground the rest of McCruden's work. More specifically, the opening of concrete human experience to the transcendent, in Hebrews, is best represented in the "complex Christology" (ix) of the letter — the life, death, and resurrection of Christ — and here is to be found a vision for Christian spirituality.
The next chapter is an exegetical analysis of the letter. McCruden examines the common questions of historical criticism such as setting, date, audience, and authorship. McCruden believes this work will "intellectually inform and enrich the valid project of the contemporary application of Hebrews" (13). McCruden offers helpful, learned accounts of the historicity of Hebrews, but ultimately does not justify the relevance of such a section in the current volume. Despite provocative conclusions about the audience (Gentile audience) and a common attitude towards authorship (indeterminable: anonymous document), this section remains almost silent on the difficulties of applying historical criticism to the theological interpretation of scripture. An addition of a deeper explanation for examining historicity in this volume might have added to the strength of the chapter.
Moving past the historical questions, McCruden then moves into the spirituality of the letter. Chapter 2, entitled 'The Spiritual Life as Journey Perfection' wonderfully sums up McCruden's argument and emphasis. Since, according to McCruden, spirituality is a 'progressive journey toward perfection,' (41) "Christian spirituality and personal transformation, therefore, go hand in hand" (42). The spirituality of Christians that must seek transcendence in concrete human experience is best realized in the pursuit (toward perfection) of Christ. This section includes invaluable commentary on Jesus as High Priest and the representative human being found in the letter.
With chapter 2 dealing with the faithfulness and perfection of Jesus, and how Christian spirituality is to be found in pursuit of Christ, chapter 3 then seeks to expound on what this pursuit might look like for the countercultural community of Christ. McCruden fleshes out the emphasis of believers as the "wilderness generation," awaiting their heavenly destiny despite meeting God in Christ in the present (76). McCruden displays an impressive command of intertextual allusions between the Old Testament and Hebrews, and forms these findings into a coherent vision of the Christian journey, covering communion, prayer, forgiveness (cleansing), and salvation in this chapter. McCruden, as he sets out to do, convincingly shows in chapter 3 how "the author of Hebrews employs Scripture... in the service of shaping the identity of his audience" (103).
To end this volume, in chapter 4 McCruden examines the figure of Abel (who is compared to Christ in Hebrews 12:24), the function of the speeches of Jesus in the letter, and the significance of blood in general, drawing on Philo of Alexandria. McCruden uses these concepts to argue that Hebrew's vision of the Christian life and spirituality is found in the "full embodiment of fidelity" (124): first in Abel, then perfectly in Christ, and now in Christ's countercultural community.
This volume brings theology, biblical study, and spirituality comfortably into conversation with one another. Thus, McCruden helps to move this engaging epistle out of the hands of historical critics and into the service of Christian communities as they strive to embody fidelity. This volume deserves readership not only from those interested in authentic Christian spirituality and the theological interpretation of scripture, but also from historical critics who seldom dive into the richness of this text due to endless debates about its anonymous author and the uncertainty surrounding its audience.