Review of ‘Way To Water: A Theopoetics Primer’, by Callid Keefe-Perry

This review copy of the book was sent by Wipf & Stock.

In studying the idea of love, definitions can be offered; when one actually encounters love, definitions fail, sparks fly, one of which is poetry. Poetry is able to express the experience of love in a way that few other things can.

In studying the idea of God, definitions can be offered; when one actually encounters God, definitions fail, sparks fly, one of which is poetry.

In this beautifully-written book, Callid Keefe-Perry asks, ‘Why should we nurture the development of poetic sensibilities in theological discourse?’ My interpretation of his answer is that poetry makes the impossibility of theology, more possible. Theopoetics is a speaking of God, within the traditions of the church, but primarily out of an encounter with the living God. Its purpose is to open dialogue, poetically, with the traditions in and around oneself, the church, and the world. This is a wholly necessary enterprise, as too many professional theologians continue to miss the irony of their own endeavours, writing about the God who is for all people, in language so technical only the chosen few can understand what they are saying.

Theopoetics is not, however, about making things simplistic, or ‘plain’; quite the reverse. Keefe-Perry takes his readers through a wonderful collection of rich writing from Stanley Hopper and Rubem Alves, to Scott Holland, Catherine Keller, and John Caputo. He explains the complexities of this writing with ease and, sometimes even beauty, inviting the reader to go beyond this ‘primer’ to read the original texts.

His argument that sings from the pages is both a warning and a promise: to be wary of how language ossifies God, but also how language is essential in responding to one’s encountering of God. The language that is transformational is not institutional aphorism learned by rote, but embodied poetry that emerges from an open dialogue with the traditions and one’s contemporary context. As Churches continue to consume off-the-shelf courses in order to learn what to believe, Keefe-Perry’s words serve as a timely reminder to use such resources with care, if at all.

There is a sense that Keefe-Perry is writing very specifically for a North American readership, and specifically a Protestant one that is struggling with its sense of identity. His comments on preaching, worship and pastoral care all seemed to be aimed at the kinds of discussions that are going on in those communities. Throughout the book, though, I did feel that his direction of travel felt rather Anglican; even more than that, it felt like his presentation of an hospitable church that embraces uncertainty and humility was pointing toward the Church of England. It’s not often I get that feeling, and I wonder how such a comment sits with Keefe-Perry.

There was a sense that the sort of spoken and structural theopoetics being espoused, is that which the Anglican Church attempts, and fails, to live. Having thought that out loud, as it were, I began to realise the number of poets within the Church of England who have shaped the way we, as an institution, try to understand our encounters with God. Whether it is John Donne or Rowan Williams, the Church of England seems to be a Church in which the concept of Theopoetics deserves to thrive, if it hasn’t already been thriving for the past 400 years.

This book deserves a wide readership; having heard of deconstruction for so many years, it is possible to suggest that, with theopoetics, the Church may well find news ways to speak of the living God:

‘Deconstruction may well help to break apart damaging constructs of a coercive and idolotrous god, but it is theopoetics that wades into the rubble, not to build anew, but to sing of what might have been and what might yet be, encouraging others to imagine beginning again, nearby, and listening.’

‘Theopoetics is a method of encouraging exactly those moments when the strange reveals itself as familiar, when the gardener is seen as Jesus, and there is some momentary realization, eruption, and momentary in-breaking of the kingdom of God.’

Review of ‘Way To Water: A Theopoetics Primer’, by Callid Keefe-Perry, is published by Cascade Books. More reviews of this book will be published here, this coming week:


About fancourt

I'm the Parish Priest of St Luke with St Bartholomew in Reading, U.K ( This is mainly a blog of sermons, and I'd welcome your thoughts on what I write. I've taken a bit more time to write about my thoughts about the church in today's world in a little book called Brand New Church? (Review of it here:
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1 Response to Review of ‘Way To Water: A Theopoetics Primer’, by Callid Keefe-Perry

  1. Pingback: Theopoetics Book Blog Tour

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