God's Call: Christian formation today
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code
JEREMY WORTHEN writes as the
Principal of the South East Institute for Theological Education,
drawing on many years of experience of training ecumenically
diverse groups of ordinands, but, in Responding to God's
Call, offers much more than a book for similarly challenged
His reflections on formation
provide food for the journey of anyone who takes Christian vocation
seriously - for personal or ministerial reasons.
Worthen starts at the point
where most ordinands embark: on the outer edge of theology, where
faith rubs shoulders with some of the secular disciplines that
explain why people think and behave as they do. Observing that we
are moulded, consciously or otherwise, by social norms that promote
the idea of self-fulfilment or self-actualisation, Worthen admits
that it is difficult to speak of Christian formation without also
implying a loss of self.
In part two, however, he
uses theology to redress that deficit by offering a richly layered,
Christocentric, and sacramentally informed understanding of
vocation. When viewed through this lens, formation is not about
loss, or about conforming to an institutional rule book, but about
renewal and freedom. We discover our true selves by responding to
God's call and being remade in the image of his Son, who fulfils
all human yearning.
Turning to the processes of
formation, Worthen then outlines how Christian character is
nurtured through worship, doctrine, and engagement with others. It
is as attention, intentions, and desires are caught up by the Word
of God that we become supple to respond to the needs of the world
and capable of serving God's purpose.
background shines through the carefully organised argument. He
never assumes too much or dodges difficult questions, and offers
some exemplary ways of dealing with the latter, but will disappoint
anyone looking for an experiential and narrative account of
formation. The book acknowledges ways in which formation may be
resisted, but deals with these difficulties in an objective and
reasoned way rather than subjectively.
Although this makes the text
relatively dry, it is enlivened by a keen awareness of history, and
some sharp definition of thought, which makes the bulk of the book
well worth a slow read, especially if years of parish ministry have
sharpened the question of formation in that context.
The practical introductions
to meditation and contemplation which appear in the third part are
too brief to sit comfortably alongside the intellectual tenor of
preceding chapters and have an "add-on", superfluous quality, in
contrast to the distinctly Catholic discussion of liturgical and
moral formation in the same section.
This could have borne more
weight if expanded, but would have taken Worthen on to well-trodden
ground, away from the chalkface encounters that are clearly the
inspiration behind his admirably deep theological reflection.
The Revd Penny Seabrook is Associate Vicar of All Saints',
Fulham, in London.