Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, eucharist,
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code
RETIRED archbishops are not meant to be like this. Rowan
Williams is a disturbing man. No longer obliged to lead a Communion
that all too often did not appreciate him, he continues to produce
a steady flow of material that consistently enriches and challenges
contemporary spiritual, ecclesiastical, political, and artistic
discourse. This present volume may be one of the best. How does he
Based on Holy Week talks originally given in Canterbury
Cathedral, Being Christian examines four things that, in
one sense or another, we might suppose to be the basic components
of being part of the Church.
This is a book remarkably free of tips for self-improvement or
spiritual gain. There is no trace of the individualism that can so
distort Christian belief and practice. Williams's emphasis is
constantly on Christ and his example, and how we might be changed
by it within the fellowship of the Church.
Thus he suggests that baptism "means being with Jesus 'in the
depths': the depths of human need, including the depths of our own
selves in their need - but also in the depths of God's love; in the
depths where the Spirit is re-creating and refreshing human life as
God meant it to be". The Bible, for most of its history, has not
primarily been read but, rather, heard. The text is declaimed to a
community, who then try to work out what it means for them:
hermeneutics is a communal exercise.
With the eucharist, we are reminded that this (like all the
sacraments) is not something that we do for God, but rather
something that God gives to us. And the gift is meant to be a sign
of how we are meant to see the world around us.
Prayer is "growing into the kind of humanity that Christ shows
us", a way of allowing ourselves to be re-formed by Jesus. We are
given here splendid summaries of the teaching of three early
writers on prayer (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian).
This is a work of enormous substance, boiled down to 80 pages of
gold dust, for less than the price of a packet of cigarettes. It is
impossible for any review to do it justice; so you must buy it and
read it. And then read it again. And again.
The Revd Peter McGeary is Vicar of St Mary's, Cable Street,
in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster