Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian life
Church Times Bookshop £8.09
ROWAN WILLIAMS writes simply but profoundly about some key themes and the lived experience of being disciples now (Features, 19 August). His six chapters take the reader through such subjects as faith, hope, and love; forgiveness, and holiness, before he dedicates a whole chapter to faith and society, and finishes with one on life in the Spirit. At the end of each chapter, there are two questions “For reflection or discussion”: if I was going to quibble, I would say that the questions often do not match the depth of thought I found opened up by the main part of each chapter.
Williams sets the scene by describing discipleship as about the way we live, not something we sometimes do. I valued his exploration of “being” — being aware and attentive, being with Jesus, and so on — without opposing it to “doing”, and he explicitly connects the two at the end of the chapter.
Subsequent chapters express the practice of being disciples as individuals who are also part of the Church. Forgiveness, for example, is clearly not needed for an individual in isolation. In contrast, Williams sees forgiveness as “one of the most radical ways in which we are able to nourish one another’s humanity”. He explores what is happening when we ask for forgiveness, are willing to forgive, and experience being forgiven.
What makes this book stand out for me is the recognition that we are disciples in this society at this time. For example, writing on faith, hope, and love, Williams draws on St John of the Cross, but also takes seriously contemporary questions in our society such as “What is truth?” and “What is it to be British? . . . Christian? . . . Muslim?” In this context, Williams helpfully describes ways to nurture the theological virtues.
In a later chapter, he directly asks whether Christians have a public part to play in our society, given this society’s ambivalence over the place of religions. Williams sees that disciples can affirm each person’s value to God and affirm that we are all dependent on one another. He concludes that we disciples have much to contribute through being a conversation partner with a perspective very different from that generated by corporate self-interest.
I finished the book with slight surprise: being disciples seems do-able, even with the challenges!
I hope this book will be read and shared so that others may be encouraged in being disciples.
Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.