Stepping into Grace: Moving beyond ambition to contemplative mission
Church Times Bookshop £7.20
THE Book of Jonah is bigger than it looks. Four short chapters of parable, drama, and psalm hide uneasily among the minor prophets. The story delights children and defies the literalists. Jonah’s story, read well, draws us into an ever deepening reflection on our calling and life and service.
Paul Bradbury’s short guide to Jonah is also somewhat bigger than it looks. There are seven short chapters on themes that arise jointly from the text and from Paul’s experience of pioneer ministry in Poole. The chapters explore big themes: ambition, fear, chaos, darkness, limits, grace and the contemplative life. For me, the most helpful chapters were the first and the last.
The book owes an acknowledged debt to Eugene Peterson’s profound reflection on Jonah (Under the Unpredictable Plant: A study in vocational holiness, Eerdmans, 1992), which I have read at almost every vocational junction. The insights from text and context here are fresh. Peterson’s book is shaped to be a call to a long obedience in the same direction. Bradbury is wrestling with the call to pioneer in new forms and places and styles. He challenges some emerging myths about new forms of ministry and wrestles with some classic temptations.
The scholarship is excellent. I enjoyed most the careful attention to the Hebrew texts. Bradbury quotes Rowan Williams, Richard Rohr, Pope Benedict, Brene Brown, and many others. The writing is in parts very clear and in other parts very dense and concentrated. The author has almost too much to say in some of the chapters for the space available.
Pioneer ministry is still a relatively recent development in the Church of England’s long experience of ministry. The literature remains small, and I am not aware of many books that offer biblical and theological reflection in this depth. I hope that Stepping into Grace will find a place on reading lists for those considering ordination and those being formed for pioneer ministry. It would be a good Lenten companion for anyone wanting to reflect on ministry and discipleship in any context. The reader should be prepared for challenge as well as fresh insight.
Dr Steven Croft is the Bishop of Oxford.