THESE stimulating essays might be seen as an Anglican version of the “new evangelisation” in Roman Catholicism. This is an approach that seeks to give enquirers and learners a stimulating induction into the fullness of the Church’s doctrinal, historical, and liturgical tradition. Aware of the new context and challenges in de-Christianised parts of the world, advocates of the new evangelisation contend that for the proclamation of the gospel to take root in people’s hearts, it must be accompanied by a profound sense of the beauty of holiness, by works of charity that provoke questions, and by a robust apologetic.
Croft writes that “the word catechesis has at its centre the term echo”. This refers to the way in which catechumens might learn to repeat core Christian texts such as the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes. But more fundamental still is the aim that their whole lives should resound with the life of Jesus, since the faith has been transmitted to them in an embodied way, and has touched both their minds and their hearts.
In some particular highlights, Simon Jones writes about the integration of worship and catechesis in the Early Church, so that these are brought into a mutually transforming relationship in a life-long process of becoming incorporated into Christ. Drawing on St Augustine, Carol Harrison describes the way in which the process of teaching and learning the faith communicates and reflects the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and ultimately integrates us into that love.
Susan Gillingham writes about the ways in which praying the psalms can draw us into the life of the Trinity, moving us from “knowing about God with our minds to knowing God with our hearts”. And Sarah Foot takes us on a fascinating tour of the place of catechesis in mission both to and from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
As with all multi-author works, the frustration can be that there is limited opportunity to follow through the striking insights that the authors present in each chapter. In line with the Tractarian tradition in Anglicanism, the authors assume that the Church of today will be refreshed by drawing on the deep roots of early Christianity. While convinced of this myself, I am not sure that it is so widely evident as they seem to assume. Similarly, it is also not always clear which insights from early Christianity we might want to take forward.
For example, Sarah Foot notes that the missionaries to England adopted a top-down method of evangelisation in which they sought to convert the ruler of each region, together with his inner circle, before proceeding to evangelise the wider population. This strategy — although not unknown in the modern Church of England — is probably not one that would be readily accepted today.
A further volume, or perhaps a conference, may, therefore, be needed to discern how these excellent essays might themselves find a wider echo in the Church of today.
The Ven. Dr Edward Dowler is the Archdeacon of Hastings in the diocese of Chichester.
Rooted and Grounded: Faith formation and the Christian tradition
Steven Croft, editor, Alister McGrath, Jennifer Strawbridge, Carol Harrison, Sarah Foot, Simon Jones, and Susan Gillingham
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50