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Kingdom Stories: Telling, leading, discerning, by Vaughan S. Roberts

20 August 2021

Theory meets Gospels here, says Philip Welsh

VAUGHAN ROBERTS wants to “identify God’s continued action in our world . . . by discerning, leading and telling contemporary kingdom stories inside and outside the Church”. In Kingdom Stories, he does this by drawing upon “practical theology, New Testament studies, Christianity and popular culture, organisation and leadership studies”. With such a heady mixture, it is probably as well that the theological status of story, as narrative theology has considered it, is not included.

He clarifies different ways of looking at the Kingdom of God, then points to glimpses of the Kingdom to be found in a sculpture made of confiscated knives, Francis Thompson’s famous pitching of Jacob’s ladder “betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross”, and the film Lady Bird, along with references to the earlier book he co-wrote, Leading by Story.

Eight Gospel stories are used as springboards to themes in organisation studies, although the connection is sometimes oblique — thus the Parable of the Sower illustrates the value of the typological approach to understanding organisations.

Then we are off to Orvieto, and Signorelli’s fresco of the Last Judgement, to highlight the argument that “the contemporary division between leadership and management is a mirror image of the theological division between heaven and earth.” This might seem one of the more unexpected outcomes of the Umbrian sabbatical that the author acknowledges with thanks. He uses it to introduce further examples of the significance of binary thinking, as embedded in Scott Holland’s usually misunderstood “Death is nothing at all” and in the films The Shape of Water and Coco, taking us to Bonhoeffer’s eschatology as presented by Sam Wells.

There follows extended consideration of what was clearly a very successful project in community storytelling in the author’s parish of Warwick, involving thousands of knitted poppies to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Throughout this short book, the author is at pains to summarise what he has discussed and what will be coming next, but the insistent signposting cannot disguise the brevity of his treatment, as widely disparate material is juxtaposed suggestively, but not developed, with some risk to the reader of intellectual whiplash injury.

Kingdom Stories comes with strong episcopal commendations, but there may be some parsonical scepticism at the claim that it is “Responding to the huge increase of interest in leadership and organisational theory as a means of understanding ministry.”

The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.


Kingdom Stories: Telling, leading, discerning
Vaughan S. Roberts
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £16

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