“Being Disciples” and “God Is No Thing” – Book Review 7

I thought it was time for another Resources book review.

These reviews in theory are supposed to address the following aims that I have mentioned before:

To help people, including myself, to stay Christians by honestly facing and exploring, from within the faith and before God, the real difficulties that many of us see when we sing modern worship songs and read the Bible on one hand, and look at modern scientific atheism, the church’s history and that of the world, on the other.

Recently my prayer partner and I read “Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life” by Rowan Williams (SPCK), which perhaps doesn’t completely fit into the category.

This is a slim volume (£8.99 for 86 pages) with a very attractive cover. It is based on a series of talks by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, not part of a series and given over a period of five years, about living thoughtfully as a Christian in the modern world. The subjects are Being Disciples; Faith, Hope and Love; Forgiveness; Holiness; Faith in Society; and Life in the Spirit.

Because it’s from a series of miscellaneous talks, you will be disappointed if you’re looking for a comprehensive and unified manual on discipleship. The author comes at each topic in his own way, and after all there could be many other approaches. For example, he chooses to discuss “Faith, Hope and Love” through St John of the Cross’ picture of the human mind as an interaction of understanding, memory and will.

Each chapter is followed by Questions for Discussion, a device I rarely find useful, but maybe that’s just me.

Rowan Williams is a man of great thoughtfulness, holiness and intelligence. His writing is sometimes difficult to follow, but his ideas on following and being with Jesus are challenging.

“Whenever I face another human being, I face a mystery. There is a level of their life, their existence, where I cannot go and which I cannot control, because it exists in relation to God alone…” (page 64).

When you’re feeling any overwhelming emotion, good or bad: “Stand back a little, give those feelings room to breathe; give yourself room to breathe. Look them in the eye and say, ‘Now, come on, how real are you? What’s this really about?’” (page 78.)

Some of it reminds me of a slightly gentler C. S. Lewis. It pays rereading.

I also read “God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity” by Rupert Shortt (Hurst and Company) largely because it was very favourably reviewed by Rowan Williams in the Guardian. This also is a slim volume, and at £20 (I think) for 120 pages, it’s an expensive one. Again we find a highly intelligent man looking at Christianity in the modern world.

You could describe it as “gentle sort-of apologetics.”

“If the open-minded are encouraged to take Christian perspectives seriously, if a waverer finds encouragement, or if the already committed are helped with honing their beliefs, my hopes will be largely met.” (page 11)

The title comes from the kind of New Atheist attack on Christianity that basically treats God as part of His creation, and therefore subject to its laws, rather than outside it.

(Elizabeth Ann /Said to her Nan /”Please will you tell me how God began? /Somebody must have made Him. So /Who could it be, ‘cos I want to know?” – A A Milne)

God is not a Thing, but the creator of Things.

Rupert Shortt is also terrifically intelligent, and sometimes (again! or is this just me?) this makes him difficult to follow, especially for those who a) haven’t carefully studied his summary of what each chapter is intended to achieve on pages 10-11; b) haven’t read the works of St Thomas Aquinas, of whom he’s a great admirer.

I can’t help thinking that if you want a short version of his attack on the New Atheists, the easier option is to read Williams’ review, which is here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/24/god-no-thing-rupert-shortt-review-response-new-atheism

But his book does contain lovely nuggets.

And I’m intrigued that he doesn’t just defend Christianity intellectually. He presents it as essentially a way of life, and a relationship: “God is not to be thought of primarily as an unmoved mover or first cause (despite being so), but rather as an intimate presence in the life of the believer responding to a gift and a richness from beyond his or her imagining.” (page 59)

Both books, in short, remind me that faith in Jesus has a public and political dimension; and also that it’s primarily a relationship, not a set of rules nor even a worldview. This is something of which I always need to be reminded.

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS Two very interesting comments on last week’s rant!

1 Comment
  • Judith Leader

    11th October 2017 at 5:51 pm Reply

    Rather late and I haven’t given any texts but I think you will see that the early church i.e. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians do have rules or a way of life. The Lord’s Prayer says Forgive us are sins as we forgive them…… does that imply if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven. Certainly the church through the ages has rules, you may argue that isn’t Jesus, yet you do need to have rules. We condemn the Pharisees yet preach on the Ten Commandments.

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