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Archbishop Justin Welby: Risk-taker
and Reconciler by Andrew Atherstone.
(Darton, Longman and Todd; 2014. ISBN 978-0-232-53072-8).
This is the first major biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury , building on and considerably expanding Atherstone’s earlier work published in 2013: Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury.
This later book deals first with the Archbishop’s early life, the chapter tellingly entitled ‘Politics and Privilege’. In the chapter on the Archbishop’s time as an undergraduate at Cambridge, following a gap year in Kenya where he grew to love Africa, Atherstone clearly presents the evangelical influences upon the future Archbishop, including David Watson, Nicky Gumbel (later of Holy Trinity Brompton ) and the ‘Bash camps’. The book then takes us through his career in the oil industry and his calling to serve in the Church: in Coventry Diocese, Liverpool and Durham before his move to Canterbury.
The book evaluates the Archbishop’s first year as Archbishop and as head of the Anglican Communion. The titles of two key chapters, ‘Growing Churches’ and the ‘Ministry of Reconciliation’, provide pointers to the Archbishop’s current priorities, his willingness to listen to others and to re-engage with key issues and his modus operandi.
The final brief chapter is called ‘Speaking for Jesus’ and highlights the Archbishop’s desire to be a ‘risk-taking’ Archbishop’ with ‘Christ-centred underpinning’. The chapter quotes a leitmotif in the Archbishop’s values and commitment: ‘The Church is to be a safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service’.
The book is eminently readable and thoroughly researched. It is not an authorised biography and the Archbishop himself declined to be interviewed. The author was, however, given access to some private archives and to many of the Archbishop’s friends and colleagues. It is well worth reading.
Indeed it is well worth reading alongside this book: Backpacking through the Anglican Communion by the Reverend Jesse Zink, assistant Chaplain at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
[Morehouse Publishing; 2014. ISBN 978-0-8192-2901-4].
Its subtitle is A Search for Unity, in itself a masking phrase of perceived promise or perceived threat. This is a thoughtful, very well-written, stimulating, incisive and challenging account of his travels around the Anglican Communion. It is such a good book that many will agree with him and many will disagree, and sometimes do both throughout even the same chapter.
The author’s journey stemmed from both deep frustration (‘with the narrative of disunity that dominates the highest levels of the Anglican communion’) and ‘the joy of relationship’. The author accepts that the book is ‘necessarily subjective and impressionistic’ and that it cannot be definitive. It is, nonetheless , well worth close consideration.
An American who grew up in the Episcopal Church in Massachusetts and went to University in Canada (‘Who I am has shaped the research for this book’), Zink recounts here his visits to the Churches of Southern Africa, Uganda, Sudan, Ecuador, Nigeria and China, as well as, of course, England. That last-mentioned chapter is called: ‘Holding together diversity, Diocese of Ely, Church of England’.
The envelope structure of the book is provided by the introductory opening chapter, ‘Why Anglicanism? Why Unity’, and its closing chapter is called ‘The countercultural unity of a worldwide Communion’.
Here are two ‘taster’ quotations from the closing chapter: ‘These ideas--- Incarnation, vulnerability and relationship-----are hallmarks of Anglican theology’ ( p 188).
‘Instead of concentrating on orthodoxy, we might start pursuing “orthopathos” or “right feeling” and sharing the joy of relationship more broadly. This is not to say that what we think does not matter. But concentrating exclusively on orthodoxy has impoverished our search for unity’ (p 191).
Now read the chapters that led him to make those statements.
Rowan Williams: Being Christian ( 2014; ISBN 978-0-281-07171-5; e-book ISBN 978-0-281-07173-9).
This short and very readable, illuminating and challenging book seeks to answer the question: ‘What are the essentials elements of the Christian life?’. The author states that he is thinking not in terms of ‘individuals leading wonderful lives’ but in terms of ‘those simple and recognisable things that make you realise that you are part of a Christian community’. The four chapters thus deal with Baptism, the Bible, the Eucharist and Prayer. The0n: initial; background-size talks given by Lord Williams in Canterbury Cathedral. Walter Brueggemann states that this book shows Lord Williams as ‘wordly-wise, pastorally gentle [and] grounded deeply in tradition…’.
John Pritchard: Ten: Why Christianity makes sense ( 2014; ISBN 978-0-281-06764-0; e-book ISBN 978-0-281-06765-7) . In this accessible and thought-provoking book, [Bishop] John Pritchard ‘attempts to get clear in his own mind what he believes after 40 years of trying to make faith understandable to others’. The 17 chapters include ten points and explanatory commentary on all of the following: problems people have with faith; things I believe about God; words of wisdom; key beliefs about Jesus; commandments for to-day; clichés to avoid; sustaining prayers; ways to enliven your faith; and values for to-morrow’s Church. The last ‘Chapter ’ is for us to write for ourselves for it consists of blank pages but is headed: Ten reasons to procrastinate about faith.
The Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, the Revd Samuel Wells, calls the book: ‘punchy, pithy, profound, piercing, probing, playful, parabolic, pathfinding, poetic and powerful’!