The Rev. Mark McDonald’s musings concerning the Rt. Rev. Dr. Rowan William’s book On Being Christian.
There are so many good books that explain Christianity, and it was tough to choose just one. The book I would recommend depends on to whom I would be giving it and what I thought would best speak to them. For example, I would give the book, Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber to a millennial who might be questioning everything, or the book Crazy Christians by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to a baby boomer who has been faithful but currently struggling and in need of hope and transformation. I also would consider giving the book, Dream of God by Verna Dozier to one who is seeking Jesus and wanting a deeper how the story of Jesus and the story of their life fits with scripture.
But the one book I would give, with all of these books or by itself, that explains Christianity and is relatable, understandable and meaningful to the most people is Being Christian by Rowan Williams. This book gets to the heart of Christianity. Williams breaks it down into four sections of Baptism, Bible, Eucharist and Prayer with the emphasis on how we come to live a life centered on Jesus Christ. Being Christian is readable, not very long, and most everyone can read this book and get a solid foundation of Christianity, with the hope of getting them on the road to following Jesus with greater understanding and a thirst to learn more.
It opens with Baptism just as our Christian life starts with Baptism. Williams explains with clarity and authenticity what we are getting ourselves into as a baptized Christians. When John baptized Jesus, he was immersing himself in the depth of humanity. And through our baptism, we are immersed into life in Christ. We are starting anew and making space for God’s creative work in our lives. Williams states in his book, “Baptism means being with Jesus in the depth of human need, and also the depth of God’s love where the spirit is recreating and refreshing human life as God intended it to be.”
Next, Williams turns to the Bible and what Holy Scripture means to us as Christians with Christ as the center. He explains that the Bible was created to be heard and that we need to understand the whole story, and it is better for us to read the Bible together and not in isolation.
In summary, Williams shows us that the Bible consists of stories, poems, prose, history and great literature which are all narratives of God’s initiative and our human response, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, even horrific, showing us what not to do as God’s people. God initiates the story of Jesus, and through Jesus, we get the perfect response of love and obedience showing us the way.
This book gives anyone who seeks greater understanding of the Christian faith by reading and hearing scripture and looking for God’s initiative and human response in the various narratives of the Bible. As a Christian, Williams encourages us to read scripture with Christ in the center, without disrespecting the Hebrew canon. We are instructed how to study faithfully, to read and hear scripture with a group in order to gain a better perspective of God’s word and God’s initiative in our lives and the world today. This book shows that the Bible is not only the story of the people of God, but the Bible is also our story as well.
Next Williams turns to the Eucharist and shows with great clarity and understanding the centrality of the Eucharist to the Christian life. We read in this book that the Eucharist is God’s words of welcome and it is God who is the giver of all good things through the body and blood of Jesus. And through Eucharist, we are invited to live in Christ’s transforming spirit as we go out into the world to love and serve the Lord. It is the resurrected Christ who welcomes us and invites us to the Lord’s Table. Christ, in scriptures, welcomes us with gracious hospitality, but he wants us to welcome him in our homes and in our lives. Through the resurrected Christ, we are sharing a glorious feast where we are wanted and loved by our Lord. It is Jesus who shows us how to open our hearts and share God’s welcome and love with our neighbor. Jesus invites all of us to his table, and that is good news for a sinner like me.
God is the giver of all that we are. The last supper is Jesus breaking bread and giving thanks to God right before his darkest moment, the crucifixion. God is sharing and giving through the breaking of bread not only in joyous moments but dark hard moments as well. And God, through Holy Eucharist, is the giver in every corner of our experience and every situation we encounter. Rowan William’s sums it up best, “If Jesus gives thanks over bread and wine on the eve of death, if Jesus makes that connection between the furthest place away from God, which is suffering and death, and the giving and outpouring of his Father, and if in his person he fuses those things together, then wherever we are some connection between us and God is possible. All places, all people, all things have about them unexpected sacramental depth. They are open to God the Giver.”
Finally, Williams discusses prayer and the Christian life. He cites various church fathers such as Origen, Greggory of Nyssa, and John Cassius sharing their thoughts and practice of prayer and the Christian Life. Through these Church fathers, Williams addresses the question of why to pray in the first place if God already knows better than we know ourselves and knows our deepest desires before we do. But according to Origen, God had decided that he will work out God’s purposes through what we say and
God wants us to be in a relationship with him, and prayer is the means for that relationship. This book shows us that Jesus wants us to pray to him as a friend or someone who is a part of our family. With that said, we are praying in Jesus instead of to Jesus.
Through prayer we give thanks, we listen, plea, and give our life to God. We bring our whole selves to God, warts and all, and that is the intimacy God wants from us. Sometimes our very breathing and existence is the best prayer of thanksgiving we can give to God. Being Christian discusses prayer and gives us ways to pray, as well as the importance of prayer as we live our Christian journey as people who love Jesus.
I love this book, and it explains Christianity as well as any book I have read. It gives and inspires those who read it a foundation to grow in faith and a way of seeing themselves, and the world, in a deeper more sacramental way. For those who read the book Being Christian, they will find it plants many seeds for Christian growth as they journey in their life in Christ.