A review of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2017, “Dethroning Mammon”

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2017, “Dethroning Mammon,” is a rich (no pun intended) and thought provoking read on spiritually opposed value bases on wealth.  On the one hand we have Mammon, “the love of money” which the Bible tells us is at the root of evil (not just “money” as some suppose).  That is when, in our hearts, we believe that everything is a resource for our own enrichment (we may build in an ethical get out clause on “trickle down” economics), then we will see, value, and interpret everything in that light.  Christ will be a threat, as he was in his day, to those holding that value.  Chapter 1 of the Archbishop’s book explores this, with reference to Matthew 13 (the Pearl of Great Price) and John 11 (the death of Lazarus), on the different ways we can value what we see.
Moving on from this, there’s a danger that we will see everything as a finite resource to be assessed and measured accordingly, driven by ethics of scarcity, i.e. we have to acquire and pile up wealth as otherwise someone else will.  And we will aggressively defend and acquire accordingly.  We are put into an adversarial position with the rest of creation.  The opposite to this are the economics of Grace.  We have a generous God who gives abundantly and outrageously.  No one deserves or earns Grace.  With Grace at the centre  the Archbishop begins to draw out how else we might understand wealth, in the light of having no fear, and faith in an infinitely abundant and generous God.  It posits a very different approach to the world around us, and how we find and use our resources.  The key texts here is John 12, with Mary anointing Jesus with very expensive perfume, apparently wasteful but in fact an act of Grace and love that is not motivated by the scarcity of the resource or the need to frantically hold onto it.
Chapter 4 expands on this, looking at the relationship between money and power, and how Jesus’s servant-leadership subverts this, especially in the key act of the washing of the disciples feet (John 13).
Chapter 5 further looks at how apparent motiveless and wasteful generosity can in fact be Grace in action.  Something as apparently of no benefit to people or the world as acquiring and anointing for burial the body of Jesus (John 19), are in fact Kingdom actions, actions that show that real wealth as decisions to give money and time based on no hope of reward, but as service to God, actions that can ultimately transform the world, as they move away from fear, to faith, to generous and transformative action.
Chapter 6 moves to Revelations, the end of all things, with the ultimate dethroning of Mammon (Babylon) by the eternal and redeemed creation of the City of God.  This moves into an action plan as to how we can start to live this message now, through listening, repentance and action.This book is intelligent, wise, and written with a clear integrity.  There are points of reflection throughout the book, questions to help individuals and groups preparing for Lent share and understand the material.
Much recommended then as a Lent book, or to be read at any time.  You’ll find it’s messages live on in your mind and heart after reading.

A review of the podcast “The Robcast”

“The Rob Cast” is a weekly podcast presented by Rob Bell.  Rob is many things.  He’s an ex Pastor at Mars Hill Church, a ‘Mega-Church’in the US.  Rob became controversial when his book “Love Wins” firmly positioned him as a proponent of the ‘Universalist’ branch of Christian thought; that is, that all, without exception, will be saved.  This was too much for those who like their Hell, be it good old fashioned ‘eternal torment,’ or those who take to the ‘annihilationist’ position.  That is, you don’t get tortured for ever if you reject the Gospel.  That would be barbaric!  You instead get ‘executed’ or snuffed out to nothing if you reject the Christian God.  Liberals today, huh?

But all that is in the past.  Now Rob continues to tour, speak, host conferences, help businesses, broadcast, and write.  His latest, “How to be Here,” is being promoted by Rob through a tour.

His podcast is notable because it is a treasure trove of fresh, clear thinking, and is the kind of resource that will open up new horizons to you if you let it.  Rob has studied the Talmud and the Jewish faith and its lore and has connected it with his Christian faith.  He communicates some of what he has learnt, and it is truly illuminating, and led me to buy a copy of “Everyman’s Talmud.”

The podcast also has guest speakers and guests, and is informed by other passions of Rob’s including diving, and his experiences of being a husband and parent.

Everyone will find something here to inspire them or get them thinking, if but they keep an open mind.

Rob has his catchphrases and mannerisms, that someone recently observed you could base a drinking game on, including the repetition of “so good.”

The podcast is stripped down, just Rob or Rob and his guests speaking, and it’s all the better for that. So good.

 

 

A review of Rowan William’s “Being Christian.”

‘Being Christian’ is an ideal short book on the main themes of Christian life, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist and Prayer.  It is written in a lucid style that draws deeply from considerable learning, and a life spent teaching and practising the Christian faith, and provided leadership in the worldwide Anglican communion.

As such it is a great read for everyone from the jaded Christian long on the road of Faith, to the sceptic exploring Christian thought, to those newer to the faith who are looking for an accessible and compelling introduction to the most vital areas of its practice, which would include those taking ‘communion classes’ for admission to the full Eucharist.

With Baptism Rowan Williams explores what it means to be immersed in God and Jesus and what he has done, to be fully swamped and immersed with it, and to come up again into the world with what it means to live a baptised life.

In his section on the Bible the writer guards against a simplistic literalism or anxiety of the historical veracity of the detail, to stress that what God wants to do with the scriptures is ask us ‘where are you in these stories?  What would you do in these situations?’ And he also encourages us to read the Old Testament in the light of the New, and how the Old has reached its fulfilment with the new.

On the Eucharist Professor Williams explains what it means to take Holy Communion, and where in scripture it has its roots, and what it meant to Jesus and his first followers, and how Jesus used meals and hospitality to help usher in the Kingdom, and how Communion continues that process.  He stresses how the Eucharist is an invitation by God to be at his table, He wants to be with us, to abide with us, and what that means for how we see our fellow Christians or fellow people.

On Prayer he stresses the centrality of the Lords Prayer, and some work on early Christian teachers on the Lords Prayer and what it means to prayer.

As someone who struggles with their faith, and a frequently jaded member of the Anglican Church, I found the book enlivening and refreshing, and there was a lot that was new and useful to me.

Whether you are sceptic or believer, new or old to the faith, I cannot commend this bright, sharp and focussed work highly enough