Much of value for Canadians in teaching series

Published February 1, 2000

IN THE 1950s and again in the 1970s, the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the U.S.A. commissioned two series of books to explore and teach the Christian faith. Now, a third, The New Church’s Teaching Series, is being produced. The first four volumes were published jointly by the Anglican Book Centre and Cowley Publications. The remaining ones are published by Cowley alone.

[pullquote]The Practice of Prayer, by Margaret Guenther, is a down-to-earth guide to personal and common prayer. An Episcopal priest and spiritual director, Guenther draws on the riches of Christian spiritual writings as well as on her own experience of prayer. She speaks frankly of the difficulties and discouragement we encounter and suggests many practical ways in which we might grow in the life of prayer. Her topics include a good introduction to the different kinds of prayer (petition, intercession and so on) to classical models of prayer (Ignatian, Lectio Divina, and the Jesus Prayer), to helpful practices like retreats and journalling.

Part Two speaks of the challenge of praying “in the midst of life” – finding God in the ordinary, prayer and parenting, learning simplicity, prayer through desolation, and praying in community. There is a detailed resource list of books both classic and contemporary. This is an excellent exploration of the nature of prayer, both as an introduction for those who are beginning to discover the way of prayer, and a rich resource for those farther along this path. It is clearly written and full of helpful examples and suggestions.

Living With History, by Fredrica Harris Thompsett, is a fascinating book, not of the details of history but of how we interpret and use it, how we remember past events in order to deal with present questions. Thompsett reminds us tradition is not static but dynamic and changing.

She chooses to explore as touchstones 10 achievements in the history of the church, ranging from the development of theological concepts such as covenant and incarnation to structural changes like the full inclusion of laity and of women in the life of the church. She looks at the importance of biography, at the lives of some 20th-century lay people, as a way of understanding history and exploring our changing understanding of ministry.

She looks at three ways in which Anglicans have handled conflict: compromise (the Elizabethan Settlement), ignoring conflict (the church’s role in the U.S. Civil War), and welcoming conflict (the dialogue with the “new science” in the 19th and 20th centuries).

Thompsett speaks of “recycling” tradition – how can lessons of history help us to deal with today’s new issues? – and uses such diverse examples as the Bible, Richard Hooker, and the Caroline Divines to provide useful insights on today’s ecological questions.

She concludes with seven helpful guidelines for discussing controversial matters, seeing Anglicanism as “a dialogue that searches faithfully for comprehensive understanding.”

I think this is an excellent book – clear, easy to read, thoughtful, suggesting ways in which history might help us to live responsibly now and in the future.

Early Christian Traditions. In the first chapter, Rebecca Lyman describes discovering the early church in a college class. “I fell in love with its questions, heroism, and passion for God,” she says.

This book is a clear exploration of the people and ideas of the time, the heresies and doctrines. It shows how the traditions of the church developed from the simple proclamation of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection to the complex understanding of the nature of God the Trinity that we find in the historic creeds.

The introductory chapter shows how the tradition fits into the development of Anglican theology. As we struggle today to define Anglican identity in a time of theological diversity, Lyman reminds us that diversity was part of the apostolic church, and shows how the tradition of the church can be a model for unity in diversity.

Opening the Prayer Book. Common prayer is part of the essence of Anglicanism, and in this book, Jeffrey Lee helps us understand why. He shows the development of Christian worship from the time of the early church and helps us see today’s movement for liturgical renewal in the context of this long tradition. He examines in detail the services of baptism and eucharist, the Holy Week liturgies, and the daily office.

One particularly useful section helps lay people on worship committees learn how a service of Evening Prayer might be planned and carried out. A chapter, “Liturgy in Action” helps us understand the connection between liturgy and mission, and the final chapter looks ahead to the future of liturgical revision. Although the references are to the American Prayer Book (which combines both the traditional and modern forms), there is much valuable information and insight for the Canadian reader.

Earlier books in this series are: The Anglican Vision, by James E. Griffiss, general editor for the series. This is an introduction to the history of Anglicanism, with particular reference to the history of the Episcopal Church. Part two gives a good introduction to Anglican belief and practice, Anglican identity and diversity, and the church as sacrament.

Opening the Bible, by Roger Ferlo, is an excellent guide to the physical act of reading the Bible. Why do the pages look the way they do? What do the footnotes and cross-references mean? Why are there different translations? This is a valuable introduction for those discovering the Bible for the first time.

Engaging the Word, by Michael Johnston takes Bible reading a step further. Johnston suggests three ways of reading the biblical story – the literal, the historical, and the prophetic – illustrating with examples from Scripture. He raises the question: Who is the God of the Bible? Who is the Jesus of the Bible? – and helps the reader move more deeply into the texts.

All the books contain study guides and excellent resource lists. Six more volumes are proposed on topics ranging from liturgy to ethics and social issues.

Canadian Anglicans may ask if these books are too American to be useful to us. Certainly Guenther’s book on prayer, Lyman’s history of the early church and the two biblical books contain very little reference to things American. Griffiss’s The Anglican Vision has useful chapters on Anglican theology and practice.

Thompsett’s Living with History does contain a number of examples from the history of the American church, but it includes an almost equal number to the history of the Church of England.

Lee’s Opening the Prayer Book has much information about the history and practice of liturgy that will be useful to Canadians.

This is an excellent series, thoughtful and up-to-date. I look forward to the remaining volumes. Dr. Patricia Bays is a Christian educator and living in Ottawa.


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