Film and Book Reviews

Action and contemplation needed for discipleship

BookWhere Spirituality & Justice Meet - Spiritual Formation & Integral Mission , Edited by Steve Bradbury & Lyn Jackson (Graceworks and MST Press, 2018)

By Roland Ashby

December 18 2018 

This book should be mandatory reading for all ordination candidates and all engaged in mission and ministry. Its central thesis is that spiritual formation, and a balance of contemplation and action, are essential if mission and ministry are to be effective and sustainable.

Based on essays by students in the Master of Transformational Development Studies degree at Eastern College Australia, the book is written with authority and conviction, as each essay is both well researched and grounded in lived experience. Each author, writes Steve Bradbury, who is co-editor and also the degree co-ordinator, is a “transformational development practitioner”, with involvement in community development initiatives, and each knows “from personal experience that our ongoing capacity to ‘do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God’ (Micah 6:8) requires a God-nurtured resilience”.

Lee Chee Loi writes that evangelical circles are beginning to recognise that spiritual growth requires something deeper that merely “reading, hearing and preaching the Word of God”. Typical patterns of evangelical engagement with Scripture, he says, “can easily devolve into an information-oriented rationalism where the Bible is not absorbed and digested in a more deeply transformative manner”.

Dallas Willard, he says, “expressed great concern with such thinking and felt that this led to the ‘marginalisation of discipleship to Jesus’, where we can become Christians without being disciples, with mere soul winning for some or social action for others”. “Hence the growing hunger for something that would actually lead to a transformation of life. True Christlikeness needs to be established deep within us, so ‘we could be the life-transforming salt and light in a darkened world’.”

Willard, he says, defines Christian spiritual formation as the “progressive transformation of the human heart, spirit, or will which results in Christlike deeds done in the power of Christ”. Such transformation involves “disciplines like prayer, fasting, meditation… for the sake of others”.

Ruth Bryce writes that while many serving the poor would identify as activists, “many who endure long-term have strict rhythms around rest, contemplation and setting aside time with God”. She quotes Mother Teresa: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in the noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence… [and] we need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Clinton Bergsma writes about the much-neglected spiritual practice of lament, of recognising “that the world isn’t right, that injustice and oppression are rife; that this sorrow, confusion, this anger and despair must be voiced, and that Yahweh must listen and act”.

Margaret Loy Choon Ming analyses in detail the stages of spiritual growth and the process of spiritual formation, including the classic prayer practices of the prayer of examen, lectio divina and centering prayer.

Lee Soo Choo explores the symbiotic relationship between contemplation and action. After a frantic life of “doings” had left her “exhausted, hollow and wanting”, she longed for “rest, for stillness, for a divine centredness”. “That started me on a profoundly important journey, a quest for inner integration and wholeness.”

She draws on a rich variety of sources and examples to show that action and contemplation should be inseparable, “one providing the impetus for the other”.

Steve Gumaer explores the dangers of the false self, and how to nurture the True Self.

Co-editor Lyn Jackson brings C.S. Lewis’s infamous senior devil Screwtape out of retirement. She now has him writing a blog which includes advice to junior devils or “tempters” about the best temptations to put in the path of social justice activists: “These folk are by nature, active… Focus their attention on doing, keep them busy and ensure that they feel that time spent quietly – in prayerful devotion – is precious time wasted.”

Rosemary Hack writes about the “habitual, angry abusive behaviour perpetrated by professing Christian men against women”.

Oddny Gumaer explores why the faith of the Karen is “still so strong and vibrant” despite their history for the past 50 years as being a “story of suffering, death and terrible betrayal”.

Steve Bradbury, who was also national director of TEAR Australia for 25 years, is to be commended for publishing such a compelling collection of essays so crucial to the future of the Church’s mission.

Where Spirituality & Justice Meet is available through the Book Depository. See www.bookdepository.com