Book Review: Feed my Sheep

new-blog-book-review-graphicA few years ago I had the joy of being with a bunch of Anglicans, at the cusp of starting my MA at an Anglican Theological College, at the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference. Whilst my ecclesiological path has ‘wandered’ since (having begun a Baptist, my wife and I currently are part of a Vineyard Church), I have spent time this year working for an Anglican Bishop, and also presently work for an Anglican Mission Agency (better known as a publisher, but accuracy in words is important, at least in my view!). I’m not ordained, not in a formal ministry role, but like to read, and who knows what the future will hold. This book, though explicitly Anglican, is a brilliant little primer on ministry for those in an Anglican context, and packed with transferrable lessons for those of us ministering and being ministered to in other contexts. In the UK, those of us not part of the Church of England should, in my opinion, have good reasons for doing so, and have a good understanding of the C of E – because they are most likely to be our mission partners and nearest (geographically speaking!) church friends.

This book is a reworked and tidied up collection of talks from the 2015 JAEC. A little context is thus needed. JAEC stands for the ‘Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference’. Junior, here, referring to those considering/starting/undergoing ordination, curates, and those in the early/junior years of Anglican incumbency (for muggles like me, read, ‘being in charge of a church). Anglican, distinctively, referring to the historic and biblical understanding of Anglicanism, the kind that has an appeal to me, shaped by Scripture, the 39 Articles, the Ordinal, and the historical liturgical shape of the Church of England. Evangelical, in that scripture plays a central and controlling role, and the conference remains focused on its original role and goal of seeking ‘the conversion of England’. Conference is self explanatory – it was a conference, continues to run as one, and is good gathering of folk.

With seven chapters from an excellent range of contributors, ‘Feed my Sheep’ opens, as is appropriate, with three biblical expositions, reworked sermons from Lee Gatiss (Director of Church Society, and Lecturer in Church History at Union School of Theology), a Vicar in Cheshire and a member of the steering committee of Reform, and Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn. The three expositions are careful, faithful and engaging readings of the texts, covering 2 Timothy 2:14-26, John 9:35-10:5 and John 21:15-19. Personally – and this is not to besmirch the other two at all – I was most intrigued and fed by Lee’s chapter, ‘Protecting the Flock’, which used the imagery of Sheep so common in the narrative and ministry of Jesus to unpack and expose the riches of this wonderful passage from 2 Timothy, often challenging, but ever-necessary for a Church waiting for her Bridegroom. For non-Anglicans, these three little sermon-cum-chapters are probably the most useful part of the book, whilst peppered with Anglican references, they are robust, deep and biblical, with the Spirit clearly speaking through Scripture on some of the key issues of the day.

The second part of the book is formed of four chapters, focusing specifically on the sacramental life the Church of England, and one on the wider Anglican Communion. Nigel Atkinson, a Vicar and Author, writes on the important and often contentious topic of ‘Ordination in the Church of England’. Whilst arguably unconvincing as a case for ordination (I might write on this in the future, but am not completely sure it is worth doing so for the sake of unity and other topics) it is a superb case about ordination, with a brilliant explanation of the Necessity, Purpose and Power of Ordination. For fellow theology nerds, there is a rather interesting dialogue between Calvin and Hooker played out in this chapter. Andrew Atherstone covers the Lord’s Supper and the Gospel of Salvation, whilst Tim Ward (author of some stunning books on the Bible!) writes about Preaching and the Church of England. In this reviewers’ opinion, Michael Nazir-Ali’s closing chapter on the Anglican Communion was bizarrely the weakest – in that it was the most clearly reduced from a talk, and yet was shot through with promise.

Reviewing a book like this from outside of the Church of England will always be controversial. If you are a friend of mine considering or undergoing ordination, then this book is for you. If you are a friend of mine presently in some form of Anglican ministry, this book is also for you. For those of us in various forms of ministry formally outside of the Anglican tradition, this book still has much to offer. Bishop Nazir-Ali puts it rather well;

Anglicanism has got something to give, both historically and today which other churches could be enriched by. It has to do with a commitment to reaching people beyond the boundaries of the church, a commitment to the whole community in which they are placed. I think that remains an important way of exercising mission today

I agree. The challenge to a holistic, integrated,Gospel-first-but-transforming-everything model of mission is vital and needed. That, in the light of the whole-life-reformation legacy of the Reformers, is what this book nudges leaders towards. I hope it is widely read – by those part of the Church of England, and appreciatively read by those of us who are part of the Church in England and beyond.

 

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