It should be noted that I originally wrote this review back in 2013, well before working at SPCK, the publisher. I reproduce it ‘as is’ for simplicity’s sake.
Roy McLoughry, the National Disability Advisor for the Church of England, and Tutor in Ethics and Social Theology at my current place of study, St Johns College Nottingham, is well known for his engagement in practical disabiltiy theology. This book, recently published by SPCK and with a foreword by none other than Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, seeks to bring that engagement to a wider audience. In “The Enabled Life: Christianity in a disabling world”, McCloughry provides a careful and profound overview of disability theology and some of its practical implications.
I read the book with great interest, and think it can be broadly divided into two parts. The first is a contextualising of things, with chapters 1-3 being ‘Two Worlds’, ‘A story and a meditation’ and ‘Disability in perspective’. The first chapter opens with a powerful story that challenges the way that we approach and engage with people, and makes much of the way our culture is at pace; “in a fast moving world, ‘making time’ for someone is to give them significance in one’s life. But there is a pressure in our culture to make time only for those things that benefit us‘. There is also a provocative meditation on power here.
In the second chapter, McCloughry shares a little of his own story, ‘about living with epilepsy‘. From this there is rapid movement into a powerful look at the story of the demon-possessed boy in Matthew 17:14-20. Here the author notes that there are some extremes that biblical scholars and disability theologians go to, and his own interpretation is in line with his view that the Bible is “the authoritative basis for the Christian faith“. As an interesting aside, McCloughry goes on to note something key in such conversations, “If I were not bound by that discipline then I could dismiss such a passage because it does not suit me or it is not in accordance with modern beliefs“. A brief consideration of disability in other cultures and spiritualities follows, which makes for fascinating reading and made me quite glad to be in the UK!
The final chapter of this opening section does exactly what it says on its tin, it considers ‘Disability in perspective’. Opening with the bold (and accurate!) challenge that “We all live with assumptions about life that we take for granted“, McCloughry engages well with the notion of ‘normal’, and moves on to look at different models of disability (Medical, and Social) and the ways that disabled people react and adopt those at different times. There is a great usage here of one of the most powerful theological works on disability, Hans Reinders’ “Recieving the Gift of Friendship”, about which McCloughry notes that “the absense of friendship is key to understanding the place of disabled people in the community“. This is a powerful provocation to the church, which should if nothing else be a place of friendship and positive relationship, echoing what God has done for us.
The meat of this excellent books is then served, as McCloughry talks about disability in terms of ‘Creation’, ‘Compromise’, ‘Covenant’, and ‘Completion’ (Chapters 4 through 7). There is some serious stuff here, that will challenge many (Arguably those of us who are either generally, or on this topic, unthinking) Christians, particularly Charismatics who have an over-realised eschatology. The vision of heaven painted in ‘Completion’ is particularly powerful. The final two chapters (before an interesting conversation with Jean Vanier, a noted theologian and founder of L’Arche) deal with the tricky issue of ‘Healing and cure’, the closing words of which are powerful, and almost prophetically so; “we all need each other if we are to flourish as opposed to just surviving. We want to be accepted as a part of a healing community that will stand in solidarity with us and cares about what happens to us. The Church claims to be such a community. We want to ‘belong’. The Church also claims to be the only enabling community within which people can discover what it means to be truly human”
McCloughry closes the book with ‘The enabling community’, his vision of a Church. He observes powerfully that the party in Luke 14:15-24, representing the Kingdom of God, “come as they are; they do not have to be healed in order to be the honoured guests“. In this chapter I think McCloughry captures something of the topsy-turvy nature of God’s kingdom, and this is expanded upon, particularly in his usage of Bonhoeffer’s work. There is a powerful challenge here, “Jesus says, reciprocity is not the basis of the kingdom of God. We are to love those who do not love us back“.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and would whole-heartedly recommend it to others. Not as an exhaustive ecclesiology, or a theology of healing, or even as a fully fledged theology of disability, but as a readable and deep look at a vital issue. My hope is that this book will be read by church leaders of all shapes and sizes, and that us lay people too will read and digest it, and realise how big the Gospel is, and what the Church can be.