Praying the Psalms with St. Benedict
During orientation for a retreat a few years ago at Mepkin Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the low country of South Carolina, I was initially surprised when the spiritual director said that the focal point of their community’s worship life was singing the Psalms. Though their daily worship, particularly within the eight daily offices, includes the reading and teaching of Holy Scripture, communal and personal prayer, lectio divina, confession of sin, and participating in the Holy Eucharist, chanting the Psalms (the entire Psalter every week) remains the center of worship (Rule of Benedict 18.23). In this brief reflection, I discuss how the Benedictine emphasis on chanting the Psalms harnesses a poetic and religious imagination toward the spiritual formation of the community. By first discussing how the Benedictine monks chant, I suggest that the habit of singing the Psalter provides an authentic apprenticeship in prayer that engages the auditory senses and a full range of emotions, forms the spiritual memory of the worshiper, and becomes a pathway to silence.
St. Benedict and Psalmody
In several chapters in his Rule (8-9, 17-19, 42, 45), St. Benedict (480-547) gives instructions for psalmody in daily worship. In terms of style, Benedictine psalmody resembled an early form of plainsong later associated with Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604). Georg Holzherr (2016, 218) writes:
The Rule recognizes not only the simple chanting of the Psalms, which in this case are sung without interruption, but also the customary chanting of the Psalms with antiphons. In the latter case one or more leader chanters sang the psalm while others present responded or end the psalm with the refrain “Amen” or “Alleluia.”
Emphasizing that he and his monks stood continually in God’s presence, Benedict admonished the community: “let us stand to sing the Psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices” (RB 19.7 in Holzherr 2016, 218). Undergirded by this heart of worship, the monks were to be serious, reverent, and attentive to psalmody. Sloppiness was not tolerated (RB 45).
Authentic Prayer Engaging the Senses
The Benedictine practice of chanting the Psalter is an authentic expression of prayer that engages the senses and emotions. This is particularly meaningful in a day when these values are often missing in Protestant worship. Dana Gioia (2022) warns: “Christianity has survived into the twenty-first century, but it has not come through unscathed. It has kept its head and its heart—the clarity of its beliefs and its compassionate mission. The problem is that it has lost its senses, all five of them.” One of the downsides of the Protestant Reformation was that worship and discipleship became much more textual, which diminished the place of the senses and imagination. Stratford Caldecott challenges this reality by stating, “The function of our senses is to enable beauty to penetrate within” (2017, 40). The beautiful theology of the Psalms ought to shape and form us in Christ as we sing (and hear) them in beautiful arrangements.
In his reflection on Benedictine psalmody, Pope Benedict XVI (2008) captures this notion of beauty in prayer by reminding us that for St. Benedict, to pray and chant the Psalms was to sing with the angels. He writes:
In the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1)—are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres.
We respond to God and his attributes (e.g., creation, glory, goodness, salvation, love) by praying and singing beautifully. Pope Benedict (2088) adds: “It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty.”
In addition to engaging all of our senses through psalmody, we are also invited to express a full range of emotions. The Psalms teach us to lament, rejoice, cry out to God in desperation, and celebrate. They invite us to be fully human in prayer—honest, raw, and broken. The Psalms challenge the repertoire of happy, “best life now” worship songs sung in many churches in North America today.
Finally, the Psalms are a model for prayer. Because of their structure, they can be memorized as said or chanted prayers. When our Lord’s disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1), he could have easily responded that they could pray using the Psalter. Jesus referred to or quoted the Psalms repeatedly in his earthly ministry (Morales 2011).
Praying and chanting the Psalms helps us cultivate a memory of God’s work and faithfulness in our lives. Discussing the connection between language and memory, Rowan Williams writes, “Languages . . . chime with longing; as memory chimes with the totality of things” (2014, 133). Given that we make sense of our world within the parameters of language, poetic language and devices (what we find in the Psalms) help shape our being and our memory (William 2014, 132). That is, in the beauty of words and their creative and clever rhetorical ordering, we develop a deep connection to the memories and milestones in our lives.
The Psalms were Israel’s playlist. A number of the Psalms are historic in nature (Pss 78, 105-107, 114, 135-136). Through them, the Israelites remembered God’s deliverance through the Exodus, his mighty saving acts, and other milestones in their journey to the Promised Land and toward being the people of God. Like Israel, we are a forgetful people, and we fail to remember God’s goodness, presence, and saving ways. Regularly praying and chanting the Psalms allows us to enlarge our memory of God’s work in our lives. Though the Psalms recount God’s work in Israel, in our meditation and prayers, we can build our memory of God’s presence and faithfulness, too. The structure and poetic devices of the Psalms provide a great house for us to remember God.
Finally, psalmody in the Benedictine tradition naturally leads us to silence and rest. Benedict’s direction for Compline (nighttime prayer) was simple: “Compline is limited to three Psalms, which are sung straight through without adding an antiphon. After the psalmody come the hymn for this hour, followed by a reading, a versicle, ‘Lord have mercy,’ a blessing and a dismissal” (RB 17.9 in Holzherr, 2016, 207). Benedict was also strict about the contemplative and quiet manner in which monks should depart the nighttime office. He adds: “On leaving Compline, no one will be permitted to speak further. If anyone is found to transgress this rule of silence, he must be subjected to severe punishment” (RB 42.8-9 in Holzherr 2016, 336).
The grand silence after Compline was intended to lead the monks toward physical and spiritual rest. The appeal for rest resounds repeatedly in the collects and closing prayer in the Compline office: “Be present, O merciful God . . . so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness . . . Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work . . . give rest to the weary . . . guard us sleeping . . . and asleep we may rest in peace” (BCP 2019, 63-65). These prayers remind us of the Psalmist’s admonition to laborers to trust the Lord for his provision and to accept the necessary blessing of sleep: “in vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Ps 127:2). By praying and chanting the Psalms, we remember God’s character and ways and cast all of our cares upon him. This leads us to physical and spiritual rest.
Following in the way of Benedict, the Psalms offer us a lifetime apprenticeship in the school of prayer. They teach us to lament and rejoice and to pray honestly as authentic human beings who are broken but hopeful about the journey to wholeness and flourishing. Through daily praying and meditating on the Psalms, we construct a memory of God’s faithfulness in our lives. Following Benedict’s admonitions for Compline, praying the Psalms at night (and during the day) leads us to a place of rest. While these are useful habits for Benedictine monks, they are also relevant and meaningful approaches to the Christian life for the people in my parish.
Benedict XVI. “Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Benedict XVI to France.” Online: https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2008/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080912_parigi-cultura.html.
Book of Common Prayer (2019). Huntingdon Beach: Anglican House Media.
Caldecott, Stratford. Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2017.
Gioia, Dana. “Christianity and Poetry.” First Things. Online:
Holzherr, Georg. The Rule of Benedict: An Invitation to the Christian Life. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016.
Morales, L. Michael. “Jesus and the Psalms.” Online: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-and-the-psalms/.
Williams, Rowan. The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
I was really looking forward to getting my hands on The Apostles’ Creed for All God’s Children and it did not disappoint. With FatCat as our guide, the book and illustrations provide a wonderful teaching tool for children to engage the riches of the gospel. Ben Myers, who has already written a guide for adults on the Apostles’ Creed, takes each line of the creed and has written inviting and probing questions while also crafting a brief and hopeful summary for each line. He has written enough to invite good meditation and discussion with just the right amount of text. Natasha Kennedy’s FatCat font also facilitates the reading. The book concludes with a plan for daily family prayer as well as additional study resources for parents and others discipling children.
Though I am a novice at art appreciation, Natasha Kennedy’s illustrations have stoked my imagination, making a reflection on the creed more inviting. I like that Jesus has accurately been depicted as a person of color and the characters illustrated in the book are wonderfully diverse. I think just about any child in the world opening this book will see someone that looks like them; this work is for “all God’s children.” The artwork for the lesson on creation (“maker of heaven and earth”) was bright with the sun, sky, animals, and buildings, revealing the goodness of our creator. The birth of Christ (“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”) was depicted with an amazing purple background fitting for the King of Kings. The death of Christ (“was crucified, died, and was buried”) was appropriately dark and somber (but still purple), while the resurrection (“on the third day he rose again from the dead”) made me squint from the brightness.
I could envision this book being used in family devotions and catechism over seventeen sessions (days or weeks). This is a great resource for a young family to be a little church. Like the Book of Common Prayer, it is a great tool for parents who may not have theological training to disciple their kids. I could see it also providing the framework for a semester-long Sunday school class for children.
My only quibble is that the authors and publisher have chosen the older language of the creed—“he descended into hell”—instead of the more commonly used “he descended to the dead.” So this language will mostly likely be different from the creed said in most churches today. Also, using “hell” instead of “dead” might present some teaching challenges for parents and teachers. Despite this, the explanatory text is very helpful: “Where will I go when I die? Where do all the dead go? Where it is Jesus went there, too. He went down as far as we had fallen. He took death’s keys to free the captives. He overcame death with his life.” Some parents and teachers may just opt to say “He descended to the dead” for this lesson.
In short, I love this book and want to slowly read it myself and take in the art and illustrations more. Though I have older teenagers, I’m tempted to read this to them at bedtime for the next seventeen days.
Pilgrimage (peregrinatio) has occupied a central place in Celtic Christianity and spirituality. For many Celtic monks, participating in pilgrimage was regarded as “the highest form of penance and self-renunciation.” In a sermon, the famous missionary monk Columbanus (543-615) described the entire Christian life as a pilgrimage:
We are travelers and pilgrims in this world . . . as guests of the world, free of lusts and earthly desires . . . let us fill our mind with heavenly and spiritual forms . . . turning our back on evil and laying aside all apathy, let us strive to please him who is everywhere, so that we may joyfully and with a good conscience pass over the road of this world to the blessed and eternal home of our eternal Father.
As Celtic monks pushed out on pilgrimage to the edges of the known world, they encountered the God of creation in worship and also put themselves in danger. Those who took to the sea on pilgrimage were known as “green martyrs.” Many Celtic monks also became missionaries, leading pagans to Christ and planting new churches and monasteries along the way.
In this paper, I probe more deeply into the spirituality of pilgrimage by exploring the famous eighth-century hagiographical work, The Voyage of Brendan. In particular, I discuss the rhythms of pilgrimage through daily worship and through the church year. I conclude by summarizing themes of Celtic pilgrimage that might also encourage pilgrims on the way today.
Background on St. Brendan and The Voyage
St. Brendan of Clonfert (484-577), also known as “the navigator,” was born in County Kerry in southwest Ireland. Remembered as one of the one of the Twelve Apostles (monastic saints) of the Irish church, Brendan founded the monastery at Clonfert in western Ireland. Though Brendan imitated other Irish monks and traveled widely in pilgrimage and ministry, The Voyage of Brendan has never been regarded as an authentic historic account. Rather, the story, a theological allegory, conveys the salvation journey of the Irish church as a whole with a focus on its ascetic values. The Voyage is about Brendan (and the pilgrim Irish church) going in search of the “Promised Land of the Saints.”
Brendan’s voyage to the Promised Land begins when he hears the testimony of the monk Barinthus, who had previously made the journey. Though inspired and eager to push out to sea, Brendan first enters a period of discernment that included fasting, prayer, and seeking the counsel of his community. After, Brendan sets out on his own voyage with a community of fourteen monks.
Sacred Time and Spiritual Rhythms
Brendan’s journey takes a total of seven years where he and his community are met with obstacles and hardships at sea—a lack of wind, lack of food, demons, and sea monsters—before they reach the Promised Land and return home. This journey is framed by sacred time—spiritual rhythms shaped by both the daily office and the major feasts of the church year.
The Daily Office. Let us first examine how Brendan’s journey is shaped by faithfulness to daily worship. After being at sea for an initial forty days and running out of food, Brendan and company are led to an island where they find a community of monks who feed them. Immediately after eating, all of the monks pray compline (nighttime) prayers. During the night, Brendan and one of his monks are attacked by a demon, which leads Brendan to spend the night in vigils. After the monk succumbs to temptation, Brendan leads him through the Eucharist as a means of confession and penance.
Arriving at another island where God has again provided for their physical needs, Brendan’s first action is to sing the daily office. Moving on to another island, they spend the night in prayer and vigils. The next day, Brendan directs each monk to pray their own individual masses. Once back in the boat, Brendan leads the community in mass.
Arriving at another island, they are welcomed by a community of monks into the refectory for a silent meal. Afterward, all of the monks enter the church and sing the nighttime office. Emphasizing the community’s commitment to silence, the abbot tells Brendan that “it is only when we sing praise to God that we hear a human voice.” Here, it seems that Brendan’s monastic vision is being enlarged by the community’s vow of silence.
On two additional days of the journey, Brendan and his monks are remembered praying each of the daily offices, including nighttime vigils, terce, sext, vespers, and compline. These days are completely organized around the office. The appointed Psalms are especially highlighted.
With the exception of Brendan leading the community in mass aboard the boat, every other instance of daily worship takes place on an island where they have found nourishment, rest, and refuge from the dangers of the sea. In The Voyage, the daily office seems to represent daily withdrawal from the world where believers find refuge, nourishment, and rest in God. Green martyrs are sustained by faithful worship.
The Church Year. In addition to daily worship, Brendan’s voyage was framed by the major feasts of the church year. In the first year of the voyage, they arrive at one island on Maundy Thursday and stay through Holy Saturday. The monks also receive a lamb in order to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection. From that island, they secure enough food to last them until Pentecost. At the end of the first year, they return to the same island—an island of birds—to celebrate Easter. The birds tell Brendan and his monks that the first year of their voyage was complete—starting and ending with Easter—and that six years remained until they reached the Promised Land.
At Easter the following year, they are met by someone who offers them enough provisions to last until Pentecost. From there, they learn that they will travel and reach another island by Christmas and that they will stay there through Epiphany. Setting out again, they receive enough supplies to last them until Lent. They continue their journey to their usual island destination to celebrate Holy Week. Then they depart from the island on the same path with enough provisions to last them until Pentecost.
At the island of the birds, one of the birds summarized the circular pattern of Brendan’s seven-year voyage:
God has appointed four places for you for each season of the year where you shall stay until seven years of your pilgrimage are over. You shall spend Maundy Thursday with your steward who is there each year, the Easter vigil on the back of a whale, the Feast of Easter until the octave of Pentecost with us, and the Nativity of the Lord with the community of Ailbe. At the end of seven years, after great trials of various kinds, you will find the Promised Land of the Saints which you seek and there you shall live for forty days before God shall lead you back to the land of your birth.
At last, Brendan and the monks reach the Promised Land of Saints. They are told: “This is the land which you have sought for so long. You were not able to find it immediately because God wished to show you many of his wonders in the ocean.” Having reached their destination, Brendan and his community return home and Brendan dies shortly thereafter.
What do we learn about Celtic spiritual pilgrimage in The Voyage? First, Celtic Christians and monks became impassioned to imitate the examples of those who had gone on pilgrimage before. Brendan was inspired by the example of Barinthus. This account resembles St. Augustine of Hippo’s (354-430) conversion to Christ and the ascetic life after he learned of the example of St. Antony in Egypt.
Second, Brendan’s story emphasizes discernment about the call to the ascetic life. After hearing Barinthus’ testimony, Brendan takes time to fast and pray and seek the counsel of his community. The Voyage teaches us that the ascetic life should not be entered into lightly or alone.
Third, in Brendan’s pilgrimage—a difficult journey—God provides for their needs along the way. Like St. Paul, Brendan and his community relied on the hospitality of people (monastic communities in his case) to provide for his needs.
Fourth, the seven-year journey is characterized by faithfulness in daily worship. In almost every case, Brendan and his community land on an island, are refreshed by food, rest, and hospitality, and then they pray the daily offices. A remarkable parallel exists between physical nourishment and rest and spiritual nourishment and rest. Tom O’Loughlin notes that The Voyage presents a community of monks growing in their liturgical practice until their worship is perfected in the Promised Land of Saints.
Finally, their circular “map” to the Promised Land is comprised of the major feasts on the church calendar. Each feast offered them nourishment, rest, and renewal needed to continue the arduous voyage. In the midst of their voyage, they could also look forward to the next feast on the calendar to keep them going. While the feast day pattern was revealed feast by feast in the first year, in the six years that followed, the rhythm was revealed to them and they knew what to expect. As the rhythms of the church year became ingrained in them, they grew in their faith and became mature pilgrims.
While The Voyage of Brendan is an allegory of the medieval Irish church’s salvation journey, the spiritual truths presented in these five summary points can serve as a guide to Christian pilgrims today. We embark on the life of faith in part because of the examples of others. We do it in community with others. We recognize that following Christ is a spiritual battle. Finally, we must develop spiritual rhythms around daily worship and the church year in order to stay faithful on our spiritual journeys.
 Edward L. Smither, Missionary Monks: An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism (Eugene: Cascade, 2016), 25. See further Marilyn Dunn, The Emergence of Monasticism: From the Desert Fathers to the Middle Ages (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 140, 149-150; also Elva Johnston, “The Voyage of Saint Brendan: Landscape and Paradise in Early Medieval.” Brathair 19 no. 1 (2019): 38.
 Columbanus, Sermon 8 in Oliver Davies and Thomas O’Loughin, eds. Celtic Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1999), 356.
 John E. Lawyer, “Three Celtic Voyages: Brendan, Lewis, and Beuchner.” Anglican Theological Review 84 no. 2 (2002): 322.
 See further Smither, Missionary Monks, 64-81.
 See further Johnston, “The Voyage of Saint Brendan,” 36.
 St. Brendan the Navigator (web site). Online: http://www.saint-brendan.org/history.asp (accessed November 23, 2020).
 See further Ted Olsen, Christianity and the Celts (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2003), 125.
 Davies and O’Loughlin, Celtic Spirituality, 34; see also Lawyer, “Three Celtic Voyages,” 321.
 The Voyage of Brendan in Davies and O’Loughlin, Celtic Spirituality, 155-158. All subsequent references to The Voyage are taken from Davies and O’Loughlin.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 159-161.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 161-163.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 168-170.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 170.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 163-164, 170; see further Johnston, “The Voyage of Saint Brendan,” 44; also Lawyer, “Three Celtic Voyages,” 324.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 161-165.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 166-167.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 171-173.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 174.
 The Voyage of Brendan, 189.
 See Augustine, Confessions 8.14.
 See further Acts 16:13, 21:4–8, 28:14; Rom 12:13.
 See further Thomas O’Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges: The Celtic Tradition (London: Darton, Longman, Todd, 2000), 93-95.
 See further O’Loughlin, Journeys on the Edges, 95-97.
Vince L. Bantu. A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. xi + 239pp. $35.00 paperback.
“Christianity is and always has been a global religion . . . it is important to never to think of Christianity as becoming global” (1). Vince Bantu opens his work with this claim and supports it with a thorough survey of the early non-western church
Following this introduction, Bantu devotes chapter 1 to the origins of western church dominance following the emergence of the Emperor Constantine (d. 337) and the Council of Chalcedon of 451. Employing Hellenistic language on the two natures of Christ, the formula of Chalcedon succeeded in alienating African and eastern churches—communities that possessed an orthodox Christology but used different vocabulary to express it. In chapter 2, Bantu describes the churches of Africa (Nubia, Egypt, Ethiopia, North Africa), while in chapter 3 he presents Christians of the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Arabia, Armenia, Georgia). In chapter 4, Bantu focuses on the Church of the East in Syria and Persia and mission along the Silk Road through Central Asia to China. In a brief concluding chapter, he argues that the present global church should celebrate contextual theology and set apart indigenous leaders to remain truly global.
While Bantu’s thesis does not break new ground on early Christianity’s global nature, his work strongly supports the works of Phillip Jenkins, Scott Sunquist, Dale Irvin and others by providing a robust picture of ancient African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Christianity. I especially appreciated the section on St. Ephrem the Syrian whose theological method and products included hymns and (madrashe) and homilies (memre)—a form that developed from and resonated with his Syrio-Persian context. A few years ago, I was at a theology conference where a western theologian discounted St. Ephrem’s works as real theology because he did not write in prose. That theologian needs this book.
Though Bantu argues that western cultural and theological hegemony characterizes the global church’s story, this is not the whole story. To be sure, Byzantine church and political leaders pressured and even oppressed those who rejected Chalcedon. However, as Bantu shows (132-136), some myaphysite churches in the Middle East also oppressed their fellow Melkite Christians, who followed Chalcedon. Sadly, the Egyptian Coptic Abba Shenoute used violence against pagans and one wayward monk in his African context (17). Catholicos Timothy of Baghdad certainly navigated nasty church politics within the Church of the East.
Having done my graduate work on North African Christianity, I was happy to see Bantu’s survey of the African church in chapter 2. While the African fathers discussed (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine) were indeed African, they were also culturally Roman. Tertullian and Augustine lived for a period in Italy and there is no evidence that any of these fathers knew a language other than Latin or Greek. It would have been good to recognize that North Africa, particularly the cities, was really Roman Africa.
In summary, Vince Bantu has done an excellent job of telling the story of the non-western church in the ancient world and certainly supported his claim for an early global Christianity. This work should be read by professors and students of church and mission history as well as those currently serving in ministry in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
For Further Reading
Jenkins, Phillip. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and How it Died. New York: HarperOne, 2009.
Irvin, Dale T. and Sunquist, Scott W. and History of the World Christian Movement: Earliest Chrisitanity to 1453. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2001.
Ott, Craig and Netland, Harold. Globalizing Theology: Beliefs and Practice in an Era of World Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.
This weekend at the Southeast Evangelical Missiological Society meeting, I will present the following paper: Communicating catholic and Indigenous Christianity: The Book of Common Prayer’s Contribution to Global Mission. Below is a brief abstract:
When Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) published the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) in 1549, he offered a means for the English church to be liturgically catholic and culturally English. That is, the prayer book provided continuity for the whole (catholic) English church for daily prayer, weekly worship, Scripture reading, celebrating the sacraments, and following the major feasts of the church year. Because the BCP was produced in the English vernacular, the prayer book also allowed them to be fully English in their worship life.
As the Anglican church began to participate in global mission in the early eighteenth century, the prayer book continued to be a means of encouraging orthodoxy and catholicity while also promoting indigenous Christianity. Following a brief history and theology of the BCP, I will support this claim by exploring Anglican mission practice in South India and New Zealand and the development of the prayer book in those contexts. I conclude with a brief missiological reflection on the place of a tool such as the prayer book for communicating the gospel and making disciples among all peoples today.
Read an entire draft of the paper HERE.
Kevin Ward, A History of Global Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Pp. xi + 356. ISBN: 978-0-521-00866-2; $63.99 paperback.
A History of Global Anglicanism is a 2006 work from Professor Kevin Ward, who served as Senior Lecturer in African Studies at the University of Leeds (UK) until his retirement in 2014. In addition to being a prolific scholar in the fields of World Christianity, African Christianity and the history of mission in Africa, Ward is a priest in the Church of England and a trustee of the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
In a well-researched and well written work, Ward’s stated aim is to “write a history of the Anglican communion from its inception as a worldwide faith, at the time of the Reformation, to the present day” (p. 1). In his introductory chapter entitled “Not English, but Anglican,” Ward adds that he will emphasize the “activities of the indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa, Oceana and America in creating and shaping the Anglican communion” (p. 1). Though Ward acknowledges that it is impossible to tell the global Anglican story apart from British colonial history, and he discusses the work of western Anglican missionaries, he aims to narrate the story of non-English global Anglicanism—those who now comprise the vast majority of the global Anglican communion. In this review, my aim is to evaluate Ward’s work by first presenting his main arguments in support of his thesis and then discussing the strengths and weaknesses of his work.
Following his introductory chapter, Ward develops his thesis by first discussing non-English Anglicanism in the British Isles—in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland (chapter 2). In chapter 3, he describes how Anglicanism became an influential church (Episcopal Church USA) but not a state church in the highly democratic United States. In the following chapter, the author discusses Canadian Anglicanism, focusing largely on the experience of First Nations (indigenous) peoples (chapter 4). Next, Ward narrates Anglican history in the Caribbean (chapter 5), a story that cannot be told apart from the painful legacy of slavery. In chapter 6, he briefly describes Latin American Anglicanism, one of the smallest parts of the global Anglican communion and one that was not touched by British colonialism. In chapters 7-9, he draws upon a career of research and ably surveys the Anglican church in Africa (West, Southern, and East) with emphasis on some of the largest Anglican communions in the world (Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya). Following a brief chapter on Anglican mission and presence in the Middle East (chapter 10), Ward probes the fascinating account of Anglicanism in South Asia (chapter 11) with emphasis on the former British colony, India. In chapters 12-13, he presents the small Anglican communion in China and the Asian Pacific. Ward concludes by narrating Anglican history in Oceania (chapter 14), focusing mostly on Australia and New Zealand. The author does not spare the reader the painful way in which British Anglicans treated Aboriginal peoples. In a final summary chapter (chapter 15), Ward recaps his thesis with some discussion on the problems facing 21st century global Anglicanism, especially disagreements over the ordination of women and homosexuality.
Among the many strengths of Ward’s work, I will focus on three areas. First, while I expected to encounter a non-English global Anglicanism in his chapters on Latin America, Africa, and Asia, I found that Ward succeeded in presenting a globally Anglican church in his chapter on the British Isles (chapter 2). With diminishing support from the crown, and lacking the stature of being a state church, the Anglican church developed and even flourished—to the point of sending out global missionaries—in predominantly Roman Catholic Ireland and Presbyterian Scotland. Ward argues his thesis quite well by surveying the Anglican story in the non-English portion of the British Isles, which sets the tone for the character of global Anglicanism.
Second, Ward teases out well the tension between catholicity and local expressions of church. On one hand, global Anglicans in the USA, India, and Japan among others have been united by a Prayer Book tradition and what was articulated as the Lambeth Quadrilateral (Scripture, creeds, sacraments, historic episcopate). In many parts of the global communion, particularly those from communal and collectivist societies (e.g. India, Africa, Latin America), national churches have valued belonging to the historic and global Christian community. On the other hand, Anglicans in China, India, and parts of Africa have valued developing the local identity of the church. Desiring unity, Indian Anglicans joined with other denominations to launch the Church of South India (pp. 235-237, 307) while in China, the Holy Catholic Church of China was formed (p. 252). In many parts of Africa, the Anglican liturgy is an exuberant African experience with locally developed hymns and dance.
Finally, through this survey Ward does a good job of showing the diversity within the global Anglican communion. Such diversity certainly includes the distinction between colonial and settler churches and indigenous churches (e.g. the settler church and Maori fellowship in New Zealand). It also includes the various missionary groups, including the high church oriented SPCK and SPG, the more evangelically oriented CMS, as well as later missionary movements from the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. The missionary elements of global Anglicanism have been very diverse.
In addition to these affirming critiques, I do have some quibbles. First, while I understand that a book of this scale requires some difficult organizational decisions, I fail to grasp how Sudan is listed in the Middle East section (pp. 205-211). Though the Episcopal Church of Sudan has a historic diocesan relationship with Egypt, Sudanese Anglicans, who largely inhabit the southern portion of the country, are not Middle Eastern Arabs. Culturally, they have a much stronger affinity with other East African peoples and the church was nurtured historically by the East African revivals (p. 208). In 2011, the peoples of the south seceded to form the Republic of South Sudan.
Second, Ward could have emphasized more the work of three significant Anglican mission leaders. Roland Allen (1868-1947), the Tractarian influenced SPG church planter in China and Kenya, was only mentioned briefly (pp. 249, 273). While Ward rightly points out the innovative three-self missiological thought (self-supporting, self-led, self-propagating) of CMS leader, Henry Venn (pp. 35-37, 116-119, 300), Allen actually implemented these ideas in the Chinese context while highlighting afresh St. Paul’s missiology of church planting. Similarly, much more discussion could have been given to Bishop Kenneth Cragg’s (1913-2012) work in the Middle East (pp. 201-202, 211-212). A Quranic scholar highly respected by Muslim theologians, Cragg’s approach to dialogue with Muslims introduced a significant paradigm shift for mission to Muslims in the twentieth century. Finally, Ward does not even mention the contributions of Anglican missionary theologian John Stott (1921-2011). An organizer of the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Stott became an architect of global missiology by inviting partnership and input from non-western theologians, especially Latin Americans, in crafting the Lausanne Covenant.
Third, while Ward often celebrates the theological diversity and various expressions within global Anglicanism, he refers negatively to some groups, especially Pentecostals (p. 100) and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in Australia (pp. 13, 284-286, 295, 314). The Sydney Diocese is characterized by Reformed, Evangelical, and even charismatic qualities. Since these streams of Christian theology and conviction have been welcomed within the historic Anglican communion, I fail to grasp Ward’s apparent intolerance for this group of Australian Anglicans.
Finally, while debates about women in ministry and human sexuality have certainly divided Anglicans over the last several decades, Ward’s concluding chapter (“escaping the Anglo-Saxon captivity of the church?”) seemed overly focused on the homosexuality debate. In this final chapter, he aims to sketch out the present and future of global Anglicanism but in the end, he seems to get stuck on this one issue. While this is no small matter and it will require the prayer, discernment, and biblical reflection of the global church, the global Anglican communion has many other problems, and the church should not be defined by this one issue.
Critiques aside, Ward succeeds in presenting a thorough study on global Anglicanism beyond the English context. This work will continue to be a rich resource for clergy, missionaries, and Anglicans around the world. For students of global Christianity, the individual chapters of this book offer excellent starting points for deeper research on the regions in question. Since Ward’s book appeared in 2006, global Anglicanism has continued to evolve so this work provides a foundation for continued study.
Book Review, Three Pieces of Glass
Eric O. Jacobsen. Three Pieces of Glass: Why We Feel Lonely in a World Mediated by Screens. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2020. xv + 265pp. $19.99 [originally published in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January 2021].
In this engaging new work, Eric Jacobsen, a presbyterian pastor in Tacoma, Washington, presents a vision for belonging and connecting in a relationally fragmented 21st century North American culture. In the closing pages of the work, he states the problem: “We live in a culture that is experiencing a profound crisis of belonging largely because we have insulated and isolated ourselves from people, place, and story by encasing ourselves behind three pieces of glass—windshields, TV screens, and smartphones” (251).
Following an opening section in which he defines belonging in private and public contexts (part 1), he unpacks a vision of kingdom (part 2) and gospel (part 3) belonging with rich support from Scripture. From there, he discusses the crisis of belonging in the 21st century western world—the relational deficiencies that have developed because of technology (part 4). In the final sections, Jacobsen offers encouragement and constructive steps for achieving belonging (parts 5 and 6). He concludes: “We desperately need something or someone to break through these elements of our self-imposed exile and draw us in to the beckoning that we most desperately want . . . we can pray and work that we too would experience connection to people, place, and story right where we live” (251-52).
Most readers would affirm Jacobsen’s claim that technology (smartphones, TVs, cars) have contributed to growing isolation, loneliness, diminished social skills, and even mental illness among 21st century North Americans. To support his thesis, the author makes a number of insightful points. First, he shows how post-World War II city and neighborhood planning has contributed to isolation. Cul-de-sacs within suburban neighborhoods have created unwelcome barriers toward outsiders. The construction of homes with attached garages have allowed suburban dwellers to come and go without any neighborly interactions. During half hour commutes to work, drivers often demonstrate unkindness and even road rage toward other commuters. Some of them display similar unkindness on their phones in social media interactions with people they do not know.
Second, Jacobsen shows how relationships—even acquaintances or casual friendships—have suffered in the public or civic sphere. Because people are not commuting or shopping on foot, they no longer have relationships with grocery clerks, butchers, or neighbors along the way.
Jacobsen’s book provides much food for thought for pastors, church planters, missionaries, and believers desiring to have a witness in their communities. As we long for our neighbors to believe the gospel and belong to the body of Christ, it is helpful to recognize the structural, technological, and cultural barriers that have emerged. Many, like Jacobsen and his family, are moving into cities with high walking scores. They are striving to belong in the public sphere by commuting on foot and engaging public spaces and institutions, and through their life and witness, they are seeking the “peace and prosperity” of their city (Jer 29:7).
For Further Reading
James K.A. Smith. You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016.
Andy Crouch. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017.
Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.
October 9-10, I am privileged to participate in the virtual annual meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society on the theme, "The Past and Future of Evangelical Mission." I am presenting a forward looking paper entitled, "Mission at and from the Lord’s Table: A Eucharistic Foundation for Mission."
From the introduction:
“And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord” (BCP 2019, 137). In these words, the post-communion prayer in the Anglican Eucharistic liturgy, believers receive and declare their call to mission. Having given thanks to the Father and feasted at the Lord’s Table, believers continue their worship through witness. Eastern Orthodox theologians call this the liturgy after the liturgy.
While mission is an outcome of communion at the Lord’s Table, the mission of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) also begins at the Table. With Christ as host, the Eucharist becomes a space where believers may be renewed in the gospel, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8). The Table may also be a welcoming space where non-believers not participating in the Eucharist may come and see the gospel. In this paper, following a brief discussion on the Passover, Last Supper, and Lord’s Supper in the Scriptures and early Christianity, I discuss mission at and from the Lord’s Table, which will invigorate mission practice.
Read an entire draft of the paper HERE.
In this inviting new book, Andrew Wilson describes a vision for fusing two Christian traditions:
“eucharistic . . . historically rooted, unashamedly sacramental, deliberately liturgical, and self-consciously catholic” with “charismatic . . . to expect spiritual experience, pursue and use the charismata [gifts of the Spirit], live and pray as if angels and demons are real and express worship to God with all . . . joy” (18).
He begins (chap 2) by showing how our good Father gives us gifts (the gospel, the sacraments, spiritual gifts) for which we give thanks and become stewards. Wilson then unpacks a bit the fruit of the Spirit of joy (chap 3). Though Jesus was a man of sorrows, and in this world we will have trouble (pain, loneliness, grief), the Christian ought to expect joy in God’s presence. Here’s my favorite quote from the book:
"Like wine, both the sacraments and the Spirit bring joy. Like wine, they lead the church into anticipation and thankfulness, celebration and song. Like wine, they witness to the new creation that is coming, offering us a glass from the early harvest while we wait for the full vintage to be bottled in summer. The early church, we could almost say, was oenologically Eucharismatic" (49).
Next, Wilson makes a case for the importance of eucharistic worship (chap 4). Borrowing heavily from James K.A. Smith’s claims that we are liturgical animals shaped by our loves (75-80), Wilson asserts that liturgical worship practices best fit how God has wired us. He then discusses the relevance of charismatic worship (chap 5). With a faithful survey of the church fathers of the first five centuries who testified to tongues, miracles, and healing, Wilson presents a fine continuationist argument for the gifts of the Spirit (chap 6). He closes the book with a brief proposal for how eucharistic and charismatic worship can be fused (chap 7).
Wilson puts forth a great vision for the compatibility of liturgical and charismatic worship. Indeed, in historic movements of renewal and revival, we do observe traditions crossing (i.e. Moravian Lutherans, Charismatic Catholics) and the whole church being strengthened by the best of each tradition. Why can’t liturgy (i.e. the prayers of the people) get a little rowdy in the joy of the Holy Spirit? Why can’t experiential charismatic worship be rooted in the ancient creeds and framed by collects?
My only quibble with the book is that Wilson seems to run out of gas on p. 124 and admits difficulty pointing to working models of his vision. Interestingly in another new book, Ever Ancient Ever New, Winfield Bevins covers some similar themes (see 141-155) and points to liturgical churches that are also charismatic (Holy Trinity Brompton, UK; Catholic Charismatic Renewal, USA) and charismatic churches that have embraced liturgy (Trinity Anglican Mission, Atlanta; and New Life Downtown, Colorado Springs).
All said this is a well-written, even funny, book that raises vital questions of church life and practice. Pastors, missionaries, and even professors (I did) will get a lot out of it.
My Favorite Books of 2019
My reading for the past year tended to support research projects (on hospitality and mission, and suffering and martyrdom). I also enjoyed some rich devotional reading. While much of my reading came in the form of journal articles and book chapters, I also benefited from whole books. In no particular order, these were my favorite reads of 2019.
The Rule of Benedict: An Invitation to the Christian Life (George Holzherr, OSB). During the summer I attended a conference on monasticism and the church to explore how those who are not monks might emulate some monastic rhythms and values. So, for the summer, I read this translation of Benedict’s Rule that also included a very thorough commentary which situated Benedict’s monastic vision and practice within broader monasticism.
The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father (Wesley Hill). The second release in Lexham’s Christian Essentials Series, Wesley Hill takes the reader through a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer breaking down each line of it (the invocation, seven petitions, and closing doxology). After several years of using the Our Father as the framework for daily prayer in our home, I was anxious to dig into this. For me the most transformational chapter that has affected by prayer life was petition four, “Give us this day our Daily Bread.” Hill notes that more than a prayer for material provision, it is a reminder to feast on Christ the bread of life (Jn 6:48-51); to allow the Lord Jesus to satisfy our souls with His nourishing presence. This reality is powerfully symbolized when we take the bread during the Eucharist. Hill adds: “In the Eucharist, Jesus puts Himself in our hands so we know exactly where to find Him” (p. 55).
On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts (James K.A. Smith). I’ve been a big fan of Jamie Smith since reading You are What your Love--a game changer in my spiritual life. In this new award-winning back, he does a faithful and concise job of making the pre-modern church father Augustine of Hippo a conversation partner for thinkers (especially existential philosophers), and all spiritual seekers. Augustine’s prodigal journey triggers our reflections on our own prodigality. Smith also rightfully urges a hermeneutic of migration. That is, we are wanderers in this world—existentially or literally—and we ought to read Scripture through these lenses. Though dense in content, the book was engaging, and it was over before I realized it.
The 21: A Journey in the Land of the Coptic Martyrs (Martin Mosebach). While researching suffering in the modern global church, I read Mosebach’s careful account of the 21 martyrs (20 Egyptian Copts and one Ghanaian believer) who were executed by ISIS on the beach in Libya in 2015. My heart broke for how these impoverished men, working abroad in Libya to provide for their families back home in Egypt, were brutally murdered. I was inspired by their commitment to the Coptic liturgy, which they sang daily while working in Libya and during their period of captivity. In their suffering and martyrdom, they worshipped. I was also surprised that the Muslim government of Egypt paid to build a church in their honor in their hometown.
Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table (J. Todd Billings). Billings wrote this to invite the church (particularly his Reformed tradition) to spiritual renewal by a deepened reflection on and practice at the Lord’s Table. He strongly draws upon Calvin’s teaching of the Lord’s real presence in the Supper. I love Billings’ admonition to actively participate in the Eucharist: “The Lord's Supper is more than a mental act of meaning making. It is an embodied practice in community, engaging all our senses in the context of worship” (p. 17).
The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom (Alexander Schmemann). It seemed like every of author I read this year was quoting Schmemann so I decided to go to the source itself. In this classic work, first translated into English in 1987, Schmemann captures the Russian Orthodox theology of the Eucharist. His work is really a street level theology of the Eucharist since he constructed it from his own experience of Eucharistic worship. Schmemann frames the work around the sequential stages of the Liturgy. I especially appreciated the preaching of the gospel during the homily and in the Eucharist itself.
Come, Let Us Each Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity (George Kalantzis and Marc Cortez, eds.). This work is the fruit of the 2017 Wheaton Theology Conference—a discussion of the sacraments and Lord’s Table from various church traditions (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, free church) and how the global church might arrive at unity around the Lord’s Table. I particularly enjoyed Cherith Fee Nordling’s chapter (pp. 78-93) on Jesus acting as host at the Lord’s Table. Jesus welcomes us at the Table not only as the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, but as the ascended Lord who sits at the right hand of the Father. I also appreciated Paul Gavrilyuk’s call for the Eucharist to unite believers: “As an eschatological sign, the Eucharist has the potential to relativize all forms of existing human alienation; it is a purification of the fallen forms of unity (tribal, national, racial, political) that go against the believers’ new life in Christ (Eph 2:13-14)” (pp. 176-177).