Being Disciples - Rowan Williams

An off-white cover with a painting of three people in front of manicured trees.

This is the second in a three-part series of posts about the Rowan Williams triptych of "being" books. Being Christian, Being Disciples, and Being Human.

If the first book in this short series, Being Christian, answers the question "What do all Christians hold in common?" then this book is the answer to the question "So, what do they do with those things?" What does it mean, in concise, practical terms, to live as a Christian in the twenty-first century?

The book is organized into six chapters, each one covering an aspect of Christian discipleship. The first chapter begins, logically and helpfully, with a discussion of what it means to be a disciple. Williams argues that disciples are not people who follow sets of rules or only know about Jesus Christ. Rather, disciples are people who know Jesus, have personal experience of God, and who are formed by that relationship.

Chapter Two, "Faith, Hope, and Love" places these three titular values at the centre of discipleship. Again, Williams treats these as more than abstract ideas, describing how faith, hope, and love each become practices in the lives of disciples of Christ.

Chapter Three examines forgiveness as a core practice of discipleship. The discussion includes examinations of forgiveness as a moral, relational practice and as a practice essential for the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Holiness is the topic of the fourth chapter. Williams argues that holiness is not measured by one's nearness to perfection. Instead, holiness is about a willingness to be formed to God's purposes and to be transformed by the experience. Holiness, for Williams, is the submission of one's will to that of God and experiencing divine grace.

"Faith in Society" is the fifth chapter's subject. Looking back to some of the earlier discussions, Williams discusses how being a Christian disciple impacts one's relationship with the rest of the world. He takes up the difficult balance of seeking to transform the world while also engaging with it in humility and an awareness of our own limitations. We are not, after all, God.

Finally, the sixth chapter explores the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of discipleship. Williams argues articulately that the Holy Spirit is not a distant aspect of God, nor a vague force, but a divine person with whom we have a relationship. The Holy Spirit guides disciples and empowers them in their discipleship and work.

This short book is articulate, thought-provoking, accessible, and excellently written. It is thoughtful, insightful, and, in my experience, prompts rich and powerful discussions about life as a Christian. Williams writes broadly enough that I believe this book would be useful for anyone interested in Christian discipleship, regardless of their background or church/denominational affiliation.

In my own context, it was delightful to read someone writing from an Anglican perspective, even if not explicitly identified as such. So often, for Canadian Anglicans, we must make use of theological writing from other churches or other cultural contexts, including some "translation" for our own. Williams's writing is Anglican, but broad enough in its descriptions that it is immediately usable.

I highly recommend Being Disciples for individual study and reflection as well as for study and discussion groups.

Andrew Rampton

Andrew Rampton

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