“Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer” by Rowan Williams (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 84 pages, $10)
In clear and bracing language, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, presents four key topics – baptism, Bible, Eucharist and prayer – in an insightful and compelling way to anyone seeking a rudimentary instruction on these Christian essentials.
To briefly describe each, Williams begins with baptism, “a new beginning of God’s creative work.” To be baptized is to live a life that “looks toward reconciliation, building bridges, repairing shattered relationships,” he says. The Bible, the word of God, “bring(s) you inside the story of how God related to the ancient Israelites and the first Christian believers – letting the Holy Spirit bring you inside the story so that you recognize it as your story.”
Eucharist or Holy Communion is to live as those “who know that they are always guests – that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted,” he says. “Jesus sought out company, and the effect of his presence was to create a celebration, to bind people together.” The bread and wine, Williams says, help us “make that connection between the world and God, between human experience and the divine and eternal Giver.”
Finally, prayer is talking to God in a new way. “The new way to talk to God is as Father,” Williams says, “and that is the work of the Spirit of Jesus.” That means “our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action.” To pray “in Jesus’ name” is to “let Jesus pray in you and take you into the very heart of God the Father.”
Williams, Master of Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, expands on each with supportive Scripture and winsome commentary, though neither will satisfy those whose beliefs about baptism, the Bible, Eucharist and prayer are as varied as English translations of the Bible. Historical and theological differences over the authority and nature of the Bible, the significance of the bread and wine, and the modality and efficacy of baptism are mostly sidestepped by Williams.
Nonetheless, anyone who is looking for a solid starting point on these Christian teachings – including a useful discussion guide after each chapter and suggestions for further reading – or who is seeking to expand his or her basic understanding of these topics will discover numerous spiritual gems worth contemplating.
Tom Schaefer is a former columnist and religion editor for The Eagle. He lives in Wichita.