(Tom Wright, SPCK Publishing, 2005, 978-028105743-6)
Living Faith draws on the superb scholarship of Tom Wright to explore the Biblical story, Christian history and doctrine. For those wanting a good introduction to, or a reminder of these essentials, this is a very helpful resource. The material is presented in the style of a university tutorial.
The course is aimed at Christians new or established. It would be very useful as a follow up tool for an individual or a group that wants to know more about the Bible, having had their appetite whetted by an Alpha course for example.
What is it?
Living Faith is a ten part course. The ten parts are:
- the story and message of the Bible,
- the Hebrew scriptures,
- the world, life and ministry of Jesus,
- the Gospel testimonies to Jesus,
- Paul and the outward movement,
- a brief history of Christianity,
- Christian doctrines and beliefs,
- other religions and beliefs,
- growing in and sharing Christ,
- living Christianly in the world.
The course material is presented in a book and on DVD. Prior to each session participants are asked to read the appropriate chapter in the book (five or six pages). The group then view the DVD material (25 minutes). Each DVD session begins with a superb introduction of the topic by Tom Wright, followed by dialogue between Bishop Tom, Marilyn Sharpe and Joel Quie. The leaders' guide then offers questions for group discussion.
Running throughout the material is an emphasis on the stories of creation and new creation, and the absolute centrality of resurrection. Bishop Tom powerfully presents the link between personal salvation and the need to share in God's mission of putting the world to rights. The key questions of 'Who is Jesus?' and 'What does it mean to follow him?' are addressed throughout.
The scholarship is both deep and broad. For example, Bishop Tom argues that all the theories of the atonement matter and by looking at them together we get a much fuller understanding of what the death and resurrection of Jesus mean.
Living Faith covers some areas more fully than other discipleship resources. The session on other faiths is particularly good. The course book by John Schwarz offers a very helpful overview of the key elements of the major faiths. Also useful is the section on doctrine. Doctrine is described as 'the backbone that enables Christians to stand up straight'. This is a timely reminder in an age when increasingly the emphasis is on experience.
Who has produced it?
Tom Wright is Bishop of Durham, a widely published author and an acclaimed scholar. His passion is infectious and his enthusiasm for the life-changing Christian faith is crystal clear. Joel Quie is senior pastor of Prairie Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Marilyn Sharpe is the director of Christian parenting and intergenerational ministries at the Youth and Family Institute in Bloomington, Minnesota.
John Schwarz (see below) is the author of A Handbook of the Christian Faith (SPCK). The Living Faith book is an abridged version of the handbook and provides an excellent summary of the key issues covered by the course. The succinct summaries of the Bible and Christian history will be very helpful to those needing a clear and concise introduction to these areas.
What does it claim to do?
The cover of the Living Faith pack says:
Designed for church and house Bible study groups it is suitable for new Christians or older Christians looking for a better grounding in the basics, or simply some refreshment.
Does it do what it says on the cover?
Yes it does, for those who can engage with the university seminar feel of the presentations. Living Faith seems to be most suitable for those who have either done a discipleship course specifically aimed at new Christians or even seekers, or who have been on the Christian journey for some time.
Living Faith's great strength is its substance and scholarship. These could be made more accessible with some more style. The opening sequences for each DVD session feature some superb pictures and images. The presentation and discussion would be greatly enhanced by some more images being used to illustrate the points being made. Many of the verbal illustrations are historical. More contemporary material would be helpful.
The format is very cerebral – Essence this is not! Participants read, watch, listen and discuss. The leaders guide is crying out for reflective and participatory activities.
How simple is it to use?
Living Faith is very simple to use. It could easily fit into an established home group. Paradoxically, this has implications for answering the following question.
Would it work in a fresh expression context?
It is hard to see Living Faith working as a complete course in many fresh expression contexts. If most fresh expressions are engaging with younger, post-modern, 'spiritual' people who learn in many different ways, this may not be the course to do.
However, Living Faith could work in a fresh expression that was established for a senior common room, a group of business people or for others who enjoy using their minds and would not thank you if you asked them to make a collage or meditate for ten minutes in an open field.
Living Faith is a superb piece of scholarship packed full of excellent theology. In a post-modern age it is a valuable reminder of the need for good doctrine, Biblical study and awareness of church history. The material is presented with passion and conviction.
In established churches Living Faith would be an excellent resource for home groups. In fresh expressions it could be useful as a secondary course with group leaders making judicious use of the pause button on the DVD and adding further reflective activities for the group sessions.
How to obtain the material
You can purchase the Living Faith DVD from Amazon and other sources.
The DVDs come with five copies of the study guide and one leaders' guide. Extra copies of the study guide (John Schwarz, SPCK Publishing, 2005, 9780281057344) can be purchased from SPCK.