John Colwell’s book The Rhythm of Doctrine (see previous post) is proving to be as interesting and thought-provoking as I’d hoped. Occasionally the prose gets a bit dense (sample, p.49: “That I perceive anything at all other than in the manner in which it is being given to me by God to perceive is perversity”), and I have some disagreements with Colwell which I may touch on in later posts. But overall I am enjoying it so far and would warmly recommend it to anyone sharing Colwell’s concern to achieve a closer relationship between theology and the worshipping life of the church.
I’m particularly gratified that Colwell takes (as his template for the Christian year) the calendar from Celebrating Common Prayer, the full edition of which I am currently using for my own personal prayers (having previously tended to use one of the various pocket editions – see my post from last year on various daily offices, when I was a bit sniffy about the full CCP edition).
Colwell writes movingly in his introduction of how he came to love both the daily office and the Christian year as a basis for the Christian life:
More than any other factor, it was the experience of wrestling with the crushing darkness of clinical depression that drew me to a more formal devotional life.
His inability to pray himself made him far more appreciative of being able to join in with the prayers of others, both within the Bible and from all eras of the church. While I have never experienced the “crushing darkness of clinical depression” myself, I have certainly found my own weak and haphazard prayer life to be helped over the years by joining in with the prayers of the church rather than struggling along on my own.
Of course, the fact that Colwell – a Baptist – should discover the church year from a source located towards the “catholic” end of Anglicanism is a reminder that, for many evangelical Christians, the church year is far from being a “given” that can then be co-opted as a structure for systematic theology. The blurb on the back of Colwell’s book poses the question:
What might a theology built around the worshipping life of the Christian church look like?
For those of us in churches that follow the church calendar, Colwell’s book is certainly an encouragement to appreciate more fully the theological richness and Christ-centredness of the various seasons of the Christian year. But it is to be hoped that Colwell’s book will also encourage many Christians from supposedly “non-liturgical” traditions to consider the corresponding question:
What might a worshipping life built around the theology of the Christian church look like?
The theology, that is, whose full breadth and richness is well represented in Colwell’s brief sketch. I suggest that a large part of the answer to that question is to be found in such resources of the wider church as: the Christian year; the daily offices; the singing of psalms; the mainstream traditions of liturgical worship; the sacraments understood as instruments by which God acts upon us. If Colwell’s book assists in making more Christians and congregations appreciate those treasures more fully then it will have done a real service to the church.