This is the ninth blog in a series from Sunderland minister David Whiting, who has recently been on sabbatical
‘The Reflective Disciple’ by Roger Walton, SCM Press 2012
‘The Reflective Disciple’ is written by Roger Walton, Chair of the West Yorkshire Methodist District, former Director of the Wesley Study Centre, Durham and at the time of writing this review President of the Methodist Conference,
The book is about how we are to live as disciples of Jesus in this present day. The book is written in six chapters.
The first chapter explores discipleship in the New Testament and makes the point that discipleship means different things to different New Testament authors. Like a number of writes on the theme of discipleship the author makes the point that following Jesus is different to the way of the disciples of the rabbis or Greek Philosophers. Other disciples choose the teacher they wish to follow and pass on the teaching or tradition of their teacher in tact. The disciples of Jesus are chosen by him and they follow a person. Roger Walton drawing upon a book by David Brown argues that the nature of discipleship cannot be drawn directly from scripture rather we need to understand what the scriptures are saying but also come to an understanding about how the context of our own discipleship is different (p.26).
We are led into the second chapter which is all about the context of our own discipleship. Roger Walton gives some examples from the lives of contemporary disciples. Various cultural shifts are examined: post-national, post-modern and post-Christendom. The author goes on to explore how these cultural has effected the lives of our contemporary disciples.
At the heart of Christian discipleship is God and the third chapter examines a fresh picture of God. God is a Trinitarian God and also a missional God (missio Dei). God’s activity is now and God’s activity is in the world. Roger Walton regards the missio Dei and the Trinitarian God that we proclaim as ‘exciting and unnerving’ (p.80).
We live as disciples in a real world and experiencing real issues and concerns in our everyday life. The author explores in chapter 4 the rhythm and discipleship.
The fifth chapter gives the book its name for it is about ‘the Reflective Disciple’. The nature of faithful reflection is explored. Faithful reflection is the author’s preferred term for the practice of discipleship. The word ‘faithful’ is used because firstly it is about faith, secondly it draws our attention to resources that are used in faith reflection such as scripture and tradition and thirdly the word expresses our desire to hold onto and honour that which has gone before. The author goes on to examine some practices involved in reflection.
- is prompted naturally out of life experience
- needs time and resource
- works through fact and imagination
- works through words and images
- involves thinking and action
- is on situation and self
The chapter moves on to explore how we nurture reflective habits and the author suggests various exercises or practices such as attentiveness, making connections, partnered conversations, prayerful expression combined with practical enactment and personal accountability.
The final chapter reminds us that discipleship is not merely an individual thing but it happens within a community of faith. The chapter describes Christian communities in which disciples grow.
The book is a valuable book in its approach to the practice of reflective discipleship and growth in that discipleship. Having spent some time in the past teaching theological reflection aware that it sometimes causes confusion among students and can be a bit mysterious. I have found the book very clear I think in future I will speak about faithful reflection rather than use the term theological reflection. From the point of view of its discussion about nature of Christian discipleship I find this book practical and helpful and at the same time profound.