Practicing Our Faith -- Review

PRACTICING OUR FAITH: A Way of Life for a Searching People.  2nd Edition.  By Dorothy C. Bass, Editor.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.  xxviii + 266 pages.

    It has become commonplace to talk about Christian practices and Christian faith as a way of life.  Such elements of the Christian life as hospitality, healing, and forgiveness have become the focus of attention in ways not previously seen.  Much of this new focus is due to the publication of a 1997 volume entitled Practicing Our Faith That volume gave birth to a series of books that followed up on some of the themes presented in the book.  Now more than a decade later, the editor of that earlier volume has, brought out a second edition for our use and consideration.

    Bass notes that in the years since the first edition was published, she and others have discovered that the key to this book and this movement is the phrase: “way of life.”  She writes that in 1997 the term was “simply tucked  . . .  into the subtitle, but gradually we have come to see it as the point, the purpose, of all the practices” (p. xiii).  Christian faith is more than a belief system, it is a way of life, as indicated by the very name for the earliest Christian community – “the Way” (Acts 9:2).    The promise of the gospel is a way of life that is full of abundance – not of goods but of mercy and hope.  Thus, the point of the book is to find a way to live out this Way. 

    The bulk of the book remains largely unchanged.  The authors of the essays on the twelve practices stood behind what they said earlier, and thus little was changed, except for references to the upcoming millennium (it has already come to pass) and updates to references. Those essays and practices include: Stephanie Paulsell writing on “honoring the body; Ana Maria Pineda on “hospitality”; “household economics” by Sharon Daloz Parks; M. Shawn Copeland’s “Saying Yes and Saying No”; the editor’s own essay on “keeping the Sabbath”; Thomas Hoyt Jr.’s piece on “Testimony”; Frank Rogers’ essay on “discernment”; Larry Rasmussen on “shaping communities”;   Gregory Jones on “forgiveness;” John Koenig on “healing”; “Amy Plantago Pauw’s “dying well;”and “Singing our lives” by Don Saliers.  Although twelve practices are highlighted for exploration, Bass makes it clear that this group is suggestive and not exhaustive.  It is, however, a significant enough starting point to hold our attention for some time.

    Added to the book is a new preface, as well as a new final chapter, which offers a way of corporately studying the book as congregations.  Coauthored with Craig Dykstra, chapter 15 is entitled: “A Way of Thinking about a Way of Life,” and it is intended to be used individually and in groups as a means to make the “way of thinking” present in the book “more explicit.”  It is designed to assist groups in living out the practices discussed in the book.  In an age that suggests that we can do it on our own, the authors of this concluding chapter make it clear that the best place to explore these practices is in “communities where Christians gather for worship and to share their lives with one another and God, regularly and over a sustained period of time” (p. 203).  This guide to discussion is broken into four parts: “What are Christian Practices,” “Exploring One Practice at a Time,” “Congregations and Christian Practices,” and finally “Growing in a Way of Life.”  Again, I appreciate their emphasis on the place of the congregation.  Perhaps that’s because I’m the pastor of one of these congregations.  That said, they offer a word of advice, noting that newcomers to our communities might not understand the importance of the practices, and many long term members may not realize how these practices shape their lives.  Therefore, there is a growing need for the church to make them a focus of its attention (p. 210).  

    Having added this chapter as a way of reading and experiencing in a very focused way the practices, Bass has also revised the earlier “suggestions for conversation and reflection.”  In contrast to the effort suggested in chapter 15, this is a chapter by chapter exploration of the twelve practices, designed for use by individuals and families, as well as by reading and discussion groups.  

    Twelve key practices are offered to the church as a means of living a way of life grounded in faith, or perhaps it offers a faith that is grounded in practice.  By focusing on practices, however, we should not see this as a call to abandon theology.  Bass makes it clear that each of the practices has theological grounding, and thus as we explore and put into practice each of these elements of a way of life, we should discern the theological grounding.  And while we can read them individually, emphasizing this or that practice (as need arises), the book makes it clear that they are all interconnected.  Thus, it would be useful to give attention to a way of “discerning the contours of a way of life abundant proceeds best when we give analytical, imaginative, critical, constructive, prayerful attention to one practice at a time” (pp. xiii-xiv).

    And so the journey begins, once again, guided by sages who have tried the way and understand the road that lies before us.  Attending to this book should prove valuable to the church as it finds way forward and Christians seek to live life abundantly – not in terms of money or possessions, but mercy and peace.


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