I have read several of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s books previously (God’s Economy and The Wisdom of Stability). So I picked up The Awakening of Hope without looking into what it was about when I saw that it was a free audiobook on Noisetrade.com (it is no longer free.) That was a couple months ago and I had forgotten about it when I ran across it looking for another audiobook.
The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice A Common Faith is an attempt at basic catechesis (basic Christian instruction). Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is part of intentional Christian community and has worked with Shane Claiborne, Chris Haw and some of the other ‘New Monastics’.
These Christians are attempting to serve God through a commitment to local community. Most of them are pacifist, Chris Haw became Roman Catholic but retained participation in the work.
These guys are mostly my age, late 30s, early 40s. They have been working for nearly two decades now and have earned the right to speak to the broader church. I think some of the initial exuberance has faded. But it is no less important that the broader church listen to a segment of the church that has accepted a call to service.
What I find helpful about this movement is that while they encourage others to participate with them, most of the movement does not believe that everyone is called to their type of service. And what I think is even a greater sign of health and humility is that as a broader group, there is a real focus on spiritual development and intentional connection to early ‘radical’ movements.
So Wilson-Hartgrove, Haw and Claiborne worked together on a modern prayer book intentionally modeled on the book of common prayer. And in Awakening of Hope, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is attempting to modernize basic Christian instruction. Catechesis or teaching the Catechism is a practice that even among more liturgical churches has often fallen on hard times. Traditional Catechism classes taught pre-teens through memorizing in a question and answer format the catechism.
Here, Wilson-Hartgrove, is covering much of the same content (although with some clear additions) through a narrative format. He tells stories and does theology more like Eugene Peterson or Wendell Berry than John Calvin. This is a book written in a particular context. But it is worthwhile for those outside that context to listen in. Each Christian community has to pick and choose, not theology, but the way that it contextualizes theology.
And Wilson-Hartgrove has emphasized connection to people, community, attachment to the land and food, simplicity as expressions of more traditional understanding of Church, salvation, God and theology that is taught in the catechism.
The older I get, the more important I think that formalized catechesis is for Christian growth. I am not sure that I would fully adopt this method, but I also am not sure the traditional method works today either. Regardless of method, teaching of the young (and the young in faith) is an essential work of the church.
One area that I think needs push back is about his emphasis of place. Given his previous book about the subject, it is not a surprise that he spends a significant amount of time over several chapters looking at the importance of place. I think that place is important. Christ came to earth in a particular place and time. I am convinced that there is real value in committing to a particular place.
But I think Wilson-Hartgrove goes just a bit too far when he brings up a recurring image of a group of addicts. When he says that the addicts need their place to be changed and restored for their recovery to be complete it is asking for something that cannot be complete before the remaking of Heaven and Earth. All places are broken. No place will be whole this side of Christ’s return. He talks about addicts in a poor area of Philadelphia. But there are addicts in the nicest suburbs in and in the nicest homes. Addiction is about sin and sin will continue regardless. Yes there are influences that place has on addition. That is why rates of addition vary from place to place, but addiction as a reality is present everywhere because sin is present everywhere.
In spite of a few places where I think he goes too far, and in spite of some areas that are not brought up at all, that I think should have been, this is a worthwhile attempt at a new format of catechesis. I hope many others attempt other variations of catechesis as well.