RISK-SHAPED DISCIPLESHIP
On Going Deeper into the Life of God
Terry Biddington
Paper, $22.95
208 pages, 5" 8"
ISBN 0-89390-693-X


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Make Friends with Change.

How do you live out your faith when everything is changing so fast? To those filled with anxiety, fear, and pessimism, Terry Biddington turns the question on its head: How could you possibly live out your faith if the times were not changing. After all, God is all about creativity; creation is all about wonder; the Gospel is all about the unexpected. And the Christian church is-or should be-all about improvising to the tune of hope, personified in the dance of one Jesus of Nazareth. It's risky. It's difficult. It's deep into the life of God.

This book takes as its starting point the reality of change, and it seeks to explore how change may be seen positively by the church. It also seeks to help reinvigorate its teaching and ministry and the way in which Christians understand their spiritual journey. Change is seen not only as a welcome dynamic of the life of faith, but as the very source of unexpected and transformative encounters with God and the transcendent. For God is forever coming into the world, ceaselessly creating and opening up rich possibilities for new beginnings.
 

Terry Biddington holds an M.A. in theology from Manchester University, and a PhD. from Leeds University in 16th Century Spanish religious verse. He is Anglican Chaplain to the three universities of the Manchester Higher Education Community in Manchester, UK. He describes himself as an ordinary pastor and theological practitioner trying to speak authentically, interestingly, and honestly and to address his concerns for the future of the church while encouraging fellow travelers to face their own questions and doubts with hope, courage, and good humor.
 

Reviews of Risk-Shaped Discipleship

Through a strong scriptural base, Terry Biddington challenges Christians to redirect their faith in a proactive and risky manner, akin to the way in which Jesus lived out his life on earth. Complacency and a lackadaisical cloud have overtaken the modern day church, leaving little room for active discipleship or pre-emptive religious ministry. Biddington utilizes biblical examples to weave together an attainable and encouraging image of what discipleship within the modern church looks like - and it is risky business. A gem of a resource for individual use or study groups, this book holds pearls of wisdom that offer revitalization and change to those willing to receive it.
Church of England Newspaper Jan 9, 2011

Here is a demand for risk-taking discipleship which finds its roots in Scripture. This is no woolly liberal treatise but a serious exercise in getting radical Christianity and the church to return to the Bible for its inspiration and producing a reformation based on a theology with risks at the heart. It will provide a rich resource for study groups and individuals seeking a new direction for their faith.
Bishop Stephen Lowe, former Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, UK

On both sides of the Atlantic churchgoers and the ones who love them are searching for ways to be church. Hand-wringing over the church's "relevance" abounds. But here Terry Biddington takes a different tack-we need to change not to keep up with the times, but because our God is a God of change and new creation; a God who is "on the inside of change." Terry Biddington uses a rich variety of scripture and conversations with patristic, mystic, and feminist thinkers to craft an alluring picture of a God who draws humanity into new creation. Unsettled churchgoers, those on the church's fringes, and, ultimately, the whole church will be the richer for it.
Rev. Nathan Eddy, United Church of Christ

Terry Biddington is that rare person-someone whose pastoral work is deeply rooted in his Christian faith and who is also able to write engagingly with a profoundly informed scholarship about the spiritual journey that we all need to be on.  The book is a must for anyone seriously concerned about the role of religious ministry in the 21st Century. Few books will really change your life-this one will if you let it.
Dr. William West, Quaker and Reader in Counselling, Manchester University, UK

Terry Biddington's new book, Risk-Shaped Discipleship, has the qualities of fresh thinking, challenging imagery and fearless exploration that those who know his work would expect. He seeks to develop what he finds so lacking in the church's response to change: namely a "creative and accessible theology of change." By exploring a series of biblical stories to powerfully illuminate our present condition he helps us imagine a truly risky, realistic and hope-filled discipleship today. There is much in the book to disagree with-but that is precisely the kind of debate he wants to engender! Even though written with a light and accessible touch, this is food for serious thought and prayer.
Rev. Dr. Chris Jenkins, Catholic Priest and Psychotherapist

Challenging, inspiring, tender yet assertive, this prophetic book offers the "green shoots of recovery" that the institutionalised church desperately needs at this time. Here is a thoughtful Biblical and visionary paradigm for all who have transitioned beyond the confines of a severely disabled church. All those who long for full inclusion and equality really need this book: read, mark, and inwardly digest. This really is dynamite and articulates brilliantly the place I and so many others have been evolving into. Thank you SO very much.
Rev. Clive Larsen, is a parish priest and involved in The Progressive Church Network, Inclusivechurch, and Changing Attitude, UK

Terry Biddington loves the Bible: he takes its texts seriously. This book will appeal to Christians who treasure the Bible, and are willing to explore its language and ideas in the light of modern knowledge about the historical times in which the texts were produced and subsequently read. The author's clear and interesting text, together with the helpful questions in each chapter, will help readers to relate the contents to their own lives and times.
Una Kroll, feminist activist, writer and priest

The challenge of change to the churches is something everyone committed to the future of the church should be concerned with. This book encourages us, through reflection on our own experience-to see change, and the accompanying "cutting edges," not as a threat, but as places where God is most fully present.
Hilary Topp, National Coordinator, Student Christian Movement, UK

This is a new wine for the modern age from the vineyards of Christian scripture and tradition. A Wine unlike other wines. The Wine of the "yet more." With hints of mysticism, feminism, spicy blackberry, and vanilla. A full bodied, well balanced flavour which resonates with deep clarity and integrity. Terry Biddington takes the fruits of his long standing service to the church and ferments a vision of discipleship which brings hope to all who can imagine "building inclusive communities of blessing." Some may see Risk Shaped Discipleship as an acquired taste both for individuals and institutions to live at the "knife edge," of God's creative presence. For it's a journey that embraces the unknown, an exploration of "the God who is different from other gods." And it's wine that may sour the pallet if not imbibed from new wine skins yet which is perfect for the wedding feast of the relevance of Christianity to contemporary society. Best enjoyed with jazz music, poetry or in communion with openness.
Stephen Canning, nurse, Sheffield, UK



Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1.i   Taking Stock of Where We Are: The Reality of Change
   ii  Imagining Things Differently: Newness and the Experience of God

2.i   Abraham and Sarah: From Anxiety to New Birth
   ii  A Time for New Birth: Natality as a Way of Re-imaging the Christian Adventure

3.i   Moses: Exile, Identity, and Law: On Learning from a Burning Bush
   ii   Law, Risk, and Freedom: Getting on the Inside of the Relationship

4.i  Jeremiah: On Defying the Ways that Lead to Death
   ii  Is the Matrix Real? On Being Born Afresh into Hope

5.i  Second Isaiah: The Treasures of the Darkness
   ii  Toward a Theology that Re-Imagines the World: On Darkness, Birth, and Flourishing

6.i  Jesus, Bodies, and the Threat of Wholeness
   ii  Flourishing and the Body of Christ

7.i  Jesus, Scripture, and Risk-shaped Imagination
   ii Imagining a New "Kindom" Text for the Church

8. Piecing Together a Risk-shaped Discipleship

Works Cited


 Introduction

The idea of risk-shaped discipleship is more than mere rhetoric. All discipleship needs to be risk-shaped if it is to truly respond to the challenge of communicating hope for today's world and so make a tear in the everyday fabric of the normal human perception of reality, a perception that is everywhere colored by the deep hues of anxiety, fear, and pessimism.

The communication of hope creates a space in which to articulate a voice that performs a different tune that calls us to participate and cooperate with God's endless creativity, in an attitude of almost playful risk or daring. Hope is like the music of great jazz musicians, where any so-called wrong note or mistake is immediately incorporated into the performance and becomes the basis for a new improvisation. While such an approach tests the musicians' ingenuity to its limits and is not without its risks, it gives them scope and impetus for the further creative development of their performance.

Similarly for us in the performance of our lives, hope exists when God and people together create an improvised response to the events and personalities, the joys and tribulation of daily life. To understand the performance of human life as the risk-shaped challenge of hopeful improvisation is to understand that life is best appreciated as being the result of the creative interplay between the non-negotiable chords (the "givens" of our lives) and those gratuitous moments of serendipity, coincidence, or pure grace. In these moments of grace, our perception is momentarily but irrevocably transformed by the "yet-more" of God. And Scripture shows us that the Christian life is all about improvising on this score of hope, personified in Jesus' performance of his own life.

There is encouraging evidence (scriptural and otherwise) that God chooses to operate precisely through times of unimagined change and radical novelty, and that life is best understood from the perspective of constant renewal, newness, and new birth. The challenge of Christian discipleship is to look for the unexpected and the new and to discover divinity within it. Christians today, perhaps as never before, are being called to consider how our world (which we think we know so well) and the church (which so many of us struggle to remain part of) may be imagined differently through the eyes of God.

In many parts of the world, the church has led the way in communities where suffering, exploitation, alienation, and abuse are rife. But the church in the West now needs to respond afresh to God's call by helping the world to discern how and where God is at work. Specifically, the church needs to help the world to imagine into being a different future by helping the world to hear the transgressive tales and subversive memories of a radically alternative way of life that it has been given to share. For the church has treasures that the world needs right now for its flourishing. It is only when the church rediscovers the radical newness of God and manages to live and share this revolutionary inheritance that it can be most true to its prophetic vocation in the world.

This book explores how we might collectively imagine new ways of being church and new ways of being true to the radical proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth. Each chapter begins by reflecting on a scriptural witness and then explores how to reexamine the relationship between traditional theological themes and our lived experience. This examination is done in the light of a renewed understanding of God as one who exists by birthing new life into being.

Chapter One explores the nature of change. All too often the church's reaction to change has been to avoid it at all costs. But if the church is to be true to its calling then it should itself become an agent of the freedom and change the world needs to experience.

Chapter Two explores freedom from anxiety and death through the story of Abraham and Sarah. It presents the birth of Isaac and the covenant as touchstones for discovering a life-giving mutuality between God and humanity. This chapter also examines the incarnation and birth of Jesus to show how each new moment of our lives might be an opportunity to engage with the radically re-creative energy of God.

In Chapter Three we look at the great narrative of Moses and Aaron. These men speak God's truth to the powerful of their day in the form of the proclamation of a radical alternative reality embodied in the Law given at Sinai. This Law, which was utterly different from any other, can paradoxically function like any law in its ability to create an inclusive identity and exclude people. This chapter explores how the Law must be challenged in the name of God if it is to reveal the real freedom that comes with risking all to be a disciple and follower.

What precisely this risk might entail is investigated in Chapter Four through the story of Jeremiah. The word of God that comes to Jeremiah is meant for those at the center of the political and religious life of Judah, a life focused on the temple and its rituals. Complete allegiance to unchanging practices and routines was believed to guarantee God's protection, even in the face of the undeniable chaos of the time. It was to be the solution to all the nation's security fears and problems. At the heart of this story is the show-down between Hananiah, the prophet of the establishment, and Jeremiah, the dangerous outsider, and between two versions of reality and two visions of God.

The possibility of discovering the "yet-more" of God is developed in Chapter Five from the curious idea found in Isaiah of the "treasures of the darkness." While the notion of darkness has frequently suffered negative overtones within the Jewish and Christian religions, its use in Isaiah opens a doorway to think about the hiddenness and essential unknowability of God. This chapter explores the wordless and
imageless experience of darkness as the location for fresh and intimate encounters with God in the very ground of our being.

The next two chapters consider Jesus as the expression of God's newness and re-creative love. Chapter Six develops the idea of healing and the relationship between human bodies and the physical presence of Jesus. How it is, for example, that wherever Jesus goes he embodies in his own person the re-creative energy of God and turns no-bodies into some-bodies; that he calls forth from individuals an unexpected realization of their own visceral connectedness that draws them to membership in a community; that this community witnesses to the new reality bursting into the world and overcomes the simple dichotomy between "savior" and "saved."

How the church might practice a theology of "fullness of life for all" is the theme of Chapter Seven. This chapter explores how Jesus read and interpreted Scripture, how the early church reacted, and whether or not we might regain the practice of reading the Scriptures subversively. Imagination is essential to the work of doing theology and to the business of cooperating with God to help usher in the new values and practices of God's reign. For too many of us, Scripture has assumed a state of fundamental and irredeemable fixedness within our liturgical and ethical practice, which contributes to the bored indifference and lack of anticipation with which we routinely approach such amazingly life-giving texts.

Consequently, the church must repent and experience afresh the re-creative love of God in order to create new strategies for offering the transformative care the world needs. Chapter Eight is an attempt to articulate a practical spirituality of risk and change. This chapter asks why we find ourselves so settled on the idea that truth is always timeless and changeless, and why we have allowed ourselves to become suspicious of being open (or opened) to change and growth. It also explores what it is that can help us to confront our risk aversion and so enable God to help us rediscover what the church is for, what Christianity is to become in the West, and whether authentic risk-shaped discipleship is the real Christian vocation today and God's new gift to the world.

Each section and chapter concludes with questions with which to reflect, alone or with others.