Book review: Practicing Faith

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Lisa Spriggens and Tim Meadowcraft, Eds., Practicing Faith: Theology and Social Vocation in Conversation, (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2022)

reviewed by Rosie Hopley, CMS MA student

Practicing Faith: Theology and Social Vocation in Conversation is a deep and rich read. This is a book composed of thirteen essays tackling topics including friendship, trauma and holding hope, hatred expressed in the Psalms, food in sacred spaces, compassion, hospitality, guesting and hosting, risk and vulnerability, grief and loss, among several other wide ranging conversations within the context of theology and vocation.

The collection of essays and response articles arose from a conference, Whakawhiti Korero, held in 2018, which brought together thinkers and practitioners of differing areas of scholarship. Lisa Spriggens and Tim Meadowcraft, the text’s editors, continued the discourse and the book “reflects a slice of that conversation” (p. xviii). What is contained in each chapter reflects the conference’s original intent, as expressed in Māori, that the time spent together, ideas and conversations facilitated a “speaking together” (p. xvii).

How do therapists and practitioners integrate their own faith with their vocational work? Set in five themes exploring wellbeing, formation, hospitality, therapy and theology, the writers follow a format of conversations between social vocation and theology. This book sets out to offer multiple examples from the writers’ own practice, and thoughtful, reflective discussion. Engagement with Scripture weaves through each section, helping the reader to anchor ideas and practice, and their own reflections, with the work of scholars, historians, social scientists and other academics. Examples of scriptural examination and reflections included Jonathan Rivett Robinson’s engagement with Mark 7, and the possible use of humour when Jesus met the Syrophonecian woman (p. 129), Richard Neville’s exploration of the incidence of emotions through the Psalms (pp. 224–226) and Sarah Penwarden’s explorations of lament, depths and range of grief and reflections on Holy Saturday.

I particularly enjoyed the response after each section, as each essay is briefly responded to, engaged with, and critiqued.

A highlight was Ryan Lang’s chapter “A Song in the Night: A reflection on Singing in Scripture and Social Vocation”. If this were the only essay, with the corresponding response from Jonathan Rivett Robinson, it would be worth the purchase of the book, although the other essays are excellent too. What resonated for me as a reader is how Lang succeeded in fusing our understanding of singing with the mission of Jesus, how song was prevalent after the Israelites were delivered from slavery, and the relevance of our own song. Lang explores singing in suffering and brings useful insight to those who grapple with how to sing in the midst of the darkest of night, in the midst of trials. Lang brings a compelling argument, and encouragement too.

This is a book that will be helpful for practitioners, theologians and students, indeed anyone seeking to further their understanding of practical theology. In particular, counsellors seeking growth, church leaders exploring the importance of friendship in their own spiritual flourishing, counsellors working with survivors of sexual violence and those working with aged care would do well to pay attention to this book.

For anyone who wants to think about how theology and social vocation can be intertwined, enrich one another (p. 250) and be integrated (p. 253) I would recommend exploring this text. Students and scholars will find thought provoking essays, and the response pieces after each section bring an added dimension and are especially helpful as examples of generous, humble scholarly engagement.

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ANVIL 39:2, November 2023

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