: Experiencing the Heart of Christianity by Tim Scorer. Wood Lake Books, 2005, 158 pages plus CD, $34.95
Study guide for exploring Borg book

Review by Paul Borthistle

This new release by Wood Lake books is a study guide with a difference. It bridges traditional print technology with audio-visual technology in a mixed-media experiential learning guide.

The author Tim Scorer is a well known and respected Christian educator in British Columbia. For many years he was the program director at the United Church Naramata Centre, and is currently on the ministry leadership team at Penticton United Church.

To understand the unique approach of this study guide, one must first understand something of the book on which it is based.

In 2003 Marcus Borg published his book, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. Borg began by asking a question, "What does it mean to be a Christian today?" He presented two definitively different understandings of the Christian faith that co-exist today.

The first is an "earlier version of Christianity" based on a traditional reading of scripture as divine authority. This paradigm sees the Bible as a divine product to be interpreted literally, with a vision of the Christian life based on faith in right belief, afterlife, and attention to requirements and rewards. It is the paradigm most North American Christians grew up in.

The second `version of Christianity' is an emerging paradigm, visible now for a century and is fundamentally different. It sees the Bible and the tradition as a whole as historical, metaphorical, and sacramental. The Bible is sacred scripture, not because it is a divine product, but in its function and status. The emerging paradigm sees the Christian life as a life of relationship with God in community that transforms life in the present.

Borg's writing speaks to the experience and alienation of many people today with traditional religion. Scorer captures this understanding by creating a 12 session study program that is built upon allowing the participants to explore their own faith experience in an experiential and non-judgmental manner, while interacting with the traditions of the faith. Scorer provides a wealth of format material and aids to the facilitator, as well as providing for the use of traditional Christian symbols, water, bread, light, to be part of the individual and group dynamic.

He brings together people, Borg's material, Biblical material and reflection with Christian symbols. The process as recommended by Scorer allows people to share their own experience with others, and find the openings for God's transformation the new paradigm proclaims.

The book includes a DVD with session materials from the author Scorer with video clips of Marcus Borg. It is the intent of the guide that each participant of the experimental study purchase their own copy of Borg's book, and that the facilitator purchase a copy of the study guide. The participants are expected to read the appropriate chapter of the book before each session.

I spoke with the facilitator of a Vancouver congregation in the midst of the sessions and he reports that the material is doing what it is intended to do, and participants are finding it a valuable way to explore their faith. He also indicated that there is such a wealth of material that you must pick and choose, or the process could overwhelm the participants.

It is an ambitious study program requiring twelve sessions, and therefore it is not suited to most seasonal group study programs, such as Lent or Advent. However, it offers a rich opportunity for significant faith exploration for many people who would be unmoved by traditional Christian education opportunities. As such, I believe it is well worth a look and worth the investment of time and money.

It is available at Vine and Fig Tree Books, Vancouver (http://www.vineandfig.ca) or the Anglican Book Centre

The Rev. Paul H. Borthistle is diocesan Director for Parish Support Ministries.

Christ Wisdom – Spiritual Practice in the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer by Christopher Page. Path Books (Anglican Book Centre), 2005, 134 pages, $16.95
Meditations short, pithy and stimulating

Review by Jeannette A. Stigger

This book of mediations on The Beatitudes and on the Lord's Prayer, recently published by ABC, hails from the West. Its author, Christopher Page, is an Anglican priest who lives and works in Victoria.

I found it to be short, pithy and stimulating. Though it is not intended for study groups, I thought it could well be used in groups. It is intended as a guide for persona] growth, not for `head' study but for `heart' study, for praxis. In his introduction, the author suggests that spiritual seekers do not need more information about faith; what we do need are `tools for living transformed and transforming lives.'

The focus of the church through the past few centuries has been on the saving events of Christ's life: on the Passion and Resurrection. The Wisdom teaching of Christ, seen most clearly in the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer, has been eclipsed. In fact it is a key part of Christ's ministry and of our discipleship. The author of this book sees Christ as the incarnation of God's loving Wisdom who unites us into communion with God. The book is a tool for Christ-centered spirituality.

The book is not long. It consists of twenty-two short meditations. Each chapter provides a reflection on the text, followed by two sets of questions and then a practical exercise which are intended to be the heart of the book. They are the tools that help us pay attention to the work of Christ in our own lives, longing us closer to Wisdom.

The author sees that the Wisdom teaching of Christ heals not only our personal brokenness but also the fragmentation that we experience in both our human and church communities, where doctrines so often divide us. Christopher Page's reflections are deep and insightful and are also based on sound scholarship and a life of pastoral practice. His teaching skills are apparent. He does not shy away from the difficulties that arise with the Beatitudes but brings his Biblical knowledge, a broad selection of supportive resource material from the desert tradition through the ages and his own experience to bring the reader to a place of understanding.

The author's work on the Lord's Prayer emphasizes the need to take time and pray it slowly. He lifts up the communal frame of this prayer to `the Father of us' and points out the callousness of having our Western selves in mind rather than a world of hunger when we pray `give us this day our daily bread'; but then he takes the phrase deeper to the level of fear of loss, which is universal.

I like the book. My only wish is that the questions could have been phrased more invitationally and more open-endedly. I found some of them a little obtuse and at times I felt as though I was supposed to come up with the `right' answer. I don't think this was what the author really intended.

The Ven. Jeannette Stigger is a retired priest of the diocese and former head of the diocesan Retreat Unit.