by Gerald L. Sittser
Gerald Sittser’s book connects the dots between the “old” and “new” ways of being the people of God.
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 2007, 359 pages, $22.00.
—Reviewed by Adele Calhoun, co-pastor of Redeemer Community Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts; author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.
Recently, I talked with some folks who were filled with dreams and desires about how to do church in a “new way.” They would engage the world, invest in a coffee house, forgo a building, share weekly communion, and do life and church more simply. Furthermore, their “new” sort of church would be authentic, informal, and comfortable to post-modern people. As I listened to their exuberance, I was struck with how many of their “new” ideas sprung from the deep well of Christian history. Churches—the Body of Christ in every age and culture—always come to us as inheritance, legacy, and a story of living water. Gerald Sittser’s book, Water from a Deep Well, connects the dots between the “old” and “new” ways of being the people of God.
Although Sittser surveys a vast amount of Christian experience, moving chronologically from the New Testament Church up to the present, his book reads more like story than a history text. We are drawn into each spiritual tradition: ascetic, monastic, sacramental, evangelical, orthodox, mystical, work place, reformed, and missional, through the voices of people who lived and found God within their unique context. We are introduced to their spiritual practices, passions, and foibles. As Sittser unfolds our Christian history, we are left with a sense of connection and debt rather than of judgment about how they didn’t get something “right.”
I was particularly drawn to Sittser’s generosity toward the breadth of religious experience within the Christian tradition. Each spirituality is connected to life today through a particular word. For example, the spirituality of the martyrs is linked to the word “witness.” The spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers is explicated by the word “struggle.” Orthodox spirituality is tethered to the word “holy heroes.” “Witness,” “struggle,” “holy heroes,” “union,” “ordinariness,” “word,” and “risk” are only a few of the words Sittser uses to unlock the lives of disciples very different than our own.
Water from a Deep Well invites us to come and meet some new/old friends who offer us wisdom from their lived experience. Witness the life change in Augustine the libertine-turned-theologian. Marvel at Antony and Francis who fled a life of comfort to make themselves radically accessible to God. Enter into the struggles of men and women who led reforms, founded mission endeavors, and started new enterprises: Benedict, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius, Luther, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Billy Graham, and others.
Each chapter ends with ways of practicing the spirituality of the tradition under discussion. The end of the book includes a series of discussion questions for every chapter. If you are thirsty to know people who experienced God in life-changing ways, Sittser’s book is a deep well.
Other Books Received
Julien, Tom. 2006. Antioch Revisited: Reuniting the Church with Her Mission. Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH Books.
Kverndal, Roald. The Way of the Sea: The Changing Shape of Mission in the Seafaring World. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Merkle, Benjamin L. 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.
Stackhouse, Max L. and Lalsangkima Pachuau, eds. 2007. News of Boundless Riches: Interrogating, Comparing, and Reconstructing Mission in a Global Era, two volumes. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK); Bangalore: United Theological College (UTC); Princeton, N.J.: Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI).
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