Responding to God?s Call: Christian Formation Today

Author: Jeremy Worthen
ISBN 978-1-84825-212-7 pp. 179, pbk
Date: 2012
Price: ?16.99?
Publisher: Canterbury Press, Norwich

Jeremy Worthen is the Principal of the South East Institute for Theological Education (SEITE), an Anglican foundation for the formation of ministry especially of those who are already married or engaged in busy working lives.

Consequently he knows much about how the process of ?vocation? can be discerned in individual lives, especially in respect of competing claims placed upon those lives. As is becoming apparent in Reformed as well as Catholic circles the notion of ?vocation? has often been conceived in too narrow a sense as vocation simply to the priesthood and religious life (notice the emphasis on the annual ?Vocations Sunday? in many parishes is simply on vocations to the priesthood). Pope Benedict XVI in his address to young people at Strawberry Hill in September 2010 emphasised that young people need to follow the call to ?become better people? suggesting this move away from the narrowly ?ministerial? understanding of vocation.

A shift of emphasis enshrined in the document Lumen Gentium where the ministry of all the lay faithful is praised. Worthen?s book reflects this trend. For him Christian formation refers to ?ways in which Christians are shaped in and for vocation, where vocation names the process of responding to God?s call.? This usually has an outward manifestation in, for example, the call to ministry, marriage or a particular type of work. However these are particular manifestations of a general and universal call to follow Christ. Worthen is not keen on emphasising the traditional Catholic call to ?universal holiness?, rather he is concerned with giving us the tools to discern the call of Christ in our particular circumstances and how we can best respond to it in as unfettered fashion as possible. To explicate this he takes two surprisingly diverse ?spiritual anthropologies.?

In the first half of the book he examines the cultural milieu that shaped the ?modern?, or rather ?the post-modern? person. Here he leans in particular on Charles Taylor?s Secular Age and Sources of the Self (both, oddly enough, not included in the bibliography at the end of the book). If you like Taylor?s analysis you will enjoy Worthen?s explication of it and he shows a firm grasp of spiritual anthropology as social critique. In the second part of the book he looks at what he calls ?the great themes? of traditional Christian theology of vocation: grace, salvation, creation, incarnation and the role of the Church in the realisation of vocation. Drawing heavily here on the ?grand Protestant tradition? of writers such as Barth there will be much here that the general reader will find illuminating and inspiring. Surprisingly, in his final section on how ?the riches of Tradition? call inform our pursuit of calling today he returns to Augustinian three Augustinian faculties of memory, will and understanding.

After the barnstorming and forensic critique of modern and post- modern culture in Part One this may seem somewhat retrograde. However, Worthen remains at heart, I feel, a medievalist and has the medievalist?s eye for the power of the ancient anthropology and it is to his credit that he is able to make Augustine?s typologies relevant for contemporary ears. However, from my perspective as a writer on spirituality, I felt the absence of two key twentieth century voices in this section: Simone Weil and Edith Stein. Perhaps Worthen may turn to them in his next book? This is a book that goes beyond nar- row Anglican concerns and deserves to be read by any Christian who has every asked themselves the question ?Who am I?? and ?What is God calling me to do in my life??