by Tim Laundon
from Signs of the Times No. 48 - Jan 2013
Walk the Jesus Walk by John Simmons - who was formerly responsible for post-ordination training for the Methodist Church in Great Britain - follows the agenda set by Together in Hope (2008).
It is written both for those who have been discouraged by simplistic or naive Christian teaching or by negative experiences of church. However, it would probably also be helpful in addressing the all too common situation in our churches of clergy feeling that they must avoid critical or radical thinking for fear of upsetting the congregation, while the congregation - ironically - also yearn for a more substantial engagement with what it means to be a Christian amid the complexities of our lives and our society. 'We really do need to "grow up into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15)', writes Adrian Alker (2008:6), editor of that first booklet, and Walk the Jesus Walk sets out a few first steps towards that aim.
In some ways the first chapter of Walk the Jesus Walk is the heart of this booklet. In it Simmons encourages readers to notice the way that their experiences and personality affect their perspective and the way that they might interpret the Scriptures. There are some helpful activities - like drawing a timeline to chart the course of your life and to stimulate discussion of significant ups and downs - and the reader is also encouraged to ask difficult questions of themselves - 'What sort of a person are you? Do you have fixed ideas? ... Are you generous? ... Do other people agree with your answers?' - before they start engaging with the stories of Jesus' life.
This approach undercuts any belief that we might read impartially or neutrally, and having established the particularity of each of our perspectives Simmons introduces the various accounts of Jesus' life in the second chapter, with Jesus' beliefs, teachings and the community that followed him being introduced in chapters 3 and 4. There are many useful biblical references throughout and a constant encouragement to relate them to our everyday lives, through questions at the end of each short section.
I asked a member of my congregation to read this booklet and tell me what he thought. He said that the whole booklet seemed to be leading up to the section on page 29, on which Simmons observes that a mature person can 'live with the questions which life brings... face uncertainty with hope... follow the way of Jesus, without always having to understand everything...'. It is also on this page that Simmons describes a mature church along the same lines, calling on churches to become an 'enquiring community' where 'people will find sympathy, tolerance and acceptance but not necessarily agreement.'
Perhaps this sounds like a plea to be generally nice, tolerant people, but this booklet also contains a more radically Christian call to follow the pattern of Jesus' life and his teachings about being a servant rather than seeking power, for example. Simmons also challenges the prevalent contemporary fear of disagreement and conflict, pointing out that by avoiding any potential for conflict we also deny ourselves any engagement with different perspectives, thereby stunting our own growth and restricting our own development.