Melodies of a New Monasticism by Craig Gardiner
Readers will be informed and challenged by Gardiner's scholarly but readable work which draws on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and George McLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, as well as the past and present witness of the community
Melodies of a New Monasticism – Bonhoeffer’s Vision, Iona’s Witness
By Craig Gardiner
Reviewed by John Matthews
How good it is to recommend a scholarly and readable book by a Baptist minister! Craig Gardiner, who is Tutor in Christian Doctrine at South Wales Baptist College, begins by saying ‘this book began as doctoral research but don’t let that put you off!’ Neither should it.
In it he draws on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and of George McLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, as well as the past and present witness of the community. Readers who know little or nothing about these will be both informed and challenged.
But Gardiner’s purpose is to use these resources to explore the musical metaphor of polyphony, used by Bonhoeffer to consider ‘how melody and counter melody might enable theological reflection on the increasingly fractured condition of modern humanity’ (32). This polyphony being based on the ‘cantus firmus’ – firm song – which is Christ himself, who underlies and ties together the diversity. Gardiner also uses the concept of ‘bisociation’ – the bringing together of previously unrelated subjects – as in the incarnation and in Jesus’ use of aspects of everyday life in his parables. All this is drawn on to explore and expound the witness of Christians and the Church today.
The ‘new monasticism’ of the title envisages the use of ‘the devotional disciplines that nurtured the radical spirituality of traditional monks…reinterpreted so that the Christian community can participate in the performance of the melodies of God in the midst of contemporary society’ (89). Areas which Gardiner explores include worship, ecumenism and healing in the chapter entitled ‘Making melodies in the Church’, and peace, justice and the integrity of creation in that entitled ‘Making melodies in the World’. (Christ is portrayed as non-violent, but no mention is made of his violent cleansing of the Temple.)
It is not possible adequately to sum up the richness of this book in a review of this length. Suffice it to say that it needs to be read, pondered and discussed.
Two appendices give versions of the Rule of the Iona Community before and after 2015. There are indices of names and subjects, but not one of biblical references, and a 27 page bibliography. The book is a well-produced paperback with clear print and sewn binding. It would have been improved by listing the chapter sub-headings under the chapter headings in the contents.
In his foreword Rowan Williams describes it as ‘a work of outstanding originality… which offers something of quite exceptional importance and timeliness to the church…’ He goes on to express his confidence that the author ‘will make a serious mark as a theologian of an unusual kind…someone with ample scholarly credentials but able to speak directly into the most pressing concerns of the contemporary church and its ambient society’. Not a bad commendation!
John Matthews is a retired Baptist minister, living in Rushden, Northants