- In: Book Reviews
- By Alan Roxburgh
Dwight Zscheile, People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2012).
Dwight Zscheile is rooted in the Anglican tradition. He teaches theology at Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN and partners with his wife in serving an Episcopal Parish in the Twin Cities. All of which is to say that this young, practicing theologian hasn’t abandoned his tradition in favor of the new and next but chosen to indwell the Anglican story from within the context of a local parish. Written from this perspective, People of the Way invites Episcopalians to see past their more recent story as ‘establishment’ church and recover the deeper and more mission-directed gifts that lie within this rich tradition.
One suspects that few of those reading this review are Episcopalian or rooted in the Anglican tradition. You might well ask the pragmatic question: What’s in this book for me? Actually, a lot. Most of us come from somewhere, some tradition. We may be part of that growing number who are discovering that jettisoning one’s tradition in favor of some brand new movement (usually the resuscitation of something that’s been forgotten) actually doesn’t usher in the kingdom. We may be part of a diverse movement of Christians who understand the renewed importance of recovering traditions that underly the European reformations of the 16th century and offer us fresh ways of being God’s people in this strange new space where we find ourselves. Zscheile’s book is a gift to all such fellow travelers seeking to understand how to form communities of God’s people in our time.
Episcopalians are not known for being on the cutting edge of re-imagining the church. Indeed, they are not a denomination one would initially connect with those movements seeking to frame a missional future for the churches in North America. But Zscheile demonstrates that one can patiently and lovingly read one’s own tradition from the inside in order to name what has gone wrong then one can also find in that tradition the resources for framing missional life. He shows that one doesn’t need to uproot and tear down the churches but re-enter them from the perspectives of ones tradition. This book is a welcome invitation to discover the ways of renewing identity for the sake of the kingdom. In the chapter on Discipleship he summarizes some of this re-reading of his own tradition:
Renewing Episcopal identity after an era of establishment involves recovering deeper theological and spiritual roots - a sense of the church as a community of the Way of Jesus sent to participate in God’s mission of reconciling all creation. We need to discover what it might mean for us to claim the identity of disciples, not mere members of an institutional church, in ways that resonate with our values, commitments and goals. The vitality of our identity as the church depends on the vitality of discipleship, which in an era of functional establishment tended to be underdeveloped. 89
What this marvelous understatement does is avoid lifting up the latest models where everyone heads for things fresh or some other model. Zscheile points us back to some basic elements of Anglican life explaining how, within them, are to be found the sources of renewal. I get many books delivered to my door each month proclaiming some new insight into how to change or make the church more relevant. This book it different from the rest. As an Anglican, I found it encouraging and recommend it to all those within the church who want to go behind the hoopla and dig deep into their traditions.