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Meeting God in Mark

Author: Rowan Williams
Published By: SPCK (London)
Pages: 96
Price: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 281 07250 7

Reviewed by Terry Hinks.

Rowan Williams quickly rejects the idea that the shortest gospel is in some ways either primitive or naive. It is, he argues, “shot through with deeply theological perspectives”, conveyed by skilfully written stories. The reflections are “an attempt to help us read Mark slowly” and “tune into some of the deeper themes”. The three chapters of this short book are based on Lenten lectures and focus in turn on introducing the gospel, exploring the theme of secrets and the passion of Christ.

The introduction includes striking testimonies from Jurgen Moltmann and Anthony Bloom on the power of Mark’s gospel and then moves on to traditional questions of authorship and dating. He warns against obstinate literalism or obstinate scepticism in our approach to the gospel, because both avoid the real challenge and promise of the gospel encounter with Jesus and the kingdom he pronounces.

The second chapter focuses on the messianic secret, so beloved of scholars down the years.  Williams argues that Jesus’ miracles are performed not to make a point, but out of deep compassion or even anger, and in turn require trust on the part of the person involved: “Mark is a Gospel about relationship.” The parables, he says, demonstrate how God works: “He works outwards from the heart of being into the life of everyday – not inwards from distant heaven.”

The final chapter, entitled ‘A Lifelong Passion’, opens up the cross of Christ in a vivid way. He notes that Mark’s pace slackens and the focus on Jesus rejected and alone becomes steadily stronger and stronger. The cross uproots our fantasy of God’s power as being like our own. Just as Jesus is saying ‘I am’, Peter is saying ‘I am not’.  Peter becomes a representative of us all struggling to understand and follow Jesus.

The book concludes with a simple set of questions for reflection or group discussion and a Lenten reading guide. Its purpose above all is to encourage people to read the gospel for themselves. There are some remarkable phrases in this short book that will stimulate people’s reading and preaching of Mark’s Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

Terry Hinks

United Reformed Church Minister and Ministry Today Board Member

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You are reading Issue 64 of Ministry Today, published in July 2015.

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