Food for a starving world
A review of Ben Sargen't book, 'Day by Day. The Rhythm of the Bible in the Book of Common Prayer'.
In this short book Benjamin Sargent lays before us the ‘the scriptural food’ that is offered to us in the Book of Common Prayer. It may be that we already savour the liturgy of the Prayer Book. It may be that we find it indigestible. Whatever our taste, this booklet will help us to feed and feast on the gospel as it is served to us in the Book of Common Prayer. And as we are nourished, we will be better able to live and share this gospel in a starving world.
Sargent observes that evangelical interest in the Book of Common Prayer often extends only as far as the theology that is outlined in the Thirty-Nine Articles and expressed in its liturgy. The purpose of this book is show us how much more there is to savour in the Book of Common Prayer. By exploring its Calendar, Collects, Lectionary and Psalter, Sargent gives us a taste of the way in which the Prayer Book feeds God’s people with the truths of the gospel day by day.
In the first chapter Sargent outlines the rhythm of the Christian life that takes shape through the Calendar of the Prayer Book. The calendar offers us a perspective through which to read and understand our lives that does not begin with our own needs and concerns. Instead, the daily life of the Christian is placed within a Scriptural narrative whose climax is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sargent warns that we must remember the past if we are to live faithfully in the present. He helpfully shows how a church calendar that not only celebrates Christmas and Easter but also such moments as Pentecost and the Ascension will help us to not only grow as disciples, but also to reach out to the communities around us.
The second chapter on the Collects outlines how these prayers provide a model for how we may respond to God in prayer. As Sargent outlines the pattern of the Collects and delves into the theology of their language, he shows them to be a precious resource for Christian discipleship. Rooted in Scripture, the Collects embody a prayer that is at once submissive and confident. They teach us how to pray and show us what to pray so that we might grow in our love for and dependence on our heavenly Father.
If the first and second chapters show that the Prayer Book places the whole of the Christian life within the story of the Bible, the third and fourth chapters show how the Lectionary and the Psalter bring the whole of the Bible to bear on the Christian life. The Lectionary seeks to lead its hearers through the whole counsel of God rather than simply resting in familiar or seemingly easy selections. In the same way, by encouraging the Psalms to be read in their entirety each month, the Prayer Book allows us to hear the way in which God speaks to us amidst the full scope of joys and pains of daily Christian life.
It is said good teaching will not just tell, but also show and – most of all – involve. As it proclaims the gospel, the Book of Common Prayer moves through each of these steps. It proclaims the truths of the gospel to us; models how we are to read the bible and pray; and involves us in a liturgy that is to shape not just our services but the whole of our lives. Sargent helps us to hear how the Book of Common Prayer tells us, shows and involves us so that through the gospel it might form us into the image of Christ.
Day by Day will help those who are unfamiliar with the Prayer Book to understand its shape and structure. It will help those who already love the Prayer Book to appreciate more of its riches and depth.
Revd. Luke Foster is currently serving with Crosslinks as a missionary in the Centre for Pastoral Studies (CEP), an Anglican training college in Chile’s capital city Santiago. Luke teaches Church History and Doctrine and also serves in his local church. He is currently undertaking a PHD through Durham university.