Anthony J. GITTINS. The Way of Discipleship, Women, Men, and Today’s Call to Mission. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016. Pp. 160. $19.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-4715-8. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141.
Having heard Fr. Gittins speak at our “Voluntas Dei” assembly last August, I knew that I could look forward to reviewing his latest book. And, I have not been disappointed. One phrase from his address rang in my ears, and that same phrase informs the tenor of The Way of Discipleship. After noting the frequency with which believers and churches claim to have a mission, Gittins strikingly reverses the order. “God’s mission has a church” (p. 21). And, that mission claims disciples.
The book has two parts. Part One provides a rich theology of discipleship. The second part explores this theology as illustrated in Gospel figures and offers correlations for the contemporary believer. The author identifies the purposes of the text as adult faith formation and faith sharing.
Following the perspective of Pope Francis, Gittins proposes a model of integral evangelization. This entails four dimensions which might be expressed in either of two ways. First as: proclamation, witness, dialogue, and liberation. These correlate with: encounter, table fellowship, foot washing, and boundary crossing. As a well-experienced teacher he repeats these themes to reinforce the reader’s understanding. Also, his style allows so that one can read the text over a longer period of time, most appropriate for an adult formation experience.
With three unique characteristics, Jesus presents himself as a different kind of rabbi, according to the text. Traditionally people seek a teacher. Jesus calls disciples. While Jesus has respect for Torah, he provides what Gittens calls “pastoral application.” Finally, the ministry of Jesus is radically inclusive. The disciple of Jesus must get to know Jesus intimately, a knowledge more profound than simply knowing what Jesus teaches. Discipleship, then, advances in three stages: encounter, disturbance or displacement, and co-missioning. Thus, Jesus as God’s mission takes hold of the disciple to advance the divine mission for the world.
In Part Two, Anthony Gittins brings this theology to bear on ten Gospel reflections. Several of the chapter titles engage the reader in and of themselves. The first “A Poor Rich Man” takes up the story of the rich young man who seeks eternal life and goes away sad. This balances nicely with a later chapter “A Rich Poor Man” that has the reader consider the story of the blind Bartimaeus. Gittins highlights the discipleship of women with the stories of Luke’s “A Bent-over Woman”; Mary of Bethany; the woman with a hemorrhage; and the Samaritan woman.
In the introduction the author notes that he does not intend to offer a scholarly text; nor strict biblical exegesis. Gittins stays true to his word. At the same time, he does an excellent job of bringing familiar biblical stories to life. He employs dynamic, understandable language and imagery. The reader can tell that he develops his biblical reflections based on sound exegesis and contemporary biblical scholarship. Readers will relish how he soundly integrates socio-cultural biblical perspectives that may, in fact, offer a bit of “disturbance” or “displacement” to help contemporary disciples advance in their calling.The biblical story of Thomas, “A Faithful Doubter” brings the text to its conclusion. With this book Fr. Gittins offers modern disciples who so often struggle with doubt, an opportunity to “stay close to the one who blazes the trail, clears the way, and goes before us to show us how we are to follow him” (p. 154).