Anthony J. GITTINS, Courage & Conviction: Unpretentious Christianity. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2018. pp 240. pb $24.95. ISBN 9780814644522. Reviewed by Jayne L. WILCOX, LaSalle University, Philadelphia, PA 19144.


We have watched the news of Pope Francis kissing the face of modern day lepers and of washing the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday. We have read of his dream of a missionary option and of believers to heed the call to be a church of the poor. While Francis’ actions offer a living example of discipleship in the margins, the often used language of social norms, margins, and centers of power could use further explanation. Gittins brings clarity to the concepts of social constructs and boundary crossing through an exposition of the norms at play in the world of biblical times. In conjunction with solid interpretation of biblical accounts, he illustrates what it means to be a missionary disciple who heeds the call that the “center of [the church’s] mission is always at the margins” (7). 

Courage and Conviction is a collection of revised talks and lectures divided into three themed sections. Each chapter reads well as a stand-alone work yet all contribute to the missional imperative of Christian ministry at the edges of society. Part I, “Identity and Commitment,” establishes the role of personal commitment to core principles such as vulnerability, conversion, and communion as essential for those who identify with the Christian tradition. Part II, “Margins, Mission, and Diversity,” illustrates the nature of society’s margins and norms that not only function to maintain one’s status and power but also to obstruct movement across social boundaries. In Part III, “Models of and Models for Discipleship,” Gittins challenges the church—and the ecclesiastical church in particular—to a life of unpredictable, risky, Spirit-led discipleship as necessary for encounter and ministry to those most in need of the church’s mission. 

The author’s expertise as an anthropologist shows as he expounds on the nature of social constructs that create a center with marginal boundaries. In Part II, Gittins includes helpful diagrams that typify patriarchal societies into a two by two matrix of insiders/outsiders and participants/non-participant, thereby yielding four member types. Social power via privileged status, held primarily by that of the adult male, is at the “center” of society as opposed to those who are pushed to the margins and burdened by powerlessness and a disadvantaged status.

Jesus chose a marginalized identity as that of an outsider bereft of social status or power—a sociological “stranger”, which enabled his encounter with those in society also of no privilege and power. “[Jesus] left the centers and chose the margins, as he challenged and sometimes condemned those at the centers, while distinctly favoring marginalized people.” (106) Gittins concludes that it was Jesus’ chosen status as “stranger” that broadened his range of ministry potential. Those who are followers of the way of Jesus are to do likewise by actively locating themselves at the margins for the sake of continuing the mission of the church. Gittins’ prescription for a Christian life lived at the edges of society as modeled by Jesus is his main contribution to the call of discipleship.

Courage and Conviction is pastoral in approach with a particular aim to instruct the lay person and promote growth in Christian discipleship. Gittins seamlessly weaves the more abstract realities of social constructs alongside an exposition of biblical accounts, all while keeping the language accessible. There is plenty to nourish the lay leader and anyone else in pursuit of advancing the church’s mission into the world.