New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church: A Review

New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Monasticism conjures up images of monks quietly moving through dark monasteries, sequestered from the “real” world as they seek God’s will through meditation, prayer and communal living.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brings fresh perspective to the age-old concept of living in Christian community in “New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church”. Starting with a strong historical foundation, the author explores ancient concepts of community through an informative study of the early church at Antioch, as well as more contemporary figures in the monastic movement such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Benedict, and Mother Teresa.

This book forced me to honestly examine the Bible’s radical ideas and how its teachings should impact my choices as a 21st Century American. Wilson-Hartgrove begins with the convincing concept, beginning with Genesis and moving through Biblical history, that God’s plan to save the world was not one person at a time, but through a people. From this premise, he boldly states, “If the Bible is a story about God’s plan to save the world through a people, then my salvation and sanctification depends on finding my true home with God’s people. Apart from the story of this people, I can’t have a relationship with God. Without the church, there is no chance of becoming holy.”

The focus of the book then shifts to an examination of the movement’s current marks of distinction including: sharing economic resources; geographical proximity to other community members; peacemaking; and the active pursuit of “just reconciliation”. While Wilson-Hartgrove shares intimate details of his own monastic experiences and gives an abundance of examples of practical community living from other groups, he wisely avoids prescribing a specific formula for an ascetic, communal-driven lifestyle. Instead, he challenges his readers to shift their own ways of thinking, and allows them to imagine life from a Kingdom perspective. The author writes beautifully of his experiences with relocation, Earth’s scarcity versus God’s abundance, what it means to be a peacemaker in our war-ravaged culture, and how to live with others in a “culture of grace and truth.”

This small, easily read book, covers a lot of ground, delving into the heart of Jesus’ mission to live in relationship with others. When you pick up “New Monasticism”, be prepared to have your old ways of thinking challenged and re-worked, for you may find yourself wondering how to become a more integral part of God’s “peculiar people”.

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