The Widening Circle: Priesthood as God’s Way of Blessing the World, by Graham Tomlin. Reviewed by Timothy Hewitt
The Widening Circle: Priesthood as God’s Way of Blessing the World, by Graham Tomlin
SPCK, 2014, 192pp, ISBN 978-0-281-06902-6, £10.99.
Reviewed by Timothy Hewitt
It is always good to read a timely book, and Graham Tomlin’s The Widening Circle can be described as timely. Tomlin seeks to understand priesthood within a framework of Church, humanity and creation: the widening circle of blessing which priesthood brings to the Church, which the Church brings to humanity and which humanity brings to the whole of creation. He writes in the context of ‘the ambivalence the modern world feels about the idea of priesthood’ bearing in mind that priests are viewed as ‘decent, hard-working, even culturally marginal figures’.
In addition to an Introduction and Epilogue, the book has seven chapters. The first two deal with the priesthood of Christ, with a helpful exploration of the meaning of the Letter to the Hebrews. Chapter 3 deals with ‘Priesthood questioned’ looking at the implications of believing that Christ is our High Priest, but with assumption-challenging conclusions. There is a good and helpful explanation of how the ancient world thought about divinity in chapter 1. Indeed, throughout the book, Tomlin seeks to draw out the pastoral and spiritual dimensions of believing that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. We are made to stop and think very carefully about what we mean when we would say this is what we believe. The whole idea of priesthood being about relationships with each other, rather than God, is now taking shape. Chapter 4 looks at the priesthood of humanity, and of how humanity is called by God to have a specific role within creation. Humanity is called to ‘explore, understand and identify the various elements of the world and of how they function.’
Chapter 5 considers the priesthood of the Church, and the role of the whole Church in enabling humanity to play the priestly role God has assigned to humanity with regards to the whole of creation. ‘The community of Christ is that part of the whole that enables the rest of humanity to be as it should.’ Chapter 6 considers the priesthood of ministers, considering how ‘priests primarily serve the Church, so that the Church can truly be itself.’ Here, the enabling role of ministers is explored through example, teaching, care and leadership. Chapter 7 considers the timely matter of priestly leadership, but through the lens of how Biblical ideas of leadership flourish, and of priestly ‘leadership creates space for people to flourish.’
The Epilogue explores Psalm 67 in a different, refreshing way. Indeed, the whole book has many refreshing ideas.
A couple of things might have been further explored in Tomlin’s search for meaning. Firstly, the nature of the rituals of Old Testament Priesthood as expressions of a form of ministry to God’s People at the time. Even these rituals had meaning to them, whilst accepting that the ritual priesthood of the Old Testament is not the Presbyterate of the New Testament. Secondly, the whole issue of modern and fair expectations of Ordained Ministers today is something which I suspect plays a part in the search of Ordained Ministers to discover a true sense of meaning for the Priesthood.
A useful set of notes at the end of the book with references and observations are made means that the flow of thought in the main text of the book itself is not disturbed. There is a very useful summary of books and articles to which he refers given chapter by chapter, helpfully pointing readers to further reading if they wish.
Revd Timothy Hewitt is Continuing Ministerial Development Officer for the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon.
This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 29 in March 2015