Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Samuel Wells – Learning to Dream Again [Feature Review]

[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”0802868711″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41jAw%2B3kgML._SL160_.jpg” width=”107″]Page 2: Samuel Wells – Learning to Dream Again

The intensely personal and specific nature of these pieces is the greatest strength of Learning to Dream Again, providing a necessary counterpart to Wells’s scholarly work. For much of his career, Wells has collaborated with a fellow theologian and former Duke colleague, the recently-retired Stanley Hauerwas. Both Hauerwas and Wells have written on a distinctively Christian ethic, one inseparable from both the narrative of Scripture and the “community of character” that is the church. In his “primer on Christian ethics,” The Peaceable Kingdom, Hauerwas states clearly that “a Christian ethic is always a social ethic” (The Peaceable Kingdom, 96), and goes on to note that

The social ethic of the church is, first of all, an affair of understanding rather than doing. The first question we must ask is not “what should we do,” but “what is going on?” (The Peaceable Kingdom, 102)


In the work of Hauerwas and Wells, ethics is not reducible to a series of dilemmas met by the isolated individual. Instead, for the church, a people whose character is formed by Scriptural narrative, ethics begins with understanding the world in relation to ourselves and our story.  Then, ethics becomes the living-out of our story, its “embodiment” in the world, as Wells states:


Ethics presupposes context, and an understanding of context presupposes narrative; yet if context is to be understand as genuinely communal, and ethics as genuinely interactive, then that narrative must be understood as drama . . . If the Christian story is drama, then ethics, the embodiment of that story, is appropriately regarded as performance. (Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, 59)


Yet the question remains: what does this embodiment look like? “The nature of most of my writing and thinking has always been reflection on context,” writes Wells early on (4).  Learning to Dream Again goes a long way toward to putting Wells’s scholarly work in Christian ethics in the context of ordinary living. As alluded to before, the book is ultimately pastoral, as Wells demonstrates how “we have the mind of Christ” in the context of our jobs, our marriages, our families. Wells wants us to see the shape of Christian wisdom in the midst of our life and death.


This means that certain pieces will speak to the reader with a specific and powerful immediacy. “Two Questions” confronted me with two of God’s questions in Gen. 3-4: “Where are you?” to Adam and Eve, “Where is your brother?” to Cain. As I read, Wells’s reflection became my reflection: “let God ask you these two questions. . . . And then answer them. Your life and your salvation depend on this” (135).


I give high praise to Learning to Dream Again. Ultimately a storyteller, Wells, like the householder of Matt. 13:52, “brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Read this book, but slow down; avoid the temptation to run straight through to the end. Take each chapter, each meditation on its own terms; re-read and reflect. In these pieces, Samuel Wells is inviting us to re-imagine our own stories by inviting us into the story of Jesus, to re-imagine the world with the mind of Christ. Learning to dream – a lesson worth learning, and re-learning.

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities
and the life of the church." 

-Karen Swallow Prior

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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