Journal of Contemporary Ministry (Christian Research Association) Issue No.8 2023
Living for Shalom: The Story of Ross Langmead, Woods, Jeanette. Eugene, PR: Wipf & Stock, 2021, 283pages.
The city of Melbourne (Australia) is not generally known for its theologians. This biography of Australian missiologist, Rev. Dr Ross Langmead, goes some way to changing that. Living for Shalom is an insightful, well-resourced biography written by Langmead’s sister, Jeanette Woods, during her time in enforced COVID-19 lockdowns. The book, displaying appropriate pathos while being widely informative, includes contributions from many notable figures of Australian theological contexts, along with the rich array of community-based characters who were part of Langmead’s life. Woods narrates the text in third person, creating a sense of professional distance as she surveys her brother’s life with its struggles, victories and complexities. There is a delicate balance here that is managed consistently, whereby Woods has – from her privileged familial position – been able to make the most of sibling intimacy and resources, whilst avoiding the hagiological bias that at times is present when authors write about those they love. The interest of the reader is kept as an ever-present driver of the text.
Langmead’s life is sketched in its own narrative arc, beginning with his arrival into the world, born into a Salvation Army overseas-missionary family. The anecdotes of early life are conveyed with amusement, insight and conjecture as to their ensuing effects on Langmead’s development – a theme of Langmead’s own later reflection, as demonstrated in excerpts of his private journals and public materials. From the get-go, it is clear that Langmead’s intelligence, thirst for wisdom and grounded social ethic drove him in many concurrent directions, and that deciding in which directions to pour his limited time and energy was an ongoing wrestle. Music performance and outreach, practical research, skills teaching, community development, academic writing, theological lecturing, research supervision, church responsibilities and involvement in denominational (Baptist) and wider ecumenical contexts – not to mention overseas and cross-cultural work – Langmead was involved in so much.
In this book though, we gain insight not only into his scholarly and broader social achievements, but into Langmead’s personal and family life—and importantly, into his health challenges, which included Type 1 diabetes as well as the persistent stresses that weigh on capable people who are in high demand. We see Langmead living out the incarnational, christological praxis he expressed in words – written, spoken and sung – particularly in his commitment to ‘home-base’: the unique-and-ordinary western suburbs of Melbourne, to which he had an enduring and unbroken commitment.
My only quibble with this book is its ending. The protagonist dies. Of course, we knew this at the outset, but that makes it no less discombobulating. This shows that not only has Woods managed to convey information about her brother’s life, but that she has told us a story that has evoked deep sympathy with its protagonist, whose vulnerabilities and unsolved questions of faith only add to the reader’s appreciation. Langmead was able to bracket his unsolved theological questions without suppressing them, and to recognise the ambiguities of life and faith beyond his self-confessedly fundamentalist upbringing. What he wagered his life on and strove towards was kindness, understanding and solidarity with all others, and this was fuelled – not hampered or contaminated – by his deeply held convictions.
This book will be of interest to various cohorts of Christians – those seeking inspiration from someone who lived relentlessly toward the generous values of good news for all people; missiologists and those with a passion for social justice, multicultural contexts, reconciliation and the environment, who will find those passions ‘lived out’ in this book; for creatives, who are keen to see artistic expression melded with critically thoughtful theology (as it was in Langmead’s life); and for Australian leaders, ministers and thinkers, sensitive to the nuances of the Oceania context, distinct as it is from the traditional fonts of ground-breaking theologies in the West, such as the UK, Western Europe and the USA.
Sarah Bacaller PhD cand., (Western Sydney University) ISSN 2205-0442 JCMin Number 8 (2023) page 136