Living Differently to Make a Difference

The beatitudes and countercultural lifestyle

Will Donaldson

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Few would doubt that we live in a wounded and broken world. But God has sent a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who calls us, in the beatitudes, to live an authentic, countercultural lifestyle. By being different we can make a difference, becoming the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Through living the beatitudes, we could make the world a better place.

Will Donaldson explores and applies Jesus' beatitudes for today, exposing the value systems of the world and challenging us to live differently. As Christians, we can make a difference in the world through lives that reflect the values of the kingdom of heaven.

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Author info

Having been in parish ministry for 25 years, Will Donaldson is Chaplain and Senior Welfare Officer of St Edmund Hall, Oxford University. He is also Area Dean of Oxford and Director of Pastoral Care at St Aldates Church. He is the author of Word and Spirit (BRF, 2011).


The Reader, Spring 2019. Review by Ben Brown

The beatitudes are the series of teachings by Jesus at the start of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel. They are sayings where the hierarchies of the world and the hierarchies of the heart are turned upside down. We are called to become people who are poor, meek (or gentle), merciful and pure in heart. Will Donaldson has written a passionate and engaging study of how we are called to live the beatitudes in a world where the idols of power and status are prevalent. The book has some probing questions to ask of aspects of our modern society and our modern selves. Why are we fixated on ideals of success? Why is so much modern culture obsessed with revenge? Donaldson shows how living out of the beatitudes, embracing vulnerability and spiritual poverty in our lives, embodies a joyful alternative to our cultural norms. Occasionally I found the presentation a little moralistic. His interpretation, for example that being pure in heart meant simply living with integrity struck me as reductive. Being pure can also mean being uncluttered and therefore able to see the divine more clearly. But this is a book which makes you ask transformative questions of yourself and your society and gives you, or a reading group, the opportunity to take Christi's teaching personally and embark on the daily adventure of following him.

Review by Ben Brown


Diocese of Oxford. Review by Kate Seagrave

It would appear to be a brave undertaking to write a book on such a famous passage as the beatitudes and on such topics that so many have tackled before, but Will does so with originality and confidence. This easy to read book follows the standard mixed format of so many of BRF's publications, being a combination of an individual devotional read, a small group Bible study, and an introductory guide to this famous passage of scripture.

His extensive experience in pastoral care and discipleship shines through his approach and his challenge to the reader to a more distinctively and holistic Christian life. Topics covered challenge both our inner lives and 'secret' attitudes as well as our more outward and visible actions and service. The structure of each chapter stands alone, which makes dipping in and out as well as selecting chapters of particular interest entirely possible.

The format makes this a quick and easy read, with plenty of illustrations from history, politics, culture, sport and literature. The individual devotions and group discussion questions provide ample invitation and space for pausing and thinking, even when read outside of a more intentional devotional or group study setting. The group questions are particularly accessible and appropriate to a group which had never done a similar study before, with a range of suggested options catering to timings from 15 minutes to an hour.

The strength of this book is in the pastoral experience of the writer. His intuitive understanding and deep conviction that the presence of inner faith must be accompanied by a transformational impact upon the world around us (however big or small that world may be) shapes the way that he guides the reader through the chapters. If you are looking for an approach to the beatitudes which is easy to read, yet challenges you to pause and think and examine the lifestyle choices we make day to day, then this is for you.

Review by the Revd Kate Seagrave, Mission Priest at the Community of St Frideswide in Oxford

Presbyterian Herald, October 2018

In this book, Will Donaldson, a chaplain in Oxford University, explores the beatitudes taught by Jesus during his sermon on the mount, and suggests ways in which we can apply them today.

What struck me about this book is that every chapter is so well researched and, as a result, Donaldson is able to explain each beatitude in the context of our history and the world in which we exist today. Scripture is woven throughout each chapter and the author draws heavily from Isaiah 61 throughout the book, as the Old Testament basis of the beatitudes.

Each chapter concludes with prompts for personal reflection, prayerful response and discussion for small groups, including a starter (questions to be considered over a 15-minute period), a main course (allowing for a 60-minute discussion) and concluding with dessert (another 15 minutes of discussion). While I used this book to aid my own time of devotion, I believe it would be an excellent basis for a book group or discipleship group to study the beatitudes together and decipher what the application of them looks like in their daily lives.

I found this to be a very challenging and beneficial read. It reinforced that as Christians, it is not for us to conform to the cultural narrative but rather to be 'set apart' for God, as has always been his desire for his people. This book is one of the most helpful books I have read for a long time.

Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857466716
  • Published: 18 May 2018
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 144
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