Books for Christmas

With just one week to go before Christmas, it is getting a little late for Christmas shopping.  However, there is still time. In this respect Caroline’s father set me a wonderful example:  on the afternoon of Christmas Eve he would drive to Chester to do his Christmas shopping –  for by then there were fewer people in the shops and fewer things left from which to choose!

But if shopping on Christmas Eve is not your thing, the stress of Christmas shopping can be alleviated by ordering a book or two for Christmas. In this blog I want to recommend two books in particular.

The first is Mena: Daughter of Obedience (University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, 2013. 192pp: 29.99 Australian dollars. ISBN 978-1-74258-486-7) by Noel Vose. I confess that when last March I was given a copy of this book, I set it to one side, not realising what a gem it is. But when I eventually came to read it this autumn, I found I could not put it down. It is a remarkable book of Catholic devotion and British colonial history sympathetically written by a past President of the Baptist World Alliance! Let me explain.

Mena was the wife of Frederick Weld, who in a career of 45 years was first Premier of New Zealand, then Governor of Western Australia, then Governor of Tasmania, and finally Governor of the Straits Settlements and Protected Malay States. Mena fully supported her husband and played a prominent role in society – she loved horse-racing and putting on balls. But Mena, along with her husband, was also a devout Roman Catholic at a time when in Britain and in the British empire Catholicism was not socially acceptable. Noel Vose tells the fascinating story of Mena’s life in ‘two worlds’, a life which after the death of her husband, would involve Mena becoming a nun in a Scottish convent where one of her thirteen children was the Mother Superior!

The production of this book is almost just as remarkable. For the book is based upon the research of Heather Vose, Noel’s wife, a notable Australian feminist historian. But when Heather suddenly died in 1990 she had yet to write up her research. So Noel eventually took on the task of writing, completing it in his early 90s! It is an absolute ‘tour de force’ – and a wonderful read. To my mind it would make a superb Christmas present.

The second book is very different. It is the revised edition of Gordon Fee’s monumental commentary on The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, revised 2014. 982pp: £43.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7136-7. Available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh) in ‘The New International Commentary on the New Testament’ series. First published in 1987, it immediately became the best commentary on 1 Corinthians. For more than 25 years I have drawn upon this commentary time and time again for my preaching. Although other good commentaries have appeared – not least that by Ciampa and Rosner published by Apollos – this new edition, which takes into account developments in scholarship over the past 25 years, is still a ‘must’ for every preacher wanting to engage in expository preaching. In spite of the price, it is a good ‘investment’ – and a marvellous present for a church member to give to their pastor (it would certainly improve the sermons!).

Fee, who is a Pentecostal scholar, has a wonderful way with words. Let me give you a flavour:

’Christ crucified’ is a contradiction in terms, of the same category as ‘fried ice’. One may have a Messiah, or one may have a crucifixion; but one may not have both – at least not from the perspective of merely human understanding. Messiah meant power, splendour, triumph; crucifixion meant weakness, humiliation, defeat…

So two very different books – each of which could make a very acceptable Christmas present.

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