Books for Today

“Not all readers are leaders”, said Harry Truman, a former US American President, “but all leaders are readers”.   What is true of leadership in general, is true too of leadership in the church.  Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Community Church, advanced four reasons why church leaders must read:

  1. We must read for inspiration and motivation
  2. We must read to sharpen our skills
  3. We must read to learn from others
  4. We must read to stay current in a changing world

Recognising the importance of reading for leaders in God’s church, this week Church Matters begins a new feature.  Every two months Church Matters will have a series of short reviews in which I draw attention to some of the latest books on the market. Inevitably this means that the blog will be longer than usual – and not least on this first occasion.  But then, Christmas is coming – and Christmas is a good time for giving and receiving books.

Singleness and the Church: a new theology of the single life (Oxford University Press, 2017. 272pp: £19.99 hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-046262-8) by Jana Marguerite Bennett, a married Roman Catholic and a professor of theological ethics at the University of Dayton, is a truly remarkable book, full of insight and information highly relevant to the British scene, and which I warmly commend.  It is important to make clear that this is not a book just for ‘singles’, but for everybody.  Furthermore, the author addresses a wide range of living patterns: the never-married, the single parent, the engaged, the divorced, the widowed, the cohabiting, and the same sex attracted and single.  The book is impossible to summarise. There is so much food for thought – what is more, I know of nothing else quite like this.  It is well worth the price.

Available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh, Night Driving: Notes from a Prodigal Son (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 148pp: £13.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7401-6) by Chad Bird, is the story of a gifted young minister and seminary professor who ‘messed-up big-time’ and at one stage resorted to night-driving trucks through the Texas oil-fields.   Heart-warming, but salutary at the same time.

Four Ministries, One Jesus: Exploring your vocation with the four Gospels (SPCK, London 2017. 260pp: £12.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07597-3) by Richard Burridge, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at King’s College, London, had its origins in a series of addresses to Anglican ordinands.  Divided into four main sections, it looks at the different pictures of ministry found in the four Gospels and then applies these insights to ministry today:  1. Matthew – teaching Good News; 2. Luke – pastoral care; 3. Mark – suffering the way of the Cross; and 4. John – praying the divine life.  A very practical book, each main section ends with advice on how ordinands can sustain their future ministry in terms of preaching and teaching, exercising pastoral care, going the way of the cross, and spending time with God in prayer.   This is an outstanding book, and although written with Anglican ordinands in mind, is equally applicable to ordinands in other denominations.   This is a book to be read by every ministerial student in their final year!

Available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh, Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life’s Seasons (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 238pp: £16.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7424-5) edited by Kathleen A. Cahalan and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, explores the theme of callings of a life-time, beginning in childhood right through until life’s end. The contributors argue that vocation is not to be confused with paid work, and that retirement can be one of the central vocational moments in adult life.

We need to talk about Religious Education: Manifestos for the future of RE (Jessica Kingsley, London 2017. 264pp: £24.99. ISBN 978-1-78592-269-5) edited by Mike Castelli and Mark Chater, is divided into two parts:  seven essays describe the present context, while a further eight essays look to the future.  The key concern is that RE continues to have a place in the changing school curriculum.  This is an important book.

Secularism: politics, religion, and freedom (Oxford University Press, 2017. 153pp: £12.99 hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-880913-5) by Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, puts forward a strong case for secularism involving (1) the separation of religious institutions from state institutions; (2) freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and (3) equal treatment on grounds of religion or non-religious world view.   From a Non-conformist perspective, this seems a perfectly reasonable demand.

Radical Leadership in the New Testament and Today (SPCK, London 2017. 101pp: £?  ISBN 978-0-281-07866-0) by Michael Green is a delightful exposition of principles of New Testament leadership, but at times unconvincing in terms of application – at one point, for instance, Green questions whether all would-be ministers need to receive the benefits of ministerial formation offered by a theological college. Written at a popular level, it is presumably intended for men and women considering responding to God’s call to ministry.

Available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh, The Watcher (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 40pp: £13.99 large hard back. ISBN978-0-8028-5445-2) by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a highly unusual and very creative book, inspired by Psalm 121, and written for ‘young readers’.  In essence is it a series of poems celebrating compassion, friendship and faith.  I warmly commend this book to all parents and grand-parents.

Doorkins the Cathedral Cat (Jessica Kingsley, London 2017. 38pp: £10.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-78592-357-9) by Lisa Gutwein with illustrations by Rowan Ambrose, follows the real-life of Southwark Cathedral’s ‘Magnificat’. A delightful introduction to Cathedral life for young children.

First published in 2002, Grieving A Suicide: A loved one’s search for comfort, answers and hope (IVP, London, 2nd revised & expanded edition 2017.224pp: £8.99.  ISBN 978-1-78359-575-4) by Albert Y. Hyu, a senior editor at InterVarsity Press, USA, tells the story of the author’s struggle to come to terms with the suicide of his father.  With over 6000 people now killing themselves in the UK, suicide is a major issue. What is more every suicide leaves behind at least six ‘survivors’.  According to the American Psychiatric Association, “the level of stress resulting from the suicide of a loved one is ranked as catastrophic – equivalent to that of a concentration camp experience”.  The thoughtful book contains questions for reflection and discussion. This British edition also includes UK resources.

First published in the USA in 1989, the British edition of Ministries of Mercy: Learning to care like Jesus (SPCK, London 2017. 288pp: £9.99. ISBN  978-0-281-078333-2) by Timothy Keller, has been updated and given a Foreword by John Sentamu.  The title of the book is based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where the lawyer reluctantly admits that the person who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers was “the one who showed him mercy”.  Keller comments: “For decades, evangelicals have avoided the radical nature of the teaching of the parable of the Good Samaritan… It is time to listen more closely, because the world, which never was ‘safe’ to live in, is becoming even less so”.  This is a wonderfully provocative book – and is also a helpful resource for preachers.

If Entrepreneurs Ran the Church: New visions for an old church (SPCK, London 2017. 177pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07800-4) by Peter Kerridge of Premier Christian Communications consists of interviews with eight Christian entrepreneurs about the changes they would like to make to the church.  Alas, the entrepreneurs had little of practical significance to say – what seemed a good idea actually failed to deliver the goods.

Winter Tales (Marylebone House/SPCK, London 2017. 134pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-1-910674-50-5) by Scottish poet Kenneth Steven is a delightful collection of thought-provoking short stories which lightly deal with mystery and spirituality, and are enhanced by a rich use of language.

First published in the UK in 2016, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the world’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian (Hodder, London 2nd printing 2017. 305pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-1-473-62677-5) by Brian McLaren, argues that Christian should “migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life”.  In this way “justice, joy and peace” would replace the present “bitter taste of colonialism, exclusion, judgment, hypocrisy and oppression”.  It all sounds most attractive – yet without a belief system rooted in the Scriptures the Christian faith could easily run into the sand.

Published in the ‘Very Short Introductions’ series, Miracles (Oxford University Press, 2017. 115pp: £7.99. ISBN 978-0-19-874721) by Yugin Nagasawa, Professor of Philosophy, is not a specifically Christian book.  The author does not believe that miracles which violate the laws of nature can justify belief.  However, he does believe that altruistic acts by people such as Maximilian Kolbe and Arland Williams, who unreasonably gave their lives for others. are as close to miracles as any acts one can perform within the laws of nature!

Available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh, The Life and Times of Martin Luther (English translation, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 43pp: £14.99 hard back. ISBN 978-0-8028-5495-7) by Meike Roth-Beck with beautiful illustrations by Klaus Ensikat, is a super ‘picture book’ for enquiring young teens, and would make a marvellous gift.   Many an ordinary Christian with limited knowledge of Luther would also find it of interest.

Published first as a hardback in 2015, and now available in paperback, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 669pp: £21.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7534-1) by Fleming Rutledge, a distinguished American Episcopalian minister, this a ‘tour-de-force’ and a wonderful resource for all those who wish the preach the Cross.

Anything written by John Stott is good value for money.  However, Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017 – and available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh.  106pp: £8.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7509-9) has a dated feel – and not surprisingly because it was first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1964.  The constant reference to and quotation from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer feels strange.

God Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2017. 195pp: £12.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-473-66526-2) by Chris Webb, spirituality adviser to the Diocese of Leicester and deputy warden of Launde’s Abbey, is a lyrical exploration of a ‘God-soaked life’ in which we accept Jesus’ invitation to participate in God’s community of love; seek the renewal of our hearts so we can love as Christ loves; are fearless honest about our weaknesses, failures and limits; long to experience God in silence, prayer and Scripture; nurture an awareness of God in everyday life; share life together with love, grace, mercy and reconciliation; and have the hope and courage to challenge the ‘lordless powers’.  A book perhaps for a day retreat?

Hodder & Stoughton have also published two new editions of the NIV.  First, the Anglicised edition of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible (2880pp: £44.99. ISBN 978-1-473-63778-8), edited by Don Carson, and with articles by people like Timothy Keller and Douglas Moo, with verse-by-verse notes, and maps and charts, will prove a useful tool for Bible students – the one drawback is that the print size is fairly small (9 pt the main text, and 6.9 pt the notes) Secondly, a NIV tan-coloured single-column Journalling Bible (1404pp: £24.99. ISBN 978-1-473-65673-4) for those who want to write notes– the text size is 8.5 pt.

SPCK have reprinted another great Tom Wright book previously published as a hard back, but now available as a ‘soft-back’: The Day the Revolution began: Re-thinking the meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion (SPCK, London 2017. 440pp: £12.99. ISBN978-0-281-07860-8).

Recent publications from Grove Booklets of Cambridge, all priced at £3.95 and 28 pages in length, include Mission-Shaped Church in a Multicultural World (Mission & Evangelism 118, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-011-3) by Harvey Kwyiyani, originally from Malawi who now teaches African Christianity & Theology, at Liverpool Hope university, is an excellent guide to changes churches, both black and white, need to make if they are to be effective in multi-cultural Britain.  The Unappreciated Art of Ending Well: How to Finish Strong in Youth Work Roles, Groups, and Projects (Youth 47, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-014-4) by Rob Tumility, an experienced youth worker, is full of practical wisdom, much of which is applicable to church life in general.  God, Dads and the Church: Encouraging a Biblical Vision of Fatherhood (Pastoral 150, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-013-7) by John Munce of the Church of Ireland, looks at fatherhood today, as also the Biblical understanding of fatherhood, and gives ideas for engaging fathers with God and the Church – I confess that the constant use of the term ‘dad’ grated on me.   Art for Mission’s Sake: announcing the Gospel through the creative arts (Mission & Evangelism 119, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-020-5) by Keir Shreeves, a member of an Anglican clergy team in Brighton, argues that ‘the wonder of the arts for mission is that they can take people beyond conventional or established patterns of reason, drawing with a subversive quality’.  Social Activism: A Youth Worker’s Guide to Activism and Discipleship (Youth 48, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-023-6) by Nigel Pimlott gives ideas on how youth workers might encourage young people to be more active and intentional in building a better world.  Growing the Church through a spiritual winter: pathways through paradox (Pastoral 151, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-022-9) by Tim Sumpter argues that just as some seeds need winter cold before they can germinate, so the UK church needs this current winter season so that it might be ready to play a significant part in shaping the cultural fabric of the UK’s future. Embracing Conflict: Jesus as a Model for Church Leaders (Leadership 30, 2017. ISBN 978-1-78827-026-1) by Colin Patterson, former Assistant Director of Bridge Builders, looks at how Jesus’ life is a worked example of how a God-centred leader responds to conflict, and suggests that the four Gospels offer four different models.

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