Books for Today – January 2018

My book of the month:

 Praying Psalms: A Personal Journey through the Psalter (Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Or., 2018. 155pp: $22 – but $17.60 web-price. ISBN 978-1-5326-1842-0) by Ian Stackhouse, senior pastor of Millmead, Guildford Baptist Church, is an exceptional series of daily reflections on the Psalms. As he himself says, it is not so much a commentary, but rather an aid to encounter God himself through the Psalter. Ian has selected a few verses from each psalm, upon which he writes a thought-provoking comment, and then ends with a brief prayer. I love Ian’s use of language. I resonated too with his comment that the practice of writing can become itself a form of praying – “perhaps the most profound form of praying”. I warmly commend this book.

Books written to give ‘help for the journey’:

Lent Talks: Preparing for Easter with Radio 4 (SPCK, London 2017. 65pp: £6.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07863-9) consists of six thought-provoking reflections on the ministry and passion of Jesus by well-known broadcasters such as Nick Baines (‘Vision’), Giles Fraser (‘Sacrifice’), Bonnie Greer (‘The power of names’), James Runcie (‘Mystery’), Alexander McCall Smith ‘Abandonment’) and Ann Widdecombe (‘Ultimate goodness’). Each talk is followed by five questions, which makes the book suitable for use in a small group.

The Art of Lent: A painting a day from Ash Wednesday to Easter (SPCK, London 2017. 98pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07855-4) by Sister Wendy Beckett, who lives at the Carmelite Monastery at Quidenham in Norfolk consists of just over 40 full colour illustrations by famous and less-known masters of Western Art. The simple comments by Sister Wendy make this an unusual and very accessible Lent guide.

Songs of the Spirit: A Psalm a day for Lent and Easter (SPCK, London 2017. 204pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07796-0) by Megan Daffern, chaplain of Jesus College, Oxford, and a lecturer in Old Testament at Oxford University, seeks to relate the Psalms – all freshly translated into English by the author – as we travel through Lent and into the first week of Easter.  Each day’s comment ends with a question to answer. This is a really thoughtful and down-to-earth guide – it will enrich the soul!

The Way of the Carmelites: A Prayer Journey through Lent (SPCK, London 2017. 87pp: £8.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07529-4) by James McCaffrey, explores in six chapters “how to read – and live – the Scriptures in the spirit of Carmelite prayer, with our eyes fixed on Jesus who shares with us our weakness, our struggles, our anxieties, our challenges, our temptations”.  This is a much more demanding Lent guide than the other SPCK Lent books, and demands an openness to learning more about Carmelite spirituality.  Each chapter ends with questions for reflection and discussion.

Nothing More and Nothing Less (Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2017. 128pp: £6.99. ISBN 978-0-232-5344-6)) by Virginia Moffatt is a five week Lent course based on the film, I, Daniel Blake, and looks at systems of oppression; staying human; compassion in the darkness; fighting back or giving in?; and the suffering servant. This multi-media approach is not my personal ‘cup of tea’, but it could well appeal to others.

Q & A Bible Verse Journal (SPCK, London 2017. 368pp: £14.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07893-6) by Carol Petley, offers a brief Scripture reading (mostly just one verse) together with a question for each day: for example, as I write, the verse for the day is from Isaiah 65.19 (“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress”) followed the question, ‘Is there someone you know who is grieving’.  For each of the five (undated) years there is space to write, with the ultimate goal of enabling the user to reflect on their spiritual journey over the period of five years. My first reaction was that there should be more Scripture content – on the other hand, when I realised that the editor works with teenagers who have special needs, I began to wonder whether a verse or so a day might in such a context be sufficient.

 Toward the end of 2017 Hodder & Stoughton have produced three books of daily devotions.  The best is undoubtedly The Way of Wisdom: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs (381pp: £12.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-473-64755-8) by Timothy Keller.  Devotees of Joyce Meyer and Brian D. McLaren will enjoy respectively My Time with God: In his presence daily (387pp: £14.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-473-66237-7) and Seeking Aliveness: Daily reflections on a new way to experience and practise the Christian faith (336pp: £14.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-473-67141-6).

 IVP of London in partnership with Keswick Resources are producing 30-day devotional books entitled Food for the Journey, based on Bible Readings given by convention speakers. Titles include Ezekiel (2017.  92pp: £4.99. ISBN 978-1-783659) by Liam Goligher with Elizabeth McQuoid, and Hebrews (2017. 94pp: £4.99. ISBN 978-1-78359-611-9) by Charles Price with Elizabeth McQuoid.

Books offering more general help for thinking and acting

Transforming Faith Communities: A comparative study of Radical Christianity in 16th century Anabaptism and late 20th century Latin America (Lutterworth, Cambridge 2017. 334pp: £27.50. ISBN 978-0-7188-9499-3) by Baptist minister Michael Bochenski, argues that churches which combine a world-affirming form of congregationalism which is open to a constructive relationship with the wider church and state, prove a viable option for effective holistic mission in today’s world.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh, Interpreting the Wisdom Books: An exegetical handbook (Kregel, Grand Rapids 2017. 204pp: £17.99. ISBN 978-0-8254-4230-8) by Edward M. Curtis, will be of limited interest to most, in that it is a student textbook for graduate level courses which assume a basic knowledge of Hebrew.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh, Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 263pp: £24.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-6878-7) by Paul Duff of George Washing University, is a highly readable and engaging account of the social, cultural and religious contexts of Christian beginnings, but marred by an unduly critical approach to the New Testament documents, which for instance questions traditional understandings of the self-understanding of Jesus and the historicity of the resurrection.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh, Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor (Hendrickson, Peabody, 2nd edition 2017. 266pp: £29.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-68307-052-8) by Mark Fairchild, an American university professor, is an excellent guide to the many Christian sites in modern Turkey – the book is richly illustrated with photos and diagrams.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh and part of the New International Commentary on the OT, The Books of Haggai and Malachi (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017. 377pp: £39.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-2625-1) by Mignon R. Jacobs of Ashland Theological Seminary, is a serious commentary in the Evangelical tradition, which not only expounds the text but also draws out themes relevant to today such as honouring or dishonouring God, the responsibilities of leaders, and questioning God.

When Prayer Takes Place: Forays into as Biblical World (Lutterworth, Cambridge 2017. 430pp: £66. ISBN 978-0-227-17673-3) by Gerald Janzen, Professor of Old Testament at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, is a collection of mind-stretching scholarly essays, some previously published, on prayer primarily within an Old Testament context.

The Role of Religion in Peacebuilding: Crossing the Boundaries of Prejudice and Distrust (Jessica Kingsley, London 2017. 416pp: £35. ISBN 978-1-78592-336-4) edited by Pauline Kollontai, Sue Yore & Sebastian Kim, is a collection of 20 scholarly essays, showing the positive contribution religion can make in all kinds of cultures and contexts.

Grief Demystified: An Introduction (Jessica Kingsley, London 2017. 132pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-1-78592-313-5) by Caroline Lloyd, was written in the first place for police officers, funeral directors, and nurses, seeking to help the bereaved.  It is full of common-sense|:  I particularly liked the chapter on ‘what not to say to the bereaved’: e.g. to say ‘I am sorry for your loss’ can be irritating, for “the person is not physically ‘lost’; they will not be found”! Although not written from a Christian perspective, students training for the ministry could benefit from reading this book.

The Goldilocks Zone: Collected Writings of Michael J. Ovey (IVP, London 2018. 295pp: £14.99. ISBN 978-1-78359-609-8) edited by Chris Green, consists of as host of lively and thought-provoking articles written by the former Principal of Oak Hill College, London, who died unexpectedly and suddenly last year.  This collection will perhaps be of particular help to theological students.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh, Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach (Kregel, Grand Rapids 2017.159pp: £13.99. ISBN 978-0-8254-4405-0) by Bryan Maier is a student text-book on ‘true’ forgiveness which brings about healing and restoration.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh, An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts (Hendrickson, Peabody 2017. 293pp: £24.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-61970-710-8) by Elaine Philipps of Gordon College, Massachusetts, is an excellent textbook for students grappling with the differing challenges of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job and the Song of Songs.

Published in the SCM Studyguide series, Theology in the Contemporary World (SCM, London 2017. 207pp: £19.99. ISBN 978-0-334-05574-7) by Ben Pugh of Cliff College, seeks to answer the question: ‘What are the key conversations in theology today, and why are they happening?’ The eight topics dealt with are: 1. the quests for the historical Jesus; 2. The Holy Spirit: theologies of the third article and third article theology; 3. the missional church; 4. liberation theology; 5. feminist theology; theology and sexuality: LGBT issues and Queer approaches; 7. postmodern faith; and 8. nonviolent atonement. This is an excellent guide for theological students written from an evangelical stable.

Available through Alban of Edinburgh, Prosperity Theology and the Gospel: Good news or bad news for the poor? (Hendrickson, Peabody 2017. 219pp: £20.99. ISBN 978-1-683e07-049-8) edited by Daniel Salinas, is published as part of the ‘Lausanne Library’. It consists of 14 way-ranging essays. I particularly appreciated the introductory essay ‘The Prosperity Gospel and the Poor’ by Femi Adeleye, who points out that it is largely American televangelists who gave prominence to this pursuit of materialism, and that it is essentially ‘the good old American dream’ clothed in biblical garments,

Blue Planet, Blue God: the Bible and the Sea (SCM, London 2017. 255pp: £19.99. ISBN 978-0-334-05633-1) by Meric Srokosz, an oceanographer, and Rebecca Watson, a biblical scholar, is a most unusual exploration of what the Bible has to say about the sea, and had its origins as a project of the Faraday Institute for Science & Religion. Each chapters ends with questions for discussion, and some ideas for action.

New World, New Church: The theology of the emerging church movement (SCM, London 2017. 259pp: £25. ISBN 978-0334-05490-0) by Hannah Steele, is an excellent guide, written from an Evangelical perspective, to new ways of doing church which goes back to a Leadership Network conference in the USA in 1995, and which is in the process of developing new understandings of traditional evangelical formulations of eschatology, missiology, and ecclesiology.  The writer wisely concludes: “The hope of the church in the 21st century lies not primarily in our ability to create, innovate and pioneer but in the faithful and dynamic working of the Spirit of God. And so our starting place for this grand adventure is on our knees in humble gratitude, worship and expectant hope that God will build his church, in us, through us and with us.”

Reflections for the Unfolding Year (Lutterworth, Cambridge 2017. 171pp: £15. ISBN 978-0-7188-9498-8) by Alan Wilkinson, amongst other appointments a former Diocesan Theologian for Portsmouth, consists of 29 sermons for the Christian year, and a further 31 addresses grouped under the title of ‘Keeping faith in God’. Preachers will find this a helpful resource!

Published in the ‘New Studies in Biblical theology’ series, Death and the Afterlife: Biblical perspectives on ultimate questions (Apollos, London 2017. 224pp: £14.99. ISBN  978-1-78359-599-0) by Paul Williamson, an OT lecturer at Sydney’s Moore College, is accessible scholarship at its best.  The author’s lively style is indicated by his chapter headings: Death – the ultimate separation? Resurrection – the ultimate makeover? Judgement – the ultimate verdict? Hell – the ultimate holocaust? Heaven – the ultimate destination?  Williamson carefully explores various options, but always ends up siding with evangelical orthodoxy – and none the worse for that!  Ministers will find this a great resource for sermon preparation!


You Make Your Parents Super Happy! A book about parents separating (Jessica Kingsley, London 2017. 40pp: £8.99. ISBN 978-1-78592-414-9) written & illustrated by Richy Chandler reminds young children how special they are to both parents and reassures them that both will keep looking after them and love them just as before.

Diddy Disciples 2: January to August: Worship and storytelling resources for babies, toddlers and young children (SPCK, London 2017: 361pp: £29.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07788-5) by Sharon Moughtin-Mumby, an Anglican minister with a passion for education, is absolutely brilliant!

The first in a new series produced in partnership with Biblical Counselling UK, Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers (IVP, London 2018. 122pp: £6.99. ISBN 978-1-78359-595-2) by Helen Thorne, director of training & mentoring at the London City Mission, is another brilliant resource for churches – every pastor should have a copy, so too everybody involved in pastoral care.  Full of good sense as also of Christian hope, this will empower church leaders and members to deal with this massive but often hidden problem.  I particularly like the ‘sample domestic abuse notice’ (appendix B) in which – amongst other things – a church “commits itself to working in partnership with statutory agencies to bring an end to abuse; and “has a safeguarding officer who can offer advice in situations of abuse”.

Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95.  Exploring spirituality in video games: encountering meaning in digital spaces (2017, Youth 49. ISBN 978-1-78827-033-5) by Alastair Jones & Andy Robertson show how video-games can help young people engage with a host of real-life questions and issues. Honest conversations in churches: exploring expectations together (2017, Pastoral 152. ISBN 978-1-78827-032-8) by Elizabeth Jordan, gives guidance on how to encourage church members to participate in talking through issues arising from the arrival of a new minister.

One comment

  1. Many thanks for such a wealth of ideas for reading, Paul. Must be something for every situation and for a broad spectrum of readers! A couple appealed to me especially.

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