Books for Today – March 2018

The Book of the Month:

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved (First British edition SPCK, London 2018. 178pp: hardback £14.99) by Kate Bowler, assistant professor at Duke Divinity School specialising in the history of the American Prosperity Gospel. It is a savagely witty account of the aftermath of her diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. Over against the prosperity gospel claim that God will give us our heart’s desires, she asks “Is there a cure for tragedy”. Be warned: once started, this is a book you will not be able to put down! All those engaged in pastoral care need to take note of the two appendices: 1. ‘Absolutely never say this to people experiencing terrible times; and 2. ‘Give this a go and see if it works’.

Resource Books

Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book (SPCK, London 2018. 136pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-28-07873-8) ed. by Robyn Wrigley Carr, is a collection of prayers by an English Anglo-Catholic (1875-1941), some her own, some by others. Inevitably it feels a little dated.

Intercessions Resource Book (SPCK, London 2018. 174pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07821-9) is the third book of intercessions by John Pritchard, a retired Bishop of Oxford. Designed to take away generalisations, repetition, bland use of language – and even boredom – this is a superb resource for all those charged to lead intercessions, whether in a Sunday service or in a small group – there is also a section on personal intercessions.

The Mystery of Christ: meditations and prayers (SPCK, London 2018. 87pp: £7.99. 978-0-281-07915-5) by Keith Ward, formerly Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, is thought-provoking and needs to be read and prayed through slowly – perhaps just one section a day.

Hendrickson in association with the German Bible Society have brought out a wide margin edition of the 28th revised Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (Hardback £62.99: 978-1-60307-068-9). It is available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh. and church groups who have little knowledge of the Old Testament.

Hodder & Stoughton brought out in a ‘soft-tone’ flexi-back edition of the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Anglicised) (London, 2017; 2368pp; £39.99; ISBN 978 1 473 6519 3). Weighing in at 3lbs 3ozs it is more for the desk than for taking to church. It contains a plan for reading the Bible in a year, detailed notes, and a master index. Although my preference is for the NRSV, it is a great resource and good value for money.

 Books to make us think

According to the Scriptures: The death of Christ in the Old Testament and the New (SCM, London 2018. 238pp: £25. ISBN 978-0-334-05550-1) by David Allen, NT tutor at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, is a fascinating book which ministers and theological students will surely enjoy. It starts with a quotation from Martin Hengel: “If all you know is the New Testament, you do not know the New Testament”, and then explores the passion narratives of each Gospel, and then the depiction of the death of Jesus in Paul, Hebrews, & the other NT epistles with a view to understanding how the NT writers “utilized the Jewish Scriptures to describe, articulate and evaluate the death of Jesus”. The book could form the basis for series of sermons on the death of Christ!

The Philosophy of Religion: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2018. 133pp: £7.99. ISBN 978-0-19-875496-1) by Tim Bayne, Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, Melbourne, is an intriguing and enjoyable introduction to questions such as the concept of God, the problem of evil and the afterlife.

Theosomnia: a Christian theology of sleep (Jessica Kingsley, London 2018. 164pp: £45. ISBN 978-1-78592-218-3) by Andrew Bishop, a residentiary canon of Guildford Cathedral, who argues that there is a theological story to be told about sleep. Sleep, he says, “is a state of grace and not of sin. It refreshes and renews, yet can never be earned… sleep is profoundly precarious and sometimes frustratingly elusive and is suggestive of the fragility and vulnerability of human existence… The eschatological character points us to reflect on mortality and resurrection”.

Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 116pp: £10.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-473-68600-7) by Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, contains eight provocative expositions from the Old and New Testament. “Silence”, says the author, “is a strategy for the maintenance of the status quoi, with its unbearable distribution of power and wealth”. Preachers will appreciate this new perspective.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Paul: An Apostle’s Journey (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2018. 207pp: £17.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7347-7) by Douglas A. Campbell, professor of NT at Duke Divinity School, is a lively introduction for students and others. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for discussion.

First published in 2000, Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong. Helping Christians cope with mental health problems (SPCK, London: 2018 in association with the Mind & Soul Foundation. 118pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07938-4) by psychiatrist Tim Cantopher, is a great pastoral resource for carers and sufferers. I was fascinated to discover that the most common form of depressive illness, brought on by stress, nearly always happens to one type of person who has the following characteristics: moral strength, reliability, diligence, strong conscience, strong sense of responsibility; a tendency to focus on the needs of others before one’s own; sensitivity; vulnerability to criticism; and self-esteem dependent on the evaluation of others.

Monasticism: a very short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018. 142pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-19-871764-5) by Stephen J. Davis of Yale University, is a concise guide to monasticism in all its forms – with a reminder that today there is a flourishing of monastic practice in a number of places across the globe.

Published in the ‘New Studies in Biblical Theology’ series Righteous by Promise: A biblical theology of circumcision (Apollos/IVP, London 2019. 249pp: £14.99. ISBN 978-1-78359-601-0) by Karl Deenick, a pastor in Tasmania, is a detailed examination of the different approaches scholars have taken to circumcision. A section by the author on how he has applied his learning to his church would have been of interest!

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Biblical Leadership: Theology for the everyday leader (Kregel, Grand Rapids 2018. 537pp: £30.99. ISBN 978-0-8254-4391-6) eds. Benjamin Forrest & Chet Roden, consists of thirty-three studies on leadership in Scripture: e.g. leadership in Ecclesiastes, leadership in Jeremiah etc. The contributors are almost exclusively North American, many of whom are associated with Liberty University founded by Jerry Falwell. The contributions from those not associated with Liberty University tend to be the most stimulating and less bound to North American evangelical culture!

Mariner: A voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 471pp: £14.99. ISBN 978-1-473-61107-8) by Malcolm Guite, chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, tells at (too?) great length the story of Coleridge’s life through his most famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and in so doing explores ‘the human condition’.

Published as a hardback in 2016, The Beauty and the Horror (SPCK, London 2016. 240pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07695-6) by Richard Harries, formerly Bishop of Oxford, combines wide-ranging learning with orthodox Christian faith, as he searches for God in a suffering world. Toward the end Harries writes: “The case against the possibility of a wise and loving power behind creation does often seem overwhelming as we listen to or read the news about the daily hells people find themselves in… From a Christian point of view, however, there is a clue that is all too easily overlooked… That is, Jesus crucified and risen, in whom is seen the self-emptying of God in creation, and his identification with the whole of humanity in their travail”. Harries acknowledges that that “the contradiction between the beauty and horror of life cannot be fully resolved”, and that ultimately there is mystery. He quotes the NT scholar G.B. Caird: “Man must know God or perish but unless he knows him as ultimate mystery he does not know him at all”.

The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2018. 199pp: $21.99) by well-known American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, consists of sixteen letters written over a period of 16 years on the anniversary of the baptism of Laurence Bailey Wells (the son of American theologian, Samuel Wells). Each letter deals with a different Christian virtue: viz. kindness, truthfulness, friendship, patience, hope, justice, courage, joy, simplicity, constancy, humility (and humour), temperance, generosity, faith and character. It abounds with quotable quotes. For instance: “Nothing is more precious in the world than the gift of a friend. Friendship takes time, because we don’t easily come to know one another. But in a world that believes time is in short supply, God has given us all the time we ned to become friends with one another. And in becoming friends with each other, we learn to become friends with God”. What a wonderful gift for a godfather to give to his godson!

The Lord is God: Seeking the God of the Psalter (Apollos/IVP 2018. 198pp: £16.99. ISBN 978-1-78359-656-0) by Christopher Holmes, an Anglican systematic theologian in New Zealand, is a theological exploration of the divine attribute of goodness. This is more a contribution to the academy, and fails to relate to pastoral issues.

The Language of Liturgy: A Ritual Poetics (SCM, London 2018. 224pp: £30. ISBN 978-0-334-05571-6) by David Jasper, an Anglican steeped in literature and theology, is a scholarly work tracing the history of ‘liturgical language’, with particular reference to the Church of England. The author argues that the pursuit of simplicity and comprehensibility in liturgical language is a mistake: “Liturgy is not an instrument of evangelism but, through its beauty, its intelligence, its paradoxes and evasive grammar suggesting mystery, may still be arresting in an age of unbelief”. Much as I appreciate beautifully crafted prayers, I am not convinced by this ‘elitist’ argument – but no doubt others will agree with David Jasper!

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2017; 206pp; £16.99; ISBN 978 0 8028 7505 1), by Joshua Jipp, who teaches NT at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, argues that churches and individuals need to rediscover the Scriptural teaching that hospitality to strangers is at the core of our faith and a necessary practice for all those who claim to follow Jesus. Church life would be revolutionised – as would attitudes to immigration and racism – if this book were to be taken seriously!

Friends of the late Derek Kidner, a wise and careful scholar who was warden of Tyndale House Cambridge when I was a student, will be delighted to see that IVP has reissued his classic commentary on Proverbs (189pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-1-78359-666-9)

Christianity at the Crossroads: how the second century shaped the future of the church (SPCK, London 2017; 256pp; £19.99; ISBN 978 0 281 0713 19), by Michael Kruger, Professor of NT & Early Christianity at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, provides a magisterial overview of one of the most important, but also one of the most neglected centuries of church history – for it was then that “the Church was out of the apostolic womb and now trying to take its first breath. Like a new-born animal on the Serengeti plains, Christians found themselves in a dangerous world.” In the first instance, this is a great textbook for theological students – but also an informative read for people in general.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Introduction to the Prophets: Their Stories, Sayings and Scrolls (Paulist Press, New York, 2nd edition 2017. 436pp: £33.99. ISBN 978-0-8091-5361-9) by Catholic scholar Thomas Leclerc, is a non-technical introduction intended for students and church groups who have little knowledge of the Old Testament.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Sacred Dissonance: The Blessing of Difference in Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Hendrickson, Peabody, Mass., 2018. 271pp: £24.99. ISBN 978-1-68307-067-2) by Anthony Le Donne, a Christian, and Larry Behrendt, a Jew, is takes the form of a conversation between two friends over a period of four years detailing their at times painful exploration of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, the first of a new ‘Through Old Testament Eyes’ series, Mark (Kregel, Grand Rapids 2018. 352pp: 24.99. ISBN 978-0-8254-4411-1) by Andrew Le Peau, a former IVP editor, applies the findings of scholarship to today’s world. Preachers will find this a useful commentary

The Landscape of Faith: An explorer’s guide to the Christian creeds (SPCK, London 2018. 256pp: £14.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07625-3) by Alister McGrath, Oxford Professor of Science & Religion, is a great book of Christian apologetics, modelled on the approach of C. S. Lewis, abounding in illustrations, stories, and quotable quotes. As with C.S. Lewis, so this book, which explores the Christian faith through the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, will undoubtedly be a great resource for individual seekers and Christians alike – and for preachers wanting to give depth to their preaching. Yet strangely the resurrection of Jesus is underplayed. For instance, in the section dealing with ‘Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour’, there are chapters on the identity of Jesus, the incarnation, the atonement, and ‘suffering: the shadow of the cross’, but no chapter devoted to the resurrection. It is true that the section on ‘The Holy Spirit and the Christian life’ concludes with a chapter on ‘Eternal life: the hope of the new Jerusalem’, but this fails to do justice to the concept of the cosmic lordship of Jesus which was so central to early Christian believing.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Preaching Adverbially (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2018. 184pp: £24.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7558-7) by Russell Mitman, a retired United Church of Christ minister, is a broad-ranging guide to preaching, from which even experienced ministers could profit. To preach ‘adverbially’ is to preach biblically, liturgically, sacramentally, evangelically, contextually, invitationally, metaphorically, multisensorily, engagingly, doxologically, and eschatologically!

The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century Christian Thought (OUP, 2017; 718pp; £110 hardback; ISBN 978 0 19 8711840 6), edited by Joel Rasmussen, Judith Wolfe, & Johannes Zachhuber, is another great triumph of Oxford publishing. Made up 40 scholarly albeit accessible essays, it is divided into six parts: (1) Changing paradigms; (2) Human nature and the nature of religion; (3) Culture and society; (4) Christianity and the arts; (5) Christianity and Christianities (better ‘denominations’); and (6) Doctrinal themes. It is a wonderful book to dip into. Unfortunately, the cost means it will be probably end up just in college and university libraries.

Leading by Story: Rethinking Church Leadership (SCM, London 2017; 219pp; £25; ISBN 978 0 334 05547 1), by Vaughan S Roberts, an Anglican team rector, & David Sims, a retired professor of organizational behaviour, has many helpful insights, but for me failed to grasp that ‘vision’ is a key to leadership, both inside and outside the church – I found it significant that ‘vision’ did not feature in the index. Leadership is defined as “the activity of enabling something to happen which was not going to happen otherwise, and contributions to this activity may be made by many people”. At a time when so many churches are in massive decline, this surely is not enough. Yes, leadership involves ‘enabling’, but it involves much more. Each chapter ends with three questions – presumably on the basis that this is a book intended as a student text.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Ezra and Nehemiah (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2018. 243pp: £23.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-6432-1) by David J. Shepherd & Christopher J.H. Wright, is a welcome addition to the ‘Two Horizons OT Commentary’ which combines theological exegesis with reflection. This is a superb book for preachers.

Every Job a Parable: What farmers, nurses and astronauts tell us about God (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2017; 220pp; £13.99; ISBN 978 1 473 67066 2), by John van Sloten, a Canadian pastor, is a remarkable book and an excellent resource for preachers seeking to help their congregations to relate faith to working life. The opening paragraph sets the scene: “God is more present at your work than you know. And I think he wants you to know that. God wants you to see that he is there and that his Spirit is moving in you, through you, and all around you as you do your job”. The book is far more than a theological tract – it is peppered with illustrations from the world of work, ranging from the florist to the nephrologist, from a firefighter to an asphalt company executive, from an investment banker to a recording artist.

Available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh, Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 208. 246pp: £19.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-7518-1) by retired NT professor Klyne R. Snodgrass is a thoughtful exploration of what is a key issue for so many people today. The author concludes: “Look in the mirror and be conscious of being an individual before God, responsible to God, and energized for life by a God who cares for you, loves you, and calls you to participate in life with God. You will never be yourself anywhere else. How will you show who you are? What will change you to become who God says you are. you deserve to be who God says you are.”

Why You’re Here: Ethics for the real world (OUP, 2018. 319pp: £12.99. ISBN 978-0-19-063674-6) by Canadian academic John Stackhouse, was almost my ‘book of the month’. This is a highly provocative book written for ordinary Christians who want advice on how to follow Jesus in the ‘real’ world. It is divided into three parts: 1. Our (permanent) human calling: make shalom; 2. Our (temporary) Christian calling: make disciples; and 3. Responding to the call of Jesus (which includes a chapter with the. wonderful title, ‘principles for the normal’!) It concludes with four ‘portable’ phrases “to help us situate ourselves properly, in a critical and creative tension, as we strive to listen to Jesus: engagement with culture without capitulation to culture; transformation of couture without conquest of culture; acceptance of plurality without endorsement of relativism; and confidence in our convictions without delusions of infallibility.

Tackling Mental Illness Together: A Biblical and Practical Approach (IVP, London 2017; 206pp; £9.99; ISBN 978 1 78359 559 4), by Alan Thomas, Newcastle Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, and a church elder with preaching & pastoral responsibilities, is a very readable introduction to the challenge of mental illness. A good resource for members of a church’s pastoral team or for people helping to run church groups for people with mental health issues, in my judgement it is not sufficiently stretching for students preparing for pastoral ministry.

For those living in multi-cultural towns and cities, Learning To Live Well Together: Case Studies in Interfaith Diversity (Jessica Kingsley, London 2017. 176pp: £16.99. ISBN 978-1-78592-194-0) by Tom Wilson & Riaz Ravat, tells the story of Leicester’s St Philip’s Centre, which seeks to help Christians and others to live well together as a result of ‘encounter, understanding, trust and co-operation’. This is an excellent guide.


  1. Some very profound and interesting reading there, I think. I certainly plan to get your book of the month! Are you a quick reader, I wonder?

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