Books for Today – May 2018

Books of the month

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible: New Testament and Psalms with study notes (Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2018. 749pp: £9.99. 978-0-232-53361-3) is one of this year’s great Christian publishing events. This is a superb Roman Catholic translation, in which Protestants can have full confidence. It is a wholesale revision of The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) which was itself a revision of The Jerusalem Bible – the fact is that the English language continues to change; furthermore this latest revision is ‘gender inclusive’ in the sense that an attempt has been made “to show that the message of the Bible is directed to women and men equally, despite the inbuilt bias of the English language”. The brief study notes have also been revised.

Phoebe (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 308pp: £14.99 hardback) by Paula Gooder, Director of Mission Learning and Development in the Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford, is an amazingly gripping work of fiction on the life of Phoebe, the deacon of Cenchreae to whom Paul briefly refers in Romans 16.  What makes this ‘novel’ so fascinating is that it is written by a New Testament scholar who is very much at home in Phoebe’s social context. So although the author exercises great imagination, the story is all within the bounds of possibility – as is shown in the 80 pages of notes in which she justifies her use of imagination on the basis of what we know not just about the social context, but also about Paul’s understanding of the Gospel. So although it is just a story, it is more than a story. It is both an entertaining and also an informative read which I warmly commend to everyone!

Other books to make us think

Following the Celtic Way: A new assessment of Celtic Christianity (Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2018. 161pp: £12.99. ISBN 978-0-232-53341-5) by Ian Bradley, Emeritus Professor of Cultural & Spiritual History in the University of St Andrews, is a major revision of his earlier The Celtic Way (1993) which was “coloured too much by the naïve zeal of the new convert and was overly romantic and simplistic in some of what it said”. The author goes on: “I have found my own very liberal Christian faith seriously challenged rather than reinforced and I have been made much more conscious of my own sin and frailty and of the themes of judgment and accountability”. The fact is that much past writing about Celtic Christianity has been based more on wishful thinking than on reality. This new guide offers a more sober and measured appreciation of the Celtic tradition, as also some helpful pointers to those wanting to follow the Celtic way today.

God created Humanism: The Christian basis of secular values (SPCK, London 2018. 198pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07743-4) by Theo Hobson argues that not only that secular humanism is derived from Christianity, but also strangely that Christians should affirm secular humanism as a public ideology, despite its inadequacies!

First published in 2017 in hardback, God is Stranger: What Happens When God Turns Up (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 334pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-1-473-64891-3) by Krish Kandiah, founder of an adoption and fostering charity and a Vice-President of Tear Fund, is a retelling of familiar Bible stories ‘with a twist’, in which a very different picture of God appears from that presented in many churches.

Self-supporting ministry: a practical guide (SPCK, London 2018. 138pp: £14.99. ISBN 978-0-281-07845-5) by John Lees, Bishop’s Officer for Self-Supporting Ministry in the Diocese of Exeter is an excellent guide to unpaid ordained ministry – although written within an Anglican context, ‘bi-vocational’ ministers in other denomination would find it helpful too.

Paediatric Chaplaincy: Principles, Practices and Skills (Jessica Kingsley, London 2018. 320pp: £22.99. ISBN 978-1-78592-076-9) edited by Paul Nash, Mark Bartel & Sally Nash contains 22 wide-ranging essays by chaplains from the English-speaking world engaged in caring for children and young adults together with their families. Not surprisingly, this is essential reading for chaplains!

Things that make for Peace: A Christian peacemaker in a world of war (DLT, London 2018. 225pp: £12.99. ISBN 978-0-232-5346-0) by Peter Price, a former Bishop of Bath & Wells, asks the question, ‘Can Christianity continue to sanction war?’. The author, who is also Bishop Protector for Anglican Peacemakers, gives a thoughtful negative answer based on his own experience of peace-making in a wide variety of situations, in the UK as also in Northern Ireland, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. To those tempted to feel that this is an issue for politicians rather than for individual churches, Peter Price in his final chapter writes: “In all I have witnessed amongst people seeking ‘the things that make for peace’, it is the dedicated small community of ordinary people doing extraordinary things that remains the most effective”. This excellent book makes for challenging reading, not least because of the stories it contains. As Major General Tim Cross says in his Foreword: “Stories are powerful things – they help us to understand the ‘baggage’ that we and others carry; understand how we see the world around us and why we and they do the things we do – did the things we did”.

The Bible in Worship: Proclamation, Encounter and Response (SCM, London 2018, 268pp: £35. ISBN 978-0-334-05647-8) by Victoria Raymer, Tutor in Liturgy at Westcott House (an Anglican theological college), Cambridge, is essentially a student textbook, which examines in detail the use of the Bible within the liturgical patterns and practices of the Roman Catholic, the Anglican and the Reformed traditions. Strangely, there is no engagement with how the Bible is used within the more independent traditions of the church – as it is this scholarly work on the Bible and liturgy is irrelevant to a large section of the Christian church which could greatly benefit from reflecting on how it uses the Bible in worship.

Fortress Britain? Ethical Approaches to Immigration Policy for a Post-Brexit Britain (Jessica Kingsley, London 2018. 171pp: £16.99. ISBN 978-1-78592-309-8) ed. Ben Ryan, is a forward-looking collection of essays from differing points of view on such topics as mutual obligations; the future of migration; faith-based responses to asylum seeking; biblical and theological perspectives on migration; cultural identity; and child migration. There is also a helpful section dealing with facts and statistics. Would that every politician would read this book!

The Final Days of Jesus – the thrill of defeat, the agony of victory: a classical historian explores Jesus’ arrest, trial & execution (Lutterworth, Cambridge 2018. 260pp: £20. ISBN 978-0-7188-9510-5) by Mark Smith, a history professor at the College of Idaho, provides a clear and detailed examination of the events leading up to the Crucifixion.

What we talk about when we talk about Faith (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 239pp: £14.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-473-67805-7) by Roman Catholic journalist Peter Stanford, consists of 44 horizon-broadening interviews with a wide range of believers – mostly Roman Catholics, but also some Anglicans, Evangelicals and Jews. In one way or another the topic of conversation has been the place of God in their lives.

Originally published in 1987 as part of the New International Commentary series, and available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh. The Books of Haggai and Malachi (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2018. 363pp: £23.99) by Pieter A. Verhoef, is a classic commentary for students and preachers alike.


For the British market IVP (London, 2018) have re-published an American series of Life Builder Bible study booklets dealing with ‘Living fully at every stage’ : viz. Growing Older & Wiser (ISBN 978-1-78359-682-9) by Dale & Sandy Larsen; Grandparenting: Loving our children’s children (ISBN 978-1-78359-667-6) by Phillis & Andrew Le Peau; Parenting: Loving our children with God’s love (ISBN  978-1-78359-700-0) by Richard Patterson; Marriage: God’s design for intimacy (ISBN 978-1-78359-694-1) by James & Martha Reapsome. All are priced at £4.99; and contain a minimum of 9 studies for small groups. My one disappointment with this series is a failure to recognize that today’s context is very different from New Testament times, let alone earlier, and therefore great care needs to be given in the application of God’s Word.  Subsequently IVP have re-published further Life-Builder study booklets: viz. Missions: God’s Heart for the World (978-1-78359-696-6) by Paul Borthwick; Loving Justice (ISBN 978-1-78359-692-8) by Bob & Carol Hunter; Deuteronomy: Becoming Holy People ( 978-1-78359-679-9) by Stephen Eyre; 1 & 2 Kings: God’s Imperfect Servants (978-1-78359-675-1) by Carolyn Nystrom; and The Jesus Paul Knew (978-1-78359-688-1). Although these study books are all very attractively produced, the content could be further enhanced by group leaders doing further study of their own.

A much more contextual book, which seeks to relate Biblical truth to the world in which we live, is Invest Your Disappointments: Going for Growth (IVP, London 2018. 193pp: £9.99. ISBN 978-178359-445-0) by Paul Mallard, an ‘independent’ Baptist pastor. Each of the 14 chapters ends with five questions for discussion or reflection. It is more expensive than a traditional Bible study booklet, and requires group members to read 10 or more pages before each meeting, but it would make the small group experience so much more worthwhile.

IVP (London 2018) have also produced 30 day devotional guides to Revelation (ISBN 978-1-78359-712-3) and Habakkuk (ISBN 978-1-78359-652-2) by Paul Mallard and Jonathan Lamb respectively, based on addresses given at the Keswick Convention. Both guides are just over 90pp in length and cost£4.99.

Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95, include: Studying Christian and Muslim Faith Together: Building relationships through the stories of the Bible and Qu’ran (Mission & Evangelism 121, 2018. 978-1-78827-039-7) by Jan Pike & Georgina Jardim, a creative guide to how to create opportunities for faith conversations with Muslims.  Refusing to be Indispensable (Leadership 31, 2018. ISBN 978-1-78827-036-6) by Andy Griffiths who helps train curates in the Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford, argues that ministers should focus on equipping their people to do the real work of mission and service; however, although no one can take exception the need to equip all Christians for service, from my perspective the author’s approach fails to do justice to the ministerial role –  this booklet could be a great discussion-starter not least for Anglican churches as they wrestle with the massive cuts in ministerial supply!

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