Books for Today – July 2018

Book of the month

The Hardest Part: A Centenary Critical Edition (SCM, London 2018. 231pp: £25) edited by Thomas O’Loughlin & Stuart Bell is a re-issue of the 1918 text by Studdert Kennedy, with a helpful introduction by the two editors together with three appendices which include Studdert Kennedy’s poems on Divine Suffering. I had often heard of Studdert Kennedy, ‘Woodbine Willie’ as he was nick-named, the most famous First World War chaplain, but had never read his reflections on the horrors that he saw. There are nine chapters dealing with themes such as God in nature, God in history, God and democracy, God and the sacrament, God and the church, and God and the life eternal. Each chapter begins with an incident, which Studdert Kennedy then develops and then uses as a springboard for theological reflection. Critics have rightly noted that Studdert Kennedy at times strays from orthodoxy – but this in turn causes the reader to think through their own theological approach to some of the issues being dealt with. In this year when the country celebrates the centenary of the ending of the First World War, it is good to have this new edition of a book which at the time was not warmly greeted by the Church of England – indeed, the Dean of Westminster refused to allow the funeral of this “socialist” to take place in the Abbey!

Other books to make us think

A Gospel of Hope (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 151pp: £12.99 hardback) by the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, consists of a series of quotations from author’s earlier books tackling a wide range of issues. For example: “Generosity. Hospitality. Forgiveness. When we resolve to live that way, the neighbourhood is transformed”. “The world is waiting for Christians who are not angry or anxious or quarrelsome or cynical or in despair. The world is waiting for folk who trust enough to move out beyond themselves”. This is a book to dip into rather than to read through.

To Gain a Harvest: portraits from the English Reformation (SCM, London 2018. 201pp: £19.99) by Jonathan Dean, Director of the Centre for Continuing Ministers’ Development at Queen’s, Birmingham, looks at the lives of Thomas More, Thomas Cranmer, Anne Askew, Katherine Parr, Nicholas Harpsfield, Matthew Parker, Queen Elizabeth I, Lancelot Andrewes, George Herbert and Thomas Traherne. The writer’s lightly-worn but evident scholarship gives added depth to the ‘portraits’. As he says in the Epilogue, “None of those whose lives are glimpsed here, even with all their insight, imagination, creativity and intellectual vigour, could have foreseen a world in which their religious divisions were healed and their lives and faith reconciled to one another”.

Billy Graham: American Pilgrim (Oxford University Press, 2018. 326pp: £22.99 hardbackl) edited by Andrew Finstuen, Anne Blue Wills & Grant Wacker, consists of eleven scholarly essays divided into three parts: religion, politics and culture. I was interested in the Afterword by Margaret Bendroth which deals with ‘Billy Graham’s Legacy’, and not least that despite being the world’s most famous evangelist, a 2007 Gallup poll discovered that only 30% of adults under thirty could even identify him, much less explain his importance. I had also not realised that unlike many other high-profile evangelists, Billy Graham never established a college, founded a church, or organized a non-profit ministry – his overriding goal was winning converts. What is more, says Margaret Bendroth, since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, a seismic change has taken place in the USA as far as evangelicals are concerned: as one outsider noted, “We’ve gone from being the home to the away team”.

God be in my Mouth: forty ways to grow as a preacher (St Andrew Press, Edinburgh 2018. 148pp: £14.99) by Doug Gay, a seasoned lecturer in Practical Theology at Glasgow University, contains many nuggets of wisdom. For instance, “Preaching requires a soft heart, although this sometimes needs to be held within a thick skin”; or “As preachers we need to keep a check on our egos, allowing them to keep on checking in with our empathy, our solidarity and our discretion”. Preachers young and old will benefit from these reflections.

There seems to be no end to the writings of Alister McGrath, the Oxford professor who specialises on the relationship of science and religion. His latest paperback – published first as a hardback last year – is The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018.247pp: £10.99) which has as its final sentence: “We are unable to stand above the Road and see the ‘big picture’ for ourselves – but we can trust that there is one, giving us meaning and purpose as we travel on that Road”.

First published in 2003, this second edition of Post-Christendom: church and mission in a strange new world (SCM, London 2018. 253pp: 16.99) by Stuart Murray, remains substantially the same as the earlier edition – apart from some references to the North American scene. The author’s diagnosis that we are living in a post-Christendom age is beyond dispute, however his ‘prescription’ for how churches should now engage in mission is more debatable: for instance, I am not convinced that the time has come to do away with what Stuart Murray calls ‘monologue sermons’.

A Mentor’s Wisdom: lessons I learned from Haddon Robinson (Hendrickson, Peabody, Massachusetts 2018. 102pp: £7.99) by Larry Moyer, a formal pupil of Haddon Robinson (1931-2017), known in the UK above all for his textbook on preaching, consists of 45 reflections on life, work, spirituality, leadership, evangelism and preaching. ‘Lessons’ include “Make it a point to speak a word of praise to someone once each day”; “God has not promised to bless your words; he has only promised to bless his”; and “The art of preaching isn’t hinged upon knowing what to put into your message, but rather what to take out”. Although there is something of interest for most readers, this book will probably be most appreciated by those who knew Haddon Robinson.

A Preacher’s Tale: explorations into narrative preaching (SCM, London 2018. 154pp: £16.99) by Jon Russell, an Anglican minister in Northumberland, contains 28 ‘narrative’ sermons together with the author’s comments on the approach adopted – but while thought-provoking the degree to which the text is actually being fully ‘expounded’ is at times questionable. Nonetheless it is a good read!

The Abiding Presence: a theological commentary on Exodus (SCM, London 2018. 260pp: £19.99) by Mark Scarlata, Lecturer in Old Testament Studies at St Mellitus College, is an excellent resource for ministers preaching their way through Exodus, and is good value for money too!

First published in 2007 by Eerdmans, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (SCM, London 2018. 264pp: £19.99) by John Swinton of the University of Aberdeen, examines the issue of evil, suffering and God (‘theodicy’), and instead of trying to explain evil and suffering, presents ways in which evil and suffering can be resisted and transformed by the Christian community, and in so doing seeks to “enable Christians to live faithfully in the midst of unanswered questions as they await God’s redemption of the whole of creation”. This is now a modern theological classic.


Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95, include Developing dementia-friendly churches (Pastoral 153, 2018) by Trevor Adams of Passionate Dementia Care, who argues that churches need to express kingdom values at a time when many people do not make the effort to listen to people with dementia and make it difficult for them to have an active role in the community. Football and Faith: a Game of Two Halves (Youth 50, 2018) by John Boyd and Tunde Sobitan, both part of Sunderland Samba FC, argues passionately that football can be a place where young people can experience the transformational love of God – a great resource for ministers and youth leaders who follow football, but less so for others! I yawned when I read the title Hospitality, Mission and Café Church (Mission & Evangelism, 2018) by Steven Morris, vicar of a church in Brent, but how wrong I was – here is a description of an innovative way of doing monthly family services with a difference – this is most certainly the booklet of the month!

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