Book of the month
Terry Hinks, URC minister in High Wycombe, is a gifted wordsmith. His latest book, Praying the Way with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (BRF, Abingdon 2018. 221pp: £10.99), consists of 160 amazingly fresh prayers – 40 for each gospel – in which Scripture becomes the springboard for the soul. I found these prayers not just stimulating and broadening, but also deeply challenging. This is a book not to be read – but to be used. I warmly commend it to anyone looking for a more authentic relationship with God.
Other books to stimulate the mind
Secular Beats Spiritual (OUP 2017. 199pp: £25.49 hardback) by Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen, is a complex book with a variety of themes. For instance, he argues that, insofar as they have become more popular in the West, eastern spiritual beliefs and practices have become more secular. More worryingly from a Christian perspective, he shows how Christianity in the UK has declined drastically, and even such ‘innovations’ as the charismatic movement have failed to stem the decline. Interestingly, immigration has made little difference to the UK’s religious composition, with less than 6% of the population being Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. Bruce believes that these imported religions have made it less likely that the indigenous population will become more religious, because they have created the strong impression that religion is alien! If ever the Christian church needed a wake-up call, it is found here: mission must be the church’s priority if we are to make any impact upon the UK.
The Power of Love (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018. 125pp: £14.99) by Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, who preached at Harry & Meghan’s wedding, consists of five inspirational and life-affirming sermons (including the wedding sermon). This is not expository preaching – but it is true to the Jesus ‘Way of Love’.
Tim Keller, described by the New York Times as Manhattan’s leading evangelist is a gifted preacher. In The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the mystery of God’s mercy (Hodder, London 2018. 258pp: £12.99 hardback) he shows how Jonah first plays ‘the prodigal son’, and then ‘the older brother’. This is a great resource for preachers – and an inspirational read for church members who have become bored with platitudinal preaching.
Alister McGrath is Professor of Science & Religion at Oxford University and a gifted articulate apologist for the Christian faith. It was therefore with great anticipation that I began to read Mere Discipleship: On growing in wisdom (SPCK, London 2018. 158pp: £9.99) in which McGrath encourages his readers to develop a ‘discipleship of the mind’ at the heart of which is the quest for wisdom, rather than the mere accumulation of information about Christianity. In his opening chapter McGrath expresses concern at the rise of anti-intellectualism in many churches, and the corresponding failure to attack the ‘New Atheism’ which “is a rhetorically supercharged agnosticism that hopes the ferocity of its words will divert attention from the poverty of its arguments”. In his second chapter he argues that the creeds not only reaffirm the core beliefs of the Church, but also offer a resource for further exploration of the faith, allowing us to become “more deeply embedded within the Christian vision of reality”. However, what begins as a really ‘cracking’ book becomes a little tedious, for the book is largely a collection of previously published lectures and sermons, which results in much repetition of thought and argument.
The Culture of God: The Syrian Jesus – reading the divine mind, sailing into the divine heart (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2018) by Nadim Nassar, the Church of England’s only Syrian minister, seeks to help Western Christians understand the ‘Levantine’ roots of their faith. In this regard the author offers a host of helpful insights: for example, he shows how in the Middle East passion and reason go together – “passion does not necessarily mean a lack of rationality, but rather a welding of rationality and emotionality”. Similarly, hospitality and generosity go together – without the two “friendships cannot exist”.
Jesus the Priest (SPCK, London 2018. 343pp: £35) by Nicholas Perrin, professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, Illinois, us an erudite book written for the ‘academy’. Drawing upon the Gospels as also upon texts relating to first century Judaism, he argues that Jesus spoke and acted as if he were Israel’s ‘eschatological high priest’, who looked forward to the arrival of a heavenly temple on earth– and so saw himself “a human participant in the divine”.
Jean Vanier has been described as ‘a living saint’. For 53 years he has worked with people with disabilities: the first L’Arche (‘ark’) community was set up in Paris in 1964 and today worldwide there are over 150 such communities. We need one another: responding to God’s call to live together (SPCK, London 2018. 138pp: £9.99) is a collection of retreat addresses given in Kenya in 2008, in which Vanier powerfully expounds the underlying philosophy of L’Arche, primarily through a series of illustrations. Time and again the same point is hammered home: “To become fully man or fully woman, there is a need to be together and to love each other. There is a need to reveal to the other that they are important, that what they say is of value and that they are listened to. There is need to love with tenderness and to listen with wisdom.” I found this simple book deeply moving. Churches would be revolutionised if they took
First published in hardback in 2016, Saints: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 2018. 149pp: £7.99) by Simon Yarrow is a brief but authoritative examination of the role saints have played in religion, politics, art and everyday life.
The Book of Common Prayer is one of the best-known books in human history. It is reckoned that up to a billion people have said prayers together, got married, or buried their families and friends, saying its words. Oxford University Press has recently published two books dealing with this influential book. The first is The Book of Common Prayer: the texts of 1549, 1559 and 1662 (Oxford 2018. 821pp: £10.99) edited and introduced by Brian Cummings, an English professor at York who has specialised on the Reformation and Renaissance. The second, also by Brian Cummings, is The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2018. 139pp: £7.99), which provides not only a history of the book but also some interesting reflections on its place today.
Advent for Everyone: a journey through Luke (SPCK, London 2018. 113pp: £8.99) by Tom Wright is distilled from selected passages in his popular For Everyone commentary on the Gospel of Luke. At the end of each day over the four-week period of Advent, there are questions for reflection or discussion. It is an excellent devotional tool.
The Art of Advent: a painting a day from Advent to Epiphany (SPCK, London 2018. 152pp: £8.99) by Jane Williams, wife of Rowan Williams and a scholar in her own right, consists of reflections on thirty-seven full-colour pictures relating to the coming of Christ. Each reflection is followed by questions for reflection or discussion and a short prayer. It is a wonderfully stimulating tool for Advent.
Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28 pp in length and all priced at £3.95, include Exploring Missional Reader Ministry: A Personal vision with suggestions & questions (Mission & Evangelism 123, 2018) by Liz Shercliff, Director of Studies for Readers in the Diocese of Chester, who argues that readers should be “enablers of mission, inspiriting teachers of faith, and leaders in faith and society”. Appreciative Inquiry: strategically discerning a church’s future (Leadership 33, 2018) by Andrew Schuman, an Anglican vicar in South Bristol, outlines the helpful features of a planning tool which starts from a positive (what is God doing?) rather than a negative (what is missing), and then explores how this tool was used in his church over a four-year period. The Vulnerable Youth Worker: How to engage with vulnerability in ministry (Youth 52, 2018) by Sally Nash, the Director of the Midlands Institute for Children, Youth & Mission, through a range of examples seeks to help youth workers to become more aware of their own – and others’ – vulnerabilities. The Marks of a Church: Shaped by the main things (Pastoral 55, 2018) by Jon Coutts, a teacher at Trinity College Bristol, consists of contemporary reflections on the threefold marks of the church articulated by Calvin (and also by the Anabaptists): viz. preaching, the sacraments, and discipline (i.e. ‘the mutual accountability of Christian discipleship’.