Books for Today – May 2019

Retired and inspired: making the most of our latter years (BRF. Abingdon, 2019. 143pp: £8.99) by Wendy Billington, a former teacher and counsellor, focusses on the second stage of retirement, when health and loss can become dominant themes. I confess that as an active 75-year old I found it difficult to identify with the issues raised, but no doubt in due course the book will become more relevant. What is helpful is that each chapter ends with questions for group discussion – although how many churches have small groups focussed on the needs of this age group is perhaps questionable.

Religion Hurts: Why religions do harm as well as good (SPCK, London 2018. 191pp hardback: £14.99) by John Bowker, a ‘polymath’ who is one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of religion, is an amazingly lucid yet learned exploration of how all religions (including Christianity) can be both ‘bad and good news’.  To quote from the book’s final paragraph: “The challenge to religions is to work out how together they can do something to confront the harm and damage they have themselves do in the past and all too often are still doing in the present. Only on that basis can they then, together, respond effectively to the immense problems that face us all, not least those of climate, population, migration, trade, exploitation, despair, corruption.” This is an inspiring and informative book. I confess, if I dare, that at times I did not always agree with the argument (perhaps because I did not always follow what John Bowker was saying). However, this is a great book which anyone interested in the future of our world needs to read.

To Heal and not to Hurt: a fresh approach to safeguarding in Church (DLT, London 2019. 223pp: £12.99) by Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, and Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, is a very practical response to the failure of Christian leaders to take seriously people who have been abused within the context of the church. Perhaps the key paragraph is found within the introduction: “The mark of a healthy and authentically Christian community is not large numbers, inspiriting worship or dogmatic orthodoxy, but the way in which power is exercised within it”. As is illustrated by their the fifteen ‘tales from the crypt’, all too often bishops and archdeacons (and others) have had more in common with the ‘priest’ and the ‘Levite’ than with the Good Samaritan. The authors spell outa host of practical ways in which church leaders can make significant improvements to the way in which they carry out their safeguarding responsibilities. This is a book for bishops and archdeacons and for all Christians in safeguarding procedures.

Resilience in Life and Faith: Finding your strength in God (BRF, Abingdon 2019. 189pp: £9.99) by Tony Horsfall, a freelance trainer and retreat leader, and Debbie Hawker, a clinical psychologist and ‘mission partner’, suggests ways in which Christians can prepare themselves for some of the inevitable tough challenges which life can bring.  I liked the quotation in the introduction that “Being resilient does not restore the status quo in your life – springing back to the way it was – but rather, what you have learned from tackling the adversity changes you for the better and helps you become more keenly aware of what is important in your life” (Neenan & Dryden). The authors present a multi-dimensional model of resilience which they term SPECS (Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive and creative, Social and systemic) and then back up the model with illustrations drawn from Bible characters.

Spiritual Conferences (Gracewing, Leominster, 2018. 376pp: £20) by the late Tony Philpot, the former Spiritual Director at the English College in Rome, consists of a series of retreat addresses given to seminarians and to priests. To my surprise I discovered that in spite of the Roman Catholic context, there is much here which is relevant to Protestant ministers. The addresses are full of spiritual common sense and will undoubtedly be a real tonic to tired and jaded ministers. For instance, in an address entitled ‘Holding the Charge’ he writes that the secret of coping with all the pressures of ministry does not lie in  learning new tricks of the trade, new pastoral techniques, even new methods of prayer: “I think it lies in acquiring a new way of being, a new way of feeling about yourself, a new way of seeing yourself in relation to God, a new way of situating yourself in the sight of God”. This is a book which repays careful and slow reading.

Sabbath Rest: The Beauty of God’s Rhythm for a Digital Age (SCM, 2019. 128pp: £12.99) by Mark Scarlata, an OT specialist at St Mellitus College, London, looks at the relevance of the Bible’s teaching on the Sabbath to today’s stress-filled world. Drawing upon Israel’s experience of God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, he urges Christians to trust God by disconnecting from their computers one day a week. He writes, “Do we think he will provide for one day a week so that we might cease from our work? Or do we think of ourselves as so important that life cannot go on unless we are there?… Rest comes to those who see their labour and achievements within the vastness of God’s work and are willing to trust that he will provide even when we are not available”. The story of the manna leads him to talk about the Sabbath as a day for feasting and celebration – and the importance of using the Sabbath for hospitality. Throughout the book the argument is made that the Sabbath is God’s gift to us – but to experience the gift discipline is necessary. “Sabbath is a discipline that doesn’t come naturally to us, but like any spiritual discipline we continue to be transformed as we commit to practising it in our own lives”.

Sabbath: The hidden heartbeat of our lives (DLT, London 2019.  192pp: £9.99) by Nicola Slee, an academic with a particular interest in feminism and spirituality has written this book in the first place for fellow academics who have to live out the tension “of trying to respond faithfully to too much that is expected of them, with insufficient time and resources, and never being able to catchup with the task, let alone to complete it”. Through a series of reflections on a Sabbath poem by Wendell Berry, the author suggests various ways in which her readers may learn to “celebrate the festival of freedom”. At the end of each section there is a series of very practical questions for reflection and prayer – intended in the first place for individual use, but which can also be used within a small like-minded group. helpful

See, Love, Be: Mindfulness and the Spiritual Life – a practical eight-week guide with audio MP3 CD meditations (SPCK, London 2019. 184pp: £9.99) by Tim Stead, a former Anglican vicar and an accredited mindfulness teacher, is different from many books on mindfulness which simply focus on helping readers to cope with the stresses of life. Here the intention is to explore how mindfulness practice might help to develop the spiritual life. However, at this point I have some theological difficulties, for the author is concerned to explore “spirituality in a more generic sense” rather than Christian spirituality. So although I accept the need for ‘awareness’ and ‘non-judgmentalism’, without an understanding of the grace of God I wonder what spiritual progress can actually be made. Or am I wrong to have such fundamental theological concerns?

Boundaries: Rediscovering the Ten Commandments for the 21st Century (Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon 2018. 130 pp: £16 on Amazon) by Brian Winslade, a dynamic New Zealand Baptist minister, is a lively exposition of God’s pattern for living, which could be used with profit in small groups – every chapter ends with a series of questions for discussion. The many illustrations and quotable quotes also make the book a great resource for preachers.

SCM of London has recently (2019) issued two Everyday books intended to engage with the everyday experience of thoughtful Christians. Everyday Public Worship (202pp: £12.99) by Susan H. Jones, the Anglican Dean of Liverpool, explores the origins and development of worship in the Church of England through engaging in conversation with Paul, a Methodist; Beth. a cradle Anglo-Catholic; and Maggie, an evangelical Anglican who began her Christian journey in a Baptist church. Easy to read, it forms a good introduction to Anglican way of worshipping God. Everyday Conversations with Matthew ((184pp: £12.99) by John Holdsworth, Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus, which engages in a series of conversations with people interested in discovering the relevance of Jesus their everyday lives and concerns. Through a series of lively expositions of Matthew’s Gospel – and in particular on Matthew’s approach to Jesus – the author tackles issues such as the church, the cross, the sermon on the mount, and the end-times. Although written in a popular style, this is a more demanding book – it would make an excellent textbook for ordinands preparing for ministry.

Recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp in length and £3.95 in price, are How to Talk Science and God: Biblical perspectives on the big questions of life and the universe (Mission & Evangelism 125, 2019) by David Jeans, a former science teacher and now an Anglican minister, who writes: “One of the biggest challenges for our churches is to help Christian people to recognize that while the Bible is God’s word for all time, it begins as God’s word delivered in a particular context, which therefore needs careful interpretation to uncover what God is really saying to us”. The Power of Interim Ministry: Strategic Opportunities for Transitional Leadership (Leadership 35, 2019) by Steven Morris, an Anglican vicar in Brent, is a helpful guide to how an interim minister can be an agent of change in a church that has had difficulties or has become stuck or where a long successful ministry has just ended (‘priests with big personalities and quirky ways can be a hard act to follow’!).

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