Books for Today – November 2019

Two books of the month

Anything which encourages people to read the Bible, I warmly commend, although I have reservations about reading plans which encourage people to read the whole Bible in a year –  in my experience many Christians seem to have difficulty reading just a dozen verses a day. However, according to Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (the London home of Alpha) and author of The Bible In One Year: A Commentary (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2019. 804pp: £25 hardback) his people have got into the habit of reading the whole Bible every year helped by his daily comments. It is these comments which are reproduced in this substantial volume – the Scripture text itself is not part of the book. Unlike other commentators who are concerned with issues relating to technical exegesis, Nicky Gumbel is much more popular in style. I found it a lively read, full of illustration and application.

Originally published by the Churchman Press in 1989, Dear Nicholas…A father’s letter to his newly ordained son (Sacristy Press, Durham, revised edition 2019. 90pp: £7.50) by Michael Henshall, a former Bishop of Warrington, has been expanded to include a brief Foreword by Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, and a 25 page ‘epilogue’ by his son, Nicholas Henshall, now Dean of Chelmsford, I found this a moving collection of letters. Michael Henshall deals with matters such as praying ‘without ceasing’, ‘trembling’, ‘loitering’, ‘leadership’, ‘discipline’ and ‘coping with change’. Although inevitably a little dated, there is still a freshness to his insights. Furthermore, even although Michael Henshall was writing as a convinced Anglo-Catholic, much that he had to say is relevant to ministers of all churchmanships. Again, I enjoyed his son’s provocative response in which he reflects on mission, leadership, and the Eucharist under the heading of ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20.21).  –although I come from a different theological stable, I found it contains much food for thought. Would that we had more such reflections on ministry!

Other books to make us think

I looked forward to reading Vicar: Celebrating the renewal of parish ministry (SPCK, London 2019. 244pp: £9.99) by Alan Bartlett, an Anglican priest for 25 years who served in four north-eastern parishes as well as teaching in an Anglican college, for I too have loved being the pastor of a local church. Yet to my surprise I found it an offensive read. The impression is repeatedly given that only an Anglican vicar can truly do the job effectively – only an Anglican vicar can truly represent God to the community and only an Anglican vicar can truly help people in their distress. True, the author recognises that vicars need to make changes in the way they work – but apparently that doesn’t involve recognising the worth of other Christian leaders and churches. The church in England is the Church of England. As far as this Nonconformist is concerned, a little humility would have been appreciated! I have rarely read a book with which I have disagreed so profoundly.

Journeying in Mission and Ministry: Stories and Reflections from St John’s College, Nottingham, Generation ’77 (Morleys & St John ‘s College, Nottingham 2019. 190pp: £12.62 including UK postage) edited by Graham Hamborg, contains 14 articles, 13 written by students who left St John’s in 1977, the majority to be ordained, with the final article by Collin Buchanan, a former principal. In the 1970s St John’s was an evangelical Anglican college very much open to charismatic renewal. As one who served 43 years in stipendiary ministry, I found these reflections on 40 years of ministry and mission fascinating. It would make a good book for ministers, either ‘active’ or ‘retired’, to discuss amongst themselves.

A Seal upon the Heart: God’s Wisdom & the Meaning of Marriage – A Devotional (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2019. 279pp: £14.99) by Timothy & Kathy Keller, consists of a page for each day of readings, prayers and reflections. One week in each month contains brief readings from the Scriptures, the other weeks the readings consist of readings from their previous book, The Meaning of Marriage. This devotional book is not intended to replace the daily reading of Scripture; rather it is a supplement for couples to reflect more deeply on love and marriage. There is much to stimulate here: for example, marriage is defined as ‘friendship with a mission’, whereby the mission is defined to “each spouse helping the other to grow into Christlikeness”. However, I do wonder how many couples will actually make time on a daily basis to reflect on their marriage in addition to their normal devotions – it seems quite an ‘ask’.

Home is Where: The journeys of a missionary child (DLT, London 2019. 240pp: £12.99) by Margaret Newbigin Beetham, the daughter of Lesslie Newbigin, a celebrated missionary bishop in the Church of South India, makes for sobering reading. For Margaret spells out the pain that her father’s calling created for the family. Indeed, so painful was it for the author to tell the story, that she writes in the third person and uses her middle name, Rachel, to refer to herself. Those were the days when missionaries sent their children back to Britain for secondary education (indeed, sometimes a good deal earlier – I knew of one well-known missionary who left his child of less than twelve months behind) and saw them only every five years. Not surprisingly the author tells of how in a debate at her boarding school for missionaries’ daughters she proposed the motion that ‘missionaries should not have children’. Sadly she and her siblings could not communicate their feelings to their parents: “We wanted to make everything okay for Mum and Dad, of course, as children do. We knew they loved us and so we had to protect them from the truth of the hurt they did us.” Thank God, those days of five-year terms are over – for with hindsight it becomes clear that the system was a form of child abuse.

Under Construction: Working with the Architect (SPCK, London 2019. 160pp: £8.99) by Neil O’ Boyle, National Director for British Youth for Christ, asks the question, ‘What would it look like for Jesus to make his home inside our lives?’ Using this metaphor, he explores the difference Jesus could make to every part of our lives. He writes, “God is in the business of renovation. There are quick fixes and there are long-term projects. Our part in all this is to give him permission to start the transformation projects”. Here is a book to commend to young people and to young singles in particular.

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable (SPCK, London: 244pp: £19.99) by Derek Wilson, does not tell the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims, but rather deals with the complex factors in the previous century which led to the desire to create a new Christian colony. In particular it lacks detail regarding those who opted to make the journey in the Mayflower: for instance, the impression is given that the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, whereas in fact it set sail from Harwich, where it was built, collecting Essex ‘pilgrims’ on its way. Furthermore, while the author is undoubtedly at home with the broader issues relating to Roman Catholics and the Reformers and their impact on the English church, he does not appear to be wholly at home with radical Nonconformity. For instance, a whole chapter is rightly given to John Robinson and the members of his church in Scrooby, but although mention is made of John Smyth and Thomas (not John as he is called at one stage) and their later English congregation in Amsterdam (where the first Baptist church was constituted), nothing is said about Helwys’ most important publication, viz. A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Inquity (1612). Again, although the influence of Anabaptists is acknowledged, no recognition appears to be given to the link between the practice of believers’ baptism and the freedom of the individual – it was in this respect that the Dutch Anabaptist Simon Menno was “dangerous”. Perhaps the fault of this book lies in its title?

History & Eschatology: Jesus & the promise of natural theology (SPCK, London 2019. 343pp: £19.99 hardback) by N.T. Wright, who in this development of his 2018 Gifford Lectures challenges the assumption that ‘natural theology’ has no relationship with Jesus and the Bible: for “the Bible… purports to offer not just ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ teaching but to describe events within the ‘natural’ world, not least the public career of Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century Jew who lived and died within the ‘natural’ course of history”. He goes on to suggest that with the raising of Jesus from the dead, we are faced with a renewal of creation which by redemptive transformation constitutes the revalorisation of the original creation itself”. This is just the beginning of a series of complex arguments – suffice it to say that the book is an intellectual ‘tour de force’

Recent books on the relationship between science and religion includes Has Science Killed God? The Faraday Papers on Science & Religion (SPCK, London 2019. 264pp: £19.99), edited by Denis Alexander. It contains a wide-ranging collection of 20 papers by distinguished Christian scientists, the aim of which was to provide “a series of concise readable articles…. accessible to a broad readership”. In the same genre is A Theory of Everything (that matters): A Short Guide to Einstein, Relativity & the Future of Faith (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2019. 179pp: £14.99 hardback) by Alister McGrath, who concludes: “What makes life meaningful enough to go on living? Einstein realised that both the objective and the subjective realms are important and that they need to be affirmed and held together… I do not suggest that Christianity alone provides a way of seeing things that allows us to hold together these objective and subjective worlds… Yet I cannot overlook the fact that it does hold them together, and allows them to be seen as part of a greater whole, rather than as disconnected realms of thought.”

Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp in length and £3.95 in price, include Spiritual Leadership in the Missional Church: A Systems Approach to Leadership as Cultivation (Leadership 38, 209) by Nigel Rooms & Patrick Comfort  although somewhat technical and dense, it left me longing to have a conversation with the authors! Forest Church: Earthed Perspectives on the Gospel (Mission & Evangelism 127, 2019) by Cate Williams is a study of the mission potential of a new movement which seeks to meet with God in and through their connection with the natural world, described in one vision statement as ‘down to earth spirituality of the everyday with Christ as its compass prompting action for peace, justice and ecology’.

One comment

  1. Interesting to read your comments from such a wide range of sources! Your reading capacity seems to me phenomenal (far beyond what I could manage) , but it’s helpful to have just a taster of the what thinking people of faith are writing about !

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