Books for Today – January 2020

Book of the month

My book of the month is The Essential Guide to Family Ministry (BRF, Abingdon 2020. 175pp: £8.99) by Gail Adcock who is Family Ministry Development Officer with the Methodist Church GB, and was family pastor at Stopsley Baptist Church, Luton. For once the ‘blurb’ is on target: this “ground-breaking new manual” is essential reading for all church leaders as well as their family ministry teams. Divided in two part, the first section looks at ministry and families today, shows how “our established models for family ministry often no longer reflect the communities and people they seek to serve”; explores different approaches to a theology for family ministry; and then offers different models for family ministry today. The second part is highly practical and sets out ‘seven habits for highly effective family ministry’: viz. be strategic, supportive, collaborate, intergenerational, missional, holy at home and reflective.

Books to make us think

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation (Hendrickson, Peabody, Mass. 2013. 240pp: US$ 24.95) edited by J. Daryl Charles, looks at five different views on how to interpret the first two chapters of Genesis, and then two further chapters on reading Genesis now. I think few British Evangelicals are likely to engage with this conversation, not least because Fundamentalism is not part of our tradition.

A Rite on the Edge: The Language of Baptism and Christening in the Church of England (SCM, London 2019. 156pp: £25) by Sarah Lawrence, who has served in parishes in Lincolnshire, Shropshire and Anglesey, draws upon her research into the disconnect of understanding about infant baptism Anglican churches and clergy on the one hand, and non-churchgoing families who seek this rite for their children. The author is not concerned about the theology of baptism, but rather about the mission opportunity which ‘christening’ offers to help familied begin the ‘amazing journey’ of faith. Apparently most non-churchgoers are oblivious to the theological significance of baptism:  rathe for them ‘christening’ (the term preferred by non-church families) is primarily an opportunity to make marriage-like vows of love and commitment toward the children. As a Baptist I confess that I struggle to accept the concept of indiscriminate baptism where faith and church attendance are optional extras. However, I do warm to the author’s argument that churches should consider offering ‘naming ceremonies’. Indeed, she makes the point that “the Common Worship service of ‘Thanksgiving for a child’ does many of the things that families want from a christening and would expect of a naming ceremony. If it were called a naming ceremony, rather than a Thanksgiving, then this would e readily understood and slot into a place in the ritual system, of modern Britain that is already well understood and valued”. This might be helpful even churches that do not practise infant baptism to consider re-branding their services for young children as ‘naming ceremonies’!

My next book is written by an Australian friend, Jodie McCarthy, who I first knew as a young girl over thirty years ago when along with family belonged to Altrincham. Beauty in the Ashes: Learning to Lament is 112 pages in length and was last year was self-published as a hardback in Australia. 25 Australian $, it is available in the UK at a cost of £15 (plus postage & packing) through her website. It is a very personal story of a young Christian woman coming to terms with grief and pain following two miscarriages. She tells, however, not just her own story, but also as a result of interviewing other women who have travelled the hard road of sorrow and grief, she tells stories of women who have known the pain of infertility, disability, divorce, and death. The book is beautifully written and full of insight and contains a series of sensitive laments written over a period of several years. Thankfully, it is also a story of healing, helped by family, Christian friends and a trusted counsellor. This is a book for men as well as women, for those who are wrestling with grief and pain and also for those (not least ministers) wanting to understand this particular form of grief.

The Eucharistic Faith (SCM, London 2019. 280pp: £25) by Ralph McMichael, an Anglican minister residing in Missouri, is a challenging academic exercise in systematic theology in which the author argues that the Christian faith is the Eucharistic faith. McMichael sums up his argument in this way : “If we seek to understand the Christian faith in all its fullness, its catholicity as well as its apostolicity, we will have to inhabit the Eucharist and encounter the centre of the Christian faith there in its normative Eucharistic way: the arrival of Jesus to give us his life of communion”. The emphasis is on encounter as distinct from remembrance very much on the presence of the Risen Lord Jesus: “The purpose of this command is to enter into the presence of Jesus, to abide in him”. I liked the author’s comment that “Mystery is not-knowing; it is the imaginative inexhaustibility of knowing”.

The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2019. 372pp: £14 hardback) by Stephen Tomkins, a URC minister who is also Editor of Reform, tells the fascinating story of the ninety-five years that led up to the sailing of the Mayflower. In the words of the author: “The small number… who sailed on the Mayflower have become known as the pilgrims, but all the Separatists would have owned that name: they became pilgrims when they realised they did not belong in the national church they had been born into”. Much of the material is based on an earlier PhD, with the result that Stephen Tomkins writes with great authority. On the other hand, he has also the skills of a journalist, so that in the words of John Sentamu, the retiring Archbishop of York, it is “a rattling good read”. As a Baptist minister I found I learnt a good deal about my spiritual forefathers: I had not known, for instance, that John Smyth, one of the two key leaders of the first Baptist church in Amsterdam believed that if a preacher reads from the Bible, he quenches the Holy Spirit: the proper time to read from Scripture, Smyth said, is in church business meetings and in one’s own studies; but in worship and preaching, we should draw on it spontaneously from memory!


The Tell It Together Gospel (SPCK, London 2019. 102pp: £9.99) by story-teller Bob Hartman and Biblical scholar Paul Gooder, is a wonderful resource for all-age services, for it bring together a fresh translation of Mark’s Gospel with great suggestions for audience participation. Every minister needs a copy: one to keep and one to lend!

You Are Mine: Daily Bible readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day (BRF, Abingdon 2019.  159pp: £8.99) by David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, is a collection of readings and reflections on the theme of ‘belonging’ – with the Father and the Son; in relationships; with the saints; here and there; with celebrations and festivals; and a final week on the journey to the cross and beyond.  To my delight, there was always at least one sentence a day which gave me food for thought.

Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95 include Mental Health and Young People: Improving Mental Health Awareness in Youth Work (Youth 65, 2019) by Jenni Osborn is written against the background of the latest NHS report which found that one in eight 5-19 year olds had at least one mental disorder in 2017. First published in 2001, Preaching at Funerals: How To Embed the Gospel in Funeral Ministry (Pastoral 159, 2nd edition 2019) by Nick Watson is a helpful, practical guide from which every minister would benefit – I liked his advice for ministers not to minimize the pain of bereavement by, for instance, calling the service a ‘Thanksgiving for the life of…’ rather than ‘Funeral of..’. Missional Church: What Does Good Look Like (Mission/Evangelism 128, 2019) by Nigel Rooms is a good read because of a host of provocative statements: for instance, “Discerning (where God is and become part of it) implies letting go of some activities and saying a definitive ‘No’ to other good things”; “it is actually quite hard to join an average UK local church – despite the espoused welcome of virtually all of them”; “in the Western world it takes on average four years for someone without a Christian faith to find one”.

LICC (The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) in cooperation with IVP, have published a new ‘Gateway Seven Series’ of Bible studies, designed to be used over six sessions. Well produced on quality paper, each booklet is only £3.99. The series is limited to seven Bible books featuring different genres. They include Exodus: Freedom to Serve God (London, 2019. 82pp) and Proverbs: Wisdom for the Whole of Life (London, 2019. 74pp) by Anthony Billington; and 1 Peter: Confidence in a Complex World (London 2019. 74pp). I particularly liked the ‘mini-features’ sprinkled throughout the studies, which gives not just background information, but also stories rooting the material in real life. An excellent resource.


  1. Paul,
    Thanks again for your suggestions.
    For information I have literally today completed writing my autobiography to be published by the Memoir Club later this year.. the title is ‘Mechanics of Faith and Faith in Mechanics’. I am sure it will not be as learned as the books you normally recommend. However it may interest some. I do hope so.
    I believe there will be an electronic copy. We don’t yet have a price but the editor will sort this out soon. It has coloured illustrations! Regards, Steve
    Regards, Steve

  2. Again, a wealth of material to consider.
    As a regular reader of Reform, I was particularly interested in your comment on Stephen Tomkins’ book.

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