God, Stephen Hawking and the Multiverse: What Hawking said and why it matters (SPCK, London 2020). 210pp: £9.99) by David Hutchings, a physics teacher and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and David Wilkinson, a professor of theology & religion at Durham University with doctorates in astrophysics and theology, is about black holes, origins, many universes and all kinds of scientific ‘big questions’ – and therefore a book which I am totally unqualified to review. Nonetheless, it is clearly a highly entertaining and accessible introduction to Stephen Hawking and his answers to the ‘big questions’ of ‘Where did we come from?’ and ‘Why are we here?’ It concludes that the verdict from physicists and philosophers on Hawking’s deduction that there is no need for a Creator was “highly speculative, probably wrong and does not actually get rid of God even if it is right”. This is a book to commend to all budding scientists!
Thinking Through Lent: From inside the Bible to outside the box (S.F. Taylor print, 2019. 145pp: £6. Available from author, 2 Almond Drive, Sale, Cheshire M33 5QZ) by ‘re-tyred’ Methodist minister Richard Jackson, is an unusual book for Lent – or indeed for any other occasion. The author’s aim is to help readers to ‘think outside the box’ (a term popularised by Edward de Bono) by adopting de Bono’s ‘six thinking hats’. The white cap represents ‘information, known or needed’; the red cap ‘feelings, emotions, hunches, intuition’; the black cap the ‘legal system’; the yellow cap ‘positive thinking and optimism’; the blue cap ‘overall control of thinking process’; and the green cap ‘possibilities, fresh ideas’. Through the ‘lens’ of these caps Jackson provides a series of daily reflections on a wide variety of Scripture verses. Written in a lively, down-to-earth manner, and always related to real life, this could prove a spiritual tonic for some!
The Greatest Secret: How being God’s adopted children changes everything (Hodder & Stoughton, London2019. 191pp: £12.99) by Krish Kandiah, founder of the adoption and fostering charity Home for Good, is a simple yet moving story of a former missionary and pastor who experienced a deep crisis of faith when he felt he had almost lost his mind “because the root of evil appeared to come from Christians”; but then came back to God in a new and deeper way through adopting a child: “When we adopted her, I felt something of the ground-shattering force of suddenly realising my own identity as an adopted child of God”. In this book he explores the neglected theme of adoption in the Scriptures. “Failing to reflect on or to celebrate our adoption skews our faith, limits our relationship with God and undermines our sense of identity, purpose and confidence”. For those who are struggling with their faith, this could be a good book to read.
DLT of London have created a new series, ‘The Pocket Library of Spiritual Wisdom’, in which they have in 2020 re-published four ‘spiritual classics’ from their past list. The four books are very uneven in length, and yet are all priced at £7.99. This raises the question: is a longer necessarily a better book? The answer, of course, is no! The first four books in the series are – in order of length!
- Seven Last Words (first published in 2009: 64 pp) by the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume. As one who tends to speed read, I was challenged by the sentence that these seven last words “reveal their secrets, slowly, if we meditate upon them”.
- Living Prayer (first published in 1998: 123pp) by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who was in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain & Ireland 1962-2003. This collection of addresses also needs to be read slowly. I was struck by his imaginative exposition of Blind Bartimaeus: “Despair is conducive to a new spiritual life when we have got the courage to go deeper and farther, realising that what we are not despairing about is not the final victory but the means we have employed to reach it. Then we start at the rock bottom in quite a new way.”
- The Stature of Waiting (first published in 1982: 154pp) by Canon W.H. Vanstone, again challenges the activist in me. The author points out how in Mark and John’s Gospels, when Jesus is handed over in the Garden, there is a transition from action to passion (not suffering so much as passivity). For Vanstone this period of ‘waiting’ was the greatest phase in Jesus’ life. We in turn need to learn to wait with God, for waiting is linked to caring and to loving. The argument is complex – and needs time to absorb!
- The book I did not know at all is Sharing the Darkness: The Spirituality of Caring (first published in1988: 246pp) by Dr Sheila Cassidy. Although many of the illustrations are taken from the hospice world, this is a book for anybody engaged in the ministry of caring. It is about “a spirituality of presence, of being alongside, watchful, available, of being there”. Yet again, I found this a challenge. Of the four books this is the one that I found the most powerful.
Recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95 include The Lost Generation: Understanding why young people leave church and how to help them to stay (Youth 57, 2020) by Laurence Singlehurst and Laura Hancock looks at why for every one convert we are losing 26 ‘nonverts’ and suggests that the key to retention lies not in great worship experiences but in developing a specific curriculum in which young people are taught about Jesus-centred living; relationships; giving and serving; sharing the Gospel; living wisely; connecting with God; the character of God; and identity. The Cross and Shame: Speaking of atonement to a shame-filled society (Pastoral 160, 2020) by Rebecca Whitney, suggests that shame – as defined a poor sense of worth – is much bigger than guilt in most people’s concept of what is wrong with themselves; and that therefore we need to adjust our preaching and teaching, so that the focus is not on the justice of God (as expressed in the substitutionary theory of atonement) but on the love of God which allows us to emerge as affirmed and honoured children of God. Being Ourselves and Denying Ourselves: Losing and finding yourself as a Christian leader (Leadership 39i, 2020) by Richard Wyld explores the tension between self-denial and self-care; as also the apparent contradiction between self-denial and becoming the person God created us to be.