Books for Today – January 2021

Book of the month

For 40 + years many preachers have relied upon the commentaries in IVP’s The Bible Speaks Today series, which are characterised by a threefold ideal: to expound the Biblical text with accuracy, to relate it to contemporary life, and to be readable. Over the years these commentaries have been continually reprinted. Now the series is being ‘refreshed’ e.g.- the typesetting has been modernised and the 2011 edition of the NIV is used;. As far as I can discern there are no major changes: not even the bibliographies have been brought up-date, so there is no urgent need for ministers to immediately update their copies – unless they are worn out through much use! Three of the first commentaries to be refreshed are The Message of Romans by John Stott, The Message of Philippians by Alec Motyer, and The Message of Colossians & Philemon (179pp: £9.99) by Dick Lucas. A brand-new volume in the series is The Message of Wisdom (252pp: £9.99) by OT scholar Daniel Estes. Unusually this contribution to The Bible Speaks Today series is not just on one OT book: for in addition to a major section on Proverbs, there are sections on other passages where the concept-of wisdom is developed: not just Job & Ecclesiastes but also Deut 30; 1 Kings 3-4; Jer 8-9, & Psalm 112. The book ends with a section entitled ‘the culmination of wisdom’ with expositions of Matt 713-29; 1 Cor 1.18-25; Col 2.1-7; Jas 1.1-18; & Eph 5.15-21. I have no doubt that preachers will find The Message of Wisdom a most useful resource. Like all other volumes in the series, it is remarkable value for money

Books to make us think

The Future of Brexit Britain: Anglican reflections on national identity and European solidarity (SPCK, London 2020. 278pp: £11) edited by Jonathan Chaplin & Andrew Bradstock, is a collection of 18 essays divided into 4 parts: Reading Brexit truthfully; hearing diverse voices attentively; engaging Europe faithfully; and Living beyond Brexit gracefully. In addition to an introduction and conclusion, there is a fifth part made up of three responses from Anglican politicians, and five responses from beyond Anglicanism. To my mind the two essays which currently deserve most attention are ‘Reconciliation after Brexit: reflections from the Reformation’ by Graham Tomlin and ‘Grace after Brexit’ by Adrian Hilton. Somehow we have got to live together as a nation which means that both Brexiteers and Remainers need to respect one another; unfortunately before the Brexit vote the Church of England did not help itself not the country because its leadership identified itself with the Remainers.

UK Church Statistics No 4: 2021 (£35. Available from the editor, statistician Peter Brierley: peter@brierleyres.com) makes for sobering reading. Although some churches – particularly Pentecostal and Diaspora churches – are growing, most British churches continue to decline: e.g. in the last 5 years Baptists have declined by 11%, Methodists by 18%, and the URC by 24%. What hope, humanly speaking, is there for the future? There is also a section on the coronavirus & the church but unsupported by any statistics – to what extent is it true that churches are reporting increases in non-regular church people watching their services on-line?

Notes from a Wayward Son: A Miscellany (James Clarke, Cambridge, 2nd edition 2020. 339pp: £25) by Andrew Clarke, who was born into a Welsh Elim home and is now a member of the Orthodox community, and who has had a distinguished academic career mainly at King’s College London, is a fascinating collection of previously published articles and papers. It is divided into four sections: (1) Journey into the Spirit: Pentecostalism, Charismatic and Restorationist Christianity; (2) Mere Christianity and the Search for Orthodoxy; (3) Orthodox Perspectives; and (4) Ecumenical Thoughts on Church and Culture. This second expanded edition is substantially different from the first edition. The book’s title is taken from a provocative biographical essay published in 1995, in which he contrasts traditional Pentecostalists with today’s charismatics:

How I long that some of the modern-day charismatics had an ounce of that working class ‘nous’ of the Pentecostals who could more often than not sniff out a ‘wrong-un’ or spot the latest supernatural fashion as no more than a passing wind.

I also very much enjoyed the final piece on ‘The Mission Church’ which argues for a ‘gathered’ church which allows the Gospel to engage with the world and its culture: “When we look at our churches, we find that many of them are not equipped for the building up of the saints. The gospel floats in and out like a ghost, but it is not incarnated in our communities.” There is much food for thought in this great collection of essays.

First published in 2003 as The Rock, this edition of Come and See: Learning from the Life of Peter (BRF, Abingdon 2020. 124pp: £7.99) by Archbishop Stephen Cottrell is “for new Christians who want to grow in their faith, and for more experienced Christians who want to reset the compass of their discipleship”. It has a fivefold aim: to help people “grow as followers of Jesus, develop a love for the Bible, understand more about the Bible, establish a regular pattern for Bible reading, and allow the word of God to shape their lives”. Each of the 28 sections comprises a Scripture passage – at times somewhat loosely linked to the life of Peter – followed by a comment and questions for personal reflection or for group discussion. This is a most helpful guide by a great communicator.

Healthy Faith and the Coronavirus: Thriving in the Covid-19 Pandemic (IVP, London 2020. 337pp: £16.99) edited by Kristi Mair & Luke Cawley, consists of some 21 essays by a range of church leaders who reflect on such issues as the fragility of life, the inter-connectedness of life, and the growing life, with a view to enabling readers to find their way in the new reality. Inevitably a collection of essays is always something of a curate’s egg, with the result that some struck a chord, while others did not. The two contributions I most appreciated were by John Wyatt and Tom Wright, who develop ideas already present in earlier writings. John Wyatt in his essay ‘The art of dying’ makes the point that in the biblical narrative of Genesis 3 human life is limited, “not just as a curse, but out of God’s grace”; Tom Wright in his essay ‘God with us’ comments amongst other things on how in the story of Lazarus we see Jesus not simply sharing in our sorrows, but also sharing with us his own grief.

The Jubilee Years: Embracing Clergy Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland US2020. 157pp: Amazon £17.75) by Bruce Epperley, was a disappointment to me: partly because of its repetitious nature, and partly because process theology is not my ‘cup of tea’. Nonetheless, I warmed to its basic argument that ministers need to view retirement as “a time for joy and commemoration, and an opportunity for new adventures…. In the Jubilee years, we give thanks for what has been. We also let go of the past to go forward and say ‘yes’ to new life”. Retirement, says Epperly, “can be the open door to spiritual, relational and social transformation”. With regard to “social transformation”, freed from the politics and administrative duties of congregational leadership, retired pastors can focus on the world, what Epperley calls “planetary healing”,

Hebrews (IVP, London 2020.  332pp: £15.99) by David G. Peterson, a former Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, is another excellent contribution to the new series of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. The commentary on each section of the text is structured around three headings: Context, Comment and Theology. Preachers will find this a most helpful volume to have on their shelves!

Why being yourself is a bad idea – and other countercultural notions (SPCK, London 2020. 178pp: £8.49) by Graham Tomlin, the Anglican Bishop of Kensington, is a provocative and stimulating read. The chapter headings are deliberately intriguing: ‘Why wonder is the beginning of wisdom’; ‘Why love is and isn’t all you need’; ‘Why the Big Bang has a face’; ‘Why evil exists and why it can’t be explained’; ‘Why justice matters and why we don’t really want it’; ‘Why everyone needs an identity crisis’; ‘Why freedom ids not what you think it is’; ‘Why praying is dangerous’; ‘Why we can’t live alone’. This is a great exercise in Christian apologetics – and a boon for preachers!

A House Built on Love (SPCK, London 2020. 253pp: £8.49) by Ed Walker with Elizabeth Batha tells the remarkable story of how an enterprising team of Christians have been creating homes for the homeless, many of whom have been in prison and have been drug addicts. The underlying conviction is that homeless people need love: “They need to feel they have a home, and they need to belong; they need to believe they hold innate value, and they need someone to believe in them”. One of the secrets of the success of this homelessness project is that each house is linked with a church. There are now over 75 such houses. Ed Walker has a great story to tell – a story which is full of encouragement and of challenge.

‘Here are your idols’: Faithful discipleship in idolatrous times (IVP, London 2020. 167pp: £9.99) by OT scholar Christopher J. H. Wright, is – in the words of John Goldingay quoted on the front cover, “fearless, provocative, clear, direct”. Part One is an edited version of ‘The Living God Confronts Idolatry’ taken from the author’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Parts Two & Three bring the Bible to bear on contemporary politics in the UK & the USA. Chris Wright has no time for Donald Trump – and also not for Boris Johnson and Brexit! However, even those who do not share the author’s politics must surely agree with the principles the author espouses: viz. we must be Bible people, living by the story of God; gospel people committed to the mission of God; kingdom people submitting to the reign of God; distinctive people shining the light of God; and praying people appealing to the throne of God. The very headings suggest a sermon series!

Resources

Booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95 include Intercultural Church: Shared Learning from New Communities (Mission & Evangelism 132, 2020) by Ben Aldous, Idina Dunmore, Mohan Seeveratnam, who reflect on lessons learnt from three ‘fresh expressions’ of church – two in the UK and one in South Africa, and in doing so argue for churches to move from being ‘multicultural’ to ‘intercultural’, where people “genuinely encounter each other and value one another’s cultural difference”.

I am impressed by the resources offered by the Bible Trust based in Bath whose aim “to advance the Christian faith by creating and distributing contemporary Christian literature in traditional (printed) and electronic (digital) formats, at a fair price and subsidised for large distributions”. Their focus is on students in Africa & Asia, but their resources are also available in the UK. Although the Trust has been existence in one form or another for some forty years, I had not been aware of its existence until quite recently. It is important to state that the prices of their books relate to single copies: massive discounts are available for multiple copies. Also, although all the books below are dated 2020, most of them are simply new editions.

The Trust publishes two Bible guides: Open Your Bible (Creative International, Bath 2020. 607pp: £30) and Explore Your Bible (Creative International 2020, Bath. 386pp: £30) which are contain an overview of ‘the Bible book by book; Bible teaching outlining the essential Christian truths; and ‘Living the Christian life’ in which the Bible’s teaching is applied to the Christian life. Both are beautifully produced with all kinds of photos, pictures, charts, and diagrams. Although the content of both guides is almost identical, save that Explore Your Bible is slightly shorter, the presentation is different: one is designed for teenagers upwards, and the other for adults downwards! Although no longer a young person, I much preferred the edition for young people. The intention behind both guides was to produce a non-academic guide to the Bible, for personal use and for group study – reading the books I at times felt I was reading a well-constructed talk!

With a non-academic audience in mind the Trust has produced an Easy-Read Bible: An Overview of the Bible: Genesis to Revelation (Bible Trust, 2020. 320pp: £15) which also contains some helpful notes and prayers. There are two formats: one with a colourful picture of a sun rise, and the other with a mock leather appearance. In addition, they have published a much shorter version: Welcome: East-Read Bible. 100 top Bible stories showing God’s love to all generations (Bible Trust 2000.  127pp: £6).

The Trust also produce dyslexia-friendly Gospels: e.g. Jesus by Mark and Jesus by Mark (both books, Bible Trust, 2020. 112pp: £6). This involves tinted paper, brown/blue as distinct from black print, and slightly larger font. There are lined pages for personal use.

With so much Bible ignorance in our own country – let alone in the developing world – I think the Bible Trust is meeting a very real need.

For sheer enjoyment

Very different in character from all the other books reviewed is one of the latest publications from the Marylebone House, an offshoot of SPCK, which publishes contemporary, historical and historical fiction including clerical crime mysteries. The Cromwell Enigma (London 2020. 339pp: £9.99) by Derek Wilson is a made up story about Thomas Cromwell, arguably the most important non-royal Englishman of the first half of the 16th century, in which the author entertains his readers by speculating on how Thomas Cromwell became the primary architect of the English Reformation. It is a good read!

2 comments

  1. What a wealth of reading material, reflecting your ability to appreciate so many different ways of thinking. Your point about being even- handed in our judgements was well made; Biden was right when he said in his inaugural address that we have to be able to disagree while still respecting the views of others ( and loving them) and the church in all its diversity needs to recognise this too.
    I thought Graham Tomlin’s book sounded very interesting!

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