Books for Today – September 2021

Mountains Move: Achieving social cohesion in a multicultural society (Paternoster, Milton Keynes 2021. 213pp: £12.99) by Steve Bell focusses on the poor relationships in the West between Christians and secularists on the one hand, and Muslims  on the other. Using the imagery of a mountain range he argues that social cohesion between Christian majority and Muslims is blocked by the seven peaks: ‘Mount Imperial’ (lingering colonialist assumptions), ‘Mount Hegemony’ (political and economic dominance), ‘Mount Ethnos’ (a racial pecking order),  ‘Mount Correct’ (politically correct control), ‘Mount Strident’ (nationalist assumptions), ‘Mount Occlusion’ (Muslim defection) and ‘Mount Mission’ (Christians and Muslims disagreeing disagreeably among themselves). In the final chapter entitled ‘Grace Pass’ he looks at the example of Jesus, and argues that the Great Commission is to be motivated by ‘grace and truth’, which means a holistic engagement with others: instead of being ‘crusading’ and ‘coercive’; a ‘conciliatory’ attitude is needed, which seeks to enter into the other person’s world rather than impose our own on them. This thoughtful book should be required reading for all church leaders concerned to share the good news of Jesus with their Muslim neighbours.

From Pentecost to Patmos: Acts to Revelation (Apollos, London 2nd edition 2021. 860pp: £34.99) by Craig Blomberg & Darlene Seal with Alicia Duprée is a revised edition of the second volume of Blomberg’s earlier NT Introduction, which has grown from 577 pp to 860pp. New generations of theological students will be find this a helpful guide.

I have just discovered the books of John Dyer, who served for many years with the Baptist Missionary Society in Brazil. Finding God in Brazil: Personal stories to amaze and inspire (3rd edition 2018, available on Amazon. 195pp: £7.49) is an autobiography with a difference, for the focus is very much on God and “his dealings with ordinary human beings”. I enjoyed this approach. Jesus Dead or Alive? The evidence (Amazon 2019. 157pp: £5.95) covers much familiar ground, but also draws upon insights from modern scholars, and in so doing shows how compelling the evidence for the resurrection is – it is a book to give or lend to people seeking faith or seeking reassurance in their faith. A Church of the People: Rediscovering the People of God in Brazil (Kindle Direct Publishing available on Amazon, 2020. 259pp: £7.99) makes accessible the fruits of the author’s PhD thesis and in so doing challenges patterns of theological education not just in Brazil, but also beyond Brazil. John is a passionate believer in the ministry of all God’s people and in the light of his research in Brazil shows that professionalism in ministry tends to prevent every member ministry causing churches to be ineffective in their mission. He believes that ordination should be replaced by (or at the very least include) the recognition of a variety of ministries; and that theological training by extension be the norm and be available to all. As a result he has set up ‘The Timothy Project’, a worldwide training project which over 5000 people have completed. a thought-provoking read!

A Place for God: Navigating Timeless Questions for our Modern Times (IVP, London 2021. 146pp: £9.99) by Peter Nicholas, a pastor at Inspire Saint James Church in Clerkenwell, London, addresses issues relating to origins, truth, morality, happiness, identity, and hope. Preachers will find this a useful volume when engaging in a sermon series on Christian apologetics.

If These Stones Could Talk: The history of Christianity in Britain & Ireland through 21 buildings (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2021. 381pp: £20 hardback) by Catholic journalist Peter Stanford is a ‘tour de force’. Each of the 21 chapters begins with a description of one particular building and then leads into a more general history of church life in the chosen century. My one quibble is that Nonconformity is poorly represented – in my book Methodists are not true Nonconformists! In the epilogue the author cautiously speculates about the future of the Christian faith in the UK. Might such perils as Covid and climate change “be the sort of catastrophe back to God”? He notes how many people are now “seeking the spiritual, but doing it not via the conventional route of gathering in churches for services”. Who knows?!


The Divorce Journal for Kids (Jessica Kingsley, London 2021. 124pp: £14.99) by Sue Atkins is designed to help children seven and over to “express, explore and understand some of the strong emotions that they may be feeling and to help them process the divorce themselves”. Imaginatively produced it is a superb workbook full of helpful suggestions and well worth the price.

Extreme Crafts for Messy Churches: 80 activity ideas for the adventurous (BRF, Abingdon first published in 2015, revised & expanded 2021. 192pp: £9.99) by Barry Brand & Pete Maidment, is a superb collection of ideas for attracting men to Messy Church such as racing toy cars, building towers, and engaging in science experiments. It includes an appendix on ‘planning a male-friendly Messy Church’. Warmly recommended!

My attention was recently drawn to Praying Through Our Losses: Meditations for those who are grieving (The Word Among Us Press, Maryland 2007. 118pp: Amazon price £8.63) by Wayne Simsic, an American teacher in Religious Studies, which consists of some 40 reflections based primarily on the Psalms. and are written both for those who are actively grieving and for those who are still dealing with past losses. As Simsic makes clear in his introduction, death is not the only loss we may encounter – any life transition (including not least retirement) can involve “a painful letting go that is not easily dismissed”. I am sure many will find it a helpful resource.

DLT of London have created a new series entitled ‘The Pocket Library of Spiritual Wisdom’ in which they are republishing some of their past spiritual classics. These include Holiness (first published 1989, this edition 2021. 239pp: £8.99) by Donald Nicholl, an eminent British lay Roman Catholic (1923-1997) who drew upon his wide ranging interests in history and world religions to write of the impossibility of developing holiness  in the fast lane of life: in the words of the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov: “silence is the cross on which a man must crucify the ego”. All Shall Be Well: The Revelations of Divine Love of Julian of Norwich (first published in 1992, this edition 2021. 198pp: £8.99) abridged, translated and arranged for daily reading by Sheila Upjohn, enables readers to take their time to mediate on the revelations given to the anchoress in 1373.

Always good value for money recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and cost £3.95, include People Not Pronouns: reflections on transgender experience (Pastoral 166, 2021) by Andrew Blunt, an assistant pastor at King’s Church Hastings & Bexhill, who focusses on how “Christians can best respond to those whose sex and gender are in conflict with one another”: the author’s ‘heart response’ of compassion rather than judgmentalism is commendable, but I was  not convinced by his ‘head-response’ which argues that “it is not possible to be born in the wrong body”. Building Resilience in Young People (Youth 63, 2021) by Hannah Dengate & Liz Edge addresses in a very practical way the issue of how churches can allow young people “not only bounce back, but create space to thrived and grow” and rightly notes that being resilient “is not about being invincible, but instead knowing when to reach out to others, to let people in, and have people who will remind us to keep going when life is tough”. Learning from Lockdown: How churches have dealt with Covid-19 (Worship 246, 2021) by members of the Group for the Renewal of Worship is a great resource and is written with the conviction that online church is here to stay – indeed, I discovered from Philip Tovey’s essay that internet-church (‘i-church’) has been around in the Diocese of Oxford since 2004. Every chapter ends with helpful questions for discussion to encourage readers to reflect on not just what they have read but also on what they have learnt from their experience. Renewing the Life of the Earth: Christian discipleship and environmental action (Discipleship 2, 2021) by Rachel Mash pf the Environmental Network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, is a thought-provoking and stimulating read. I was particularly struck by a quote from Nazmul Chowdhury: “Forget about making poverty history. Climate change will make poverty permanent”. By contrast Good News for the Poor (Ethics 202, 2021) by Vinay Samuel, who founded & directs Divya Shathi Christian Community Services in Bangalore, and Chris Sugden, who at one stage served in Bangalore, was worthy but somewhat pedestrian.

One comment

  1. Hi Paul, why do you say: “in my book Methodists are not true Nonconformists!”. I thought they were generally thought of as so?!

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