The Quiet Haven: An anthology of readings on death and heaven (DLT, London 2021. 144pp: £12.99 hard back) compiled by Ian Bradley, emeritus prof of cultural & spiritual history at St Andrew’s, consists of some 60 extracts from mostly Christian writings, with 11 from ancient texts (including the Bible), 7 from medieval sources, 15 from the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries, 25 from the 19th century, and 2 from the early 20th century. I particularly enjoyed Bradley’s preface of just over eight pages. There he notes that the 20th century saw death swept under the carpet, but there appears to be a shift in culture: the first death café was established in London in 2011 – there are now over 12,000 death cafés around the world! He reflects too on the nature of heaven: as a teenager he wanted heaven to be a place of “excitement and rejoicing”; now as an older man he is more drawn to the idea of heaven as a place of rest and calm – or in the title of his book, a “quiet haven”. I found this anthology gave food for further thought and reflection.
Being Attentive: Explorations in Practical Theology in Honour of Robert Ellis (Regent’s Park College, Oxford 2021. 235pp: £15) edited by Anthony Clarke consists of 14 very diverse essays on ministry. I was particularly interested by two essays by Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, on ‘Learning from the Eunuch (some notes for preachers on adult baptism): the first on ‘contextualisations and queering’ and on ‘Applications and un-queering’. I found myself having to totally re-think a story which I thought I knew. The other contribution which gave me food for thought was ‘Representing the Kingdom: René Girard and Baptist celebrations of the Lord’s Supper’ by Stephen Finamore, Principal of Bristol Baptist College, who in a refreshing manner highlighted some of the positive distinctives of Baptist ‘ritual’.
The Meanings of Discipleship: Being Disciples Then and Now (SCM, London 2021. 244pp: £35) edited by Andrew Hayes & Stephen Cherry, consists of 18 essays divided into two main parts. Part 1 has contributions on the early foundations of discipleship, as also on architects of discipleship (Benedict, Calvin, John Wesley, Pandita Ramabai, Bonhoeffer) . Part 2, Imperatives for Discipleship Today, has contributions on missionary, eucharistic & relational discipleship; as also on contemporary discipleship in contexts such as interfaith, ecology and transgender identity. To highlight just two essays, I enjoyed ‘The Gospel & Acts: Discipleship & the Kingdom’ by Loveday Alexander, who points out that in the context of the NT discipleship meant “being formed into the likeness of the teacher”. I also enjoyed ‘Relational Discipleship: Putting Kindness First’, where Stephen Cherry argues that “the point of Christian teaching about love is not that people are invited to find each other attractive, but that every human being possesses an equal dignity”, and that this kind of love is best expressed in kindness, which “sees love as being more than attraction or attachment, and charity as more than benevolence and condescension”. My one regret that this book’s price means that it will probably be mostly bought by libraries.
The Spiritual Growth Bible (Christian Art Publishers, South Africa 2021. 1521pp: £31 hardback from Amazon UK) edited by Martin Manser & Mike Beaumont, includes the complete text of the New Living Translation together with introductions to each Bible book, 800+ sidebar articles, 80+ full page articles, 40+ character profiles together with cross referencing. The New Living Translation is American in origin: it dates back to 1996 but has undergone several revisions, is with its ‘dynamic writing style’ easy to read. The articles and notes, all from an Evangelical stable, seek to promote growth for readers at every stage of their spiritual lives. Although my own preferred translations are the NRSV combined with the GNB, this study Bible is certainly remarkable value for money.
Sharing the Easter story: From reading to living the Gospel (BRF, Abingdon 2021. 221pp: £8.99) by Sally Welch, the Oxford Diocese spirituality adviser, is the 2022 BRF Lent Book, and consists of daily readings, comments, questions and prayers. There are suggestions for group study and creative prayer activities It is a refreshing guide through Lent. To take but one example, she suggests that a modern-day equivalent to the foot-washing could be caring for the elderly or for dementia victims, who can no longer care for themselves – “offering love just the same, without obvious return”.
Recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and £3.95 each, include Worship in 1 Corinthians (Worship 248), in which Colin Buchanan challenges the modern use of the word ‘worship’ to connate corporate cultic activity, arguing that it has no relation to the New Testament words for worship. In the light of 1 Corinthians he then sets out in a lively and often controversial manner the characteristic activities of the church of God when it meets. Seeing Ourselves As Other See Us: Perceptions of the Church of England (Mission/Evangelism 135, 2021) by Stephen Hance, the Church of England’s National Lead for Evangelism & Witness, should be essential reading for all ministers! .Here I have in mind Hance’s 10 key trends for the future and their implications: noteworthy is the likelihood of continuing negative perceptions of the church if it is slow to respond to LGBT+ issue the increasing proportion of the online community; and with changes to patterns of work, the church which wants to engage needs to move to a 24-7 model rather than a Sundays-plus-evenings model. I enjoyed Spiritual Reading: Bible reading as a spiritual discipline (Spirituality 158, 2021) by Richard S. Briggs, precisely because the author is an academic, who is prepared to engage imaginatively with Scripture provided that it is a response to the word that is already given in the text of Scripture itself – as distinct from an unrelated springboard to other issues. Making Disciples for the Workplaces: How to nurture whole-life discipleship (Discipleship 3, 2021) by Mark Greene contains many helpful suggestions on how to help God’s people know that “God cares about their daily work”. The Good News of Judgment: A short pastoral theology (Pastoral 167, 2021) by Chris MacBruithin, an Anglican rector in Northern Ireland, uses case studies to show how pastoral healing can be brought by deconstructing unhelpful images of God’s judgment – this should be required reading for all ordinands! In reading Using Coaching in Youth Work: A practical guide to being coached and coaching others (Youth 64, 2021) by Andy Campbell, I found the following helpful: “An individual finds themselves in a desert. The counsellor helps them understand how they got there and how they might move from this space. The mentor tells the tale of their own desert journey and shows them the path they made in order to get out. The coach asks… what they notice about where they are, gently challenges assumptions, and asks them to think what a good next step might be.” Finally, The Book of Job: A theological approach (Biblical 101, 2021) by Katharine J. Dell, Professor of Old Testament at Cambridge, through a series of explorations into some of the key themes of Job, seeks to inspire readers to take a fresh look again at the issues of suffering which Job raises.