If an Evangelical were to be canonised then it would be John Stott , the pastor-scholar of All Souls, Langham Place – the so-called ‘BBC church’. I have always admired John Stott – and hence have been delighted to have had the dubious privilege of being called ‘as narrow as John Stott’ by one minister, and ‘as liberal as John Stott’ by another. What impressed me above all about John Stott was that he was a man ‘on a journey’. I have seen that in his writings on mission, and now, thanks to John Stott on Creation Care (IVP, London 2021. 315pp: £19.99 hardback) by R.J. (Sam) Berry, a former distinguished professor of genetics at UCL, with Laura S. Meitzner Yoder, professor of environmental studies at Wheaton College, Illinois, we have a guide to how Stott’s teachings on the environment and creation care developed over four decades of thought. The excerpts from Stott’s writings are interspersed with contextual interpretation by Sam Berry together with reflections from others who were inspired by Stott. This is a book to be read and to be savoured – not only by those who are already committed to the green movement but by others too. As befits such a book, it is also 100% recyclable! This is undoubtedly my book of the month!
What has yet another commentary on Philippians to offer? I am delighted to say that one of the latest contributions to the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series, Philippians (IVP, London 2022. 243pp: £14.99) by Jeanine K. Brown, an American New Testament professor based at Bethel Seminary in San Diego, has much to offer, not least in the way in which she seeks to apply Paul’s letter to the local church. For instance, writing of the Christ-hymn in Phil 2.6-11, she says that the part of the ‘poem ‘ which is most needed to be heard in contemporary reflection is “the story of Christ’s ‘downward mobility’: his choice to divest himself of status rather than exploit it for his own benefit”. Or when commenting on the opening verses of Phil 4, she reflects thoughtfully on the role of women in the church – in New Testament times and now!
Ecclesiology for a Digital Church: Theological Reflections on a New Normal (SCM, London 2022.180pp: £40) edited by Heidi A. Campbell & John Dyer, is a thought-provoking collection of 16 scholarly essays divided into three parts: 1.Theorizing the digital church; 2. Learning from the online shift; and 3. New digital practices for the future church. The editors define digital ecclesiology as ‘the study of the structure and practices of the Church in online or digitally enhanced contexts, and the theological implications of the on-line-offline or hybrid church experiences that this creates’. I was surprised to discover that the contributors are not calling churches to go totally online, but to recognise the need for personal meetings “when possible”. I found the distinctions made between the different ‘digital delivery methods’ of help: viz. online church (networking and connecting with other believers through digital means’); broadcast church (a service delivered primarily through a one-way medium), interactive church (church services and group gatherings that use two-way interactive delivery mediums), virtual church (a service or community that meets in a fully virtual environment) and hybrid church (a local church that includes both digital and in-person experiences), as also the recognition that there is no one way to do ‘digital’ church. I liked the emphasis on ekklesia as the church that is ‘called out’ by God, as distinct from being a community that meets in one place. However, I was left with a host of questions – not least regarding on-line communion, but as the editors recognise, this book simply sets “an agenda for the theological work that needs to be done to ensure a vibrant future for the post-pandemic digital Church”. Unfortunately the price of the book will make it difficult for the average minister to take part in the discussion.
It was with sadness that I read Same Words, Different Worlds: Do Roman Catholics and Evangelicals believe the same Gospel (Apollos, London 2022. 145pp: £14.99) by Leonardo De Cherico, an Italian Baptist minister. The argument the book espouses is that “the underlying framework of Roman Catholicism is not committed to the biblical gospel and therefore the words it uses are twisted and understood differently”. In his view Rome has not changed: “it is still embedded in the theological and institutional outlook that the Protestant Reformation called to renewal according to the gospel”. My experience is different. The Roman Catholic is a very broad church – and everything that the author alleges can be found. On the other hand, Evangelicals also form a very broad church – and there is much in certain sections of the Evangelical world which as an Evangelical I abhor! However, here in the UK Roman Catholics have certainly changed – with the result that Evangelicals often have more in common with their Roman Catholic partners than with some of the more liberal sections of the wider Christian church. What’s more, since Vatican Two Roman Catholics have made a major contribution to Biblical scholarship: for instance, if I were on a desert island and were only able to take with me one book on the birth of Jesus, then it would undoubtedly be The Birth of the Messiah: A commentary on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke by the Roman Catholic scholar Raymond E. Brown S.S.
Forty Women: Unseen women of the Bible from Eden to Easter (IVP, London 2021. 123pp: £9.99) by Ros Clarke, an Associate Director of the Church Society with a PhD on the Song of Songs, consists of 40 brief Lenten studies on women in the Bible, with each study accompanied by two questions for reflection followed by a well-crafted prayer. Although I appreciate that the author wanted to end with Easter, I found it strange that of the 40 characters, only six appear in the New Testament, and even then only in the Gospels, as if there is nothing for us to learn from the women mentioned in Acts and the Letters. Perhaps there is another set of studies yet to come? What did impress me, however, was the guide to further reading which included books on abuse; identity, shame and self; marriage, singleness and sex; and infertility.
Sheltering Saints: Living with the Homeless (DLT, London 2022. 158pp: £9.99) by Roger Quick, Chaplain of St George’s Crypt in Leeds, is a sequel to his earlier Entertaining Saints: Tales from St George’s Crypt published in 2020, and in which the author enables some of the homeless who came to St George’s to tell their stories. In the concluding Epilogue he makes the sobering comment, “Whatever the long-term effects of COVID, we can be sure of one thing: the weakest in society will suffer most”. This easy-to-read book is a challenging read.
Forgiveness and Reparation, The Healing Journey (DLT, London 2022. 86pp: £8.98) by Mpho Tutu Van Furth, a South African pastor and daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, believes that unlike restitution and retribution, reparation – ‘the action of making amends for a wrong one has done’ has the potential to heal. “Only when reparations are being made can forgiveness be asked with any measure of good faith. Reparations are not the price paid for forgiveness, forgiveness is grace”. She goes on: “The forgiveness Christ models for us drives us deeper into relationship. It is not the forgiveness that frees us to walk away. It is the forgiveness that truly frees us to stay and together craft a future”. This little book is powerful!
Powerful Leaders? When church leadership goes wrong and how to prevent it (IVP, London 2022. 162pp: £9.99) by Mark Honeysett features a five stage ‘slippery slope of power’ – the path that runs from good intentions, via lack of accountability and transparency, down into manipulation and self-serving, and finally serious abuse. A helpful hands-on practical guide which youth leaders also need to read.
Vincent van Gogh and the Good Samaritan: The wounded painter’s journey (Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2021. 174: £12.99) by Henry Martin, an artist and Anglican minister, is a remarkable book, throwing new light not just on Van Gogh and his painting of the Good Samaritan, but also on the parable itself. Although it can be read with profit by individuals, at the end of the book there are questions for discussion on each of the seven chapters. It would also be a good book to take on retreat.
Recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp and £3.95 each, include Living with the Letter of James (Biblical 102, 2021) by John Proctor, who taught NT for many years in Cambridge, contained so many good insights that it made me want to preach a sermon series on James again! Towards a Theological Definition of Spiritual Abuse: Ezekiel 34 & the use of pastoral power (Pastoral 168, 2021) by Amy White, Lay Training Officer in Blackburn Diocese, emphasises the self-serving nature of abuse over against the self-giving care of the Good Shepherd – with every chapter ending with a series of questions for reflection, there is plenty material here for a ministers’ group to focus on. How to Include Autistic Children & Young People in Church: Creating a place of belonging and spiritual development for all (Youth 65, 2021) by Mark Arnold of Urban Saints is an extraordinarily practical guide to helping the 1 in 22 children and young people who are autistic, and should be essential reading for all working amongst children and young people – including local church ministers.