Books for Today – July 2022

My two ‘books of the month’ deal with the Queen and her Christian faith. The first is a booklet and is The Queen’s Way (LICC, London, in cooperation with the Bible Society, 2022. 44pp: £3-with multiple copies cheaper: e.g. 50 copies for £75, also available to read online) by Mark Greene, the Mission Champion of the London Institute for Christianity. It is a fascinating exposition of the Queen’s Christian faith in the light of an analysis of her Christmas Day broadcasts. In the words of the introduction:

“This essay… look more deeply at the character of the Queen’s faith: its biblical roots, and her understanding of Jesus and his priorities. And it explores how these have shaped her as a disciple, her vision for her role as sovereign, her vision for the nations and their citizens, and her vision for the Commonwealth.

Hence the subtitle: A Celebration of Biblical Discipleship in Public Life. However, as I have given copies of this booklet to non-Christian friends, I wished that LICC had been more imaginative and produced a sub-title with greater appealed to non-church people such as ‘how the Queen ticks’! My second book is Defenders of the Faith: The British Monarchy, Religion and the Nex Coronation (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2022. 352pp: £21.99) by Catherine Pepinster, a former editor of The Tablet . Again this is an instructive read. As Mark Greene also noted, the Queen “has become an increasingly partial advocate of Christianity… In her later years, she has been rather like a missionary, preaching the Word, yet managing to combine that with a hospitality that offers people of other faith too, to nestle under the plain shawl.” The question she raises, however, is how future monarchs will approach their role.

The future challenge for both the Prince of Wales and his son will be to make something of the monarchy at a time when all the pressure is to be an extension of celebrity and to find a way of replicating the Queen’s service. Or inventing something else to take its place.

Talking to Children about Race: Your guide for raising anti-racist kids (SPCK, London 2022. 143pp: £12.99) by Loretta Andrews (a brown ‘artist development coach’ ) and Ruth Hill (a white ‘educator’) begins with the important point that “before we talk to children about race, we have to do the hard work of facing, learning and wrestling” with the issues that racism raises. Thoughtful and highly practical, with suggestions for further reading, this is a helpful guide.

Reconciling Theology (SCM, London 2022. 160pp: £30) by Paul Avis, an Anglican academic with links to the universities of Edinburgh & Exeter, is based on the premise that the church is unreconciled to itself, the world, and to God, and is therefore “barely even the church”, and that we should therefore do all we can, in prayer, study, dialogue and reaching out in love, to heal the wounds of the church. The divisions Avis has in mind are not just divisions between churches (in the sense of ‘denominations’) but also the violent disagreements within the churches, where all too often Christians of strongly opposed convictions refuse to talk to one another face-to-face. Furthermore, for Avis it is not enough for Christians to recognise the spiritual authenticity of the faith, sacraments, ministry and mission of other churches – reconciliation involves a further step whereby we give practical expression to the fact that “we belong together”. This is not an easy read, but it is an important book.

They’ll Never Read This: How to make mistakes in publishing (Sarah Grace Publishing, 2022.  253pp: £9.99) by Tony Collins, a major figure in British publishing for over 40 years, is a surprisingly honest autobiography which the writer sums up on the final page with the statement: “Enthusiasm is often costly, but without it you follow the well-trodden path to mediocrity”!

God is not a white man (and other revelations) (Hodder, London 2021. 239pp: £10.99) by Chine McDonald, a journalist with roots in Nigeria but who has lived almost all her life in the UK, makes for uncomfortable reading for those of us who are white. It is a very personal book – as the author states in her introduction, it is “not just an intellectual argument, but a rallying cry for change we need to come”. Although she acknowledges the positive antiracist stance made by many Christian leaders, in the UK,  in many churches racism continues to exist in subtle and unconscious forms. I saw this yesterday at the church where I worshipped: the congregation was very mixed, but not one of those involved in leading the service was black. Change is taking place – but there is so much more that needs to change. If you doubt it, then read this book.

Restore, Renew, Rebuild: The Life of Nehemiah and the Mission of Jesus (SPCK, London 2022. 155pp: £9.99) by Christopher (‘Cris’) Rogers, a ‘pioneer’ Anglican minister based in Bow, is a lively and provocative application of the first three chapters of Nehemiah to church life today, with a view to helping churches develop their own Jesus-centred vision for the future in which everybody is involved. As he rightly says ‘rebuilding is not about us’.

Smoothie Doctors: Delicious, nutritious recipes for a healthier, happier life (DLT, London 2022. £19.99 hardback) edited by Emma Short, contains 75 recipes for “smoothies that keep your bowels open, help bone health, aid in muscle recovery and support nursing mums – to name just a few!”. With all profits going to Médecins sans Frontières, I am happy to commend this beautifully produced book.

You are free even if you don’t feel like it: Mental health, faith and finding your way (SPCK, London 2022. 117pp: £7.99) by Hope Virgo is a very personal Jesus-centred story of how the author has managed to deal with her mental health issues. At a time when around 10 million people (8.5 million adults and 1.5 million children & young people) in England need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic, this is a very timely book.

Divides: Class, Culture and Barriers to Belonging in the Church (SPCK, London 2022. 167pp: £9.99) by Natalie Williams & Paul Brown, both of whom have working-class roots, should be essential reading for middle class church leaders. For although 60% of people in Britain identify as working class, the church is overwhelmingly middle class; with 81% of people in British evangelical churches having a university degree compared with 27% of the population as a whole. The hope underlying the book is “by exploring difference, we might bridge some of the invisible divides that would naturally separate us from one another”. The authors point to differences in communion, hospitality, money and generosity, community, attitudes to authority, motivations and aspirations. The final short and practical section suggests new approaches to meetings and leadership for a church which wishes to be diverse, and not divided.

A Companion in Crisis (DLT, London 2022. 154pp: £16.99 hardback) by Philip Yancey is a modern paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions originally written in 1623 during a pandemic in the city of London. Donne, Dean of St Paul’s, was himself struck down by the plague and for a month he lay on his bed, hearing the church bell toll for others and wondering if his death would be the next to be announced. It is in this context that Donne wrote the famous passage, paraphrased by Yancey:

No one is an island, isolated and self-contained. If a chunk of earth be washed away by the sea, Europe is diminished – as much as it were a promontory or a friend’s manor, or my own. Anyone’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in all humanity. Therefore, never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you and for me.

In his 23 devotions Donned wrestles with God as he contemplates his own mortality. Recognising that that for most people today Donne’s writing has become inaccessible, Yancey has radically edited the original Devotions, doing away with references to obscure stories of Greek mythology as also obscure Bible passages, choosing only “parts that seem to have an immediate relevance, not only to the COVID-19 crisis, but to any crisis that stirs up existential questions”. He adds a further 7 ‘entries’ which contain not just an introduction to Donne but further reflections of his own. The result is 30 ‘entries’ which Yancey recommends be read one a day over a thirty-day period. It is a ‘tour-de-force’ and is to be highly recommended.

Grove of Cambridge continue to publish a wide range of mind-stretching and stimulating booklets on every aspect of ministry. Recent publication, all 28pp and £3.95 each, include Celebrating Diversity in Christian Ritual: Honouring the heritage of minority believers (Pastoral 169, 2022) by Grace Mitton of Birmingham Christian College, who makes the important point that “a blanket ban on participation in non-Christian religious rituals is not pastorally helpful and risks leaving converts in a very difficult and emotionally stressful position at times of major life change” such as weddings and funerals.  A related booklet is Christians from a Muslim Background: Exploring pastoral provision and discipleship for CMBs (Discipleship 5, 2022) by Hasna Khatun, an Anglican minister who for over 20 years has engaged in dialogue with British Muslims and is an essential resource for church leaders seeking appropriate  contextual discipleship material. Drink This All of You’: Individual Cups at Holy Communion (Worship 250, 2022) by Andrew Atherstone & Andrew Goddard, who teach respectively at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and  Ridley Hall, Cambridge, addresses a contentious issue in the Church of England, and argues that although the ‘communal’ cup may be ideal, there are times, not least in a pandemic, when the use of individual cups is justified –  an instructive read. Enjoying Sabbath: A guided exploration of the sabbath landscape (Spirituality 160, 2022) by Andrew Schumann, a busy Anglican vicar in Bristol, offers a salutary warning to activists of how easy it is to fall prey to “a complex of sin involving our arrogance, drivenness, ambition, giftedness and even (supposed) usefulness, where we and not God become the centre of things”, and that “Sabbath is a gift of God that offers us freedom from pride”. Bible-driven Youth Ministry: Using the Bible to support working with young people (Youth 66, 2022) by Tim Gough, the Pioneer Director of Youth for Christ in Wales, stresses the importance of Bible reading where as few as 14% of young people in the UK can differentiate a Bible story from other children’s stories and fairy tales –  at the same time the author questions the way in which many churches have isolated youth work from the rest of the church’s life. Open the Book: Bringing the Bible to life through storytelling in Schools (Education 51, 2022 by Katharine M. Sax, an Anglican minister and trainer for Open the Book, now affiliated with the Bible Society, reflects on this movement of some 17,000 registered storytellers who go into approximately 20% of primary schools. Growing and Reimagining Chaplaincy: How to start, form and support chaplaincies (Mission & Evangelism 137, 2022) by Mike Haslam, Chaplaincy Adviser in the Diocese of Bath & Wells, does what ‘it says on the tin’ – to my surprise the ministry of chaplaincy goes back to the 4th century, when Martin of Tours was commissioned to work away from the main church. The Penitential Psalms Today: A journey with Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 (Biblical 103, 2022) by Mark Whiting, a Baptist church elder in Guildford, would make a useful resource for home groups, not least because every chapter ends with suggestions for reflection and discussion. Being Disabled, Being Human: Challenging Society’s Perception of Disability and Personhood (Ethics 205, 2022) by Katie Tuplin, an Anglican minister and cofounder of the online task group Disability and Jesus, who writes powerfully from her experience of a person who was born with cerebral palsy who was written off by the medical establishment with the words, “She will never achieve.. so simply take her home and love her” – to my surprise some 22% of the UK population are disabled!

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