Books for Today – November 2022

Appointments with Bonhoeffer: Personal Faith and Public Responsibility in a Fragmenting World (T & T Clark, London 2022. Hardback 203pp: £85) by my friend of Cambridge years, Keith Clements, a Baptist minister and former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches (1997-2005), who in retirement continues to write, consists of 15 chapters of lectures and presentations on his long-standing hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book is divided into four sections: 1. Receiving Bonhoeffer; 2. Worldly Faith and a Transcendent God; 3. Peace, Community and Reconciliation: The Costly Way; and 4. Taking Responsibility. The chapter which fascinated me entitled: ‘”What does it mean to tell the truth?” The Church and the allegation of 2015 against Bishop George Bell in the light of Bonhoeffer’s 1943 prison essay’. I had always admired Bishop Bell and so along with Keith I was shocked on 23 October 2015 to read in the press headlines such as ‘Eminent bishop was paedophile, admits Church’. Keith, however, became part of a group which included lawyers, academics, clergy, parliamentarians and journalists to look into the allegation of paedophilia. What emerged was that the Church of England’s decision was based on uncorroborated evidence from a woman in her 70s of an event alleged to have taken place over 60 years ago; and that no enquiries had been made of any people still living who had been contemporaries of the alleged event in  Chichester and who had known Bell. It emerged too that no effort had been made to consult with the person who knew him best, Adrian Carey, who was certain that what was alleged to have occurred could not have happened in the way described, given how the bishop’s household and the office, both of which Carey was the doorkeeper were run. Sadly Justin Welby refused to accept the findings of the group, which then called for an independent review of the case. Eventually the Church of England agreed to commission an independent review undertaken by Lord Carlisle QC, who issued his report in December 2017 making it clear that the charges against Bell should never have been brought and that Bell should be exonerated, and his reputation restored. As Keith Clements commented, “That Bell, who in his lifetime had laboured so selflessly for victims of injustice should have his own claim on justice treated so causally would surely have angered Bonhoeffer”. Space, alas, does not allow me to review other essays. My one sadness is that that for most part only libraries will be willing to  pay £85 for the book.

A Gift of Joy and Hope (Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. Hardback 198pp: £16.99) by Pope Francis consists of an undated collection of comments, speeches, apostolic exhortations and encyclicals together with some prayers. For me the most moving item was an introductory statement: “Life is always a journey. We become that which we move towards. Let us choose the way of God, not of the self; the way of yes, not if. Together we shall discover that there is no unexpected event, no difficult climb, no dark night that cannot be faced with Jesus by our side.”

Forgive: Why should I and How can I? (Hodder Faith, London 2022. 250pp: £18.99 hardback) by American preacher and author Timothy Keller, grapples with the issues that forgiveness raises, both in the church and in the wider world. Inevitably written within an American context, the appendices on forgiveness principles and practices are relevant whatever our context.

First published last year in hardback and now available in paperback, If These Stones Could Talk: The history of Christianity in Britain & Ireland through 21 buildings (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2022. 381pp: £10.99) by Catholic journalist Peter Stanford is, as I said in my previous review,  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.

Journey into Light: The Challenge and Enchantment of Catholic Christianity (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2022. 222pp: £10.99) by Roderick Strange, Rector of Mater Ecclesiae College based at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, is a presentation of the Roman Catholic’s core doctrines based on the liturgical seasons of the year. I like the concept of the Christian life as a ‘journey into light’ – in this life we wrestle with the mystery of God, but the day will come when we enter into “the kingdom of Jesus Christ, our Shepherd King”.

God in Number 10: The Personal Faith of the Prime Ministers, from Balfour to Blair (SPCK, London 2022. 489pp: £25 hardback) by Mark Vickers, a Roman Catholic parish priest in West London, is a fascinating read. One of the most striking changes over the century is the extent to which the Prime Ministers became more believing. Of the final eight premiers in this study, only Callaghan did not claim to be a believing Christian. Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Heath, Thatcher and Blair took their Christian faith seriously – intellectually and in terms of practice.

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