Books for Today – September 2023

Finding the Treasure: Good News from Estates (SPCK, London 2023. 109pp: £12.99) edited by Al Barrett, contains reflection from the Church of England Estates Theology Project of which the editor is the convenor. The book contains five detailed case studies of churches in Wythenshawe, Twydall, Rubery, Eltham and Durrington, as also a moving foreword by Ann Morisy who writes from her experience of ‘multiple overwhelmings’. To gain most profit from this important book, ministers working in estate churches need not just to read the report, but also to discuss it.

Reconnect Your Church: A practical handbook for church revitalisation (IVP, London 2023. 205pp: £10.99) by David Brown, a British minister who has been a French citizen for many years, aims to help plateauing or struggling churches. It has a particular focus on churches in Europe. From my British perspective I found it a little narrow in outlook.

Mary Bearer of Life (SCM, London 2023. 216pp: £19.99) by Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry and former principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, is a celebration of the life of Mary. “My aim”, the bishop writes, “is to reflect on the life of Mary in order to understand more fully the life that she bore into the world and the life that her son invites us to live in his Spirit”. Over five chapters he traces the story of Mary’s life as it intersects with Jesus’ life. Although from an Evangelical background the bishop displays a sensitivity of and an appreciation for Roman Catholics and other Christians who honour the Virgin Mary. Indeed, in many ways he too venerates the mother of Jesus. Although not the easiest of reads, this  book is essential reading for anyone wanting to study in depth the mother of Jesus.

Good Call: Learning to Make Decisions with God (BRF, Abingdon 2023. 231pp: £12.99) by Ian Dunbar & Peter Wilkinson, neither of whom is a minister, but both have been involved in local churches for many years, share some helpful lessons on decision making: e.g. decision-making does not magically fall out of following a simple set of programmed steps; there is no such thing as an ‘individual decisions’ – Christians should always involve someone else.

Odd One Out: Good News for those who feel they don’t belong (self-published book, PublishU 2023. 145pp: £9.99 Amazon) by my friend David Faulkner is in part an autobiography, and as such needs to be read by extroverts like me to realise that introverts can also have an important place in God’s church. The book is also written for fellow introverts and as such is also evangelistic in nature. As I wrote in my commendation found on the back cover: “As a long-serving minister of the Methodist Church in Britain, David has had a passion for communicating the Good News of Jesus to people on the fringe of church life”.

The Company of Heaven (Marylebone House with links to SPCK, London 2023. 272pp: £10.99) by Catherine Fox, an academic and an established novelist, is witty tale which reminds me of Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles set around the goings-on in a Cathedral. Although I struggled to appreciate the humour, I have no doubt that this book will appeal to many.

Daily Prayer and Divine Office: A Short Introduction (DLT, London 2023. 78pp: £7.99) by John-Francis Friendship, a former Anglican minister and now a member of the Franciscan Third Order, argues for ministers and laypeople alike to say as many of ‘the offices’ on a daily basis as fits in with our pattern of life. This book contains many good things upon which to ponder. For instance the author writes about the three ‘levels’ of prayer: ‘ground floor’ – aware of the words and ‘chewing’ on them; ‘basement’ – being carried into the depths by the words, sinking beneath them; ‘roof top’ – allowing them to ‘launch’ us into the Divine Mystery. To my surprise I found this little guide a real spiritual tonic.

Creative Repair: Pastoral Care and Creativity (SCM, London 2023: 149pp: £25) by Anne C. Holmes, who is both a psychotherapist and an Anglican minister, is based on a good deal of research on the link between blocked grief and blocked creativity: “when a person was able to unblock their grief they also released their creative energy”. The author makes the interesting point that creative repair should be an essential practice for anyone involved with helping others, and therefore creative repair should be part of mainstream ministry and practice. This is a helpful guide for ministerial students, and for more experienced ministers.

A Landscape of Grief: Forty Reflections for the Journey (DLT, London 2023: 112pp: £9.99 hardback) by psychotherapist Jinny Hawke, is a tribute to her husband Peter who confronted his diagnosis of motor neurone disease with courage and humour even though he was eventually robbed of speech and unable to swallow. This book consists of extracts from Jinny’s diary, some of which relate to Peter’s dying, but most tell the story of how the author came to terms with her grief. “Grief”, she writes, “is a new landscape. The roads ahead are unfamiliar, and there are no signs to point the way. Those of us who have been there before cannot tell you the right way, but we can talk of how we found our own way, and how we kept breathing and moving in spite of ourselves in the hope it might bring you some peace. Step by step. Day by diary.” The text, accompanied by copies of many of Jinny’s watercolour pictures which give visual expression to her feelings, will be of help to those who grieve and those who support the grieving.

Heroes of Villains: Exploring the Qualities we share with Biblical Characters (Authentic, Milton Keynes 2023: 226pp: £10.99) by Baptist minister Jeannie Kendall is an imaginative retelling of twenty Biblical stories. For personal or group use, each chapter ends with questions for reflection. Contemporary in style, the book’s purpose is to help readers in their own Christian journey.

First published 30 years ago in 1993, the new Dictionary of Paul and His Letter (IVP, London 2023. 1223pp: £49.99) edited by Scot McKnight, is not so much a second edition as a completely new dictionary produced by over 140 scholars and editors. Designed to be useful to pastors and professors, students and ‘educated laypersons’, it is a tour-de-force. IVP are to be congratulated on keeping the price so low for a tome of this size, for all too often volumes of this kind are so expensive that they end up only in libraries of colleges and universities and of well-paid academics. This is a great feat of publishing. With over 200 thought-provoking entries, each with a helpful bibliography, this is a book which many will enjoy dipping into.

A recent contribution to the new series of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries is The Pastoral Epistles (IVP, London 2022. 284pp: £16.99) by Osvaldo Padilla, a professor at Beeson Divinity School, part of Samford University, Alabama. Like the other commentaries in this series, this book is not specifically homiletic in aim, but rather seeks to help readers to understand 2 Timothy, and see points of relevance and application. Importantly, it does not require a knowledge of Greek. I warmly commend this commentary, which will undoubtedly be helpful to many.

A warm welcome to a recent contribution to the scholarly Apollos Old Testament series by on Elaine Phillips, a retired professor of Gordon College in New England. In Obadiah, Jonah & Micah (Apollos, London 2023. 393pp hardback: £39.99) she provides a detailed commentary on these three ancient texts. Each of the three sections contains an annotated translation by the author, a section examining the context of the passage, a detailed exegesis of the historical and theological meaning of the passage, and an exposition of the theological message within the framework of biblical theology.

Mission Not Impossible: Baptist missionaries’ experience and reflections (Baptist Historical Society, Didcot 2023. 118pp: £10 including p & p) by Ian Randall, is divided into five chapters: Faith Development, Calling & Training, Moving Overseas, Area of Service, and Changes and Challenges. As a former BMS missionary I found it a fascinating read, not least because many of the responses to the survey on which this book is based came from people I knew. I am not sure, however, if others not connected with the BMS will share the interest which I did. My one surprise is that there was no mention of my response to the survey!

Conversations by the Sea: Reflections on Discipleship, Ministry and Mission (Handsel Press, Haddington, Scotland 2023. 194pp: £10) by Andrew Rollinson, a distinguished retired Scottish minister who pastored three churches and was the Baptist Union of Scotland’s Ministry Advisor, has written a series of thought-provoking insights arising from his reading of John 21. The issues tackled include ‘resourcing a missional community’; ‘leadership, power and space to grow’; ‘ministry starvation and its remedy’; ‘ministry failure and restoration’, ‘self-awareness and self-deception in ministry’, ‘leading when not in control’; and ‘comparisons, competition and cul-de-sacs’. At a time when there is increasing superficiality in ministry, this book from an unusually well-read minister is a real tonic. I warmly commend it not just to those setting out in ministry, but also to those who have years of ministry under their belt.

Evangelicalism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2022. 138pp: £8.99) by Canadian scholar John G. Stackhouse sets out not to be primarily a history of evangelicalism, but rather a guide to its character. The author makes the important point that the typical evangelical of the 2020s is a woman living in sub-Saharan African or in Latin America, who “rarely discusses social or political issues, but she beams when she relates how her husband’s conversion ended his alcohol abuse on wild weekends”. Most readers will find the final chapter provocatively entitled ‘The end of evangelicalism’  challenging, where amongst other things Stackhouse writes about the differing ways in which evangelicals are responding to society’s acceptance of same sex marriage. This ‘very short introduction’ would form an excellent study-guide for a ministers’ retreat.

Defusing the Sexuality Debate: The Anglican Evangelical Culture War (SCM, London 2023. 208pp: £25) by Mark Vasey-Saunders, a long-serving Evangelical Anglican minister currently teaching at St Hild College, Yorkshire, is an insightful guide to the current ‘war’ in which members of the conservative and ‘progressive’ wings of Evangelicalism attack one another, without recognising the positions they hold are much more complex than they appear to be, in so far as pre-modern approaches to sex and sexuality were structured around completely different categories than the ones we naturally use. The idea of homosexual ‘orientation’ was alien to previous generations. Although not the easiest of reads, this book should be essential reading for all Evangelical ministers, both Anglican and non-Anglican alike.

A House Built on Love (SPCK, London 2020. 253pp: £10.99) by Ed Walker with Elizabeth Batha, tells the story of how Ed and his wife Rachel developed and put into practice, in partnership with others, a vision to provide a home to ex-prisoners, refugees and victims of abuse. Although I have only just received a copy of this book, this enterprising concept of churches together creating homes for the homeless is as relevant as ever, and so I warmly commend it to church leaders and their members.

Recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp & £3.95 each, Include Unforced Rhythms of Grace: Rest, Recovery & Flourishing in Ministry (Pastoral 172, 2023) by Rhona Knight (retired GP & Anglican minister) is packed with good things and practical advice. Supervising a Curate: A Short Guide to a Complex Task (Pastora1 173, 2023) by Rick Simpson, Archdeacon of Auckland in Durham, has been written to guide ‘incumbents’ in their role of developing curates in their care. Foster Caring: A Guide to Fostering for Churches and Youth Workers (Youth 70, 2023) by Zoe Bell, an experienced youth worker, offers advice on how to help the increasing number of children in the social care system, many of whom have been traumatized through abuse, neglect, bereavement or witnessing domestic violence. The Temple in the New Testament (Biblical 107, 2023) by Nick Moore, who teaches at Cranmer Hall, Durham, with its helpful questions for study and reflection at the end of each of the five chapters, is a study guide to the temple in Jewish thought. In You Can’t East Grass: Livestock, Veganism and Human Nature in a Landscape (Ethics 209, 2023) by Greg Forster, a retired Anglican minister with a long-established concern for Christian ethics, offers an interesting defence for meat-eating over against those who are passionate vegans. Jesus Christ in the Theology of Justin Martyr (Doctrine 10, 2023) by Andrew Hayes, the Lay Ministry Enabler for the Diocese of Oxford, is an introduction to Justin Martyr, who lived in the first half of the 2nd century and who spent much of his time seeking to defend the Christian faith not least through his depiction of Jesus as the Logos of God. Muddy Church: An Introductory Guide (Spirituality 164, 2023) by Wendy Coleman, a children’s minister, is a describes rapidly growing movement which encourages participants to “look for signs of God working within creation”; and offers “a way of deepening relationships with God and one another through engagement with the natural world”. In Lay Pioneering and Thriving in Mission (Mission & Evangelism 141, 2023) James Butler of the Church Mission Society draws attention to the disconnect between many churches and the local community and amongst other things argues that church leaders need to learn from the experience of ordinary lay people. Re-visioning Confirmation for Mission and Discipleship (Worship 254, 2023) by Charles Chadwick & Philip Tovey, both experienced Anglican ministers, look at the three dimensions of confirmation: 1. Pastoral as “a step in faith of candidates and an expression of care for the nurture of Christians by the congregation”; 2. Missional “as a confession that Jesus is Lord and a time for hospitality by the congregation for family and friends and a witness to them”; and 3. “An invocation of the Holy Spirit on the candidate, and a renewal of baptismal vows and acknowledgement of dependence on the Spirit by the congregation”.

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