Book of the month
My best read this month is A Holocaust Legacy (Chiselbury 2023. 238pp: £22) by Kenneth Wolfe, whose grandparents were killed by the Nazis in September 1941. He himself was born into a family who had fled to England in 1934: his father was a German Jew, but his mother was a German of so-called ‘Aryan’ stock. They married in England, but the marriage was doomed almost from the start. Both parents had deep psychological issues: his father had no empathy with his wife when Kenneth was born, while his mother had on one occasion been sectioned into a psychiatric hospital. On the collapse of their marriage, there was a long acrimonious dispute about who would look after Kenneth. After being yanked from one school to another, Kenneth left his secondary modern with no qualifications whatsoever. It was at this stage that Kenneth, who had become a Christian, felt called to the ministry. With the encouragement of his pastor Kenneth ultimately gained the necessary eight O levels and two A levels and went off to college. As I read the book I was staggered that a young man with such a poor educational background ultimately gained a PhD, became a tutor in Divinity, went on to the University of Kent where he wrote a massive tome on the politics of broadcast religion at UCL, became an advisor to Thames Independent Television Authority, and finally ended up as a long-serving teacher running for 25 years the department of religion and philosophy at Godolphin & Latymer School. It is an amazing story, and I am filled with admiration for Kenneth Wolfe, who was a former student of my father, and who has since become my friend, with the result that we enjoy the occasional lunch at the Athenaeum. What a man!
Breathers of An Ampler Day: Victorian Views of Heaven (Sacristy Press, Durham 2023. 195 pp; £14.99) by Ian Bradley, a liberal Church of Scotland minister, examines how Victorians conceived of heaven through giving examples of hymns and Sunday school songs before moving on to a study of popular poets and sermons of leading preachers, and in particular studies the views of those like F. D. Maurice, George Matheson & John Henry Newman. He shows how the focus was on the happiness of heaven as Christians met around the throne of God. Heaven was a place of worship; but later heaven was conceived as a place of community where we would enjoy one another. Interestingly after a period when the focus was on the process of dying, belief in the afterlife is again seizing people’s imagination. In a poll conducted in October 2021 a third of Britons (33%) believe in an afterlife, four in in ten (42%) do not, and a quarter (26% do not know). Bradley’s own view is summed up in his statement: “Ultimately all thought of heaven is very largely an exercise in imaginative speculation founded on the hints of heaven given in scripture”. Finally, I have been asked by the publishers to state that copies of Breathers of an Ampler Day are also available in hardback and e-book from them.
Pastoral Care in Practice: An Introduction and Guide (Canterbury Press, Norwich 2023. 98pp: £14.99) by Michael Hopkins will be appreciated by many. As I said in my endorsement, “Caring for others is in essence simply an expression of love for others and is therefore the task of every Christian. However, the reality is that some are more gifted than others in caring for those in need of pastoral care. Hence, the development in many churches of pastoral teams whose task is to work alongside the leader/minister of the church in caring for people experiencing problems and challenges of one kind or another. For new and indeed seasoned members of such pastoral teams, A Practical Guide to Pastoral Care will prove to a real boon. One great advantage that this book has over similar books on pastoral care is that although the author is a minister of the United Reformed Church, this guide has not been written within the context of one denomination or ‘stream’, but rather is immediately applicable to any expression of church. Michael Hopkins is to be congratulated on producing an such an excellent guide to pastoral care.”
Confounding The Mighty: Stories of Church, Social Class and Solidarity (SCM, London 2023. 165pp: £19.99) edited by Luke Larner is a provocative book. I found most of the eight contributors aggressive and anti the Conservative Party, but I recognise that I am a member of the middle class and a member of the Tory party to boot! Throughout my years as a pastor I sought to build a church where people of all backgrounds were welcomed for who they were. Yet from reading this collection of essays I find myself feeling condemned! Reviewing this book makes me want to sit down face-to-face with the authors and engage in a genuine conversation where we truly listen to one another. I wonder if a different book would then emerge?
An Advent Manifesto: daily readings and reflections from Isaiah and Luke (BRF, Abingdon 2023. 203pp £9.99) by Martyn Percy, former dean of Christ Church, Oxford, consists of readings, prayers, and ‘contemplations’, which stretch from the beginning of Advent right through to Candlemas in February. This is a ‘political’ book for it engages with “the business of who receives what, when, where and how”. The author has an attractive writing style. Without hesitation I warmly commend this study guide.
Faiths Lost & Found: Understanding Apostasy (DLT, London 2023. 172: £16.99) edited by theologian Martyn Percy & lawyer Charles Foster, consists of ten fascinating case studies in which the various contributors tell of the pain and the cost they experienced when they abandoned their original Christian convictions, and with the exception of Richard Baxter (the only case study which involved a retelling of his story) they all ended up in in a more liberal version of Anglicanism. I enjoyed reading this book, not least because through the experiences of friends or family I know a good deal about the Exclusive Brethren, the Iwerne camps, Holy Trinity Brompton, and finally Wimber and the Vineyard. At the back of the book there is a study guide for people wanting to reflect upon their own pilgrimage within the setting of a group. I was interested to note that the editors found it difficult to find contributors who have moved from “from a definite, considered ‘high church’ faith to a ‘low church’ faith.
The Power of Ideas: Words of Faith & Wisdom (Hodder & Stoughton, London 2023. 379pp: £12.99) by Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, contains a wide-ranging selection of his writings. Some of his insights are fascinating, although some might dismiss them for they are not based on any Scripture text. For instance, in a section devoted to leadership, he wrote: “Not all of us have power. But we all have influence, whether we seek it or not. We make the people around us better or worse than they might have been”. Or in another section devoted to Love, he wrote: “Social scientists tell us that bad events have four or five times as much impact as good ones. So it’s important to equal the score by celebrating the good”. Here are words to ponder!
Jews and Christians; becoming friends (Amazon, 2023. 124pp: no price given) by Gervase Vernon is based on a five week-course on Christianity and Judaism given under the auspices of the Diocese of Chelmsford in Lent 2023. The author, a Roman Catholic, has a personal connection with the theme: his half-Jewish mother came from a Polish village where almost all the Jews were killed during the Second World War. This unusual book draws upon contemporary Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament and re-interpretations of the New Testament. This book could appeal to a small thoughtful group wanting to explore how Christians and Jews might relate to one another.
Hodder Faith of London have just reissued in paperback Lydia: A Story (324pp: £9.99) by Paula Gooder. As I said in my previous review, this work of fiction based on Biblical scholarship is “a fascinating read”. Hodder Faith have also just reissued Forgive: Why should I and how can I? (Hodder, London 2023. 250pp: £10.99) by Timothy Keller, a New York Evangelical who is also a prolific author.
Although I do not normally review books for children, I felt I had to draw attention to the two latest books of Krish and Miriam Kandia, both published by Hodder this year and both priced at £9.99: viz. Whistlestop Tales around the World in 10 Bible Stories and Whistlestop Tales around the Bible with 10 Extraordinary Children. They are remarkably creative, and I warmly commend them to parents, grandparents, teachers, and indeed to any body involved with children.
Recent booklets from Grove of Cambridge, all 28pp & £3.95 each, include Reading Hosea: A Beginners Guide (Biblical 108, 2023) by Miriam Bier Hinksman, a former OT specialist at the London School of Theology, seeks to illustrate the relevance of Hosea to the church today. Paul’s Gospel of Love (Biblical 109, 2023) by Gary Burnett, who for many years taught New Testament courses in Belfast, begins by contrasts the sort of love we are fed from popular culture is a love that gratifies us, and which we can fall into and out of without thinking too much, with Paul’s vision of how love can change the world. Ageing Faithfully (Pastoral 174, 2023) by David Price, an Anglican vicar in Poole, seeks to enable ministers to prepare their people to die well as they enter the final finishing strait of life. Toddler Groups in Church: The Foundation for Flourishing Youth Work (Youth 71, 2023) by Becky May, a former primary school teacher, states some advice once given to her: “If you want a youth ministry, don’t set out to catch young people, grow your own”! Gen Z (Youth 72, 2023) by Jonny Price introduces Gen theory and particularly ‘Gen Z’, formed by young people born in the period 1995-2012, should be of interest to all involved in church youth ministry. A Whole Church Discipleship Adventure (Discipleship 10, 2023) by Brendan Bassett, Gordon Day & Sharon Blyth seeks to present an “innovative way of encouraging churches, particularly those serving marginalized communities, to reshape their vision and work, based on the three-year ministry of Jesus”. Why Plant Churches: Theological & Practical Reasons (Mission & Evangelism 142, 2023) by Christian Selvaratnam, writes within the context of a growing interest in church planting in England. Church of England Worship: A Basic Guide For Those Who Need To Know (Worship, 255, 2023) by Mark Earey, an Anglican minister who has been teaching liturgy to Anglican & Methodist ministers, has written a guide for several groups, including potential or current leadership of worship who have a background in the Church of England, but want to see the bigger picture. In Growing Disciples In Small Groups: A Resource For Leaders (Discipleship 9, 2023) by Anna Creedon & Sally Dakin, Anglican ministers with a passion for small groups, want to enable small group leaders to think through the significance of purpose, leadership, context and materials for their small group. Following Jesus, Following Paul: Pauline Insights into Missional Discipleship (Discipleship 11, 2023) by Dan Yarnell, a minister of the Fellowship of Church of Christ in GB & Northern Ireland, shows how while Paul never uses the term ‘disciple’, nonetheless the idea of discipleship is very much present. Revival: Learning from History (Spirituality 165, 2023) by Baptist minister Ian Randall with a lifelong interest in church history, focuses on the revival of 1857-1863, and points to lessons which can be learnt for today’s church. Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for the Perplexed (Ethics 210, 2023) by Simon Cross, who is an advisor in technology ethics, governance and regulation policy looks at how AI can appear to threaten the extinction of the human race, and yet can actually be a source of hope for humankind. Responding to the Ukraine-Russia War (Ethics 211, 2023) by Robert Innes, Anglican Bishop of Europe, provides a helpful study guide for what is a very complex situation, and offers pointers to how we may prepare for peace. Trauma: Building a Trauma-informed Worshipping Community (Pastoral 175) by Joanna Naomi Douglas, who overcame her own trauma related mental health issues, concludes with some very practical suggestions on how worshipping communities can be supportive, such as developing good boundaries and considering how our own actions may re-traumatize.