St Paul – The Misunderstood Apostle

St Paul – The Misunderstood Apostle

Author Karen Armstrong
Publisher Atlantic Books £14.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9781782398134

This is a short and very readable biography of St Paul for the general reader. It is, however, written on the basis that Paul only wrote seven of the letters attributed to him and that the Acts of the Apostles is unreliable. As a result, for example, the events after Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem, including his journey to Rome, which are covered in the last seven chapters of Acts, are dismissed as largely or entirely legendary. Armstrong has a tendency to state rather than justify her opinions. For example, the statement that ‘Luther’s signature justification by faith’ was ‘quite alien to Paul’s thought’ is not validated in the text. Given the frequent references to ‘faith’ and being ‘justified’ in both Romans and Galatians, this would seem a serious omission.
Although the view of Paul in the book is mostly positive, he is still portrayed at the end of his life as having largely failed in what he was attempting to achieve. Given this failure, the book does not, in my opinion, adequately explain how the church both survived Paul’s execution and Jesus’ non return nor why, in the light of this ‘failure’, Paul’s letters should have been kept and treasured. Even though I disagreed with much in the book, I still found it interesting.



Biography, New Testament Analysis


Igniting the Heart: Preaching and Imagination

Igniting the Heart: Preaching and Imagination

Author Kate Bruce
Publisher SCM Press £16.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780334053194

Imagination is a relatively underexplored topic in the extensive literature available on preaching. This is surprising given that, as this book argues cogently, imagination is vital to effective preaching, indeed essential for sermons that the author hopes most preachers would like to deliver (and hear); sermons that ‘cause the hearts of their hearers to catch and their imaginations soar … that are laden with transformative potential … and filled with the revelatory power of God.’ An experienced preacher and tutor in homiletics, Bruce seeks in this engaging and persuasive book to inspire and equip preachers to be imaginative in the way they think about, prepare and deliver sermons. Covering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of this comprehensively, her approach is grounded and inspiring and her style is accessible, insightful, and humane. Readers who are wary that imagination may be more to do with fantasy and feeling than reason and logic should be reassured by thoughtful chapters on what imagination is, and on a theology of imagination. This valuable and enjoyable book is a strongly recommended resource for beginners and experienced preachers alike.




Celebrating Life in Death

Celebrating Life
in Death

Author Lezley J Stewart
Publisher St Andrew Press £19.95
Format pbk
ISBN 9780861538669 (2016)

This most practical volume, based on the author’s own experience, guides the reader through the process of conducting a funeral service. The various sections deal with the practicalities of arranging a funeral, including forms to assist in constructing a eulogy; resources for each section of the service (prayers, reflections, thanksgivings, words of committal), as well as an outline for a thanksgiving service and an intriguingly titled ‘Blue Christmas service’. The brief reflections based on bible passages are particularly neat and well-expressed (and would fit well into the limited timeslots allowed by crematoria). With Readers often being called on to conduct funerals today, this would be a most useful addition to a Reader’s library. The accompanying CD ROM contains the texts of all the materials in MS Word format. While following the advice offered in the book will undoubtedly lead to a funeral service which offers comfort and sympathy, I was surprised by the omission of the word ‘resurrection’. Surely this is what makes Christian belief special?


Funeral Ministry


Shrines of the Saints in England and Wales

Shrines of the Saints
in England and Wales

Author Michael Tavinor
Publisher Canterbury Press £19.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781848258426 (2016)

In the first part of his book Tavinor explores the history of the major shrines of medieval times, their influence on the life and spirituality of abbeys and cathedrals, and their destruction in the sixteenth century. Tavinor devotes the second part to the fate of the shrines post-Reformation and to their revival and restoration from the nineteenth century onwards as the Church of England rediscovered the lives of the saints. Cathedrals have thus become central once again to the mission of the church, attracting large numbers of ordinary people, who seek comfort, encouragement and a focus for prayer by visiting a holy place. In a postscript, surveys conducted at three restored shrines demonstrate how shrines are used today, and there is a helpful bibliography for those wishing to know more. This book reminds us that places associated with the saints are important as an aid to devotion. It may also inspire Readers in their work of energising the faith of others.


History, Pilgrimage


Three Mountains to Freedom

Three Mountains
to Freedom

Author John Dudley Davies
Publisher Deo Publishing £18.95
Format pbk
ISBN 9781905679355 (2016)

‘You can judge a book by its cover’ so the saying goes. While trying not to do that, I do like a cover to give me a clue what the book is about and that feature is lacking in this otherwise useful book. The back cover notes help by telling me the book is about Galatians but makes no reference to the meaning of the phrase ‘Practice Interpretation’ which appears there. I found the answer in the introduction, and from thereon I began to grasp the author’s intention. There are lots of illustrations – many taken from the author’s experiences in Wales and South Africa, and a fast moving and engaging narrative. Questions at the end of each chapter, together with themes for thanksgiving and prayer are useful to study groups but they are of equal value for use in private study. Would I buy it? Knowing what lies within the covers, most definitely ‘yes’ but for me, this book’s cover lets it down.


New Testament Analysis


Thomas Merton, Peacemaker

Thomas Merton, Peacemaker

Author John Dear
Publisher Orbis/Alban Books £12.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781626981072

The author of these ‘Meditations on Merton, peacemaking and the Spiritual Life’ is himself a committed worker for peace. This comes out strongly in his choice of extracts from Merton’s letters and journal entries, as well as his own comments on Merton’s life and views. Consequently, it offers a rather different stance from Merton’s earlier autobiographical writing in The Seven Storey Mountain: the stress in Dear’s book is on Merton’s choice not to fight in the war and subsequent desire for ‘nonviolence’ – a word repeated to an almost annoying degree throughout. The book is presented as a series of twenty-seven meditations, an interesting format. I found the earlier ones rather repetitive; the later ones were much more effective in provoking thought and empathy with the views expressed. It is, however, a book of interest that illuminates the spiritual life of a peacemaker.


Spirituality, Biography


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