Phoebe

Phoebe

Author Paula Gooder
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton  £14.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9781473669727

This is a clever book which delights on two levels. It is first a fictional narrative, based on the imagined but plausible life story of Phoebe, the deaconess named in Romans 16.1 as the emissary who delivered Paul’s great letter to the city of Rome. Gooder, well-known for the excellence of her scholarly biblical studies, reveals herself as an accomplished writer of fiction, producing a charming and entirely believable tale of first century Rome. She brings many names from the New Testament Church into plausible roles. But if the story is good, the commentary is better, and one suspects this is Gooder’s prime purpose. The second half of the book is essentially a companion volume of facts and analysis, providing a thorough grounding in the character of the early Church and the culture of the Roman Empire. It guides us through Paul’s theology, the background to his travels and imprisonments, and shows how Paul’s writings reflected the turbulent society of the first century. I strongly recommend this book, which will both entertain and inform.

ALICE BURDETT

New Testament Commentary, Fiction

 

 

Pope Francis and the Theology of the People

Pope Francis and the Theology of the People

Author Rafael Luciani (tr. Phillip Berryman)
Publisher Orbis  £15.75
Format pbk
ISBN 9781626982529  2017

Luciani explores the origins of Pope Francis’ prophetic challenge to much of modern culture, arising from the ‘Theology of the People’, a type of liberation theology that insists on respect for the cultures of the poor and their popular religious expressions. The need is to transform societies from within and to create new ecclesial models (addressing inappropriate structures and sources of power). This is a scathing criticism of ‘the economy that kills’ and the loss of humanising bonds. Do not think that, because this thinking originates in Latin America, it is irrelevant to us – it is a call to the western Church and society, inviting us to live with greater simplicity and communal responsibility. If you want to understand where Pope Francis is coming from and to do some hard thinking about our assumptions regarding expressions of living the Gospel, especially our economic and power structures, then this book provides a springboard.

ROSIE BUDD

Liberation Theology

 

John Stott and The Hookses

John Stott and The Hookses

Author David Cranston (Ed)
Publisher Words by Design  £15.00
Format hbk
ISBN 9781909075542  2017

This unusual and interesting coffee-table book, compiled by David Cranston (a Reader in the Oxford Diocese) with contributions from John Stott, Chris Wright and Monty Barker, recounts the discovery, acquisition and development of the isolated Pembrokeshire coastal retreat of the late John Stott at Dale. Until reading this book, I had not realised that Stott’s much publicised love of birds had arisen when, as a schoolboy, his older sister Joy had thrown a cushion that totally destroyed his butterfly collection; from that time, birds were in the ascendancy. The book is well illustrated with the author’s photographs as well as those taken from Stott’s collection, documenting the progressive expansion and renovation of the property into the current small retreat and writing centre. Links with the local community, the wider evangelical fellowship and in particular with Frances Whitehead, John Stott’s secretary over many years, are explored. A fascinating book, one for the Christmas list.

ROGER THORNINGTON

Pictorial Biography

 

That Was the Church, That Was

That Was the Church, That Was

Authors Andrew Brown & Linda Woodhead
Publisher Bloomsbury  £12.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781472951984  2017

‘England has changed too much…the national church has changed too little’. A racy style, up-to-date research and intelligent analysis combine to confront us with a new reality: since the 1980s the Church of England has lost its loyal fringe, consolidating its shift from a ‘societal’ institution to a ‘congregational’ one. Self-inflicted damage from divisive internal debates about the ministry of women and sexuality issues, along with failures in episcopal and synodical leadership continue, making the once-credible national church seem ‘weird’ to outsiders. The adjectives ‘merciless’, ‘ferocious’ and ‘devastating’ have been used by earlier reviewers of the book, perhaps responding to some mischief in the earliest chapters. Then there is a renewed seriousness, with insights as painful to grasp as they are important to absorb. Is there a ‘blame game’? The authors concede that ‘the pace and scale of changes [in society] would have damaged the church whatever it had done’.

STEPHEN LAIRD

Church Demography

 

A Guide to Mission Accompaniment

A Guide to Mission Accompaniment

Author Kerry M Thorpe
Publisher BRF  £7.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780857465955

This practical book equips us to undertake some of our core tasks as Readers – to encourage discipleship and to grow the next generation of leaders. Thorpe demonstrates that ‘transforming friendship’ is integral to God’s nature and illustrates this view with examples from Genesis through to Revelation. He argues that the flourishing of individual lives can be measured by the quality of their friendships. After careful analysis of Jesus’ relational discipling of his twelve closest followers, Thorpe explores how this knowledge could inform our own ministry. We are introduced to the benefits, and limitations, of neuro-linguistic programming; the importance of affirmation and encouragement alongside challenge; and the value of relational accompaniment in the context of mission. We are called to be challenger, cheerleader, confidant and coach to those we accompany. We should view relational accompaniment as a life skill rather than a technique.

RONA ORME

Mission, Discipleship

 

Seeking the God Beyond

Seeking the God Beyond

Author J P Williams
Publisher SCM £19.99
Format pbk
9780334057017

The sub-title is ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Apophatic Spirituality,’ and it is exactly that, an overview of the via negativa, a way to reach God by discovering what he is not rather than what he is. I found it a theological page-turner, leading on from the biblical roots starting with Moses, the Song of Songs and John the Baptist to Jesus; these texts are revisited in succeeding chapters: an explanation of the ‘negative way’; exponents such as St John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart; a fascinating description of related topics, Paul in Athens, Keats’ Negative Capability, the books of Narnia and Zen Buddhism; finally apophatic content in practices such as pilgrimage, liturgy and prayer. There are useful addenda such as the need for spiritual emptying and humility in the Afterword, and also further reading. You will gather that it is very wide-ranging, indeed breath-taking in its compass, but it is in direct language and easy to read. I would say it is essential for those engaged in spiritual direction and otherwise highly recommended for all.

JOHN FOXLEE

Apophatic Spirituality