What are we doing here?

What are we doing here?

Author Marilynne Robinson
Publisher Virago £9.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780349010434   2018

Marilynne Robinson, a fine novelist, is also a University teacher, visiting lecturer and essayist. A member of the United Church of Christ, she is a staunch evangelist for the Reformation Church and Puritans, an admirer of Wyclif, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards, and suffers a divine or prophetic discontent over the ‘alarming like-mindedness’ of American discourse and its ‘shared false assumptions and flawed conclusions.’ ‘Too old to mince words’, she is a thorn in the flesh of left and right politically. She abhors ‘ideological thinking’ because it is not one’s own. Of The Givenness of Things (2015) one reviewer summed up her wisdom, insights and constructive criticism as ‘Standing up for the USA’. Intrinsically American, and also a citizen of the world, she questions in these essay-lectures, among many things, the campaign to smear Obama, estranging him from history; the traducing and downgrading of the Humanities; sloppy thinking; slander, the dangers of the tongue, and her own mother’s becoming a Fox News addict; the power of fear; and science and technology’s irresponsible dismissal of religious faith. Robinson is an important voice for unity, sanity, humility, imagination and the wonder of being human.

JEREMY HARVEY

Essays

 

Church Leadership

Church Leadership

Author Jon Coutts
Publisher SCM £19.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780334057789

Coutts teaches at Trinity College, Bristol, and this is a helpful, positive contribution balancing theological reflection with practical guidance. Lots of good questions are asked and addressed, from the classic, ‘What makes leadership Christian?’ to the more subtle, ‘If leadership is a spiritual gift, which is it?’ It is always helpful to get a feeling for where the author is coming from and a quick glance at the index reveals key influences. For example, Henri Nouwen’s portrait of leadership In the Name of Jesus is cited far more times than Charles Handy’s highly influential Understanding Organizations. During a vacancy, Readers will often find themselves expected to take on an interim leadership role without necessarily having the authority that an incumbent may enjoy. There is excellent material here on understanding different models of church and corresponding expectations of leadership styles. This would be very helpful for focusing a PCC discussion prior to drawing up a parish profile. From lay ministers’ perspectives, it would have been good to see more on collaborative leadership models; but the author helpfully reminds us, ‘God originally preferred to lead through prophets rather than kings.’

ALAN MITCHELL

Leadership

 

To Heal and Not to Hurt

To Heal and Not to Hurt

Authors Rosie Harper & Alan Wilson
Publisher DLT £12.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780232533941

Subtitled, ‘A fresh approach to safeguarding in Church’, this is a timely analysis which the Bishop of Buckingham and his chaplain intend as ‘an attempt to understand why good church people end up doing bad things.’ They recognise that all abuse emanates from controlling behaviour and the misuse of power. 15 short stories – fictional, but drawing on real situations – show that the Church’s response (or lack of it) may be as hurtful as the original events. ‘Abused in the place they loved by the people they trusted’ means the Church has responsibilities that should not be evaded. Other chapters refer to various aspects of the stories to draw out more general principles, with a strong case made for a mandatory reporting regime so that the abused do not have to face the agony of whether to report or not, coupled with independent inquiry procedures that are truly independent. While recognising that progress has been made in recent years, the authors identify four areas in need of radical reform: Accompaniment; Restoration and Redress; Whistle blowing and Clergy Discipline. This stimulating book shines useful lights in dark places and will enable readers to be alert to situations that could be, or could become, abusive.

JOHN KNOWLES

Pastoral, Safeguarding

 

Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse

Escaping the Maze
of Spiritual Abuse

Authors Lisa Oakley & Justin Humphreys
Publisher SPCK £10.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780281081318

Spiritual abuse, whilst not always being named as such, has been around in the church for generations. As the authors say, it can be bottom up, side-by-side or top down, and it is essential that it is recognised and named for what it is. In this compelling and accessible book the authors do exactly that. Without any hint of sensationalism and with real life, fully- anonymised examples the authors address key questions of the what, how and why of spiritual abuse. However, this is more than a retrospective overview; significant chapters explore the way forward in terms of the creation of safer cultures, and responding well to disclosures – again in a practical and easily accessible way. Research based, thorough and refreshingly light on jargon, I found this an easy read – not in terms of its subject matter – but because it broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of this important aspect of the church’s ministry.

CHRIS BRACEGIRDLE

Ministry, Safeguarding

 

Hospitality, Service, Proclamation

Hospitality, Service, Proclamation

Author Tom Wilson
Publisher SCM £19.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780334057994

This is a good book to put into the hands of someone training for the ministry, or who missed out on interfaith ministry in their training. Coming from the evangelical end of the spectrum, Wilson, the director of an interfaith centre, explores how to balance hospitality, service and proclamation. There is a helpful overview of twelve different theologians, whom he classifies as exclusivist, inclusivist or pluralist and he discusses the attraction of each category. He then looks at ten passages from the Old and New Testaments, including Abram’s visitors, Ruth, Naaman, the good Samaritan, John 14.6, Paul in Athens and concludes there are ‘plenty of passages that reinforce the importance of proclamation of the Christian faith, but also a number that suggest the importance of offering hospitality to people of other faiths or none and of acts of selfless service.’ The book also has a helpful appendix suggesting books about seven of the faiths Christians in Britain might wish to engage with.

CLAIRE DISBREY

Interfaith, Mission

 

Everyday conversations with Matthew

Everyday conversations with Matthew

Author John Holdsworth
Publisher SCM £12.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780334057468

This small paperback is attractively presented and contains a wealth of background information as well as an impressive depth of theological understanding. The author puts the case for Matthew despite the fact that his appeal to the modern reader is perhaps less than that of the other gospels. To advance his cause he draws on a number of real conversations: each chapter is preceded by a pen portrait of a typical 21st century enquirer and the author angles his approach to address their concerns. The reader, who could be an individual or a group member, is made to think with ‘To Do’ suggestions at regular intervals. I found this the least appealing aspect of the book as the questions often failed to resonate. And can a ‘Twitter follower’ really be compared to a disciple of Jesus? However, for an easy to read and scholarly reflection on the contents of Matthew’s gospel this book is to be recommended.

LAURA HILLMAN

New Testament Analysis