Revolutionary

Revolutionary

Author Tom Holland (ed.)
Publisher SPCK £15.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9780281083336

This searching examination of ‘Who Jesus was?’ and ‘Why does he still matter?’ has ten contributors, including Holland. Some were new to me: Joan Taylor, Amy-Jill Levine, Tarif Khalidi who gives an Islamic perspective on Jesus, and Nick Spencer. More familiar were Robin Gill, Terry Eagleton, Julian Baggini and Rowan Williams. There are marvellous things to ponder in these essays, sustaining food for everyone. Passionately argued, they unsettled and at times disrupted my preconceptions. Holland’s challenge was enthusiastically accepted, in a book inviting debate. Big claims are made. ‘Jesus is the single most important figure in Western, arguably world, history’ (Spencer). From a nobody from Nazareth, Jesus becomes ‘the biggest somebody in the world’ (Taylor). The conclusion overwhelmingly is: yes, Jesus was revolutionary – for Gill in an ethical way; for Levine through the power of his stories, which illustrate the kingdom of God. The exception is Baggini who doubts Jesus’ very existence and yet finds him a genius of ambiguity in word and deed. Thanks to SPCK and to Holland for this visionary book.

Reviewed by JEREMY HARVEY

Theological essays

 

Love@Work

Love@Work

Author Ian Randall, Phil Jump & John Weaver
Publisher DLT £14.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781913657017

I would not normally have picked this book up, but I am glad I have read it. Subtitled ‘100 years of the Industrial Christian Fellowship’ it is much more than a history of an organisation and its precursors. The chapters tell of the forerunners of the Fellowship, the Navvy Mission Society and the Christian Social Union and their merger in 1920 to form a body with both missional and academic remits. The book follows the development of the Fellowship through its policies, missions, and individuals, most famously Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. Each chapter is followed by a reflection which asks pointed questions of how the Fellowship responded to changing conditions in society and employment and what lessons we can learn from those experiences. The authors are all involved with the Fellowship and are seeking its future pathway. Perhaps the later chapters are less helpful than the earlier ones as they occasionally lapse into lists of activities and personnel changes. In these days of Monday to Saturday faith the book shows ways in which mission can be conducted in workplaces.

Reviewed by DAVID HEADING

Work; Outreach

 

Seven Days to Freedom

Seven Days to Freedom

Author John Dudley Davies
Publisher DLT £14.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780232534856

Rarely is a book of a spiritual nature funny. This one made me laugh out loud in several places. For example, after quoting from material produced at the Walsingham Shrine which makes the point that all things are connected ‘even pilgrimage’, the author goes on to say that also connected are ‘scampi, aunts, trigonometry, eisteddfodau, Wing Commanders, urine, scalpels, semiquavers, USBs, magpies etc.’ That gives a flavour of the witty writing. Essentially, this is a series of sermons using the biblical creation stories, with a strong emphasis on the seventh day as a climax that brings all things together. This skilfully thought-provoking work relates the biblical text to present-day issues: coronavirus, the attempts by migrants to cross from Calais to Britain, and Archbishop Welby’s promotion of credit unions, amongst other issues. I cannot help feeling that this might make the book become dated rather quickly, because such questions will not necessarily assume great historical importance viewed retrospectively. Perhaps that does not matter to an author who is aged nearly 94. In the here and now, I loved this book.

Reviewed by ALAN WAKELY

Sermons; Creation

 

Ploughshares and First Fruits

Ploughshares and First Fruits

Author Chris Thorpe
Publisher Canterbury Press £16.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781786222909

This book is a treasure chest of valuable resources for use throughout the church’s year and it intertwines with the farming calendar. Written for rural parishes and using the author’s own tried and tested rural ministry experience, it offers fresh insights into welcoming and fresh worship. It is mission focussed and recommends inviting local groups and clubs to be involved – riders, farmers, walkers and wildlife groups. Two services per month are described in detail with suggested music, worship songs, intercessions, readings, reflections, conversations, prayers and symbolic actions such as drama, craft, gifts or shared food. As the seasons change so do the themes and much careful planning has gone into these resources. Written primarily for use in the country parish (or group of parishes) it has much to offer city parishes, particularly as we are encouraged to explore our own gardens and parks. We have become more aware of the need to treasure and preserve our resources and are now more connected with the natural world around us. The time is right for this beautiful book.

Reviewed by SUE PIPER

Worship; Environment

 

Jack

Jack

Author Marilynne Robinson
Publisher Virago £18.99
Format hbk
ISBN 9780349011813

This carefully crafted novel by America’s foremost Christian writer is the fourth of a quartet which charts the lives and religious journeys of the Boughton family in the Midwest in the middle of the twentieth century. Jack is the tale of the prodigal son who has not quite come to his senses and returned to his Presbyterian family, although in this narrative he is tantalizingly close to redemption. He meets Della, high school teacher and devout daughter of an African Methodist Episcopalian preacher, and love develops in the unlikely setting of a night spent in Bellefontaine cemetery in St Louis. But this is Missouri in the 1940s, and apartheid prevails; state laws ban interracial marriage and buses are segregated. Any relationship between a down-at-heel white man and a respectable black woman appears doomed. Marilynne Robinson writes superb prose, studded with biblical texts to highlight the ambiguities of her narrative. She also deploys many literary allusions, especially from Hamlet and also Milton’s Paradise Lost. The cloying atmosphere of post-war America is brilliantly drawn. I warmly recommend this wise and perceptive book.
Review by ALICE BURDETT

Fiction

 

Beyond the Children’s Corner

Beyond the Children’s Corner

Author Margaret Pritchard Houston
Publisher CHP £16.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781781401644

The author writes about creating a culture of welcome for all ages. Most churches try to welcome people, but few develop the culture. The book examines the changing pastoral needs of modern families and relates them to what it means to belong to a church and worship within it. It offers some ‘quick wins’ such as making a children’s corner truly child-friendly, and addresses deeper challenges with church buildings and leadership. It deals with real issues such as noise, toilets, changing facilities and prams. And there is wise advice regarding consultation, ownership and management of change. It would not be possible to do everything in this book, but there are some strategies which any church could do to improve ministry to children and families. The author writes practically and with empathy for mature church members who remember how things used to be, using case studies and discussion topics. I am lending it to my incumbent and churchwardens so we can pursue what it may mean to my church. I recommend it for yours.

Reviewed by HOWARD ROWE

Pastoral; Worship