Ever Present

Ever Present​

Author Austen Hardwick
Publisher Authentic £9.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781788931588

Subtitled ‘Running to survive, thrive and believe’, this is part autobiography, part spiritual guide. The author managed to survive three strokes in his forties, which encouraged him to think much more deeply about life and faith. For him, running became a discipline that helped him to re-shape his life and enabled him to think as well as improve his physical fitness. Austen began to consider his own fragility as a human being. One key phrase stood out for me: ‘I hope I don’t miss God when he arrives, life feels too short.’ There is a metaphor about the race of faith, which is fully explored, with reference to many biblical teachings and some of the great Christian thinkers. For me, the book does not quite work as an end-to-end read, but is far better to read a chapter at a time and ponder the questions that it raises. As the vicar of the Belfry Church in York puts it, the book ‘describes with vulnerability some of the joys and frustrations of following Christ in the race of life.’

Reviewed by CAVAN WOOD

Biography, Spirituality

 

Free at Last

Free at Last ​

Author Asia Bibi with Anne-Isabelle Tollet
Publisher Authentic Media £9.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781424560721

After drinking water from the same cup as Muslim women, Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian, was sentenced to hang by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 2010 on charges of blasphemy. For nine years Asia suffered persecution, resentment and isolation in prison. Her faith was severely challenged. A French journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, was instrumental in bringing her case into the public eye across the world, and Asia was finally released in January 2019. She and her family now live in Canada. They will never be able to return to their homeland.

Asia’s life story is more than a heart-rending account of a fellow Christian’s experiences. I believe this book offers challenges which we all need to face. Perhaps it is a cry for faith in God to be recognised as non-threatening, to be acknowledged by everyone, and tolerated. People of other faiths have their own pathways to God, and intolerance of any kind is something that each one of us must be prepared to resist.

Reviewed by VERONICA BRIGHT

Biography, Interfaith dialogue

 

Only God Will Save Us

Only God Will Save Us

Author Simon Cuff
Publisher SCM £19.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780334059264

This book describes how theology influences our lives, as the subtitle, ‘The nature of God and the Christian life’ reveals. Cuff helps us to access many of the great Christian thinkers in a way that shows their effect on how we try to live out faith. He tackles issues around the ideas connected with divine simplicity, suffering, love, wrath, mercy, life and jealousy. He is not afraid to examine some of the most difficult theological ideas to show how they are necessary to have a correct view of God and to live out the teachings of Jesus. Cuff shows that theology is not only for the seminary or the university, but that all believers need to engage and reflect with these themes. There are some criticisms of theologians, past and present, which are very stimulating and with which you may not agree (I have some issues with what he says about Moltmann); but he consistently develops his ideas in a way which is truly engaging and thought-provoking. This would be a book worthy of more sustained study and reflection by a group. A must-read.

Reviewed by CAVAN WOOD

Doctrine, Soteriology

 

Jesus Christ, Learning Teacher

Jesus Christ, Learning Teacher

Author Mark Chater
Publisher SCM £19.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780334059684

This is a really absorbing book, clearly written and profoundly thought-provoking. It is a detailed and meticulously annotated study of Jesus as a teacher and of the pedagogical example he sets. The term ‘learning teacher’ in modern educational parlance often means a specialist dealing with dyslexic or otherwise disabled pupils, but this is not the sense in which the term is used here. Rather, the author points out that all good teachers positively need to continue to learn, and demonstrates very effectively that this was true of the earthly Christ too. However he also explicitly maintains that he is not attempting to draw any Christological conclusions. Frankly, I do not see how he can avoid this, and I do not think he has managed to – but that doesn’t detract from his arguments. He also deliberately downplays the historical context of Jesus’s teaching, and therefore of his learning too, and I would have liked an extra chapter that tackled this aspect more fully. However, the book is essentially an examination of issues, seeking to involve the reader in the process rather than offering conclusions, and in that it succeeds superbly.

Reviewed by ALAN WAKELY

New Testament Analysis, Education

 

New Heaven and a New Earth

New Heaven and 
a New Earth

Author Katherine Tiernan
Publisher Sacristy £12.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781789591255

Subtitled ‘St Cuthbert and the conquest of the north’, this fine historical novel is the third of a trilogy which traces the influence of the Celtic saint on the development of the English church in Northumbria.  Set in the years after the Norman conquest, the narrative portrays an age of violence and turmoil through the eyes of three historical characters: the monks Thorgot and Aldwyn – two committed men of contrasting character; and Edith, the wife of the Saxon Dean of Durham.   Following the conquest there was tyranny and bloodshed in the north, as William the Conqueror’s Norman soldiers ruthlessly laid waste to the land.  As one character remarks, ‘the four horsemen have been loosed upon us – death, war, famine and pestilence.’  From the title onwards, there are many allusions to the book of Revelation, as tension mounts between the Saxon heritage and the materialistic new Norman bishops and rulers – representing highly contrasted strands of Christian thought and practice.  Ultimately, as Norman rule is consolidated, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth takes shape as the foundations of Durham Cathedral are laid. Strongly recommended.

Reviewed by ELIZABETH STEPHENSON

Novel

 

Seven Sacred Spaces

Seven Sacred Spaces​

Author George Lings
Publisher BRF £10.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780857469342

What does the monastic tradition have to teach us today with especial reference to the layout of church buildings? George Lings identifies seven sacred spaces within a monastic setting and describes their purpose and present-day relevance: Cell/privacy, meeting God; Chapel/worship; Chapter/decisions; Cloister/meeting; Garden/work; Refectory/hospitality; Scriptorium/study, private prayer. A discourse then follows about the continuing relevance of the monastic tradition in both its Benedictine and Celtic forms, which leads to a reflection on the possible growth of third order post-denominational Christian communities. The final chapters describe how this thesis was tested out in various discussions in communities including the Northumbria Community of which the author is a long-standing member. There are detailed suggestions about how an existing church building might be modified to better achieve its core purpose, but beyond this there is a deeper reflection on the historic links between the monastic tradition and present-day mission and discipleship, and the possibility of the development of a ‘new monasticism’ of networks of communities of faithful souls. This is a compelling, informative book that is thoroughly recommended.

Reviewed by MIKE ABBOTT

New monasticism