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29 September 2015

The September book club

The September book club

FORGETFUL HEART: REMEMBERING GOD IN A DISTRACTED WORLD

By Lucy Mills (Darton, Longman and Todd)

Lucy Mills begins her book with reflections on the nature of memory, before going on to show that it is easy to forget God, and what He has done for us, in our busy and stress-filled lives. God, however, will never forget us. The author reflects on encountering God in difficult circumstances - doubt, depression, dementia - and looks at the lives of biblical characters. Even heroes of the faith like Abraham sometimes forgot God, while the children of Israel frequently forgot Yahweh and turned to idols. Their exile in Babylon provided an opportunity to remember past experiences of God and re-commit themselves to his service. In the New Testament Jesus re-interpreted the Passover as the Lord’s Supper, as a way for his disciples to remember his sacrificial death on the Cross. The author has rightly been welcomed as an “eloquent new voice in spiritual writing” and reading her book will benefit any readers wishing to give God a more central place in their lives.

 

POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE: FINDING GOD IN HARD PLACES

By Ian Coffey  (Inter-Varsity Press)

Ian Coffey is  a former member of the Evangelical Alliance staff, and is now working as a vice principal of  the Moorlands College in Christchurch. His latest book is a series of Bible studies on people who encountered God in difficult circumstances. The biblical narratives are  accompanied by stories from the writer’s own experience or from those of other people. Each section concludes with questions for further reflection, which can be used by house or study groups. Ruth, Elijah, Jeremiah, Esther, John the Baptist, John Mark, Paul, and Peter are considered. Issues of bereavement, doubt, fear, failure and depression are tackled. The author provides helpful advice on dealing with these problems, but admits that  there are no easy answers. God sometimes resolves difficult situations and sometimes does not and in the end we have to trust ourselves to his providential care.


THE CIRCLE OF PEACE: AN ANTIDOTE TO DISTRESS

By Ken Lewis and Trevor Dennis (SPCK)

This collaboration between a theologian and a psychologist provides insights from both disciplines on dealing with depression, anxiety, worry, and the lack of self-esteem. The writers emphasise the love and acceptance of God as an antidote to feelings of worthlessness - though some readers will feel that they have downplayed the righteousness of God and the reality of human sin. There are other insights from the Bible. For example, the command to “love our neighbours as ourselves” takes for granted that we should love ourselves. The statement in Genesis that the human race is “made in the image of God” should be seen in the context of the ancient world, where only kings were regarded as bearing the image of the gods. The authors stress that it is not necessarily wrong to feel depressed, worried or anxious. Many of the Psalms are psalms of lament, which do not hesitate to doubt or question  God. They form a striking contrast to many of the worship songs that we sing in church today! Commenting on the story of the man found among the tombs the writers point out that to the earliest readers of the New Testament the name “Legion” would only mean one thing: a unit of the Roman army. Could the gospel story have a political sub-text that is often missed by contemporary commentators and preachers?

 

CHURCH GOING, GOING, GONE!

By Michael Horan  (Imprint Academic)

“I’m not religious, but I like to think of myself as a spiritual person”. Michael Horan’s book argues that, while church attendance is in terminal decline in Britain, this does not necessarily imply a lack of interest in spiritual values. There are exceptions to the rule, but statistics show that most churches and denominations are losing members  at an alarming  rate. Horan does not think that this trend can be reversed, and argues that much of the problem stems from the Church’s adherence to what he considers to be outmoded dogmas and creeds from a  pre-scientific age. Many people retain a belief in an 'other-than-oneself', though surveys on religious belief rarely define what is meant by ‘God’ or ‘Religion’. Horan attempts a radical re-interpretation of classic Christian beliefs and calls on atheists, agnostics and 'believers–in-exile' to form new “learning communities”, which can address spiritual issues while accepting ambivalence and uncertainty. Social action is part of the author’s vision and the book concludes with jottings on such topics as the environment, education, disablement, gender and sexuality, and the media. Few readers of this review will share the author’s radical conclusions, but they may be stimulated to re-consider the obstacles facing the Church in our post-Christian society.

Reviewed by Graham Hedges