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09 January 2018

New year reading: book reviews

New year reading: book reviews

The new year can be a great time to dig out new books to read, or re-visit some old classics. Evangelical Alliance volunteer Graham Hedges reviews a few books to get you started...

Claire Musters
Authentic, 2017, £9.99, Pbk., 212p., ISBN 978-1780781914

The thesis of this  book is that many people in the Church wear 'masks'  to hide their  true identities and weaknesses from those around  them. The author recalls the early days of her marriage which, to many outside observers, looked like an ideal relationship,  but which was troubled in many respects. Claire herself felt a secret resentment that her husband's busy life in the music industry was keeping him away from home for much of the time. 

Matters came to a head and eventually led to the temporary breakdown of the relationship, much to the surprise and shock of many in the local church where Claire and her husband held leadership positions. In God's providence the couple were reconciled and Claire began a journey of self-discovery which led to her removing the mask of 'victim' that she had worn for many years.

The book as a whole is a plea for Christians to be honest about their thoughts and feelings and to recognise that their true identity is rooted in Christ rather than the expectations of other people. There are chapters on the part played by upbringing, the influence of culture (including church culture) and the importance of finding a circle of close friends with whom we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings.

Taking Off The Mask is a useful (though occasionally repetitive) plea for Christians to lead  honest and authentic lives rooted in God's word in the  scriptures rather than the assumptions of  those around us. The author deserves our thanks for sharing her personal experiences and failings so candidly in this book.

Rob Parsons
Hodder and Stoughton, 2017, £12.99, Hardback, 241p., ISBN 978-14736709542

Have you heard the joke about the man who gave his mother-in-law a dictionary for Christmas?  When he asked her what she thought of her book, her reply was, "It's alright, but it keeps changing its subject".

My initial reaction when starting to read this book was somewhat similar. The book is a collection of stories that the author has told to audiences all over the world in his capacity as founder and executive chairman of Care for the Family. Few of the stories occupy more than a few pages and they  can be read quickly and easily. Some are drawn from the author's experiences of family life, some are based on the experiences of other people, and a few are summarised from other people's books.

As the book proceeds common threads begin to emerge. Many of the stories are concerned, in one way or another, with relationships and family life.   Most have an obvious 'message' and themes tackled include marital love, parenting, forgiveness, sex and the wise use of money.

The author is to be commended for his honesty in sharing some of the difficulties that have arisen in his own life and marriage. As he points out, however, most of the issues are common to a broad spectrum of the  human race. As a single person, though, I was a little disappointed that few of the stories had much to say to those of us not in permanent relationships.

This book has been published to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Care for the Family. It provides much wisdom and demonstrates the writer's skill as a storyteller who is much in demand as a public speaker.

Richard Foster
Hodder and Stoughton, 2017, £13.99,  Pbk., 426p., ISBN 978-1473662100

Running to 426 pages this re-issue of a spiritual classic seems  daunting but  will repay careful reading. The author provides an introduction to six approaches to Christian spirituality.  These are the contemplative tradition (the prayer-filled life), the holiness tradition (the virtuous life), the charismatic tradition (the Spirit-filled life), the social justice tradition (the compassionate life) , the evangelical tradition (the word-centred life), and the incarnational tradition (the sacramental life). 

These traditions are traced back to Jesus, and the author's thesis is that the approaches are complementary rather than opposed to each other. The evangelical tradition, for example, is said to be at its best when combined with a concern for social justice.

Foster argues that all of these approaches are rooted in early Christian history. The evangelical tradition is traced back to St. Augustine, rather than the Protestant reformers or the Wesleys. The chapter on evangelicalism continues with an account of the ministry of Billy Graham before discussing the fundamentals of evangelical belief.

The writer begins his section on the Charismatic tradition with  accounts of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Holy Spirit in the ministry of St. Paul, before considering  the Azusa Street revival, and its importance for the  modern Pentecostal and charismatic movements. 

Some readers may question Foster's definitions. C.S. Lewis, for example, might have been surprised to find himself described as an evangelical. In his foreword James Catford describes Foster's book as "subversive" and some evangelical readers will be uncomfortable with the attempts to synthesise the various spiritual traditions. However this re-issue is to be recommended for its wide ranging account of different approaches to the  Christian life and deserves a wide readership.