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28 March 2018

Book reviews

Book reviews

Book reviews by Graham Hedges

A SPRING AWAKENING: SOMETIMES WHEN THINGS SEEM TO BE BETTER, THEY REALLY AREN'T.  THEY REALLY, REALLY AREN'T

Chris Cottee

Instant Apostle, 2018, £8.99,  Paperback, 333p., ISBN 978-1909728790

This is a follow up to an earlier novel, A Christmas Calling, which followed one man's journey towards Christian conversion in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Working on several different levels, the novel  functioned as a love story and a pyschological study in which the main character had to dig deep into his subconscious mind in order to come to terms with traumatic events in his childhood.

The author, Chris Cottee, is a vicar in Watford, and has also studied clinical psychology, and these influences are well to the fore in the new story.   The lead character. David Sourbrook, continues his new relationship with the Angela, and the friends from the parish church who led him to Christ, but there are still obstacles to be faced. With the aid of counselling,  David has to manage bouts of depression as well as a sense of spiritual oppression, which is eventually traced back to exposure to a ouija board in early childhood.

David  has to respond to false allegations of child abuse levelled at him by a teenager in the church youth club, and face up to cracks in his relationship with Angela which threaten their plans for an Easter wedding. Further traumas are uncovered from David's childhood before the story is able to come to a happy resolution.

The author shows clearly that problems can remain even after someone has made a commitment to Christ.   The cover announces that this is Book Two of Seasons of the Soul, so perhaps we can look forward to further episodes to come  and more problems to be faced by the main characters.  




THE WAY OF WISDOM: A YEAR OF DAILY DEVOTIONS IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller

Hodder and Stoughton, 2017, £10.99, Hardback, 379p., ISBN 978-1473547558

This is not a book to be read from cover to cover but a manual of daily meditations based on the book of Proverbs. This is  a follow up to an earlier book on the Psalms, although the  introduction makes clear the differences between the  genres of psalms and proverbs.

Keller's introduction provides an overview of the book of Proverbs with discussions on  Hebrew poetry and the place of Proverbs in the Bible as a whole. The writer recognises that Hebrew proverbs can sometimes seem to contradict each other, and suggests that readers need to hold conflicting statements together in order to gain a complete understanding of a subject.

The book divides the year into a number of sections corresponding to different emphases within the book of Proverbs. These are Knowing Wisdom, Knowing God, Knowing the Heart, Knowing Others, Knowing the Times and Seasons, Knowing the Spheres (with reflections on marriage, sex, parenting,  work, and justice), and Knowing Jesus: the true wisdom of God.  Each daily meditation is followed by a prayer asking God to grant understanding and help readers to put the teaching into practice.

Readers of the reflection for 25 December may be surprised to find advice on fleeing idols rather than thoughts on the Christmas story.  However, the author stresses the place that  Wisdom occupies in the biblical literature and shows how this prepares the way for Jesus, the Word of God, who reveals the Father to us. 

Timothy Keller is a popular Christian writer and this book should be welcomed by his many admirers as well as those unfamiliar with his work.



YOU ARE THE BELOVED: DAILY MEDITATIONS FOR SPIRITUAL LIVING


Henri J.M. Nouwen.  Compiled by Gabrielle Earnshaw

Hodder and Stoughton, 2017, £14.99,  Hardback, 410p., ISBN 978-1473632530

Henri Nouwen (1932-1995) was well known as a priest, professor,  and pastor   and this posthumous collection of daily meditations on the spiritual life, compiled from his books, letters and talks, will find a ready audience.

In the introduction by Gabrielle Earnshaw we are told that, for much of his life,  Nouwen  struggled with a strong sense of  "loneliness and anxiety"  leading to "a downward spiral of self-rejection and despair".   This situation was resolved by a decision to  spend a significant part of each day in prayer and meditation, during which he came to an understanding of the love of God. In Nouwen's own words: "We are the beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us. This is the truth of our lives".  This became the dominant theme in his ministry.

Nouwen's book includes reflections on many subjects ranging from  loneliness, solitude, spiritual reading and  the kingdom of God to prayer, community, friendship and forgiveness.   However, most of the meditations return to the overall theme of the loving nature of God and the need to make that love known to others.

The introduction tells us that Nouwen struggled  to come to terms with   money and success but came to see that our true identity is rooted in our relationship with Christ rather than our standing in secular society. This theme is emphasised in the book.

Evangelical readers will probably find things with which to disagree, but Nouwen is an example of Catholic spirituality at its best and this collection of daily readings deserves to be widely read by readers from across the religious spectrum.