Indelible Ink

by
02 November 2006

Crusade for World Revival £8.99 (1-85345-358-7); Church Times Bookshop £8.10

Brought to faith by written words: Is this too narrowly American, wonders David Winter

THE cover tells us the purpose of this book: "22 international Christian writers discuss the books that shape their faith." In case 22 contributors isn' t quite enough, we are also treated to shorter selections from a further 73, each telling us about a book or books that have profoundly influenced the way their faith has developed.

It sounds like a good idea, but in practice this kind of collection tends to be, as this one is, unfocused and of inconsistent quality.

One could also question the word "international" in the book's sub-title. Of the 22 main contributors, only two are not resident in the USA. One, British (J. I. Packer), lives in Canada, and one (John Stott) lives in the UK. There is an Indian among them, but he lives in Atlanta, USA. It is safe to say that most of the names of the "Christian writers" featured will not be well known to readers of the Church Times, unless they frequent Evangelical bookshops or listen to American preachers on obscure radio stations.

That is not, however, at all to say that there is nothing of profit in the collection. Joni Eareckson Tada, paralysed after an accident in 1967, wrestles sensitively and thoughtfully with Loraine Boettner's The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. It is not necessary to accept in its entirety her theological stance to see the transforming effect of a genuine belief in the sovereignty of God. "I cannot express the relief and release I felt", she writes, "as I plunged deeper and deeper into this marvellous truth: that my diving accident was really no accident at all."

There are other moments of insight in these pages - J. I. Packer on Calvin's Institutes (exactly the book one would have guessed he would choose!) or Donald G. Bloesch on the great Christian mystics. John Stott, incidentally, chooses a Victorian Evangelical classic, Holiness by J. C. Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool and scourge of the Catholic tendency.

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The book has 250 pages of text, however, and not enough of it is likely to excite the mind, or even challenge one's faith. The selection of writers is almost exclusively Evangelical and Reformed, though several of them acknowledge their debt to Roman Catholic authors from the present day and the past. The Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, and Professor Alister McGrath sit rather awkwardly among the "other choices", and are two of just five of the 73 who are not resident in the United States.

The most frequently cited author by far is C. S. Lewis. Malcolm Muggeridge, G. K. Chesterton, and Shakespeare are also quoted several times by different contributors. Yet most British readers will find this book is like listening to a conversation that sounds quite interesting, except that you can't recognise most of the people mentioned or the things they are talking about.

The Revd David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting for the BBC.

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