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Bread for the journey

10 October 2014

Mark Vernon and Chine Mbubaegbu recommend books for would-be believers

Owen Barfield

Owen Barfield

THE problem for contemporary Christian apologetics in a culture that is "spiritual, but not religious" is not rational or empirical, as if people might be persuaded of Christianity's truth by argument or evidence. Rather, the problem is that Christianity seems to be irrelevant as a source of lively spiritual insight.

So the books that I would recommend to someone who senses that life has spiritual depth, and seeks ways of growing that perception, would be those that show Christianity as an invaluable source of spiritual acuity and wisdom.

I have found this in the writings of Owen Barfield (pictured, right), the friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He is not always easy to read, but the collection of essays published as The Rediscovery of Meaning, and in particular the essay that gives the book its title, and also "The Harp and the Camera", speak profoundly of contemporary spiritual blindness, and nurturing the kind of consciousness which can see again. This takes time, and is much about learning to listen to places, and responding to life, too.

Jennifer Lash's account of her journey through France while coming to terms with cancer, On Pilgrimage, teaches much. I suspect that the growing popularity of pilgrimage, and associated books, is a spontaneous rediscovery of ways of life that might satisfy our spiritual thirst.

Then there is also the need to develop the discipline and habits of discernment which develop our spiritual desires. The better books about mindfulness meditation offer much here, and I would recommend those by Mark Epstein. For a specifically Christian view, Into the Silent Land: The practice of contemplation, by Martin Laird, is the best I've read to date.

Mark Vernon

Dr Mark Vernon is a writer, broadcaster, and journalist, and the author of Love: All that matters (Hodder Education, 2013).

MANY Christians of my generation have been desperate to find those gifted communicators who will tell the story of our faith to the friends we respect in a way that does not make them cringe, or turn them off completely from the whole thing.

In reading Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford (pictured, left), I found that rare gem I had been looking for for so long. Straightforward and yet ineffable, Spufford's masterpiece is an honest, lyrical, beautiful, and uplifting personal story of why Christianity makes sense.

The cadence of the words he uses and the pictures he draws of life and faith and all that's in between had me, at times, weeping.

I would give Unapologetic to someone who was exploring faith afresh, because it is authentic. It is not saccharine, nor does it give pat answers to life's big questions. It is relevant, because it is a human story, drawing not on lofty existential arguments but telling it how it is - from our perspective. Down here.

For me, a good Christian book - one that I could give to my friends - needs to contain that raw element of humanity. It brings our faith right to the heart of who we are; it is not a badge for members of some exclusive club.

I think that Don Miller is also a master in this respect. I loved his books Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious thoughts on Christian spirituality and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life. Both of these have made me think in a new, deeper way about my own faith, as it relates to my real life. They have challenged and inspired me; and they have reminded me of why any of this matters.

Chine Mbubaegbu 

Chine Mbubaegbu is head of media and communications at the Evangelical Alliance.

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