Unexpected Discovery: Beauchief Abbey and other
J. W. Rogerson
Beauchief Abbey Press £8.99 (plus p&p from
"I Have to Come up with a Sermon. . ."
Church Times Bookshop £11.25 (Use code
I DOUBT that, in the future, collections of sermons will be
published. It is increasingly rare that these books attract enough
readers to make them financially viable in a less profitable
publishing market. More positively, sermons are now widely
disseminated online in both text and audio form, almost as soon as
they have been preached.
But free availability does not ensure quality, and there is
surely some value in the publication of collections of well-written
sermons, if only to inspire other preachers to raise their game and
learn from theologians who have honed the ability to communicate
the Christian faith effectively. Suggestions abound about how
homiletics can be reimagined in a society that has collective
attention-deficit disorder. But no amount of PowerPoint
presentations or illustrative YouTube clips will enable the
preacher to communicate better than a well-written, well-delivered,
substantive, and interesting sermon.
So these two collections have much to offer, and they share the
richness of accumulated wisdom about both preaching and human
experience from years in the pulpit. None the less, they are quite
different in character. John Rogerson is an Anglican biblical
scholar whose sermons reflect his rigorous engagement with the
scriptural texts and frequently seek to apply them to some big
theological or cultural questions (Is religion a private matter?
How do we respond to celebrity culture? What does the Bible say
about marriage?). They are coloured by the desire to reconcile the
historical critical approach to biblical interpretation with living
faith, exemplified in his exploration of whether Jesus really
turned water into wine.
Mark Hartley was a Roman Catholic Cistercian monk whose sermons
span 56 years in the same monastery. Naturally, they have a more
Catholic flavour, full of quotations from saints and the richness
of the liturgical year. Hartley is less concerned with the big
social questions, but addresses the profound issues of daily life
and faith with which the guest master at an Abbey will become all
too familiar. They are gentle but challenging homilies that almost
make you feel as if you are on retreat, and, as such, would make
excellent daily reflections.
Both collections serve as tributes to holy men, one deceased and
one retired. They deserve a wide readership, but I am sure that
much of the market for these books will be among those who have
benefited from knowing them in person over their years of ministry.
This seems to be a core purpose behind these kinds of book, which
makes one wonder how holy men and women will be remembered and
their wisdom preserved in the digital age.
Hartley is quite pessimistic: "God doesn't speak through the
internet," which saturates us with "mostly irrelevant information".
This may well be generational prejudice. But if collections such as
this are no longer published in the future, it is by no means clear
that the example of good, faithful, scholarly preaching will be as
The Revd Dr James Walters is Chaplain to the London School
of Economics and Political Science.