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Commentaries: sparky and crisp

24 March 2016

David Wilbourne takes a look at some biblical reflections for groups or private study

Recovery of Hope: Bible reflections for sensing God’s presence and hearing God’s call

Naomi Starkey

BRF £8.99


Church Times Bookshop £8.10


Encountering the Risen Christ: From Easter to Pentecost: The message of the resurrection and how it can change us

Mark Bradford

BRF £7.99


Church Times Bookshop £7.20


NAOMI STARKEY’s Recovery of Hope cobbles together 103 wide-ranging Bible reading notes, all with hope in common, originally published in sundry editions of BRF’s New Daylight. A mature writer with a sure touch, her soigné commentary on any biblical text never exceeds 300 words, and her balanced hermeneutic is well-resourced and sparky.

Her book includes four beautifully crafted poems, with all her writing having the high quality of a prose poem. She is never afraid to be hard-hitting, with comments such as “Unlimited power carries with it unlimited responsibility rather than unlimited veniality,” and “Leaders should care for their flock rather than simply grandstand on issues.” I will try to grandstand less and care more!

The three sub-themes, “Coping with Darkness”, “Challenged to Journey”, and “In Resurrection Light”, boldly take us into some unusual territory. There are 14 studies on 2 Kings 13-17, 14 on Stephen’s speech in Acts, and 12 on the latter chapters of Mark (including the shorter and longer endings); a further seven studies are offered on Psalm 37, Jonah, and Ezekiel. Themes on “The Absence of God”, “Gardens and God”, and “Holy Fire” draw material from across the scriptures. Starkey is the most pleasant of fellow travellers throughout, a sheer joy to be with. She draws examples from her ministerial context in glorious North Wales, seasoning the text with the occasional Welsh word — can it get any better than this?

Well, Mark Bradford’s Encountering the Risen Christ is of equal stature. Refusing to confine the resurrection to Easter Day, he sets out six weekly studies (to be used personally or within a group during the Easter season), steering a course from disorientation, through reimagination to transformation. The six subjects are: Mary Magdalene; the disciples in the Upper Room; Thomas; the Emmaus Road; Peter; and Matthew’s Great Commission; each ending with a pause for reflection and group questions.

Bradford’s book grew on me as it picked up a massive momentum. It is unfettered by picky biblical criticism, although he occasionally ties himself in knots when trying to square contradictory gospel passages; something like literary or form criticism could come to his rescue and enlarge rather than diminish his message.

Bradford, like Starkey, is recently ordained, but draws on his previous experience as a secondary school teacher and youth leader to produce a crisp commentary: substantial, with a light touch. He taps a rich vein of spirituality and theology from the Church Fathers to the modern day, citing 96 sources in little more than 140 pages.

Phrases that leap off the page include: “We either evangelise or fossilise,” “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world,” “Folk want empathy not eschatology,” “Christ is the annoying knot of gristle at the very centre of the Christian Church,” “When I turn my back on the poor, I deny the resurrection,” “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it,” “Never trust a leader without a limp!” and “Instead of counting Christians, we need to weigh them.” The most poignant quote for me was when the thriving Mothers’ Union in Iraq asks mothers, before their baby’s baptism, “Do you really want to become a martyr?”


The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is the Assistant Bishop of Llandaff.

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