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Our contributors choose

25 November 2016

Church Times writers take their pick from their reading during the past year

Every week, publishers’ parcels and Jiffy bags of new books arrive in the Church Times office. We select those that, we think, merit a review, and allocate them to reviewers. But what about the books that our contributors choose for their own enjoyment? Here are a few personal recommendations


Glyn Paflin
Deputy Editor



Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the present by Andrew Louth (SPCK, £25 (£22.50); 978-0-281-07127-2)


Andrew Louth’s magisterial study Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the present might seem a daunting proposition for those not already inducted into modern Orthodox theology and its contemporary influence. But, in fact, this highly approachable volume is one that anyone might enjoy with profit, dipping into it as time allows, and slowly infusing the complexity and richness of what it has to tell about the necessary entanglement of theology and “spirituality”.

Not that all the figures Louth covers (especially in the Russian strand) are without political taint and moral ambiguity; but this is no whitewash: it tells us how “West” and “East” in the cataclysmic modern world have jostled to reclaim the Christian heritage, and what this might mean for contemporary “secularism” and its aftermath.


The Revd Dr Sarah Coakley is Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge.



The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler (Penguin Classics, £5.99 (£5.40); 978-0-1411-9915-3)


The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler sounds like a perverse choice for an inspiring read. But I couldn’t put it down. Funny, sad, and heart-warming, it exposes the hypocrisy of an apparently Christian family and the damage they do to themselves through their warped ideas of the faith. It makes its point about fake Christianity by showing how abuse perpetuates itself down the generations. The clergy come off worst of all in Butler’s satire. And yet, somehow, it still affirms hope, while leaving the joys of real Christianity — intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual — quite unscathed.


The Revd Dr Cally Hammond is Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.



War Music: An account of Homer’s Iliad by Christopher Logue (Faber & Faber, £20 (£18); 978-0-571-20218-8).


This summer, awkwardly reclining on a Greek beach, I read Christopher Logue’s War Music, his wonderful retelling of Homer’s Iliad, which begins by asking you to picture more than 50,000 men “on a beach aslant . . . asleep like spoons beside their lethal fleet”. More transformation than translation, Logue’s work is lyrical, barbaric, intimate, and dramatic, and will win over even those, like myself, who (shamefully) struggle with Homer’s original. You don’t need to be on a Mediterranean beach to enjoy it, of course, but it may help.


Nick Spencer is Research Director at Theos.



Touching the Rock: An experience of blindness by John M. Hull (SPCK, £9.99 (£9); 978-0-281-07747-2)


The theologian John M. Hull, who died last year, began recording his daily experience of sight-loss on cassette in 1983. This book was reissued in 2016 after the film adaptation Notes on Blindness. He writes: “One begins to take residence in another world.” Here, we invited into his world filled with objects, sounds, and absence.

Reading these reflections gives us intimate insights into a blind person’s landscape. We enter into his vivid dream-world, share his revisions of his sighted youth, and learn of the limitations that blindness imposes on fatherhood. Original, candid, and intimate. We may see faith and sight-loss with new eyes.


The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain at Goodenough College and Assistant Priest of St Giles’s, Cripplegate.



Washing Feet: Imitating the example of Jesus in the liturgy today by Thomas O’Loughlin (Liturgical Press, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-8146-4861-2)


If you have ever mused on why foot-washing, although prominent in St John’s Gospel, is seldom practised in church, this short book is a gem. Thomas O’Loughlin was prompted to write by the inter­national attention afforded to Pope Francis’s public washing of the feet of prisoners, Muslims, and women. Although written for a Roman Catholic audience, Washing Feet offers wisdom for any church con­sidering the introduction of foot-washing.

I came across it as part of doc­toral research on disagreement among Christians. O’Loughlin proposes that such liturgical “actions of care . . . show us that there can be another way, a way of peace and life, that is at the heart of discipleship.”


The Revd Christopher Landau is Assistant Curate of St Luke’s, West Kilburn, and Emmanuel Church, Harrow Road, in the diocese of London, and is a former reporter for Radio 4’s World at One and PM.


The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson (Virago (Pbk), £9.99 (£9); 978-0-349-00733-5)


What I love about Marilynne Robinson’s writing is that, through ideas and words, she takes you by the hand and shows you another way of thinking and of being. Each time I have read something by her, I feel as though, by the end, I have become a different person with a more expansive view of the world. Her prose is exquisite, and her vision crystal clear.

This book is a collection of 17 essays — which are always insightful and sometimes provocative — on subjects from humanism to metaphysics, from decline to value. They are not always easy to read, but they are always worth the effort.


Dr Paula Gooder is a writer and lecturer in Biblical Studies, and is Canon Theologian of Birmingham Cathedral.



Hitler: Volume I: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich and translated by Jefferson Chase (The Bodley Head, £25 (£22.50); 978-1-8479-2285-4)


This new biography is slightly less than 1000 pages, but it held me gripped until the very end. The section on the struggle with the Christian Churches is especially illuminating.

How did a risible petit bourgeois Austrian become the absolute master of Germany? Ullrich shows that his rise was not so much the inevitable operation of great impersonal historical forces, but was connected with Hitler’s political pragmatism, and his appeal to emotion rather than reason in his repetitive rhetoric.

He successfully presented himself as the one who could “lead Germany to a new era of national greatness”. It all sounds worryingly contemporary.


The Rt Revd Richard Chartres is the Bishop of London.



A Place of Refuge: An experi­­ment in communal living — the story of Windsor Hill Wood by Tobias Jones (Riverrun, £9.99, (£9); 978-1-84866-251-3)


Inspired by ventures such as L’Arche and the Pilsdon Commun­ity, Tobias Jones and his family set up a therapeutic community in Somerset, “a woodland sanctuary for those in crisis”.

He writes about episodes from their first five years in an intensely honest and engaging narrative: the frustrations and disappointments, as well as individual journeys made from brokenness to re-engagement (even if tentative) with the wider world.

I found it an inspiring reminder to see the individual behind the most overwhelming of personal problems, plus a useful exploration of the healing power of nature, the disciplines of a rule of life, safe­guarding issues, and the cost of leadership.


The Revd Naomi Starkey is Assistant Curate in the Ministry Area of Bro Enlli, the Llyn Peninsula, in Wales.



A Nazareth Manifesto: Being with God by Samuel Wells (Wiley-Blackwell, £19.99 (£18); 978-0-470-67326-3)


Sam Wells’s wonderful book A Nazareth Manifesto is, for me, a once-in-a-generation book that breaks new ground in theology. It is, in essence, an extended meditation on the word “with” at the heart of the phrase “God with us”, which brings us much closer to the heart of the gospel. I was inspired by it, and hope many others will be, too: it has the potential, in the power of the Spirit, to transform the Church and the world for good and for God.


Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.



Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom (Sphere, £8.99 (£8.09); 978-0-751-53751-2)


This is a true account of the life and teaching of Rabbi Albert Lewis, and the very different life of Pastor Henry Covington, who was “saved by Jesus” from a life of crime and drug abuse, and cared for the homeless and rejected. It is by a journalist who knew them both in Detroit, over eight years, and was moved by their love, compassion, and unusual tolerance of other faiths.

The writing is fast, clear, and unsentimental, and has amusing “religious” anecdotes and flashbacks. I particularly liked the one about the author as a small boy at Christmas passing a garden with a life-size Christian crib. He asks which one is Jesus, assuming that it it is the big man with a crown. He is amazed that it is the baby.


Katy Hounsell-Robert is a journalist and author.



Our cover: from an intriguing art hard­­­back, Edward Bawden Scrap­books, by Peyton Skipwith and Brian Webb. This scrapbook page, one of many re­­produced­, offers a puzzle: for The Year’s Best Books, signed with Eric Ravilious, who did what? Pub­lished by Lund Humphries, in as­soci­­ation with The Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, which holds the scrap­books and work by EB and his Essex associates £35 (£31.50); 978-1-84822-184-0)

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