CALLED BY GOD is a biblical study showing the ways in which all Christians are called by him. Each chapter focuses on a specific New Testament verse, and explores that aspect of a Christian calling; so the chapters include “Called out of darkness”, “Called to belong”, “Called to holiness”, and so on. If a reader has not come across these themes before, then this could be a place to start; and each chapter has a one-sentence “key lesson”, and some questions at the end to prompt further exploration.
But mostly I struggled to relate Derek Tidball’s exposition to human experience. For example, he states that “darkness brings separation”. So it does sometimes, but darkness can also bring safety and intimacy and experience of God not known in the light. What, then, does it mean to be “called out of darkness into his wonderful light”, if darkness can be a good place to inhabit? And what does this phrase mean if it is beyond human capacity to move from darkness into light, either through physical blindness or for psychological reasons? I regretted that the discussion of darkness in Called by God showed so little awareness of the range of the human experience of darkness.
Too many of the other chapters raised similar questions, for me. This was disappointing, because I agree with Tidball that understanding the Bible’s description of God’s calling has “major implications for the whole of our lives”.
Experiencing Christ’s Love is laid out in a similar style to Called by God, but has a very different approach. As the subtitle explains, Twisleton presents a way to help us experience Christ’s love by developing a pattern of life. The pattern has five aspects — worship, prayer, study, service, and reflection — and he devotes a chapter to each.
Twisleton likens this pattern to the five digits of a hand with which to grasp the hand of God, and each chapter ends with a section, “Hand in hand”, identifying the role of God’s hand in the grasp, and relating that theme to the other four “digits”.
Each discipline is explored using the author’s experience, the biblical text, practices in different Christian traditions, and other reading. I welcomed the section in each chapter on “Self-deception”, helping readers to be aware of some of the pitfalls of each aspect.
The chapter on study reflects the author’s background as a research chemist. This does not make the chapter complicated, or about simply acquiring knowledge. Rather, he explains clearly the importance of lifelong intellectual engagement, as well as involving heart and soul. The Apostles’ Creed, the Bible, and Christian traditions all feature; and he also gives an example of studying Christ in people affected by a mining disaster.
Another strand in the book is the “downward love for us from God, upward love from us to him, and outward love from God and believers to the world”. The outward-looking love is often neglected in discussion about experiencing God’s love; so I welcomed the chapter on service. In it, he acknowledges the unpredictability of loving our neighbour, and offers ways of approaching and celebrating our service.
Altogether, the book did what it intended: encouraging the development, or the review, of a life that can enable us to experience Christ’s love.
Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.
Called by God: Exploring our identity in Christ
Church Times Bookshop £7.20
Experiencing Christ’s Love: Establishing a life of worship, prayer, study, service and reflection
Church Times Bookshop £6.30