THERE is a long history of low-cost Evangelical tracts and booklets designed to be given to spiritual enquirers. This small book of just over 100 pages aims to fill that niche for today’s questioning young adult.
Marcus Nodder is senior minister of St Peter’s Barge, a floating church that reaches out to the business community in Canary Wharf, in London. Each chapter takes one of Jesus’s “I am” sayings in St John’s Gospel, and links it to a hard question of faith (Jesus said “I am the good shepherd”; but isn’t religion intrinsically evil?). Nodder writes in a lively, accessible style, rich in story and metaphor. Particularly powerful is his epilogue, which tells the stories of unlikely individuals who found faith in recent years.
Some would question Nodder’s inclusion of quite so many references to hell, judgement, and eternal death. Even those who share the author’s conviction that these are a grim reality might query how helpful it is to include them in a first salvo to their spiritually searching friend. Nodder feels, no doubt, that he would be telling only half a story without them.
Less up for debate should be the profusion of non-inclusive quotations and illustrations. Nodder cites Tolstoy (“in the soul of every man”), Lewis (“men feel sexual desire”) and Chesterton (“men are homesick”), and uses non-inclusive translations of biblical passages (“it is appointed for man to die once”, “Man is like a breath”, “no other name under heaven given among men”. . .).
This is not an issue of theology: it is a matter of language, culture and respect. The word “man” is no longer used in the English language to refer to all people. Doing so today is heard as a deliberate archaism or an act of exclusion. And Nodder’s stories of people finding faith include only one who isn’t male. In a book aimed at culturally engaged young sceptics, this feels like sabotaging your own apologetic.
The Revd Mike Starkey is Head of Church Growth for Manchester Diocese and author of the Stepping Stones for Growth course.
I Am: The answer to life’s biggest questions
Church Times Bookshop £5.40