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Book review: Loved by Jonny Gumbel

20 October 2023

Graham James spots an opportunity for more searching reflections

JONNY GUMBEL says that “our first and most fundamental need is to be loved.” He argues that, while human love is beautiful, it does not compare to being loved by God. He explores what being loved by God means in conversation with St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and by drawing on a range of life experience and a variety of literature.

The genesis of the book lies in a course of teaching sermons at St Peter’s, Brighton, and the sound of the preached word echoes strongly through the chapters. Gumbel’s capacity for building up the faithful in love for God and one another comes over powerfully and attractively. His treatment of the Letter to the Romans is deft, and reveals a preacher whose capacity to expound scripture is mature and assured. His hearers would, I expect, have been drawn to explore St Paul’s letter more deeply for themselves after listening to him.

Gumbel engages in quite a lot of self-disclosure, and uses illustrations from his personal and family experience. Some are very domestic and do not bear the weight of interpretation which they are given, but others are very moving, as when he speaks of a difficult period as a young man when he suffered from glandular fever for an extended period and found much of his life dismantled.

Even more telling is his account of a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. He and his wife, Tara, go to the archive room and enter “Gumbel” in the computer, and find details of four family members who died in the Holocaust. Tara is pregnant with their third child. They reflect on another Gumbel entering the world in which all Gumbels might have been wiped out.

I would have appreciated more extended reflections when such powerful stories are told. We seem to move on very quickly, and the challenge of the Holocaust to a belief in a loving God is not addressed. A reference to the Rwandan genocide also avoids the hard questions raised by that tragic episode in such an overwhelmingly Christian country. Perhaps Gumbel does not yet believe himself to be the mature theologian that I sense he has it in him to be.

I was hopeful when Gumbel claims that “the love of God transforms the way we engage with politics and economics.” But he then simply tells us that “the Bible has a lot to say about injustice, immigration, race, debt, inequality, care for those in poverty, economics, warfare, business and social cohesion,” without unpacking the scriptures any further. Such generalities seem weak when compared with the author’s compelling testimony to the transforming power of God’s love for us.

This is a book that will confirm and enrich the faith of many Christians, and I was glad to have read it. But Gumbel could, I think, write another that deals head-on with the challenges and questions that many people have, and why God continues to love us in a world in which we are so frequently unloving to one another and to the creation that he has given us.

The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich and now an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Truro.


Jonny Gumbel
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