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Book review: Love Makes Things Happen edited by Jennifer Strawbridge, Jarred Mercer, and Peter Groves

23 June 2023

Lyle Dennen reviews essayists linked with St Mary Mag’s, Oxford

DO NOT be put off by the title: Love Makes Things Happen. Even though it sounds like a sequel to a film starring Hugh Grant: Love, Actually. Its more accurate subtitle, An invitation to Christian living, clearly indicates that the purpose of this collection of essays is to show that Christianity is a lived reality of everyday lives, enlightened by, and grounded on, a call to love.

The range of topics include: worship, scripture, sacraments, evangelism, justice, reconciliation, public faith, and more. A group of distinguished theologians, most of whom are associated with the School of Theology at St Mary Magdalen’s, Oxford, and some have links to the University, are contributors.

Some of the essays are outstanding; some are not. The first chapter, on prayer, is disappointing as an introduction of the overall theme of the whole book. Perhaps, it is the problem of trying to cover too many prayer topics in too few pages which creates the feeling of thinness. The title of this chapter is “Love in God’s Presence”, but using “the image of God as a beloved pet labrador” (page 12) is perhaps unkind to God and to those who come to prayer in distress and anguish.

But the final chapter by this same author, Jennifer Strawbridge, is a brilliant and gripping essay on the central part played by hospitality in living the Christian faith. Hospitality as the space one creates for the stranger.

Jarred Mercer’s chapter on worship is profound. He looks at the variety of meanings of worship and then moves deeply by proposing worship as finding ourselves wrapped up in it, in dialogue with it, and transformed by it. He makes a persuasive point that right worship is adoration that turns us outward beyond ourselves to God and the needs of others.

His other chapter on scripture is equally interesting and helpful. He takes us through a journey to explore scripture as the Word of God, with all the ambiguities of how it is written, when it was written, and by whom it is written. Always looking to the ultimate Word of God as Jesus Christ.

There are other very good essays, but Melanie Marshall’s chapter on evangelism is particularly imaginative and attractive. So often, one thinks of evangelism as being pursued by an earnest zealot with a large butterfly net. She writes: “In a culture of toxic certainty, our mission is to hold open a space for the unknown, for another reality.”

The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney, in London.


Love Makes Things Happen: An invitation to Christian living
Jennifer Strawbridge, Jarred Mercer, and Peter Groves, editors
SCM Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.99

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