John Stott Speaks from the Grave

Challenges_of_Christian_leadership_001_1024x1024-2John Stott was a legend in his day, the thing is he still is.  He was considered by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005.   He passed away peacefully in 2011.  His latest book was published this year.

Challenges of Christian Leadership started life as a series of talks in Ecuador to IFES staff.  While it has been available in Spanish this is the first time that we have had it in English.  In usual Stott style it is Biblical, careful, Christ-centered and powerful.  Each of the talks are a combination of Biblical knowledge and humble wisdom.

The chapters are short, too short for me, I was left wanting more each time.  They cover a range of topics: The Challenge of Discouragement, the Challenge of Self-Discipline (my fav), The Challenge of Relationships and the Challenge of Youth.  Another chapter is also included by others who were involved with Stott’s ministry and could testify that he lived what he wrote here.

Highly recommend it!  If you have a friend in ministry, do them a favour and go and buy a copy for them.


Review: Journey from the East

JFTEIMGI find the characters that are in the background of the Bible fascinating.  They kind of step on stage and then off again and yet I know there is more to their life than what we are seeing.  How has their time on ‘stage’ so to speak changed them, what were they expecting before?

All these questions open the way for novel expression.  We can imagine what it might have been like and fill in the gaps with our imagination, provided we remember that.  This is exactly what Mike Bayliss’ first novel, Journey to the East is doing.

Journey to the East is Bayliss’ first book.  It is a short novel, I think only available in the electronic form for the moment, following Bing, a member of a party of people following a star in the West.

What I loved about the book is that it was short and fast moving.  A long journey could have become a detailed drawn out affair which Bayliss avoids.  It has a mix of themes including dealing with death, redemption and forgiveness and, well, fight scenes that could have come out of a Chinese Wuxia film.  It’s about 100 pages long, I read it in under an hour total.  My son is reading and powering through as well.

On one side the book is not going to win literary awards.  Some of the characters have the same depth as a Matthew Riley character, that is you know little about them apart from how they react to what is going on around them, and I found some of the background characters somewhat out of focus, but then resolving this would have slowed the book down.  The pace of the book is what makes it fun.  And it should be noted that it is fiction.  I can see people with ancient history backgrounds reacting to things as “but that wouldn’t happen” or that didn’t exist.  It’s fiction, go with it and enjoy the ride, it’s pretty good.

But what is good about this book is that it is a book by a Christian author, who is able to write Christianly without adding in Christian themes and even aspects of the Christian story without it sounding clunky, forced or weird.  Christian theology is simply a part of the fabric from which the background is woven.  For those of you looking for Christian art expressing itself in culture, here is a great example.

For 99c the electronic version is a steal.  Do yourself a favour and download it now!

Review: Gospel Patrons by John Rinehart

The thing about Grand Prix racing I love is not the drivers but the teams behind the drivers.  At the end of the race the driver s the guy who holds up the trophy and has champagne showered over him, but he would not be there without the team of guys building, maintaining, reviewing and paying for the car he was driving.

As a preacher I can identify with this.  I often get the accolades of “good talk”, “that really helped me” but really there is a team of people behind me and people don’t see that.  The same is true of people that God has used for truly great work he has done: Tyndale, Whitfield, John Newtown and others.  Most biography books focus on these people, this one focuses on the people behind thosegp-cover people.

I have to admit I came to this book a little sceptical: I didn’t recognise the publisher (Reclaimed Publishing), the book is clothbound (who does that these days?), there wasn’t even a barcode.  But I have been pleasantly surprised.  The book is written from a man who has a lot of money to others who have money, challenging them as to how they can use it better for Gospel work.

Rather than the “7 points on how to…” Rinehart simply gives us several stories of the people behind the people who have been great gifts throughout church history.  And rather than making ‘rich’ Christians feel guilty and ‘challenged’ (read: made to feel more guilty) this book highlights the opportunities they have to serve the wider Christian community.  I should point out you don’t need to be ‘rich’ to get something out of this book.  It is easy to read, well written and simply a good book.

This book is not written by a professional in ministry and it is not addressed to a professional in ministry, nevertheless I am extremely grateful for it and…well…you should read it!

Gospel Patrons is avaliable through the Matthias Media website or as a Kindle book.


Review: Sydney Anglicanism, An Apology

sydney-anglicanismThere is a lot about this book I needed to read and anyone who is connected with Sydney Anglicanism should too. I am a relative outsider of Sydney Anglicanism (1), yet proud and happy to be called a part of it. In this book, Michael has educated me on key aspects of how Sydney Anglicanism is viewed to the outsider. He has divided the book into “the Bible” and “the Church” and looked at some key hallmarks of what characterises Sydney Anglicanism as a movement/ culture/ thing. In doing so he has interacted with critics from the outside such as Kevin Giles and Muriel Porter and shown that Sydney Anglicanism is not the strange anomaly that time forgot, but rather a movement of conviction and deep thought. There are areas of history that Michael has researched and I have appreciated as I have got to know the ‘family stories’. For anyone interacting or living in Sydney Anglicanism this is a must read.

But I have to agree with Tony Payne, that the weakness of the book is not what is said, but what is not said (2). Tony picked up that there was no mention of Chappo (John Chapman to the non-Sydney Anglicans). But I think this, in turn, is a sign of something much larger, indeed larger than the book itself. During my time at AFES, one of the things that was drummed into us is the warning “what the first generation fought for, the second generation assumed and the third generation will deny”. I see myself, and Michael for that matter, as very much a part of the second generation. What I see us assuming is what David Bebbington(3) sees as one the of the four key marks of evangelicalism: conversionism. Is it’s absence from the book due to the blind-spot that is being shown as Michael, like me, is a part of the second generation of assuming? One could argue that it is due to the fact that the book is addressed more to the outsider and this is more an internal problem. But I would counter that by saying it is one of the key ideas that mark us different to the catholic, liberal character that the rest of the Anglican communion has become – a concern for people’s souls. This could be one of the most important lessons of the book.

(1) I am ordained and licensed as a minister in Sydney, but most of my professional ministry has been with AFES.  I have never held a position in Synod, nor attended in an official capacity.  I have had a brief tenure on one of the Anglican committees but that is all.
(3) As referred to in Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism. Vol. 1. 5 vols. A History of Evangelicalism. Leicester England: Apollos/ IVP, 2004. p16.

Review: A Little History of Philosophy

Nigel Warburton is one of the hosts of the podcast Philosophy Bites.  He has been a lecturer and writer about philosophy and this book shows he knows his stuff.

In A Little History of Philosophy Warburton takes us through a number of philosophers (some chapters have more than one, one philosopher has two chapters) over the course of several thousand years, from Socrates to Peter Singer.  Each chapter is only about 7 pages long and does not take much to digest.

The joy of this book is that each chapter is an accessible and concise summary of the philosopher.  Warburton is a master of making complex ideas understandable to the average person, both in this book and in his interviews in the podcast.  Warburton even has a short paragraph at the end of the chapter, linking us to the next, leaving a tantalising taste of what is to come and showing that each philosopher does not exist in a vacuum, but in a line, a history.
The frustration of the book is that because each of the chapters are so short you only get a small insight into the philosophy of the person, which means that sometimes there are things that are more sophisticated than Warburton can present.  Some of the philosophers have contributed more than Warburton has space to explain.  This is not his fault, it is the fault of the project.  Some, who I am more familiar with, are presented more positively than I would have liked and some more negatively than I would have liked as much as Warbutron has worked to be neutral in his presentations.
This is one of those books that everyone should read.  It is accessible and easy to read.  More importantly it introduces us to the world of why do we think what we think.  Further this should be seen as an introduction to further investigation to areas of thinking that we need to find out more about.
As Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living”.