Holy Living Rowan Williams

On a visit to the local monastery for spiritual direction I was struck by the number of monks reading this book and raised humorously the question ‘how are you getting on with Holy Living’? My own reading had preceded theirs and this review provides my answer! That so many involved in religious life and spiritual direction look to Rowan Williams as an authority is a tribute to the breadth and depth of his engagement with the Christian tradition even if the density of his thought can be overpowering.

Though dense he is challenging, full of spiritual wisdom and can make one sentence summaries of immense realms. I liked these sentences on church controversy, globalisation, Sunday trading and sex: ‘We have little incentive to be open with each other if we live in an ecclesial environment where political conflict and various kinds of grievance are the dominant currency… Structures and landscapes that proclaim the powerlessness of individuals and of small-scale societies to exercise any cre…

Shandong - The Revival Province Paul Hattaway

There are indisputably 100 million Christians among China’s 1,400 million population. The growth of so many believers has come with much hardship and many miracles and most dramatically in the eastern coastal province of Shandong. This first of this series of China Chronicles covering church growth in Shandong comes from The Heavenly Man author, Paul Hattaway with a preface by Brother Yun. The series is aimed at the Church in China and overseas, evidencing the spiritual legacy of the last 160 years, building from Hattaway’s 30 year missionary service in China.

China Chronicles starts publication of God’s mighty acts there coincident with new persecution of the house church movement distances itself from state authorisation. Today such leaders are being imprisoned and their church buildings pulled down. For all of this the Evangelical movement can look back through centuries of persecution and hardship to ongoing resurrection of the body of Christ from occasions of despoliation. This p…

Marshall Hall - A Law unto Himself Sally Smith

The important role of media in advocating our judgment upon people and policies goes without question. How we work round media to form right judgment on these under God is both a personal challenge and, where necessary, in the public domain, a legal one. Advocacy - standing by people and policies - is a fascinating topic of immense relevance to the health of society yet it’s legal side is rather closed to folk unschooled in law. This very readable book handed me by a friend in the legal profession opened my eyes to the heart of court proceedings. Sally Smith QC’s biography of the legend Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC tells the graphic tale of one who ‘saved more people from the hangman’s noose than any other known barrister’.

Sally Smith deftly takes us back a century to times when our legal process was handled by an establishment lacking compassion and blatantly favouring the rich and powerful. Marshall Hall rose in that establishment but the vagaries of his life lent him empathy and a…

Reflections for the Unfolding Year Alan Wilkinson

‘I was appalled by the depth and profundity of Christian thinking, and by the cogency of the Gospel’ wrote a Christian convert going on to say what swayed him: ‘it was something about [a Christian community’s] quality of being which left me feeling like a thirsty man in the desert… a lovingness and peacefulness, a sense of shared and accepted purpose, a humbleness before facts which made me feel singularly small and lost’. This is one of several illustrations in Alan Wilkinson’s sermon collection that heartened me as a word picture of the power of lived out Christianity to draw folk in.

Reflections for the Unfolding Year spans Advent to Christ the King Sundays with additional topics and distils spiritual wisdom over 50 years from a priest mainly based at Portsmouth Cathedral who served in my own Chichester Diocese as Principal of the Theological College. I say ‘distils’. The relentless liturgical cycle challenges priests to address Advent, Easter etc again and again.  Sometimes you fee…

Rob Iliffe Priest of Nature - The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton

‘He vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race!’ So translates the choir screen monument epitaph adjacent to its graphic globe honouring gravity theorist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) in Westminster Abbey.

Rob Iliffe’s Priest of Nature is a study of ‘the religious worlds of Isaac Newton’ based on documents recently made accessible that reveal the ‘utterly original but obsessively private religion’ of this dominant intellectual figure of his age. Newton was born in 1642, strikingly as the English Civil War started, with an ‘uncommon spirit of liberty’ which eventually came to possess him as a thinker and a Christian pushing at age old authority. His amazing capacity of thought bore fruit in his Principia securing him high postings at Cambridge, the Royal Mint and the Royal Society but his thinking also extended to Christian o…

WTF? Robert Peston

WTF? Robert Peston  What have we done? Why did it happen? How do we take back control? Hodder & Stoughton 2017 £9.99 (Kindle) ISBN 978 1 473 66132 5 288pp

I got this book because I’m dazed by the last two years. I want to understand Brexit, Trump, the 2017 election, Grenfell and ITV’s Robert Peston seemed to have the verve and colour to be my mentor. He turned out to be literally colourful in his language. Naively I hadn’t realised the title includes a hidden expletive ‘what the f…?’. Swallowing that discomfort I followed through the analysis by this leading economist and found it a passionate, highly readable document. The book begins and ends with a letter to Peston’s late father, a powerful literary device.

Peston admits his surprise and discomfort at Brexit and Trump’s election going on to analyse forces at work many of us were blind to which triggered especially the former. The perception of a privileged ‘liberal elite’, the decline of social mobility, lack of investment away …
Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. An English Spring
Memoirs  Bloomsbury 2015 £20 ISBN 978-1-4729-1314-2 232pp

'Have we any right to take it strange, if, in this English land, the spring-time of the Church should turn out to be an English spring, an uncertain, anxious time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering - of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal, of keen blasts, and cold showers, and sudden storms?' With these words new convert John Henry Newman in 1852 addressed the first gathering of Roman Catholic bishops since the Reformation. This image of restoration is borrowed as heading for his autobiography by Cardinal Cormac whose days like us all have contained sunshine and storms.

It is an easy read made so by his natural style which helps the reader feel at home with him be it at a parish dance, breakfast with Prince Philip, with abandoned children in an orphanage or voting for a new Pope in the Sistine Chapel. He charts the sunshine of a catholic family upbringing, the …