Preparing The Way

Christmas can be a very busy time of the year as we prepare for the big day. There is the card writing, present buying, food purchasing and so much more that we can easily forget what we are actually celebrating! To that end I would like to recommend a book by Derek Tidball called “Preparing The Way” which is part of the Cover to Cover bible study books published by CWR.

The book covers the 31 days of Advent and is suitable for both group or personal use. It is split into five sections:

• Week One: The Saviour Promised Long (1 December to 7 December)
• Week Two: Hope of the World (8 December to 14 December)
• Week Three: Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord! (15 December to 21 December)
• Week Four: Christians Awake! Salute the Happy Morn (22 December to 28 December)
• Week Five: O Come, O Come, Immanuel (29 December to 31 December).

Each day has a bible reading which is followed by some thoughts from the author on that particular passage. It then closes with a section entitled “To consider or discuss” which encourages and challenges us to respond to what we have just read.

At the end of each weekly section there are four further questions for the reader to reflect upon as they review the past week’s readings. There are also some ideas for prayer.

If you find that the Christmas preparation is taking your eyes off the real reason for the season then this book would serve as a very helpful reminder of what we are really celebrating.


Leviticus-Deuteronomy (Bible Study Commentary)

There are some books of the Bible that most Christians would agree are not easy to read and understand. One of the most obvious ones that springs to mind is the book of Leviticus. However, although Leviticus might appear a difficult read, it’s included in our Bible. Therefore we should not ignore it but instead seek to read it and hear what God is saying to us through this part of scripture.

To that end I would like to recommend a book called Leviticus-Deuteronomy (Bible Study Commentary) by Martin Goldsmith. Unlike many Bible commentaries this one does not look at the text verse by verse, but looks at larger portions (normally a chapter at a time). There then follows some thoughts on the passage which are no more than one page of A5 long. Some of these also contain a closing thought, question, challenge or meditation for the reader to ponder. The section on Leviticus contains an interesting table on the various feasts featured in the book.

Although I am mainly focusing on the benefits of this book for studying the book of Leviticus, the sections on Numbers and Deuteronomy are equally good. This part also contains some maps which will help the reader to place the various towns, cities and regions mentioned in these books.

Throughout the book there are also questions for further study and discussion based on chapters already read. This enables the reader to study these three books in greater depth. Additionally this section could also be used by a house group to form the basis of a weekly study.

I have used this book to study Leviticus and found it really useful, helpful and insightful. If you have attempted to read Leviticus before and really struggled or just given up, then why not purchase a copy of this book and give it another go. You will not be disappointed!


So a Comedian Walks Into a Church

If you were to hear the words: “So a Comedian Walks Into a Church” it’s likely you would think that this is the first line of a joke. However, on this occasion that is not the case. Instead, it’s a title of a book written by Paul Kerensa, who is a stand-up comedian and also a Christian. The book is the story of his travels around the country in his job as a comedian and the churches he visits each Sunday whilst away from home.

In his writings the author shows us the reality of the comedy circuit. This regularly involves long trips to venues to perform in front of audiences which can be very small in number. Indeed there are times when the comedy event is cancelled and no-one remembers to tell the performer that! We see the frustration of these wasted journeys and how it creates the worry of whether he will be paid for the wasted trip. This is not the stardom of selling out the O2 for a week or appearing on Live at the Apollo. However, it is the reality of life for many comedians.

After performing on a Saturday night Paul Kerensa endeavours to find a local church to attend the next day. He describes his experiences of attending many different denominations with varying styles of worship including: Church of Scotland, United Reform Church, a Church in Wales (where the service was conducted in Welsh), Salvation Army, Baptist, Charismatic, Cafe Church, Pentecostal, Methodist and Quakers. That’s quite a variety!

The book concludes with a chapter examining the wondrous cross selection of UK Christianity that the author has encountered on his travels. Although the book was written in 2013 it’s probably fair to say that most of his findings are still reasonable valid today.

This is an enjoyable book which is quite funny in places. It helps us to see the reality of life for a comedian and the fact that it is not an easy life. I also suspect that there are few Christians who have attended such varying styles of worship as the author and therefore it’s interesting to read his observations of them.

C.H. Spurgeon The People’s Preacher

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was one of the most famous preachers in history and there are plenty of books and websites devoted to him. Therefore, it’s quite a challenge to write a biography that offers a fresh perspective on him. Peter Morden though in his biography entitled “C.H. Spurgeon: The People’s Preacher” manages to do just that.

It’s very easy when reading a biography to just read about the facts of an individual and learn information about him or her. However, the author wants the reader to think about Spurgeon with a view to learning more about him and ultimately to grow more like Christ. To this end each chapter concludes with two sections: “Digging Deeper” and “Engage”. The aim of these two sections is to review the chapter just read and prayerfully apply it to our own life. He also encourages the reader to make notes of what God is saying to them through the life and ministries of Spurgeon whist reading this book.

Although there is much information available on the public life of Spurgeon, as with all good biographies, the reader really wants to know what he was like in private not just in public. The author looks at Spurgeon’s attitude to prayer, the bible, sin and holiness in two chapters called “The Inner Man” and “A Passion for Holiness.”

I believe when writing a biography it’s important not to only include the successful times but also the difficult ones too. Peter Morden tells his readers about the struggles Spurgeon had with depression and his on-going health issues, along with how he dealt with disaster too.

Whilst many associate Spurgeon with his preaching the author also looks at the pastors’ college and Stockwell Orphanage that he established. Both of these works were close to his heart.

This biography is not a long book, it contains 173 pages, but there is a lot packed into it which makes it an edifying read. I would recommend it as a very good book.

J C Ryle by Eric Russell

If you have ever read any book or article written by J.C. Ryle then I expect you were challenged by his writing. Eric Russell in his biography of John Charles Ryle introduces the reader to the man described as “that man of granite with the heart of a child”.

Interestingly, Ryle did not originally plan to go into the ministry but ended up following that path due to financial problems that his father encountered. An unusual start for the man who would make a huge impact on our nation through his ministry.

John Charles Ryle was the first Bishop of Liverpool after having served as a church leader for several years before that mainly in the North of England. He held the position of Bishop for twenty years.

Ryle was very committed to holiness and Christians living out their faith. He wrote a very well known and challenging book called “Holiness” which is still in print today.

Throughout his ministry Ryle was a strong man of the scriptures and was not prepared to compromise his views on the bible being God’s Word, despite the rising popularity of more liberal views of the interpretation of the scriptures.

He married three times and experienced personal tragedy with all of his wives dying whilst married to him. We sometimes may think that our church leaders do not experience the same challenges that we do but Ryle certainly did. Leaders are certainly not exempt from suffering.

One of the most surprising aspects of the book is the effect that Ryle went to understand those who came from a different background to him. Whilst a staunch evangelical, he sought to build bridges with those other Anglicans who were not evangelical. He determined as a bishop to work with all those who were faithful members of the church and not just evangelicals. This is an example that we could all learn from and seek to live out

The book has 16 chapters and is very readable. I’ve read this book a number of times and would certainly recommend it as both an encouraging and challenging read.

Tom Wright for Everyone by Stephen Kuhrt

The full title of this book is actually “Tom Wright for Everyone: Putting the theology of N.T. Wright into practice in the local church”.

The first part of the book looks at Tom Wright and summaries his theology whilst the remainder, as you may guess from the long title, looks at the outworking of his theology in the church of which Stephen Kuhrt is the vicar: Christ Church in New Malden, Surrey.

It’s very easy for theologians to discuss theology but one of the potential dangers is that it can turn into academic theory which confuses the average Christian. The author though is very keen to illustrate how Tom Wright’s theology has been lived out in the church he leads. Stephen Kuhrt addresses Tom Wright’s theology in a pastoral context, a mission context and in church life. I think this is a good practical way of looking at the theological ideas in this book as we need to see that theology works in everyday life.

The author of the book believes that many people have failed to engage properly with some of the issues that Tom Wright raises such as the nature of Christian hope and the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. His hope is that this book will help us to engage with Tom Wright’s teaching and theology rather than just ignore it.

Although the book is only approximately 140 pages long I would recommend reading each chapter separately and not rushing through it. In fact it’s the sort of book that should probably be read a second time to allow the reader to think through the ideas raised here.

A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation

Just over 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed his ninety five theses to a church door in Wittenberg and so began the reformation. However, according to Nick Page in his book “A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation” it may not have been quite as simple as that. He therefore sets out to explore what actually happened, looking at this important period of history and the events and people that feature in it.

It’s fair to say that sometimes history books can be a tad dry or boring. We can find ourselves reading accounts of dates and events that do not engage our attention and two minutes later have forgotten what we have read. Therefore we avoid reading historical books. Thankfully this book is not like that! In fact on the front cover under the title it says “Commemorating 500 years of Popes’, Protestants, Reformers, Radicals and Other Assorted Irritants.” This gives us an idea of how the book is written.

Nick Page is a very engaging writer. In addition to thoroughly researching the subject he likes to introduce his own unique sense of humour into his writings. The book is very humorous in places and this is the first time I have ever laughed out loud whilst reading a historical book! In some ways it reminds me of reading an Adrian Plass book, So if you are worried that you might find reading about the history of the reformation boring don’t worry. You will not!

The book is divided into eleven parts and contains thirty six chapters. There is also a comprehensive index and a chronological listing of the events of the reformation at the back of the book. In total it consists of just under 450 pages.

The reformation was obviously an important event and I would recommend this book if you want to understand what actually happened during these momentous and turbulent times. However, one word of warning. Be careful if you read this book in a public place, You may receive strange looks from others as you laugh out loud at the humour within it!