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!

Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas

With echoes of the Last Supper this book is based around John 21 with the risen Jesus eating with his disciples. The book examines the reality of faith and what it means to truly believe and trust in that which we cannot see, even when the going gets tough. Be encouraged as Jeff talks honestly about his struggles with doubt and depression.

We are invited to share in the author’s anguish as he admits how he sometimes struggles with the day to day walk of faith and wrestles with doubts about prayers which appear not only to be unanswered but at times even unheard. Jeff also talks about the guilt and shame that so often seem to afflict Christians who find themselves unable to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm that they experienced when first coming to faith.

Whilst this book won’t make you feel instantly better, it will likely make you feel less alone and more able to cope with the feelings of doubt and despair that we often find so hard to admit to, and which can in turn make us feel guilty and rob us of the joy of our salvation.

Jeff Lucas is a writer who is always very honest and real about life and this book is definitely worth reading.

That Incredible Christian

That Incredible Christian is a book compiled by Anita M. Bailey based on editorials written by A.W. Tozer from his time as editor of The Alliance Witness during the years 1960-1963.

The book contains 41 chapters, the vast majority of which are less than 4 pages. Chapter titles include: What it Means to Accept Christ, The Inadequacy of “Instant Christianity”, The Freedom of the Will, Why the Holy Spirit is Given, God Walking Among Men, We are Saved To as well as From, The Christian Life is Not Easy, The Giver and the Taker, The Increasing Knowledge of God, Spiritual Things Must be Spiritually Discerned, The Futility of Regret, The Importance of Self-Judgement, How to Keep from Going Stale, Marks of the Spiritual Man, The Act of True Worship, Meditating on God.

Whilst it is possible to read each chapter separate from the others, Anita M. Bailey believes that the reader will profit most by reading consecutive chapters.

Although as mentioned above the chapters are short, the book is deeply enriching and well worth reading repeatedly. If you are familiar with the writings of Tozer then you will certainly enjoy this book. For those who have not read any of Tozer’s material previously then I would highly recommend that you check this book out.

Old but not out!

There can be a tendency for us to write people off when they get past a certain age. This habit can on occasions even surface in churches too. In his book “Old, but not out!” James Taylor looks at what we can discover from the bible about serving God in older age.

The book looks at some inspiration men and women who continued to serve God faithfully and be used by Him in old age. We see the example of Abraham and Sarah, Caleb, Naomi, Simeon and Anna and also the apostle Paul at the end of his life. The author shows us important and valuable lessons that can be learnt from each of these bible characters. This is both an encouragement and inspiration to us that God can still use people whatever their age. Interestingly, the author also includes a chapter on Eli in which we are challenged not to allow our standards to drop in our old age.

I particularly like the way that James Taylor encourages the reader that they can still serve God in their old age. We may have retired but that does not mean the end of any ministry for God. He gives some interesting modern examples of how Christians are doing this. It’s inspiring to read about people in their nineties starting bible study groups!

Sometimes older people can feel that aspects of church services are very different to when they were younger. However, the author reminds us that our security is found in God.

Anyone who reads this book will certainly discover that older people are not “the church of yesterday.” Although this book is only 107 pages long there is a very good depth to it. I would highly recommend this book for readers of all ages!


Darwin and God by Nick Spencer

Many books have been written looking at Charles Darwin’s theories and the legacy he left behind. This book though, written by Nick Spencer, is not just another one looking at the debate in Christian circles between evolution and creation, but in it he has set out to actually examine Darwin’s own religious beliefs.

The author traces Darwin’s religious thoughts from various writings he wrote throughout his life including letters, notebooks, manuscripts and also his autobiography. Some of this material expressed views that Darwin carefully kept out of public sight during his life. However thanks to the wonders of modern technology these writings can now be accessed on line.

The book looks at the way in which his religious beliefs changed over the years and examines the sort of Christian faith that he grew up with, one which seemed to often epitomise the era in which Darwin lived. We see how he struggled to reconcile his religious beliefs with the scientific discoveries he made.

Nick Spencer also looks at how the death of Darwin’s favourite daughter Annie had a profound effect on his beliefs too. Darwin like many before him and since struggled to understand the hows and whys of suffering, and the author believes it was this that finally brought about the end of his Christian faith. We then see how in later years he moved to an agnostic position.

One of the characteristics of Darwin which impressed the author was the courteous way in which he dealt with those who disagreed with his views. And the book concludes with him reflecting that this courtesy is often missing from those who engage in fierce debate about evolution and religious beliefs.

For anyone who wishes to look closely at what Darwin did actually believe as opposed to what they think he did or did not believe then this book is a good read and may offer you some surprises.