Ed Husain The House of Islam

‘In essence, Muslims are expected to be people of shukr, or gratitude. The Quranic opposite to shukr is kufr or disbelief. As a community of gratitude, it is among the greatest acts of ingratitude to burn the bridges of pluralism and secularism that allow for Muslims to observe their faith in the West’. That bridge burning is addressed head on in this topical book by a former Muslim extremist now passionate for the recovery of Islam’s mainstream. ‘The House of Islam is on fire – and the arsonist still lives there. Neighbours can bring water to put out the fire, but Muslims must also expel the fire bombers in their midst’.

Londoner Ed Husain helped found Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, in Britain. His latest book is a highly readable history of Islam giving insight into how things have come to be as they are and inviting strategies like the founding of a Middle East Union to improve a dangerous scenario. That scenario is traced back to the attempt by Saudi Ar…

Paula Gooder Phoebe - A Story

I remember how 101 Best Bible Stories first got me reading Scripture. Where someone honours the biblical accounts by rewriting them imaginatively yet faithfully they engage a wider readership. In Phoebe Paula Gooder opens up the world of the first Christians using her New Testament scholarship to bring scripture alive through writing a life of Paul’s coworker Phoebe.
You can engage in the book in two ways. Two thirds of it is a well written 32 Chapter story centred on Phoebe. The last third reflects back on the story providing notes on the chapters. Besides explaining or justifying the plot, the notes further open up the world of the first century and the emergence of Christianity within it. Rome, Corinth and Jerusalem are principal places of interest. Gooder builds from the verses that mention Phoebe in Romans Chapter 16: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whate…

Jordan Peterson 12 Rules for Life - An Antidote to Chaos

How had thinking so simple, clear, direct, deep and traditional found a voice on BBC and gone viral on YouTube? This lay behind my ordering Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson’s new book on how to live your life that I imagined would be in a different league from other self-help books. I wasn’t disappointed so that the book set me to inner dialogue with the social activist, indulgent parent and softee churchman that’s me. This showed I was following two of the author’s twelve rules: ‘treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping… assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t’.
I struggled with the individualist focus until I grasped it would be the natural approach of a psychologist i.e. set your own house in order before you criticise the world (another of Peterson’s rules) and the book’s being marketed as self-help. As the author opened up how social activism can be fuelled by grievance more than generosity I recalled spiritual counsel on…

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…