Life(style) Reviewer

Whole Life: Whole Bible @Ant_Billington @LICCLtd [Review]

Survey after survey in recent years – carried out with people in churches, leaders and non-leaders, as well as non-church people – has confirmed that there is an increasing lack of biblical literacy in the church, not only in society more generally. The surveys reveal that the vast majority of people in churches feel positive about the Bible and consider it to be a revelation from God, but fewer and fewer, it seems (even church leaders), are reading it for themselves. And when we do manage to read it, the surveys suggest, we’re not always sure what to do with it. (pp25-26)

whole-life-whole-bibleThe London Institute of Christianity (LICC), set up by John Stott, seeks to encourage all Christians to be whole-life, whole-Bible disciples, breaking down the sacred-secular divide. This book, emerging from LICC’s weekly ‘Word for the Week’ emails, which have reached up to 10,000 people a week since 2001, encourages us to look at the whole Bible to get the bigger picture, the overarching narrative, rather than cherrypicking. We need the Bible to touch and transform our whole lives, affecting the world in which we live. Many seek quick answers to difficult issues, such as suffering, gender, etc. But those questions are better addressed, and more securely answered, when we have a larger framework in place

Having attended the transformative LICC Toolbox course, and having taken three years to read the Bible cover to cover, it’s helpful to have a quicker overview. I was reading this section on a plane to Berlin as the map showed that we were flying over Bremen. Many history lessons means that bombing has shaped my thinking about that as a destination. As the plane came in to land over Berlin, I got an overview of the places that I was going to visit up close shortly, and this helped created my ‘mental map of the destination’, before I became absorbed in ‘living’ there.  This book is designed to offer a mental map to the whole story of the Bible. How do we then ensure that we are partakers, and not spectators?

This book is designed for those who are already engaged in Bible reading, rather than those who have never picked up a Bible before, and encourages readers to continue afterwards to read other texts, hold up the author’s interpretation up to challenge, and recognises that each individual will read something different into ‘the story’.  Reading alone is “vital” but as they say:

Reading with others helps to prevent privatized readings of the Bible and corrects some of the biases that we may bring to certain passages or topics. (p19)

As someone who is a bit of a butterfly brain, the book works for me, and it’s designed to be read by all personality types – whether you like to study the maps before you jump in, or like to jump in at the deep end – the book works. It’s not about a tick box exercise, but about allowing the Word of God to “reorder your existence”, so take your time reading the book.

As a Media Studies Lecturer I’m always encouraging my students to understand that newspapers, films, etc. give us a lens through which we see the world, rather than objective fact. The Bible can give us a different worldview – through which we see God, the world and ourselves more clearly.  As the Bible gets inside us, our thinking is transformed, and we begin to see things the way God sees them.  Often we are encouraged to think that we must always read huge sections (I really struggled with the pressure to read the Bible in a year), but this book offers a series or short (and some longer) readings with which we can engage at our own pace: like a toffee that can be swallowed whole, or chewed over in a leisurely fashion.

The book is written three well-respected theologians with long term engagement with the LICC: Antony Billington, Margaret Killingray and Helen Parry, with a guest post by Mark Coffey, who I knew in my Manchester days. It outlines the shape of the Bible in six words: Creation, Corruption, Covenant, Christ, Church, Consummation. They encourage us to consider where you read the Bible, that reading it in public spaces ‘normalises’ the Bible – allowing you to make connections with how it works in the everyday, not just with us, but with the people around us. They don’t specifically mention digital spaces, but I like to think that those are included!

I read the book fairly fast, but would like to go back through, as suggested, and read a piece a week. The exercises offered in the text are a mix of further Bible readings, and practical thinking/applications. As you’d expect, the thoughts and reflections engage us in the everyday (western) world in which we live.Try it – it could transform your life!

First published on The Big Bible Project

Life(style) Reviewer

Book Review: Christianity with Attitude by Giles Fraser

christianity-with-attitudeGiles Fraser, of the liberal tradition, is a passionate and outspoken figure. With arguments that are”accessible to the suspicious secularist”, he is inspired by the fiery language of the Bible in which writers believed in what they said as if their lives depended upon it. As the back cover says here

“he gets to theological grips with a wide range of subjects including the morality of war, the meaning of death, church committees, sex, atheism, giving up smoking, Bratz girls and why you can’t trust Christian cowboys.”

I first came across this book when I was a visitor at my Mum’s bible study group, and went straight out and bought it. It’s a great book for dipping in and out of, and everything in it has been published (I think) this century, so it’s very relevant. Obviously useful for bible studies, challenging your own way of thinking, or maybe offering a non-Christian friend “this article from the Guardian”.

Extract (pp32-3) Write your own obituary
Thought for the Day, 28 July 2005

NASA have calculated that the possibility of a fatal accident on the latest Discovery space mission as 1 in 100. Imagine what it’s like to live with odds like that. The news that a small piece of protective tiling fell from the shuttle at its launch can only have increased the anxiety. It’s not often explicitly mentioned, but it’s clearly there behind the chewed fingernails and ashen faces: the crew undertakes this journey in the full knowledge that they are facing the possibility of their own death. It must take extraordinary courage to agree to such a mission.

But facing the reality of one’s own death isn’t just a morbid fear – it can become something that transformed the very way we think about ourselves.

There’s a spiritual exercise I undertake every year I was taught by a Jesuit friend. I compose my own obituary. Writing up the life you hope to have really focuses the mind.

First drafts are often very stupid. Gile Fraser became the Archbishop of Canterbury, he married a Danish model and played football for Chelsea. That script quickly goes in the bin. And then you start to concentrate more. What is it I really want to be? What is important? What is it I want to do with my life? It’s an opportunity to think big and not be distracted by the petty projects that so commonly consume us.

And when you’ve written all this down, describing a life that you would be genuinely happy with, the next question is a real clincher. Are you going about your life in such a way that the story you have imagined for yourself is a real possibility? In other words, does what you want to be really connect with who you are? In other words, does what you want to be really connect with who you are? It’s a devastating question that can change everything. After all, no one’s written the obituary for you. And so, asking yourself if you’re really going to become this person is simply facing the truth about who you want to be.

Part of what makes the New Testament so focused a work of moral imagination is that it was written under the belief that the end of the world was drawing close. It was written with a huge sense of impending danger that created a form of concentration that burnt away the trivial. Facing the end puts all things into perspective.

What bombs went off in central London, my first though was for the safety and whereabouts of my family. I was instantly reminded of what I really love and care for, what’s important. It’s all too easy to trundle through life without properly taking stock, focusing instead on domestic worries about the mortgage or the next promotion at work. Real danger can come as a wake-up call for the unreflective life.

Prepared for use as as an Oak Hall leader. 

Life(style) Reviewer

Book Review: Longing for More by Ruth Haley Barton

longing-for-moreI read this book right-through on my return from my travels round the world, as I looked for a way to re-connecting with living a life more real for God for the previous 6 weeks spiritual study/sermons has pretty much gone out the window as I gorged myself on Latin American scenery – and I was feeling the worse for it. How can I possibly lead others when my own spiritual discipline is so poor BUT it’s never too later and life with Christ is a daily re-commitment – there’s no point bemoaning what I haven’t done before, just focus on what I can do now!

Barton has a particular, and active, way of reading this book in mind. Thankfully, she “gives permission” for those who need the book as one to do so to get the overview needed, but asks that you commit to “read it a second time more slowly, engaging in the spiritual practices and allowing God to speak deeply in your life.” I’ve yet to start the second stage!

Back Cover:
With compassion and insight Ruth Haley Barton identities the pressure exerted on Christian women – by church, culture and from within – and the radical call of Christ to each of us to be free. Exploring eleven freedoms available in Jesus, she shows how Christian women can respond to the genuinely liberating call of Christ on their lives.

Chapter Headings

  1. Finding our Identity in Christ
  2. Say Yes to God’s Purposes
  3. Serving God in the Way that He calls
  4. Living in Truth
  5. Escaping the Tyranny of the ‘Never-Enough’ World
  6. Cultivating a Marriage that Works
  7. Embracing our Sexuality
  8. Experiencing the Transformations of Motherhood
  9. Finding God in the midst of Difficulty
  10. Reaching Across Generations
  11. Being Christ in the World

p.43 [We should record our own discoveries as we work our way through the Scriptures, coming up with our own version of the following:]

One woman has written down brief statements that reflect what she has learned about God’s view of her, and she repeats them to herself daily:

  • I am complete in Christ
  • I am a worthwhile person just as I am
  • I stand alone before God as a whole person
  • I have talents and abilities that God gives because he expresses himself through me
  • I can love others and give good things to them because God’s love is poured out in my heart.
  • I have self-esteem and integrity on my own because I am just as God intended me to be.

Prepared for use as an Oak Hall leader.