Book Reviews

PCC Tonight - making PCCs better

A resource from CPAS

Reviewed by Rev. Jo Jones, Priest-in Charge of Highwood, Roxwell, and Writtle

I went with several members of the PCC to an evening hosted in a Stevenage church by CPAS using their material PCC Tonight - making PCCs better.

It was a lively and interactive evening which explored the purpose of a PCC, common dysfunctions and ways of improving the way meetings are run. I was a bit sceptical about the presenter's aim that a PCC meeting could be so great it becomes the highlight of a week for its members, but I did leave feeling there were things we could do (and not do!) which could make things better, more fruitful and more about the gospel, less about the gutters. So, with the treasurer present and approving the purchase, I bought the resources pack: a guide to leading the PCC, six sessions to use with the PCC, over 30 downloadable aids accessed by code (£23.75 including postage).

I used some of the sessions about the nature and purpose of the PCC and the Church at a recent team day and they worked very well and were adaptable to my context. Feedback from the PCC was very positive, and they are keen to explore the sessions on mission, worship and community. Having downloadable posters and info leaflets to access online helped save time, and the material saved me from reinventing the wheel without being restricting in terms of an individual approach or confined to one church tradition. 


Simply God: recovering the classical Trinity

Peter Sanlon: (2014:IVP)

Reviewed by REv. James Knowles, Curate at St Mary's, High Ongar

Church History shows that the earliest controversies in Christian Theology all centred around a proper understanding of the Trinity. Even though that term is never used in the Bible it is a helpful term that summarises the revealed truths of scripture. Simply God sets out to help us recapture the classical understanding of the Trinity and not be lead into error. The book makes no apology in using technical terms because it then sets out to clearly explain them. For example, words that help us think of God’s oneness such as ‘simplicity’ and ‘aseity’. The author is at pains to deepen our thinking and therefore love of the God who is 3 in 1 and 1 in 3.  Having stretched our understanding of the biblical God he then goes on to apply our learning to such areas of God’s character like his timelessness, omnipotence and impassibility.  The author sets out the biblical material and how Church Fathers such as Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas have sought to teach these unchanging truths. He then counters some errors made through church history, such as Open Theism. 

Each chapter finishes with a guided meditation on what has been learnt. This is invaluable as it helps the reader apply personally what they have learnt. The theology leads to Doxology. This helped me engage with the topics on a more practical level and increased my love of God.


Beyond Busyness: Time wisdom in an hour

Stephen Cherry (2013: Sacristy Press)

A synopsis by Rev. Gill Anderson, Priest-in-Charge of Lavers and Matching

“The Busyness syndrome - word ‘busy’ has changed in its use – used to have a ‘smile on its face’ – now more ambiguous and can be positive, even boastful self-description whilst at same time demanding sympathy. 

Worse, “busy” has become an excuse – an alibi for anything not done or intended to do.

The new “busy” does not respect the distinction between essential and desirable – see ‘To Do’ list in book - section 6.  Values have been reshaped.  We have entered the unhealthy territory of the new busy; we are in the grip of the busyness syndrome.

The "new busy" is a way of life in which people are driven by unmanageable demands – it is a chronic condition.

People caught up in the Busyness Syndrome are expert time managers and have found ways of being ever more productive and effective, encouraging others do the same.

Two types of ‘time’ – “Clock time” (Chronos) and “opportunity time” (Kairos) – see table ‘Time Management against Time Wisdom’.

Give up busyness!  Busyness is bad for you and for the people around you.  It is fuelled not by purpose but by lack of purpose, not by courage but by anxiety, not by wisdom but by folly.  A chronically busy person is deprived of self-awareness and has distorted perception.

What does it mean to be ‘not busy’? – NB people who can say “no” have the right to be taken seriously when they say “yes”.

Time is a spiritual issue – Kairos – fundamental insight of Christianity.

Some of the practical suggestions which are described fully in book:

  • Never describe yourself as busy
  • Take time out to do nothing
  • List “must do”, “may do” and “don’t do”
  • Tell someone you are giving up busyness and ask them to monitor you.

What does a non-busy life look like?  Examples given.


Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results 

Morten T Hansen (2009: Harvard Business School Press)

Reviewed by David Tomlinson, Team Rector of the Saffron Walden & Villages Team

One of the central features of the Transforming Presence agenda is the gains to be made from collaboration across current benefice boundaries. Indeed this is part of the whole rationale for Mission and Ministry units. This means that the question facing any prospective unit is “on what are we going to collaborate?” Without a strong answer, some doubts must be raised about any proposed units validity and viability. Thinking through when it makes sense to collaborate is, therefore, a crucial question.

Whilst Morten Hansen’s book relates to a business setting, the general conceptual framework is still applicable to church life, and in particular, to the issue of cross-boundary collaboration. His thesis is salutary: bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. The other instructive steer is that good collaboration must be discerned locally by the practitioners on the ground. Diktats from above are counter-productive because they are likely to skew people’s thinking, and may be lead to the local solutions being missed. Even in the face of the cautionary notes and caveats, the benefits of good collaboration are recognised and celebrated.

In short, this book serves as a plea for rigorous and contextual thinking, in order that the joys and advantages of worthwhile collaboration can be discovered.


The Jewish Annotated New Testament

Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (2011: OUP)

The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus

Amey-Jill Levine (2006, HarperCollins)

Reviewed by Patrick Morrow, Associate Priest, St Michael and All Angels with St Mary's, Little Ilford (Manor Park) and Anglican Chaplain, Highgate Mental Health Centre, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.

That Jesus was a Jew, and a religious Jew in his own historic context, that the New Testament is Jewish, in that its resonances are also principally with one or other form of Judaism – these are not new, not shocking claims. But what to do with that? How to honour this, and make sense of the Scriptures as we have them? This is no detail for those with a personal interest in 'interfaith relations'; Christian identity is at stake. But we need not be all at sea. Never before have so many Jewish scholars and dialogue-partners taken an interest in the New Testament. It can be studied as 'Second Temple Jewish literature' at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, for example. Christians can benefit from such blessings.

Those looking for a scholarly edition of the New Testament can turn to The Jewish Annotated New Testament (eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, 2011, Oxford University Press). Here you will find the full NRSV text with its own notes, and cross-references to Old and New Testament verses, maps, tables and glossary. But you will also find references to the intertestamental literature, Qumran, the Church Fathers and the Talmud. When difficult, apparently (or actually) anti-Jewish material comes up, it is discussed in footnotes and boxes. And the book closes with 30 essays which manage to be both scholarly and impressively brief. Excellent for sermon-preparation. 

To understand the energy behind this work one might turn to Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (2006, HarperCollins, New York). This is more than a reflection on the Jewish Jesus, a la Geza Vermes. Rather, Levine discusses attitudes of Christian teachers and preachers to Judaism in our contemporary setting at least as much. The book is delightfully readable; I cannot imagine a reader avoiding the need to 'LOL' at one point or another. Be warned: you may need to discard some sermons on the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, and much more. Liberation and feminist theologies are also criticised, not for their cris de coeur for the marginalised, but for their stereotyping of the Judaism of Jesus' day. For that matter, various moves intending Jewish-Christian rapprochement are no less attacked: there is here a defence of the terminology 'Old Testament', and opposition to 'Christian Passover seders'. A call for historical accuracy and sensitivity from an orthodox Jew who has taught New Testament to countless Christians.


What is the Mission of the Church? Making sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.

Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert (2011: Crossway)

Reviewed by James Knowles, curate at St Mary's, High Ongar

A recent curate’s day thinking about mission left me feeling greatly encouraged but also daunted by the task of mission. The variety of different ‘missions’ churches were undertaking left me thinking “if everything is mission, nothing is mission.”       

What is God’s mission? Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert helpfully assert that God’s mission is the church. Therefore, what is the mission of the church? What is the church supposed to be doing? There has been much ink spilled on the subject, but this clearly written book takes us back to our biblical foundations and helps us understand the mission of the church as God intends. 

In three sections the authors' approach is simple. They look at what the bible says about mission, and then looking at how the bible applies what mission looks like in everyday life.

The three sections of the book include:

  1. Understanding our mission – what does Jesus send us into the world to do?  This section rediscovers the greatness of the Great commission.
  2. Understanding our categories – carefully explains the biblical terminology of ‘Kingdom’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Peace’. Much needed help to hear and understand other perspectives are found here, while we are re-aligned to God’s word and his definitions.
  3. Understanding what we do and why we do it – both as a church and as individuals. With the underpinning of the first two sections the final chapters leave us with great gospel encouragement to be wholeheartedly engaged in the mission God has given us.

With so much to do in our mission the great encouragement from this book is “the Word of God is more than able to do the work of God”. This book helps us to make sense of our God given mission by putting God’s words into practice.


One to One Bible Reading – A Simple guide for every Christian

David Helm (2011: Matthias Media)

Reviewed by James Knowles, curate at St Mary’s, High Ongar

Do you ever seem to fall into a deep sleepy coma when you read the bible? Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Do you find it difficult to navigate through a passage of scripture? Have you ever asked – what is this all about?  How can it possibly help me today in my situation? Do you want your church family to grow numerically and in spiritual maturity?

Studies have shown that the biggest factor for Church growth is to get Christians reading their bibles and to help them help others to read their bibles. David Helm encourages us to listen and to share what God is saying through His word, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Part 1 of the book helps us to see how easy and flexible reading the Bible One to One can be. Helm doesn’t overcomplicate the process. He simply encourages people to read the bible with Christians to help them with their discipleship, or to read it with people who are not yet believes – to share the gospel with them in a way that is appropriate for them.

In Part 2 Helm has written a short, clear and practical guide to make sure you don’t fall into a bible coma when you read it. He wants you to enjoy feeding on God’s word and enjoy helping others to feed on it with you.  He explains the COMA method of reading the bible; Context, Observation, Meaning, Application.

In the final chapters Helm gives some helpful bible reading programs and expands on the COMA method for different books of the bible, e.g. Old Testament Narrative, Poetry, Gospels, New Testament letters. These tools have been a great help in my discipleship and the discipleship of our church to follow Jesus.

For more information please contact Rev Geoff Read
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