Book of the Month: April 2017

The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and Her Lover by Simon Parke

Simon Parke’s latest novel is as enjoyably readable as his Abbot Peter series, but very different. The King is the prisoner of Parliament. But the king is God’s anointed, he has the divine right to rule – how can he be subject to his subjects? Parliament, led by Cromwell, is, in its own eyes, the King’s friend. It wants him back on his throne – only without the bishops. The army meanwhile, composed largely of Levellers, despises Parliament (and bishops) and loathes the King.

So the stage is set at the opening of Simon Parke’s latest book The Soldier the Gaoler the Spy and her Lover, published by Marylebone House. Charles, imperious as he will continue to be to the last, lodges where he will (within fairly loose boundaries). He eats what he will –  at the considerable expense of his hosts – and surrounds himself with his preference among those allowed to attend him. Including the woman who wholly agrees with his self-image, and appears to be alone with him in that. All others, even those who had previously been wholly for him, gradually perceive the lazy, selfish, self-righteous character behind the charm and affected friendship.

Jane, in addition to physically alleviating the pain of the separation from Henrietta, is the hard-working go-between in the constant attempts at escape (which he allows others to arrange on his behalf) and her network extends to Scotland and France – both viewed with merited suspicion by Charles’ enemies. As the attempts are discovered and prevented, and friends are lost, the conditions of imprisonment tighten and the year in Carisbrooke (which occupies most of the book) ends with removal to Hurst, Westminster and finally the scaffold.

The author’s research has provided the reader with a tremendous fund of detail. Most characters, actions, events and some of the dialogue are historical fact. More than that, he shows his readers the essence of his characters: their thoughts, beliefs, behaviour. They walk out of the page – all the way to the executioner’s block.

Reviewed by Julia Taylor

Published by Marylebone House, The Soldier, The Gaoler, The Spy and His Lover can be ordered for £7.99 until 31 April 2017 and POST FREE by emailing or phoning the shop, or for £5.49+ £2.50 postage from our online shop.

Book of the Month: March 2017

Hanging by a Thread by Samuel Wells

The arresting and compelling organising theme of this book is this ‘there was a time when the cross was an answer – today the cross is a question’. This short, tightly argued but fluent book considers the risk, cost and suffering of the cross in the light of six key contemporary concerns. They are the reliability of history; the fragility of trust; mortality; meaning; the nature of power; and, the character of love. Rich, engaged and stimulating – this book would make a good base for a study group at any time of the year. It is easy to see why Wells is such a popular communicator in today’s church.

Reviewed by James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College.

Published by Canterbury Press, Hanging by a Thread normally retails at £8.99. Until 31 March 2017 it can be purchased for just £5.99 (+£2 postage) from our online shop or £7.99 and POST FREE by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing

Review of 2017 Lent Books

Sarum College Bookshop has a wide range of Lent books in stock. Below, Principal James Woodward reviews some of the books available this Lent.

9781472929778Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace by Justin Welby

This short book is well organised into six chapters and offers the possibility of a basis for Lent study on the challenging question of what might a Christian make of money and materialism. It is focused and grounded in Scripture and asks persistent and searching questions of the reader. How do we handle the power of money? Who will direct our actions and attitudes and how does following Jesus bring hope and freedom in a world ever obsessed with individualism, consumerism and materialism?

9781848259171Wilderness Taunts: Revealing Your Light by Ian Adams

This is an attractive collection of 20 meditations in word and image focused around the theme of being a hopeful human being. Adams asks his reader to listen to their fears, embrace and name them and in doing so work towards transformation. He is ingenious and creative in using the 40 days in the wilderness of Jesus as a springboard for exploring taunts and difficulties that face us today and so often throw us off balance.

9781472934284Glimpses of Glory: The Mowbray Lent Book 2017 by David Bryant

This is a wonderful book written after the author was diagnosed with terminal cancer and published following his death. He draws widely on poetry, literature, art and music. The text is grounded, refreshing, moving and revealing. Forty short chapters cover a very wide range of themes such as kindness, laughter, guilt, alienation, peace, voyaging and possessions. There is an intensity and focus which you will find transformative. The book will work well for a home group at any time of the year.

9781848259041Let Me Go There: The Spirit of Lent by Paula Gooder

Sarum College Bookshop supporters will be familiar with Paula’s work and approach to opening up Scripture. This completes her series of short books tackling the seasons of the church year. The question for us is this: how does God meet us in the desert? Written certainly with an eye to providing resource material for Lent groups each of the chapters offers a focus of questions for discussion and pointers for further reflection. Accessible, clear and engaging – are part of this writer’s attraction for the general reader.

9781848259072Hanging by a Thread: The Questions of the Cross by Samuel Wells

The arresting and compelling organising theme of this book is this ‘there was a time when the cross was an answer – today the cross is a question’. This short, tightly argued but fluent book considers the risk, cost and suffering of the cross in the light of six key contemporary concerns. They are the reliability of history; the fragility of trust; mortality; meaning; the nature of power; and, the character of love. Rich, engaged and stimulating – this book would make a good base for a study group at any time of the year. It is easy to see why Wells is such a popular communicator in today’s church.

9780281077038A Good Year edited by Mark Oakley

Talks do not easily translate themselves into the written word but Oakley has gathered together seven bishops who explore the simple question: what can we do to make the seasons good? Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost are all looked at from a rich diversity of perspectives. The final chapter on Pentecost is offered by our own Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherborne. Stimulating and mostly helpful this book could be profitably used for private study or as a base upon which to explore our journey through the seasons of the churches year.

9780281076239The Things He Did: The Story of Holy Week by Stephen Cottrell

Cottrell continues to engage and communicate with an energy and connectivity which are attractive and stimulating. Six chapters concentrate on the events around Holy Week from Palm Sunday through to Good Friday. The writing is focused and reflective and digs deeply into Scripture. There are helpful pointers for reflection around passages of Scripture at the end of each chapter.

1501535-coverNo Body but Yours: Lent Reflections on a Prayer by Teresa of Avila by Paul Cox

For the reader who wants to put their Christian faith into practice this may well be the book that enables and empowers such social action. Cox users the prayer of Teresa of Avila to open up the simple but profound question: how do we show Jesus? This book is written specifically for groups and includes a short act of quiet and worship. Scripture is often used to be read dramatically and for the participants to reconnect with familiar passages. At all points the reader within the study group is asked to think about action.

9780857465122The Living Cross: Exploring God’s Gift of Forgiveness and New Life by Amy Boucher Pye

This carefully organised and well written book attempts to get inside the freeing and changing nature of forgiveness. Forty Seven reflections cover the whole of Lent grounded in Scripture and tradition offering a searching and challenging engagement with the heart of our faith.






Book of the Month: January 2017

9781781400104Becoming Reverend: A Diary by Matt Woodcock

There persists a certain curiosity about clergy with some fixed stereotypes about what kind of people we are or should be. The language, structure and culture of ‘Church’ remains persistently inaccessible and sometimes just incomprehensible.  Matt Woodcock is a wise, honest, amusing and candid writer who puts all of his journalistic experience to work in this readable and grounded book. At Sarum College where we have the privilege of forming a new generation of women and men for ministry we work hard together to integrate our lives, the seriousness of the role and the challenges of ministry into a loving whole. Rigidities, false personas and unhealthy religion need to be challenged.

‘Becoming Reverend’ is a diary of a journey from discernment and selection for training for ministry, through struggling to become a Father and attempting to reconcile his party-loving football-filled lifestyle to ordination and parenthood. There is a deep sense of likeability about Matt as he races through these experiences with energy and enthusiasm. He commends and models and infectiousness about faith and a real desire to take that faith to the edges and beyond the edges of institutional Christianity. Here is a person to whom you can talk about God and be assured that you are not fobbed off with trivial, complacent or sentimental responses.

This is also, in part, a narrative about Matt his and wife Anna’s struggle to parenthood, through IVF treatment. He is honest about their pain and the frustrations and disappointments of the IVF process. Matt’s gift, in part, is it is relationality formed in the pub, amongst his fellow ordinands, in the lecture room and together in prayer in the chapel. He has a sharp eye and an open heart that sees possibilities and opportunities with oppression to inject new life and optimism into tired attitudes and entrenched theological dogma. There can be for those called to public ministry an over intense religiosity that constantly seeks to assert its self-importance. All of us, at all stages of our discipleship, need to be reminded that it isn’t just about us! We need to point to something richer, deeper and wiser in our proclamation of the Kingdom of God. This means sometimes that we should not take ourselves too seriously and follow Matt’s example of laughing at our own absurdity and self-importance. Laughter is a gift from God and it has an extraordinary ability to cut through our control, activity and lack of perspective.

You’ll enjoy this book so do look out for it in our bookshop and those of us who read it will be wondering what next from the curate in Hull!

Reviewed by James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College

Buy Becoming Reverend: A Diary at the special price of £8.99 in the shop or buy online for £6.99 + postage until 31st January 2017. RRP £9.99.

Book of the Month: December 2016

Enriching Our Vision of Reality by Alister McGrath

Post-truth was the Oxford English Dictionaries’ 2016 Word of the Year. Given the level of debate around the UK’s EU referendum and the US presidential election, you can see their point. Against this background, an author who thoughtfully engages in conversation between two disciplines is surely to be welcomed.

The author is Alister McGrath, and the disciplines are Christian theology and natural sciences. McGrath holds Oxford doctorates in biology and theology: he is a respected author and debater, and acknowledges the ‘collegiality’ of the latter-day trinity of Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. Enriching Our Vison of Reality is written for scientists interested in theology, and theologians interested in science. McGrath uses Ben Nevis to illustrate how two perspectives can illuminate the same phenomenon: a ‘huge grassy slope’ from the south and ‘rugged rock buttresses’ from the north.

The Ben Nevis illustration comes from Charles Coulson, theoretical chemist and Methodist lay preacher. He is one of three figures, whom McGrath uses to approach his subject. The others are the Scottish theologian Thomas Torrance and John Polkinghorne, theoretical physicist and Anglican priest. The biographical exploration of the developing views of these figures is one of the book’s great attractions.

McGrath then explores six topics through his two disciplines. The first chapter explores the interplay between theories and reality. Subsequent chapters look at questions of faith and proof, and of models and reality. The biographical approach reappears with Charles Darwin. A chapter on human identity touches on neuroscience, before a final chapter returns to more traditional ground with natural theology.

The book is rounded off by thirty pages of notes and suggestions for further reading, which makes the absence of an index all the more surprising.

Throughout, McGrath is scrupulously polite. One of the few occasions when his guard slips is when he criticises Ian G Barbour. The source of this irritation is Barbour’s search for an integrative approach between science and theology, rather than the enriching interplay favoured by McGrath.

Having started with the contemporary ring of post-truth, McGrath’s book is a throwback to an earlier era. For those inhabiting a rational Cartesian world, whether in Faculties of Science or Theology, there is plenty to stimulate their thinking. For those looking for something more exploratory, Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming is a good departure point.

Reviewed by Tim Harle, Programme Leader for Sarum’s MA in Christian Approaches to Leadership.

Buy Enriching Our Vision of Reality at the special price of £9.50 in the shop or buy online for £7.50 + postage until 31 December 2016. Please note if ordered after 22 December 2016 it will not be posted until January 3rd 2017. RRP £10.99.

Book of the Month: November 2016

9780857464323Lighted Windows: An Advent Calendar for a World in Waiting by Margaret Silf

Perhaps I’m just nosy, but there is something fascinating about lighted windows. Whether you speed past them on your way elsewhere, or have time to stroll past and take a slightly longer look, even the briefest glimpse can offer an insight into other worlds or other ways of being. What you see can trigger memories or awaken possibilities; can comfort or disturb. Especially if all you can see is your own self reflected in the glass.

Day by day from the start of Advent to Epiphany, Silf’s lovely book switches on the light behind all sorts of windows, offering us the freedom to do what we so often long to do but are too scared or too polite: press our noses up against the glass and look at what’s inside. More than an Advent calendar, through readings, reflections, questions and prayer, Silf’s insights help us understand what we are really seeing.

And she’s not afraid to challenge. The very first prayer turns the traditional cosy image of lighting a candle upside down and invites God to blow out “the little candle of my own making” where it prevents us seeing “the bright sunlight of God’s leading.” Later we are asked to reflect on our experiences of the use or abuse of power and whether it has been used to transform or control; and to consider whether the experience of suffering just might be “a gateway of possibility” through which we may find God’s healing love.

The idea of looking through windows rather than at paintings is powerful: it reminds us that we are seeing is not static or flat but something living and three dimensional (at least!) which can draw us in or point us forward. It will not be the same for everyone, but then we know that “in my Father’s house are many dwelling places” all them with lighted windows, through which we will see the things we need or are meant to see. And the great mystery of God’s grace is how often windows become doors for us to walk through.

More than 25 years ago, I stood with my face pressed hard against a church window, watching a healing service, wanting to be a part of it but afraid to step inside, knowing that somehow to do so would change my life. I didn’t then understand the difference between fear and awe: how one holds you back, while the other invites you forward.

Just as the glimpses of light we encounter on our travels can stay with us long after the journey’s end, I believe this is a book to turn and return to, because it will continue to comfort and inspire long after you close it on the final page.

Reviewed by The Revd Norma Fergusson, Associate Vicar The Shrivenham & Ashbury Benefice.

Buy Lighted Windows at the special price of £7.49 in the shop or buy online for £7.49 + postage until 30 November 2016. RRP £7.99.

Book of the Month: October 2016

9780281076215Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew by Tom Wright The Archbishop of York’s Advent Book 2016)

Tom Wright is a writer who needs no introduction, and this book is a brilliant addition to his long list of publications. For anyone who hasn’t picked up a book by this very popular author previously, now is the time to start.

The focus of this book is preparation, but not the preparations for Christmas that we are most familiar with: reading the Nativity story and the idea of giving (including shopping for presents.) For an advent book there is surprisingly little about the nativity story. The main focus of this book is preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ; making us into better Christians and creating a small glimpse of the Kingdom on Earth. ‘Time’ and ‘patience’ are other key themes in this book of preparation, but it is the concept of becoming a better follower of Christ that really concerns Tom Wright. ‘A journey though Matthew’ is the subtitle of this book, and it really is a journey through the key themes found throughout Matthew’s gospel; watching, repenting, healing and loving.

The book covers the four weeks of Advent starting each Sunday. Each day there is a bible passage, printed in full for convenience, a modern illustration of the main theme in the passage (usually an episode from Tom Wright’s life) and a more detailed explanation of the passage. In each section Wright discusses what the first readers of Matthew’s Gospel would have understood and what we can take away from it today. As ever Tom Wright’s depth and range of knowledge is clear in this book, but presented in an easily accessible way, making it an ideal read for both fans and newcomers alike.

This book is a pleasure to read and an ideal guide through the Advent season.

Reviewed by Lynette White, Sarum College

Buy Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew at the special price of £7.99 in the shop (posted out for free) or buy online for £5.99 + postage until 31 October 2016. RRP £8.99.

“If you do nothing else in your preparation for Christmas, read this book!…This is a highly accessible and imaginative Advent book that will be a great resource to individuals and parish groups…I am delighted to commend it to you as my Advent Book for 2016” – John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Book of the Month: September 2016

9780745970455webChrist: The First 2000 Years by Martyn and Esther Whittock

This book is the subject of a life’s work which one would expect to result in a very large tome or even a series of books. Martyn and Esther have achieved an enthralling jog through 2000 years of history and theology using their skills as educators in history and theology. They ‘present a fascinating account that will enlighten even the most well-informed reader.’ Dr John Drane

They blow away any misconceptions that ancient history is dull or that theology is too difficult.. Martyn’s experience in writing textbooks for schools is evident in the clarity of chronology and signposting and Esther’s theological study results in ensuring that theological words and ideas are fully explained. However, there is plenty of challenge for the theologically literate and historically aware.

The introduction to the book is an indicator that the approach to the subject is a creative and original one, referring to five particular approaches to looking at Christ which made a particular impression on the authors. The focus is on ‘Christ’ the title associated with Jesus [earthly name] which is the Greek word used in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible for the Jewish word ‘Messiah’ and the idea of ‘the anointed one’. An idea that was in evidence long before it was attached to Jesus. The chapters lead the reader from the earliest evidence of Christology in Acts and Paul’s Letters; the Gospels; the Creeds and then down through the centuries and the significant events such as the Reformation and the Enlightenment leading to reflection on Christ in other world religions and in modern times across cultures. The clarity of explanation is very helpful and enables the reader to keep up with the fast pace of the writing. Each section is full of hints of what is to come and invitations to the reader to go deeper and investigate further, with scholars well referenced. Each chapter deserves to be read and then reflected on rather than rushing on to the next.

The structure of the book is original in that having explained what and who Christ is in the early centuries, the reader is led to think not only in words but also through visual images of the portrayal of Christ. The artworks are well referenced to enable the reader to look up the pictures. It is ‘packed with examples drawn from the history of art, popular culture, theology and politics’.

Who is this book for? ‘An essential book for the thinking believer’ Derek Wilson and it is also a book that ‘both Christians and non-Christians can read and gain much from’ Dr Andrew Chester.

The book reflects the passions of the writers, Martyn and Esther for their subjects of history and theology and their desire to apply this to help people to understand more about the relevance of faith in Jesus Christ throughout the centuries including our own.

The most fascinating and accessible, yet challenging theological book I have read for a long time. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Revd Heather Waldsax

Buy Christ: The First 2000 Years at a special price of £8.50 in the shop (posted out for free) or buy online for £6.50 + postage until 30 September 2016. RRP £9.99.

Book of the Month: August 2016

9780061561030‘Short stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi’ by Amy-Jill Levine

I was lucky enough to hear Amy -Jill Levine speak recently and found her funny and engaging.  In fact she was able to keep her audience spell-bound over several 90 minutes sessions, without referring to notes. Given that the audience were Anglican priests and her subject was a familiar one, the parables, that’s no mean feat.

One could think that if would be difficult to find much that’s new to say about the parables.  That’s where Amy-Jill’s book is so important.  It is not only full of new insights, but challenges some accepted assumptions which are often quoted in different sources (for instance that shepherds were despised) and asks where the evidence is for these assertions.

The author is Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville.  Her book is thoroughly researched and evidenced, and asks two main questions:

“How do we hear the parables through an imagined set of first century Jewish ears, and then how do we translate them so that they can be heard still speaking?”

Amy-Jill acknowledges that “The texts must speak to each generation and each individual anew, or they cease to be either scripture or literature and become only markings on a page” but equally that our understanding can be greatly enhanced by having an understanding of how the parables would have been heard by a first century Jewish audience – one with a thorough grounding in what we call (and she as a Jew is happy for us to call) the Old Testament.

Later commentators often see Christ himself in some parables – but Amy-Jill reminds us that the first hearers had no idea that Jesus would be worshipped by future generations as the Son of God – or even that he would be crucified.  Moreover, parables are not allegories.  We do not need to try and find a meaning for every element.  Sometimes a shepherd is just a shepherd and a coin is just a coin.

What we should find in the parables, she suggests, is something surprising, perhaps shocking, perhaps amusing.  Nice little stories they are not – if we think they are, we have missed the point.

Her book is surprising, shocking and amusing.  It can enable us to add a layer of meaning to the familiar stories- and also to open our eyes to anti -Semitic interpretations, however unwitting.

It is an enjoyable and important book, for lay people as well as the clergy.

Reviewed by Jenny Monds

Special price of £12.50 in the shop (posted out for free) or buy online for £10.50 + postage until 31st August 2016. RRP £14.50.