Books I have read: Puritan Portraits

Puritan Portraits

J. I. Packer, a well known theologian, named by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals alive, and one of the leading authorities on the Puritans has written a new book Puritan Portraits.

The first part of the book discusses the historical context from which the Puritans ministered.  Much of the book was initially published as introductions to the Christian Heritage series of paperbacks published by Christian Focus, looking at John Flavel, Thomas Boston, John Bunyan, Matthew Henry, Henry Scougal, John Owen and Stephen Charnock and two closer portraits of William Perkins and Richard Baxter.

Instead of writing a detailed biography about each man, Packer instead focuses on a specific essay or book that each had written:

  • Henry Scougal: The Life of God in the Soul of Man
  • Stephen Charnock: Christ Crucified
  • John Bunyan: The Heavenly Footman
  • Matthew Henry: The Pleasantness of a Religious Life
  • John Owen: The Mortification of Sin
  • John Flavel: Keeping the Heart
  • Thomas Boston: The Art of Man Fishing
  • Thomas Boston: The crook in the Lot
  • Thomas Boston: Repentance.

At times it felt weird that the book that was so heavily written about wasn’t then included in the book, but equally I found this book great at whetting my appetite to read more of the Puritans.  The book then concludes with a chapter that looks at the ideals of the Puritan theology.

This isn’t a light read or an easy read but it certainly encourages you to dig deeper into their writings, to understand more fully what they were writing about.

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Books I have read: An Idiot Abroad

An Idiot Abroad

I always find Ricky Gervais quite funny so borrowed An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington by Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from the library.  I’ve got to be honest, as I finished the book I came away disappointed.

Karl Pilkington was sent by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to the seven wonders of the world – but instead of having a lovely stay in a 5* hotel and having a beautiful tourist experience he stays or travels with a local resident, most of whom are incredibly poor.  These relationships provide a lot of value in the book – both in terms of amusing stories, but also in terms of the way they clearly make Karl think about the world.

I think the thing that made me most disappointed was Karl’s attitude – he just didn’t seem interested in the fantastic opportunities he’d been given to visit the seven wonders as part of his work.

Books I have read: Only Half Of Me: British and Muslim: The Conflict Within

Only Half of Me - Being a Muslim in Britain

I finished reading Only Half Of Me: British and Muslim: The Conflict Within by Rageh Omaar last night.  I found it a fascinating read as he describes both the personal tensions and cultural tensions he has seen over his life and the way in which society makes big assumptions against British Muslims.

Following 9/11 and then the 7/7 London bombing society has become much more suspicious and negative towards British Muslims.  Omaar shows how this goes beyond what should be acceptable.  Having grown up originally in Somalia and then moving to Britain for a private education, he struggled to develop into an adult who straddled both his parents Islamic faith and the Western society in which he was living.

The point that I found most interesting was the sub culture of wealthy upper middle class Muslims moving to the UK to provide their children with a top quality education, sometimes staying, sometimes moving back to their country of origin.  In Omaar’s case with Somalia falling into civil war his family decided to stay in the UK and it was only as a reporter for the BBC that he went back to visit his homeland.  Alongside his own story, Omaar details the responses of a number of people who fled from oppression in their native land.

The book challenges the reader to a better understanding of Muslims coming to live in Britain.  But it does leave a number of key questions unanswered – there are positive challenges for how white British people can respond better to British Muslims, whereas there seems little in response as to how a British Muslim should engage with British society.

I feel as if Omaar has written part 1, but could write more suggestions as to how society could function better as a whole.

Books I have read: Childhood Under Siege

Childhood under siege

As a children’s and youth worker I am fascinated by how culture, media and business shapes our children, and so it was with interest that I read Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Ruthlessly Targets Children by Joel Bakan.

In many ways I felt like Bakan wrote in a similar way to Michael Moore, arguing that big business and governments that look the other way had created a society that instead of encouraging, developing and supporting children and young people actually feasts upon them.  Using Nelson Mandela’s comment that:

‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’

Bakan shows that we fail to protect our children, even though we profess to hold them close through things like in 1989, governments worldwide promising all children the same rights by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The book explores education, pharmaceutical business, ecology, child labour and more in the USA showing that across industries business is targeting children putting profit first.

The book at times can be scary and feel overly dramatic, but I think it is a helpful cynical look at how business and children work together.

Books I have read: I am a follower

I am a follower

Too often in the culture of church we focus on leadership and growth models – we have seminars, books, models, techniques, tools, study guides, celebrities and more.  I Am A Follower by Leonard Sweet challenges the church that their priority is on following Jesus.

“I Am A Follower” is a new kind of book about leadership paradigms.  Its goal is not to establish the five most prominent attributes of a leader nor is it a tutorial on how to become a great leader.  Rather, its premise is based on the idea that the best “leaders” point to the true Leader and that we need to recommit ourselves to loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength so that Jesus can live his resurrection way, truth, and life in and through us.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first section, the author states his case for rejecting leadership development and instead focusing on pursuing true discipleship.  The book invites us on a journey as author Leonard Sweet wrestles with John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  What does it mean for us that Jesus did not simply show us the way or what truth is or how to live life, but that He Himself is the very Way, the very Truth, and the very Life?  As Sweet says:

Following Jesus’ lead, this book is organized into three parts to reflect Jesus’ three-part story: the way, the truth, and the life. When we focus on the world’s view of leadership, being a Christian becomes more about blazing our own trail than tracking Another’s footsteps, more about being happy than knowing truth, more about creating a guide to living than accepting the gift of life. When we focus on followership, however, a whole new template for the life of faith pops up:

    • To follow Jesus is to be in the right mission—the way: missional living.
    • To follow Jesus is to be in the right relationships—the truth: relational living.
    • To follow Jesus is to be in the right future—the life: incarnational living.

This seems to be a natural progression that Jesus proposed: first belonging (way), then believing (truth), then behaving (life).

This book, as with all Leonard Sweet books, is deeply challenging, and while I struggled with his over use of semantics, for example, replacing the word “leader” for “first follower”, I wholeheartedly agree with Sweet’s assessment of leadership infatuation within the church and culture.

As always, Sweet has a brilliant and artistic way with his words that captivates the reader throughout the pages.  More important than his artistic style, the heart of the book is challenging to the core.  I would absolutely recommend this book to any person: “leader” and “non-leader” alike.  Our primary goal is not to accumulate more followers of our ideas and thoughts (and Sweet certainly does not intend to earn followers of his own); rather, we have been called to follow Christ.  Are you ready to leave the mindset of leadership and enter in the relationship of following?  If so, “I Am A Follower” is a must-read for you.

Books I have read: As You Do by Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond - As you do

For Christmas Hannah gave me a copy of As You Do: Adventures With Evel, Oliver, and The Vice-President Of Botswana by Richard Hammond.

The book focuses on four major stories:

  • The Top Gear North Pole challenge
  • Driving across Botswana for Top Gear
  • Running 17 miles through floods in Gloucestershire to be at his daughter’s birthday
  • Interviewing Evel Knievel

I always find Richard Hammond to be highly personable and enjoy Top Gear so was interested to read some of his reflections following “that crash”.  I hoped to gain further insight into how Top Gear works: how do they come up with the challenges, how do they really rip apart their cars and build them into some sort of new monstrosity

The book gives some good background to the North Pole challenge, and to his interviewing of Evel Knievel, but not much more.  I found the story of how he ran seventeen miles across the floods in Gloucestershire amusing but not something I’d re-read again.

It is an entertaining book, but not one I’d rush out to buy.

Books I have read: Diplomatic Incidents

Diplomatic Incidents - Memoirs of an (Un)diplomatic Wife by Cherry Denman.

Occasionally I read something trashy just for nice easy reading, my latest was Diplomatic Incidents: Memoirs of an (Un)diplomatic Wife by Cherry Denman.

Cherry is married to her husband Charlie who is diplomat who has been sent all over the world and has learnt how to ask for the toilet in eleven languages.  The book is a hilarious reminiscing of her different trips including reflections on how to move abroad without losing your passports, marbles or husband; how to get to the end of the world and back in one piece; how to swallow revolting things without losing your dignity or supper; learning to love your cleaning lady more than life itself and more.

If you have an interest in politics and/or international travel this is a good trashy book to read which will make you laugh out loud, but I’m not convinced how much is actually true.