Daniel Williams

OR Books

Jihadists committing genocide in Syria and Iraq feast on ideas expounded during the darkest days of Islam and ignore Koranic texts that embrace tolerance and say religion cannot be coerced. That is the view of Daniel Williams, an American journalist who has specialised in Middle Eastern affairs. In this book, he sketches a history of Islamic treatment of Christians that has not always been one of violent persecution. Even today, mainstream scholars and a majority of Muslims do not subscribe to the ultra-conservative teachings of the Salafis and Wahhabis, who see Western life as degenerate and a threat to the purity of Islam; justifying violent jihad.  One result was the purging of Christians from Iraq. Those who did not flee were slaughtered, leading one Christian to conclude that “Iraq is not for Christians any more”. Mosul was particularly hard hit, and for the first time in 800 years Christian worship fell silent. Only the most resilient reader will plod through the grisly accounts of Christian persecution that are contained within this book. The situation in Syria is more complex. Bashar al-Assad’s government is made up of Alawite Muslims, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the Sunni majority is in revolt against them. There is also a Kurdish community that wants independence, so the 1.4 million Christians are not the only victims of the fighting. Millions have been displaced or have fled abroad as Islamic State seeks to eliminate all infidels. Williams believes that Christian life and worship are no longer possible in the lands that were the birthplace of Christianity. This conclusion is hard to deny in the light of the detailed stories he recounts, but it should motivate us all to pray for fellow Christians who are suffering so much. ME



Andrew Parker, Nick J Watson and John B White


The increasing support supplied to pressured sportsmen and women through Christian chaplains over the past few decades has been profoundly encouraging. A chaplain has gone from being an optional accessory to an essential item for many teams. Yet, as their popularity has grown, sports chaplains seem to face increasing issues of defining their purpose and practice. Is their task pastoral or evangelistic? How should they serve a team that might be drawn from half a dozen faiths? Does prayer improve performance, or should we not even ask? The questions accumulate. This book is a compilation of 15 articles, some of them quite scholarly. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds and a common but varied Christian background. It’s not exactly a light read. It is a thoughtful book that demands a thoughtful reader, but anyone engaged in sports chaplaincy will find much here to stimulate and challenge. The book is stronger on questions than answers. Someday – perhaps when England’s national football team ceases to have us sighing in despair – there will be a great book defining who a sports chaplain is and what exactly the role is. In the meantime, this book helpfully nudges that discussion forward. JJ



Watkins Publishing

Rather than helping you pause and think, this book is more likely to make you cross and confused. With so many contradictory thoughts and voices from so many different religions, the book is a dizzying kaleidoscope of spirituality. It is a compilation of contributions that were given on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, which is broadcast within Chris Evans' and Vanessa Feltz's shows. The contributors come from a wide spectrum of religious belief and writing ability. This means the thoughts can be very personal or abstract, taken from various religious material or none. Some thoughts are just not very well written. The positive benefit of the book is that the reader may get a glimpse of how the Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish or Christian mind might work and what influences there may be to form beliefs, rituals and habits. But when it comes to an overview of the five major religions of the world, this is a tepid, watery soup. “Rap music and Sikhism essentially have the same goal,” we are told by one contributor. There are enough heart-warming stories and touching real-life testimonies to keep the pages turning, such as the dying boy telling the hospital-visiting vicar, “Look after my mum, Vic.” The contribution from Pam Rhodes is also poignant. The book is well-designed, colourful and imaginatively laid out. It is very easy to read with short chapters and great graphics. It is also lightweight, pithy and sentimental, with the occasional brilliant thought. It’s a bit like reading a Where’s Wally? book and trying to find Jesus. MLS



Miranda Threlfall-Holmes


This encouraging and practical book hasn’t been written to teach you about prayer, but to encourage you to actually pray in fresh ways. It’s a collection of ideas to try when praying alone or in a group. Not all of the suggested experiments will appeal, but thanks to the varied nature of the book there will be something here for everyone. Each of the experiments is creative and clearly explained. Some are physical, others more contemplative. Diagrams and examples of potential results of experiments are included as well as several pages at the end of each experiment for the reader to write a short analysis of the experiment and how they would change things to improve the outcome next time. My only criticism is the book’s recommendation to try emptying your mind as a form of meditative prayer; an idea that seems to be contrary to scripture. But in general, this is a gently challenging book that guides the reader into making time to connect with God and to experiment with different disciplines to deepen our relationship with him. CI





Brian Draper

Hodder & Stoughton

Most of us probably realise we don’t stop, rest and switch off enough. But what does it mean to embrace life fully; to step away from the state of busyness and let the soul lead? Brian Draper’s Soulfulness pushes us to try to get past any barriers we might have put up against the secularised concepts of mindfulness and meditation, and to realise the inherent value of these in Christian soulfulness and discipleship. Using consistently thoughtful and dynamic writing, Draper takes us on a journey of discovery to the heart of who we are as individuals and how we can live life to the full. This is a book to dwell on rather than devour, as it offers practical exercises to help move us towards soulfulness in our own lives. We could all do with picking up this book. After all, it’s in waking up to our souls that we really find out what it means to live. RW



Simon Amadeus Pillario

Word for Word Bible Comics

As its name implies, the Word for Word Bible Comic (W4W) is Simon Pillario's considerable undertaking to fully illustrate an unabridged version of the Bible, via the WEB translation. In the surprisingly crowded field of illustrated Bibles, it's a unique approach, which proves both an asset and a setback in the first two instalments, ‘Judges’ and ‘Ruth’. Pillario digs deep to research the details of time and place; most commendably, all his characters are actually Middle Eastern. If this seems unremarkable, consider that Kingstone, the US heavyweight in comic Bibles, shows apostles, patriarchs, angels and Jesus himself as white-skinned; even Arabic and Khmer illustrated Bibles do the same. Pillario not only throws the Sunday school fairy tale aesthetic overboard, but he amplifies the stories’ strangeness by way of a stark, shadowy style. For this mix of the historical and the unexpected, W4W is a good way to reappraise your knowledge of scripture. If you find the regular book of Judges oblique or difficult, all the better. Telling a written story in a new medium, though, tends to require some flexibility. It's no surprise that the series has started with largely literal, descriptive narratives like Judges, as they clearly lend themselves to visual telling. But even here, the imagery is occasionally hamstrung by long swathes of text that make the whole thing feel unbalanced. The W4W version of Judges is a well-executed pilot project, but with 64 books ahead mingling poetry, prophecy, law and lineages, the series will need some more radical methods to make the word-for-word approach truly work. CD





10,000 REASONS

Matt Redman

David C Cook

Although this book is advertised as giving stories about how Matt Redman’s popular worship song ‘10,000 reasons’ has changed people’s lives, there aren't that many testimonies, and those that are in the book are quite short. Instead this is more of a worship leader’s reflection on praising God through suffering, with some detail of how Matt found his calling and what he’s learned. Matt has, of course, already written on the topic of worship and suffering, and coming from his own experiences of significant challenges in his life, he’s qualified to do it. This book is simply written and I’m sure it could encourage many. But if you don’t find this song particularly noteworthy, then you might struggle to connect with what is being said. Those who are suffering themselves won’t find much advice, but may just be strengthened by the stories and the discussion of suffering and worship. However, I suspect those who will most welcome this book will be those who lead worship themselves. HT



Tich and Joan Smith with Liza Hoeksma

David C Cook

Joan and Tich Smith have lived a remarkable life. This book is the story of how God met with them, brought them together, and inspired them to spend their life together serving the very poor in South Africa, first in the slums and then by establishing the Lungisisa Indlela Village for orphaned and vulnerable children. It is a humbling story, full of amazing incidents of God’s grace and miraculous provision: a story of God working through a couple who were open enough to hear God, say “yes” to his leading and take courageous steps of faith. Although it is written in the Smiths’ voices – sometimes from Joan, sometimes from Tich, sometimes from them both – When Grace Showed Up is actually written by Liza Hoeksma. There is occasionally a clunky feel to it, but it’s not bad enough to put you off reading. Overall, this is a simple, quick and easy-to-read story. With Christmas approaching, it would make a nice gift for someone who enjoys an inspiring read. RV



All Sons & Daughters Integrity

It wasn’t long ago that singer-songwriter duo All Sons & Daughters were being billed as the new hope for Christian music, with their lyrical honesty and distinctive harmonies. This fourth release largely maintains these features as it takes inspiration from the words of poets, such as William Cowper and John Newton, and saints including Augustine and Francis. The songs celebrate wonder, love, resilience, redemption and mission. Opener ‘Heaven meets earth’ – effectively the album’s theme – is based on a scene from CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, while ‘I wait’ is inspired by George MacDonald's quote “the principle part of faith is patience”. Such rich content deserves repeat listening, although something gets lost in the industry mincing machine that grinds meaty content down into puréed clichés. Their harmonies are upfront and the worshipful content rich. It’s worth taking the time to plumb the depths of this excellent album. DW




Moonshot Music                                                   

The Irish singer and Greenbelt favourite Duke Special once sang, “I don’t care for all these pop and idol shows”. I don’t either and normally I’d run a mile from an album by a former X Factor contestant. But I’m glad I didn’t run from this one.  While it’s nowhere near as psychedelic as the title suggests, Unfathomable Phantasmagoria is a strong effort; joyous and funky. The biggest surprise is the way it opens – with none other than Samuel L Jackson reading a few verses from 1 Corinthians 13! ‘Is this the time?’ is one of the album’s stronger tracks, as is the full-on gospel workout ‘Right away’ – a secret track hidden at the end of the album. In the CD liner notes, we get to sample Jahméne’s skills as a poet. ‘Shadow serpent’ looks defiantly in evil’s face and tells it to get lost. Even the most promising X Factor alumni seem to fade away rather quickly, so it’s good to see one come out with something great. Nice one, Jahméne. GL


The book that changed my life


Mary C Neal

The older I get the more frequently my mind turns to thoughts of heaven, and a couple of years back I was asked to read To Heaven and Back (Authentic) with a view to interviewing the author, Mary C Neal. Orthopaedic surgeon Mary is a wife and mother who loved the great outdoors. In 1999 while on a holiday in Chile she lost her life in a kayaking accident. She then encountered heaven – an experience so wonderful that despite being happily married she didn’t want to return to earth. However, she was told it was not yet her time and found herself heading back in the lifeless body which earlier she had seen being finally dragged out of the water. I was so struck by her descriptions of heaven that I walked about in a bit of a dream for some days. It brought home to me the realities of life after death, the joy of what is to come, the welcome that we will receive on our arrival and the wonder of the great love of Jesus we will one day experience.

by John Pantry