In Feb – April 2017 I read some great Christian books – including some more academic theology. Read on for six recommendations! (And tomorrow – nine fantastic fiction books!)
1. God Remembered Rachel – Jenni Williams
I absolutely loved this book. The subtitle of this book summarises the content: Women’s Stories in the Old Testament and Why They Matter. Jenni Williams was my Old Testament Tutor at theological college in Oxford – the perfect type of lecturer who is both a scholar and an engaging teacher – and her book reflects this: academic theology but highly readable and thought-provoking
This book is a prime example of why we need to read more female theologians – Williams explores feminist approaches to the Bible while practising outstanding biblical exegesis so that the text isn’t swallowed by an agenda but illuminated by its original context. She doesn’t soft-pedal the horrors of the patriarchal system (e.g. the unnamed woman in Judges known as the ‘Levite’s concubine’ who was murdered and dismembered) but also always looking for the goodness of God.
The chapter on Ruth, viewed through the lens of Pride and Prejudice, is absolutely genius – showing how the women of the Old Testament are not simply passive or victims but often subvert and transcend their social roles. I’m still haunted by her examination of Michal, David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, and will never think of her in the same way.
Every preacher of the Old Testament ought to read this book. And if anyone struggles with the Old Testament because of its patriarchy, this is the perfect book for you – Jenni Williams doesn’t attempt to downplay the wrongs of patriarchal society in the Old Testament as so many others do, and what shines through above all is her thoughtful and thorough exegesis, her love for the Bible and determination to find God in hard places. Highly and heartily recommended.
Get it for $12.19 from amazon.com, £7.47 (Kindle) £36 paperback amazon.co.uk or a bargainous £8.95 (paperback) from £8.95 (paperback) from Wordery (Free worldwide delivery)
2. Exclusion and Embrace – Miroslav Volf
This is a dense and academic read, but a rewarding one. In this book, Volf explores what the cross means for his home country of Croatia, having emerged from the bitterness of the 90s civil war with Sarajevo. To oversimplify, Volf focuses on sin as ‘exclusion’ and reconciliation as ‘embrace’. His thesis is that the cross has a dual element for both victims and perpetrators of evil.
For victims of crime and suffering, the cross is a embrace – a message from God of solidarity. Christ identifies with victims of injustice and those who suffer. For perpetrators of suffering, it is not only a message of forgiveness, but of how costly forgiveness is – that it involves battle with dark powers; blood, pain and sorrow.
For perpetrators, the cross is not only something that they ‘receive’ – ie they don’t simply ‘benefit’ from the blessings of forgiveness – but it’s a call to live differently, and to pour out their life in repentance and sacrifice for others, as Jesus did. For the victims, it is at once a display of God’s loving identification with those who suffer, but also a call not to respond in a vengeful fashion, perpetuating a further cycle of exclusion, but to embrace and forgive, (whilst recognising the struggle to forgive evil).
What grounds this book is his real-life examples of those caught up in hideous war crimes – this is lived-out theology. I tend to struggle with academic theology books (with the exception of biblical studies), but I was glad to have persevered with this. An important book and timely book on the cross and the ‘other’ – highly recommended for lovers of theology.
3. Modern Art and the Life of a Culture – Anderson and Dyrness
I loved Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by Rookmaaker. This is by all accounts an excellent response to Rookmaaker, but longer, denser and more academic tome. At this point I defer to my husband, Jon J Marlow, who is in the midst of a doctorate in visual culture and practical theology.
Some quotes from his review: “In this compelling collaboration between an artist and a theologian, Jonathan A. Anderson and William A. Dyrness begin a conversation about how Christian artists, critics, enthusiasts and theologians can reclaim and rediscover modern art, identifying and celebrating its religious and spiritual impulses…. As their contrasting titles suggest, where Rookmaaker saw only vacuity, mockery and existential despair, Anderson and Dyrness find faith, Christian imagery and genuine spiritual longing.”
His full (excellent) review of can be found here on the Transpositions website – definitely worth checking out if you are interested in faith, art and culture.
Christian Living and Memoir
4. Mosaic of Grace – James Prescott
James Prescott not only has a popular blog and podcast with big names, he is one of the most encouraging writers on the internet. I was very excited to given a copy of his debut book, and loved the authenticity of his writing. This was my endorsement of it:
“For anyone who feels a victim or is prone to judging themselves or others harshly, James Prescott brings a message of hope: you are loved, not lacking in anything nor needing to prove yourself. Through his and others’ stories he shares how grace not only brings security but the possibility of inner transformation. Easy to read, honest about failings and encouraging in tone, Mosaic of Grace speaks of beauty from brokenness, strength and weakness together.”
Highly recommended for anyone who feels ‘stuck’ or defeated by the evils of the world, and longs to live life fully.
5. Still Life – Gillian Marchenko
A masterfully-written memoir on depression, giving helpful Christian insight. I have to start this review by saying this: you think you won’t like it, but you will. The reason I say this is because of the subject matter – a memoir of a woman’s battle with depression. It sounds – well…depressing. When I looked at the cover, I thought ‘maybe this is only aimed at women’; ‘this looks like it could be kinda cheesy’, and ‘I bet this is boring or heart-wrenching’ – and none of those assumptions were true.
Marchenko is an outstanding memoir-writer who effortlessly interweaves the experience of major depression with her wisdom on living with mental illness, and gentle theological thoughts. On the whole, I preferred the memoir to the ‘wisdom’ parts. Highly recommended for anyone going through the kind of depression where you are numb and exhausted, and find it difficult to function.
6. The Living Cross – Amy Boucher Pye
This Lent devotional follows the theme of forgiveness throughout scripture, so although it is perfect for Lent, it could also be used throughout the year as a thematic devotional. Amy Boucher Pye is a hugely popular devotional writer for good reason – her writing always includes interesting stories and facts, faithful exposition of scripture, and creativity in prayer.
I found it interesting to realise that the Old Testament places the emphasis firmly on God’s forgiveness of us rather than forgiving one another, and her book similarly follows this emphasis. Gentle and helpful, it’s perfect for anyone wanting reassurance of God’s transformative forgiveness. Highly recommended for lovers of devotionals.
It always brings me such joy when new people discover my little book, Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, and even more so when they write a nice review. If you’re new here and want to know more about my first book, read this review by author Jo Swinney:
“This is a gem of a book for anyone who is hungry and needs feeding with more than empty sentiments. Tanya offers us her unfiltered struggle to hold onto God through chronic illness, interwoven with an exploration of the biblical book of Ruth. She tells the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz with vivid colour and deep insight, and what emerges is a picture of God’s provision, love and faithfulness to them, to her, and to us.
“As I read, I felt I was spending time with a very lovely person, someone who knows real suffering but has not been shrunk by it; someone who is full of compassion, humour, wisdom and grit. Although there are real advantages to a short book, I wished it was longer, not least because I wanted longer in her company.
“This is a book to use for Bible Study, individually or as a small group. It is a book to give to a friend who is feeling grey and needs encouragement. It is a book for anyone who loves the Bible and loves a good story well told. Highly recommended.”
Isn’t that a most gorgeous review? Reviews make authors happy – if you’ve read something good, be sure to leave even a one or two sentence honest review on Goodreads or booksellers’ sites!
1. God Remembered Rachel – Jenni Williams.
For any reader of the Bible who struggles with patriarchy in the Old Testament, and all preachers.
- $12.19 from amazon.com,
- £7.47 (Kindle) £36 paperback amazon.co.uk or
- a bargainous £8.95 (paperback) from Wordery (Free worldwide delivery)
2. Exclusion and Embrace – Miroslav Volf.
For lovers of theology and social justice.
- $19.40 from amazon.com,
- £21.81 from amazon.co.uk or
- just £13.97 from Wordery (free worldwide delivery)
3. Modern Art and the Life of a Culture – Anderson and Dyrness.
For artists and those interested in visual culture, fine art or cultural comment.
- $14.96 from amazon.com,
- £11.39 (kindle) from amazon.co.uk or
- £14.73 from Wordery (free worldwide delivery)
4. Mosaic of Grace – James Prescott.
For anyone who feels ‘stuck’ or defeated by the evils of the world, and longs to live life fully.
5. Still Life – Gillian Marchenko.
For anyone going through the kind of depression where you are numb and exhausted, and find it difficult to function.
6. The Living Cross – Amy Boucher Pye.
For anyone wanting a devotional that brings reassurance of God’s transformative forgiveness.
Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty – Tanya Marlow
For anyone looking for a path back to God after disappointment and loss.
- FREE e-book when you subscribe to my newsletter,
- paperback £3.99 from Amazon.co.uk or
- $5.50 from Amazon.com.
Over to you:
- Have you read any of these?
- What Christian books are you enjoying right now?
- and (cheeky request) – if you’ve read my book, would you consider leaving a short review on Amazon/GoodReads etc? Thank you!
I received a free advanced copy of some of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are.