Book Review: Shedding Light
- Written by: Stephen Hale
Shedding Light: a history of St Columb’s Anglican Church Hawthorn through its stained glass windows
Port Adelaide: Green Hill Publishing, 2023
REVIEWED BY STEPHEN HALE
Malcolm Woolrich’s history of St Columb’s Anglican Church, Hawthorn is a remarkable achievement. There are many church histories of particular parishes and each in their own way are useful records of the life of a particular church. Most are reasonably modest publications for understandable reasons.
Shedding Light is remarkable in both its scale, quality and ambition! 500 pages, full colour, meticulous research from a wide range of sources, hundreds of pictures. I was tempted to weigh it on the scales because it is in every sense weighty!
Malcom initially set out to write a book about the 32 stained glass windows in the church. This evolved into using the windows to tell the story of the church and to use the windows to thematically capture the many different aspects of the church and its life, worship and witness since it was founded in 1883. More especially it is a wonderful reflection on the Christian faith as captured in each of the windows.
The book starts with a fascinating introduction on the place of stained glass windows in church history and the journey from the 3rd century to today. It is then broken up into 7 chapters that thematically reflect on the key themes reflected in the 32 windows in the church. If it was just a beautiful book with lovely photos and a description of each window that would have been good, but one could suggest, of limited interest. Rather each of the windows is put into its context and then connected with what was happening in the world (especially two world wars), society and the church in Melbourne and Hawthorn.
Hawthorn in 1883 was an outer suburb and it grew rapidly. As the suburb grew so did the church. In its heyday over 500 people filled the pews at each of the three Sunday services. It had a huge Sunday School and groups for just about anything you can think of – sporting, social, welfare, musical, educational, women and men, the wealthy and the needy. We all know it was a different world from today and it is a remarkable insight into the nature of that era. We tend to assume that it was a time when church attendance and involvement was not connected to deep faith, but more a standard part of middle-class society. The book dispels that myth with the stories and depictions of mission endeavour, both local and abroad. There was a keen sense of worship, growing in faith, as well as a desire to serve and actively support the needy and the marginalised.
The book is full of surprises like the outreach to the Chinese market gardeners and the challenges offered by the clergy in responding to our first nations people, which must have been controversial in their day. I did like the line on page 241 ‘parish leadership appeared unconducive to good health’, which went on to describe a bout of illness suffered by Rev Nash.
The book tells the stories of hundreds of people and their lives, faith and actions. The decline of St Columb’s in the late 20th Century is described as well as its renewal under the leadership of Rev Neil Bach and those who have followed on from him. St Columb’s distinctive and unbroken commitment to being an evangelical church is also captured. A fascinating appendix tells of the Nash controversy in the 1930’s!
Shedding Light is full of theological and pastoral insight, especially as it describes the wonderful windows which capture the range of the words and actions of Jesus. As such it is more than history, but a beautiful work of devotion as we seek to respond to and live out Christ’s example and teachings today.
Bishop Stephen Hale is Chair of EFAC Australia and EFAC Global.
Book Review: Biblical Critical Theory
- Written by: Tim Collison
Biblical Critical Theory
Zondervan Academic, 2022
Reviewed by Tim Collison
I was in Koorong with every Australian Christian’s favourite present: a Koorong Gift Card. I’d recently heard Dr Christopher Watkin speak about why Augustine’s ‘City of God’ was the first critical theory. My plan was to buy his most recent book, which I had heard many good things about. In my memory it is the most talked about book in Evangelical circles since Timothy Keller’s ‘Reason for God’.
This seemed to be borne out when I went to the counter to request a copy, after finding none on the shelves. The sales assistant thought they had put a lot out that day. They were selling fast. It is difficult for any book to live up to such pressure!
My short review is that ‘Biblical Critical Theory’ is worth reading. It may take six or seven weeks, but it rewards the time spent in it. Dr Watkin defines what he wants to do in his introduction: a critique of our culture. Then how the story of the Bible helps us understand, unpack, and critique it. He does this by ‘interweaving reflections on the unfolding biblical storyline with examinations of modern life and culture’ (p.25).
Dr Watkin’s pedagogical background shows in how he scaffolds understanding. Each chapter has a series of questions to help the reader engage with and reflect on what they have read. It also means some (very intense) small groups would find this an interesting way to explore this book.
All readers will find something that will interest them in this book. Dr Watkin builds his narrative through the book, but it is possible readers could read a section out of order.
The usefulness of this book is also found in its ability to make the reader think. There will be ideas or thoughts which may be new to the reader, or difficult to understand. The reading will stick with you and provoke new ideas and pathways of thinking. Or at least it did for this reader! The final quarter of the book was where I found the most mileage. Dr Watkin has the same ability as Timothy Keller to synthesise and share from his own engagement with authors many of us would never read. Many people will be familiar with the inevitable quoting of C.S. Lewis, but he also engages with and exposes the reader to a wide range of other thinkers running from Arendt to Zizek. In the final quarter I found his engagement with Foucault around the idea that ‘sexuality has become more important to us than our soul’ (p.515) particularly compelling.
While Dr Watkin hopes that this book will also help non- Christians engage in a fresh way with Christianity. Like Keller’s ‘Reason for God’ and Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’ it will be most helpful shaping the thinking of Christians for their discussions with those who don’t yet know Jesus.
Tim Collison, is curate at St Mark’s Camberwell, Melbourne
Book Review: Who is God: The Big Bible Series for Kids
- Written by: Ben Underwood
Who is God: The Big Bible Series for Kids
Vanessa Chappell. Illustrated by Poppy Lindsell.
Reviewed By Ben Underwood
While involved in church playgroup ministries for over 20 years, Vanessa Chappell wanted to read the young families an unadorned Bible story that stayed close to the biblical text; stories that were well illustrated but without any framing, and a series long enough to extend through the whole year, but she could not find it. And so began the work of creating accessible Bible stories that minimised paraphrasing and application, and instead, built familiarity week by week, were short enough to captivate the attention of the very young child, and ultimately revealed God’s gift of grace in Jesus.
The result of her labours, and those of illustrator Poppy Lindsell, is Who is God? The Big Bible Series for Kids. The four books align with the four school terms and provide a big picture overview of the Bible. They are produced at a good size for use in read-aloud Bible Storytime in school, church, or home environments. With these uses in mind, Vanessa has also developed digital colouring-in pages for further engagement with the story, and eBook formats for easier projection or display on screens. The illustrations are colourful and lively.
Check out the website www.whoisgod.com.au to shop directly or find out stockists.
Ben Underwood is Rector of St Edmund’s Anglican Church, Wembley, WA
Book Review: Hire Right, First Time
- Written by: Paul Arnott
Hire Right, First Time
Peter Corney and Ken Byrne
Reviewed by Paul Arnott
Reading Hire Right, First Time I’m discovering how many things I could have done better when hiring staff. While I am among those who wrote a commendation for this book, I will do my best to review it fairly. Hiring staff is one of the most difficult things any organisation can do. There are many pitfalls, as Corney and Byrne point out, not the least of which is that you don’t know who you’ve got until you’ve had them for six months. By then the probationary period is over and if you’ve made a mistake, it’s too late, which is why it’s so important to do all you can to get it right in the first place. The book is A Practical Guide for Staffing Christian Organisations, which means the process is potentially even more fraught, because of the values of Christian organisations. Corney and Byrne suggest that Christian organisations are by their nature tolerant: “The wish to extend God’s grace in Word and Deed is a deeply held value of the Gospel that can overshadow a hiring agency’s obligations to their existing clients and staff. The desire to do good can lead us to be short-sighted in assessing the risk that goes with a poor hiring choice.” The first chapter of Hire Right, First Time unpacks the many pitfalls of hiring for a Christian organisation. Chapter 2 highlights the importance of writing a position description, which accurately spells out what the job is designed to achieve. Chapter three details how to create what it calls “a compelling attraction strategy.” It isn’t enough to write a great position description, but also an ad that attracts people to the role.
One of the book’s most valuable ideas is contained in chapter 4 – the importance of a structured selection system. The system is a well-thought-out, clearly defined process that all applicants must complete. Chapters 5 and 7 highlight the importance of the interview, especially the role of really listening. Chapter 6 explains how to discover the beliefs and values of the candidate. Chapter 8 details how to do reference checks well and suggests they are often done poorly. Chapter 9 highlights the crucial importance of intuition in the hiring process. Chapter 10 explains how to make the final decision. The next two chapters detail how to keep your best staff and how to dismiss staff. The final chapter reveals how to detect candidates that have a history of child abuse. The book lives up to its claim to be a guide for staffing, as each chapter concludes with extremely practical, commonsense checklists to ensure the ground has been fully covered. Another rich resource is a comprehensive, free, downloadable User Guide. Hire Right, First Time is a potential goldmine for Christian organisations when hiring staff, indeed for any organisation seeking to hire right the first time.
Paul Arnott is the Executive Director of CMA’s Q4: Rethinking Retirement.
Originally published in The Melbourne Anglican in March 2023.
Book Review: Sustainable Youth & Children's Ministry
- Written by: Graham Stanton
Sustainable Children’s Ministry
MARK DEVRIES AND ANNETTE SAFSTROM
Reviewed by Graham Stanton
Good strategies for children’s and youth ministry often fail due to ineffective systems. Mark De Vries uses the metaphor of a dancefloor: it doesn’t matter how good a dancer is, if they have to dance on a rotten stage, their performance is going to end in disaster. In Sustainable Youth Ministry and Sustainable Children’s Ministry, DeVries (together with Annette Safstrom for the children’s ministry version) helps churches ‘attend to the dance floor . . . ensuring that the right systems, priorities and infrastructure are in place before beginning the dance’. Though written from a North American perspective and requiring some ‘transposing’ into an Australian context (and a small church context), there are valuable ideas in these books that will help churches think carefully about the systems that can enable children’s and youth ministries to thrive.
Graham Stanton is Director of the Ridley Centre for Children’s and Youth Ministry. He teaches Introduction to Children’s Ministry and Introduction to Youth Ministry in the Ridley Certificate program: (certificate.ridley.edu.au)