Book Reviews

This month’s book reviews include ‘The Gospel According to Christ’s Enemies,’ ‘Conversations by the Sea,’ ‘The Three Marys’ and ‘Unconventional’

BOOK OF THE MONTH: ‘The Gospel According to Christ’s Enemies’, David J. Randall (2022) 

In the Gospel accounts one can easily see opposition to Christ’s ministry throughout the narratives. Never was a man more criticized and opposed than the Lord Jesus Christ in his earthly ministry. David Randall’s book is a faithful work that describes, elaborates, and expounds upon statements uttered by Christ’s enemies that speak truth. These are unintentional statements, but what man means for evil God uses for good (Cf.Gen.50:20). These sayings occur all throughout the Gospel accounts. A Christian who is acquainted with the Gospel accounts can readily quote several of them. These statements include indictments against Christ for receiving sinners (Luke 15:2), the descriptor applied to him by Pontius Pilate proclaiming him King of the Jews (John 19:19), and the prophecy of the High Priest Caiaphas who prophesied that Jesus would die on behalf of the nation (John 11:51-52). All of these, and many more statements, were spoken by Christ’s enemies intending to discredit or stop Christ and his ministry. However, as Christ always does, he turns these statements on their heads and uses them for his own glory and the Gospel’s furtherance. 

David Randall writes this work to expound upon those statements of unintended truth and show how even the enemies of Christ proclaim the Gospel. Indeed, Caiaphas, Pilate, and the scoffers who passed by Christ upon the cross were not seeking to proclaim the truths of Christ and the Gospel message to those who were perishing. However, what they said ended up proclaiming the very message of Christ in the Gospel. For instance, when the Scribes and Pharisees jeer at Christ for receiving and eating with sinners, they mean to elevate themselves and discredit Christ’s ministry. Their statement is true. Christ does receive and eat with sinners and tax collectors. Randall wisely expounds each of these statements and applies them to the reader showing that they unintentionally show the truth of Christ’s message. There are many books written about the Gospel and there are many written on the Gospel according to various people including Jesus himself, Peter, Paul, and many others. This is one of the first works that seeks to expound the Gospel according to Christ’s enemies, how they unintentionally speak truthfully about the Gospel, and how that truth brings comfort to the believer. Randall pastorally applies these statements to the believer to comfort them in the Gospel of Christ. The book is worth reading for the believer yearning to apply the truth of Christ and his Gospel to their lives by seeing these statements in the Gospel accounts. 

The work is well done and well worth a read. This is not a thorough commentary upon the Gospel accounts, but a book that expounds and fleshes out the statements of Christ’s enemies and how they communicate truth. Jesus does receive sinners and tax collectors; he is King of the Jews; he did die on behalf of the people of God, and he did come into the world to save sinners. The Gospel cannot be thwarted nor stopped. Even the enemies of Christ proclaim his truth, showing the sovereignty and wisdom of our God. Randall’s book helps the believer to see how these truths are spoken with ill intent but are used mightily by our Lord. 

This book is available from Banner of Truth

Ethan McCarter, Crumlin Evangelical Presbyterian Church 

‘Conversations by the Sea’, Andrew Rollinson (2023) 

All those in ordained ministry or those exploring a vocation to it or in training for it would benefit from this book. Rollinson has wide and long experience of local church ministry and has also served as a Ministry Advisor across Scotland. He is a Baptist, but the works he cites are from a wide variety of backgrounds, and what he says is applicable to ministers of all denominations. The fact that this review is written by an English Anglican for the Free Church of Scotland tells its own tale in that respect. 

I especially valued the wisdom that Rollinson offers for ministers on some issues that are not often tackled in books on ministry. These include the meaty topics of ‘Ministry Starvation and its Remedy’, ‘Ministry Failure and Restoration’, ‘Self-Awareness and Self-Deception in Ministry’, ‘Leading when not in Control’, and ‘Comparisons, Competition and Cul-de-Sacs’. I also appreciated that, above all, Rollinson issues a strong reminder to all ministers that, first and foremost, they are called to BE disciples – to BE followers of Jesus and witnesses to Jesus. They – we – are to BE ‘exemplary disciples’ and this is far more important than anything we actually DO as ministers.  

However, it’s worth noting that, for those who come looking for a book that is closely inspired by John 21, this isn’t the case here. For Rollinson, the final chapter of John’s Gospel is essentially an overall framework around which he organises his ‘Reflections’. Yes, succeeding verses of that chapter form the starting point for each of those reflections, but sometimes John 21 itself is rather lost to view.  But still, the book stands high on its own merits, and I thoroughly recommend it to all my colleagues who serve in ordained ministry. It’s certainly a book I will return to often. 

This book is available from Sanctus Media

Chris Knights, Durham Diocese of the Church of England 

‘The Three Marys’, Alexander Moody Stuart (2023) 

“The Three Marys” is a captivating and thought-provoking book that delves into the lives of three remarkable women that a played significant role in the life of Jesus Christ. Moody Stuart weaves a compelling narrative that explores the unique perspectives of these women, whilst inviting readers to embark on a journey of deep reflection of their own Christian walk.   

The book revolves around the lives of Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus, and Mary of Bethany, sister to Martha and Lazarus. While their lives might intersect at various points, each Mary has her own unique experiences, struggles, and relationships that shape her understanding of faith, love, and sacrifice.  

These three remarkable women offer valuable lessons for Christians to learn from. Through their relationships with Jesus, readers can glean wisdom and inspiration as Moody Stuart skillfully demonstrates how these three Marys lived faithful Christian lives. With a combination of insight and tenderness, The Three Marys offers practical applications that will resonate with all believers.  

By exploring the stories of these women, Moody Stuart sheds light on the often-overlooked role they played in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The book prompts readers to reconsider their understanding of these godly women, encouraging a deeper exploration of their individual lives in the wider gospel narrative. “The Three Mary’s” will be a wonderful addition to your bookshelf that offers a fresh and helpful perspective on the lives of these extraordinary women. 

This book is available from Banner of Truth

Stuart King, North Harris Free Church 

‘Unconventional’, Sharon Dickens (2023) 

Sharon Dickens is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of women’s ministry.  Working with the 20 schemes in Edinburgh as a women’s worker, dealing with the reality of everyday life on a large housing estate with all its challenges, she has entered the international conference stage to tell other women’s workers about the nitty gritty of practically living out this role. 

Her style of unashamed humility in servanthood is readable, relevant, and beautifully real.  There are two ways to read this book and you need to do both: very fast and very slow. It is such a comprehensible book to read that you want to cram it all into your head in one go.  Yet at the same time you don’t want to miss anything so find yourself rereading most of it.  She carefully describes the biblical role of women and then applies this to the local church with some surprising results.  I found myself questioning my own long held beliefs about women in the church but did not feel either threatened or dismissive. Rather I felt inspired by her rich thinking which transforms the way we often view leadership in the local church. 

By her servant attitude to the body of Christ she has brought together diverse groups which have in turn instilled the same holy characteristics in not only women, but also men who have seen her living out the Christian life. Many times, she herself was challenged by her own sinfulness which she is not ashamed to admit and discuss pithily, without being too self-deprecating. But through it all there is a sense of true godliness and a desire to please the only One that matters – the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The appendices focus on the giftings of women and the importance of working together particularly in one-to-ones, giving resourceful algorithms. This is a very practical book, but also challenges the deep-rooted theology of women working for God. 

This book is available from 10ofthose

Ruth Aird, Penicuik Trinity Community Church