December Book Reviews

Here are a selection of book reviews for December – possibly some Christmas gift ideas!

BOOK OF THE MONTH: ‘The Grand Tour’, AsiaLink (2022) 

I came to this book with no personal experience of Asia, and an embarrassing lack of knowledge. How much I was missing out on! The Grand Tour describes itself as a ‘90-day prayer journey across the continent of Asia’, and it didn’t disappoint. 

Written in the second person, this book is written as if you, the reader, are on a 90-day physical journey around many of the countries in Asia, so is immensely evocative of the landscape, culture and peoples you would encounter. This serves to draw the reader in and help them to really get a sense of the challenging environments that Christians in Asia often face, and the deep need they have for prayer and God’s intervention. 

Over and over again, I was struck by the stark hostility to the gospel that is a daily reality for faithful believers across Asia, and the fundamental lack of interest in Christianity. We in Scotland often talk about the opposition to Jesus we face here, and whilst this is true, the situation in many countries in Asia is much, much worse. Here, people living quiet Christian lives face daily peril for their beliefs, and the results can be harsh, swift and unforgiving. This kind of witness takes real courage and commitment, and is deeply reliant on prayer to make it possible. 

Challenging, inspirational and informative – this book has it all. Whether you are a novice to all things Asian (like me), or an experienced traveller, I would highly recommend starting 2024 with this prayer journey. 

This book is available from 

Miriam Montgomery, Free Church Books 

‘Stories that Serve’, Ed Moll (2022) 

Short, practical and engagingly written, Ed Moll’s ‘Stories That Serve’ is essential reading for preachers and speakers of God’s word, but also holds value for anyone who hopes to be strengthened in their personal application of Scripture to life. 

Stories and analogies are key to how we grapple with ideas, so it’s important to get them right. Moll quickly gets to the heart of what makes an effective sermon illustration. If you have heard enough bible talks, or perhaps even if you have delivered your fair share, you will be familiar with the effect of a weak story rolled out at the wrong moment. They can be distracting, lacking resonance with listeners and muddying the point. Moll, having tumbled into these pitfalls often himself, offers a structured approach for using illustrations which serve their purpose. 

Moll explains the different types of stories and helps us understand how they fit into the structure of a talk. He concisely addresses a comprehensive list of factors including humour and visual aids in teaching, the right balance of details in a story, making relevant Scriptural cross-references which faithfully elucidate the meaning, and pointers on how to find stories if you feel like you have none. 

The book has a helpful basis in Scripture, appealing to stories with a dramatic effect, such as Nathan’s confrontation of David. Through well-chosen positive and negative examples, the book involves the reader with practical exercises which will get one thinking. Moll’s highly-structured approach to biblical exposition may not resonate with all readers, yet his general principles will speak to any style. 

Ed Moll is considerate in his manner. He acknowledges the difficulty of communicating effectively in this medium, yet encourages the speaker to work hard at it because the potential effect will be worth it, serving the sermon rather than swallowing it. His clear desire is to see stories used in a way which will serve the audience as they come to God’s word, giving understanding, transforming thinking, and prompting action. 

This book is available from Langham Literature.

Stephen Horrocks-Birss, St Andrews Free Church 

‘The Person of Christ’, Andrew Bonar (republished) 

The author, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892) should need little introduction. He was a Free Church minister in Glasgow, younger brother of hymn writer Horatius Bonar and friend and biographer of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. In a nutshell, this book is largely about the person of Jesus Christ. It contains six chapters – first, the person of Jesus Christ himself. This is followed by an account of the gospel from the Fall to the day of the apostles. Next the help that Jesus Christ brings to a seeker after salvation. Chapters 4 and 5 are about how looking to Jesus Christ brings about lasting peace and holiness in the soul, respectively. Finally, how looking to Jesus brings comfort for the believer at death and hope for the second coming of Christ. This book will benefit both the seasoned believer as well as the young Christian seeking assurance and the third chapter will help “enquirers” find the Saviour.

For example, “The hospital, with its ample accommodation, and its stores of medicine and nourishment, and its supply of all that the sick, however many, can require, with access free to all, at every hour night or day, this is one thing – but how much better, when besides, we have the presence of the founder and Physician Himself, passing through every room – bending over every sick-bed – uttering words and beaming forth looks of sympathy. Would you commend the place, and forget the physician? And will the Holy Ghost commend the Saviour’s benefits, if thereby you are to be led to overlook Him?” (p. 29)  

There is something useful for those preparing sermons or talks and for those providing spiritual counsel for individuals. The book was written during the Victorian era so one has to navigate one’s way through the slightly awkward sentence construction and maybe some big words. Also, the book was written in an era when society was largely biblically literate, so it presupposes a certain level of biblical knowledge. However, that should not deter us from reading this book but, quite the contrary, it should challenge us to read and plumb its spiritual depths. The reader will find this book very profitable. 

This book is available from Christian Focus Publications

Jenson Lim, Dunblane Free Church 

The Child’s Story Bible, Catherine Vos (republished) 

I never usually write more than one review per issue of The Record, but I just had to share this book with you – give it for Christmas, and you’ll be giving a lasting gem. 

Not long after we became parents, my husband mentioned to me that he would love to get hold of Catherine Vos’ ‘children’s bible’ for our little one, as he had heard many good things about its biblical faithfulness, and its popularity when it was first published. Fast forward a few years, and we were delighted to see this new edition published by the Banner of Truth, and have been using it for the last few months. Our young one (now mid-primary age) has taken to it with relish, although he has been distinctly unimpressed by the repeated unfaithfulness of Israel’s kings!  

This Story Bible is detailed and extremely well-written. I must confess that my household is fussy about children’s bibles – either they only feature the same few stories, leaving gaping holes in children’s bible knowledge, or they make every single story too simply and directly about Jesus, thus missing the chance to help children understand the breadth, depth and length of God’s faithfulness to his chosen people in the Old Testament, and the nuance of how this was wonderfully fulfilled and completed in the New. Please don’t misunderstand me – the story of the Old Testament is the story of Jesus. But I believe it is important for children to understand the stories of the prophets, judges and the exile in the context they were written in and for too.  

Catherine Vos’ Story Bible clears these hurdles with grace. The text is full of nuance and doesn’t shy away from the ugly truths. But it is also deft in helping the reader to understand how the Old Testament arc points forward to our Saviour, without taking away from the direct context of these narratives.  

My one note of caution with this Bible is that I don’t agree with the advertised age recommendations (“suitable to be read to children aged 3+, and read by children aged 7+ by themselves”). If you want the child to be mature enough to understand the stories, I would say they should be at least 5, and even then parental guidance is vital. As I said, this Bible presents the unvarnished truth, including heathen child sacrifice. However gently these are presented, they could be traumatising for children who are too young to understand the complex context. And yet, this Bible is undoubtedly aimed at those with a young/simple faith, and many older children or adults could benefit from its use. 

At the right age, and in the right context, however, I wholeheartedly recommend this Story Bible. It is moving, faithful and a real encouragement. 

This book is available to purchase from Banner of Truth

Miriam Montgomery, Free Church Books