I’ve always loved reading books. I realise books are not everyone’s cup of tea but for me they are one of the ways I refresh and recharge.
I read quite an eclectic mix of books so relish the opportunity to share some personal reflections on them and how they have impacted me.
In September Marian and I had the privilege of a month off as we changed from a full time to a part time role in the church. The extra down time gave me a chance to read more than I am usually able to. I read two biographies from two very different people: ‘St. Patrick‘ by Thomas O’Loughlin and ‘Bonhoeffer‘ by Eric Metaxas.
Now both of these men lived in very different circumstances to me and, I think it would be fair to say, there would probably be some substantial theological differences between them and myself! However, the thing that struck me was how much I felt an affinity with both of them. They were both men who displayed a clear faith in Jesus, real, radical and unashamed. They were disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and they were both prepared to make big sacrifices as a result of their allegiance to Him.
Reading the book on St.Patrick was interesting but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it, it was short and academic. However, some of the author’s rather critical comments actually drew me to St. Patrick. For example in emphasising the difference between St P’s mindset and our own he wrote: “Patrick saw a direct link, based on his reading of the gospel, between his work at the very ends of the earth and Christ coming again to judge the living and the dead.” The writer then goes on to say how very differently we see things. Later on the same topic he writes: ” This world of ‘eternal truths’ and ‘unchanging certainties’ is the make-believe realm of fundamentalism.” You get the flavour!
To be fair to O’Loughlin he does admire St Patrick in many ways and he is drawing on very limited resources because not much is known about St. Patrick. But the more I read the more I felt I was seeing fragments of the life of an ancient, radical brother in Christ! A man who was truly converted, loved God, followed Jesus (through some very difficult times!) and had a clear call to take the gospel to unreached people groups. Wonderful! – a fellow member of the universal church, the Body of Christ, to which I also have the privilege of belonging.
Likewise with Bonhoeffer the more I read about him the more I came to admire another brother in Christ and radical disciple. I confess, to my shame, I had always pigeonholed Bonhoeffer as a liberal theologian, although undoubtedly a brave and principled man. However, as I read Metaxas’ biography a much fuller picture emerged. What struck me was Bonhoeffer’s clear, personal faith in Jesus. Indeed all that he suffered at the hands of the Nazis was a result of a radical discipleship rooted in an authentic Christian faith. By the way, I found this book gripping and I would highly recommend it.
With both of these heroes of the faith I felt a certain kinship, a oneness of spirit, and yet I was left humbled and challenged. Their passion for Jesus drove them to great exploits and great sacrifices. Patrick believed the gospel call should go out to the whole earth. He believed Jesus great commission made practical demands on his life. He felt called to unreached people groups in a belief that the time was short, Jesus was coming back soon! I can understand that, Patrick’s personal example challenges me.
Bonhoeffer believed your Christian faith does affect how you behave in your world, in a culture that is growing increasingly godless. Much earlier than most he saw where the Nazis were taking Germany. When many church leaders were accommodating, even supporting, Hitler he was clear that following Jesus took you in the opposite direction. In the end he had to agonise over how far your obedience to Christ could take you in halting the spread of evil. His writing on Christian ethics is fascinating and, of course, forged in the crucible of real life situations. As I looked at Bonhoeffer’s stand as a Christian leader in an increasingly unchristian and, ultimately, anti-Christian society I was challenged about how I should stand in relation to the culture around me.
These two books introduced me to men I thought were strangers but found to be brothers in Christ. Not only that but their lives challenged me concerning my comparatively comfortable and easy discipleship experience.