Some things are, as they say, ‘timely’. Many churches as they have moved online, have used the new version of the Aaronic Blessing which the folks at Elevation Worship put together. It wasn’t done with the pandemic in mind – it was made just in time, and seemed “timely”. Other things have been more deliberate responses to the odd circumstances of the Covid-Spring of 2020. “Healthy Faith: Biblically-based reflections to help you navigate the Coronavirus Pandemic” is one of them. And it is extremely ‘timely’.
The church has a reputation for being a bastion of cultural inertia; and of all the institutions in society, the one which might cope least well with the pace of change forced upon us of late. Yet churches have moved adapted, and mobilised to serve their locked-down communities with remarkable speed. With equally impressive speed, editors Kristi Mair and Luke Cawley have brought together an expansive cast of Christian thinkers to help steer the church and its members though almost every aspect of the rapidly evolving situation.
The topics addressed range from the big questions (such as why viruses inhabit God’s creation), right down to matters of personal devotion and using the time well to develop good practices in Bible-reading and prayer. In-between we find huge amount of thought given to how the church can function effectively, pastorally and evangelistically, as well as some advice on coping with the changes brought to family life, marriage, parenting and singleness. The book concludes with a series of appendices which look at some of the practicalities of the Christian life under lockdown, including things as diverse as end-of-life care and online safeguarding.
The range of issues addressed here is so comprehensive that it is unlikely that any one reader will be equally interested in all of them. Some chapters are of universal relevance, Prof John Wyatt’s “On Dying Well” is a sobering, yet ultimately hope-filled, gospel-shaped response to his work as a medic in the face of death. Likewise, Eddie Lyle’s chapter on lessons from the persecuted church, is deeply moving and profound.
Some chapters are very specific. Ed Shaw writes with his usual clarity and candour about singleness in lockdown. While single folks will obviously relate directly to what Ed writes, his chapter deserves to be more widely read than that. Although the chapters on marriage and parenting were targeted more directly at my circumstances, I found hearing about other people’s experiences really valuable.
The challenge to the church to serve our communities in innovative ways (Krish Kandiah) and to seize the unusual opportunities for evangelism (Andy Bannister) are insightful, relevant and much needed.
What underlies all of this is the gospel of Christ – which is the unifying theme of this very diverse collection of essays. That’s what Tom Wright explores in his warm afterword, which begins: “Jesus’ death and resurrection are our paradigm for life.” So, while Dan Strange guides the reader through fear into trusting Christ; and other writers such as Jill Weber and Matt Searles emphasise prayer and the Psalms; the point of unity is that Christ is risen, He is present and can be known, loved, trusted, served and proclaimed in this crisis. The specifics of where, how and with whom we do these things is explored in chapter after chapter.
If there are any weaknesses in this book they are simply the fact that some authors make the same point; but that is not going to trouble most readers who will pick and choose the chapters most relevant to them anyway. This is more than made up for by the fact that IVP have rushed this production through at breakneck speed and are offering this as an E-book for under £5! The thoroughness of the range of topics addressed and the good writing on offer here means that there really is something here for everyone.
Kristi Mair, Luke Cawley and IVP should be thanked for turning around a significant publishing exercise like this in less than a month. Something of this scope would have until recently taken at least a year to pull off. The times they are most certainly a-changin’!