BOOK SIX of Ten that have Shaped My Life. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I’d come to faith, studied the Bible, read theology and was now pioneering and pastoring a young and growing church.
I’m a simple Geordie bloke who has come to see the faith as embracing the Great Commandment to “love God, neighbour and self” and obeying the Great Commission to “Go and make and disciples of all nations”.
The church culture of the day was one of Church Growth and programmes and strategies were much in evidence, sometimes neglecting the priority to “make disciples”. Jesus will build his church, our task is to make disciples.
Wrestling with these things I returned to a book I’d first come across at Bible college, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Deep and challenging, a book that I have returned to through the years, not least as a Companion of the Northumbria Community who derive so much inspiration from Bonhoeffer and his call and understanding of new monasticism.
The books is as relevant and challenging today as when it was first published in Germany in the 1930’s. It is a radical statement about what being a disciple of Jesus entails. Discipleship is an essential part of faith, a radical re-orientating of ones life to “follow Christ”.
Bonhoeffer expounds the Sermon on the Mount, the revolutionary manifesto of life that Christ lays before his followers. His straightforward approach to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other teachings of Jesus, is very refreshing.
The book denounces “cheap grace” and addresses the issues of suffering, evangelism, mediation and peace making. Bonhoeffer’s defining rule for Christian ethics is simple: follow Jesus. The entire book could be summarized with just those two words, “Follow Jesus”. Amen.

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BOOK FIVE of Ten that have Shaped my Life. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

Pioneering and planting on an urban council estate in 1980s Teeside, privileged to see many people coming to faith, baptisms and church growth there was no disguising the fact that we were living through a period of devastating injustice and crippling unemployment. The implementation of Thatcherite policies saw the closure of steelworks, shipyards, engineering works, foundries and manufacturing plants. I saw firsthand the impact of political dogma on the lives of individuals, their families and the community. The disregard for the urban poor and the lack of compassion for those disadvantaged stirred our hearts as a church and moved us beyond simply preaching the gospel and focusing our efforts solely on the church growth. Evangelism, charismatic renewal and social action belonged together. The Good News is not good news if it is not good news for the poor.
Privileged to be part of an amazing church community who were prepared to put people before programmes, relationships before reputation and who to this day continue to live among, share and serve those who most churches have neither the heart or ability to reach.
It was during this time that I came across Robert Tressel’s book. It tells the story of a group of hard-working men who are joined one day by a journeyman-prophet who shares with them a vision of a society where justice and compassion reign. His denunciation of the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system ignites and inspires his fellow men from their passive acceptance of things as if nothing can be done to resist or change them.
It’s a classic piece of writing that combines humour and political passion. Together with my reading of Scripture and living in an urban north-east community suffering the consequences of the government’s economic policies, it propelled us into a whole series of initiatives and actions that would be deemed now as political.
For me personally, the book heightened my interest in politics and the belief that the church has a prophetic role to play within society, that prophecy is more than bringing an insightful or helpful word to an individual within the church worship context and is more about speaking truth and justice in the public realm.
Interestingly, I’m writing this on the day that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury who has written for the Daily Mail, (don’t get me started on that toxic, dangerous newspaper..). The Archbishop has strategically written for the Mail a piece that will inevitably invite a mixed response as his article is headed: ‘Why I believe we need to tax wealth more’: In a bid to help lower middle income earners, a controversial declaration from the Archbishop of Canterbury. see:…/Archbishop-Canterbury-says-nee…
Thank God, for someone of his position and influence, together with his background working in the city, to speak out on such an issue.
Maybe he too has read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. A must read book.

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BOOK FOUR of Ten that have shaped my life. The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler

Following three years in Bible College, which was brilliant for spiritual formation and a missional outlook but was fairly confined and prescriptive in its theological outlook, I spent a year at Cardiff University, (a very different theological arena) doing a diploma in Pastoral Studies. I appreciated both places, Bible College grounded me in Scripture and university introduced me to philosophy, sociology and psychology. It was during the course of that year I came across Alvin Toffler’s book and remember reading it in a greasy spoon cafe in Splott, a less salubrious, (in those days) area of Cardiff. An area in the constituency represented by Jim Callaghan, who the year before had lost the General Election to Margaret Thatcher. Interestingly, Callaghan’s biographer, the historian and Labour peer Kenneth O. Morgan, noted his readers of Callaghan’s childhood poverty. His father died when he was nine years old and his mother had no pension. “They were very, very poor,” wrote Morgan. “They were reliant on bread and margarine supplied by the Baptist Church.
Toffler’s book fascinated me for it seemed to give a language to what I was observing in a changing world. Writing as a sociologist and futurologist, (great career with prospects!) he charted the influences and changes brought about through the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions and argued that the Technological revolution, further advanced now by Information Technology, was having a profound impact on the changing the world. The impact upon individuals, communities and nations was stark as people were undergoing considerable stress and confusion in the struggle to adapt quickly to the seismic changes taking place within society. These changes came like a tidal wave, battering existing institutions and have huge implications for home and family life, the workplace, economics, politics, Western democracy and international relations.
I found the book both fascinating and disturbing and it certainly provided a backdrop for thinking about what faith meant in a changing world and how we were to live out the gospel in a culture where not only society was changing but the church was being disturbed and challenged.

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BOOK THREE of Ten that have shaped my life. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

A young believer in the faith, at Bible College, reading theology, learning about the Bible and church history, much emphasis on mission and evangelism and exhortation to love God and the world. Knowing what you should and what you desire to do was different from actually doing it. How? Then into my possession came this book. A revelation that was transformative. The preface captured my attention, “Superficiality is the curse of our age”.
The book covers 12 classic disciplines of the spiritual life, classic both because they are ancient and also because they are central to experiential and applied faith. Foster invites us, through the disciplines to move beyond surface living into the depths. He writes about the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission and service and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.
Its power and influence continues to shape my life and faith, revisiting the book during Lent most years since its publication in 1978. What adds weight to the writings of this and other books by Richard is that we have become good friends and I can testify that he is a writer who lives what he teaches. It’s been my privilege and joy to have helped set up and serve on the Renovare Board here in Britain for over 20 years, drawing richly from the friendships and resources of that spirituality movement, seeking to serve the renewal of the church.
I was tempted to include his “Streams of Living Water” and at least one of his great friend Dallas Willards books but I’ve chosen Celebration of Discipline because it was the book in those early days of spiritual formation that was to lead me as a new believer, a passionate evangelical and soon to be charismatic, into a deep appreciation of the spiritual disciplines, the need of the transformation of the heart and a valuing of streams of spirituality outside of my own and at times preferred expressions of faith. Still a classic.
2 Quotes from the book:
“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”…. “A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain…This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.”

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Book Two of Ten

BOOK TWO of Ten that have shaped my life.
Strength to Love by Martin Luther King.
Sent to me, by a former schoolfriend, when I was in the Cairngorms of Scotland training to be an Outward Bound instructor. The book awakened me to the place of faith and its relevance to society. Published in 1963, the same year MLK delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech, the book is a collection of Kings sermons, with each chapter steeped in Scripture, revealing the passion of this Baptist pastor and prophet, whose faith led him to a philosophy of nonviolence.
He speaks out against war, injustice, racism and exploitation and the belief that America is not blessed above any other nation. He was an advocate for nonviolence and peace, a stance deemed treasonous by most Americans at the time. He urged citizens to embrace peaceableness, wise restraint and calm reasonableness, arguing that hate and hysteria are no answer to the problems of the world.
So proud of my ‘home town’, Newcastle University (where I did my MA) that was the first British university to give him an honorary degree, as a Doctor of Civil Law.
In one of the chapters in Strength to Love King wrote: “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood… In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!”
The seeds of nonconformity were being formed in me and were to flourish when soon after reading the book I came to faith, beginning the journey of following the radical, life-giving nonconformist, Christ.

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10 Books that Have Shaped My Life

Apologies to those readers of my blog for the absence of posts in recent months. There are issues of capacity and I have been posting on Facebook at fairly regular intervals. if you would like to follow me on Facebook, please feel free to send me a friend request.


Recently I was encouraged to complete the 10 books that have shaped my life challenge. It was more of a pleasure than a challenge and it has evoked hundreds of ‘likes’ ‘comments’ and ‘messages’ on Facebook. Several people have asked me to put the 10 books on my blog and so here they are. As some of the recommendations come with fairly lengthy explanations, I have spared readers of what appears like a long essay or short book, if I were to post all the 10 books posts in one blog.

So, they will come one at a time over the course of the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy reading about the books that have influenced my life. I read yesterday an article by Andy Goodliff in the latest Baptists Together magazine, in which he cited Francis Spuffords book, The Child that Books Built. I could preface this naming of the 10 books that have shaped my life as the life and faith that books built.

I hope you enjoy these next 10 blogs and find a source of enrichment and encouragement in your own life journey
DAY 1 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The first book to make an impact on me as a teenager.A book that has definitely shaped my life and work. Obligatory reading at school, it captured my passion for what is instinctively right and wrong. The unconventional, non-conformist Atticus Finch is the hero due to his character and morality. Every time I read it I discover more layers of meaning that feed my own values and convictions. It was obligatory reading at school – everyone should read it, whatever age.

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The Good Friday Agreement

Remembering the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago.

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An agreement was ratified in a referendum,(where the issues and implications were clearly slept out and understood) on both sides of the Irish border. 71% backed the deal in Northern Ireland, with 94% supporting the agreement in the Irish Republic.


The Agreement promoted co-operation on both sides of the border on economic and social matters throughout Ireland. The Good Friday agreement is held up as a template for resolving political, especially rival ethnic, conflicts throughout the world. Hillary Clinton said yesterday, “These are difficult times for Northern Ireland, and for our world. As the Brexit debate wages on, I continue to believe in the value of the European Union, and of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.” Her husband, former US President Bill Clinton, supported the Agreement by committing US investment in Northern Ireland, thus shoring up the Peace Process which enabled prospects of hope to flourish and for the simmering fires of poverty, injustice, conflict and violence that had scarred Province for years to dampen. Speaking in Dublin this week, Bill Clinton said that the Good Friday agreement was still a beacon of hope to other people locked in conflict around the world. “It shows us how we might go forward together across the planet…. The architects of the agreement created ‘a fine piece of work’ that others in ethnic wars could learn from”. With the reemergence of tribalism, nationalism, sectarianism and national self-interest fracturing Europe and the wider world, we do well to heed the consequences of such attitudes, actions and policies.

On a day when the world watches the escalating bloodshed in the Middle East and the superpowers are led by men trumpeting their power, paranoia and personal ambition, we do well to pray for peace and for the emergence of men and women peacemakers who posses a different vision of the world, where the power of love conquers the love of power. Wasn’t the original Good Friday Agreement exactly that ~ the power of love as opposed to the love of power. God’s ways are the true paths to peace and reconciliation.

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