Reading challenge check-in

A BOOK ABOUT FRIENDSHIP: I read Aimee Byrd’s Why Can’t We Just Be Friends
A BOOK YOU OWN BUT HAVE NEVER READ: I have started reading Echoes of Exodus which I bought last year
A BOOK ABOUT GENDER OR SEXUALITY: I read Glorify God in Your Body
A BOOK ABOUT CANADA, SET IN CANADA, OR WRITTEN BY A CANADIAN: I just read Three Little Words, the last in Jenny Holiday’s Bridesmaids Behaving Badly series, which is mostly set in Toronto, and Jenny lives in London, Ontario.

I liked Byrd’s book a lot and think there’s some really important things in it for the church to learn. Coincidentally, there was a lot about friendship in Glorify God in Your Body too, which I wasn’t expecting but appreciated. I’m glad I’ve read that, too, and found good, clear explanations of a lot of complex issues in it. I’m enjoying Echoes of Exodus as well. Up for the podcast this month is Gay Girl Gone Good which I’m wondering if I can count for ‘Based on a true story’.

I loved the Bridesmaids series and enjoyed Three Little Words a lot. The heroine has a lot of hang ups about food, which is not my favourite thing in a romance, but I actually really liked the way it was handled in this book.

2019 Reading Challenge

Tim Challies has once again offered his Christian Reading Challenges. He sets these at different levels, so that you can choose one which is both challenging and achievable for you. I generally don’t have a problem reading enough, though my reading does tend to a certain predictability. So, what I have done is take his ‘Obsessed’ level challenge and compared it with my 2018 reading. Then I’ve extracted the categories I didn’t manage, which leaves me with 46 entries. I have eliminated the categories I am never, ever going to read: a book about sports, a biography of a US president etc. I’ve also eliminated the categories I did read, just fewer times than he listed them. I’ve also excluded the ones based on specific authors and publishers. I think that’s a perfectly valid challenge, just not one that I’m interested in doing. That leaves the following:


Some of these I’m kind of embarrassed that I didn’t read in 2018: book by a missionary, book about evangelism, book about church history. Some I’m intrigued by: book about aging, books about reading and writing. Some I’m not sure if I will want to bother with: books about Canada, Europe, some other place, book about money.

There are some I already have plans for, e.g. Why Can’t We Just Be Friends by Aimee Byrd. I’ve got this on the kindle already. I’ll probably try Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well at some point. I know I’ve got to read the CEEC book on sexuality for the Church Society podcast next month.

So I’ll see. I guess the point of a challenge like this is to get you reading out of your comfort zone. Mostly it makes me want to assert my freedom to read whatever I want, whenever I want to.

On Reading A Lot

I remember the late, great John Richardson once saying that the best way to get better at reading the Bible was to read Moby Dick. I haven’t ever managed it, I’m afraid, but I definitely think that reading a lot, and reading widely, and reading good books makes you a better reader. I haven’t read Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, but I think that might be part of her point, too. Like Jim Packer, my favourite relaxation is reading genre fiction (not so much detective fiction these days, though I devoured that when I was younger).

A Facebook friend recently wondered whether any of his friends had read more than 100 books so far this year. I was certain I had, but then I realised that, since I read almost everything on my Kindle, it’s now really easy to check exactly how many. I basically read Kindle books as I buy them, so although there may be some margin of error for actual reading, I can tell you that I have bought 239 Kindle books this year, of which I think about 20 remain unread (mostly purchased to read on my holiday, but then I lost my Kindle, so I didn’t read them that week and haven’t yet gone back to them. Over Christmas, probably.) I’ve also read some paper books, and I think the number of those is also around 20, so I’m going to say I’ve read somewhere between 220 and 250 books this year. But to be honest, I’d much rather spend my time reading books than tracking the books I’ve read.

Plus, I read the Bible (though technically, I began in Advent 2017).

Other than that, here’s some things I read that I might recommend to you, if they seem like your sort of thing. I’m not much of a one for telling people what they ought to read, and I tend to run a mile from anything I’m told I ought to read. But if they sound interesting to you, these are all things I enjoyed and thought well-written.


Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey. This actually is sort of a murder mystery, but the real draw of the book is the narrator, who has dementia. It’s beautifully done and heartbreaking and lovely.

Phoebe: A Story with Notes, Paula Gooder. Not a novel, but imaginative fiction based on the early church in Rome. Listen to my review of this on the Church Society podcast on Monday!

Then There Was You, Kara Isaac. Romance fiction is my catnip, and Kara Isaac writes romances about Christians. Like, real, actual Christians that I can imagine I might know. This is, I think, her best, but they are all wonderful. She is my find of the year.


Praying the Light: Unfolding the rich intercession of the Bible, Andrew Case. I should go back to this. It’s a book of prayers that teaches you how to pray the Bible. I was praying one every day for a couple of months, but I fell out of the habit.

None Like Him, Jen Wilkin. I read three Jen Wilkin books this year and dithered over which to mention. They’re all good. I really like Women and the Word, but I picked this in the end, because it’s proper theology and, even if there are flowers on the cover, I don’t care if that means women are working harder at loving God with their minds.

A New Day, Emma Scrivener. We read this in my women’s Bible study group at church and I think we all found it incredibly honest and helpful. Highly recommended for anyone who is a person or knows any people.

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend, Mark Meynell. I talked to Mark about this book here.

The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet. I have never done a diet before in my life. I did this for 8 weeks and spent most of the year happier and healthier than I can remember. It hasn’t completely stuck, but I have no regrets, and definitely plan to do it again in 2019.

Here’s some things I read that I would not recommend:

Party of One, Joy Beth Smith. In my head, this is called Pity Party of One. It’s hard to take advice about singleness seriously from someone who thinks she’s very old at 27.

Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper. I mean it’s fine. But it’s a huge book, and you’ll spend hours reading it that you’ll never get back, and it could easily be summarised in about three pages.

Things I haven’t got round to but meant to read this year. There’s still time, maybe:
Lethal White, Galbraith
On Reading Well, Prior
Echoes of Exodus, Wilson and Roberts
Revelation, Leithart
I’m also in the middle of All That’s Good by Hannah Anderson. And I skim-read Tim Chester’s Enjoying God, but plan to read it properly with a friend (and do the exercises!) in 2019.

Christian ministry and gender

In the Lichfield Diocese, a small group of conservative evangelicals have been meeting with various diocesan staff and others, hosted by one of our archdeacons, as a way of putting the Five Guiding Principles on mutual flourishing into practice. We have discussed practical and theological concerns in order to achieve better understanding and awareness of some of the obstacles to our flourishing.

As part of that, we have discussed a number of papers presented by members of the group. I presented this paper on Christian Ministry and Gender. We had previously discussed papers on gender more widely in the Bible, and I suggested that it would also be valuable to look at gender roles more specifically in the context of ministry. It was a fruitful discussion which revealed some very significant differences of understanding of the nature of teaching and sacramental ministries.

Recently someone asked if I’d written anything about complementarian ministry and my first instinct was to say no. Plenty of other people have written about this and I’ve never felt like I had anything new to add to the conversation. But maybe this paper adds something. It’s not everything I would ever want to say on the subject and it certainly doesn’t convey anything of my personal story of seeking to be faithful and obedient to God in this area. Maybe one day I’ll write about that too.

In the meantime, for what it’s worth, here’s the paper.

How to (accidentally) read the Bible in a year

In Advent 2017 I decided to read through the 12 minor prophets in my personal devotions. At the end of this, it seemed to make sense to keep going into the New Testament, with the gospels. I knew I wanted to move away from reading very small chunks to be delved into in great depth, to reading some larger chunks that give a bigger vision of the whole picture. Both are valuable, of course, and I think it’s a good practice to switch between different patterns. If you only ever read the Bible ten verses at a time, (a) it will take you a very long time to read it all, and (b) it will be hard to keep that bigger picture in view so that you can spot some of the patterns and references. Whereas if you only ever read it ten chapters at a time, you won’t be able to linger over every word and phrase in the same way and catch all of the in-depth nuances. So do both!

By the time I got to Lent, with my sporadic reading habits, I was at John 13, so I slowed down and did daily (kind of) Scripture writing until I’d written through to the end of John’s gospel a few days after Easter. I’d enjoyed the faster pace of reading bigger chunks, so I wanted to try that with some Old Testament books. I thought I’d start with the Psalms, since that’s a book we rarely read in big chunks! And then I kept going, through Proverbs (I found I had to take shorter sections here. Ten chapters of Proverbs is way too much to process!), Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and then Isaiah-Daniel).

At this stage I’d realised I was well on my way to reading the Bible in a year and I’d made an actual list of all the books in the Bible so I could tick them off as I went. I’d grouped them into sections that I could alternate OT and NT. And finishing before Advent 2018 was a definite possibility. In fact, I’ve just made a weekly reading plan for all the remaining books and I have a good amount of wiggle room to play with and still be finished in a year.

I’ve tried various Bible-in-a-year plans before now and never stuck with any of them for more than a few months. What I love about this is:
(a) it’s easy. No switching between several books on the same day. No charts needed;
(b) it feels like the normal way of reading a book. Longer, consecutive sections. Slowing down for some more concentrated sections, speeding up for narratives;
(c) it’s not boring. I know the Bible is not boring, but I will admit, the thought of spending five months on the Psalms, if you read one a day, is quite daunting for those of us who always want to move onto the next thing. If you read ten a day, you’ll be done in just over 2 weeks (see above for why this isn’t the ONLY way you should read!);
(d) it’s happened naturally, rather than as an artificially imposed system. I don’t feel like I’m doing this out of obligation, or to say I’ve done it, or some other trivial reason. I’m doing it because I’m loving the way it’s helping me to engage with God’s word and respond to it. It’s okay if I don’t actually finish in a year, if I pause to do some other kind of devotions, or whatever. It is a joy to read with this kind of freedom, I find.

Some things to consider:

  • There are 1189 chapters in an English Bible.
  • If you read 4 chapters a day, you’ll easily be done in a year.
  • If you read 4 chapters six days a week, you’ll still be done in a year.
  • I find I can easily read 10 chapters of most Bible books in 15 minutes, reading at a normal pace.
  • Some books I can’t read more than 3-4 chapters (Proverbs, Romans), but that’s okay because it’s still within Bible-in-a-year pace.
  • Finishing whole books in a few days or weeks is tremendously satisfying.
  • Reading in this consecutive way lets you be sensible. If I can see that there are 31 chapters in a book, I’ll either read 10, 10, 11 chapters or 8, 8, 8, 7 chapters. If a book only has 5 chapters, that’s one day’s reading. For some of the shorter NT letters (2 John, 3 John, Jude etc), I’ll read several in one day. I don’t have to stick to someone else’s plan so I can work out what suits me! By reading much more than 4 chapters on most days, I know I’ve got time to take over other books. Like spending 6 weeks on 8 chapters of John’s gospel!

The Greatest Song

This Lent, I’ve given a series of talks at my church on the Song of Songs. The talks are all now available to watch online.

The series begins with an introduction to reading poetry, and especially Hebrew poetry. The next two sessions look at the Song in the context of the wisdom literature and show how the book includes wisdom for both women and men. Session four considers the Song in the context of the Hebrew bible and focusses on the royal bride and groom as an exemplar of Israelite marriage. In session five, we began to look at the marriage metaphor in the Song and in the prophetic literature, seeing how the horizon is pushed far beyond that of human marriage. Finally, the last session considers the Song in the light of the New Testament.

I hope you find them interesting and useful.

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