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HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE? CHRISTIAN ENGAGEMENT WITH CONTEMPORARY ISSUES – SAMUEL WELLS

This collection of essays on a wide range of contemporary topics certainly lives up to its subtitle. The first section, ‘Engaging with the World’ covers a wide spectrum from Islam and Islamist extremism to ecumenism and social media. Sam Wells has an arresting style, which owes a great deal to his experience as a regular contributor to Thought for the Day, but as with that programme, just at the point when one is ready for further exposition of the topic, the time is up. There is an interesting take on the story of Ruth in the essay on migration. ‘There is no need to be sentimental about Ruth’s story. She faces a terrible crisis as the story begins. It’s not necessary to portray her simply as a pious, devoted daughter in law who discovers an influential kinsman and patron and makes him her husband. She uses guile and seduction to achieve what her lowly social status would never have given her.’

The second and third sections are as arresting, but in a more personal way. ‘Being Human’ deals with a variety of human conditions, from obesity and domestic violence, to disability, childhood and LGBT. Sam Wells’ direct style and compassionate approach provide plenty of food for thought. Much of the book lends itself to lively group discussions, particularly the essay on international development, where the writer promotes the idea that we should be more humble in our approach rather than adopting a superior attitude of ‘doing good’!

Sam Wells’ experience as a pastor provides the background to the final section, ‘Mortality’. His compassion is evident in these final essays, where he does not flinch or mince his words. In all, this is a stimulating and thought provoking read, not to be swallowed whole, but rather to be taken slowly.

Averil Swanton TSSF