Book review: A Practical Christianity

A Practical Christianity: Working on transforming our lives

A Practical Christianity provides five short chapters designed for reflection aimed at “working on transforming our lives” – hurrah, a book about doing, rather than sitting still and ‘being’. It has been a useful and timely read and one I will go back to a lot, I am sure. Let’s face it, any book that has a whole chapter entitled ‘Being Uncertain’ is going to have a certain appeal!

One of the strengths of the writing is that it encompasses a broad range of material – not just Christian, but taken from many different authors and artists. One improvement would have been to include the illustrations in colour as the pictures chosen lost a bit of their emphasis when reduced to greyscale. I located colour versions of two Grace Cossington Smith paintings online which helped a lot:
Open Door and ‘I looked, and behold, a door was opened in Heaven’.

As an aside I think that one of the other Grace Cossington Smith works I looked at is now in my top three favourite paintings and I’m glad to have been introduced to her work via this book.

This might be a little tricky as a book for a brand new Christian. Not because it’s particularly demanding in terms of activities (there are no exhortations to long meditations for example), but because there’s quite a lot of technical language. I was stuck several times in the introduction and found myself needing to ask for clarification. There’s quite a lengthy list of footnotes too as authors and speakers are referenced throughout the text. I’m used to reading quite academic papers so this didn’t put me off too much but it was a little bit of a stumbling block when I found myself in unfamiliar territory. On the other hand, if you’re a bit fed up with books that seem to skip over difficulties and are perhaps a little too ready to assume that Christianity is easy, or not a 24/7 endeavour – then this will be a worthy antidote.

I feel I have read something that does very good job of explaining aspects of actually living in this very messy world. One where certainty can be dangerous and we’re reminded what actually loving people means and the cost involved. We are encouraged to think about what true forgiveness means. There is a section on ‘seeing God’ which I found very helpful, the stubbornly empiricist side of me often struggles with using visual language (like ‘beautiful’) about something I can’t see. There were new ideas and gentle reminders here for me.
I liked the blend of religious and secular writing, because for me this reflects reality – we take our influences from all around us. I wasn’t so sure about the use of the dust symbolism from the Philip Pullman books but that’s probably because I’m not a great fan of the trilogy rather than not wanting an atheist being referenced, although I admit I had to think about why I didn’t like it being included.

It’s given me plenty to think about and I’d definitely recommend it.

One comment

  1. Thank you for that. Whilst as a new Christian I found the “this is how I did it” stories quite useful as time has gone on I’ve turned increasingly to a more intellectually-based Bible study. It sounds as though this book will find a home on my book shelf too.

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