A chosen vessel - a review of the book "A Time to Act""

A Time to Act (book review)

 

Paul’s ministry is the subject of several books written by Christadelphians and countless works published outside our community. This is hardly surprising, because having entered the record in Acts 7:58, Paul dominates the New Testament until at least the letter to Philemon.

Within our community Bible students will glean many insights into Paul’s work from works such as bro TJ Barling’s Paul’s Epic Journey to Rome, bro Nigel Bernard’s Saul of Tarsus, bro WH Boulton’s Paul the Apostle, bro John Mitchell’s Paul: The Apostle by Grace, bro AD Norris’ Acts and Epistles, and bro Allan Spier’s Paul – The Prisoner of Jesus Christ. In addition to these books there is bro Michael Owen’s In the Company of Paul and the many works on Acts and the epistles of Paul which impart thoughts about the work of this great man. Countless magazine articles over the past 150 years have commented on Paul; among these The Testimony published in March 1937 a special issue devoted to the labours of Paul, and another special issue in May-June 2015 devoted to the book of Acts and therefore deals extensively with Paul’s work. With so many works already available it might be wondered whether yet another book about Paul could add much value. When that book is A Time to Act the answer to that question is yes.

A Time to Act is the fourth in the series of “A Time to” books authored by Sis Sue Knight. The first three books in this series, A Time to Hear, A Time to See and A Time to Speak, published by The Christadelphian in 2006, 2009 and 2012 respectively, are fictionalised records set in the first century. Based heavily on and consistent with the New Testament record, they introduce their readers to a community of Israelites as they try to make sense, firstly, of the ministry of John the Baptist and then the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The third book in the series sees the characters from the earlier books embarking on the task of spreading the good news of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

With a title that very appropriately alludes to the book of Acts, this fourth book in the series, self-published in 2015, incorporates many of the characters from the earlier works. It commences not in the Holy Land but in Tarsus with the birth of a baby boy named Saul to a godly Pharisee family. The story traces Saul’s growth to manhood in that prosperous Gentile city, his relocation to Jerusalem to continue his rabbinic studies at the feet of Gamaliel, his persecution of the fledging ecclesia, his dramatic conversion, Paul’s challenge to gain acceptance by understandably wary disciples of Jesus, his ministry in Antioch and through to the end of the first missionary journey.

In the 1980s the author wrote a much shorter fictionalised account of Paul’s ministry entitled The Torchbearer, designed specifically for younger readers. At 605 pages, this latest book builds substantially on that earlier work and is aimed at a much broader audience. While it would be accessible to teenage readers it certainly will not disappoint older readers. Inevitably the early chapters the book are quite speculative as the author paints a picture of Saul’s early life based on the scant hints in the Biblical record. But from the trial and execution of Stephen onwards, the storyline draws very firmly upon the record in Acts, supplemented as appropriate by information recorded in letters Paul wrote to some of the communities mentioned in the book.

As with earlier works in the series, A Time to Act benefits from sis Knight’s research into the history and archaeology of the places mentioned. Much of what is recorded in terms of the colour and drama of the places and incidents is speculative, but that speculation is well ground in historical and Biblical facts. The book has all the characteristics of the earlier works in the series – a captivating storyline, the author’s intriguing palette of words and, where appropriate, her trademark gentle humour.

Not all readers of The Testimony have an appetite for reading novels, but those that do may find this work very enjoyable. Those who (like this reviewer) tend to think that reading a novel can perhaps be a little too indulgent should take into account that a book of this nature is valuable as an adjunct to more systematic Bible study in that it provides useful background that helps the student visualise the scenes and understand the humanity of the characters introduced in the Biblical record.

While it would not be necessary to read the first three books in the series before tackling this latest work, a familiarity with the earlier works will assist the reader to pick up the threads of the story. The fact that A Time to Act ends with Paul’s return to Antioch at the end of his first missionary journey suggests that there may be at least one more instalment in this series. Be that as it may, the work is complete in itself and is recommended in its own right as well as a fitting fourth instalment in what has proved to be a popular series of books. It is available on line and, in the United Kingdom, from The Christadelphian and, in Australia, from the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service.

 

Geoff Henstock

 

This review was first published in The testimony for September 2016

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