‘Luminescence’ – book review

Luminescence (volume I): The Sermons of C.K. and Fred Barrett (ed. Ben Witherington III; Cascade Books, 2017)

Many people know the distinguished theologian and teacher CK Barrett, and his highly regarded translation on and commentary of John’s gospel (just for starters). Fewer people know about Kingsley Barrett the Methodist local preacher.  I was lucky to have heard him preach on a couple of occasions in Durham.  I can still remember his preaching on 1 Corinthians 13 which I heard maybe 30 years ago.  He preached in a lively, learned, accessible fashion (unusual for an academic theologian) and his sermons are still relevant and filled with wisdom.

He wrote his sermons out in full and by hand, keeping them neatly ordered.  When he died in 2011 his daughter knew that she had treasure in her hands and sought someone who would want to publish these sermons. Ben Witherington III, a former student of Barrett took on the task and has brought together a selection of Kingsley’s sermons and those of his father (also a local preacher) keeping note of when and where they were preached.

I was impressed by this record keeping. For example, the sermon on John 6: 28 – 29 was preached 22 times between 1957 and 2000.  I’m not surprised – if I’d written a sermon this good I’d want to preach it for the rest of my life. In it, he writes:

And to come back to the beginning – you can of course say that I am not interested in still small voices, and I am not going to listen. But it is the prophet who listens to his still small voice that goes out to shake the world, to order in God’s name his own life, and the destiny of persons and nations. For us, Jesus, whom God sent, is the one hope of the world, and a challenge to our own personal inward faith and devotion; but the hope of the world will only be realised by faith. (p292)

There is nothing dull in this. It is still relevant and brings the words of scripture with which we are familiar alive to us in a new way. Like the sun shining through the trees on the book’s cover, so his words illuminate the passages and issues with which he is dealing.

It is his words on ecumenism which were prophetic and I think are so relevant for us in Cumbria in this age (although preached for the first time in 1968):

We understand this [that Jesus died for my brother (sic) regardless of his denomination] best at a time like this when we shelve some of the problems and set out together on the task of mission. Personally I am inclined to think that the best service we could do in the cause of true ecumenism would be to put a five year embargo on what we conventionally understand by ecumenical dialogue  -study groups and the like on bishops and presbyteries, baptism and confirmation, regularity, validity and the rest – and concentrate on presenting Christ crucified to the world. (p 315)

This book was given to me as a present, and while I was grateful I thought it would stay firmly on my shelf. I had never read a volume of sermons before and thought they would be a bit worthy and probably very dull. However, I was wrong. I commend this book to you – the sermons are short, intriguing, full of light.  They have in a short time influenced my own preaching and reminded me of the truths of the gospel – relevant to every age.

Author: Revd Dr Allison Fenton, CCL IME Vice-Principal

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