Article of the week: On the altar

31 July 2021

ON MY BOOKSHELF: Summer book club podcast

In a new five-part series, Shield Books authors talk about the books they have written and the books they love – this week Book Editor Rebecca Goldsmith interviews Salvationist Editor Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts


What inspired you to write On the Altar?

I grew up in the Army and there has always been this idea of giving yourself in total dedication to God. It’s been a fundamental emphasis from the beginning. As a teenager William Booth said: ‘God shall have all there is of William Booth,’ and this all-or-nothing approach has always captivated me.

More importantly, there are those words from Romans 12:1: ‘Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.’ That verse was the real inspiration for my book. I also found other verses that spoke of Christian practices in terms of sacrifice or offering – things such as prayer, praise, witnessing and doing good. And, if we talk about the altar, we immediately think of the elaborate system of sacrifices in the Old Testament and how that relates to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. There are lots of helpful Christian books about sacrifice, but none I know of that relates the Old Testament system to practices described in the New Testament as sacrifice. So I thought there was a place for this book, and that was confirmed by some of the feedback I received.


What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

My main hope is that readers will get a clearer understanding of what it means to be a living sacrifice, and that it will lead them into doing something about that in their daily living. That’s why my wife, Jayne, wrote the reflection pages. They are designed to help people think about what they have read and apply it to their lives.

Our culture emphasises self-fulfilment and self-gratification rather than self-sacrifice. But self-sacrifice is at the heart of our faith. Jesus spoke about having life in all its fullness, but also about denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him. These aren’t contradictory statements. In fact, one is the way to the other. If we are to have life in all its fullness, it comes to us via sacrifice. We find fulfilment through sacrifice. We find joy through sacrifice. I hope my book helps people see that more clearly.


Is there a Christian book that holds a particular significance for you?

Prayer has always been important to me, but when I was younger it could be a bit haphazard. I wasn’t very disciplined in my prayer life and I had quite a narrow understanding of it. A Private House of Prayer by Leslie Weatherhead helped open my eyes to the richness of prayer – to the fact that it isn’t just about asking God for things. The book also provides a helpful pattern for daily prayer. It invites you to imagine a house of prayer with seven rooms, representing different ways of praying: affirming the presence of God; praise, thanks and adoration; confession; affirmation and reception; petition; intercession; and meditation. It also provides readings related to each room of prayer. The book helped me build a foundation for my prayer life.


Is there a book not about faith that has influenced your life?

I’ve gone running for a number of years, and the book that inspired me to do that was The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx, which was published in 1977. It gives helpful tips on how to start, how to get better, what to eat and what kind of gear you need. It inspired me and established good habits. It’s not a deep or profound book, but I’ve always thought that, as Christians, we need to look after ourselves – not just our spirits and minds, but our bodies as well. So in that sense it was important. As a student, this is the book that really got me up and running.


What book, other than the Bible, would you take to a desert island?

CS Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces. It’s not a very inspiring title, but the volume brings many aspects of his work together. When you mention CS Lewis people think of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. But he wrote a lot more than that. These are essays and articles he wrote for journals and other publications. The chapters cover faith and society, culture, the Church and literature. They also cover history and philosophy, and there are a few short stories in there as well. With its 135 chapters, it’s like having a library in one volume!


  • On the Altar is available from priced £4.99 (plus postage and packing) and as a Kindle ebook from priced £3.99


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