Article of the week: That Contentious Spirituality
14 August 2021
ON MY BOOKSHELF: Summer book club podcast
In this series, Shield Books authors talk about the books they’ve written and the books they love – this week Book Editor Rebecca Goldsmith interviews Major Melvyn Jones
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THAT CONTENTIOUS SPIRITUALITY?
The wonderful thing about Christianity is that there is great variety and diversity in its spirituality. I thought it was worthwhile exploring what we mean by a ‘Salvationist spirituality’.
My last appointment as an active officer was as the secretary for spiritual life development. My wife, Kath, and I went around the territory meeting with people in small groups, large groups, retreats and seminars. And in practically every session we discussed with Salvationists what they meant by ‘spirituality’. Salvationists want to talk about it – it’s important to them. I’ve had a lifelong interest in spirituality, inspired particularly by my mother. The book is dedicated to her, because I feel she had a discerning, gentle, Bible-based spirituality.
Writing the book also seemed like a natural continuation of the theme from my earlier book, That Contentious Doctrine, which was specifically about holiness, a huge part of our spirituality. That book focused on the early days of the Army in Victorian England. In That Contentious Spirituality I wanted to take a broader look at spirituality before and after that time.
WHAT STRUCK YOU WHILE RESEARCHING THE BOOK?
One thing was the youthfulness of the Army’s early officers. In the very early days, the vast majority of corps officers were under 25 years old. That surprised me. I’d never realised how much we were a youth movement to start with.
Thinking about what shaped Salvationist spirituality, three things easily came to mind. One was our military metaphor. The second one was our holiness revivalist links. And then, of course, our social action. Those three came naturally, and I think most people could see that. The Salvation Army was incredibly successful in a way I don’t think we appreciate today. It was a Victorian and early Edwardian phenomenon. I think that shaped our spirituality greatly.
I often think that today’s Salvation Army needs to rediscover what made us such a powerful force for good when we started, or even more importantly, a power for God. There are some principles that I think could be rediscovered.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR BOOK?
I want people to engage in discussions about spirituality, because I think it’s a critical issue. The future of the Army in this territory lies in the depth of its spirituality. Everything else is secondary compared to that. If we get the spirit right, then God will look after the rest.
IS THERE A CHRISTIAN BOOK THAT HOLDS A PARTICULAR SIGNIFICANCE FOR YOU?
I found The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer extremely powerful when I read it in my early twenties, thinking about what I should do with my life. You can’t argue with him about the cost of discipleship when he gave his own life for it.
IS THERE A BOOK NOT ABOUT FAITH THAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR LIFE?
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman. I totally disagree with what he says in the book, but I admire his ability as a storyteller. I think narrative stories are powerful and convey a message. To be fair to Philip Pullman, he knows his Bible very well. So I enjoyed the book, although I definitely disagreed with it.
WHAT BOOK, OTHER THAN THE BIBLE, WOULD YOU TAKE TO A DESERT ISLAND?
I came up with more than one. First, The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. This series is a bit of easy-to-read fiction that puts across the Christian message. So you can read it at two levels: it’s fun, but also there’s a deep message there.
The other one is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen one or two adaptations, which I love. I come from a scientific background, and I also like the wacky way that Adams thinks.
To hear the conversation in full, find the Shield Books Summer Book Club podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Podbean, or visit shieldbookssummerbookclub.podbean.com