At the Heart of the Gospel: Suffering in the Earliest Christian Message. By Ann Jervis


Pp. xiv, 149 , Grand Rapids/Cambridge , Eerdmans , 2007 , £7.99 .

Ann Jervis teaches New Testament in Toronto and is an Anglican priest and she combines her two roles in this book, which is both scholarly and pastoral. She narrows her study of suffering in the New Testament to Paul and to just three of his letters: 1 Thessalonians, Philippians and Romans. Troubles in her own life have led her to see what Paul makes of suffering for the Christian believer. After a rather long-winded introduction, Dr Jervis offers a basic exposition of what each of the three chosen letters has to say about the theme of suffering. She then adopts a homiletic style at the end of each chapter to pursue her pastoral interest in how we might absorb Paul's message in our present-day situations.

Dr Jervis runs a risk of falling between two audiences with a serious message for the ordinary Christian on the one hand and on the other a more academic exegesis with scholarly footnotes (which can be passed over) but with odd bits of Greek in Greek script which will be beyond most readers-in-the-pew. However, beyond a bit of rather ponderous exegesis, she has some fine and indeed rather moving final pages which may bring understanding and some support to those Christians who experience suffering in their lives. Paul, we are told, attributes suffering to sin; it is not part of God's plan. She goes on, ‘Paul's message is that God in Christ has changed the architecture of existence. Now what supports us when we suffer is both the hope for suffering's end and the reality that sin's … arrogant dictatorship over humankind has been severely damaged …. Sin's shelf life was severely limited at the cross and resurrection. And we who are baptized into Christ's death are aware that God's love has proven stronger than sin. Consequently, while we now suffer, along with the rest of humanity, we know that there will come a time when all will be well. And our hope is that this will be the case for all humanity, for all that is.’