Like poetry in a telephone directory

A review of ‘shadow doctor: the past awaits’ by Adrian Plass

Just over two years ago, I reviewed the first Shadow Doctor book by Adrian Plass. I admired his deft ability to scratch where Christians hate to admit they itch. I commended the author’s gently provocative language, and I warmed to the book’s subtle theology. At the time, I had only one criticism, which was that the book ‘feels rather like the first two acts of a three act play.’. In The Past Awaits, we have that third act.

The relationship between the book’s two key characters continues to deepen. The flaws in the eponymous doctor are revealed in far more depth. He is more broken and vulnerable than any reader would have suspected on their first encounter. Once again, his language is a banquet for the theological imagination, disguised as nibbles at a buffet table. Consider, for example, the description of coming to faith as ‘signing up to join Jesus behind the counter to help with other customers’.  Alternatively , there is the Shadow Doctor’s description of himself and God as being like two old friends who built a giant catapult on the edge of a cliff: ‘we go back a long way and we know when to let go‘. Finding such gems in the midst of the narrative really is like finding poetry in a telephone directory.

Anyone who wants to hold their faith up to the light and examine the interplay of light and shadow will find something of value here. Those engaged in the tricky and delicate business of pastoral care will especially recognise some of what goes on.

The one thing missing here is the element of surprise. Rather like a winner who comes through the first round of a TV talent show – you know the gag when they come back for the next round. That said, if the performance is good enough then the lack of surprise will not trouble you after the first few seconds. I suspect the the same is true here. Give the Shadow Doctor a second go and you are unlikely to be disappointed.

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