Can we make book clubs a thing, please?

Sally Barker 15 Apr 19

Can we make book clubs a thing, please?

My name is Sally, I’m a medical student at Imperial College London and this year I attempted to start a Christian book club. My main aim is to convince you that this is a great idea, but first, a bit of context:

I’m a member of Imperial’s Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF). CMF is a branch of CU for medical students: like CU, one aim is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ on campus but we also aim to learn and uphold the Christian response to medical ethical controversies such as abortion and euthanasia. What does that actually look like? At Imperial we have monthly meetings, where we ask wise Christian doctors to help us work through some of these issues. Then, once a year, we all head off to a huge CMF Conference to go even deeper. These teachings are invaluable. Hearing accounts of life and death situations; we also hear God’s calling to be Christlike in our response.  Each time, we inwardly pledge to read more of our Bible, read more Christian books and basically become as prepared as we can.

These pledges last about a week (or until the next coursework deadline). Our good intentions get torn down by lectures and placements, which we tell ourselves is more important. No point knowing how to deal with an ethical dilemma if I don’t get my degree first, right?

Well no, not exactly. We are called to work for the Lord, to be shrewd and wise, not academic prize-winners. Nothing is more important than standing tall as Christ’s ambassador.

I attended the CU Forum over the Summer and had the privilege of hearing professor John Wyatt speak at length for the Science Network. He challenged our “intellectual laziness”, questioning who and what we are using our analytical minds for. Gene editing, pharmaceuticals, environmental conservation, artificial intelligence, embryonic research… so many scientific areas in need of informed, intelligent Christian influence.  Nay Dawson suggested unpacking these issues through book clubs (although she didn’t recommend calling them that!). It seemed a perfect solution for Imperial CMF. Unfortunately, we at Imperial lack imagination and couldn’t come up with a better name than book club - please let me know your suggestions!

We decided to start with Professor Wyatt’s book; Matters of Life and Death, in which he weaves together theology, history and politics to craft a Christian perspective on current biomedical ethics. Ideally, though perhaps ironically, many of us had already bought the book at previous conferences but none of us had ever read it…

We advertised the book club to all our members and started in the autumn term; meeting at my flat on Saturday mornings, one chapter a week, brunch provided. We primarily used the study questions provided on the UCCF website but often we had enough questions of our own to unpack!

So was it “successful”? Well that’s hard to define.

Firstly, honestly, sometimes people didn’t come. This was discouraging although it did mean my flatmates and I got to enjoy a lot of brunch food. Other times there were disagreements or tensions in the group. Often it was annoying to have every Saturday morning booked up.

However, there were overwhelming positives. For one, people came who have rarely attended other events, which suggested it did meet a previously ignored need. Discussions were deep and far-ranging; once varying from veganism to mental health treatments to Revelations all in a single morning! We rarely came to conclusions but simply praying about these dilemmas and hearing each other’s perspectives, worries and experiences strengthened our fellowship immensely. I personally feel significantly more prepared to face these decisions as doctor. 

We finished the book in early February and aim to restart with a new book this September (again, suggestions welcome).

I hope this account has inspired you to start book clubs of your own. Bible study is usually nurtured by church, however, it is rarer to find a church that can teach the application of Bible study to a scientific environment. On our own, this can seem an insurmountable task alongside our studies. But a book club is simple and fun.  Find a book that suits your group’s needs - maybe at Forum. Find a space – someone’s kitchen, a room on campus or a good coffee shop. Find a group - pop it on your Facebook page/Whatsapp/Instagram. And then pray for God’s guidance in discussion. What’s stopping you?