It might not seem like a normal book for this site. A New Name is the brilliantly written and harrowing story of Emma Scrivener’s battle with anorexia. Anorexia promises life, but has death as a side effect. It is about control, but it constantly spirals dangerously out of control. And why am I reviewing the book here? Because we don’t preach to lives lived in the so-called bubble of Bible school. We preach to lives lived in the self-contradictory world that Emma describes here.
Emma offers more than just a window into the turmoil and thinking of anorexia. She also offers great theological insight into the motivations driving apparently insane behaviours. Actually, she does a great job of grappling with what it is to be human. And with more than just great writing ability, she offers crystal clear perspective on the rich fullness of the gospel. As the NHS might try to shame a patient into recovery, so a poor gospel presentation might try to shame a sinner into repentance. But the gospel is the need of the broken heart, for sin is the problem that traditional medicine can never cure.
Emma’s story isn’t just an insight into teenage anorexia. A decade later she relapsed. Now we are talking about a university student, or a young married lady with no apparent reason for such internal struggles. There may be several in your church and you wouldn’t know it. But that is part of why I recommend this book. If we are to preach the real gospel to real people, then we need to know what that reality can look like. Emma paints a self-portrait you won’t want to miss.
“For centuries, Christian thinkers have spoken of our will as being ‘bound’. They don’t mean that we’re robots and can’t do what we want. It’s a deeper imprisonment than this. The bondage of the will means that we only do what we want. We follow our desires all the way to the basement – and then we lock the door. That’s our slavery.”
You won’t want to put this book down. Actually, you’ll want to give it away, but also read it again. You will want to preach the gospel more effectively to the complex people hiding before you on Sunday. More than that, you’ll want to spend more time with the Christ who knows how to be the master physician for all life’s messes.