Phoebe : A Story – Paula Gooder

This book ended very suddenly for me. I got to the end, thinking I still had about a third of the book to go, only to find that the last section was made up entirely of notes. Really fascinating and helpful notes, full of well explained Biblical research. But I just wasn’t prepared for it to end … my own fault entirely!

There are so many lesser-known characters in the Bible, many of them just a name or short comment, but their rewards are eternal, their names written in the “book of life” (Philippians 4:3). It is easy to forget that these characters were all people with their own story, doubts, fears, backgrounds and spheres of influence. This book brings together, into one story, many of those individuals briefly mentioned in Paul’s letters and through them there is this exploration of life in the very early church.

The characters and scenes feel authentic and they are beautifully imagined and described. And in my view, despite the author’s humility and objections that are mentioned in the notes, the book is certainly worthy of being called a “novel” – albeit one with the clear purpose to communicate the Gospel. Having written Beneath the Tamarisk Tree with a very similar purpose in mind, I can understand the objective. It seems wholly right to use the God-given gift of creativity, fuelled by our Holy Spirit led imaginations, to communicate the Gospel truths through the medium of storytelling. In fact, this is a tradition that has been practiced for many thousands of years.

One passage in the book especially stood out for me. The Apostle Peter probably did make one or two trips to Rome to meet and encourage the new followers of Christ. In this story it offers the opportunity to hear Peter’s explanation to them, of the concept of forgiveness. It is so clearly written and explained, from the point of view of a character who knew the forgiveness of Jesus so personally and powerfully. Forgiveness is a complicated concept to explain and understand, so being able to hear the words as they may have been spoken, from the mouth of Peter, brought a profound understanding. It is a passage I wish I had written!

The extensive notes (and thank you Paula for presenting them as you did, and not using distracting footnotes throughout) show the author’s heart to teach and explain, and a passion to be presenting the story with integrity. Where aspects can be supported by scripture and other historical writings, they are. Areas are highlighted where there may be doubt in the history, or where artistic license has rightly been taken to enhance the story.

Reading that the author has an academic background and has so much good research behind her, offers an authenticity to the creative writing that may not be as strong in other writers of Christian fiction, including myself. As a reader though, it is good to know that a weight of study stands firmly behind the story, and it is a “match made in heaven” to combine this level of academic knowledge with the great skills of a creative writer.

Phoebe, A Story, by Paula Gooder, is available here.