It has been a couple of months since I posted book reviews on this site. Now that the more relaxed pace of summer is well and truly over in the northern hemisphere, here is a selection of some current books for solid, autumn reading. I have included 9 reviews below. They come from Dr Martin Davie, the Theological Secretary to the Bishops. There are works on Pauline theology, ecology, ethics, a timely book n Pope Benedict's thought, "fresh expressions", and much more....
Just click on the read more link for the selection. Feliç lectura!
Following the attacks on America by Al-Qa’ida in September 2001, President Bush declared a war on terror. President Obama has subsequently scaled down his predecessor’s rhetoric, but his administration and governments around the world are still faced with the problem of how to respond to a global terrorist threat. This new book of essays draws on just war teaching within both the Christian and the Muslim traditions to explore whether, and how, liberal democracies can respond to terrorism in a manner that is both just and effective. The contributors to the volume include academics from Britain and America, Christian and Muslim theologians, former civil servants and a General and the topics covered include ‘The role of religion in shaping terrorism and responses to it,’ ‘Terror and pre-emption – can military pre-emption ever be just?’ and ‘Eating soup with a knife – counter-insurgency and just war.’ As Sir Malcolm Rifkind comments ‘Countering terrorism is crucial for us all. This joint Christian-Muslim response is both a valuable reminder of that fact and a source of specialist analysis and good advice.’
The title of this new book by two American Evangelical theologians is intended to reflect the way in which the idea of a radical diversity within early Christianity, first propounded by the German scholar Walter Bauer, has been taken up by more recent scholars such as Bart Ehrman and popularised by the media. As a result the idea that there was originally no such thing as orthodox Christian belief has become the ‘orthodoxy,’ and the idea that there was has become the new ‘heresy.’ The purpose of this book is to challenge this idea of the radical diversity of early Christianity by showing that when properly understood the writings of the New Testament are all in basic agreement with each other and that neither the existence of various lists of canonical books or differences amongst the various texts of the New Testament reflect fundamental differences within early Christianity. As I H Marshall writes in the foreword: ‘The authors write as adherents of what would probably be defined as an evangelical Christianity that maintains a belief in the divine inspiration of scripture, but, so far as I can see, their arguments are not dependent on this belief and rest on solid evidence and reasonable arguments, so that their case is one that should be compelling to those who do not share their theological position. They present their arguments clearly and simply, so that, although this book is based on wide and accurate scholarship, it should be accessible to readers who want to know more about the themes they address.’
There has recently been a strong campaign in Parliament, supported by sections of the media, to reform British law in order to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide. This campaign is based on the prevailing belief in personal choice and the conviction that it is compassionate to allow those facing unbearable suffering or a terminal illness to chose the time and method of their death. George Pitcher strongly disagrees. In this new book he argues that legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide can never be justified socially, culturally, politically, medically, or religiously. As a Christian he affirms the importance of all life and contends that death should be seen as a part of life. He further maintains that if we permit euthanasia we are choosing to move towards a society in which the right to die will become a duty to die and in which decreasing resources are put into palliative care as ending someone’s life is seen as a preferable (and cheaper) alternative to the relief of suffering. The Archbishop of Canterbury has commented that ‘This is perhaps the most important book on the subject of ‘assisted dying’ that we have yet seen…An absolutely essential read…’
Environmental issues such as the decline in bio-diversity, pressure on water resources, global climate change and the relationship between life in cities and the wider environment are becoming increasingly important in today’s world. It is also becoming increasingly widely accepted that being a Christian involves exercising ethical responsibility in relation to these issues. What is less clear, however, is precisely what form this ethical responsibility should take and how the teaching of the Bible relates to these matters. This new book from IVP is intended to help Christians to understand their ethical responsibilities in environmental matters in the light of biblical teaching. It does this by bringing together experts in the environmental field such as Sir John Houghton and Michael Guebert and biblical scholars such as Danuel Block and Christopher J Wright to produce paired responses to a range of environmental issues. Thus part 3 of the book contains essays on the ‘The diversity of life: its loss and conservation’ and ‘To serve and to keep: towards a biblical understanding of humanity’s responsibility in the face of the biodiversity crisis’ and part 4 has essays on ‘Water for life: Global freshwater resources’ and ‘A biblical theology of water: plenty, food and drought in the created order.’ This is an important text for anyone who wants to think further about environmental issues from a biblical perspective.
The theological work of Pope Benedict XVI is prolific, complex and praised and criticised in about equal measure. In the case of students who do not understand the background to his thought in particular, it can be easy to become perplexed by it. That is where this new volume in T & T Clark’s ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ series will come in handy. In it Tracey Rowland, a Roman Catholic lay theologian who teaches in Australia, provides those wanting to understand the Pope’s thought with a reliable guide to his theology that explains the intellectual background to it and the way that it has developed in dialogue with a range of thinkers ancient and modern, Christian and Jewish, and in response to a series of theological crises that he has faced during his lifetime. It also explores his understanding of Christianity as an encounter with the person of Christ and the account of the theological virtues in his encyclicals and looks at the importance of beauty in his theology, his affinity with the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar and his Augustinian understanding of the relationship between love and reason. This is a very helpful introduction to Pope Benedict’s theology and can be recommended to anyone who wants to understand it better.
There is a common perception that the fresh expressions movement is associated with worship in the charismatic Evangelical tradition. However, increasing numbers of people from the Catholic tradition in the Church of England are becoming involved in fresh expressions and this raises the question of how it is possible to create innovative forms of worship in the Catholic tradition. This new book from Simon Rundell, who is an Associate Missioner with Fresh Expressions and who has also developed audiovisual ministry for the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham and is the curator of the alternative worship experience Blesséd, responds to this question. In it Rundell provides examples, vision and practical know-how which will assist people to engage in alternative worship which is innovative, missionary and creative and which draws on the richness of tradition and the depths of Catholic and Orthodox spirituality. This book comes with a DVD of material for readers to adapt and implement as well as a range of ideas for them to develop their own expressions of post modern alternative worship. This is a very useful resource for anyone wanting to develop fresh expressions in the Catholic tradition.
ISBN 978-0-745962-248-1, £7.99.
Because of the importance of the writings of St. Paul for Christian theology one of the key questions that is constantly raised about the origins of Christianity is whether St. Paul faithfully expounded Jesus’ original teaching or radically distorted it. Over recent years critics of Christianity have argued that while Jesus was a gifted Jewish teacher and a man of unparalleled kindness, he was not the founder of Christianity. Christianity was founded by St. Paul on the basis of the mistaken claim that Jesus was God. This theory has found its way from academia into the churches and the mainstream media and is the one expounded, for instance, by Philip Pullman. In this new book David Wenham, the Vice-Principal of Trinity College Bristol, examines the historical evidence for this theory and shows why it is lacking. Comparing what we know about the life and message of Jesus with the writings of St. Paul he shows that St Paul had access to accurate historical information about Jesus and that so far from inventing Christianity St. Paul was the messenger of faith that had come down to him from those who were Christians before him and ultimately from Jesus himself. A clear and accessible study which is highly recommended for anyone who wants the information necessary to challenge the St Paul invented Christianity myth.
This book, which was the subject of a recent article in the Church Times, is also by a member of the Wenham family, but is on a very different subject. Michael Wenham, who is the Vicar of a rural parish in Oxfordshire, has suffered from motor neurone disease for the past seven years. This is a degenerative condition for which there is no cure and it will eventually kill him. In this book tells the story of the onset and progress of his condition in a down-to earth, honest and humorous ways and tells how what has happened to him has not brought his ministry to an end, but enabled it to develop in new ways. He also explores what his experience and his faith have to say about the problem of pain and where God is in the suffering that he has to undergo. He also questions sincerely what part his Christian faith plays as he faces the end of his life. In spite of its grim subject matter this is a heart warning and moving story that will give courage and hope to those facing similar disabilities and challenge those of us who are not to think seriously about our own mortality. This is an important book and one that would be worth reading alongside the book by George Pitcher on euthanasia reviewed above.