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Monday, 18 October 2010

October 2010 Book Selection

Here is a selection of books for October. It includes a critique of "Fresh Expressions". As someone deeply committed to the mission of the Church I welcome this book. Much in the Fresh Expressions movement is indeed refreshing but some of its theological presumptions need to be challenged. The Davison/Milbank volume is a start. Included in the selection are some good pastoral, biblical and historical studies.

Normally I like to list books that are not going to break the bank. However, there is one this month which is pricier than the normal works reviewed. I include the Lucien Leusteau volume (at a hefty £85) because it may well be of interest to some in this diocese as it deals with a period in the recent history of Eastern Christianity.

Just click on the read more link for the selection. Buona lettura!

Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions, SCM, ISBN 978-0-33404-365-2, £19.99.
The Fresh Expressions movement emerging out of the Mission Shaped Church report has become a central focus of the mission work of the Church of England in early twenty first century. However, in this new book Dr Andrew Davison of Westcott House Cambridge and Dr Alison Milbank of Nottingham University and Southwell Minster argue that is a mistake to reject the Church of England’s traditional parochially based approach to mission in favour of an approach based on Fresh Expressions. They argue that because the forms of the Church are an embodiment of the faith, they need to be determined by theological tradition rather than simply by accommodation to the surrounding culture, and that the traditions of the parish church represent ways in which time, space and community are ordered in relation to God and the gospel. In their view this means that the parochial system represents a more theologically adequate basis for mission than the network approach favoured by Fresh Expressions and is capable of bearing a more robust Christian witness to contemporary society. This book is worth reading both as a critique of Fresh Expressions and as an argument for the continuing missiological importance of the parish.

Lucien Leusteau (ed), Eastern Christianity and the Cold War, 1945-1991, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-41547-197-8, £85.00. This collection of essays edited by the Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University examines the relationship between the Orthodox churches and the political regimes in their countries during the Cold War. It provides a comprehensive overview of the relationship between Eastern Christianity and politics from the end of the Second World War to the fall of communism, covering forty Orthodox churches, including the churches of the Orthodox diaspora in Africa, Asia, America and Australia. The essays in the volume, which are by an international collection of writers and which draw on research in recently-opened archives and publications in a wide range of European languages, analyse church-state relations on both sides of the Iron Curtain. They explore the following key themes: the relationship between Orthodox churches and political power; religious resistance to communism; the political control of churches; religion and propaganda; monasticism and theological publications; religious diplomacy within the Orthodox commonwealth; and religious contacts between East and West. Although this is an expensive book it is a very important resource for anyone wanting to understand the development of the Orthodox churches in second half of the twentieth century.

Michael Mitton, A Heart to Listen (revd. ed.), Bible Reading Fellowship, ISBN 978-1-84101-747-1, £8.99. Michael Mitton is a freelance writer and consultant and Adviser in Fresh Expressions in the Diocese of Derby. The premise of his book A Heart to Listen, which has now been re-issued by BRF in a revised edition, is that we live in a world in which listening has become a lost art. We forget about listening not only to others, but to God, to ourselves, to our communities - and even to the needs of our planet. However, if we do not listen, we cannot hope to grow in wisdom, to deepen relationships with others, or to share our faith in sensitive and appropriate ways. In A Heart to Listen Mitton explores how, with the help of God, we can relearn how to listen. He combines biblical reflection with insights from many years of listening ministry in the UK and abroad and concludes each chapter with an episode from a creative story that tells of people listening and learning from one another in a challenging cross-cultural setting. This is a very helpful book for anyone who wants to learn how to listen in order to build deeper and more caring relationships with God and others.

Melvin Tinker, Reclaiming Genesis: The Theatre of God's Glory - Or a Scientific Story? Monarch, ISBN 978-0-00727-612-7, £8.99. In spite of its misleading subtitle this new book by the well known Evangelical writer Melvin Tinker is not another attempt to address the question about how we should relate the early chapters of Genesis to discoveries in the natural sciences. His book refers to this issue, but that is not its focus. Rather, Tinker argues, when reading Genesis 1-12 we need to focus on the intended meaning of the text for its original readers. For example, God has no genealogy, unlike the gods of the surrounding nations. 'The two great lights' are so described because the words 'sun' and 'moon' referred to regional deities. The description of God resting on the seventh day, the day of contemplation of his good creation, would have been a challenge to the Babylonians who considered seven an unlucky number. When Genesis 1-12 is read on its own terms in this way, says Tinker, we find that it is full of meaning, that it challenges not only the ancient world but also the world today and that it presents us with the foundational themes of the Christian faith: God's mercy, human dignity and purpose and God's mission to heal the nations. This is a helpful study of the early chapters of Genesis that will be useful to anyone wanting to get to grips with its theological meaning.

Stephen Tomkins, The Clapham Sect: How Wilberforce's Circle Transformed Britain,
Lion Hudson, ISBN 978-0-74595-306-9, £10.99
The term ‘Clapham sect’ was first used in an article in the Edinburgh Review in 1844. As a title for the group concerned it is doubly misleading. The group was not a sect and only some of its members had links with Clapham. However, the name has stuck and is used to refer to a group of Evangelical Christians, linked by friendship and family relations, who were prominent in England from about 1790 to 1830 and who campaigned for the abolition of slavery and promoted missionary work at home and abroad. The group centred on the church of John Venn, Rector of Clapham (hence the name) and its other members included well known figures such as William Wilberforce, Henry Thornton, James Stephen and Zachary Macaulay. In his new book the writer and broadcaster Stephen Tomkins tells the story of the group and the religious and political campaigns in which they were involved and assesses their long term influence on Victorian Britain and the British Empire. This is a useful introduction for anyone who wants to know more about the Clapham Sect and even for those familiar with it the book addresses new issues, such as the issue of why Wilberforce and other members of the group were prepared to support the continuation of a form of temporary slavery in Sierra Leone.

Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0-80282-989-4, £12.99. Professor Miroslav Volf is widely regarded as one of the most significant and creative theologians writing today. In this book, in which he draws on his own experience of persecution in the former Yugoslavia, he addresses the issue of what it means to remember rightly. We live in a time when it is generally accepted that past wrongs - genocides, terrorist attacks or personal injustices - should be constantly remembered. Volf, however, proposes that letting go of such memories - after a certain point and under certain conditions - may actually be the appropriate course of action. While agreeing with the claim that to remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it, Volf notes that there are too many ways to remember wrongly, perpetuating the evil committed rather than guarding against it. In Volf’s view ‘the proper goal of the memory of wrongs suffered - its appropriate end – is the formation of the communion of love between all peoples, including victims and perpetrators’ and the achievement of this goal may involving releasing the memory of wrongs that have been done to us. This is another important study by Volf which will help anyone who reads it to think more deeply about what it means to remember as a follower of Jesus Christ.

David Wilkinson, Christian Eschatology and the Physical Universe, T&T Clark, ISBN 978-0-56704-546-1, £24.99 It has long been accepted that Christian thinking about the doctrine of creation has to take place in dialogue with what the natural sciences have to tell us about the origins of our world and of the universe. In his new book, Dr David Wilkinson, Principal of St John’s College Durham and previously lecturer in science and religion at Durham University, argues that the same is true of Christian thinking about eschatology. Overall, the picture that science paints of the future of the physical universe is one of ultimate futility and this raises a challenge to a Christian theology which speaks of hope for the future of creation. In Dr Wilkinson’s view, the best way to engage with this challenge is to take seriously the question of the relationship between creation and new creation and to look at this question in terms of the tension between continuity and discontinuity that we see in the resurrection. Viewed in this way eschatology involves the transformation rather than the destruction of this creation and this view of the matter opens up the possibility of a constructive dialogue with the scientific view of the future. As well as presenting this overall view about how we should understand eschatology, the book also explores the relationship of eschatology to our approaches to the biological world, providence, hope, ethics, and Christian apologetics and considers how a robust Christian eschatology can engage constructively with questions of hope in contemporary culture. This is an important study for anyone wanting to think more deeply about the nature of the Christian hope for the future of creation.

Nigel Yates, Love Now, Pay Later, SPCK, ISBN 978-0-28105-908-9, £ 16.99. Professor Nigel Yates, who died last year, was the Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Wales, Lampeter and specialised in the history of religion in modern Britain and Europe. This posthumously published study by him has the subtitle ‘sex and religion in the fifties and sixties’ and this subtitle explains what the book is about. There is a popular perception that the 1950s was a religiously and morally conservative decade with the 1960s reacting against it and introducing a period of rapid moral and religious change. Professor Yates challenges this perception. On the basis of a wide range of contemporary sources - books (including novels), magazines, newspapers, advertising, fashion catalogues, films and television, as well as a number of significant archive collections he argues that changes in attitudes to religion and morality in the 1960s were only made possible by developments that had already taken place in the 1950s. Because our contemporary society has been shaped by what took place in the two decades surveyed by Professor Yates, this is an important study for anyone who wants to understand the roots of attitudes towards religion and morality in Britain today.

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