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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

March 2011 Book Selection

I am sorry that I am posting the March book selection a little late in the month! The 10 volumes reviewed include works on ethics, ministry, liberation theology, Old Testament and apologetics in the face of the "new athiests". One book addresses an intriguing question, seldom heard, "is persuading people to become Christian an ethical activity?" There is also a further work by Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion, well known to this diocese. One work, the Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, will be a useful reference book for clergy, readers and readers-in-training to have on one's bookshelf. Perhaps you could suggest someone buy you an Easter gift?

For the reviews, press the read more button.

Nigel Biggar, Behaving in Public, How to do Christian Ethics, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0-80286-400-0, £10.99
Professor Nigel Biggar argues that contemporary Christian ethics too often presents us with a false choice between ‘conservative’ theological integrity and a ‘liberal’ secular consensus when in fact Christian should be resisting these polar options. He charts a third way forward based on a Christian vision of the moral life that allows us to turn towards the world with openness and curiosity. As he puts it in the Introduction: ‘It seems to me . . . that recent Christian ethics has tended to present us with a choice between two options: either a “conservative” biblical and theological seriousness, which is shy of attending too closely to public policy; or “liberal” engagement with public policy, which is theologically thin and bland. This is a choice that I have long resisted making, and it is the purpose of this book to justify that resistance and to articulate a third way.’ Professor Biggar’s attempt to articulate this third way will be of interest to anyone concerned to think more deeply about what it means to do Christian ethics today.

David Ford, The Future of Christian Theology, Wiley Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-40514-273-1, £19.99 (Hardback 978-1-40514-272-4, £50.00)
This new book by Professor David Ford sets out his vision for the future of Christian theology. It explores the ways in which Christian theology in the twenty–first century can face the challenges of our complex religious and secular world in a way that is creative, empathetic, and wise. The book begins by looking at why the twentieth century was one of the most fruitful in the history of Christian thought. It then goes on to look at how we can build on the theological legacy that it has bequeathed to us in the way that we tackle contemporary theological issues. The issues that Professor Ford looks at include what makes for ‘good theology,′ the relationship of Christian theology to the Church, the academy, wider society, and other faiths; and what it takes to become a theologian in today′s world. Underlying the way that he addresses these issues is a vision of a God of love and wisdom who stretches our minds, hearts, and imaginations by inviting us deeper into the drama of contemporary life and thought. Described by Iain Torrance as ‘quite simply, a wonderful book’ this is a volume that will be an important resource for anyone wanting to reflect on the nature of theology in the twenty first century.

David Heywood, Reimagining Ministry, SCM, ISBN 978-0-33404-367-6, £19.99
The Revd Dr David Heywood, director of Pastoral Studies at Ripon College Cuddesdon, offers a new overview of mission and ministry both for ordinands and for those already serving in the ordained ministry. Dr Heywood offers an analysis of the social, cultural and theological context in which ministry takes place in Britain today and then in the light of this context invites his readers to consider a fresh paradigm for ministry for the Church of the future. This new paradigm involves an account of individual discipleship and transformation, an understanding of the kingdom of God as the goal of mission and an understanding of the role of the Church as an agent in mission. This book provides a helpful stimulus to fresh thinking about ministry in the twenty first century.

Metropolitan Hilarion, Orthodox Christianity: Its History and Canonical Structure, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, ISBN 978-0-88141-878-1, US $24.00
This new book by Metropolitan Hilarion, the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, is the first volume of what is intended to be a detailed and systematic exposition of the history, canonical structure, doctrine, moral and social teaching, liturgical services, and spiritual life of the Orthodox Church. The first part of the volume is concerned with the history of Orthodoxy. It begins with an overview of the historical development of the Orthodox Church during the first ten centuries, when the Christians of the East and West shared a common history. It then goes on to look at the second millennium of Orthodox history and here Metropolitan Hilarion focuses on the life of the Russian Church as a case study of how Orthodoxy can infuse the literature, art, and philosophy of an entire culture. The second part of the volume is concerned with the structure of the Orthodox Church. It describes the emergence and development of diocesan structures, metropolitan areas and patriarchates, the contemporary structure of world Orthodoxy and the principle of “canonical territory,” which forms the basis of inter-Orthodox relations. This book is an important resource for anyone wanting to acquaint themselves further with the history and structures of Orthodoxy as these are viewed from a Russian Orthodox perspective.

Chris Howson, A Just Church: 21st Century Liberation Theology in Action, Continuum, ISBN 978-1-44119-992-8, £12.99
Liberation theology is something that is commonly associated with a) Roman Catholicism, b) Latin America and c) the 1960-1980s. However, there is a form of liberation theology that is Anglican and that is still being practiced in Britain in the 21st century. This new book from Continuum gives an account of this form of liberation theology. It describes how a ‘fresh expression’ church in the centre of Bradford has explored how the Church can respond faithfully to issues of war, climate change and global economic inequality through radical forms of worship, non-violent direct action (such as physically resisting the unjust detentions of asylum seekers) and experimenting with new ways of being community that help to build the reign of God. The book tells the story of this church, looking at its successes and disasters and how it has tried to model a new version of the action/reflection approach to theology known as EARS (Education, Action, Reflection, Sustaining). This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to think about what liberation theology may have to offer churches in Europe as they seek to live in way that is faithful to the Gospel in our contemporary context.

Alister McGrath, Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology, Wiley Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-44433-344-2, £19.99 
Professor Alister McGrath was a research scientist prior to becoming a theologian and he has written a series of books that have explored various aspects of the relationship between theology and the natural sciences. In order to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species Professor McGrath chose to explore 'the impact of evolutionary thought on Christian natural theology.’ He begins by clarifying the meaning of the terms ‘natural theology’ and ‘Darwinism.’ He then traces the development of English natural theology from the 1690s onwards and notes how this development provided the intellectual background to Darwin’s thought and the way that it was received. Next he looks at contemporary discussions about the relationship between evolutionary thought and natural theology and in a final chapter he offers some reflections on the future of natural theology in the light of the previous discussion. As one has come to expect from Professor McGrath, this book offers a clear, challenging and up-to-date treatment of its subject matter and it will of interest to anyone who wants to consider more deeply the question of the relationship between natural theology and the theory of evolution.

Alister McGrath, Why God Won’t Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism, SPCK, ISBN 978-0-28106-387-1 £7.99
As well as being known for his books on the relationship between science and religion Professor Alister McGrath is also known for his works of Christian apologetic. This second new book from him falls into this second category. It is a critical examination of the thinking of the so called ‘new atheists’, writers such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. It begins by looking at the origins of the new atheism and asking what is new about it. It then goes on to consider the three key themes of the new atheism, the relationship between religion and violence, the relationship between religion and reason and the relationship between religion and science. Finally, it looks at where the new atheism has currently got to and why it is that in spite of the protests of the new atheists belief in God simply will not go away. This volume addresses key questions such as why is religion experiencing a resurgence in the twenty-first century, when we are meant to have grown out of such a primitive fixation? Has the New Atheism's fascination with rationality led to a fatal underestimation of the longing of the human heart to adore? And if religion is apparently, in Hitchen’s words, 'ineradicable' doesn't this suggest that dismissing belief in God as irrational and unscientific might just be a waste of time? It provides a very useful primer for anyone who is interested in a well thought out Christian response to the new atheism phenomenon.

Daniel Patte (ed), The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, CUP, ISBN 978-0-52152-785-9, £25.00 
This new dictionary from Cambridge University Press is described as ‘an authoritative reference guide that enables students, their teachers, and Christian clergy to reflect critically upon all aspects of Christianity from its origins to the present day.’ Written by an international team of eight hundred and twenty eight contributors from around the world, it offers an account of the history, beliefs and practices of all the major Christian traditions in each continent and each nation and highlights how Christian beliefs and practices have been understood differently in different historical, cultural, religious, denominational, and secular contexts. It also considers methodological issues and the plurality of approaches that are now employed in the study of Christianity and explores the ways in which Christianity has related to other religious traditions in various parts of the world. A full bibliography is also given for all the topics that are covered in the dictionary. This is a very useful and up-to-date reference tool for anyone who wants to know more about Christian belief and practice throughout history and across the world today. The hardback edition costs £95, but at £25 the paperback edition is worth considering by anyone who wants a comprehensive modern work of reference.

Elmer J Thiessen, The Ethics of Evangelism, Paternoster, ISBN 978-1-8422-7724-9, £10.99
There are a large number of books on the market that are concerned with giving on advice on how to do evangelism. However, up to now there have been no books that explore evangelism from an ethical perspective. This new book by the Canadian Mennonite scholar Professor Elmer Thiessen addresses fills this gap. The book addresses two basic questions. First, is seeking to persuade people to become Christians (‘proselytising’) an ethical activity? Secondly, if proselytising as such is an ethical activity are there some forms of it that are more ethical than others? Professor Thiessen answers the first question by mounting a philosophical defence of the propriety of proselytising against those critics who argue that it is inherently immoral to seek to persuade people to change their beliefs. He answers the second by arguing that there are some practices and attitudes that are sometimes associated with proselytising that are immoral, but that it is possible to draw up criteria for ‘ethical evangelism’ to ensure that it is undertaken in a moral way. This is an important book for anyone who has a concern for the Church’s evangelistic activity. It will help to provide them with the intellectual tools to mount a credible defence of this activity and it will help them to reflect more deeply both on the sort of evangelism that the Church is undertaking and on the sort of evangelism it ought to be undertaking.

Daniel Timmer, A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, Salvation and Spirituality in the Book of Jonah, Apollos, ISBN 978-1-84474-499-2, £12.99
This new book from Daniel Timmer, Associate Professor of Old Testament at the Reformed Theological Seminary in the United States, is the latest volume in IVP’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series. As an exercise in biblical theology it looks at the book of Jonah on its own terms, but also examines how it relates to the teaching of the Bible as a whole. After an introduction which looks at the nature of the book of Jonah and how to approach it, there are two thematic chapters in which Timmer looks at ‘The nations and mission in Jonah’ and ‘Conversion and spirituality in Jonah and in biblical theology.’ After that there are four chapters in which Timmer looks in order at the four chapters of Jonah itself. Finally, there is a concluding chapter in which he considers a number of topics arising out of his exploration of Jonah, ‘Christocentric interpretation and application,’ ‘Sin and its consequences in Jonah,’ ‘Judgment and salvation in the Day of the Lord,’ ‘Jonah, mission and the gospel, ’‘Jonah, conversion and spirituality, and the gospel,’ ‘Jonah, imitation of God, and the gospel ‘ and ‘ Mission, ‘Christ-conformity and our triune God.’ This study of Jonah from a conservative Reformed standpoint will be of interest to anyone who wants to think further about the book of Jonah itself or how it relates to the wider biblical revelation.

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