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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

June 2011 Book Selection

Here, to guide your shopping for books, is this month's selection of reviews. 10 volumes to keep you up to date in theological writing.  Biblical studies, apologetics, ecumenism, pastoral theology, and more, including an expensive work on predestination which will look very impressive on your shelf when the bishop comes to visit!

Buna lectură!

For the reviews, press the read more

David Atkinson, The Church’s Healing Ministry: Practical and Pastoral ReflectionsCanterbury Press, ISBN 978-1-84825-077-2, £14.99
The twentieth century saw a major re-discovery of the importance of the Church’s ministry of healing. As a result of this re-discovery the ministry of healing is generally acknowledged to be an integral part of the mission of the Church. In this new book Dr David Atkinson, the former Bishop of Thetford and a leading Anglican ethicist offers a ‘practical and pastoral’ theology of healing that addresses the various different dimensions of this ministry. The topics that Dr Atkinson covers include the biblical understanding of health and wholeness, healing in relation to sickness and disease, personal and environmental health, health and social justice, emotional health, pastoral care and counselling and healing and the sacraments. He also considers the relevance of Jesus’ healing ministry for Christian ministry today, whether suffering can ever be creative and how conversations between theology, psychology and medical science are shaping our contemporary understanding of the meaning of healing. This is a concise and helpful introduction to the ministry of healing that will be useful to anyone approaching this form of ministry for the first time or to anyone involved in this ministry who wants to think further about the theological and practical issues that it involves.

C John Collins, Did Adam and Eve really exist? IVP, ISBN 978-1-84474-525-8, £9.99
For most of the history of the Church it has been believed by Christians from all Christian traditions that Adam and Eve were real historical people who lived at a particular place and time and who committed a particular act that launched the human race on a trajectory of rebellion against God which could only be undone by the redeeming work of Christ. Over the past century and a half, however, this way of understanding Adam and Eve has lost ground in the Western Church because of the dual impact of the critical study of the Bible and the influence of the natural sciences. As a result many Christians now see Adam and Eve as symbolic or mythical rather than historical figures. The purpose of the new book by the American scholar Professor C John Collins is to challenge this new way of looking at Adam and Eve. As he puts it in the Introduction ‘My goal in this study is to show why I believe we should retain a version of the traditional view, in spite of any pressures to abandon it. I intend to argue that the traditional position on Adam and Eve, or some variation of it, does the best job of accounting not only for the Biblical materials but also for our everyday experience as human beings—an experience that includes sin as something that must be forgiven (by God and our fellow human beings) and that must be struggled against as defiling and disrupting a good human life.’ In arguing for this position Collins surveys the relevant biblical material as well as Jewish literature from the second temple period, arguing that this material indicates belief in an historical Adam and Eve. He then goes on to consider how a belief in a historical Adam and Eve helps us to make sense of our experience of being human. Finally he looks at how such a belief can be related to the findings of the natural sciences, exploring what he calls a range of ‘sample scenarios’ in this connection. This is an important study for anyone who wants to think further about the origins of the human race and how we should bring together the Bible, experience and science in this area.

Andrew Davison (ed.), Imaginative Apologetics, SCM, ISBN 978-0-33404-352-2, £19.99
Apologetics is the rational defence of the Christian faith in a public context using the language of contemporary thought. The practice of apologetics has been a central part of Christian missionary activity since the earliest days of the Church, but in recent times it has tended to become associated with either Roman Catholicism or Evangelicalism. This new volume of essays on Christian apologetics is edited by Dr Andrew Davison, Tutor in Christian Doctrine at Westcott House, Cambridge. It has its origins in a series of summer schools on apologetics held at St Stephen’s House, Oxford and it seeks to reclaim the importance of apologetics in a Catholic Anglican context. The contributors to the volume include well known and well respected theologians such as John and Alison Milbank, Graham Ward and Alister McGrath, and the topics they cover include what is apologetics, common objections to the Christian faith, the nature of contemporary atheism, apologetics and contemporary culture and apologetics and the parish. Bishop Christopher Cocksworth has described the volume as ‘an original and inspiring contribution to the apologetic task of the Church.’ It will be of interest to anyone, whether or not they see themselves as in the Catholic Anglican tradition, who wants to think further about how to engage in Christian apologetics in today’s world. 

Matthew Dickerson, The Mind and the Machine, Brazos Press, ISBN 978-1-58743-272-9, £11.99
One of the key questions for any theological or philosophical system is what does it mean to be human?  The answer to this question given by a number of influential writers today is that human beings should be viewed as nothing more than complex biochemical machines and that the human mind can be fully understood in purely biological terms. A concomitant of this view of the human person is that human consciousness is nothing more than biochemical ‘software’ that could one day be downloaded onto supercomputers. In this new book from Brazos Press, the American computer scientist Professor Matthew Dickerson critiques this view of human nature as unnecessarily reductionist. Drawing on the Bible, and the works of C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien, as well as contemporary works on philosophy, science and computing he argues that the traditional Christian view that human beings are spiritual as well as physical beings, with a soul as well as a body, does more justice to what we can observe about human beings and offers us a far richer vision of personhood, creativity, and love. This is a thought-provoking book on a timely topic which will be of interest to anyone interested in contemporary thinking about science, religion, philosophy and technology, or who simply cares about what it means to be human.

Stephen Kuhrt, Tom Wright for Everyone, SPCK, ISBN 978-0-28106-393-2, £9.99
The premise behind this new book by Stephen Kuhrt, the Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden, is that although the numerous writings of Bishop Tom Wright have given him a global reputation as a biblical scholar and a theologian there has been a widespread failure in both the academy and the Church to fully engage with his thinking and its implications for Christian life today. The purpose of Mr Kuhrt’s book is to challenge people to make this engagement. The book is in two parts. The first part gives a summary of Tom Wright’s theology. It argues that this theology helps to address some of the weaknesses that exist within contemporary Evangelical thought in a variety of different areas including attitudes to the Bible and biblical scholarship, the nature of the Christian hope, the significance of the resurrection, how to understand sin, evil and the atonement, ambivalence towards the created order, the theology of the Church and the sacraments and the theological basis for holistic mission. The second part describes the way in Mr Kuhrt has sought to put this theology into practice through the ministry and mission of Christ Church, New Malden. As Graham Tomlin has commented, this book ‘will be a very valuable contribution in narrowing the gap between the academy and the church, a gap which has often yawned far too wide.’ It will be of interest to anyone who wants an introduction to the key aspects of Tom Wright’s theology or who wants to think further about the practical implications of this theology for the life of the Church today. 

Matthew Levering, Predestination: Biblical and Theological Paths, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19960-452-4, £60.00
The doctrine of predestination is often associated with the theologies of St Augustine and John Calvin, but it would be a mistake to think that these were the only Christian theologians who have been concerned with this topic. In reality a belief in some form of predestination has been a common feature of most forms of Christian theology down the centuries. In his thorough and wide ranging new study of the doctrine predestination, the American Roman Catholic Theologian Professor Matthew Levering explains that there are two reasons why Christian theologians have been concerned with this topic and why they need to continue to be concerned with it. Firstly, predestination is something that is specifically taught by the writers of the New Testament (as it was by Jewish writers of the second temple period) and so it is something that any theology that is based on the Bible has to address. Secondly, a belief in predestination is something that necessarily follows from the general biblical teaching that God loves each and every rational creature that he has made, that God brings about those purposes which he has willed from eternity for each one of us and that he allows some rational creatures freely and permanently to rebel against his love. After surveying the biblical material Levering traces the way in which a series of Christian theologians, Origen, St. Augustine, Boethius, St. John of Damascus, John Scotus Erigena, St Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, St. Catherine of Siena, John Calvin, Luis de Molina, St. Francis de Sales, Gottfried Leibniz, Sergei Bulgakov, Karl Barth, Jacques Maritain, and Hans Urs von Balthasar have attempted to make sense of the biblical material relating to predestination. In a final constructive chapter he then looks at the future of the doctrine. Professor Levering’s overall contention is that most theologians have tried to unite the twin truths that God has an eternal loving purpose for each human being and yet allows some of them to permanently reject his love into a logical synthesis. As he sees it, however, what theologians ought to do is to affirm both these truths simultaneously without trying to bring them together into a logical unity. As an OUP hardback this is an expensive purchase, but it will be worth getting by anyone who wants to understand how and why the doctrine of predestination has been a thread running throughout the history of Christian theology.

Ann Morisy, Borrowing From the Future, Continuum, ISBN 978-1-44112-536-1, £ 12.99
The subtitle of this new book from the community theologian Anne Morisy is ‘a faith based approach to intergenerational equality’ and this subtitle makes clear what this book is about. The issue the book explores, from the perspective of Christian faith, is how we can adapt our lifestyles and redirect our resources to meet the challenges that arise from increasing longevity. Throughout history people have been used to making sacrifices in order to invest in the future of their children, but with an increasing proportion of society consisting of the elderly the issue of the sacrifices necessary to care for the elderly is now becoming increasingly important. This issue is particularly difficult as those who are now becoming elderly can be seen to have done better for themselves in terms of employment opportunities, pension provision and the ability to buy property than the generations that have followed them. It is at this point that the issue of intergenerational equality arises. In a society that is becoming increasingly elderly how do we avoid a situation in which the elderly have already borrowed resources from the generations that will follow them and who will need to care for them? In this book Anne Morisy agues that the challenge of providing for an increasing number of elderly people means that we have to be prepared to re-think our lifestyles and the importance that we attach to the pursuit of wealth. The issue that this book addresses is one that will become increasingly important in the years to come and this book is a helpful wake up call to Christians to think about how to address this issue from a Christian standpoint. 

Nick Spencer, Freedom and Order, Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 978-0-34099-623-2, £16.99
Because this year is the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible there has recently been a spate of books which have looked at the history of that version of the Bible on the culture of the English speaking world. In the midst of this spate of books the new study by Nick Spencer, the director of studies at the public theology think tank Theos offers something distinctive. Many books have considered the impact of the Bible on the English language and English literature, but few studies have considered its impact on the history of English politics. Furthermore, when the Bible’s impact has been considered it has generally been treated as something from which we have had to escape in order to enjoy our current freedoms, rather than as something that contributed positively to the development of our political system. Nick Spencer’s study argues that this way of looking at the Bible’s influence on politics is misleading. It shows instead that from the earliest days of the Church in this country the Bible has had a critical and positive influence on English politics. As Nick Spencer himself puts it in an interview with the Jubilee Centre: ‘The book begins from the premise that we seem very happy to say it is impossible to understand English literature without some grasp of the Bible, but we are peculiarly reluctant to say the same, even assuming we realise it, about politics. There is a vast and deep philosophical ground beneath our political feet that we often ignore, made up of ideas like: all humans are of equal worth, all are equal under the law, differences in religious opinion should be tolerated, the state should allow for religious freedom, government is justified by its commitment to the common good, the people should have a voice in selecting their political rulers, etc. These are moral ideas on which our politics depends. The book does not claim that such ideas would never have been generated without the Bible but it does draw attention to the fact that, whether we like it or not (and it is no secret that some secularists don't!), they were generated in a culture that was underpinned and profoundly shaped by the Bible.’ This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the influence of the Bible on the history of this country.

Kenneth Wilson, Methodist Theology, T&T Clark, ISBN 978-0-56764-498-5, £14.99  
In the light of the continuing development of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant it is important that Anglicans achieve a good understanding of what Methodism stands for, and this new book by the Methodist minister and theologian Professor Kenneth Wilson will help them to do this by providing them with an accessible introduction to Methodist theology. Professor Wilson argues that while Methodism is not doctrinaire Methodists are clear about what they believe. In developing their theology, he says, they draw on contemporary biblical scholarship and the Christian tradition as well as conversation with other Christian churches, members of other faiths and contemporary secular thought. Professor Wilson further contends that Methodist theology is Christ centred and therefore Trinitarian and is centred on a belief in the free grace of God that is available to all people. In his view Methodism is serious about worship, public and personal, since it wants to celebrate the reality of God's presence with all God's people. Lastly, Professor Wilson maintains that Methodism is a single society that seeks to draw others into its fellowship. This means that the Methodist Church does not have missionary societies. Properly understood, it is a society organised for mission. As has already been noted, this volume provides an accessible introduction to Methodist theology and it can be recommended to anyone who wants to know more about what Methodism stands for.

Michael L. Budde and Karen Scott (eds), Witness of the Body: The Past, Present and Future of Christian Martyrdom, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0-80286-258-7, £14.99
It has been plausibly argued that the twentieth century saw more Christian martyrs than any century before it and anyone who is attentive to the state of the church around the world will know that the roll call of Christian martyrs continues to grow in the twenty first century. However, as the Introduction to this new study of Christian martyrdom notes: ‘Martyrdom sits uneasily among the settled notions of our time. Like a piece of furniture that clashes with a carefully choreographed décor, or brown shoes paired with a tuxedo, martyrdom seems both out of place and a source of unease.’ As the Introduction goes on to explain, this unease is because: ‘For some people, martyrdom conjures unbelievable stories of miraculous and heroic figures from the past, or perhaps a near-pathological glorification of torture and pain. For others, the willingness to endure and impose martyrdom represents an outdated certainty about truth that legitimates intolerance toward other value systems. More recently, martyrdom has been smeared by blood shed by political actors who kill others and themselves in hopes of becoming “martyrs” who are then showered with blessings in the afterlife.’ In the face of this unease the purpose of the collection of essays that make up this study is to do two things. On the one hand it seeks to show why some notions of martyrdom (like that of a suicide bomber) are incompatible with Christian martyrdom rightly understood. On the other hand, in order to do this it seeks return martyrdom to a more central place in the self-understanding of the Church, showing why some forms of martyrdom are a necessary part of bearing faithful witness to Jesus Christ. This is an important collection of essays that will be helpful to anyone who wants to understand the importance of martyrdom in the Christian tradition or to think through why some forms of martyrdom are legitimate whilst others are not.   

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