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Sunday, 25 September 2011

September 2011 Book Reviews

September sees the start-up of Church life in many of the congregations across our Diocese in Europe. To get the theological juices flowing after the summer period, here are reviews of 10 books. You will find interesting and important works on Christology, Liturgy and Worship, Ecology, Evangelism, Priesthood and Church leadership and more.

Góður lestur! (recently back from Iceland!)

Click on the read more link for the reviews.

Richard Bauckham, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, OUP, ISBN, 978-0-19957-527-5, £7.99
This new contribution to the Oxford University Press’s ‘Very Short Introduction’ series by Professor Richard Bauckham starts off with the observation that "Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ (as Christians call him) is undoubtedly the best known and most influential person in world history". However, there have been, and still are, many different understandings of Jesus and in order to decide between them we have to go back to the Gospels "which have always been, not only a resource, but also a means of critique of images of Jesus." From this starting point Professor Bauckham goes on to look at the nature of the Gospels, arguing that they give us reliable access to the historical Jesus, and then considers Jesus’ teaching and symbolic actions in their first century historical context of the land of Israel under Roman occupation. Finally he looks at Jesus’ death and resurrection and the significance that Jesus has come to have for Christian faith worldwide. Richard Bauckham is one of the most important New Testament scholars writing today and this book gives us his scholarly wisdom in a distilled and accessible form. This is a book that is well worth getting to give away to serious enquirers who want to know whether what Christians say about Jesus rests on a reliable foundation. The answer this book gives them, in a readable form, but with scholarly rigour, is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’

Daniel H Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-40515-955-5, £24.99 
One of the most important developments in world Christianity in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century has been spectacular growth of the Church in China. If current trends continue it looks as though, in terms of numbers at least, China will soon be the most important Christian nation on the planet. However, this recent development has not come out of nowhere, but is simply the latest development in the very long history of Chinese Christianity that stretches all the way back to the missionary work undertaken by Nestorian monks in the seventh century. This new book by Professor Daniel Bays, the Professor of History and Director of the Asian Studies Program at Calvin College, Michigan, gives a new and up to date account of this long history, drawing on the significant new research that has been undertake by scholars of Chinese Christianity over the past twenty five years. It provides a comprehensive history of Christianity in China, tracing its transformation from an imported, Western religion to a thoroughly Chinese religion, sets the growth of Christianity in China within in the context of national and local political developments and offers a portrait of the complex religious scene in China today. It also explains the how China is different from other non–Western societies where Christianity is currently experiencing significant growth. As Professor Mark Noll has written, this book is ‘lucid, succinct, balanced, reader–friendly, informative, and altogether authoritative. Readers interested in solid historical treatment of the dynamic story of Christianity in China need look no further. This is THE book.’

Colin Buchanan (ed), Anglican Eucharistic Liturgies from Around the World, 1985-2010, Canterbury Press, ISBN 978-1-84825-087-1, £45.00
There was a time when there was earnest discussion in the Lambeth Conferences about the extent to which it was permissible for churches of the Anglican Communion to produce liturgical material which differed from that in the Book of Common Prayer. That time is now long past and since the middle of the last century there has been a veritable explosion of new liturgical material from across the Communion. It can be very difficult for the non-expert to keep a track of all this new material and this is where Bishop Colin Buchanan comes into the picture. For over forty years he has been collecting liturgical material from around the Communion and this latest book is his fourth collection of new Eucharistic liturgies. To quote a well known advert, this book ‘does what it says on the tin.’  It gives you the text of the new Anglican Eucharistic liturgies from around the world from the 1985-2010, presented in a standardised format, with introductory material from Bishop Colin. While it is probably not bedtime reading, like his previous collections it is an indispensable reference tool for anyone who wants to keep abreast of recent developments in Anglican liturgy.

Maggi Dawn, The Accidental Pilgrim, Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN  978-0-34098-005-7, £12.99
The Revd Maggi Dawn is Chaplain at Robinson College Cambridge. Her new book explores the history and contemporary relevance of the practice of pilgrimage. Going on pilgrimage has been an important form of Christian spirituality since the fourth century, but it was severely criticised by the Protestant Reformers at the Reformation and for many people today it is an alien concept which is viewed as simply a relic of the medieval past. The Accidental Pilgrim argues, however, that it is not simply an historical relic, but can still be a significant form of spiritual discipline for people today. The book, which is illustrated throughout, provides an overview of the history of pilgrimage and an account of the main pilgrim routes and considers the mixture of motives that have led people to make pilgrimages, both in the past and today. It then looks at how people both inside and outside the Church can re-discover the importance of pilgrimage within twenty-first century culture. This is an important resource for anyone who wants an accessible introduction to the meaning and purpose of pilgrimage ancient and modern.

Ben Freeth, Mugabe and the White African, Lion, ISBN 978-0-74595-546-9, £9.99
Many people in the Church of England are aware of the sufferings that Anglicans in Zimbabwe are currently undergoing at the hands of President Mugabe and his supporters. However, their sufferings are only part of wider story of suffering and oppression undergone by the people of Zimbabwe as a whole. Another part of this story is the way in which the government of President Mugabe has sought to get its hands on the farmland owned by white commercial farmers as part of an attempt to consolidate its grip on power. Mugabe and the White African is the story of how two Christian white farmers, Ben Freeth and his father in law, challenged the activities of the Zimbabwean government in this regard on the grounds that they were not only wrong in principle, but were likely to ruin the Zimbabwean economy. They took their case to the South African Development Community and won a ruling that the policies of the Zimbabwean government were unlawful, but in 2009 their family farm was then burned to the ground with their homes destroyed and their employees put out of work. As the forewords by Archbishops Desmond Tutu and John Sentamu indicate, this harrowing book is a key text for anyone who wants to understand the full extent of the evil that has been inflicted on the people of Zimbabwe and the cost that has been paid by those Christians who have been brave enough to resist it.

Michael Green, Compelled by Joy, IVP, ISBN 978-1-84474-542-5, £9.99
Canon Michael Green, the former Principal of St John’s College Nottingham and Co-leader of the Springboard initiative is a veteran Church of England theologian and evangelist who has lost none of his passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ despite the fact that he is now in his eighty first year. As he notes in his first chapter, this book is the ‘reflections of a lifelong evangelist.’ It starts by giving an account of how his passion for evangelism began with his conversion as a schoolboy. It then goes on to look at the variety of ways which God uses to call people to himself and Michael Green’s own first fumbling efforts at evangelism. After that it considers the overall content of the gospel and how it can be proclaimed effectively in church and university situations. Next it explores how to avoid giving a false impression by some of the words we use in evangelism such as ‘born again’, ‘converted’ and ‘saved,’ the challenges to evangelism posed by a postmodern culture and the importance of apologetics. Finally, it explores how to preach about sin and the cross, how to preach for a verdict and what our responsibility is in evangelism and what God’s responsibility is. This book is vintage Michael Green. It is clear, relevant, practical and enthusiastic and it can be recommended to anyone who wants an introduction to evangelism from an Evangelical viewpoint.

Scott Hahn, Many are Called: Rediscovering the Glory of the Priesthood, DLT,
ISBN  978-0- 23252-871-8, £12.99.
As is well known, the Roman Catholic Church in much of the Western world is finding it difficult to maintain an adequate supply of new vocations to the priesthood and the sex abuse scandals in which the Church has been embroiled have both tarnished the reputation of the Roman Catholic priesthood and affected the confidence of those within it. However, in spite of these challenges there are still significant Roman Catholic theologians who want to uphold the central, God given, importance of the priesthood for the life of the Church. Among these theologians is the American theologian Professor Scott Hahn. In his new book Many Are Called, Professor Hahn contends that while God’s call to serve him as a priest can be a challenge it can at the same time be a wonderful blessing. He examines the biblical and historical roots of the priesthood to explain the centrality of the priest in the life of the Church and then goes on to explore the many roles of the priest - provider, mediator, protector, teacher, judge, and more - and shows how they are united in the priest’s vocation to be a spiritual father to God's people. It is, he argues, through the priest, empowered by God, that the continuing presence of Jesus Christ makes itself known to our world. This book is a clear modern re-statement of a traditional Roman Catholic view of the nature and centrality of the priesthood. As such, it is an important text for Anglicans who are seeking to understand this aspect of Roman Catholic theology and it might also provide a good basis for Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue about the nature of priestly ministry in the life of the Church.

Edith M Humphrey, Grand Entrance, Brazos Press, ISBN 978-1-58743-252-1,
Around the world, but particularly perhaps in North America, there are what are known as ‘worship wars,’ heated arguments about the most appropriate style of worship. In her new book Grand Entrance, Professor Edith Humphrey, the Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the United States, seeks to get behind these arguments about worship style by getting to the theological heart of what Christian worship is about. In her view the heart of all Christian worship, regardless of worship style, is entrance into the presence of the Triune God where we praise God alongside the angels and with creation as a whole. Through a thorough but accessible study of the Old and New Testaments she shows that worship as entrance into the presence of God is a prominent theme throughout the Bible. She then goes on to explore how the biblical idea of entrance into the presence of God came to be expressed in the traditional liturgies of the Eastern and Western Church. Finally, she applies her understanding of worship as entrance into the presence of God to the consideration of Christian worship today, drawing on helpful insights from healthy worshipping communities around the globe and offering practical suggestions to those responsible for leading worship about pitfalls that they should avoid. Her book combines biblical studies, the history of liturgy and reflection on contemporary practice in a very creative and challenging way and will be useful for anyone who wants to think more deeply not just about the form of worship, but about its fundamental nature and purpose.

Sebastian Kim and Jonathan Draper (eds.), Christianity and the Renewal of Nature: Creation, Climate Change and Sustainable Living, SPCK, ISBN 978-0-28106-331-4, £12.99
The issue of climate change no longer hits the headlines in the way that it did a couple of years ago. It has been displaced from the centre of political and media attention by other, apparently more pressing, issues, such as financial instability within the Euro zone and political upheavals in the Arab world. However, the issue of climate change has not gone away and a good case can still be made out for saying that climate change, and the challenges it presents to sustainable living, are among the key issues facing humanity at present. As the current drought in the Horn of Africa and last year’s floods in Pakistan have reminded us, changes in the climate can have a devastating effect on human well being. The issues of climate change and sustainable living raise important questions for a range of disciplines including politics, economics and theology and in this new collection of essays edited by Professor Sebastian Kim of York St John University and Canon Jonathan Draper of York Minster a range of contributors with different perspectives draw on these disciplines to examine the causes of the present threat to the world’s environment and its implications for future sustainable living on this planet. The contributors include a number of senior theologians – Archbishop Rowan Williams, Tim Gorringe, Mary Grey, Michael Northcott and Clive Pearson – as well as the environmental activist John Sauven, the BBC science producer Martin Redfern and the former Secretary of State for Environmental Development, Clare Short. This is an important collection for anyone who wants to know more about the nature of climate change, the dangers that it poses and possible ways of responding to it by living in a more environmentally sensitive and sustainable way in the future.

Alan Smith and Peter Shaw, The Reflective Leader, Canterbury Press, ISBN 978-1-84825-083-3, £12.99
There is a growing interest in the subject of leadership in the Church at the moment, an interest which is reflected, for instance, in the work being undertaken by the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS)  on ‘growing leaders’ and the related series of resources on leadership that has been made  available through the Grove Leadership series. This interest in leadership raises the question, however, about what makes a successful leader. In their new book The Reflective Leader, the Bishop of St Albans and Peter Shaw, a Church of England Reader who is a partner with the international executive coaching organisation Praesta, give a fresh take on this issue from a Christian perspective. Their overall argument is that an important key to successful leadership is the ability to reflect on one’s own strengths and weaknesses and on human nature and behaviour in general in order to bring out the best in others and to build team spirit and morale. The book is in thirty one manageable chapters arranged around the themes of Know Yourself, Understand Others, Create a Flourishing Team, Read the Context and Next Steps and the topics that it explores include the art of reflection, the ability to identify key facts, how to weigh up risks, how to nurture self-knowledge and understanding of others, how to differentiate between knowledge and wisdom, the art of listening and building a common vision. This is a clear and accessible account of leadership which is illustrated with appropriate stories and includes useful questions. It can be recommended as a very helpful resource for anyone who wants to think further about the subject of leadership themselves or to encourage others to do so. 

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