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Sunday, 29 January 2012

January 2012 Book Reviews

Here is the first collection of book reviews for 2012. There are 8 volumes reviewed here (all thanks to Dr Martin Davie, the Bishops' Theological Advisor).  Interesting new works on patristic theology, canon law, medical ethics, spirituality and apologetics are among the books listed. Luke Timothy Johnson's new book on Luke-Acts will be useful to our preachers, and for those who are engaged in bereavement and funeral ministry, Professor Thiselton's book will be an invaluable theological resource.

Felix lectio!

Click on the read more link for the reviews.

Will Adam, Legal flexibility and the mission of the Church, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-40942-055-2, £50.00
One of the issues that those who have positions of authority in the Church constantly have to address is how strictly to apply church law. In the abstract it might seem clear that the law should be applied in the same way in all circumstances and to all people. However the universal application of this principle can produce unfortunate consequences. As Will Adam notes in the introductory chapter to his new book, ‘the adoption of a flexible approach to the enforcement of law is open to criticism in that too much flexibility can lead to the law losing respect and becoming toothless, yet a very strict approach can lead to the discovery of hard cases where the strict application of the law produces an unjust result or one that is contrary to the purpose of the law itself.’ Dr Adam explores the concepts of ‘dispensation’ and ‘economy’ developed in the Western and Eastern halves of the Church as way of addressing the problem outlined in this quotation. He also looks at how the principle of dispensing power and authority has been codified and understood in Roman Catholic and Orthodox codes of canon law and how, although the Church of England has tended to regard this principle with suspicion, flexibility in the application of the law is something that can be found in the English legal tradition and is integral to the law of the Church of England. His overall argument is that a principled flexibility best enables the Church to use the law to further its mission in the world. This is an important study that should be read by everyone concerned about the place of the law in the life of the Church.

Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, Baker, ISBN 978-0-8010-313-28, £24.99 (Kindle edition available)
Khaled Anatolios is Professor of Historical Theology in the Boston College of Theology and Ministry in the United States. His new book on the development of Nicene theology in the fourth and fifth centuries is based on the double conviction ‘that the development of Trinitarian doctrine is the key to its meaning, and that the contents of this meaning constitute the entirety of Christian faith.’ According to Anatolios the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the wake of the Council of Nicaea was not concerned simply with the narrow question of how to understand how God can be simultaneously both three and one in His own being, but with the larger question of how to understand the nature of the Christian faith as a whole. It follows that a contemporary re-appropriation of the Trinitarian faith also needs to involve a global interpretation of the Christian faith in its entirety. Professor Anatolios’ book is intended to provide the intellectual resources for such a re-appropriation by identifying the theological issues that were involved in the development of Nicene Orthodoxy. He looks at the work of Arian and Semi-Arian theologians such as Arius himself, Asterius, Eunomius and Eusebius of Caesarea, and at the work of early defenders of Nicaea such Alexander of Alexandria, Marcellus of Ancyra and Apollinaris of Laodicea and explores the fundamental theological issues at stake between them. He then focuses of the thought of three key exponents of Nicene orthodoxy, St Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St Augustine. Finally he looks at the ‘systematic scope of Nicene theology,’ considering how it relates to the topics of revelation, Scripture, Tradition and Scriptural interpretation, worship, the primacy of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, the Christian understanding of salvation, the creation of human beings in God’s image and lastly the Trinitarian nature of God’s own being. For anyone who wants to understand Nicene Christianity and its relevance for today, Anatolios is simply indispensable.

Anthony Fisher, Catholic Bioethics for a New Millenium, CUP, ISBN 978-0-52125-324-6, £19.99 (Kindle edition available).
This new study of Roman Catholic medical ethics is written by Bishop Anthony Fisher who is a Dominican friar and the Bishop of Parramatta, in Western Sydney. He is a Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Professor of Moral Theology and Bioethics in the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, Melbourne and Adjunct Professor of Bioethics in the University of Notre Dame, Sydney. In this study Bishop Fisher addresses the question of whether it is possible to synthesize the Hippocratic and Judeo-Christian traditions with contemporary thinking about practical reason, virtue and community in order to provide real-life answers to the moral dilemmas raised by contemporary medical practice. The study is in four parts, The first part looks at how we should go about doing bioethics. It looks at the contemporary context, what obedience to conscience means in this context and whether it is ever right to collaborate with wrong doing. The second part looks at issues relating to the beginning of life. It considers the question of when human life begins, stem cell research and abortion. The third part looks at later life. It looks at the issues of transplants, artificial nutrition and suicide and euthanasia. The fourth and final part, entitled ‘protecting life’ considers the role of Catholic hospitals. It looks at the challenges currently facing Catholic hospitals and Catholic hospitals as places of diakonia, leitourgia and martyria. It concludes with ‘six tasks for a new century.’ This is a valuable introductory study for anyone who wants to understand contemporary Roman Catholic medical ethics and what they can contribute to wider Christian moral reflection in this area.

Paul L Gavrilyuk and Sarah Coakley (eds.), The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity, CUP, ISBN 978-0-52176-920-4, £55.00 (Kindle edition also available).
As Paul Gavrilyuk and Sarah Coakley note in their Introduction to this new book on the spiritual senses, ‘Christian authors of all ages have used sensory language to express human encounters with the divine.’ They have found warrant for their use of this language in the way in which the Bible itself uses the language of the senses to describe the ways in which we know God. Thus Psalm 34:8 declares ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’ In similar fashion the beatitudes promise that the pure in heart shall see God (Matthew 5:8). However, the Bible also insists that the nature of God means that he is beyond direct human physical perception. That is why in Ezekiel 1:26, for example, what the prophet sees is only ‘the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.’  Faced with this dual biblical testimony Christian thinkers as diverse as Origen of Alexandria, Bonaventure, Jonathan Edwards and Hans Urs von Balthasar have approached the question of how we can have experience of God by appealing to the concept of the 'spiritual senses'. In this study of the spiritual senses in the Western Christian tradition Gavrilyuk and Coakley have assembled a team of scholars who trace chronologically how the concept of the spiritual senses has developed from the work of Origen to the work of recent analytic philosophers of religion. In their essays these scholars discuss how the spiritual senses relate to the physical senses and to the body, and analyze their relationship to mind, heart, emotions, will, desire and judgement. They also consider the importance of the idea of the spiritual senses for theological epistemology and Christian spirituality. This book is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to understand the nature and development of the concept of the spiritual senses and what it might have to offer to contemporary spirituality, theological anthropology and the philosophy of religion.

Luke Timothy Johnson, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0-80280-390-0, £16.99.
Luke Timothy Johnson is a highly regarded New Testament scholar who is currently Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University in the United States. His new book is based on the conviction that in the words of Proverbs 29:18 ‘without a vision the people perish.’ In his words: ‘Humans chronically and desperately need prophetic visions. Without them the world runs all too smoothly on the basis of programs and politics formed exclusively by human reason — and human reason severed from God’s saving word tends to become simply a kind of cunning. Without prophetic challenge, the world quickly becomes structured along the lines of expediency and self-interest.’ His new study of Luke Acts is written in an effort to stimulate a prophetic vision for the contemporary Church. To quote Johnson’s own words: ‘My argument is straightforward and has three parts. First, when the New Testament composition commonly designated by scholars as Luke-Acts (the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) is read as a literary unity, it reveals a prophetic vision of both Jesus and the church. Indeed, the church of Acts is, if anything, even more radically prophetic than Jesus in the Gospel. Second, as part of canonical Scripture, the voice and vision of Luke-Acts has a prophetic function for the church in every age. It does not simply report past events; it imagines a world that challenges the one that humans in every age construct on their own terms. Third, if we in the church today choose to heed Luke’s challenge, we shall need to think of the church in more explicitly prophetic terms and find ways of embodying and enacting God’s vision for humans.’ This is a stimulating and challenging study of Luke Acts which will be of value to anyone who wants to think about what this part of Scripture has to say to us not just as a record of the past but as the word of the Lord addressed to God’s people today.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Yale, ISBN 978-0-30016-892-1, £11.99. (Kindle edition available)
God has made human beings as creatures with physical bodies. It follows that in order to understand human nature properly it is necessary to pay attention to how our physical bodies operate. One of the ways in which the human body is structured is that the brain is divided into right and left hemispheres. For centuries people have puzzled over the significance of this fact and in his book The Master and His Emissary  Iain McGilchrist, who is a former fellow of All Souls, Oxford and was a Consultant and Clinical Director at the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospital in London, draws on recent research to explain the difference between the two halves of the brain and why this difference matters. He argues that this research shows that the two halves of the brain give us two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world. The left hemisphere is orientated towards detail, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is marked by greater breadth, flexibility and generosity. Having explained this difference McGilchrist then goes on to look at its significance for our understanding of the history and current state of Western civilization. He considers the tension between the influence of the two hemispheres as shown in the work of a range of thinkers and artists, from Aeschylus to Magritte. He also contends that in the modern world the left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence, even though it has a more limited grasp of reality than the right hemisphere, and that this is a development that has potentially disastrous consequences. This is an important book which will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand more about how human beings operate as creatures with bodies and about how the structure of the brain has helped to shape the history of Western culture.

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science Religion and Naturalism, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19981-209-7, £17.99.
Alvin Plantinga, who is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. is one of the worlds leading philosophers of religion. In this new book he turns his attention to the debate about the compatibility of science and religion that has recently been revived by the claims of ‘new atheists’ such as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Philip Kitcher that evolution and theistic belief cannot co-exist. Plantinga examines where this conflict is said to exist - looking at areas such as evolution, divine action in the world, and the scientific study of religion. He contends that the arguments of the new atheists about religion and science are not only inconclusive, but that the supposed conflicts themselves are superficial, being due to the methodological naturalism employed by science when investigating the created order. On the other hand, science can actually offer support to theistic doctrines - for instance, some versions or interpretations of quantum mechanics provide useful models for divine action and the ‘fine tuning’ of the universe observed by biology and cosmology points to the existence of an intelligent creator. He then goes on to outline the deep and massive consonance between theism and the entire scientific enterprise as to different but compatible forms of discourse that are concerned with helping people to see the truth about the world. In the last chapter, Plantinga argues that one can't rationally or sensibly accept both current evolutionary theory and naturalism, the thought that there is no such person as God or anything like God. This is a valuable contribution to the current debate about religion and science that will prove helpful to anyone interested in the relationship between science and Christian apologetics.

Anthony Thiselton, Life after death: A new approach to the Last Things, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0-80286-665-3, £13.68.
Professor Anthony Thiselton is one of the most respected theologians of the Church of England. He is highly regarded both as a New Testament scholar and for his pioneering work in the field of hermeneutics. After suffering a near fatal stroke four years ago he has focussed his attention on death and the last things in general, commenting ‘It seemed to me strange that so few elderly people appear to reflect on imminent death and on what follows it, when only a few years may remain.’ The result of his study of death and what follows it is his new book Life after Death: A new approach to the Last Things. The book begins by looking at death and mourning. Next it looks at the promises of God and at the relation between the return of Christ and the experience of the individual who dies and goes to be with God. It then looks at how we are to understand the Bible’s language about the return of Christ. After that it considers how the Holy Spirit gives the blessed dead the disposition to be completely holy and, conversely, how we are to understand the biblical teaching about hell and eternal damnation. Finally, the last two chapters consider the beatific vision of God, the destiny of believers, God’s glory, and the Trinitarian work of salvation. In the these chapters Thiselton argues that our capacity for experience will be enhanced, not diminished, that the work of the Spirit will be ever-fresh and dynamic, that  self-identity will be preserved, that we shall never leave Calvary and the Resurrection behind and that God will be all in all. The final state of the believer will not be static perfection, but a progressive, ongoing, experience of God’s dynamic Spirit. As we would expect from its author, this book is based on a thorough study of the biblical text and a careful weighing of all the interpretative options. Professor John Webster comments: ‘Thiselton draws on a lifetime's study of Scripture, doctrine, philosophy, and the nature of language to construct a Christian theology of the last things. Immensely learned and rich in Christian wisdom, this book has much to offer all students of the Christian faith.’

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