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Saturday, 25 February 2012

February 2012 Book Reviews

Here is a selection of books reviewed for February. The Archbishop of Canterbury's 2012 Lent Book Love Unknown, is among them. Useful Lenten reading for those of us in consumer societies will also be found in the volume by Laura Hartman.

In addition there are meaty theological works on several topics: how we may have misread St Augustine,  missiology (important for our Diocese), the Cross and Resurrection and Liturgics. There are two challenging works on the place of religion in society, one looking at the erosion of its place in the West, and another on the role of the Established Church. We can read the latter with a certain objectivity, as we live in the part of the Church of England that is not estabished by law! (Except perhaps in Belgium, but now we're getting complicated...!)

As usual I am indebted to Dr Martin Davie, the Bishops' Theological Advisor, for these reviews.

Bonne lecture!

For the reviews press the read more button.

Stephen Burns (ed) The Art of Tentmaking, Canterbury Press, ISBN 978-1-84825-030-7, £35.00 (Kindle edition available)
Richard Giles has been one of the most influential Anglican liturgical pioneers of recent times. This collection of essays edited by Stephen Burns from the United Theological College in Australia seeks to honour his work and its title is a deliberate echo of his own bestseller Re-pitching the Tent. A distinguished international group of theologians and liturgists from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions share their reflections on essential aspects of liturgical practice and liturgical renewal. Contributions include Paul Bradshaw (our own Diocesan Liturgical Advisor) on the history of Christian worship, Rosalind Brown on participation and the priesthood of all believers, Stephen Cottrell on sacramental spirituality, Steven Croft on simplicity in the liturgy, Carol Doran on the renewal of church music and Martyn Percy on openness and inclusivity. This is a stimulating volume that will be of interest to anyone with responsibility for Christian worship including not only members of the clergy, but also lay ministers, musicians, artists and architects with an interest in the development and re-ordering of church buildings.

Ruth Burrows, Love Unknown, Continuum, ISBN 978-1-44110-372-7, £9.99, (Kindle edition available)
The author of The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2012 is Sister Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun from Quidenham in Norfolk. As she explains in her introduction, her  motivation was ‘an abiding grief’ that many Christian people, including regular churchgoers, ‘understand little of the great truths they sincerely profess to believe.’ Her special grief, she says, ‘is for our young people. As children they accompany their parents to church and delight in what goes on, perhaps active in the liturgy as acolytes and servers. But unless a real love for Jesus is awakened in their hearts, unless they have been helped to perceive something of the wonder and sheer beauty of the content of the faith in which they are instructed, how can they withstand the atheism of our materialist society? It is the very air they must breathe.’ The aim of our her book is therefore to help people to deepen their knowledge and love of God and she does this by tracing how God reveals himself to us through our personal lives, history, the natural world, the Scriptures and above all, through Jesus. Archbishop Rowan in his foreword says, Burrows ‘takes us on a journey through the biblical narrative in lucid and accessible terms, to show how… awareness of God as gift and lover comes to birth in the experience of God’s people and is made clear and effective once for all in Jesus, so that the blockage of our frantic self-obsession is at last broken by his Spirit.’ This is a very helpful volume for anyone who wants to spend Lent renewing or deepening their understanding of the Christian faith or who is looking for an attractive and accessible introduction to the faith to give to others. 

Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, The Cross is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection, Baker, ISBN 978-0-80101-461-1, £13.99.  (Kindle edition available)
There is a long tradition of Christian theology and spirituality that sees the cross as the heart of Christian faith and discipleship. This new book by two Australian Baptist theologians seeks to challenge this tradition. They argue that vital though the cross is it is not the heart of the Christian faith. As they see it, according to the New Testament, it is instead the resurrection that is at the heart of what Christianity is all about and in their book they seek to communicate this conviction. They look at how the resurrection is understood in the New Testament and how it has been understood in the history of the Church. They compare Christianity's unique understanding of resurrection with the beliefs of other world religions, to explore why the resurrection connects so readily with the human psyche, and to trace themes of resurrection through movies, books, music, and other aspects of popular culture. They seek to explore not only how the resurrection has been understood in the past, but how it can contribute to the care and growth of the whole person today and how a right understanding of the significance of the resurrection can help to shape a holistic Christian worldview that can form the basis for mission in a post Christian society. This is a significant book that can be commended to anyone who wants to think more deeply about the significance of the resurrection for Christian life and witness today.

John Corrie and Cathy Ross (eds), Mission in Context: Explorations inspired by J Andrew Kirk, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-40941-003-4, £50.00
Andrew Kirk, who is now at the London School of Theology, has been one of the leading Evangelical missiologists of the past few decades. He has an international influence and reputation that extends to South America, the United States, Eastern Europe, Africa and South East Asia. He has been particularly important in Latin America where Evangelical thinking about mission has been enriched by his innovative thinking about revolutionary politics, contextualisation and holistic mission. In this new volume, edited by Dr John Corrie from Trinity College, and Dr Cathy Ross from Ripon College, Cuddesdon, a team of international writers have produced a collection of contemporary reflections on mission inspired by Kirk’s work. As the introduction puts it, these are ‘reflections inspired by Andrew’s writing and teaching, sometimes engaging with him in depth and sometimes taking his theology as the jumping off point for further discussion.’  The volume is in four parts. The first part looks at ‘Andrew Kirk: His life and work’; the second looks at ‘What is mission?’; the third part looks at ‘Truth in a pluralistic world’;  and the fourth part looks at ‘Culture, education and religion.’  Those who have contributed essays to the volume include significant contemporary missiologists such as J. Samuel Escobar, Alan Kreider and Vinoth Ramachandra and the topics that are covered include ‘Doing evangelical theology at a time of turmoil: a retrospective survey of Andrew's Latin American experience,’ ‘The Gospel and nation-building in emergent nations,’ ‘Convictional perspectivism: a constructive proposal for a theological response to postmodern conditions’ and ‘Dilemmas and challenges for theology in post-Communist Eastern Europe.’ This is a both a useful introduction to Kirk’s own thought and a stimulating collection of reflections on a range of important missiological subjects. It will be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the nature of mission in the twenty first century.

Graeme Goldworthy, Christ-Centred Biblical Theology, Apollos, ISBN 978-1-8447-456-3, £14.99
Graeme Goldsworthy is an Australian biblical scholar who has taught at Moore College, Sydney. He is best known for his work in the area of biblical theology which he has presented in a number of influential books such as Gospel and Kingdom and According to Plan. In this work, which has been based on the thinking of an earlier Australian scholar, Donald Robinson, he argues that Scripture needs to be viewed not as a series of unconnected texts by a variety of different authors or editors, or as a collection of edifying (or unedifying) individual stories, but as a single big narrative concerned with the unfolding of God’s one mighty plan of salvation. Viewed in this way the Bible can be seen as unity in which the stories about Israel in the Old Testament are integrally connected with the stories contained in the Gospels, in which there is a continuous progression from creation to new creation and in which the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the primary focus of the Bible as a whole. This book is a useful introduction to Goldsworthy’s approach to biblical interpretation which will be appreciated by anyone who has benefitted from his previous work, but which will also be of interest to those who are coming to his thought for the first time. Even those who take a different approach to the Bible will find this a helpful introduction to the thinking underlying an influential Evangelical approach to biblical interpretation. 

Bradley G Green, Colin Gunton and the Failure of Augustine, James Clarke, ISBN, 978-0-22768-005-6, £18.50 (Kindle edition available)
In his widely influential account of the influence of the thought of St. Augustine on the Western theological tradition, the late Professor Colin Gunton argued that Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinity left the Western tradition with serious problems. According to Gunton, Augustine’s neo-platonic emphasis went against the earlier theological insights of St Irenaeus by severing any meaningful link between creation and redemption. In addition, his emphasis on the timeless essence of God at the expense of the three persons of the Trinity meant that, unlike the Cappadocian Fathers, St Augustine (and the Western tradition following him) failed to develop a truly Christian ontology. In his new book the American scholar Professor Bradley Green offers a fresh reading of Augustine which challenges Gunton’s criticisms of Augustine’s theology. Green argues that Augustine did not sever the link between creation and redemption, but rather affirmed that the created order is a means of genuine knowledge of God and is the only means by which redemption is accomplished. The cross of Christ is the only means by which we can see God, and the created order is fundamentally oriented towards the telos of redemption. Concerning ontology, Augustine's teaching on the imago Dei, and the prominent role that relationship plays in Augustine's doctrines of man and God, provides the kind of relational Christian ontology that Gunton sought. In short, Green argues, Augustine could have provided Gunton with key theological resources to counter the deficiencies in the Western tradition that he so rightfully challenged. In the words of Stephen Holmes, Green ‘shows us how Augustine, rightly understood, can be recovered as a positive resource for contemporary theology’.’

Laura Hartman, The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19974-642-2, £18.99 (Kindle edition available)  
Laura Hartman is an American writer who is the Assistant Professor of Religion at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. In this new book she explores the ethical issues that face Christians as they participate in today’s consumer society. She explains: ‘This is not a book about how Christians do consume, in the aggregate using surveys and statistics and sociological data. It is about how Christians should consume, using historical exemplars, major theological concepts and some fundamental ethical ideas.’ The choices that Christians make as consumers affect the well being of other people, the natural world and themselves. Consumption is therefore a serious moral issue and down the centuries Christian writers have commented upon it, discussing issues such as affluence and poverty, greed and gluttony, and the proper stewardship of resources. However, these writers often seem to point us in different directions and what Hartman attempts to do in her book is to develop a coherent Christian ethic of consumption, that gives shape to the debate about the ethics of consumption by dividing it into four imperatives: Christians are to consume in ways that avoid sin, embrace creation, love one's neighbour, and envision the future. An adequate ethics of consumption, she argues, must include all four considerations as tools for discernment, even when they seem to contradict one another. In the course of her argument Hartman draws on  examples from the Christian tradition as well as practical examples from everyday life, and her book includes discussions of topics such as fasting, gratitude, solidarity, gift-giving, Sabbath-keeping, and the Eucharist. Willis Jenkins from Yale Divinity school comments: ‘This lovely book brings Christian scholarship into the grocery store aisle, illuminating the moral complexity of everyday choices. Writing in a clear and distinctive voice, Hartman interprets consumption within a variety of Christian perspectives on material life. The result is not a screed against consumerism nor a trivial shopping guide, but rather a very helpful theological conversation that shows how bringing food to the dinner table participates in the drama of Christian life.’ This is an important book that will be of interest to anyone who wants to reflect about how to live faithfully before God in the context of twenty first century society, 

Roger Trigg, Equality, Freedom and Religion, OUP, ISBN 978-0-19957-685-2, £25.00
Roger Trigg is the Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. In a previous book he looked at the place of religion in public life and in this new book he goes on to look at the relationship between equality and religious freedom in contemporary Western society. He begins by noting that ‘the tug between the demands of equality and the demands of freedom goes to the heart of modern life’ and he then goes on to explore in detail what this tension means in the terms of the freedom that Western society accords (or fails to accord) to religious belief and practice. He notes that the right to freedom of religion is written into all human rights charters and that  the United States religious freedom is sometimes seen as 'the first freedom', but contends that in many jurisdictions in Europe and North America, religious freedom can all too easily be 'trumped' by other rights. He also looks at the assumptions that lie behind this subordination of religious liberty to other social concerns, arguing that the protection of freedom of worship is often seen as sufficient, and that religious practices are separated from the beliefs which inspire them. In addition, rather than religion being seen as the foundation for a belief in human dignity and human rights, it is seen as threat and a source of conflict, to be controlled at all costs. As Trigg sees it, the question facing Western society is whether freedom in general can be preserved for long, if the basic human right to freedom of religious belief and practice is dismissed as of little account, with no attempt to provide any reasonable accommodation. Given the central role of religion in human life, unnecessary limitations on its expression are attacks on human freedom itself.  This is a significant study of the erosion of religious freedom in Western society. It has already sparked off significant interest in the media and is necessary reading for anyone who wants to participate on an informed way in the current debate about the right balance between the promotion of equality and the protection of religion.

Michael Turnbull and Donald McFayden, The State of the Church and the Church of the State, Darton, Longman and Todd, ISBN  978-0-23252-881-7, £14.99 
The Church of England is still the church ‘by law established’ in England. A large proportion of the population still have connections with it of various kinds and it still has a voice in contemporary ethical debates and in the making of political decisions. However, the number of people attending Church of England services on a regular basis continues to decline and as our society becomes increasingly influenced by a secular ideology the place of the Church of England in the life of the nation is being more frequently challenged. The issue facing the Church of England is how it can address its current decline and  become an effective agent for the creation of a new and more Godly society. This is the issue that is addressed in this new book from Michael Turnbull, the former Bishop of Rochester and Durham and Donald McFayden, the Director of Church Study and Practice at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. They claim that the Church of England can become the nation’s heartbeat once again, but that significant changes in its vision and organisation are needed in order for this to happen. In looking at the position that the church once held, and what its role might be in the future, they explain to a new generation the potential of the Church of England in English society, and show that, in revitalising its purpose, it can create a godly ‘Big Society’ where people can flourish as part of a global and local community. This is a provocative book, and not everyone will agree with their argument about how the Church of England needs to develop, but anyone who is interested in the future of the Church of England and its place in the life of the English nation will be stimulated to think more deeply and clearly about these issues by reading what they have to say.  

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