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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

May 2012 Book Reviews

Nine fascinating books reviewed this month. 

Another important Christian work on ecology, this time by biblical scholar Richard Bauckham, heads the list. A major tome on George Bell is included; it's expensive, but if you are a scholar of Bell, this is for you. Clergy and Readers will be interested in the volume on theological reflection, no doubt, and there are important works on Islam in Europe, the Baptist tradition, patristics, and much more. The Eberstadt book on the effect of the Pill is sure to be a challenge to Anglicans! But we like challenge, don't we? 

As always these reviews are based on those of Dr Martin Davie, the theological advisor to the Church of England's bishops. 

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For  the reviews press the read more button.

Richard Bauckham, Living with Other Creatures, Authentic Media, ISBN 978-1-84227-740-9, £15.99 
Professor Richard Bauckham of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, is one of Britain’s most respected biblical scholars, best known for his work on the Gospels and on Christology. He has also had a long standing interest in how Christians should understand the relationship between humanity and the rest of the created order. In his own words ‘from an early age it has always seemed obvious to me that meaning Christian faith finds in this world encompasses not only human life, but also the non-human creation and that God delights in and cares for all his creatures. So it was no doubt natural that, as my awareness grew of the multiple ecological crises into which human abuse of the non-human creation has brought us, I should have wanted to think out a properly Christian approach to them, rooted in Scripture, and integrated into the central themes of Christian theology.’ This book collects the fruits of his thinking about this issue over the last quarter century. He argues that the Christian tradition has at best offered an ambiguous response to the environmental problems facing the world. At worst it has offered a one sided theology of dominion that has effectively silenced what the Bible has to say about the place of human beings in creation. Seeking a better way forward he goes back to Scripture and looks beyond the command to exercise dominion in Genesis 1.26 and 28, to the teaching of Scripture as a whole, including what we can learn about Jesus’ own perspective on creation from a fresh study of the gospels. He also explores what we can learn from later Christian theologians, including Francis of Assisi and Matthew Fox, who have taught about God’s concern for the whole of creation and have sought to live it out in practical ways. He concludes that we need to learn to read Scripture in terms not just of human beings exercising lordship over God’s other creatures, but also in terms of human beings living responsibly alongside them as a part of the community of creation, sharing with them in offering praise to the Creator. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to think about what the Bible and the subsequent Christian tradition can offer to contemporary Christian thinking about how we should relate to the other creatures who share this planet with us.

Helen Cameron, John Reader and Victoria Slater with Chris Rowland, Theological Reflection for Human Flourishing, SCM, ISBN 9-7-8033404-390-4, 18.99.
This new book emerged from a conference held at Ripon College, Cuddesdon in the Spring of 2010, and has been written by a group of writers from the University of Oxford and Diocese of Oxford. The writers seek to address what they see as a commonly felt concern that the clergy and laity talk past each other and don’t engage with each other on the issues that each finds perplexing. They address how those in pastoral ministry can reflect theologically upon their encounters with the institutions of the secular world and, conversely, how Christians who are employed in such institutions as professionals or managers can reflect theologically upon the pastoral encounters that they have in the course of their work. The book contains theoretical comments on the nature of theological reflection, an exploration of the current context for public theology, and a study of the difficulties and challenges of bringing biblical work into the process of theological reflection, and a series of case studies of theological reflection given by those who took part in the conference. The book is aimed at those training for ministry, those in ministry and lay people wishing to reflect upon their work, and the hope is that it will give them an increased confidence in reflecting upon their own practice and engaging with others in theological reflection. This is a useful book for anyone wishing to think more deeply about the nature and practice of theological reflection.

Andrew Chandler (ed) The Church and Humanity: The Life and Work of George Bell, 1883-1958, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-40942-556-4, £55.00.
George Bell, a former Bishop of Chichester, is widely regarded as having been one of the most significant English bishops of the twentieth century. He was a leading supporter of the ecumenical movement and an important patron of the arts. However, he is best known for his insistence that Christian faith requires active participation in public life, at home and abroad, and for the stances that this conviction led him to take in relation to Germany before and during the Second World War. Before the war he took a prominent role in drawing attention to what was taking place in Germany and in providing support for refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. During the war he maintained contact with the German resistance to Hitler and he also opposed the British policy of the area bombing of Germany, arguing that it was against the Christian theology of just war because it involved attacking civilians. His speech in the House of Lords in February 1944 arguing against area bombing is still often reckoned to be one of the great prophetic speeches of the twentieth century and his opposition to bombing is said to have cost him any chance of succeeding William Temple as Archbishop of Canterbury. This new book of essays on Bell’s life and work is edited by Andrew Chandler, the Director of the George Bell Institute at the University of Chichester. It includes essays by the editor on ‘The Church and Humanity: George Bell and the life of the Church in the 20th century’, by Canon Charlotte Methuen (a former Director of Training in this Diocese in Europe) on 'Fulfilling Christ's own wish that we should be one: the early ecumenical work of George Bell as chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dean of Canterbury (1914–1929)’ and by the Archbishop of Canterbury on ‘A Church of the nation or a Church for the nation? Bishop George Bell and the Church of England.’ It is probably too detailed (and expensive!) to act as a basic introduction to Bell, but for those who already know about Bell and want to know more this is an ideal book.

Lynne E Chandler, Embracing Dusty Detours: A Spiritual Search for Depth in Desert Places, Bible Reading Fellowship, ISBN 978-1-84101-829-4, £6.99 (Kindle edition also available).
Lynne E Chandler is an American who moved to Cairo with her family after 9/11 to serve as the music director in the Anglican/Episcopal international church in which her husband is the pastor. In her previous book Embracing a Concrete Desert (BRF, 2010) she described in honest and emotional terms her move from the peace and beauty of the rural United States to the concrete, noise ridden and smog filled urban jungle of today’s Cairo and the way in which God voice appeared to vanish at times in the midst of this experience. In this new book she describes how she is now learning to find God in unexpected places, in the midst of what she calls ‘life’s detours’ The book takes the form of a series of 24 short reflections on these detours, which range from encounters with donkeys, the dog who ate the Pentecost dove, a precarious camel ride up Sinai, graduating children, the beauty and necessity of life's comfort people, the trials of the misfiring green chariot and the restaurant that buys the ingredients after you order, to the fear and concerns engendered by Cairo's revolution in the Spring of 2011 and the myriad ways that East and West are brought together amid Cairo's seeming chaos. Each chapter ends with an original poem from the author and the book concludes with a series of questions for group discussion. The overall theme of the book is learning to recognize and celebrate the presence of the God who is there for us in places where we would never expect to find him. Thus Lynne Chandler writes ‘Though many of my Egyptian Muslim friends may never set foot inside our church doors, they have welcomed me with wide-open hearts. The edges of my traditional sense of community have been pushed and transformed to embrace a feeling of interconnection far beyond the borders of creed and culture... I look for God's fingerprints generously displayed over all the coincidences of my life. Each day I wake up and remind myself that years of pollution in my lungs will not destroy me, but being unaware or ungrateful for the abundance of blessings being poured out to me daily just might..’ This a very moving account of one family's experiences of mending the division between East and West that opened up after 9/11 and of how we can come to see God at work in the most unexpected of ways.

Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve after the Pill: The Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, Ignatius Press, ISBN 978-1-58617-627-3, £14.99 (Kindle edition also available).
This book from the American Roman Catholic writer Mary Eberstadt begins by noting the widespread and unexpected agreement about the significance of the development of modern methods of contraception. ‘Time Magazine and Francis Fukuyama, Raquel Welch and a series of popes, some of the world’s leading scientists and many other unlikely allies all agree: No single event since Eve took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception.’ Moreover, she says, ‘there is good reason for their agreement. By rendering fertile women infertile with nearly 100 per cent accuracy, the Pill and related devices have transformed the lives and families of the great majority of people after their invention. Modern contraception is not only a fact of our time; it may even be the central fact, in the sense that it is hard to think of any other whose demographic, social and behavioural and personal fallout has been as profound.’ In her book Eberstadt examines the nature of this fallout on the lives of women, men and children and contends that its impact has been largely negative. As she sees it, the study of the available evidence supports ‘two propositions that are - or ought to be – deeply troubling to serious people. First, and contrary to conventional description, the sexual revolution has proved a disaster for many men and women; and second its weight has fallen heaviest on the smallest and weakest shoulders in society – even as it has given extra strength to those already strongest and most predatory.’ In her closing chapter ‘The Vindication of Humanae Vitae’ Eberstadt considers the ‘remarkable predictions made in that watershed document’ and at what she calls the ‘large historical irony’ that ‘one of the most reviled documents of modern times, the Roman Catholic Church’s reiteration of traditional Christian moral teaching, would also turn out to be the most prophetic in its understanding of the nature of the changes that the [sexual] revolution would bring in.’ This book is an important study of the sexual revolution from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective. The challenge it presents for Anglicans is whether there is a theologically justifiable middle ground that on the one hand does not reject all artificial contraception, but on the other avoids the separation of sexual activity from procreation that the sexual revolution has brought in its wake.

Stephen R Holmes, Baptist Theology, T &T Clark, ISBN 978-0-56700-031-6, £14.99.
Although Anglicans have good relations with Baptists, it remains the case that many in the Church of England are unsure of what the Baptist tradition stands for theologically. The book from Dr Stephen Holmes, a Baptist minister who is Lecturer in Theology at the University of St Andrews, provides an invaluable antidote to this uncertainty. Dr Holmes explores the distinctive ideas and expressions of Christian faith to be found in the historic Baptist churches in Britain and around the world. In chapter one, ‘Who are the Baptists? Beginnings,’ he traces the history of the Baptist tradition in Britain from the radical Reformation of the 16th century to the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century. In chapter two, ‘Who are the Baptists today?’ he looks at the subsequent history of Baptists in Britain and the development of the Baptist tradition in America, Europe and the rest of the world. In chapter three, ‘The Baptist vision of the church,’ he explains the Baptist commitment to believers’ baptism, Baptist ecclesiology and the place of preaching and the Lord’s Supper in Baptist church life. In chapter four, ‘Christ is Lord, and the believer is free,’ he explores the relationship between the Baptist belief in the Lordship of Christ and their belief in religious and political liberty. In chapter five, ‘God's desire to save,’ he looks at the Baptist view of mission, In chapter six, ‘The high calling of Christian,’ he considers the Baptist understanding of holiness and how this is reflected in a Baptist approach to ethics and  to social engagement and involvement in peacemaking. Finally in chapter seven he sets out his own personal ‘vision of Baptist theology’. Professor Paul Fiddes, the Baptist Union representative on General Synod, has commented on this book as follows: ‘In exploring the Baptist tradition, Stephen Holmes offers an astonishing range of material packed into a relatively small space. In a masterful way he sets the development of a particular group within the wider movements of church, society and Christian thought, in a tour de force that should be read by all students of the Christian Church.’

Robert Leiken, Europe’s Angry Muslims, OUP USA, ISBN 978-019532-897-4, £16.99
The issue of the relationship between Europe and Islam has been a major thread running through European history for the last fourteen hundred years. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire from the 18th century onwards this issue became less important with Europe being seen as a solidly Christian continent and Islam as an Asiatic phenomenon. In recent years, however, the issue has returned to prominence. The reason for this is not only because immigration has meant that Europe now has a growing Muslim community in its midst, but because a minority of these Muslims have become so disaffected with Western society that they are now prepared to take violent action against it. We have seen this for example in the bombings that have taken place in London and Madrid, the riots that have taken place in the housing projects around major French cities and the recent attack on French soldiers and a Jewish school in Toulouse. The question that these events raise is why this disaffection has occurred. What is it that has led this minority of European Muslims to become so angry? It is this question that the American political scientist and historian Robert Leiken explores in his new book. The book covers eight countries and thirty cities, but concentrates on France, Britain and Germany. Drawing on both historical studies of Muslim immigration into Europe, court reports and interviews with former radicals, Leiken traces the way in which mass Muslim immigration into Europe, which was encouraged to provide a source of cheap labour for European industry, led to the creation of Muslim communities that were torn between their Muslim identity and the cultural values of their host societies and that were often socially and economically disadvantaged. This in turn led some Muslims to seek to find a renewed sense of identity for themselves in a return to what they saw as a stricter and purer form of Islam and this in turn led them to be susceptible to the radical anti-Western views propagated by mentors from the Middle East and by Islamist videos, DVDs and websites. This is a detailed and comprehensive study of the development of radical forms of Islam in Europe and is required reading for anyone who wants to understand this phenomenon better in order to think how the threat posed by radical Islamism can be dealt with in a way that does not adversely affect the vast majority of peaceful and law abiding Muslims who now live in Europe.

Melanie Phillips, World Turned Upside Down, Encounter Books, ISBN 978-1-59403-574-6, £12.99 (Kindle Edition also available). 
G K Chesterton describes how when he attended meetings of groups which rejected the Christian faith as irrational and superstitious, he would inevitably discover upon enquiry that he, as a Catholic Christian, was the only person in the room who did not carry some form of lucky charm. For Chesterton this illustrated that ‘When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything.’ In her book, the journalist Melanie Phillips develops Chesterton’s point in detail. She notes that although it is widely claimed that we live in an age of reason people in the West are increasingly behaving irrationally. Thus, an astonishingly large number of people subscribe to celebrity endorsed cults, Mayan Armageddon prophecies, scientism, and other varieties of new age, anti-enlightenment philosophies. Millions more advance popular conspiracy theories: AIDS was created in a CIA laboratory, Princess Diana was assassinated by the British Royal Family, and the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. She then explains that the basic cause of all this irrationality is the slow but steady marginalization of Biblical religion in Western society. It was Christianity and the Hebrew Bible that gave us our concepts of reason, progress, and an orderly world on which science and modernity are based and now that these are being widely rejected or ignored what we are faced with is ‘a departure from reason and logic because objectivity has been replaced in large measure by ideology.’ Furthermore, this replacement of rationality by ideology has left the West vulnerable. Faced with the very real challenges of spiralling demographics and violent and confrontational forms of Islam, the West is no longer willing or able to defend the modernity and rationalism that it once brought into being. This is a challenging and splendidly readable account of the state of the West at the start of the 21st century and a book that is well worth giving to anyone who says ‘You can’t believe in religion. That’s simply irrational superstition.’

Gary Willis, Font of Life: Ambrose , Augustine and the Mystery of Baptism, OUP America, ISBN 978-019976-851-6, £13.74
Professor Gary Willis of Northwestern University in the USA is a classicist and Church historian who has written extensively on Augustine. In this book he considers the baptism of St Augustine by St Ambrose at Easter 387 in terms of the physical setting of the baptism itself in the ancient baptistery of Milan Cathedral that was rediscovered during and after World War II, the relationship between the two men and their subsequent influence on the history of the Western Church. In Willis’ own words ‘Much of medieval Christendom in the West acquired its broad contours from what took place here. The Church would learn to act according to Ambrose’s ruling patterns – his development of doctrinal rigour (especially on the Nicene Creed), the centrality of baptism, liturgical expansiveness, monastic discipline, the cult of saints, and episcopal control. And the Church would learn to think with the imaginative flights and intellectual daring of Augustine. All this important history is foreshadowed in the events of that Easter morning at the font. And the drama lurks, if we just attend to it, in the various stones turned up in 1943 when Milan’s people were trying to duck Allied bombs near their Duomo’. Willis begins with the archaeology of Ambrose's Milan and the re-discovery of the baptistery. He then tells the story of the at times difficult relationship between Ambrose and Augustine and its importance for the future history of the Church. He describes the scene of the baptism itself, along with the sources of its ritual, and introduces us to the company of the relatives and friends who greeted Augustine as he emerged from the baptismal pool. Finally, he ends the book with a reflection on the later relationship between Augustine and Ambrose and the influence of the latter upon Augustine's later thought, which has been so seminal in the development of Christian theology ever since. This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand more about Ambrose, Augustine and the relationship between them and the subsequent influence this relationship has had on the history on the Western Church. From another angle it will also be of interest to those who want to know more about the physical setting of baptism in the Patristic period and the ritual that was involved. 

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