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Saturday, 15 December 2012

December 2012 Book Reviews

Looking for ideas for Christmas? Here are eight new works which would be welcome stocking stuffers, or some meaty reading for the post Christmas break!

God læselyst!

For the reviews, click the read more button.

Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0-38534-640-5, £9.34 (Kindle edition also available)
This new book from Pope Benedict is an addition to the two major books that the Pope has already written about the Gospels. As the Pope explains in his foreword to the new book ‘it is not a third volume, but a kind of small “antechamber” to the two earlier volumes on the figure and the message of Jesus of Nazareth. I have set out here, in dialogue with exegetes past and present, to interpret what Matthew and Luke say about Jesus’ infancy at the beginning of their Gospels.’ The book consists of four chapters and an epilogue. Chapter I ‘Where are you from?’ looks at ‘the question about Jesus’ origin as a question about being and mission.’ Chapter II looks at the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist and the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. Chapter III looks at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and Chapter IV looks at the story of the Wise Men from the East and the flight into Egypt. The Epilogue then considers the story of the twelve year old Jesus in the Temple in Luke 2:41-52. As in his two previous volumes on the gospels what Pope Benedict offers us here is a combination of a scholarly investigation of what the biblical texts were originally intended to mean and a meditation on their abiding theological significance for us today. On the question of the historicity of the birth narratives the Pope is clear that they are to be read as accounts of real events rather than simply reflections of the early Christians’ conviction about the significance of Jesus. The Pope discusses the various attempts that have been made to depict the virgin birth as influenced by ancient mythology, but concludes that they are not convincing ‘the accounts of Matthew and Luke are not myths taken a stage further. They are firmly rooted in terms of their basic conception in the biblical tradition of God the Creator and Redeemer. As far as the specific content is concerned, though, they are derived from the family tradition, they are a tradition handed down, recording the events that took place.’ This is a rich exegetical and theological study of the infancy narratives that will be read with great benefit by anyone who wants to understand them better. A careful and prayerful reading of it would be an excellent preparation for the celebration of Christmas.

Peter C Bouteneff, Beginnings, Ancient Christian readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives, Baker Books, ISBN 978-0-80103-233-2, £12.99 (Kindle edition also available)
When reading the first three chapters of the book of Genesis today it can be very easy to read these chapters through the lens of the modern debate about science and religion.  Thus in the United States in particular, but also in this country as well, the question of how to interpret these chapters rightly has come to  be seen as primarily a question about whether they should be read as a literal account of the creation of the world and of the human race. In his book on reading these narratives Professor Peter Bouteneff from St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States suggests that reading these chapters only in the light of the modern debate about science and religion and only in conversation with modern interpreters impoverishes our reading of them. It is important, he argues, that when reading these texts we should take into account what was written about them in the early centuries of the Christian Church because the writers from this period offer us an alternative and far richer tradition of reading the creation accounts that sees in them not simply an account of origins but also a rich source of teaching about the righteousness of God, the saving mission of Christ, and the destiny of the human creature. In his book Professor Bouteneff begins with the interpretation of Genesis by Hellenistic Jewish writers of the post-biblical period and the translators of the LXX, whose work formed the background for the early Christian readings of Genesis. He then moves forward through the writings of St Paul and the other New Testament writers and finally he explores in detail the writings of the Patristic period from the Apologists in the second century to the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth. Although his primary focus is on how the writers he surveys read the Book of Genesis he sees it as impossible to understand this issue without exploring the wider issue of how they read the Bible in general and this means that he traces what he calls ‘two parallel journeys, generally the development of early patristic hermeneutics and, specifically, the ways in which the creation narratives were understood.’ This is a book that will be profitable to anyone interested in the Fathers or in how to develop a riches and more rounded reading of Genesis 1-3.

Andy Draycott and Jonathan Rowe, Living Witness: Explorations in Missional Ethics, Apollos, ISBN 978-1-84474-575-3, £16.99
This new volume from Apollos, edited by Professor Andy Draycott from Biola University in the United States and Dr Jonathan Rowe from the South West Ministry Training Course, is a collection of essays that explore the ways in which Christian ethical practice flows out of, supports, and advances the Church’s calling to proclaim the gospel. As Jonathan Rowe explains in his opening essay ‘What is missional ethics?’ ‘Because God calls his people to be a living witness to him, morality is mission. Conversely, immorality is 'anti-mission', a failure to give true testimony or witness.  This, in essence, is the theme of Living Witness: Explorations in Missional Ethics. The whole life of the people of God, not just verbal proclamation, testifies to the church's faith - or lack of faith - in her Lord.’  As he goes on to say ‘Although by no means the only relevant text, Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt 28;18-20) has been considered a missionary mandate for many years. This same Jesus, however, also preached the Sermon on the Mount, often acknowledged as a call for a distinctive Christian ethic. Yet many are startled to see ‘mission’ and ‘ethics’ combined in a phrase like ‘missional ethics.’ Isn’t this oxymoronic? Are not mission and ethics separate, even incompatible, because one refers to the good news of God’s grace while the other points to rules and regulations? The contributors to this book explain that mission and ethics are intricately and necessarily interwoven. On the following pages we explore why this so by exploring the biblical and theological roots of missional ethics, probing its limits and exploring its possibilities.’ The contributors to this volume include Jonathan Chaplin, Sean Doherty and Christopher J. H. Wright and after the opening chapter the volume is in two main parts. Part I is called ‘Foundations’ and it looks at how key aspects of Christian theology and practice can inform our thinking about the interrelationship of ethics and mission. The topics covered in this part are Trinity, creation, hope, Church and preaching. Part II is called ‘Issues’ and as this title suggests, it looks at a series of specific issues that illustrate the relationship between mission and ethics.  The volume then concludes with a chapter that responds to what is said in the essays with ‘reflections on the mission-ethical practice of Sabbath.’ This is a fresh and important contribution to Christian thinking about both mission and ethics and as such deserves to be widely read.

Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow, No Oil in the Lamp, DLT, ISBN  978-0-23252-944-9, £12.99
The modern world is dependent is dependent on the use of fossil fuels and on oil in particular. So what happens when these fuels start to run out? This issue is addressed in the new book by Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow, two Christians who have been interested in this issue for many years. In this book they offer us the fruit of what they discovered through their research on this topic. They argue that recent natural disasters, global political upheavals, rises in the cost of gas, heating oil and electricity, and the ever increasing cost of filling up a car with petrol are signposts that point us toward an unexpected and radically different future in which the availability of energy will be much more constrained. Their contention is that as traditional energy sources, and in particular oil, start to run short, we are sleepwalking into an energy crisis which will have far reaching effects on every part of the modern world. This is an issue for Christians because if we want to understand the context in which we will live, worship, minister and witness in the years ahead then we need to understand what that world is going to look like. Their aim is to raise awareness of ‘peak oil’ (the idea that we are entering into a time in which the supply of oil will enter into terminal decline) amongst Christians, and to prepare the Church in practical ways for the energy constraints of the future. The peak oil thesis has been challenged by those who argue that there is more oil available for the foreseeable future that its proponents suggest, but the issues surrounding energy supply for the future are so important that this is a book which needs to be widely read in order to start a debate about the issues which it covers.

Oliver Schuegraf, The Cross of Nails: Joining God’s Mission of Reconciliation, Canterbury Press, ISBN 978-1-84825-239-4, £12.99 (Kindle Edition also available)
There are probably two things that Coventry Cathedral is best known for. One is the Graham Sutherland tapestry of Christ in Glory and the other is its work for reconciliation. This book from Canterbury Press is published as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral and it celebrate the Cathedral’s continuing ministry of reconciliation. Fittingly, it is a book that in itself is a fruit of the reconciliation between the churches in England and Germany. As Canon Paul Oestereicher explains in his foreword ‘Oliver Schuegraf came to join us at Coventry Cathedral as a guest from the Lutheran Church in Bavaria. He returned to his German home four years later as a valued friend and colleague, so much ‘one of us’ that he had become an ambassador of our Cathedral in places as far off as North America and South Africa’. The Community of the Cross of Nails, the work of which is the focus of this book, came into being after the bombing of Coventry’s medieval Cathedral in November 1940. After the bombing, two nails from the old cathedral were found in the ruins lying in the shape of a cross. This was seen as seen as a prophetic sign for the need of forgiveness and reconciliation and the people of Coventry offered forgiveness to the people of Germany at Christmas 1940, just weeks after the bombing. The Community of the Cross of Nails was formed to give permanent and wider form to work for reconciliation and today it has 160 centres in 40 countries, working and praying to build peace, heal the wounds of history and enable people to grow together in hope through conferences, teaching in schools and prisons, and pilgrimages. This book, which tells its story, is in three parts. The first part ‘Coventry’s mission of reconciliation’ tells the story of the beginning of the Cathedral’s work for reconciliation. The second part ‘The worldwide Community of the Cross of Nails tells the story of the Community’s work for reconciliation around the world and tells of experiences of imaginative forgiveness from Cape Town to Ground Zero. The third part ‘Reflections on a theology of reconciliation’ is an attempt to ‘formulate a kind of theology of reconciliation out of the examples that have been given’ drawing on a series of biblical texts relevant to the theme of reconciliation. This is a moving, challenging and important book and alongside the work of the Bishop of Tonbridge on reconciliation (Reconciling One and All, SPCK 2008) it would provide a good starting point for anyone wanting to begin to think more about this crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.

Susanna Snyder, Asylum Seeking, Migration and Church, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-40942-300-3, £19.99 (Kindle Edition also available)
The requirement for God’s people to love and care for the stranger in their midst is something that is clearly taught in both the Old and New Testaments. In Deuteronomy 10:18-19, for example, the people of Israel are told ‘[God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.’ In similar fashion in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 the righteous are those who welcome Jesus when the welcome the stranger among them. In her new book from Ashgate, Dr Susanna Snyder, who now teaches at the Episcopal Divinity School at Cambridge Massachusetts, continues this biblical concern for the treatment of the stranger and the sojourner by looking at the way that the Church engages with migrants in Britain today. Her book asks a series of key questions about how churches are interacting with newcomers to this country, Are there ways in which they could improve what they are currently doing? How might Christians help to transform the attitudes of those who are hostile to immigrants, and bring about changes in immigration and asylum policy? How could they facilitate better encounters between members of established populations and migrants?  It argues that Christian communities offer a substantial and valuable contribution to support for asylum seekers and that Christians are prominent among those welcoming and calling for the inclusion of immigrants. This involvement takes place in a variety of ways, through what Dr Snyder categorize as encounters of service, encounters with the powers, encounters in worship and encounters in theology. By bringing these encounters into conversation with Forced Migration Studies Dr Snyder aims to analyse the context in which churches are working and the call placed upon them by Christian faith.  She offer a critical assessment of churches’ involvement with migrants and makes suggestions for renewed practice, which she hopes will lead towards more faithful and liberating encounters, not only for migrants, but also for the churches supporting them and for established population of this country more generally. This is an important book for anyone who wants to think seriously about the best way for Christians continue to love and serve the stranger and the refugee.

Robert Warren, Developing Healthy Churches, CHP, ISBN 978-0-71514-281-3, £14.99
As Bishop Stephen Cottrell has written, 'In recent years, few people have had a greater influence on the renewal of church life than Robert Warren.’ Canon Warren was Team Rector of St Thomas Crookes, Sheffield, one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the Church of England and he then subsequently became the Church of England’s National Office for Evangelism and a Missioner for Springboard, the initiative for Evangelism of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. He was also the co-author of the Emmaus course. Since his retirement he has continued to teach and write on mission and church growth and his new book Developing Healthy Churches is the fruit of his continuing reflection in these areas. Subtitled ‘returning to the heart of mission,’ it is a sequel to his previous bestselling Healthy Churches' Handbook. It develops some key themes from this earlier work and also introduces several new elements that were lacking there. Offering suggestions for the healthy development of a number of key areas of church life including nurturing spirituality, re-thinking pastoral care, refreshing the home group, engaging in mission and expressing Christian values, this book provides a practical and realistic guide for any church leader seeking to revitalize and grow their church and will help them implement tried and tested approaches for healthy church growth in their parish. Drawing on his long experience of parish ministry and encouraging mission and church growth, what Canon Warren has to say is both realistic and encouraging and gives churches of all types whether large or small, urban or rural, well resourced or struggling, important resources for revitalizing their approach to their church life and their engagement in mission. The book also includes a study guide which will enable it to be used as the basis for a parish development course. This book is highly recommended for all who are concerned to foster spiritual and numerical growth in their parish (or diocese).

Patrick Whitchurch, Paul as Pastor: Biblical Insights for Pastoral Ministry, BRF, ISBN 978-0-85746-046-2, £7.99 (Kindle edition also available)
Patrick Whitworth is Rector of All Saints Weston in Bath with North Stoke and Langridge and has served as Rural Dean of Bath. His new book considers how the teaching and example of St Paul provide us with invaluable resources for the development of effective pastoral ministry in the Church today. Whitworth sets out his basic argument in his Preface as follows: ‘Paul was the greatest pastor of the early churches, giving us a pattern for all subsequent pastoral care. Pastoral care is the essential follow-on to mission and evangelism. It is also the necessary companion to a teaching ministry. If no attention is paid to the formation of Christ in an individual, family or community, then, little will remain of the results of evangelism as the tides of secularism, the world’s powerful influences and the pressure to conform crash on the beachheads of our missionary landings. Equally, if teaching - however profound, correct or coherent - is given at a distance, it is unlikely to bring the support, help and change to the Christian who is struggling with all that she or he faces. Paul engaged in pastoral care in the context of close encounter, by impassioned letters and some painful meetings. He gives us the vocabulary of pastoral care: ‘freedom’, ‘maturity’ and ‘formation’. He gives the objects of pastoral care: ‘unity’, ‘purity’ and ‘community’. He gives us the trilogy of ‘faith, hope and love’, which would sustain churches in their discipleship. His life was a pastoral model as much as his teaching gives us a pastoral paradigm.’  Whitworth then develops this argument in three parts. Part one looks at ‘the shaping of a pastor,’ part two looks at ‘the task of the pastor’ and part three looks at ‘the tools of a pastor’ each part being rooted in both Paul’s teaching and his example. The book also has a study guide and two appendices one on ‘A service of reconciliation and communion’ and one on ‘Mentoring.’ Drawing on C S Lewis’ idea of ‘deep church’ rooted in the ancient Creeds and Fathers, the scriptures and the sacraments, the Bishop of Bath and Wells writes in his Foreword  ‘I recommend this book to you if you have become a little jaded in the pastoral calling, to inspire fresh vision, or if you need fresh resources. It combines many biblical insights with sound pastoral reflection coming from over 30 years in pastoral ministry. It will be helpful for clergy and laity alike. It will take us closer to the intention of ‘Deep Church’ and the goal of Christ being formed in us, which was so close to Paul’s heart.’

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