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Thursday, 28 February 2013

February 2013 Book Reviews

February is almost over, but here is this months book selection: 

Two books on Archbishops of Canterbury, a preacher's commentary on Daniel, books on pastoral and social themes, the Christian application of the works of Tolkein and Lewis and a volume to help straighten out any misunderstandings you may have concerning the theology of Arminius! These and much more are reviewed here for those who are interested in current theology.

For the reviews, click on read more.

Andrew Chandler and David Hein, Archbishop Fisher 1945-1961, Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-40941-233-5, £19.99 (Kindle edition also available)
This study of the life and work of Archbishop Fisher is part of a new series from Ashgate about the Archbishops of Canterbury. Fisher has been included in this series for two reasons. First his was a highly significant archepiscopate that has been unjustly neglected. In their introduction, Chandler and Hein comment, ‘What the church received with the appointment of Geoffrey Fisher to the See of Canterbury was, at the least, a man of strength discipline and tenacity – indeed a former headmaster, who would not readily surrender either to primeval or ecclesiastical chaos. Everything he did was connected to the service of one overarching goal: building up the church, and thereby enlarging the clearing in the wilderness. Overshadowed both by his famous predecessor, the theologian and ecumenist William Temple, and by his widely loved successor, the theologian and spiritual guide, Michael Ramsey, Geoffrey Francis Fisher (1887-1972), 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, has tended to be ignored by professional historians’. The second reason is the belief that Fisher’s archepiscopate illustrates one major way of fulfilling the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, namely, by concentrating on the administration of the church, and thereby illustrates both the strengths and weaknesses of this approach to the office. Being a competent administrator, Chandler and Hein argue, means more than being an efficient manager. It requires thoughtful strategic planning as well as day-to-day administration. However this approach to being an archbishop may result in a loss of personal stature, influence, and memorability if the archbishop's focus is largely on structure rather than on qualities of mind and spirit - if, in other words, the archbishop is not also known (and effective) as an intellectual force, a social prophet, or a wise spiritual leader. The first part gives an account and an assessment of Fisher’s life, focussing on his time at Canterbury. The second part gives a selection of original documents relating to major events and issues of his time in office, ranging from the atomic bomb and homosexual law reform, to the reform of Canon law and his ground-breaking  meeting with Pope John XXIII in Rome in 1960. Thus it provides both a thought provoking re-assessment of Fisher’s archepiscopate and a valuable archive of important documents on developments in church and state in the post-war period, and a useful resource for anyone wanting to know more about the development of the Church of England at a critical time in its history.

Andrew Goddard, Rowan Williams his Legacy, Lion, ISBN 978-0-74595-602-2, £9,99 (Kindle edition also available).
There have been numerous books and articles written about Archbishop Rowan Williams, but this new book by Dr Andrew Goddard, an ethicist who is a well respected commentator on Anglican affairs, is one of the best accounts so far. As Dr Goddard explains in his preface, the book seeks ‘to paint a rounded portrait of Rowan as an archbishop, provide an account of his ministry and the theological vision that shaped it, and put forward some initial, tentative assessments of both its highs and lows and the legacy he leaves the church and his successor.’ The book begins with a short biographical sketch which highlights those elements in the Archbishop’s life and career that were most important in shaping his archepiscopate. It then goes on to look in turn at his appointment and his initial vision and commitments, and at the issues of mission, sexuality, women bishops, the Anglican Communion, relations with other churches, interfaith relations and developments in wider society. The book finishes with a chapter that offers ‘an interpretative sketch of the hallmarks of his ministry as priest and bishop.’ Dr Goddard’s conclusion is that ‘the story of Rowan’s time as archbishop is one of battle, suffering, and sometimes defeat on various fronts as he sought to live out a vision of faithfulness to Christ in church and world. It is, by definition, impossible to tell which of his many initiatives and contributions will last as part of his legacy. What cannot be denied is that his personal ministry as a priest and bishop in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury has already left a legacy in the lives of many.’ This is a careful, scholarly, readable and comprehensive account of Archbishop Rowan’s service as Archbishop of Canterbury which draws on extensive interviews or written contributions from those who have known and worked with the Archbishop and on a thorough study of the archive of material on the archbishop’s website. It should be read by anyone who wants to think in an informed way about Archbishop Rowan’s ministry and his lasting legacy to the Church of England.

Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Daniel: Foundation for Expository Sermons, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0-80286-787-2, £22.99
In the homily ‘For them which take Offence at Certain Places of the Holy Scripture’ in the Second Book of Homilies, we are told that ‘the Holy Scriptures are God’s treasure house, wherein are found all things needful for us to see, to hear, to learn, and to believe, necessary for the attaining of eternal life.’ For the author of the homily, and for the Anglican tradition as a whole, this statement is as true of the Old Testament as it of the New Testament. That is why, in theory at least, clergy and Readers ought to be preaching on both Testaments. But those called to preach often find it difficult to know how to preach on the Old Testament in a way that is true to the text, but also points us to the eternal life offered to us in Christ. Sidney Greidanus, Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been working on this problem for many years and has published a number of well received books on the subject. His latest book is on Daniel and in it he explains how preachers and teachers how can prepare expository messages from the six narratives and four visions in the book of Daniel. He draws on up to date biblical scholarship to address introductory issues such as the date of composition, the author(s) and original audience of the book. He then goes on to consider its overall message about God's sovereignty, providence and coming kingdom and looks at the various ways in which it is possible to preach Christ from Daniel in a theologically responsible fashion. Each chapter of the book contains building blocks for constructing expository sermons and lessons, including information on the context, themes and goals of each literary unit; links between Daniel and the New Testament; how to formulate the sermon theme and goal and the contemporary application of the text. This is an invaluable tool for anyone called to expound the Book of Daniel as Christian Scripture.   

Louis Markos, On the Shoulders of Hobbits, Moody Press, ISBN 978-0-80244-319-9, £9.99 (Kindle edition also available).
Two of the greatest story tellers in English during the twentieth century were J RR Tolkien and C S Lewis. Their novels continue to sell in vast numbers in their original written form and are also now attracting a new generation of fans through the films that have been made of them. Both Tolkien and Lewis were Christian writers and although Tolkien’s accounts of Middle Earth and Lewis’s Chronicle of Narnia were not intended to be works of Christian apologetic their Christian faith is reflected in these writings in such a way that they can provide resources to explain the meaning of the Christian faith to an increasingly secular world. This is the point put forward in a this book by Professor Louis Markos, Professor of English at Houston Baptist University.  His basic premise is that to recover the Christian vision of life that has become eclipsed in our society there needs to be not only a restoration of Christian theology and philosophy, but a recovery of Christian stories. ‘Western civilization has lost more than those laws, creeds and doctrines on which it was built; it has lost as well the sacred drama that gave flesh and bone to those ‘naked’ creedal statements. We need the truth, but we also need to be taught how to live in and through and by this truth. What we need, in short, are stories.’  For Professor Markos, Tolkien and Lewis provide the sort of stories that we need. He argues that their works do more than entertain. They help the reader inculcate classic Christian virtues like courage, valour, trust, and friendship. By following the moral development of Frodo, the hero of The Lord of the Rings, for instance, our own courage and persistence are strengthened. By studying the villains throughout Middle-Earth and Narnia, we can detect sin in our own lives and destroy it. Thus Tolkien's Sauron, the arch-villain in the Lord of the Rings, provides an example of the sin of pride, exposed through the light of humility: To quote Markos: ‘The reason Sauron has not guessed the true purpose of the Fellowship is not that he is a fool or even that he is prideful, but that he simply cannot conceive that someone would willingly forsake power. He is completely blind to the ways and motivations of goodness; such Light is too bright for his darkened eyes to fathom.’ This book provides a readable and reliable introduction to the moral significance of the imaginary worlds created by Tolkien and Lewis, showing how understanding those worlds better can help us learn to live more virtuous Christian lives in this one.

David Nixon, Stories from the Street, Ashgate, 978-1-4094-3746-8, £19.99.
Anyone who walks down Victoria Street from Victoria station at 8.20 on a weekday morning will be aware of the problem of homelessness. There is constant evidence of people who have been, or who still are, sleeping on the streets. The churches, including the Church of England, have a long and honourable history of offering help to such people. The work done by St Martin in the Fields is but one example. However, there can be a problem if help is offered in a way that the homeless become simply objects of care and compassion rather than active subjects, men and women created in the image and likeness of God, who have their own stories to tell and who have things to teach us about God. It is this problem that Dr David Nixon, a parish priest in Plymouth and part time research fellow at the University of Exeter, addresses in his new book. He has an interest in social exclusion/inclusion which began during a curacy in Plymouth in which he worked with charities and local organizations concerned with housing, homelessness and community development. Bishop Michael Langrish notes in the Foreword that in this book, ‘an attempt is made to respect personhood and individuality and provide a vehicle through which the voice of homeless people is allowed to be heard.’ The book explores the biographies of twelve homeless people, looking at a number of themes including crises in health and relationships, self-harm and suicide, anger and pain and God and the Bible. It sketches out a theology of homelessness which suggests not only that God is the God of the homeless in the sense of being a God who cares about them, but that he is a homeless God, in the sense of being the  God who shares their stories and creates hope in their lives. Dr Nixon suggests that rather than being simply passive recipients of the Church’s mission, homeless people have much to teach the Church and challenge it not just to offer care, but to engage with the political question of why homelessness exists at all. This is an important book that uses the insights of contextual theology to think theologically about the phenomenon of homelessness in Britain today and the Church’s response to it.

Michael Perham, Jesus and Peter: Growing in Friendship with God, SPCK, ISBN 978-0-28106-754-1, £9.99 (Kindle edition also available).
In John 15:15 Jesus says to his disciples, and hence to us, ‘I have called you friends,’ but many Christians are unsure about what it means to become a friend of God and what being a friend of God involves. It is this issue which Bishop Michael Perham addresses in this book. The starting point is the New Testament accounts of how Peter’s friendship with Jesus developed and how this development provides a model which can help all Christians to understand and develop their own friendship with God. As Bishop Michael explains in his introduction: ‘Simon Peter, one of those whom Jesus drew into his company of disciples, has been given any number of titles. For some he is ‘the Prince of the Apostles’; for others ‘the Big Fisherman’. For me, Peter is, above all else, ‘a friend of God’; first, though, he was a friend of Jesus, through whom he discovered what God was like, and even friendship with Jesus was not achieved without pain, failure and tears. I want in this book to explore how that friendship establishes itself, how it develops and transforms Peter.…I do not want simply to retell a fascinating and beautiful story about a man who lived two thousand years ago, but to discover more deeply for myself, and to share with others, what it might mean today to become, or to become more deeply and truly, a disciple of Jesus and a friend of God.’ As he further explains: ‘One reason why I am drawn to the figure of Simon Peter is because his story seems to exemplify both the desire to become God’s friend and some of the stages and struggles on the way. Peter very quickly becomes a disciple, a follower, of Jesus. Peter is also, I think, ready to be a servant. But becoming a friend – that takes him time and several moments of crisis. Indeed, at a certain level, the disciple, follower and servant doesn’t seem to me to turn into a friend until Jesus asks him by a lakeside after the resurrection, ‘Peter, are you my friend?’’  This is a very helpful book for anyone who wants to consider where they are in their own relationship with God, and how, like Peter, they can grow in that relationship so as to become not just a follower of Jesus, but a friend of God.

Ben Quash, Abiding, A&C Black, ISBN 978-1-44115-111-7, £ 10.00  (Kindle edition also available)
As its title indicates, this new book from Ben Quash, the Professor of Christian Theology and the Arts at King's College, London, which is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2013, explores the concept of ‘abiding.’  As Professor Quash acknowledges in his introduction, abiding is not a word we now generally use ‘in ordinary conversation. You wouldn’t say, for example, ‘oh, just abide here for a minute while I pop into the newsagents’, or, ‘she abode with me until the train arrived’. It is a word more suited to Victorian hymnody, along with phrases like ‘fast falls the eventide.’’  However, as he goes on to say, ‘it is not a word we can easily find substitutes for either, because ‘wait’ or ‘stick around’ don’t quite catch it. Abiding has more the sense of a full, personal commitment. It expresses a quality of solidarity which just waiting would never convey; something like the widowed Ruth’s wonderful words to her mother-in-law: Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you! (Ruth 1.16-17).’ For Professor Quash, the concept of abiding involves a conundrum between the centrality to the Christian outlook of order, consistency and continuity, on the one hand, and the equal centrality of relinquishment, openness and change, on the other. Professor Quash explores this conundrum in seven chapters ‘abiding in body,’ ‘abiding in mind,’ ‘abiding through care,’ ‘abiding in relationships,’ ‘abiding in exile,’  ‘wounds that abide’ and ‘the peace that abides.’ There is also an epilogue ‘who may abide?’  Each chapter also contains a ‘coda’ that suggests a topic for reflection and relates it to a text from one of the readings set in the Common Worship lectionary for the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. This is a book that explores in a creative and skilful way the implications that 'abiding' has for our bodies and minds, our relationships and communities, and our spiritual lives. It would provide the basis for an excellent course of individual or group study.

Keith D Stanglin and Thomas H McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, Oxford, ISBN 978-0-19975-567-7, £17.99.
The Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) is one of those theologians, like Augustine, Luther and Calvin, whose name has become associated with a particular tradition of theological thought. The complexity and subtlety of his own thought can become lost through association with the tradition that has come to bear his name. The term ‘Arminianism’ has become a short hand for a an emphasis on the exercise of human free will as the cause of human salvation, whereas in fact Arminius was a Reformed theologian with a strong emphasis on the indispensability of prevenient divine grace if human beings are to be saved. His difference with Calvin was not on whether divine grace was necessary, but on how it became effective in the course of human history and whether there was a place for human free will in its appropriation. In recent years there has been a recovery of interest in the theology of Arminius in Evangelical circles and this is reflected in the publication of this new study from Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall, both of whom are professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the United States. Their study offers a constructive synthesis of the current state of Arminius studies that bridges the gap between technical, scholarly discussions of Arminius and popular-level appeals to his thought, that will be helpful to the scholar as well as comprehensible and relevant to the undergraduate  theology student. They look first at the development of Arminius’ thought and then go on to look in turn at his teaching on ‘God and creation,’ ‘providence and predestination’ and ‘sin and salvation’ before drawing the argument together in a concluding chapter. This is an essential work of reference for anyone who wants a proper understanding of Arminius and his theology.

Keith D. Stanglin
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Jennifer Tann (ed), Soul Pain: Priests Reflect on Personal Experiences of Serious and Terminal Illness, Canterbury Press, ISBN 978-184825-277-6, £16.99.
It is part of the calling of priests to minister to those who are facing moments of personal tragedy and crisis. Thus it is normal for priests in the course of their ministry to encounter instances where people have been struck down by a serious or terminal illness or accident before what is regarded as the end of a normal life span. They may have to minister, for example, to a child with cancer, to the victim of a road accident, to a seriously ill young mother, or a talented student struck down by a life threatening disease. However, serious or terminal illness is not something that priests only encounter in other people. They too can be struck down by the sudden and unexpected onset of disease. When this happens, as in the case of the cancer that struck down the late David Watson at the height of his ministry, the priests concerned have the additional burden of being in a public role which obliges to manage their outward behaviour as well as their inner feelings. They have to face the difficult questions which others bring to them, and to which there are no easy answers, as well as wrestling with their own questions about what is happening to them. The term coined by Dame Cicely Saunders for the emotion generated in this situation is ‘soul pain.’ Echoing Dame Cicely’s term, Soul Pain, edited by Jennifer Tann, Professor Emeritus of Innovation at the University of Birmingham, and a member of General Synod, is a collection of testimonies from priests who have been in this situation. It provides a moving, articulate and profound series of reflections on the shock, fear, anger, desolation, and acceptance that serious illness brings, the choices to be faced and the meaning of healing in such contexts. This is a theologically rich collection that contains a depth of wisdom learned at great personal cost and is full of illuminating insights for all who minister to those with life-threatening conditions and those who watch and wait. It is an important book that will be read with benefit by all involved in pastoral ministry, whether priests or laity. 

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