Sunday, April 30, 2006

Books read in April (8)

1. Oliver Cromwell by Barry Coward

This is an excellent brief study of some of the enigmas concerning the most controversial man in English history. The author is president of the Cromwell Association but this is no hagiography. Oliver is painted warts and all.

Cromwell is portrayed as a man motivated to see godly reformation in Britain. Aged 42 he was a farmer and MP of no consequence. In two years he was a general with a military reputation which enabled him to be at the forefront of English politics. he was no political theorist but a man who became as skillful a politician as he was soldier.

As a soldier he accepted recruits for their commitment not their gentility. A disciplinarian, he was loved by his troops whom he commanded with courage. he was more at home with his army than with politicians.

Providentialism, not scheming has been shown to be the driving force in his life. A cyclothymic personality, depressed then elated, his achievements are remarkable considering that he was in the most turbulent time in English history. Like a recent prime minister he was more respected abroad than at home.

Only in one small thing can i fault the author when he describes Cromwell as lucky. The man himself would have said that providence smiled upon him.

I also wonder why he omitted any reference to the Westminster Assembly and Cromwell's views on it for here also was the struggle between differing views on godly reformation

Coward believes that Cromwell's lasting memorial is English Non-Conformity, something he would not have wanted as his vision was the godly united in a diverse .national church.

If you want to know what made Oliver tick, read this book.

2. The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin by Kris Lundgaard

John Owen on The Mortification of Sin and Indwelling Sin in Believers are great books but only readable by those prepared to do battle with the prolixity of the greatest English 17th century theologian. Owen is great but hard going.

Lundgaard has done a great job in bringing such deep teaching on sin into the present day. Here is strong meat as easy to digest as milk. The literary illustrations may be a bit over the pond at times, but they are very effective.

The book is enhanced by questions for study and meditation following every chapter. Probably the best book I have read on what sin is and how it is to be defeated. It is more than thoughts, words or deeds. It is man's alienation from the God who is there. Its origin is from man's beginning. It affects all of life. It can be defeated only in Christ.

Read this book, then try Owen himself.

3. The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend by Steve Turner

Before I read this biography I had only read the author as a poet not as writer on popular music. His poetry is great and so is this biography.. It is an outstanding piece of Christian writing about an exceptional singer.

Cash grew up in Bible belt Arkansas. Formative influences were a dominating drinking father, a godly mother and an elder brother who died young in a tragic accident with a circular saw.

After military service in Europe Cash who maintained a moral life married and soon knew fame as a country singer. Travel away from his wife, adultery and amphetamines led to divorce and nearly to suicide. Returning to faith he studied theology, was ordained, married again and continues at the top of his musical world. I do wonder if Cash had been better integrated into a church that could have nurtured and protected him, he might have ben spared his second round of addiction. But after he was injured by a kick from a pet ostrich drug addiction and alcoholism returned. He nearly lost his family but again Christ was his rescuer from substance abuse, though it took double bypass surgery to get him separated from cigarettes. Riches had not protected him from himself, but his faith now did for the rest of his life even when his beloved wife died .

Cash had revered and feared his dysfunctional father. He never spoke ill of him but his father never praised him until he was famous and never verbally expressed love. Asked in 1979 how he's like to be remembered in 100 years, Cash simply said, 'I'd like to be remembered as a good daddy'.

Bur Cash will be remembered as a great song writer and singer. "Johnny Cash was a saint who preferred the company of sinners," says Bono. Turner tells of him in the company of Elvis, Dylan, McCartney , Jackson and all, but above all as a man who has real faith. Without it he would undoubtedly have died young like Elvis.

A great Christian biography, warts and all from an author who really understands his subject. Now the Man in Black is robed in white.

4, The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw by Sheila Hancock

This is an unusual book in that it is both a biography of John Thaw and an autobiography by his wife as she comes to terms with his loss.

Both are gifted and loved actors, children of wartime England.

I was surprised to learn that John grew up in Manchester because I thought his Mancunian accent in Kavanagh seemed artificial! He seems never to have got over being abandoned by his mother at an early age. This may have contributed to lifelong depression and then alcoholism, things he hid from his public. He conquered his addiction which nearly led to the breakup of his marriage. He was indeed a superb actor.

Sheila writes well. She is well left of centre but it does not spoil the writing as she can see the good points in those she does not like. She praises Margaret Thatcher for her courage. She is helped in her grief by becoming a Quaker.

The book reminded me of the biography of James Herriot by his son. In both books the writer is telling the deceased how much they loved them.

5. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

I do not read many novels but this book is an exceptional read. The setting is the last forty years in the history of Afghanistan and its suffering people, from monarchy through communist republic, Russian invasion, Taliban horror to post 9/11.
It is a story where blood, family ties, are thicker than anything in Afghan culture, even Islam. It shows with tear inducing narrative what it is to be an Afghan witnessing the destruction of normal life in the turmoil of his country and in finding new life in the USA.
Here is a gripping read despite a slow start with one harrowing incident which then affects the whole life of the narrator. He is racked with guilt over personal failure for which he eventually makes atonement at great cost.
I enjoyed a story of fatherly love and a son coming to understand the father who has difficulty expressing his love. There is romance set in expatriate Afghan culture a million miles from the dating culture of its American setting.
There is excitement and surprising twists in the plot which after violence and suffering has a sweet ending. It is an adult book with explicit sex and violence but these are part of the Afghan story and are sensitively related.
The family is not religious but a one that seeks to do good, to live with honour and avoid shame. In extremis the narrator turns to Allah and his prayer is answered, but not without bloodshed as he seeks to make atonement for his previous great failure to do what is right and find forgiveness. That forgiveness can only come through self sacrifice to remove self inflicted shame and guilt. Life is a struggle with one's self aided by the kindness of others.
I think there is a real insight into Afghan mind and culture, in this first novel from a writer whose next book I really look forward to. The writer is a doctor. I think he must be a very caring one.

6. Milton and the English Revolution - Christopher Hill

Christopher Hill is a man who writes with real understanding of 17th century England and the religious motivations in the conflict that devastated these countries at that time. Milton was a man at the centre of the English turmoil But he was no orthodox Puritan with his defence of divorce and polygamy and his attack on the Trinity. But as Hill writes, 'Milton was not just a fine writer. he is the greatest English revolutionary who is also a poet, he is the greatest English poet who is also a revolutionary. '

Milton was fortunate to survive the Restoration. He was the most prominent supporter of regicide not to lose his life. So he wrote his three great epics, not only, says Hill, 'to justify the ways of God to men' in Eden but also in the failure of the English revolution. Hill ,thinks Milton could not write these things in clear prose.

My only caveat on Hill is that he believes Calvinism means a rejection of human responsibility in the face of divine sovereignty.Iit does not but I have never found a non-Calvinist who appreciated the antinomy. I also would deny Calvinism means the elect are few for it usually has an optimistic eschatology. So i do not see Milton as the Arminian that Hill does. He has given us a fascinating book on a turbulent time.

7. Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama

The names of Granville Sharp, and John Clarkson are not well known like that of Wilberforce but they are the heroes in the story of how blacks who fought for Britain against its rebel colonies were rewarded. Escaped slaves who fought alongside the Redcoats were not treated well but some found their way to cold and barren resettlement in Nova Scotia. Others finished up on the streets of London. Sharp would get a writ of Habeus Corpus to stop a slave owner reclaiming his property. He encouraged blacks to return together to Africa founding what is now Sierra Leone. Clarkson, brother of the man who researched slaving for Wilberforce, was a naval officer with first hand experience of the triangular trade. Converted like John Newton to an Evangelical faith he went to Nova Scotia and hired a fleet of ships to sail about 1000 settlers to the new enterprise in West Africa. He was a true Moses for these people. They has a rough crossing and a hard time from the English company ruling the land. Loved by the blacks, Clarkson was sacked by the company from his post as governor.

This is a story to move you to tears. It is one not without some pride if you are British, but shame if you are American. I have often wondered, if i had lived in America in 1776, whose side wouldIi have been on. If you were black the question is a no-brainer.

Sharma can be a bit too detailed for the casual reader but he writes well and with surprising sympathy for the Evangelical Christianity which characterised the blacks and those whites who struggled long and hard for their liberty.

8. Thomas More (Reputations Series.) by John Guy

The Reputations series examines the lives of controverted historical figures. More certainly qualities. if you are Roman Catholic, here is a saint, a martyr for the church abandoned by Henry VIII because of his lust. if you are Protestant more is a man who delighted to persecute Protestants with torture and the stake.

Guy believes More was one of the first masters of public relations leaving a legacy of writing to show himself as the king's good servant but God's servant first. He thinks that more never uttered these famous words and that Bolt's film, A Man for All Seasons did not do justice to a sometimes wintery character.
By the standards of his Catholic age, More was a very religious, virtuous man . The church for which he died has recognised this with sainthood. But 15th century Catholic virtue included book burning, hunting heretics, brutal interrogation, and death at the stake. More's Utopia described a tolerance and freedom which he did not live out.

A brilliant lawyer who became Lord Chancellor, a skillful politician who kept his opposition to Henry's divorce a private matter between him and the king, his conscience bound to the Roman church, he lived and died well for his beliefs. A Renaissance scholar and friend of Erasmus, histories of him are divided between the Catholic admirers and Protestant critics. Guy believes it is difficult to get to the real More but he makes a scholarly attempt to do so.

Not a riveting read but informative. It confirms my judgment that A Man for All Seasons and The Sound of Music are two wonderful pieces of Roman Catholic propaganda.


The Sanity Inspector said...

Another book on sin worth reading is Henry Fairlie's The Seven Deadly Sins Today.

Atticus said...

re: John Cash. I read his most recent autobiography after seeing the movie. The role of his faith comes through very strongly, much more so than in the movie, where it was almost non existent.