Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Books read in May (14)

1. The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins

Gibbon infamously linked the fall of Rome with the rise of Christianity but he was an Enlightenment secularist. The author illustrates how there have been differing standpoints on the collapse of the Western Roman Empire depending on who was writing and when. Germans will not view the victory of Germanic tribes as the end of civilisation. French authors in the 1930s or 40s had a different perspective on conquering Germanic hordes.

Among many reasons that have been offered for the fall of Rome the author plumps for the economic one as most likely, There was too big a burden supporting the army necessary to keep Roman rule. When it went it was not an advance but a regression in technology and economics. Some cultures are superior to others in certain aspects.

I think that this book shows that nothing has ever united all of Europe. The Romans did not and all subsequent attempts have ended in failure. E.U lovers take note. Your proposed super-state will fail.This is not a sell binding read but it is most informative. How refreshing to hear a defence of mercenary soldiers.

2. Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers - Alan Storkey

This is simply the best book I have read on Christianity and politics. Alan Storkey is a gifted writer with some memorable turns of phrase. He starts by putting Jesus in the political arena that resulted from the despotism of Herod the Great. This is a most informative book on the history of the land in Jesus time. One learns about the various parties in Israel and the centrality of the temple in their lives.

Storkey writes with real scholarship using the Gospel accounts to show us the political implications of stories related by their authors for Christian purposes. He gives new insights into John the Baptist, Herod Antipas, the concept of messiah, and how God's government has the prime authority, not any worldly power. Jesus is shown to have political principles, statecraft and world rule. After examining taxation in the time of Jesus, we are taken to Jerusalem, the cross and resurrection. The gospel is shown to have political events as its historic setting. The life of Jesus transforms politics for the Christian.

This is one of those rare books where Christian scholarship is united with real devotion to the risen living Christ. It is heart warming Christian political writing.

I have only one area where I seriously depart from the author's viewpoint. He writes that taxation can be an expression of the nation's system of care and neighborly love. He favours high taxation for spending on social provision and health care. He has no critique of the idolatry that results when the state is regarded as the great provider. I read no critique of the dependency culture that pervades Western societies nor of the ever growing beast that is the modern state. He is though rightly scathing about the uncritical nationalism of many western Christians.

Simply the best introduction to Christian political thinking that I have read.

3. Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East: The Challenge of the Future - Andrea Pacini

This is a series of academic papers translated from the Italian originals. it gives an encyclopaedic survey of the history and current state of Christianity in the Middle East up to 1998.

Reading this book transforms one's understanding of this part of the world. before the Islamic conquests this area was mainly Christian. That fact alone changes one's perspective on the Crusades as wars of aggression. Under Islam over the centuries and in different places Christians have always had to live as disadvantaged minorities. Ay first the extra tax they had to pay helped finance Islamic expansion. But it was the Christian minority which translated the literary heritage of Greece. When Muslims boast that they developed science in European Dark Ages they do not tell how significant was the Christian Arab contribution.

In popular estimation Arab equals Muslim. this book shows that this is not the case. The whole historic development of Middle Eastern Christianity is surveyed. it is a depressing picture as Christian communities are seen as under threat or disadvantage in nearly all present countries with large scale emigration to the West. The revival of Islam and the demand for countries to be more Islamic threatens the churches which are more at liberty under secular regimes like Syria. One sees that Islam must rule. It is nor compatible with pluralism and democracy when it gets its way. Christians and Jews are reduced to second class citizens. The history of the Middle East should warn that Islam will forever insist on imposing its rule by whatever means it can. It does not need outright war. Its insistence that mixed marriages become Muslim ones together with a high birth rate is enough to ensure a demographic threat of Islamic expansion.

4. Rat Run by Gerald Seymour

I am old enough to remember Gerald Seymour as one of the first I.T.N news readers but ever since his first book I have regarded him as my top thriller writer. His first book was in troubled Northern Ireland. Over the years his books have mirrored contemporary theatres of action. Rat Run takes us to the world of combat in Iraq, drug ridden London housing estates and the latest terrorist threat. Once I start a Seymour I know i will not be able to put it down. This is no exception. A thrilling read but not a very pleasant ending. That is what makes Seymour so realistic. The real world does not have tidy finishes.

5. The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West by Gilles Kepel

Kepel is a French academic who has written a first class analysis of the recent development of Islam and the response of the West. he is less than complimentary to those he describes as the American neo-conservatives behind the two Presidents Bush. Starting with the failure of the Oslo Peace the response to 9/11 is analysed and found wanting but not as wanting as the calamity in Iraq. But all of us are blessed with 20;20 hindsight though one might have thought Western leaders would have been able to better anticipate civil strife after Iraq was invaded.

When Kepel looks at the battle for Europe his work suffers from concentrating on France with some mention of England and Spain but little of other major centres of European Islam. There is no analysis of the differing groups from South Asia in Britain like the descriptions of differing parties in France. This is the books one shortcoming for the British reader. Nevertheless I think it is a first rate analysis of the tensions in the world of Islam. I do not though share his optimism that future generations of Muslims in Europe will be reconciled to a Western democratic modernity. This can only happen if Muslims secularise. What good Muslim can do that and maintain integrity?

6. The Tiger Who Came to Tea - Judith Kerr

Read to granddaughters Bethany and Hannah who came for my bitrhday celebrations. I thought the tiger might have eaten the family too but he was well behaved and stopped at eating and drinking them out of house and home.

7. Islamic Britain: Religion, Politics and Identity Among British Muslims by Philip Lewis

This book, written in 1994, is now somewhat dated but it gives a very comprehensive survey of the history and diversity of Islam in Bradford. As such it is a fine resource on Muslims from the Indian sub-continent resident in Britain, but it really should have been called Islamic Bradford. The Muslim communities in Bradford are described showing their great diversity and different approaches to life in England. . They all differ from the Wahhabism of the Saudis. They are not usually in agreement with fatwas from Iran.There is no one Muslim community except perhaps when they perceive their faith to have been slighted. Insulting Mohammed is a greater sin than blasphemy. if public reaction is any measure. The author, specialist in comparative religion writes with a deep knowledge of his subject and with sympathy for it. An updated edition is required, especially post 9/11 but this is a good resource on Islam in England.

8. Thatcher (Reputations Series.) by E.E.H. Green

I have read several books in the Reputations series . This is the most contemporary person so critiqued. I am surprised that the publishers in this volume fail to show that this volume is part of the series. But the author does tell us this is not a biography but an assessment of Maggie's political reputation. It is the author's own mainly favorable assessment and many well known comments, for and against by her contemporaries are omitted. Also omitted are aspects of her personal character, like her care for her constituents, her relationship with Dennis, her stance on moral issues, her resilience when personally attacked. The Brighton bomb is not mentioned, Bobby Sands barely alluded to. Green does not dwell on some things her opponents fasten on e.g. the Belgrano sinking.

Green deals with the big political themes and does it well, with chapters on Conservatism, economics, privatisation, trade unions, the electorate, the world and on Europe. The lady said she set out to destroy socialism. She did not slay this dragon but she certainly wounded it and changed the face of British politics. Well worth the read. New Labour may be her present monument . Consistency is seen as one of her virtues and weaknesses.

9. The Da Vinci Code from Dan Brown's Fiction to Mary Magdalene's Faith by Garry Williams

With the film of Brown's fiction coming out interest rises concerning his most successful novel which Williams says had earned Brown 140 million pounds by the end of 2004. Willliams lectures on church history and is well qualified to debunk Brown's fiction. He shows why, contra Brown, the church has not down played the humanity of Jesus nor the importance of Mary Magdalene.

This is a short but very effective book. It shows why the New Testament is a reliable witness to Jesus. Brown is not even a reliable interpreter of the Gnostic sources he cites in his fiction.

Williams encourages readers to go back to the real sources on Jesus, the gospels to find the real truth. Read Williams, read the gospels and discover the truth. This book is an excellent resource to give to anyone interested in the Christian faith anyone who may be intrigued and led astray by Brown's popular fiction.

10. Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis by Bat Ye'or

Bat Ye'or, Daughter of the Nile, is the pseudonym of a Jewish woman born in Egypt, who was deprived of her citizenship and is now a British citizen living in Switzerland. Her speciality is dhimmitude, how Christians and Jews are tolerated as minorities by Muslims provided they accept the burdens Islam places upon them, paying a special tax, no church bells or processions, no evangelism, church buildings restricted, the testimony of a non-Muslim not accepted against the word of a Muslim etc, etc. By this tolerant Islam historically allowed monotheistic minority communities to live in Muslim lands. It is an attitude of resigned inferiority and subservience to Islam. She contends that Europe today is developing such an attitude to the Arab world. Europe is becoming Eurabia. Islam and its history are seen through rose tinted Muslim made spectacles. Anti-Americanism, anti-semitism and Anti-Zionism are rife. Even liberal Muslims aim to make Europe Muslim, ruled by the inequitable shari'a.

The leader of this compromise with Islam is France. Thanks to her, the E.U. is now hell bent on denying its Christian heritage pretending it owes as much to Islam as Christianity for the origins of European culture. She even manages to develop some vocabulary of her own and I do think the word Islamikaze deserves wide circulation, though it will not get it because we live in Eurabia. The cartoon controversy came after this book was published but the refusal to publish and offend Muslims is a prime example of the dhimmitude she portrays.

A detailed history of France and the E.U.'s alignment with the Arab world is given. Muslim minorities in Europe res not to be assimilated. Their demands are met in the name of multi-culturalism but it is really dhimmitude. Perhaps she does not make enough of the exception to this rule, France's ban on religious dress in school. but the one sided capitulation of West to East is well evidenced in this work.
She shows how Arab Christians have compromised and become advocates of Muslim views. One begins to understand why Middle eastern churches have such a poor record on evangelism. She criticises replacement theology which teaches that the church has replaced the Jews in God's purposes for mankind. I think her thesis is well proved and gives a timely warning which is going unheeded in Europe. My one criticism is that she equates a denial of the God given right of the state of Israel to exist according to biblical prophecy as anti-semitic as well as anti-Zionist. She should realise that one can defend the right of Israel to exist as a state without being a Zionist or anti-semitic. After all the Lubavich are non-Zionist Jews.

11. Testimonies of Ex-Muslims - compiled by Michael H. Imhof

Commander Imhof sent me a copy of his book after I agreed to him including the testimony of a Nigerian friend which I had translated.

This is a thrilling book of how the grace of God has transformed men and women born into Muslim families. Many received messages from God in dreams. Conversion is supernatural. God intervened in these lives. Some were persecuted severely. one was martyred. All have come to love Jesus, the Son of God who died for sinners. The Holy Spirit does indeed change hearts and lives.

12 The Cromwellian Protectorate - Barry Coward

It has been observed that the winners get to write the history. Only it seems after 350 years can we get a better assessment. This book is a step on that path dispelling as it does the popular view that Cromwell's protectorate was an oppressive military dictatorship . Coward shows that when Cromwell dispensed with parliaments it was because they had become either an ineffectual talking shop or they were not pursuing the godly reformation for which Cromwell and the army had fought. Cromwell was for a diverse but united English national church. Others wanted their liberty without granting it to those who differed. Some feared that diversity meant disorder..

It is interesting to note that many records of Cromwell and his council have not survived. Were they destroyed as part of the myth of dictator Oliver?

Godly reformation as Cromwell desired failed because different church factions were too busy fighting one another rather than accomplishing their real calling of evangelism. When hearts were not changed, reformation could not continue. It could not be imposed, top downwards particularly when it involved the reactionary Puritan abolition of the church calendar and other unpopular measures.

Cromwell's good record of improving foreign relations is examined and also the punitive treatment of the Irish in contrast with the kinder treatment of the Scots.

The Protectorate failed because no able successor to Cromwell could be found. England was not ready for a republic.

13. The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody (History of Evangelicalism) - David W. Bebbington

This is a comprehensive account of evangelicalism in its most successful period, the latter half of the 19th century.It is the second book to be published in a series of five concerning people, movements and ideas in the English speaking evangelical world. It is not as stirring a volume as the first in the series which deals with the 17th century evangelical awaking but the subject matter here is of a much more developed and diverse tradition now more influential in society. The spiritual heart of the movement is well described as is its international and denominational diversity. Of particular interest was the assessment of enlightenment thought bringing rationalism then the reaction of romanticism into the churches. Here we see the rise of new movements and traditions, premilennialism, black American churches and the holiness movement, precursor of pentecostalism. Also covered is the rise of evolutionary thought and the increasing role of women in the church.

14. Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000
- Donald E. Wagner

The author, a minister in the largest US Presbyterian church has not only given us a history of Palestinian Christianity but a historical critique of Zionism. He uses the term, Palestine as the Roman name of the land. He shows that with a 2000 year history of living there, Palestinian Arab Christians have a better title to the land than do the Jews of the diaspora who returned after an absence of nearly 1900 years.

This book is in no way anti-Semitic but it is anti-Zionist. The origins of Zionism are shown as a reaction to European 19th century pogroms with support for Zionist aspirations coming from the highest levels in Britain. Those who backed the Zionists were usually influenced by a premilennial eschatology which believes that the Jews have unconditional title to the land. One weakness of the book is that Wagner never seems to give a Biblical critique of this error, He should point out that Biblical promises of a return to the land are for a covenant keeping people whereas Christian belief is that Jews have rejected the New Covenant by refusing Jesus as Messiah.

But the premilennial view has had enormous influence and continues to do so. Wagner appeals to Christians to stop this support for Israel no matter what they do. He shows the injustice, terrorism and atrocities done in the establishment of the State of Israel. There is no call for history to be reversed but for Palestinians to be compensated and given peaceful self-determination. There is damning evidence that the suffering of Christians under Israel is worse than the under centuries of Islam. It has lead to a rapidly declining Christian population in the land.

At times I think he is over critical of the British mandate like when he says they possibly arranged a civil war. Britain bears a huge responsibility for the mess that is the Middle East, but so does France and the US. He is also rather uncritical of Palestinian Muslim terrorism and corruption. He is very critical of the Greek Orthodox selling land to Israel and alienating indigenous Christians.

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