Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Books read in May 2007

Please have a look at any or all of these books on amazon.co.uk. You will find over 150 of my reviews there awaiting you approval. Vote for them and help me fulfil my aim of being a top 100 reviewer. So far I am 687.

1. Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed by Jonathan Aitken

The two most impressive public speakers I have ever heard are Colson and Aitken They have more in common than speaking ability. Both are men whose pride has been humbled as they fell from the highest ranks of government to finish up behind bars. Both of them found Christ before they entered prison. Both have had lives radically changed as they grew in Christian faith. Colson could not have a more understanding or sympathetic biographer than Aitken but you have to read Aitken's auto biographies to find out why, as he omits Colson's personal help from this book.

Colson comes from humbler origins than his biographer. He was the only son of a self educated lawyer and a most eccentric mother. Colson turned down a Harvard scholarship as he did not want to be part of the New England establishment. Instead he went to Brown University where he started bottom of his year and finished top. Colson graduated, married and joined the Marines as an officer, a task he relished when commanding troops but sent to a desk job he rebelled. He managed to get posted to the Navy Department on Capitol Hill and that led out of the Marines and into fist politics as aide to a senator then into his own law firm where the pushy go getting Colson made a career and lost his wife through over work and attraction to a secretary. From his legal firm he moved to work for the election of Nixon as president and he became special counsel to the new president. He was never happy with Haldeman and Erlichman, Nixon's two top aides, but was happy to engage in whatever dirty tricks were necessary to ensure a second Nixon term. He was not complicit in the Watergate burglary but he eventually pleaded gutty to other charges. Aitken gives the impression, as was the advice of Colson's lawyer, that he could well have pleaded not guilty and escaped prison and debarment as a Virgina lawyer. But the pressure was intense and if not legally guilty, new Christian Colson felt morally to blame for many things.
Aitken related Colson's amazing experience of Christian conversion as is also told in Born Again but does not go into great detail about Colson's hardships in prison, rather he concentrates on his growth in faith and witness. Unlike Aitken, Colson had no background of nominal Christianity so his growth as a Christian was really from a very low knowledge base. But Colson proved a quick learner in both theology and sanctification. The man who would have walked over his grandmother for Nixon had a lot of hardness to be removed but transformed he was day by day. He learned to forgive his enemies and not retaliate when slandered. Former political enemies who were now fellow Christins showed forgiving grace and established Colson in his new faith. He face hardship in and out of prison but he was a new man. Out of prison he spurned all legal and business offers. Instead he devoted his life to founding Prison Fellowship and helping prisoners both spiritually and in terms of prison reform. One sees in the US a country much more open to such Christian initiatives than in the UK. Prison ministry grew. There were setbacks especially when Colson, whose wife is Roman Catholic, started working for a better relationship between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. It cost him the support of many evangelicals including his theological mentor R C Sproule, but Colson has persevered and gained support form many Catholics. He has become a best selling author now calling for Christians to have a life transforming world view, not merely being religious.

Colson's new integrity shines through as does his spirituality. |For the sake of his ministry he became teetotal. Giving up cigarettes was harder. He never takes money for speaking engagements, donating fees and nearly all royalties to his Prison Fellowship. This includes the $1 million he received as winner of the Templeton Award for religion, the equivalent of a Nobel prize. This truly is the story of a life redeemed and sanctified.

2. Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes

This is a book to put some spine into flabby Christian men. The christian life cannot be allowed to wax and wane according to our emotional state. Discipline is needed and taught here in godliness, purity, marriage, fatherhood, friendship, the mind, devotion, prayer, worship, integrity, the tongue, work, perseverance, church, leadership, giving, witness and ministry.

The author writes with a popular challenging style using many illustrations.Sometimes it seems a bit too American but this does not get in the way of the real spiritual challenge communicated if we are to be disciplined Christian me. This is a much needed book which will be studied with profit by any man. There are practical questions for discussion as well as book recommendations from leading Christians. One minor niggle. How did he do a chapter on leadership and omit being a servant?

3. America Alone: The Neo-conservatives and the Global Order by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke

America should not be alone is the message of this book. Apart from UK support she is very much alone and the neo-conservatives do not care. They are described as the right wingers who take their moral high ground as America being right. She should use force as her foreign policy and go it alone if necessary. The world is divided between them and us. They are evil, especially the Islamic world, and we are the good guys.The authors want to call for a return to jaw jaw instead of war war. They detest the idea of a clash of civilisations. U.S. foreign policy has become gung ho and needs to return to diplomatic not military initiatives.

Neocons are defined in terms of their policies. Their origins and development are described and how they have become the leading force in foreign affairs through propagating their own view of history, a false one says the writers. They have a lot of the American media on board, especially the Murdoch empire, and have courted the Christian right. They took us into Iraq on the false pretences of WMDs and links to terrorism. They promote a strong anti-American reaction everywhere, especially in the Islamic world. They have reduced American liberties with the Patriot Act and see this as the necessary price to pay to combat terror. They have not learned from history that terrorism must be cut off from popular support to be defeated. They do not examine the root causes of terror.They do not see there is no military solution. Rejecting cultural confrontation the authors, who incredibly believe that such diversity is a fact in most Islamic countries. They say pluralism leading to democratic forms of government is possible in Islamic countries and these conditions lead to modernity. Muslims can live with non-Muslims. Where one wonders is this happening.I do not think these academics have a real understanding of an Islamic world view that must dominate and have minorities in subjection. They have no real understanding of the depth of hatred towards a secularized and immoral West. They make no call for the West to repent of its materialism and sexual promiscuity. I believe there is much to be commended in their diagnosis of the ills of the neocons but they have failed to take the real clash of civilisations seriously enough. They have called not for the necessary reform of either civilisation. Multiculturalism is a liberal hope,not a real prospect for the future. Force is not the answer, neither is multiculturalism.

4. The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today by Josh Moody

Moody did his doctorate on Edwards and the Enlightenment. Doctoral theses are not usually a good read but this book which I believe comes from his thesis is excellent. It should serve as a pattern for others. Produce your thesis. get your doctorate. Then communicate what you have learned in popular form.

Edwards, America's greatest theologian and some would say philosopher too, has lessons to teach people today for he was one who grappled with enlightenment thought, rationalism, as well as being the theologian of Christian experience and revival. Moody shows at each stage that Edwards is relevant today in revival,Christian experience, examining movements by their fruit, being God-centered, being prepared to take a stand for truth and suffer for it, to distinguish the primary from the secondary in Christian life and to give effective leadership with ministry and family life integrated together.He shows where Edwards failed in views on slavery, not being pro-active in pastoral visitation and in being perhaps too authoritarian in personality. Moody is a baptist.He thinks infant baptism was also a failing and though it contributed to the communion controversy which cost Edwards his pastorate I would not agree that if, like Edwards,you restrict infant baptism to the children of active church members you still have a communion problem, but Baptists do not. In many Baptist churches too there is a presumption that at a certain age children will profess faith, be baptised and become members. The half way covenant cost Edwards his pastorate but in the providence of God it freed him to write. Without it we would not have had so many works form his pen.

This is an excellent book from which all Christians could learn and all doctoral students receive a good example in communication.

5. David Watson: A Biography by Teddy Saunder

An interesting biography os a gifted Christian leader. Watson lost his father when young but went to public school and was an army officer during National Service. An atheist, his life was turned round when he was approached by the Cambridge University Christian Union. He went on to study for ordination into the church of England. After curacy in Gillingham he moved to Cambridge and had a charismatic experience. With others he visited Martyn Lloyd Jones to talk about this. Lloyd Jones were are told had been a surgeon. In fact he was a physician before entering Christian ministry. I find it somewhat hard to believe than The Doctor would describe Watson's experience as baptism in the spirit. Interestingly Watson did not. He seems to have been a very restrained charismatic. He married then was offered a curacy in York, at St Cuthberts, a church under threat of closure. Watson saw a remarkable work of God there with his congregation becoming large enough to need extra room which he found. sometimes at the Minster, until he was offered the living of St Michael's le Belfry next to the minster. There his congregation grew too as did his wider evangelistic ministry in universities and other places. Watson appointed elders and then became rec oer with a vicar to really run the church with Watson having his wider ministry. I found the account of the eldership quite interesting as this seems so much more biblical than the Anglican pattern though it is certainly not democratic as described here. Watson appointed the elders.

The writers often mention tensions in his marriage. I would like to have been told more and more also on Watson's depressions. There is an index but it is incomplete and i could not follow these topics through.As the authors offer no critique of the continuance of extraordinary spiritual gifts, Mrs Watson's prophesying is uncritically accepted. Personally I would find it very hard to have a wife who could nag with,"Thus saith the Lord".

Later Watson links with Wimber and Vineyard fellowship. This brings more emphasis on healing but when Watson is diagnosed as terminally ill, Wimber denied that he had expected healing for Watson.

Watson come across as a very gifted evangelist and Bible teacher. He could be unwise as in his statement on the Reformation, but his charismatic aspect seems much more restrained than that of his frown Wimber. He was very much an Anglican and this is an Anglican book with no call for any reformation of the mixed multitude that is the church of England.

6. Dark Angel by Geoffrey Archer

I borrowed this from the library by mistake thinking it was by Jeffrey Archer. but I was not disappointed. It is a good read which keeps the attention. It centres on a murder where the victim's brother suspects the wrong man was found guilty. There are a couple of good twists in the tale. I shall read more Geoffrey.

7.Sons of Fortune by Jeffrey Archer

Archer can write a gripping story and one wants to keep on reading but I do not think this is one of his best. At the start there are a lot of characters to remember and relate too. There were too many school, college and other ballots here. One tired of them. Why does the villain keep following the two main characters? I would prefer Jeffrey to give us an English story.

8. The Sunday Philosophy Club (Dalhousie 1)by Alexander McCall Smith

Not your average detective story but one with lots of intellectual and philosophical excursions. We start with the fall of a young man to his death from the upper circle of an Edinburgh theatre. Our Scottish philosophical Miss Marple suspects it was no accident and sets about puzzling out the mystery. My problem was I want a detective thriller to move at pace but Isobel is a philosopher and there is much thinking to be done about matters ethical, philosophical and romantic.These slow the pace so I wonder if this book is a meeting of fish and fowl The Sunday Philosophy Club never comes to meet but our heroine does conclude the case. One certainly gets a feel for Edinburgh in this book, a city that is a village.

9. Brick Lane by Monica Ali

I was made aware of this novel when Bangladeshis in Brick Lane demonstrated against the book being filmed there. I am not sure why. Does not the author give a fair insight into Muslim life in the East End? Perhaps they dislike a woman writing about the male chauvinism of Islam. Her characters seem to ring true and she gives real insight into the culture and the way muslims view the majority culture. Chanu, the husband, is the product of colonialism, admiring the British and their cultural achievements until he came to live among them. He fails to work the system he had admired from afar and is a sad man. Does he really not know about his wife's adultery?

Nazneen comes to London aged 18 married to a man twenty years older. She changes from a woman ignorant of the world into a mature woman who has more survival skills than her husband. They become indebted to the horrible usurer, Mrs Islam. I was surprised that though Islam denounces usury it tolerates a usurer without sanction. There is no such thing as mosque discipline. In fact it is the lack of discipline, one might say anarchy evidenced in the local Muslim community which seems to be their big weakness as their activity against the white racists degenerates into a riot. The devastation caused by drugs is portrayed well as is the totally different attitudes of those Asians born in England, though as Nazneen opines. she has never seen the real England.

This woman is the hero of the book triumphing over adversity and, in the end, temptation too. Read it to understand part of the East End and Bangladesh too.

10. The Fourth Estate by Jeffrey Archer

Another excellent Archer offering. I was well into it before I realised the two main characters are based on Murdoch and Maxwell. It is an excellently told tale. One wonders what the Dirty Digger thinks of it if he has read it. Archer is a great story teller who keeps the reader gripped.

11. The Lamb Wins by Richard Bewes
John Calvin famously failed to produce a commentary on Revelation. I believe he said he did not understand it. Richard Bewes does. The Lamb wins is the message and here it is lucidly explained chapter by chapter.
The author is a very gifted preacher. His sermons abound in masterful memorable illustrations. So does this book which is based on talks he gave in Africa. Here is much for the edification and enlightenment of the ordinary Christian as well as great help for anyone wishing to preach or teach this perplexing book. He divides up each part very well sometimes using all four schools of interpretation of the text. Study questions are given too.Read it and be thrilled to share in the victory of the Lamb!

12. Separation of Power by Vince Flynn

Written before 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq one might argue this book is dated but it is still a fun read seeing what could have been done to stop a nuclear programme that was housed under a hospital. This is a typical American thriller with big business pressurising politicians. Politicians try to disrupt the appointment of a new CIA director who is party to a secret project which has terminated those considered enemies of the US. The President wants a way the remove Saddam's WMDs before he goes nuclear. To head the mission is the hero of the book, a secret CIA assassin who himself has nearly been terminated. h wants to find out who is out to get him. Thrill a minute stuff if you are happy with America as the good guy.

13. My Life by George Graham

You will not find this book reviewed anywhere else for I read the only manuscript copy in my maternal grandfather's clear handwriting. It starts with his first sermon, delivered to his neighbours in his farm cottage in 1913 when he was 22, responsible for the care of his three younger siblings.Despite nothing more than primary education, he went on to be a pastor in the Primitive Methodist church. He was Baptist by conviction but by the 1920s they had left Spurgeon's way of requiring nothing more than proven preaching gifts to qualify a man for theological training.

This is not a daily diary but mainly an account of his ministry listing most of his around 6,500 speaking engagements until his last sermon in 1952 when he was dying of cancer. That total does not include his public speaking as a representative of the Farm Worker's Union. He represented his area negotiating wages with the employers and was commended for his public speaking by the Duke of Northumberland.

Family history is there too but with surnames rarely given it needs s Sherlock Holmes to put the names into the family tree. Family references can be sparse.He meets his wife to be, she hears him speak then at the third reference to her it is their wedding day. Grandad comes across as an emotional man but no romantic.

References to national events abound and it is fascinating to read his reactions to the First World War. When one reads books of history one knows the end of the story. But this is history written as it happened. Up to a few months before November 1918, Grandad thought we could lose the war. I was astonished by numerous accounts of air raids. These would be Zeppelins and I suppose his recording so many reflects contemporary outrage on the bombing of non-combatants. But I read not one word of hatred towards the enemy, especially after their defeat when George was in the army of occupation for several months. Early on he said he was not cut out for soldiering and his accounts of the lice in Germany make one shudder. All the horror of war is there, especially the death of a boy soldier of 18 years who had been baptised with grandad.

After the war his local minster gives him some schooling and encourages him into the ministry. There follow two pastorates in the Midlands, one in Mongomeryshire and three in Yorkshire until cancer brings early retirement.

Life was so different then. It was grandfather's proud boast that he never travelled by public transport on a Sunday. He usually cycled. He tells about seeing cricket with the Australians, presumably at Egbaston and going to a football match just to see what it was like, but he omits to say who was playing. More details come about political meetings, attended by huge crowds. His voting record is related but he never seems to have voted for the winning candidate for he was never a Conservative.

The Second World War is not recounted with the detail of the First. In fact 1942 is a blank. The rationing and other hardships are there and I have read one very passionate "temperance" sermon complaining the government rationed just about everything but never beer!

One is amused by his omissions. He tells us when his eldest daughter does to Newport on war work but does not say she asked to go there, not Manchester, because she was being courted by my father. His great pride in his only son, Neil, shines through especially as Neil progresses to become a Methodist minister too.

The end is tragic. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, the family were told but he was not at first. His prescription doses of morphine were obviously inadequate and he suferred unneccesarily, especially I believe in the five months between the end of the diary and his death.

This account of a Christian lfe in the first half of the last century seems a world away, but the spirituality of the man and his love for his family shine through. Thank you Grandad. I still remember us going fishing together.

14. The Cook's Companion (A Think Book)by Jo Swinnerton

This is a delightful pot porri of all things edible. It is the sort of book you can keep dipping into learing new facts on food and its history. There are quotes, cartoons and recipes. If you are compiling quizzes you will find lots here to test the best of minds and memories. Be warned. It will provoke the appetite.

15. The Traveller's Companion (A Think Book)by Georgina Newbery

A book to dip into for useful world-wide facts and information no-one but a quiz addict needs. There are green and cultural tips, quotes, brain teasers, statistics, lists etc. A good bedside book.

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