1. William Wilberforce by Stephen Tomkins
Tompkin's has written a sympathetic biography of the great reformer but the author shows a better understanding of Wiberforce's Christianity than he does of his conservatism. I think that the author is in danger of judging Wilberforce by 21st century standards over his opposition to trades unions, support of fewer of civil liberties in the face of threatened French invasion and the persecution of the promoters of atheistic books. Wilberforce's campaign to abolish the slave trade is the major theme of the book as it was the dominating thing in his life. But this history would be improved by the inclusion of a brief chronology or time line, putting Wilberforce's campaign and life in the world historic context of the time which included the American and French revolutions as well as the rise and fall of Napoleon. Wilberforce turned down all office and advancement including a peerage. He was ever a man of principle not party, a great philanthropist and saint whose perseverance was a greater gift than his oratory. The quotations about the horrors of slavery which precede each chapter are truly shocking.
2. Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper
Jonathan Aitken writes a glowing appreciation of this book in his foreword. If you want a brief biography of Wilberforce this is the one to read. It is short and easy to read and tells you what motivated the great reformer. It was his evangelical Christian faith which he evidenced in a joyful personality despite his long struggle to abolish the slave trade, his personal infirmities and problems with his errant eldest son. This was a man who was transformed by his Christian faith. He could probably have been prime minister, but he eschewed personal advancement. If I have one small criticism it is that Piper has produced something of an hagiography with no really critical evaluation of Wilberforce. For this one may read Tomkins.
3. The House That Jesus Built by Dale Ralph Davis
In a age when Christianity is all to often seen as merely a personal matter for the individual, Ralph Davis shows the corporate nature of the Christian faith by starting with what a Reformed protestant church believes. Any church in the reformation tradition, whether Anglican, baptist or Presbyterian will be pleased with his description of the nature of the church , what she believes, what she is. The author then gives an excellent summary of the disciplines needed in the Christian life before he concludes with a challenge for the non-Christian reader to come to faith in Christ. in short this is an excellent brief introduction to Christian faith lived together as church.
4. The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Husain
Ed Husain has given us a well written account of a British Asian Muslim, born in 1975, growing up in the east end of London who has experienced different manifestations of Islam. His family background was of a non-political Islam, his honorary Grandpa, a mystical Muslim leader.As a teenager, Mohammed as he was then known, rebelled and became involved with the very political Young Muslim Organisation at the East London Mosque. This lead to a break with his parents. He was very active in student Muslim affairs organising his fellow Muslim students to his Islamist cause. He joined the secretive Hizb ut-Tarhir then under the leadership of Omar Bakri. He describes their cell group structure, disregard for British law and the ethos that the Islamic end justifies deceptive means. The aim is the restoration of the caliphate and one Muslim peole, not nation states. Violent revolution will achieve this. But the violence of Hizb and their lack of Islamic spirituality led the author to leave these radicals and pursue a very un-Islamic career in a major bank. Now married, he was to leave the materialism of a banking career and return to his religion but this time in its Sufi form of mysticism which he encountered on honeymoon in Turkey and in the testimony of an American convert to Islam. After 9/11 Husain was shocked by the extent of Muslim support for the terrorists and for the oppressive regime of Saddam in Iraq. He went to Syria to study Arabic and found employment there and then in Saudi Arabia with the British Council. His critique of Saudi Wahabbism and the nature of Islam in Saudi Arabia are very revealing and devastating. His view is that Islam in Britain is adversely influenced by Islamism and Wahabbism, neither of which are compatible with democracy. He thinks Hizb should be banned in Britain as it is in most Islamic countries. Husain's mystical Sufi Islam seems at home with pluralism and a secular state. It says Islam has no monolithic approach to life. It is a welcome message but one which I fears carries little weight among most serious followers of Islam. Husain's is an eirenic book. But I think his approach to Islam is that of the modern, secularised Briton. Religion is reduced to the private sphere and does not affect all of life. This is a very valuable and informative book and a gripping read It would be improved by an index and also a glossary of Muslim terminology.
5. Praise! Words Edition
When this hymnbook was published in 2000 I thought it good enough for our church to use it in place of our old Christian Praise. I have not regretted recommending we make the change. Now I have also worked my way through the book reading it in daily devotionals so for I think the first time I have read all the way through a hymnbook. I have also sung my way through all those I could put a tune too without a musicians help, but my thoughts will be confined to words as I am not competent to express any opinion as to the music set.
First of all I commend Praise! for its good mix of Psalms together with old and modern hymns and songs. It is a balanced mixture and it is rare for me to have any theological quibbles over what is included. Having a complete Psalter is a plus. I found the attempts to modernise language acceptable. Thees and thous have gone except in rare instances and the use of inclusive language is reasonable. Some will not like the loss of traditional lines, but for me, having to concentrate on the text in case it has been changed is positive. It makes one attend to the text and think more about what you are singing.
One minor quibble is that sometimes when a first line is drastically revised as in A Safe Stringhold or With harps and with Viols, one has great difficulty finding the hymn concerned in the index. I believe this may be rectified in future editions. But overall I have nothing but praise for Praise!
6. John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken
Jonathan Aitken has written an excellent biography, one of the best Christian biographies I have read. Newton is a great subject for a biography for he had a long and amazing life. Aitken is well qualified to write about "From Disgrace to Amazing Grace". He writes with style. His chapters are refeshingly short and to the point. The story is thrilling with "many dangers, toils and snare". One looses counts of the dangers from which the young Newton escapes. It is the story of a great sinner who was found by a great Saviour. Aitken tells the tale with real spiritual as well as historical undrstanding of his subject so that in concluion he can point the reader to spiritual lessons to be learned from Newton's life. For example. God's timing is not ours. Newton had to wait six years from applying, to be finally ordained as an Anglican minister. His marriage is an exemplary and touching story. Newtons spitiuality and prayer life are a real challenge. Aitken shows how faithful and inovatory Newton was as a pastor and how he helped many, especially his best friend William Cowper. Without Newton there would have neem no great poet only a forgotten suicide. Similarly, without Newton we would probably not have has Wilberforce, politician and reformer. Aitken also tells the story of Newton's famous hymn, its composition and rise to fame. Aitken faithfully relates Newton's faults too. His support of the American rebels had to be withdrawn but one is led to understand why many in England, especailly non-conformists, were suppporters of the rebels. Newton was an eirenic man who eschewed party labels and associated with Christian irrespective of denominational labels. This is a great biography and I hope we will have more from this fine Christian author.
Labels: biography, books, Christian life, church, history, hymns, Islam, politics