Friday, September 05, 2008

Books read in September 2008 (6)

1. The Kabul Beauty School: The Art of Friendship and Freedom by Deborah Rodriguez

I have read a number of books on Afghanistan and have visited Kabul. This is the most amazing book I have read concerning that troubled country. The author went there after 9/11 to work with a medical NGO. She found her hairdressing and beautician's skills much in demand and a way to help Afghan women eventually starting her own school. Her commitment to the Afghan women is outstanding. She is brave to the point of folly in battles with all and sundry from muggers to ministries.She becomes the second wife of an Afghan and in the end has to leave the country for her own safety. This is one very feisty female. Her book is all the more remarkable as despite her bad experiences with men, home and abroad, her book is devoid of any feministic reaction.

2. The Shack by William P. Young

The Shack is a novel and interesting read but the author is no Bunyan.I found it an easy read until I got to the meeting with God, then I had to slow down and ponder what the author was saying and implying. Much of it is very positive about the need to relate to the God who is the perfect Trinity who loves us. There are no easy answers to the problem of suffering but to rest in God's love. There is much spiritual wisdom here and food for thought and discussion. I think the book could be a positive help to people who are suffering. But it seems to me the book is theologically deficient on at least two points. Hierarchic authority is seen as no part of God. True there is no hierarchy in the ontological Trinity (essence), but in the economic Trinity (the working) the Son submits to the will of His Father. So one can have equality and also submission. Secondly, the book seems universalistic. That God is love is taught but where is His holiness and justice? I also did not find the treatment of forgiveness to have any real depth of understanding. So I would commend this is an interesting attempt at wrestling with profound problems, but it is no sure guide.

3. Riga (City Guides) by Chris Patrick

The one essential thing for a city guide is portability and this one is the right size for the pedestrian tourist. Unfortunately, my copy, ordered from the publishers, did not arrive by return of post so I had to tour Riga with a larger book. Reading this one on my return I found it an accurate and informative guide though it could have done better by including hotels a little farther from the centre. They are cheaper and the access to the centre by public transport is good. It also failed to describe the excellent food and beer at The Lido, another non-central facility.

4. The Regiment: The Real Story of the SAS by Michael Asher

A very comprehensive history of the SAS from their inception in WWII North Africa to the first Iraq war. This is a detailed account of the men involved and their operations. Actions are described in detail, sometimes horrifying detail. It is a story of very brave but sometimes flawed men. The flaws were particularly apparent in some of the men and in many operations in Northern Ireland where the rules of engagement hindered SAS effectiveness. It is a thrilling read. Real life beats fiction.

5. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper

Wright is an exciting theologian with many helpful insights but is his new perspective on Paul good news for our understanding of justification by faith? Is justification more to do with being part of the covenant community than individual salvation? Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer now? Were the reformers wrong in their understanding of justification? Did the Jews of Jesus time really understand that salvation was by grace alone? Was the problem at Galatia one of mere ethnocentrism? read this book for Piper's critique of Wright's answers. But be warned. This is not an easy read. it is technical theological stuff. A more popular version might be needed if the impact of Wright's perspective grows. Wright is a bishop's egg. very good in parts but one wonders where his teaching might lead. I share Piper's concerns if Wright is followed down some of his paths. However what is great about this book is that it is an irenic, civil, Christian polemic. the two men have interacted in correspondence. Christians will differ in interpretation of the scripture, but let them do so graciously like Piper does.

6. One World Two Minds by Denis Lane

This booklet is worth its weight in gold. It is an exercise in cross cultural understanding between west and east, specifically the Confucian influenced cultures of the far east, China, Korea and Japan. Different issues are examined from the approach of both sides and in each case a Christian perspective is also offered. The holistic approach of the east, concerned to maintain harmony is contrasted with the direct western approach, often seen as rude from the eastern perspective. The concluding section is on guilt and shame which is a very significant difference in perspective. This short booklet should be required reading for anyone wishing to promote cross cultural communication and understanding.

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