Thursday, September 30, 2010

Books read in Feb-Aug 2010

1. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

This is the longest biography I have read as befits such a long life. It is the one drawback of this volume, it is so big you need a table for reading. The author is a man in sympathy with his subject. Their politics seem to be at one.But this is more than a biography. It surveys a whole century of history. I found it a fascinating read if at times prolix with detail.
Elizabeth was changed by WWI which cost her a brother but gave her the abiding admiration of men she nursed. She had the common tough and cared about people. This is best exemplified by her driver in Iran saying none of his passengers had ever asked after his family as she did.
She was not a clever woman but she was a wise one. She knew that marriage to a prince would change her life for ever, hence two proposals turned down. There were lots from other men too before she joined the royal family.
The prickly king adored her. Her brother in law was a friend until his marriage. She was a woman who did her duty unlike Edward who she blamed for her husband's early death. Abdication was the great trauma.
Her care for her regiments and charities was meticulous. Diana had her admiration until she gave up her charities when she separated from Charles.
A great biography of a great woman. The archbishop wrote to her that she was like Esther, come for such a time as this. She made George V what he was as king. We owe her a debt.


2. The Tartan Pimpernel by Donald Currie Caskie

This is the sort of tale of heroism that warms the heart. Forced to leave his church in occupied Paris, the Scottish minister finds a new ministry in Marseilles, helping POWs to escape. Deceit is not often the gift of a Christian but this man had in it trumps. He fooled the authorities for a long time. Then forced again to leave he continued his saving deceptions until in a hair raising flight he returned to Britain. Astonishing courage and a great read.

3.You can change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behaviour and Negative Emotions by Tim Chester

This is a first class practical guide to sanctification, to the constant spiritual warfare that is the calling of every Christian. It is biblical teaching with practical tasks to apply it. Life can be changed. We used it to good effect in house group studies. The only criticism is the less than circumspect opening to the introduction.

4. Counterfeit Gods: When the Empty Promises of Love, Money, and Power Let You Down by Timothy Keller

I put this book in a unique category. Never before have I read a book, immediately reread and then studied it again.

When I was given this book I thought it would be evangelistic. It is but it is much more. it challenges you to think what is the most important thing in your life. Is God in prime place? The idols of our age are confronted, family, wealth, nationalism, success, sex, power and hidden idols we may not know we conceal. Each chapter is also an exposition of a Bible story to expose the idolatry. Each story is brought to a Christ honouring exegesis. The command of other sources cited is impressive including non-Christian ones.

I have only one minor criticism. After wealth, the idol I see most in the world around me is the state. People would rather have their future depend on the state than on God. The state is allowed to make demands in all of life. It educates, heals and provides financial security and we love to have it so. Maybe this is omitted because the US is not the welfare state we have in the UK.

Superb book. I must read more from Keller.

5. Beyond the Mosque: Christians Within Muslim Community by Phil Parshall

Parshall's earlier 'New Paths' broke new ground with a sensitive contextualised approach of witness to Muslims. Others have taken his work beyond where Parshall is prepared to go. He is no syncretist allowing Muslims to confess both Christ and Mo hammed. Neither does he want to remove converts from their community. But how can converts stay in a community where they are not merely apostates but traitors in the eyes of Muslims? They have betrayed their community. Can they still stay in it and form a new Christian community? This is Parshall's aim. Homogeneous convert churches will be the initial form with practises influenced by the surrounding culture. Christians can and must form better, more united communities than that which Islam boasts. Some of Parshall's suggestions will be controversial. I for one would not advocate what he did in observing the month's fast of Ramadan. But this is the work of an experienced witness who really has got alongside his Muslim friends and pointed a way forward in Christ.

6. The Secret History of the World - Jonathan Black

This book is testimony to the gullibility of those who reject Christian truth. It starts well with a good critique of why science does not have all the answers because it cannot even ask the why questions, only the how ones. After that it is all downhill into a morass of off the wall folly. I am tempted to say you could not make it up, but fools have and Black has chronicled them. There are much better ways to waste time than to read this.

7. The Burning Land (Alfred the Great 5) by Bernard Cornwell

The fifth of the series and it is getting somewhat formulaic with our hero the reluctant champion of King Alfred against the Danes. I am left wondering when we will get the denoumnet with reclamation of Bamburgh from the wicked uncle.

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