Friday, July 25, 2014

Books read in July 2014

1. A Song in the Morning - Gerald Seymour

I thought I had read all of Seymour's thrillers from Harry's Game right up to the latest. Then I found this on a bookstall and realised it was the one I had missed. As is usual the author uses a real setting. This time it is now in the bad old days of apartheid South Africa, the tensions and atmosphere which it well describes. It is as usual a gripping thriller. No-one writes them better. It is a story of impossible daring and great bravery. Seymour is a realist in his fiction. A happy ending cannot be guaranteed.

2. Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder

Britain opened its doors to all comers, but extended a warm embrace to no-one. - Rosemary Ashton, Little Germany - Exile and Asylum in Victorian Engalnd, p 243. I found that quote when that book was loaned to me by the daughter of a German refugee from the Nazis whose story is in a footnote of this book, their ancestor immigrant featuring in this book, a friend of Marx and Engels.
The basic thesis of this book is that Britain is an island of mongrel races, the products of successive waves of immigration. Immigration is enriching and good. The author gives history from pre-historic times up to the turn of the century. So you will not hear of radicalised Muslims after 9/11 nor of the unrestricted immigration by EU nationals. Any reader will be informed of much ignored history. You will finish the book better informed and perhaps wiser. I think the author stands left of centre but this is not problematic. He tells of a country that has become a haven for the oppressed but one that often did not welcome immigrants without showing antipathy and racism.
My one criticism is the ignoring of some religious perspectives. Cromwell's theological motivation in re-admitting the Jews is not mentioned. Also, Ireland was not under the Bishop of Rome until the only ever pope from England gave Henry II leave to invade and bring Ireland into the RC church.
But overall a thoroughly good, informative and perhaps an attitude changing book. It is rare that I reread a book but this one was good enough for that.

3. Ephesians (Let's Study) by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Sinclair Ferguson is a first class theologian, preacher and author. I have never read any of his work that deserves less than five stars. This book is a thorough exposition of Ephesians. It is clear and heart warming and will benefit any Christian though second language readers may need their dictionaries. Three little niggles. There is no index. The study questions are not as helpful as the text. Are they from Dr Ferguson? Lastly commentators often skip controversial or disputed passages. So I was sorry to see no explanation of 'psalms; hymns and spiritual songs.'

4. The Elder: Today's Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture (Explorations in Biblical Theology)by Cornelis Van Dam

This is first of all a book for church leaders or those who aspire to lead. But any Christian with a measure of perseverance will be informed and edified. I have served as an elder for nearly 40 years and I wish this book had been published before my ordination. The treatment of the role of an elder is comprehensively exegeted from both Testaments. The OT background is of particular help. Having given us the biblical theology there is much practical pastoral teaching. The author takes the traditional view of the parity of elders but insists on the different callings, teaching and ruling within the grouping. He makes a good case from the Jewish origins but this reviever remains a dissenter. When Van Dam deals with the debated question of fixed term or life serving elders I assume he only talks of ruling elders. He tells us that ruling elders should not give a benediction with raised hands as that is for teaching elders. I dissent. He ignores the question of ruling elders presiding at the Lord's Table, presumably because he thinks that too is for teaching elders alone. Finally, in teaching that elders must be male he fails to mention the crucial argument about the authoritative headship of Christ. But overall an excellent book.

5. Ealing Then & Now by Jonathan Oates and Paul Howard Lang

Old postcards in the main, compared with current photos, endeavouring to shoot from as close as possible to the original position. One would have liked more varied subjects but I expect the available old postcards limited the range. Pleasure for past and present Ealing residents.

6. Stories of World War One - Tony (Comp) Bradman

I bought this book mistakenly thinking it was biographical. No, it is a brilliant anthology of short stories, fiction bur often based on the experiences of real people. The writers are all published authors and show their skill recalling how the was affected all kinds of people, those fighting as well as those at the home front. It is a real page turner and I finished it thinking I had entered the emotions of people a century ago.

7. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

First of all I should say I have never read Potter books for I do not read anything in the fantasy genre. But I have enjoyed her previous non-fantasy book. Until just before the end, this would have been five star. It was gripping stuff with well drawn characters. Up to the big let down my only criticism was ignorance of when premier league football is shown on TV in England. But 3 stars were deducted because in the end I could not see the motive for hiring the detective in the first place. I do not want to write a spoiler but can someone tell me why Strike was hired. I want to know the real reason, not the one stated at the start of the book. It is said that if you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gives it to. This book reads like a commentary on this quote. Surely JKR, your own life shows that not all the rich are so obnoxious.

8. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,1400-1580 by Eamon Duffy

There are no objective historians nor unbiased reviewers, This respected academic is by his own admission an Irish cradle Catholic. So when he produces a huge detailed work on popular English religion from late medieval to Elizabeth it is no surprise that he has a warm appreciation of Catholic piety and very little to say about the martyrs of Bloody Mary. He presents a pre-reformation England as one of a vibrant Catholicism, the dominant unifying force in the land and loved by the common people. Duffy was born in 1947 so he could be as well writing about the Ireland of his youth. This English Protestant reads a very lengthy description of superstition and ignorance fostered by the unreformed church of Rome.

If the English Reformation starts with Henry breaking with the Pope and installing himself to primacy in the church, we see that the start of reformation was more due to politics than theology. What is then observed throughout the Tudor time is religious change with a top down impetus. As in all of life there was an innate conservatism, a resistance to change among the people and change came slowly. This is well documented here. One also clearly sees the politics which inhibited Cranmer under Henry who was not a Protest king, merely an anti-papal one.

One senses Duffy's sympathy with those who wanted to resist Protestant iconoclasm. His illustrations show plenty of evidence that there was no complete cleansing of the superstitions I suspect Duffy of both theological, historic and aesthetic opposition to the stripping of the altars and other iconoclasm. As an unabashed iconoclast I understand the motivation of the iconoclasts was a triumph of theology over aesthetics.

Overall a very informative work though so detailed that the reader may resort to some skimming.

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