Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Books read in April 2015

1. The 1662 Diary of Philip Henry - edited by Raymond Brown

This most important year of Philip Henry's diary has never before been published. It is fascinating to read the day by day activities of a Puritan minister who was among those ejected from the Church of England in this its most tragic year. Henry himself writes it was the worst year since the death of young Edward IV.  It was also the year of the birth of Henry's son, Matthew,  later the author of the famous commentary.  Henry had lost his pastoral charge in 1661. Here are details of mundane daily life, especially financial. He seems to have travelled a lot in the locality. He did not enjoy good relations with his conformist father but had much fellowship with those who were suffering under Restoration enforced conformity. Here you can read their objections as to what the Book of Common Prayer required. Not all were of one mind. Henry was criticised for allowing his son to be given the sign of the cross at baptism. All in all a fascinating glimpse into the fire of a suffering saint in 1662.

2. Evangelical Holiness: And Other Addresses by Iain H. Murray 

I have always enjoyed Murray's writing and this is no exception. I found it a spiritual tonic and a challenge to complacency. The title chapter is an address at the 2010 Keswick Convention and sets the spiritual tone of the whole book. The chapter, 'The Attack on the Bible' gives the history of the critical rejection of biblical authority and its sad consequences. This leads naturally to the chapter on Apostasy. The next subject is controversy and this is handled with real sensitivity, especially withe reference to John Newton as a model controversialist. The final chapter is on the continuing obligation of the fourth commandment. For me this last chapter does prompt some questions the author does not address like how could first century slaves keep the sabbath and why the differences in the practical observation of the command between English speaking Christians and their Continental brethren.

3.  The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper 

An unusual format for a book about Job, poetry with beautiful photography. Of course poetry is fitting for that is how most of the book of Job is written. I think the author assumes that his readers have read the biblical story for he starts straight in with Job, not the conflict in heaven. Job's misery is well portrayed. His comforters' counsel is more briefly given but we get the force of Job's frustration with them. Some license is taken at the end but the concluding line sum up the great practical lesson of Job for sufferers, "It won't be long before the rod becomes the tender kiss of God." This has to be the Christian's hope in all adversity.

4. Christian World of the Middle Ages by Bernard Hamilton

History is usually taught from an ethnocentric perspective and church history is no exception. I learned a little about the early church, mainly the great councils that defined trinitarian orthodoxy, but real church history was from the Reformation onwards and was exclusively Western. This book is the antidote. Here are chapters on the church before the era of Reformation in the west, Byzantine lands, the Levant and Caucasus, Africa and Asia. This is a most informative eye opener as to the extent of the spread of Christianity from Sudan to China. As well as the churches centred on Rome and Byzantium we have the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian and Chaldean. From the establishment of churches in Georgia to amazing structures hewn from solid rock in Ethiopia and how Christianity could spread and flourish under the Mongols there are so many new things to learn. 

5. The Empty Throne (The Warrior Chronicles, Book 8) by Bernard Cornwell 

I have read all of this series and wonder when Cornwell will have his hero retake his castle and inheritance. Is he keeping the series going as a steady earner for which he needs little new historical research? Once again we have a story of bloody battles, this time in Mercia and Wales. Again we have the pagan hero in lands becoming increasingly Christian. For me it is time to draw the series to a fitting conclusion.

6. The Bombmaker by Stephen Leather

This is the first of Leather's thrillers that I have read and it will not be the last. A fast moving page turner set in Hong Kong, Ireland and England with kidnap, murder and planned mass destruction. I like the little twist at the end too.

7. Down Under by Bill Bryson

A friend who has visited Australia put me off this book saying it was not one of Bryson's best. I have to disagree. It is good enough to make me want to visit. Bryson is for me the best of travel writers and a humorist who can make one laugh our loud.This is a fascinating account of Australian history, geography, flora and fauna. Few things are left out, notably nothing on religion and little on sport apart from a truly awful parody of a cricket commentary. With the years he lived in Yorkshire Bryson should have learned to appreciate the world's finest game. But here is a great account of the vastness of Australia and its unique diversity. The book would be improved by an index and some photographs. I think a picture is needed at least for Uluru.

8. The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw 

This is simply the best book on sexuality that I have ever read. The author is a same sex attracted man arguing that for the church to counsel those with same sex attraction just to say no is a response that lacks plausibility today. He goes on the argue why a life long commitment to celibacy is plausible and good by confronting nine popular missteps the contemporary church and society have taken. First, your identity is your sexuality. No, as a Christian your identity is a new person in Christ. Second, a family is Mum, Dad and 2.4 children. No, your family is brothers and sisters in Christ. Third, if you are born gay it can't be wrong to be gay. No, this ignores the original sin with which all are born.  There are six more wrong arguments countered including, celibacy is bad for you. This and the chapter on suffering are equally relevant for all singles. My only criticism of the book is that the title may make one think it is exclusively about homosexuality when in fact it is about us all being sexual beings in need of the Holy Spirit's transforming power. Impossible to recommend too highly. Easy to read, challenging, compassionate and practical.

9. Pop Goes the Weasel by M J Arlidge

First rate detective murder thriller set in Southampton. Police with very human frailties and failings. A world of prostitution and violence. Characters well drawn. Plenty of mystery and twists in the plot. A gripping read.

10. Dead Man's Time (Roy Grace series Book 9) byPeter James

Grace, senior Brighton detective tackles robbery, violence and murder with a puzzle from the past. Set in Spain and New York as well as Brighton.

11. Want You Dead (Roy Grace series Book 10)  by Peter James

A man spurned takes his revenge with murder and arson. It is a gripping thriller but one questions the likelihood of some of the tale. Could one bolt from a crossbow kill the pilot of a helicopter?

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