Thursday, August 03, 2017

Books read August 2017

1. Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea by Shiraz Maher

This is a doctoral thesis and it shows.  A more popular, less technical approach would reach a wider audience. The author defines salafism as those Moslems basing their lives and beliefs upon the first three generations after Mohammed, a return to basics as it were. Then many variants are identified, some violent jihadis, some not. What one does learn is how the most outrageous behaviour like killing of non-combatants is justified by Salafist logic. One is also shown why these people will kill fellow Muslims and why martyrdom is a religious devotion. The logic of awful violence is related.
    I found two errors relating to Christianity. Lex talionis, an eye for an eye, has never been a Christian law. It is Jewish and specifically changed by Jesus. Stating that some Protestant denominations teach that belief in the crucifixion alone is sufficient for salvation is erroneous. No Protestant church teaches this. The minimal faith would be in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that faith no mere intellectual assent but one that leads to action, works, too.


The first 8 chapters deal with the history of C H Spurgeon’s Downgrade controversy from 1887 to his death five years later. It is detailed and more than than average Christian will want. It is not as readable as the Downgrade account by Iain Murray in The Forgotten Surgeon. It opens up the principles involved. Does a church or denomination need a confessional standard. How do you deal with those who stay in churches which are no longer teaching the truth. If you separate from error how do you relate to those who have not followed a separatist path? Spurgeon faced these questions and Sheehan showed how they were still present and being faced in the mid eighties. Since then there has been movement. The British Evangelical Council is now Affinity. The Evangelical Alliance has to some extent spoken against heresy. Since this book’s writing in 1985 there have developed some groupings showing evangelical unity across formal divides. Gospel Partnerships and Proclamation Trust are good examples. There are still evangelical churches which refuse to have a formal confession of faith even for office bearers. Some lessons are still not learnt 130 years on.

3. You Can Do Greater Things Than Christ by Abraham Kuyper (Author) and Science Without Faith is Dead by Jan H. Boer

The major part of this combined volume is a translation from the 1911 work of Kuyper subtitled, Demons,Miracles, Healing and Science. It is a remarkable excerpt requiring careful study. Kuyper is a convinced supernaturalist. He sees no dualism. All of life is under the rule of Christ. A firm believer in the miraculous he sees salvation in Christ as restoring the rule over creation which Adam lost at the fall. There is the miraculous worked by demonic forces as well as the miracles from God. Kuyper insists the miracles of Christ are those of the perfect Son of Man not those of the supernatural divine Son. It is a stimulating read so far removed from rationalism. Translator Boer concludes the dual volume with his own short study concerning the origins of science and its limitations. There is no neutrality possible though by common grace the unbeliever does real true science when he stays within the limits of the natural sciences. Boer is a follower of Kuyperian thought as well as the translator of the Pro Rege excerpt.

4. Death In The City by SCHAEFFER FRANCIS

My copy is of the 1969 British edition reprinted in 1972. In 1968 the late Francis Schaeffer lectured from Jeremiah in Wheaton, Illinois. He likened the message of Jeremiah to a Jerusalem about to be full of death, to sixties Western culture and a church failing to speak prophetically. This is a culture under judgement from God. We must put truth into practise and live with antithesis not Hegelian synthesis. No preaching peace when there is no peace. Witness even if costly. The Christian life is a  life of continued faith and thankfulness. Modern man has to be convinced of true moral guilt before God, not mere guilt feelings. This distinction is most helpful pastorally also.  Forgiven Christians may have guilt feelings but no guilt. The guilty sinner may dismiss real guilt as mere feeling. But man is a moral creature answerable to God's judgement. Man without the gospel will be judged according to the moral judgements he has made on others. So everyone will be judged guilty according to the measure they meted out.  Man lives in one of two chairs, the natural or the supernatural. The former sees only the seen material world. The Christian knows that reality encompasses an unseen supernatural world also. The Christian is to live in the supernaturalist's chair.He gives striking testimony as a supernaturalist who was in a plane crashing into the Atlantic but saved through prayer.

5. Travel with C H Spurgeon: Exploring the World of C.H.Spurgeon by Clive Anderson (Author) 

The ‘Travel With’ series give both biography and travel guide and the same format is here. With Spurgeon it is Essex, Cambridgeshire and London. The life of England’s most remarkable preacher is recounted. Unique is the only applicable word. Never before or since has a preacher risen so fast and influenced so many. Biographers often ignore one aspect of Spurgeon but his taste for cigars is not omitted. Missing though is any reference to his Calvinism and also baptismal regeneration controversies. A good account though of a Victorian phenomenon.

6. Destiny: Learning to Live by Preparing to Die by David Gibson  (Author)

This is a book full of wisdom and wise counsel but though it is subtitled, learning to live by preparing to die, I found it lacking in one aspect. It does not mention that which is missing from Ecclesiastes, the salvation history of Israel. How could the wisest of men, the preacher, not mention that which distinguishes Israel from all the nations, God's saving acts in history? So my criticism is the failure to address what is not there, salvation history.

7. Living with Heart Failure - British Heart Foundation

Found in the TV room next to my own ward on the cardiac wing of the hospital, I found this most educational. It would be good to have read it before my latest (third) major heart problem. My previous two causes of hospital admission were first left ventricular failure the aural fibrillation. This one, congestive heart failure, was by far the most distressing. For the first time in my life I felt close to death. I was prepared to go but thought the family not ready. Feelings of asphyxiation were more distressing than acute pain and my previous two episodes did not even give acute pain. My standard for that was having dressings changed on a burn behind my left knee caused by a motor bike exhaust burning an unprotected leg. The booklet I shall take home for the education of the family too. 

8. Christian Pipe-Smoking: An Introduction to Holy Incense by Uri Brito and Joffre Swait

To my surprise, while surfing through some old bookmarks I found I had this on my MacBook. What is more I had read and reviewed it thus over a year ago. 'A small booklet in praise of the present unfashionable habit of pipe smoking.I do not think it will encourage anyone to start puffing but it will give pleasure and some good quotes for aficionados.' I write this now from hospital where I have been deprived of this pleasure for a couple of weeks. But that is the thing about pipe smoking. Pick it up, put it down. Unlike cigarettes need not be an addiction. The doctors tell me to give it up completely. I will not. One thing not appreciated is that I cannot copy, cut and paste from the Kindle version. 

9. Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe 

This is the funniest book I have read in a very long time, a humorous classic. The plot has more twists than a mountain road. A Cambridge college steeped in tradition faces the challenge of a new Master who wants all manner of modernising change. He has an even more liberal wife. The college fellows and the porter are dead against change. But change is to come in the most unexpected of ways, an explosion to two gross of gas filled condoms stuffed up a chimney demolishes an ancient college tower. Funds must be raised, property sold.The porter is sacked but on live television denounces the corrupt ways of the college. A porterhouse blue is a stroke often fatal. I will not spoil  the ending. I will look for more Sharpe to enjoy.

10. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray  (Author)

This is a very important book. The author is no Christian but his analysis of the state of Europe today vis a vis immigration is devastating. For he looks beneath the surface of tensions over immigration and sees a collapsing culture which no longer has pride in its history. He shows the bankruptcy of multiculturalism which it seems even its political promoters now admit has failed. He shows the open borders policy of the EU, especially Germany and Sweden has altered these countries. He relates the horrors of Mediterranean sea crossings to Lampedusa and Lesbos. He shows how the African migrants are in the main economic ones, not usually refugees except from say Eritrea. Migrants from Turkey to Greece are not only Syrians but many other groups. Everyone want s ticket to Europe even at the cost of thousands of Euros to smugglers and the risk to life on the sea crossings. Get into Italy or Greece and you have arrived is the migrants motto. Only Eritreans do not want to stay in Italy. Europe welcomes one and all. Gulf Arab states welcome no-one. Europe will be changed out of all recognition and people seem not to care. They have not seen the trick the politicians have played on them. They do not care because that have lost pride in their historic culture. Everyone in the world wants their own culture but Europe seems not to have pride or to care about what is being lost. Murray shows how the art and literature of Europe proclaim the death of the culture.
 All this is reminiscent of the Christian Francis Schaeffer in the sixties and seventies with his pessimism about western culture and its loss of moorings. He has a most perceptive analysis of why the churches lost confidence, higher criticism of the biblical text and the impact of Darwinism. Murray does not believe in Christian truth but he sees it gave European culture  its roots. How long can one survive divorced from the tree that nourished your branches? Murray is great on diagnosis but admits to weakness on prescription. For a hopeful future I refer you to David Robertson's three piece review on his blog the Web Flea. I have blogged quotes form Murray to give a flavour of this excellent if disturbing book. Read this most significant of books today.

11. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi  (Author)

My first reading by Kindle. Give me hard copy unless travelling. But I am glad I persevered. This is a most remarkable insightful testimony of a pious young Ahmadiyya Muslim becoming a Christian. What influences him against all the odds to leave the faith of his birth and family, are the friendship of a Christian who took a most patient, painstaking approach. There is a the willingness to study the evidence for Christianity and a critique of Islam and finally, God speaking in dreams, a common occurrence for those who come to faith in Christ. Nabeel's family were very Pakistani Muslim but his father a serving US naval officer. What is shocking to the western reader is the ethics of the shame culture. Doing wrong is no big deal unless you are found out and shamed. Guilt matters not, Honour is everything. The trauma of leaving not only his faith but the break with family is related. Hardly any family come to Nabeel's wedding to a Christian American. He is strong on the need for converts to be open and not to hide as secret believers. There are helpful appendices by experts on various issues raised in the narrative. An outstanding book enabling Christians to understand about Islam and one hopes to help those lost in Islam to find the truth who is Christ. Bty the way the book has an explanation of the Trinity by a scientific analogy which is beyond me. 

12. The Valley of Vision - A Collection of Puritan...- Arthur Bennett

The late author was known to me as a lecturer at All Nations Christian College . His lectures were not memorable but his book is. This is a book I have read more than once. I recommend it as a devotional guide for Christian prayer. Puritans were usually against set forms of prayer. The prayers here are more according to Puritan theology than to their practise. A young Christian may have to study to understand them. The language is thee and thou but this is an excellent collection of reformed, Calvinistic spirituality. In language, Bennett is not Cranmer but he has given us a great aid to devotion. Ten years after I first reviewed this and 42 years since I first read it I have once again used it for daily devotions. The thees and thous seem more dated and I do now wonder if the truth of total depravity may sometimes here produce more a worm theology than that of a person raised with Christ to renewed life.

13. Promise and Deliverance - Volume II - the Failure of Israel's Theocracy by Simon Gerrit De Graaf (Author)

Promise and Deliverance is simply the best tool to help the reader understand the Old Testament. Written to instruct Sunday School teachers in hermeneutics it gives consistent covenantal christocentric approach to understanding Judges to Esther plus Daniel. The main history books are harmonised.Never again will you see the Old Testament as a mere collection of moral tales. Here the living God speaks of his salvation in Christ.

14. The Broken Compass: How British Politics lost its way by Peter Hitchens  (Author)

This was published while Brown basin Number 10 so in that respect is dated yet it was remarkably prescient concerning what was to follow in government. Hitchens is a true conservative so no Conservative. A former Trotskyist he knows the left well and is well positioned to show how left and right have come together with adverse effects in the loss of adversarial politics. What we now have are politics of the centre with the morals of a Christianity rejecting consensus. Politicians may profess to be Christian but it dies not bring Christian ethics into the public sphere. I have few basic dissensions from Hitchens but his approval of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts is a rare diversity. His exposure of the left from foreign affairs to education at home is real and true. He shows how journalists and politicians are fellow travellers in changing the life of the UK. He gives comprehensive analysis of recent political history. I wish I had read this earlier and that he had produced more volumes in the spirit of this one. He comes across as a truly independent Christian conservative voice. He has a consistently anti-EU stance together with a quote from Gaitskel which was the clearest warning of the perils Heath took us into with the then Common Market.

15. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson  (Author)

Slow at first but gripping later. I like Robinson for she is a writer outside of the secular consensus. She deals with life including the spiritual.all families are dysfunctional in a fallen world. Bad things happen to good people. The book opens with the unexpected death of the head of the family in a train disaster. The widow brings up three daughters who in adulthood leave home. One becomes a missionary, another an itinerant while the third never brings her two girls to see their grandmother. Then suicide brings two generations together. It is like all suicides a selfish act with adverse consequences. When the grandmother dies after being cared for by other relatives, the their itinerant aunt comes home to care for her nieces. Her child rearing and housekeeping are eccentric. The girls are close but one sister decides to leave home and it puts this narrator Ruth in peril. A strong story well told but slow.

16. The Modigliani Scandal by Ken Follett

An easy to read fast moving mystery thriller. Follett's socialism shows with his Robin Hood characters mixed with a good exposee of the pretentious of the art world, dealers and collectors. Again my one dislike of Follett is that he has to mix in some explicit sex. But it is a well constructed if complicated plot where most people have good and bad sides to their characters. He has a couple who can quote the Bible, though I am not sure if the inaccuracy of one quote is intentional,

17.Freedom Movement - 500 years of Reformation by Michael Reeves

A short booklet which goes to the heart of the Reformation, the rediscovery of God's grace, salvation a free gift.

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