Monday, September 04, 2017

Books read September 2017

1. The Givenness Of Things by Marilynne Robinson 

I have enjoyed her novels and was pleased to find a writer not only identifying as Christian but Calvinist too. So I was keen to get to grips with some of her non-fiction. If her novels are slow moving, with this book the reader needs to go slow to take it all in and a dictionary is advisable too. 
   Christian, very much so but from a mail-line Congregational denomination. The basics of trinitarian orthodoxy and Christology are strongly presented as is a critique of anything reductionist or materialistic. The Enlightenment was not enlightened enough -not by the Light of the World. Universalism seems to be denied yet I detect hints of affirmation in a common fatherhood of God for all. Substitutionary propitiatory atonement is described and rejected. I am unsure about her views on sin, especially original sin. 
  Before I look at her Calvinism I will printout one blaring error on p 153 where she talks of a Bible written in 1892 with RSV text. IIRC the RSV did not appear until later century. The text should be Revised Version not RSV. I am not clever enough to find any other mistakes and can only marvel at her literary scholarship. It is her profession as a Shakespearean scholar. Was intrigued to learn the Calvin was the most influential author in England at the time of the Bard.
   But her Calvinism. She proclaims it all the time but does not define it in so many words. It is nothing it seems to do with the normal five point configuration. Only election in the form of predestination is given in depth treatment, and that really on predestination not election. She ofter alludes to or quotes Calvin but for a serious academic where are the references? I see there are some given in the end notes but they do not appear complete and footnotes would be more helpful. The same applies to Locke. Also, why no index? 
   On her politics, that is much easier to pin down. She is way left of centre IMO. Marriage equality is good. Concealed carry is cowardice. She really rails against US gun law, or lack of it. She laments the gravitation of conservative Christians to right wing politics. Having read Schaeffer on ugly orthodoxy I can have some sympathy with her but FAS was more concerned with ugly theological orthodoxy than with right of centre politics. So she is a curates egg of both theology and politics. But a very stimulating read.

2.  The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000 (Christianity and Society in the Modern World) by Callum G. Brown 

Another curate's egg. The description of Christian Britain up to the sixties is most revealing. Especially encouraging is to read of Chalmers as the pioneer of evangelism by pastoral visitation starting in early 19th century Glasgow and the birth of home missions. There is perhaps an unbalanced emphasis on evangelical conformity but one does learn a lot about a very different world of Christian culture. The later part of where we have gone downhill is not so gripping nor edifying. I do not see enough emphasis on liberal theology nor the growth of black churches and charismatics nor Christian lobby groups.

3. Samuel Rutherford in Aberdeen by John M Brentnall

I went to Aberdeen for a presbytery meeting and thought I would look to see where Rutherford was exiled in 1636 for writing against the Arminianism of the episcopalian established church. This book is rich on the spirituality of Rutherford in the city but says nothing of the relation of where he stayed to the geography of the modern city. Ones in need of a volume, "Travel with  Samuel Rutherford' as in the Day One series. One can but marvel at the grace of God seen in Rutherford's acceptance of being Christ's prisoner in Christ's palace. Joy triumphing amidst suffering was communicated to his correspondents. One also sees God's providence. Without persecution we would not have had Rutherford's letter s or Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Rutherford also was blessed in theological disputations and in witness to local visitors. 

4. Book Of Fire: William Tyndale, Thomas More and the Bloody Birth of the English Bible by Brian Moynahan  (Author)

A remarkable book for it is the only Christian biography I have read which is like a thriller. William Tyndale wrote  ‘the most influential book there has ever been in the history of language, English or any other. - The Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg quoted in Travel with William Tyndale. This is Bragg on Tyndale's New Testament. I would simply put Tyndale the man as the greatest Englishman ever for his contribution to our Christian culture. I have read other biographies on Tyndale but this one is the most detailed and I learnt many new things such as how Bible smuggling was a profitable big business when the mark up between Antwerp and London was 500%. A thriller for a spiritual thrill too.

5. Wonders of Grace by Converts during Spurgeon's early years (Author), Hannah Wyncoll (Editor)

This book gives testimonies of some of the 15,000 people recorded as converts under Spurgeon's London pastorate of 38 years. That is more than a convert each day added to his church. Revival seems the appropriate word. Some of the testimonies are wonderful works of grace rescuing hardened sinners who'd rejected the truth before. Among them wife beater and prostitutes with drunkards too many to count. Once a week elders examined enquirers to ascertain their genuineness before they were referred to the pastor or for baptism and membership. I was surprised to see these were elders not deacons assisting the pastor. I do though see that some testifying may have been regenerate before but now were awakened to a desire for baptism by immersion. So some of the converts are to becoming Baptist not new birth alone but even so it is a remarkable number and shows Spurgeon like Wesley was not only a great preacher but an organiser. I had enquired before as to whether the Metropolitan Tabernacle was a local church not a mere preaching centre as I had found Westminster Chapel. I conclude that the greatest preacher of the 19th century served better pastorally than did the 20th century top London preacher.

6. Travel with William Tyndale: England's Greatest Bible Translator (Day One Travel Guides) by Brian H. Edwards (Author)

My second reading of this as I was preparing a talk on Tyndale. My previous review said, 'Tyndale did more than anyone to influence our language for his Bible translation was to influence all subsequent translations. He suffered exile and death for his faith. Here are detailed his history and faith in the context of the Reformation. As much a history as a travel guide.' See Book of Fire for a more detailed biography.

7. Paper Money by Ken Follett
A gripping fast moving page turner. Quite a lot of characters to remember as one reads. As is his usual way the author puts in sexual titillation to sell his books. The ending I found to be a total surprise. On the way I do think the story stretches coincidence beyond credulity.

8. IPC Book of Liturgy - BCO Editorial Committee

I have been a member of this church since its start in England in 1969 and was installed as an elder 1983. Definitely the book we have been waiting for. I grew up Methodist with an antipathy to liturgy which was regarded as read prayers of the C of E, done by ministers lacking the spirituality for extempore prayers. One matures and hopefully grows wiser. This book will be a blessing in private devotion as well as public worship. One omission spotted is in infant baptism. Why have Schaeffer's questions on not grumbling if your child predeceases you or is called to serve in a far way place not been included? Thankfully this liturgy is not prescriptive. Spiral binding would have been helpful.

9. How Do Preaching and Corporate Prayer Work Together? (Cultivating Biblical Godliness) by Ryan M. McGraw by Ryan M. McGraw  (Author)

An excellent brief booklet emphasising the importance of expository preaching to build the church and the necessity of corporate prayer to empower that preaching. God uses means. His means of grace include the word preached and the spirit working in answer to corporate prayer. read it and benefit.

10. Fine Gold from Yorkshire by Faith Cook  (Author)

An excellent collection of biographical sketches all of the good ranging from the great, Wilberforce, to the unknown, a servant girl so loved as to be buried wither employer. I learnt someone names and was encouraged in faith and curiosity about some folk. In contrast to the foreword, some of us have no lie for Yorkshire terriers, snappy little wretches.

11. War and Faith by Don Stephens (Author)

An excellent collection of biographies of people in WW2 on both sides. Courage, bravery and faith in stories which give the readers encouragement and thrills. Ordinary people who were heroes.

12. One Good Owner: God is in the Driving Seat by Murdo Murchison (Author)

A man facing death in months writes a great book of Christian testimony. This is a very honest boson the experience of life instantly changed and cut short, a death sentence given, some reprieve but no easy ride. Miracles may be hoped for but even hoped for relief may not come. A story to encourage and challenge faith.

13. The Clash Of Civilizations: And The Remaking Of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington  (Author)

Written over twenty years ago  this remains an important analysis of the contemporary world though an up to date edition would be welcome. It is a tour de force through recent history. Civilisations have clashed through history and they clash now. The West versus the rest, in particular the Islamic rest is seen as the present clash.This was written before 9/11 but is most prescient. The big question is whether a West in decline can really survive far into the future as the dominant world civilisation. It is a great help in understanding how others see us.

14. Promise and Deliverance - Volume III - Christ's Ministry and Death by S. G. De Graaf (Author)

One of a select number of books I have read more than once. The theme of these volumes is the covenant fulfilled in Christ. Written to instruct Sunday Schoolteachers they are a mine of good commentary. This continues the outstanding insights earlier volumes.

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