Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top 10 books read from my own or the Evangelical library in 2017

Not in any order.

Those borrowed from the Evangelical Library ae marked EL

CATEGORIES - ADD up to more than 10 as some in multiple slots

Prayer and devotional 2
Islam- 3
Nigeria- 2
History- 7
Biography - 2
Ecclesiology - 4

A Way to Pray: A Biblical Method for Enriching Your Prayer Life and Language by Shaping Your Words with Scripture by Matthew Henry  (Author),‎ O Palmer Robertson (Editor)OL

Matthew Henry is justly famous as a biblical commentator so I am surprised this excellent volume is not so well known. O Palmer Robinson deserves thanks for revising and modernising it. You will not realise it is modernised until you find that prayer for travellers now encompassed travel by air as well as sea. I consider this the most helpful aid to prayer I have ever read. It shows Henry's amazing knowledge of Scripture that he could take countless biblical texts and form them into prayers which are there to stimulate and aid the reader's praying. This is the one book I will have with my Bible to aid daily devotions. It is a book I shall read more than once.

   I have too. Now reread it twice in 2017. Still the tops for prayer.

2.The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (Author0 OL
 The work of a master teacher of the faith. Faith is central. It depends on Christ not on us.I recommend reading this in chapter portions . It is ideal for use by couples in daily devotions together or by families where children are older.

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

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.

4.Logic On Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Paul D. Washer, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Ian Hamilton, Geoff Thomas, R.C. Sproul & John Macarthur. Amongs't the contributors are R.C. Sproul ....EL

Three DVDs, three photograph cards and a short book in this pack to commemorate the man generally regarded as the outstanding preacher in English in the last century. And English was his second language. A brilliant physician,assistant to the king’s doctor, a Harley Street practice, wealth and fame at his feet. The Doctor as he became known gave it all up, still in his twenties, to pastor a backwater mission church in South Wales. There he experienced such growth in response to plain preaching without gimmicks, that when his own Presbyterian denomination rejected him as principal of its theological college, he was invited by Campbell Morgan pastor of the prestigious West End Congregational church at Westminster Chapel, a short walk away from Buckingham Palace. When Campbell Morgan passed on, The Doctor was pastor until he retired. I heard him many times in my own London student years 1964 to 67. That was a formative part of my theological education. All his sermons were of the highest order and some, like the Sunday after the 1966 Aberfan disaster were unforgettable.

Most to the contributors here are family and friends, the latter mainly pastors influenced by the doctor. Hearing his voice again and these memories warms the heart and move one to desire to be a more spirit filled, prayerful preacher.

I have  four criticisms. The parts on the 1966 Evangelical Alliance meeting and the Doctor’s views the sealing and filling of the Spirit are not well handled. John Stott was at fault as chairman in the way he contradicted the Doctor at the meeting though I now believe there are reasons to perhaps show more sympathy for Stott’s views than the Doctor’s. On the filling of the Spirit I believe that Stott is right and the Doctor errs in calling the a sealing of the Spirit, a proper experience to be taught, which it is, but calling it the Baptism of the Spirit which it is not. The Doctor confuses terms which may end other, though not him, to confused theology. Thirdly,  nowhere are the Doctor's views on baptism stated. He seems to have moved away from a Presbyterian position on covenant children. My last criticism I have stated before. I am not happy hearing how wonderful the fellowship was on Sundays between services at the chapel. This lonely student was there three years and never offed so much as a cup tea. Nor did the Doctor encourage people to join in the body life of the church. He was happy to be the consultant physician of souls who did not do house visits.
"Defects through nature's best productions run, 
Our friend had spots, and spots are in the sun." - William Jay

5. A Sad Departure: Why We Could Not Stay in the Church of Scotland by David J Randall (Author)EL

The title is a deliberate ambiguity. The Church of Scotland has sadly departed from Scriptural teaching and as result, sad to say, ministers and members have as a result departed from her. David Randall starts by putting the increasing secularism of society as a root cause of the C of S conforming to the world rather than standing for transformation of the national life as it once did. He delineates the history of General Assemblies over recent years which have tried to make compromises between traditionalists who hold to the Scriptural rejection of homosexual relationships and the revisionists who want to accommodate active homosexuals among the ranks of its ministers. Traditionalists are evangelicals and they are not united over whether to stay in the C of S or to leave. Both viewpoints are explained. He then goes on to show that homosexuality is but the presenting issue. The real problem is does the church accept the authority of Scripture which never commends homosexuality. Then present day majority votes in the C of S show it no longer sees itself as bound by what the Bible teaches.  He gives a helpful chapter on historic church divisions, especially in Scotland, the Secession and Disruption of 1843. He explore what the future holds for the C of S with a rapidly declining membership and few in training for its ministry. Finally he gives us accounts of churches and ministers who have left. Numbers cannot be comprehensive but he lists 21 new congregations, most comprised of former C of S members. He identifies four as now part of The International Presbyterian Church, a denomination started by Francis Schaeffer in Switzerland with congregations in England and several European countries. Nine congregations are described which have joined the Free Church of Scotland, no doubt encouraged by the Free Church relaxing its rules on exclusive unaccompanied psalmody, . Two congregations are now in the United Free Church. One is with the Associated Presbytering Church and four congregations have either not yet decided on joining another Presbyterian grouping or seem to going forward with independency, a course of action which saddens this Presbyterian reviewer. Forty ministers are listed as having departed the C of S. This is a sad story of how theological liberalism and conformity to the world will ensure the decline of even a national church. It is also a story of people who have been strong in faith and sacrificed for their fidelity to gospel truth. 

6.  Nigeria: A New History of a Turbulent Century by Richard Bourne 

Back in the early eighties a Radio 4 humour show dubbed Nigeria, the land of the greasy palm. Nothing has changed. The author has held several high commonwealth related posts but does not seem to have lived in Nigeria. I would describe his viewpoint as a top down one on the first century of Nigeria. Lugard was the progenitor of Nigeria and the man who put through indirect rule, specially by the northern then emirs. Lugard did not have it all his own way but the basic principle of leaving the emirs alone protecting them from Christian missionary influence is rightly shown to be at the root of future divisions. Then after independence in 1960, the First Republic dies under Igbo officers' bullets. Shortly after come riots in the North. Here I found the acount wanting. The scale and brutality of the killing seems brushed over. The counter coup, Gowon's magnanimity after victory over Biafra. Then Murtala is murdered and again little is related of the less than just trials of those alleged to have been plotter. Obasanjo comes and plans for civilian rule which is taken by Shagari, but not for long. Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, the latter, the worst dictator after losing an election. Obasanjo elected twice, 'Yar Addu'a dies in office as did Abacha and Goodluck takes over until Buhari is recently elected. So a mix of elections and coups but one theme throughout is the venality and corruption.I was astonished to read that all federal legislators earn over $1,000,000 a year -without the bribes etc. How to unify this artificial construct of a state?  Go from south to North and everything is diverse, climate, vegetation, ethnicities, languages, religions. Everyone wants a share of the oil wealth and that is not efficiently extracted or distributed.I have not gone onto recent troubles with Islamist insurgents. On a human level one does not feel full of optimism but Nigerians usually come up trumps

'Eat the Heart of the Infidel': The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram  by Andrew Walker

The author, a journalist living ten years in Nigeria, wrote this between 2013 and 2015 so it is as up to date asana available book though it cannot cover the latest atrocities like young girls with babies on their backs as suicide bombers nor does it deal with the middle belt conflicts in Kaduna and Plateau states though the historical background for them is found in the early chapters.
Walker has been on the ground so this is no discourse from the heights of academe or government. He starts in 1804 with the jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio, the Fulani Muslims conquering the pagan Hausa north and preparing the way for colonial indirect rule through the emirs.
    1850 we have the story of Barth's six year expedition which was to tell Europe of the life there and of the continuing brutality of slavery and warfare.In 1903 comes Lugard,, conquering the north with a small force and machine guns. Three years later he had an estimated 2000 massacred after a brief rebellion which cost the lives of three Europeans. Though he was removed, what Lugard established remains an influence to this day. His indirect rule through Muslim emirs was at the price of keeping Western education out of the North. Missionaries had been educating the south for nearly a century. The Muslim north wanted its Islamic superior culture untainted by the West. Long term the price paid was a civil war, 1966 to 70. I was in Nigeria in the seventies when universal primary education, free for all was lauded. Now is related that that ideal is no more.
    Several chapters tell of the corruption at all levels of society, an all pervasive rot. in military, police and particularly politics. The politics are explained from the local level up. All is corrupt patronage with, in the north, strong currents to promote and purify things Islamic, the shari'a.
   Te third part of the book is the rise of Boko Haram and the conflict it brings. There are horrifying stories of brutality from both sides. One is left at the end wondering what is  BH. Is it basically Islamic or is that a mere front for political manipulation. Walker explains the nature of news in Nigeria and why the truth is hidden. The failure of the military is very apparent. The only effective group against BH seem to have been South African mercenaries who could use trackers in the bush and a helicopter above to cut off insurgents. One item though I categorically dismiss as fabrication is reference to a You Tube clip purporting to be of Christian Beroms feasting on the flesh of Muslims.I lived among the Berom. Only some few tribes have a cannibal past by reputation and the Berom was not one of them.
The book does not end on an optimistic note. Buhari has done better than Jonathan but the task is not over. If  far links develop with the likes of IS and worldwide Islamism, the future is not bright.  Well written but the subject is not for enjoyment.

8.1. With Mercy and with Judgement: Strict Baptists and the First World War by Matthew J. Hyde EL

First hand accounts, memoirs, diaries, letters and poems from those in the First World War. There are Strict Baptists, in fact the Gospel Standard denomination which is hypercalvinist though it is calvinism not a failure to freely offer the gospel which is to the fore. One couplet is quoted by many of the writers. From a  Ryland's hymn, Not a single shaft can hit, Till the God of love sees fit. Many Scriptures and hymns gave comfort but this couplet stood out. The Strict Baptists were not a denomination recognised by the Crown so they had no chaplains of their own. Men might go the Church of England parade services but often complained of little spiritual nourishment except for the hymns. Another peculiarity was the Strict Baptists refusal to heed the King's call for natonal days of prayer. They regarded that as Caesar stepping into the role of God. They also did not have any formal training for pastoral ministry. First we have memoirs and diaries, some accounts being written much later. The horrors of war are exposed, the seeming randomness of killing - unless you believed in the sovereignty of God. Many men went out to fight with no faith but found it in the war. Many complained of the difficulty of finding other Christians and of the profanity of the soldiers. The letter contain less of the fighting for they were censored and more of the spiritual conflict as. However it is in the letters we fid the most horrific account of four brothers, eldest sons of one family, all killed in one month.  It is a moving book and well illustrated with photographs of the soldiers.

9. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events by Bernard Grun Eva Simpson 

Whenever I research an historical period, this book is my first port of call. It gives the politics, events, religion, art, literature etc of any given period. As time goes on towards the modern, entries become more detailed. But for putting events in context, this is the best of books.

10. As for the Saints Who Are in the Land: The Roots of the International Presbyterian Church 1954-1990 by Rev Ranald Macaulay (Author)

As the title says this account is 'THE ROOTS OF THE INTERNATIONAL
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH' (IPC)  and it is indeed 'A personal reflection by the Rev. Ranald Macaulay'. This is not a comprehensive academic history by an outside observer or academic but the perspective   of someone involved in the IPC from its early days in Switzerland. He tells us he met Francis Schaeffer, the founder of IPC, in 1958 when he was a Cambridge undergraduate barely two years old in the faith. In 1960 he became a L'Abri worker in Huemoz and the next year he was  ordained  an IPC elder  and married Schaeffer's daughter Susan. Schaefer. 
      This reviewer too is not an outsider or academic reviewer for I met the author when an undergraduate in London in 1965 and have been involved with the Ealing congregation since its formation in 1969. So reviewer and author have been on first name terms for as long as IPC has been in England.
       The first section of the work concerns the history of Francis and Edith Schaeffer as post-war American Presbyterian missionaries sent in 1948 to work among young people in Europe. We are given the story of Shaeffer's conversion and the background of his sending denomination. The start of the ministry that became L'Abri and the IPC was no smooth passage. It is described as 'mayhem', certainly a time of great testing but one where the God of providence was weaving a special tapestry - or rather two tapestries, one para-church and one a unique Presbyterian  denomination, not linked to any particular national base as is the case generally with Reformed denominations. How these two grew together then became separate is the main story of the book but with the emphasis on IPC. 
           L'Abri gave birth to the first congregations in Switzerland, Italy and England. We are told with honesty, 'the L’Abri connection had both good and bad results. L’Abri had ‘birthed’ the church and was fully behind it, but its parental role meant that things like finances and Presbyterian distinctives were less clear than they might have been. ' Also, 'It’s worth noting here that by 1986, both the Milan and HuĂ©moz congregations had fallen by the wayside.' Ealing had stability but not the growth seen in the Hampshire congregation which was drastically reduced when its pastor and other elders took most of the congregation out of the IPC. The presbytery had brought the issue of elders who are Baptist to a head in a congregation where the leadership no longer held tha infant baptism was of the essence of the system of doctrine taught in the confessional standards of Presbyterianism. So in 1999 a large independent congregation was formed, baptist in belief and practice while the IPC remnant was  much smaller .Our author was not involved in this having moved to Huemoz where sadly after Schaeffer’s death in 1984  division among L'Abri workers led eventually to the IPC congregation moving from the L'Abri chapel and eventually the loss of that original IPC church. Sweet and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity. When they do not we have a brief footnote. 
        In Ealing, after the 1970s there was no L'Abri work, only IPC. In Hampshire there was IPC and L'Abri. The development of Korean congregations in England came independent of L'Abri from 1978 onwards but through Pastor Kim who had been a L'Abri worker. Brief mention is given concerning the next two English congregations before the present position is given, 'the IPC now consists of 23 congregations in 4 Presbyteries. There is the British Presbytery and Korean Presbytery in the UK, the European proto-Presbytery (expecting to be established in 2016/17) and a separate Korean presbytery in Korea. These are all included within a single Synod'. I regret that no mention is made of the huge contribution which has been and is made by the Mission to the World  arm of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
      We are given the author's final thoughts and he writes, 'I have deliberately tried to make it a ‘warts-and-all’ affair'. Yes we have some of the warts which came both from the para-church/ presbyterian tension and that sometimes of personalities involved. We live in a fallen world where the only perfect church is that triumphant in heaven. IPC owes its inception to Francis Schaeffer. I regret that it was never mentioned among Schaeffer's achievements at the memorial service for our founder in London. Was that out of polite respect for the hosting Anglican church?
     Among a number of appendices the most significant is 'APPENDIX 5:INRODUCTION TO ‘THE L’ABRI STATEMENTS’  Absent are the IPC doctrinal standards.

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