Friday, January 05, 2018

Books read January 2018

1. Qualified Commissioned and Accountable: Studies in Eldership by Ernest C. Brown (Author)

The amazing thing about this book is that it is from the pen of a ruling elder. I had to check it was not by an ordained minister. It is excellent. Informative and challenging it should be compulsory reading for all elders and those considering eldership. The best I have read on elders. Good questions and discussion points end each chapter so it is very practical.Minor omissions - an index and a chapter on pastoral visiting. The idea that he who is apt to teach is also fit to preside at the Lord's table is not considered either. That is not surprising as I know of one  Presbyterian denomination that does this.

2. Explore Hampton Court Palace: Souvenir Guidebook by Brett Dolman (Author),‎ Sebastian Edwards (Author),‎ 5 more

Glossy guide to the palace. Not chronological but takes you round the various tour routes recommended. I would have preferred to have this before I visited as I would have been better briefed to enjoy the place the tour of which is great value but you need mire than one day to appreciate it all. it is so superior to National Trust properties and their contents.

3. The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State by Graeme Wood  (Author)

This is the most important book I have read of late to really understand the contemporary world and Islam. Islam is diverse as is Christianity. Its followers range from peaceful majority to violent minority. Wood starts with a minority violent Muslim phenomenon, Islamic state. He shows how diverse even this small violent minority is  and shows how its Muslim opponents are likewise diverse. He makes parallels with the diversity of Christianity and parallels in history with the paths taken to violence between diverse factions in both religions and also the effects of apocalyptic though in both faiths. He is an expert on varieties of Islam and its scholarship. He is not quite as good on Christianity but has some fascinating insights.
   First the a significant omission. '...Muhammad and his companions Companions,  who owned slaves and had sex with them...  Abraham had sex with Hagar the slave girl'.  True but Abraham was given the slave girl by his wife Sara, not for sex but procreation when Sara was old and barren.  The outcome was Ishmael and the Arab peoples. Ironic! The other omission I find merely surprising. When describing Islam and the apocalyptic he does not consider the history of 19th century Mahdism in Sudan. In fact there are many parallels with the follies of contemporary Christian apocalyptic with which Wood is not familiar.
   Wood starts in dramatic fashion under fire in Mosul in 2004. He wonders as to the motivation of those shelling him. This leads him to interview Muslims in different countries who are jihadists, Islamists, supporters of Islamic state. All are friendly to him either hoping to convert him to Islam or at least get good publicity. He finds the methodology in what others dismiss as violent madness. These men are not fools. They are often very clever and fluent in Arabic, knowledgeable in the Koran and Muslim traditions. They also know how to stay inside the law in the West though some have been deported and imprisoned. They include men in Australia, America and London They include England's most reviled Muslim, Anjem Choudary, against whom Wood declined to testify at his trial. Some are converts to Islam and may be disowned by their family. All agree that a caliphate must be established and violent jihad carried out against apostates and non-Muslims. An apostate is anyone who claims to be Muslim but does not follow their brand of Islam. All are out of step, heretics, except those who agree with them. This explains why Islamists kill more Muslims than non-Muslims. Muslim critics of Islamic State are interviewed too. They too are diverse, Salafi or Sufi, all heretics by Islamist measure. Only Islamists are right and justified in brutal punishment and slavery - though even some of their supporters are embarrassed by the latter. Wood shows how supporters themselves are influenced by their own Western cultures too. The parallels with Christianity are sometimes non drawn but are apparent. So too is the missionary zeal. The Islamists are spreading their message to say the rest of us from Hell.
   A book full of learning, insights, violence and foreboding. If I were not a Christian it would fill me with dread. As it is it leaves me pessimistic about those who think Islam is the religion of peace, those who think this violence has nothing to do with religion and the realistic possibility that our security forces can protect us from this evil menace. War is not the answer but may be necessary It is the Islamists justification for jihad. The crusader West oppresses Muslims. They must fight. But Islam is diverse. Like Christianity it has quietists who believe God is great, he will be victorious without recourse to violence or even politics. One of the lessons here. All generalisations are wrong including this one. I do believe the Christian message of love your enemies and give them the gospel is the only way ahead. Love your enemies but maybe protect your borders too. Mere words will fail. Deradicalisation will fail. There is no hope for deIslamisation except the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The problem is not merely violence or politics or religion. None of those has the answer either. One word answer. He is?

4. Martin Luther by Lyndal Roper  (Author)

This is a magnificent biography by an author who really understands her subject. The fact that she is the daughter of a Presbyterian manse shows in her theological understanding of Luther. His personal and theological development are well described. One sees him as a child of his age influenced by both nature and nurture. The background to his world in Germany and the thought of the age is most helpful.
   This is no hagiography. Luther is here warts and all or perhaps a multiple compendium of illnesses and all, physical and mental. He comes through a as a great and gifted man, big heart and great flaws. It left me full of both admiration for his courage and intellect while shocked by his quarrelsomeness and lack of perseverance with his friends.
   His attitude to the Muslims is surprisingly liberal, his attitude to the Jews, reprehensible.
   One is left as ever with some what ifs. What if Luther had been more irenic? Would we not have has a less fragmented Protestantism.
    I have recently read on African world views and the influence of spirits. Luther's world was very similar with fear of devils etc.
   One thing missing which would have helped was a map of Germany in Luther's time. Also I would like to read something of how Calvin and Cranmer's thought on the Lord's supper developed with Bucer's influence. How much was reason the whore evident in consubstantiation?

5. Histories of Nations: How Their Identities Were Forged - Edtor Peter Furtado

Definitely a curate's egg. The idea is good. Authors from 28 countries give their views of their countries histories. One may start with ones own county. You will perhaps have a surprise. You may learn new things, certainly a new perspective but then you will see how all history is a subjective, selective interpretation. There is some good analysis and comparisons to be made. e.g. Compare post WW2 attitudes in Japan and Germany. You will see how anglocentric is your historical knowledge and learn how countries you take for granted are recent constructs e.g, France Italy is very well done , far better an explanation of church and state than given for Poland and Ireland the other Roman catholic majority lands. Ireland omits the fact that the only English pope gave the disputed bull authorising the English invasion turning the Celtic church founded by Patrick into the Roman fold. But the most incredible omission is Germany without a mention of Luther. Israel is of course fascinating but is factual incorrect linking Samaritan origins to the 6th century BCE and the Babylonians. 'Samaritans claim they are Israelite descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.' Others say they were deported by Assyria and other people planted there replacing them but it was Assyria not Babylon responsible.

6. The Gospel-Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton 

My wife and I have found this, like its predecessor, The Faith Shaped Life, to be excellent reading for morning devotions together. But right from the start we once again find clear and profound communication mixed with the obscure. 'In Islam, Allah is a solitary being, a monad. Because he is a monad, he cannot be love, for who was there for him to love in eternity?' p 2.Brilliant! But on the same page the obscure. 'From Genesis 1, where God's unity and plurality are adumbrated ...'' Adumbrated?  I was in the dark. Did the author use this when he preached to his Cambridge congregation? Were they all gown and no town?

7. Carey, Christ and Cultural Transformation by Ruth Mangalwadi  (Author),‎ Vishal Mangalwadi (Author)

I was prompted to read this book by the strangest of ways, someone read it and reported that Carey's 'conduct was unspeakable and particularly so to his poor wife - If we need role models he is not one !' I had previously read a longer biography of Carey. Mangalwadis briefly give a biography including the trials of Dorothy Carey and her insanity. Carey was a jar of clay but his accomplishments as pioneer missionary, linguist, educator, reformer of attitudes to women, especially the protection of widows from self immolation. Against all the odds a mere cobbler from England mastered and promoted many Indian languages in to which he translated the scriptures. He played a part in the reform of the government of India under the East India Company which was concerned only with commercial exploitation and had banned all missionary endeavours. So Carey had to settle in a tiny Danish territory in Bengal. The way he campaigned for the abolition of sati arguing in a pluralistic society this was not an integral part of indigenous religion has a great deal to teach concerning pluralism and political campaigning. Carey said his secret was that he could plod. Truly he attempted great things for God, the God who can accomplish more than we can think or do.

8. The Woman Who Helped a Reformer: Katharina Luther by Rebecca VanDoodewaard (Author),‎ Blair Bailie (Illustrator)

A delightful board book for young children, to read to little ones and for those who can read for themselves a fine beef introduction to the work of the Lutheran Reformation byway of the life of Katherina Luther, the former nun who ran Luther's household and hospitality.. Beautifully illustrated.

9.The Man Who Preached Outside: George Whitefield by Rebecca VanDoodewaard (Author),‎ Blair Bailie (Illustrator)

18th century church history for little ones. A book to be read to children and which may be happily read by older ones. Brief in words but beautifully illustrated.

10, The Message of the Stars by Stuart Burgess  (Author)

This is a booklet by a scientist not an astrologer. It is about the witness of creation to the curator God. Brief and encouraging to faith. My one slight surprise is that the star of Bethlehem is stated to be supernatural. There is no consideration of any natural phenomenon being given special significance.

11. Living with heart and mind - Congregational Studies Conference Papers 2017

Three very different papers. Gary Brady on 'Libraries and their Value' is most informative Plato is quoted, 'A house that has a library in it has a soul.' I learnt of the fascinating link between a copyright dispute and the spread of the gospel. But one thing not touched on is the danger of poor stewardship in book collecting, amassing a collection and not reading it, a wrong sort of materialism. The paper Pantecycelyn 300th is really for this interested in Welsh hymnology. Paul Lusk on 'Living in a Pluralist Society, I found to be a depressing abdication of the responsibility of Christians to apply Christian truth to all of life, to give a Christian base for political involvement and reform. In short I found it pietistic, a departure from Reformation perspectives. It appears to want a privatised faith which does not call for the reformation of society with laws derived from God's revelation. It appears the author is happy with laws to be made according to what godless people think best for society. I would characterise his views as from the Anabaptist tradition with no comprehension of sphere sovereignty.  Such a brief an erroneous paper is not worth the effort of detailed refutation.

12. Captured by a Better Vision by Tim Chester  (Author)

This is a book on living free from pornography. We have all read reviews that tell us a lot about the reviewer. Given the nature of the subject one wants to tread with care. The statistics show we have an epidemic of porn among Christians. Reasons are given and solutions prescribed.I thought the exposure of the lies of porn was an excellent eye opener. If the government can plaster tobacco products with health warning should we not lobby for all graphic porn publications to carry a large health warning on the front cover, 'WHAT IS SHOWN HERE IS A LIE UNRELATED TO REALITY'. I believe anyone with a porn problem, even a minimal one, can be helped by this book which gives a proper Biblical perspective on sex. My only disagreement would be over his advice that a man should always confess to his wife if he looks at porn. I am not convinced that is the right way. What I find missing is a detailed consideration of the nature of masturbation and counsel thereon. But Christians need to be more open about this modern scourge.

13. Psalms 1-72 (The New Century Bible Commentary Series) by A. A. Anderson  (Author)

The Psalms are my favourite Bible reading for all human life is there. I have in the past characterised the different psalms according to the circumstances of the authors and found the usual context is one of adversity and struggle but done with confident faith in the Lord. This I found to be the case here when most Psalms are characterised as laments. I found the introductions to each Psalm helpful though sometimes I wider it too much value is placed on linguistic analysis to date the Psalms like the old JDEP critical analysis of the Pentateuch. Sometimes the author finds fault with the titles saying the Psalm is not in line with the context described in the title. So it seems the author is with the higher critical school of commentary rather than among those who see any divine inspiration extending to the titles too. Commentary verse by verse is helpful.

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