Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Books read May 2018

1.High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain by Simon Heffer  (Author)

A big read yet it is selective for foreign policy or affairs is not discussed. Nor is the Irish question.Much centres on the philosophies of the men involved. By and large it is all men. One of the great injustices of the age fully exposed is the inequitable treatment of women. This was but one aspect of a conservative society which fought tooth and nail against all manner of reform from corn laws onwards. Arguments for not changing seem most arcane e.g. against secret ballots. Another thing on which he is silent is nonconformist churches. How can one write on this age and ignore Spurgeon?  To attribute the rise of nonconformity in the previous century to the doctrine of the 39 Articles is simply erroneous. Uniformity in liturgy and ceremony drove people from Anglicanism. The general drift from a Christian based ethic to secularism is well documented. Heffer is by no means neutral in his views on politicians. Gladstone may have trimmed and changed but he was always principled. Disraeli was a social climbing, unprincipled opportunist who had a talent for flattery.

2.The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914 by Simon Heffer  (Author)

More entertaining than his previous volume, especially his account of the great cricketers. The reactionary nature of conservatism is dreadfully exposed and the hypocrisy of the age when one reads of Bradlaugh and Stead. The chapter on dukes and dreadnoughts is a fascinating account of the great constitutional crisis and worth the price of the book. What a battle to get old age pensions! The industrial unrest makes one wonder if the war did not save us from revolution. It certainly saved us from civil war in Ireland and it silenced the antinomian suffragettes.  The Victorians may have been sexual hypocrites but so were Edwardians like the goat H G Wells.  Providence saved us from the king's eldest son and history was to repeat itself in 1936. Brilliant history. Will there be a next in the series?

3.The Gospel-Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton  (Author)

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? There is a propensity to Latin quotes and sometimes what authors quoted say could be put more imply. however there are many challenging, heartwarming and informative chapters, none more so than on the sabbath. That is the best concise treatment of the fourth commandment I have read. BTW, the Amazon biographical information is for another titled man of the came name.

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)

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 three times. Still the tops for prayer. However the section on shorter forms of prayer may give you more than you bargained for with one prayer extending to ten pages.

5. When A Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin  (Author)

A shocking exposed of Mugabe's racist, Marxist policy of envy and theft which encouraged his followers to terrorise, murder and evict the productive white farmers on whose labour and wealth the economy depended. If Smith. a white, had done this to Blacks, the world would have been in uproar, but protest is one sided and the big powers not bothered if a country does not have the natural resources it wants. Very well and movingly written. The sad story of a country disintegrating into bankrupt chaos under a tyrant. The author finds to his shock that his father was not the English expatriate he had thought him to be. The account of how his family had perished in Treblinka is very moving.

6. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta  (Author)

The author is a Nigerian who has grown up in USA. I think it shows in this book which is a plea for same sex relationships. if she had stayed in Nigeria I doubt if she would have written this. I lived in Nigeria for twelve years which are among the times portrayed here. Lesbianism was never mentioned. When I asked about homosexuality I was told it was a foreign import brought by the Arabs to the North where I lived. Nigerians detested it. This book is an apology for it. As a novel it is engagingly written, especially the scenes in the Biafran war. But I doubt its realism. I also find the apology for it not being an abomination condemned in the Bible to be a standard one from the LGBT lobby but most unlikely to be articulated by a young teenager. So my rating is that this is a piece of lesbian propaganda against the law of Nigeria which has overwhelming support. It would read better if the considerable Igbo portions were translated and also a glossary given of words common there but not to non-Nigerian English speakers. That applies to Pidgin too.

7. God’s Timeline: The Big Book of Church History by Linda Finlayson  (Author)

This is listed as a book for children but it will be read with profit by all ages. It is beautifully produced and illustrated. Timelines are very helpful in putting things together historically, for seeing contemporary relationships as well as historic order. Important events in secular history occur alongside the church history which is helpful.
   Of necessity such a brief book gives bare outlines but in general these suffice though one does need to go elsewhere to find the significance e.g. the councils of Constantinople, Milan, Ephesus and Chalcedon are dated but never explained as to the doctrinal significance of each. 
   There us little to criticise theologically except, 'The Qur'an contains the holy words of Allah. Only the Bible contains the Word of God.' I think 'is', not 'contains' would be appropriate for I am sure the author does not have a Barthian view of scripture. 
   For an overview of church history from an evangelical and reformed perspective this is an excellent introduction for readers of all ages. 

8. 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. Writen 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. This book comes in a rare category for me, ones worth reading more than once. I have  read it three timesAgain I have been using this in daily personal devotions with real profit. It is particularly good bringing the relevant Kings and Chronicles together to give a better reading and understanding of the history.

9. Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee by John Bew

Much better quality of writing than most histories or biographies. Attlee grew on me as I read this. He was his own man. Parents Liberal and Conservative and  upper middle class committed Christians. Their son, public school and Oxford educated becomes an atheistic socialist passionate to help the working class. But he is no reactionary for he maintains close relations with his family, especially his conscientious objector brother. A truly humble man who never seemed to push himself to the front. No great personality but a very able conciliatory leader. Patriotic, brave and loyal, especially when second in command to Churchill during the war. A fateful husband and strong family man. A gradualist, democratic socialist who said he wanted change to come like a natural with not the trauma of a cesarean section. After Thatcher he was I believe the greatest peacetime prime minister of the century. He held his party together and led his country well.

10. The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi  (Author)

Melvin Bragg is good on the influence of the King James Bible but this is much better. It is a more comprehensive and evangelical approach enriched by the Indian heritage of the author.  I learnt new things on the origins of technology and on the bankruptcy of other religions in their failure to positively develop their culture. Theologically he is very conservative. My only criticism is that he seems to think male headship is a result of the fall. He is heavily influenced by Schaeffer though his name is not indexed. It was interesting to see he does not share Schaeffer's pessimism about Western culture. He belives there is hope for Christian revival.


The author was a secular orthodox Jew and a teenage rebel. She married a charming westernised Afghan student in USA and went with him to 1961 Kabul. She thought she would experience the delights of the orient with a wealthy family. Instead she found house arrest, purdah in a polygamous dysfunctional traditional family wit h a paranoid mother in law whose husband ignored her living with his third wife. The siblings were at loggerheads competing for the approval of an undemonstrative autocratic father. Her husband is selfish and uncaring. Why do women continue to love such tyrants. Escaping from Afghanistan she does divorce him but maintains civil relations with him and his new wife. He is a man who cannot see the faults in his own Islamic culture. The author, being a feminist, is well aware of them but her main criticism is of the Sallafists not mainstream Islam which though if might not support terrorism it is the root of the oppression if women in those cultures. But this book is a warning to any Western woman not to marry a Muslim. She shows affection for Afghanistan and blames the USA for a lot of its present mess. The failed state is of its own making. The people only unite when invaded to repulse boarders. Their normal state of affairs is internecine strife. A sad reflection on the failure of Islam to unite diverse ethnicitys to say nothing of its great Sunni Shi'ite divide.

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