Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Books read in December 2015

1. As the Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer

Archer is one of the great storytellers of our time. He takes a barrow boy from the East End and follows him becoming a department store magnate with a seat in the Lords. There is the story of a feud with another family, a tale of romance going wrong and illegitimacy where children are kept from knowledge of their parentage. Heirs are hunted in the Antipodes. The story twists and turns and has its surprises.

2. Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume Two: Everything She Wants by Charles Moore 

 I found Moore's first volume to be excellent and he has once again produced a very detailed and thorough account, this time of the years after the 1982 Falklands war until her third and final general election victory, the only PM to win three elections in a row in the 20th century.  Five years in over 700 pages. Some chapters are more gripping than others because of the nature of their subjects.  Her ups and downs with Reagan, the development of her relationship with Gorbachev, the miners' strike, the Brighton bomb, South Africa and how others viewed her., these are the most interesting. Westland and party infighting are not so fascinating. Once again, Moore is no hagiographer. He paints her warts and all. She talked too much and sometimes did not want to listen. Kind to ordinary people around her she often had poor relations with her ministers and treated some badly. In the case of Geoffrey Howe, that came back to haunt her. I was surprised to learn of tensions with Tebbit who I always thought of as her tough guy.  She was indeed a Marmite character. Moore shows how and why she was both loved and hated. Roll on volume three. How long will we have to wait?

3. Radical Puritans in England 1550 - 1660 (Seminar Studies In History) by R.J. Acheson

An excellent brief introduction to dissent from the established Church of England. It starts with a few isolated separatists and ends with a great diversity in dissent during the Commonwealth. The English desire not to conform seems to come out as a national trait. But there is alsp the folly of trying to enforce conformity. Laud and his followers would have probably survived their professed Arminianism but forcing others to keep all their ceremonies, that was folly.

4. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham 
Another gripping thriller from the master of legal fiction, Sebastian Rudd is the lawyer who will defend the people other lawyers will not help. He is the only admirable character in the story. But I do want to ask if United States laws, prosecutors and police can really be this bad. The criminals are worse but not a lot. Grisham keeps the reader's attention. I am not going to be a spoiler but I found the ending rather flat. The moral of the story seems to be that if you hire a good lawyer, take his advice.

5. Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Christopher Catherwood

This book is by the eldest grandchild of the renowned preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He writes to introduce modern Christians to the man considered by many to be the greatest preacher of the last century. He starts with biography then moves on to more controversial matters. Firstly he rightly sees Lloyd-Jones distinguishing matters of primary importance for Christian fellowship from secondary matters. But no distinction is offered between individual Christian fellowship and the difference when it is fellowship between local churches. The somewhat idiosyncratic view of the Doctor on the baptism or sealing of the spirit is described but there is no mention of John Stott's rebuttal of the Doctor's teaching. Catherwood seems to have an unusual take on the 1966 controversy where Stott publicly disagreed with the Doctor. It this was merely a call to better spiritual unity among evangelicals why did Stott immediately speak out? Catherwood implies that there were significant numbers of ministers who left their mixed denominations, but gives no figures. My memory of the time is that it was seen as a clear call to leave mixed churches but the numbers who did were small.  Where I really part company with the author is his description of congregational life at Westminster Chapel. We are told that quite a number of people commuted in and spent the day there in happy fellowship. He says that it would not have been possible to ask them how far they had come to hear the great preacher. I ask, why not? How do you justify abandoning any possible gospel witness close to your home in favour of the pleasure of hearing the greatest preacher of your day?
I  also question the real vitality of this between the services fellowship. I was a regular student attender at the Chapel between 1964 and 1967. I was never invited to become a member or offered so much as a cup of coffee by way of welcome. My own assessment of the chapel is preaching 10/10. Body life 0/10. So it now strikes me as very ironic that the Doctor was calling people out of mixed denominations into purer evangelical churches. I get the impression that the author may identify himself as reformed baptist. He tells us his grandfather was for believers baptism but not by immersion, another unusual view. I am surprised that historian Catherwood makes no reference to 'Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) and Twentieth Century Evangelicalis'  by John Brencher, a more academic study but IMO a more accurate one. I believe Brencher makes the cogent remark that Lloyd-Jones was a consultant physician and the way he ran the chapel had much in common with the consultant's surgery.

6. The Lord's Day - Why go to church Twice on Sundays by David Campbell

This booklet published by Day One seems not to be listed on Amazon. In these days when most church attenders go once only on Sunday, this book is a needed challenge.  However, the author does not use what I consider the simplest argument for church twice on Sunday. I ask 'who wants to eat only one meal a day when two feasts may be enjoyed'?

7. William Carey and twenty-first century India.- Paul Barnes

A short booklet with biographical details of the greatest missionary since Paul the Apostle. One learns of the many obstacles and adversity overcome so that a humble cobbler became a professor of Indian languages. This book dispels the myth that British colonial policy was a help to the gospel. Carey had to live in a tiny Danish colony in order to spread the gospel.

8. The Book Boy bJoanna Trollope 

This is the fourth Trollope I have read but the first short one. Once again it is a story of human interaction. A wife is put upon when he feels inferior due to illiteracy. But she is to find an unusual helper in learning to read

9. Marrying the Mistress by Joanna Trollope

I think this is the fifth Trollope I have read. Once again the subject is a dysfunctional family breaking up. One could argue that all families have a measure of dysfunctionality but in real life some are committed to keeping the marital promises.. Not so in Trollope's world. Here we have a judge in his sixties telling his family he wants to marry his young mistress. I confess I do not like the way the betrayed wife's reaction is portrayed as selfish and manipulative. My sympathy is with the wronged woman.  Infidelity makes a mess of lives. This is plain to see.

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