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Book Reviews

By Ministry Today Reviewers.

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth; a Biblical Theology of Mission

Andreas J Köstenberger and Peter T O’Brien

Apollos, Leicester, 2001; 351pp; £12.99; ISBN 0 85111 519 5

This is a frustrating book. The trouble with it, I feel, is that it tries to cover too much ground. The authors’ own intention, expressed in the first chapter, is “to explore mission comprehensively throughout the entire sweep of biblical history”. They deal with the Old Testament, the second-temple period and the New Testament, and the method employed is to examine every possible text and passage that has relevance to their subject. The inevitable result is that their treatment of individual texts is far too brief to be of much use. Readers would do better to consult the standard commentaries on any passage they wish to explore.

So this is hardly a gripping read. There is a final “Concluding Synthesis” which summarises the argument of the earlier chapters and draws conclusions from it, thus saving the reader having to wade through the rest of the book. But £12.99 is a lot to pay for the sake of just 20 pages!

Perhaps the book was never intended to be read from cover to cover, but only for dipping into. Fortunately, there are very full indices to help with this. Authors, biblical references and subjects are given a separate index each. There is also a very large bibliography. Perhaps this is the chief value of the book - as a source of references for following up further study. However, I was surprised by the complete omission of any reference to the works of Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann is perhaps the pre-eminent Old Testament scholar of our day with a notable interest in mission and evangelism. Can it really be the case that he has had nothing to say that touches on the subject matter of this book?

In short, a worthy but pedestrian effort.

Philip Clements-Jewery

Engaging Unbelief: a Captivating Strategy from Augustine and Aquinas

Curtis Chang

Apollos, Leicester, 2000; 184pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 85111 472 5

This is a first rate and very readable study. The author’s thesis is that contemporary challenges to the Gospel by opposing worldviews are not unprecedented in the history of the church, and that we can therefore learn much from the ways that similar challenges were confronted in the past. He believes that the way Augustine in The City of God dealt with the assault of paganism on the Christian faith, and the way Aquinas faced the challenge of Islam in the Summa Contra Gentiles, provide strategic models for 21st Century Christians facing the challenges of postmodernism and of what he calls a “disorientating religious pluralism”.

Chang proposes a “rhetorical strategy”, derived from 2 Corinthians 10.5, of entering the challenger’s story, retelling it and then capturing that retold tale within the Gospel metanarrative. He then shows from an analysis of The City of God and the Summa Contra Gentiles that this was precisely the strategy that both Augustine and Aquinas employed in their respective works. In other words, Chang suggests that in meeting contemporary challenges to the Gospel we need to meet the challengers on their own ground and show the inadequacies of their position on the basis of their own premises before showing how those premises are more adequately developed and expressed by the Christian faith. Such a strategy also corresponds to God’s saving purpose revealed in incarnation and atonement.

However, this is no dry-as-dust academic study. A missionary heart beats within the author. He suggests ways in which the strategy might be applied today, by entering new media (such as film), by retelling the postmodern self and by promoting our version of the story. He is critical of liberal, fundamentalist and traditional evangelical versions of that story, particularly in relation to eschatology, and suggests that we need to listen more to voices from the Third World and the testimonies of those relatively new Christians who still have contact with the culture from which they have come.

There is a short appendix defending the missiological intent of the Summa Contra Gentiles, a select but wide-ranging bibliography, but no index. In brief, this is a book which admirably combines philosophy, apologetics, church history and missiology. I found it an extremely interesting and stimulating read and would thoroughly recommend it to others.

Philip Clements-Jewery

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

John Piper

IVP, Leicester 2000; 158pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 85111 979 4

This is good accessible stuff, which began its life as biographical messages at the annual Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. It is a book written with enthusiasm, from the heart as well as the mind, on the life and work of three highly significant theologians, recognising their imperfections alongside the enormous contribution they have made to Christian thought, and in particular their relevance for today.

John Piper picks up three main themes: sovereign joy as Augustine’s song of grace; sacred study and the supremacy of the Word of God as Luther’s cry; and the majesty of the Gospel which so captivated Calvin that he bequeathed to us a legacy of preaching that has resonated throughout 500 years of Christian history. Taken together, the author’s hope is that “their experience and vision of God may awaken in you a similar longing for wiser living, a firm resolve for the spiritual disciplines, and a boundless passion to experience God’s power and glory in your life.”

Overall this is a helpful introduction to some of the most famous Christian thinkers, and quite useful to have on the bookshelf, but probably more a book to lend than read.

Geoff Colmer

Christ, Our Righteousness - Paul’s Theology of Justification

Mark Seifrid

Apollos, Leicester 2000; 222pp; £12.99; ISBN 0 85111 470 9

This is another addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series of monographs that address key issues in the discipline of biblical theology with the overall aim of helping thinking Christians understand their Bibles better.

Mark Seifrid writes on the theme of justification in the thinking of the apostle Paul, the subject of his doctoral dissertation. In the words of the Series Editor, D A Carson, in the preface: “He is persuaded, rightly, that while the ‘new perspective on Paul’ has made some gains and overturned some errors, its diverse forms converge in several ill-judged errors that touch something central in Christian thought: how men and women may be right with God.”

He offers a comprehensive analysis of Paul’s understanding of justification in the light of important themes, including the righteousness of God, the Old Testament law, faith and the destiny of Israel. A detailed examination of justification in the letter to the Romans is followed by a survey of all of Paul’s writings.

This is a serious engagement with the subject of justification in which the traditional Reformation understanding, though not simply repeated, is reaffirmed. It will be of use if you want to revisit Paul’s thought from within a conservative context, and might be useful if you were preaching on the subject.

Geoff Colmer

Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther

Barry G Webb

Apollos, Leicester 2000; 151pp; £10.99; ISBN 0 85111 518 7

In this contribution to the series, New Studies in Biblical Theology, Barry Webb provides a Christian interpretation of ‘The Scrolls’, these five often neglected books in the Old Testament. He allows each of the books to set its own agenda, and then examines it in relation to the wider Old Testament context and to the New Testament gospel with its basic structure of promise and fulfilment.

In Judaism, these books were adopted as lectionary reading for five of the major festivals. The author offers fresh perspectives on these ‘five festal garments’ of love, kindness, suffering, vexation and deliverance.

Barry Webb makes these miniatures in the Old Testament sing, and as a result of reading his study, I am considering preaching on these frequently overlooked masterpieces.

Geoff Colmer

Revelation and the End of All Things

Craig R Koester

Eerdmans, Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 2001; xiv+209pp; £10.99; ISBN 0 8028 4660 2

The author is Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, Minnesota. Not surprisingly then, this book has all the hallmarks of being written as a textbook for his undergraduate theological students, or at least for anyone determined to get a grip on what Revelation is all about. If that is his aim, then he has succeeded.

In his opening chapter, he addresses the vexed question of whether Revelation is future prophecy or timeless truth by taking us on a fascinating historical journey through the various interpreters of the book down the Christian centuries, including those known to us as contemporaries (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Branch Davidians). He also dismantles the (still popular in the USA) dispensationalist approaches to the text as being selective, uncontextualised, mechanistic in their approach to prophecy fulfilment and too literalistic!

He then expounds the text of Revelation, not in detail, but with broad brush strokes, as being five overlapping cycles of vision, taking the book as a whole, rather than in bits and pieces. I commend this approach, because it is, in my view, the only way to make sense of a document which is so far outside our expectation of written literature.

At its £10.99 price tag, this is worth every penny, unless you are looking for something to expound the minutiae of Revelation. If, like me, you prefer to see it as a broad, holistic vision of God’s activity in the world and beyond, Koester’s work will help you get that message across to others.

Alun Brookfield

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

Graham Goldsworthy

IVP 2001; 272pp; £11.99; ISBN 0 85111 539 X

Twenty years ago I heard an ordination address where the preacher offered a piece of homiletical wisdom that he himself had received: “Always say a little word for Jesus”. Goldsworthy would concur with that view, but he would also point out ways that claim, but fail, to keep that advice. For example:

* a preaching series working through an Epistle deals with an ethics passage, with the result that visitors and regular worshippers alike are given the unintentional impression that following Jesus is about law, and not grace;

* Jesus is suddenly mentioned in a sermon and is therefore reduced to being a cliché;

* a sermon on an Old Testament passage is preached as if Jesus never existed (Goldsworthy sees the latter as a typical weakness of character studies and inductive methods).

In some traditions, Christian “context” would be provided by saying the Creed or the Gloria (at the end of Psalms) or by the content of the hymns or by the Eucharist. Goldsworthy, however, stands squarely in the evangelical/reformed tradition, so Liberals, Catholics, Charismatics, Post-modernists and those of other faiths need to be opposed. For Goldsworthy, Scripture, and therefore preaching, is at the centre and point to the person and work of Jesus which is the key to Biblical theology. While trying to avoid simplistic answers, the first half of the book defines the types of literature in the Canon, examines their content and looks at ways of preaching from them.

This is an ambitious and at times very condensed book. At other times it clearly reflects an engagement with the daily life of the Church. Goldsworthy has recognised many real challenges, but there will be different views on his answers. It would have been helpful if the second half of the book had been either longer or shorter - as it is, the pattern of working through the various books of the Bible becomes repetitive and in places (Ezra, Nehemiah, the Wisdom Literature) hesitant. Oddly, there is no mention of Esther or Jonah, which raise particular questions for the preacher.

This book raises some good questions, not least why so few in the pews own an overview of the whole Bible. The diagrams used in the book would provide a helpful means of offering one.

Bob Sneddon

Ten Keys for Opening the Bible: An introduction to the First Testament

Jacques Vermeylen

Continuum, London/New York, 1999; x+182pp; £8.95; ISBN 0 8264 1256 4

I found this an ideal update on the state of Old Testament scholarship as well as a stimulating introduction. It is written by a French Roman Catholic scholar and it has been translated clearly by John Bowden - what a debt many of us owe to his translating skills.

Increasingly the Old Testament is becoming a field where journalists are writing popular, but rather over exaggerated accounts of the shifting state of the historical basis of much biblical material. This, however, is just the kind of clear paperback that you could put into the hands of any interested member of your congregation.

The ten keys are:

1. How do we read? 2. The geographical framework

3. The historical framework 4. The Book and the books

5. Foundation stories 6. The period of the monarchy

7. The great trial 8. The time of God’s silence

9. The challenge of the new culture 10. The Lamb.

There are a number of helpful features to this book - frequent headings, good summaries, key topics explained in boxes and suggestions concerning relevant scriptural verses and chapters for reading. Many of the chapters are divided into three sections - the background, the facts and the interpretation. The author seeks to be fair to the various schools of thought. His explanation both of the background to and the use of Gen.1-11 by redactors is particularly illuminating.

For the author the Old Testament is clearly vital for a living faith, but as he says, it is a “great book...essential to the faith of Christians... but hard to get into”. This is the most helpful recent introduction to the Old Testament that I have come across. This is popular scholarship at its best. I will put it into the hands of others. My only complaint is that good as the contents survey is, it is no substitute for an index.

Julian Reindorp

Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition

Simon Chan

Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 2000; 126pp; £?; ISBN 0 84127 144 6

This study, while concerning the theology of the Pentecostal churches, is also of interest to those not associated with this particular expression of the Church, but affected by the phenomena associated with it and the charismatic movement.

Simon Chan seeks to interpret Pentecostal reality in the light of the Christian spiritual tradition, and in so doing, address the problem of Pentecostal traditioning. He believes that for too long Pentecostals have been defending their distinctiveness, but often at the expense of cutting themselves off from the mainstreams of Christian tradition. His argument is that when Pentecostals see their distinctives as a part of the larger tradition, they can preserve them and maintain their integrity.

The author focuses on two key concepts (glossolalia and baptism in the Spirit) as the most significant symbols of the Pentecostal movement. Emerging from the focus on glossolalia, he brings together both the ascetical and contemplative dimensions of Christian spirituality. In the final part of the study he sets out the need for a radical re-visioning of the Pentecostal church as a dynamic catholic community, a healing community, a truth-traditioning community, and an eschatological community.

This is an academic study drawing on a broad range of sources both theological and spiritual, but written in an accessible and attractive style. He is an astute observer of not only the Pentecostal church, but also the wider church, and I picked up many resonances in his writing. I found the chapter on Traditioning particularly fascinating as I related it to my own context of Baptist church life. I found myself lingering with his statement that, “A community that seeks consciously to preserve its own values and way of life is more likely to be open to change as it faces new challenges than one that has no explicit traditions.” He speaks of leaders in the church as those, “who are able to help the community define itself and its role in the larger society only if they are sensitive to the tradition of the community.” This wasn’t the focus of the book, but says something of how this reader was hooked!

This was a fairly specialist read, challenging in parts, but also very stimulating.

Geoff Colmer

Church, State and Establishment

Paul Avis

SPCK, London 2001; xii+100pp; £8.99; ISBN 0 281 05404 5

The request to review this book was accompanied by the comment that “it is defending the indefensible”! At a Swanwick conference in the early 1980’s, Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, asked all those of us involved in ecumenical projects how much of a priority disestablishment was. I looked round at my Free Church colleagues and noted that comparatively few hands went up. The general view was that we should use every opportunity we had to proclaim the Gospel and minister to the structures of our society.

This is only part of the case that Paul Avis makes in this short, but very timely, book. He covers all the key issues - the theology; the history; the position of the Crown; and the views both of the different denominations and the other faith communities. He has a vision for a national church united in a pastoral and prophetic mission to the nation. Perhaps one would expect this from the General Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity in the Church of England. Where many might disagree is his view that “there is now little or nothing in the established status of the Church of England to which the Nonconformist churches or the Roman Catholic Church could reasonably object on principle”.

He makes a clear case for a national church ministering to the whole of society, and covers a lot of ground in a short space. There is a good bibliography and an index. He gives all the material to make a case both for establishment - though the phrase ‘a national church’ is what he is defending - and against it.

I am sympathetic to his vision, but he is very optimistic about the real ecumenical possibilities and he perhaps underestimates the plural nature of our society. He foresees a deeper involvement of all the churches in the structures of civil society. The question remains: how far is the present church/state relationship (which increasingly involves both the Free Churches and the Roman Catholics) a barrier to our mission or does it still provide unique opportunities in our increasingly plural world? Paul Avis in this very stimulating survey provides the rationale which underpins the latter view.

Julian Reindorp

The God of Miracles: An exegetical examination of God’s action in the world

C John Collins

Apollos, Leicester 2001; 219pp; £11.99; ISBN 0 85111 477 6

This is a brave and interesting book by an Old Testament academic who also has degrees in computer science and systems engineering. He brings all his interests together in this careful examination of how we might understand God’s activity both in the Bible and today. Whether you agree with him or not, he will challenge you to think out what you believe and why. His careful arguments, the clear headings and his systematic approach bringing together a number of disciplines provide a model for the future.

In his introduction he quotes Bultmann’s dismissal of the New Testament for people with a ‘modern scientific outlook’ and tackles all the issues raised head on. Bultmann, he says, “confuses the practice of scientific investigation with what is called the scientific world view (i.e. that nature is a closed system, and that everything is in principle naturally explicable)”.

There are four sections. The first, ‘Setting the Stage’, summarises four possible ways God might act through creation - supernaturalism, occasionalism, intelligent design and providentialism. These are what he calls the options within “traditional (Christian) theism”.

Section two is his presentation of the exegetical material. This includes what might be called special events, such as the creation, the tenth plague in Egypt, the virgin conception of Jesus, his mighty works and his resurrection. It is these ‘special events’ that make the author reject providentialism.

The “theological evaluation” is in his third section, and he tackles apologetics and science in his final section. This includes a fascinating passage as he answers the question, “Is the biblical picture viable today?” He responds to the four questions usually raised by the biblical picture of God’s involvement in the world - the rationalist, the empiricist, the postmodernist and the problem of evil.

As might be expected his conclusion about the biblical material is that “a properly nuanced supernaturalism has the best claim to being the biblically supported metaphysic’”. He favours “the intelligent design” argument and in the process objects to Richard Dawkins’ position: “If the sciences are to retain our interest in them as giving us results that bring us nearer to true knowledge of the world, they must obey the rule of rationality and not impose restrictions on their practitioners that violate these rules.” He concludes that supernaturalism has biblical support and when carefully articulated can hold its own against its most serious objections. By the range of his reading, not least in the sciences, he clearly wants to encourage critical and constructive dialogue with the sciences, and with the culture in which the sciences flourish.

He quotes, but does not do full justice to, what he calls the “limited theism” of Polkinghorne and Barbour and how they tackle the whole issue of evil and free will. Nor does he mention the approach of John Hick which is relevant here. But what Collins does so effectively is to bring together not only carefully assembled exegesis, but also the categories through which we can explore this crucial area of theology - what Austin Farrer used to call the “causal joint”. A good bibliography, footnotes at the bottom of each page, a general index, and a scripture index complete this very stimulating book.

Julian Reindorp

The Encyclopedia of Christianity

Ed. Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milic Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan, Lukas Vischer

Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, and Brill, Leiden;

Volume 1 (A-D), 1999; 893pp; £50 hardback; ISBN 0 8028 2413 7

Volume 2 (E-I), 2001; 787pp; £50 hardback; ISBN 0 8028 2414 5

The Encylcopedia of Christianity sets out to “describe the Christian faith and community as it exists today in its myriad forms and in its relation to the core apostolic tradition throughout the 2000 years of Christian history”. Based on the third, revised edition of the major German reference work, Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon, this beautifully printed encyclopedia will eventually consist of five large volumes. As in Germany, so in North America, this massive scholarly work will clearly become a standard reference tool.

However, in Britain I doubt whether this encyclopedia will gain such status, for the simple reason that the English-language editors in their revisions have had North America primarily in view. For example, the article on ‘Baptists’ for the most part traces the history of Baptists in Germany and in the United States, and contains no reference to present-day Baptists in Britain. Where there are references to Britain, the emphasis is often one-sided. For example, the English section of the article on ‘Church Employees’ is devoted exclusively to the Church of England. The choice of authors to supplement the original German authors is at times a little surprising. For instance, the article on ‘Congregationalism’ is written by a Baptist (Keith Clements). Readers of Ministry Today concerned for the practice of ministry will discover little to feed the mind. The article on ‘Funerals’, for instance, describes ancient funeral practices, as also funeral practices in the Third World and in North America, but contains little reflection on the nature of a funeral. The article on ‘Church Growth’ gave a cursory review of church growth teachings, but failed to mention the contentious advocacy of the ‘homogeneous unit’.

The English translation is extremely good. The only mistake I spotted was where the Baptist practice of ‘open membership’ was mis-translated as ‘open fellowship’ (I: 199).

The chief drawback of this great encyclopedia was its disappointing failure sufficiently to revise the original German bibliographies which accompany every article. Most of the books mentioned are German. Those which are in English are for the most part American - and if not, then the American publisher (rather than the British publisher) is given.

In conclusion, while major British libraries may well want to purchase this encyclopedia, readers of Ministry Today would be better advised to spend their £250 on other reference tools.

Paul Beasley-Murray

Christian Mission in Western Society: Precedents, Perspectives, Prospects

Edited by Simon Barrow and Graeme Smith

CTBI Publications, London 2001; £11.50; ISBN 0 85169 246 X

This stimulating collection of essays arose from two conferences held during the summer of 1997. They are written by theologians, missiologists and scholars from varied backgrounds and cultures, who possess considerable expertise in their different fields, but who collectively are concerned to explore the past, present, and future of Christian mission in the West. They do this creatively, and at times provocatively, but reflecting a positive desire to inculturate the gospel authentically and to open up a productive dialogue between mission theology and Western societies.

A central issue highlighted in one of the essays is that, contrary to much popular assertion, an overview of the history of Christianity in the West does not lead to the conclusion that there has been a failure of inculturation. People are not waiting to be told of a previously unknown Saviour, Jesus Christ, nor are they waiting for an introduction to previously unknown churches. On the contrary, they already have opinions about Jesus Christ and the churches, however erroneous the churches might think they are! So the challenge is how the churches are to respond to this successful inculturation.

One response is to suggest that the churches’ mission now is to sweep away modern Western culture with its accumulated false beliefs and to colonize Western Europe with the ‘true gospel’. Another response is to ask what mission might look like when aspects of that culture are appreciated and valued. In other words a critical conversation is to be had between the churches and Western culture. This book leans strongly towards this model of mission.

Through the different essays, some of the questions and issues that surface as a result of understanding mission as this critical conversation are highlighted and discussed.

There are three sections to the book. ‘Precedents’ looks at some historical examples of how mission has endeavoured to take aspects of indigenous culture seriously. ‘Perspectives’ explores some of the challenges that arise for mission theology if elements of Western culture are taken seriously. And ‘Prospects’ seeks to reflect some of the contemporary examples of mission activity that value and appreciate the contributions of cultures from within Western society.

This was indeed a stimulating read, and a demanding read. There was much to engage with and I found the experience enlarging. This is no comprehensive overview, but as one of the editors concludes, the essays “are better viewed as signposts in a wide ranging conversation that both precedes from and informs actual engagement”. The task of missiology, is “to generate creative, practically tempered experiments in thinking out what the churches are called to be, do and say, contextually, in fast-moving societies.” If you feel that your perspective on mission is a bit constricted, this is a book to read.

Geoff Colmer

Faith in the Living God - a dialogue

John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker

SPCK, London, 2001; viii+151pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 281 05290 5

I am not sure of the point of this volume. In their personal introduction, the two authors admit that the origin of the book was their meeting at a conference where they hit if off together and then decided to write a book. The first six chapters of the book deal with faith in God as Creator, in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. “Dialogue” is not quite the right description for it, if by that term is meant “conversation”, since the authors alternate in writing a whole chapter each on these themes, with added comments by the other, followed by a reply by the first contributor. In my judgement, these comments and replies do not add much to the content of the chapters, although occasionally they do help to clarify what is being said. The second half of the book includes an extended essay by each of the authors, together with a final joint piece on the nature of the search for truth and understanding.

John Polkinghorne is well known in the UK as a writer of science and theology. His contributions to this book are illuminating and easy to read. Michael Welker, on the other hand, is a new name to me and, I suspect, to other readers of this journal. He is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Heidelberg University and he writes in a somewhat Germanic style which, although simple, is not always transparent. He is especially obscure when he expands on the relation of time and eternity in his final essay.

There may be some people in our churches (or on the fringe) with an enquiring mind into whose hands this book might be put, but they would have to be fairly literate theologically. I think I would have preferred simply to read the thoughts of John Polkinghorne on these topics and I don’t think I would have bothered to read this present volume unless I had been given it to review.

Philip Clements-Jewery

Interfaith Encounter

Alan Race

SCM Press, London 2001; 178pp; £14.95; ISBN 0 334 02843 4

Many students of the relationship between Christianity and other faiths have been indebted to Alan Race for his paradigm of Christian attitudes: exclusivist, inclusivist and pluralist. In this book he returns to a defence of that paradigm against his critics and to develop his version of pluralism. He also extends his argument to address issues in Jewish-Christian relations and Christology which he rightly sees as ‘the crunch issue’.

He adopts a twin track approach to interfaith encounter. The first he calls a Christian theology of religions which restates his earlier argument. The other track is dialogue, which he analyses in terms of the ‘spirit of dialogue’ and ‘theoretics of dialogue’. Then he returns to his defence of pluralism, explores prospects for a global ethic and a possible inter-spirituality. He interacts with quite a wide range of writers but none of an evangelical persuasion. This deficit is most acute in dealing with Christology. Surely some awareness of the work of Tom Wright is required, particularly in the Jesus of history section. On the other hand the author introduces evangelical readers to writers we perhaps seldom read. He writes clearly and summarises more extensive debates producing a useful introduction to the subject.

The most serious weakness of this view of the subject is that it fails to allow those who see their faith in absolute and universal terms to hold to their exclusive position, but insists on relativising them. This applies as much to Muslims and the Qur’an as to Christians and the Gospel. How does he know that all religions are committed to the one Ultimate Reality and different expressions of truth?

Is this subject relevant to ministry today? Undoubtedly. Is this book worth buying? It all depends what you read books for. If you are willing to be provoked, even to be annoyed at his blind spots, then, yes, this is a provocative book. If you are looking for a book to give you the answer to the questions it raises, to do your thinking for you - then, no, there are pits for the unwary and many readers will remain unsatisfied.

Arthur Rowe

Freedom Within a Framework: Breathing New Life into Liturgy

Tim Lomax

Kevin Mayhew, Stowmarket, 2001; 90pp; £9.99; ISBN 1 84003 707 5

As someone who loves to use liturgy creatively and who therefore has been broadly delighted with the range of possibilities offered by Common Worship, I bought this book on the day of publication, expecting that it would offer me some excellent creative ideas.

Alas, I was to be disappointed. Nearly 50 pages of the book are service outlines for the various festivals of the Christian year - useful if you don’t have Visual Liturgy, but hardly worth the £9.99 price tag, even if they are photocopiable (do churches really use A4 size service sheets?).

So I turned to the other 30 pages, but found it full of information which will be second nature to anyone who has been using liturgy creatively during the last 20 years or so. There was nothing fresh here - all material which I’d heard before.

So what is this book for? I suppose I should not have bought it, because it does not seem to have been aimed at people like me, but at those who are just beginning to take their first tentative steps into a more flexible use of liturgical material. But if that is so, most of the songs recommended in the service outlines will be completely unknown to them (I’d never heard of at least half of them!) and the vast majority of churches will simply not contain the resources to make them work well anyway. I fear that those tentative steps may be daunted by this publication, which seems to take beginners too far, too fast.

Alun Brookfield

Imagine: a Vision for Christians and the Arts

Steve Turner

IVP, Leicester 2001; 131pp; £6.99; ISBN 0 85111 555 1

This is a great little book to read, especially for artists and those interested in the arts. Unlike some of the excellent work by Jeremy Begbie, it makes no great demands, but is full of really good stuff. Steve Turner does what he sets out to do, answering the question, “Why aren’t there more Christians involved at the heart of the arts scene?” And in the course of this short book, he urges artists to develop ways of being where it counts, of thinking rigorously, but Christianly, of finding a voice, and of achieving both artistic and spiritual integrity.

Early in life, Turner was profoundly influenced by Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri, and, like many people who became part of this small learning community, moved from asking the question of any artist, ‘Is he saved?’, to asking, ‘Is this piece of work technically excellent? Is it a valid expression of the artist's view of the world? Are form and content well integrated? Is truth communicated?’ This was, for him, the beginning of a liberation from categorizing all culture in terms of either Christian or non-Christian, spiritual or fleshly.

Particularly helpful for me was his exploration of CCM, contemporary Christian music. He notes that it is, “the only musical category recognized in the record industry that is defined entirely by lyrical content. All other categories are defined by musical style.” This raises the question of whether so-called ‘Christian music’ exists for its own sake, or only as a medium for praise or preaching.

Probably the most significant aspect of the book was his framework of what a Christian might do in art in terms of five concentric circles. The outer circle is made up of art that suggests no obvious worldview. In it we may think that we can hear the accent of Jesus, but it isn’t overt. The second circle contains work that is an expression of our Christian faith because it dignifies human life and introduces a sense of awe. The third circle contains those things that carry an imprint of clear Bible teaching, but which we know are not uniquely Christian. The fourth circle gets closer to the heart of the gospel and its themes are inspired by some of the Bible’s primary theological themes. At the heart of the final circle stands the cross and resurrection.

Steve Turner asks the question, “Can we imagine Christians who are called to be artists rather than preachers, not only making an impact in their chosen form, but doing so in a way that draws attention to a worldview that is different from that of their contemporaries, a worldview that gets people talking? Could it be that Christians will actually change the nature of the big debate?”

The chapters are short and very focused: the vision; the church; the world; the split; the Bible; the mind; the times; the witness; the life. Throughout, Steve Turner thinks Christianly, drawing deeply from Scripture and many different forms of art. This is a great book to read, and to give away, especially to those in our churches who are involved in the arts.

Geoff Colmer

Changing World, Changing Church

Michael Moynagh

Monarch 2001; 190pp; £7.99; ISBN 1 85424 516 3

This is a disturbing, exciting contribution to reinventing the Church for a new Millennium, yet there is no sense that the solution is clear or easy. Without offering prescriptive models, Mike Moynagh succeeds in identifying new directions for the future. However, the idea that the Church can be a one-stop-fits-all is quietly put to rest and a more dynamic image emerges.

This book is not for the faint-hearted, though visionaries and prophets will love it. Unless we struggle with the issues raised for the contemporary Church we will continue to deserve to be consigned the scrapheap of history. The author argues that being true to Christ’s ministry involves reinventing the Church in every generation and I for one need that challenge.

David Bedford

Citizen 21: Citizenship in the New Millennium

Compiled by David Alton

Harper Collins, London 2000; £14.99; ISBN 0 00 274068 0

Citizen 21 is a collection of speeches made over the past three years, by leading figures in public life. They cover a wide range of issues on the subject of citizenship and attempt to open up a debate on what is meant by citizenship.

The book explores rights and responsibilities, the solving of social problems, education and the role of government. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury contributes a chapter on ‘Christianity and Citizenship’, and included among the other contributors are Martin Bell, Jonathan Sacks, Ann Widdecombe, David Alton, David Blunkett and Melvyn Bragg.

This is an interesting book, and is helpful in understanding what is meant by this recent buzz-word, particularly as it is now included in the National Curriculum.

Geoff Colmer

Lets Make Love: The Meaning of Sexual Intercourse

Jack Dominian

Darton, Longman and Todd 2001; 195pp; £9.95; ISBN 0 232 52338 X

Dominian believes that the twentieth century saw the end of the 2000-year-old link between sexuality and procreation in Christian thinking. He believes our society is hungry for a serious dialogue about sexual love and that the churches are sidestepping the task. This book is divided into four parts, the first two of which are: “A (brief) history of Christianity and Sex”, and “Reflection on the inner meaning of sexual love”. In this second section Dominian says the specific aim of his book is “to show the main reason for having sex is now the initiation and facilitation of love”.

The third section explores problem issues such as teenage intercourse, cohabitation and prostitution. The final section looks at challenges for the contemporary church with regard to morality and the sexual revolution.

Dominian’s prime concern is to write about love in the sense that it would be understood in contemporary western culture. For a variety of reasons this would have little to say in societies where marriages are arranged and love has different meanings. Within those limitations the author raises important questions. It is surely a sign of how far from a solution the church (in the widest sense) is, when the (Roman Catholic) author confronts issues such as contraception, married clergy and celibacy.

This brief, but wide-ranging and occasionally provocative book inevitably misses some issues (for example: what is the meaning of sexual love for those who cannot conceive?). The book is also let down a little by the index. Overall I was left wondering if the title did not promise a little more than it could deliver.

Bob Sneddon

Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the MonismDualism Debate

John W Cooper

Apollos, Leicester, England, 2001; £16.99; ISBN 0 85111 474 1

This book was first issued in 1989 and contains a detailed and careful consideration of the traditional position concerning the relationship between body and soul. The Old and New Testament material, along with intertestamental material, are carefully scrutinised to elucidate the issues of monism and dualism. The last two chapters of the book address the practical and theological objections against dualism and then holistic dualism, science and philosophy. Its conclusion, as expected, is that holistic dualism is vindicated.

The book has been republished this year and updated with a new preface, but for £17 (for only 13 extra pages), this seems a high price for those who purchased the earlier edition. The author asserts that “it presents a case that remains relevant, robust and right on target. A lot has been written since the book appeared. But instead of revising it extensively in the light of the dialogue with current scholarship, I reintroduce it by surveying recent contributions to the monismdualism debate”.

While the preface alludes to some of the debate, quickly scanning over many new ideas, it does not adequately address the issues. Furthermore, the materials from Qumran and the inter-testamental period are not addressed sufficiently on this area of life everlasting.

Interestingly this book is written from the perspective of a systematic theologian and there is an implicit dogmatism that is consistent with the author’s theological position, but I am unconvinced by the work itself. This is a rather narrow book written from a specific viewpoint and will therefore have a limited audience. Certainly its poor standard of workmanship combined with its dogmatism did not make it appealing.

Derek J Fraser

How Now Shall We Live?

Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

Marshall Pickering, London 2000; £10.99; ISBN 0 551 03258 8

Colson explores a wide range of ethical and cultural issues in this, his latest book, dedicated to Francis Schaeffer. In a hefty work of 45 chapters, he analyses the strengths and weakness of all the other worldviews on offer in our pluralistic society, and concludes that only Christianity provides a rationally sustainable way to understand the universe, and that only the Christian worldview fits the real world and can be lived out consistently in every area of life.

Colson believes that How Now Shall We Live? is his most important book to date, delivering a message for both church and individual Christians that change in the world and in culture will not be achieved chiefly through political or social means, but by individual Christians knowing their faith and being agents of God’s grace, and making a difference.

Colson begins by examining worldview and why it matters. The next main part considers creation, asking the question, ‘Where did we come from, and who are we?’ The third part, the Fall, asks, ‘What has gone wrong with the world?’ The fourth, redemption, and ‘What can we do to fix it?’ The final part examines restoration and asks, ‘How now shall we live?’

Though substantial in volume, it is very accessible, sprinkled liberally with stories and is an easy read. Basically, this is good populist apologetics, in the tradition of Francis Schaeffer.

Geoff Colmer

Restoring the Image

Andrew Walker and Martyn Percy

Sheffield Academic Press 2001; 236pp; ISBN 1 84127 064 4

British Sociology of Religion was dominated for decades by two people: David Martin and Brian Wilson. Both are now in active retirement and their influence continues. At long last the contribution of one of them, David Martin, has been recognised by this collection of essays. Both men explored the idea of secularization, but from very different perspectives, not least because David Martin had a Christian commitment which Brian Wilson lacked.

This Festschrift accurately reflects the man it honours. Several essays pay tribute to Martin’s style as a writer. He has a brilliant, though sometimes very illusive, ability to use metaphorical language. They also recognise that he has made major contributions to the debate about war and ethics, secularisation, liturgy, the historical development of religion in the United Kingdom and global Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism.

Martin has always been prepared to stand against the mainstream and as a believer working as Professor of Sociology at the LSE during the 70s and 80s, he must frequently have felt like Daniel in the lions’ den. No matter - he has never been prepared to accept the superficial interpretations of culture in which many indulge. He has understood the complexities of cultural history, the difficulty of interpreting statistics, the importance of memory and tradition and the complexity of social realism more than most.

As with any volume of this kind, the quality and significance of the essays is uneven. Steve Bruce’s contribution is disappointingly brief, since he is the major proponent of Wilson’s perspective on secularisation which is now considered highly questionable. Several other pieces concern such specialised areas that they will not prove to be of widespread interest.

Readers of Ministry Today may particularly appreciate four of the essays. Paul Freston’s review of David Martin’s work on the growth of Pentecostalism is a masterly critique of his work. Martin’s Tongues of Fire has established itself as the seminal work in this area, but, as Freston points out, has its deficiencies precisely because it is written by a European who is perhaps not as attuned to Latin American culture as others might be. In particular, Freston calls into question whether conversion to Pentecostalism will lead the converts to adopt the Protestant work ethic and grow in prosperity in the way in which that has happened historically elsewhere.

Jessica Martin, his daughter, reflects on her father as a preacher. Martin grew up in a fervently evangelical Methodist home and was a local preacher before turning Anglican and being ordained as a priest in 1983. His daughter particularly reflects on his use of Scripture and the power of his language.

One of the major causes of Martin’s notoriety is his defence of the Prayer Book and his unease with contemporary liturgical revision. Kieran Flanagan, a Roman Catholic sociologist and sympathiser, writes a sparkling piece expounding the importance of Martin’s campaign to emphasise the importance of memory, tradition and the transcendent in society. It is scathing about Anglican liturgists who “lock the young into an eternal present”, the management ambitions of the present Lambeth regime, and Evangelicals who in their user-friendly way “now ritualise the tasteless in confected rites, banal music and in raises and praises that invoke deep embarrassment in the liturgically sensitive”. That’s very close to the bone for us!

Percy’s piece demonstrates the importance of the sociologist for practical theology. Martin’s cry that the Church of England should engage in serious research about those who attend and use its rites has so far gone unheeded. Consequently the church usually forms its policy on the basis of impression and anecdote when sociology might prove a more useful tool to help it address its context and concerns. That cap fits other churches too.

The book concludes with an essay by David Martin’s wife, Bernice, a sociologist of note in her own right. It introduces us to David Martin the man, who is both sociologist and theologian, and might well have proved more valuable as the opening rather than the concluding chapter.

The book is a smorgasbord. There is plenty for all to enjoy whether their palate is that of the basic practitioner in the parish or the sophisticated palate of a theoretical sociologist of religion.

Derek J Tidball

Can We Ever Kill? An Ethical Enquiry.

Robert Crawford

Darton Longman and Todd 2000; 225pp; £9.95; ISBN 0 232 52358 4

This book explores the religious and philosophical background to five great moral questions, each of which concerns the taking or termination of life - suicide, euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment and war. A chapter on each teases out key issues and divergent views. The approach is thorough and measured, reflecting the book’s origin in an Open University course. Two additional chapters explore issues that underpin individual ethical dilemmas, namely: “Does life have meaning in the face of suffering, evil and death?” and “ Is there a purpose or goal to life?” In the latter I appreciated material on Darwin’s struggles with faith and on how A J Ayer (a humanist) came to believe in a form of life after death.

This book was originally published in 1991, but in this edition Crawford has added a chapter on how religions other than Christianity respond to these ethical issues. He has also added some new examples and illustrations, although the extent of this varies from chapter to chapter. There is no biblical index and references to other religions are all to secondary texts.

I was surprised that there was no reference to the work of John Hick and although C S Lewis is mentioned none of his work is referenced. This is a reasonably priced, basic textbook.

Bob Sneddon

Market Whys and Human Wherefores: Thinking Again about Markets, Politics and People

David Jenkins

Cassell, London 2000; 276pp; £16.99; ISBN 0 304 70608 6

This book is half way between a tract for our time and a treatise. As I write this review just after the general election, David Jenkins’ work is a sobering reminder of realities that we all too easily ignore. There is the fact that in America public spending as share of national income is about 30%, in the UK about 40% and in continental Europe, in many cases around 50%. The election was about tinkering at the edges of these figures. Jenkins challenges the very assumptions that everyone in the election seemed to take for granted. His book is a sustained questioning of the Free Market Mantra: ‘the Market works, OK, the Market rules OK, and even more OK, the way the Market works and rules is the only way to freedom and prosperity’(p. 213).

You might ask what is a retired bishop doing entering this field? What has he to say that experts in the field won’t say better? But David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, has never shied away from asking theological questions through the practical application of his research. In the 70s he was the Director of the WCC ‘Humanum Project’. In the 60s, being taught by him, he often applied theological questions to the political realities of the day.

It is often considered tantamount to blasphemy to raise the kind of questions that Jenkins raises. When in 1997 the famous George Soros asked some questions of the global market: ‘I consider the threat from the laissez-faire side more potent today than the threat from totalitarian regimes’, widespread shock was expressed (p.170).

Why should a pastor read this book? Because it questions just about every assumption that the people we serve (and we) take for granted. In this sense it is a tract for our times. There were moments when I wanted to say, ‘enough, enough I take your point’, and perhaps Jenkins could have raised his questions more succinctly. But this ‘apology of an anxious idiot’ will have to be answered. You only have to consider the world’s poorest continent, where the markets hardly operate, to raise questions about all the market mantras.

Some of the chapter headings make a good summary: ‘Initial Scientific Protest; The Market as Providence; The Optimism of the Only Way; Being Hopeful about the Market at Other People’s Expense; Seeing Things Differently, and Doing Things Democratically; Outline of an Agenda, and a Confession of Faith.’ Some of us would be shocked if people accused us of being theological fundamentalists, but I suspect that most of us are much closer to being free market fundamentalists than we realize.

To return to the issues of the election, it is a defender of the markets, Lord Rees-Mogg, who makes the point: “When the man with the laptop cannot be traced and taxed, so governments will have to cut spending” (p.207). Jenkins concludes, “we can no longer afford the Free Market in its current form, rationale and operations. If, as a community, we cannot recognize that this is an indecent system, we ought at least to recognize that it is a precarious one” (p.263).

Julian Reindorp

The Steward Living in Covenant

Ronald E Vallett

Eerdmans 2001; 251pp; £12.99; ISBN 0 8028 4727 7

Ronald Vallett serves Baptist Churches in New York State as Minister for Stewardship and Mission Support. The reflex response to the word “stewardship” tends to be to think of the financial life of the church and in particular of budget campaigns. Vallett acknowledges and challenges this dangerously limited view. As executive director of the Ecumenical Centre for Stewardship studies he has edited the “Faiths Horizons” series of which this is a part.

Vallett writes to the (American) church in crisis - much of what he writes is culture bound but not all. He writes of a church with falling attendance and financial problems, to a church over-identified with the values of American Culture and to congregations who seek only managers or therapists. He believes that congregations need to find a new way of living as God’s stewards, with a commitment to social justice and simplicity of lifestyle. And that they will be helped to do this by pastors who are teacher-theologians.

This book uses twelve Old Testament stories (an earlier volume drew on New Testament Parables). Half are from Genesis/Exodus and all are well known. Vallett is obviously a fan of Walter Brueggemann and there are frequent references to his writings. I had the sense I was reading a (good) collection of someone’s sermons and Bible studies. Passion and study are woven together, but there is a repetition of themes and phrases. Each chapter has questions for reflection and the inclusion of dramas and choral readings was an interesting idea.

Bob Sneddon

The Church’s Hidden Asset: Empowering the Older Generation

Michael Apichella

Kevin Mayhew, Stowmarket 2001; 132pp; £10.99; ISBN 1 84003 701 6

We live in a culture where youthfulness is clung to and ageing is avoided at all costs. Older people are sometimes spoken of as ‘chronologically challenged”. This book wants to tell us that they are, in fact, ‘chronologically gifted”.

It is a simple statistical fact that the majority of UK churchgoers are aged 55 and over. If your congregation is an exception, then rejoice! But Mike Apichella, in his typically fast-moving style, wants to tell the rest of us, whose congregations include a majority of over-55s, that we should also rejoice, because, while younger congregations have people with more energy, ours make up for what they lack in energy with vast quantities of wisdom, experience and spare time.

Apichella has long been a passionate advocate of the value of older people. He argues in this book that we neglect the possibilities that they bring at our peril and that, instead of wishing for more young people (who, according to Apichella, are too busy making a living and bringing up their children to want, or be able, to give much time to church work), we should be working to maximise the gifts and skills of our older people.

The book contains 11 chapters grouped in four parts. The first is entitled intriguingly, “The Age of Usefulness”, in which the author explores what the Bible has to say about older people. He also includes stories of how older people have often done what could not be done by younger people because those ministries required a persistence and wisdom which grows with the years.

Part two addresses the culture of youth, fear of death and the visual images of youthful perfection which pervade our lives. Part three deals with the difficult subject of being carers for relatives whose health is failing, and part four points some ways in which we might begin, in our churches, to give older people the respect that their age, experience and wisdom deserves.

This book is extremely readable and is full of useful stories, addresses and ideas for empowering the older people in your church and setting free their gifts and experience. There is everything here that you would need to preach sermons, produce housegroup material (each chapter would provide base material for a group discussion), tackle the local media, write to your MP and generally get involved in the issue. Take the risk - buy it and read it, then use it with your congregation, however young or old they are.

Alun Brookfield

Spaces for the Sacred

Philip Sheldrake

SCM, London 2001; 214pp; £45; ISBN 0 334 02846 9

In these Cambridge Hulsean Lectures, Sheldrake seeks to reclaim ‘space’ as a fundamental Christian category. He writes from his study of spirituality and theology and this book is exploratory rather than systematic.

The chapter headings clearly outline his concerns. First, ‘A Sense of Place’ explores both our need for roots and the appropriate tension between the local and universal in the Christian tradition. This leads on to a discussion of place within the Christian tradition, both a historical and geographical summary. He follows with a Discussion of the ‘Eucharist and Practising Catholic Place’ - here reconciliation is a key theme. The practice of place: ‘Monasteries and Utopias’, explores their links and their place on the margins of society. In the chapter on ‘The Mystical Way: Transcending Places of Limit’, he suggests we are in a condition of perpetual departure - he includes a discussion of Moltmann’s five-fold delineation of Mysticism. The final chapter is entitled ‘Re-Placing the City?’. He wants to hold together both inner and outer space.

I looked forward to reading this - I remember the stimulation of Harvey Cox’s ‘The Secular City’ in the 60s - but I was disappointed. It is too expensive to buy and for a working pastor you have to work hard to make the connections. Perhaps others will build on these foundations.

Julian Reindorp

Short Notes

If you are looking for a light-hearted read then buy or borrow Shopping for God: A Sceptic’s Search for Value in the Spiritual Marketplace (HarperCollins, London 2001; 278pp; £14.99 hardback; ISBN 0 00 628173 7) in which Roland Howard amusingly describes his encounters with groups such as the levitating meditators, druids, witches, seekers of the ‘cosmic orgasm’, as also with the Jesus Army and the Iona Community.

Edwin Robertson is to be congratulated not only on his translation, but also on his helpful editing of My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone: Sermons on the Psalms (Eagle, Guildford 2001; 160pp; £8.99 hardback; ISBN 0 86347 401 2) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. According to Bonhoeffer, “The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees, the whole congregation praying the words of the Psalms with all its strength”. These reflections are both of historical interest and also of devotional merit.

In his unusually varied collection of English verse, The Poetic Bible (SPCK, London 2001; 228pp; £16.99; hardback ISBN 0 281 05355 3), Colin Duriez provides a feast for the mind and soul - for not only does it feature material from such authors as John Bunyan and T S Eliot, but also Timothy Dudley-Smith and Eugene Peterson. The selection helpfully follows the Biblical order from Genesis through to the Book of Revelation. Although not a commentary, it is no exaggeration to say that the poems provide new insights into the sacred text.

A feast for the eyes is provided by Landscapes of Light (SPCK, London 2001; 48pp; £7.99 hardback; ISBN 0 281 05320 0) which combines some of David Adam’s most popular prayers with stunning photographs of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne by Robert Cooper.

On Human Worth: a Christian Vindication of Equality (SCM Press, London 2001; 307pp; £17.95; ISBN 0 334 02825 6) by Duncan B Forrester, Professor of Theology and Public Issues at the University of Edinburgh, addresses the challenge of poverty, both in domestic and global terms, and asks the question: “What should we do when face to face with inequality?” In practical terms as a working pastor I was not sure whether I was any the wiser in terms of what I or my church might actually do. To say, for instance, “All should be guided to live hospitably, and in harmony with their surroundings” does not take me very far. This, sadly, is essentially an academic book - what is needed is a British ‘Ron Sider’ to earth theory into practice.

Tested By Fire: The Fruit of Suffering in the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper and David Brainerd (IVP, Leicester 2001; 176pp; £7.99; ISBN 0 85111 553 5) by John Piper is an illustration of the fact that “with great spiritual privileges comes great pain” (see 2 Cor. 12.7). It is also a challenge to comfortable Christians in the West to take the cost of Christian discipleship, worship and mission more seriously. An unusual and thought-provoking read.

Rest In The Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and other Caregivers (Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 2001; 129pp; ISBN 0 8170 1393 8) by Kirk Byron Jones sets out to challenge the over-busyness of most pastors. “The tragic and pervasive problem of ministry”, writes the author, “is that along the pathway of service to others, many well-meaning ministerial aspirants forget who they are apart from any religious activity. Their personhood, disconnected from collar and calling, is swallowed up. They become holy dead persons walking”!

The thesis behind Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership (Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania 2001; 134pp; ISBN 0 8170 1389 X) by American Baptist C Jeff Woods, is that as ministers we should strive for faithfulness alone and not for success. “Successful leaders mobilize people to make a difference in the world around them; faithful leaders mobilize people to make a difference in God’s world. Successful leaders serve a bottom line; faithful leaders serve God”. The thesis itself is admirable. Unfortunately in my judgement the practical working out of the thesis leaves a good deal to be desired. I wonder, to what extent the author himself has actually experienced apparent ‘failure’?

Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family (SCM Press, London 2001; 294pp; £15.95; ISBN 0 334 02822 1) by the feminist theologian, Rosemary Radford Ruether, contains a magisterial survey of the way in which the institution of the family has developed from Jewish and Greco-Roman times right down to the many faces of American families in the year 2000. In the final chapter, ‘Re-imagining Families’, the author sets out to expound her ‘eco-feminist family ethic’ in which men and women no longer complement one another - rather “whatever nuances of differences in style may exist through biology and socialisation, men and women each possess the full range of all human capacities”. Somewhat controversially she advocates a series of covenants, the first of which, temporary in nature, “would allow younger couples in particular, not yet ready for permanent commitment personally or economically, to make a commitment to each other that is exploratory, perhaps to be evaluated and renewed on a year-to-year basis”. Although stimulating, I found this book had two major limitations: first, in the final chapter the author states rather than argues her position; second, the book is rooted in the North American scene and therefore its relevance is limited as far as the British context is concerned.

The Book of Marriage: The Wisest Answers to the Toughest Questions (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2001; 620pp; $30/£19.99 hardback; ISBN 0 8028 3896 0) edited by David Mack and David Blankenhorn (available in the UK from Alban Books, 79 Park Street, Bristol BS1 5PF), deals with 10 questions:

1. Why get married at all?

2. What are we promising?

3. Can love last a lifetime?

4. Should I marry one of my own?

5. How do we handle money?

6. Who’s the head of the family?

7. What about children?

8. What about when we fight?

9. What about divorce?

10. Will we grow old together?

The ‘answers’ are given in the form of extracts from literature, the social sciences, philosophy, psychology and law as also from Biblical and theological material. For example, the chapter on divorce includes material from Thomas Aquinas, Martin Bucer, John Locke, Bertrand Russell and Judith Wallerstein; while the final chapter has material from Molly Haskell, Erik Erikson, John Bayley, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Euripides, and Viktor Frankl. This amazing compendium of cultural wisdom on the subject of marriage is not intended to be a ‘self-help’ book, but rather is more of a thoughtful ‘textbook’ for ministers, therapists and other family professionals who wish to reflect on the fundamentals of marital well-being. I know nothing else quite like it!

Knowing God’s Ways: A User’s Guide To The Old Testament (Scripture Union, Bletchley 2001; 240pp; £6.99; ISBN 1 85999 349 4) by J Patton-Taylor, an Old Testament Professor at Belfast’s Union Theological College, provides a highly readable introduction to the Old Testament for the non-academic, and is inter-laced with all kinds of helpful analogies. For example, we are told that Solomon’s Temple was in fact only “the size of a standard swimming pool today”!

Latest additions to the much-acclaimed Bible Speaks Today series include the very welcome two-volume commentary on the Psalms by Michael Wilcock - The Message Of Psalms 1-72 (IVP, Leicester 2001; 255pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 85111 506 3) and The Message of Psalms 73-150 (IVP, Leicester 2001; 287pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 85111 507 1) - and also The Message of Ezekiel (IVP, Leicester 2001; 368pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 85111 548 9) by Christopher Wright. To dip into these commentaries has been a delight, for they offer great riches both for personal devotion as also for preaching. These volumes are ‘musts’ for any pastor.

Small Communities in Religious Life: Making Them Work (Lutterworth, Cambridge, 2001; 256pp; £15; ISBN 0 7188 3012 1) by Catherine Widdicombe is a self-help manual. “The intention is to enable members of communities to be their own facilitators and become more reflective practitioners in relation to difficulties they face and the changes they seek to make in their everyday life and ministry in what is an on-going period of transition”. The fact is that at a time when large religious communities are in decline, small communities are on the increase.

The Source: the Worship Collection (Kevin Mayhew, Stowmarket 2001; Combined words edition ISBN 1 84003 726 1) compiled by Graham Kendrick contains 1099 songs and hymns. The former include most of the songs currently being sung in charismatic churches, while the latter are much more limited. Unfortunately, in my view, the traditional hymns have not been revised, with the result that they remain full of ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous’. There is an index of themes, as well as of first-lines - it would, however, have been helpful to have had a Scripture index too (and a liturgical index. Ed.).

A warm welcome to the Silver Jubilee Leather edition of the Good News Bible (HarperCollins, 2001; £40; ISBN 0 00 71306 9). To my mind the Good News Bible remains the best translation for church use!

The new SCM Classics series includes The Primal Vision: Christian Presence Amid African Religion (SCM, London 2001; 168pp; £9.95; ISBN 0 334 02837 X) by John Taylor, first published in 1963, but now with the addition of a preface by Timothy Yates, an introduction by Jesse Mugambi, and a post-script by the author. As Timothy Yates rightly remarks, “Here is a resource for those who wish to grapple with the extraordinary phenomenon of a Christianity in Africa which... now... numbers between three and four hundred million Christians”.

In the same series is Jesus the Jew: an Historian’s Reading of the Gospels (SCM, London 2001; 283pp; £12.95; ISBN 0 334 02839 6) by Geza Vermes, first published in 1973, but now with a preface by Stefan Reif. Geza Vermes was by origin a Hungarian Jew - at one stage he converted to Roman Catholicism, but later re-converted to Judaism. He ends his scholarly assessment with a recognition of Jesus as “the just man, the zaddik, Jesus the helper and healer, Jesus the teacher and leader, venerated by his intimates and less committed admirers alike as prophet, lord and son of God”. Still in the same series, but to my mind, not in the same league, is Taking Leave of God (SCM, London 2001; 188pp; £9.95; ISBN 0 334 02840 X) by Don Cupitt, first published in 1980, now with a preface by Alison Webster.

There must be few ministers who do not have on their shelves at least one collection of prayers compiled by Frank Colquhoun. Two welcome reprints are Prayers For Today (SPCK, London 2001; 88pp; £5.99; ISBN 0 281 04403 1) and Prayers For Everyone (SPCK, London 2001; 106pp; £5.99; ISBN 0 281 04563 1).

Over the years I have often loaned to couples a copy of Intended For Pleasure: Sexual Technique and Sexual Fulfilment in Christian Marriage by Ed and Gaye Wheat. Scripture Union have recently published the second British edition (Scripture Union, Bletchley, 2000; 287pp; £?; ISBN 1 85999 469 5) with the caveat that “The British publishers would not endorse the total subservience of female to male desire recommended on pages 157-159”!

Although I do not use a lectionary in my preaching, I find it helpful to use a lectionary as part of my daily spiritual discipline. The Lectionary for 2002 “according to the Common Worship Calendar and Lectionary authorised for use in the Church of England (Year A)” and also “According to the Book of Common Prayer and the Additional Alternative Lectionary” is now available from SPCK (£3.99; ISBN 0 281 05422 3). SPCK also publish an A4 Parish Diary 2002 (£15 hardback; ISBN 0 281 05460 6) which helpfully includes the Common Worship Lectionary.

Written within a North American context, Reinventing Sunday: Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship by Brad Berglund (Judson Press, Valley Forge, Philadelphia; 123pp; ISBN 0 8170 1414 4) offers practical suggestions to ministers and worship leaders to make worship more meaningful. For example, in the season of Lent, it is suggested that ministers encourage their people both to fast and feast: “Fast from idle gossip, feast on the goodness of others; fast from pessimism, feast on optimism; fast from criticism, feast on affirmation; fast from judging others, feast on Christ dwelling in them”. Or, “if your congregation talks during the prelude, join them”. Rather than trying to fight a losing battle for prayerful silence before the service, ministers are encouraged to “walk the aisles greeting those who’ve gathered for worship": “Use recorded music during this time of talking and greeting... Then, using your church musicians, make a transition into a call to worship”.

Because increasingly people outside the church have little understanding of the Christian faith, there is now a very real need for simple introductions to the Bible. In this respect The Bible Unwrapped: Developing Your Bible Skills (Scripture Union, Bletchley 2001; 176pp; £5.99 ISBN 1 85999 5330) by David Dewey helpfully fills a gap. It is a book for ministers will want to lend it to others - or, indeed, to give it away.

Roman Catholic theologian Adrian Hastings is the author of A History of English Christianity 19202000 (SCM, London 2001; 720pp; £25; ISBN 0 334 02824 8). It is in reality the fourth edition of what was first entitled A History of English Christianity 19201985, and then 19201990. This fourth edition differs from the third edition in that it contains a short review of the century as a whole, and also an overview of the 1990s. It is a truly magisterial work, and for that reason any criticism seems but a quibble. Nonetheless, the omission of any reference to Martin Lloyd Jones, who was so influential in 20th century evangelical life, is surely unfortunate. Similarly, as a Nonconformist, I was disappointed to find no reference to any living Baptist or indeed to any living Methodist!

Those who like to use a formal prayer in the vestry will no doubt appreciate the new collection of vestry prayers entitled Companion to the Revised Common Lectionary, Volume 5 - Before We Worship (Epworth, 2001; 108pp; £5.95; ISBN 0 7162 0547 5) by Norman Wallwork.

Over the years Third Way magazine has published interviews of many ‘celebrities’. In Conversation (Azure/SPCK, London 2001; 119pp; £6.99; ISBN 1 902694 18 X) contains nine of these interviews, and features ‘conversations’ with Lord Rogers, John Peel, Susan Howatch, John Tavener, Mark Thomas, Neil MacGregor, Beatrix Campbell, James MacMillan, and Douglas Coupland. A light entertaining read!

Recent Grove booklets from Cambridge (all at £2.50 unless otherwise stated) include:

Common Worship Marriage (Worship 162, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 455 X) by Charles Read and Anna de Lange and Infant Baptism in Common Worship (Worship 163, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 460 6) by Colin Buchanan, both of which booklets will be of interest mainly to Anglicans - although the latter does include an interesting defence of infant baptism; Understanding Songs In Renewal (Renewal 4, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 462 2), in which Victoria Cooke examines the varying theological emphases of Matt Redman, the Vineyard movement, and of the Australian hillsongs;

John Holmes’ Vulnerable Evangelism: The Way of Jesus (Evangelism 54, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 464 9) which takes issue with what he calls ‘Rambo’ evangelism;

Sorrow and Hope: Preaching At Funerals (Pastoral 86, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 467 3) by Nick Watson, which will no doubt be of great help to those at the beginning of ministry;

Charles Chadwick and Philip Tovey’s Developing Reflective Practice for Preachers (Worship 164, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 466 5) in which the authors challenge preachers to review their preaching styles - this could be of particular help to those who have been in the ministry for a number of years;

God, Gentiles and Gay Christians: Acts 15 and Change in the Church (Ethics 121, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 461 4) by Andrew Goddard, who concludes that, although Christians need to repent of their past hostility to gay people, nonetheless there is a strong case for arguing that Acts 15 appeals to Gentiles to abstain from homosexual practice;

Preaching with the Grain of Scripture (Biblical 20, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 468 1) by Stephen Wright for whom the two keys words in preaching are ‘integrity’ and ‘interest’.

Spirituality In Story: ‘Of Lions, Rats, Wizards and Lawyers’ (Spirituality 77, 2001; 23pp; ISBN 1 85174 465 7), in which Anthony Buckley examines in an interesting manner a number of modern novels in the light of such questions as ‘Does anyone in this story play a Christlike role? What does the story say about good and evil, or about relationships and selfworth? Is there a sense of otherness?’;

The Spirit of Unity: How Renewal is Breaking Down Barriers between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics (Renewal 5, 2001; 24pp; ISBN 1 85174 471 1) in which Peter Hocken gives a Roman Catholic perspective on the ‘issues and challenges’ which are present, and then proposes somewhat unusually that a way forward may be found within a Jewish context where Evangelicals and Roman Catholics meet “not just as longstanding opponents, but as repentant fellow sinners”.

Ministry Today

You are reading Book Reviews by Ministry Today Reviewers, part of Issue 23 of Ministry Today, published in October 2001.

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