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Book Reviews

By Ministry Today Reviewers.

Jesus and the Gospel

Graham N Stanton

Cambridge UP, 2004; 239pp; £15.95; ISBN 0 521 00802 6

This has already been a 'Book of the Month' in the Expository Times and it has all the hallmarks of Stanton's previous books: careful scholarship, readability and fresh insights. He is the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and his most recent book, The Gospels and Jesus (2nd Ed. 2002) has become a standard introduction.

Here he describes how the oral Gospel became the four-fold canon. He examines how the word 'Gospel' was used, how the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gospels of Caesar were rivals. He re-examines the use by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of the 'One Gospel in four-fold form'. In later chapters he examines the earliest criticisms of Jesus and of claims about his resurrection. Finally, he discusses the early Christian 'addiction' to the codex, and posits an almost seamless transition from 'notebook' to codex.

Three features of his method stand out; he works backwards from later, clearer evidence and formulations to earlier, often partly hidden roots; he builds up a cumulative case on the basis of as many strands as possible; and he tries to listen to the voice of 'outsiders'.

Among his conclusions are that, "notebooks were used by the very first followers of Jesus for excerpts from Scripture, for drafts and copies of letters, and perhaps even for the transmission of some Jesus traditions". During the first century the word 'Gospel' was used for both oral and written Jesus traditions. The use of codices rather than rolls for the Gospels was helped by their portability. The author believes that Isaiah 61 was the most important part of Scripture for Jesus' self-understanding, and that in his use of this chapter Jesus was making an indirect messianic claim: "He was himself part of God's good news." According to Stanton, the evangelist Matthew was the first to use the noun 'Gospel' to refer to a writing.

This book both breaks new ground and summarises recent research into the development of the Gospel canon. It is New Testament scholarship at its best.

Julian Reindorp

Grace: a preaching commentary

Stephen Farris

Abingdon, Nashville 2003; 150pp; £11.99; ISBN 0 687 09046 6

This is the newest addition to The Great Texts series (no details are given of previous volumes). The author, who is Professor of Homiletics at Vancouver School of Theology, expounds eleven passages of scripture - three from 'Paul and his followers' (Ephesians is considered not to be by Paul), four from the gospels and four from the Old Testament, with the intention of helping them to be preached as illustrations of grace.

Some of the passages chosen certainly meet the description of 'great texts' of grace, such as 2 Corinthians 8.9, Ephesians 2.1-10, Jesus and Zacchaeus and the healing of Naaman. But how many of us would include Cain's murder of Abel, Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, Psalm 119 or Isaiah 58 in this category? Farris says that "the only justification for selecting the particular texts...lies within the studies themselves" (p.15), but part of his purpose is to show that grace can be preached from texts that appear to be about other issues, such as law or justice. He does this with varying degrees of success and has to admit, at times, that grace is not the dominant theme of the text. His interpretation of Jesus' encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman in terms of Jesus learning something new is thought-provoking, but what has it to do with grace?

The book is written in a readable style and may well help ministers to wrestle with the texts concerned. There is certainly some helpful preaching material here, though no ready-made sermons, but this reviewer is left a little uneasy with a professor of preaching who advocates preaching texts to illustrate a theme which is not dominant and, in one case, not even present!

John Matthews

Renewing Faith in Ordained Ministry: New hope for tired clergy

Andrew Clitherow

SPCK, London; 114pp; £8.99; ISBN 0 281 05643 9

I got more out of this book second time round, perhaps because a week of illness before Christmas had made me look closely at my own feelings. This book is honest about the stresses of ministry, particularly parish ministry, and the author is honest about himself, his broken marriage, and the kind of expectations we face as ministers and the projections we place on the church as well as those our congregations place on us. But he still believes that being based in a parish is probably the best and most rewarding ministry in the church. This book has an Anglican feel, but any minister after many years in ministry would feel that the author understands.

The book is about relationships, with ourselves, with others and with God. It is about letting go of other people's expectations and recognizing our own wounds and finding and being found by God. The author uses the story of Jacob to accompany us on our journey and the stages of the grieving process to outline what we may need to go through in our changing world - acceptance that our loss is a reality, entering into the emotions of grief, acquiring new skills and reinvesting our energy in new ways.

The chapter headings give an indication of his approach: Called or Culled?; Prayer in the Night; Walking Wounded; A Prayer for Humility.

He longs to place God, "creative love", once more at the centre of our daily being and becoming. The author is director of training in the Blackburn diocese and has clearly listened to the clergy. I suspect he is a natural spiritual director. This book speaks to our anxieties and wounds rather than of a church renewed, but it may be exactly what we need to read now.

Julian Reindorp

Creating Uncommon Worship: transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist

Richard Giles

Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2004; 258pp; £20.00; ISBN 1 85311 590 8

Richard Giles has been described as a liturgical John the Baptist. One of his previous books (Re-Pitching the Tent - the definitive guide to re-ordering your church) sold 15,000 copies. This book is the sequel: you have re-ordered your church, now what follows? I found this one of the most stimulating and challenging books I have read for ages. If you read one book about liturgy this year, make it this one.

You will not agree with all Giles says. He can be very dogmatic at times. If you follow all his suggestions, you might sack the organist, have incense in worship, get rid of the pews and probably change the congregation. But since leading worship is at the heart of our ministry, this book provides an illustrated checklist with clear suggestions for every aspect of Eucharistic worship. It is clear, well produced, with striking colour illustrations, well indexed, with fifteen appendices of suggestions for each part of the service. You could give this to any member of your congregation and they would be stimulated and intrigued, but they might want to change much of what happens in church!

Giles writes from an Anglican perspective, but this book is designed "for all those who would know more of the risk-taking adventure which liturgy can become, irrespective of allegiance or label". Among his many points, three stand out. First, journey is at the heart of our faith, and yet for most of our worship we do not move, except for going up to receive Communion, if that is our tradition. How can we change this in our particular circumstances? Second, water is part of the baptismal liturgy. How can we make this a more natural part of our Sunday worship? And third, silence: would a stranger find times of silence and stillness in our preparations and in our worship or would it be all words and activity?

Giles has a sense of humour as well as a sense of authority. This is a book to test our prejudices as well as our practice, to return to again and again. Easy to read and very accessible, Giles is passionate that our worship needs to reflect God's passionate concern for us.

Julian Reindorp

Gathering: A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in the Free Church Tradition

Christopher Ellis

SCM 2004; viii + 327pp; £19.99; ISBN 0 334 02967 8

By all standards, Christopher Ellis, currently Principal of the Bristol Baptist College, has written a substantial, well-written and well-researched book, the fruit of his doctoral studies. It is also unusual, in that although the literature on liturgy is extensive, little has been written about worship in the Free Church (in this case, Baptist) tradition. This may be because most studies have been done on liturgical texts, and the Free Churches, until relatively modern times, have tended to steer clear of texts in favour of the freedom of the Spirit in worship. Also, many modern liturgical studies assume that celebration of the Eucharist is the norm of worship. By contrast, much Free Church worship is non-Eucharistic, and so has tended to be neglected by students of liturgy. So in this respect Ellis' book is a significant contribution to ecumenical debate.

In an important early chapter Ellis seeks to identify "the soul of Baptist worship". He describes the development of Baptist worship over the centuries, and isolates four values that, through all the changing patterns, have governed its shape: attention to Scripture; an openness to the Spirit; the church as community; and a concern for the Kingdom. This is followed by five subsequent chapters in which Ellis examines prayer and preaching, singing and the Supper, and believers' baptism, first of all from an historical perspective, and then analytically, drawing out the particular ways in which the four values are expressed in each of these different aspects of worship.

An introductory methodological chapter is also extremely important, for Ellis believes that, rather than assessing worship from the standpoint of external principles, we should see worship as "embodied theology", as an expression of the beliefs and values of the congregation. This makes his methodology overwhelmingly descriptive and analytical. It also leads to what I see as a serious shortcoming of the book.

My concern arises out of this very methodology Ellis has chosen. The trouble, it seems to me, is that he can only describe and analyse. He has no criteria for assessing the changes that have taken place in the forms of Free Church worship over the centuries. What is authentic worship and when might it become defective? This book does not tell us, nor, I believe, can it. Admittedly, in his final chapter Ellis does say that "the recognition that worship embodies theology enables us to critique particular worship in the light of the strengths and weaknesses of the theology so embodied" (p.247), but this means introducing the kind of objective, external standard for assessing worship that Ellis rules out at the beginning of the book. Furthermore, nowhere in the book does Ellis offer any critique of particular historical or contemporary forms of Baptist worship. For instance, he describes changes in Free Church worship as it moves from the early form of worship where even the Bible might be set aside in favour of the freedom of the Spirit, to the 'hymn-sandwich' form which predominated until two or three decades ago, to the more recently introduced form influenced by charismatic renewal in which a 'time of worship' (mainly the singing of worship songs) is succeeded by teaching from the Word of God, to be succeeded in turn by a 'time of ministry'. I would have dearly liked to have known what Ellis thinks about these developments in Baptist worship, but he is silent. In short, therefore, it seems to me that the book lacks an element of 'critical bite'.

However, do not let this criticism put readers off. There is no doubt that Ellis has done us a service in providing us with a magisterial study of Free Church worship that will probably become a standard work for some time to come. The production of the book is exemplary. The bibliography is extensive and impressive, and the notes (confined to a separate section at the end of the book) are also full. It is pleasing that there are separate indices for names and subjects and for biblical references. So, with the reservations I have explained above, I do warmly commend this book to readers of Ministry Today.

Philip Clements-Jewery

Workers of Wonders: a model for effective religious leadership from Scripture today

Byron L Sherwin

Rowman and Littlefield, Oxford 2004; 169pp; £16.95; ISBN 0 7425 1493 5

This is an interesting book from a Jewish academic about the role of a rabbi/minister today, but I am not clear that its main thesis matches the title.

Sherwin examines one of the major questions confronting religion today: what gives religious leaders their authority? He argues that the most influential Jewish leaders throughout history (he has a chapter on the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth) were also miracle workers. These wonder-working abilities were the medium that allowed for the message to be effectively conveyed. Only through this kind of ministry will the role and effectiveness of present day rabbis/ministers be re-established in society. In his words, "the power of the miraculous deed must precede the power of the message".

Before one assumes that he is a Jewish charismatic, it is worth looking at his final conclusions. By the power to perform miracles, he means the ability to "get things done". He describes how the role of the rabbi by the end of the 19th Century was akin to a priest's - preacher, pastor and liturgical celebrant - though today their role is linked to their fund raising and management skills.

He then goes on to describe what he means by wonder working (the work of any pastor doing an effective job surely) as helping with broken relationships, finding jobs for people, working to get government grants and helping to heal people through the power of prayer. Only the last illustration might we naturally link with 'workers of wonders'.

The religious leader is there to direct his attention to "the wonder of helping people spiritually, morally and intellectually". In this way the clergy person can recapture some of his or her stature as a religious leader.

He concludes that religious leaders need to be able to "get things done", have a close relationship with God from which people hear and accept the message.

I agree with his conclusions, but I would not call them wonder working. From this book I learned about the role of the rabbi in history, but not much that was a radical critique of our ministry as pastors today.

Julian Reindorp

Shaming The Devil - Essays in Truthtelling

Alan Jacobs

Eerdmans, 2004; £12.99 hardback; ISBN 0 8028 4894 X

Alan Jacobs is professor of English at Wheaton College, Illinois, USA. The title of this work - Shaming the Devil - is taken from Henry IV Part 1. The author sees examinations of truthfulness as the means by which the devil is exposed for the father of lies that he is. Jacobs writes in his introduction: "And because he hates his place, and wants more than anyone has ever wanted anything to assume the place of God, he is deeply grieved and shamed when truthfulness shows the world just how un-Almighty he is."

We have in this work twelve essays divided between three sections that the author has entitled: Exemplars, Explorations and Experiment. The first section - Exemplars - consists of essays on Rebecca West, W H Auden, Albert Camus, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, an examination of a poem by Linda Gregerson, and Leon Kass, along with reflections on Genesis and its wisdom. Jacobs holds these writers before us as examples of truthtelling people who explore reality in all its complexity in a way that may be called faithful to what is there.

In the second section - Explorations - Jacobs interacts with Jean Jacques Rousseau, Iris Murdoch, Wole Soyinka, Philip Pullman and Anne Carson. The purpose of the author in this section is to set up a conversation and to listen to views at odds with his Christian convictions, to face their challenges as well as to put questions of his own.

The final section - Experiment - consists of a single essay entitled 'Computer Control (the Virtues of Resistance)' and seeks to ask whether the dominance of the computer in our culture helps or hinders the pursuit of truth.

These essays are not simply pieces of English criticism. Rather they explore writers and their works with the aim of teasing out and exploring some major issue during the journey undertaken. For example, in his essay on Solzenhitsyn entitled 'the Witness', Jacobs explores the relationship between Solzenhitsyn as the artist and what he calls the political historical aspects of his work, quoting approvingly the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz: "His example is not intellectual or political or even, in the current sense of the word, moral. We have to use an even older word, a word that retains a religious overtone - a hint of death and sacrifice: witness. In a century of false testimonies, a writer becomes a witness to man."

Alan Jacobs has given us a set of thought-provoking essays and offered us an example of a Christian mind at work in its professional field. Shaming the Devil is a work that could be commended to Christians studying English literature with the purpose of encouraging them to imitate the author in bringing their Christian perspectives to bear upon their reading. Those who have an interest in writers and literature would enjoy these essays and find them stimulating and thought-provoking and ministers and clergy would benefit from Jacobs' creative examination of big issues that could enrich their preaching ministries as well as fire up imaginations. I warmly commend this work.

Charles de Lacy

Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams

Mike Higton

SCM, London 2004; 174pp; £14.99; ISBN 0 334 02941 4.

I was moved and immensely stimulated by this book about the challenge of the Gospel. Mike Higton, a university lecturer, has read the more than two million words that the present Archbishop of Canterbury has written so far. For him Williams is trying to answer one question - what difference would it make to my life if I believe that I am held in a wholly loving gaze? To believe such good news, such a Gospel will be very, very difficult, for it will demand everything. The question is not only what difference will it make to the many layers of my personality, but what difference will it make to the complex nature of the world around us?

In Higton's view, Williams arrived very early on at some kind of grasp of the central vision of God's love enacted in Jesus of Nazareth, and all his work since has been directed towards exploring and refining this basic vision. The chapter headings bear this out: Disarming Acceptance; The source of life; Cloud of witnesses; Adulthood and Childhood; Politics and Peace; Sex and the Gospel.

The criticism made of Williams is that he can appear too complex because he won't settle for simplistic answers (I am told he had to rewrite a lecture for television three times until the producers could grasp it). But again and again he holds together insights that make you rethink your own position. Writing about our relationship with people of other faiths, he says: "Christianity claims a universal significance. The Christian's vocation is to bear the question which Christ poses anywhere and everywhere, but it is the very nature of his vision that it calls us to listen as well as acting, to discovering a way forward that we could not have invented on our own." The process of mission will involve us being questioned and challenged and shaken and changed: it will involve our ongoing conversion.

One of our leading religious journalists was asked whether Williams had shot his bolt or was there more to come? She replied that he has only just begun. I found myself underlining large parts of this book. For example: "When God becomes a concrete presence in our lives in Jesus of Nazareth, our conversation with him is not one more way in which we get shaped to fit somebody else's agenda: it is our route home. God is the soil in which we grow."

With a section on further reading and a full subject and name index, this is a very satisfying read, although the price was a bit steep. This is a book to which I will return.

Julian Reindorp

Parochial Vision: the future of the English Parish

Nick Spencer

Paternoster Press, Carlisle 2004; 171 pp; £?: ISBN 184227 238 1

Nick Spencer's aim in this book is to show that the current parochial system of the Church of England is an outmoded model for worship and mission today. He traces its formation during the Middle Ages and its downfall with the advent of industrialisation and globalisation. It is no secret that the parish system is creaking, not just because of lack of financial resources and a reducing number of stipendiary clergy, but more significantly because of the greatly diminished significance of the local geographical area as a focus for anything from education to shopping, let alone worship.

The book argues for a return to the 'minster' church model of Anglo-Saxon England in which one, larger, stronger church in an area served as a focus for worship, mission and pastoral activity and to which a number of smaller churches in a given area looked for leadership and resources. Collaborative working in this manner is not far off what was advocated (and subsequently forgotten about) in the 1983 Tiller report.

I have some reservations about his conclusions. Spencer makes no apology for dealing only with the Anglican church. His principles could be applied to other denominations (the Methodist circuit for instance) and ignores what could be a very significant ecumenical dimension to his minster model. There are a number of churches, many of them evangelical, which work by design or default to this sort of pattern already and some specific examples would have helped. The analysis makes no mention of the Anglican Deanery as a unit for mission, which could fruitfully be explored.

His model is powerfully and carefully argued for and might be a valuable tool in some places. However, I suspect that in future we will have to explore a variety of ways of being church and won't be able to simply replace one model with another. It is probably only Anglicans who will read this book and they will need to do so alongside their study of the recently published Mission Shaped Church.

Chris Skilton

Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700

Diarmaid Maculloch

Allen Lane, 2003; 832pp; £25.00 hardback; ISBN 0 713 99370 7

Diarmaid Maculloch is Fellow of St Cross College Oxford and Professor of the History of the Church within the University. He is Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society. His religious background lies within the Anglican Communion, coming as he does from a long line of Scottish Episcopalian clergy. He claims not to subscribe to any form of religious dogma and invites the reader to see this as an advantage. He writes: 'historical narratives told with a confessional viewpoint lurking in the background are very likely to bend the story to fit irrelevant preconceptions.' Whether the author's secular confessionalism provides objectivity denied to religious confessionalism readers will need to decide for themselves.

The work is divided into three parts variously entitled 'A Common Culture', 'Europe Divided' and 'Patterns of Life'. In total seventeen chapters and some seven hundred pages are taken to unfold what Professor Maculloch entitles Reformation and its consequences. The dropping of the definite article from 'Reformation' is deliberate and designed to emphasise the fact that the period covered was a time of religious, political and societal change, not simply for those groups of Christians termed 'Protestants', but also for the Roman Catholic Church. Throughout this work the author teases out the subtle currents within Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, the Radical Reformers and Reformed Protestantism against the background of a complex and changing political scene. Thus the author seeks to be sensitive to theological convictions and their social and political milieu whether this be in Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Sweden Denmark, England, Scotland, Ireland and America etc.

It is the determination to take seriously both the theological convictions of people as well as the politics of the age that I particularly appreciated. To give just one example: Professor Maculloch goes to the trouble to explain to the reader the different views on the Eucharist between Protestants, views that had far reaching implications. He then also describes for us the various responses of secular authorities to the religious convictions of their populace and this could vary from outright persecution to toleration depending on both the convictions of the rulers and the political realities they confronted. As our author covers a huge terrain he sustains our interest by explaining technical terms as we go along and writing sympathetically and in an interesting way about those individuals who were particularly influential. Here we meet names we may be familiar with, such as Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Ignatius Loyola, Theresa of Avila etc.

In the final section of the work the author reflects upon a variety of social issues such as witchcraft, death, sex and family life and how these were affected or not by the various Reformations. The final chapter 'Outcomes' offers us a summary of where Europe was left as a consequence of 'Reformations' encountered from 1700 to the present day. Here Professor Maculloch touches on War, Toleration, Natural Philosophy, Judaism, and The Enlightenment. In reviewing where the Christian Church finds itself at present he emphasises the issue of authority, whether that be the authority of the Papacy or the authority of the Bible for Protestantism. Of the latter he writes: "Protestantism is faced with an equally momentous challenge to its assumptions of authority: the increasing acceptance in western societies of homosexual practice and identity as one valid and unremarkable choice among the many open to human beings. This is an issue of biblical authority.... The only alternatives are either to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this as in much else the Bible is simply wrong." From an orthodox Protestant perspective one's response is to assert that Scripture has always existed in a pluralistic milieu and what is so especially unique about present day pluralism compared, say, with the pluralistic context of ancient Israel or the Roman empire in the first century CE?

This book has rightly been described by other more qualified reviewers as magisterial and it is a work that is well worth the investment of both time and money. This is a work that is accessible to both historian and non historian alike because the author seeks to bridge the horizons of the Reformation period with our own and bears in mind the difficulties that people in the modern age may have in understanding the past. Students of the Reformation will find this an invaluable work to be read in toto or for reference purposes. Ministers and clergy will want to read this because it offers a historical context for the modern world, as well as highlighting issues that are going to remain relevant to Christian communities as the future unfolds, for example the debates about the relationship between the Church and the secular powers. At a personal level, having completed a Reformation paper at university 20 years ago, I felt as a result of reading this work I understood the period better. I also felt it offered an opportunity to get up to date with current scholarly thinking. In addition to the text, there is a full set of notes at the back of the book as well as a list of various works on relevant themes that may be turned to for further information. I would have appreciated a full bibliography in addition to the above. The work also contains a helpful set of illustrations and maps.

Charles de Lacy

Evangelical Anglicans in a Revolutionary Age: 1789-1901

Nigel Scotland

Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 2004; 457pp; £?; ISBN 1 84227 231 4

This book is an excellent read and I trust will find its way into the hands of more than just Anglicans or Evangelicals. The author follows a thematic rather than chronological approach to a century in which evangelical Anglicans often played a very significant role in church and national life and in influencing contemporary society. This approach does mean that the reader will need a basic working knowledge of British nineteenth century history in general and Anglican church history in particular.

The first chapter sets the scene for what follows and the section 'Distinctive Features of Nineteenth Century Evangelical Anglicans' provides key insights into the nature of the movement as well as a fascinating resource for comparing and contrasting with today. The themes covered include politics, social action, the Bible and theology, overseas mission, spirituality, parish life, culture and leisure and Sabbath observance: each is given full and varied treatment. Good use is made of the writings, letters and speeches of some familiar and unfamiliar protagonists of the day to illustrate the argument.

Scotland not only describes the achievements of evangelicals in each of these areas, but does not hide the way in which the movement could be difficult to live with in its controversies with other wings of the church and quaint in its attitudes to culture and Sunday observance. The final chapter evaluating the century could have been developed in more detail and readers will have to draw out for themselves the lessons for today's church.

There are very full subject and name indices. The equally full bibliography is listed alphabetically and in a future edition could be better arranged by topic to encourage further reading on particular areas of interest.

This book is thoroughly recommended.

Chris Skilton

Mission in the Gospels

R Geoffrey Harris

Epworth Press 2004; 290pp; £17.99; ISBN 0 7162 0577 7

In recent years there have been a number of books which have examined the role of each gospel writer-compiler in ordering and organising their material for a particular audience and to highlight a particular theme. Geoffrey Harris has written a useful book on the different emphasis each gospel carries on the theme of mission.

Chapter 1 is a thought-provoking examination of the way in which Jesus' ministry and early Christian mission emerged from the focus of Judaism on Temple and synagogue. The following chapters take each gospel in turn. There are relatively few surprises in the analysis: Matthew is about mission and making disciples, Mark about proclaiming the liberation of the kingdom and John finds mission expressed in the heart of the God who sent his Son who empowered his disciples in active love and service. The focus of LukeActs is in the inclusive mission of Jesus which is then entrusted to his followers. Readers will find of interest here the suggestion that Luke's gospel has a more Jewish origin and audience than is commonly argued.

Chapter 6, 'The Life and Mission of the Early Church', brings together material from all four gospels around the theme of mission rooted in Eucharist, baptism and worship of the risen Lord. Understanding from the New Testament text that mission is at the heart of the church is an important corrective to seeing it as extra events, programmes and courses which the church 'puts on'.

The final chapter, 'The Gospels and Mission Today', works less well. It is important to draw out the implications for contemporary church life from each gospel, but these would have been better placed at the end of each main chapter. I would have liked some worked examples of this too: what would a local church look like if it took seriously the Marcan message of "liberation and inner freedom, acceptance and affirmation, healing and wholeness" (p.241)?

Despite some reservations, the book is a valuable resource for those preaching and teaching from gospel passages about the mission of the church today.

Chris Skilton

Unofficial God

Brian Castle

SPCK 2004; x+164pp; £13.99; ISBN 0 281 05392 8

in this book, subtitled Voices beyond the walls, the author, who is Bishop of Tonbridge, acknowledges a variety of contemporary movements, including cell churches, dialogue with other faiths and new forms of monasticism, as some examples of God's vitality outside the walls of traditional Christianity and the Church. He recognizes that traditionally 'inside' means 'pure' and 'outside' means 'impure', but suggests that this too easy black and white categorization is challenged by the death, and also the ascension, of Christ.

The book includes some fascinating material on African theology, which is not so much systematic and verbal as expressed in singing and dancing, and on Korean 'minjung' theology, which is little known in the west.

An interesting chapter on folk religion, which, it is suggested, focuses on God rather than Christ, ends with the need for the Church to discuss with those beyond the walls the role of Christ, but instead of pursuing this further the next chapter (which seems completely out of place in the book) is about hymns!

There is a brief attempt to show that rock music addresses issues of identity and even faith, but a two-page discussion of one album by Oasis from 1995 and another by the Manic Street Preachers from 1998 scarcely scratches the surface. What about Radiohead when it comes to the identity question and U2 as a band whose songs express faith?

There are some challenging sentences, like the reference to "a church that is anxious to keep people happy rather than make them holy" (p.14) and some thought-provoking questions, such as "how far can one contextualize without losing the heart of the gospel?" (p.50).

All in all, a readable book, with some new material, that would stimulate discussion at a ministers' meeting or reading group.

John Matthews

Radical Disciples (2nd Edition)

Paul Beasley-Murray

BU Publications, Didcot, 2005; 32pp; £4.00; ISBN 0 901472 34 4

Radical Leaders (2nd Edition)

Paul Beasley-Murray

BU Publications, Didcot, 2005; 48pp; £5.50; ISBN 0 901472 63 8

It is highly frustrating when a valuable resource ceases to be available. So the reissue of Paul Beasley-Murray's Radical Disciples and Radical Leaders is to be warmly welcomed.

Radical Disciples is a course for new Christians preparing for baptism. It consists of ten different aspects of discipleship, each examining a limited number of scriptural passages around the theme, and concluding with a memory verse. At the end of the booklet is a useful 'Baptismal Check-list', and a blank page to write out a short testimony.

Radical Leaders is a guide for elders and deacons in Baptist churches, and within its 48 pages considers biblical patterns for leadership, the appointment of leaders, the importance of relationships, as well as practical issues of leadership. A particularly helpful chapter is 'Pastors Also Need Looking After'. This is a booklet to use in its entirety, to dip into, and to place firmly into the hands of elders and deacons.

Both resources are what we have come to expect from Paul. They are biblically and theologically solid, Christ-centred, full of wisdom and insight which has been forged from extensive experience, they are eminently practical and to top it all, well written and easily accessible!

These editions contain minimal changes, and in essence remain the same as before. I recommend them as tried and tested with individuals and with groups, and only ask that they continue to be available for a long time to come.

Geoff Colmer

Faith Beyond Resentment: fragments catholic and gay

James Alison

DLT, London 2001; 238+xvpp; £10.95; ISBN 0 232 52411 4

Recommendations from my spiritual director are not to be dismissed, so I bought and read this book despite the seemingly infinite collection of unread volumes which fill my shelves. I was not disappointed.

James Alison is an English Catholic theologian who has lived and worked in the USA and South America as well as in the UK. He writes well and despite being profound, the book is not a heavy read. He tells us in his introduction that he began life in a "conservative middle-class English evangelical Protestant environment". His next sentence had me hooked: "The gift of Catholic faith, which I received at the age of eighteen...... was, and is, the gift of enabling me to be wrong, and not to worry about it, of letting go of being right so as to receive being loved". Most of the ex-Catholics or non-practising Catholics of my acquaintance suffer from Catholic guilt just as much as I suffer from fundamentalist evangelical guilt! A few more snatches from the introduction served to whet my appetite. Here are some examples: " will not find a protest against the Catholic faith in these pages. Though you may find yourself sharing my amazement at how all the deepest and most resilient elements of the faith seem to point in exactly the opposite direction to that so tensely insisted on by the stewards of its formulas"; "... a story of neither protest nor of heroism. It is something much more like an unfinished journey into discovery of being"; "faith is not given us so as to enable us to 'belong to the Church', but so that we may understand and love being human."

Some of the chapters are reproductions of talks given to a variety of groups. At times this shows, but it does not detract from the freshness, originality, challenge and liberating possibilities in his approach. I rejected the possibility of giving examples from the main text here because I simply could not do justice to the riches to be found in a full reading.

James Alison's interpretation of biblical material came across to me as original, liberating, yet challenging. There are good things to ponder. Although much of his illustrative material is from the gay community and his experiences as a gay man, it is very easy to apply his theology in other contexts. No-one is exempt from the kinds of experiences he describes, or from the temptations which follow any step towards freedom from their effects. The challenge to relate fraternally to God and our fellow-humans applies to all.

You may feel from this review that this book isn't relevant to the stage you are at in your journey, but if you're a church leader you must be in contact with people who need its liberating messages. I urge you to buy it, read it, lend it.

Pat Price-Tomes

More: How you can have more of the Spirit when you already have everything in Christ.

Simon Ponsonby

Victor, 2004; £5:99; ISBN 84291 209 7

The cry for 'More, Lord', a cry that has been uttered so frequently in charismatic fellowships over the last 20 years, is one that has excited much theological debate. After all, if the Spirit was poured out once for all at Pentecost, how is it conceivable that we should want 'another Pentecost'? Indeed, so much that has gone on under the label charismatic, whether it be the Wimber teams in the 80s or the Toronto Blessing in the 90s, has undoubtedly contributed to a growing disregard for the givens of the Christian tradition, leading to a massive insecurity about what we already have in Christ. The recent song, 'There Must be More Than This' expresses well a kind of ingratitude about the central events of the gospel drama, in favour of a spirituality that has distinct traces of gnosticism within it.

However, Simon Ponsonby provides in More a superb way through the growing impasse between charismatics and evangelicals on these issues, by showing that it is possible to pray for more of the Spirit, without undermining the basic trajectory of Christian thinking. He shows us, in a well-argued exegesis of the main Spirit texts, that it is possible to be secure in Christ, whilst at the same time agitated for more of the Spirit. In short, this is a charismatic theology that does not encourage the need for another Pentecost, but instead shows us how our yearnings for ever more draughts of the Holy Spirit are located and are inherent in that first Pentecost, whereby to be in Christ is also to want to grow up into Christ.

I warmly commend Ponsonby's book. The anecdotes make it an easy read, but no less significant theologically because of that. And at £5:99 I want to say "More, Lord".

Ian Stackhouse

Before God

George W Stroup

Eerdmans, Grand Rapids/Cambridge 2004; xi+210pp; £12.99;

ISBN 0 8028 2214 2

This book's thesis is "that we live in a time when many people, including Christians in church pews and professional theologians.., no longer understand their daily lives as lived before God" (p.ix). It is based on experience of the American scene, where "a growing biblical illiteracy not just in the general public but in the churches as well" (p.199) has also been noticed. As similar trends are evident in Britain, it is relevant for us too.

'Beforeness' is the obvious focus of Chapters 1, 2, and 6, but the other three chapters "were originally given as lectures on .. the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563" (p.x) and I did not feel that they were well integrated with the overall scheme. Generally comparisons are made between Christians of the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries, and between classical and liberal interpretations. The author, a Professor of Theology, quotes extensively and the footnotes contain some useful bibliographies. However, I struggled with his use of theological jargon, and this will make it less useful to recommend to laypersons or seekers.

Although I learned several insights and useful quotations, my initial enthusiasm for the theme gradually waned as his philosophical style bogged me down. I had hoped to be uplifted by practical ideas of how to live better before God.

Alastair Aird

Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarised Debate

Nick Spencer

Paternoster, Milton Keynes, 2004; 182pp; £7.99; ISBN 1 84227 271 3

This book comes from The Jubilee Centre whose strap line, "A Biblical Vision for Public Life", expresses the intention that lies behind it. "It is important that Christians have cogent principles with which to navigate the asylum and immigration debate ... the alternative is to leave one's faith at the door of any meaningful debate" (p.154).

The first three chapters survey the current UK and international scene challenging many false impressions and clarifying both the issues and the terminology used. The central section examines biblical material that seems relevant to the issues being considered. The final chapter sets out "ten overarching principles" that the author derives from biblical material that delineates the boundaries concerning what may NOT be done regarding asylum and immigration. The book concludes with a brief but important consideration of some policy applications.

I found this book to be well written and readable. It was informative, stimulating and challenged my thinking on several issues, successfully avoiding the polarised thinking that is so common around these subjects. Asylum and immigration are issues that will dominate a large part of the political (and church) landscape for the foreseeable future. I strongly recommend this book for all who want to be helped and challenged to think biblically around these topics.

David Wise

Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens

Bernd Wannenwetsch

OUP, Oxford 2004; 402pp; £75.00; ISBN 0 19 925387 0

Bernd Wannenwetsch is a University Lecturer in Ethics in the Faculty of Theology at Oxford. This book was first published in German and is here translated by Margaret Kohl. I have no doubt that this is an important book.

The author's argument is that worship is the grammar of Christian ethics where worship is a form of life. The congregation is gathered, an assembly of Christian citizens, in praise of God who rules. So Christian ethics begins when the people of God gather to worship. As Christians worship, the congregation develops their political form of life in accordance with the Gospel. Worship leads to the formation of a community as people are grasped by the self-communication of God.

The book is a demanding read. It is written for the serious student of ethics and, in consequence, assumes some advanced knowledge of the subject. Important debates are engaged upon, with theological traditions, political philosophers and liturgists. There are clear challenges to forms of post-modernity and the almost ubiquitous hermeneutics of suspicion. There are deep insights into the nature of forgiveness as a political virtue, the possibility of creative responsibility and the forming and expressing of true consensus. Two short chapters, on homiletics and intercessory prayer were particularly helpful to this pastor.

I am sure I shall return to this book often. It is rich and deep in thought and, in consequence, the reader has to work at the task. There is nothing slick or superficial here and it certainly is not a 'how to' book shaped by the need-driven functionalism that is so prevalent. Here is a deep understanding of worship, drawing on international ecumenical resources. The biblical insights are striking. There are useful indices.

The price will probably put this out of the range of the local minister and to use the library copy will mean its loan for some months. This is unfortunate because it is a significant contribution to contemporary Christian ethics.

Brian Haymes

Christian Zionism - Road-map to Armageddon?

Stephen Sizer

IVP, Leicester 2004; 298pp; £14.99; ISBN 1 84474 050 1

Stephen Sizer is vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, tutor at the School of Theology, Oxford Brookes University, chairman of the International Bible Society (UK), Director and trustee of Highway Trust, trustee of the Amos Trust and trustee of Sabeel UK. His book is based on his recent PhD thesis, but don't be put off by that; it is easily accessible and addresses what is arguably one of the most important issues for peace and international security in today's world. I am still meeting Christians in this country who have never heard of Christian Zionism, though it is an active force here in the UK, even if not so visibly, vocally and powerfully as in the US.

IVP are to be congratulated on publishing this book in the face of opposition from the Christian Zionist lobby.

In the preface, Stephen describes briefly his journey from the Zionist convictions engendered by reading, as a young Christian, Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. Fuelled by his enthusiasm he visited the Holy Land in 1990. Despite the fact that his guide on this occasion was an ardent Zionist Messianic Jew, he began, during this visit, to experience doubts as to the validity of the Zionist position, which set him on a new journey, of which his PhD research and this book are a part.

Each of the four main chapters (The Historical Roots of Christian Zionism since 1800; The Theological Emphases of Christian Zionism; The Political Implications of Christian Zionism; and Conclusions) is helpfully divided into short sections with clear headings and sub-headings.

We meet an interesting and diverse group of characters and organisations, and a wide variety of theological positions, some of which may strike the reader as quite extraordinary. The political implications are sometimes bizarre (did you know that there are at this moment serious attempts, supported by some Christian Zionists, to breed a pure red heifer which will be part of the restoration of the Temple and its sacrifices?), sometimes quite frightening (for example, rejection of current attempts to find peace in the Middle East).

At the end of the book, there is an extensive bibliography, followed by indices of people, subjects and Biblical references.

According to Don Wagner of North Park University, Chicago: "Christian Zionism raises vital theological and political challenges that must be addressed head-on by Christians in the West, particularly evangelicals. The impact of this misguided movement is increasingly putting Christians in the Middle East at risk...".

I commend this book to all with a concern for their fellow Christians, for world peace, and for the Holy Land today.

Pat Price-Tomes

Short Notes (Paul Beasley-Murray and Alun Brookfield)

Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Paternoster, Milton Keynes, 2004; 496pp; £19.99 hardback; ISBN 1 84227 069 9) edited by Craig Bartholomew, Mary Healy, Karl Moeller and Robin Parry is the fifth volume produced by the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar, and is a collection of sixteen learned essays grouped into four sections: 'Approaches to Biblical Theology'; Great Themes of the Bible'; 'Parts of the Bible and Biblical Theology'; 'Theological Interpretation and Biblical Theology'. This is a book primarily for scholars, rather than ordinary pastors. Probably the most accessible essay is by Christopher Wright on 'Mission as a Matrix for Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology', who argues that the Bible does not just contain a number of texts that happen to provide a rationale for missionary endeavour, but that the whole Bible is itself a 'missional' phenomenon. A book perhaps to borrow.

The Stob lectures are sponsored by Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in honour of Henry J Stob, a distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Moral Theology at these two institutions. Seeking Understanding (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001; 550pp hardback; ISBN 0 8028 4939 3) is a collection of the Stob Lectures for the period 1986-1998, which range over such differing topics as 'The Making and Keeping of Commitments' by Lewis B Smedes, 'The Practices of Piety and the Practice of Medicine' by Allen D Verhey, and 'Sin or Sickness: The Problem of Human Dysfunction'. Two of the most stimulating lectures are by Martin E Marty on 'Denominations Near Century's End', the one subtitled: 'Denominations: We cannot get along with them'; and the other 'Denominations: we cannot get along without them'. In this respect, one incidental piece of information is that currently there are almost 21,000 denominations world-wide, with a present net increase of 270 new denominations each year!

For those evangelicals who tend to preach 'the cross' from Paul's letters, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark's Gospel (Apollos, IVP, Leicester 2004; 213pp; £16.99; ISBN 1 84474 049 8) by Peter Bolt, a New Testament lecturer at Moore College, Sydney, is a necessary counter-weight. As the author points out, Mark's Gospel is dominated by the cross, and has often been described as a 'passion narrative with an introduction'. This is a very stimulating book and should be bought and read by every minister considering preaching through Mark's Gospel. Don't be put off by the fact that it is an Apollos imprint, for although scholarly (the bibliography extends to 19 pages), this a very accessible study.

This Baptist reviewer was unconvinced by the underlying premise contained in Rosalind Brown's Being A Deacon Today: Exploring a distinctive ministry in the Church and in the World (Canterbury Press, Norwich 2005; 139pp; £12.99; ISBN 1 85311 626 6) because the author fails to show that the particular role which a 'deacon' plays in the Anglican church has its roots in Scripture. Nonetheless, this book has a lot of very good things and indeed challenging things to say about ministry in general. No pastor could fail to profit from reading it.

One of the great German scholars of the last century was Martin Dibelius, who for 32 years was Professor of New Testament in Heidelberg. Although New Testament scholarship has moved on since his day, his pioneering studies of the Book of Acts mean that every serious student still needs to read his work. For this reason, The Book of Acts: Form, Study And Theology (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2005; 228pp; £24.95; ISBN 0 8006 3644 9 - available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh), edited by K C Hanson, which contains a collection of eleven of his studies, is to be welcomed.

With the publication of The Message of the Trinity (IVP, Leicester 2004; 336pp; £9.99; ISBN 1 84474 048 X) by Australian Brian Edgar, preachers have yet another great resource for preaching. In the past I have tended simply to preach on the doctrine of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday, and that with some difficulty, but with this exposition of Trinity a veritable series of sermons becomes possible! Edgar begins with the explicit Trinitarian formulations found in 2 Corinthians 13.14 and Ephesians 1.3-14, and then looks at passages in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles where the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is less explicitly formulated. As with all the volumes in The Bible Speaks Today series, this book is very good value.

House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2004; 408pp; £18.95; ISBN 1 56563 812 3 - available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh) by Roger W Gehring is a deeply erudite work of scholarship, and yet accessible to ordinary ministers prepared to put their minds to reading. It is a truly fascinating book, yielding unexpected insights, for instance, into such areas as the leadership of women in the early church (I had not previously realised that one quarter of Paul's co-workers in the undisputed Pauline epistles were women). To my mind the least satisfactory part of the book is the final ten-page section in which the author addresses the house church model for today, where, for instance, Gehring quotes with approval Leonard Sweet's statement that "the best way into the post-modern home is through the family".

First published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1984, the second edition of The Empty Cross of Jesus (Eastbourne 2005; 285pp; £7.99; ISBN 1 84291 148 1) by Michael Green differs only in that there is a new four page introduction. Preachers will find this lively overview of the cross and resurrection of Jesus contains much helpful material.

Ministers running Alpha courses may be grateful for the recent series of booklets, published by Kingsway of Eastbourne in 2004, taken from Nicky Gumbel's earlier book, Questions of Life, and all priced at £1.25. The titles include: Who is Jesus? (27pp; ISBN 1 84291 197 X); Why did Jesus die? (23pp; ISBN 1 084291 198 8); and How can I make the most of the rest of my life? (23pp; ISBN 1 84291 205 4).

What could I be? A handbook on becoming more like Jesus (IVP, Leicester 2005; 297pp; ISBN 1 84474 063 3) by Peter Hicks, a Baptist minister who taught philosophy and pastoral care at the London School of Theology, is a simple guide to Christian formation. It is not a book to read from cover to cover, but home group leaders and preachers will find it a helpful resource book.

The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (IVP, Leicester 2004; 318pp; £12.99; ISBN 1 84474 054 4) is a collection of 20 essays by different authors introducing some of the foundational Puritan publications. For example, Jim Packer contributes an essay on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; Sinclair Ferguson on Flavel's The Mystery of Providence; and Steve Holmes on Edwards' Religious Affections. The first essay is a general introduction by the editors, and the 'Afterword' is an essay by Richard Lovelace on 'The puritans and spiritual renewal'. A mind-expanding read!

Numbers (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2005; 388pp; £34.99; ISBN 0 8028 2231 2) by Rolf P Knierim and George W Coats, is a specialised commentary published in The Forms of the Old Testament Literature series. It takes the reader through Numbers, unit by unit, highlighting the literary development and its original meaning. This is a book more for the student and scholar than for the preacher.

Andre LaCocque's Ruth (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2005; 187pp; £17.95 hardback; ISBN 0 8006 9515 1 - available in the UK from Alban Books of Edinburgh), one of the so-called 'Continental Commentaries', is another specialist commentary, yet readable too. The author, a retired professor of Old Testament at the Chicago Theological Seminary, argues that the Book of Ruth is a subversive document, which essentially puts love before law, or rather shows that love is seen to be the centre of the law. Ruth in this sense is reminiscent of the hermeneutic of Jesus.

First published by Blackwell in 1995 and now re-issued by Hendrickson, the two volume Dictionary of Evangelical Biography 1730-1860 (Hendrickson, Peabody, Massachusetts 2005; 1265pp; £62.95 hardback; ISBN 1 56563 835 9 - available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh) edited by Donald M Lewis was a major publishing achievement involving some 360 historians from all over the world. With over 3,500 entries, the dictionary covers not just the major figures of the period, but many less well known people.

Practising the Sacred Art of Listening: A guide to enrich your relationships and kindle your spiritual life - the Listening Center workshop (first published in the USA in 2003, but published in UK by Wild Goose Publications, Iona, 2004; 155pp; £10.99; ISBN 1 901557 90 1) by Kay Lindahl, is a welcome practical guide, with exercises, to the forgotten art of deep listening. As the author rightly reminds her readers, "Listening is not a passive activity. It's not about being quiet or even hearing the words. It is an action, and it takes energy to listen".

The Bible Speaks Today series is a great series for preachers. The Message of Exodus, sub-titled 'The days of our pilgrimage' (IVP, Leicester 2005; 327pp; ISBN 0 85111 296 X) by Alec Motyer, Keswick speaker and a former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, is no exception. Indeed, much of the material found within this popular commentary began life as sermons. This is not a technical commentary, although the footnotes make clear that the author is well-read and is aware of the issues involved. It is, however, a great tool for those wanting to expound Scripture.

Your Church Can Thrive: making the connections that build healthy congregations (Abingdon, Nashville, 2003; 118pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 687 02256 8 - available in the UK from Alban Books of Edinburgh) by Harold Percy, an Anglican minister working in Ontario, is concerned for church growth with integrity. Full of common sense and ideas which can translate to the UK context, this is one of the better North American books on church growth and could be usefully passed around the PCC or other leaders' group.

Standing up to God (SPCK, London 2005; 118pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 281 05699 4) by Anthony Phillipps, a former Oxbridge don and now public school headmaster, looks at those biblical texts which portray an apparent darkness in God's personality: Abraham commanded to sacrifice his son; Jacob wrestling with God; the psalmist asking 'Why?' and 'How long?'; Job deprived of everything; the servant figure of Isaiah; and Jesus, in the wilderness, in Gethsemane and on the Cross. Challenging statements abound: "Wherever believers take up the challenge of God's shadow side, embracing the possibility of annihilation at his hands, provided they hang on, they will in the end become more considerable people than they could ever have dared to dream"; "While God may deprive us of his presence, he never deprives us of our responsibility to respond to his absence".

Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (IVP, Leicester 2005; 252pp; £12.99; ISBN 1 84474 066 8) by E Randolph Richards, a teacher at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, USA, gives a fascinating insight into the way in which the letters of Paul came into being. Richards argues that Paul's 'secretaries' should at times be regarded as 'co-authors'. In this respect he raises the interesting question as to whether Romans was so long precisely because Paul used Tertius as his secretary. He suggests that Paul's letters probably went through multiple drafts involving editing material and even inserting pre-formed material. This is a very readable monograph and should be of interest to all ministers.

I cannot recommend highly enough The Evolution of the English Churches 1500-2000 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2003; 399pp; £18.99; ISBN 0 521 64556 5) by Doreen Rosman, who taught history at the University of Kent. The author has an unusual breadth of learning which includes a welcome sensitivity to the Free Church tradition and knowledge too of the multi-facetted 'tribes' which make up evangelicalism. Her final three chapters in which she traces developments in the period 1850-2000 are quite masterly. This is a fascinating and highly readable account of English church life, which young ministers in particular need to read in order to understand the context in which they find themselves today.

Another highly recommended book is Forgiveness and the Healing Process: A Central Therapeutic Concern (Brunner-Routledge, Hove 2004; 186pp; £16.99; ISBN 1 58391 183 9) edited by Cynthia Ransley, an agnostic, and Terri Spy, a committed Christian, is not a specifically Christian book, but rather claims to be the first British counselling or psychotherapy book. It consists of an introduction and nine separate essays: 1. Forgiveness: themes and issues; 2. Christianity, therapy and forgiveness; 3. Be cautious about forgiveness; 4. The role of forgiveness in working with couples; 5. Organisations and forgiveness: the challenge; 6. Transformation, healing or forgiveness? Assisting victims of crime through restorative practice; 7. In the aftermath of political trauma: what price forgiveness?; 8. My journey towards wholeness and forgiveness with the aid of therapy; 9. Letting go: a question of forgiveness. Most of these essays hold great interest for any minister. Furthermore, the book abounds with quotable quotes. This is a book to buy, in spite of the price!

The Seven Last Words from the Cross (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2005; 91pp; £7.99; ISBN 0 8028 2786 1 - available in the UK from Alban Books of Edinburgh) by Fleming Rutledge, described as "one of America's finest preachers", consists of revised and expanded versions of seven thoughtful meditations delivered for Good Friday. Although there is nothing novel about the approach, some busy preachers might find it a useful, but over-priced, resource.

A Handbook of the Christian Faith (SPCK, London 2005; 312pp; £10.99; ISBN 0 281 05729 X) by businessman John Schwarz was originally published in the USA under the title Word Alive, and then under the title The Compact Guide to the Christian Faith. It is a very basic introduction to the contents of the Bible, other faiths, and church history, etc., and could prove helpful to people who are very new to the Christian faith.

Preaching Parables to Postmoderns (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2005; 200pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 8006 3713 5 - available in the UK from Alban Books of Edinburgh) by Canadian evangelical Brian C Stiller, is a scholarly but practical guide to the preaching of parables today. This is a useful book at a reasonable price.

A recent addition to Oxford University Press' series on The Seven Deadly Sins is Anger (Oxford, 2005; 135pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 19 516975 1) by the American Buddhist scholar, Robert A F Thurman. This is one of the least satisfying volumes in this series, for although a good deal of attention is given to the Buddhist perspective, Thurman's treatment of the biblical material is less than adequate and at times actually wrong (for example, there is no basis for saying that "Jesus was depicted as angry by angry writers of the Gospels"). Sloth (Oxford 2005; 114pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 19 516630 2) by Wendy Wasserstein, is quite different from all the other books in this series, and is essentially a witty send-up of all self-help books.

Derek Tidball, the Principal of the London School of Theology, may not be an Old Testament scholar, but he knows how to handle the Old Testament in a scholarly fashion. Furthermore, he has pastored two churches and understands the needs of ministers. He was therefore well suited to write The Message of Leviticus (Leicester, 2004; 327pp; £9.99; ISBN 1 84474 069 2) in Inter Varsity Press' The Bible Speaks Today series. His approach is summed up in his very first sentence: "Leviticus is good news". As a result of this fresh approach Tidball makes preachable what to many seems an arcane and remote Bible book. This is a book every minister should buy.

Selling Worship: How what we sing has changed the Church (Paternoster, Milton Keynes 2005; 235pp; £9.99; ISBN 1 84227 270 5) by Pete Ward is a lively review of the changes which have taken place in evangelical worship over the past fifty years. The introductory chapter in particular repays reflection, as he describes the way in which "charismatic worship has become the default setting in most evangelical churches in Britain". He draws attention to the way in which Christian bookstores and festivals have effectively been "selling worship", and underlines the fact that "the worship scene is subject to trends, enthusiasms and fashions in much the same way as the wider culture". He makes the telling observation that the differences between groups such as Reform and charismatic evangelicals may be due less to theology than to culture. This is a book every evangelical minister should read and ponder.

"Listening is a two way street in the Christian church. Preachers are called to listen to their listeners before, during, and after they speak". Roger E Van Harn, a retired American pastor, in Preacher Can You Hear Us Listening? (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2005; 159pp; £9.99; ISBN 0 8028 2865 5 - available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh), after making this statement in his preface, then develops the theme throughout the book, making it clear that preachers, of course, also need to listen to God.

Take the Next Step: Leading Lasting Change in the Church (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2003; 168pp; £12.99; ISBN 0 687 02084 0 - available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh) by American seminary professor Lovett H Weems is a good guide to the introduction of change in the church. It abounds with quotable quotations, both by Weems himself (e.g. "Leadership is change") or by others (Martin Luther King, "Whom you would change you must first love").

An Introduction to Christianity (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004; 439pp; £15.99; ISBN 0 521 78655 X) by Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University looks at the story of the church through the lens of 'power'. The period leading up to the Reformation, for instance, is described in terms of "ascent to power", while the period of the Reformation and beyond is described as "compromises with power". In her conclusion she speaks of the story having come full circle: "It began with a religion that was marginal to social power, and it ends with a religion that has become marginal to social power once more". It is the use of this lens which makes this book so stimulating, and indeed controversial. The author wears her learning lightly, with the result that this is a highly readable book. One correction is necessary: Baptists do not baptise adults as such, but believers.

The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, the latest contribution to The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2005; 623pp; £29.95 hardback; ISBN 0 8028 2776 4) by Bruce Waltke is a massive work of scholarship and it is therefore not surprising to discover that this and the previous volume were twenty-five years in the making. Unlike many similar detailed commentaries, this commentary connects with the real world of today, and therefore can be read with benefit by preachers.

Robert Warren and Sue Mayfield's Life Attitudes (Church House Publishing, London 2004; 64pp; £3.99; ISBN 0 7151 4046 9) is a lively five-session course on the Beatitudes for Lent written for home group leaders. Thoughtful and stimulating, it is a useful tool.

The New Testament in its First Century Setting (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2004; 367pp; £29.95 hardback; ISBN 0 8028 2834 5 - available in the UK through Alban Books of Edinburgh), edited by P J Williams, Andrew D Clarke, Peter M Head and David Instone Brewer, is a collection of 21 scholarly essays on the context and background of the New Testament in honour of Bruce Winter, the warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge, on his 65th birthday. For the specialist these essays are of real interest as they bring together insights from ancient history, archaeology, papyrology and linguistics. However, this is perhaps not a book to inform and guide day to day ministry.

The very title, Scripture and the Authority of God (SPCK, London 2005; 107pp; £7.99; ISBN 0 281 05722 2) is an indication of the helpful approach which Tom (N.T.) Wright adopts to this unusually vexed issue. His central claim is that "the phrase 'authority of scripture' can only make Christian sense if it is a shorthand for the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture". The author looks at the differing ways in which the Scriptures have been treated through the centuries, before outlining his own particular stance. He concludes by encouraging a reading of Scripture that is "taught by the church's accredited leaders", but if this is to be so, then this means that bishops and other church leaders should be first and foremost not bureaucrats, but competent teachers of Scripture. Amen, say all of us!

Church House Publishing have published two excellent guides to ministry. These are The Curate's Guide: From calling to first parish (London, 2005; 152pp: £11.99; ISBN 0 7151 4016 7) edited by John Witcombe; and The Vicar's Guide: Life and ministry in the parish (London, 2005; 195pp; £14.99; ISBN 0 7151 4015 9) edited by David Ison. The latter includes thoughtful essays on continued training, self-management, mission, leadership and preaching. Although in the first instance the advice offered is for ministers in the Church of England, ministers from other denominations could also gain great benefit.

Celebrating the Word: Complete Services of the Word for use with Common Worship and the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer (Canterbury Press, Norwich 2004; 122pp; £12.99 hardback; ISBN 1 853 11607 6) compiled by Brian Mayne contains not simply orders and prayers for general occasions, but for more specific occasions too, whether it be the main festivals of the church or celebrating new ministry. Anglicans in particular will find it a useful resource.

Under the general editorship of James M Houston of Regent College, Canada, Kingsway are re-publishing abridged modern editions of a number of spiritual classics. Somewhat confusingly, the titles of these 2005 editions not only differ from the original title, but also from the former titles given to them by the Multnomah Press, who were the original publisher of these modern editions. Each of these classics has an introduction as well as a helpful readers' guide for personal or group study. Volumes appearing in this series include Watch Your Walk (originally, The Reformed Pastor. Eastbourne, 2005; 220pp; £8.99; ISBN 0 78144 173 0) by Richard Baxter with an introduction by Richard C Halverson; Faith Beyond Feelings (originally Religious Affections: A Christian's Character Before God. Eastbourne 2005; 254pp; £8.99; ISBN 0 78144 171 4) by Jonathan Edwards, with an introduction by Charles W Colson; and Triumph over Temptation (originally Sin and Temptation: The Challenge of Personal Godliness. Eastbourne, 2005; 254pp; £8.99; ISBN 0 78144 172 2).

The Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries are 'critical' commentaries intended for students and pastors. 1-2 Chronicles (Abingdon, Nashville 2004; 381pp; £23.99; ISBN 0 687 00750 X - available in the UK through Alban of Edinburgh) by Steven L McKenzie is very readable and gives a good overview of Chronicles. Each section of the commentary is divided into three: a literary, exegetical and theological analysis.

The Canterbury Church Book and Desk Diary 2006 (Norwich, 2005; 512pp; £13.10; ISBN 1 85311 1632 7) is now available, including references for the Calendar, Lectionary and Collects for Year B. A useful tool.

After the Fishermen: How Did Jesus Train His Disciples? (Paternoster, 2004; 94pp; £?; ISBN 0 900128 28 3) by Terry Young contains many good things, but it was hard work picking out the gems from the mass of unnecessary waffle and personal anecdotes. Worth buying if you've got the time to do the hard work. If not, there are more accessible books on leadership training.

By contrast, Fraser Dyer's Why Do I Do This Every Day: Finding Meaning in Your Work (Lion, 2005; 160pp; £7.99; ISBN 0 7459 5171 6) is an excellent, concise exploration of exactly what it says on the cover - how to find meaning in your work. He shows why day to day work can become tedious and unsatisfying, how to rethink your working life and how to either make the most of your current work or find something more rewarding. Well worth reading for every minister and worth having a few spare copies to lend to members of the congregation and beyond. This is not an overtly 'Christian' book, which makes it even more suitable for helping people on the fringe of the Christian faith.

When I was asked to review Bob Hartman's Telling the Bible 2 (Lion, 2005; 160pp; £6.99; ISBN 0 7459 5188 0), I read the first few pages, then rang the publishers to ask for a review copy of his Telling the Bible (Lion, 2004; 160pp; £6.99; ISBN 0 7459 5124 4). Both are superb retellings of Bible stories, complete with audience participation suggestions. Well worth having to bring the Bible alive for school assemblies, festival services, all-age worship and almost any other Bible-teaching environment you can think of.

Recent offerings from Grove of Cambridge (all 28pp, and priced at £2.75 each) include: Simple Tools for Stillness: Following the way of Jesus (Spirituality Series 91, 2005; ISBN 1 85174 586 6) by Wanda Nash which contains a series of group exercises; Mission Accompaniment: Lessons from Building Bridges of Hope (Evangelism Series 69, 2005; ISBN 1 85174 585 8) by Philip Walker, is a practical expansion of the ecumenical 'Building Bridges of Hope' mission project; The Gift of Speaking in Tongues: The Holy Spirit, the Human Spirit and the Gift of Holy Speech (Renewal 19, 2005; ISBN 1 85174 583 1) by Mark Cartledge, a somewhat uncritical presentation of this particular aspect of charismatic worship; How to... Prepare and Preach a Sermon (Worship Series 182, 2005; ISBN 1 85174 584 X) by John Waller is a brief guide to preaching, with a useful chapter on 'reflecting and learning'; and The Ethics of the Book of Revelation (Ethics 136, 2005; ISBN 1 85174 582 3) by Ian Paul, who sheds fresh light on this difficult book by raising ethical issues such as gender, violence, heterophobia and politics, and in so doing provides one of the more stimulating contributions to the Grove series.

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You are reading Book Reviews by Ministry Today Reviewers, part of Issue 34 of Ministry Today, published in June 2005.

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