Monday, July 03, 2017

Books read in July 2017

1. Stokesay Castle (English Heritage Guidebooks) by Henry Summerson

Excellent guide to a beautiful historic place. My one criticism is the dearth of detail on the adjacent church but it is not part of the English Heritage property. Though I am not in the habit purchasing the guide books, this property is so memorable the guide is a fitting souvenier.

2. Camino Island by John Grisham

I have read all Grisham's fiction except some of the youth market ones and this one is different from his previous work in several ways. First it is not a gripping page turner except near the end. It is not really a legal thriller in the court room drama sense. One reason I am a Grisham fan is that his Christian faith seemed to influence him in giving a less than explicit narration of sexual activity which did not loom large in the books. This has changed and not only  the portrayal of sex but its morality. But far more thought provoking are the moral questions raised by the ending. I do not want to write a spoiler but will say I am disturbed if society is now concerned more with material possessions and gain than in the punishment of criminality. For me this book does not end happily.

3. Universally Challenged: Quiz Contestants Say the Funniest Things by Wendy Roby

Sometimes one watches a quiz and marvels at the folly of ignorance of the competitors. I could better on thinks. This is a book of stupid answers. Some are laugh out loud funny. Most are sill. Sometimes one wonders as to the correct answer. It is a curate's egg of a book. Not a patch on '1066 and all that.'

4. International Presbyterian Church - Book of Church Order 5th edition 2017

If I did not give five stars to this book from our own church there would be something wrong with it or me. It is the handbook giving beliefs, procedures, structures of the IPC, the denomination founded by Francis Schaeffer in 1954. As such it is indispensable to office bearers but also informative fombers and for those enquiring about the church. There have been some alterations to the previous edition of 21015.. Exactly what they are requires some careful reading to discern them.

5. The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana by Peter Hitchens 

Published nine years ago so I would love to see a revised edition. Hitchens is a favourite, a man close to my generation and Christian heart. We can remember a different and in many ways a better more loved Britain. He starts by contrasting what someone present to observe Churchill's funeral as I was by the Aldwych in 1964, what they would have seen around our isle and how much had changed by the time of Diana's death. Even more had changed by the time I was outside St Paul's to see Thatchers cortege pass and the change has since then hasty downhill at pace. He surveys next how history is taught differently, English too. The church has lost her gospel. Hell is abolished. Television is all pervasive and influential. Marriage is devalued, the state becomes all powerful. Pornography and obscenity have been promoted, purity, chastity and fidelity dismissed. The contraceptive pill has altered sexual morality. Homosexuality has gone from peversion to promotion. The one topic he wisely does not include in the change is race and immigration for the change id about culture not ethnicity. Hitchens is a pessimist. He has cause to be. Fortunately we did not adopt a foreign currency, the euro and Brexit does give a little hope. But the root of the problem is seen to be no political butt moral . The politicians have merely given a legal medium that cultures these changes. The root cause is a rejection of Christian principle, the Christian gospel. Hitchens sees this but he is not  a preacher of the gospel, he is a journalist and author not an evangelist.  The only cure is the gospel, tackling the problem from inside out as well as going from bottom up.

6. What does the Bible really say about...? The Importance of Sundays - Iain D Campbell (Author)

This is an original approach to the observance of the fourth commandment, brief but biblical. It teaches the ordinary Christian why Sunday is special in the Christian tradition. But in the light of the passing of the author in 2017 one small correction is needed if this booklet is to be reprinted. "If we love him we will keep his commandments. (John 15:10). Christians sometimes disagree on what that means when it comes to the fourth commandment.They have no difficulty in obeying the other nine.' The last sentence would be more accurate if it read, 'They have no difficulty in understanding the meaning and application of the other nine.'  We all have difficulty obeying all ten of the commandments! Sin pervades all of life.

7. Help! I've Been Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis by Jo Johnson (Author)

A very helpful booklet for any Christian with MS, their family, friends and churches. The authors professionally qualifies in this subject for she is a Christian neuropsychologist.  First there is the story of one MS Christian. More examples would be helpful to illustrate what the author subsequently teaches; there are different ways that MS presents and develops. How to cope with diagnosis, living with MS, the question of why there is suffering and further helpful church leaders and patients are all dressed. But I have a couple of critical observations having known  well two men with MS, the most severer form, secondary progressive MS. Both died well before normal life expectancy. Neither presented symptoms of anxiety or depression when I new them. In fact the first, my uncle has a surprisingly euphoric disposition. Lastly,there inso mention of the use of drugs based on cannabis or the benefit some may find in (illegal) self-mediccation with this drug.

8. Through the British Museum with the Bible by Brian, Edwards, Clive, Anderson (2004) 

By a process of elimination, namely that the cover of my edition of 2004 is not pictured on Amazon, I deduce that my copy is the first ever edition. In reviewing it I will say that if you want to use an edition of this excellent guide in order to tour through the museum you had better purchase the latest edition for if the museum has altered the layout of its galleries since 2004 early editions maybe out of date as to museum layout if not content. The book does what it says on the cover and more. You are enabled to tour the galleries and understand their contents as they have relevance to the Bible story. In addition there are historical charts of various periods and comment as to the history of the archeology of various sites. A most informative and helpful book.

9. A Street Through Time: A 12,000-year Journey Along the Same Street by Anne Millard 

I saw this in a shop and thought it might be cheaper on Amazon. It was a bargain here and postage included I saved over £10 on this present for my grandchildren aged 6 and 10. I thought it a good way to teach real history, combining a knowledge of dates/periods with social history too. it is an excellent approach. My 10 year old grandaughter read it herself with enjoyment. I read to my six year old grandson. We did this over several days so we could really study each page and benefit from them. He enjoyed answering the questions, finding objects and activities. Changes through the centuries are well evidenced. The castle goes from a vital defence through a war ruin to present day tourist attraction as an ancient monument. A most excellent way of making history informed and enjoyable for all ages.

10. Travel with C S Lewis (Day One Travel Guides) by Ronald W Bresland  (Author)

I have read a number of Lewis biographies. This is a very concise yet comprehensive one in a series of travel guides giving a tour of the places associated with the subject. This one on Lewis is among the best in the series. I learned some facts not found in other biographies, for example Leis reaction to the snobbery of his fellow Oxford dons who detested the amateur theologian, Their attitude seems to me as much envy as an anti-christian stance, something like writers dislike of Jeffrey Archer whose success puts the efforts of his critics to shame. My one criticism is the author's seeming depiction of Lewis as having an evangelical and reformed theology. His Mere Christianity was orthodox and catholic. He was an Ulster Protestant yet his departure from evangelicalism was more theological in some points than his non-evangelical life style with pipe and beer. Where did his theology depart from evangelicalism? We are not informed. But this is a great brief biography and introduction to the man described as the most quoted Christian author of his time. It encourages me to read some of the Lewis books which I have yet to tackle.

11.  Life in Bible Times (Truth for All Time) by Timothy Cross (Author)

This is a book for the ordinary Christian who wants to be informed concerning the everyday life in Bible times for it was a world different from ours. It is not a detailed presentation for those with or taking formal theological studies. It is informative and then spiritual lessons are drawn form the aspects of life being considered. Again this is not something the trained teacher of the Bible will require for he should be able to make his own application without any unwarranted spiritualising.One positive I commend and that is the section on wine. It removes the false idea that wine was unfermented grape juice. Fermentation is a natural process and there is no evidence that it was artificially prevented in Bible times. God’s people drank alcohol but drunkenness was a sin.

12. Bradshaw's Handbook byGeorge Bradshaw

History for lovers of the railway and of Victorian Britain. You too can travel as a couch potato Portillo. Learn the ubiquity of the railways in 1863. Find the population and industries of the towns. See which hotels and buildings were there. A great resource and a pleasure to dip into. I bought it when browsing in a shop. I should have waited until I looked in Amazon and so saved money

13. As for the Saints Who Are in the Land: The Roots of the International Presbyterian Church 1954-1990 by Rev Ranald Macaulay (Author)

As the title says this account is 'THE ROOTS OF THE INTERNATIONAL
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH' (IPC)  and it is indeed - 'A personal reflection by the Rev. Ranald Macaulay'. This is not a comprehensive academic history by an outside observer or academic but the perspective   of someone involved in the IPC from its early days in Switzerland. He tells us he met Francis Schaeffer, the founder of IPC, in 1958 when he was a Cambridge undergraduate barely two years old in the faith. In 1960 he became a L'Abri worker in Huemoz and the next year he was  ordained  an IPC elder  and married Schaeffer's daughter Susan. Schaefer. 
      This reviewer too is not an outsider or academic reviewer for I met the author when an undergraduate in London in 1965 and have been involved with the Ealing congregation since its formation in 1969. So reviewer and author have been on first name terms for as long as IPC has been in England.
       The first section of the work concerns the history of Francis and Edith Schaeffer as post-war American Presbyterian missionaries sent in 1948 to work among young people in Europe. We are given the story of Shaeffer's conversion and the background of his sending denomination. The start of the ministry that became L'Abri and the IPC was no smooth passage. It is described as 'mayhem', certainly a time of great testing but one where the God of providence was weaving a special tapestry - or rather two tapestries, one para-church and one a unique Presbyterian  denomination, not linked to any particular national base as is the case generally with Reformed denominations. How these two grew together then became separate is the main story of the book but with the emphasis on IPC. 
           L'Abri gave birth to the first congregations in Switzerland, Italy and England. We are told with honesty, 'the L’Abri connection had both good and bad results. L’Abri had ‘birthed’ the church and was fully behind it, but its parental role meant that things like finances and Presbyterian distinctives were less clear than they might have been. ' Also, 'It’s worth noting here that by 1986, both the Milan and Huémoz congregations had fallen by the wayside.' Ealing had stability but not the growth seen in the Hampshire congregation which was drastically reduced when its pastor and other elders took most of the congregation out of the IPC. The presbytery had brought the issue of elders who are Baptist to a head in a congregation where the leadership no longer held tha infant baptism was of the essence of the system of doctrine taught in the confessional standards of Presbyterianism. So in 1999 a large independent congregation was formed, baptist in belief and practice while the IPC remnant was  much smaller .Our author was not involved in this having moved to Huemoz where sadly after Schaeffer’s death in 1984  division among L'Abri workers led eventually to the IPC congregation moving from the L'Abri chapel and eventually the loss of that original IPC church. Sweet and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity. When they do not we have a brief footnote. 
        In Ealing, after the 1970s there was no L'Abri work, only IPC. In Hampshire there was IPC and L'Abri. The development of Korean congregations in England came independent of L'Abri from 1978 onwards but through Pastor Kim who had been a L'Abri worker. Brief mention is given concerning the next two English congregations before the present position is given, 'the IPC now consists of 23 congregations in 4 Presbyteries. There is the British Presbytery and Korean Presbytery in the UK, the European proto-Presbytery (expecting to be established in 2016/17) and a separate Korean presbytery in Korea. These are all included within a single Synod'. I regret that no mention is made of the huge contribution which has been and is made by the Mission to the World  arm of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
      We are given the author's final thoughts and he writes, 'I have deliberately tried to make it a ‘warts-and-all’ affair'. Yes we have some of the warts which came both from the para-church/ presbyterian tension and that sometimes of personalities involved. We live in a fallen world where the only perfect church is that triumphant in heaven. IPC owes its inception to Francis Schaeffer. I regret that it was never mentioned among Schaeffer's achievements at the memorial service for our founder in London. Was that out of polite respect for the hosting Anglican church?
     Among a number of appendices the most significant is 'APPENDIX 5:INRODUCTION TO ‘THE L’ABRI STATEMENTS’  Absent are the IPC doctrinal standards.

 14.Healthy Christian Growth by Sinclair B Ferguson

The author has established a reputation as a most helpful, practical, pastoral teacher of Christian truth. This booklet is aimed at new and young Christians who will be helped by the clear teaching on what they need to grow in Christian life. Nourishment, exercise, environment and obstacles to growth are the helpful chapter divisions followed by a spiritual check up. 

15. Contending For The Truth - Papers read at the Westminster Conference 2016 

Six papers by different authors all excellent and informative teaching. In anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Luther's theses there is first, Luther and the 95 Theses then, From Wittenburg to Worms: Luther after the 95 Theses. This second paper reviews the first three books by which the new Reformation message grew to challenge the Roman church. The Puritan Doctrine of Repentance is a pastorally helpful paper full of quotable lines from Puritan authors. Does God Suffer? - addresses The Bible, Old Princeton and Divine Impassibility. Does God suffer? Is he moved ? Does he love? Anthopopathism or something more? Evangelicalism in England and Wales 1945 - 2015 looks at movement, personalities, challenges delusions and encouragement of the past half century. Lastly there is J C Ryle and Today: 'God buries his workmen but caries on His Work".

16. Ruth the Nurse by Molly Tett

This biography tells the story of a Birom girl from the Jos Plateau growing up in a small rural village after WW2. She trains as a midwife at Nom Christian Hospital, marries and has a baby daughter when her husband is killed in a motor cycle accident. According to the local custom his family takes the child from the grieving widow but she has and keeps a deathly baby boy. She move to the far north, Nguru, near the Sahara, the Niger border where she works with an expatriate doctor and trains as a nurse.

17. Bosie: Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas by Douglas Murray 

A remarkable piece of writing from a 19year old undergraduate. It is the sort of story which if fiction one would say it is too far fetched. Until I read this I only knew of Bosie in relation to Wilde and his downfall. Now I read he was one of our finest sonnet poets, reckoned by some to be on a level with the Bard himself. He was also it seems part of a line of men with mental health problems, a man whose life was changed by Christian conversion and a one man benefit show for the legal profession for he was a vexatious and persistent litigant.
Before I write more compliments I have one factual criticism. The Piedmontese were not Catholic martyrs but proto-protestants killed by a catholic army and commemorated by Milton.
One fascinating observation is that neither Wilde not Bosie were exclusively homosexual. Wilde it is said took it up as he could not afford more children with his wife. But then it would seem he preferred it to female prostitutes.When the panthers you feast with are rent boys it hardly sounds like love. Lust yes. As to Bosie I would have liked to know more of his youth before Oxford. He seems to have developed his sexual taste for boys while at school and continued thereafter with older males also, then women. His conversion to Rome gives him an aversion to sexual sin, though not as is observed the grace of forgiveness. He learns more of true conversion after he himself suffers imprisonment having tried one libel too far.
Bosie’s is a tragic life. He loses everyone’s affection save that of his mother. He had an aristocratic arrogance even claiming a better pedigree than the Prince of Wales . He had amazing courage of foolhardiness embarking on so many legal actions that might have had an outcome like Wilde’s folly suing Bosies father. He was a more fortunate fool than Wilde in that respect. It was not his homosexual acts that landed him in jail. But he also had an amazing cheek. Libel Churchill then ask him for a pension indeed. He also managed on at lest one occasion to better  a top QC, like Mashall Hall, under cross examination, Litigation was one of his sports.

My view is that he was a gifted, sad, foolish man whose religion was in the need in conflict with his sexual desires. Same sex relations were he concluded sinful, but they still seem to have been desirable. He loved, loathed and then defended Wilde. And do we have to thank Boise for Wilde’s wit in The Importance of Being Earnest - a truly great comedy?

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