BOOKS READ RECENTLY
P T Forsyth: Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, New Creations Publications, Spotswood SA, 1993 (1907) (read and carefully analysed 2013-2016) ..detailed notes elsewhere; certainly the best book on preaching I have ever read. J K Mozley: Perhaps English Christianity’s most powerful theologian in the sphere of dogmatics. 5 stars
Phillip Henderson: William Morris: His Life, Work and Friends, Thames and Hudson, London, 1967 ( read December 2016) amazing life and work of one of the world’s most amazing creative geniuses; Yates: the most loved man in England! 5 stars
Rob Bell: Velvet Elvis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2005. (Read December 2016;) unique style aimed at mega church attendees; Clarion call for common sense theology for the C21st in so many areas; all the key ideas are there but referred to almost tangentially; 3 stars
Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night, Picador, London, 2015. (Read December 2016 )(Book club) Two single old folk who get together late at night for companionship. Heartwarming, passionate, cruel in its depiction of family stresses. 3 stars.
Roger Scruton: The Soul of the World, Princeton and Oxford. Princeton University Press, 2014. (read December 2016.) English philosopher arguing against reductionist conclusions in evolutionary psychology, cognitive dualism and neuroscience as well as nothing buttery and reductionism in aesthetics, personal identity and relationships, music, art and religion. Difficult read but a wealth of supporting data beautifully argued including deep analysis of opponents. Moves toward the the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition but not enough for many Christians and way too far for many secularist atheists. 4 stars
Aristotle, trans. J A K Thompon (1953) Ethics: with intro by Jonathan Barnes & notes by Hugh Tredennick and Preface by A C Grayling, The Folio Society, London, 2003. (Read term 3 2016 ) Difficult read in defence of virtue ethics but full of wisdom, wit, common sense and pre-Christian “Christian values” regarding the human pursuit of happiness. p121:All teaching starts by what is known; p201: A good man, if necessary, dies for his friends. p224 We ought, so far as in us lies, to put on immortality. p227: A man’s life will be happy if he acts in accordance with virtue. 4 stars
Peter Goldsworthy: Maestro, Melbourne, Angus & Robertson, 2010. (Read term 4 2016 Newhaven. ) Australian angry young man story with holocaust link. Very thin! …1 star.
Julian Barnes: A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters, (Read term 3 2016 Newhaven). Clever, annoying book with a water/Biblical/art/terrorism theme including an excursus on love and another on heaven. (his father is Jonathan Barnes ..Oxford Classics and Philosophy genius) 3 stars
Daniel Varè: The Maker of Heavenly Trousers, Penguin Books Aust, Camberwell, 2011 (1935) ( Read December 2016 ) Curious story of an Italian diplomat in China during the period before and after WW1..mixture of romance, fantasy, poetry, philosophy,Chinese and Buddhist culture…3 stars.
Michelle De Kretser: Questions of Travel, Crows Nest Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2012 ( Read December 2016); Fiction based around two characters..footloose traveller and travel writer Laura Fraser and Sri Lankan refugee to Australia, Ravi Menises. Large book, interesting reflections on travel, striking ending, 3 stars.
Richard Holloway: Leaving Alexandria, Edinburgh, Canongate,2010. (Read January 2017.) Extraordinarily honest, annoying and searching book by renegade priest, prolific author and former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church before he was encouraged to quit by a significant section of his clergy. Widely read he gives a fascinating portrait of clerical life in the C20th from within an Anglo-Catholic perspective although one senses he would like to be a “liberal charismatic evangelical”. In many ways a Christian atheist! Not a book for the faint-hearted but a useful read if only for the poetry and writers he quotes! 3 stars.
Bruno Vincent: Five Give up the Booze, London, Quercus (Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups, 2016. (Read January 2017) Quirky adult story written in Enid Blyton style with Enid Blyton presentation and illustrations. Quite funny and clever and even thoughtful in places 3 stars
Manning Clark: The Puzzles of Childhood: His Early Life, Ringwood Aust, Penguin Books, 1990 (1989). (Read January 2017) Intensely written account of his early life and family history including his complex working class clergyman father, upper class mother and brother Peter. Includes his time at Kempsey, Phillip Island, Belgrave and Melbourne Grammar as a student. Engaging, complex and funny in parts. 4 stars.
Simon Garfield: The Error World, London, Faber & Faber,2008. (Read January 2017 ) Funny, clever and engaging book about collecting. Focuses mainly on stamp collecting but many other interesting insights. Also a kind of autobiography of a writer who has ranged widely in non-fiction with books on music, time, war and history. 3 stars.
Manning Clark: The Quest for Grace, Ringwood Au, Viking, 1990.( Read January 2017) An autobiographical follow up to The Puzzle of Childhood. Stunningly honest and scarifying account of Manning’s desire for Christian grace alongside his biting and witty dismissal of his father’s stuffy Anglicanism, the smugness of the bourgeois, the attractions of sex and alcohol, his genuine love affair with socialism and a new world order and his final acceptance of the uniqueness of Australian culture against the dying European order set against the chaos of the build up and chaos of WW11; it is also the account of the birth and 25 year production of the six volume History of Australia and an amazing account of the significant students he taught and staff he taught and learned with at Geelong Grammar, Oxford, Melbourne Uni and ANU as well as the writers, art, music and travel which influenced him. According to his biographers, not always totally reliable. e.g. arriving in Germany the morning after kristallnacht. 5 stars.
Jean Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Ed., John T McNeil; trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 volumes (Volumes 20 and 21 in “The Library of Christian Classics”), Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1960. Latin title reads: The Institute of the Christian Religion, Containing almost the Whole Sum of Piety and Whatever It is Necessary to Know in the Doctrine of Salvation. A Work Very Well Worth Reading by All Persons Zealous for Piety, and Lately Published. A Preface to the Most Christian King of France, in Which this Book is Presented to Him as a Confession of Faith. Author, John Calvin, of Noyon, Basel, MDXXXVI. (Read 2014 (complete) and Book 3 again January 2017;) A big read! (1784 pages); Written initially in Latin, then in French over eight editions between 1536 and 1559. In this translation quite readable; outstanding notes and clarifications by John T McNeill. A remarkable window into the Reformation fight with the mediaeval church Councils and Papal rulings on Biblical interpretation and doctrine (including Jerome’s Vulgate) paying particular and detailed attention constantly to the failure of the doctrine of salvation by merit as well as substantial criticism of ‘The Schoolmen’ i.e. mediaeval scholars such as Aquinas, Cochleaus, Servetus, Fisher, Duns Scotus, Bonaventura, Lombard, Abelard and hundreds of other scholars, and many disputes with Luther, Erasmus and Melanchthon also. Relies heavily on Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrose and Bernard of St Clair. A clear statement of all the major Christian doctrines with detailed rebuttal of opposing arguments of the day. Calvin’s deep Renaissance knowledge of classical philosophy is evident especially Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Cicero, Seneca, Homer, Euripides, Plutarch amongst others. Wonderful treatment of prayer in Book 3. The lengthy chapters on predestination and double predestination to Hell in Book 3 in which the latter is simply treated as a mystery into which it is unprofitable and dangerous to look will not be helpful to C21st readers with the exception of those committed to a stern Reformed theology. (4 stars)
J Ross Wagner: Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, Boston/Leiden, Brill Academic, 2002( Read February 2017.) Outstanding analysis of the quotations from Isaiah in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. A book for scholars and students of Paul and Isaiah..not for beginners. Particularly interesting in relation to: (i) the importance of the Septuagint in Paul’s writing; (ii)reading and writing in the First Century of the Christian era;(iii) the audacity of Paul’s treatment of Isianic prophecies about Israel being turned into prophecies about the salvation of Gentiles; Significant debt to the work of N T Wright, Richard Hays and E P Sanders but Wagner maintains his own position with trenchant and careful argument and does not slavishly follow any of these authors. Very useful bibliography and detailed footnotes; also very helpful charts of the Isaiah quotations and allusions. ( or “echoes”..Hays) 4 stars.
Rob Bell: Love Wins: At the Heart of Life’s Big Questions, London, Collins 2012. (Read Feb 2017) A powerful follow up to Velvet Elvis (2005, see review above). This is a clearly written and Biblically researched analysis of the Christian doctrines of Heaven and Hell, the Cross and the Resurrection written in an accessible style for folk who have little or no connection with formal church. I know no better book to give to someone ‘on the edge’ of faith or in opposition to faith. Bell tackles the universalism question straight on and mounts a powerful Biblical argument that, when all the chips are down, love wins. Winning no friends in the Facebook war, (Piper et al) nevertheless Bell’s book is a transformative, helpful and deeply thought provoking read. Bell lead the Mars Hill Michigan megachurch for many years and now lives in Los Angeles and is “on the circuit” which has included an appearance on Oprah Winfrey. In his later interviews he opposes the authority of the Bible as a source of ethical authority in the church of today which leaves him stranded for most conservative Christian believers. 5 stars
Martin Ayers: Naked God: The Truth About God Exposed, Kingsford, NSW, Matthiasmedia,2010. (read Feb.2017) Probably the C21st version of Mere Christianity without the intellectual fireworks. Simply written for teenagers and young adults with up to date references. Standard solid apologetics with a modern thrust although already strangely outdated e.g. by referencing Obama rather than Trump! (the obvious danger of using dateable examples). A Useful book to give to someone on the edge but less cut than say Bell or Wright. 3 stars
N T Wright: The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion, Harper One/SPCK, San Francisco/London, 2016. (Read February 2017) A big sprawling book clearly based on a lecture series and therefore could have done with some judicious editing. (416 pages). Nevertheless it makes a powerful impact. Detailed review elsewhere; Notable for its emphasis on the narrative of the Biblical story rather than the Bible being a storehouse from which to dig out a systematic theology. Treats the crucifixion from the context of the Covenant promises to Abraham, the Old Testament narratives of exodus and exile, the prophetic call to a new covenant based on the vocation of God’s people to be the light to the nations, the narrative of the suffering servant in Isaiah, a helpful analysis of the four Gospels and three detailed chapters on Paul Including two chapters based on Romans. The book closes with two dynamic chapters and a call to arms for the church and the vocation of God’s people. In summary Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins, demonstrating the defeat of the dark powers at work in the world personified as Mammon (wealth), Mars (war) and Aphrodite (sex). At six o’clock in the evening on the first Good Friday the world was a different place…the Revolution began and continues in the faithful and suffering lives of God’s people around the world as they work with joyful politically challenging courage and holiness as the body of Christ to continue to create God’s kingdom of love, beauty and justice in the world, patiently awaiting its transformation at Christ’s return. (5 stars).
We cannot assume we are mandated to live the Christian version of a modern Western “good life”. (p 405); how easily the Western church embraces self-discovery, self-fulfilment and self-realization as if they were at the heart of the Gospel (p410) (4 stars)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon: (translated, Lucia Graves): The Shadow of the Wind, Melbourne, Text Publishing, 2004. (Read December 2016)
Clever, engaging Spanish novel involving books and who has owned and written them, arcane mystery, love, inter-generational relationships, criminality, a hint of an evil muse and a generally complex thematic structure. The “library of forgotten books” owes a substantial debt to Borges’ “The Library of Babel” in his collection Labyrinths, and there is a debt to Borges also in the labyrinthine turns of the plot. Hard to put down; a good read! (3.5 stars).
Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness, Ringwood, Penguin, 1979 (1902). Read 1967 and Feb 2017). Very short, powerful novel of a steamship captain’s recollection of a river journey in the Congo in search of ivory and a mysterious company agent gone native known as Kurtz. Stunning use of language, symbol, imagery, the most appalling sort of colonialism and perhaps a general symbol of the “dark heart” of the human situation at the start of the C20th epitomised by T S Eliot’s reprise of the line Mr Kurtz..he dead as his epigraph to his 1925 poem The Hollow Men. (5 stars)