Books read October 2017

BOOKS READ OCTOBER 2017

Jim Reiher:Women, Leadership and the Church, Brunswick East, Acorn Press, 2006

Jim Reiher lectured at Tabor College in Victoria for many years in New Testament and Church History and has also dabbled in Greens politics and continues to write on-line across a variety of areas.  This book was written at the height of the Women’s ordination debate in Australia and is an unashamed defence of the Biblical equality position against both complementarianism as well as those who would not accept any female leadership of men in churches.

This book is clear, well researched and I think does fairly represent opposing positions although  since I agree with Reiher’s position I am probably not in a good position to judge this. His main opponents are Wayne Grudem, Douglas Moo, David Pawson, John Piper and Thomas Schreiner…quite a formidable team!

A useful strength of this book is that in sections of the Biblical text where there is an extended series of difficult verses (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:2-17 and 1 Timothy 2:8-13) Reiher provides his own paraphrase which sums up the analysis of each difficult concept in the text and enables us to read the whole argument for meaning and logic. In both of these cases I think it can be legitimately said that the precise meaning of some of the New Testament phrases is at least contestable not to say in places perhaps beyond certain knowledge today without further background unavailable to us.

The book also contains a useful “whereto from here” chapter, clear references and footnotes and an extensive further reading guide.   4 stars.

Marcus L Loane: Hewn From the Rock:Origins and Traditions of the Church in Sydney. (The Moorhouse Lectures 1976,  Sydney, Anglican Information Office, 2000 (1976)

Marcus Loane was a much-loved and effective Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and a most able historian especially in the area of the Reformation and the history of Protestantism and Anglican evangelicalism.  This book is a relatively short account of the origins of the Anglican Church in Australia and the Pacific. The  focus is on New South Wales but it contains useful and interesting digressions regarding the formation of Christian mission in Melbourne under Bishop Charles Perry as well as foundational Christian missions in New Zealand and Tahiti.

The text contains a record of clergy in Victoria and New South Wales up to the early 1880s and much of historical interest in the development of the earliest settlement in Sydney and surrounding areas.  Marcus Loane has a particular skill in identifying the unique gifts and personality traits of individuals and his pen pictures in this book are no exception. The lives of Richard Johnson and Samuel Marsden, the first two chaplains in Botany Bay are analysed in some detail particularly in relation to their formative influences from Britain during the era of the Clapham group…Venn, Wilberforce, the Earl of Shaftesbury et al. The text highlights the extraordinary challenges facing the early proclamation of Christianity in a relatively lawless society made up of both good and bad leadership from England, soldiery (often intoxicated), convicts, struggling settlers, bushrangers, aboriginal wars and extremely limited communication with the outside world. The hardships faced by Johnson in particular make for tortuous reading.

Marcus Loane also traces the appointment and ministry of William Broughton, the colony’s first Bishop and Archbishop and his early successors Frederick Barker, Alfred Barry, William Saumarez Smith, John Charles Wright and Howard Mowll. Marcus Loane charts fairly the tensions between evangelical and Tractarian leaders and also highlights key faithful clergy and their wives whose names and stories deserve a wider audience. These are folk who, against every hardship, travelled vast distances in primitive conditions with little back up to spread the Gospel in a harsh and at times unresponsive and dangerous environment. Many gave their lives literally to establish the Anglican church in New South Wales. References to the establishment of Moore College, the Sydney Anglican Cathedral, the Grammar schools and some early and still existing Anglican churches also make interesting reading. Australia has from the start been a hard-bitten, secular and independent society with a built in distrust of privilege, cant and imposed traditions. The Christian Gospel has needed courageous, determined, spiritual and far-sighted communicators and making headway has never been easy,  It is much the same today in 2017 and this book is a reminder of how brief our cultural history has been. This is a clearly written and sobering read which also inspires.   4 stars.

David Malouf: Ransom, North Sydney, Vintage Books, 2009.

Australian David Malouf writes in a deceptively simple manner, beguiling the reader into gliding through the novel whilst at the same time gently implanting statements and ideas that stay fixed in your mind revolving around, and somehow forcing you to think very deeply about,  your own emotional and thinking life.

This story is an imaginative recreation of the final book 24 of Homer’s c700 BC epic, The Iliad.  The epic recounts the Achean hero Achilles’ exploits in the legendary Trojan War between the Greeks (Acheans) and the city of Troy which culminates in Achilles’ victory in single combat over the Trojan hero Hector, son of the ageing King Priam of Troy.  In his anger and remorse at Hector’s previous killing of his friend Patroclus Achilles had insulted the Trojans by dragging the dead body of Hector through the dust around the city wall behind his chariot and leaving it to rot unburied for eleven days. Book 24 describes Priam’s courageous decision to take an unarmed journey with a rich ransom  to Achilles’ tent  to negotiate the return of the body of his son Hector and enough truce time to enable an honourable burial for Hector.

Malouf creates an imaginary story within Homer’s story by taking one phrase from Book 24 about the cart driver (“driven by the wise Idaeus) into a moving conversation between two old men as they make the perilous journey to Achilles. This journey, protected by the god Hermes is, in Malouf’s hands,  an almost dreamlike reflection on father/child relationships, regret for past actions, and the joy and futility of life. So in answer to his counsellor Polydamas who tries to dissuade Priam from making such a foolhardy journey Malouf has Priam say: It is true that the gods made me a king, but they also made me a man, and mortal. Gave me life and all that comes with it. All that is sweet. All that is terrible too, since only what we know we must lose is truly sweet to us. The gods themselves, being eternal,  know nothing of this, and in this respect, perhaps, may envy us.  [a curious re-run of Jung’s notion in Answer to Job that God, after hearing the quality of Job’s argument about suffering, desires to become a man himself! ] With such thought provoking writing Malouf transports us into another world of our own reflection about how and why we live.  5 stars.

Helmut Thielicke: How Modern Should Theology Be?  translated by H George Anderson, London, Collins/Fontana,1970 [1967 German]

I read this little book of four sermons many years ago early in my theological studies and found it particularly clear and helpful.  Reading it again in 2017 it is still clear and helpful. Thielicke is best known for his three volumes of Ethics and his sensational collections of sermons from his many years of Sunday afternoon preaching to thousands at St Michael’s Church in Hamburg. Thielicke strikes a wonderful balance between academic theology and a simplistic reading of Scripture and throws a real challenge to thinking seekers. He faces full frontally the secularity of the likes of Albert Camus and European lostness following the Second World War including Lessing’s cry that his heart was Christian but his head was heathen. Thielicke’s famous line that the gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address has been used over and over but remains central to apologetics in our own day. Each sermon is based on two Gospel passages, one a straight reading and the other an effective and telling paraphrase. Chapter 4 on “the end of all things” is a prescient challenge and warning to Christians in the West of the persecution that will shortly come… a persecution that is now being experienced on a regular basis in 2017. On my first visit to Hamburg during a sister school interaction the Principal of the German school, knowing my interest in Thielicke took be by surprise to his grave in a beautifully kept German flowering garden cemetery. It meant a great deal to me and I often think of this man’s courage and faithfulness and his refusal to give way to any form of shoddy thinking or argument.  This is a book which can be read in ninety minutes but will repay the reader many useful hours of thinking and praying and recommitment to clear Biblical exegesis based on both prayer and scholarship. 5 stars.

Wislawa Szymborska: Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts: Seventy Poems by Wislawa Szymborska,  [Translation and Introduction by Magnus J. Krynski & Robert A Maguire], Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1981.

Reading poetry in translation is always a difficult thing. This Lockert Library edition comes with the Polish on one side and English on the other and with some very helpful notes about the meaning of particular Polish words, rhyming issues and literary references. Nevertheless reading her work, like all good poetry, requires close attention. Szymborska lived through the Nazi  terror as well as the long winter of Soviet domination in Poland and in particular, for many years, was restricted to the official Stalinist line of anti-Western socialist propaganda speech.  None of these poems are represented in this collection which contains poems written after 1957.

Several of Szymborska’s poems are preoccupied with the natural world and its amazing animal inventiveness culminating in the rather more doubtful and problematic  contribution of homo sapiens at the end of a long chain of existence with a nod to Kant ..the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me …and Pascal …Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.. [from The skeleton of a Dinosaur, p131] This evolutionary poem finishes with: What a responsibility in place of a tail… In another evolutionary tale she compares the loss of claws and flippers to the extent that ..I myself am amazed at myself, how little of me remains…and closes with ..an individual human being, for the moment of human kind,

who yesterday merely lost an umbrella in a streetcar..!

The most memorable poem for me is A Million Laughs, A Bright Hope, another poem on the evolutionary theme which begins this way:

So he wants happiness,

so he wants truth, 

so he wants eternity,

just where does he get off!

and climaxes with…

Because it seems he does exist,

and really came to be

under one of the provincial stars.

In his own way, he’s vital, quite dynamic.

Considering he’s a crystal’s sorry spawn—

he’s rather solemnly astonished.

Considering his childhood in the herd,

he’s now fairly well differentiated.

Just where does he get off!

Other wonderful poems include reflections on topics as varied as womanhood  (Born of Woman), terrorism (The Terrorist, He Watches ), travel, art, love, death, history and myth.

Reading poetry changes us and the world cannot do without poets. Here is a voice not heard very often until the publication of this translated collection and well worth the wait!  5 stars.

Alex Miller: The Passage of Love,  Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2017.

Just two years after a media interview in which Miller said he was not inclined to write another novel,  Miller, now almost 80 has found his mojo again in this deeply rewarding and thoughtful study of his own internal battle to become a writer….indeed not just a writer but, arguably in my view, Australia’s, (he was born in England but came to Australia at age 16),  most significant novelist to date including Patrick White, Geraldine Brooks, Tim Winton and Nicholas Shakespeare.

The former uneducated English farm boy, Australian jackeroo. bottle cleaner, public servant, school teacher and cattle producer was largely self taught through a vast hunger for literature, eventually putting himself through a University Arts degree. This book, with searing honesty, unerring insight, humour and deft clarity charts his struggles to achieve in writing his personal depths of human intuition, love of justice and deep yearning for loving passion, and the small number of key inspirational lovers and significant friends who inspired him to keep going.

Set in and around inner Melbourne initially but then with forays to Italy, London, Sydney, Canberra and Paris, this novel once again highlights Miller’s exceptional ability to paint a picture in words of the haunting Australian landscape, whether a run-down house in a tired part of Melbourne or the scrubby  bush of the Araluen range just out of Canberra. For any Australian who truly loves and understands the terrible and ancient beauty of Australia’s lonely and hidden outback starkness and desultory country towns Miller is the one who plumbs the meaning in that love. He is equally at home, however,  in pinpointing the joys and horrors of everyday crowded Australia”s somewhat defeated suburban and city life.

Nevertheless it is in the journey into the inner person that Miller is particularly triumphant leading the reader inevitably to ponder the depths of their own intimate thought life and psyche and to celebrate the depth and wonder of being alive against all the odds. Miller won the Miles Franklin award for The Ancestor Game (1993)  and  Journey to the Stone Country (2003)  and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the amazing Autumn Laing, (2011).  This latest novel confirms his rightful place at the head of the leader board.  5 stars and counting.

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1 Response to Books read October 2017

  1. “Reading poetry changes us and the world cannot do without poets”… 5 stars, Richard!

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