John Stott: The Cross of Christ, with Study Guide, 20th Anniversary Edition, h/b, Nottingham, Inter-Varsity Press, 2011 (1986); 460 pages.  

John Stott was, for much of his ministry, Assistant Priest, then Rector and Rector Emeritus of All Souls Langham Place in London from 1945 to 1974. His international reputation developed from his founding of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and his Chairmanship of the National Evangelical Anglican Congress. He was a principal author of the 1974 Lausane Covenant. Stott’s little paperback Basic Christianity is still widely read and had significant influence. 

John Stott was a unifying force for evangelicalism and Christianity around the world through his own ministry of evangelism, public speaking and strategic planning for Gospel based ministry. In the Western world perhaps no Christian leader other than Billy Graham and Pope John Paul 11 has made a greater impact on the Christian lives of individuals than John Stott.

The Cross of Christ was Stott’s major contribution to Christian theology, written at the peak of his career. The book is not an easy read in spite of its conversational style. Whilst most Christians could write a short sentence on the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion, any further and deeper explanation of the Christ’s deliberate intention to go to Jerusalem and die and what that means for Christians living today would have few enthusiastic takers. 

Stott leaves no stone unturned as he works steadily, clearly and thoughtfully through the centrality of the Cross for Christian faith; the reason for Christ’s death at a young age; the gravity of Christian sin and the problem of forgiveness; the notion of satisfaction for sin; the self-substitution of God; the meaning of salvation; Christ’s role in the revelation of God; the question of evil and its conquest; and the importance of the Cross in living as a Christian in the C21st.

Stott gives no quarter to those who would seek a comfortable and self-satisfied Christian life. He writes: There can be no Christianity without the Cross,  (p.81) and strikingly: Jesus could not save himself AND Christians!  (p92)  Indeed on p. 333 he writes directly against “comfortable Christians”! Indeed Stott suggests that it is not possible to be faithful and popular! (p401)

In relation to suffering Stott prefers “creative suffering” to “redemptive suffering” on the grounds that there can only be one Redeemer.  He writes, channelling Paul Tournier: Suffering is not the cause of growth but it is its occasion…while suffering may not be creative in itself, we are scarcely ever creative without suffering. (p.369).

Stott comments on our sense of shame in before the Cross (p98) as well as the difficult to handle fact that God’s love is a holy love (p.105) —an idea that is not very popular in C21st theology! Stott notes that human pride can’t handle God taking the rap for us (p.191) idea expressed in the late Christopher Hitchins’ comment that the idea of God sending his Son to die for us is a horrific example of cosmic child abuse. Stott prefers Forsyth’s notion that The atonement did not procure grace, it flowed from grace. (p203)

Stott has read widely in the Church Fathers and in modern theology both liberal and evangelical. He is not afraid of controversy and he deals fairly and in detail with those who disagree with him. The book comes with a detailed bibliography, a very helpful study guide for small groups, and a useful biblical reference list. This is a book which answers the call, “know what you believe!” I warmly recommend it.

Gabriele Bartz & Eberhard König: The Louvre: Art & Architecture, Trans. Mo Croasdale, Richard Elliott, Sandra Harper and Judith Phillips, h/b, Cologne, Könemann, 2001

Living up to the exceptionally high publishing standards of this Könemann art and architecture series, art historians Bartz and König have produced a wonderfully compact, readable and exciting visual treat. The Louvre, which began its life as a fortified tower and became an ever expanding magnificent palace was opened as a museum in 1793 by Louis XV1. It’s extraordinary collection of paintings, (especially French, Old Dutch, Old German, Flemish and Dutch Baroque & Islamic ), sculpture, decorative arts, and oriental antiquities especially Oriental, Egyptian, Greek, and Etruscan is unmatched in the world, except perhaps London. 

Of course there are the renowned classics such as the Venus de Milo, the Nike of Samothrace, the Mona Lisa, David’s The Oath of the Horatii and Rubens’ Medici Cycle, but there is a seemingly endless array of galleries with palatial surroundings highlighting the quality and excitement of thousands of years of artistic endeavour.  

Many paintings and exhibits are illustrated with exceptional clarity and helpful comments and there are particularly illuminating illustrated essays on the historical development of the building, the impact of various revolutions, Napoleon’s theft of many European treasures, some of which but not all, were returned, the work of professional art thieves, and countless other stories of the life of the Louvre.  The text includes detailed biographies of the artists, explanations of the art work illustrated, historical analysis of the antiquities section, useful maps of the complex layout of the museum, a useful guide to artistic techniques, a very helpful illustrated time chart, a useful list of other works about the Louvre and a detailed index. 

The unique skill of the publishers of this series is that the presentation and explanation is not overwhelming. There is enough to excite and puzzle over but even a novice reader can get a sense of an overview of one of the world’s outstanding treasures.  Although I have visited the Louvre I now see that it would take at least ten visits to get a sense of the size and stretch of this magnificent palace and museum. It would be worth the effort!  5 stars.

Peter Carey: True Story of the Kelly Gang, h/b, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 2001  

Peter Carey

I have attempted to read several of Peter Carey’s books over the years but never managed to finish one until I read this book which is entrancing and for which Carey won the 2001 Commonwealth Writer’s Award and six other significant literary awards.

Of course Ned Kelly is an Australian icon, with his Irish Catholic background, his hatred of the “squattocracy” (the wealthy aristocracy), and the local police.  His outrageously bold exploits of stock stealing, the bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie, the murder of police, not to mention his last stand at Glenrowan have become Australian legends. After his trial for murder in Melbourne, four thousand people signed appeals for his life to be spared.  His armoured helmet is regularly on show in Melbourne and some famous films have been made of his life.

Whilst criticism is often made of Carey’s departure from “the true story” of Ned Kelly, the most that can be found against him does not amount to much. The manufactured  love affair with Mary Hearn which produced a daughter to whom he writes his “true story” has no factual basis. Neither  do  the references to some of his “gang” members as “Sons of Sieve” and practitioners of rebellion and transvestism known in C18th and C19th Ireland seem to have any basis in fact. These two elements aside, Carey has of course made up the conversations between Ned, his family members, the police and his “gang” but the narrative does not seem to stray  very widely from the known facts. 

What we are left with is a quite gruelling account of the hardships of impoverished early “selectors” in rugged north-eastern Victorian hill country, trying to scrounge a living by clearing trees and farming and coping with wealthy land owners and their land grants as well as pressure from the emerging “society” of the towns and from the not always trustworthy police. 

The reader is quickly drawn into this yarn with its swear words either bracketed with a straight line and only first and last letters or in some cases replaced by the endearing “adjectival”. Harry Power, the bushranger was the real deal, his mother’s imprisonment accurate and the account of his arrest and hanging simply and truthfully told without sentimentalism.

My  own grandfather, whom I never met, was born into a very humble wooden “shack/cottage in Katandra West and struggled to make a living as a farmer in dry and difficult conditions. A street sign called “Prideaux Street” is the only remnant of his home today.

When I was first married my wife and I lived in a small, rather damp cottage on the Broken River which at times flooded to our doorstep in North-Eastern Victoria in Kelly country.  Each day after teaching I had to cut wood for heating in very cold and wet winters and we were quite a long way from civilisation. We had one rather surly farmer and his wife as our only human contact and no telephone or internet of course. When our first child was born we were a long way from medical help and left to our own devices. Of course I had a steady job but in those days teachers were not well paid and we made shift. Nevertheless our creature comforts were a hundred times better than those faced by the impoverished Kelly family

I am sure there are more historically careful accounts of Ned Kelly’s exploits but I doubt if any of them have the vigour, intensity, and emotionally charged atmosphere of Carey’s The True Story of the Kelly Gang.  I could not put this book down.  5 stars and rising.

Roy M Prideaux:  Prideaux: A Westcountry Clan, h/b, Chichester, Phillimore & Co. Ltd, 1989

I am no fan of genealogical studies in general, although I have enormous respect for the effort and skill which goes towards the task of understanding our ancestry. My good friend Geoff Leunig has spent a significant part of his busy life exploring the origins of his surname Leunig, of European origin and has made contact with family members far and wide overseas.

Roy Prideaux, the author of Prideaux A Westcountry Clan work was born in Plymouth UK, and was a graduate in philosophy, economics and politics from Keble College in Oxford University. He had been a University College principal, a school inspector, travelled widely including a job as Principal of the Malawi Polytechnic and helped to establish a university in Malawi. In his retirement he  served on the Commission for Racial Equality and  devoted himself for ten years to mental health, community education and counselling as well as becoming a student of population studies and demography. 

This work, a labour of ten years, is an extraordinary account of the male line of the Prideaux clan which can be traced back with reasonable accuracy to John,  2nd son of Sir Roger Pridias of Orcharton, who married Joan, daughter and coheir of Gilbert Adeston who died leaving their son Giles Prideaux as their heir. Roy Prideaux argues that the 2000 or so Prideauxs which he has traced living in England by the end of the C18th can be traced back to the marriage of John Prideaux and Joan Adeston in a deed dated to 1373.  Prior to Sir Roger Pridias the name can be further traced back to Paganus de Prideaux vel Pridias, Lord of Prideaux in Luxullion near Fowey co. Cornwall before the Conquest living in Prideaux Castle, whose son died in 1122.  The name is Celtish/Norman. Obviously since the end of the C18th there has been an explosion of Prideauxs living in the UK, but also many in America, Barbados,  New Zealand, South Africa and Australia to name a few. 

The author traces his own “tribe” from Plymouth, followed by Adeston/Dartmouth/Theuborough; Bodmin/Padstow/Theuborough/Soldon under the Tudors; Plymouth/Holbeton/Luson; The thirty Stuart families/Puritan and Royalists/The Protectorate, Sects and Parties/John of Cubert and the Prideauxs of Camborne/Illogan/ St.Allen/Rutland/the Isles of Scilly and the USA; Richard of St. Issey and the Prideauxs of St. Clether/Camelford/Callington/Altarnum/Landulph/Torpoint and South east Cornwall/The Prideauxs of Barnstaple/Barbados/Dulverton/Bristol/Lydney; Dispersal in the South Hams/The Quakers and the Luson Pedigree/Ermington/Dartmouth/KIngsbridge/Totnes/Teignmouth/Bristol/Plymouth and London; and the Prideauxs of East Devon-Neverton Hall and Prideaux Place/London/the North and the clan dispersed. This is an absolutely monumental task with twenty pedigrees clearly laid out. 

What stops this book from being a catalogue of names and towns is that Roy Prideaux, the author has an insatiable appetite for a good story and an excellent knowledge of English history.  Thus the book catalogues a thousand years of history in Cornwall and Devon and the author has tried very hard to establish the role played in that history by various Prideaux families. Thus there are tales of the Black Death, marauding pirates from Normandy,  the founding of St Michael’s Mount, information from the Domesday Book, Saxon and Norman encounters, Henry 1, John 1,  the Magna Carta, Henry 111, Edward 1, socage, The Wars of the Roses, John of Gaunt, Richard 11, Wycliffe and the Lollards, the Crusades, Chaucer, the tin mining industry, piracy on the seas, sheep and wool, the gradual decline of the Prideauxs from knightly status to “gent” to commoner, Henry V, Henry V1, Henry VIII, The break up of the Monasteries, Richard Edgecumbe, Thomas Cromwell, William 1,The Reformation, militant Protestantism, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth 1, Roger Bacon, Thomas A’Beckett, Cromwell and the Puritans, Lutherans and Papists, Coverdale’s Bible, Jesuits,  Huguenots fleeing to England, epidemic diseases, Columbus, the rounding of Cape Horn, Cabot and Newfoundland, Spanish Armada, Hawkins, Drake, The Slave Trade, Institution of the Gregorian calendar, England and Scotland tensions, fierce taxation of the Irish, Barbary pirates, waste and corruption at the English court, poor laws, the Cornish language, Archbishop Laud, dominant Puritan influence, Irish massacre of 1642, execution of Charles 1, Puritans sail to America, Cromwell’s model army, Charles 11 plots, the Protectorate and Restoration, death of Cromwell, Milton, witch hunts, Titus Oates, the Plague, Fires, Dutch attacks, Earl of Shaftesbury, James 11 and the promotion of Catholicism, Monmouth’s rebel army, William of Orange and the Dutch army,  battle of Sedgemoor, small pox, transportation to the Colonies, harsh conditions of tin miners in the C18th, miserly wages, rapacious manifestations of early capitalism, the corn shortage, tuberculosis and silicosis, children dying in infance, American gold rush, English fighting in US cavalry, copper and lead mining, Cornishmen flocked to Chicago and Detroit, Prideauxs in Australia, smuggling, stamp act, workhouses, rise of extreme poverty, Jamaica annexation, political prisoners sent back to England as servants, C18th imperialism, slave trade, wool and silk trade, Napoleonic threat, Bristol- a violent and dangerous city/English/Welsh/Irish, small holder families driven to labouring, Judge Jeffries, Irish famine, canals and railways developing, advance of cotton, prostitution in London, Lord Acton exposed, emigration to Australia/Barbados/USA/New Zealand, Quakers, Walpole, Dr Johnson and much more.  Thus this book can be read comfortably by skipping through the genealogies and understanding the history of England from the point of view of an ordinary Cornish family. The bitter and harsh conditions and the constant wars and divisions look very different when seen from the point of view of the common man and not the heroes.

There are indeed a few Prideaux heroes including Edmund Prideaux of Netherton and Forde Abbey, Cromwell’s Attorney General,  Humphrey Prideaux D.D. Dean of Norwich and scholarly author of Prideaux’s Connexion between the Old and New Testaments, Edmund Prideaux, the C18th architect of Prideaux Place, and Bishop John Prideaux, Rector of Exeter College Oxford, Canon of Christchurch and Vice Chancellor of Oxford. 

My father Dick Prideaux was born in Shepparton to William Prideaux and Minnie Pressley. William’s father, my great grandfather Richard Ellis Prideaux emigrated to Australia from the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall in 1863. Richard Ellis’s forbear Stephen Prideaux moved to Tresco in the Scilly Isles from Cornwall and died there in 1784.  My own grandsons  Samuel Prideaux (son of Andrew Prideaux) and Bede Prideaux (son of David Prideaux) have the responsibility to continue an ancient line!  

This is a labour of immense proportions, told with substantial learning across a wide variety of specialisms from Economics to History to Politics and Literature.  A fine achievement indeed and a model of excellence for other genealogists.   5 stars.

Helmut Thielicke: How Modern Should Theology Be? Trans. George Anderson, p/b, USA,   Collins/Fontana, 1970 (1967)

Helmut Thielicke

I read this little book every five years or so just so I can remind myself what a remarkably clear and helpful presentation of the basic Christian faith. It is Helmut Thielicke’s second book out of a vast output to come but still I believe one of his best. Thielicke was a German priest and theologian who, although sacked by Hitler and having to flee,  managed to survive the war and became a wonderful theologian and defender of the faith in post-war Germany and in the West. His books have really helped me and it was a privilege to locate his grave when we visited Hamburg with a school group. 

Thielicke’s often quoted statement that the gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, (p.10)has stayed with me through all my years in Christian work of various kinds. He reminds us that Jesus Christ wants me totally. He wants me to belong to him with more than my conscience, my emotions, my anxieties: He wants my reason, my knowledge, and all the areas of my consciousness as well. (p15). So we have to listen to the scientist and the historian and any other expert but we must also call all knowledge into question not with human philosophy but rather by studying and understanding the depth of human misery and utter abandonment, on a criminal’s cross. This is where Christ’s love drove him, and only those who seek him in this ungodly wretchedness will find him. (P13).

I have written about this book in a previous blog so rather than analysing the four key ideas in this small but challenging book, this time around I simply want to put out there a few sentences that deeply called to me this time around.

– Modernity approaches the package of divine truth, opens it carefully and sets aside that portion of the contents which is unacceptable to him. (p.17)

We say, are you God, worthy of us? We think your truth will have to be worked over a little before it will suit our vital questions and our thinking habits! (p18)

Isn’t the history of Christianity the sum of the fatal misunderstandings which have arisen over Jesus Christ?….No human idea could have endured such attacks, amputations, and crucifixions without ending in the graveyard of intellectual history…but this is the miracle, that from this succession of conceptual graves Jesus Christ has risen again and again!  (p19)

The Gospel writers have their differences because each of them interpret the events with varying purposes. (p.29)

Modern autobiography begins with the person who came to be and then looks back and seeks the reason from the early life to the end. The Gospel writers also read the story backwards so to speak. They write about these events could not help but the history of the earthly Jesus in the light of his resurrection. (p.32)

The earliest Christians were simply incapable of depicting the history of Jesus without reference to their faith ..they are not willing to let myth replace history! (p.34)…They did not set out to write the biography of an inhabitant of Nazareth. They saw that figure in the light of the third day, when the incognito was lifted. (p35)

In this drama, no one can merely be a spectator, and reporter. They are drawn into the action and forced to participate. They must present their own confession. [p.37]

Only as a disciple do I discover who Jesus Christ is…Then, I cannot but testify…(p38)

The miracles were to show us that the created world is entrusted to him, that he can bring whatever is bungled or derailed back into line and calm the groaning of creation. (p41)

–  The Gospel writers could only write within their store of experience which is now at their disposal, including their confrontation with the living Lord. They are witnesses…the witness cannot be separated from the testimony and vice versa. He speaks personally. (p42)

– Matthew’s account is set in the midst of Jesus teaching about discipleship and following Christ the danger and insecurity. (p45)

In the sinking boat, entrust everything to him. (p46)

Jesus snatches us from the world of death and enables us to live in his peace amid the tumult….The narrative itself becomes a confession. (p47) (Jesus asks the disciples “where is your faith before he stills the waves in Matthew’s Gospel).

What will be able to exercise power over us? the cancer? the bombs? the schemers? Or is it the Lord of life and death? …Some want to see proof first — they will never see the miracle or receive the reward of faith. (p50)

– In the Gospel, history is written in a way that involves interpretation and confession. The miracle is thus no longer the cause of faith; instead it gives additional confirmation to that faith..illustrating it. [p52]

Matthew has made the miracle itself less important…it is about faith and little faith. [p53]

Jesus himself played down the call for signs and wonders…He knew that a Son of God hanging on a gallows has nothing godlike to sell and doesn’t put anything at our disposal…We go no where in faith if we are only impressed by miracles. [p54]

Our faith does not live on reports of miracles. We live on what He himself was, and is, and always will be. We believe in the Lord who performs the miracles — not in the miracles. [p55]

–  There are perils in discipleship, cf Bonhoeffer…Jesus Christ is always where we are. [p57]

No one can tell the story of the Lord without at the same time telling the story of his own life, his experience with Him. [p59]

When will the world end? is tied with Jesus’s return. [p65]   5 Stars and rising

My death is not merely a departure, but a going home. [p.68]

– When unrighteousness gets the upper hand, the love of many will grow cold. [p.70]

One day faith will see what it has believed. [p72]

Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near.  [p73]

The events of Auschwitz did not happen by chance. [p76] (Adelburt Stifter, Austrian poet]

–  A good part of our discouragement stems from our constant preoccupation with ourselves. [p79]

Those who call upon his presence here learn to know his inexhaustible riches—an to await still more.  The longer they believe, the more insatiable is their hope; the greater the fulfilments they anticipate, the less importance they put upon themselves. It is this shifting relationship between small and great, important and unimportant, which must thus be properly arranged if it is not to produce neuroses and perplexities in my life. [p80]

Preaching has primacy over theology..theology merely works back to investigate the basis of that which it has already heard proclaimed. [p85]

Every theology must be preachable. [p86]

I warmly recommend this book if you can find it.