Category : Books

Monday Encouragement–The Angel in the Cell from Elizabeth Elliot

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Books, Church History, Theology

Friday Food for Thought from Francis Spufford on why He Wrote ‘Light Perpetual’

[F]or the last twelve years, I’ve been walking to work at Goldsmiths College past a plaque commemorating the 1944 V-2 attack on the New Cross Road branch of Woolworths. Of the 168 people who died, fifteen were aged eleven or under. The novel is partly written in memory of those South London children, and their lost chance to experience the rest of the twentieth century.

But what has gone is not just the children’s present existence…It’s all the futures they won’t get, too. All the would-be’s, might-be’s, could-be’s of the decades to come. How can that loss be measured, how can that loss be known, except by laying this absence, now and onwards, against some other version of the reel of time, where might-be and could-be and would-be still may be?

–quoted by yours truly in last week’s sermon

Posted in Anthropology, Books, England / UK

Thursday food for Thought from Henri Nouwen

As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will be filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to the need to put people and things in their “right” place. To the degree that we can embrace the truth that our identity is not rooted in our success, power, or popularity, but in God’s infinite love, to that degree can we let go of our need to judge.

–Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York: Crossroads, 1994), pp.70-71

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Still More Food for Thought from Esau McCaulley

Posted in * Theology, Anthropology, Books, Race/Race Relations, Theology: Scripture

Food for Thought from Esau McCaulley

Posted in Books, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Food For Thought from Lamin Sanneh

“The west as a modern progressive society is committed to live as if God does not exist, etsi deus non daretur, or at any rate to live with no sense of the devil”

-—Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? (Eerdmans, 2003) p. 83

Posted in Books

William Reed Huntington for his Feast Day-‘Catholicity is what we are reaching after’

Dissatisfaction is the one word that best expresses the state of mind in which Christendom finds itself today. There is a wide-spread misgiving that we are on the eve of momentous changes. Unrest is everywhere. We hear about Roman Councils, and Anglican Conferences, and Evangelical Alliances, about the question of the Temporal Power, the dissolution of Church and State, and many other such like things. They all have one meaning. The party of the Papacy and the party of the Reformation, the party of orthodoxy and the party of liberalism, are all alike agitated by the consciousness that a spirit of change is in the air. No wonder that many imagine themselves listening to the rumbling of the chariot- wheels of the Son of Man. He Himself predicted that ” perplexity” should be one of the signs of His coining, and it is certain that the threads of the social order have seldom been more seriously entangled than they now are.

A calmer and perhaps truer inference is that we are about entering upon a new reach of Church history, and that the dissatisfaction and perplexity are only transient. There is always a tumult of waves at the meeting of the waters; but when the streams have mingled, the flow is smooth and still again. The plash and gurgle that we hear may mean something like this.

At all events the time is opportune for a discussion of the Church-Idea; for it is with this, hidden under a hundred disguises, that the world’s thoughts are busy. Men have become possessed with an unwonted longing for unity, and yet they are aware that they do not grapple successfully with the practical problem. Somehow they are grown persuaded that union is God’s work, and separation devil’s work ; but the persuasion only breeds the greater discontent. That is what lies at the root of our unquietness. There is a felt want and a felt inability to meet the want; and where these two things coexist there must be heat of friction.

Catholicity is what we are reaching after….

–William Reed Huntington The Church Idea (1870)

Posted in Books, Church History, Ecclesiology, Ecumenical Relations

Sunday food for Thought–Artur Weiser on Psalm 78

‘The meditation on history is here worked out in detail with an eye on the incomprehensible fact that the tribe of Joseph (v.9), the eyewitness of the mighty saving acts at the time of Moses (v.11) and the first bearer of the covenant which God made with the people at Sinai (v.10), has not remained faithful to God.’

–Artur Weiser The Psalms (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962 E.T. of 1959 German original), p. 539

Posted in Books, Theology: Scripture

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Richard R. Gaillardetz’s ‘The Cambridge Companion to Vatican II’

As Richard Gaillardetz points out in his introduction to this important work, efforts to assess the impact of Vatican II have been hindered by what he terms a Catholic version of the ‘culture wars’ with conservatives claiming the Council was pastoral and brought about no doctrinal change and radicals seeking to put the Council’s stamp of approval upon whatever policies they favour.

No one reading this book can doubt that the Council did produce significant changes in the life of the Catholic Church but that it was often able to build on developments that had already begun, not least in the work of an impressive group of German and French theologians that included such figures as Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar. The first six chapters of this book seek to set Vatican II in context and show that while Rome opposed the ‘new theology’ the picture was mixed. The encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu , for example, promulgated by Pius XII paved the way for acceptance of biblical criticism.

My main criticism of this work is that it does not seek to assess the influence of Vatican II beyond the Catholic Church or see it as a significant event in the life of the world-wide church. This is especially true of the impact of the liturgical changes it encouraged in Anglicanism and many other churches. David Turnbloom does refer to this in his chapter on liturgy, pointing to such WCC documents as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry as showing the influence of the Council.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Books, Church History, Roman Catholic

(Mockingbird) Joshua Simpson reviews Fleming Rutledge’s newest book–The Gospel, On Repeat

Rutledge repeats a cycle of sober assessment and hope — a hope that is expressly found in Christ. Readers of The Crucifixion will observe that her magnum opus really was the result of a lifelong, cruciform ministry. She reiterates Paul’s exhortation that all are unrighteous and that we must be saved by a power outside of ourselves.

[Jesus] is willing to die even for such poor specimens as you and me, covering our unrighteousness with his righteousness, offering his life to save us from death, victorious over the old Adam, the Judge judged in our place. He has compensated for our too-short list of good deeds by his one great deed.

The sermons are varied and based upon an array of scripture readings, yet more often than not Rutledge sets our gaze on the crucified and resurrected Christ. As I read through Means of Grace, I realized why I am drawn to the writings of Fleming Rutledge: she can’t stop talking about the core event that changed the history of the cosmos. My soul needs to hear the story of Christ’s death, resurrection, and future coming over and over again. I’m not sure that another self-help sermon will change my life. I am not convinced that a preacher will provide five steps to resolve my anxiety, improve my self-esteem, etc. But the problems I face, and perhaps the problems you face, seem far less daunting when nestled within God’s bigger story.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Gracious God, we offer thanks for the witness of Harriett Beecher Stowe, whose fiction inspired thousands with compassion for the shame and sufferings of enslaved peoples, and who enriched her writings with the cadences of The Book of Common Prayer. Help us, like her, to strive for thy justice, that our eyes may see the glory of thy Son, Jesus Christ, when he comes to reign with thee and the Holy Spirit in reconciliation and peace, one God, now and always. Amen.

Posted in Books, Church History, Poetry & Literature, Spirituality/Prayer

(Tablet) Robert Zaretsky–The philosophy of being good

Murdoch’s notion of the Good might seem little more than the reluctant addition of another “o” to “God”. Believers might wonder why Murdoch bothered, especially as her Platonic model did not come equipped with the standard features of the Christian model, including a personal relationship with the Maker and a warranty good for all eternity. Murdoch confessed that she herself had, at times, doubts about insisting upon the Good as our central point of reflection. Yet, she also maintained that there is something in the “serious attempt to look compassionately at human things which automatically suggests that ‘there is more than this’”.

While Murdoch acknowledged the difficulty in pinning down what this “more” is, she kept returning to the Good. Just as transcendence in religion leads to God, transcendence in morality must lead to the Good – a claim rooted not in psychology, but in reality. Convinced that goodness is a form of realism, Murdoch declares that a good person living in isolation makes no more sense than a living tree suspended in mid air. Both the tree and person need to be rooted, the one to live and the other to achieve the good. “A good man must know certain things about his surroundings, most obviously the existence of other people and their claims. The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self-aggrandising and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one.”

Just how successful, though, was Weil at this near impossible task? As she lay dying at a sanatorium in Ashford in August 1943, her tubercular lungs fatally compromised by her refusal to eat more calories than her fellow French under the German occupation, Weil’s doctors were frustrated and bewildered. But the nurses had her full attention. “How much time do you devote each day to thinking?” she would ask them. I cannot help but wonder if she ever truly saw what those nurses were attempting to do. Namely, to keep her from a death Weil perhaps thought consoling, but the nurses certainly thought tragically pointless.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

(RNS) At 71, Christian author Philip Yancey still believes in amazing grace, despite the county’s divisions

If you could talk to evangelical leaders right now or to people in the pew, what would you tell them?

I go back to that beautiful discourse in John Chapters 13 to 17, which is Jesus’ last time with his disciples. He’s turning over the whole thing to them. And they haven’t really proven themselves. In fact, they’ve proven themselves unreliable. So, what did he do? He washed their feet. And he said to them, this is your stance in the world. You’re a servant, you’re not the leaders. Then he said, you should be known by your love. And you should be known by your unity. Those three things.

Yet so often the church seems more interested in cleaning up society, you know, returning America to its pristine 1950s. That’s the myth we have — we are making America pure again, cleaning it up.

Jesus lived under the Roman Empire, Paul lived under the Roman Empire, which was much worse morally than anything going on in the United States. They didn’t say a word about how to clean up the Roman Empire, not a word. They just kind of dismissed it.

So, why are we here? Well, we’re here to form the kind of community that makes people say, ”Oh, that’s what God had in mind.” We’re here to form pioneer settlements of the kingdom of God, as N.T. Wright puts it. It’s about demonstrating to the world what the whole human experiment is about.

Let’s remember why we are here. We love people, we serve and we show them why God’s way is better. Let’s concentrate on that rather than tearing people down or rejecting them or denigrating them in some way. We’re here to bring pleasure to God. I believe we do that by living in the way God’s son taught us to live when he was on earth.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CEN) Catherine Fox–A novel view of a dysfunctional future

I now think of 2016 as a gentle warm-up routine for blogging in 2020. I had a couple of sketchy plot strands for Tales from Lindford, and the original full moon names idea. Other than that, all I had was the characters and COVID-19. But isn’t that all that any of us had last year—one another, and COVID-19? I tried to capture it all, and reflect on it; all the tiny isolated lives, like little separate screens on a Zoom call, lonely people waving at one another and longing, longing to be together again. An old hymn runs throughout the book, one I used to sing in the Baptist chapel where I grew up: ‘God be with you till we meet again.’ The novel ends on 31st December 2020 with those words.

The novel ended, but the pandemic wasn’t over…. No. Absolutely not. I stuck my fingers in my ears, and sang la-la-la, but I could hear the dreadful siren call of the blogging rollercoaster. Readers have noticed that the last two times I set out to blog a novel, I picked the worst years in living memory.Now that I’ve begun blogging Volume 5 of the Lindchester Chronicles—The Company of Heaven—what fresh hell is going to overtake us? A giant asteroid six months away, and heading towards the earth? I could end up blogging the end times of the human race. Good Lord, deliver us!

We are very small, and our lives are precarious. The pandemic has taught us that. Whatever happens in 2021, I can only continue doing what I’ve been attempting all along—to explore the glory and the tragedy of the human condition in the context of The End, and to keep my hopes fixed on the Good Lord, and the limitless possibility of deliverance.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Books, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture

Tuesday Food for Thought–Ideas that Matter: Lisa Bowens, Esau McCaulley, and Mariam Kovalishyn: “The Black Experience in Biblical Interpretation”

Watch and listen to it all.

Posted in Books, Race/Race Relations, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology: Scripture

(NYT) A 1956 review by W H Auden of J R R Tolkien’s ‘The Return of the King’

To present the conflict between Good and Evil as a war in which the good side is ultimately victorious is a ticklish business. Our historical experience tells us that physical power and, to a large extent, mental power are morally neutral and effectively real: wars are won by the stronger side, just or unjust. At the same time most of us believe that the essence of the Good is love and freedom so that Good cannot impose itself by force without ceasing to be good.

The battles in the Apocalypse and “Paradise Lost,” for example, are hard to stomach because of the conjunction of two incompatible notions of Deity, of a God of Love who creates free beings who can reject his love and of a God of absolute Power whom none can withstand. Mr. Tolkien is not as great a writer as Milton, but in this matter he has succeeded where Milton failed. As readers of the preceding volumes will remember, the situation n the War of the Ring is as follows: Chance, or Providence, has put the Ring in the hands of the representatives of Good, Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn. By using it they could destroy Sauron, the incarnation of evil, but at the cost of becoming his successor. If Sauron recovers the Ring, his victory will be immediate and complete, but even without it his power is greater than any his enemies can bring against him, so that, unless Frodo succeeds in destroying the Ring, Sauron must win.

Evil, that is, has every advantage but one-it is inferior in imagination. Good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil-hence the refusal of Gandalf and Aragorn to use the Ring-but Evil, defiantly chosen, can no longer imagine anything but itself. Sauron cannot imagine any motives except lust for domination and fear so that, when he has learned that his enemies have the Ring, the thought that they might try to destroy it never enters his head, and his eye is kept toward Gondor and away from Mordor and the Mount of Doom.

Further, his worship of power is accompanied, as it must be, by anger and a lust for cruelty: learning of Saruman’s attempt to steal the Ring for himself, Sauron is so preoccupied with wrath that for two crucial days he pays no attention to a report of spies on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, and when Pippin is foolish enough to look in the palantir of Orthanc, Sauron could have learned all about the Quest. His wish to capture Pippin and torture the truth from him makes him miss his precious opportunity.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature, Theodicy

(FT) Jo Ellison–The beauty of the unquiet mind: ‘Madness’, creativity and the post-pandemic culture

Watching The Father, the stage play of which was first produced in 2012, I found Zeller’s depiction of entrapment frighteningly familiar — he captures perfectly the horror of mindless repetition and inhabiting a quickly shrinking world. Sinéad O’Connor writes with striking clarity about the agoraphobia she now feels having spent a long period in solitude, and how despite her best efforts to try to socialise she would rather be at home. Bo Burnham ends his special by dramatising his exit from the claustrophobic space in which he has laboured for a year on his material, only to be found cringing before a spotlight when he tries to leave the door.

Ironic, maybe, that these studies of psychosis, misery and brain malfunction should have resonated far more powerfully than the clanging hoopla that is now accompanying our return to normal life. I shuddered as I read New York magazine’s exhortation on “The Return of FOMO”, a recent cover story dedicated to the return of the pre-pandemic social anxiety that you might be “missing out”.

“FOMO might have gone into hibernation for a while,” writes Matthew Schneier, “but we may now be on the way to a new golden age as we try to make up for the year we lost by doing more than ever . . . The city runs on FOMO, a connoisseurship of opportunities and possibilities; the catechism of “Did you get invited, are you on the list, can you get a table?”; the performance of plans.” Eurgh. While Sinéad O’Connor left me feeling quite euphoric, the anticipated buzz of being on the right list made me suddenly depressed.

In the US, or maybe it’s a particularly New York mindset, the pandemic is now regarded almost as old news. “Now that Covid is behind us . . . ” have read numerous emails from my US colleagues in recent weeks. America, it is assumed, has vaxxed the virus out of mind. For the more robust of constitution, we can now anticipate a #hotgirlsummer like no other. If the new underground advertising hoardings are to be believed, we will now commence a roaring summer in scenes reminiscent of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new film musical In the Heights.

For now, I’m far more comfortable in the company of outcasts.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Books, Movies & Television, Psychology

(CEN) Michael Fuller and David Jasper–Being human in the 21st century UK

Who am I? What am I? Humans have been asking these questions almost from the moment they were first capable of framing them. For the Christian, they are questions with added dimensions to them, because our faith prompts us to ask, who am I, and what am I before God, the Originator of everything that is? And those added dimensions include ethical ones, as we ask the further question: How am I to become the person that God wishes me to be?

Such reflections prompted members of the Doctrine Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church to explore how we might respond to them in our current circumstances: in short, how we might start to frame a twenty-first century Christian anthropology.

As someone who has been engaged (Michael Fuller) at different times both with scientific research and with ordained ministry in busy parishes, and who now teaches in a university in the field of science-and-religion studies, the question Who am I? is one I have been privileged to look at from a number of different perspectives as I reflect on my own experiences, and on those of the people around me. The Church, as the community of the faithful, has many wonderful resources to help people considering the question, Who am I? – from the Scriptures, to the writings of theologians, sages and mystics, to the lived experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Those lived experiences, and the internalised wisdom of our tradition, are perhaps what help us most in forming a response to the question. But it seems to me that we should not neglect the knowledge that comes from outside our tradition in shaping such responses. In particular, the sciences have generated a huge amount of knowledge about what it is to be a human being: they show us to be evolved, biological creatures, formed by our genetic heritage and by our environment to behave in particular ways.

My thoughts centre on the ways in which the sciences place parameters around how we think of ourselves as living beings, in particular when we come to think about ourselves as somehow ‘special’ within the created order (which our being in the ‘Image of God’ surely suggests). How are we to think of ourselves in such terms when we share so much genetic information with other creatures (including our prehistoric hominin ancestors)? Are there particular aspects of our behaviour that mark us out as unique – are we the only creatures on our planet capable of prayer, for example (or, indeed, of sin)? Is it likely that life forms like ourselves might exist elsewhere in the universe, and if so what would that tell us about ourselves? As we create more and more complex, and more and more capable, artificial intelligences, what does that tell us about ourselves? And what might we say regarding the possibility of a ‘post-human’ future, in which people might be genetically and cybernetically enhanced to achieve feats completely beyond those of which we are currently capable? And would such people even be ‘human’?

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books

(Evangel) Martin Goldsmith–The Genius of Roland Allen

Trust God’s Spirit. Allen accuses western missionaries of failure to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying and maturing new believers in China or Africa. He reminds his readers that the same Holy Spirit indwells these new national Christians and us. If God is at work in them, then we must assume that they, too, have all the necessary gifts for the leadership and life of the church. There is no need for us to remain in charge of everything. Allen notes that the apostle Paul did not stay unduly long in any one place, but quickly trained and taught new believers, appointed leaders and moved on. He trusted the Holy Spirit to use them and lead them, so that the church flourished and grew. Allen contrasts this apostolic pattern with contemporary systems in which many missionaries remain for many years in one place, dominate the national church and thus prevent natural development under the Spirit of god. Allen seems to be a prophet before his time, for in more recent years the charismatic renewal has taught us that all Christians have gifts for the edification of the church and, therefore, we do not need to be mere pew-dusters saying ‘amen’ to a dominant minister.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Missions, Theology

(Irish Times) Niall Ferguson–If you think we’ve just had ‘a year like no other’, you need a history lesson

It’s early in the morning in the Glasgow-born US citizen’s home in northern California, and we can hear his young children having their breakfast. Sun streams through the windows, but we’re cheerfully discussing war, famine, pestilence and death. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse gallop across the pages of Ferguson’s new book, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, but he is less concerned with the proximate causes of disasters – a mutated virus, a crop failure, a military conflict – than with the ways in which societies act to increase or mitigate the deaths that ensue.

Ferguson’s title is lifted from “We’re doomed!”, the catchphrase uttered with relish by fellow Scot Private Frazer in the classic BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. “Ultimately our relationship to death is a strange one. We’re a bit in denial about it and we’re a bit obsessed with it.” We’re particularly obsessed, he says, with mass disaster. “Because the end of the world is such an interesting idea. And yet when an actual disaster happens, we act shocked and surprised.”

In part, Doom is a rebuke to the overuse of words like “unprecedented” and phrases such as “a year like no other”. It offers a sweeping compendium of the many appalling catastrophes that have befallen us throughout human history. Covid-19 seems a bit of a damp squib by comparison.

“The perception that 2020 was a year like no other was essentially based on an ignorance of history,” Ferguson says. “The 1950s saw some pandemics that were global in scale and comparable in their impact on population. It’s just that we’ve forgotten about them.” Doom specifically compares the “Asian flu” of 1957. “In terms of excess mortality, its impact was almost exactly the same as 2020.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Health & Medicine, History

Food for Thought on Worship from a brand new book on Anglicanism

Worshiping the God who is triune makes a substantial difference to what true worship actually is. The doctrine of the Trinity means that Christian worship is a sharing in the Son’s union with his Father, through the Holy Spirit. Our union with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is the basis for this sharing of God’s people together in the divine life of God. We stand to worship God by means of the mediatory ministry of Jesus before the Father, to which we are drawn by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As our great high priest, he sanctifies us by his blood, which he himself offered. This understanding of our relationship to the triune God was in part responsible for the Reformation’s rejection of the medieval concept of priesthood—since Christ is our supreme and exclusive mediator before God. As Torrance puts it, “The doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of this participatory understanding of worship and prayer.”

–Michael P. Jensen, Reformation Anglican Worship:Experiencing Grace, Expressing Gratitude (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2021), p. 42

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books, Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Thursday Food for Thought from T H White

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn….”

–T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature, Psychology

(TLS) Marjorie Perloff reviews Louis Menand’s encyclopedic study of Cold War culture, from Pollock to Presley

Louis Menand’s panoramic portrait of the Cold War years begins with a succinct overview:

This book is about a time when the United States was actively engaged with the rest of the world. In the twenty years after the end of the Second World War, the United States invested in the economy of Japan and Western Europe and extended loans to other countries around the world. With the United Kingdom, it created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to support global political stability and international trade. It hosted the new United Nations. Through its government, its philanthropic foundations, its universities, and its cultural institutions, it established exchange programs for writers and scholars, distributed literature around the globe, and sent art from American collections and music by American composers and performers abroad. … Works of literature and philosophy from all over the world were published in affordable translations. Foreign movies were imported and distributed across the country.

The preface continues with this reminder of the Utopian efforts of the immediate postwar era, remarking on the exponential rise in college attendance, the closing of the income gap, the absence of substantive difference between the two major political parties, and the collapse of colonial empires around the world. “Most striking was the nature of the audience: people cared. Ideas mattered. Painting mattered. Movies mattered. Poetry mattered. The way people judged and interpreted paintings, movies, and poems mattered. People believed in liberty, and thought it really meant something.”

I read these words with a shock of recognition because the years in question marked my own coming of age: I graduated from high school in 1949, college in 1953, and received my PhD in 1965. I recall only too well those days when studying literature was considered an important and valuable pursuit, when – yes – ideas mattered, poetry mattered. But I also remember the downside to which Menand turns next. Soon, he suggests, the beautiful cultural dream was fading, what with McCarthyism at home and military interference abroad, the continuing dominance of white men in all spheres of life, the widening of the income gap, the commodification of culture – and a “foreign war of national independence from which [the United States] could not extricate itself for eight years”. After the sorry tale of Vietnam, large-scale disillusionment about the character and role of the US set in, both at home and abroad, even as its assured military position and dominance of the global art world remained secure.

How and why did so momentous a change occur in so short a period? The Free World does not attempt to formulate answers to this difficult question: Menand’s narrative is more descriptive than analytic.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History

(CEN) Patrick Whitworth–A new history of the English church

Writing a history of the English Church from earliest times(200AD) until the outbreak of the pandemic last year was a project which gave pause for thought. I did it for three reasons.

Firstly, it had not been done for at least forty years. As an ordinand I read a book by the Bishop of Ripon, J.R.H Moorman, entitled A History of the Church in England first published in 1963 and ending in the post WWII era. And, a little more recently David Edwards, one-time Provost of Southwark Cathedral, had published a three-volume work entitled Christian England in 1984. His work ended with WW1. So, it seemed that it was time for a new work bringing the church’s story (by which I mean all denominations and none) up to date; and at the same time extending its remit. Like them, I kept it to the English Church, not thinking myself competent to include and write about the varied histories of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Churches too.

The second reason was that in recent years there has been a great deal of interest in what it means to be English, connected of course with the political question of the destiny of England in or outside the EU. Much ink has been spilt on the meaning of being English, by the likes of Jeremy Paxman The English or the historian Robert Tombs The English and Their History, Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain and A.N.Wilson’s Our Times . Given this upsurge of interest in being English I thought it timely to re-state the thesis that you cannot understand our history, our nation without understanding the profound influence of the church and of Christianity on it, and, to be more explicit, the teaching and life of Jesus.

Indeed, it was a monk, the Venerable Bede, who first gave the name English to the Saxon kingdoms. And over time, Vikings, Norman French, the Huguenots, the Irish and Jews would be added to the mix before 20thcentury immigration got going: while the Celts would be pushed to the West (Wales), and South West of Scotland marching with the Picts. And even now, as a nation goes to the polls (on so called Super Thursday), we can see the delineation of these ethnic groupings today. But to understand the English you must understand the history of the church in this nation: the illumination and coherence it brought to a group of warring Saxon kingdoms; as well its struggles, its sins, its failures, its aspirations and its deep divergences which can be very hard to understand. In all this we have recently been vividly helped by Tom Holland’s Dominion which demonstrates, from a shrewd and sympathetic observer, the profound and seemingly permanent shaping of our national life by Jesus of Nazareth.

The third reason for writing is that, as an historian of some academic training, I have been around the subject for fifty years since degrees in history and theology from Oxford and Durham- reading up since then some four hundred titles on English history whilst working for forty years as a stipendiary clergyman in suburban, urban, rural and Urban Priority parishes….

Read it all and you can read more about the author there.

Posted in Books, Church History, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, History, Religion & Culture

The Astonishing Witness of the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 2006

The sleepless grandfather of the two slain sisters was walking by the schoolhouse, reflecting on his loss…

a little…

Posted by Kendall Harmon on Sunday, May 9, 2021

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, America/U.S.A., Books, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Theology, Violence

John Stott–The Gospel is for Everyone

“It would be hard to imagine a more disparate group than the business woman, the slave girl and the [jailer]. Racially, socially and psychologically they were worlds apart. Yet all three were changed by the same gospel and were welcomed into the same church …It is wonderful to observe in Philippi both the universal appeal of the gospel (that it could reach such a wide diversity of people) and its unifying effect (that it could bind them together in God’s family) … The wealthy business woman, the exploited slave girl and the rough Roman [jailer] had been brought into a brotherly or sisterly relationship with each other and with the rest of the church … We too, who live in an era of social disintegration, need to exhibit the unifying power of the gospel.”

–John Stott, The Spirit the Church and the World: The Message of Acts (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVaristy, 1990),p.270, quoted by yours truly in the morning sermon

Posted in Books, Ecclesiology, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Tim Keller reviews Samuel L. Perry and Andrew Whitehead’s book ‘Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States’

White Americans are divided into almost equal numbers of Ambassadors, Accommodators, Resisters, and Rejecters. African Americans, however, are more supportive of Christian Nationalism than whites—65% of all African-Americans are Ambassadors or Accommodators, the largest proportion of any racial group. Hispanics are mainly found in the two middle, moderate groups, as are Asians and other races (41). All of this indicates that socially conservative views, and a general comfort with a Christian-influenced culture, are not positions exclusively held by white people. Many non-whites are religious, traditional, and conservative in their orientation and shy away from progressive political views that are highly negative and critical of America, its ideals, and its past.

Another surprise is that, while about 50% of the Christian nationalists are evangelicals, nearly 25% of the strong Resistors or Rejecters are also evangelicals.This shows that evangelical beliefs do not automatically cause Christian Nationalism. They can also be the basis for its rejection. Therefore, Christian Nationalism is far more “ethnic and political than it is religious” (10). It is not an inevitable or logical result of traditional, biblical beliefs. It uses the Bible selectively, mainly appropriating for America promises like 2 Chronicles 7:14 (that are given to Israel), promising prosperity if they obey their covenant with God. It ignores the Old Testament passages demanding justice for the poor and the immigrant, and it never deals with New Testament calls to love enemies and turn the other cheek.

And so Christian Nationalism “isn’t localized within [any] particular religious tradition” (13). It doesn’t arise from strongly-held Christian beliefs of a Protestant evangelical, Catholic or any other group. “In fact…religious commitment [to a particular theology] and Christian Nationalism appear to foster distinct moral worldviews that differ in critical ways” (13). That is—Christian Nationalism ignores much of Christian teaching and puts together a highly selective pastiche of biblical texts with commitments to nativism, white supremacy, and so on.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Evangelicals, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Anglican Church of Wales) Wales Pupils given pocket gospel to mark translators’ anniversary

Every child in a Church in Wales School in north-east and mid Wales is to receive a gift from the Bishop of St Asaph to celebrate the work of the Welsh Bible Translators, more than 400 years ago.

It is part of plans by the Diocese of St Asaph to mark the 400th anniversary of Edmund Prys’ 1621 translation of the Psalms into Welsh suitable for congregational singing. Prys and seven out of the eight Bible Translators were born in the Diocese of St Asaph and are commemorated by a memorial outside St Asaph Cathedral.

In partnership with the Pocket Testament League UK, a charity which promotes the distribution of St John’s Gospel, the Bishop of St Asaph has commissioned a bespoke edition of the Gospel in Welsh and English to be given to all 6,000 church school pupils. The book includes an introduction from the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron and information explaining the importance of the Bible translators.

Bishop Gregory said, “Christians believe that the Bible contains God’s message to humanity, summed up in the person of Jesus Christ. The translation of the Bible into Welsh is a remarkable story of how people can achieve something great through their joint commitment and their desire to make the story of Jesus known more widely. The story of the translation is very much part of our story too, as it is rooted here in the diocese of St Asaph.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Children, Church History, Church of Wales

(CT) Makoto Fujimura Sings with God, Carries His Cross, and Awaits the New Creation

Fujimura believes that the Crucifixion reveals this theological vision in powerful ways. As he writes, “Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, Christ’s bloodshed, becomes an entry point of faith for all of us.” Artists, he argues, are uniquely able to witness to the hope of redemption amid brokenness by letting their artistry emerge from the traumas and tragedies of living in a fallen world:

Art literally feeds us through beauty in the hardest, darkest hours. … Through this wine of New Creation we can be given the eyes to see the vistas of the New, ears to hear the footsteps of the New, even through works by non-Christians in the wider culture.

Metaphors like “new wine” are among the key ways Fujimura expresses his vision. He draws heavily on the image of soil as a regenerative space where even our brokenness can testify, over time, to new creation. And he attests to the invaluable gift of tears as expressions of sanctification and consecration.

This theme of suffering is central to the book, as it is to Fujimura’s work as a fine artist. Art and Faith gives particular focus to the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is reformed using precious metals. The result, writes Fujimura, is a work of newly created beauty, “which now becomes more beautiful and more valuable than the original, unbroken vessel.”

In many insightful moments, Fujimura relates this redemptive vision of Kintsugi to experiences of suffering in his own life.

Read it all.

Posted in Art, Books, Evangelicals, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Steve Bruce’s new book ‘British Gods: Religion in Modern Britain’

Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen, is a leading proponent of the secularisation thesis. Religion has been in decline in Britain for 150 years, he argues, and there is little reason to think this process is going to be halted. Religious believers will not find his new book a comforting read but it does have lessons to teach us. Members of the Church of England concerned with evangelism and church growth would do well to read it.

Bruce is adept at dismissing those who have argued in defence of the persistence of religion. Grace Davie has spoken of vicarious religion in which a small proportion of the population are seen as carrying out religious activities on behalf of a larger number of people who are not directly involved. The role clergy often play when disaster strikes could be seen as an example of vicarious religion but Bruce argues clergy are candidates to act as honest brokers because they no longer have religious significance. ‘Like eunuchs working in a harem,’ he writes, ‘the clergy are invited to play significant social roles because they are impotent’.

For many Christians the charismatic movement is an important sign of renewal. Bruce argues this has not brought many new members into the churches. Most of those who have been at attracted were already Christian. Only 1 per cent of those who attend Alpha courses have not at some time been regular church goers. Bruce sees dangers for Christianity in the way the charismatic movement prefers feelings over doctrine and moves away from a distinctive culture of church architecture, liturgy, dress, ritual and hymns. In some ways it represents a secularisation of Christianity. Examining New Age beliefs and practices Bruce, correctly argues, they are not widespread enough to take the place of Christianity.

When it comes to new African or West Indian churches, Bruce maintains that their language and style is too alien to enable them to be effective carriers of the gospel to the white, British population. He may have a point here but he is mistaken in arguing that church growth in London is only fuelled by the immigration. The Diocese of London has seen significant growth and John Wolfe has analysed why this has happened. David Goodhew has also written of growing churches in London and elsewhere but Bruce nowhere refers to his work.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism