Category : Books

([London] Times) Twitter will leave young illiterate, says prominent novelist Howard Jacobson

A Booker prize-winning novelist has warned that children will be illiterate within a generation, because of the devastating impact of Twitter.

Howard Jacobson said that the combination of social media and smartphones had changed the nature of communication so completely that even he — a man who once liked nothing better than to curl up with “300 densely packed pages” of a late Henry James novel — now craved interruption.

Within 20 years, “we will have children who can’t read, who don’t want to read”, he said. “I can’t read any more as much as I used to. My concentration has been shot by this bloody screen. I can’t do it now — I want space, I want white pages, light behind the page.”

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Children, Education, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology, Teens / Youth, Theology

(ERoB) Joseph Johnson reviews Peter Kreeft’s new book “Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?”

For me, Kreeft is most moving when talking about the need for Catholics and Protestants to clear away the pernicious stereotypes and caricatures that have built up over the centuries. In order to move towards reunion, he rightly urges us to really listen to each other with more depth, patience, and humility (72). When this happens, we can discover deeper levels of mutual understanding and better remember that, despite the differences, we still ultimately belong to the same Body of Christ. We may even find echoes of perspectives that we hold dear in unexpected places. Now of course, it’s true that merely listening to each other better (as necessary as that is) won’t automatically dissolve the theological issues that continue to divide Catholics and Protestants. But, Kreeft dares to hope that as we better understand one another, and seek together to follow Christ more closely, we may be surprised to find eventual healing for these areas of division (80). As evidence of this, he points to the joint Catholic-Lutheran Decree on Justification, which Kreeft is convinced shows that, “The single greatest obstacle to reunion, by far the most important religious difference between Protestants and Catholics, has essentially been overcome” (17).

The latter part of the book contains a number of longer chapters exploring some of the central issues that stand in the way of reunion, including Catholic doctrines about Mary, the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, and matters of ecclesiology. In these chapters, as in the earlier parts of the book, Kreeft’s style is personal and aimed at making the subject matter understandable for the non-specialists among us. I’ll admit that I wasn’t persuaded by all of his arguments, but I incline to think that that isn’t especially the point. If a necessary step towards ecumenical reunion is better understanding each other, then Protestants like me must value our Catholic friends enough to spend time honestly letting them explain how the issues look from their point of view, with the presuppositions they bring to the table. I think that is one of the best ways to get past simplistic misunderstandings about how the “other side” practices their faith.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ecumenical Relations, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology

In a New Yorker Article on Dying, [the late] Cory Taylor says so much if you are listening

No, I haven’t become religious; that is, I haven’t experienced a late conversion to a particular faith. If that means I’m going straight to hell when I die, then so be it. One of my problems with religion has always been the idea that the righteous are saved and the rest are condemned. Isn’t that the ultimate logic of religion’s “us” and “them” paradigm?

Perhaps it’s a case of not missing what you have never had. I had no religious instruction growing up. I knew a few Bible stories from a brief period of attendance at Sunday school, but these seemed on a level with fairy tales, if less interesting. Their sanctimoniousness put me off. I preferred the darker tones of the Brothers Grimm, who presented a world where there was no redemption, where bad things happened for no reason, and nobody was punished. Even now I prefer that view of reality. I don’t think God has a plan for us. I think we’re a species with godlike pretensions but an animal nature, and that, of all of the animals that have ever walked the earth, we are by far the most dangerous.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture

(CC) Samuel Wells–What two pastors from novels taught me about incarnational presence

God is most fully disclosed at times of our greatest distress and despair. Those people who have gotten themselves into a mess (as we all do, more frequently than we care to admit) might be called troubled. Two novels, George Eliot’s Adam Bede (Oxford University Press) and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (Picador), offer narrative accounts of pastoral presence that have helped me discern what it means to be present incarnationally with troubled people—ministry that is attentive to presence, attention, mystery, delight, participation, partnership, enjoyment, and glory.

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Posted in Books, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

Gregory Soderberg reviews John Tyson’s new book “The Great Athanasius: An Introduction to His Life and Work”

Why read Athanasius? Besides his importance for our understanding of the Christian faith, his life reads like a thriller at times, full of intrigue, last-minute escapes, and determination to follow the truth, no matter the cost. Furthermore, Athanasius (who was called the “black dwarf”) reminds us of the eminent role Africa has played in Christian history. In How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, the late Thomas Oden argued that we need to rediscover the early African church, for our sake, and for Africa’s sake. In a time of increasing racial and national tension, we need to remember the foundational contributions of early African Christians like Athanasius.

Beyond the reasons offered here, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful introduction to an earlier edition of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, which has become a classic essay in itself. In the essay, C.S. Lewis defends the “reading of old books” in a masterful way, the old book in this case being Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. We often forget that masters of writing like Lewis and Tolkien were themselves inspired by the great spiritual masters of the past, like the “Great Athanasius.” The church today desperately needs to remember its past, so that we may not lose our way in the future.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Church History, Theology

(Guardian) Shocking figures: US academics find ‘dramatic’ growth of swearing in books

Mark Twain wrote: “There ought to be a room in every house to swear in,” because “it’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that”. Today, the great American novelist might have applauded the increase in cursing, with a new study identifying a “dramatic” increase in swear words in American literature over the last 60 years.

Sifting through text from almost 1m books, the study found that “&^%$#$%” was used 678 times more often in the mid-2000s than the early 1950s, occurrences of “)*&^!@#$$%” multiplied 69 times, and “&^%$$#!@(*&” was 168 times more frequent.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Language

(WSJ) Newton the Faithful: David Davis reviews ‘Priest of Nature’ by Rob Iliffe

Mr. Iliffe, a professor of history at Oxford, documents the depth and breadth of Newton’s religious inquiry, explaining how, in thousands of manuscript pages, Newton explored the mechanics of optics and motion alongside diligent theological research. His topics were varied, covering biblical prophecy, God’s infinitude, the Incarnation, idolatry and the nature of the soul. Mr. Iliffe demonstrates how Newton pored over biblical scholarship, exhibiting a mastery of Greek as well as the chief sources on church history.

Interestingly, Newton’s study of prophecy overlapped the period of his most groundbreaking scientific work—in part because the discipline with which he approached one intensified the rigor of the other. Newton’s underlying assumption was that religious truth was itself rational, because it, like science, was an explanation of the divine order. While Newton did not use the Bible as a book of science, his science was grounded in Christian assumptions that “humans were made in the image of God” and that rational thought could provide insight into the Creator God. His interpretation of scripture developed a universal order, through which all prophecy could be understood—assumptions that also provided a framework for the mathematic system of Newton’s “Principia….”

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Posted in Books, History, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(TLS) Ian Sansom–Jane Austen, on the money

Of all Austen’s novels, Emma is perhaps the most entirely engaging, the book in which her dexterity of thought is at its most truly dexterous and her contradictory energies most thoroughly enlivening, her strong satiric impulse to emphasize the chaos of life being perfectly balanced with her novelistic impulse to pattern, to scheme and to tidy. George Henry Lewes, writing in 1852 and naming her “the greatest artist that has ever written”, understood Austen’s limits – “she has risked no failures by attempting to delineate that which she has not seen” – but correctly adjudged “Her world is a perfect orb, and vital”, and no book of Austen’s is more perfectly orb-like than Emma. It represents the yin-yang of the Austen universe.

With Emma busy projecting her fancies and fantasies onto others, even more disastrously than Catherine in Northanger Abbey, this is the novel in which Austen comes closest to a rounded presentation not only of human society but also of human consciousness. There are certainly no spasms of rapture and self-revelation of the kind one finds in, say, show-boating Charlotte Brontë, which is exactly why Brontë thought Austen “insensible” and “incomplete” (though surely G. K. Chesterton was correct, that Austen is, in fact, “stronger, sharper and shrewder”). “Anything like warmth or enthusiasm”, Brontë complained,

anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré or extravagant . . . . The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood . . . . What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study: but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentient target of death – this Miss Austen ignores.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong again. There is very little throbbing or blood rushing in Austen, but this hardly means that the passions are unknown to her, as is best displayed in Emma in the famous passage in which Emma reflects on Mr Elton’s marriage proposal:

The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable. – It was a wretched business indeed! – Such an overthrow of every thing she had been wishing for! – Such a development of every thing most unwelcome! – Such a blow for Harriet! – that was the worst of all. Every part of it brought pain and humiliation, of some sort or other; but, compared with the evil to Harriet, all was light; and she would gladly have submitted to feel yet more mistaken – more in error – more disgraced by mis-judgment, than she actually was, could the effects of her blunders have been confined to herself.

Emma here and elsewhere is most entirely herself, and the stormy sisterhood: “what she was, must be uncertain; but who she was, might be found out”.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature

(TGC) Tim Keller: The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships: A Review Article

A third line of reasoning in these volumes and others like them involves recategorization. In the past, homosexuality was categorized by all Christian churches and theology as sin. However, many now argue that homosexuality should be put in the same category as slavery and segregation. Vines writes, for example, that the Bible supported slavery and that most Christians used to believe that some form of slavery is condoned by the Bible, but we have now come to see that all slavery is wrong. Therefore, just as Christians interpreted the Bible to support segregation and slavery until times changed, so Christians should change their interpretations about homosexuality as history moves forward.

But historians such as Mark Noll (America’s God [Oxford, 2005] and The Civil War as a Theological Crisis [University of North Carolina, 2006]) have shown the 19th-century position some people took that Scripture condoned race-based chattel slavery was highly controversial and never a consensus. Most Protestants in Canada and Britain (and many in the northern U.S. states) condemned it as being wholly against the Bible. Rodney Stark (For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch Hunts, and the End of Slavery, 2003) points out that the Roman Catholic church also came out early against the African slave trade. David L. Chappell, in his history of the civil rights movement (A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, 2003), goes further. He proves that even before the Supreme Court decisions of the mid-1950s, almost no one was promoting the slender and forced biblical justifications for racial superiority and segregation. Even otherwise racist theologians and ministers couldn’t find a basis for white supremacy in the Bible.

So we see that the analogy between the church’s view of slavery and its view of homosexuality breaks down. Up until very recently, all Christian churches and theologians unanimously read the Bible as condemning homosexuality. By contrast, there was never any consensus or even a majority of churches that thought slavery and segregation were supported by the Bible. Chappell shows that even within the segregationist South, efforts to support racial separation from the Bible collapsed within a few years. Does anyone really think that within a few years from now there will be no one willing to defend the traditional view of sexuality from biblical texts? The answer is surely no. This negates the claim that the number, strength, and clarity of those biblical texts supposedly supporting slavery and those texts condemning homosexuality are equal, and equally open to changed interpretations.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Wash Post) Philip Yancey–The death of reading is threatening the soul

I am going through a personal crisis. I used to love reading. I am writing this blog in my office, surrounded by 27 tall bookcases laden with 5,000 books. Over the years I have read them, marked them up, and recorded the annotations in a computer database for potential references in my writing. To a large degree, they have formed my professional and spiritual life.

Books help define who I am. They have ushered me on a journey of faith, have introduced me to the wonders of science and the natural world, have informed me about issues such as justice and race. More importantly, they have been a source of delight and adventure and beauty, opening windows to a reality I would not otherwise know.

My crisis consists in the fact that I am describing my past, not my present. I used to read three books a week. One year I devoted an evening each week to read all of Shakespeare’s plays (Okay, due to interruptions it actually took me two years). Another year I read the major works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But I am reading many fewer books these days, and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work.

The Internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Books, History, Science & Technology

Neil Young–“Evangelical” Is Not a Political Term-a review of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald

As the wide swath of American evangelicalism becomes increasingly flattened into the Christian Right and its opponents, the vibrancy and vitality that marked the first half of The Evangelicals steadily lessens. FitzGerald devotes lengthy sections to events like Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and the 2008 Republican primaries, but such explorations highlight how much of the lived experience of modern evangelicalism is missing. Aside from Pentecostalism, evangelical worship receives scant attention yet it is significant how much the worship experience has changed for conservative Protestants over the last 50 years. Beginning with the Jesus People in the 1960s and soon spreading through the burgeoning nondenominational churches of the West Coast, contemporary Christian music (CCM) and a relaxed worship style has remade Sunday services for all evangelicals, from Southern Baptists to Anglicans. Mainline Protestants have often tut-tutted the informality of evangelical worship, but the casualization of conservative churches has helped strengthen evangelical identity in part by further underscoring the basic evangelical premise that the Christian faith is not some Sunday morning ritual but an entire way of being.

FitzGerald comments that Joel Hunter grew his Northland Church in Orlando from 200 members to 5,000 in a decade (and more than 10,000 today) “because of its worship services.” (Hunter, it should be noted, is on the national advisory board of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, which publishes this journal.) His church’s stunning rate of growth is shared by hundreds of evangelical congregations around the country over the last thirty years, but FitzGerald dwells instead on Hunter’s un-conservative politics and his “challenge [of] the Christian right,” as if that is what has made him one of the most important names in contemporary evangelicalism.

At the close of her introduction to The Evangelicals, FitzGerald writes, “the Christian right no longer dominated evangelical discourse” by 2016. It’s a throwaway line, perhaps, but an entirely revealing one. The Christian Right—nor politics in general—has never dominated evangelical discourse. Imagining so betrays an inability (or unwillingness) to fully understand the complex and varied lives of American evangelicals and, importantly, what matters most to them. Even as an author of a recent history of the Christian Right, I would still stress how low nearly all evangelicals rank politics on their list of priorities. Instead, they pray for their children’s salvation and focus on their own spiritual development. They devote themselves to running their churches and participating in community Bible studies. They volunteer with local ministries and send spare dollars to relief work in Africa. They labor each day with the tension of being in this world but not of it. Evangelicals do all of this out of the desire not only to strengthen their personal faith but also with the hope that they might make some difference in their sphere of influence, however small it might be. For evangelicals, that is the real “struggle to shape America,” and it takes place far beyond the rare moments they find themselves in a voting booth in November.

Read it all.

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

(ACNS) Launch of the new Oxford History of Anglicanism

The official launch has taken place of the first ever multi-volume history of worldwide Anglicanism to be published by a major university press.  The Oxford History of Anglicanism, in five volumes,  covers the growth of worldwide Anglicanism with more than 100 international scholars contributing. Three volumes have appeared already and a further two are due later this year.

The person who had the idea for these volumes is Professor Rowan Strong, who oversaw the whole ten year process and worked with the individual editors, as well as being the editor of the third volume.  He comes from Anglican Church of Australia, and teaches at Murdoch University in Perth.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books, Church History, Theology

(Touchstone) Bradley Anderson: Choosing the Good Portion–a review of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option

At the heart of Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is a belief that the culture war is over and traditional Christianity has lost, decisively and permanently (for the practical purposes of anyone alive today). The tide has irrevocably turned. Not only will Christians in the future lack even passive support from a Western culture that until recently was dominated by unconscious but real remnants of Christian sensibilities, but we will be actively assaulted in ways that will make it difficult for a historically recognizable Christianity to
survive:

[W]e in the modern West are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it. Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes—they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human. Our barbarians have exchanged the animal pelts and spears of the past for designer suits and smartphones. (17)

The classification of traditional Christian teachings as bigotry and “hate speech,” the imposition of sweeping bureaucratic imperatives on sex and gender that are at odds with the entire preceding history of Christian thought, an increasingly aggressive intolerance in the educational system towards any views at odds with the new orthodoxies, and technological changes in reproduction that are happening without reflection, let alone debate—seeing all this and more, it is hard to argue forcefully with Dreher on this point.

His prescription: “Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.”

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Posted in Books, History, Religion & Culture

Michiko Kakutani reviews ‘Ants Among Elephants,’ a Memoir About the Persistence of Caste

Gidla, who now works as a conductor on the New York City subway, conveys the strain of living in the sort of abject poverty she knew as a child, where some neighbors were skeletal from hunger, and an apple was a precious Christmas treat. She chronicles the horrifying violence that could break out between the police and Maoist rebels, and among local hooligans, hired at election time to intimidate voters. And she captures the struggles of women like her mother to pursue careers in the face of caste and misogynist bias, while raising children and helping to support, in her case, as many as two dozen relatives.

When asked about caste — and in India, she says, “you cannot avoid this question” — Gidla writes that an “untouchable” like herself has a choice: “You can tell the truth and be ostracized, ridiculed, harassed,” or “you can lie.” If people believe your lie, she goes on, “you cannot tell them your stories, your family’s stories. You cannot tell them about your life. It would reveal your caste. Because your life is your caste, your caste is your life.”

In these pages, she has told those family stories and, in doing so, the story of how ancient prejudices persist in contemporary India, and how those prejudices are being challenged by the disenfranchised.

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Posted in Books, India

Warren Hicks reviews “A Well of Wonder: Essays on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings” by Clyde Kilby

A Well of Wonder introduces the reader to the relationships that Mr. Kilby had with Lewis and Tolkien that led him to pursue the project of gathering their papers and that of other of the Inklings into what would become the Marion F. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois. This repository of primary source material including manuscripts and handwritten and typed correspondence among and by Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield and G. K. Chesterton has become the fruit of what Kilby describes as, “nothing less than a movement of the Holy Spirit.”

The collection of essays by Kilby are chiefly focused on his relationship and visits with Lewis, Tolkien and Barfield. These essays in some ways trace the story of the Wade Center and Kilby’s role in its establishment.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Church History, England / UK, Evangelicals