arts, books, other reviews
VISION AND LANDSCAPE
Ends 22 January, £5
Samuel Palmer (1805–1881) was one of the great British visionary painters. This exhibition is particularly interesting because it shows his whole artistic life, including his lesser-known etchings, landscapes and illustrations.
Success came early to Samuel Palmer and he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy and the British Institution by the age of fourteen. At this time he painted landscapes in the currently popular picturesque style. In his late teens he began to adopt a more primitive and direct style of painting, with rich decorative patterns and strongly defined shapes. He was introduced to the famous visionary painter, William Blake, and was much influenced by him, although still retaining his own lyrical style of painting.
He lived in Shoreham in Kent for about five years from 1830, and many of his best known and most loved paintings date from that happy period of his life. He was joined by a group of fellow artists, calling themselves ‘The Ancients’ and they painted, mostly in watercolours, in this ‘valley of vision,’ this rural paradise. His pictures have a golden warmth and idyllic quality.The Magic Apple Tree and the Cornfield by Moonlight with the Evening Star are suffused with a lyrical quality and beauty that take no account of the appalling living conditions of farm labourers, or the uprisings which led to his later abandoning the country life. They are an enchanted world, where nature and man live in harmony and peace.
He did not confine his works to watercolours only, but developed a form of monochrome painting that he called his ‘Blacks.’ These are small paintings of intense atmosphere and feeling, executed in a range of greys and blacks with vivid touches of white gouache. They are mysterious and atmospheric, showing shepherds, herds of somnolent sheep and misty, ethereal country scenes. They depict a dream-like world, far away from uncomfortable and edgy reality.
Samuel Palmer began to travel in the mid-1830s, and grand landscapes of Devon, Cornwall and Wales are on show. He married at this time, and went on a prolonged honeymoon-cum-business tour of Italy with his wife, also a talented artist. His work, mainly watercolours and watercolour studies, is an enthusiastic response to the dramatic scenery. Grand and complex landscapes, painted in the sublime manner, were very popular, and hisView of Tintagel is painted in a style far removed from the lyrical Shoreham watercolours.
The great personal tragedy of the death of his beloved son Thomas, after a long illness, cast a shadow over both his life and his paintings.The Lonely Tower is a sad and moving painting full of ghostly moonlight – a tower silhouetted against the starry sky, its single light shining out on a darkened world.
About this time Palmer took up etching and became one of the most proficient etchers of his time. His illustrations to his own translation of Virgil’sEcologues are quite beautiful, executed on a minute scale and full of movement and feeling. He was a meticulous and demanding etcher, and one of his printers is reported to have said that he would rather see the Devil himself coming than Mr Palmer with one of his plates! In his later paintings and in his etchings he recaptured some of the lyrical quality which had distinguished his Shoreham period and for which he is principally known and loved.
THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
John Howard Davies
Available from the Shrine Shop at Walsingham
The Christian Faith, or, to give it its full title, Everything you need to know about the Christian Faith but are afraid to ask, is a course (or ‘catechism’ as it calls itself) on the central points of Christian belief. It is contained on a CD-ROM, which means that you need a computer to use it. The card in the disc case contained minimal information of system requirements and nothing at all on the content. It did not work on my PC but it did on my laptop, for reasons that are mysterious to me. Each time you load the disc, the programme installs a shortcut on to the desktop; when this is clicked, the full programme begins running. You are immediately served up with a syllabus of the course, through which you can track the subjects as you cover them. A useful tool is the ability to be able to edit the course and play it with the order and content of your choice. This is handy, because I could not find any way of pausing the presentation while it ran, although you are expected to proceed by clicking successive ‘pages.’
The course is divided up into what it calls ‘The Four Pillars’ – profession of faith, sacraments of faith, life of faith and life of prayer. In addition, there are a couple of ‘jigsaw puzzles’ which provide a fun way of revising the course. Clicking on one of the subjects begins a commentary which also appears on the screen. This is alternated with a ‘virtual vicar’ who speaks the words himself! The commentary is fairly succinct and by and large presents a ‘Catholic’ interpretation of the faith.
However, there were one or two oddities. For example, in the explanation of the Apostles’ Creed we are told: ‘The place of high honour given to the Blessed Virgin by the Church is an acknowledgment that Mary carried the Son of God, who is God himself, in her womb for nine months. This means that she is the Mother of God.’ No argument there, as far as I am concerned – very orthodox, very Council of Ephesus. However, in the section on the Eucharist, a curiously broad interpretation is offered of the nature of the eucharistic change in the elements, with a Catholic interpretation accompanied by an alternative Protestant one. It just seems strange to me to be so clear on one point and a bit fuzzy on another.
Having said all that, I could clearly see myself using the course in some way. Like all catechetical material, it is unlikely that you would want to use it unaccompanied by other teaching or material. For example, I would have thought it would come in most useful as a summary of more informal teaching or as discussion starter for a study group. Certainly, producing handouts to accompany the course is pretty essential and it is a pity that the creators of the disc did not allow a way of printing out the text. The most effective way of using this disc would be with a computer/laptop linked to a video project and sound system. This may sound elaborate, but is the kind of equipment churches should be investing in to keep up with current trends in the communication media.
Kit Dunkley is Vicar of St Luke’s, Coventry
HOLY ORDERS AND COMPLETENESS OF THE CHURCH
Melrose Books, 150pp, hbk
1 905226 00 4, £14·99
This is a book about the threefold order. The author insists repeatedly that the Christian ministry is to be seen in an iconic perspective rather than in functional and pragmatic terms. Bishops, priests and deacons are signs, so that what they are takes priority over what they do. Hence, to make decisions about holy orders from an empirical rather than a theological perspective demonstrates a lack of concern for the completeness of the Body. General Synod members take note!
Dr Turner’s subject is ‘both the pattern of three holy orders, and also the question of how, on the basis of sound ecclesiology, bishops, priests and deacons ought to be related to one another and to the order of ‘unordained’ Christians.’ The neglect of ecclesiology relating to ministerial structuresas a whole produced undue concentration on priesthood, minimizing the distinction between bishops and priests, and reducing deacons to apprentice priests. Furthermore, holy orders are ‘meaningless apart from communities of lay people,’ and in the early Church, clerics and laity are not antipathetic.
His method is to search for an historical occasion when changes were introduced on a ‘purely empirical basis and without reference to theology’ that could be a distortion of the true pattern of development. The exemplary period is from Ignatius of Antioch to the fourth century. The local bishop is ‘both an icon of the oneness of God the Father and also a type of Christ the true high priest; joining with the bishop in his exercise of pastoral authority the presbyters…as a college should be a visible representation of Christ’s apostles; and there should be deacons who can be seen as signs of the diaconate of the Church’s Master… A pattern that facilitates the perceiving of those in holy orders as icons of this kind can do much towards establishing and manifesting the completeness of the Church.’
He examines the Ignatian epistles,I Clement and the Didache, and goes on to enumerate the onset of many changes from the Ignatian structure of basic ministries that destroyed the iconic pattern previously discerned in bishops and presbyters. Augustine individualized holy orders and this unquestioned assumption emerges today when people argue that gifted and devout women are somehow denied their rightful status as individuals in the Church. This concept has replaced icon with status, as the threefold ministry becomes a career structure where the ladder has replaced the towel, so that the Archbishop must have a bishop at Lambeth rather than a deacon, and bishops are consecrated to personal prelatures without a local church over which to preside. A chapter explores the threefold ministry in relation to the insights in ancient and modern liturgies.
The penultimate chapter sums up and looks ahead. Not all the questions posed have been answered, and while post-fourth century changes have altered the roles of those in holy orders, not every alteration has involved fundamental distortion. Nevertheless distortions have occurred as a result of over-hasty and unthinking reaction to changed circumstances, as churches are too ready to ascribe all developments to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Dr Turner sees a need to re-emphasize the corporate and collegial character of the presbyterate, and a need to rethink and revive the diaconate to purge the distortion of individualism, that will make primary what they are and not what they do. Bishop Kallistos is encouraged by the final chapter’s treatment of papal primacy, as ‘a primacy of humility, service and love…not simply a primacy of honour or a nebulous sort of leadership, but a unique pastoral mission.’ Leo the Great’s conception of the Pope as the ‘watchman’ or ‘sentinel’ on the ramparts of the spiritual city is an understanding of primacy that the Orthodox can endorse.
Beset as the Anglican Communion is by an increasingly invasive feminism that wants to innovate holy orders for empirical rather than theological reasons, here is a book that stimulates a necessary theological reflection on holy orders, exposing how distortions in episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate can damage the completeness of the Church. This is a scholarly book that not only the clergy should read but also all members of the General Synod. It is well-researched, clearly argued, and fully indexed, with a select bibliography.
Arthur Middleton is a tutor
at St Chad’s, Durham
THE BIBLE IN PASTORAL PRACTICE
Edited by P. Ballard and S. Holmes
DLT, 315pp, pbk
The Bible Society has been at the forefront of exploring ways to engage Scripture with contemporary society; their regular periodicalTransmissions always rewards a careful read. The standard of writing and scholarship are always high and presented in a clear text. The Society is also responsible for the Hearing the Word programme that makes available audiotapes of the New Testament and a scheme of listening to cover the whole of the New Testament in forty days. This reviewer is grateful for both those initiatives.
The Using the Bible in Pastoral Practice series is in another league; in cooperation with the School of Theological and Religious Studies at Cardiff University, the society is setting out to bridge the gap between biblical scholarship and pastoral practice. This means navigating the treacherous waters of contentious questions of hermeneutics among the rocks of pastoral care, influenced as it is by the insights of sociology and psychology. It is a demanding task.
The overarching plan is to have three volumes, of which this is the first, the second to be entitledHoly Bible Human Bible: questions pastoral practice must ask. The third volume is to be a workbook, Using the Bible in Christian Ministry. This first volume has eighteen essays by different authors, most of them drawn from a transatlantic pan-protestant draft of theologians; there are, however, contributions from Orthodox and Roman Catholic writers. The editors have done their job well; contributions are pithy without being thin, feisty without being dogmatic. Not all of it is easy to read and I am sure the ‘interested layman’ would struggle with much of the technical vocabulary. It is certainly up to date (making me realise how much of my own reading had been left behind). I found it stretching and illuminating – though little of the writing was entertaining or exciting.
The great boon for me was the full and detailed bibliographies at the end of every chapter. Much ferreting on the internet has been saved, and many useful leads for further study placed in my path. I await (with surprising eagerness) volume two.
THE SCM A-Z OF PATRISTIC THEOLOGY
John A McGuckin
SCM, 366pp, pbk
0 334 04010 8, £22·99
THE SCM A-Z OF THOMAS AQUINAS
SCM, 208pp, pbk
0 334 04012 4, £22·99
Yes, it’s official, there may no longer be a visible Student Christian Movement, but their press goes from strength to strength, and dictionaries are now definitively out: we now have to use an A-Z, just like we do when we are struggling through the streets of London trying to find St Stephen’s, Lewisham. And – I bet you would not have guessed this – McGuckin is apparently a Romanian name, because Fr McGuckin is a Romanian Orthodox priest (does Romanian lend itself to limericks?).
So, just as you would have done, I looked up one or two sample entries; well, even a reviewer isn’t going to read an A-Z cover-to-cover, is he? Disappointment: nothing on Hesychasm, or my favourite patristic writer St Gregory Palamas, or St Symeon the New Theologian. So I did what I should have started by doing, and looked at the preface. ‘First Eight Centuries.’ That explains it. And when does the ‘Patristic’ period begin? A pleasant surprise here: as early as it suits the author. And (the first cherry I picked) this enables him to write a superb article onVirgin Mary.
Where ‘modem biblical scholarship’ just sneers or ignores, McGuckin is able to write, as a strictly scientific historian of early Christianity, in a fresh and highly illuminating way about her. Devout clients of Our Lady really should read it. Subjecting the New Testament and Josephus to critical analysis, he portrays the Mother of God as the ‘Torah matriarch’ and demonstrates that in the period before ad70 (yes, no ce here!) ‘Mary’s significance must already have been highly elevated.’ He points out – obvious when you think about it – that otherwise Christian preachers would have ducked the Virgin Birth stories, so as to avoid the sneers of Jewish opponents.
Next, I turned toPapacy and found another fine-quality cherry. McGuckin brings no denominational prejudice to his discussion. He speaks of Rome’s apostolic prestige, of its reputation for sobriety and traditionalism, and of the mystique of Peter’s abiding presence which preceded formal assertion of papal oversight. This approach to the papacy was emphasized in 1997 (Rome autrement, English translation 2003, You Are Peter) by another Orthodox writer, Olivier Clement. Perhaps Westerners could get a helpful new perspective on the Petrine Ministry from Orthodox scholars like McGuckin and Clement.
So, on to thefilioque. Here I was a trifle disappointed. McGuckin very fairly acknowledges the acceptance in the East of per filium language, and the resistance put up by Rome to the first attempts to tamper with the Creed. But nothing about the problems arising from the imprecise correlations of the terms procedere, ekporeuesthai, and proienai. But never mind. This is a fine book with fine bibliographies and a sensible thematic guide. Using it just for browsing or for getting the odd idea or two for sermons would make it a very useful buy. Oh yes: the last entry – Women – is again both sensible and provoking!
Thomas Aquinasis, frankly, a different cup of tea. You should only buy this if you are interested particularly in St Thomas, or in philosophy, or in medieval thought. If you are, you will enjoy it. You aren’t sure? Pop into a bookshop and test the water by reading the article on Scripture.
John Hunwicke is the compiler
of the ORDO
SWEET AND BLESSED COUNTRY
The Christian hope for heaven
OUP, 208pp, hbk
0 19 928009 6, £12·99
Readers familiar with Fr Saward’s previous writings will know how he goes about his task: he takes as his theme a particular doctrinal topic, states the fundamental framework of dogmatic definition and magisterial declaration, elucidates the matter in hand according to the mind of St Thomas Aquinas, and then clothes it with a more devotional, even mystical apprehension perceived through the commentary of chosen doctors and accompanied by the contemplation of sacred art.Redeemer in the Womb and Cradle of Redeeming Love unfolded the mystery of the Incarnation in conversation with the piety of the French School inspired by Pierre de Bérulle; Sweet and Blesssed Country, composed as a series of addresses to the Benedictine community at Pluscarden, is more consciously monastic in its orientation and chooses Denys the Carthusian and Blessed Columba Marmion as its guides to the Dantesque landscape of the afterlife. That landscape is explored through reflection on Enguerrand Quarton’s painting of the Coronation of the Virgin, made to a precise specification for the Charterhouse of Villeneuve-les-Avignon in 1453.
Saward presents his case with a characteristic papalistmachismo, relishing the maturation of his subject matter in the locus of fifteenth century Latin theology and devotion, and giving us rather a lot of Leo XIII and Pius XII as a nod to modernity (incidentally, he is happier than he was in Cradle of Redeeming Love with the teaching of John Paul II on the beatific vision enjoyed by the human soul of the incarnate Christ before the Resurrection). But he enjoys with the late Herbert McCabe the talent of expressing scholastic theology in lucid English, and this book is an excellent primer for the authentic Catholic doctrine of the Last Things, and an eloquent rebuke to those who neglect to meditate on them. Although its title suggests that it is exclusively concerned with the Christian hope for heaven, and although this hope and the doctrines of the beatific vision and the resurrection of the dead are explained with great cogency, the book contains substantial expositions of the atonement, purgatory, hell and the continuing maternal mediation of Our Lady.
Occasionally the reader gets the impression that Fr Saward is there with his search-light where St Paul only managed to see through a glass darkly: the two pages on whether the heavenly intercession of Christ is vocal or not left me bemused, and though he is content to state following the schoolmen that the fire of hell is material, he does not confront whether this means it is therefore locatable (and visitable?) within the universe. But these caveats do not detract from the essential quality and distinction of a book which accomplishes a fine articulation of authentic Catholic doctrine, burnishes to good effect the neglected spiritual acumen of both Denys the Carthusian and Blessed Columba, and unconsciously demonstrates the remarkable identity of teaching on the afterlife shared by the unsound Avignonese Pope John XXII and the current Bishop of Durham. The Oxford University Press has published this book in a fine and attractive binding, but the reproduction of Quarton’s painting is too small to illustrate all the points discussed in the text.
Robin Ward is the Vicar
of St John’s, Sevenoaks
CHRISTIANITY IN IRAQ
Gracewing, 203pp, pbk
0 85244 633 0, £12·99
Did you ever wonder what that urbane Christian gentleman, Tariq Aziz, erstwhile foreign minister of the Republic of Iraq, was doing in the company of the gangsters who ran that country until recently? I suppose every gang of thieves must have Brains as well as Fingers, but Aziz (or Mikhail Yohana – Michael John, to restore to him his Christian names) has offered his own reasons for being involved with Saddam’s regime. They included wanting to protect the Christian Churches of Iraq.
Whether special pleading or not, Suha Rassam’s absorbing and informative study provides the historical and cultural context for understanding such a claim. She demonstrates just how deep are the roots of Christianity in that country – certainly far deeper than the modern state of Iraq itself (a name which, with tragic irony, means ‘well-rooted’). Tradition has it that the Church of the East was founded by the apostles Thomas and Thaddeus, but remember too the witness of Scripture to its antiquity: ‘people from Mesopotamia’ were among those who heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon. The Gospel spread via the substantial Jewish communities in the cities of the Fertile Crescent, so successfully that ‘by the third century Christianity had permeated all walks of life within the Persian Empire, and had begun to threaten the religion of the establishment, Zoroastrianism.’
The Church of the East (independent of Rome and Constantinople, a genuine Third Branch of Christianity, which is why it fascinated High Anglicans in the nineteenth century) certainly lived up to its name. As well as evangelizing successfully in Arabia – the Lakhmid kings of central Arabia ruled a predominantly Christian kingdom for three hundred years before Muhammad, and Christianity flourished in Yemen before the seventh century Muslim takeover – its missionaries went to India and China. The Emperor T’ai-tsang received the Persian monk, A-lo-pen, in 638; and the original for the priest-king John (‘Prester John’) is probably Togril, king of the Kerait, one of the tribes in Central Asia evangelized at the same time. His three daughters were married to Genghis Khan.
Suha Rassam is well-informed theologically as well as historically. For example she shows that the Church of the East’s Christology was never Nestorian (the Church is even today sometimes given that label) since it took no part in the Chalcedonian controversies. The book is a model of clarity on this and other issues which are so important for understanding the complexities of Christianity in Iraq. The differences between,inter alia, Malkites and Maronites, Syrian Catholic and Syrian Orthodox, Chaldeans and Assyrians, are admirably explained with the help of tables and date lines. The story of Christianity in Iraq is also brought right up to the present: we are told of the current state of relations between Christians and Muslims illustrated with vivid anecdotes told to the author personally, and also about the strength of the Churches both ancient and modern. Sadly there is now schism in the Church of the East (between the Ancient Church of the East and the Assyrian Church of the East), the result of conflict between the communities of the diaspora (mainly in the US) and the Church in Iraq.
Suha Rassam is herself an Iraqi Christian living abroad. A medical doctor by training, the book is the fruit of research undertaken at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. Her tutor there has contributed the Preface; the book is also endorsed by Dr Sebastian Brock, the Oxford scholar and authority on Syriac liturgies. The Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Catholic Church, to which the author belongs, has written the Prologue, and her work is commended by a Chaldean and a Syrian Orthodox bishop. In the face of such glowing testimonials, who am I to quibble? But sinceChristianity in Iraq is such a mine of information, it seems a pity that it lacks an index.
Simon Heans is Vicar of
St Barnabas, Beckenham
THE BIBLE, THE CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY
Edited by Nicholas Coulton
DLT, 146pp, pbk
0 232 52606 0, £10·95
This is a collection of essays from liberal Oxford academics. Coulton’s introduction and presentation is fair and reasonable, and the tone given is that of serious, inquiring intellectuals seeking a careful middle way between the unthinking extremes. Of what interest is it to ND readers? Apart from the general truth that there is merit in listening to those of opposing views, what does this collection tell us?
Their notion of a middle way is based on a caricature of the traditional Christian position. It is important to grasp that this is not because these writers are being deliberately unfair, but because there is so little serious writing from the traditional position. If all the discussion and publishing is done by the liberals, it must come as no surprise that the entire debate is displaced massively to one side. This is worrying. ‘The Bible’ in the title is all but redundant: there is no biblical analysis here, and in popular terms nor would you expect any. The debate is skewed.
The other striking element in what is intended as a popular, readable introductory work is how the liberals are not only doing all the writing, but also marking out their own goalposts while doing it. Jane Shaw offers a historical run through of changing attitudes and practice. It would be wrong to say that she invents her own facts, but the result is remarkably similar. She presents highly contentious judgements as universally accepted facts. Consider this: ‘In 1930 an extraordinary sea change occurred: the Anglican bishops decided that birth control was acceptable.’ That is simply false. And yet she gets away with it, because we ‘know’ that she is right.
Is dialogue possible? Margaret Bedggood, a teacher at the Oxford Human Rights Summer School, offers an instructive example. Competing claims within the human rights agenda are to be resolved, she assures us, by a ‘courteous dialogue in the discernment towards balance’, yet her discussion of the ‘painfully exclusive’ record of the Church offers speak only of the ‘exclusionary violence of the twentieth century.’ By trying to be fair, her article is merely patronizing. Had it been a shrill rant, it would have read better. After all if the gay agendais simply a human rights issue, there should be no discussion at all, which would make Coulton’s fair-minded marshalling of the different convictions an exercise in futility.
One amusing surprise came from Professor Marilyn McCord Adams. Listing the breakdown of traditional moral values and the emergence of new social patterns, she covers all the usual suspects: unrestrained, teenage sexual activity, increasing cohabitation, and so on. And then suddenly, this extraordinary assertion; I never knew this was one of the results of the sexual revolution: ‘Senior citizens do not want to compromise their children’s inheritance by late-in-life remarriage.’
I left this book depressed. Is any debate or discussion possible, when our opponents lay down all the rules, all the facts and all the conclusions? Depressing, because on the face of it this is an entirely decent and honourable book, written by intelligent, thinking members of the Christian Church.
THE EMPTY BED
DLT, 136pp, pbk
0 232 52639 7, £9·95
One of my favourite childhood books is C.S. Lewis’ great work,The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and when reading this new edition of Susan Wallbank’s work, one gets the sense that we the readers are stepping into an imaginary world. This work makes sweeping statements about death, bereavement and grief, and one is unable to turn a page without encountering an array of clichés. Wallbank’s approach is one of generalization; every emotion is categorized, a timeline is placed upon every feeling. There is a lack of understanding with regards to the individual’s response to grief. Wallbank is determined to insert her agenda, her own experience.
The subtitle of this self-help work is ‘Bereavement and the loss of love,’ yet Wallbank’s concept of the loss of love seems to be entirely focused upon the loss of a sexual partner. Little attention is paid to the fact that many, especially those who are bereaved at a later stage in their life, feel the loss of a life-long friend, a companion, rather than a lover. It is surely the loss of what seemed to be an ever-enduring presence in one’s life that causes the most pain.
This work does possess some redeeming qualities; chapter five gives a great deal of insight into the effect grief can have upon the whole social network that surrounds a person. Her reference to the experience a homosexual can suffer after the death of a partner certainly challenges the reader to consider the rights of lesbians and gays in society; though even this is outdated with the civil partnership legislation now enacted. Structurally this book is a concise, well-organized work, and the style of writing is certainly suitable for a varied audience.
This work is full of good intentions, and the author is keen as an experienced counsellor to share her experience. However, statements like this in the final paragraph sum up this work to me: ‘Whoever we are and whatever we may have chosen to do, today is still the first day of the rest of our life.’ The author fails to recognize in this work that death is a complex issue, its effects vary from case to case, and no easy label can be applied to the variety of emotions caused by grief. This self-help book should be viewed with the same eye as that which studies the world of Aslan and the White Witch, in a fantasy world all of its own.
WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS
The evangelical tradition
DLT, 144pp, pbk
0 232 52533 1, £9·95
InWhat a Friend we have in Jesus, Ian Randall offers an overview of evangelical spirituality, the school of thought and practice which he considers has its origins in the evangelical revivals of the eighteenth century. One of the chief aims of the book is to show that Evangelicalism is as much about a form of spirituality, a way of living Christian faith, as it is about holding certain doctrines. Randall evokes Jonathan Edwards to explain that he will investigate the inter-relation of ‘holy affections’ and holy thoughts, between practice and theology.
Randall focuses his study on the theological emphases which characterize the evangelical movement. The topics considered include conversion, the Bible, the cross, worship, holiness, and missionary spirituality. He identifies a personal and assured relationship with Christ as the basic experience of God which defines evangelical spirituality. While this phrase can mean so much or so little as to be of limited help, Randall demonstrates what it means in relation to the principal theme of each chapter. In this way, he discusses the cross both as the objective foundation of this personal relationship and a guide to the Christian’s experience of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness. Excerpts from the writings of well-known evangelical authors fill out this thematic presentation. The reader is given a sense of how Jonathan Edwards, the Wesleys, George Whitefield, Spurgeon, P.T. Forsyth, John Stott, and D.L. Moody, to mention a few, have influenced evangelical thought and practice.
In addition to his presentation of themes and personalities, Randall illustrates the character and dynamism of the evangelical tradition by showing the importance of gatherings and events like the Keswick convention in introducing new ideas and in forming a distinctive spirituality. In particular, he shows how these gatherings and the movements with which they are associated have brought together evangelicals from both sides of the Atlantic and, in more recent times, from around the world. The down-side of Randall’s presentation is that it is difficult to build up a full picture of events and people from the pieces of information and details that are given in different chapters. The absence of an index contributes to this problem.
The book is made more interesting by the attention which Randall gives to questions which are sometimes considered second-order themes in evangelical spirituality. In a chapter on the Church, ‘the Fellowship of Believers,’ he examines tensions in evangelical thought between the search for unity and apostolicity and the priority which evangelicals often give to a personal and unmediated union with Christ before or distinct from an ecclesial one. In another chapter on the sacraments, Randall shows the importance that significant evangelical thinkers have attached to Holy Communion. He refers to Horton Davies’ argument that ‘it was the evangelicals of the nineteenth century who could rightly be claimed as pioneers in restoring Holy Communion to a central place in Anglican worship.’ Wesley, Simeon and even the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon are quoted as representatives of an evangelical tradition which teaches not only that Holy Communion conveys the benefits of Christ’s death and passion, but that in this sacrament Christ is truly present.
One of the major themes of the book is that evangelical spirituality is neither monolithic nor static. Randall’s presentation of disagreements about the different role played by human effort and divine grace in conversion, the well-rehearsed arguments between Arminians and Calvinists, demonstrates how the evangelical tradition encompasses significant differences. On the subject of change, Randall writes, ‘Those who look to the past for some kind of pristine model of evangelical spirituality are destined to be disappointed. Change has been a constant characteristic of the expressions of evangelical experience and this is set to continue.’ The changes which shape evangelical spirituality include both changes in practice and developments in theological reflection. For example, the practice of setting aside a ‘quiet time’ for prayer and reading the Bible has evolved, partly due to ecumenical influences. A more theologically driven change in evangelical spirituality has resulted from developments in the way evangelicals understand the second coming of Christ.
Randall describes Evangelicalism as a movement which ‘began in the Western world, in the age of the Enlightenment, and was then able to adjust to the Romantic mood of the nineteenth century,’ and to the different contexts in which evangelical spirituality has flourished. This book offers a wide-ranging introduction which helps the reader to go beyond simplistic generalizations and to appreciate the particular emphases and themes of evangelical spirituality from the inside. For the reader interested in pursuing this further, the sources to which Randall refers provide a fertile field for investigation.
George Westhaver is Chaplain
of Lincoln College, Oxford
On the mortification of the flesh
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar had it right: ‘Let me have men about me who are fat. Yonder Cassius has a lean and hungry look.’ As indeed he did. Caesar’s prescience was amply fulfilled when the skeletal Cassius recruited Brutus to the assassins’ plot and dispatched Caesar with several well-aimed blows and the unkindest cut of all provided by Brutus. It was this betrayal of his friend which earned Brutus the lowest place in Dante’s Inferno. Just a little above journalists and politicians.
Those of us who shop for clothes from the Willoughby Goddard or the Hattie Jacques range look askance at the current fad for the thin, mean look now enjoined on us by the government and its subservient, parasitic agencies.
After the gargantuan eating and feasting over the Christmas season (not over in the most traditional households until Candlemas), the New Year ushers in the season of diets and low-fat fruitfulness. Diet books abound in the shops. No publisher has gone bankrupt by underestimating the gullibility of the great British public. No doubt this recurring seasonal mania to shed a few, and more than a few pounds, in time for the summer holidays and the call of sun and sand, and the British propensity to disrobe at the merest hint of the sun peering from behind those summer clouds, has been fuelled and given some kind of spurious respectability by one of many effusions from our Lords and Masters last year. Nanny knows best.
As part of the campaign to regulate every aspect of our lives and habits and to persuade us that nanny knows best, our television screens – that squalid organ of insidious propaganda dedicated to undermining the values and traditions that were our defining characteristics – are now filled with programmes extolling the virtues of nannies. The smack of firm government has all the erotic charge of the smack in the nursery from nanny: although, inevitably, today the smack is metaphorical and not literal.
Obesity is the scourge of the nation, the curse of the young, the unforgivable sin, and the worst of social embarrassments. Yet the government speaks with forked tongue (a delicious meat, by the way, from the sacrificial ox). Children are condemned for being fat, for stuffing themselves with junk food, for being couch potatoes, taking no exercise. Yet the government has happily sold off most of the school playing fields on which those lard-buckets could once disport themselves and participate in some ghastly athletic pursuit, shed a few unsightly pounds at the urging of geriatric games masters, who turn to teach geography once their legs have gone.
We all know well enough that we lose weight when we eat less and exercise more. It is hardly rocket science (a delicious peppery leaf): but it shares with rocket science the same characteristic of stultifying and unutterable boredom. Rather than implement that simple truth, experience that straightforward equation, we would rather cut out sugar, eat a different kind of sugar, eat only meat, eat no meat, detox, retox, eat only fruit, eat only cabbage, and every variety and variation in between. For some there is the alternative of the health farm, where in exchange for a vast amount of money you receive in return a sip of lemon and a crisp-bread.
If the cult, hit comedy show of the momentLittle Britain is anything to go by, there are hidden hazards. There are several sketches about fatties. The comfortably proportioned Matt Lucas launches exocets of abuse at the Fat Fighters clientele. But the fatty star of the show is the ravishing and curvaceous Bubbles de Vere, a permanent habituée of a glamorous health farm where she contrives to avoid paying her bill by an outrageous flirtatiousness. And in the latest series (is it as funny as it was or has it been knocked off its pedestal by The Peep Show?) she seeks to seduce her former husband from his even larger second wife (David Walliams). Not for the faint-hearted or the squeamish.
It is a moral duty to resist the puritan instinct that seeks to curtail the joys of our humanity. Eat, drink and be merry; tomorrow we grow fat and die. Ah well, back to the groaning board: one lunch or two?
Return to Home Page of This Issue
Return to Trushare Home Page