BOOK REVIEWS

December 1996

 

QUO VADITIS, The State Churches of Northern Europe, John Broadhurst (ed.), Gracewing, Leominster, 1996, vi+154pp, pbk, ISBN O-85244-382-X.

IF YOU have been puzzled by the links established between Forward in Faith and traditionalist Lutherans in Scandinavia then this book should help to set your mind at rest. The essays examine the condition of the State Churches in England and Scandinavia and the predicament of traditionalist Christians within them. There is a clear consensus amongst the authors that establishment now poses a serious challenge to the doctrinal integrity of these churches. The editor, John Broadhurst, notes that established churches show a marked preference for the adaptive over the prophetic but it is the Lutheran contributors who offer the sharpest criticisms on this score. Without exception they argue that the Scandinavian state churches have slid into a comfortable alliance with the consensual policies of successive liberal and social democratic governments. The Anglican contributors in contrast object more strongly to establishment attitudes within the Church of England rather than establishment itself.

The reader will find much to inform and challenge in this slim volume. Geoffrey Kirk in a carefully argued essay warns us of `Lite’ religion - read the book if you want to know what this means - and argues that key Christian terms, such as `episcopacy’ have been redefined and emptied of their original meaning. Kirk points to the theological and jurisdictional tensions caused by the Act of Synod. He argues that the role of diocesan bishops has been called into question by the provision of extended episcopal care: `There has come into being a "Lite" episcopate - one which looks like, and on occasion acts like, a true episcopate; but which can no longer be that focus of unity and fount of authority which bishops exist to be’ (p74). Geoffrey Kirk has an unerring capacity for finding the jugular, especially when it comes to Anglican pragmatism, but some might find this picture too sharply drawn. One man’s reductio ad absurdum is another man’s dialecticism and in this case I would have welcomed more of the latter.

Stephen Trott offers a careful analysis of Church-State relations in England and makes some proposals for reform. It is, however, the Lutheran contributors - most of whom are both pastors and academics - who generally provide the weightiest contributions. Roald Flemestad’s analysis of the present state of the Church in Norway includes a perceptive discussion of postmodernism. Much has been written about this confusing catch-all term which is used to denote both the collapse of modernism and the emergence of pluralism and the philosophical appropriation of these changes in western culture. Flemestad’s contribution dispels some of this confusion and comes as a welcome contribution to the Christian theology of culture. Like some other conservatively inclined theologians who have embraced aspects of postmodern thinking, Flemestad envisages a future in which the church emerges as an `interpretative community’, holding to its own conception of valid knowledge in opposition to society at large.

In contrast Folke Olofsson, from the Lutheran Church of Sweden, takes the discussion of postmodernism a stage further and adopts a theology of culture that is closer akin to the traditional catholic preference for absorption rather than separation. Olofsson’s essay goes a long way towards explaining why catholic Anglicans have begun to look towards Scandinavia. Here is an account of the mystery of faith that is profoundly trinitarian and ecclesial. Olofsson resists the idea that pluralism is inevitable and points instead to our common humanum.

It is the Church’s task to realise what he terms the catholic synthesis, interpreting the common experience of human life in the light of the gospel to the end that all things reach their fulfilment in the perfect communion of the trinitarian God. As Olofsson reminds us, the catholic faith is not about retreat and refusal but transformation: `The call and task of the Christian is that of offering all creation to God in order to let Christ encompass it in his sacrifice and perfect it through his resurrection, saved, healed, cleansed’ (p132). Catholic Anglicans will recognise their own faith in this profoundly eucharistic meditation.

The book, which I greatly enjoyed, triggers two questions. Several contributors aver to the link between catholicity and universality and bewail the provincialism of the state churches, but just where do we locate the Great Church to which appeal must be made in settling matters of doctrine? In his concluding essay John Broadhurst points to the early Church of the first seven ecumenical councils but the appeal to history on its own does not settle the question. As Folke Olofsson reminds us tradition is something living given to each new generation. The catholicity of the Church is not simply an historical fact but a living reality. In the past catholic Anglicans have turned to the branch theory to answer this question but that is increasingly problematic, and anyway we are now being invited to contemplate a larger vision of catholicity that includes traditionalist Lutherans. Paradoxically this book which restates the traditionalist position also invites a review of our paradigm of catholicity.

My second question is closely related to the first and has to do with the impact of the Reformation on the Church’s catholicity. Unlike their High Church predecessors the Tractarians came to regret the Reformation and ever since there has been a not inconsiderable strain of anti-Protestantism amongst catholic Anglicans. In contrast to this Bernt Oftestad from the Lutheran side deconstructs the liberal protestant reading of the Reformation, insisting that while Luther rejected the Roman doctrine of ordination and priesthood he remained in all other respects a catholic. There is clearly ground for a major division of opinion here with one side seeing the Reformation as a disastrous sundering of the catholicity of the western Church and the other viewing it as a retrieval of primitive catholicity. Put that starkly a resolution seems improbable but the book suggests otherwise. Anglicans for their part - it would be presumptuous of me to instruct Lutherans - must reach back beyond their Tractarian prejudices and recognise the genuine elements of catholicity that they clearly share with the Lutherans represented in this book. John Broadhurst’s extremely helpful concluding essay on ecumenism points the way forward and in the process sketches the beginnings of a new `federal’ approach to Anglican ecclesiology.

Robert Hannaford is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Canterbury Christ Church College and Honorary Assistant Priest in the parish of Harbledown, Canterbury.

 

 

AN ANGLICAN COMPANION, compiled by Alan Wilkinson and Christopher Cocksworth, SPCK and Church House Publishing, 1996, prefaces &c + 123 pp. hbk. ISBN 0-281-04851-7(SPCK), ISBN 0-7151-3785-9 (CHP). £7.99.

AN ANGLICAN `knapsack’ has been promised for some time, a collection of Anglican devotions and memorable material, such that one could point to the collection and say, "These are Anglican ways of praying". The collection would include much that was in the Book of Common Prayer, itself an Anglican `knapsack’, but also the spirituality of more recent times. It would contribute to the preservation of the idea of `common prayer’ by serving itself as a common source of reference.

This is the intention behind An Anglican Companion and it is endorsed by a preface provided jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York who also reissue `A short guide to the duties of Church membership for members of the Church of England’, which is included amongst the prefatory material.

Would it be churlish to say that I am disappointed? Perhaps one is inevitably disappointed by someone else’s collection. But there are some problems here. One is that `Words from the Heart of Faith’ (the book’s subtitle) remind me of the Prince of Wales’ redefinition of Fidei Defensor. Or are Richard Baxter, Rabbi Lionel Blue, John Bunyan, Teilhard de Chardin, Dag Hammarskjold, Jurgen Moltmann, Henri Nouwen and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks now to be considered good Anglicans? It would have been good to see these writers in a separate section of riches from other traditions. The book has a cheerful, wipe-clean, hard cover and needs to be affordable. Yet, for £7.99, `affordable’ means no line drawings to break up the text and small print. It was wrong of me perhaps to hope for something that looked and felt a bit more like a classical collection - and, the preface reminds me, this is `primarily designed for new members of the Church’. Yet it is not, in appearance and feel, a volume that I should like to return to day by day.

Another disappointment is the treatment of collect endings which one hoped would be rationalised with Collects 2000. In Collects 2000 collects have mostly a long ending or a short ending. The long ending goes `through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns......now and for ever.’ The short ending goes `through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Provision is made in Collects 2000 for long endings to be replaced by short endings. An Anglican Companion misses the point and comes up with an entirely new version of the short ending `through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord’ (my italics). This is a small point but it is the kind of thing that a distinctly Anglican collection should get right, particularly if it is setting out to train the common memory.

Again, `a reading about..’ (my italics), the standard introduction to the readings in the book’s `Prayer for Today’ (a fortnight of daily prayer schemes) is an unnecessary invention, a distraction from the normal use of the announcement which is merely to announce book, and perhaps chapter and verse. `A reading about...’ says nothing that an indication of the reading’s subject in an italicised heading would not have done better and more conventionally. Such an italicised heading could have been fuller, for instance `A reading about the humility of Christ...’ (second Friday) might have read, Christ, taking the form of a slave, was born in human likeness.

A prayer book for personal use must have, for me, three ingredients that are either lacking or figure weakly in this book. It must have a good section of extra-liturgical devotions (for instance, rosary, stations of the cross and devotions before the Blessed Sacrament). I could not find any of these, and should not have expected to, yet all, sometimes nuanced in a particularly Anglican way, are commonly used by Anglican of a certain sort. Second, a prayer book for personal use must help me to prepare to receive Holy Communion. I found some help with that but nothing comparable with the help given, for instance, by the well-known Aquinas prayer. Third, it must help me to prepare for, and go to, Confession. I found nine references to `penitence/repentance’ in the subject index but not the sort of help I should need as a new Anglican to approach sacramental reconciliation.

These disappointments, perhaps inevitable, spoilt my enjoyment of what is, in other respects, a good collection. I liked the daily forms of prayer. I was glad to find some old favourites and some pieces of spirituality new to me, for instance David Watson’s Advent Sunday asthma attack which he was able to turn into an opportunity for reconciliation with those whom he had wronged. I suspect the `knapsack’ project began as one thing - an Anglican thesaurus to assist the preservation of common prayer - and ended up as another - an anthology for new Anglicans.

I am happy to recommend An Anglican Companion as an Anglican anthology. However, for Catholics, Anglican or otherwise, I should continue to recommend in addition as a start-up prayer book Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book for Beginners, (Ampleforth Abbey Press, distributed by Gracewing, 1993). That too is a flawed collection. It prints the Divine Praises in the pre-1964 form (without the Holy Spirit), it has no distinct section preparing for Holy Communion, it seems to talk about `several or all of the following prayers’ (p99) in `Praying Before the Blessed Sacrament’ without in fact giving any, and, though it looks and feels very much like a proper prayer book, with a smart black and gold cover, it too could do with a bit of clip-art to break up the text.

Andrew Burnham teaches liturgy at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and is a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission.

 

 

THE FIFTH GOSPEL, Isaiah in the History of Christianity, John F.A. Sawyer, Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-521-59596-0

ONE HUNDRED and ten years ago exactly, Dean Farrer published his Bampton sermon-lectures delivered a year earlier before the University of Oxford. The subject matter of these sermon-lectures was the History of Interpretation of Scripture. But their day had yet to come. At the end of the last century and for well over of the present century, biblical scholarship was preoccupied with the spate of archaeological discoveries in the Near East and their importance for Biblical texts. Questions of literary nature dominated scholarly thought; texts were minutely dissected in an attempt to discover their origins, their `setting in life’ and the intentions of their "authors".

The first signs of dissatisfaction with this `atomistic’ approach to the Biblical texts came with the rise of the Biblical Theology Movement in America in the 1940s to its demise in the 1960s. The Movement’s aim was to rescue the Bible from the scholar’s study and to bring it back into the life of Christian communities. (The Movement influenced, for example John Bright’s History of Israel with its stress on the importance of archaeological discoveries). Although, like Jonah’s gourd, the Biblical Theology Movement grew in a night and perished in a night. But whilst its life span was a little over two decades, the Movement prepared the ground for a fresh and more `holistic’ view of Scripture.

An attempt to fill the vacuum left by the end of the Biblical Theology Movement was made by Brevard Childs with his `Canonical Criticism’. The central tenet of Child’s method is that "the authoritative role" of Scripture was in the "life of the community". (Childs, Commentary on Exodus, Introduction). For Childs, interpreting Scripture involved understanding how past generations within the Community understood the sacred text. Childs’ method was put into practice in his Commentary on Exodus (SCM Old Testament Library Series) where the history of exegesis is an important part of the interpretation of the text.

Whether Childs’ work was influential or not, the past few decades have seen a growing awareness of the significance of the role of the community and of the individual reader in the task of hermeneutics. Part of this awareness has been the increased attention paid to the history of interpretation. One only has to mention Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, Manlio Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, and, more recently, and covering a wider time-span, Gerald Bray’s Biblical Interpretation Past and Present, to make the point. Dean Farrer’s day has come at last!

However, one detects a shift in the history of interpretation from the more general approaches to the subject to a more particular concern with individual Biblical books. One such indication of this new direction is Professor John Sawyer’s book: The Fifth Gospel - Isaiah in the History of Christianity. Attendance at church at just Christmas and Easter will remind even the casual attender of the importance played by the Book Isaiah; if it is not read directly, then quotations from it abound in the New Testament readings, and its mark can be detected in hymnody too. Handel’s Messiah, from which many people derive their perception of Christian Gospel relies heavily on texts from the Book of Isaiah. Perhaps there is some justification for the title of Professor Sawyer’s book.

The point made in this scholarly yet exciting book is that "the text is alive, The seeds that were sown in ancient Israel have never stopped growing" (to quote the author in another work). One only has to look at the Book of Isaiah itself which covers perhaps some five hundred years to appreciate the point; throughout this time, the words and ideals of an eighth century prophet were preserved and treasured; were handed down and used and interpreted by succeeding generations within the Community. In much the same way other biblical books were similarly treated, including, as the early Christian writer Papias reminds us, the Gospels.

The Fifth Gospel is a study of how the `Isaiah Tradition’ has been influential in Christian circles from the first days of the Church to the present. After a detailed Introduction which covers the history of interpretation and questions of method (which should stand in its own right as a discreet summary of the subject), the author takes us, chapter by chapter, through the use and importance of the Book of Isaiah. He analyses in detail the part played by the Book of Isaiah in the emergence of the Christian Church and in the formulation of doctrine, and in particular of Christology. The Book, with its wide vision of the coming of the Gentiles has had an impact on Christian mission both in the early Church and since.

The Fifth Gospel takes us through the Early Church to the Middle Ages with its emphasis on the Suffering Servant, and on to later treatments in art and music as well as in literature of this theme. The same detailed scrutiny of the use of Isaiah follows in chapters devoted to the cult of the Virgin Mary, the Reformation, the Evangelical Tradition and the quest for the historical Isaiah, an issue very much alive in scholarly circles at present given the current preoccupation with the final form of the text.

We live in the world of single issues, and the reader will not be surprised to find in the last two chapters of The Fifth Gospel entitled `Women and Isaiah’ and `The Peaceable Kingdom’ a survey of interest groups of one kind or another. It is not too difficult to see why the Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55 of the Book of Isaiah), with his re-use of the Exodus theme should have attracted the attention of Liberation Theologians, and it is not difficult to see that the sometimes radical language and ideas in the Book of Isaiah have encouraged feminist writers. (The enigmatic figure of Lilith in Isaiah 34 (reinterpreted as `the night hag’ in the RSV) has inspired feminist poetry. Lilith in some Jewish traditions was Adam’s rather forceful first wife who was replaced by the more submissive Eve). These chapters are a mine of information. Vegetarians find justification in Isaiah 11, while some have found, by a reinterpretation of the term Nazarene, that Jesus was a vegetarian!

Professor Sawyer in The Fifth Gospel has made a significant contribution to the history of Interpretation in its newest manifestation. The book is, as one would expect from a senior Old Testament scholar, thoroughly researched and presented. Yet the author’s scholarship has not prevented him from writing a very readable book, and one which can be highly recommended to all who believe that `the Word is alive’ and an essential tool for preaching, teaching and living.

John Davis, Vicar of South Hinksey with New Hinksey, is tutor in Old Testament Studies at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

RECLAIMING THE BIBLE FOR THE CHURCH eds. Carl E Braaten and Robert W Jenson, T & T Clark 1996, xii+137pp, 0-567-08533-30.

READING THE text of God’s saving story is no easy matter. Whether you are a lawyer (Luke 10:25), a chief priest (Matt. 21: 42) or a confused and despairing disciple (Luke 24: 27), understanding the meaning of the witness of scripture to the work of God is never quite as straightforward as one would wish. There are confusions to be encountered, meanings to be unearthed, conflicts to be negotiated but, and until fairly recently at least (a couple of centuries or so), one could at least take refuge in the confidence that although God may move in textually tortuous ways it was at least God who was moving.

One of the warrants for this confidence was precisely a participation in the communities witness to the risen Christ (what Paul calls a God-given parrhesia). In other words, that the text of scripture and text of community life are united in an organic relationship such that the proper place for the interpretation of God’s mighty deeds is precisely the ecclesia assembled for worship in the name of the Risen Christ. This is where one learnt to read; where one was taught to read. In technical terms, then for most of the Church’s history an ecclesial hermeneutic has informed the individuals reading of the scriptures and so when we come across the so-called `patristic fourfold’ (as Henri de Lubac dubbed it) we discover how the Church Fathers employed various protocols for reading Scripture in terms of the Church’s current pilgrimage through time.

Now I have provided this preamble in order to give some context to the importance of the issue raised by Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, for unless we have some sense of what has been lost in the first instance then the concerns of the various authors included in this collection may appear to be somewhat misplaced. For has the Bible been lost to the Church and if so in what sense?

To my mind the issue addressed by this book - the collected papers form a conference of Protestant and Catholic theologians in Minnesota 1984 - is indeed crucial to the good health of Christ’s Church. In the current explosion of publications on hermeneutics, biblical and theological alike, the book offers the reader short, clear and helpful essays which seek to address the relationship between the Church’s traditions of interpretation and its authoritative proclamation of the Word of God for Christians today. In other words, to recast an ecclesial hermeneutic.

The more specific focus of the essays is the work of Brevard S. Childs, who since his now famous study Biblical Theology in Crisis (1970) has championed a mode of Biblical interpretation -canonical criticism - which has sought to heal the rift, in particular between biblical scholarship and the needs of the churches. Whether this has been as successful as some of its adherents have claimed is a matter of much dispute, but at least it has raised with some urgency the requirement for responsible Biblical interpretation to be, both critical and confessional in equal measure.

The essays in this slim volume, edited by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, include a piece by Childs himself before engaging with aspects of Childs’ general approach. Along the way the reader considers a `canonical’ approach to the study of sexuality (Karl Donfried); a return to the Old Testament (Elizabeth Achtemeier) and `modern liturgical dysfunction’ (Aidan J Kavanagh OSB) amongst other issues.

All in all then this book is to be welcomed for although, no doubt, many will have disagreements with some of its arguments or suggestions in toto, its issue - the relation between Bible and Church - could not be more pressing.

David Moss is Director of Studies at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

SHORTER NOTICES

ADVENT THIRST, CHRISTMAS HOPE, Anita M Constance SC, Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah, 1994, 67pp, pbk, ISBN 0-8091-3511-6, £3.99

THE ART OF GIVING, Francine Black, Gracewing, Fowler Wright Books, Leominster, 1990, 274pp, pbk, ISBN 0-85244-157-6 £2.99

A PATCHWORK OF BLESSINGS AND GRACES, Mary Daniels, Gracewing, Fowler Wright Books, Leominster, 1996, 77pp, pbk, ISBN 0-85244-323-4, £4.99

THE GOSPEL OF MARK, The People’s Bible Commentary, R T France, Bible Reading Fellowship, Oxford, 1996, 221pp, pbk, ISBN 0-7324-1555-1, £7.99

THE POWER OF CHARISMATIC HEALING, A personal account, Andy O’Neill, Mercier Press, Dublin, and Gracewing, Fowler Wright Books, Leominster, 1996, 117pp, pbk, ISBN 0-85244-137-1 (Gracewing), £5.99

SR ANITA CONSTANCE in Advent Thirst...Christmas Hope has provided simple reflections, poems and prayers for use between Advent Sunday and the Baptism of the Lord. The scheme is accessible and direct and suitable for Christians from a variety of educational backgrounds.

FRANCINE BLACK provides a complete guide to selecting, making and giving presents. The Art of Giving is not a new book but it has the uncommon virtue of being both a resource for present-giving and itself a rather original present to give to others, relieving them of the need ever again to agonize over what to give you in the future! Don’t buy it if you don’t want to receive in future years such things as `a decorative glass jar full of healthy dried fruit’, `home-made candy’, soft toys, a travel kettle or `a plastic raincoat in its own case’. Off the wall for someone like me who is happy to get a new pair of slippers, or a novel for l’apres-Christmas, but may be OK for you.

MARY DANIELS, in A Patchwork of Blessings and Graces, gives us an ideal stocking filler for the pious. A row of hearts adorns the top of every page and, on one double page, the contributors range from Saint Anselm to Reinhold Niebuhr, with the Lady Julian, John Donne, and Charles Gore in between.

R T FRANCE, formerly Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, has given us a popular bible commentary. What better for this Year of Mark than The Gospel of Mark? He usually quotes from the NRSV and expects you to provide your own bible.

ANDY O’NEILL, a businessman, gives a personal account of The Power of Charismatic Healing. The signs and wonders are in Ireland not England and in a Catholic rather than a Charismatic Evangelical context.

 

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