Book Reviews

An Orthodox, the Chief Rabbi, a Pastor and other wise men

THE THEMELESS PUDDING

David Dale

The Eikon Press, 192pp, pbk

0 9543318 0 X, £7.50

There is a famous story of the late Mervyn Stockwood, sometime Bishop of Southwark. At a large gathering he tapped what he thought to be a defunct microphone and growled, 'There's something wrong with this.' To which the congregation dutifully replied, 'And also with you!' Most Anglicans, who have not had a lobotomy, are aware that there is something very wrong with their church. Readers of New Directions may have more clues than most as to the causes of the wasting sickness that has gripped the doctrine, order, membership and finances of the Church of England. David Dale has written a book that pulls the evidence together and diagnoses the central malady behind all the symptoms.

'The Themeless Pudding' (a quote from Churchill dismissing a dish that has no purpose or identity) is subtitled, 'Dr Carey and the disintegration of Anglicanism'. It is not a personal attack on Carey, though fans of the Archbishop will not see it that way. Dale ruthlessly exposes the hopeless inadequacy of Carey's doctrinal understanding and the superficiality of his scriptural grasp. Above all Dale reveals that the man with a PhD in ecclesiology has no real comprehension of the Church. Like so many liberal Protestants with a charismatic history, Carey frequently confuses his emotional convictions with Christian truth and his secular wisdom with divine inspiration. But Carey himself is really just a symptom. Any Church that believes a provincial synod can define doctrine is, de facto, deeply disordered already. It is a measure of the Anglican crisis that, at a time when it needed real leadership, it got a well-intentioned man who so thoroughly reflected the critical flaws in its own make-up, thus making it vulnerable to lobby groups, emotional blackmail and secular pressure.

Dale's book is passionate and, yes, angry. He is one of the good priests that Careyism drove out. (He has been an Orthodox since 1998). But he also writes with affection for the Church he served all his ministry; frustrated at the senseless damage done to, at its best, a beautiful and noble Christian enterprise, the Church of England.

It is written in haste. Dale was astonished that there appeared to be no planned publishing post-mortem on the last decade or so by Anglicans. He has written his passionate and erudite warning to any who would listen among his Anglican friends. One person may symbolize the crisis, but the crisis is not personal, it is ecclesiological. The Anglican Church's claim to be part of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has always lived in profound tension with its much vaunted comprehensiveness. The last decade has seen the heretical fringe take full and, perhaps, final charge and begin evicting the Catholic and Apostolic centre. On this course Anglicanism may remain a religious organization, but will cease to be a Church.

Dale's book is a powerful and timely warning of the failures of the past and the even greater perils that lie ahead. Read this book and buy a copy for your parish priest.

Available from Faith House Bookshop, 7, Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QN or direct from The Eikon Press, 31, Orchard Street, Newport, Isle of Wight.

 

Robbie Low is Parish Priest of St Peter’s, Bushey Heath.

 

The Dignity of Difference

Jonathan Sacks

Continuum, 216pp, pbk

0 8264 6397 5, £10.99

If ever there was a book engaging profoundly with the big picture of our day this is it. The Chief Rabbi provides a compelling analysis of the way the world is and an upbeat assessment of the future role of the world’s religions in bringing it to its senses. Almost every page engages, so that it is a slow read, requiring space for reflection, rewarding the reader with a sense of seeing what had to that day been obscure come into vivid focus.

The world is in crisis. Globalization has made for such interconnection that systems with a universal claim are inevitably put into conflict, as on 11 September 2001. Our global economy lacks any associated vision of the way the world should be heading. Electronic communications allow the instant transfer of immense quantities of money across the world with the minimum of moral consideration apart from the seeking of immediate gain. The taking of moral responsibility always links to a degree of trust. With face to face relationships minimized in the conduct of the world’s economic affairs, the moral sense of connection between act and consequence is being lost, as in the transferring of jobs from one country to another overnight. There is something of a depersonalization of life, loss of values and widespread anxiety.

In this crisis there is a resurgence of religion that has confounded the sceptics. In part this reflects the search for stability in a fast changing world and for the affirmation of human dignity that religion affords. This resurgence seems also to be demonstrating that in the end homo sapiens is a creature actually more concerned with the question of meaning than with the maximizing of goods or power through economic or political means.

The universal faiths have always provided meaning and purpose for their adherents, but are increasingly driven by globalization to make sense of non-adherents. They present rival claims about the essentials of the human condition that fuel the clash of civilizations in a global society.

Each system has traditions that are on the one hand generous to the outsider and on the other hand abrasive. It is in the renewal and deepening of the former that hope for a common global vision can be found. Where religions can capture afresh God’s affirmation of difference and the call to honour those who are different, people can be enlarged rather than diminished by encounter with those outside their own faith tradition.

In the most radical section Sacks raises questions for which his own orthodox Jewish community recently censored him and which will make many Christians feel uneasy. Could it be that God has spoken though Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians and so on? he asks. Is not God greater than any religion and only partially comprehended by any one faith? In a powerful analogy Jonathan Sacks compares the current threat of fundamentalism to the religious diversity he suggests is God-given to the current ecological threat to biodiversity. Just as in nature the proper object of wonder is not a quintessential leaf but any one of the 250,000 different species, so the idea of a quintessential religion is to be rejected since one can only actually engage in wonder through engaging with one of the variety. This can, in the Rabbi’s book, be squared with the absolute claim of revealed religions, although this section is difficult to grasp.

In the crisis facing the world the stand-off between religions has to melt into genuine conversation so that their adherents can see their vision of what can be for humanity enlarged by encounter with those of a different standpoint. This book is going to catalyze a good amount of such conversation.

 

The Revd Dr John F Twisleton is Chichester Diocesan Adviser for Mission & Renewal.

 

First Comes Love

Scott Hahn

DLT, 212pp, pbk

0 232 52461 0, £10.95

Essays in Trintarian theology are seldom written in quite such a folksy style. Section headings include, ‘It’s the Economy’, ‘Soul Provider’, and ‘The Trinity from Infinity’. Not how I’d write, but, hey, I’m not as clear as Scott Hahn at getting my point across.

The strength of this book lies in the clarity of individual passages. Hahn’s demolition of the use of the ‘gender neutral’ use of ‘Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier’ to replace Father, Son and Spirit is brief and lucid, ‘It’s good for us to tell our loved ones how much we appreciate what they do for us; but it’s far better to tell them how much we love them for who they are as persons.’ Another highlight is his extended discussion of the Fall.

Hahn restates a traditional understanding of both the Trinity and the Christian family, meeting both feminist and moral objections by starting with a study of relations. What is the pattern of familial relations implied by the statement that ‘It is not good for man to be alone’, and what is the pattern of divine relations implied by the creation of man, united as male and female in the likeness of God? How does the pattern of one relationship illuminate and explain the nature of the other? Suddenly our relations with one another are revealed as statements about God.

Hahn makes enlightening use of a concept of a ‘trustee family’ extended beyond the household or ‘domestic’ family, and demanding loyalty to and stewardship of its property, traditions and life. This is the antithesis of the ‘atomistic family’, the individual forging his or her destiny alone, in company with others only while they serve the individual’s wants. Sadly, later in the book Hahn reduces his scope to the ‘domestic family’, at least for practical purposes.

Linked to this is an attempt to draw out the ‘maternal impulse’ in the Godhead by considering the Holy Spirit as indwelling Mother Church – the Bride of Christ. He is careful and challenging, though not always persuasive. For instance he uses texts from the Book of Wisdom but fails to discuss the passage in Proverbs 8 usually applied to the Second Person. Because of his Pneumatology, for Hahn the Church, like the family, is a reflection in her economy of the eternal Trinity, implications of which include a rejection of referring to God as Mother, and the exclusion of women from holy orders.

This book is penetrating, accessible and readable. It challenges us to more work. For my mind Hahn is too enamoured of a Western double progression in which the Holy Spirit, as the eternal reciprocal Love of Father and Son, too easily becomes contingent on the other persons. The idea of Church as trustee family needs more emphasis than the second part of the book gives it; and the treatment of homosexuality, contraception, abortion and adultery is too brief. But perhaps because of these gaps and the questions they raise this book will repay study.

 

Luke Miller is Parish Priest of St Mary the Virgin, Tottenham.

 

SEEKING A LIFE THAT MATTERS

Wisdom for today from the Book of Proverbs

Katharine Dell

DLT, 120pp, pbk

0 232 52402 5, £8.95

In some respects ancient Hebrew Wisdom may not be so very different from our own, cultural differences notwithstanding. There is more to wisdom than our efforts (not always successful) to apply general truths and principles to particular cases. Hebrew Wisdom starts with the practical and, with widening experience, moves on to build a general working structure – a life that matters. Though it is repeated over and over again that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’, the divine activity in the Book of Proverbs is little more than that of ‘acts of God’ in the exclusions of any self-respecting insurance policy. One increases in the knowledge and fear of the Lord as one follows the path of wisdom, attending constantly in her school, and rejecting the seductive blandishments of the loose woman Folly, whose ways lead directly to destruction.

The proverb is the means by which the experience of the way of Wisdom is preserved and transmitted, under the form of riddles and similitudes. Human behaviour is related to ‘natural phenomena and/or other unrelated aspects of human life’, not always obvious. The most effective proverbs are those which are thought-provoking and which repay being pondered and mulled over with great care. The one-liner (as here) is, of course, not the only form. In other circumstances ‘proverb’ may well take the form of an extended parable or story. Dell is well aware of the ‘wisdom’ of Job, Ecclesiastes and others, but any discussion of Jesus as a teacher of wisdom lies well outside the scope of this present book. The nearest we come to the Book of Proverbs in the Hellenistic world would be something like Aesop’s Fables.

Proverbs offers a wide range of examples of wisdom appropriate to all sorts and conditions. In line with current political thinking considerable value is placed on sober and productive work, anticipating the Protestant work ethic. The severest condemnation is reserved for the sluggard! The wise extend advice to a whole variety of life situations, the smallholder in his fields, the merchant in the bazaar, the neighbour, the courtier, even (now and then) the king, the householder, the father of the family and his sons, but not his daughters or wife, with the notable exception of chapter 30.

Dell rightly emphasizes the value of Proverbs at a time like the present when much theology is experience-led, so that people discover the path of wisdom by trial and error. There would be less error if more attention were paid to the wisdom of the sages of old, instead of each person trying to work it out from scratch for him or herself. Also right living is a concern for believer and unbeliever alike; Proverbs, where God is very much in the background, provides a suitable area for dialogue between them.

That, in the end, we are left feeling a little disappointed is not the fault of the author but of her material. The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs is very largely conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is important, worthy and useful, but is hardly very exciting. The scholar of Ecclesiasticus 39, who ‘keeps the discourse of men of renown, enters into the subtleties of parables, and seeks out the hidden meaning of proverbs’, would scarcely have found it very taxing!

 

Hugh Bates is a retired priest living in the Archdiocese of York.

 

THE BENEDICTIONAL OF ST AETHELWOLD

British Library, 270pp, hbk

0 7123 4755 0, £50

This is a text over a thousand years old; it is entirely in Latin; there is no translation; but if I had a Book of the Year Prize to award, this would be the winner. This is a beautifully produced facsimile of what is rightly called ‘a masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon art’, but (and this is what makes this book so special) it is complete. We have here not merely the illustrations (which may well be what most people will buy the book for) but every page of text.

The paper used is especially heavy, having a little of the feel of the original vellum, and the quality of reproduction is excellent: where the ink has bled through, where the gold has been worn off, the corrections, the guide lines, the thumb prints from page turning, it is all here in the actual size. This is as close as you will get to reading a thousand year old book. It is hard work but it is exciting.

It was created by the scribe Godeman sometime between 971 and 984 for Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, supporter of the great king Edgar and colleague of St Dunstan, and contains the solemn blessings to be pronounced by the bishop on the feasts and Sundays of the year, the major festivals being accompanied by full page illustrations, which as well as the text express a rich and distinctive theology.

As you flip through its pages in a bookshop, do not succumb to first impressions. There are many more beautiful illuminated manuscripts from later centuries, it is true, and you may wonder what the several pages of text for the Sundays after Pentecost have to offer, but persevere, for there is great depth in this book. It shows us a Christian world that is both surprisingly modern and yet unlike anything we have ever experienced.

If you run a library for students of a sixth form or a higher education college, then make sure this book is on its shelves. Ours is not merely a godless age, where young people have not heard of the Christian Gospel, it is one unwilling to be taught. The Gospel must, for many young people, be discovered, and for some it will be from texts such as this, uncontaminated by the contemporary church (youth is so unforgiving!). True, they will have to work at it (perhaps a crib for those who do not know Latin would help, and an introduction to tenth century calligraphy) and it will require much extra research. But this book struck me, like no other I have seen this year, as having the quality of a key or a door; it is a gateway to a Christian world of great power and devotion.

Medieval Gothic, mediated through Victorian restoration, is (unfairly) seen as the medium for all that is old-fashioned and to be rejected. Even the beauty of its illuminated manuscripts has been coarsened by their ubiquity at Christmas. This book and its illustrations are from an earlier age, they are not as beautiful nor as rich, but they are astonishingly fresh and arresting. Its text waits to be discovered.

There is an introduction which gives just enough information to arouse one’s interest, without making the text itself redundant, and a few sample translations. Enough to show that an enterprising student could (with a lot of work, and the help of others) produce a collection of translated texts of real poetry and theology. And if all else fails, and you cannot tackle the Latin, look at this book and see how distant and impenetrable seems the Church to this generation, and how beautiful. NT

 

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Jim Cymbala

Zondervan, 188pp, pbk

0 310 21416 5, £8-99

This seems to be a book with an exploding readership. Another Sussex priest commended it to me and I will not hesitate to commend it in turn. Like the best Christian books it works as a powerful reminder of something that regularly slips attention. Here it is the important role of prayer meetings in the growth of the Church.

Pastor Cymbala tells the story of the growth of his church in the roughest part of New York in compelling fashion. He commends preaching, encouraging bold witness, the need to love people and to be vulnerable. Above all he commends prayer, noting how Jesus only got ‘mad’ once in the gospel and it was when he cleansed the Temple saying ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer’.

The Church today, like that in Laodicea, is lukewarm (Revelation 3.15–17). If she admitted her need to hunger more for God and call more upon him, the tide would turn for her. ‘God is attracted by weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.’ Cymbala tells of how drug addicts, transvestites and AIDS sufferers experience transformation as their needs are carried to God in costly intercession likened to the pain of child-birth. Fancy sermons, organizational polish, new ideas, all have their place but nothing shifts people Christ-ward so much as hearts joined before God on their behalf. ‘My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 4.19).

The book challenges every preacher to call God’s people to intercession, not least by the evidence it assembles of changed lives and situations that relate to this ministry. Pastor Cymbala’s admission to his congregation of his own helplessness before the demands of his church and the needy people of Brooklyn is significant. It is the admission of weakness and need that pave the way to encountering God’s provision of new life and growth – in Sussex as much as in New York. JT

 

Mary for earth and heaven

Essays on Mary and Ecumenism

Edited by William McLoughlin and Jill Pinnock

Gracewing, 386pp, hbk

0 85244 556 3, £20

This is a collection of lectures, sermons and homilies delivered in the context of congresses and conferences of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary between 1997 and 2001. There are thirty individual pieces: seventeen from Roman Catholics, five from Orthodox members and eight from others including Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and United Reform. They are, without exception, speakers whose main sphere of work is in Britain and Ireland.

Several of these contributors, for example Edward Yarnold and Frances Young, have been involved with ESBVM for many years (it was established in 1967). This has the consequence for the style and nature of some of the articles: there is an openness and informality, a depth of reflection and sharing of personal experience, that renders particular qualities to this collection. I would draw your attention to Yarnold’s ‘ordination and gender symbolism’ and Frances Young’s ‘Theotokos, Mary and the pattern of fall and resurrection in the theology of Cyril of Alexandria.’

The editors have arranged the collection around nine themes ranging from Mary in systematic theology to Mary and gender, taking in Mary in literature, Mary in patristics and Mary and justice. The breadth of themes held within the cover makes this a very useful introduction to contemporary issues in Marian theology and gives a well illustrated overview of contemporary opportunities and starting points in ecumenical dialogue (in which some contributors are key players).

Early in the collection the reader is reminded of Newman’s conclusion that if one ‘conjures away the Virgin Birth one conjures away the mystery of the unity of God and man in Jesus and the mystery of God’s grace.’ There are some fascinating cross-overs in this book; a United Reform minister speaking about the communion of saints and purgatory, a Methodist minister on the Mother of God. There would seem to be no area of theological endeavour, ecumenical dialogue (including Christian and Jew), peace and justice issues (including Ulster) in which Mariology cannot bring a graceful perspective.

This is a book well worth the money. It is printed in large clear type. It has useful introductions and biographies; it has no weak articles. There are generous footnotes for those of an academic bent. It is both a challenging and a consoling read.

 

Andy Hawes is Vicar of Edenham with Witham-on-the-Hill.

 

GODLY & RIGHTEOUS, PEEVISH & PERVERSE

Compiled by Raymond Chapman

Canterbury, 280pp, hbk

1 85311 492 8, £20

Just in time for Christmas. A literary anthology of the clergy: Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, but mostly CofE parsons of former ages, for they are those who most populate English letters and fiction. A handsome bedside book, urbanely compiled and introduced by Professor Chapman, it is sometimes funny, occasionally edifying, and always entertaining. In matters of religion, our own age has a mean and restricted imagination, this collection of fact and fantasy, satire and admiration is a gentle antidote; the selection and commentary is humane and nicely balanced. There is more to the clerical life than we generally see now, and it is well worth being reminded of that fact. NA

HEART OF ENGLAND

WEST COUNTRY

LONDON

Three Guides to Places of Spiritual Interest

Robert Van de Weyer

John Hunt, 64pp each, pbk

1 903816 25 4 etc, £5.99 each

Among the growing number of small guides for modern tourist pilgrims, these are well worth considering. Very nicely produced and good value, they offer clear text, colour photos and a lively commentary. I suppose you would call his choice eclectic – certainly Rugby School is an odd ‘place of spiritual interest’ whatever his comments on the Christian principles of public school education.

London is the easiest volume to follow. The Pet Cemetery in Hyde Park was a new one to me. Started in 1880 it is filled with miniature headstones on which epitaphs composed by the owners were inscribed. Many reflect the widespread conviction (which, incidentally, John Wesley supported) that animals, as well as humans, go to heaven.

There is a nice comparison between Westminster Abbey, Chapel and Cathedral, and some interesting lesser known sites, such as the Brick Lane Mosque in the former French Huguenot church or the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue built in 1701 by a sympathetic Quaker.

Infuriatingly he gives directions to each place as though one were a high-speed, trophy collecting tourist seeking to nail a dozen sites a day; a map would have been easier. The principal value of these little books, however, is to arouse interest in places one might otherwise miss; definitely recommended. NA

 

VOICES OF THIS CALLING

Experiences of the first generation of women priests

Edited by Christina Rees

Canterbury, 224pp, pbk

1 85311 412 X, £9.99

Not the sort of book one would expect to publicize in New Directions, but the fact remains that many of the testimonies, mostly from the women priests themselves but also from their supporters, are simple, moving and full of passion. Some are angry (Judith Rose), some (John Saxbee) too gushing by half, and the introduction by Rees is a tendentious manifesto, but most of the contributions are perfectly sensible and express exactly the views one would expect, and as each recalls her emotion and joy in 1992 and ’94, it would be churlish not to join a little in their happiness, even if one cannot share their optimism at all the good that will one day come when the ‘process’ is complete.

What is striking is the sad ignorance of what one of them calls ‘the infamous Act of Synod’. The idea that all the problems of discrimination would be solved by its repeal is surely nonsense: the idea that it is we traditionalists who are hampering their progress is flattering but daft; we do not have the power they ascribe to us. More seriously, I could not find one who did not believe, consciously or unconsciously, that it is the Act of Synod that is the source and focus of all that opposes and hinders their ministry.

The truth remains that it was the primary legislation, voted through in November ’92, which enshrines the provisionality of their ordination. Let them rejoice in all that has happened; but let them not rewrite history. It is surely a mistake, and one in which their right-on episcopal supporters must share the responsibility, to believe that the removal of the Act of Synod will fundamentally change anything for them. It was the church measure that each writer in this compilation so enthusiastically celebrates which stated that their orders were open to rejection.

A short epilogue by Rowan Williams is carefully worded, and capable of wide interpretation. He is clearly in favour and speaks about reception. I am not quite sure what he is saying, but it is no doubt a text to which we shall return. ‘We hear a good deal about "reception"’ is one of his comments, which is odd, because I do not think we do. Certainly no model is offered in this book, no suggestion made as to how it might be judged ten years on.

Time and again, these women speak as though the CofE accepted women priests in November 1992. Which of course it did not. Maybe they are true priests, and all the testimonies are given in that belief, but then again maybe they are not. If nothing else this book helped me to realize that my ‘problems’ are not with individual women ministers, for all our differences of theology, but with the CofE and its hierarchy for such flabby ecclesiology. NT

 

THE NEW FLATLANDERS

Eric Middleton

Highland, 176pp, pbk

1 897913 65 6, [£6.99]

Like a picture of the heavens, this book is a crazy confusion of beauty and chaos, science and Evangelical spirituality. Very slightly barking mad, it is a manic journey through most of the contemporary headline discoveries of science, with the nervous young Christian in mind. His aim is to ‘give Christian apologists greater confidence to debate with scientists’. Whether those scientists will make head or tail of a word they say, I am unsure, but it will instil confidence.

P-branes, multiple dimensions, fractals, superstrings, homo habilis, DNA, and much, much more; it is mostly physics but an eclectic blend, a whole library of popular science crammed into a single paperback. If you shy away from such discussion for fear that it will undermine your faith, this has much to offer: not an overall coherent picture, but a strong sense that spiritual questions can be posed even of modern science, that it is not wrong to ask the deeper questions, that you do not have to be over-awed by the crude reductionism of the Neo-Darwinians.

For an intelligent 18-year old, it offers an extended and friendly dialogue, and a wealth of material for the imagination. To an older reader, it may be manic, but he is clearly a good teacher, well versed in his subject, and even has an endorsement from John Hapgood, and it is definitely not how-to-be-nice spirituality. We like it. AS

 

COME, LORD Jesus!

Geoffrey Rowell & Julien Chilcott-Monk

Canterbury, 178pp, pbk

1 85311 473 1, £5.99

A series of biblical readings and reflections for the period from Advent Sunday to the Feast of the Epiphany, with an additional Marian reflection for each day. Simple but serious. To be commended. AS

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