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Mr. Michael Lumsden (Cambridge, UK)

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Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love
Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love
by Elizabeth A. Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Theologian learning from Darwin, 5 Jan. 2016
I enjoyed this book immensely.

It was very refreshing to come across a theologian who has taken the time and trouble to engage properly with science. Specifically the writer shows a good understanding and appreciation of Charles Darwin and his work.

Most theologians seem to me to work almost exclusively from scripture or tradition. Such an approach often results in thinking that seems divorced from the real world. In this book the writer allows her theology to be informed by the findings of science. This seemed to result in a much richer and grounded theology.

The key strands brought out in the book are as follows:

• The writer sees no conflict between the science associated with evolution and the Christian ideas about creation.
• Her thesis is that the creator (through the process of evolution) has brought into being a myriad of species of which humans are just one. The idea that human beings have greater importance than other creatures is at best highly questionable.
• As one of the species that have evolved together we are all part of the Tree of Life – sharing mutual dependency with our fellow creatures.

The author goes on to consider the impact that human behaviour is having on the created order and particularly the scandal of the current high level of extinctions which are directly related to human activity. The fact that the churches in general do not seem concerned about the destruction of the created order seems to demonstrate that there is an anthropocentric theology in place that is not warranted in the light of Darwin's work and indeed is not warranted by close reading of the biblical texts.

Finally there is a challenge to Christians to consider the place of death. Often this is seen as an aberration which arose from human sin. In the real world death is an essential part of the process that has led to the emergence of complex life and indeed to each and every one of us. It has been said rightly that we are made of stardust; it is also true that we owe our lives to the deaths of millions of individuals and indeed species.

I give five stars because the author has worked so hard to grapple with and understand Darwin and then has been insightful in drawing out the implications, both theoretical and practical.

Fruitfulness on the Frontline
Fruitfulness on the Frontline
by Mark Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves to be widely read, 14 Jun. 2015
The message of this book is dynamite. It is highly orthodox and does not say anything new - but nonetheless it is a neglected message which Mark Green understands and does a good job of expounding. I believe that most open minded readers would find challenges but also expanded vision and expanded hope.
One word of warning: the author seems to write from within an evangelical tradition and he seems to have done little to adapt his message for a wider audience. Not being an Evangelical Christian I found myself confused or even angered by some of his illustrations. However the message of the book is too important to be limited to readers from one tradition - the weakness is about style, not content.
Whatever tradition you come from I think this would be a profitable read

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, ... Emergent, Unfinished Christian (Emergent YS)
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, ... Emergent, Unfinished Christian (Emergent YS)
by Brian D. McLaren
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very Generous, 25 May 2015
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Helen Hancox has, in my view, written a great review. But in order to register the stars here is my effort.........
Don't you just hate Christians slagging each other off? And don't you hate it when writers (or preachers) ignore all other traditions or viewpoints and imply that their model of Faith is the only (vallid/true) one? This book takes the opposite approach
It seems to me that McLaren is a writer with vision - he sees that we none of us have a monopoly on truth and therefore seeks to find good things in all traditions - particularly those alien to him. He seems to do this graciously and finds much that is helpful in all.
The book is very down to earth and does not get side-tracked into academic controversies. What emerges is is a wider and deeper faith, enriched by his close contact with a multitude of traditions. And here is a pointer toward greater unity (for which Jesus prayed).

The Cactus Stabbers
The Cactus Stabbers
by Jeff Lucas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Lucas at his best, 24 May 2015
This review is from: The Cactus Stabbers (Paperback)
I have been less than enthusiastic when reviewing some of his other works so it is only fair to give this 5 stars. When he writes about real life he is funny, relevant and challenging.
My only complaint was that the book is quite short.

The Midwife's Sister: The Story of Call The Midwife's Jennifer Worth by her sister Christine
The Midwife's Sister: The Story of Call The Midwife's Jennifer Worth by her sister Christine
by Christine Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 5 April 2015
I am a huge fan of Jennifer Worth and her books including "In the Midst of Life" and "Call the Midwife". So when I read the subtitle "the story of Jennifer Worth by her sister Christine" I looked forward eagerly to a great read
Unfortunately the content is not "what it says on the tin" - it is simply an autobiography.
Whether it is a good autobiography I am unsure - as someone who is not particularly interested in the life story of Christine Lee I am perhaps not best placed to judge. I did give it a try but did not enjoy it. I felt that it would have been better if the the author's recollection of (and opinions about) family details had been discussed with a few close friends rather than aired in public.
The book is dedicated to Jennifer but the dedication is in my opinion inconsistent with much of the content.

In the Midst of Life
In the Midst of Life
by Jennifer Worth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect mix, 5 April 2015
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This review is from: In the Midst of Life (Paperback)
Jennifer Worth is best known as Jenny Lee in "Call the Mid-wife". Following her her exploits in midwifery she went into general nursing and found herself dealing particularly with the dying.
The book is a Reflection on her experience with the dying and changing approaches to this crucial subject. In addition to dramatic real life stories from the wards there is informed comment on the key individuals (such as Kubler-Ross) who have helped to change attitudes to this most important stage in all our journeys.
From her experience Jennifer Worth concludes that we should be more realistic about the stark fact that Death awaits us all and learn to treat the Angel of Death as a friend who will take us on our way rather than an enemy to feared.
In the introduction Jennifer Worth reports that she felt a real sense of vocation in writing - I would affirm that this is the case. Far from being a morbid book it is thoroughly life affirming.

Bonzo's War: Animals Under Fire 1939 -1945
Bonzo's War: Animals Under Fire 1939 -1945
by Clare Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard going, but glad I persevered, 25 Jan. 2015
Several reviewers have expressed their opinion that the book was well written. Personally I found it hard going; the reason for the stars is that the book has been written. the book reveals the cavalier attitude of people to animals. For animal lovers it is quite an upsetting story of humans looking after animals mainly by killing them.
In heroic books like "War Horse" there is the romance of an animal hero - and indeed we do have stories of remarkable Rescue Dogs. But the overwhelming theme is of animal suffering at the hands of humanity. For me it was a timely reminder of the need to be vigilant in supporting animal charities and the environment.

Dare to Break Bread: Eucharist in Desert and City
Dare to Break Bread: Eucharist in Desert and City
by Geoffrey Howard
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Connecting to reality, 22 Nov. 2014
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This is a very short book of only 84 pages. Often “less is more” or as Bishop Trevor Huddleston says in his forward “This is a small book, but small is beautiful, and in this case, life saving as well.”

The author is a parish priest and explorer and compiled the book as a result of time spent pondering and meditating while staying as a hermit on the summit of a 9,000 foot peak in the Sahara Desert.

Personally I have always struggled to recognise the connection between a strange ritual carried out in churches by (usually) men in strange clothes to the reality of ordinary life. The author has helped me to overcome this difficulty by relating each aspect of the Eucharist to everyday life both in the parish and on his travels.

Many will appreciate that there is a mystical component to the elements received in Communion and the author does not attempt to demystify this part; what he does is highlight the challenge and significance of each element of the service. For example he examines the phrase in the Gloria which goes “Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to his people on Earth”. This originates from the song of the angels at the birth of Christ. I was challenged to consider in a world torn by war and strife, what am I doing to work for Peace?
And again at the sharing of the Peace we proclaim “We are one body because we all share in one bread” How can I say this so glibly when the church is split and divided?

This is not a book to pick up if you want to be comfortable – the title is apt; do not break bread if you do not want to be challenged about your role in the world; do not read this book to be comfortable and feel good.

Questions of Business Life: Exploring Workplace Issues from a Christian Perspective
Questions of Business Life: Exploring Workplace Issues from a Christian Perspective
by Richard Higginson
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge to today's Church, 24 Oct. 2014
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This book was published in 2002 and as such some of the content is a little dated. However the majority is as relevant as the day it was written.
In the body of the book the author considers whether there is a Christian response or contribution to be made to the modern workplace. His analysis is deep as he draws widely on the work of others and his conclusions are thoughtful with no trite answers.
The overwhelming message is that for too long Christians have failed to adequately engage with the workplace; the modern church has over-reacted to materialism and taught that "secular" work is of minor consequence (perhaps a necessary evil).
However, he shows convincingly that this is a shallow view. Not only is it the case that God is interested in the workplace but modern business ideas have very often got their roots in Christian models of leadership and servant hood; business gurus are often stealing the clothes from the church (but as the church has been so silent on the issue there is little scope for complaint!)
The church needs to recapture the vision of the Reformers who saw all work as Vocation. Although the "Protestant Work Ethic" has been corrupted, it can be redeemed and can be a powerful tool in revitalising this area of the church's mission.
My fear is that individuals such as Higginson will remain voices crying in the wind; the structure of the church tends to reinforce the message that it is holy people (priests/leaders/pastors/nuns) who do the important stuff; the role of those in work/business is simply to finance the church workers. While calling for a change the author does not suggest ways in which such change might actually happen.

Faith and Wisdom in Science
Faith and Wisdom in Science
by Tom McLeish
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.92

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving Science, 20 Sept. 2014
The first positive point about the book is that Prof Mcleish writes from an unusual position. He is first and foremost a very eminent practicing scientist – and his love of science comes through every page. This means that while he clearly has a deep Faith he is writing as a friend of science and is therefore able to understand and indeed agree with some of the ideas of Atheists who are also scientists. There are few writers that are better placed to bridge the gap that seems to have opened up between Scientists and the general populace; indeed it seems to me that the book is as much a defense of science as of any religious tradition.

When I started the book I had some concern that the theological side would be lightweight. My own expertise is limited here, but my impression is that this is not the case. I think that the writer had taken good advice and had been guided to explore issues and themes that had proved to be inspiring and fascinating to him.

McLeish seeks to explore some of the problems associated with science. Having a scientific training I was somewhat shocked to consider or recognise the failure of science to get a positive message across. He contends that outside of the “scientific fraternity” science is generally misunderstood or feared. Science is often seen as a dull mechanical routine which is carried out in laboratories by people wearing white coats. Many able students reject a scientific career as they see it as stifling any creativity – it is the orbit of geeks. Worse, the expert scientist is seen as the holder of power that might be unleashed on the rest of society who are kept in ignorance. Science is seen as lacking in soul – a discipline that produces useful results but is devoid of colour. I was left feeling that science itself needs to be rescued, and indeed Mcleish appears grieved that so few appear to understand and share his joy in science.

McLeish is particularly interested in the relationship between theology and science – and sees theology as a friend of science. This is a refreshing approach! But he believes that the view that there is an interface is flawed; he agrees with Dennett that there should not be any area that is beyond the reach of scientific enquiry. But he also affirms that theology has no boundaries either, and calls for a development of a theology of science.

He argues passionately that until relatively recently there was no gulf between the disciplines and gives several detailed historical examples of scientific work and thinking being practiced by individuals who would mainly be thought of in connection with theological work. Indeed the word “science” (linked to knowledge) is a relatively modern term – before about 1830 workers in the field dealt with Natural Philosophy (loving wisdom in natural things). He refutes the contention of some “New Atheists” that science is new – and only flourished when we were able to break away from old religious dogma.

Noting that both disciplines have a long history he also points out that they share a questioning approach. This may be a surprise to some unfamiliar with science (schools tend to teach a body of knowledge) or religion (surely religion is about dogmatic beliefs?). I found this part very refreshing – with both approaches sharing (to some extent) a contingent view of truth which means that both should develop and evolve. In science it is clear that there is no end to the road of discovery – and the same must be true of any Faith journey – be it of an individual or the community.

McLeish looks for reconciliation between the disciplines and hopes that each will be able to help and support the other. This seems a long way away! I was disappointed that there were not clearer ideas as to what McLeish would like the Church (and other religious traditions) to contribute here.

There is a delightful study of the nature themes in the bible and especially in the book of Job. I am grateful to the author for this section which certainly expanded my thinking – I was especially pleased with the focus on God as creator of all things, and Man not the most important!

The book is a serious study of important issues which are sometimes not a particularly easy. Readers will need to be prepared to work hard and grapple with some of the content - but I believe that such efforts will be richly rewarded.

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