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Phil W "philipwhitehead"

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God Is Love
God Is Love
by Gerald Bray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.61

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy-to-read introduction but frustrating in some ways, 16 Nov 2013
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This review is from: God Is Love (Hardcover)
It's not so often that one comes across a "Biblical and systematic theology" so I was intrigued by this. Gerald Bray has attempted to present a coherent explanation of Christian belief for people who don't like traditional systematic theology, or might never pick one up.The book is broadly structured by the theme of exploring God's love, and approaches key Christian beliefs in a sensible order. I particularly appreciated the early attention given to the doctrine of the Trinity, and found myself in general agreement with Bray's approach to revelation and the knowledge of God. Bray's explanation of human promise and predicament in Parts 3 and 4 is a particularly clear and (I would argue) faithful presentation of what the New Testament, particularly Paul, teaches. Further on, there are discussions of important Christian doctrines and also questions which are becoming increasingly pointed for Christians - for example, how to approach the phenomenon of religious diversity, or issues around human sexuality and gender. Generally Bray comes to conclusions which are consonant with a Reformed evangelical approach (he himself is an evangelical Anglican), though there are one or two surprising claims - for example that "in [The Bible's] terms, sexual intercourse is marriage, whether or not there has been a ceremony to record this fact." (316). Examples drawn from contemporary culture are wholly Western, and mainly North American, though as a Brit I found them generally accessible. The uniqueness of the book is that it tries to be limited to those matters on which the Bible speaks; that is, to have as its subject matter the Biblical revelation, and to speak sparingly or not at all about theological issues outside this area. It is also very easy to read, with extremely lucid prose.
However, I wonder how useful this book in fact will be for its stated audience of lay Christians without the desire to pick up a work of systematic theology. At over 700 pages of text, excluding indices, it is still a considerable book. In an effort to be simple, footnotes are kept to a minimum, and almost all of them are bare biblical references (e.g. "Gal. 2:20" or "Mark 12:25"). I certainly can't remember coming across a single non-biblical reference-style footnote. While this removes the intimidation factor of the lengthy scholarly apparatus found in academic writing, it also means that interaction with other scholars is hard to discern in the book. Knowing Bray's work, he will undoubtedly be bringing a wealth of scholarly engagement to this book, but this is almost entirely hidden. Apart from occasional references to named reformers or Church Fathers (without book titles or references for us to look them up) other scholars aren't named. With a knowledge of historical theology and contemporary systematic theology, it is possible to guess who Gerald Bray has in mind when he talks about "some have taught that..."; but for beginners this will not be apparent. This makes it difficult to evaluate the context Bray gives to his own arguments. The footnoting of bare biblical references makes one suspicious of "proof-texting" and for the beginner, it may simply function as an authority-stamp on what Bray has just said. No need to even look up the verse; just accept that the reference given proves it is "biblical". Many of the passages appealed to have considerable debate over their interpretation and application (for example, Romans 7!) and I am far from convinced that Bray's approach in this respect is fair and helpful. While I appreciate that a book aimed at beginners would want to avoid the kind of footnote you'd find in an academic journal, listing twenty commentaries and dictionaries in various languages and evaluating their relative success in interpreting passages cited, there must be a better way of presenting the kinds of arguments Bray wants to make. Something like "Hebrews 1:1 says that... and this suggests ... is true." introduces a bit of 'showing your working' in interpretation and introduces the concept of a step between the authority of the Bible and the authority of the theologian. I think that the approach of avoiding explicit conversation with other scholars can lead in this book to difficulty in expressing relative probabilities of several options, room for doubt and agnosticism on difficult issues, or signalling when Bray is making a contentious (as opposed to a generally-accepted) claim. To be fair to Bray, this is a deliberate choice, both in the name of accessibility and of avoiding entanglement in the many briar-patches of theological controversy. I just feel that it may either make a beginner dogmatic about issues which may be less clear-cut than this book implies, or confused when (not if) they encounter different teaching. Furthermore, with a book aimed at those who might not want to pick up a book of systematic theology, I wonder if an opportunity has been lost to guide them into a world of helpful and edificatory scholarship via such a marvellously easy-to-read introduction.
In addition, when sociological statements are made (for example, about the numbers of marriages ending in divorce, or the allegedly increasing incidence of homosexuality) it would be very helpful to have some idea about whence these claims are derived. Do they refer to the USA? Or worldwide? Who conducted the study and when? Are there other interpretations of the data? If Bray thinks that laypeople are too ill-equipped to evaluate the sociological data in more detail, perhaps he should avoid these kinds of arguments and illustrations, however interesting, urgent, or relevant they make the subject at hand appear.
Overall, I found this book both exciting in terms of being an easy-to-read and well-structured presentation of Christian belief; enjoyable as I agreed with most of Bray's main contentions and heartening as he gave due attention to oft-neglected doctrines such as the Trinity and the "Fall"; and immensely frustrating when a contentious claim was made and I was unable to follow up on the evidence or evaluate Bray's argument in more detail, due to the lack of referencing and the "bareness" of appeals to scripture. More than once, upon looking up the passage cited, I was a bit puzzled as to how exactly it supported the claim it was a footnote to. I think I would recommend it for slightly more mature Christians than the beginners it aims itself at, if only for the reason that an awareness of the need to evaluate the validity of appeals to Scripture would be advisable in a reader of this or any other work.


Christianity and World Religions
Christianity and World Religions
by Derek Cooper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.38

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and up-to-date introduction, 23 April 2013
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Derek Cooper has done a great job of introducing the subject of Christianity's attitudes and relation to the major world religions. The book contains a helpful introduction to each religion and could be a valuable resource for college or undergraduate students, as well as for the lay Christian reader looking to find a clear and reliable introduction to the beliefs and practices of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or Sikhism. Following these there are some very lucid and engaging chapters on Christian approaches to understanding the nature and purpose of other religions. Both biblical-theological and systematic approaches are covered. Written from a Protestant, evangelical perspective, Cooper nevertheless interacts with a wide and representative range of Christian thinking on this issue, including John Hick and Paul Knitter, but also more recently developed positions such as that proposed by S. Mark Heim.
This book also includes some well-thought-out study questions for reflection or essay-writing, and a practical guide to undertaking a visit to a place of worship (e.g. Synagogue, Mosque, Temple).
I would recommend this book to Christian students looking for a readable and up-to-date introduction to this topic, seminarians or Christian workers looking to understand other religions better from a theological perspective, Religious Studies teachers, or any Christian reader looking for a reliable introduction to this area.


Revelation
Revelation
Price: £0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful contemporary translation and introduction, 15 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Revelation (Kindle Edition)
I was told once by a fellow theology postgrad that scholarship on Revelation is "messed up" and wading through commentaries on the book tries anyone's patience. The introductory essay to this new translation is therefore both welcome and helpful as a primer to understanding the book of Revelation. Paul Langham has managed to cram in a good deal of explanation of the various debates and issues in Revelation to this essay without making it inaccessible, as well as offering some helpful suggestions of his own as to the significance of the imagery and symbolism of the book. The essay is therefore helpful to the interested reader of the Bible with no formal theological training, and a good refresher or overview for those with more experience of New Testament studies. Learned without being scholarly, and interacting briefly with the best of biblical scholarship ancient and modern, there are also some suggestions for further reading.
The real gem in this book, however, is the new paraphrastic translation of Revelation. Reading this has really helped me understand the significance of much of the imagery in the book and appreciate anew John's vision of Christ. Contemporary without being cliche or twee, this is one of the most readable paraphrases of a New Testament document I have come across.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 29, 2013 7:00 AM GMT


Paul's Parallels: An Echoes Synopsis
Paul's Parallels: An Echoes Synopsis
by Patricia Elyse Terrell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £154.55

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic and often unhelpful, 12 Mar 2011
I'm not sure what the purpose of this synopsis is. If meant as an analogue to a three/four gospel synopsis, one would expect it to deal with verbal parallels and allusions, but as it is some very obvious verbal parallels and even citations are omitted (perhaps because the author relies on the King James text rather than the LXX for Old Testament citations). The parallels adduced here are rather thematic parallels and very often idiosyncratic and highly selective. Apart from some very few references to extrabiblical works of sometimes questionable historical and theological value (e.g. Infancy Gospel of Thomas) it is hard to see what is added here that one would not find in the cross-references published in any study Bible, or indeed the far better cross-references published in UBS4. Translations of extrabiblical texts, very sparsely used as parallels after the first few dozen pages, are referenced badly and in some cases incorrectly (inexplicably, the Testimonium Flavianum is said to be in Bell. not Ant.) and the work sorely needs the eye of a copy-editor. The biblical text is in the King James Version throughout, further reducing its academic value. From the introduction it is apparent the author does not know Greek, so reliance on an English translation is an unavoidable handicap, but the decision to use the KJV is poorly-justified. The introductory essay hardly gives one hope concerning the quality of scholarship involved, and at some points makes extravagant and unsupported claims. Given the high price of this book it would seem to appeal only to the scholarly market, but is of little or no use to the academic.


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