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J Whitgift "J Whitgift" (London)

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Solo: A James Bond Novel
Solo: A James Bond Novel
by William Boyd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor, from Aston Martin DB5 driver to Pedestrian (both in form and description), 2 Oct 2013
Having read most of the recent (official) James Bond novels, along with the canon published by Fleming, this novel is perhaps the worst I have ever read. It lacks life or a sense of the 'otherness' of Bond, concentrating too much on his failings, and not enough on that which makes him such a figure of both fun and fantasy. In essence Bond is turned into a pedestrian official rather than a ruthless killing machine, concerned more with the decorators and the installation of a new shower, than in saving the world from evil. There is also a sense of a dropped ball at the end of novel, one that is so un-Bond like, that one wonders if Boyd is hoping for a second bite of the cherry.

Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.36

1.0 out of 5 stars Incandescent and Incoherent, 2 Oct 2013
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James H Cone's 'Black Theology and Black Power' is one of the foundation documents of 'Black Theology', it is also very much a piece of writing of its time. Yet with this in mind, it is also a badly written and incoherent book, one that mistakes incandescent rage for coherent theological thinking, leaving one with an unreadable and incoherent theological treatise which is much to the detriment of Black Theology.

The main thesis of Cone's work is that for a long period of time white people have seen black people as 'its' (things, as opposed to people, or as he puts it, 'it' rather than 'thou'). The message of Black Theology is, for Cone, to reverse that trend, to ensure that black people see themselves (and are seen as 'thou' as opposed to 'it'). A process described, at some length, in Edward Said's 'Orientalism'. Unfortunately what Cone actually does is to turn white people from 'thou' to 'it' by making them the subject of 'Black Theology's' rage, assuming that white people are a homogenous whole. In this he uses inverse racism*, making white people as the 'created and despised other' within Cone's theological imagination.

Cone's theology is incoherent as he allows his rage to get the better of him, dispensing with theological form or thinking and allowing his rants to get the better of him. Thus, whilst he is able to provide an analysis of the situation as he sees it, he is provides no articulated theological response, merely a repetition of the idea that sin and salvation are caught up in the colour of one's skin, rather than one's behaviour. In this, Cone sets himself up as a demi-god, dispensing salvation on his own terms, rather than those of the Bible. There is also an element of Pelagianism in this (as there is in some of his other books), where white people are told that salvation will only come through right action, without any reference to the Cross or to Grace. He does, however, acknowledge that Jesus is to be found amongst the poor and dispossessed, rather than amongst the rich and powerful (a theme within theologies of liberation, of which Black Theology is but one).

The incoherence of this text continues in that Cone claims that it is for black rather than white readers, yet spends much of his time talking directly to and castigating his white readers. It is almost as though Cone does not know who his audience is, or is unwilling to allow his white readership the right of response.

* Though Cone would argue that Black people cannot be racist, because they lack the power to be racist. Which itself both disempowering of his black readers, if not also linguistic nonsense!

Swallowing a Fishbone - Feminist Theologians Debate
Swallowing a Fishbone - Feminist Theologians Debate
by Dr Daphne Hampson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would be an excellent book on Feminist Theology, were it not for Hampson's contribution, 17 Sep 2013
This would be a very good book about Feminist Theology, indeed it could serve as a very useful introduction to Feminist Theological thinking with regards to Orthodox Christianity, were it not for the inclusion of Daphne Hampson as an author. The problem with Hampson is her anti-orthodox Christian theology stance, and her attacks on her fellow authors who dare to disagree with what she has to say. Whilst she seems to advocate a stance that there is no orthodoxy within Feminism, as feminist theology is a conversation or a continuum, rather than a doctrinal theology, she then attacks those who she accuses of deliberately misunderstanding what she is trying to say, thus undermining her own point about 'conversation'. With contributors like Coakley and the incomparable Janet Martin Soskice, the inclusion of Hampson in this series of essays appears deliberately and unhelpfully provocative.

Had Hampson's essays not been included this book would have been worth five stars. Given her inclusion and her attitude toward her fellow contributors, a generous 3 stars is all I can give it. A real shame, for what should have been an interesting, informative and provocative book on Feminist Theology.

An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist
An Appetite For Wonder: The Making of a Scientist
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.00

12 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent communication, little in biographical colour, 15 Sep 2013
This book raises the question of whether one can really ever write a history of one's own life: whether there is actually a pure form of 'autobiography', or whether what we are not the best describers of our own reality. This is a question raised by Dawkins's autobiography.

I came to this book wanting to find out some biographical colour to Dawkins's life, in particular to what makes him tick intellectually, especially with regards to his visceral dislike of religion. (To those who immediately reply that his response is to do with the truth of religious belief, I would ask 'quo veritas?' In this instance truth is not absolute, but relative, conditional and subject to outside influence.) Sadly, having read this book, I have come away with little sense of who Dawkins is or of who he sees himself to be. Rather this book is far more about that which he has observed, than that which he has experienced. (This is perhaps the problem with allowing a scientist to writer about their own life, it comes down to hard and solid facts, rather than soft or emotional ones.) Thus we are left with very little sense of 'who' Dawkins is and much more of a sense of that which has observed, mostly in others and very little in himself.

Dawkins also gets too involved, too early on, in lengthy discussions of science (esp. with regards to his post-Graduate research work). This will be of interest to some, but not to all general readers. This is an important point. Dawkins is a well known (if not always highly regarded) public intellectual and holder of a Chair in the public communication of science, yet his ability to communicate in this book is severely tested. He communicates well on one level (the descriptive/ scientific) but on another tells us nothing at all. Yet it is very difficult to fault his ability in communication, which is both clear and concise, proving just the right level of detail so as not to alienate the interested and intelligent amateur, and without any sense of patronising the reader (on the scientific level at least).

On another level, relating to religion and imagination in the process of child development, Dawkins feels much more like an atheistic Don Quixote, charging at windmills, presuming them to be giants. At various times he makes sweeping statements against theologians and the use of imagination by (and with adults interacting with) children. He questions the use of metaphor by theologians or the use of imagination in children as though these are great evils, designed to corrupt the credulous mind. Yet imagination, with regards to children, can often be a means of interpreting the world, just as metaphor for theologians (and in wider culture) is a means of truth-telling. Both uses need to be properly caveated and explained in the proper context, yet neither do lasting damage. I do, however, agree, that a certain level of questioning scepticism should be taught to children at the appropriate time: Dawkins might also be surprised to learn that such questioning also sits at the heart of much theological debate, both by the theologically literate, but also by the wider laity, educated or otherwise.

In conclusion, what I really would like to see is a proper intellectual and questioning biography of Dawkins. One that asks the right questions and seeks answers of Dawkins (psychological and theological as well as scientific). This book fails on this count which is why I am unable to give it more than one star, however well written it may otherwise be.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 7, 2014 12:14 PM GMT

Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation 1968-1998
Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation 1968-1998
by James H. Cone
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.10

3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag of essays, 11 Sep 2013
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This is an interesting (if mixed bag) of essays. Some are very good, e.g. his essay on the sanctification of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X or ecology and Black Theology. Others serve as useful clarifications of what Cone has said elsewhere. Others appear to be of little value or interest beyond the immediate context in which they were given. His perhaps most important message is that Black Theology needs both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X to hold the tendency towards accommodation on the one hand, and violence on the other, in creative tension.

What concerns me about Cone's theology, however, (expressed here and in other books) is his propensity towards Pelagianism, that is his insistence that in order for salvation to be effective, the sinner (that is white people) must first change their attitudes and modes of behaviour. In effect, salvation comes first through action on the side of the sinner, rather than through grace. He also places too heavy an emphasis on white sin (though in some of the essays he does recognise that middle class black people have also failed to act on behalf of the poor). Part of this tendency towards neo-Pelagianism, I suspect, is Cone's rejection of traditional doctrinal theology: his motif being that, if it has nothing to say to the oppressed, then it is not a valid theology. (Or to put it more succinctly still: 'what do dead white men* have to say to Black Theologians today'). It should not be denied (within the context of Theology or Praxis) that ignoring the poor or keeping people in slavery through action or inaction is itself sinful, but one cannot and should not abandon or condemn the past because it does not meet the expectations of the present, or condemn one portion of humanity, for its failure to act. That is, perversely, actually to let people off too lightly.

* One has to acknowledge that these 'dead white men' include St. Augustine, amongst others, who was African, rather than European in origin.

Sherlock Holmes - The Stuff of Nightmares
Sherlock Holmes - The Stuff of Nightmares
by James Lovegrove
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There are two types of SH pastiches ..., 22 Aug 2013
There are two types of Sherlock Holmes pastiches: those that work; and, those that don't. This book falls firmly into the latter category, though it is difficult to pin down why it should do so. The main reason is that this book is utterly un-Doyle in its narrative style, focusing as much on technology (Steam Punk/ Jules Verne) as it does on mental detection. There is also a great deal of boundary crossing within the next, drawing on (but not restricted to) modern tropes such as Batman and Transformers. Yet work it does, producing a tight and fast-paced narrative. And whilst it is so unlike the canon produced by Conan Doyle, yet it is still worthy to be counted as a good pastiche of his Sherlock Holmes novels.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 5, 2013 11:30 AM BST

Why Sacraments?
Why Sacraments?
by Stephen Foster
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to Sacramental Theology, 18 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Why Sacraments? (Paperback)
Having spent the last couple of months buffing up on Sacramental Theology, I am of the opinion that Davison's book on the theology of the Sacraments is on a par with that of Macquarrie's 'Introduction to the Sacraments' as a primer in this area of (Doctrinal) theology. This is in part due to Davison's ability to communicate complex ideas to those who may not consider themselves to be theologically literate, yet in a way which does not alienate those who are more theologically literate (an important skill for a lecturer in Doctrinal Theology at an Anglican Seminary!)

I was particularly taken by Davison's use of Christology and Pneumatology as ways of engaging with and understanding Sacramental Theology. By reading the Sacraments through these categories Davison links them back into the life of the Church and its members, without having to resort to clumsy (and infantilising) language, such as describing the Sacraments as 'kisses from God'. (Kisses though they may be, the relationship between the Kisser, God, and the recipient, us, is far more profound than such a term allows for.) This approach, of linking (and reading the Sacraments through) Christology and Pneumatology into is also consistent with Davison's interest in demonstrating the interlinked nature of theology and philosophy, by demonstrating how theology is inextricably linked to praxis.

Another advantage (and perhaps a surprise) is Davison's language, which is both robust, but also thoughtful and considered. Such language helps the flow of the book and keeps it from getting too far away from its (unstated) aim of linking theology with praxis. (Anyone who has tried to work out which chapters of 'For the Church' were written by Davison or Millbank, A will find their task that much more difficult having read this book!)

My only complaint (and it is a very minor one) is that Davison states that towns with Cathedrals in them are automatically considered Cities. Cities are normally formed by Royal Charter rather than by the presence of a Cathedral in their environs, thus Southwark is a Borough (of London) and not a city, despite the presence of three Cathedrals (Anglican, Catholic and Greek Orthodox).

Pope Francis
Pope Francis
by Paul Vallely
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The best of the bunch, but needs a good editor, 4 Aug 2013
This review is from: Pope Francis (Paperback)
I will start by saying that the journalistic quality of this book means it deserves 5 starts, especially as it provides an in-depth view of Jorge Mario Berregoglio (Pope Francis) and his transformation from a conservative Catholic, anti-Liberation Theology, to one who championed the poor. Given how quickly the text was published after Berregoglio's election as Pope, it is surprising how good the book actually is (well researched, though with a few errors, according to The Tablet*, who believe this to be the best biography available in English.) Other than the editing (see below) my only complaint about the book is the sudden change that takes place in the text when discussing how Berregoglio went from being a conservative/ anti-liberation theologian to one who believed in a 'option for the poor'. Whilst the shift is explained within the text, the text itself almost seemed to make a lurch in direction and emphasis.

However, I have removed 2 stars from my review because it has not been edited properly, meaning that there are a number of repetitions within the text, spelling errors and an unnecessarily long post-script which doesn't add much to the text. This lets the book down and thus its rating has been reduced.

* Published Friday 2 August.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 15, 2013 3:52 PM BST

God and the Gangs
God and the Gangs
by Robert Beckford
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.04

3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but focuses too heavily on post-colonialism and not enough on strutural/ political inquality, 4 Aug 2013
This review is from: God and the Gangs (Paperback)
I came to this book wishing to reflect on knife (and gun) crime in Brixton, S.E. London: looking at causes and potential ways of understanding and tackling knife crime, from a theological perspective. Whilst this book offers some theological reflective tools to understanding the problems, these are no more than one would find in a text book on practical/ pastoral theology (e.g. Laurie Green's 'Let's Do Theology'. So far, so indifferent.

The main problem for me is not so much Beckford's methodology, but his underlying philosophy, which like much Black Theological method is centred on post-Colonial (post-slavery) perceptions of what it means to be 'black' in a predominantly 'white' society. Thus many of the problems experienced within the black community relating to violent crime are, in Beckford's eyes, related to the structural inequalities coming out of this post-colonial context, in which black is viewed as inferior and thus building an underlying tension which leads to violence. Now I am not for one moment denying that this is the case, however, in favouring this understanding as being the underlying cause of black-on-black violence, he largely ignores both the tensions and struggles that exist within the black community, generational, ethnic etc. and those that are caused by economic and social inequality, and which transcend ethnicity, skin colour age of sexuality. Thus if we want to understand violence within the black community there must be a looking inwards as well as a looking outwards for it causes*. Books like those of David Wilkinson and Nicky Cruz, whilst not particularly good theology or sociology (and certainly not academic), do present the idea that gang violence it related in some way to a sense of ownership (of space) denied through legal means, but enforced through the creation and retention of gang areas, the causes of which are political, social, economic (i.e. deprivation) as they are related to disempowerment related to institutional racism in American society.

My second problem with the book is that the book never really provides a viable methodology for tackling knife crime: it provides some methods for reflecting on violence, but never really gets to its root, so it never really able to provide a viable solution to it. All of which is a shame, because it is an issue that needs tackling (none more so than now).

* This also relates to one of the failings of Black Theology (and Feminist Theology - though that is a debate for another time/ place, in that in fighting against the white perception of the non-white person as 'other' and therefore dangerous/ exotic/ to be discriminated against, it often ends up turning the tables, making white people the 'other' to be fought against (a form of 'Orientalism' as described by Edward Said) thus repeating the mistakes of institutionalised forms of racism.

Black Theology (SCM Core Text)
Black Theology (SCM Core Text)
by Anthony Reddie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 25.00

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Primer, but lacks a critical function, 31 July 2013
This is a useful primer on Black Theology for the interested theological student. It is, however, one that relies heavily on Reddie's theological method, rather than one that is representative of wider Black Theology (though Reddie would argue that you cannot have a representative theological method, as Black Theology is not a monochrome theology, but one whose writers draw on different styles and methods of presentation and representation).

Like all so called 'contextual' theologies (or as I would argue, theologies which should be described as post-modern as they reject grand narratives), a grouping which includes feminist and queer theologies, Black Theology starts (and ends) with the question 'what have dead white men to say to us?!' (or 'what has Jerusalem to do with Rome?) Reddie goes on to argue that the basis of Black Theology lies in experience (praxis) rather than in knowledge (doxa): traditional (white-male) theologies have tended to privilege doxa over praxis (hence its post-modern status). However, the danger with this theological method is that in privileging the experience of the individual over revealed or discovered knowledge is that it can undermine theological orthodoxy. And this is where Reddie's book (and Reddie as an author) come unstuck: in choosing a Black theologian (who has written extensively on Black Theology) to write a primer on Black Theology means that the text itself lacks a critical function or distance. Simply put, the book never asks the question of the inherent limitations of Black Theology's theological method. Or how such a method can lead to some unorthodox solutions (as has frequently happened in Feminist Theology). It also means that when Reddie comes to write about British Black Theology, he draws on only two writers: Robert Beckford (of whom he is critical) and himself (of whom he is less critical). Given that the book's method is an extension of Reddie's own, it is better described as a Primer in Reddie's own theological method, than in Black Theology per se.

This book would therefore have better been written by an academic theological educator, one who is not part of the Black Theology establishment and thus one who is able to hold a critical light to Black Theology and to ask the questions of the text that Reddie, as the author, is either unwilling, or too involved in the subject to ask. (Reddie is very critical of at least one theologian who has questioned the future direction Black Theology.) There is no inherent danger in asking critical questions of Black Theology, or of any contextual theology (though those involved in the theology itself might question how a non-Black Theologian can properly write a primer on the subject).

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