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J Whitgift "J Whitgift" (London)

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Messy Church Theology: Exploring the Significance of Messy Church for the Wider Church
Messy Church Theology: Exploring the Significance of Messy Church for the Wider Church
by George Lings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Where's the 'theology'?, 13 April 2014
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I came to this book looking for a theological rationale of '"Messy" Church' (and for an explanation of what 'Messy Church' might mean, from an ecclesiological perspective). Unfortunately this books provides neither a theology of 'Messy Church' (hereafter: 'MC'), neither does it explain what 'MC' means in practical, or indeed ecclesiological terms. (Anyone looking for a rationale/ explanation of 'MC' will be hard pressed to find one, the 'MC' website does not provide one and despite a multicipliticy of books published under the 'MC' brand, it is very difficult to find any explanation of what 'MC' means in practice.) Sadly what the book offers is an evangelistic pamphlet on why 'MC' should be adopted by your local Church. Which is entirely unhelpful to someone such as myself, who has come to 'MC' as an traditionalist Anglo-Catholic Christian, completely blind and unprepared.

Such an approach is not untypical of the 'Fresh Expressions' movement within the Church, which leans much more towards evangelistic sales techniques as to why one should adopt their model of Church, as the only model of Church which will save the wider Church from a decline into obscurity. Such a model merely seeks to sells a particular model of Church rather than provide a theological rationale of how this particular model of Church fits within the wider, Chrisftendom model of "doing" Church.

In its present form I cannot recommend this book to anyone. It categorically fails to provide a theological rationale to 'MC', it also fails to provide a rationale for 'MC' in general. Until 'MC' can provide a clear explanation of what it means it runs the risk of people (mis-)using the title, but failing to follow the model/ theological rationale.


The Rev Diaries
The Rev Diaries
by Reverend Adam Smallbone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A recommended read for anyone going through the Ordination process, 27 Mar. 2014
This review is from: The Rev Diaries (Hardcover)
This is a book of two halves. The first half deserves only two stars: the narrative of this book is lifted wholesale from Series 1-2 of 'Rev' and having watched both series, it is easy to spot the storylines (and their inevitable conclusions). This is a real shame as it would have been interesting to have some fresh input into the book, rather than a mere rehash of what we've seen on TV.

The other half brings this book up to the full five stars I have given it. This relates to the inner Fr. Alan revealed in these diaries: his doubts, fears joys and laughter. It also offers an insight into the life and work of a Priest, and how one might live with integrity as a Priest, when faced with the difficulties and intricacies of everyday life. It also speaks more deeply still of the Priestly vocation, of how that is lived out in family and community life and what it means to be 'Ordained'. When thinking back to something his mentor (Spiritual Director)., Rev Roy has said to him, Fr. Adam recalls that Ordination was 'becoming yourself'. (Anyone who has spent time wondering over what the nature of the 'Ontological' change that takes place at Ordination might be will find this a helpful clarification, we are not called to be someone we are not, but to become who God sees us as being.)

As anyone who has spent time in the Church of England's ordination process will know, there are libraries of books on how to be a Priest, written by theologians and retired Prelates. The most famous of these is 'The Christian Priest Today' by Michael Ramsey, onetime Archbishop of Canterbury. There are others such as the 'Life and Work of a Priest' by John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, punned by Justin Lewis-Anthony as 'The Life and Nervous Breakdown of a Priest' given what Lewis-Anthony sees as the unachievably high expectation it places on the reader/ Priest. 'The Rev Diaries' would make a good addition to this canon of literature, precisely because it tells the reader what it is like to be a Priest, not what it 'should be like'. It acknowledges the moments of joys and sometimes crippling doubts that go with the work and ministry of the Priesthood, doubts that relate not just to ourselves as a called people, but to how we embody and live out the Gospel. In this, it makes a good companion to 'Rules for Reverends' by Jeremy Fletcher, another book that gives a profound insight into the life and work of the Priest, as lived.

Finally, this is a book that has been well researched. The vignettes and pen portraits given by the author(s) about the life of the modern CofE are very well observed and obviously come from real life, rather than the imagination of the author. Whereas 'The Vicar of Dibley' gave us an idealised account of what a rural Parish might look like, 'Rev' gives us an insight into the real life of the Church, in all its joyful banality and outrageous hopefulness.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 19, 2015 9:10 PM GMT


Love Now Pay Later: Sex and religion in the fifties and sixties
Love Now Pay Later: Sex and religion in the fifties and sixties
by Nigel Yates
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Much on sex, little on religion, 27 Jan. 2014
This book has proved to be a bit of a disappointment, promising much regarding sex and attitudes to sex and censorship in the period under discussion, but offering very little by way of analysis of the Church's response to this issue. (The final two chapters, relating to broadcasting, censorship and the theatre barely mention the Church or the Church's attitudes to this subject.) There is a sense, running throughout the text, that there is nothing new in this book: too much of what is offered has been said, much better, elsewhere. Thus one gets a sense that a thorough reading of some of the recently published histories of the period (Sandbrook, Hennesey etc.) along with some of the diarists of the period (Benn et al.) would actually provide a more rounded view of the period and offer a much more in-depth analysis of the period (from the secular perspective), than is offered by Yates. Similarly, some time spent with writers such as Brown and McLoed provide a much more in-depth analysis from the religious perspective. (Though Yates's argument that the 1960s do not offer the watershed moment that McLeod argues they do, does hold some water and provides an interesting and thoughtful revision to the view of the cultural view of the 1960s, offered by Larkin, than sex was invented in 1963.)


Church and Countryside: Insights from Rural Theology
Church and Countryside: Insights from Rural Theology
by Tim Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A good start to an under-explored area of theology, 5 Jan. 2014
As someone who has just been appointed as a Curate to a rural Parish, I am keen to get to grips with Rural Theology (a much under-explored and poor neighbour to Urban Theology). This book does not disappoint, providing a useful primer on Rural Theology and its attendant issues. To its advantage it takes a strongly Catholic/ Eucharist centred line, noting how the Mass lies at the centre of the Church as 'community' and how we cannot properly 'do' rural theology and the Eucharist at its heart. Where the book fails, however, is its attack on Social Capital, which the author (wrongly in my view) reads as being coming out of a consequentialist ethic, one where people build community because of what they can get out of it, not because it is itself a good.

Such a reading of Social Capital wrongly assumes that Social Capital comes out of self-attentive communities, who are only interested in outcomes (building more Social Capital) than they are in building a good community, one of the results of which is strong Social Capital. The author's reading is faulty because it assumes that there are communities which are low in Social Capital because people choose for their communities to be so. Whereas Social Capital is a result of pre-existing good communities, not something that people come together specifically to form.

It is a shame that such a line is taken on Social Capital as it is such an important idea with community building and formation. It is also a shame that such a negative line is taken in one of the very few books that has been written about Rural Theology as a means of theological reflection, rather than merely being an outcome of rural life.

Where this book could be improved upon is a greater sense of theological reflection and a greater discussion on how communities and rural Clergy might undertake effective theological reflection on their own situations. Urban Theology has take a very strong line on this issue and Theological Reflection has formed a vital core in the development of Urban Theology.


Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (After Christendom)
Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (After Christendom)
by Stuart Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Revenge of the angry Anabaptist, 29 Dec. 2013
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This is perhaps one of the worst books on secularisation I have ever had the misfortune to read (and I have read most of the (Post-Christendom series of books, of which this book is part). My main complaint is that it is written wholly from an ungracious and angry Anabaptist stance, one that refuses to see the flaws in its own argument and which tries to rehabilitate various heresies (Donatism and Pelagianism) precisely because they were identified as being heretical, not because they have any intellectual or theological coherence (something this book also lacks).

On reading this book one comes away with not an understanding of what "Post-Christendom" might actually be (I prefer the term quasi-pagan myself, as I believe this better describes out current situation, see Anton Wessells work for instance), rather what we are left with is a sense of incoherent rage, but no real sense of how the Universal Church should approach this situation.

Finally, this book is littered with far too many lists, a form of writing which means the text lose what little coherence it might have had and force the reader to crawl through barely related ideas which the author could not be bothered to link together into a serious narrative.


The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (Hammer)
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (Hammer)
by Martyn Waites
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A sequel to the film, NOT the book, 30 Oct. 2013
I am a big fan of the Woman in Black, in whatever form: Book; Play; Film; or, misbegotten ITV TV drama. However, I am less impressed with this attempt to produce a sequel to the Woman in Black. My principle complaint (after asking 'why would someone feel the need to do this, other than to earn some money, and the blame I place for this is Hammer, who are producing a film of this book) is that it in no way corresponds to the original story. I don't mean this in content, but rather in style. The book was subtle, insidious and took a long time to develop, the sequel is full of cheap (and frankly unnecessary) contrived situations for the Woman to appear in - billeting a school of disturbed evacuee children in Eel Marsh House lacks subtly and tells us exactly what kind of story we should expect, something the original doesn't. It reads like a book that is intended to be a film, with short/ pithy chapters and endless, sudden scares. (If you've seen the film version of the original then you'll know what I am talking about).

Whereas the original was nasty: there was a developing sense of dread, leading to a cruel and vicious denouement, taking us back to the original and leaving us feeling vulnerable, in this there is no layering of dread, no development of the fear. It's more like a punch to the face, repeated ad nauseum until the conclusion. There is an attempted shock at the end, but it's expected and not particularly shocking. One doesn't come away feeling haunted or threatened (the feeling I get from the ending of the original) more disturbed that such an opportunity was missed.

Some novels are classics and should be left alone. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is one such classic. This book should have been left in the mind of the author. Unfortunately Hammer want to produce a sequel to their film version of the The Woman in Black and thus art is sacrificed on the altar of capital.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2014 7:48 PM BST


The Silence of Ghosts
The Silence of Ghosts
by Jonathan Aycliffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good beginning and middle, poor and ill thought through end., 20 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Silence of Ghosts (Paperback)
Jonathan Aycliffe has been one of the best English writers of recent years. 'The Lost' and 'The Matrix' number amongst some of my favourite (and most terrifying) ghost stories in my library, along with 'The Woman in Black' and 'The Little Hand' both by Susan Hill. However, this recent novel, though starting well, and having an okay middle, fizzles out at the end, with the natural horror of the story and the pent-up fear losing momentum before finally dying a quiet death in the final couple of pages. The ending is also unexpected, but for all the wrong reasons.

Sadly this kind of good beginning and middle, but poor ending, has become all too common a feature in British horror writing, both Susan Hill ('Dolly') and Adam Nevill ('House of Small Shadows') have written what on first reading were cracking good horror stories, until one got to the end and realised that the ending owed little to the rest of the novel. What pleased me about 'The Matrix' or 'Woman in Black' is that one is left with a sense of unresolved horror at the end, with this novel there's no such lack of resolution, or sense of disturbed peace.


House of Small Shadows
House of Small Shadows
by Adam Nevill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good beginning and middle, not sure about the end, 10 Oct. 2013
This review is from: House of Small Shadows (Paperback)
I am a big fan of rural horror: 'The Woman in Black' and 'Dolly' by Susan Hill; 'The Ritual' by Nevill both immediately spring to mind. (Having spent a year in rural N. Lincolnshire, having lived in London for far too long, one can perhaps understand the need for space.)

This book fits that bill perfectly: Old house in the middle of the English countryside, weird interiors which may (or may not) be inhabited by more than the normally anticipated residents etc. In this Nevill does very well, creating a sense of atmosphere and equally importantly of place. Linked with the sense of threat one gets from the presence of marionettes and dolls, we are on to a winner.

Yet my feeling is that whilst this book starts well and continues on a good upward curve, it loses its way towards the end. The plot regarding the dolls is transformed into something else entirely, and whilst horror should never be too plausible (there are too many horrors in real life for us to want to add our own fantasy ones), it is taken off down a side-road of fantasy that does nothing for the novel and, for me, spoils the sense of impending dread and horror which has been developed throughout the preceding book. In just becomes too implausible and the plotting too improbable that much of the horror is lost as one is left trying to fathom how and why the plot has reached this point.

As with any good English horror story there is no particular 'happy ending', yet there is a sort of final catharsis at the end, which again spoils the ending. In 'Ritual' there is a sense of escape, but not of completion - in this novel, the horrors end (in a way), but there is a sense of it being incomplete. For me 'The Woman in Black' does this far better, by ending, but also showing that in some ways there can never be a true ending to horror, once we encounter true horror nothing can ever be the same again and we must live with its consequences. There is no sense of even that kind of ending in this novel. All of which makes a five star novel, worth only two stars.

Sorry Adam!


BLACK THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION
BLACK THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION
by CONE
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The failure of Conian Black Theology: Self-righteousness racism masquerading as righteous indignation, 2 Oct. 2013
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James H Cone's 'A Black Theology of Liberation' is his attempt at creating a systematic form of theology, developing the ideas he first put forth in 'Black Theology and Black Power'. Insofar as he attempts to do this, he provides a reasonably coherent theological method, one that is certainly more developed (and more coherent, if no less coherent) than his proceeding tome. Where Cone fails, however, is his continued self-righteousness, in attacking "white theology" and his stigmatisation of white people and "white theology" as satanic, basing this analysis on deeply flawed (and deeply racist) logic:

'American white theology is a theology of the Antichrist insofar as it arises out of an identification with the white community, thereby placing God's approval on white oppression of black existence.'
[Cone, 'A Black Theology of Liberation' (1986) p.6]

The first problem is the assumption of the existence of "white theology" as though such a theological method has ever actually existed: history shows that there have been many streams of theological thinking, some orthodox some heterodox. (Cone's continuous quoting from both Tillich and Barth proves such a point. It also shows that not all "white theology" is flawed, only that theology of which Cone disapproves, thus disproving his own point about homogenous unacceptability of "white theology".)

The second is the assumption that somehow all "white theology" is somehow coterminous with the approval of slavery, or that white theologians have done nothing to challenge slavery, which is both historically and theological nonsense! There is also the problem of Cone's continued 'othering' of the white by Cone. He continues to utilise the 'It' 'Thou' method of turning white people from people to things, a reversal of some white culture of turning black people into objects or possessions (a form of inverse racism on the part of Cone).

There is also the overt racism within the language employed by Cone. Word such as 'Honky' and 'Whitey' are bandied around, yet are as unacceptable (and implicitly racist) as the words of abuse used by white people against blacks. There is also the argument that it is acceptable (and the work of God) to kill slave owners, as if one evil can be overcome with another. In using such language and making such an argument, Cone undermines his own point and proves the failure of his own Black Theology: in praising violence and racist language it has lost its moral compass, mistaking racism and violence for righteousness.

Cone of course has an important message about the nature of Christ. However, by arguing that the only valid form or image of Christ is that which comes out of the experienced of the oppressed means that he effectively cuts off the branch he is sitting on, from the tree. Christian theology has long come out of the experience of not just the oppressed, but also of the powerful (the theologians he is wont to quote: Barth; Tillich; and, Moltmann are each theologians who, as members of the academy, people who hold considerable intellectual power. Similarly, in writing from a Protestant/Reformed background, Cone draws on a theology of the powerful, just as he would have done if he were Catholic or Orthodox. What Cone enjoys doing is proving the self-righteousness of his own theological position, without seeking to understand or appreciate the position from which he is coming.

It is important to note that Black Theology has an important role to play and an important message to bring to the Church. What it cannot claim to be, however, is the only valid theology (a point Cone spends much of his time labouring). Theology, as he argues is contextual, it is also, however, timeless: there are timeless truths which transcend both time and space such as the Patristic Trinitarian theologies, but also the abhorrence of slavery and the inalienable humanity and Christlikeness of every human being!


Solo: A James Bond Novel
Solo: A James Bond Novel
by William Boyd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.00

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.


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