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J Whitgift "J Whitgift" (London)

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Archbishop Justin Welby: Risk-taker and Reconciler
Archbishop Justin Welby: Risk-taker and Reconciler
by Andrew Atherstone
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.91

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Flawed by bias and party politics, 7 July 2014
I am basing this review on the review I submitted (and which was subsequently published by Amazon) of Atherstone's previous biography of Welby 'The Road to Canterbury', with some additions, where necessary. The reason I am doing this is because, a. this book is an expansion of 'Road' and b. because it suffers the same faults as that previous book. I will therefore published extracts of my previous review in 'inverted commas' to distinguish what is new from what is not.

Sadly like its predecessor, this book 'provides no analysis whatsoever of Archbishop Justin's life, work or legacy: it is merely a descriptive work. (When set against Rupert Shortt's two biographies of Rowan, one an expanded version of the other, you will see just how lacking Atherstone's book is.) It is also written from a conservative Evangelical perspective (Atherstone is an excellent academic and a joy to read, but his political bias is never far from the surface). Thus the evangelical side of Archbishop Justin is played up (esp. his involvement with Holy Trinity Brompton and his attendance at 'Bash' Camps whilst at University*). He also plays up instances of Archbishop Justin's doctrinal conservatism, e.g. his defence of the theory of Penal Substitutional Atonement, following the Church of England's Doctrine Commission report on Salvation which favoured anihilism.'

This new book also suffers the same religio-politico biases that 'Road' did. In my previous review I questioned whether Atherstone was trying (unsuccessfully it would seem) to put Welby into his own mould of Conservative Evangelical. As I wrote previously: 'I do wonder, however, whether Archbishop Justin is the type of Evangelical Atherstone wants him to be - I severely doubt that he is. One gets the sense that he is far more open and liberal than Atherstone presents his background to be.. [...]' This continues in the new book where Atherstone tries to fit Welby in with a number of controversial figures with Anglicanism, e.g. Paul Perkin, based at St. Mark's, Battersea Rise, by dropping their names in (somewhat needlessly) in order to make a tenuous link between Welby and a particular form of Evangelicalism that Atherstone wants to be formational in Welby's thinking as a Christian and as an Archbishop. Similarly the inclusion of Welby's somewhat tenuous involvement with the so called 'Bash Camps' run by Scripture Union and Eric Nash* add little to the mix, though it seems an obvious ploy to try and put Welby within the same theological trajectory as say John Stott and David Watson, both evangelical luminaries of the 1970/80s.. (Interestingly Welby missed by a couple of years Nash's involvement in the camps, having retired, leaving the work to others.)

It remains difficult to see how this book can be recommended to the general reader, esp. one who is either uninterested or unaware of the politics that underpins this book and it is this that undermines it. Shortt's biography of Rowan, as with Chadwick's biography of Ramsey both managed to cover their subjects well, mainly avoiding political or religious controversy, but rather presenting their subjects not as party men, but as well rounded human beings. Sadly Atherstone makes this mistake, trying to present Welby in a mould that suits his needs (as a party man), rather than presenting an unbiased view of Welby, something that would have much better met the needs of both the market at the Church. As such I am not sure I could recommend this book to anyone.

* ''Bash' (Rev. Eric Nash) was a conservative Evangelical Priest who ran youth camps pre/post-war, which were aimed at evangelising top-percentile Public Schools - he saw his Charism as being to evangelise future leaders. Various Evangelical Anglican leaders, conservative and otherwise came under his sphere of influence, e.g. John Stott. An interesting study would be that of Nash's influence on mid-late 20th (conservative) Evangelical leadership. However, I would also scurrilously point out that it was a Roman Catholic Priest, Ronald Knox, who had far greater influence on top-level post-War politics, though his influence on Macmillan, than Nash ever did, other than in the evangelical wing of the Church of England.'


Mirror Sight
Mirror Sight
by Kristen Britain
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.64

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I give up ..., 5 July 2014
This review is from: Mirror Sight (Paperback)
I simply cannot believe the positive reviews of this book, it is simply awful. One has to ask if there was any form of editorial intervention in the process of publishing this book, or whether it was chucked, fully formed onto a bookshelf under the principle of 'publish and be damned'. (I have read far better self-published fan fiction on the internet.)

It makes little narrative sense, does not fit in with the larger meta Green Rider narrative (which Brittain seems to have ripped up and binned). Rather than developing the story, post-Blackveil, we're left with a weird (read: pointless) steampunkesque story, a story that bears no relation to the earlier novels, ignores all the major and all but one of the minor narrative threads/ characters and blows it into a bloated, 750+ page waste of time and paper.

I refuse to waste any more time and energy on this nonsense. If you have any sense, I would do the same too.


A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes)
A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes)
by Laurie R King
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but poor pacing makes for verbosity., 8 Jun 2014
It is hard to know how to review this novel. At one level want to review it as one might review a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, but that would be unfair as the novel is not that sort of book. On the other hand Holmes is more than just a bit player, along with Russell, he is a major protagonist, albeit one who appears only briefly, but is present in throughout the novel, even if only by implication. Thus it is a Sherlock Holmes novel of sorts, even if it is more outwardly complex than a simple pastiche.

However, my main reason for giving a mere one star is not because it fails to meet my expectations as a pastiche, but because of its verbosity, a verbosity that hides very little real action for much of the novel. We are given the minutiae of Russell's inner and outer life, but little of this contributes to the actual story or its development. Finding the narrative thread is like trying to locate the needle in a proverbial haystack and this makes reading it tedious, a chore rather than a joy.to read. Here I am forced to compare it to Conan Doyle, or many other crime writers, where they keep the narrative crisp and to the point (which is incidentally why Sherlock Holmes works far better in short story form rather than as novellas). That said, King cannot be faulted for her writing style, which is excellent, more for the pacing of the novel.

Being a Sherlock aficionado I had hoped to continue in reading the Russell novels, however I now feel that this pleasure is denied to me, given the poor quality of the narrative flow.


Everything I know about teaching
Everything I know about teaching
by Mr Michael Gove
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.32

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, succinct but also erudite: No less than a masterpiece!, 25 May 2014
I can't think of praise high enough for this excellent little tome. Mr Gove outlines in succinct but erudite form his philosophy of teaching: one cannot help but feel that education lost out when he left school and went into politics and became SoS for Education. This is a pedagogic masterpiece, one that will surely surpass other, less well written books on teaching. Indeed, he leaves Harper Lee and John Steinbeck in the dust when it comes to prose (this tome should surely head the list of any GCSE English Lit. syllabus, its contents will help any struggling school child to properly form their prose). I can't praise this book highly enough.

Koine (Common) Greek has an excellent term when it comes to describing the heights of Mr Gove's philosophy of education and it is with this high word of praise that I end this review. His philosophy of education is no less than 'kakoß' (let the reader understand).


The Dove, The Fig Leaf and the Sword: Why Christianity changes its mind about war
The Dove, The Fig Leaf and the Sword: Why Christianity changes its mind about war
by Alan Bilings
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good, but heavily biased towards a 'Realist' position, 25 May 2014
This is a good and highly readable book (I just wish it hadn't been published just after I handed a 3,000 word essay in on Jesus and the Just War tradition - this would have been an excellent resource!) Its argument is an interesting one, that the Church has over its history developed 3 approaches to war: 'Dove' (Pacifism, linked to the idea of Christians as 'sojourners' in a strange/ foreign land); 'Fig Leaf' (the development of the 'Just War' tradition, related to the rise of Christendom, with the Church as an adjunct of the State); and, 'Sword' (related to the increased theological justification of war by a Church heavily synchronised with the State. A good example would be the role of Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London during WWI, who acted as Chaplain-in-Chief to the British armed forces and who managed to link militarism, nationalism with Christian theology.) Finally Billings argues that we are re-entering a state where the Church is again taking a 'Dove' like stance, related to its increased marginalisation in Western democracies.

However, Billings's arguments are highly flawed from the outset because he assumes a 'Christian Realist' approach to War: that war is justified and justifiable, being part of our fallen humanity and society. War may not be nice, he argues, but it is sometime justifiable. So far so good. Where I take issue with Billings is his argument, coming out from his approach, that Jesus himself was not a pacifist, as some (myself included) have argued. He uses such proof texts as Jesus's non-condemnation of soldiers for their status, nor that they are encouraged not to participate in violence, merely limit their behaviour to simple ethical norms relating to fair and responsible behaviour in society. He further argues that violence is implicit in the Old Testament and rarely condemned in the New (apropos St. John's Apocalypse).

The flaw in his argument is immediately apparent: where Jesus's non-violent stance is not explicit in the Gospel narratives (following the argument of Wink and others relating to Jesus's injunction to 'turn the other cheek) it is quite implicit in intention. That Jesus does not condemn the soldiers for their role does not mean that he condones both their role and the violence associated with it. That is a conjecture far too far and runs contrary to much of what the Gospel has to say.

Furthermore, the justification of warfare through using the example of the O.T. and the Apocalypse is also highly risky (something that Billings fails to acknowledge). The violence found in both the Old and New is done within the context of Israel as the chosen and particular people (O.T.), or it is intentionally eschatological, relating to God as victor in and over all history: the violence relating to the subjugation of unjust powers, authorities and kingdoms. One cannot argue that our own warfare fits within either of these two categories: too often nations have claimed themselves to be the 'chosen of God' and defending democracy and civilisation (as happened in WWI). Neither can one claim an eschatological aspect to the warfare of our own times, unless one either subscribe to the theology of the 'Left Behind' series, or have an penchant for blasphemy masquerading as hubris.

Simply put, Billings's support for 'Christian Realism' (and the theological stance itself) simply do not add up in this instance.

Another danger of this work is that whilst Billings would have us march to the reasoning of the 'Realism' drum, he does not acknowledge, much less outline, the other ethical approaches that theologians have taken to war. Nowhere will you find any exploration of the deontologolically informed 'Just War' approach as an ethical strand of thinking (rather than being simply an approach taken by the Church), nor that of Virtue Ethics, which is entirely missing from the text. These are two of the most important strands of thinking, alongside Pacifism and it seems unforgiveable that they get no mention when outlining how the Church has, and does, approach warfare.

Finally I take issue with Billings's argument that the Church's reversion to a 'Dove' mentality when it comes to how we approach war is not a withdrawing from the world, or a recognition of the changing position of Christianity within society (that would be to assume that we are simply withdrawing from the world and hiding behind a barrier of non-engagement). As many will recognise, since the 1940s the Church has been at the forefront of engagement with both society, the armed forces, politics and pacifist groups in pushing forward a theology that is generally oppose to militarism and which has also had a significant pacifist element to it. This is not disengagement from the world, but a re-engagement with it. It may not be to Billings's ethical tastes, but not taking his approach does not mean that we are following a theology within which our decline and failure is implicit.


The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War
The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War
by Tim Butcher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.91

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The tangled thread of Balkan's history, 8 May 2014
As with Tim Butcher's other books, 'The Trigger' is a mix of history (both personal and national) and travelogue. This is particularly true of this book, where Butcher spent much of the mid-1990s covering the Balkans conflict as a reporter for 'The Telegraph'. It mixes biography (and the wider history) of Gavrilo Princip, from birth in Obljaj to his death in 1918 with both the history of the Balkans conflict, from Butcher's own perspective and the ways in which Princip has been remembered, misremembered and forgotten in the modern Balkans.

As with all of Butcher's books it is both erudite and highly readable, mixing just enough history and travelogue to keep it from becoming either too bogged down in the Byzantine politics of the Balkans, or too introspective to be interesting. One comes away feeling informed, but not tired by the process of learning. Like all good teachers, Butcher has a love for the subject he is sharing and this comes across in his writing.

This book will, I believe, be important in exploring in this centenary year, the incident that proved to be the catalyst for the Great War: whilst the politics and shuttle diplomacy that lead up to beginning of the conflict have been explored at some length, little has been done to explore the life and politics of the assassin who lit the blue touch paper. (Butcher makes the point that there is only one major biography of Princip available.) Yet, whilst the fact that Princip's actions led to war seem as unlikely as one is can to get, it seems apparent that war would have happened at some stage, the foundations had already been laid and the belligerent nations (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Britain, France and Russia) were each in their own way complicit in the causes of the war, however much one may want to absolve Britain of responsibility. Even if Princip had failed, war would have occurred, it would just have been that the incident that caused it would have been different, it seems likely that war was been inevitable. However, the lack of a biography of Princip seems inexcusable to this reader at least and I am thankful to Butcher for going some way in filling this gap.


How Healthy is the C of E?: The Church Times Health Check
How Healthy is the C of E?: The Church Times Health Check
by Malcolm Doney
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.53

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Less a Curates Egg than a rotten one, 28 April 2014
This is a mixed and muddled bag of essays, from the truly worrying (theologically speaking) to the mildly insightful, if generally unhelpful. There are some from which the reader comes away feeling hopeful, others that offer an opinion, but one that really offer either insight or options for change. Sadly some of them contain some spectacular theological 'fails': e.g. the description of the Holy Spirit (the Third Person of the Glorious and Undivided Trinity) as 'the fuel for numerical church growth'. I am unclear where to begin with this description, whether as blasphemous or heretical (the reduction of God to an action of the church fits both criteria quite well).

There are some amusing articles in this book, in particular that by Susie Leafe, director of Reform. The main gist of her argument is that in order for the Church to grow, it needs to return to Biblical values and teaching, ones that are unsullied by outside influences such as modern thinking or teaching: that the meaning of the text should be allowed to shine through, rather than meaning being imposed on it. A laudable aim indeed, however it is one that ignores the fact that none of us approach the Biblical text as a tabla rasa, but through the lens of scholarship, tradition and culture. There is not (and never has been) a pure reading of the text, it is a process of constant interpretation and reinterpretation. Any reading of the Biblical text, whether by the Director of Reform, or by the Head of Inclusive Church will be equally as subject to interpretation, however much either may disavow such an approach.

There is little to commend this book to the reader, other than for those who missed (or like me, failed to read these articles) when they were first published in the Church Times in early 2014. There is a clear need for theological reflection on the current state of the Church of England and its current and future direction, however, it is not to be found between the covers of this book.


Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Extremism and Democracy)
Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Extremism and Democracy)
by Robert Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.79

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting analysis, but too technical at times, 17 April 2014
This is an interesting and useful book looking at the rise of the Radical Right in UK politics, in particular the rise of UKIP from a single issue pressure group to a fully fledged fringe political party. (I use the term 'fringe' advisedly, as they are yet to break into national politics and despite their inclusion on programmes such as 'Question Time' and 'Have I Got News for You' still lack the elective credibility, having failed to secure even a single Parliamentary seat.)

I found this book most helpful in describing the electoral demographic of UKIP's supporters, this demographic (older, white, male with little or no formal education post-16) actually forms the demographic time-bomb which could spell the end of UKIP. (My argument being that this is a transitory generation, who are on the wane; younger generations, as the authors argue, tend to be more cosmopolitan and multiculurally minded than their predecessors, meaning that UKIP would appear to have a very limited electoral shelf life.) The author's argue that UKIP's policies are primarily a response to the cosmopoitisation of Conservative politics since the mid-2000s under Cameron (influenced also by New Labour).

Where this book fails for me, is its emphasis and reliance on psephology (the study of voting and election statistics) to further their arguments and analysis. This is undoubtedly an academic treatise rather than a popular one (hence it is published by an academic rather than a political or popular publisher), but this reliance on statistics does at times make it hard going. There is also a sense at times of missing text, sometimes jumps are made in the historical narrative without explanation, e.g. the first change of which saw Farage come to power goes entirely unremarked, with the name of the leader being changed without explanation or exploration. This is unhelpful and distracts from an otherwise interesting and helpful text.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2014 8:26 PM BST


Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert
Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert
by John Drury
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much poetry, too little Herbert, 16 April 2014
I have been looking for a biography of Herbert for a long time. As someone about to enter the sacred ministry and as someone who has loved Herbert's Love III for a long time and found it a great spiritual comfort, I wanted to find out more about the life of the Vicar of Bemmerton. Sadly this book, whilst well written, provides too little on the life of Herbert, making his life seem dull and secondary to his poetry (as though his life is merely a adjunct to his writing, he merely a shell through which the muse speaks).

The problem (for me) is that we get too much of the poetry and too little of Herbert the man: the poetry is used as a lens through which to read Herbert's life, but too often the life is little explained or explored, in favour of the poetry. Another problem is the way in which Drury compartmentalises Herbert's life, providing long pen sketches on elements (and people) in Herbert's life, which are helpful in giving orientation, but unhelpful in that they sometime divorce Herbert from them and his context, giving Herbert a walk-on part in his own life.

There are thus two separate books here: a book on Herbert's poetry; and, a biography of Herbert, rather than the one we are offered.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2014 12:23 AM BST


Faith and the Future of the Countryside
Faith and the Future of the Countryside
by Jill Hopkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 20.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good, 13 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As I have noted elsewhere, there is a lack of writing in the Church about rural theology. Whilst this book does not propose a rural theology, it does provide some interesting articles about rural life and theological reflections which link different issues within rural theology (e.g. rural poverty, a major issue in rural and farming communities where farmers are 'land rich, but money poor', with the problems associated with environmental change). Whilst it offers no simple solutions, it does provide an interesting framework from which to begin to develop a theology of rural theology, or on a more basic level, to begin to reflect on rural life from a theological perspective.


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