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Christopher Edwards (Crowborough, East Sussex, UK)

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Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-controlled Church Neutered the Gospel
Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-controlled Church Neutered the Gospel
by Anthony Campolo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.50

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very readable overview of "Emerging Church" thinking, which ultimately lays bare its weaknesses, 25 Feb 2009
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"Are [we] merely creating religious consumers of religious products and programmes? Are we creating a ... self-perpetuating, self-centred subculture instead of a world-penetrating, world-serving, world-transforming, God-centred counterculture?" Challenging thoughts for any serious Christian in the 21st century, and the heartbeat of this book. It takes the form of a dialogue between the two authors: each chapter is written by one, and the other provides a short two-page response.

McLaren is a major spokesman for what is known as the "Emerging Church" movement; Campolo (the back cover says) "has long been a gadfly to evangelicalism, one of our own who helps us see our weaknesses from within the camp."

The dialogue form works well, as the authors agree sufficiently to hold much common ground, but disagree sufficiently often to be able to point out at least some of the flaws in the arguments. Each chapter concludes with half a dozen study questions which are thoughtfully put together.

The trouble with this book is that it tries to right a slight list in the boat by pushing it so hard that it doesn't just rock violently; it doesn't just list equally hard in the opposite direction; it comes dangerously close to capsizing altogether.

Frequently one senses that an "Aunt Sally" is being constructed from history in order that we may have the joy of knocking it down. We are presented as children of a 'modern' (as opposed to 'postmodern') church which over the past 500 years has apparently invented propositional thinking (p77), ignored missionary work (p113), and largely described God just as a scientist describes a remote object (p262). Now of course all these have elements of truth and challenge for us. But history shouts out an entirely different story - of evangelicals who follow in the propositionally-thinking footsteps of Paul, with lives dedicated to social transformation (like Wilberforce and countless others). And with a burning conviction that a living relationship with God is crucial, like John Wesley, who preached absolute truth from one end of the land to the other while famously declaring that orthodoxy is only ten per cent of religion, if that.

A quote from the chapter on Worship neatly displays both the good and the bad of the book: "But personal intimacy with God isn't the whole story. In the emerging culture, in fact, the idea of personal relationship with God isn't necessarily the main point of the story."
And how right McLaren is to provoke a church whose worship has become obsessed with "an intimate moment for me"; which craves a sense of infatuation with God rather than a mature relationship of love and service. But how interesting his prescription. We change because "in the emerging culture" this idea isn't necessarily the main point of the story. In other words, to be blunt, the culture dictates the beliefs. We concentrate on presenting those aspects of Christianity to which the culture best relates, and for McLaren 'absolute truth' is marginalised. By contrast, and to his credit, Campolo's insistence on absolute truth is a recurring theme in his responses.

The whole book presents its case in an engaging way but tends to lack theological rigour, and in several places the use of bible texts goes beyond the provocative to become highly questionable, even dangerous. "Now we see as in a mirror dimly" (from 1 Corinthians 13) is taken to mean that we can't actually be sure of anything in this age, except Jesus' death and resurrection which bring us forgiveness and eternal life (p35). "That is where the certainties end." (And this is from Campolo, who is the half of the partership most committed to abolute truth!) Familar revisionist views of key texts on gender and homosexuality pop up, albeit sometimes just as "what-ifs".

Campolo also tells us to "check [our] New Testament Greek: against the masculine Father God the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine gender." This is not just factually incorrect (in Greek, Holy Spirit has a neuter form; perhaps he is thinking of Hebrew?); it is also appalling linguistics. Greek and Hebrew nouns take grammatical genders in the same way that French or Spanish ones do, and to draw any inference from that is like saying that a Frenchman thinks of his house (la maison) as being more feminine than his garden (le jardin)! It is extraordinary that a major publisher like Zondervan should have printed this nonsense. It is all the worse because many of Campolo's readers will not actually have the means to go and 'check their New Testament Greek' for themselves.

So, all in all, a very readable book which brings many challenges for the church, but whose analysis is often flawed and whose prescription is sometimes incomplete and sometimes at the dangerous end of wrong.

It is interesting to take this book alongside David Holloway's Church and State in the New Millennium, written a few years earlier. Holloway shares the passion for the church to engage relevantly with the contemporary culture and to seek to transform society rather than just 'tick names off a list for heaven'. He likewise takes things chapter by chapter, one issue at a time, and there is a good bit of overlap of theme. But, though Holloway's book is not quite as effortless to read, he is much more rigorous with both history and theology. And one can't help thinking that his prescription will in the long run be much better than the McLaren/Campolo ticket, both for the 21st century church and for the 21st century world.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2009 10:58 PM BST

Panasonic NN-A554W 27 litre 1000 watt Digital Combination Microwave Oven with Quartz Grill, White
Panasonic NN-A554W 27 litre 1000 watt Digital Combination Microwave Oven with Quartz Grill, White

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So good that our kitchen has two!, 10 Feb 2009
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We've had one of these for two years, and lost count of the number of times we wished we had two - giving the frozen peas a quick blast while the fish is still cooking, you get the picture. So we now have two side by side!

If you treat it like a 'normal' oven you will end up burning food, because it's not a normal oven. But on its 'combination' settings it does incredible things. For example, frozen pie: 6 minutes from freezer to table, with not a hint of that 'microwave sogginess'.

The 'chaos defrost' setting also works wonders, especially on meat, where it manages to defrost to the middle very quickly while leaving the outside relatively unscathed.

William Grimshaw of Haworth
William Grimshaw of Haworth
by Frederic Charles Cook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.32

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography at its best, 10 Feb 2009
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Today the Yorkshire town of Haworth builds its tourist trade around the famous Bronte sisters. But seventy years before the Brontes were born, the crowds flocking over the moors to Haworth had come to see its minister William Grimshaw and hear him preach.

And Grimshaw had a huge national significance in the 18th century evangelical revival: he partnered closely with Wesley, Whitefield and others, and was John Wesley's chosen successor as Methodist leader should he and Charles die first (in fact they outlived him by twenty years).

Despite this, Grimshaw is not widely known today, partly perhaps because he left so few published writings, and rarely travelled outside the north of England. Faith Cook has produced a wonderful biography which is easy and gripping reading yet displays balanced and careful scholarship. A number of sources are uncovered for the first time, and the early biographical sketches (including that by his friend John Newton) are skilfully woven together.

The man who emerges is a true inspiration, a masterly blend of faith and love, humble in power and powerful in humility.

In doctrine he avoided most of the mistakes made by others (e.g. John Wesley's forays into 'sinless perfection') and yet he was magnanimous in putting aside secondary differences for the cause of Christ. Meanwhile he was gently uncomprising on the fundamentals. In this book we hear of his public humiliations under mob justice; his sternness to those who trifled with sin; his fearless preaching of Christ crucified; his constant warnings of hell; and his overarching kindness to all.

He was also full of the best good humour, more than once disguising himself (for instance) to catch out a gang of troublesome youths on a dark night. He would show such wonderful grace in his rebuke (and in kneeling and praying with them) that they were quite ashamed to repeat their misdemeanours.

Grimshaw was no stranger to personal suffering, being predeceased by first one wife and then another, and by one of his two children. In all he radiates an untiring joy in serving "him who has done so much for me".

An inspiring character, so relevant to church and social life today; presented in a fine and readable biography.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2010 3:47 PM GMT

Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry
Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry
by Peter Brain
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The alternative to ministerial burn-out, 10 Feb 2009
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"I'd rather burn out than rust out in the service of the Lord", said one British evangelist of the past.

Admirable sentiment, says Peter Brain in this book. But, fortunately, there is a third way. "I don't want to burn out OR rust out. I want (with the apostle Paul) to finish the race." Because if you do burn out then you'll no longer be much use to anyone.

Born out of his years of experience as a pastor and 'pastor of pastors' in Australia, as well as out of his own moments of looking burnout and depression in the face, this book will strike a chord with many sincere but pressurised Christian ministers today. It will also help church members and lay leaders who wonder how best to support their pastors for the long term.

Chapter one develops the book's key thesis: that pastors have a duty of self-care which does not amount to selfishness. The second chapter examines the symptoms of impending burnout; I imagine that many in ministry (and not just full-time) will have that sense of standing in front of a mirror as they read this.

The rest of the book examines in more detail some of the issues which lead to burnout and the symptoms which go with it: stress, depression, anger, sexual temptation. There are great chapters on friendship and family life.

It might be thought that this is a 'nice' book that simply tells pastors to be easy on themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth, and he pulls no punches in calling us to deal (before God) with our unresolved anger, our desire to impress others and other weaknesses which inevitably spring up into future problems.

The last chapters suggest a 'maintenance plan' and very helpfully remind us how the doctrine of justification by faith is fundamental to a healthy self-esteem.

There are also chapters addressed specifically to local church members and (non-ordained) leaders. These will help them to learn better to care for their pastors - especially in the challenging situation where just one 'full-time' pastor bears the responsibility for the church.

Only two queries from me:
First, though the chapter on sexual temptation in ministry is extremely helpful, there is a tacit assumption that male pastors will routinely be giving private counselling to females. I think many churches would regard this as a reckless starting point. Surely the training of women for that role would allow many stable doors to be closed before the horse departed.
Secondly, though he is right to point out that we can become obsessed with a worldly view of 'success' in the church, I find him a little restrictive in discussing what we can learn from the American 'church growth' movement.

But all in all a very timely book that I trust will help me and others to 'finish the race'.

Beethoven: Complete Symphonies
Beethoven: Complete Symphonies
Price: £30.70

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consistently stunning, 10 Feb 2009
A brilliant realisation of Beethoven - neither too dry nor over-indulgent. Each symphony comes to life so vividly that it seems to step out of the CD player and right into the room.

The first, fourth, and ninth are stunning performances, but to be honest there is no weak link in the chain. And the sleeve notes (by Lindsay Kemp) are first rate.

If you've never encountered Beethoven then this set is an introduction to his genius that will blow you away.

"History Today" Companion to British History
"History Today" Companion to British History
by Juliet Gardiner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.54

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant for everyday historical reference, 10 Feb 2009
When I was at school I didn't just hate history, I actively resented having to learn it.
Since then a growing awareness of my own imperfection, not to say the fragility of human life, has tempered the arrogance of youth! Now I can't get enough of it.

This compact encyclopedia of British history (from Roman times onwards) manages to be both concise and informative. A good number of the references are biographical, and many others cover those half-familiar terms which we only half understand.
For example:
Triennial Act; Dissenting; National Debt; Labour Representation Committee; Temperance; Evangelical; Parliamentary Privilege; Co-operative Movement; Singapore; Suez Canal.

Some may say that you can find all this on the internet anyway nowadays. That's partly true - but I doubt you can find it in such a pithy and yet such a scholarly fashion.

All cross-referenced entries are marked in small capitals, making this in addition a fascinating browsing book in which you can get lost for hours - and emerge more than a little wiser.

Finally, it's good to have a book which gives appropriate place, in an unbiased way, to the aspects of Christianity which (like it or not) have left such an imprint in the development of British society.

The Lion Christian Classics Collection
The Lion Christian Classics Collection
by Anthony N.S. Lane
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly survey, 8 Feb 2009
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Forget your "hundred books of the century": here are a hundred key books from the first 1900 years of the Christian Church. (The author fairly reckons you can't call anything a 'classic' until the world has had at least a century to sift it!)

There are some familiar names (Milton, Wilberforce, Augustinge, Luther, Wesley, Bunyan & Co) but you are bound to make some new friends here too.

Each is given a short excerpt (roughly a page long) and an introduction from the compiler (roughly a page or two) which puts it very helpfully in its historical context. These introductions are superb.

A read of this book gave me a great overview of Christian history and introduced me to many fine characters who have shaped the world we live in.
Because it has 100 chapters it is ideal for a short daily read, or as a book to pick up and put down.

Most of the issues we face today have arisen in the past. To take just one example: how fascinating to read Martin Bucer (1550) discussing the problem of how the church should give to the poor without encouraging either pride in the giver or slothfulness in the recipient.

A really inspiring book which I have frequently come back to since first reading it - and a great taster to lead onto other things.

Make Music (Bing Bunny)
Make Music (Bing Bunny)
by Ted Dewan
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Great series...but choose a different title from it!, 2 Dec 2007
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Bing Bunny is a lovable, quirky pre-school character that our children adore. But try a different book from the series - such as "Getting Dressed" or "Bed Time".
At the climax of the story, when the "Music Box" gets broken, our 18 month-old got so upset each time that we put it away and bought a different title instead!

The Lost Message of Jesus
The Lost Message of Jesus
by Steve Chalke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

101 of 134 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Aims to challenge with a fresh view of Jesus, but ultimately misrepresents him, 28 Jan 2007
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This book contains much that is thought-provoking and challenging. Chalke rails against the way Christians (and the church) can be judgmental rather than gracious - assenting in principle to what Christ says but failing to put it into practice. And yes, we do need to keep asking ourselves where in our church and society we would be likely to find Jesus if he walked this earth again today. And we need to keep repenting.

However, Chalke pushes the pendulum so far back that he loses the crucial balance of what Jesus actually did say! (It's also significant, I think, that he quotes very little from the book of Acts and the Epistles, which tell us what the first eye-witnesses of Jesus thought his message was, and how they put it into practice.)

Some of the book comes across at first glance merely as slightly wacky: for example he asserts that the reason God tells Moses, "no one may see my face and live" is not because of God's overwhelming majesty and holiness (cf Isaiah 6), but because God's face is riven which so much pain that the sight of it would be too much for Moses to bear. But the book, along with the challenges and insights, and the things that raise an eyebrow or a question mark, has a dangerous undertone.

Someone once said that most heresy comes about simply because we emphasise one truth at the expense of another! Christ's humanity rather than his divinity (or vice versa); God's sovereignty rather than man's free will (or vice versa). And, in his attempt to emphasise God's love and grace, Steve Chalke has subtly downplayed talk of sin and judgment.

This started to alarm me long before I got to the pages which proved the most controversial: Chalke's attack on the principle that one of the awful things happening at Calvary was that Christ was being punished, by his and our loving Father, for our sins.

It is encouraging that Chalke recognises early in the book that "although God is love, this doesn't exclude the possibility of him eventually acting in judgment". However, when it comes to examining the Cross of Christ, Chalke seems to be unable to hold those two ideas - love and justice - together.

His view of the Cross is predominantly that is was God's final and total identification with the lost, the outcast and the marginalised. This is true. But the bible also teaches (and no, we shouldn't find this easy to stomach!) that:

"God presented [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:25-26).

Compare that with Steve Chalke:

"The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. The truth is, the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his Son are prepared to go to prove that love..."

Very sadly, this starts to remind me of Richard Niebuhr's famous description of the essence of theological liberalism: `A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.'
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2014 2:46 PM GMT

Heaven in the Real World
Heaven in the Real World
Price: £1.73

5.0 out of 5 stars Nearly every track is a classic!, 13 Jun 2006
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Still probably my all-time favourite album, 12 years on.

These songs speak powerfully into everyday life, and you can happily enjoy the whole album without ever wanting to skip a track!

As usual with Steve Curtis Chapman the playing is superb, the bass from Leland Sklar being particularly special.

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