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Charles Clapham (London)

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Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 2, 3:1-14:28
Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume 2, 3:1-14:28
by Craig S. Keener
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £36.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing and exhausting socio-historical treatment of Acts, 6 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These are an astonishing and exhausting set of commentaries (just holding one of them to read for any length of time will hurt your hand !), which provide a massive amount of historical and social background, explanation and comment, in a beautifully digested and very readable form. One could easily spend hours browsing in here, learning something new on every page.

On the other hand, as always, it all depends what you want from a commentary; and even a commentary as long as this four volume set (over 4000 pages) is far from comprehensive. Keener has written, as he makes clear at the outset, a socio-historical commentary. So if you want to do detailed textual study, for example, you’d need to look elsewhere. Or if your interest is more explicitly in theology or in contemporary application, again there would be better, shorter, and cheaper (!) commentaries to consult.

But if you’re looking simply to be enriched, awed, and educated in your study of the scriptures, this is a remarkable set on which to spend your time and money !


Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1-23:35
Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1-23:35
by Craig S Keener
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £39.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing and exhausting socio-historical treatment of Acts, 6 Nov. 2015
These are an astonishing and exhausting set of commentaries (just holding one of them to read for any length of time will hurt your hand !), which provide a massive amount of historical and social background, explanation and comment, in a beautifully digested and very readable form. One could easily spend hours browsing in here, learning something new on every page.

On the other hand, as always, it all depends what you want from a commentary; and even a commentary as long as this four volume set (over 4000 pages) is far from comprehensive. Keener has written, as he makes clear at the outset, a socio-historical commentary. So if you want to do detailed textual study, for example, you’d need to look elsewhere. Or if your interest is more explicitly in theology or in contemporary application, again there would be better, shorter, and cheaper (!) commentaries to consult.

But if you’re looking simply to be enriched, awed, and educated in your study of the scriptures, this is a remarkable set on which to spend your time and money !


Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I: Introduction and 1:1-2:47
Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I: Introduction and 1:1-2:47
by Craig S Keener
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £39.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing and exhausting socio-historical treatment of Acts, 6 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These are an astonishing and exhausting set of commentaries (just holding one of them to read for any length of time will hurt your hand !), which provide a massive amount of historical and social background, explanation and comment, in a beautifully digested and very readable form. One could easily spend hours browsing in here, learning something new on every page.

On the other hand, as always, it all depends what you want from a commentary; and even a commentary as long as this four volume set (over 4000 pages) is far from comprehensive. Keener has written, as he makes clear at the outset, a socio-historical commentary. So if you want to do detailed textual study, for example, you’d need to look elsewhere. Or if your interest is more explicitly in theology or in contemporary application, again there would be better, shorter, and cheaper (!) commentaries to consult.

But if you’re looking simply to be enriched, awed, and educated in your study of the scriptures, this is a remarkable set on which to spend your time and money !


Leviticus: SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus: SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible
by Ephraim Radner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinarily rich theological commentary on Leviticus,, 6 Nov. 2015
An extraordinarily rich theological commentary on Leviticus, which offers an extended theological meditation on the text, in dialogue with the New Testament, Christian theologians such as Origen, Bede, and Calvin, and Jewish commentaries such as the Leviticus Rabbah.

This makes for a dense and challenging scholarly read; and if you need a historical-critical treatment of Leviticus, are uninterested in typological or allegorical exegesis, or want a straightforward devotional application of the text, you should look elsewhere. But if you are willing to delve deeply and think laterally, there are numerous suggestive insights, comments and reflections here that could help bring Leviticus to life as a resource for contemporary life and theology.

Like most clergy, I have never attempted to preach on Leviticus - and am still not likely to ! But for those who are bold enough to try, this commentary would be an invaluable resource.


Church for Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice
Church for Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice
by Michael Moynagh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £30.00

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for all concerned with contemporary mission, but still won't satisfy those with doubts about fresh expressions, 24 July 2012
This is a serious, weighty and long (500 pages) treatment of the theology and practice of fresh expressions and emerging churches by an influential British church leader and missiologist (who is a member of the national Fresh Expressions Team). As such, it will prove essential reading for all interested in contemporary UK mission theology and practice.

The book is divided into four clear parts. The first provides a broad introduction and some background to the `fresh expressions' movement, with an overview of mission in the New Testament, a series of historical snapshots, an outline of recent church planting strategies, and a survey of some of the relevant debates in sociology as they touch upon religion, spirituality and church life.

In the second part of the book, Moynagh undertakes a deeper theological exploration of the rationale for fresh expressions, with a reflection on the purpose and nature of the church, the primacy of mission and its corporate character, an argument in favour of contextualisation, and a discussion of the homogenous unit principle.

In the third section, there is a helpful and detailed overview of a number of important theoretical and practical issues involved in `birthing' contextual churches, drawing on a wide range of theorists (Christian and secular) to explore the practices of gathering a mission community, researching opportunities, encouraging partners, and developing action-based learning and team awareness.

In the fourth section of the book, discipleship, worship, community and sustainability are explored as marks of ecclesial maturity, and Moynagh discusses ways of assessing and encouraging the growth and fuller development of contemporary fresh expressions of church. The book closes with the final chapter in which he attempts some brief responses to a number of the critics and sceptics of fresh expressions.

It is impossible in a short review to do justice to the scope and ambition of Church in Every Context. Moynagh brings immense practical knowledge of the contemporary scene in the UK, together with evidence of wide theological and sociological reading, and all those interested in mission theology and practice will find much to learn from and ponder here. Although presented as a textbook (with regular summaries, questions for discussion, and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter), Church in Every Context will be heavy going for the average layperson or student beginning ministerial studies (and expensive at £25 !). But for practitioners, church leaders, and those with a bit of theological or ministerial training behind them, this book will be an invaluable contribution to contemporary debate and will rightly become a standard text for every training course on mission in Britain today.

But that is not to say that Moynagh convinces on all accounts - and those who are already sceptical or dubious about aspects of fresh expressions and emerging churches will find ample material here to confirm their suspicions. To raise just two of the more obvious areas of dispute:

The first of these concerns the extent to which fresh expressions of church are, in practice, the effective agents of mission or evangelisation they are held to be. The accusation from sceptics here is that too many fresh expressions are small unsustainable communities which cater mainly for the already `churched', or act as safety nets for the recently `de-churched', rather than actually reaching significant numbers of the genuinely `unchurched'. And if this suspicion is true, then much of the current attention given to fresh expressions is misguided or over hyped. By contrast, if we regard both numbers and sustainability as important criteria, a strong argument can be made that it is healthy churches `in the inherited mode' (to use the jargon) that are actually more effective than fresh expressions at reaching the `unchurched' in practice. Admittedly, we are in a period of experimentation and transition, and the jury may therefore still be out on this question. But it would have been good in a book of this length to have heard more of Moynagh's own provisional assessments to date, given his particular experience and involvements.

The second concern is a more substantial theological one, regarding the extent to which fresh expressions can really be considered `fully' church. If a couple of Christians meet in hostel with a group of homeless people to study the Gospel of Mark over fried chicken (to use an example from the book, on p.261), what are we to understand is going on ? Is this a fellowship group ? A form of evangelism ? An act of outreach or service ? Or (by contrast) should we see this as `Church', albeit in a new or fresh expression ?

This is of course one of the key issues in the whole debate regarding the Mission-Shaped Church report and fresh expressions movement, and Moynagh therefore spends much time discussing it. But his answers still won't satisfy all. For Moynagh, church is best understood as a series of relationships (with God, with the gathered group of believers, with the world, and with the universal church), rather than being defined by specific practices, doctrines, or structures. So Moynagh is resistant to any attempt to define church in terms of (for example) the four historic marks (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic) (p.109), the Lambeth Quadrilateral (p.371), the `three selfs' of 19th century mission theology (p.405), fixed liturgical texts or practices (p.109, p.370), specific doctrinal propositions or creeds (p.156), or fixed structures of authority or orders of ministry (p.396). In fact, any attempt to assess or evaluate a new contextual church using such criteria, according to Moynagh, `risks squeezing the initiative into a predetermined mould.' (p.403) Instead, for Moynagh, everything depends upon context, held together by relationships.

But the question is whether this is just too thin as an understanding of church ? If one pushed Moynagh to say whether, for instance, the practices of baptism or the eucharist, or the reading of the scriptures or preaching, are necessary and essential elements of church life, or whether they are simply desirable or beneficial, he appears to suggest the latter, to the extent that a group or gathering could drop them - and still be `Church' (see, for example, his discussions on pp.109-111, or pp.364-376). And you don't have to be an overly traditionalist Catholic or Evangelical to find the thinness of this ecclesiology unsatisfactory. There is just a little too much ammunition here for those who believe fresh expressions are indeed `church-lite'. As a result, as a priest and evangelist myself, whilst I want absolutely to welcome the huge number of creative initiatives undertaken under the fresh expressions banner, I can't help seeing them largely as innovative and dynamic forms of evangelism and outreach, rather than expressions of the fullness of `Church'. For me, `Church' is necessarily and essentially more than is on offer here.

But these observations should not detract from the immense value of this work. By laying out his views with such clarity, depth, and sophistication, Moynagh has made a highly important contribution to contemporary debate regarding mission in Britain today. Church for Every Context is an impressive work to be welcomed.


For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions
For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions
by Andrew Davison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A forceful but overconfident critique of Fresh Expressions, 4 Jun. 2011
For the Parish offers a forceful critique of the Anglican report Mission-Shaped Church and the subsequent `Fresh Expressions' movement, but characterised a tendency to misrepresent those with whom the authors disagree.

Davison and Milbank's argument, in brief, is that in abandoning Anglican parochial structures and authorised liturgies, Mission-Shaped Church unwittingly advocates a consumer approach to religion, based on homogenous social groups, and the elevation of individual choice. Against this, Davison and Milbank argue for a renewed confidence in the Anglican parochial system, the importance of place and mediation, and the restoration of a range of liturgical and extra-liturgical practices to rebuild an authentic Christian imaginary.

Those tired and fed-up of Fresh Expressions in the Church of England, and who suspect the movement of dangerous (not to say heretical !) evangelical and liberal tendencies, will welcome this book. And even those sympathetic to Fresh Expressions will find valuable insights and observations throughout, and much food for thought. But the critique the authors offer is unbalanced and one-sided.

For example, whilst the authors criticise the homogenous unit principle that underlies some of Mission-Shaped Church, they fail to recognise the extent to which so many parish churches similarly cater for fairly homogenous social groups. If Fresh Expressions are (as Davison and Milbank claim, without evidence) largely middle class and bourgeois in character, is the same not also true of the typical Anglican parish church ? Indeed, one would have thought that it is precisely the failure of the parish system to be genuinely inclusive that has spawned the Fresh Expressions movement, in a desire to reach those the parish system has failed.

And whilst the authors are keen to suggest that the move away from the geographically defined parish represent a dangerous break with classical Anglicanism, they fail to reckon with the long history of chaplaincy and sector ministry within Anglicanism, which similarly cater for non-geographically defined (and rather homogenous) communities and institutions. If chaplaincy has always been recognised as a legitimate element of Anglican practice, as part of a `mixed economy' alongside the parochial system, might one not argue that Fresh Expressions simply represent an extension of this existing principle ?

For all that they criticise the theological inadequacies of `Fresh Expressions writers', Davison and Milbank's own philosophical and theological sources could also be wider. Much of their critique derives from Wittgenstein (and from him, Lindbeck), and represents a fairly narrowly conceived Anglo-Catholicism, mediated via Radical Orthodoxy. But they show little broader awareness of contemporary theological work on mission, whether Protestant or Catholic in origin (one thinks of Catholic theologians such as Luzbetak, Bevans, Schroeder, Legrand, Sannah, Schreiter, Oborji, and Shorter, for example, of whom Davison and Milbank appear, to use their own phrase, `blissfully unaware').

And this is unfortunate because greater familiarity with contemporary missiology would have allowed a better analysis of the issues that concern Davison and Milbank. In their discussion on the relationship between form and content, for example, engagement with the substantial literature in the world church on gospel and culture, adaptation, indigenisation, contextualisation and inculturation would have allowed a considerably more nuanced and eirenic account than the one offered here.

Or again, for instance, whilst Davison and Milbank are critical of the way in which church and kingdom are related in Mission-Shaped Church, they seem unaware that the report largely echoes the way in which this relationship is dealt with elsewhere in contemporary thinking on mission, and not only by evangelicals. Consider, for example, the papal encyclical Redemptoris Missio, in which John Paul II, following Paul VI before him, notes that the church `is not an end unto herself, since she is ordered towards the Kingdom of God of which she is the seed, sign and instrument': language that is repeated almost verbatim by Mission-Shaped Church, and which Davison and Milbank regard as protestant novelty.

Above all, there is a lack of care and graciousness in For the Parish that repeatedly jars. Footnotes and references suggest little real engagement with Fresh Expressions in either theory or practice, beyond the Mission-Shaped Church report itself, one or two other works, and the odd website. As a result the authors have a tendency to offer a stereotype or caricature of what they imagine `Fresh Expressions writers' think and believe, without references or substantiation, and then to knock down the straw man they have set up. Had the authors thought to engage, for instance, with the substantial material on Fresh Expressions that comes out on a regular basis from the Sheffield Centre, or even simply to read more of the (easily available) literature published directly by Church House, they could have offered a much more balanced account.

Similar tendencies to caricature are apparent elsewhere in their work. Davison and Milbank reject Church Growth theory, for example, on the basis that (according to them) it proposes we should simply `find out what people want and then give it to them'. And of course, if that were genuinely what Church Growth theory proposes, Davison and Milbank would be right to dismiss it. But in fact, as a description of the work of McGravran and Wagner, Rick Warren or Bill Hybels, this summary is misleading to the point of dishonesty; and footnotes and bibliography provide no evidence that Davison and Milbank have read first-hand any Church Growth theory at all.

But For the Parish is ultimately disappointing not merely for what appears as overly hasty or inaccurate scholarship. It is disappointing also as an example of how we engage with one another as Christians. These are difficult times for those of us seeking an appropriate missionary practice in our fragmented and consumer-driven society, and Davison and Milbank rightly identify some key theological issues for discussion. But one wonders whether, as Christians, we might be able to have a conversation about them with more charity and understanding than is on show here.


The Shack
The Shack
by Wm Paul Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.89

51 of 70 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars indifferent theology, but poor quality literature, 5 Jan. 2009
This review is from: The Shack (Paperback)
As a Christian myself, I don't want to be too harsh on a book which seems to mean well, and has clearly spoken to many. But as a piece of writing, 'The Shack' really is extremely poor: wooden, clichéd, pedestrian, and excruciatingly sentimental. Unlike other reviewers, I have no particular bones to pick with its trinitarian theology - but there are any number of accessible books that tackle problems of suffering and the nature of God better than this. (One thinks of the work of C.S.Lewis, for example, which stands head and shoulders above this nonsense.) I suspect its success is to do with the way in which `The Shack' has been marketed to an evangelical Christian constituency, in such a way as to persuade them that buying a whole set of these books for a friend is really an act of faith and evangelism - a marketing ploy that borders on the cynical. This sort of thing does no real credit to the cause of thinking Christianity. In short, if you are used to reading decent quality literature (whether you are religious or not), give this one a wide birth.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 12, 2009 4:17 PM BST


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