The last couple of months have been a bit insane, so here are some ‘bitesize’ reviews, of books that are important, but that I’ve not had time or motivation to do a full review on the blog. This post is thus an attempt to share some brief thoughts – if any of the books are ones you’d particularly like me to dig into a bit more, let me know in the comments!
Christianity and the New Eugenics: Should we Choose to have only healthy or enhanced children? Calum MacKellar, IVP, 2020
This is an important book. It briefs the reader about the current state of eugenics, the history of this grim discipline, and the theological response that Christians can make from our understanding of humanity as being made in the Image of God. It is readable, surprisingly accessible, and should be widely read by church leaders and all those pondering beginning-of-life ethics.
Pentecostals and Charismatics in Britain: An Anthology. ed. Joe Aldred, SCM Press, 2019
This is a fascinating but mixed book. A slightly uneven edited collection in my view – a few rather dull chapters and a couple of strange ones detract from superb work by (among others!) David Hilborn on ecumenicism, Mark Sturge on Prosperity Theology, and Dionne Lamont on Women in Ministry. There were a couple of incidences of a conflation of charismatic/pentecostal with black majority churches – worth noting the distinctives. Overall, though, a useful volume with enough good stuff to make it worth reading and purchasing.
Retrieving Eternal Generation, ed. Fred Sanders and Scott R.Swain. Zondervan, 2017
A genuinely brilliant edited collection on a seemingly niche topic, the authors have done a service to the church. Particular highlights (I don’t personally think there was a duff chapter) were Keith E. Johnson on Augustine, Matthew Y. Emerson on Proverbs 8, and Charles Irons on John. The latter was particularly thought provoking! Basically, if the phrase ‘eternal generation’ means anything to you, pick this book up and read it. If not, then duck into a good recent systematic, or ask Fred Sanders on Twitter what to read.
Finishing Well: A God’s Eye View of Aging, Ian Knox, SPCK, 2020
This is a readable and helpful book on an absolutely vital topic. I must confess to being a little bit underwhelmed – a few too many stories, and the occasional rather strange theological point – but perhaps I had the wrong impression of this book. I may also not actually be the target readership! I’d be interested to hear from readers who are over 50 – particularly towards the younger and later end of that demographic. Regardless, I think this is probably a good introduciton/orientation to the topic, and would signpost folk to Faith in Later Life for more resources.
Christ and the Common Life: Political Theology and the Case for Democracy, Luke Bretherton, Eerdmans, 2019.
It was with trepidation and relish as a non-political-specialist that I read this book. And I loved it. Without agreeing with Bretherton on everything, this is an important book in political theology that I’ve turned back to a number of times already, and am glad to have in hardback. The orienting chapters (Part One) on different political theological models are invaluable – but the constructive work is helpful too. I particularly appreciated his comments on frailty and finititude – prophetic and timeless. This is a serious book, but for those seriously interested, it is well worth the read in my view.
‘For Their Rock is Not as Our Rock’ An evangelical theology of religions, Daniel Strange, Apollos, 2014
This is a magesterial and surprisingly readable book. Pitched at a niche academic audience, I think Strange writes well enough that pastors and missionaries would benefit, as we think through what it means to be an evangelical in a world of many religions. This is a very impressive book, covering a range of issues with clarity and speed. I particularly appreciated the author’s humour and depth of knowledge/research – a self-deprecating read that instructed and educated me enormously.
The Church Between Temple and Mosque, J. H. Bavinck, Eerdmans,.
Inspired by Strange’s book, I entered a Bavinck phase. I’m just about to finish vol. 4 of Reformed Dogmatics, but that is the wrong Bavinck. This one, who wrote this helpful little book, does with clarity and grace what many other things I’ve read fail to do: rapidly and carefully explain what different religious do, and why they are different from Christianity. If the study of Christianity and other religions is a sprawling library, this should be the guidebook issued to readers. Recommended.
Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, Alan F. Lewis, Eerdmans, 2001.
I’m glad I got around to reading this classic, not least because 2020 has required a theology of Holy Saturday! This is a profound and provocative work of theology – spanning biblical, historical, systematic and pastoral issues – and one that I found deeply moving. Whilst not convinced by every part of Lewis’ argument, I agree with his basic premise that we must have space for Saturday – and exploring theologically what happened there is a vital part of discipleship. A rather difficult read, but a necessary one.
The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Easter Orthodoxy, James R. Payton, IVP Academic 2019.
As part of my broader reading and writing around the atonement, I found this book stimulating. Written carefully by an evangelical, it sheds light on how and what the Eastern Orthodox branches of the church believe about sin, salvation and the work of Christ. Niche, perhaps, but a useful introduction for those of us looking to dip into other streams, and perhaps most helpful pastorally for engaging with friends and family from EO traditions. This is a readable and intriguing book – that has set me off on a long-term EO reading tangent.
God, Creation, and Salvation: Studies in Reformed Theology, Oliver D. Crisp, T&T Clark, 2020.
This book was irritating. On the one hand, it was stimulating, readable, and scratched a number of theological itches I have! On the other (no fault of the author), it was plagued with basic publishing errors. I wrote in my Goodreads review: ‘An excellent collection of essays marred by some fairly poor copy editing and what this reader felt was a lack of a conclusion. I’ll be returning to it for various writing projects but T&T Clark should take a long hard look at themselves’. A shame, as everything else I’ve read by Crisp I’ve enjoyed in various ways, and don’t usually have this issue with books from that publisher!
The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, ed. James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, IVP Academic, 2006.
I love multi-view books. Some people hate the format, but I find them really helpful. This is, in my opinion, a really good one. Greg Boyd is an able defender of Christus Victor, even if I disagree; Tom Schreiner is an impressive expositor whose articulation of penal substitution is superb, and Joel B. Green’s ‘Kaleidoscopic view’ resonated with my own position. I was underwhelmed by Bruce Reichenbach’s articulation of the ‘healing view’, though I think that is the fault of the theological position rather than the author, and there were some good takeaways. Overall, a helpful introduction to thinking about the atonement – a good place to start a study.
‘He Descended to the Dead’: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday, Matthew Y. Emerson, IVP Academic, 2019.
I really enjoyed this book, and will recommend it when asked. That said, it doesn’t *quite* fulfil the niche of an evangelical version of Lewis’s book above, as Emerson’s primary focus, it seemed to me, was on the descent clause of the Creed, rather than a focus on constructing an evangelical theology of Holy Saturday per se. That may seem unfair, and it may be that the subtitle wasn’t the author’s choice, but this is more a very helpful book on the descent clause and it’s practical utility/theological reality, than it is a theology of suffering, death and God’s absence. So, overall, I’d recommend it, with the caveat noted.
I honestly enjoyed reading each of these books, in their own way, and in an unrealistic future where I have more time, I’d want to review them all properly.
If this way of doing bite-size reviews of books I’ve read is helpful, do let me know in the comments, as I’ve got a backlog of other things I *should* review, but don’t have the time to do justice to. That said, I could just read less, but where would the fun in that be?