Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Secular Christianity

by Bev Floyd

In this easy read book Floyd reduces Christianity to a simple journey of love following the teachings and examples of Jesus. She uses the vernacular of the average Australian in a conversational style that requires no serious theological capability by the reader. This fills a much-needed gap in the progressive literature.

The author deconstructs the major biblical narratives and themes and casts a sceptical eye on those that have been read literally. She argues that the events of scripture are profound teachings that speak to our times if seen as metaphors, similes, and parables. She spurns the dogmatic teaching that has evolved as church doctrine but holds strongly to the notion of the importance of individuals using their own interpretations. The reader is left to make up their own mind while being encouraged to speculate and claim the right to make meaning on their own terms.

While emphasizing the many errors and contradictions in the bible resulting from the tradition of handing down the stories orally over several generations, she calls for proportionate thinking when considering the influences of culture, history, scientific knowledge, and power politics over what we now know about Jesus and the events of his life. She sees the Church as generally not the best instrument for transferring understandings as it has a prime concern to maintain its own authority and influence, sometimes at the expense of authenticity. It does not have a good record on tolerating critical thinking and has often discouraged people from exploring outside the boundaries of doctrine and dogma.

Floyd has achieved her goal to transmit the simple but profound message of Jesus and enriched the conversation about the meaning of life. She has opened a pathway to contemporary faith that applies Jesus’ teaching on love to modern situations.

Floyd’s thinking is influenced a little by Hugh Mackay, and John Spong and has relied on her own thoughts for most of the commentary. This is an enjoyable read that challenges our thinking with its simplicity.

Bev Floyd is a regular participant in Progressive Christianity Network Queensland seminars.

Paul Inglis 3rd September 2021

Can be purchased from Boolarong Press.

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New Book: Eyes in the Sky

ISBN 978-1-922527-64-6 PAPERBACK

Eyes In The Sky 

This book is a must read for anyone concerned with climate change and lack of Government action addressing this rapidly unfolding crisis.

The authors, tell their story of introducing the new technology of observing Earth from Space into the WA Government, following the first images of Earth being sent back by man from space some 50 years ago.

Earth Observing Satellites (EOS) soon followed giving a new and unique view of the Earth revealing the massive human impacts driving climate change, species extinction and human conflicts. For the first time in history key WA Government agencies had unparalleled access to the means of measuring and sustainably managing WA’s natural assets across the whole continent and surrounding oceans. Many new and innovative applications of EOS were developed.

However these applications encountered the fundamental conflict between Ecology and Economics, which caused a drastic cutback when WA’s Land Information Authority found that in pursuit of its commercial goals, sustainability was unsustainable. A fatal paradox that the authors argue, urgently needs to be addressed if climate catastrophe for future generations is to be avoided.

About the Authors

Richard Smith BSc (Agric) Hons (Lond), Dip Agric Econ (Oxon) PhD (UWA), migrated in 1965 to Western Australia aged 23, as a farm management consultant to 35 farmers, managing over a million acres. Then an Australian Wool Board Scholar, CSIRO Post-doctoral fellow, University Lecturer, CSIRO Research Scientist and NASA Research Associate. He has worked in the USA, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.  He was recruited by his co-author, Henry Houghton in 1990 to lead the WA State Government’s Satellite Remote Sensing Centre. He has 66 peer reviewed scientific publications and given 52 conference presentations. He helped found a not-for-profit charity for indigenous peoples in the NW Kimberley and W Papua, Indonesia and wrote business plans for over $7 million of community development. He is a volunteer guide on Rottnest Island and a Lay Preacher in the Uniting Church, with an interest in Eco-theology.

Henry Houghton BSc (Surveying), Licensed Surveyor (1968), migrated from England to Western Australia in 1957. As a licensed surveyor of the Department of Lands and Surveys, he undertook land, soil, engineering, farm subdivision and mapping surveys across the State. In the mid 1970s he was coordinator of the State’s satellite remote sensing, establishing the WA remote sensing centre in 1982 leading in 1991 to the purpose-built Leeuwin Centre for Earth Sensing Technologies. Then as Director of Survey and Mapping and Surveyor General in the then Department of Land Administration he guided the development of the land information data sets essential for land management. Following retirement in 2001, he worked as land consultant in Victoria and Tasmania before working on land projects in the Philippines. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Surveyors Australia and was awarded an Australian Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to the community.

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Recommended new book: A Book of Blessings

Rev Glynn Cardy is the Minister at the Community of St Luke’s Presbyterian congregation in Auckland, who is closely involved in Common Dreams. He has very recently released a small book of his “blessings” which he composes for use in his weekly liturgies. Glynn is a fine poet and these blessings are a lovely expression of this talent. The blessings can be read as an affirmation that joy and encouragement can be found in the ordinariness of our everyday living but they also may be interpreted as having deeper layers of meaning. I wholeheartedly recommend it. It is published locally by Coventry Press.

Dick Carter,  Common Dreams

Blessed are those who know the joy of a friend, parent, or child,
    who accept us without rhyme or reason or reward, who love us with a power
    that can withstand the assault of our doubt.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, blessings are generally looked for in extraordinary people and situations. And in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the declarations of blessedness reflect Jesus’ approach of turning expectations upside down so that it is the poor, the sick, the bereaved who are declared blessed by God. Strange and unexpected beatitudes!

Glynn Cardy’s A Book of Blessings takes the Jesus tradition in new directions. He well understands that the blessings of God are found in the ordinary, the familiar, the day-to-day. He affirms that blessings may be experienced and celebrated in unexpected situations and people.

This is a collection that inspires, delights and encourages. A Book of Blessings is in itself a blessing to the community called the church – and well beyond the church – for all who share a love and appreciation of everyday people and the richness and the ordinary of their lives.

AUSTRALIA
To order online go to: www.coventrypress.com.au   AU$19.95
Phone: 0477 809 037
Email: enquiries@coventrypress.com.au
Post to: Coventry Press, 33 Scoresby Road, Bayswater Vic. 3153
NEW ZEALAND
Order from:
Pleroma Christian Supplies
https://www.christiansupplies.co.nz/  NZ$24.95

Postage $9.95

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Book Review: A Beautiful Sunset by Everald Compton

A novel about the final curtain call of life. Echo Books, 2021.

Everald Compton’s passionate advocacy for Voluntary Assisted Dying (voluntary euthanasia) shines in this respectfully compelling narrative based on the lives of four people who have the same doctor. In a carefully crafted and authentic set of vignettes the author manages to touch on and carefully handle many of the moral dilemmas confronting people who have learnt of their imminent death. He has chosen the vehicle of a novel to present the case for VAD. This works very well as the experiences of VAD are unique. By placing them in the context of a close portrayal of each person’s intimate thoughts and relationships, he manages to capture some of their incredible psychological journeys through highs and lows. It is a story of the triumph of life over death.

For those reading this book who might have been given notice of their pending death, it might help them to look death in the face and turn from fear and despair to calm anticipation. For the rest of us it will help us to re-appraise death in positive and real terms and that cannot be a bad thing.

Despite the inherent sadness of a termination of life, the stories are written in a way that raises our anticipation for the ‘event’ and how it will be handled. It is this culminating event that brings out the best and worst in the characters in the stories. Relationships evolve and change. Lessons are learnt and many surprises eventuate.

Along the way many tensions arise within families, partnerships, colleagues, and faith perspectives. There are also the dual conflicts of self-pity and goal setting as each person considers their situation. The significance of a trusted, thoughtful and compassionate doctor, families, good listeners and a willingness to share opinions and counter the negative aspects, all contribute to the empowerment of someone who has learnt that they are losing control of their destiny.

Compton has clearly drawn on situations he has witnessed as the stories are models of human existence themselves. He also brings into focus the different views that people hold about God or no God. He manages to address many of the issues raised by believers in eternity, atheists and agnostics. For the author, bad religion can make dying miserable and he uses the ultimate example of Jesus making a deliberate choice to go to his death to illustrate the integrity of VAD.

Within the narrative are clear concise and transparent descriptions of situations and people. The stories give balance to the many arguments for and against VAD and how in many ways we have failed the older generation in the provision of quality of life and concern for their dignity at the end. The emphasis is on the ‘voluntary’ nature of VAD and the importance of those who are mentally and rationally able to have the final say about their life.

It is very likely that we will at some time know of someone who is dying, and this very sensitive and critical subject may emerge for us. We may even consider VAD at some stage. I recommend a reading of this book as the stories in it are ultimately our own.

Dr Paul Inglis, Group Moderator UCFORUM, www.ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

Chairperson, Progressive Christian Network Qld. https://www.facebook.com/pcnqld

Available from Amazon Australia – Kindle $14.49 Paperback 27.45

About Everald Compton

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Recommended reading

Starting All Over Again? Yes or No? by George Stuart

Ken Williamson, convenor of the Caloundra Explorers makes this observation:

“At my visit to the Merthyr Road PCN group in May, Rodney Eivers recommended George Stuart’s book Starting all over again? Yes or no? So I ordered a copy and read it. And wow, it is one of the most honest accounts I have read of the ‘progressive Christianity’ journey. He looks very carefully at the many beliefs the church has taught him throughout his life and undergoes a process of ‘faithful questioning’. From his position as a panentheist there are some things he has to reject and some things he feels he can hang on to. George is the author of Singing a new song, and there are many of his hymns throughout the book. For me the most dramatic thing in the book was his rewriting of the ending of the parable of the Prodigal Son (p 83-85).

The book is available electronically on George Stuart’s website and you are welcome to copy any of the book for discussion in study groups. Rodney Eivers has a few copies of the book for sale. I thoroughly recommend it—fantastic for discussion.”

Ken Williamson

See also our review of George Stuart’s paper Truth Telling About the Bible .

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Progressive Christian Poetry and Performance

At last Wednesday’s stimulating seminar led by Tim O’Dwyer, Tim made reference to David Keighley. Rev Keighley is a retired Anglican priest in the United Kingdom who has turned to Progressive Christianity for inspiration in his writings.

His interest in progressive Christianity started with correspondence with Don Cupitt at Cambridge and studying under the American progressive Bishop John Shelby Spong, who published David’s poem “Leaving Home” in his global newsletter in 2007. David’s anthology of progressive Christian poems for rebellious Christians, Poems,Piety and Psyche”was published in October 2020 by Wipf & Stock (USA).

Poems, Piety & Psyche” is also the name of his one-man show, based on his life as poet, rebellious priest and psychotherapist. The evening is a mix of progressive Christian poems exploring the state of the church and contemporary theology, anecdotes about 40 years of being a rural parson and insights into the human condition from the viewpoint of a counselling psychotherapist.

The show “Poems, Piety & Psyche” presents a fusion of the changes in church life and church people he has experienced over the years, the paradoxes inherent in theology, faith and belief, the abandonment of faith by today’s generation, the impact of modern neurology on the working of the mind, linked through the medium of his progressive, challenging Christian poetry.

More information about David can be found at David Keighley where information about purchasing his new book is available also.

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Book review and personal reflections

by Rodney Eivers, 23rd May 2021

Twelve Rules for Living a Better Life – Bill Crews

What a man, what a life, and what an inspiration for living the Jesus Way at the “grass roots”!

            I had hardly heard of the Rev. Bill Crews until a few years ago. No more than two or three times when he turned up on television or the wireless as promoting some charitable event such as his annual Christmas meal in inner Sydney.  I got the impression that he may have had something to do with Uniting Church minister Ted Noffs who founded and was associated with the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross.

            Ted Noffs was one on my pin up boys in the early days of the  Uniting Church. One of my most memorable reading discoveries being his book, By What Authority?, Published in 1979.  It turns out that Bill Crews was very much a long-serving protégé of Ted Noffs, at the Wayside Chapel. On departing from that association he studied for the ministry and was appointed to Ashfield Uniting Church where I gather, he is still the minister.

            These days, in reading of any Christian religious leader I am always curious about her or his religious orientation. That is, in that fundamental divide between orthodoxy and progressive Christianity. Ted Noffs would have been a “Progressive” leader in his day although that term was not in common usage at that time. I gather he was put on trial by the Methodist Church for heresy.  Bill Crews seems to have followed in Noffs footsteps. Academically, it would, however, have been to a lesser degree. Crews himself describes Noffs as the thinker and himself as the doer.

            Nevertheless, the supernatural, to a varying degree a mark of traditional Christian orthodoxy,  plays no significant part in Crews’s practice of Christian faith. In one chapter where he ponders on some of the remarkably favourable coincidences which have come his way, he dabs a toe into the possibility of an “outside” force guiding certain events. He does not dwell on this, however.        No, his faith is expressed in what Jesus seemed to urge. If we want the world to be a better place it is up to us humans to do something about it, not wait for God to do it.

            God does not get much of a mention but quotations of what Jesus is claimed to have said are scattered through many of the chapters of the book.

            Bill Crews has an interesting description of what might be the God-drive in his life. He calls it “The Voice”. Although not naming it in the same way I find myself identifying with a concept such as he describes. Beyond early childhood, (and perhaps not even then) a theistic God – someone “out there” in control of the world and available to be called upon if we provide the right formula, has not been a realistic concept. Even Tillich’s “ground of being” or panentheism (God in everything) has failed to grip me.

            And yet, right since early childhood something has driven me to seek to make the world a better place. Through an association with the Christian church this has come to be linked with the example and wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. It is something that, like Bill Crews’s “Voice”, survives in me despite any eventualities which might threaten to subdue it. In my case, in spite of a restless desire to change the world, and although I have come up with new ideas from time to time over the years, I have never had the charisma, leadership or persistence, compared with Crews to put anything notable into practice. Maybe care in the deliberate preservation of intimate relationships which was part of Bill Crews’s struggle, also has had something to do with that.

            The appeal of Bill Crew’s story is not that he displays an aura of perfection. On the contrary, the impact of the book comes from the raw honesty with which he describes his own failings, especially in his intimate personal relationships. I am sure that many ministers and other church leaders will identify with the tension which arises between “marriage and family responsibilities” and “doing the Lord’s work”. Crews acknowledges that this “blindness” contributed to the breakup of his two marriages and a long-lasting alienation from other close relatives. We see a comparable stress indicated by the gospel writers in their depiction of the family relationships of Jesus.

            It may also be said, reading between the lines, that in person, Bill Crews may not have been an easy person to get along with. As they say, history is written by the winners. Some of those who hindered him in one or other of his projects could have had good reason to do so. If I had known him face to face we may well have had differences of thinking and practice to work our way through. Indeed, Crews acknowledges that for all the support and admiration he had for Ted Noffs. the two of them did not always see eye to eye.

            Having pointed to these few caveats, however, I have to express, admiration and commendation for the example Bill Crews has set. He has demonstrated in a very practicable and achievable way how the church in this 21st century can, at the most fundamental level, identify with the poor and needy in this world. Venturing out in this way at personal risk can at least move us in the direction of establishing and nurturing that Kingdom of God which Jesus defined.

            I would like to see every person training for leadership in our Uniting Church or any other churches for that matter, well acquainted with this story.

PS

A niggly point about the presentation of the book and its title. A name like “Twelve Rules for Living a Better Life” does not tell you much. It could have been the title of dozens of books on pop psychology over the years. In my reading, the 12 rules tend to be incidental and not concise enough to be imprinted in one’s memory. What gives them their power is that they come from the experience of Bill, himself. It is his views, his experiences his practices which lead to the rules. I would have preferred to see the title of the book simply “Bill Crews his story”, or something like that, highlighting him as a person.  “Twelve Rules…” could then perhaps be added as a sub title. I would also have preferred to see a  tone, lighter than the black background for the cover.

The chosen depiction, however, may reflect Crews’s decision, in his later years, to wear black.

Published by HarperCollinsPublishers  May 2021

My copy from Dymocks  $28.00

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Coming soon – by Ian Harris

Support Hand in Hand by pre-ordering your copy for $30 (plus P&P) at thecubapress.nz/shop/hand-in-hand Free postage for orders of $100 or more, 15% discount for orders of five or more copies. Orders will be posted or available for pickup in May.

Scrape away the barnacles, re-examine the origins of Christian faith, take full account
of modern knowledge and experience, open your mind to new possibilities, rethink what faith can mean in this new millennium – that’s the plea Ian Harris makes in this
challenge to reset faith within today’s secular frame.

Ian Harris’s New World New God showed how this reset can bring to light new
interpretations for God, Jesus, the Bible and the great Christian festivals. Hand in Hand
goes back a step to show why such a reset is necessary. Harris sees the secular not as
hostile to faith, but as the neutral setting for religion in the modern world. He debunks
the view that science is its polar opposite, and urges the churches to embrace the new reality as a positive for Christian understanding and for life.

About the author

Ian Harris’s career straddles the worlds of journalism and the church. Born in Christchurch, he grew up in a Methodist parsonage, and gained an honours degree in English at Auckland University.

Since then he has headed the English Department at  Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia, edited The New Zealand Methodist, been assistant editor of The Auckland Star, served as Director of Com-munication for the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, and was for twelve years editorial writer on The Dominion.

In 1990 Ian Harris was instrumental in founding the Ephesus Group in Wellington, whose purpose is to explore new ways of understanding and expressing Christian faith in this millennium. In 1993 he became the first chairperson of the New Zealand Sea of Faith Network’s steering committee.

Harris’s prime interest is in re-imagining the Christian way in a secular society, as reflected in his newspaper columns, his book Creating God, Recreating Christ, and The Ephesus Liturgies series written with his late wife, Jill. He lives in Days Bay, Wellington.

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New from Diana Butler Bass

The award-winning author of Grateful goes beyond the culture wars to offer a refreshing take on the comprehensive, multi-faceted nature of Jesus, keeping  his teachings relevant and alive in our daily lives.

“How can you still be a Christian?” 

This is the most common question Diana Butler Bass is asked today. It is a question that many believers ponder as they wrestle with disappointment and disillusionment in their church and its leadership But while many Christians have left their churches, they cannot leave their faith behind. 

In Freeing Jesus, Bass challenges the idea that Jesus can only be understood in static, one-dimensional ways and asks us to instead consider a life where Jesus grows with us and helps us through life’s challenges in several capacities: as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence. 

Freeing Jesus is an invitation to leave the religious wars behind and rediscover Jesus in all his many manifestations, to experience Jesus beyond the narrow confines we have built around him. It renews our hope in faith and worship at a time when we need it most.

Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Harper and Collins, and other booksellers.

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Book Review: The Complete Gospel Parallels

by Arthur J Dewey and Robert J Miller

Synopses of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Thomas, Peter and other gospel fragments and the reconstructed Q Gospel.

Reviewed by Paul Inglis for the UCFORUM

The Complete Gospel Parallels features the new and expansive Scholars Version translation from the Jesus Seminar at Westar Institute, which has been thoroughly revised and fine-tuned to facilitate the precise comparison of parallel passages, using consistent English for the same Greek and different English where the originals vary. The Complete Gospel Parallels lucid translation, its easy-to-use format, and its broad range of gospel materials is for the serious reader who wants to be informed by material that has come to light with the discoveries of the many non-canonical writings and work of cutting-edge scholarship at Westar, the academy that has generated a great deal of material from well-known progressive thinkers like Borg, Crossan, Spong, Wink and many more.

As someone who has been frustrated with the conflicting and often poorly argued commentaries of translations from the original Greek and absence of speculation about redaction and interpretation of the scriptures over many years, this book fills a great chasm. It deals with the material that has parallels in eleven known gospels and in doing so presents a strong argument for treating a lot of the non-canonical material as reliable sources for confirming many of the sayings of Jesus. At the same time it gives credence to a moderate re-interpretation of some of them. It also give insights into early Christian literature styles. For instance, the Gospel of Peter is an early passion gospel with important differences from the other passion narratives. It may have been the forerunner of the canonical passion and resurrection stories.

I have been able to come to a better personal understanding of Jesus thinking because I can now distinguish the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith using the tools in this book. The addition of other gospel writings to the lexicon of the biblical gospels gives more insights into the views of Jesus time. For instance, the fragments of the Gospels of the Hebrews and the Nazoreans represent distinctive ways in which Jewish Christians interpreted the Jesus tradition while offering parallels to the familiar Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Poring over the ‘parallels’ is interesting!

Recommendation: One for the serious reader of scripture.

Available through Amazon Australia in paperback format.

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