Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: How the World Thinks

by Julian Baggini

Apparently a better understanding of ourselves comes from having knowledge of how others think. For Baggini’s tour de force of the world’s philosophies and cultures, as they have evolved, there is much value in a willingness to listen and learn. He critiques philosophies and philosophers and for those of us in the West there are many lessons we have not learnt because of our pre-occupation with our own tradition to the exclusion of all others.

Reading this book I was reminded of the time when I surveyed 50 people on the question – Who or what is God? I received 50 different answers ranging from a physical person somewhere in the universe to a notion of love. All the answers could have been defended with biblical evidence. Our understandings, insights and points of view are hugely influenced by the context and the ‘influencers’ from which we gain knowledge. For the Western world, philosophy has distanced itself from the insights that the Indian philosophical gurus utilize. Baggini is quite critical of this failing in Western philosophy. He claims insight without analysis and critique is “just intuition taken on faith”. Analysis without insight is “empty intellectual game-playing”. His key argument is that we would profit by “sympathetically but critically engaging with both”.

One of the key debates has been whether religions (theologies) are philosophies. His thoughts on this make great reading for progressives.

Similarly the author presents a case for the overemphasis on logic in Western philosophy. He assumes that reason and logic are synonymous. We should therefore focus more on reason and rationality in our philosophizing.

This is a grand journey from Greece and earlier through Eastern to Western philosophies, secular reason, and enlightenment, truth seeking, metaphysical and rational thought  and on to modern philosophy now impacted by global influences. It is a journey I would recommend to any thinking person.

I purchased my copy from Dymocks for $27.99.

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Book Review: Journey to Somewhere

Finding a Way

Walter Stratford

Kindle Direct Publishing 2021, 114 pages

Author of A World of Difference; Why Are You Here Elijah? and A Long Time to Wait! Ascension – Heaven on a Cloud, Wally Stratford takes us, this time, deeply into a serious reflection on our life journeys. He brings his nearly 90 years of observing human behaviour and our encounter with Earth and Spirit into sharp focus that many, including myself, may not have thought about. It is a narrative that invites us to review our existence beyond the material and engage more closely with a ‘presence’ in our own way and which offers possibilities limited only by our imagination.

This is a reflective work that inevitably draws the reader into thoughts about their own life journey. Walter Stratford brings a lifetime experience of working pastorally with people and his observations are sensitive and enlightening. He reminds us that ‘life is a gift’ endowed with a great variety of senses and brilliant features.

This is an honest admission that we don’t and can’t know where life’s journey is taking us, but the journey is important physically and emotionally. The author openly declares to not knowing where his journey is taking him but that this is a crucial part of the narrative. He offers a helicopter view of life in all its good and bad features including an overview of the history of humankind’s journeying as opening up the world.

Crucial to his thesis is how he demonstrates that our journeys are linked to ‘the spirit of presence and mystery’. Just as we all breath the air we can share the same presence. Seeking meaning is a way of life that is similar to seeking direction from this presence. This is done by engaging with the mystery of life and doing that we have much in common with each other despite the vast differences in experiences, whether they be pandemic, wars, genocide, refugee struggles or a comfortable existence.

The journey of the Church has been dulled for many by the lack of possibilities, locked out by tradition and affirmed doctrine:

When security looms large in the mind of authority, additional laws make for greater restriction. Imagination moves to the rear and literality and fundamentalism come forward (p29).

Possibility thinking, imagination and open mindedness are tools that make the journey worthwhile and rewarding:

The traveller who has grasped possibility has no need of a penultimate place (p56). Instead, it is a journey seeking the heart of God along the way. So, it is ultimately a challenge to choose a life of compassion, a life mixed with excitement and trepidation with a healthy life that recognises the value of Jesus’ way and then practicing that way and affirming the value in every human life and the value in all having sufficient and being satisfied (p40). This carries with it a commitment to justice and reconciliation.

The book ends with a reality check acknowledging the dark shadows that crowd in on many lives for part or all of the journey, but imagination allows the journey to somewhere always to be open to possibilities. The final summing up and thoughts on our ‘somewhere’ are for the reader to discover and give support to my feeling that this has been a very worthwhile read.

Paul Inglis 13/12/21

How to purchase: from Amazon Australia, Paperback – $14.90 + postage; Kindle $4.90

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Book Review: Our Benevolent Cosmos

Embracing the Mystery of Life

By John Humphreys

Our Benevolent Cosmos is a thought provoking and comprehensive commentary that successfully demonstrates how the cosmos is directly linked to the human condition. John Humphreys brings a combination of experience, talent and critical thinking to a book that informs and challenges the reader. It will appeal to anyone who is asking questions about existence and not satisfied with traditional answers. He provides an effective analysis of how the Church has created its own problems by developing doctrines around sin and separation that conflict with the basic teachings of Jesus about unlimited love.

Many of these problems have arisen outside critical biblical reading and highlight major inconsistencies amongst branches of the Christian Church. He emphasizes the importance of reading the Bible from the perspective of the weak and suffering rather than from the viewpoint of the powerful and secure. Each offers a different understanding.

The author grounds his arguments in an analysis of the evolution of church doctrine and practice and offers a way forward beyond the old and incredible shibboleths of belief. In doing this he draws on a large range of scholarly works, ranging through a wide field of perspectives and modern day educated common sense. Consequently, the book lends itself to individual and group study with several reflective moments for conversations or deeper personal thinking.

Inevitably, the God concept, heaven, and hell, are comprehensively dealt with drawing on science, philosophy, theology and reasoning always challenging the reader to adopt a mindful, reflective and creative stance when unpacking ideas.

At the heart of this carefully crafted set of arguments is a vision of a ‘new reformation’ which others have commented on as emerging in this era. Many of the proponents of new inclusive and spiritual change are drawn on to show the widespread growth of a consciousness that better reflects the Jesus way for our times than much of what has evolved in conservative church thinking.

It is a narrative that calls on serious thinking but well within the scope of the average reader. At all times it provokes and tantalizes practitioners of faith to seek an authentic part in the reformation process and to learn from the many lessons that are evident in our environment.

Occasional poetic and artistic input help the reader engage with many challenges.

My reading of John Humphreys’ Our Benevolent Cosmos was one of the most enjoyable and informative reading experiences I have had, and I would urge others to give it a go.

Paul Inglis 7/12/2021

About the Author

John Humphreys’ life experiences have inexorably led him to the writing of this book, which blends together his career in science, technology and innovation, his personal spiritual journey, his interest in research and his love of literature.  It also reconciles his earlier, more conservative, religious teachings with more contemporary understandings of traditional teachings.

His interest in radio-astronomy and the cosmos was stimulated by his Chairing, over 8 years, of the Australasian Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Industry Consortium, which supported the Australian Government in the international development of the next generation of radio-astronomy systems.  This was a high-level group comprising over 20 multinationals, Federal and State Governments, as well as the national research community. Several international activities were encompassed in this role. The initiative now involves 16 countries in a global enterprise to break new ground in understanding the cosmos.

His career has taken him through fields of innovative science often related to industry, many private and public sector organisations, and collaborative ventures, to complement his earlier experiences in the Presbyterian, Uniting and Anglican Churches, and his more recent forays into understanding/reflecting on Progressive Christianity.

His emphasis on ‘we are all one’ regardless of nationality or ideology, which is one of the book’s themes, is drawn from his life experiences, as is the need to continue to question traditional ‘immutable’ truths.

Purchasing information:

Go to Our Benevolent Cosmos BookPOD Bookstore for information about purchasing this book.

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Book Review: Jesus against Rome

God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, then and now

by John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus of De Paul University (Catholic Research University in Chicago). He is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time and has also authored several best selling books, including The Historical Jesus, Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography, The Birth of Christianity, Who Killed Jesus?, and In Search of Paul.

Crossan asks and offers answers for the difficult and provocative questions about humanity and its foundational stories and the Christian Biblical traditions as they were influenced by Rome. His core question is “Are we to worship a God of both violence and non-violence or are we to choose between them and recognize, as he does, that the Bible proposes the radicality of a non-violent God struggling with the social normalcy of a violent civilization? Is that what gives dignity, integrity and authority to Christianity and its values for anyone seeking to follow Jesus?

Before Christianity had arrived the titles of Caesar included Divine, Son of God, God, God from God, Redeemer, Liberator, Lord, and Saviour of the World. When used for Jesus they had to be lampooning or high treason.

The peace on earth that Augustus brought by victory and force was counter posed to Jesus’s peace through justice. The ongoing challenge that Jesus posed to Rome was one of a vision of God’s Kingdom brought the God appointed Emperor or that of John’s manifestation of a God appointed Jesus….two different eschatologies. John’s critique of the plans of Herod Antipas for the achievement of his Kingdom God stood in contrast with John’s present reality of a Kingdom heralded by Jesus.

For Crossan the evidence found in history, archaeology and writers of the period together with reliable aspects of the scriptures is not of our waiting for God but that God is waiting for us. The Great Divine Cleanup is when God sits in Caesar’s throne – not after the evacuation of the world for Heaven.

This is a contrasting story illustrated in Caesar’s coins – he was divine and Son of God – a total integration of politics and religion. But as with the Lord’s Prayer (Your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth as it is in heaven), the Kingdom of God comes from Heaven to Earth not the other way around.

Crossan deals thoroughly with the notion of substitutionary atonement through Jesus Crucifixion. He does a good job dismantling this idea at the core of Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. He brings into focus notions of sacrifice, suffering and substitution, showing how they have been wrongly interpreted in the light of historical and contemporary practice.

Substitutionary atonement is bad as theoretical Christian theology just suicidal terrorism is bad as practical Islamic theology.

Jesus died from our sins not for our sins.

Crossan brings a very steady hand to biblical interpretation making obvious the many errors and in particular, the wrongful attribution to Paul for much he really didn’t say or write. His handling of the conflicting views of Paul and Luke makes for great reading and becomes a great incentive to go back to the text and read it all again with a different focus or perspective.

Ultimately we are left with the main question – Is our God violent or non-violent? On our answer rests our understanding of Jesus and our view of the purpose of Christianity as well as the destiny for humanity.

I agree with Marcus Borg that Crossan is incisive, original and fascinating.

Read and enjoy!

Paul Inglis  21/11/21

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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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