Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: A Long Time to Wait!

Ascension – Heaven On A Cloud

By Rev Dr Walter Stratford

I found this explanation of The Way of the historical Jesus as it contrasts with the evolved orthodoxy of the Church to be one of the best conversations I have found on the topic. Stratford brings the notion of Ascension into focus and places the literal and often confused thinking around it under scrutiny. The result is both interesting and remarkably informative.

“I think a Jesus way may be claimed in all actions that open ways to life, or enable healing, or challenge one to reconsider attitudes. It becomes visible amid compassion and justice. It becomes visible when people find safety in their habitat and live without fear. It becomes visible as one imagines a Jesus who continues to touch the lives of all – a feeling of spirit presence.

“The church’s focus on a mythic future has failed to catch up with the Jesus who continues in the world touching with compassion those who are hurt.” p41.

The focus on salvation religiosity has clearly failed humanity. It is not the way of Jesus.

There is a particularly interesting analysis of the evolution of the term/concept ‘Son of God’. The part played by the Roman Empire in the shaping of the Church is important to this development. A religion of the State was essential to the flourishing of the empire. The Emperors has become ‘gods’ because they shaped the prosperity, peace and security for their followers. Becoming deified was a natural outcome of empire building. With the support of the scriptures (OT), in particular the Psalmist and the David dynasty as a model it was not a big step to view God as father of the emperor. The widespread acceptance of God as father of the Jews contributed to the church’s adoption of the notion also and the evolution of ‘son of God’ to ‘Son of God’ eventually took precedence in accepted doctrine.

The gradual development of ‘orthodoxy’ shaping the Church and the establishment of the basis for the beliefs set out in the faith is essential reading for those wondering how we got to the current church informed way of Jesus. This book is full of standout analyses of how the Christ of faith “had become supreme for the church’s life with the Jesus of history receding into the background”. So the religion of the Emperor Constantine with all its governance, structure and appearance was ratified by the Church and still stands today across denominations very much in tune with the thinking of the 4th Century view of the will of God.

Three elements – claims of authority of the bishops, the authority of the OT and the memories of those who recalled the apostolic times now take precedence in shaping the Church.

I agree with the author when he says:

I wonder what might happen in the world if the words of Jesus the Sage were given serious attention, and what it would mean if the church began to live and teach a reality named as the reign of God. The reality might come to life in the present. Life on earth would not be a shadow of better things to come, but a recognition among humankind that the future is present now. p71.

Instead of waiting for Jesus to return on a cloud, responsible engagement with the present can call into action our own gifts directed to implementing the way of Jesus for all of humankind and the planet.

Paul Inglis 24th August 2020.

Currently the cheapest way to get a copy is directly from Wally Stratford. However Kindle copy can be purchased from Amazon.com

The Author: Rev Dr Walter Stratford is a retired Uniting Church Minister who served in such diverse places as the New Hebrides, Traralgon, Townsville and Dandenong. He also spent time as secretary to the Queensland Ecumenical Council, and as a chaplain at the Wesley Hospital, Brisbane. During his ministry Walter found time for study and completed a number of degrees, including a PhD in 2012. He is married with four adult children, a number of grand children and great-grandchildren. Wally has been a discussion leader for the PCNQ in Brisbane and hopefully will do that again when restrictions on gatherings are lifted.

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Book Review: Eagle and Lamb

The story of the only Australian captured by Japanese forces in Australia. A World War Two tragedy.

by Rev Dr Noel Kentish

Have just finished reading this amazing book written by my ‘colleague and friend’ Noel Kentish about his father Rev Len Kentish,  the senior Methodist Missionary in the Northern Territory and in charge of the local coastwatchers during the Second World War. It is a great read from many angles – the significance of this piece of history, the passion and love demonstrated by the writer for his parents, the incredible research that has found information across cultures and boundaries, the short but incredibly influential life of a man who distinguished himself through a self-sacrificing commitment to taking God’s love into our northern indigenous communities and his execution at the hands of a desperate enemy. Noel is a writer who leaves the reader gasping and as the story unfolds he weaves the events of his own fascinating childhood into the narrative.

Len Kentish

At noon on 22 January 1943, the Patricia Cam was attacked while sailing between Elcho Island and Marchinbar. A Japanese floatplane cut its engine and dove out of the sun releasing one of its bombs no more than 100 feet above Patricia Cam. The plane returned several times, dropping a second bomb and attempting to machine-gun the survivors in the water. It then appeared to fly off, only to return shortly after and land on the water. One of the airmen, brandishing a pistol, climbed down onto one of the aircraft’s floats, and Leonard was hauled from the water and taken to the Japanese base at Dobo Island. In all, four sailors and three Indigenous men died as a result of the sinking of Patricia Cam. The survivors made it to Guluwuru Island, but two men – Stoker Percy Cameron and Milirrma Marika – died of their injuries before the group could be rescued and repatriated. Leonard became a prisoner of war, the only Australian to be captured by Japanese forces in Australia.

This book can be purchased at the best price directly from the author at: Noel Kentish

The author:

Noel Jackson Kentish was born in Darwin to Leonard and Violet Kentish on November 10, 1935. When his father was appointed District Chairman in 1939 Noel moved with the family to Goulburn Island, living at Warruwi with an Aboriginal clan. Noel’s father became a coastwatcher, in regular contact with HMAS Coonawarra, the Royal Australian Navy’s long-range transmitter.

“I will never forget the sense of sad relief my mother experienced on knowing that my father’s remains had been recovered at Dobo. Even his work as a coastwatcher was a combined effort of his Maung Aboriginal lookouts and his dedicated work on the AWA radio transceiver that occupied a corner of his study area at Warruwi”.

Studied English literature at The University of Queensland

Studied Comparative literature at Columbia University in the City of New York

Former Chaplain at Somerville House

Former Lecturer at Edith Cowan University

Former Principal at St Columba College, University of Western Australia.

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Book Review: Welcome to Country

An introduction to our First peoples for young Australians.

Intended for highschool students, I found this book a great response to the need to provide my generation (I am 75) with information they didn’t get or got wrongly at school.

Marcia includes a very useful glossary of terms that apply to Australian Indigenous people, events, laws and practices with more available online. The book is well referenced and offers useful resources, a comprehensive index and an appendix of maps and colour illustrations.

There is an excellent coverage of prehistory, ATSI cultures and colonial history, language, kinship, indigenous knowledge, art and story telling.

Marcia provides a full explanation of ‘Native Title’ and ‘The Stolen Generation’. She appeals for First Australians to be given their rightful place in the nation and greater cultural awareness by everyone else.

She makes some predictions and assessments about the future for Indigenous Australians and leaves in no doubt her ability to make authentic judgments about the responsibility of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples to work together to achieve a better standard of living for our First peoples.

Highly recommended reading and as a family reference book in all homes. Available at good bookstores. My copy was $29.99.

The Author:

Professor Marcia Langton AM is one of Australia’s most import indigenous resource people. Her voice for Indigenous Australia is backed by wonderful credentials. She is a graduate of Anthropology at ANU. She has worked with the Central Land Council, the Cape York Land Council and the 1989 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Dr Langton holds the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne since February 2000.

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The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

by Geza Vermes

In this book, acclaimed religious scholar Geza Vermes subjects all the sayings of Jesus to brilliantly informed scrutiny. Profoundly aware of the limits of our knowledge but immersed in what we do have—both the “official” gospels and associated Jewish and early Christian texts—Vermes sieves through every quote ascribed to Jesus to let the reader get as close as possible to the charismatic Jewish healer and moralist who changed the world. The result is a book that creates a revolutionary and unexpected picture of Jesus—scraping aside the accretions of centuries to approach as close as we can hope to his true teaching.

Géza Vermes, FBA was a British academic, Biblical scholar, and Judaist of Hungarian Jewish origin—one who also served as a Catholic priest in his youth—and writer on history of religion, particularly Judaism and early Christianity. He wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targumim, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research, and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning and challenging the basis of the Christian doctrine on Jesus.

Available from Amazon Australia in paperback for $31.99 free delivery, or in Kindle for $14.99

Thank you Tim O’Dwyer for this additional review of Vermes work. Go to Guardian Review

After a very detailed analysis of the book, Shortt concludes:

Two related conclusions spring from this. One is that small differences of gospel interpretation can lead to vastly differing verdicts on Jesus. The second is that no single map of the territory seems adequate. Geza Vermes is a respected guide. But don’t consult him in isolation.

· Rupert Shortt is author of Rowan Williams: An Introduction.

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Book Review: Damascus

Reviewed by Rodney Eivers, Chairperson – UCFORUM

Note: As with most of my “book reviews” this is not an attempt to give the potential readers a good summary of what they might expect from cover to cover of the book. It is a few of my impressions which may or may not lead others to read what this author has to say.

Some impressions by Rodney Eivers, 7th May 2020

          I really wanted to enjoy this book.

          Following the author’s renown with previous titles, leading to television series, Barracuda and The Slap, neither of which I had actually viewed, I looked to sharing in the laudatory attention given to the writing of Christos Tsiolkas. I had no reason to think that Damascus was other than “inspirational”. I had read reviews of the book from such disparate sources as the ABC Ethics and Religion Report and Eternity magazine.

          So confident was I of its being a good read that my wife had bought a copy of the book to give to my 17-year-old grandson. Among other things, he had done some religious studies at his high school.  He had just graduated last year. Furthermore, it seemed to me that it might be just the sort of book (giving a bit of flesh and blood atmosphere to the early Jesus movement) that would be an entertaining supplement to the more academic titles which I give each month to a theological college. For this purpose, I rushed out in the final days of the Christmas shopping rush to bag the last three copies of Damascus available at my local Kmart.

          This was to be the first book of fiction I had read for about two years (for the previous light reading I had been revisiting a number of the writings of Charles Dickens).

          By sheer coincidence when I mentioned this to a good friend and colleague of mine, he said that he had started reading Damascus and recommended that I continue to look at it myself. When I mentioned, however, that we were planning to give the book to our 17-year-old he cautioned.

“Perhaps you should read the first few chapters yourself first.  It may take a rather special teenager to be mature enough to cope with this text.”

          Now that I have read Damascus from cover to cover, I think he may have been right. Remember, I was anticipating something inspirational. It seems to me that positive inspiration is something our world needs whether we are 17 or 70.

          So, what do we find with Damascus?  Christos Tsiolkas seem to have sought to set the impact of biblical Paul realistically into the setting of society as envisaged in the Mediterranean region governed and influenced by the Roman imperialism. Perhaps reasonably accurately he paints a picture of anger and violence being the norm for just about everybody.

          Was life in that era always like that?  I notice on the back blurb to the book someone notes there are “sudden jags of tenderness”.  That would be right. There is not much tenderness displayed by anybody.

          Roman rule lasted for more than 400 to 500 years so it must have had something going for it. There must have been people reasonably happy with it as long as you stuck to the rules. I am reminded of the situation in China today, where despite the protests of the people of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese seem happy to accept their lot with a very autocratic regime grateful for the stability it provides. I suppose you could argue that because they did not stick to the rules, Paul and his lot including the whole Jewish nation got into trouble with the Romans.

          There was certainly violence in Roman times. Nevertheless, one thing that I have long puzzled over in relation to the Roman justice system, was that a fair-minded legal system existed at all. It seems remarkable to me that someone presumably as insignificant as Paul in relation to whole wide Roman empire, could go before Governor Felix in Cyprus  and be packed off to Rome, with expensive guards and travel expenses to face further court hearings at the far side of the empire.  To claim that this is because he was a Roman citizen does not sound very convincing to me. Why not impale him, crucify him or feed him to the lions on the spot when defying such a powerful entity? Would the Saudis, the Russians or the Chinese provide such latitude for their citizens today?

          Anyway, back to the violence. In this story, sexual intimacy, whether homosexual or heterosexual does not get much tenderness either. Nothing comparable to the joyous sensuality of the Song of Solomon from an earlier ancient period. Homosexuality is treated as something of shame or disgust (I am bit surprised by this as the author is openly gay). Heterosexual relationships even within marriage are characterised by rape. An ideal marital relationship is painted as no sexual relations at all. We are told of men sleeping in each other’s arms, but it is not clear whether this an emotional closeness or is a further euphemism for what in the Old Testament is described as “knowing” one’s bed companion.

          I found the crudity of the language, grating. Nowadays this sort of interchange is called “coarse” language.  This together with the angry tone may well be the popular style of writing today. I came across this when reviewing some essays composed in a writing course at Griffith University- so much anger!

          Was “fucking” (or its Greek or Syrian counterpart) the general adjective of emphasis with people at that time? Or is that an extension of a 21st century norm when other general adjectives of emphasis in literary and film media have gone by the board.  What happened to “damn!”  and “bloody” of earlier centuries? While writing these notes I read a review of another book about Roman times. This claimed that insults were part of everyday life in ancient Rome so perhaps Tsiolkas has got it right!

          A major theme of Damascus is the author’s design to set up a tension between the people at that time who came to be called Christians regarding the nature of Jesus. In order to do this, he introduces apostle Thomas as a twin of Jesus. Thomas is made to represent those who saw Jesus as simply a charismatic human being who brought a basically non-supernatural message of how to nurture a better secular world here and now – The Kingdom of God. At least in the early years under the sponsorship of Jesus’s brother James, this approach was directed at the people of Israel and sought to retain Jewish culture including notably such practices as male circumcision.

          Paul, however, is the one who took the message far beyond Galilee and Jerusalem along the Mediterranean coast and sought to make it universal. His message, though, was heavily into the supernatural especially in the expectation that Jesus was returning to earth someday soon. This aspect gets hammered quite a bit by Tsiolkas. It is interesting of course – Tsiolkas acknowledges this although not very clearly to my mind – that although Paul insists that he has “seen” the resurrected Jesus, his own writings make it clear that it was not a face to face encounter in the flesh but rather something of an intense vision.

          My own theological position is, of course, closer to that of Thomas (except for the link to Hebrew culture) than of Paul. Tsiolkas has consulted a number of what I regard as reputable literary sources, including, I was glad to see, the gospel of Thomas. He has what I see as a curious, and to me somewhat regrettable attitude to institutional Christianity. He acknowledges the powerful cause for good which arose from Paul’s efforts but is not prepared to call himself Christian because he does not “believe” in the resurrection. Is “belief” in the physical resurrection a vital part of Christianity? If one sees merit in the ethos of the pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus which Paul promoted and proclaimed there may still be room to make the following of the Jesus Way a worthy calling.

          If Christos Tsiolkas is trying to show there was merit in what eventuated from the persuasiveness of Paul, the book fails to be convincing for me because of his depiction of the personal characteristics of the main protagonists. None of them even our hero, Paul, come across as lovely people. They are temperamental, speak harshly, and are sometimes violent. In other words, somewhat hypocritical.

          So, can I share this book with my teenager and trust that he will be inspired by it?  Or provide it to theological students as they engage in their studies to make the world a better place?  I don’t know. Maybe you, my readers, will have some view on this.

          Perhaps what Christos Tsiolkas seeks to remind us is of the ultimate outcome.  Through the persistence, and demonstration of love by relatively weak and flawed personalities such as Paul, Thomas, Lydia, Timothy and others, the message survived and thrived. The Jesus presence with its  ethic of the equal worthiness of all human beings,  of loving one’s  enemies,  of stewardship rather than ownership of one’s assets, and of turning the other cheek (this gets a fair bit of mention in the book) in due course overcame the controlling influence of the Roman empire and left a legacy which remains with us to this day. That, indeed, is remarkable.

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Christianity’s Modern Legacy – a Podcast Interview

Dominion: The making of the western mind, 2019, Little, Brown Book group, London.

Tom Holland
Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster. He is the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and the Tragedy of the Roman Republic, which won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize; Persian Fire, his history of the Graeco-Persian wars, won the Anglo-Hellenic League’s Runciman Award in 2006;

Christianity is the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, and its emergence the single most transformative development in Western history. Even the increasing number in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears, and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition, remain recognisably its heirs. Seen close-up, the division between a sceptic and a believer may seem unbridgeable. Widen the focus, though, and Christianity’s enduring impact upon the West can be seen in the emergence of much that has traditionally been cast as its nemesis: in science, in secularism, and yes, even in atheism.

That is why Dominion will place the story of how we came to be what we are, and how we think the way that we do, in the broadest historical context.

ABC Radio National Podcast interview between Tom Holland and Geraldine Dougue:

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/saturdayextra/christianitys-modern-legacy/12136230

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Ending of Mark’s Gospel – Mk 2

Dr Peter Lewis has produced a second edition of his very interesting book The Ending of Mark’s Gospel.

This is essentially the same content, just expanded a little. A few changes have been made and two chapters added If you have the first edition, no need to rush out and buy the second but new readers should look out for the second edition.

Originally reviewed at: Mark’s Ending

Peter’s hope is that this rational investigation of the abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel will be a key to understanding how the gospels came to be the way they are. He sees this as integral to revitalising the faith.

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Book: Love without Limits

Review coming shortly.

The love of God crosses all boundaries. Every. Single. One.

Every day, millions of people lament the loss of civility, respect, and hope, and they wonder if it’s possible to cultivate a love big enough to overthrow hate and heal our hurts. With courage, authenticity, and relevance, Jacqueline A. Bussie proclaims, “Yes! It’s possible!” and urges readers to widen love’s wingspan and to love as God loves–without limits or exceptions.

In Love Without Limits, Bussie imparts practical solutions for people of faith who yearn to love across division and difference in these troubled times. Through poignant personal memoir, engaging theological reflection, inspiring true stories of boundary-busting friendships, creative readings of scripture, and surprising shout-outs to some of love’s unsung heroes, Bussie challenges readers to answer God’s call to practice a love so deep, it subverts the social order; so radical, it scandalizes the powerful; so vast, it excludes no one.

“A must-read for all Christians interested in inclusivity for their communities.” –Publishers Weekly

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Contemporary Liturgy for the Post-Modern Church

From Rev Fran Pratt – Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas , USA

The Rev Fran Pratt has been on a faith journey which may be familiar to many Christians. She has gone from the charismatic experience of certitude within the Vineyard Fellowship to a place of doubt and uncertainty, where prayer did not come easily to her …

Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer

Available in paperback and kindle ebook.

A compilation of modern call and response litanies intended for congregational use. Whether your community is liturgical and looking for fresh language, or contemporary and looking to incorporate liturgical elements, this volume contains relevant, reflective prayers that call congregations deeper into the story of Divine Love.

Written with attention to beauty, theological resonance, and justice-mindedness, these prayers probe the depths of what it means to live out faith in today’s context. People of faith from various traditions can find helpful language for integrating spirituality and contemporary life in this rich trove of communal prayers.

An extract:

Litany for Our Planet

January 16, 2020

I feel a great deal of urgency combined with hope. People, especially people who claim to follow the Christ – the Peacemaking, violence-ending, death-resurrecting Christ – need to wake up to the understanding that caring for creation = caring for the poor. This is my prayer that Spirit People will not wait to face this, that they will start now, make and push for change now. So that we can leave a legacy of a healthy planet to our children and grandchildren.

God, we ask for your help. 
Our planet, our mother, is suffering
Due to human neglect, apathy, and greed; 
Due to overconsumption, mass production, and pollution.…

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Books where informed Christians Respond to Climate Change

BOOKS THAT INFORM ON THE ENVIRONMENT, ECOLOGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE 

Mick Pope has written two books : A Climate of Justice ISBN 9780648164203 $20.95 Click to buy here
and his recent book All Things New  ISBN 9780648376583 $24.95 Click to Buy here

Jonathan Cornford is the Author of Coming Back to Earth ISBN 9780994264558 $24.95 Click to buy here
and his recent book Coming Home ISBN $19.95 Click to buy here
       

Jan Morgan and Graeme Garrett are authors of On the Edge ISBN 9780648232452 $31.95
Click to buy here
Jan Morgan is the author Earth’s Cry ISBN 9781925208238 $34.95 Click to buy here

Mary Tinney is the author of When Heaven and Earth Embrace ISBN 9780648453888 $25.95
Click to buy here

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