Tuesday, October 23, 2007


(General Editor: Alister McGrath, First hardback edition 2006; flexiback 2007)

Here's an excellent 350 page introduction to classic Christian thinking/doctrine.

It begins with a seven-page overview of Christian Church History (try doing that sometime!). Then we explore faith, including an introduction to the creeds, faith and philosophy, religious language, can God's existence be proved?, the place of tradition, interpreting the Bible, introduction to theology, modernity, postmodernity, and Islam.

Next we have chapters on God, Jesus, Salvation, the Church, and the Christian Hope.

At the end is a Concise Anthology of Christian Thought (actually 'church history' via some great Christian apologists and theologians, from Justin Martyr to Tillich, Moltmann and Pannenberg). Then we have a useful 22-page glossary and an index.

Now, a cautious caveat. Lion Hudson, as this publisher is now called, has generally a 'conservative evangelical' flavour. The editor of this volume - Alister McGrath - may be the UK's most prolific evangelical writer. And J. I. Packer, the associate editor, is probably - with John Stott - one of the two or three modern 'godfathers' of English-speaking evangelicalism. (So, of course, the index has 13 references to John Calvin!).

I wanted to test the integrity of this book in terms of its ecclesiological breadth. My quest began with two articles on women. Here are two representative quotes:

'It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how novel [Jesus'] attitudes were at the time. Jesus' ministry represents an attempt to reform the patriarchalism of his day, and permit women to hold a new kind of authority in religious matters' (p. 139).

'An increasing number of churches have decided that there is no biblical or theological reason against ordaining women... Yet many churches hold that the tradition of the church in this regard must not be changed, and they limit the ministerial roles of women accordingly.' (p. 249).

You get the idea: conservative generally, but also cautiously 'broad church'. But not too broad: Bishop N. T. Wright gets a mention, but not, I think, the Jesus Seminar: though there is a one-page summary of the Quest for the Historical Jesus; the NRSV is used, but also the NIV; and there's two pages (!!) for an article entitled 'Where was the Garden of Eden?'

It's well-illustrated, brilliantly laid-out, and very readable. I'm teaching an Introduction to Theology course at the moment, and I recommended this book as a basic text. It's now (after the Bible) the first resource I would give to a thoughtful young person or adult beginning the Christian journey.

Copies available from Ridley College Bookshop, Melbourne.

Rowland Croucher

Friday, October 19, 2007


(Zondervan, 2006).

Shane Claiborne looks, speaks, and dresses like an Old Testament prophet (or John the Baptist). And he makes the same sort of crazy sense. (But he's had a better formal education than most of them).

He's a young (my guess: 30s) idealistic American, who spent time with Mother Teresa's helpers in India, and went to Iraq with other peacemakers (there he was lucky to survive a car accident and other possible horrors). He's one of the founding members of The Simple Way community in very-downtown Philadelphia, and a prominent activist.

A couple of months ago I heard him speak at the Urban Neighbours of Hope conference in Melbourne, and was impressed. (My wife Jan's job at the conference was to provide hospitality - bedding and breakfast, for Shane - and his mother: he's never married - and other speakers, but that's by-the-way). He's a terrific raconteur. Who could forget his lines: 'Patriots you may bring your flags; we're washing feet and will need some rags'? Or his story about throwing $10,000 worth of small change around Wall Street. Or of his grandfather's setting fire to fields because he overloaded a new trailer with hay, which ignited from friction?

This book is a terrific read: those of us over 50-or-so mightn't get some of the modern lingo, but we'll certainly enjoy his humor (particularly 8 or 10 'Just kiddings!').

I have no other comments to make about the book, and would rather use the space here to cite a few representative 'quotable quotes' to whet your appetite:

* (When Roman Catholic authorities began the legal process of evicting homeless people from a deserted cathedral): 'We ran through campus hanging up flyers that read, "Jesus is getting kicked out of church in North Philly. Come hear about it. Kea Lounge. 10 pm. tonight".

* 'You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemas. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too'.

* 'If you don't know what a eunuch is, see the diagram in the appendix. Just kidding. Check the phone book and call up a pastor and ask her or him: it should make for an interesting conversation'.

* 'Many spiritual seekers have not been able to hear the words of Christians because the lives of Christians have been making so much horrible noise. It can be hard to hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit amid the noise of Christendom'.

* 'When people move beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get into trouble... Managing poverty is big business. Ending poverty is revolutionary'.

* 'There is one thing I will never forget - (Mother Teresa's) feet. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn't going to ask, of course... One day a sister said to us, "Have you noticed her feet?" We nodded, curious. She said, "Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet." Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet'.

* 'The stuff Jesus warned us to beware of, the yeast of the Pharisees, is so infectious today in the camps of both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives stand up and thank God that they're not like the homosexuals, the Muslims, the liberals. Liberals stand up and thank God that they are not like the war makers, the yuppies, the conservatives. It is a similar self-righteousness just with different definitions of evildoing. It can paralyze us in judgment and guilt and rob us of life'.

* 'Bono, the great theologian (and decent rock star) said in his introduction to a book of selections from the Psalms: "The fact that the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers, and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort".'

* 'The Catholic Workers used to say "The true atheist is the one who refuses to see God's image in the face of their neighbor".'

You get the idea... Every Westerner whose life is fairly comfortable should read a book like this at least once a year.

If you're Australian this book can be purchased from Ridley College Bookshop

Rowland Croucher

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Marva Dawn, Joy in Divine Wisdom: Practices of Discernment from Other Cultures and Christian Traditions (Wiley, 2006).

How is one supposed to make wise decisions in difficult situations? What is 'God's will' for my life?

Wise discernment is a very valuable tool for Christian living - or any kind of living for that matter. Problem is, in Western individualistic cultures we are often denied access to collective wisdom. This is the essence of Marva Dawn's most helpful book: she takes us to African, Asian, Latin American and some other 'traditional' cultures, suggesting that they have much to teach us in this important area.

Marva Dawn is an erudite person, familiar with grass-roots spiritualities and Christian mystics (but not, in this book, with Christian theologians - except for Bonhoeffer - which might be to her and our advantage on this topic). And she's prolific, with about 20 books published in the same number of years (one co-authored with Eugene Peterson). She tells many stories - some of the most moving about her own struggle with cancer and kidney disease. She's also traveled widely, thus testing her theories/ theologies in many settings.

She starts with grace: 'In humility our good choices are made possible by our gracious gift-giving God.' And two universal practices: listening to our dreams and 'waiting in silence'. Then she suggests we take words seriously: 'As Abraham Heschel notes, in our time words no longer commit their speakers to live them'. God's Word in Scripture is of paramount importance: with the Celts Marva Dawn urges us to place Scripture above reason and tradition, learn large parts of it by heart, and live according to its guidance.

She moves then to a core area of her thesis: if we are to live wisely we must 'rectify names', that is, 'call a spade a spade' in the context of a community's gathered wisdom - essential for discerning 'real realities'. Further, we must have a passion to 'live with purity of heart in accordance with our focal concerns'.

Next, let us prioritize virtues and morals such as sabbath- keeping, eschewing societal 'control' in terms of consumerism, living quietly to rest our 'chattering mind', the prayer of 'listening' - all classical 'spiritual disciplines'.

Her chapter on communal discernment is brilliant, especially her description of Mennonite practices. They have traditions of silent waiting, listening, writing down Spirit-guided thoughts, and sharing these with others - practices which are antithetical to the 'business meeting' methodologies of Western corporations and churches. Consensus is a preferred outcome to a 'majority vote' in this process.

In two chapters - on hospitality/welcoming and reconciliation - she underscores the kind of character out of which we make our best decisions. Then she faces the reality that we make our choices against the backdrop of a broken, sinful world: 'good and godly decisions are not easy; our very discernment processes might sometimes cause us suffering, even as they force us to ask whether we are willing to undergo more struggles because of the choices we might make.' So we need to belong to a community that is willing to enter into our suffering and to enfold us in its celebrations. Rainer Maria Rilke said it well:

O tell me, poet, what do you do? - I praise
But how can you endure to meet the gaze

Of deathly and of monstrous things? - I praise.

Because of our human limitations and ignorance, there are no 'surefire methods' but if we employ all these approaches/disciplines together we will be more likely to discern choices from God's perspective.

Rowland Croucher

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


In his interesting book How to Talk about Books you Haven't Read Pierre Bayard says he has no inclination to read every word of James Joyce's Ulysses, a book he feels he already knows. Some books are more easily admired than digested, he says.

I agree. I had to plough through Ulysses when an undergraduate, and it was quite a chore!

In some respects reading books or plays might actually interfere with the appreciation of literature, Bayard says. I agree again. High School English teachers did not help me appreciate Shakespeare: I did not enjoy trying to take apart his stanzas and writing about their possible meanings...

I see book titles in 'Must Read' lists which I confess I haven't read. I may one day. I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird. I tried to get into The Great Gatsby as a youth and gave up. Same recently with Harry Potter. I was in the wrong queue when the gift of imaginative appreciation was given out. Which is also why the English-Speaking world's Number one author Tolkien has also eluded me...

But I do read a lot of books: generally one or two a week. And in this Blog I want to whet your appetite to read books of your choice and enjoy the experience...

Rowland Croucher

Saturday, April 14, 2007

1 Month of Books You Should Read

Dear friends,

Watch this space: this blog is part of a series attempting to answer the most important 300 questions I've been asked in 18,000-plus hours of counseling/talking to people - and learnings from 70 years of a fulfilling life. Here we'll look at some of the greatest books ever written - especially, but not exclusively, about Christianity.
Other Blogs in this series:

1 Month to Meet the Baptists

1 Month of Answers to Tough Questions

1 Month of Devotions

1 Month to Change Your Life

1 Month to Meet Some Interesting People

1 Month to Become a Christian

1 Month To Meet Jesus

Basic idea: you read one of the 30 posts each day and complete a 'mini-course' in a month. (I might even organize a certificate for those who complete the 300 units!)

Some of the material will be adapted from the 20,000 articles on the John Mark Ministries website. It's a big site, (although many of the 100,000+ unique visitors a month tell me it's easy to navigate).

I look forward to journeying with you!



Here's a tentative list of the authors/books which have changed my life, and will probably feature here:

Thomas Merton - New Seeds of Contemplation
John Claypool - especially Tracks of a Fellow Struggler
John Stott - especially his Tyndale commentary on 1 John
C S Lewis - especially Mere Christianity
Lesslie Newbiggin - especially Gospel in a Pluralist Society
Augustine of Hippo - Confessions, together with
Matthew Fox - Original Blessing
Richard Rohr - Contemplative Prayer
Brian McLaren - A Generous Orthodoxy
Walter Brueggemann - The Prophetic Imagination
Richard Foster - Celebration of Discipline, Streams of Living Water
W E Sangster - The Pure in Heart, and his son's biography Doctor Sangster
Eugene Peterson - The Contemplative Pastor
Garrison Keillor - everything
Henri Nouwen - Creative Ministry
Dom Helder Camara - A Thousand Reasons for Living
Vincent Donovan - Christianity Rediscovered
Favorite poems and hymns (Isaiah 40, When I Survey, There's a Wideness in God's Mercy etc.)
N T Wright & Marcus Borg - The Meaning of Jesus
Marvin McMickle - Where Have All the Prophets Gone?
Frank Laubach - anything...

and some more.... can't wait!


Rowland Croucher