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