Theology The Basic Readings, Third edition

Editor: Alister McGrath
ISBN: 978-1-119-15815-8
Date: 2018
Price: £18.99
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Publisher: Wiley Blackwell

Professor Alister McGrath, described on the back cover of this book as ‘one of the world’s leading Protestant theologians’, has over the years produced some very useful introductions to the study of theology, with accompanying readers. This volume, in a new third edition, is intended to be a companion to his 2004 book Theology: The Basics.

Readers of this kind can be rather predictable, putting forward in an accessible form the ‘obvious’ material which students need to try and understand a topic by reading some original sources; but this collection shows a great deal of imagination, making use of some theologians who aren’t well known. The themes covered are what one would expect – Faith, God, Creation, Jesus, Salvation, Spirit, Trinity, Church, Sacraments and Heaven – and in each section extracts are grouped chronologically, aiming to put forward someone from each key period in Christian history.

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Raging with Compassion, Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil

Author: John Swinton,
ISBN: 978-0334056381
Date: 2018
Price: £19.99
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Publisher: SCM Press

In Raging with Compassion, John Swinton combines the eloquence of academic learning with the lived experience of pastoral encounters to offer a refreshing look on how we view the existence of evil in the world in which we live. Swinton does not attempt to explain away the problem of evil but rather he reframes our approach to seeing its place in the society in which we live. In this book, Swinton offers a rich tapestry drawing on theological, philosophical, anthropological and sociological insights.

Swinton roots his reflections on evil very much within pastoral perspectives. From the opening pages of the book until its conclusion, the book is permeated with real-life encounters of people who have suffered to the depths of their being. Tenderly Swinton reflects on the suffering that these people have had to endure without trying to minimise their pain but he offers the solace that God is present to them and the call of the Christian community to offer a real, compassionate and empathic response to the suffering endured. Indeed, as Swinton points out, a primary function of the Christian community is to offer a loving response to people’s suffering.

Swinton presents four pillars to reflect on our response to evil. These are lament, forgiveness, thoughtfulness and hospitality.

In lament, Swinton offers the challenge for Christians and wider society to rediscover the importance of being aware of the pain of suffering. Rooted in lived experience and the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, Swinton notes that lamenting has been a reaction of people since the dawn of humanity but is sadly neglected and downplayed in the present age. Swinton proposes a way for people to rediscover the ancient practice of lamenting by gathering in small groups and compose their own example of the lament Psalms

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An Introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions

Author: John L. McLaughlin
ISBN: 978 0 8028 7454 2
Date: 2018
Price: £15.99
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Publisher: Eerdmans

John McLaughlin, a professor at St Michael’s College, Toronto, here gives us a highly commendable introduction to Israel’s Wisdom Traditions, the fruit of a quarter of a century’s teaching of courses on the subject. His book is not only very authoritative but also very reader-friendly – clearly written with a minimum use of technical terms, and without footnotes. He helpfully uses many side-boxes and each section concludes with a full bibliography.

There are three introductory chapters. Here McLaughlin treats of (1) The nature of Wisdom, as an attempt, through the study of universal human experience, to discover how the world works. (2) The international context for Israel’s Wisdom, especially in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Canaan. (3) The ways in which Wisdom is expressed. Here McLaughlin speaks of Hebrew poetry’s use of parallelism, and of major and minor structural elements and he lists the main Wisdom forms: proverbs; instructions, numerical sayings.

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The Merciful Humility of God

Author: Jane Williams
ISBN: 978-1-472954815
Date: 2018
Price: £9.99
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Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum, London & New York.

If chapter headings maketh the book then this book certainly attracts the passer by, whether in Chapter Three ‘How to win friends and influence nobody’, or Chapter Five, ‘Risen and ascended into humility’. This book will turn heads.

Jane Williams offers a practical manual to support the theologically interested believer in their journey into, and through, Lent. But be prepared for the road less tarmacked, as she is keen to go off-roading in her pursuit of a strong, narrative voice, within the well-trodden apologia.

Non-technical and ideal for a parish or similar group, this book is punchy and prepared to deploy more challenging agendas. Indeed, its discussion of the limitations in resurrection narratives, as well as the fallacy of diminishing the focus of Jesus’ death in favour of the ‘happy ending’, will be challenging for some who lack a more seasoned theological underpinning. No bad thing!

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An Introduction to Reading Biblical Wisdom Texts

Author: Elaine A. Phillips
ISBN: 978 1 61970 710 8
Date: 2017
Price: £24.99
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Publisher: Hendrickson / Alban Books

Dr Phillips is a professor at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts. She is well-versed in biblical scholarship but wears her learning lightly, writing lucidly and in a semi-conversational way. The first of the five parts of her book consists of an introduction to Wisdom literature in general. She is perhaps keener to stress the distinctiveness of biblical wisdom than to bring out what it shares with the Wisdom traditions of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

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