By Richard Holloway
Former Bishop of Edinburgh and a divinity professor in the City of London, Holloway offers deceptively simple reflections on the always compelling, ever-relevant subject of forgiveness. Refreshingly free from the extremes of rant and piety, the cosmopolitan cleric instead summons an eclectic and humanistic range of provocative thinkers, from Derrida to Nietzsche, and a generous sampling of contemporary British poetry. The prolific author of "Godless Morality" and 23 other books is fond of attention-grabbing Derridan paradox: Unforgivability is necessary in order to make forgiveness possible. We can practice religion what it signifies without the form of religion, yielding "religion without religion," which can also be seen in the phenomenon of people who are "spiritual but not religious." Although the book originated as lectures at Glasgow University, Holloway's point is hardly academic. He always applies his reasoning to real and historical examples: the Middle East, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Holloway offers subtle guidance, the kind that is easiest to accept and therefore most effective. He is not imperative: forgiveness is a choice so hard that there is room for the unforgiving, and magnanimity and generosity may work as substitutes for forgiveness in the political arena. This slender book is a reminder that if enormous error is all too human, so too must be the capacity to forgive it and thereby transcend it and, as the author puts it, "reclaim the future." This is an estimable contribution to the growing current literature on forgiveness.
The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity
By Roger E. Olson
In this ambitious book, Olson delineates from an evangelical perspective what is and is not authentic Christian belief. Chapters feature such topics as the Bible, God, Jesus and the Church, beginning with an overview of orthodox belief about the topic, citing Scripture, the Church Fathers and noted Christian writers throughout history. Olson then devotes a section to heretical beliefs, and follows this with an examination of diverse non-heretical beliefs among orthodox Christians (including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, and most Protestants). He ends each chapter envisioning greater unity among Christians, despite honest disagreements. While marred by some redundancy and excess verbiage, Olson's writing renders many complex theological concepts surprisingly accessible. And in his attempts to separate heresy from right belief, he acknowledges that those who adhere to beliefs he labels erroneous are usually sincere Christians (he cites wrong belief among fundamentalists, charismatics, liberal Christians and various sects). Attempting to mediate among the myriad dogmas, doctrines and opinions of orthodox Christians is no easy task, and Olson's descriptions of certain right beliefs and heresies (such as the psychological analogy for the Trinity and modalism) are sometimes barely distinguishable. Despite these and other small logical problems, Olson's book contributes greatly to contemporary evangelicalism not only in its impressive survey of many theologies, but also in its use of "The Great Tradition" of Christian belief as an essential guide to orthodoxy.
by St. Francis of Assisi
Shambhala, which has been broadening its line to include classics of Western as well as Eastern spirituality, offers a beautiful new series merging spiritual poetry and the art of calligraphy. In Canticle of the Sun: The Spirit of Francis of Assisi, the saint's prayers and excerpts from writings about him are complemented by facing-page calligraphy in bold colors. Alongside Francis's prayers of gratitude for Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, for example, are the corresponding Latin praises, beautifully rendered by calligrapher Frank Missant.
Among the other three volumes in Shambhala's series is "Perfect Harmony: Sufi Poetry of Ibn `Arabi," which pairs the poetry of the 13th-century Sufi mystic with contemporary calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy. In a moving afterword, Massoudy explains how he became involved in calligraphy as a child, and how his work is inspired by poetry.
Seeing Jesus in His Own Words
By Marianna Mayer
In another of her elegant-looking picture books, Mayer ("The Twelve Apostles") illuminates Jesus' character, personality and teachings. The text consists chiefly of an amalgam of quotes attributed to Jesus in the Gospels; a variety of Bible versions are the sources. The language is contemporary and accessible, if not always poetic ("Don't pass judgment, and you won't be judged"; "Notice how the wild lilies grow: They don't slave and they don't spin"). Focusing on Jesus as a spiritual teacher rather than savior, Mayer informally groups quotes according to such unstated themes as Jesus the champion of children and Jesus the shepherd. Paintings, mostly European and post-Renaissance, appear throughout the volume. Though the accumulation of similar quotes can be slightly overwhelming, young readers will certainly take away a clear impression of Jesus' emphasis on selfless love, compassion and forgiveness.
The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church
By Robb Redman
Robb Redman, the former director of the D. Min. program at Fuller Theological Seminary, argues that American Christianity is in the midst of a "worship awakening." In "The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church," Redman argues that the shift is best seen in the popularity of seeker services, the "praise and worship" movement, the growth of the Christian worship industry and the renaissance of liturgical traditions. Redman traces demographic changes to understand why worship has taken on new significance, pointing to increasing ethnic diversity and inter-generational dynamics. This is not the most sophisticated book on changes in American Christian worship practices; recent contributions by Robert Webber and Leonard Sweet have hit the mark more forcefully. However, it is a competent and resourceful overview.
By Pat Robertson
In 1874, the evangelist Charles G. Finney gave a controversial series of lectures to divinity students on revivals of religion. Finney endured a great deal of criticism for saying that Christian revival could be humanly engineered; it was not necessary to wait for God to fan the flames of revival. Rather, it was required of Christian believers to actively seek opportunities to create revival and convert unbelievers. Pat Robertson's "Six Steps to Christian Revival: God's Awesome Power in Your Life" certainly follows in Finney's footsteps ideologically, albeit not as ambitiously: It focuses more on personal, inner renewal than mass revivals or crusades. Robertson's six steps humble yourself, pray, seek God's face, turn from sin, gather in prayer and persevere are classic, and his short book is very solidly based on the Bible, although the prose is not very energetic.
In God's Time: The Bible and the Future
By Craig C. Hill
Eschatology is a hot subject. "Prophecy" is a regular feature in supermarket tabloids, and it recently made the cover of Time magazine. Interest in the subject fuels countless water cooler conversations, myriad "end-times" Web sites and the whole Left Behind publishing juggernaut. But in many quarters of the Christian community, that same intrigue over "what happens at the end of the story" is balanced by bewilderment, even embarrassment over what the Bible and its various interpreters say. For these Christians in particular (and less so for inerrantist end-time enthusiasts), this book is a welcome, comprehensive and accessible guide to exploring what the Bible says about the future. Hill, a professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., wants to show "that the idea of God's triumph is central to Christian faith and that a working knowledge of the concept is essential to an informed reading of the Bible, particularly the New Testament." He begins with a primer on biblical interpretation, then addresses prophecy throughout history, the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, Jesus' expectations for the future and what those expectations were for the earliest Christians. The book closes with an appendix on the Rapture. It all reads like a good lecture, punctuated with summary lists, illustrative diagrams and funny asides (though some readers may find the latter off-putting). Like a well-prepared and practiced professor, Hill leads his readers through this difficult material with ease and expertise, sensitivity and a sense of humor.
By Linette Martin
For most Christians in the West, icons are intriguing but opaque, enigmatic and perhaps a little frightening. In an accessible and loving introduction to the ancient devotional art form, the late Martin, who studied art history at Oxford University, manages to make icons intelligible without denuding their mystery. Part reference work and part inspirational meditation, the book opens by sharing little-known characteristics of icons. Next she offers a helpful chronology, usefully chronicling the various periods of Byzantine art, and limning the history of Russian icons. One very concrete chapter catalogues the materials and techniques of icon-making, explaining the role of egg tempera and gesso in producing the often dark, matte pictures. The most eloquent and capacious chapter is that on prayer. Icons, Martin tells us, are not merely inspiring works of art, but are "made for the distinct purpose of prayer." Indeed, this chapter goes beyond instructions about icons to a moving meditation on prayer itself. The small but densely packed volume is rounded out by an appendix of international icon collections, and a helpful bibliography. Only occasionally does the book turn didactic and over-encyclopedic; chapters five and six, which define basics like "iconostasis" and "diptych," feel plodding. Martin's work, which nicely complements Henri Nouwen's classic reflection on icons, ought to become an indispensable part of any Christian library.