A CATHOLIC REPLIES TO PROFESSOR DAWKINS
Thomas Crean op
Family Publications, 160pp, pbk 978 1871217704, £8.50
The Dawkins Debate continues to rage. Apart from the contributions of numerous bloggers (google the Professors name and be amazed) there have been three books responding directly to Dawkins. From Alister McGrath, a theologian with a scientific background, we got The Dawkins Delusion; and last month John Cornwell, a theologian who is also an historian, ‘ gave us Darwin’s Angel. Both these books make telling points against Dawkins, but neither offer a thorough analysis and critique of the argument of The God Delusion. This is exactly what Thomas Crean, a theologian who is also a philosopher, does in this superb little book.
The strength of Fr Thomas’ work is that it situates the debate where it belongs: in the realm of philosophy. Both McGrath and Cornwell tend to give the impression that the Dawkins Debate is between Science and Religion, but this of course plays right into his hands. From the first page of the book, Crean cuts through Dawkins’ attempt to revive this bit of Victorian intellectual history by focusing on his argument. He shows that it has nothing whatever to do with ‘science’ but is a clumsy and ill-informed re-statement of that philosophical position called ‘materialism’. And by taking Dawkins seriously as a philosopher, he exposes the lack of seriousness in Dawkins’ reasoning.
Fr Thomas’ own philosophy is Thomist. One of the features of St Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy is the determination to put the objections to an argument as strongly as possible, an approach which is particularly noticeable in the case of his arguments for the existence of God. And Fr Thomas follows just the same line as his saintly namesake when dealing with Professor Dawkins’ objections to these arguments. He always gives the strongest possible interpretation of Dawkins’ criticisms of St Thomas.
Possibly for that reason, the second chapter is not the easiest to read. But it is short and clearly written. The reader should be encouraged to persevere because she will find there the best illustration of the Argument from Motion I have come across (it involves potato peelers) and an illuminating discussion of what traditional theists have meant when saying that the universe is designed. If you think this refers to a watch’s need of a maker (blind, as Dawkins says, or otherwise, as in the opinion of Archdeacon Paley) read Crean.
Having done this hard head work the reader can relax and enjoy the rest of the book as Fr Thomas breezes through Dawkins on miracles, the gospels and the origins of morality and the Bible, marshalling all the necessary evidence to expose the Professor’s prejudices and errors. This is Christian apologetic at its best in which robustness of argument and lucidity of exposition are combined in way that reminded me of CS. Lewis. Reminiscent of Lewis too is his emphasis on what the latter called ‘the Tao’ and which is defined by Fr Thomas as ‘the reality and binding force of natural law, inscribed by God in the heart of every human being’.
The last chapter makes plain what the debate which bears his name is really about – and that is emphatically not Science and Religion. Rather the issue is, as he puts it, between ‘two “philosophies of life” contrasted in these pages: secular atheism and Catholicism.’ At a recent conference I attended, Bishop Broadhurst and Fr Jeremy Sheehy were agreed that a lack of interest in philosophy was seriously handicapping our Christian witness in this country. Fr Thomas’ book is a brilliant demonstration of the importance of Christian philosophy in the current intellectual climate and deserves the widest possible Anglican readership.
FREDERICK WILLIAM FABER
A Great Servant of God Melissa Wilkinson
Grace wing, 320pp, hbk 978 0852441350, [£20]
You either loathe Faber’s hymns as sentimental and triumphalist or else love them for very similar reasons. There is tremendous energy and dedication about his songs that has lasted better than others of that period which now sound pale and lifeless. ‘Faith of our fathers, living still’ may well have receive a little doctoring in many collections to remove the implied anti-Church of England bias of’Mary’s prayers’ but it is still a glorious affirmation of discipleship.
Brought up a Calvin-ist, he went up to Oxford and was ordained into the Church of England in 1839, useful preparation one might say for his conversion to Rome in 1845. More than most he wanted to repudiate his past, and yet for all his zeal, he could not forget that some of the things he had left behind. He was able to give, therefore, one of the finest appreciations of the Authorized Version of the Bible as seen from a mid-nineteenth century perspective:
‘Who will say that the uncommon beauty and marvellous English of the Protestant Bible is not one of the great strongholds of heresy in this country? It lives on in the ear like a music that never can be forgotten, like a sound of church bells which the convert hardly knows how he can forego… It is part of the national mind and the anchor of the national seriousness… The memory of the dead passes into it. The potent traditions of childhood are stereotyped in its verses. The power of all the griefs and trials of a man is hidden beneath its words. It is the representative of his best moments, and all that there has been about him of soft and gentle and pure and penitent and good, speaks to him forever out of his English Bible. It is his sacred thing which doubt never dimmed and controversy never soiled.’ And so he goes on, at considerable length – at once envious and wistful, and frustrated by its continuing hold, not only of his religious opponents, but it seems of his own heart too.
The move from Calvinist Anglicanism to Ultramontane Roman Catholicism, allied to so passionate a nature, has left us hymns and poetic prose, but not an appreciation of the full spiritual life of one of the great nineteenth century churchmen. Wilkinsons biography is careful and thorough, and fleshes out that life, showing perhaps most powerfully how his ill-health can explain and to some extent enhance what he has to teach us. I do not myself warm to him, but am grateful to him, none the less, and was glad of this very readable biography.
A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN
Catholic Churches in England and Wales
with photographs by Alex Ramsey
Catholic Bishops Conference, hbk, £25
ANGLICAN CHURCH-BUILDING IN LONDON 19151945
Michael Yelton and John Salmon
Spire Books, hbk
0 904965 13 8, £24.95
THE CATHEDRAL OF SAINT FIN BARRE AT CORK
William Burges in Ireland David Lawrence and Ann Wilson
Four Courts Press, hbk
1 84682 023 5, €55
Here are riches and glories in abundance. In A Glimpse of Heaven the Patrimony Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has collaborated with English Heritage, aided by the generosity of several trusts and individual benefactors, to record and to celebrate over one hundred of the Catholic Church’s finest buildings. It is a magnificent achievement and comes with a sympathetic and graceful text by Christopher Martin, and the stunning and vibrant photographs taken by Alex Ramsey which grace this ridiculously inexpensive book.
Apart, perhaps, from the Oratories of London and Birmingham, some of the
cathedrals, notably Westminster and, ever and always, St Giles, Cheadle, Pugin’s incomparable jewel which never fails to take the breath away, Catholic churches have been undervalued and have existed in the shadows of the cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of England, the vast majority of which, of course, belong to the patrimony of the undivided English Church. This book aims to redress this imbalance and it, incidentally, provides a gazetteer for church crawling and appreciation.
It is an outstanding advertisement, beautifully designed and produced on fine paper, with lavish coloured photographs on every page which capture with equal facility broad vistas and the finest of details. The full page photograph of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool (‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ – although the term is neatly and assiduously avoided in the book), which is a symphony of blues simply makes you gasp with delight as you turn the page. You are forced to re-assess opinions and prejudices from the quality of the reproductions and the writing, which is never hectoring and always persuasive. During the course of the book, we learn not only about the architectural and artistic glories, but also about the casual vandalism committed in the name of liturgical reform and re-ordering.
The book is divided into chapters on different architectural styles or periods. Within each chapter, the churches are discussed chronologically. It is surprising and gratifying to learn how many pre-Reformation buildings remained in Catholic hands and in use throughout the penal years. Many were attached to, or in the ownership of, recusant families. Several were of the utmost simplicity and severity. Many exteriors were disguises for the I dangerous and illicit I practices that went on | within. Many facades did not attract attention and were little different in aspect from adjacent secular buildings. St Amand’s Chapel, East Hendred in Berkshire looks like an extension to the house. St Etheldreda’s Chapel in Ely Place, London lies discreetly sheltered by business and commercial property. Stonor Chapel, where Mass has been celebrated without a break since 1349 is starkly built on old flint but contains within its austere shell delightful and fanciful touches of Strawberry Hill Gothick.
There are gems to be discovered, like (taken almost at random) St Mary and St Everilda at Everingham in Yorkshire which was built in 1836, after Catholic Emancipation, but which maintained a discreet and non-committal exterior which did nothing to suggest the stunning baroque within: golden pilasters, marble flooring, ornate ceilings, an exuberant Italianate interior. This is a real baroque find with more than something of Brideshead’ about it, as Christopher Martin aptly and dryly observes. William Constable-Maxwell, of an old Catholic Scottish recusant family, commissioned the Roman architect Agostino Giorgoli, whose plans were put into effect by a Catholic architect working in York, John Harper. It is something not to be missed.
But there are many similar discoveries rubbing shoulders with the already justifiably famous examples of Pugin (well represented both pic-torially and in the text) and Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral in its unfinished Byzantine, mysterious magnificence, the Brompton Oratory in all its splendour, Farm Street, Spanish Place… the list goes on. This is essential reading for anyone interested in or affected by the beauty of holiness.
In comparison Anglican Church-Building in London 1915-1945 is less sumptuous and more of a gazetteer, with brief factual entries rather than evocative descriptive prose. The photographs, by John Salmon, are in black-and-white and are uniformly excellent. The book is produced to the highest of standards, which is no more than the publishers, Spire Books, have led us to expect in recent publications. They have maintained a consistent standard of excellence in their publications.
The format makes it slightly too awkward to be a gazetteer that can be carried around on a church crawl but it is usefully divided into distinct geographic areas that makes for a good walking tour of an area. A chronological order may have given a clearer sense of the architectural changes that occurred during the period from the echoes of the Victorian Anglo-Catholic red-brick pile seen in St Barnabas, North Ealing built in 1916 by Ernest Sherman, to the odeonesque defiant brutalism of St Paul, South Harrow by N.E Cachemaille-Day: ‘Not one of Cachemaille-Day’s more successful designs,’ as the text observes. One of the longer entries is for St Thomas the Apostle, Hanwell, for which a case is made for it being the finest church of its era in London. It is the work of Sir Edward Maufe and he tested out some of the ideas which he subsequently employed in his designs for Guildford Cathedral. The bold but graceful exterior, with a crucifix and figures by Eric Gill is complemented by furnishings by significant designers of the day. In comparison the church of The Ascension, Hanger Hill looks like a municipal library apart from three incongruous lancet windows. Seely and Paget were responsible in 1938 for this unusual ecclesiastical construction. There is much of interest to be found in these pages and the book will make a necessary addition to any self-respecting ecclesiastical and architectural bookcase.
William Burges, the most Gothic of Gothicists, is a nineteenth century architect to be mentioned in the same breath as Pearson, Bodley, Butterfield. His work for the Marquess of Bute in Wales (Castel Coch shows his indulgence of the fantastic and the whimsical) and Scotland is well-known. His church at Studley Royal, next door to Fountains Abbey, on the North Yorshire estate of Lord Ripon, is a beautiful achievement and shows him at the top of his considerable form. His domestic buildings show a similar degree of excellence. Knightshayes, just outside Tiverton, built for the Heafhcote-Amorys and now in the care of the National Trust is a perfect example.
He was the subject of one of the best biographies by J. Mordaunt Crook some years ago. Here is a close and detailed study of the construction of Saint Fin Barre Cathedral at Cork in southern Ireland. It is a fine case-study of the conception and execution of Burgess’s plans and an accessible guide to the final accomplishment with a good, indispensable appendix detailing the sculpture and carvings in the cathedral.
The text is based on archival research and is thoroughly documented and includes that letter which Burges wrote to the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, John Gregg, submitting his plans. How right he was to say that T am quite certain that you yourself wish all things in your cathedral to be as beautiful as this somewhat inarticulate age can make them and I am equally sure that you will agree with me as to its being better to have a few good things than many cheap and indifferent ones. Good art is far too rare and far too precious ever to be cheap.’ Well said.
There are many good photographs to accompany the interesting text, although one or two of them are not as crisp as others. This is a book for scholar and amateur enthusiast alike and an excellent introduction for those who do not know this most delightful of architects and designers.
SPEECHES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
Quercus Audio, 2 CDs 978 847242198, £12.99
There is an irony that in an age not known for its oratory but renowned enough for the flatness of the prose of public discourse, there should be a minor revival of interest in rhetoric. Earlier this year, Simon Heffer published a book of great speeches which was well-received in these pages. Simon Sebag Montefiore (an excellent biographical study of Stalin under his belt) has also published a book on speeches that changed the world. There is now, also, a CD in which can be heard twentieth century speeches from that collection.
It makes all the difference, of course, to hear the speeches, to hear in context the sections that have become most famous and have given their name to the oration. It is particularly helpful to hear the audience reaction and the extraneous noises against which the speeches were made. Here Winston Churchill’s speeches are an exception. They were delivered in the House of Commons before proceedings were broadcast and what we hear are those he repeated on the BBC. But, there remains a persistent suggestion that they were the result of a pin-point impersonation by the actor Norman Shelley. That they still have the ring of authenticity may be a tribute to either Churchill or Shelley. Whoever was responsible for their transmission, Churchill wrote them and they are cast in the classical mould of great oratory.
The audience is significant because most of these speeches were delivered to sympathetic audiences and you can hear how the speakers are sometimes buoyed up and encouraged by the favourable reaction. To an extent also, an uncritical audience can transform a speech. Such a case seems to me that of General Douglas MacArthur. He was sacked by President Truman as Commander in Chief of the forces in the Korean War and addressed the United States Congress, then in the hands of Truman’s political opponents. Their wildly enthusiastic applause transforms something of a rag-bag of sentimentality and cliche into an oration that has entered the pantheon. It is not entirely deserved.
The most moving speech is that in which Mother Teresa accepts the Nobel Prize. It is simple and touching in equal measure and speaks eloquently of the poor and the unborn to the rich and the mighty and the powerful. Franklin Roosevelt is represented by his Inaugural Address ‘The only thing we have left to fear is fear itself and his speech to Congress after the attack on Pearl Harbour ‘A day that will live in infamy’ His Brahmin east-coast accent is marvellously resonant and compelling. John E Kennedys Inaugural Address, even though it has become the stuff of cliche, still stands up well because it is delivered in a similar ringing way. There are some surprises: Ronald Reagan’s speech delivered in Berlin in which he called directly on Mr Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’ transcends Kennedy’s Teh bin ein Berliner,’ also included on this disc. It belies Reagan’s reputation among the liberal media and he emerges here with a prophetic edge.
You will find Neville Chamberlain’s speech when he waved the piece of paper signed by himself and Hitler: a guarantee that was not, literally, worth the paper it was written on. EW. de Klerk’s speech announcing that the time for negotiating of apartheid out of existence had come is not great rhetoric (it is really rather bureaucratic) but it qualifies as a speech that did affect the course of history. Nelson Mandela is represented by the speech he made on his release from prison which occurred as a consequence of de Klerk’s policy. He is also to be heard addressing the court before he was sentenced to imprisonment. It is poised and noble. It was the more notable because it was delivered to an unsympathetic audience.
This is also true of what is, I consider, the finest piece of rhetoric on the disc. Chaim Herzog faced a predominantly unsympathetic Assembly at the United Nations which was about to pass a resolution condemning Zionism as racism. His scornful denunciation of ‘hate, ignorance and evil’ was passionate in its disdain and forensic in its dissection of the motives of the resolution’s proponents. His speech which lasts a little over seven minutes ends as he tears up the resolution. It is the most effective peroration on the disc.
The finest piece of oratory is one of the most famous, but it is no less compelling for that. It is true that Martin Luther King Junior was speaking to a hugely sympathetic crowd and one that urged him and punctuated his words with sounds of encouragement and affirmation. But by any measure, this was outstanding. Its sweep and resonance were in the greatest classical tradition. Balanced antithesis, rhythms and cadences, repetitions for emphasis, phrase piled upon phrase culminating in a crushing statement are all on display. He was of the generation and culture, and of the profession that was steeped in the language and the linguistic structure of the Authorized Version of the Bible and it underpins and sustains this mighty and poetic outpouring. It is still thrilling to hear.
1 & 2 KINGS
A theological commentary Peter Leithart
SCM, 300pp, hbk
978 0334040989, [£19.99]
This is another in the excellent SCM series seeking to read the Scriptures from a clearly Christian doctrinal position, to go beyond the barren limitations of historical criticism and actually read the texts with full seriousness.
As Leithart reminds us from the beginning, the Jewish tradition sees the book of Kings as part of the prophetic tradition, a more productive understanding than the Christian classification of the book as history, or as we have come to think of it since the Enlightenment, mere history. God’s prophetic word is revealed through the history of Israel and Judah told through its pages, not only the recorded words of his prophets but the outworking of their words in the life of the nations.
It is also a book in the wisdom tradition, a source of rich reflection upon Solomon and his successors for whom wisdom is the royal virtue par excellence, but who time and again fail to heed what God has taught and tempted away from what they know to be wise. But more than a prophetic, historical and sapiential collection of narratives and events, it is gospel.
In Kings, we see the covenant of the Lord, worked out through the focus of that relationship, the law, the temple and the king; but whereas the common historical perception is that this Old Testament God is an angry and jealous god no more worthy to be considered by children of the new and newer covenants, Leithart is assiduous in describing how the God who is shown is one of unending patience and long-suffering. Again and again, Israel and Judah rebel; again and again, the Lord brings them back.
When in the end, the destruction is final and the last king is held as an exile in Babylon, when Josiah’s plans to re-establish the law and re-unite the kingdom have come to nought, indeed have only hastened the final destruction, the Lord’s covenant still shines through. His loving relationship is with people; it is expressed in places and institutions, but when each of these is destroyed in its own sin and failing, God’s love still remains – to be fulfilled in the person of his Son. The move towards the exile, from which the restoration was built, itself the pre-gospel preparation for the Incarnation of Christ, is not therefore a negative decline, nor even a series of lessons on how not to behave (though it is that as well), but it is a source of hope and encouragement.
Perhaps his most subtle analysis is the manner in which he sees Israel and Judah as parallels of the divided post-Reformation Church. ‘In place of partisan readings of 1-2 Kings, I wish to offer a reading that places the story of divided Christendom within an evangelical framework.’ This is not a historical manual from which we can read off a series of condemnations, but a back-cloth against which we can sharpen and improve our own understanding.
If this sweeping summary of some of the themes he draws out of the text seems vague and confused, be assured that his own writing is almost pedantically clear: he is particularly careful not to read things into the text, and to enable the reader to know at which level of interpretation he is working. It seems an especially good example of this series to begin with, if you are unsure as to just exactly what this ‘theological commentary’ thing might be. It would be surprising if you did not finish this book with a great deal more enthusiasm for Kings than you had when you began.
SPCK, 208pp, pbk 978 0281054817, £8.99
Christianity is about something which has happened that has universal implications. In this scholarly yet accessible book this happening is unpacked and its implications for justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty are unfolded. Its core is the presentation of Jesus Christ by a seasoned biblical scholar well aware as pastor of the landscape of contemporary culture. Bishop Tom sees Jesus as the place where heaven and earth meet and Gods future comes into the present moment to engage with the cry for justice, hunger for spirituality, eagerness for relationship and yearning for beauty.
Simply Christian sets Christianity alongside other world views and theologies in a pretty matter of fact way. Three theological options are examined: Pantheism in which God and the world are seen as one, deism where they are seen apart, and Christianity which sees the divine and human overlapping. Tom Wright claims pantheism leaves us where we are as such a divinity is in no way beyond us. In deism God and the world are strictly apart making divinity largely irrelevant. In Jesus God explodes into the world to put his rescue operation into effect and help a broken world turn the corner into his possibilities.
As a scholar and leader sympathetic to the Evangelical tradition Bishop Wright goes out of his way to address what he calls the book God breathed and the issue of literal versus metaphorical interpretation of Scripture. If he steers away from literalism it is with the clear conviction that Scripture has implications for peoples concrete circumstances beyond the non-concrete resourcing of their spirituality. The book quotes at length Scripture texts that affirm traditional sexual ethics. There is relatively little treatment of the doctrine of the Church nor of the Christian tradition of moral reasoning beyond the exegesis of Scripture.
To be a Christian is to celebrate Gods gift in Jesus. This is less about our souls being snatched up into heaven than about the New Jerusalem that comes down.
Christians look to the reappearing of Jesus now present ‘hidden behind that invisible veil that keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading k of Scripture and our work with the poor, where the veil seems particularly thin.’ As Tom Wright powerfully concludes: ‘one day that veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and Gods new world will at last be in place.’ This is indeed a vision that can be called simply -and awesomely – Christian.
THE TREE OF HEAVEN
Reflections on Prayer Augustine Hoey Foreword by the late Cardinal Basil Hume
Trafford Publishing, 109pp,
978 1425110697, £7.95
Fr Augustine Hoey is known to many of us as a former Mirfield Father who was a great missioner and spiritual guide in his Anglican days. Now, as a Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine oblate based at Westminster Cathedral, in the tenth decade of his life, he continues his ministry of preaching and spiritual direction. At the behest of Cardinal Hume he wrote this book, which many in the Anglican world may be unaware of but who are still ready to learn from his wisdom.
Short though it is, there is much wisdom packed into these pages from the wise counsel of a trusted man of prayer. Cardinal Hume wrote, ‘Father Hoey has given us a book that will help beginners get started, and indeed will give encouragement to those who need it. We all do. Father Hoey has had long experience as a spiritual director. He speaks with authority’
In the introduction, Fr Hoey tells us, ‘We only learn to pray by praying, and by praying again, and by praying again, and never giving up. We pray as we can and not as the books say we ought.’ So he gives us his reflections on what seems real to him after many years of trying to pray.
There are eight chapters: ‘Tistening to God’, ‘The Ford’s Prayer’, ‘The Hail Mary Prayer’, ‘Praying with the Bible’, ‘Praying with Mary and the saints’, ‘How to pray the Eucharist’, ‘Difficulties in prayer’ and ‘Random thoughts’. Here the experienced and the beginner will find nuggets of wisdom, old and new treasures that will help forward a person’s life of prayer. Get it and read it.
A LIFE OF GLORY
Foreword by Canon A.M. Allchin
Pentland Press, 74pp, pbk 978 1872795782, £7.50
Marianne Dorman is Australian and now lives between America and Oxford. She is a scholar of the seventeenth-century Anglican divines, particularly Lancelot Andrewes. This volume concentrates on the poetry of George Herbert. Canon
Allchin tells us that Marianne Dorman’s aim is to make Herbert’s work more easily accessible to readers today: ‘Coming back, perhaps after years, to a poem you thought you knew well you will suddenly find new meaning and light shining out from it…it is love which speaks through these pages, God’s love which may surprise us by drawing out our love in response.’
The preface illustrates through his poetry the life of Herbert, as priest, pastor, teacher and poet; his parishioners and devotion to the English Church; his love of music and nature; his mother’s influence; his friendship with Nicholas Ferrar; and finally Herbert’s death.
The second group of poems is on the theme of worship, prayer and sacraments. A third selection takes the reader through the seasons of the Christian year prefacing Advent with the Annunciation and ending with the Angels and Saints and the Holy Name of Jesus. The final section concentrates on the virtues of Christian character. There is a helpful index of sources for anyone wishing to move into a more intensive reading of Herbert’s Works.
Anyone interested in poetry, and more particularly the poetry of Herbert and Anglican devotion, will find this slim volume a useful starting point and a source book of meditative reading.
DICTIONARY FOR THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE
Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer
SPCK, 896pp, hbk 978 0801026942,£35
This dictionary is the work of scholars worldwide, and is well referenced and indexed. Vanhoozer points out that theological interpretation is not the imposition of a theological system or confessional grid on to the biblical text; nor is it an imposition of a general theory of interpretation; nor is it a form of merely historical, literary, or sociological criticism preoccupied with the world behind the biblical text. ‘The primary purpose of this dictionary is to provide biblical interpreters with a tool that would help them make sense of the diverse interpretative approaches and evaluate these approaches as to their contribution toward a theological interpretation of the Bible.’
Theological interpretation then is not the exclusive concern of the biblical scholar, but a joint responsibility of all the theological disciplines and of the whole people of God. It is characterized by a governing interest in God, the word and works of God and by a governing intention to engage in what we might call ‘theological criticism’. Further, there is a broad ecclesial concern that embraces a number of academic approaches.
The dictionary is intended as a resource for all readers interested in the theological interpretation of Scripture, not merely for those who advocate a particular approach. Also the hope is that it will heal the debilitating breach that prevents biblical scholars and theologians from talking to each other. But it is not just for academies. Pastors will find it an indispensable resource. More widely, it is a resource for scholars in other disciplines – the theological interpretation of Scripture is as important for scientists and sociologists as it is for theologians and pastors. It provides a biblically and theologically informed framework for understanding God, the world and ourselves.
There are articles alphabetically arranged. Many headings are cross-referenced to other topics. Articles under the heading of ‘Texts’ focus on the various books of the Bible, as well as certain textual features (e.g. canon) that have theological significance. Articles on books of the Bible focus on the message of the text rather than the process of its composition. They also pay special attention to matters that have arisen in the history of interpretation.
Under the heading ‘Hermeneutics’, the articles treat issues in the theory of interpretation; other articles examine the theories themselves. Articles in this category also evaluate the suitability of general interpretative approaches for a theological interpretation of the Bible; these articles include philosophical and literary approaches, and concepts that have made an impact on biblical studies (e.g. deconstruction, genre).
The section entitled ‘Interpreters and interpretative communities’ focuses on the persons or communities doing the interpreting (e.g. African biblical interpretation). This category includes topics relating to the interests, presuppositions, ideologies and traditions of interpretative communities as well.
‘Doctrines and themes’ treats explicitly theological concerns, in so far as these bear on the practice of biblical exegesis (e.g. covenant) and vice versa. These articles move in both directions: doctrinal themes arise out of reflection on biblical texts yet these doctrines in turn afford new lenses through which to interpret the text (McGrath). Assumptions about sin, God, Christology, and ecclesiology affect our reading of Scripture. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical interpretation?
Some people read telephone directories and some read dictionaries. Time spent reading this dictionary will be better spent than in doing the Times Crossword. Here is a resource not only for academics but also for pastors, busy parish priests, whose job is one of theological interpretation on the front-line. At £35 it is a worthwhile investment and will provide resources for effective preaching after translation into a language ‘under-standed of the people’.