These two book reviews were published in The Reader, Volume 111, No.4 (Winter2014 edition), and are reproduced by kind permission of the Editor.
Making Nothing Happen
Gavin D’Costa, Eleanor Nesbitt, Mark Pryce, Ruth Shelton, Nicola Slee
Ashgate, £19.99 pbk (2014) 9781409455158
The title is a quote from Auden and provides an immediate point for discussion, for these five contemporary poet-theologians actually do a great deal to generate creative Christian reflection. Each has contributed a well-constructed chapter combining personal history and theological analysis and illustrating their individual themes with generous quantities of their poetry. Nearly all the poems are absorbing and provocative and many are published or readily accessible for the first time. The authors confess their sources of inspiration: Blake, Hopkins and Ginsburg frequently feature. I especially appreciated D’Costa’s chapter on divine creation, poetic creativity and the inspiration that comes through liturgy; and Slee’s trenchant but compassionate feminist theology and poetry, augmented with an especially helpful bibliography. But all chapters are illuminating: Pryce provides reflections on the long history of Christian poetic imagination from the perspective of an Anglican priest, contrasting with Nesbitt’s strange but moving blend of Quakerism and Indian spirituality; and Shelton contributes to the theology of place through urban-inspired spirituality, reflecting her inner-city work – a perspective which, unlike D’Costa, plays down the role of liturgy. The book is enhanced by a wonderfully thoughtful foreword by Rowan Williams. For lovers of contemporary verse the poetry alone is worth the price, but many Christian teachers will find this book a valuable addition to their library. It should inspire themes for preaching, and certainly quotations for sermons; it could be used for study groups, reading circles and senior school assemblies. Beyond that, it will undoubtedly strengthen each reader’s personal spirituality.
Faith and Wisdom in Science
OUP, £18.99 hbk 9780198702610 (2014)
This fine book differs radically from the numerous other works that tackle the frequently baffling debate between science and religion. From the outset, Tom McLeish – eminent physicist and Anglican Reader – dispels common misconceptions. He shows that science or “natural philosophy” was always located within the Christian tradition, citing old authorities (Gregory of Nyssa, Bede, Bishop Grosseteste) to illustrate how religious commitment is entirely compatible with the search for new scientific knowledge. He demonstrates how the Old Testament is replete with creation narratives (beyond the early chapters of Genesis), illustrating the heritage of scientific wisdom among Hebrew authors. This culminates within the Book of Job. Here, McLeish’s masterly summary and exegesis is a delight, providing an incisive commentary on this beautiful but neglected Scripture. The New Testament passages alluding to creation receive a briefer, but still penetrating, treatment. These perspectives on scientific and biblical knowledge are brought together in a profound concept: instead of a dualistic dialogue between the disciplines (as developed by John Polkinghorne and others), there must be an integrated theology of science. They are both “deeply human endeavours” that seek to heal the relationship between humanity and nature. This insight must open our minds to many crucial tasks facing Christians in the new millennium. The book will be welcomed by readers already familiar with the science-religion debates; but it is especially recommended for those still to engage in this crucial area.
Reader, St Cosmus and St Damian, Blean
© Central Readers’ Council 2014