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Book Reviews

 

"A Guide to The Church of England"

by

Dr Martin Davie

In the foreword to the book Sir Roy Strong states that it sets out to achieve a simple task: to take the uninitiated reader with a sure hand through the history, structure, working and theological stance of this country’s Established Church.

In the preface Dr Davie states that the Guide was commissioned by the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity as part of its work of fostering increased understanding between the Church of England and Christians of other traditions … and that it would be helpful to those in this country who want to learn more about that Church’s history, theology and organization.

 

In the 240 pages and 12 chapters Dr Davie has produced a work that should be essential reading for every member of the Church of England in addition to those mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs.

The first chapter outlines the history of the Church, correcting the common, but mistaken, view that the Church was established by Henry VIII. It has a history that dates from the times of the Roman Empire and continues through the missionary periods of the 4th and 5th centuries; the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD; the period of the Reformation; the reigns of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth; the Civil War and Commonwealth period to the Restoration and continues up to the present day. It also describes the three broad traditions that exist: Evangelical, Catholic and Liberal.

The second chapter shows how the Church is governed at national level through The General Synod, House of Bishops and various Church Institutions and Commissions and how those bodies have evolved. Chapter 4 outlines how it is organised into Provinces, Dioceses, Archdeaconries, Deaneries and Parishes, how each are governed and by whom. It also covers religious institutions outside the jurisdiction of the bishop or archbishop in whose diocese it is situated (e.g. St George’s Chapel, Windsor and Westminster Abbey) and Church Schools, Colleges and Universities and their service to the community.

Chapter 5 looks at the meaning of "establishment" and the key features thereof, setting out the arguments for and against having an established Church.

In Chapter 6 the Church’s system of courts and tribunals is explored and the necessity for having such systems.

The important aspect as to what the Church believes and its doctrinal authorities is extensively covered in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 covers how those beliefs are delivered through the various ministries, lay and ordained and the difference between the two categories.

The rules governing worship from the Book of Common Prayer 1552/1664 through the Alternate Service Book to the present Common Worship are set out in Chapter 9, which also looks at music, preaching and vestments.

The relationship of the Church with other Christian Church’s is outlined in Chapter 10 and the relationships with other faith groups in Chapter 11.

The concluding chapter explores the nature of the Church’s Mission both in England and worldwide.

The book is for the most part easy to read and is divided into sections that are short enough to read in a short sitting. As a guide in the form of a textbook it should be of use to: individuals, either confirmed members of the Church or those wanting to learn more about the Church, as a reference book for those actively engaged in the Church or as a study guide for House Groups. At the end of each chapter there is a list of books for further reading as well as numerous appendices to some chapters.

The author writes with authority having taught at one of the Church’s theological Colleges and is now Theological Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England and Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops.

There is much in the book to interest historians and theologians will be interested in the description of the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty Nine Articles and the various Canons.

 

Richard Shannon
August 2008

 

 

"The Shack"

by

Wm Paul Young

 

Published in the UK by Hodder (2008), ISBN 978-0-340-97949-5

The Shack is a novel that has hit the best seller lists in many countries, yet was never intended for publication, but was written by as a story for the author’s children. It is lucky then that, with the help of two friends, the author was able to craft the original manuscript into the blockbuster novel that it has proven to be.

The Shack is the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, known as Mack by his friends, and The Great Sadness that came into his life when his youngest daughter, Missy, was abducted during a family camping trip in Oregon. After an extensive search, evidence that she may have been brutally murdered was discovered in an old abandoned shack deep in the wilderness, but her body was never found. Several years later Mack received a typewritten note, apparently from Papa, his wife Nan’s name for God, inviting him to spend the weekend with him at the shack.

What unfolds is an account of that meeting and the surprising and enlightening way that Mack learns about the nature of God and the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It helps that Papa appears to Mack as a motherly African-American woman with great culinary skills and a desire to cater for his physical needs. As the time together progresses, Mack enjoys spending time with Jesus, the dependable carpenter and learns to trust him, even to the point of having enough faith that, together, they walk across a lake. He also spends time in the garden with the dynamic, colourful and ethereal character of Sarayu, the Holy Spirit as she dances, like a sunbeam, from place to place. Whilst they set about pruning and remodelling some of the chaos in the garden, Sarayu gently addresses many of the questions that have been on Mack’s mind about good and evil and where God is in the midst of the suffering and pain of human life. It is a time of great revelation to Mack about relationships and, together, Papa, Jesus and Sarayu help him to confront his greatest nightmare and The Great Sadness that has so consumed his everyday life.

Like all good novels, this is a story with many twists and turns, with the power to bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye. Mack returns from this encounter a changed man and this book could change your life, it will certainly challenge your image of God and may encourage you to consider the relationship he desires.

The Shack has received many accolades as one of the most life-changing books you could read, but has also been criticised as being heretical by some Evangelical churches, particularly in the USA. It is true that there are times when it deviates from strict biblical teaching, but then it makes no claims of authority, it is what it is, just a novel, and one well worth reading.

 

Brian Sweatman
September 2009