New in November

Blind Evolution?

The Nature of Humanity and the Origin of Life

by David Frost

Out on 26/11/2020

In Blind Evolution?: The Nature of Humanity and the Origin of Life, Professor David Frost challenges the dominant worldview derived from Darwin’s evolutionary theories and perpetuated in Richard Dawkins’s atheistic propaganda for Neo-Darwinism: that our universe has ‘at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’.

Frost deploys recent findings from a range of scientific studies that shake Neo-Darwinism to its foundation. Citing entertaining examples, from the inner workings of a single cell to the animal kingdom at large, from elephants and giraffes to the Japanese pufferfish, Frost maintains that Darwinian premises are wholly inadequate to engage with life or to provide a framework for our experiences of joy and sorrow, the problem of suffering, and the stark realities of good and evil.

Reflecting on the nature of existence, Frost points to a mode of human understanding parallel to scientific enquiry through the path of ‘vision’ accessed via the nous (or spiritual intellect). He argues that ‘vision’ is as much essential to our understanding of creation as is scientific enquiry – reality is best approached through a complementary partnership of both.

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New in October

Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions: Volume III: From the English West to the Global South

Edited by Mark A. Lamport, Benjamin K. Forrest and Vernon M. Whaley

Out on 29/10/2020

“A remarkable group of scholars provides a perceptive set of essays to orient students to the riches of Christian hymnody throughout the first twenty centuries of Christianity. What a remarkable testimony this is to the Spirit’s work in and through composers and poets throughout the centuries.”

John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

Hymns, and the music the church sings, are tangible means of expressing worship. While worship is one of the central functions of the church (along with mission, service, education, justice, and compassion) and occupies a prime focus of our churches, a renewed sense of awareness to our theological presuppositions and cultural cues must be maintained to ensure a proper focus in worship.

Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions is an introductory textbook in three volumes describing the most influential hymnists, liturgists, and musical movements of the church. This academically-grounded resource evaluates both the historical and theological perspectives of the major hymnists and composers that have impacted the church over the course of twenty centuries. Volume 3 engages nineteenth century hymnists to the contemporary movements of the twenty-first century. Each chapter contains five elements: historical background, theological perspectives communicated in their hymns/compositions, contribution to liturgy and worship, notable hymns, and bibliography. The missions of Hymns and Hymnody are to provide biographical data on influential hymn writers for students and interested laypeople, and to provide a theological analysis of what the cited composers have communicated in the theology of their hymns. It is vital for those involved in leading the worship of the church to recognize that what they communicate is in fact theology. This latter aspect is missing in accessible formats for the current literature.

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New in September

Theologies of Failure

Edited by Roberto Sirvent and Duncan B. Reyburn

Out on 24/09/2020

What does failure mean for theology? In the Bible, we find some unsettling answers to this question. We find lastness usurping firstness, and foolishness undoing wisdom. We discover, too, a weakness more potent than strength, and a loss of life that is essential to finding life. Jesus himself offers an array of paradoxes and puzzles through his life and teachings. He even submits himself to humiliation and death to show the cosmos the true meaning of victory. As David Bentley Hart observes, ‘Most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mould fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.’

By incorporating the work of scholars engaging with a range of frameworks within the Christian tradition, Theologies of Failure offers a unique and important contribution to understanding and embracing failure as a pivotal theological category. As the various contributors highlight, it is a category with a powerful capacity for illuminating our theological concerns and perspectives, it frees us to see old ideas in a brand-new light, and helps to foster an awareness of ideas that certain modes of analysis may have obscured from our vision. Theologies of Failure invites readers to consider how both theology and failure can help us ask new questions, discover new possibilities, and refuse the ways of the world.

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Resurrection in Retrospect: A Critical Examination of the Theology of N.T. Wright

By Peter Carnley

Out on 24/09/2020

In 2003, the British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright published The Resurrection of the Son of God, arguing vigorously that the Resurrection of Christ should be handled purely as a historical event, subjected to historical reason and critical-historical research. Resurrection in Retrospect examines Wright’s arguments, demonstrating the flaws in the view that the Resurrection should be understood essentially as Jesus’ return from the dead to this world of space and time in a material and physical body, and asserting that it is a ‘mystery of God’, which must necessarily be appropriated, not by reason alone, but by faith. Evidence relating to a past occurrence can be known only retrospectively, yet Easter faith has to do with apprehending in the present a concretely experienced reality, which Saint Paul called ‘the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:2).

An epistemology of the identification of the Spirit in faith as the living presence of Christ can be found in the companion volume: The Reconstruction of Resurrection Belief.

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The Reconstruction of Resurrection Belief

by Peter Carnley

Out on 24/09/2020

While its companion volume, The Resurrection in Retrospect, addresses the inadequacies of an approach to the Resurrection of Christ purely as an event of past historical time, The Reconstruction of Resurrection Belief articulates an alternative understanding of Resurrection faith as essentially a response of trust based upon a knowledge by acquaintance with the living presence of Christ today.

In the hope that it may have some traction in an increasingly secular world of contemporary scientific realism, Carnley demonstrates an understanding of the nature of Resurrection faith in the language of today, with as much logical coherence as possible, and explains how the claim that the animating Spirit of the Christian community that Saint Paul spoke of as ‘the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:2) may be justifiably identified in faith today as ‘the living presence of Jesus of Nazareth.’

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Towards Reconciliation: Understanding Violence and the Sacred after René Girard

By Paul Gifford

Paperback out on 24/09/2020

Why do humans sacralise the causes for which they fight? Who will decipher for us the enigma of ‘sacred violence’?

Paul Gifford shows that the culture theorist and fundamental anthropologist René Girard has in fact decoded the obscurely ‘foundational’ complicity between violence and the sacred, showing why it is everybody’s problem and the Problem of Everybody.

René Girard’s mimetic theory, especially his neglected writings on biblical texts, can be read as an anthropological argument continuous with Darwin, shedding formidable new light to a vast array of dark and knotted things: from the functioning of the world’s oldest temple to today’s terrorist violence, from the Cross of Christ to the Good Friday Agreement. Such insights illuminate superbly (‘from below’) the ways of creation, revelation, redemption – which is to say, ultimately, the Christian enterprise and vocation of Reconciliation.

Here is a novel and exciting resource for scanning the hidden ‘sacrificial’ logic that still secretly shapes cultural, social, and political life today. Girard puts us ahead of the game in the key dialogues required if we are to avoid autogenerated apocalypses of human violence in the world of tomorrow.

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New in August

In the Face of Death: Thielicke – Theologian, Preacher, Boundary Rider

By Fabian F. Grassl

Out on 27/08/2020

“Dr Grassl here unveils in a masterful way those life experiences of Thielicke that had a profound impact on his thinking, preaching, and pastoral care. Dr Grassl not only provides insights into Thielicke’s biography – frequently on the basis of previously unexplored archival material – but he also helps the reader to understand more clearly the principal themes in Thielicke’s complex theology. This is now the best introduction in English to this important theologian’s life and work.”

Matthew L. Becker, Professor of Theology, Valparaiso University

“My Theological work was always only a superstructure placed upon the experiences and sufferings of my life.”

Helmut Thielicke

Thielicke’s story is one of extraordinary circumstance. As a young man living through Germany’s darkest hour, he was time and again put on the brink of death by sickness, Nazi oppression, and war, and these experiences left an indelible mark on his worldview. Fabian F. Grassl’s thoroughly researched study takes a fresh and original look at Thielicke’s turbulent life through the lens of suffering and death, casting new light on one of the outstanding theologians, ethicists, and preachers of the twentieth century.

The reader is invited to explore a world of thought decidedly shaped by the ‘eschatological existence’ of an intriguing personality; a flawed human being like the rest of us, yet endowed with a fascinating theological prowess, taking his stand amongst Germany’s major historical upheavals of the last centenary.

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Viktor Frankl and the Book of Job: A Scearch for Meaning

by Marshall H. Lewis

Out on 27/08/2020

“Applying Frankl’s logotherapy to the Book of Job, Lewis sees Job as one forced to make sense of what appears to be an absurd situation. A fresh reading of both Frankl and Job, Lewis, following Frankl, argues that while any experience can be made meaningful, in the end we are sometimes better off accepting a world in which suffering has no meaning, at least at present. A bold and ambitious reading that respects the text of Job as much as it does the texts of Frankl, the book uses Frankl to construct a new hermeneutic of reading.”

C. Fred Alford, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland

As a Holocaust survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist Dr Viktor E. Frankl had a personal stake in the effectiveness of his approach to psychology: he lived the suffering about which he wrote. With this new reading of the Book of Job, Lewis further develops Frankl’s concept of Logotherapy as a literary hermeneutic, presenting readers with the opportunity to discover unique meanings and clarify their attitudes toward pain, guilt, and death.

Key issues emerge from the discussion of three different movements, which address Frankl’s concept of the feeling of meaninglessness and his rejection of reductionism and nihilism, the dual nature of meaning, and his ideas of ultimate meaning and self-transcendence. Discovering meaning through participation with the text enables us to see that Job’s final response can become a site for transcending suffering.

Out on 27/08/2020

Laughter and the Grace of God: Restoring Laughter to its Central Role in Christian Faith and Theology

by Brian Edgar

Out on 27/08/2020

Brian Edgar challenges us on the peril of ignoring humor in all its forms, as the beginning and end of reflection on theology and spirituality. He turns scorn, ridicule, and mockery on their heads, into a revelation of divine joy. The book is insightful and controversial, but deeply satisfying; we will, despite ourselves, experience the joy of being able to laugh all the way to heaven.

Justin T. Tan, Vice-Principal, Melbourne School of Theology

We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh, and this is true of our relationship with God. Thomas Aquinas spoke of the sin of having too little laughter as well as the danger of having too much, while Martin Luther said, ‘If you’re not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.’ Having a sense of humour is essential for maturity in faith and holiness, but sadly, the role that laughter plays in life and spirituality have often been neglected.

Laughter and the Grace of God restores laughter to its central place in Christian spirituality and theology by examining its role in Scripture and highlighting its presence in unexpected places, including the story of Abraham and the formation of the covenant, and the tragedy of Job. Laughter can be found in the incarnation, the resurrection, and even the crucifixion – Jesus is himself the great laugh-maker – and it is nothing less than a participation in the life and love of God.

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Personal Reality: The Emergentist Concept of Science, Evolution, and Culture Volume II

by Daniel Paksi

“Addressed to current controversy concerning the origin and explanation of biological life and human culture, Hungarian philosopher Daniel Paksi aims to establish a coherent, scientifically grounded concept of evolutionary emergence as a more viable alternative to both reductionist materialism(s) and ontological dualism(s), providing a sounder conceptual foundation for cultural meaning. Paksi’s argument draws on philosopher-scientist Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge and Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time, and Deity. Developed in dialogue with previous efforts toward this goal, Paksi articulates a hopeful intellectual vision for humankind in the twenty-first century.”

Dale Cannon, Western Oregon University

Western civilization was built on the concept of God. Today modern science, based on the critical method and so-called objective facts, denies even the existence of our soul. There is only matter: atoms, molecules, and DNA sequences. There is no freedom; there are no well-grounded beliefs. The decline of Western civilisation is not the simple consequence of decadence, hedonism, and malevolence. Modern critical science has liberated us from the old dogmas but failed to establish our freedoms, values, and beliefs.

However, human knowledge is not objective but personal. We are the children of evolution. Everybody sees the world from his own personal point of view anchored into his or her body. We use our evolutionary skills and cultural heritage to recognise and acknowledge the personal facts of our reality, freedom, and most important natural beliefs, respect and speaking the truth. In reality, even science itself is based on our personal knowledge. Only our false conceptual dichotomies paralyse our thinking.

God or matter? There is a third choice: the emergence of life and human persons. This is the only way to defend our freedoms and the Christian moral dynamism of free Western societies.

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Dialogue Glossary

Dr Rowan Williams in conversation with Paul Gifford author of Towards Reconciliation

Part 1. Names, terms and expressions in order of appearance.

Prof. John Milbank, University of Nottingham (emeritus), formerly Fellow of Peterhouse College Cambridge; co-founder from 1990  of the Radical Orthodoxy movement in theology, the theoretical foundations of which he laid in his work on social theory.

Prof. Sarah Coakley, FBA :leading Anglican systematic theologian and philosopher of religion, who held, between 2007 and 2018, the Norris-Hulse Chair of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. Interdisciplinary interests in God, Sexuality and the Self: an Essay on the Trinity (2013); and in evolutionary collaboration approached through game theory.

Cambridge Ritualists. Influential Cambridge based group, initially of classical scholars, who sought in the latter half of the nineteenth century, to elucidate myth and eventually Greek tragedy,  as shaped by religious ritual, which they considered  prior and founding. By association and by influence, this school nourished  in turn the line of more sociologically and anthropologically oriented thinkers, whose views on ‘sacrifice’ Milbank reviews: Julius Wellhausen, William Robertson-Smith, Sir James Frazer, Frenchmen Hubert and Mauss; whose thought on sacrificial ritual  links them to Emile Durkheim, the French founder of modern sociology; and to the  prophet-philosopher of  Positivism, Auguste Comte. Comte, notoriously, propounded the ‘three eras of man’ theory, discussed by Girard (see Towards Reconciliation, p.127): religious myth gives way to rational metaphysics which ushers in the definitive triumph of positive science. 

Contagion, Journal of the Girardian organisation COV&R (the standing ‘Colloquium on Violence and Religion’, meeting twice a year, once in the US and once outside the US)

Marcel Proust, French novelist and author of In Search of Time Lost (A la Recherche du temps perdu).He is one of the five major European novelists studied in Deceit, Desire and the Novel, 1965 (Mensonge romantique, vérite romanesque, 1961),in which is first sketched Girard’s theory of mimetic desire.La petite bande’ is the group of beautiful and mythically haloed teenage girls whom the Narrator watches and longs to enter at the (fictional) seaside resort of Balbec, on the Normandy coast. From among them will emerge Albertine, object –and victim– of the mature narrator’s possessive grand Passion.

Leo Ferrero. French literary and culture critic of Italian descent. ‘Passion is the change of address of a force which Christianity has awoken and oriented towards God’. Girard comments: ‘The negation of God does not suppress that transcendence, but it causes it to deviate from the beyond to the this worldly’; stating further that ‘as heaven becomes uninhabited, the sacred… flows back over the earth …deviated transcendence is the cariacature of vertical transcendence’ (Deceit, Desire and the Novel, p.78). Girard here displays, more than 30 years in advance,  acute and strategic awareness of the crucial distinction Milbank indicts him for lacking.  See also Towards Reconciliation, pp. 62-65 for the mimetic reading of this idea in Genesis.).

The archaic sacred’: the religion of primitive and deviated transcendence that nevertheless helps humankind to cross the evolutionary threshold of hominisation. See Towards Reconciliation (esp. chaps 1 and 4),  which argues that  modern  humankind is confused for  want of that distinction and of the clarity it introduces into the ill thought-out  notion of ‘religion’.

Esoterism. The fascinated cult of hidden things, felt as sacred in proportion as hidden.

‘Things hidden  since the foundation of the world’: the expression  comes from Ps 78, and is reprised in Matt 13:35. RG adopts it as title of the first major synthesis of his ideas (1978 in French, 1987 in English translation).

Logos.Greek word for rationality, purpose, intent – ‘the Word’ ( John 1:1).

The ‘mimetic’ gospel.  See John 5:19 19Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Part 2.

Prof. Malcolm Bull, Professor of Art and the History of Ideas, Christ Church College, University of Oxford. See  Seeing Things Hidden: Apocalypse, Vision, and Totality (Verso, 2000).

French Theory [Critical Theory] : poststructuralist and deconstructionist thinking, as pursued in the latter third of the 20th Century by a new type of ‘philosopher’ inspired by one or more of the human sciences. Discussed in Towards Reconciliation, p.

Sub rosa: latin expression meaning covertly or secretly.

Heuristic: an art or method of discovery. 

Architectonic : having architectural qualities; relating to the systematic classification of knowledge.

Anthropocene: the name for the era of the Earth’s historical development characterised by emergence and predominant flourishing of humankind (from Gk: anthropos)

Blaise Pascal: 17th Century mathematician, physicist, inventor and Christian apologist.  His unfinished ‘Pensées’ (1658) offer a series of distinct analogies of form , function and feeling with RG: a decentred universe, the knowledge of a hidden God, the dialectic of the ‘misère de l’homme sans Dieu’ (wretchedness of man without God) contrasted with the – underdeveloped -‘ félicité de l’homme avec Dieu’ (felicity of man with God).

Mimesis. The Girardian key concept of imitation-in-reciprocity, is fundamental to human relationality. It constitutes a  relational structure developing in ‘bad’ (rivalrous, conflictual. violent) and ‘good’ (peaceful, Other-affirming, loving) realisations. See Towards Reconciliation, pp. 22-34.

Epistle to the Hebrews. Focus of RG’s contention in Things Hidden that the Church has remained, to a disturbing extent, rooted in and wedded to an archaic-sacral understanding and practice of ‘sacrifice’ This position evolved in dialogue with Fr Raimund Schwager of Innsbruck who showed him how this Epistle represents a transitional case.  See Towards Reconciliation, pp. 137-38.

Simone Weil (1909-1943):-  French-Jewish philosopher, mystic and political activist; author of such works as Gravity and Grace, Waiting for God,  and Pre-Christian Intuitions.  She is quoted by Girard on the cover of his last book of Biblical exegesis I see Satan fall like Lightning, 2001 (Je vois Satan tomber comme l’éclair,  1999). ‘The Gospels, before becoming theology (that is to say: a science of God) are anthropology (that is to say: a science of man)’

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Part 3.

Raimund Schwager, Swiss Jesuit theologian, like-minded author of Must there be Scapegoats? (1978)  and Jesus in the Drama of Salvation: Toward a Biblical doctrine of Redemption (1990). . He corresponded with RG for eleven years, mediating between RG and orthodoxy, enhancing his appreciation of theological stances and positions.

James Alison, multi-lingual English Catholic theologian who has pioneered a Girardian style of theology, freshly  exploring the sense and meaning of doctrine, spirituality, and even the liturgical and regulatory life of the Church. See eg; The Joy of being wrong. Original Sin through Easter Eyes (NY Crossroads: 1998); Raising Abel: the Recovery of the Eschatalogical Imagination (London: SPCK, 2010)

Grant Kaplan, American Catholic theologian (Associate Professor of Theological Studies at St Louis University), author of René Girard, Unlikely Apologist. Mimetic Theory and Fundamental Theology (University of Notre Dame Press, 2016)

CS Lewis (1898-1963): Anglican,Irish-born scholar, novelist, and authorProfessor of Mediaeval English Literature at both  Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  From his conversion in the early 1930’s,he became a  prolific and celebrated writer  of works of Christian apologetics, both fictional and expository,  in many areas of ‘fundamental theology’.

GK Chesterton (1874–1936). Catholic convert,  English writer, philosopher, lay theologian; literary and art critic. Created the fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and wrote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologetics apologetic works of wide appeal: Orthodoxy , The Man who was Thursday (1908), The Everlasting Man (1925)

Michael Kirwan SJ, author of Discovering Girard (Darton Longman Todd, 2004) Girard and Theology (Continuum, 2009) and (with Ahmed Achtar,  eds.), Mimetic Theory and Islam, The Wound where the Light gets in (Palgrave McMillan, 2019).

Bernard Perret, Penser la foi chrétienne après René Girard (Paris: Ad Solem, 2018)– ‘Thinking Christian faith after RG’ — not yet translated into English.

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988),Swiss Jesuit priest considered among the foremost theologians of the 20th century, author ofthe  trilogy Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic. Girard read his analysis of Mimetic Theory, which in turn evolved in the light of RG’s  post 1978 work. ‘ Die Wahrheit Girards’ (‘Girard’s truth’) is said by UvB to be ‘capable of being integrated into a full theology of the Cross’. 

Protestant interest in Girard has been widespread, if concentrated mainly in field of Biblical Studies and Culture Theory. See Willard M. Swartley ed, Violence renounced. Rene Girard. Biblical Studies and Peacemaking (Pandora Press US, 2000) for excellent analyses of collaborative engagement and ‘negotiation’ of the interdisciplinary ground. Introductory, lively (‘Does the gospel speak to the modern world?’) and informative: Michael Hardin ed, Reading the Bible with René Girard. Conversations with Steven E. Berry (JDL Press, Lancaster P.A., 2015).

Supercessionary anti-semitism (i.e. what RG is not advocating): the notion that the Christic revelation supercedes i.e. takes over from, displaces  and replaces,  the truth of Judaism. One further shared point was chopped off by the failing battery life of the equipment used in the recording session. Christian revelation has always, in its search for intelligibility accessibility and persuasiveness, sought some sort of alliance with contemporary secular thought forms: Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian etc. Why would not the same logic lead it in the 21st Century to seek re-energising reso

New in July

Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions: Volume II: From Catholic Europe to Protestant Europe

By Mark A. Lamport, Benjamin K. Forrest and Vernon M. Whaley (editors)

Out on 30/07/2020

“A remarkable group of scholars provides a perceptive set of essays to orient students to the riches of Christian hymnody throughout the first twenty centuries of Christianity. What a remarkable testimony this is to the Spirit’s work in and through composers and poets throughout the centuries.”

John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

While worship is one of the central functions of the church (along with mission, service, education, justice, and compassion) and occupies a prime focus of our churches, a renewed sense of awareness to our theological presuppositions and cultural cues must be maintained to ensure a proper focus in worship.

Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions is an introductory textbook in three volumes describing the most influential hymnists, liturgists, and musical movements of the church. This academically-grounded resource evaluates both the historical and theological perspectives of the major hymnists and composers that have impacted the church over the course of twenty centuries. Volume 2 begins with the Reformation and extends to the eighteenth-century hymnists and liturgists. Each chapter contains five elements: historical background, theological perspectives communicated in their hymns/compositions, contribution to liturgy and worship, notable hymns, and bibliography. The missions of Hymns and Hymnody are to provide biographical data on influential hymn writers for students and interested laypeople, and to provide a theological analysis of what the cited composers have communicated in the theology of their hymns. It is vital for those involved in leading the worship of the church to recognize that what they communicate is in fact theology. This latter aspect is missing in accessible formats for the current literature.

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The HTML of Cruciform Love: Toward a Theology of the Internet

By John Frederick and Eric Lewellen 

“This book is a beautiful example of theological exploration on a component central to the lives of so many people: the internet. The essays diverge in various ways, some more appreciative of the internet’s impact on theology and religious life, others more leery. Those who take theology seriously in an age of internet need to reckon with the powerful ideas in this fine collection!”

Thomas Jay Oord, author of God Can’t: The Uncontrolling Love of God

The topic of the internet is vastly underrepresented in the current literature on the intersection of technology and theology. Studies on internet theology are certainly viewed as a topic of ‘special interest’, relevant – it might be thought – only to eccentric academics and tech geeks.

The HTML of Cruciform Love contends, however, that there is no topic more pertinent to our daily walk as contemporary followers of Jesus Christ than the theological implications of the internet. These twelve essays, though standalone pieces, also work together to investigate the themes of community and character formation in the digital realm. A host of interrelated sub-themes are represented, including the application of patristic theology to contemporary internet praxis, a demonology of the internet, and virtue ethics in cyberspace, alongside studies that consider the implications of internet technology on aesthetics, personhood, and the self. Together, the chapters work toward a collaborative, constructive, cruciform theology of the internet, which is more than a supplementary component to our personal lives; rather, it is a medium of vital connection for the digital communion of the saints through the HTML of cruciform love.

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Society and God: Culture and Creed from a Philosophical Standpoint

By William Charlton

“This wide-ranging book proposes a holistic framework for understanding the human condition. Arguing that we are essentially social beings, Charlton rejects the fashionable liberal individualism, secularism, and multiculturalism of our times, and offers a challenging interpretation and defence of the Christian doctrines of creation, incarnation, and salvation as part of a single continuous creative process.”

John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy of Religion, University of Roehampton

Where should God be in thinking about society, or society in thinking about God? This book shows how philosophy can help non-philosophers with these questions. It shows that intelligence is the product, not the source, of society and language, and the rationality of individuals is inevitably conditioned by the distinctive customs and beliefs of their societies.

Addressing the idea that religion can impede the smooth running of society, it argues that the Western concept of religion is taken from Christianity and cannot usefully be extended to non-European cultures. But any society will be threatened by a sub-society with customs conflicting with those of the whole in which it exists, and Jews, Christians and Muslims have sometimes formed such sub-societies.

Charlton proceeds to consider how our dependence upon society fits with traditional beliefs about creation, salvation and life after death, and offers a synthesis that is new without being unorthodox. He indicates where Christian customs concerning birth, death, sex and education conflict with those of secular liberalism and considers which culture, Christian or secular liberal, has the better chance of prevailing in a globalised world.

Paperback available for Pre-Order

Studies in Ancient Persia and the Achaemenid Period

By John Curtis 

“The eight essays published in this volume make a valuable contribution to the study of ancient Iran. Covering a diverse range of subjects and written by leading experts in the field, they illuminate aspects of the arts, architecture, and culture of Persia from the Achaemenid to the Sassanian period (c. 550 BC to 600 AD).”

Michael Roaf, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Munich

An important collection of eight essays on Ancient Persia (Iran) in the periods of the Achaemenid Empire (539–330 BC), when the Persians established control over the whole of the Ancient Near East, and later the Sasanian Empire. It will be of interest to historians, archaeologists and biblical scholars. Paul Collins writes about stone relief carvings from Persepolis; John Curtis and Christopher Walker illuminate the Achaemenid period in Babylon; Terence Mitchell, Alan Millard and Shahrokh Razmjou draw attention to neglected aspects of biblical archaeology and the books of Daniel and Isaiah; and Mahnaz Moazami and Prudence Harper explore the Sasanian period in Iran (AD 250–650) when Zoroastrianism became the state religion.

Paperback available for Pre-Order

New in June

Christianity and the Christian Church of the First Three Centuries

by Ferdinand Christian Baur and Peter C. Hodgson (editor)

Out on 25/06/2020

“No historical theologian has contributed more than Baur to a rational understanding of Christian origins and history. Professor Hodgson is his outstanding English-language interpreter. His introduction and, with Robert Brown, lucid translation of this most important synthesis invites fresh assessments of modern New Testament scholarship by revisiting the origins of that discipline’s dominant paradigm.”

Robert Morgan, University of Oxford

Christianity and the Christian Church of the First Three Centuries, the first volume in Baur’s five-volume history of the Christian Church, is the most influential and best known of his many groundbreaking publications in New Testament, early Christianity, church history, and historical theology. In it, Baur discusses such matters as the entrance of Christianity into world history, the teaching and person of Jesus, the tension between Jewish Christian and gentile Christian interpretations and their resolution in the idea of the Catholic Church, the opposition of Gnosticism and Montanism to Catholicism, the development of dogma or doctrine in the first three centuries, Christianity’s relation to the pagan world and the Roman state, and Christianity as a moral and religious principle.

This new translation is translated by Robert F. Brown and Peter C. Hodgson.

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Church and World: Eusebius’s, Augustine’s, and Yoder’s Interpretations of the Constantinian Shift

by Simon P. Schmidt

Out on 25/06/2020

“There is no debate that significant shifts happened in theology, ethics, and the relationship of church and world following the advent of Constantine as the first ‘Christian emperor’. The only debate is how we are to understand these changes. This carefully researched and well-organized book is ideal to move this conversation forward. Even where readers disagree – and at places I certainly do – Schmidt carries the discussion forward through a careful naming of the pertinent issues.”

Mark Thiessen Nation, Professor of Theology Emeritus, Eastern Mennonite Seminary, author of Mem>John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions

The question of how the church is to exist ‘in but not of the world’ is a much contested current theological debate. To provide answers true to the context in which the Western church now finds itself, it is worth investigating how the question has been answered in the past. In determining what to do today, we must understand how we got here in the first place.

Church and World looks to the fourth century, at the beginning of which people were persecuted for being Christians, and persecuted for not being Christians by the end. The change during the century raised fundamental questions about the relationship between church and state and nature of good government, which are as pressing today as they have ever been. Simon P. Schmidt offers an academic investigation of how three paradigmatic theologians interpreted this so-called Constantinian shift: Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260–339), Augustine of Hippo (354–430), and John Howard Yoder (1927–1997). Surprising similarities between the theology of Eusebius and Yoder become apparent, along with the underlying theological structures of how to interpret what it looks like to be a community that follows Christ.

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Dialogues on the Passion as read by René Girard

Dialogues on the Passion as read by René Girard. Author Paul Gifford in conversation with Revd Greg Bartlem, Vicar of St Peter’s, Wellesbourne.

These were to have been given ‘live’ at the launch event of Prof. Paul Gifford’s book Towards Reconciliation. Understanding Violence and the Sacred in after René Girard , hosted by the Dean of Coventry , Very Revd. John Witcombe. on 31 March, at Coventry Cathedral (St Michael’s House) . The theme chosen was determined by the proximity of Holy Week.

The restrictions introduced by the Coronavirus crisis led to this event being cancelled. However, it was felt that something of Girard’s vigorously original and fascinating thinking, little known in this country, should be made available to a wider public.

Towards Reconciliation by Paul Gifford available now.

Part 1 What is Sacred Violence?

Part 2 Getting the Passion into Focus anthropologically

Part 3 The Christian Meaning of the Passion rediscovered

New in May

Theology as Repetition: John Macquarrie in Conversation

by Stephen Foster

Out on 28/05/2020

“Originating in a series of conversations, this book exemplifies the method of ‘doing theology’ that is at the heart of this seminal international scholar’s philosophy. Using it as a means of bridging the gap between the Christian faith tradition and postmodern secularism, a basis is provided for addressing the crises that address us today. Macquarrie provides foundations by retrieving the tradition, but leaves us with pertinent questions to pursue.”

Vincent Strudwick, University of Oxford

Theology as Repetition revisits and argues for a revival of John Macquarrie’s philosophical theology. Macquarrie was a key twentieth-century theological voice and was considered a foremost interpreter and translator of Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. He then somehow fell from view. Macquarrie developed a new style of theology, grounded in a dialectical phenomenology that is a relevant voice in responding to recent trends in theology. The development of this book is partly chronological and partly thematic, and does not want to be either deductive or inductive in argument, but rather reflects Macquarrie’s phenomenologically styled new theology. The first part situates Macquarrie in relation to thinkers from the radical theology of the 1960s through to the postmodernists of the late twentieth century, while the second part explores the intersection of key themes in Macquarrie’s theology with the thinking of Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, and representative postsecular and postmodern figures, including Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Marion.

Pre Order Now

Alexei Khomiakov: The Mystery of Sobornost

by By Artur Mrówczynski-Van Allen, Teresa Obolevitch and Pawel Rojek (editors)

Out on 28/05/2020

“Highly recommended. This volume brings to light the great relevance of Alexei Khomiakov to our postmodern context. We are indebted to the continued and frutiful collaboration of Mrówczynski-Van, Obolevitch, and Rojek.”

Aaron Riches, Benedictine College, Aitchison, Kansas

Alexei Khomiakov (1804–1860), a great Russian thinker, one of the founders of the Slavophile school of thought, nowadays might be seen as one of the precursors of critical thought on the dangers of modern political ideas. The pathologies that Khomiakov attributes to Catholicism and Protestantism – authoritarianism, individualism, and fragmentation – are today the fundamental characteristics of modern states, of the societies in which we live, and to a large extent, of the alternatives that are brought forth in an attempt to counter them. Khomiakov’s works, therefore, might help us take on the challenge of rescuing Christian thought from modern colonisation and offer a true alternative, a space for love and truth, the living experience of the church. Alexei Khomiakov serves as a step on the path toward recovering the church’s reflection on its own identity as sobornost’, the community that is the living body of Christ, and can be the next step forward toward recovering the capacity for thought from within the church.

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Persononal Reality: The mergentist Concept of Science, Evolution, and Culture (Volume One)

by Daniel Paksi

Out on 28/05/2020

“Addressed to current controversy concerning the origin and explanation of biological life and human culture, Hungarian philosopher Daniel Paksi aims to establish a coherent, scientifically grounded concept of evolutionary emergence as a more viable alternative to both reductionist materialism(s) and ontological dualism(s), providing a sounder conceptual foundation for cultural meaning. Paksi’s argument draws on philosopher-scientist Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge and Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time, and Deity. Developed in dialogue with previous efforts toward this goal, Paksi articulates a hopeful intellectual vision for humankind in the twenty-first century.”

Dale Cannon, Western Oregon University

Western civilization was built on the concept of God. Today modern science, based on the critical method and so-called objective facts, denies even the existence of our soul. There is only matter: atoms, molecules, and DNA sequences. There is no freedom; there are no well-grounded beliefs. The decline of Western civilisation is not the simple consequence of decadence, hedonism, and malevolence. Modern critical science has liberated us from the old dogmas but failed to establish our freedoms, values, and beliefs.

However, human knowledge is not objective but personal. We are the children of evolution. Everybody sees the world from his own personal point of view anchored into his or her body. We use our evolutionary skills and cultural heritage to recognise and acknowledge the personal facts of our reality, freedom, and most important natural beliefs, respect and speaking the truth. In reality, even science itself is based on our personal knowledge. Only our false conceptual dichotomies paralyse our thinking.

God or matter? There is a third choice: the emergence of life and human persons. This is the only way to defend our freedoms and the Christian moral dynamism of free Western societies.

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Towards Reconciliation: Review by Alastair B. Duncan

Review of Paul Gifford, Towards Reconciliation. Understanding Violence and the Sacred after René Girard, James Clarke & Co, Cambridge, 2020, 148 pp.

René Girard (1923-2015) was indeed one of the most extraordinary thinkers of the 20th Century. His theories were wide-ranging and developed over many years while remaining astonishingly self-consistent. He was a literary critic, which is how he began, but also a historian, anthropologist, philosopher and latterly a biblical scholar. His thought led him finally to be a Christian.

            Gifford’s book is designed as an introduction to Girard’s thought. He begins by establishing that even in our secular society the sacred remains a principle of group cohesion and collective identity, and that we are fascinated and haunted by its relationship to violence as manifested in twentieth century history or more recently in phenomena such as Isis.

Girard’s understanding of the relationship between the sacred and violence, to which Gifford devotes the next chapter, begins with the human capacity for imitation. Since Darwin’s theory of evolution most thinkers have stressed the continuity between animals and human beings. Girard sees a qualitative difference due to man’s much superior capacity for imitation (mimesis). Though that capacity promotes collaboration it also leads to rivalry between individuals and groups seeking possession of the same object, and hence to a dynamic reciprocity which culminates in violence, “in feud, vendetta or crusade” (p. 27). Paul illustrates this by analysing the regression to archaic violence in Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies, violence which is seen to require a victim, a scapegoat.

Where, in the history of human beings becoming human, do the origins of this sacrificial violence lie (Chapter 3)? At this point Girard becomes what one might call a “theoretical anthropologist” in the way we talk of a “theoretical physicist”: his theory tallies with much physical archaeological evidence but does not, or does not yet, satisfy “the cognitivist preference for verified facts” (p. 56-57). Instead, it provides an overarching explanatory framework into which facts fit. At the origins of human society Girard posits a “founding murder”, not a single event but a repeated act which becomes ritualised as an expression of violence but also as a way of dealing with it. There is much archaeological evidence for the prevalence of human sacrifice: an innocent victim is put to death for the good of all.  As Gifford puts it: “The scapegoat acts de facto as a sort of lightning conductor for the violently destructive energies gathered within the community” (p. 37). By controlling and limiting violence, this repeated ritualised sacrifice permits the development of a distinctively human culture: “a hyperdeveloped, codified, generationally transmitted and renewed programme of group intelligence” (p.41).

In dealing with Girard’s commentaries on the bible (Chapter 4 and the first part of Chapter 5), Gifford stresses that for Girard religion is not “’natural’ (i.e. man-made)” or “’supernatural’ (i.e. God-given)” but that “both things may be – are most fundamentally likely to be – true” (p. 60-61). On this reading, the Old and New Testaments show emergent man coming to a better understanding of God. Girard’s theories of imitation and scapegoating cast new light on the story of the Fall from Eden. In the story of Abraham and Isaac human sacrifice is modulated to animal sacrifice. “Isaiah’s suffering servant” prefigures “the victim figure as saviour: rejected scapegoat of all, discharging the community of all its sins and violence” (p. 71). Yet the God of the Old Testament remains largely “the God of the archaic sacrificial system: the wrathful, retributive and often bloodthirsty Jehovah of Hebrew tribal imagining” (p. 71). The New Testament takes us beyond that understanding.  In his teaching (for example in the Beatitudes) and his actions (for example in the story of the woman taken in adultery), Jesus shows how human beings can escape the dynamic of imitative confrontational violence.  The Passion of Jesus recapitulates the founding murder but transcends it: “Jesus consents to enter into the scenario of the founding murder as victim in order to display that process at work in his people and in humankind and to reveal to all humans its nothingness in relation to the ultimate reality of the love of God” (p. 85-86).

Gifford’s book began life as a series of lectures given at Coventry Cathedral. This explains why the last part of Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 are devoted to the practical topic of reconciliation, the task to which Coventry Cathedra dedicates itself. Girard’s theories promote reconciliation in that they enable human beings of all faiths and none to reflect jointly on their beliefs in a new way. The anthropologist “provides a simple, concrete, but almost infinitely flexible – and therefore always pertinent – ‘grid’ for identifying problems and scanning their active components (negative mimesis, runaway dynamic, sacrificial logic, misrecognition, the mimetic crisis with its contexts and periodicities, etc.). Still more so when the scanning of the problems suggests a counter dynamic of transformation (simple in principle, fruitful in practice and variously applicable), namely, the transformation (metamorphosis, conversion) of bad (negative, hate generating) into good (positive, loving) mimesis” (p. 91). Girard is not necessarily optimistic that on a global scale such reconciliation can be achieved: humanity may be standing before “apocalypse or reconciliation” (p. 107). Yet the peace process in Ireland, as Gifford shows, was partly undergirded by Girardian thinking. And reconciliation between the different Abrahamic faiths may be possible if we recognise “that it is not ‘difference’ that separates us, but the mimetic rivalry we have in common…” (p. 120).

The book is rounded off by an extensive interview with Girard largely conducted by Gifford in 2009.  Covering in a different way much of the ground previously traversed, it shows Girard expressing himself in language that is powerful and accessible. At times Gifford intervenes within square brackets to elaborate on his own or Girard’s words. Occasionally (pp. 133-134) it is not clear who is speaking, Gifford or Girard. In one sense this is true throughout the book. Gifford has fully entered Girard’s world and speaks from within it.  The suspicion arises that before he was struck by a metaphorical bolt of lightning on a French camp site Paul Gifford’s first name was Saul. At any event he speaks with authority. He explores every corner of Girard’s work and counters all criticisms laid against him. The argument is lucid and compelling, enlivened by colloquial images and turns of phrase. This book is a challenging and a good read.

                                                            Alastair B. Duncan