Stop Press: Michael Ramsey Prize 2016

252444_winton2We’re thrilled that the winner of the Michael Ramsey Prize has been announced as Dementia: Living in the Memories of God by John Swinton. Offering compassionate and carefully considered theological and pastoral responses to dementia and forgetfulness, Swinton’s Dementia redefines dementia in light of the transformative counter story that is the gospel.

Presenting the prize, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: “It is a cross-disciplinary book that goes straight to the heart of tackling one of the most profound failures of our society – the failure to value people in other than economic terms and to see the dignity of the human person. John has written a book which is deeply challenging and brings to bear a coherent theological approach, with clinical background and understanding, to an issue that has touched many of us, and is one of the great issues of our society. He has done the church and our country a huge service.”

Launched in 2005 by Rowan Williams, the Michael Ramsey Prize is awarded every two to three years and celebrates the most promising contemporary theological writing from the global church.

 

 

 

 

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The SCM Sale Continues

There’s less than a month left to take advantage of the SCM Summer Sale, which ends on 16th September. Here are a couple more of our top picks of the sale.

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9780334043355It’s often been said that there’s a very blurred boundary between popular culture and religion, and nowhere is this more true than in our obsession with celebrity. Our celebrities quickly become gods. We worship their triumphs, judge their sins and maintain vigil at their deaths. In Gods Behaving Badly, Pete Ward, Professorial Fellow in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, looks at how celebrity culture has adopted religious language. “Celebrity culture is not a religion”, he says, “but it does have religious elements”. Ward argues that the church should learn to see popular culture as offering an opportunity, rather than a threat, but also that it has something to teach us about ourselves. The world of the celebrity, says Ward “takes us into how popular culture negotiates the sacred to identify potentialities in the self. To speak of celebrity culture as a kind of theology therefore does not tell us anything about the Christian God, but it does reveal something of how we see ourselves.”.

Gods Behaving Badly is priced at £10 during the sale, down from £19.99

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The evolutionary origins of human beings, and in particular the origins of human 9780334029960smorality, have always attracted debate and speculation, not just in the academic community but in popular science and the wider general population as well.

The arguments and explanations put forward over the years seem to thoroughly catch the popular imagination, but there is the danger that these explanations tend to step outside the bounds of scientific theory and become powerful popular myths instead.

In Neil Messer’s Selfish Genes and Christian Ethics, the author is challenging this tendency. Instead, he provides a Christian theological anthropology, which, among other things, aims to give Christians and the churches the confidence to engage with assumptions that evolutionary theory and religious beliefs are untenable.

This is a valuable resource for anyone engaged in the study of theology, providing the reader with the ability to consider both the theoretical and the practical questions raised by evolutionary discussions of ethics and morality.

 

John Hughes Remembered

To mark the publication of the collected essays and papers of the late John Hughes in Graced Life, the book’s editor, Matthew Bullimore, remembers John’s ‘joyful and amicably militant spirit’.

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‘I think perhaps my visit to the zoo this week has had a strange impact on me.

John, the Dean of Chapel of Jesus College Cambridge, was a gifted teacher and scholar and a priest with a deep pastoral compassion. He was a bon viveur and was never happier than in company. He was fun, well-loved, often indignant, acutely intelligent, quirky, caring. He died aged 35 in a car crash in June 2014 on the way from an ordination to a first Mass.

265504_780334054474_mainJohn had already published his monograph The End of Work: Theological Critiques of Capitalism and also a volume of sermons given by others at Jesus on the challenge of the New Atheism. I had known John since we were undergraduates together, through theological college and onwards. His vision of the Christian life, mediated to me through friendship, was and will ever be one of the strongest influences on my own faith. I wanted Graced Life to make available his other scattered published work and a couple of pieces he had not yet worked up.

The quotation above is John on typically unconventional form preaching on Easter day at Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney. The sermon is about life. He had been extolling the wonder of being a living being: ‘how wonderful and staggering it is to be this strange compound of chemicals and water, that can interact with and respond to the world, that has a story, a life!’

Yet, even though our biological life is its own delightful mystery, there is more to being human. There is memory and hope, and we ‘can shape a world through signs and symbols, language and art, all that we call culture.’ John was no doubt a humanist through and through. But he was a Christian humanist. He knew that this ‘deeper, more radical freedom than the animals seem to enjoy’ meant that we could rise higher but also fall lower: ‘this is our tragedy and our glory.’ The human vocation is by grace to enjoy the vision of God, a vision now dimly but gloriously glimpsed through the mediations of our everyday biological and cultural lives. But the reality of our falleness means that first we need a grace that can also reconcile, redeem and recreate us.

Without a trust in that grace at work then life becomes deathly. Even a philosophy that celebrates this world’s life – but without grace – can become selfish hedonism, or more likely devolve into nihilistic despair. Death then haunts ‘all our human activities, our joys and hopes and plans and relationships with a gnawing transience.’ For John, the Christian life bore witness to a different way of life. This was a life given anew at Easter: ‘life in abundance, life without fear or defensiveness or caution.’

The chapters of the book all bear witness to his vision of life as graced, as shot through with the loving activity of a God who is himself a life of exchanged charity. The range is impressive. His piece on forgiveness in King Lear argues that three accounts of life are visible in the play represented by different sets of characters. There are the static, conservative characters who see nature as preordained and fixed and which they are anxious to defend even unjustly. There are the more radical characters who see nature as bestial and who seek through their own power and will to overturn the established order. But there are also those whose lives bear witness, if fragmentally, to the possibility of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a different social order that arrives from without as a gift of peace. There are essays on social ethics in the Anglican tradition in which he discerns a Christian humanism that sees grace at work within and through culture and society bringing them to perfection. Three essays explore human work. Attending to descriptions and practices of labour in the Christian tradition and in modern European thought, he argues that human labour and activity can participate in a divine labour which is both good activity and worshipful leisure. There is an essay on the intelligibility, goodness and meaningfulness of creation and two essays on theological method.

John’s constant enemy was utilitarianism – meaning a creed that reduced humans to merely functional, manipulable and ultimately substitutable machines, and that was ‘opposed to anything vital or transcendent’. It was the spirit of our age and against which he extolled the good news of life lived together in the light of the resurrection. John’s theology speaks of the strangeness and the apparent impossibility of Christian life, which is why it must arrive from without as a gift. It is serious but not puritanical, festive but not frivolous, paradoxical but meaningful, celebratory but not glib, and compassionately attendant to suffering but with faith and hope. John’s war on utilitarianism took him through the grand sweep of ideas in theology, philosophy, metaphysics and critical thought. He was always respectful, testing and learning, but with a critical spirit, and attentive to how these ideas affected how life was actually lived (and vice versa). John Milbank puts it thus: ‘The same sensibility was in John’s writing strongly attuned to literature, to pictorial art, to labour and to human exchanges of love, but in a rigorous fashion that connected them all to metaphysical and doctrinal vision.’

The essays are serious and important pieces of scholarship in their own right but I hope that they also convey what Milbank has called John’s own ‘joyful and amicably militant spirit’.

John ends his sermon with the resurrection life that irrupts within the world: ‘This is the life which can stoop down to lift up others, which can be extravagantly poured out like the woman who anointed Christ’s feet, life which need not fear judgement, life which can run the race of this world’s suffering with joy, life which washes the feet of those in need, life which offers itself in union with Christ as a sacrifice of praise to God.’ This is the life that John lived and to which his work bears witness. (He also liked to dance on the bar.)

 

Matthew Bullimore is parish priest in Yorkshire, former Domestic Chaplain to the Bishop of Wakefield and a member of the Editorial Group of Crucible.

 

Summer Sale – More Editor’s Picks

The SCM Summer Sale continues until 16th September, so if you haven’t checked it out, do make sure you take a look. There are some real bargains on the list this year. Here are a couple more highlights you should know about…

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9780334046431Helping to engage young people with the Christian faith continues to be one of the biggest challenges facing the Church today. So much of the world which our young people inhabit seems impenetrable to older Christians (Pokémon Go, anybody?), and the culture of the Church can so often appear irrelevant and alien to younger generations. The role of those in youth ministry, therefore, is vital in helping bridge the divide. Serving as both a text and workbook, Christian Youth Work in Theory and Practice brings together key youth ministry thinkers and grass-roots practitioners to explore significant themes and issues. Topics covered include mission, church, adolescent identity, appropriate relationships, spiritual practices, youth culture, pastoral care, work with families, education, leadership and management, inclusive youth work, theology, lifelong learning, ethical dilemmas and the Kingdom of God. “A highly theoretical & yet deeply practical book”, says Gavin Calver, former National Director of British Youth for Christ, “I cannot recommend this highly enough”. The book is usually £25.00, but the sale price is £20.00.

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9780334043508Graham Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford,  is well known for his thoughtful engagement with postmodernism and contemporary critical theology. In The Politics of Discipleship he provides a broader audience with an engaging account of the inherently political nature of postmodernity and thoughts on what it means to live the Christian faith within that setting. Ward provides an accessible guide to contemporary postmodernism and its wide-ranging implications and develops a model of discipleship that informs a faith seeking understanding, which Ward describes as ‘the substance of the church’s political life’.

 

 

 

Summer Sale – Editor’s Picks

Today marks the start of our Summer Sale, with some substantial reductions across SCM Press until 16th September. Here are just a few representative highlights.

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217455_780334041894In Creaturely Theology an impressive array of contributors show that theological reflection on non-human animals and related issues are an important though hitherto neglected part of the agenda of Christian theology and related disciplines. The book offers a genuine interdisciplinary conversation between theologians, philosophers and scientists and continues to be a standard text on the theology of non-human animals.

Contributors include Esther D. Reed, Rachel Muers, Stephen Clark, Neil Messer, Peter Scott, Michael Northcott and Christopher Southgate.

Oliver Davies, described this as a “timely and invaluable guide to approaching these questions from a distinctively theological perspective.”

Wentzel van Huyssteen said “For anyone wondering how to think religiously about animals this paradigm-shifting book will be a serious but exciting challenge…. The carefully selected essays in this book present us with a sophisticated and nuanced broad scope of issues with transversally integrated arguments that will draw in readers from all disciplines and perspectives. I am happy to very strongly recommend this book.”

Creaturely Theology is available at an offer price of £8.00 (usual price £30.00).

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If you’re a preacher, the good news, according to  The Future of Preaching, is that “Rumours of preaching’s demise may yet prove greatly exaggerated”. The book includes contributions from some of the leading authors in the field, including Ian Paul, Leslie Francis and Roger Standing. Here’s an extract, taken from Geoffrey Stevenson’s introductory essay.

9780334043621.jpgWhat is the future of preaching? More pointedly, as many have asked, is there a future for preaching? I will not here rehearse the well-known tropes from harbingers of doom. Instead, consider what Dean Inge observed, not about preaching but about human nature: ‘Any hopefulness for the future of civilization is based on the reasonable expectation that humanity is still only beginning its course.’ This encourages me to ask, what if, far from fading away under the harsh light of European secularism, Christianity is still only beginning her course? What if she returns, as she has time and time again, to the resurrection form of her Lord? Would a resurrection in preaching be far behind? As Richard Lischer observed, ‘most every reform movement in the church whether Franciscan, Dominican, Lollard, Brethren, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Methodist, has meant not only a revival of preaching but a re-forming of its method of presentation’ (2002, p. xvi). Rumours of preaching’s demise may yet prove greatly exaggerated.

But who would be so foolish as to try to predict the future of preaching? Almost every form as practised in British churches today – from the three- to four-minute homily before Mass to the 50- to 60-minute thematic or expository sermon – is located in a culturally specific ecclesial context. Very few practices can claim an unbroken lineage of rhetorical form and liturgical meaning that goes back more than a couple of hundred years. Shifts happen over time. Not only do theologies but also fashion and sensibilities change, sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly. You have to ask, will the preaching of our digitally immersed younger generations migrate online, becoming a welter of tweets and text messages launched into the ‘blogosphere’? And can that still be called preaching? Time will tell. But preaching isn’t standing still.

As indicated by many of the contributors to the book, there are historical givens, without which whatever is being done with words in an act of worship or evangelism can no longer be called preaching. There are also new insights and understandings about the preaching act that result from theology being done afresh in our time and culture. This can result in tension and uncertainty. Tension can of course be enormously creative, and uncertainty is not always a bad thing for a pilgrim people. It also gives a real provisionality to predictions and prescriptions. At base, however, a discussion about the future of preaching is implicitly an invitation to engage in preaching that is ‘forward-looking’ even while it acknowledges its roots and respects its heritage. Taken together, I think the contributors to The Future of Preaching strongly assert that forward-looking preaching will hang on to three things (there may be more). It will engage faithfully with the Bible, it will engage directly with its listeners, and it will engage prophetically with the world.

The Future of Preaching is available at the sale price of £5.00 (usually £16.99).

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9780334043997.jpgWalter Brueggemann has been one of the leading voices in Hebrew Bible interpretation for decades; his landmark works in Old Testament theology have inspired and informed a generation of students, scholars, and preachers. In Disruptive Grace he brings his erudition to bear on those practices – prophecy, lament, prayer, faithful imagination, and a holy economics – that alone may usher in a humane and peaceful future for our cities. Carolyn Sharp’s introductions to each section highlight the characteristic themes of Brueggemann’s oeuvre that come to expression in these chapters. The result is more than an encounter with the ever challenging word of Scripture; Disruptive Grace also offers an introduction to the thought of a brilliant, passionate, and incisive interpreter of the Hebrew Bible.

Disruptive Grace is available in the SCM sale for £10 (usual price £25.00)

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258941_dvancing%20practical%20theology%20(2).jpgAdvancing Practical Theology which is available during the sale at £20.00 (down from £25.00) seeks to grow the vision of what practical theology is and can be. Eric Stoddart’s volume has proved very popular indeed, and attracted a lot of praise:

“In this refreshing autobiographical engagement of the discipline of Practical Theology, Eric Stoddart calls for a radical, postcolonial, global, justice-seeking and ethically liberative approach to the objectives of the craft based on the notion of critical discipleship. Stoddart practices what he calls for as he reflects critically on his own faith journey, facilitates a small group of ordinary (lay) people’s wrestling with the political issue of Scottish Independence and critically reviews a recent landmark book publication on the discipline. Advancing Practical Theology is a welcome, polemical, international and very readable book that offers pointers for the future of a discipline that having come of age needs to move courageously forward on the path of actually making a difference in the world.” Emmanuel Y. Lartey, L. Bevel Jones III Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counselling

“This is a remarkable book – keen, perceptive, and fiercely honest. Eric Stoddart writes from the depths of lived experience, and with all the particularity of his Scottish ecclesial heritage, to advance a way of doing theology which is resolutely and rigorously practical. Here is an ambitious manifesto for a practical theology which is radically coming of age.”  Margaret Whipp, Oxford.

“Eric Stoddart has done the practical theology ‘imagined community’ a great service by recalling us to a radical commitment. Using his personal story and a story of ‘shared praxis’ (the coming independence vote in Scotland), he grounds the understanding of practical theology in a complex network of contexts, experiences and traditions. He challenges the too easy and comfortable world which even practical theologians may inhabit, calling us to a more critical discipleship. This is a book which will set the cat among the pigeons.”  Zoe Bennett, Cambridge Theological Federation

“In Advancing Practical Theology, Eric Stoddart beautifully displays his rare talent. He breathes life into the dry bones of methodological discussion through a judicious and deeply engaging use of humour, personal narrative, deft unpacking of complex theories, and highly illuminating case studies. Running through Stoddard’s fascinating forays into the nature and method of the discipline is a crucially important theme: practical theology is not only analysis of practice, but much more fundamentally engagement with what it means to be Christian in interpersonal and socio-political contexts.” Neil Pembroke, Associate Professor of Practical Theology

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Also included in the sale is Doug Gay’s Honey from the Lion, a book which, in the light of the Brexit vote and new questions around Scottish independence feels more relevant now than ever. An extract appeared on this blog last month.

There are lots of other great titles available in our sale, across practical ministry, philosophy, and theology – too many for just one blog post. We’ll try and highlight a few more in the coming weeks. And do take a look at the sale page on our website for the full range. The sale ends on Friday 16th September.