JUDE: Content Yet Contending by Daniel R. Hyde – Recommendation

This an excellent little commentary on this one chapter New Testament letter by Jude. His letter is perhaps best known for the exhortation in v4 to ‘contend for the faith’ and the Doxology of vs 24-25. This was one of those ‘I must read this sometime’ books on my shelf. I finished a book on the Old Testament so wanted to read a NT commentary. What better than this little book.

It is a little book (A5 size) at only 137 pages, of which there are 126 pages of actual text including the preface. It’s easy to read in that it isn’t complicated and the type is clear with each chapter neatly laid with sub-headings for each chapter. It’s probably too short for an index but it would, I think, have been helpful. There are very helpful footnotes, which I personally much prefer to endnotes. For those wanting to delve a little deeper, there’s also a very good Bibliography. There are eight chapters in all. I paid £8.99 for the book. Although that sounds a bit pricey for such a short book, it’s actually good value because of how much is packed into such a short space. No verbiage here.

I bought it initially because I was struck by the ESV translation of v5. In v5 of Jude the ESV explicitly names Jesus as the destroyer. I wanted an explanation, which is briefly but adequately given and applied on pages 48-51. Jesus is both Saviour to some and Destroyer to others. As Psalm 2:12 ‘Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

As a slight aside, there’s a crucial point to be made here. We hear how the God of the Old Testament is an angry wrathful God but the God of the New Testament (Jesus) is friendly and loving. He’s nice. But we don’t like the God of the OT – he’s horrible. It says the same in any translation but it is made clearer in the ESV, and it’s this, it was Jesus in the OT that destroyed those that sinned. This gives the lie to those that try and make separate Gods for OT and NT. It’s complete nonsense. Jesus is the Destroyer and the Saviour. Make sure He is your Saviour and not your Destroyer!

This book by Daniel Hyde, like Jude’s letter, is a challenging read. There’s a lament in Chapter 1 how Jude has been neglected and in the same chapter he sets out the divisions of Jude thus:

‘Jude writes about this heavenly grace in this short yet highly organised and structured letter. Using the categories of classical Graeco-Roman rhetoric, we can see the following outline develop:

The introduction (exordium) seeks to gain the audience’s attention (vv. 1-2);
The narration (narratio) seeks to inform the audience of the main argument (vv. 3-4);
The proofs (probatio) seeks to develop the argument with evidence (vv. 5-16);
The conclusion (peroratio) seeks the reader’s emotional response (vv. 17-23);
The doxology (doxologia) is an added element in Christian literature that gives glory to God (vv. 23-25).’ p.17.

There’s so much packed into this short book. I could’ve given more but you’ll just have to read it for yourself. I heartily recommend it.

 

 

‘Beyond the Big C: Hope in the face of death’ by Jeremy Marshall

Beyond the Big C by Jeremy Marshall, 10 Publishing, 2019. £3.99 at 10 of Those (£1.75 each if you buy 10 copies).

Of course unbeknown to Jeremy there would be a new Big C in town, no longer is it Cancer but Coronavirus. Cancer has been (temporarily) usurped. I’ve always known Cancer as the Big C. (My Mum died of cancer, my sister-in-law died of cancer, and my wife died of cancer) Even with massive leaps forward in treatment and diagnosis I think most people would still see it like that. A cancer diagnosis is a solemn thing.

As for the book, I started reading it in bed one evening and finished it the next morning. It’s a very short book – 70 pages. No chapters but lots of helpful headings throughout. His honesty at the shock diagnosis and the fears he had, are, I think, really helpful. I thought his honesty was, and is refreshing. Non believers out there aren’t stupid and can detect insincerity at ten paces so it’s much better to be honest.

A strong and vibrant faith is not incompatible with being afraid. I’ve seen it. We don’t want to be afraid but it’s a powerful emotion. Here’s a successful man, a very capable man whose world is changed completely. What he finds is that Christ is right there with him in his suffering. I know what cancer treatment involves, having seen what my wife went through, and it isn’t pleasant!

Just a brief quote from page 45:

I long for my suffering friends to know that God has entered this sad, fallen, sinful world and he meets us right in the midst of our grief and sorrow.’

‘What we can offer – as well as compassion to those suffering from cancer or other terminal diseases – is the one thing that the world craves above all things: hope in the face of death. I love to tell people how the Lord has, by his death, defeated death.’

That does not mean having cancer for a Christian is a barrel of laughs – it isn’t. It’s tough. Really tough.

I like the way he challenges non-believers but without being aggressive or condescending. This is a great little book to give away or maybe leave (COVID regulations permitting) in a dentist or doctors waiting room. You probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that, but it’s a thought.

Is Jesus History? by John Dickson – Get a copy

Is Jesus History? By John Dickson. 2019. The Good Book Company. On 10 of Those for £6.79 (discounts for 5 or more copies)

It’s a standard paperback size of 150 pages. It’s not a big book then, and I enjoyed it from the very start. The text and style is easy to read and it isn’t overly technical. There are headings throughout each chapter with a summary (‘In a Nutshell’) and period readings at the end. The readings are mainly from the New Testament but not exclusively. The book has a few footnotes but these are kept to a bare minimum which in this case is a big help.

I loved the way he used his treasured coin (pp. 13ff) to teach us about how the past is (was) a real place and not a fictional world that has left a great deal of evidence that can be read, seen, and touched.

One objection I’ve heard is that if Jesus was so influential why are there not more records of him? These criticisms fail to understand how history works. So it was helpful when John tells us there is not ‘even one piece of personal correspondence from the emperor.’ P.16. There may be reasons God has not chosen to leave mountains of ‘evidence’ but whatever the reason it doesn’t violate any principles or historical method. Rather, it is totally in accord with the way the study of history, and especially ancient history works.

A great book for any Christian to read and an excellent book to give to your sceptical friends. It’s a good companion to Peter Williams book ‘Can we trust the Gospels.’ As Christians we often seem to be on the back-foot. At least it can feel like that. So this book is a great resource. I believe in evidence, but I’m not an evidentialist. But this book really will help, in a brief and easy to read way, I think, to give Christians confidence when talking to skeptics. Well worth reading and an excellent ‘Stocking filler.’ Buy a copy.

‘Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life & Thought’ by Stephen J. Nichols. A ‘Review’

‘Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Though’ by Stephen J. Nichols, P & R Publishing, 2002.

This is one book among many that are on the shelf and unread. We all have them. Not sure it’s been on my shelf for nearly 20 years but in any case I’ve wanted to read it for a while and as a change of reading matter was needed, here we are.

The ‘standard’ biography on Luther as I understand it is Bainton’s ‘Here I Stand (1987).’ I’ve dipped into an old edition of that but not read it, so apart from articles and the like this book by Nichols on Luther is really a first for me. Bainton’s book is mentioned at the end.

The book is 240 pages (it starts with the preface on page 11) about A5 size with easy to read print and headings throughout each chapter. It’s not complicated and suits me picking it up and putting it down. When I have sat and read it for a while it’s not been wearisome but actually very enjoyable. The book has several illustrations and is divided down into Preface (11 & 12), Introduction (13-20) followed by three main sections: Luther: His Life (21-66); Luther: The Reformer (67-146); and Luther: The Pastor (147-229). At the end of each chapter is a very helpful final section ‘A Note on the Sources.’ The last section (chapter?) of the book Nichols has included is Continuing the Journey: A Brief Guide to Books by and about Luther. At the end of the book there is a Bibliography, an Index of persons, an Index of Luther’s Works, and an Index of Scripture. A subject index would have been helpful. There are no footnotes or endnotes (my usual gripe) that can be a bit of a chore. I must admit the absence of notes helps the reading. The book is very accessible, reads well, and for me at least, was a good introduction to Luther.

On a topical note here’s a section in chapter 7 about Luther’s response to the plague. He wrote a pamphlet in 1527 on ‘Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.’ Given our Covid Virus situation it made me sit up and take special notice. I’ve linked to it so I can read it later. I thought he’d say we had to stay. But he didn’t. He tells us to do what we can. However, Luther stayed and did not flee. Rather, he opened his house as a hospital and cared for the sick with his wife at great personal risk. Almost dying in the process. The guy is unbelievable on every level! Like many Christians I’ve picked up aspects of Luther’s life and teaching, without, if I’m honest, reading much about him. To actually read about him is amazing. It really is.

The downside of the book, and this is no fault of the author, is that it missed the 500th anniversary of The Reformation. So there is probably a truck load of new stuff on Luther.

If you are new to Luther or want an overview then this book will, I think, do the job. You will read about a giant of a man. In the history of the church there are few his equal. What he accomplished is simply extraordinary. With someone like Luther it’s easy to see how we can be so in awe of the man. We so easily venerate such figures. And I can see why. And it’s easy to do. But we lose sight of what it is that’s driving him if we do. He’s driven by a love for Christ his Saviour and a love for truth, and love for his neighbour. So we copy Luther not worship him. Or anyone else.

I apologise if my ‘review’ lacks detail. So, read the book!

‘Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle

Happiness’ by J. C. Ryle. Evangelical Press.

As it says on the cover of this small booklet or ‘Tract’ it is ‘Lightly edited & updated by Mary Davis’ so it doesn’t read as a 19th Century text but it certainly addresses a 21st Century issue. It’s nicely laid out with easy to read text and isn’t very long at 51 pages.

Who doesn’t want to be happy? Ryle gives us the essentials of true happiness followed by common mistakes about what will make us happy. ‘To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world’ (p. 15). He brings out several witnesses to show how wealth, fame, education and several other things will not make a person happy. Well then, how to be really happy? He tells us. Here’s just the first thing, ‘Be a real, thorough-going, true-hearted Christian.’

He doesn’t ignore the fact that Christians can go through much pain and sorrow. ‘Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No, not for a moment!’ (p. 35) He goes through several objections before making a final plea. ‘Next, let me beg all readers of this book who are not yet happy to seek happiness in the only place it can be found’ (p. 48). ‘If you want to be happy, Come to Christ!’ (p.49)

As you would expect Ryle is plain in saying salvation is found only through the blood of Christ. The book challenges both believer and unbeliever. As a book it may not suit all but could be a good one to give away.

Ryles original tracts, along with this one can be found here: http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/john_charles_ryle.htm

‘When Christians Suffer’ by Thomas Case

I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.

Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’

I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.

This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.

Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case

I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:

‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’

Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.

Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,

Thomas Manton.

The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’

‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.

‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.

One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.

As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’

 

JACO Biography – A Kind Of Review

If like me you love Jaco’s bass playing but know little about the man then this book could be the book for you. The strapline to the book is ‘The extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.’ Do realise his life was extraordinary, but it was also very tragic. Just a little bit about the book itself. This is the Anniversary Edition of JACO by Bill Milkowski. The text is really dense. It’s a small font for the size of book and sometimes the pages are just a mass of text. But, it is very well written and very readable with several pictures, plus lots of anecdotes and quotes from those that knew him and played with him. Throughout there are a lot of memories of other musicians that first heard him with Sixty Three reflections (Not all good) on his life and music at the end. To use a colloquialism – they were usually ‘gobsmacked’ by his ability and creativity. There’s a fair bit of fruity language – the F-word and S-word are frequently used. However, I found it to be a page turner. There’s also a fairly decent index (in a very tiny font) and a full discography – most of which I was completely unaware of although I knew he played with Joni Mitchell.

Here’s the first paragraph or so in the acknowledgments (p. vii):

‘It’s a rare privilege to be able to revisit an old work and refine, update, expand, and otherwise sculpt it into a better, more satisfying shape. With a fresh perspective afforded by the passing of ten years since the original printing of The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius — along with new information gathered, new insights provided by key figures missed the first time around, and the wisdom and empathy that comes with fatherhood — I was able to “do this thing correct,” as Jaco would say.’

Part of his mission, says Milkowski, was ‘to paint a richer, more detailed portrait of Jaco’s early, pre-Weather Report years in Fort Lauderdale, where he was at his happiest and healthiest — a straight-arrow Family man and dedicated musician at the peak of his powers.’

He also wanted to ‘more closely examine the final 24 hours leading up to the savage beating that put Jaco in a coma for nine days and resulted in his ultimate demise on September 21, 1987.’

I was listening to Jaco Pastorius back in the 1970’s when I started listening to fusion styles of jazz (Chick Corea – Return to Forever; Mahavishnu Orchestra) which at the time led me to buy albums by Miroslav Vitous (Bass), Tomasz Stańko (Trumpet) which was just an extension of the other weird stuff (Henry Cow, Gong, Soft Machine) most people thought I was listening to. I was playing the guitar a bit but it never went anywhere but I did at least have the ear (I think) to know when I was listening to something special. Like lots of people then, it seems, listening to Jaco made me sit up and realise this was definitely someone special.

I actually managed to see Weather Report at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London, but we couldn’t stay to the end as I recall else we’d have missed our train. What a shame. When I only recently saw there was a biography of Jaco it was a no-brainer to get it.

Jaco was blessed with an abundance of ‘natural’ ability. He had perfect pitch, perfect time, a photographic memory and was even physically suited to playing the electric Bass. As if that wasn’t enough he was also an innovator. He had all the attributes of a genius. He also had an obsessive personality that made him want to be the best at whatever he did – and seemed to excel at whatever it was. That didn’t mean he just sat around wallowing in his gifts – he obsessively practiced and practiced and practiced. Even for a genius, there isn’t a short cut. But it seems with genius there’s more often than not a corresponding defect in the personality.

I knew nothing about his early life and was quite surprised at how long he held out with a no-drinking and no-drugs policy. But all the time I’m reading I know things are going to take a tragic turn. The first couple of chapters are upfront and tell of the tragedy. The next few chapters tell of his rise to fame – if I can put it like that – as he reaches the peak of his playing ability and the recognition that went with it. All the while there’s this awful expectation that Jaco’s life is going to turn really bad. There’s a sense of foreboding. As I reach this stage of the book I’m wondering what it was that sent him on a downward spiral.

[This little section I had some quotes to insert here but I’ve misplaced the book so this is from memory: There was mention of him getting drunk but it didn’t seem to be a habitual thing. But, we are told that Joe Zawinul and Jaco would ‘get competitively wasted on a regular basis.’ But Zawinul apparently treated him like a son. You would have thought he would have tried to protect him – but he doesn’t. Not really. Other friends notice a real change at this point.]

Anyway, as far as I can tell, it’s at this time in Jaco’s life where things begin to take a bad turn. On top of the drugs and booze his marriage to Tracy was starting to fall apart. He had a relationship with another woman (perhaps many women) and a relationship with Joni Mitchell born out of their musical / spiritual collaboration.

Ingrid (one of the women) knew it was wrong and she felt Jaco’s Catholic upbringing caused him to feel guilty about what he was doing – and rightly so.

So whether there was already a personality defect and the marriage breaking up coupled with fame, booze, drugs and the pressure of being at the top conspired to form a deadly cocktail that drove him on a downward tragic spiral, I don’t know. But there’s more:

Peter Erskine (Drummer with Weather Report & friend) told his father (As it happens, a Psychologist) about Jaco’s mood swings and without even seeing him diagnosed Jaco to be suffering from Manic Depression – what we now call Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t until years later Jaco was hospitalised, diagnosed and then treated (with Lithium). In the book ‘Tackling Mental Illness Together: A biblical and practical approach’ by Alan Thomas there’s a section on Bipolar disorder (pp, 168 – 172) in chapter 9 ‘Severe Mental Illnesses.’ In this chapter, Professor Thomas describes what we read about in this biography of Jaco – manic episodes and depression. Lithium is still used with the side-effect of trembling that Jaco experienced – especially in his hands.

Part of the tragedy, maybe the main part, is that instead of hospitalising him, he is idolised and treated as a Cash Cow. He was ill. I recently watched a program on Channel 5 called ‘The Death of Amy Winehouse: 13 Reasons Why.’ There were many sad parallels, especially with drink and drugs. The author brings out quite a few times how life was much simpler, and happier, for Jaco in the early days. Before he became famous, when he wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, when he was happy with his first wife Tracy (‘Portrait of Tracy’).

After reading this I now listen to Jaco’s playing slightly differently. It’s certainly a celebration of masterful playing (a new appreciation for sure)  but it’s tinged with sadness.  

When reading books like this I’m always interested in looking to see what their religious convictions are. And for good reason, there’s a lot hanging on it. But I don’t read to judge. Leastways I try not to anyway. I read with hope. As a Christian, I’ve read biographies with lives that are just about as tragic as it gets in this life but by God’s Grace they have come to know Christ. And so their lives become a testimony to the triumph of grace. Reading these biographies there’s a turn from whatever the darkness might be to the light of Christ and an eternal heritage. There’s redemption. Not so with the life of Jaco. There is no redemption, there is no point at which his life turns around. There is no hope. It does not end well. I do not know if somehow God reached into Jaco’s life at the last moment and we’ll see him in heaven. Maybe. I hope it is so. The night when he was beaten that led to his death, he had talked with Carlos Santana. Santana says ‘…. we talked a little bit about Jesus. That was the last time I saw him. (p. 261).   I have absolutely no idea what ‘talking a little bit about Jesus’ means. Jesus gets a mention a few other times through the book and his ‘spirituality’ is mentioned several times. Again, what that actually means, I have no idea. Jaco was brought up a Catholic and sang in the choir so there was some input. Whether he was saved or not then, I don’t know. I know God is Gracious though, and that it’s He that does the saving, not us.

In summary then, if you’re a fan of Jaco you should read it. But it’s not a fun read. It’s not a fun read because we get to follow, through Bill Milkowski’s excellent book the rise of such an amazing talent as Jaco and then his subsequent destruction and fall, ending in his tragic death.

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams – A Recommendation

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams.

From the preface;

‘I have long felt the need for a short book explaining to a general audience some of the vast amount of evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels. There are various great treatments of this topic, and each book has its own focus. This one seeks to present a case for the reliability of the Gospels to those who are thinking about the subject for the first time. …. for the sake of brevity I have cut out everything unnecessary.’ p.13.

‘It is common today to speak of world faiths or to describe some people as having faith, as if others do not. Faith is seen as a non-rational belief — something not based on evidence. However, that is not what faith originally meant for Christians. Coming from the Latin word fides, the word faith used to mean something closer to our word trust. Trust, of course, can be based on evidence.’

‘The book’s title, Can We Trust the Gospels?, is therefore carefully chosen. It addresses the question by looking at evidence of the Gospel’s trustworthiness. The great thing about trust is that it is something we all understand to a degree because we all exercise it.’

From The Introduction. P.15.

This is a book for anyone, and I would include non-Christians in that. The writing is easy to read, the text is easy to read and none of it is difficult to understand. There are eight chapters, a general index and a Scriptural index. There are also helpful footnotes throughout where the reader will find references to sources and recommendations for further reading.

The first chapter focuses on ancient non-Christian hostile sources to make a historical case for the authenticity of the Gospels. He makes several helpful observations that serve to support his (and the Christian) case.

Chapter 5 is the longest chapter where the author shows how the Gospels, are highly unlikely to have been made up, as some claim. There are some nice charts that support Gospel accuracy from local knowledge about place names.

Dr Williams presents in a very straightforward way ample evidence that the Gospels can be trusted. He is an expert in his field: the field of textual criticism. He inhabits, intellectually speaking, the world of manuscripts, with other experts (not necessarily Christians) in that discipline. Most of us do not.

There are other good reasons to trust the Gospels, but this book should help a) Christians that are perhaps struggling with doubt about whether the Bible can be trusted and b) Non-Christians that need to understand that trusting their souls to The Lord Jesus Christ is NOT a leap in the dark. Committing intellectual suicide is not required. In fact, the Bible itself speaks against doing so.

The last chapter deals with objections, especially from committed materialists – atheists. What is really amusing is that atheists committed to freethinking or a search for truth can’t do either of those things. Why? How can you search for truth if you don’t believe, objectively, that it exists. And so a commitment to freethinking is also impossible. Dr Williams presents a small, but significant, amount of evidence which the atheist will dismiss with a wave of the hand when any crackpot produces something that has previously been proved false, thus demonstrating a denial of that which he claims: freethinking and a search for truth. This book probably won’t satisfy the determined atheist – and I doubt anything will.

Ultimately then, all of us, come to trust in Christ through the intervention of God the Holy Spirit through whom we surrender to the God of The Bible. Thank God it is so. Although we need to be ‘born again’ by the supernatural actions of God in order that we might trust in Christ, God doesn’t ask us to believe in fairy stories (despite the protest of Atheists) but in things that happened in time, real historical events that are faithfully recorded in the Gospels. So as for the question, this book asks: Can we trust the Gospels? Yes we can.

More Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!

I’d been reading this for a while in between dipping into other books but I have now finished it. It is absolutely brilliant! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. And I do recommend reading it, not just for the plot itself but to understand the times. I’m not sure who said it but before reading anything from the past you should chant to yourself this phrase: ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there.’ Or do they?

To the book. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot by (Lady) Antonia Fraser. I have it in paperback. I bought it used via Amazon. The print is small and dense. There are two sections of pictures – that are great. There’s a detailed index, endnotes (I do not like endnotes), and a list of Reference Books (quite a few). There are also helpful footnotes (thumbs up) throughout the chapters. To be fair, the endnotes are mostly references with only the occasional note, and I scanned through them first so I didn’t need to refer to them while reading. The book is very detailed. She gives a great overview of the earlier reigns to set the scene for the arrival of James 1. In setting the scene though she doesn’t tell us about the St Bartholomew’s day massacre (1572) and I don’t remember any mention of the people Queen Mary (Bloody Mary, Queen in 1552) burnt at the stake. Fifty years or so isn’t that long, so it isn’t surprising sympathy for Catholics from some quarters is lacking.

Antonia Fraser wrote the book in 1996. This is significant. She wrote the book before 9/11 but I’m reading it post 9/11. Reading the book with that in mind the parallels are quite incredible. The author is obviously unaware when of writing and this makes it very interesting to read. I should mention the author is a Catholic. I’ve no idea how committed she is to her faith, but the bias I think is there. I knew this before reading so I wasn’t put off by this at all. She is a brilliant writer. And I think for the most part gives a fair account.

Robert Catesby and his band of terrorists wanted to blow up a mostly Protestant Parliament. That included the King and Queen and their children. Had they pulled it off this would have been a catastrophe for the country. There were to be Catholic Lords in ‘The House’ at the time, friends of his, but this was no deterrent to him. But it would have been uncharted territory and from that perspective, we are left with a lot of ‘what if’s.’ He was a fanatic. Not just any fanatic. He was a Catholic fanatic. He didn’t bring the Houses of Parliament down but he did bring down the wrath of the government and the ire of the King upon the Catholics in the country. The Toleration that Catholics wanted probably would have happened in time. As it eventually did in fact. But their cause had a huge setback.

What did the Government know? In the last chapter, she goes through a few views ranging from a Government plot instigated by Salisbury to complete ignorance. For me, Salisbury knew a lot, but it wasn’t a Government plot. They did need to catch them in the act. And so they caught Guido Fawkes preparing to set the thing off. It seems the powder had separated and might have been useless anyway but who knows.

Some of the questions the book raises are; The Power of The State, Freedom of Religion, Torture, Capital Punishment, and Fanaticism. All the conspirators that were caught were put to death in a horrible way. Father Garnet, the Jesuit leader in England was also put to death but mercifully died at the hanging stage. But here’s the thing about Father Garnet, he did know about the plot. He hid behind the confessional and kept quiet. But he definitely knew beforehand. Here’s something else to think about, should a Priest (or counselor) upon finding out about a crime, or possible crime report it to the authorities? She (the author) dwells upon the Catholic doctrine of Equivocation. (There’s a similar Islamic doctrine – do you get the parallels?) So initially when Father Garnet was being questioned he continued to equivocate. That is, he made it seem he knew nothing. When it finally comes out that he knew, the council rightly ask ‘why did you leave it till now to tell us?’ A fair question. We don’t know if he was tortured. Was Father Garnet, a Jesuit, the instigator of the plot. It was convenient to lay it all at the Jesuit door, but we don’t know. Robert Catesby was (conveniently some say) killed at Holbeach House and so was never questioned.

In the first three pages of the ‘Author’s Note,’ she provides a framework for the book, her aims and some questions she would like to see answered. Assuming the episode is a tragedy (it is) ‘Who was it a tragedy for?’ she asks. Other themes she cites are ‘Terror’ and ‘Terrorism’ thinking primarily of Northern Ireland and the Palestine / Israel conflict with no idea, as I said before, of what was to come. And by terror, she includes the terror of The State. She’s also keen to give a prominent place to women and so, for example, we read a lot about Ann Vaux.

Assuming then, a plot at all, she is ‘… concerned to convey actuality: that is to say, a sense of what an extraordinarily dramatic story it was, with all its elements of tragedy, brutality, [and] heroism …’ You may not, of course, agree with her answers, but whatever point of view you take on The Plot it’s still a brilliant book and a great read – I thought so anyway.

It’s quite a story and full of intrigue. I’m familiar with some of the places which made it more exciting to read. I was in Dunchurch and Ashby St Ledgers last November so I’ll try to post a few pictures.

 

‘Slowhand’ Eric Clapton Biography – Brief ‘Kind of’ Review

This year I’m trying to read a few non-Christian books. ‘Slowhand’ was on display at the local library, so I decided that it would be a good book to read. Slowhand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton by Philip Norman was published last year (2018), so is nicely up to date. I finished it a few weeks ago but as far as the readability goes, it’s easy going and I enjoyed reading it. The text is a nice size and the chapters divide up into easy chunks and are not too long. There’s even an Index (and I used it). As I go through the book I note the dates and think how old I was and what was going on at the time. For example, I was at the Rainbow Concert after just turning nineteen. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 25.

I’ve not picked a guitar up for nearly 40 years, and most likely won’t again, but I remember back then having very heated discussions in the pub over who was the greatest guitarist. At the time (early 1970’s), for me, it was Jan Akkerman (Focus). There were a lot of contenders, so Clapton was probably one of them. I do recall the ‘Clapton is God’ label. There are several songs that I really like. For example White Room, Bell Bottom Blues, Crossroads, and Sunshine of Your Love and even though I heard a lot of his music I never actually owned any of his albums (including Cream) until I recently bought a Best of Eric Clapton CD. I suppose, for me, and it is a matter of taste, the Blues is not my favourite style of music, although I appreciate it when it’s done well. In the Blues genre, Clapton is definitely one of its great exponents and I do like a lot of it.

The book starts with Eric in a Service Station with George Harrison. Initially, I thought it was going to miss his childhood but the author then takes us back to when Eric was born in Ripley. His early childhood, or the effects of it anyway, feature throughout his life. His mother left him when he was two. He thought his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother. He found out the terrible deception when he was nine. His grandmother Rose, spoilt him rotten (and continued to do so) and so consequently spoilt him.

Thankfully, there are no graphic descriptions but pretty much everybody, perhaps especially Clapton, lived totally promiscuous lifestyles: even when they were in ‘proper’ relationships or were married. It becomes a bit wearisome to continually read about his constant state of drunkenness or drug abuse. But that was how it was and the author faithfully records it all, while (most of the time) avoiding too many value judgments. There is some strong language in the book but It’s kept to a minimum and isn’t gratuitous. My language was quite extreme before becoming a Christian so to me it’s all quite tame.

I wondered if Clapton came into contact with Christians. He was brought up in a culturally Christian environment, as I was, so he would have some vague knowledge of the Christian faith. Vague knowledge, however, is most often completely wrong. After thinking about that the very next chapter found him undergoing radical treatment for his drug addiction by Christian doctors. The nurse was fired though because her evangelism was a bit too ‘full on’.

The temptation is to be judgemental about him and think of him as a spoilt brat (which he was) who seemed to get away with just about anything and everything (which he mostly did) whilst in the main avoiding the carnage he created for others around him. The way he treated the women in is his life is appalling. So appalling that it becomes impossible for the author not to say something. As the saying goes, however, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ No matter how much money or talent he had, ultimately, it couldn’t protect him from himself or later tragedy. It’s quite amazing that he has survived as long as he has. So many of his musical peers died while young.

He becomes a father and this finally begins to wake him up to some responsibility. And then tragedy strikes. In just one short paragraph (one sentence really) Norman writes about the death of Connor, Clapton’s four-year-old son. What happened is jaw-dropping. It stopped me in my tracks. So, so, sad.  The service was held in Ripley. I’ve no idea what Christian content there was at the funeral apart from the set C of E service.

In Christian circles, you hear the phrase ‘I don’t know how I’d cope if I weren’t a Christian. But people do. And sometimes they cope rather well. It’s not a phrase I like, even though I understand what’s meant. Clapton appears to change after this. He quits the drugs and the drink and takes control of his life. The last two chapters, I thought, were a bit rushed as we read that his grandmother Rose eventually dies, as does his mother, probably the two most influential people in his life. And so here we are in 2019 and Clapton is still playing. He survived. That is remarkable.

I’d definitely recommend reading it. Especially if you are a fan. I think it was good for me to read it.