Finalists announced for new writing prize

by
02 November 2006

THE Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing is a new, biennial award inaugurated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The intention is to encourage “good and accessible theology that is judged to contribute most towards advancing theology and making a serious contribution to the faith and life of the Church”, the prize’s rules say.

A range of books, published between January 2000 and June 2004, were nominated by a panel made up of Anglican Primates from various provinces, leaders of some British Christian bodies, Anglican diocesan bishops, and principals of theological colleges.

There are six judges who will choose the winner, which is to be announced on 12 July, at the end of the General Synod.

The winning author will receive a prize of £15,000. The award is sponsored by the Lambeth Fund in partnership with SPCK.

The judges are:
• The Archbishop of Canterbury;
• Jane Williams, visiting lecturer in theology at King’s College, London;
• Mary Ann Sieghart, assistant editor of The Times;
• Canon Oliver O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford;
• P. D. James, novelist and lay patron of the Prayer Book Society;
• the Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich.

The following are extracts from independent reviews of the shortlisted books, all of which were published in the Church Times, except for that of Living and Active.

A Christian Theology of Place by John Inge (Ashgate, £16.99 (CT Bookshop £15.30); 0-7546-3499-X)

Dr John Inge is the Suffragan Bishop of Huntingdon.

  *

AFTER a review of the significance of place in the Christian scriptures, Inge comes to the heart of his project, which is to argue for a sacramental theology of place which allows us to steer a middle course between ignoring the significance of place and exalting it idolatrously.

He reinstates the importance of the encounter with God in and through the natural world, outside of the rather sterile debates about natural theology. He argues that the biblical narrative leads us to expect God’s self-revelation, and that this self-revelation is precisely bound up with place.

The place of encounter (Bethel) is important to the person who has the experience, but may become important to others also. Thus the tradition of holy places develops. From here, Inge goes on to pilgrimage, and pleads for Christians to cherish their holy places.

I agree with Dr Inge that a new respect for place is vital in a world remorselessly globalised by the big corporations and the new imperialism; and in that respect, his book is especially timely and helpful.
From a review by Professor Timothy Gorringe.

Furthering Humanity: A theology of culture by Timothy Gorringe (Ashgate, £17.99 (£16.20); 0-7546-4032-9)

Dr Timothy Gorringe is Professor of Theological Studies at Exeter University.

*

TIMOTHY GORRINGE’s theology is both reassuring and disturbing. He offers reassurance in relation to the integrity, authenticity and plausibility of Christian faith at a time when pluralism and relativism threaten to undermine Christian confidence. But he is a disturbing writer because he consistently contends that in relation to culture Christianity cannot be collusive, but will always be a destabilising
force.

There are three sections in this informed and compelling treatment of the relationship between gospel and culture. The first scouts the territory covered by various accounts of culture, with important chapters on the relationship of religion, faith and culture, and the discourse of cultural imperialism.

The key theological point here is that both theology and culture are concerned with the totality of human endeavour, but religion, though part of culture, is not reducible to it. The doctrine of the incarnation confirms God’s commitment to culture, and God as Spirit acts in the context of culture to affirm life in all its fullness. Above all, a trinitarian theology of culture would be a theology of diversity in unity, so that the imperative for Christians to confront inappropriate uses of power in the world (the subject of section two) becomes ever more pressing.

The final section offers a robust account of the way in which Christian mission can be pursued with integrity in a culture in which respect for difference and equality are at the heart of ethical discourse.
From a review by Dr John Saxbee.

Human Worth: A Christian vindication of equality by Duncan Forrester (SCM, £17.95 (£16.20); 0-334-02825-6)

Dr Duncan Forrester is a former Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh.

HERE is a powerful and impassioned book, persuasive despite its flaws. Dr Forrester holds that a decent society is one in which there is a recognition in principle and practice of the equal worth of human beings.

Furthermore, he claims that this egalitarianism is deeply rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Dr Forrester begins with the world and with one of its citizens: Munuswamy, a beggar he regularly met on the streets of Madras. Dr Forrester believes that, for all the complexities of the notion, equality is a moral norm and the pursuit of it a moral duty.

He then turns to the Bible where he finds strands in its story which resonate with this view, notably the first creation narrative and the testimony of Jesus of Nazareth. With his conviction that people should be treated equally thus enriched by his reading of scripture — and by revisiting forgotten springs such as the life and work of R. H. Tawney — Dr Forrester turns back to Munuswamy’s world and ours, and considers what must be done.

It is a tract for our times.
From a review by Dr John Pridmore.

The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian origins and the question of God by N. T. Wright (SPCK, £35 (£31.50); 0-281-05550-5)

Dr N. T. (Tom) Wright is the Bishop of Durham.

THE present book, with 738 pages of text, is the third of five volumes that will (it is hoped) make up the project entitled “Christian Origins and the Question of God”. It is devoted solely to the question of resurrection, and the resurrection of Jesus in particular.

It is chiefly a historical and exegetical project, but has strong doctrinal overtones and eventual conclusions. So we begin with a survey of beliefs concerning life after death in the Graeco-Roman world of the first century: no ground-laying here for beliefs about the resurrection of anybody. Then the Jewish tradition, where, indeed, in its later pre-Christian phases, such beliefs begin to appear, not universally, but commonly enough to command our attention, and to serve as a conceptual ground for the subsequent Christian claims about Jesus.

Dr Wright is satisfied that he has answered the historical question in the affirmative. Much the best explanation of the texts is that Jesus did indeed rise from the tomb, and, for a time, appeared to his own. In pursuit of his conclusion, Wright is relentless. No point is left undiscussed, no argument untreated. Not often is quarter given to people who think differently.
From a review by Professor Leslie Houlden.

Living and Active: Scripture in the economy of Salvation by Telford Work (Eerdmans, £24.99 (£22.50); 0-8028-4724-2)

Dr Telford Work is Assistant Professor of Theology at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

*

FIRMLY within the discipline of systematic theology, this volume addresses the nature, authority and theology of the Bible as scripture.

Within the traditional divisions of dogmatic theology, this would stand in the section categorised as “the doctrine of scripture”.

But Dr Work does not merely list scripture’s properties or attributes, backed by proof-texts. He provides a genuinely theological exploration of many of the historical and contemporary problems that beset claims for the unique authority, function and status of the Bible for the Church.

He seeks to formulate a full-blooded doctrine of scripture largely disengaged from the tired, well-worn, categories and simplistic appeals of most of the traditional conservative works on the subject. From the beginning, he sets the Bible within the frame of God’s “self involvements” in creation and redemption. To this end, he explores “the God of Word” in the respective perspectives of Athanasius, Augustine, Barth and Balthasar.

This volume constitutes a major and constructive contribution to its fascinating subject. It carries the debate forward and deserves to be widely read.
From a review in the International Journal of Systematic Theology by Professor Anthony Thiselton

‘When he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan said that one of his priorities was theological education. But that’s not something that happens only in colleges and universities. All Christians need encouragement to think more deeply about their faith.

The aim of the Michael Ramsey Book Prize is to get people reading some of the best theological books around at the moment. We asked Christian leaders of all denominations, as well as theological educators, to tell us which books they thought a wider Christian audience would really enjoy, and, from that list, we shortlisted five.

We then chose judges to represent different parts of the Christian reading public, though I have to say that we also chose people that we knew we would really enjoy discussing books with. All the judges we asked said yes at once, though it meant reading frantically. Now we are really looking forward to the judging process.

We decided that Rowan and I would have only one vote between us, so as not to give the Williams household too much weight in the final decision. We haven’t quite worked out what happens if the two of us disagree.

Whichever book wins, we hope people will read them all, and then, perhaps, be inspired to go on reading, or even to write a book themselves. Who knows, yours might win next time.’
Jane Williams

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