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Taking issue with our panel’s selection of the 100 Best Christian Books

17 October 2014


From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, - Those who approve the choice of two works by St Augustine in your top ten books (100 Best Christian Books, 10 October) may not be aware that John Burnaby, then Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, used to say: "It is a thousand pities the Church did not condemn Augustine as a heretic" - for linking sex with Original Sin, thus saddling the Church ever since with a hang-up with sex, infinitely damaging women and homosexuals.

Jostein Gaarder's Vita Brevis is a letter to St Augustine. It is a well-researched, verisimilitudinous commentary on Augustine's writings, purporting to be by his lover of 12 years. Typically, the woman is nameless in the Confessions; Gaarder calls her Floria Aemilia. Their illegitimate son is named: Augustine named him Adeodatus (Gift from God).

Gaarder notes that, in De Bono Coniugali, Augustine says that a man who dismisses a faithful lover to marry another is guilty of infidelity. Though Augustine did not marry another, Gaarder offers a Freudian guilt-induced explanation for his theology.

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, - The judges chose no African, Caribbean, or Indian books among your 100 Best Christian Books (26 September, 3 and 10 October), although Indian Christianity, for example, is centuries older than British Christianity. We might have thought that St Augustine of Hippo was an African, but the Revd Dr Cally Hammond tellingly claims his Confessions as a work of European literature.

Perhaps the judges' choices were conditioned by their own ethnicity. Perhaps the short list of 120 presented to them is the explanation. Perhaps the long list of 700 based on your reviewers' nominations had few, if any, African, Caribbean, or Indian books.

Among Indian examples, books such as At the Master's Feet by Sadhu Sundar Singh and The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance by M. M. Thomas have had a profound influence.

General Synod member
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER


From the Revd K. C. Fabricius

Sir, - Having written several theological and cultural lists for the blog "Faith and Theology", I well know how difficult they are to compile. All things considered, I think your list of 100 Best Christian Books is a pretty good one.

I also know that all readers will have their own quibbles: I, too. I like C. S. Lewis (almost) as much as the next groupie, but five entries? Not only are two quite enough, but think of the three spaces it would open up for your only significant poetry oversight, W. H. Auden's Collected Poems, as well as for a couple of serious omissions from your fiction, namely Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Flannery O'Connor's Complete Stories.

As for theology, not only Americans should be puzzled by the absence of Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology and John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus.

Finally, your top ten: it nicely resolved several concerns I had, going into the final week - except for one. No Calvin's Institutes? You gotta be kidding.

17 Carnglas Road
Swansea SA2 9BJ


From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, - Thank you for your top ten Christian books. Ten others worth a mention are Calvin's Institutes (shaping Protestant thought for 450 years); D. A. Carson on St John's Gospel (a new standard in commentaries); Cranmer on the Lord's Supper (explaining the Prayer Book service); Eileen Crossman's Mountain Rain (encouragement for missionaries); Martyn Lloyd-Jones's Spiritual Depression (genius from the Doctor); Luther's On the Bondage of the Will (sparking the Reformation); Bruce Milne's Know the Truth (a student staple); J. C. Ryle on Holiness (an episcopal classic); John Stott's Cross of Christ (incomparable); and John Wesley's Forty-Four Sermons (a Methodist cornerstone). Of course, Ecclesiastes 12.12 applies ("Of making many books there is no end").

The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY


From Mr Roderick Smith

Sir, - Thank you for the Church Times 100 Best Christian Books. I was pleased to find on your list several books that have benefited my spiritual and intellectual development. Your compilation has encouraged me to seek out and read others. I was dismayed, however, that the list did not have a single book that explores the relationship of science with Christianity.

Your judges are all very worthy, but, to my knowledge, none has any scientific background. Perhaps this explains why I looked in vain for any book by such profound thinkers and engaging writers as Thomas Torrance, John Polkinghorne, Arthur Peacocke, Keith Ward, or Alister McGrath.

Oh, and where was the influential A Secular Age by Charles Taylor? Was it even considered?

Ashbrook House, The Green
East Hanney, Wantage OX12 0HQ


From the Bishop of Chester

Sir, - Your 100 Best Christian Books omits the enduring and foundational text of patristic theology, Against Heresies by St Irenaeus, and also Richard Hooker's equally foundational, Anglican text Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

I don't normally despair of the Church of England, but I'm reconsidering my position.

Bishop's House, Abbey Square
Chester CH1 2JD

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