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Best Christian books: the debate continues

by
24 October 2014

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From Professor Richard Bauckham

Sir, - The omission of Calvin's Institutes from the Church Times list of 100 Best Christian Books is bewildering, as two correspondents have already indicated (Letters, 17 October). Almost as astonishing is the absence of anything by Martin Luther (The Freedom of a Christian would have been the most obvious choice). But, if we also take account of the comments of one of the judges on Foxe's Book of Martyrs ("a terrible book, in every sense"), which was evidently included in the list only with very strong misgivings, it looks as though the judges would prefer us to forget the Reformation. Is it accidental that Foxe's Book of Martyrs is followed immediately in the list by Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars - as an antidote?

Other books that, I think, deserve to be on such a list include (in chronological order): Athanasius, On the Incarnation; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History; Thomas of Celano, Two Lives of St Francis of Assisi; Alexander Carmichael (ed.), Carmina Gadelica; John Baillie, And the Life Everlasting; Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society; Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (just as ground-breaking and influential as The Crucified God) and The Way of Jesus Christ (my favourite among his later books); Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology; and Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems.

All of these (like most on the list of 100) can be highly recommended to contemporary readers, whereas a few books on the list of 100 are books one should know about (because they were of critical importance in their time), but from which there is little to be gained by actually reading now. I would put Lux Mundi and Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus in that category.

RICHARD BAUCKHAM

11 Archway Court

Cambridge CB3 9LW

 

From the Revd Dr C. J.-B. Hammond

Sir, - St Augustine (Letters, 17 October) was brought up in North Africa, of Berber blood on his mother's side and perhaps on his father's, too. But he was dismissive of both the native African language and people (Berber, Libyan), and the Semitic (Phoenician, Punic). Moreover, he dedicated all his energies as Bishop of Hippo (also in North Africa) to exterminating Donatism; and Donatism was not only - or even principally - a doctrinal heresy, but a separatist movement founded on African identity (tied to the Donatist Church) rather than Roman (tied to the Catholic Church).

So if you want to claim him as an African, you have to accept that he was a traitor to his own blood and people, who embraced the culture, religion (Catholic Christianity), and, above all, language of Rome, not Africa.

It's all a bit irrelevant to the appraisal of his works as they challenge us today.

CALLY HAMMOND

Gonville and Caius College

Cambridge CB2 1TA

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