Three Inch Reviews
One of the tasks that I enjoy is ordering new titles for the store. In a year I pour through hundreds of publisher catalogues as well as reading thousands of reviews published in New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Christianity Today, New York Times Book Review, First Things, Englewood Review of Books, plus the endless book mentions on blogs, in op-ed columns, word-of-mouth, and it goes on. The end result is that here at Regent Bookstore it is Christmas every day and regular shipments of books arrive! All this reading tends to give a bookstore buyer knowledge that is a mile-wide and hopefully a little more than an inch deep. In thinking on this I have decided to start sharing short reviews under the heading of Three Inch Reviews. I have spent years in close proximity to so many titles that I have not actually read even if having an acquaintance with many of them, and even readily recommending them. In this last part of my bookselling career I am thinking it would be good to share some of this knowledge with brief summaries. Here is the second installment.
Hurtado, a naturalized Canadian who taught first at Regent College and then for many years at University of Manitoba before finishing his teaching career at the University of Edinburgh, makes the point, using a case study of early Christianity, that some religions can vary considerably from other surrounding religious movements. Christianity in the first century was a “broadside rejection” of the gods of the Roman world and was viewed as “bizarre” and even “dangerous” despite numbering perhaps only 7-10,000 followers by 100 AD. Tensions increased as the movement grew exponentially. A broadly “catholic” Christianity developed, and along with Judaism, were the only religious expressions to survive this period. In the four chapters that follow, Hurtado demonstrates the distinctive belief of the biblical faith in but one God and the unique place given Jesus by his early followers; the exclusive religious identity taken on; the early Christian movement as distinctive in its “bookishness”; and finally the distinctiveness of its behavioral practices that included a refusal to “expose” children, a rejection of spectacles such as gladiator contests, and the taking on of sexual moral codes that confined sex to marriage. Destroyer of the Gods is a very important study with much to think on for our cultural moment.
Peter Marshall's Heretics and Believers is a vivid account of the English Reformation by one of the most able historians writing on this subject today. His book integrates and responds to the latest scholarship, but does not get mired in these debates. Instead, it furnishes a readable and beautiful narrative that will both inform and delight. Moreover, as a practicing Catholic, Marshall writes with an insider's knowledge and sympathy about the reform and rupture of the Christian faith during this transformative period. The accent is placed on the importance of religious belief for all parties rather than simply viewing reform for the guise of the machinations of the state. The Reformation “was a flowering of late medieval developments, seeded and germinated in the political, cultural and religious soil of the decades around 1500.” There is a warm Christian faith on evidence throughout the book and especially in the postscript. Mark Noll has labelled the book “a treasure”. Marshall has also this year published 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation. For those who want a briefer treatment of the subject, one can consult Marshall’s The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction.