Intelligent Christian Books
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Date: 07 July, 2004

South Africa

To buy any of the titles, click on the title or cover


'Christians aren't completely stupid, or at least not as a general rule.'

Explain this to me.

Christians aren't completely stupid, or at least not as a general rule. Some of the great minds of history have been Christians. You could quite easily knock off an ABC of heavyweight Godbothering thinkers - Aquinas, Boethius, Calvin, Dostoevsky, Erigena... You might get a bit stuck at the end, but it can be done, at a stretch. Christians invented flying buttresses and classical music, the scientific experiment and the stirrup.

So, what is it with Christian bookshops? With the galaxy of philosophical issues the Christian faith gives you to think about, the world of political and social issues it requires you to engage with, and the 2000 years of history, literature and learning it offers for your exploration, how come all my local Christian bookshops seem to sell are glib spiritual self-help books and celebrity biographies? Ten Steps to a More Prayerful Fruit Life (And vice versa), and Mission Implausible: The unverifiable miracles of Ken Splendid.

So here's the antidote: books for Christians with brains. Hang on, don't run away yet. These gems are not full of phrases like 'eschatological praxis', for people whose idea of a good night in is curling up with Aquinas's Summa Theologica and a cup of Ovaltine. They're interesting books for normal human beings that might give you something to think about.

The History of Christian ThoughtClick to buy
Jonathan Hill, Lion

Sounds fun, doesn't it? An unputdownable, action-packed, laugh-out-loud bedside
paperback. Believe it or not, that's exactly what it is. Hill picks about 50 of the Christians who had the most interesting, original and influential thoughts about life, God and matter related, tells you their stories, and then introduces you to their ideas.

Hill has a wonderful ability to cut to the theological chase, explaining the most complex ideas in a lively way that makes perfect sense, and moving on to the next guy before you lose interest, all laced with fascinating and funny titbits, like Origen failing to be a martyr because his mum hid his clothes, and Gregory the Great hiding in a basket because he didn1t want to be Pope.

Goethe said whoever cannot draw on 3000 years of thinking is living from hand to mouth. This book will stock your fridge. It will give you a clear basic grasp of all the great debates about God and religion, and show you how and from what the Christian faith of today evolved. What more do you want me to say? Buy this book and read it. Do us all a favour and stop being so ignorant. Don't read the rest of this article, just get your card and hit the link.

The Bible from ScratchClick to buy
Simon Jenkins, Lion

Still here? Why do I bother?

The Bible from Scratch is a book for people who got a big book with a cross on it when they were christened and put it on a shelf next to the Reader's Digest Book of British Birds, and the only time they ever took it down to try and make sense of it and find the good bits, found the experience like browsing through cable TV trying to find something watchable.

In fact even those of us who know our way round the good book could use some help explaining how it ties together and the story behind it. Simon Jenkins, editor of Ship of Fools, is here to guide and explain.

His book is packed with cartoons, ancient etchings making sarky comments, and couldn't be easier reading unless you took all the words out - in which case reading it would be impossible. It holds your hand through all 66 books, pointing out the landmarks, and adding all kind of groovy extras: the lost sayings of Jesus and the books that didn't make it in; who were Baal and the Pharisees; the top ten most unpopular prophets. Better than the real thing? You decide.

In the Footsteps of Saint PaulClick to buy
Edward Stourton, Hodder & Stoughton

In the Footsteps of Saint Paul, isn't an introduction to anything. Its getting intimately and deeply acquainted with someone we were all introduced to a long time ago. There's no shortage of books on Paul (my own unnecessary contribution to the European Paul mountain comes out in September). What sets this one apart is that it's written by a reporter rather than a scholar - Stourton is presents Today on Radio 4 - and it's refreshingly full of interesting details, clear storytelling, travel writing and interviews, instead of theological peatbogging. He doesn't even use the word 'Christology'.

He goes places the Paul industry has never been - from a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch about Paul, to exploring Hitler's attitude to the apostle. (Hated him.) He compares Paul's conversion to Bush's, and his adopted home Antioch to Beverly Hills. It is a compelling portrait of a very human saint. Every one today who follows Jesus sees him through a lens crafted by Paul. A person of that influence is worth getting to know.

Lion HistoriesClick to buy

This bright and beautiful series of books has been appearing for a couple of years each taking an interesting character or period from church history and telling their stories, from Jesus and his World to Faith in the Medieval
World. They're gorgeously illustrated, packed with photos and ancient art, plus lots of quotes and fact boxes.

The best I've read is Christianity and the Celts by Ted Olson. My Christian bookshop has a million books of Celtic spirituality, but they're mostly 21st-century fantasy written for people who live in Berkshire. This is the real thing, a wonderful and witty read, full of bizarre saints, heroic exploits and crazy legends where monks battle with naked women and picnic on giant fish. OK, so it also has its fair share of fantasy, but it's genuine 7th-century fantasy, and not a bodhran in sight. culture index