Recommended Book List

1) Non-Violent Communication, A Language of Compassion (Marshall Rosenberg)

Rosenberg contrasts our ‘jackal’ minds, ever critical and judgemental, with our ‘giraffe’ hearts, the giraffe having the largest heart of any animal. He develops a technique by which we can escape from our jackal minds, which is not easy. The four steps of observations, feelings, needs and requests form an endless loop by which we can learn to communicate empathically with ourselves and others. The elimination of ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’, and ‘have to’, with all their implication of compulsion, from our speech has a wonderful liberating effect.
“Only 200 pages of large type. Contains many example and test questionnaires to ensure understanding. Used for conflict resolution. I like to call it ‘Alexander Technique for the Soul’. Just as AT frees the body, so NVC frees the mind. Requires lifelong study and practice.”
Recommended by Michael Hell.

2) Why Go To Church? (Timothy Radcliffe)

An unorthodox candidate for Master of the Dominicans, Radcliffe is not afraid to confront any difficulty. He explores the meaning of liturgy, that we come to perform by rote, through reflection, and suggests that the Eucharistic works at a deep level, transforming our humanity, so that we share God’s life. He presents his meditation in three acts, Faith, Hope and Love, each explored in a series of scenes. The whole book encourages us to take a new look at what we are doing in the Eucharist. If it is indeed a drama of which we are both participant and observer, does it make sense for us to be so wrapped up in our personal devotions, rather than sharing the stage with each other keeping an eye on what’s happening?
Recommended by Michael Hell

3) The Last Week (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan)

This is a reflection on what the Gospels (particularly Mark) really teach about Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. It begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus entering in a peasant procession in contrast with a second imperial procession of Pontius Pilate, a demonstration of imperial power and Roman imperial theology. Mark’s message to the young Christians, written probably about 70 AD, when the Romans had invaded Jerusalem and burnt down the Temple, is consistent with the non-violent message of Jesus. Mark also emphasizes failed discipleship and in particular criticizes Peter James and John for acting like tyrants and rulers of the imperial world. They fail to understand Jesus, unlike the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet. She is for Mark the first believer, the beloved disciple? In The Last Week we meet a passionate and engaging Jesus, a man who gave up his life to protest against power without justice and to condemn the oppression of the poor by the rich, who invites us to follow him today.
Recommended by Brian Parr

4) A Great New Story (Don Cupitt)

Christianity’s classic plan of salvation was a vast myth of cosmic Creation, Fall and Redemption. Earth-centred and supernaturalist, it was fatally damaged by Galileo and later astronomers, and by historians of human origin. In A Great New Story, the author rewrites the old grand-narrative as the story of how religion called us out of nature and gradually made us ourselves: social beings in an ordered world, language using and self-aware. Religious ideas, whether they build a civilization or inspire criticism of it, are always leading ideas. They made us everything we that we are. Cupitt sees the history of religion culminating in Jesus, who announced a new age in which human beings are at last fully themselves, fully reconciled to each other and to life. However, the message was lost by over a thousand years of Church control. But where is the new Christ? Maybe no new Jesus is needed. A return of the old one, rediscovered at last, might be the best.
Recommended by Brian Parr

5) Jesus, Uncovering the life, teachings and relevance of a religious revolutionary (Marcus J Borg)

He distinguishes the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus. This book deals mainly with the former as a Jewish mystic and revolutionary. I particularly liked the quotation: “Jesus is a much under-rated man: to deny his humanity is to deny his greatness.”
Recommended by Michael Hell

6) The Heart of Christianity, Rediscovering a life of faith (Marcus J Borg)

He emphasises the need for a metaphorical rather than literal understanding of the stories. Faith is about ‘beloving’ God rather than assenting to a set of propositions.
Recommended by Michael Hell

7) Speaking Christian, Recovering the lost meaning of Christian words (Marcus J Borg)

This is exactly what he does in a series of chapters on the individual words.
Recommended by Michael Hell

8) Conceiving God, The cognitive origin and evolution of religion (David Lewis-Williams)

Borg’s whole project depends on God as experienced by the individual person. God transcends the Universe which we can explore with our senses, but at the same time is in everything, i.e. both transcendent and immanent. Such an entity can only be a construct of the human imagination. Some sort of interaction with the supernatural has been a feature of human experience for tens of thousands of years: from earliest times, people have felt the need for something beyond this world.

In this connection Lewis-Williams’s book may be of interest. He is a cognitive archaeologist. He traces the development of religious ideas from earliest times as a natural functioning of the human brain, and the conflict between religion and the science that developed under its wing. He personally believes that “The human heart’s resource of loving kindness will prove more than adequate” to meet the need for goodness. If we recognise that all religions are the social expression of individual experience and should help us to work together, we may become more tolerant: we may still find them useful as a way of feeling less isolated in the absence of any other ‘old school tie’.
Recommended by Michael Hell

9) Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (John Shelby Spong)

Spong frees readers from a literal view of the Bible. He takes us from Genesis to the end of the New Testament. I like Spong because he has the ability to put academic debate into a very readable form, digging out the main points as he presents the Bible as an ever-changing and always growing story. He is such a prolific writer that you get to know his style and begin to understand the basis on which he thinks. He is a definitive voice for progressive Christianity, and shows how much of the NT is based on OT writings, including the suggestion that some of the NT characters are imaginary composites, or even literary creations – such as Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus; Judas Iscariot; Nicodemus; the Samaritan woman at the well, and Lazarus. The cover uses the words “stripping the Bible of the Church’s Dogma to reveal its true meaning.” A good read and a good reference book.
Recommended by Brian Parr

10) Rescuing Religion, How faith can survive its encounter with science (John Van Hagen)

In this book psychologist Dr John Van Hagen discusses the conflict between science and religion that has been brought on by recent advances in Near Eastern archaeology, biblical studies, and historical research. The danger, as he sees it, is that most people will hold rigidly to only one side of the conflict, be it religion or science, to the exclusion of the other. He uses examples of eminent figures of our own time – Victor Frankel, Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev – who struggled with analogous conflicts and forged new contexts and concepts to resolve them. He suggests that there is a scientific consensus which says that there is no good evidence to support the historicity of the traditional biblical stories. This book spoke to me as I was wondering what message the biblical stories, such as Joshua’s raid on Canaan, and Jonah’s journey to Ninevah, as traditionally depicted in the church, really gave to young children. How could we reconcile an all loving God with the intentions of these biblical characters? “If we are to evolve,” Van Hagen writes, “we need more than reason; we need a mythical view that inspires us to face the crises of our time”. However, Van Hagen calls not so much for a new religious myth as for a humanizing story that includes everyone, and nature as well, in a community dedicated to life, more life, and the best possible life for all. These words, I believe, fit well with what others like Spong, above, also write about.
Recommended by Brian Parr

11) Why Christianity Must Change or Die (John Shelby Spong, 1998)

I got this second hand and would lend it to anybody interested. There is an interesting chapter on prayer.
Recommended by Michael Hell

12) Christian Beginnings (Geza Vermes)

His latest book, just out, sets Jesus in his time and then traces the development of doctrine up to Nicaea. His postscript ends: Whoever makes him into God/Does outrage to his holy will. For anybody who has not read Vermes’ earlier books, this presentation of his life’s work gives the complete picture in just 244 pages.
Recommended by Brian Parr

13) The Power of Parable, How fiction by Jesus became fiction about Jesus (John Dominic Crossan, 2012)

I have read the above book for the second time and am trying to absorb its powerful writing. Crossan isn’t easy to read but having got to know his style and persisting with the book I have found this very influential on my understanding of the Gospel. It is certainly a provocative book, but because it is written by the foremost world New Testament scholar it is believable and remarkable in how one can understand the Bible in a new light. Could it be that we have been reading parables presuming them to be history, and misunderstood them both? Could Jesus’ use of parables have inspired the Gospel writers to create meaningful, metaphorical stories about Jesus to help them explain who he really was? If you really want a progressive understanding of the Gospel I recommend that you read this book, however you need to stick with it and absorb its meaning.
Recommended by Brian Parr

14) The Myth of God Incarnate (John Hick, Editor, 1977)

This is an older book and has contributions from Michael Goulder, Frances Young, Leslie Houlden, Don Cupitt, Maurice Wiles and Denis Nineham. I particularly like the chapter by John Hick who puts Jesus in a pluralistic setting. In the Mahayanist development of Buddhism, the founder Gautama, who lived from 563 to 483 BC, is exalted to the heavenly Buddha and hence is thought to be the incarnation of a transcendent, pre-existent Buddha as the human Jesus came to be thought of as in the incarnation of the pre-existent Logos. Thus Buddhology and Christology developed in comparable ways. However John Hick suggests that “the Western mythology of the incarnation of the Son of God must not be allowed to function as an iron mask from within which alone Jesus is allowed to speak to mankind. The Jesus who is for the world is not the property of the human organization called the Christian church, nor is he confined within its theoretical constructions”.The book poses the question “What does Jesus mean to you?”
Recommended by Brian Parr

15) Leaving Alexandria, A Memoir of Faith and Doubt. (Richard Holloway)

Holloway has a number of books to his name. This is an autobiography of Holloway which covers how he left a poor background in Glasgow and started as a student at Kelham Hall, near Newark, Nottinghamshire, an Anglican Seminary to train for the ‘Sacred Priesthood of the Church.’ Through a varied number of appointments, both in the UK and in the United States, he eventually became Bishop of Edinburgh. He is an outspoken radical critic of much of the Church and even received a ‘fatwa’ from the Archbishop of Canterbury, at one point, for his excessive views. He was very put out by the ugly things said at the 1998 Lambeth Conference on the subject of homosexuality. As with women’s ordination, there was a wild variety of opinion on the subject. Holloway was a patron of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and was not welcomed, particularly by the African bishops, who forced an unconstitutional debate on a subject that had already been dealt with by an official sub-group of the conference. Many bishops got up to denounce the wickedness of lovers of their own sex. He suggests that behind Lambeth’s contempt for gay men, lay a deeper contempt for women. It began the unravelling of the Anglican Communion. He resigned in 2000 and has a number of books to his name.
Recommended by Brian Parr

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