Beauty’s Vineyard by Kimberly Vrudny (Liturgical Press, £22.99). Vrudny’s iteration of the vineyard, the home of God’s beloved community, is intended as “a spiritual anchor for Christians struggling to discern how best to live”. Surrounded by so many sources of anxiety and despair, we are asked to consider beauty as an expression of God’s compassion. That sounds woolly, but Vrudny ably combines serious systematic theology (tackling issues including the Trinity, Christology, atonement, suffering and hope) with analysis of art works by modern social-realist painters. The results are mixed but the experiment is gutsy.
A Church of the Poor by Clemens Sedmak (Orbis Books, £23.99). Subtitled “Pope Francis and the Transformation of Orthodoxy”, this book describes the theocentric nature of the Church, ie “a kenotic Church, a Church that is stripped of the spirit of power and wealth”. It shows how this impinges on the meaning of orthodoxy. There are five chapters: “The Joy of the Gospel”, “Orthodoxy as Discipleship”, “Poverty and the Wound of Knowledge”, “A Church of the Poor” and “Faith in Practice.” As Sedmak, who teaches at King’s College, London as well as at Notre Dame in the US, writes, “Love is the key.”
Humanism and the Death of God by Ronald E Osborn (Oxford University Press, £55). How can secular humanism operate on the ethical level without some kind of anchor, some sense of ultimate arbitration? Well, despite what Ronald Osborn appears to think, it can operate perfectly well on a day-to-day practical level even if, deep in the theoretical undergrowth, there is always going to be something missing. Searching for the good after Darwin, Marx and Nietzsche, to borrow Osborn’s subtitle, is entirely possible. Osborn is right about one thing, though: a moral centre is much easier to locate in the “especially rich soil” of the Christian narrative.
Practical Theology and Qualitative Research by John Swinton and Harriet Mowat (SCM Press, £25). Theology at the coalface, according to the editors, requires both a hermeneutic of suspicion and a hermeneutic of generosity (the sense that, through God’s gifts to us, we may just get things right). This comprehensively updated second edition is likely to help, too. It encourages interaction with the methods of social science and provides numerous insightful case studies of research – everything from dealing with suicide and depression to musings on the nature of chaplaincy.
Who Am I to Judge? by Edward Sri (Ignatius Press, £13.99). The author, professor of theology at the Augustine Institute, examines the famous question of Pope Francis by “Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love” as his subtitle puts it. With chapter headings including “Relativism is not Neutral” and “Making Judgments vs Judging Souls”, Sri demonstrates why truth is objective rather than subjective. Catholic morality, he explains, is all about love. We all need to be equipped to stand up for moral truth, with Jesus rather than Pontius Pilate, remembering that Christ is the way, the truth and the life.
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