Through glasses darkly

17th February 1995 at 00:00
Key Christian Beliefs By Chris Wright Lion Publishing Pounds 6.50. 0 7459 2648 7. Christian Perspectives on Contemporary Issues By Diana Morgan The Canterbury Press Pounds 6.95. 1 85311 110 4

At the start of Key Christian Beliefs, Chris Wright reminds us that we can't hope to understand someone else's world-view unless we look through their "spectacles". His book is an attempt to help pupils try on those spectacles of value and belief through which a specifically Christian vision of the world appears. He is not asking them to accept such an outlook, but to try to understand Christian points of view.

This is a well-conceived and clearly written approach which will certainly assist in understanding Christianity at key stages 3 and 4. Wright shows considerable skill in deciding where to look through the complex and multi-faceted Christian lens, and is adept at explaining those concepts which sometimes threaten to cloud it. His handling of the Trinity, for example, is first rate.

Abundant colour photos and illustrations in the book are carefully chosen to enhance the content. They also add to the sense of a vibrant, up-to-date and wide-ranging approach.

There are a few small flaws. Picturing a Sumo wrestler as an example of how people abuse their bodies (page 29) suggests a failure to take off our own cultural spectacles and look at such a phenomenon through Japanese eyes and values. More substantially, the summaries given at the end of each section too often take the form: "Christians believe that . . .", risking obscuring the extent to which Christianity itself is a richly diverse faith.

Beside Chris Wright's energetic, colourful and imaginative book, Christian Perspectives on Contemporary Issues (updated and revised from earlier editions) appears rather dull - but then Wright's book is likely to outshine many established standbys in the RE library. The 35 units in Perspectives follow too inflexible a pattern, and the sections on "Check Your Understanding" and "Test Yourself on Facts", although useful in some teaching contexts, seem too often merely to ask for a straightforward regurgitation of details just given.

There are, however, some good information sections on interesting Christian figures such as Dame Cicely Saunders and organisations like Traidcraft but the book is peppered with somewhat questionable material. For example, the section on the environment risks downplaying the extreme seriousness of pollution by putting too much emphasis on wastepaper and graffiti; the suggestion, in the section on conservation, that if a school is not already affiliated to a County Trust for Nature, pupils should "form a pressure group to bring this about", is inappropriately partisan; the interpretation of not bargaining with hostage-taking terrorists in terms of agape is frankly incredible; and treating unemployment and leisure in the same section seems ill-judged.

It is always useful to see things from different points of view. Chris Wright and Diana Morgan offer two quite different approaches to Christianity. Both contain useful classroom material. But, while the "spectacles" offered by Key Christian Beliefs provide an outlook commendably lucid and unobstructed by inappropriate comment or poor methodology, Christian Perspectives on Contemporary Issues will require some careful lens cleaning on the part of the teacher if pupils are to see through it clearly.

Chris Arthur is senior lecturer in religious education at the University of Wales, Lampeter

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