Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Overcoming Sin and Temptation” by John Owen

ost-owenBe killing sin, or it will be killing you. – John Owen

John Owen was a Puritan minister who lived in the 1600s. In Overcoming Sin and Temptation, we are presented with a collection of three of his works–“Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” “Of Temptation, the Nature and Power of It,” and “Indwelling Sin”–which are aimed at leading believers to an awareness of their own sin and the overcoming of it.

If I had to sum up this volume with one word, I would say: “Convicting.” John Owen throughout does a fantastic job calling believers to the awareness of their own sin and the various ways in which we deny our sin and try to pretend it isn’t there. There were many times I found myself nodding along, realizing that Owen had laid bare yet another way I had been trying to ignore sin in my own life. It is a powerful work of law.

Owen points out how we often rely upon grace in the face of temptation–surely we will be forgiven this sin!–rather than putting the temptation to death; he notes how we often try to ignore sin through various means like the weariness of our body (we’re too tired to avoid this sin); he exhaustively draws out the many ways we deceive ourselves through our sin and persist in sin. It’s almost tiring because we realize how often our sins have been covered up in our minds through rationalizing it away.

But Owen does not end with the conviction of our hearts for our sin. Instead, as the title of this book suggests, he puts forward ways in which we may overcome sin and temptation. Primarily, they involve watchfulness and prayer. We are called by Owen to an active assault on sin rather than passive resistance. We must always be looking out for the ways sin penetrates our lives and close those gaps. Some concrete things Owen suggests are focusing upon Christ’s work and how our sin adds to Christ’s suffering; thinking upon the grace and love of God and how we wound the great God who made us when we sin; considering God’s sovereignty and asking, with Joseph in Genesis, “How can I sin against my God?” These are only a few of the ways Owen suggests we put sin to death in our lives.

This edition of the works is made especially helpful by extensive notes explaining hard-to-understand words. Various explanatory words are sometimes added into the text (always bracketed so readers know they have been added) to continue Owen’s train of thought. Each work has a brief but information-packed introduction, and there are lengthy and detailed outlines of the works at the end of the book.

I do wish the editors had also decided to make the language throughout the text gender-inclusive. It is jarring to have to continually process: “Oh yeah, he’s using ‘men’ to reference ‘people.” It may seem like a small thing, but if this is so clearly what Owen means when he says “he” or “man” or “men,” etc., then why not just say it through the editorial process? This is a minor strike against an otherwise excellent work.

I recommend that every Christian obtain a volume of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, read it prayerfully, and integrate it into their lives. We must be killing sin lest it kill us.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2006).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Pascal’s Wager” by Jeff Jordan

pw-jj

For some time, I’d been wanting to put some effort into studying Pascal’s Wager. I picked up Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan in order to familiarize myself more with the philosophical grounding behind the argument. Jordan approaches the Wager through a lens of analytic philosophy and, I think, demonstrates that the argument has some force to it.

Jordan’s work has great scope. Several aspects of the Wager are brought to light.  He analyzes several different formulations of the argument, while also noting where the argument has been changed or modernized. For example, the notion that Pascal’s Wager was infinite bad vs. infinite good is a more recent innovation than Pascal’s original argument.

He studies the argument contextually to determine whether the Wager was intended as a generalized theistic proof or an argument for Christianity. Numerous objections from leading critics of the Wager are put to the test. Ultimately, a version of the Wager developed by William James is put forward as an argument that passes the philosophical muster. Jordan analyzes this argument from many angles, ultimately demonstrating that it overcomes the challenge of the “many gods” objection and provides grounds for Christian faith.

The value of Pascal’s Wager may is increased by the fact that many aspects of Jordan’s work are applicable to other arguments or areas of interest for philosophers of religion and apologists. For example, Jordan raises significant challenges to the notion that philosopher’s fictional deities may actually be counted as evidence for a “many gods” objection (75-76; 80-81). Another example is a rather interesting argument he derives from the work of James Beattie (1735-1803- Jordan notes Beattie is at times rightly accused of misrepresenting Hume’s arguments) about whether attempts to deconvert might bring about pragmatic wrongs (190-194). These and other tantalizing topics command even more interest than the book might otherwise have had.

Simply put, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God is a phenomenal thought-provoking work that will have readers rethinking their evaluation not only of the (in)famous Wager but also of a number of related topics. Even at its steep price tag, the book is a bargain.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Examined- I outline and defend one of the versions of Pascal’s Wager which Jordan brings up in this work. I find it to be a very interesting argument and a great addition to the apologist’s toolkit.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Wheel of Time”: A Christian reflection on Books 1-5 of Robert Jordan’s epic saga

FIRESThe Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow… Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

The Wheel of Time is nothing short of mammoth in size. The series spans 14 books, the shortest of which is about 680 pages. It is a fantasy series encompassing the fulfillment of a number of prophecies which foretold of an Age to come that would once more “break” the world: a man called the Dragon would simultaneously bring salvation and destruction. Here, we’ll explore many of the themes found in the first five books of the series–The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising, and The Fires of Heaven. We’ll explore the series from a worldview perspective by seeking out the overarching themes found in the books related to the real world.

There will, of course be SPOILERS in what follows. If you’re leaving a comment, do try to limit your discussion to books 1-5. I will be posting on the following books in the series in the upcoming months, so if you want to comment on later parts of the series, please wait for the appropriate post.

Prophecy

It is clear that prophecy is a central theme throughout the books. Everyone, from beggar on the street to king or queen, is aware of the prophecies concerning the Dragon. Bards and entertainers recite the prophecies, using language to tell the stories in different forms. The fulfillment of prophecy is taken to be essentially guaranteed by everyone encountered.

Prophecy is not, however, always fulfilled in the ways expected by the main characters. Rand, for example, is often surprised by how the prophecies about the Dragon are fulfilled in him. Frankly, this makes me think about the way some prophecies of Christ were fulfilled. For example, the statement “Out of Egypt I called my son” is clearly a statement about the nation of Israel, but it is later applied to Christ. Moreover, many expected the Messiah to be a conqueror, but Jesus came to save through his own sacrifice. 

The fact that the expectation existed, but the interpretation of the prophecies was diverse, is itself an interesting parallel to Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy. It will be interesting to see how the theme of fulfilled prophecy continues going forward.

Messiah and The Pattern

Interestingly, Rand may be understood as a kind of Messiah figure, but a bit of the inversion of Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to build an earthly kingdom; Rand’s kingdom must be ushered in through war and conquest. However, the destruction Rand is supposed to usher in in some ways seem to mirror prophecies about the end times in the book of Revelation. Moreover, one might wonder at this stage in the series where Rand is headed. Perhaps he will end up giving himself to save the world. But Rand is not himself incarnate Lord ushering in salvation through sacrifice; instead, he is driven by the Pattern–the force of the Wheel of Time which “weaves” strands–people’s lives, the activities of nations, and all things.

The Pattern is said to be woven around certain people who are part of its plan for continuing the revolution of ages. The system seems to imply an eternal universe with a repetition of time and places and reincarnation, but in these books, it seems that Rand may be breaking that pattern. It is unclear as to whether the series is developing in a direction which implies the repetition will continue, but it will be interesting to see where it leads.

Reincarnation is fairly explicit in the book, as Rand, the Dragon, is a reborn Lews Therin–one who was prophesied to return as the Dragon. He has to fight with the thoughts that are in his head from Lews Therin in order to control his own destiny. Again, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will Jordan continue to affirm reincarnation as an aspect of reality with a continually repeating “Wheel of Time” or will Rand manage to break the Pattern and turn time into a line rather than a Wheel?

It seems clear that the notions of reincarnation or a continually repeating pattern of time are no part of the Christian worldview. As interesting as these themes are in the books, it is clear they are fiction. The notion that time is constantly repeating is, in fact, false. The universe has a beginning and it is heading towards an end. As fiction, it is entertaining, but it should remain clear that it is fiction.

Rand as Messiah is an interesting way to view the series. The connections to the notion of prophesied salvation are interesting. But in Jordan’s world, the savior comes not only to save, but to ruin. It will be interesting to see where he takes it.

Men and Women

The characters each have their own ideas of how men and women should operate. Jordan seems to satirize the expectations as much as he flaunts them. Women are just as capable as men in the series, though of interest is the different cultural expectations and how men and women are expected to fulfill them in the different nations throughout the books. The Aiel, for example, a people group who live in a desert reason, have extremely different views of men and women than one encounters in other nations. They have societies of warriors, including ones for women, and both men and women are expected to comply with the unwritten laws of honor. Other nations operate with fairly patriarchal views which are reflective of the medieval setting of the work. The complexity of male-female interaction is continually interesting.

In the last of the books we’re exploring, The Fires of Heaven, some characters begin to interact sexually. As with the general views of the roles of men and women, the cultural expectations regarding marriage and sexual union are shown to be diverse across the differing cultures. The acts themselves are not explicit, but nudity is at times referenced and it is clear what has happened.

These sections demonstrate that the characters are not perfect but rather succumb to their various desires, not unlike real people. However, the fact that they are often interwoven with the different cultural expectations regarding marriage may spur discussion among Christians, who are often challenged to defend traditional views of marriage. It seems clear to me that the mere existence of culturally diverse ways of defining marriage does not undermine the notion that there is an ideal form of marriage which was established “in the beginning.”

Conclusion

“The Wheel of Time” starts off strong. It’s a powerful fantasy saga with quite a few themes which resonate with the Christian worldview. There are other themes which are contrary to truth as well. The series may spur discussion about various aspects of reality, from prophecy to views of men and women. So far, I have greatly enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the rest of the series and seeing how I might use it to interact with others regarding the Christian worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The art is the official galley art for the cover of The Fires of Heaven. I make no claims to ownership and give all credit to the artist, Darrell Sweet, and copyright holders.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Microview: “The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation” by Alister McGrath

ioer-mcgrathIt’s Reformation Month and I unfortunately haven’t been able to write as much as I’ve been able to in the past years on the Reformation, but I’d like to focus here on one of the several books on the topic I read this month. Check out the links for more of my writing on the Reformation.

Alister McGrath’s The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation is a brief introduction to various strands of thought which led to the Reformation. Although brief (the main text is less than 200 pages), it is utterly filled with insights and information for those interested in the period. McGrath skillfully demonstrates that the Reformation was not an all-at-once, sui generis event. Instead, there were a number of developments throughout the Medieval period that led to the success and generation of the Reformation.

Among the insights provided by McGrath, his analysis of humanism and its relationship with Reformation thought was particularly helpful. He showed that the Reformation did not rely as much upon humanism as is often alleged, while also describing the various ways in which humanist and Reformation thought interacted.

Overall, the book is a much-needed work on the background to the Reformation. Anyone who is interested in studying the development of thought in this period or in Reformation theology should read this excellent book.

Links

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day. The debates that took place during the Reformation continue on into today’s theological discussions.

The Church Universal: Reformation Review-  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review- I investigate the notion of “sola scriptura” and its different applications in interpreting Scripture. I particularly emphasize the problem of doctrinal unity and the various ways church bodies have dealt with these difficulties from the Reformation into today.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology- Reformation review- I examine how the issues which came up during the Reformation continue to influence almost every aspect of our lives today. Theology matters.

Women in the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance- I explore the role of women throughout the Reformation period from different angles.

Source

Alister E. McGrath b, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Microview: “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament” by John Walton

ane-waltonJohn Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament is an introductory look comparing the thought and worldview of ancient near eastern societies (Egyptians, Mesopotamian, etc.) to the worldview of the Bible. Walton does an incredible job relating the two together in such a way as to neither trivialize nor lionize ANE thought and its use in interpreting the Bible.

The book is chock full of quotations from various documents from the ANE set alongside each other with comparative insight from Walton. It is organized in such a way that ANE thought is analyzed in regards to religion, cosmos, and people, with subdivisions of each. Throughout the text there are sidebars comparing what is being studied to the Old Testament, thus revealing many insights into the meaning of key OT texts. Walton’s approach is even-handed and fair.

I’d honestly say this might be the most interesting scholarly book I’ve read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory” by Graham Ward

tcct-gward

There is no conceivable limit to what critical theory cannot comment upon, nor what form that comment can take. Every discipline and cultural phenomenon is swept into its purview… (xviii)

Graham Ward, in Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory, seeks to bridge a gap between critical theorists and theologians. Critical theory is essentially various ways to look at how discourse is practiced through the means of socio-cultural factors. Yes, this is a simplified definition, but at its core critical theory engages with various practices of discourse in order to draw out the implications for how the conclusions may be reached. It calls into questions those conclusions by pointing out there may be more to the story.

In order to explore critical theory, Ward outlines the thinking of various contemporary theorists under representation, history, ethics, and aesthetics. These topics are each interesting in their own ways, and readers will be often surprised at the turns critical theorists take. Much of the thinking involved here is of interest, sometimes as much for how wrong it seems as for how enlightening it may be. There are some very weird findings from critical theorists, who are often involved in psychoanalysis and other projects to draw out the alleged sources of purported evidence.

Ward ends each chapter with insights into how the theories discussed may be applied to thinking about theology today. These conclusions are highly fruitful, as they demonstrate how even some approaches which seem at odds with Christianity in whole or in part may help shape theological thought. For example, issues of gender loom large and Ward suggests that critical theorists have jumped ahead of theologians in their thinking on the topic through explorations of how concepts of gender are formed. Whatever one’s thoughts regarding gender, it is true that theologians may do well to explore this topic further, whether from a critical (!) perspective or not.

One area readers may fault the work is that Ward, while engaging critical theory, is rarely critical himself. That is, he seems to adopt the findings (if psychoanalysis of entire fields of research may be called findings) of critical theorists without himself having a critical eye towards these same. However, that would be to try to make the book into something it is not. Ward’s project is to simply present critical theory and see how it might be applied to theology. That said, it would have been nice to have a chapter which engaged these theories. Those interested in the book should be aware that it really is the case that Ward essentially just reports on the theories and comments upon how theology might benefit from them.

Again, critical theory is far more complex than outlined above, but Ward has set for himself the monumental task of distilling it and applying it to theology, another field which he stresses touches upon all aspects of human life and experience. As such, readers should realize that although this book is engaging and compelling, there is far more work which can and should be done in this area.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Graham Ward, Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Stories We Tell” by Mike Cosper

swt-cosper

Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell presents a look at the visual arts of television and movies from the perspective of what they tell us about ourselves and people.

Cosper analyzes several television shows from Mad Men to Project Runway and looks at themes with redemptive value. He doesn’t present a one-size-fits-all picture of how individual genres or specific movies or shows reflect all one specific picture, but rather analyzes the stories told in these forms of media from the perspectives of various aspects of the Christian worldview. These include themes of creation, sin, redemption, love, the fall and success of heroes, and more.

This holistic vision of analyzing stories in TV and at the movies allows readers to open their own avenues for perspectives and reflection in ways that not all books on a topic like this provide. Not only that, but Cosper’s writing is genuinely fascinating. I haven’t watched most of the television shows he discussed, but his presentation of them was enough to allow me to feel as though I knew what was happening and even got me deeply interested in the stories he described. This is not just a good book on how to discuss movies, but it’s also a genuinely interesting overview of a number of stories, whether they’ve been encountered already or not.

Another excellent insight Cosper provided was his look at whether certain stories, movies, and television are appropriate for Christians. He presented a very balanced and insightful look at this topic. First, he noted that the question “how far is too far” is often used to draw boundaries either to allow oneself to get as far as possible or to try to denigrate or call out others. Then, he used two examples of the extremes when it comes to appropriateness: the “overanxious teenager” who wants to get right up to the boundary in order to see as much as they can and the “church lady” who wants to stand as judge to show how others are sinners. He uses these examples to great effect, but does not leave it merely at that. He argues that either extreme is mistaken and also offers a way for Christians to explore appropriateness of various shows and movies.

Conscience and community are to be our guideposts when it comes to the appropriateness of media. Conscience allows us to have an inner arbiter of whether something is appropriate: “If you’re struggling with whether to watch something, ask yourself if you’re sturrling against a conscience that knows better” (Kindle Location 671). A community will help as well by offering a group of others with different experiences and advice. The community will only be helpful, however, if one commits to being honest about viewing habits and having friends who are willing to confront one over the viewing. I found this to be remarkably insightful and Cosper’s perspective on appropriateness is a solid way for Christians to evaluate their viewing habits.

There are many books about Christianity and visual arts like movies and television. Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell manages to set itself apart by presenting detailed looks into several different movies and television shows, while also presenting a vision for how Christians may interact with and even produce these forms of media. It comes recommended.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa- Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies- I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The New Atheist Novel” by Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate

tnaa-bradley-tateThere are moments in which you pick up a book and are delivered into a completely unexpected and fresh-feeling experience. The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11 was one such experience for me. Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate take readers on a journey through the literature of four modern authors who, they argue, are representative of a new form of novel: the “New Atheist Novel.” This novel is a kind of counter-mythology which invents the transcendent within an atheistic universe. Bradley and Tate analyze the work of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, and Salman Rushdie. The authors show how some have shifted their polemic after 9/11 to viewing religion as a kind of one-size-fits all mentality that has no distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Bradley and Tate apply critical theory to the works of fiction presented in this book in incisive fashion. They draw out themes of the authors analyzed in order to show how often they are just as guilty of irrationality as those against whom they pontificate through the voices in their novels. 

Ian McEwan’s fiction, they argue, shows a distinctly New Atheist bent. He sees religious persons as ultimately violent and anti-intellectual. Interstingly, McEewan’s vision of transcendence develops through music and the written word. His post 9/11 writings show a more distinctly anti-Islamist bent, which sees religion as a failure of the imagination. However, Tate and Bradley argue that McEwan’s imagination is itself failing in its capacity to see the radical Muslim act of terror as inherently symbolic and transcendent itself.

This kind of analysis proceeds across the authors analyzed, from Martin Amis’ cliché-filled war against cliché to Salmun Rushdie’s more even-handed but nevertheless anti-theistic vision of the “Quarrels over God.” The analysis of Philip Pullman’s work is perhaps the highest point of the work, as it shows how even in disagreement, one might learn from the “New Atheist Novel.” Pullman’s work shows the myth of the death of God as a kind of human transcendence and freedom from restraint. This vision may be seen as a sometimes on target critique of religion which sometimes becomes authoritarian and too bent towards heresy-hunting. Tate and Bradley ultimately see Pullman’s fiction as a kind of neo-heresy which is attempting to purify religion of its alleged bent towards fundamentalism and too-small vision of deity.  

The book’s usefulness goes beyond simple critique. Instead, it gives readers a chance to interact with all literature in a critical fashion. Moreover, Bradley and Tate are not entirely unsympathetic to the “New Atheist Novel” and show how it may help to inform future discussions. The critical interaction is not merely critical but also constructive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the book is that its thesis doesn’t seem to carry throughout. The “New Atheist Novel” makes its debut with McEwan, but by the time the author’s reach Rushdie’s slightly more amiable vision of religions in conflict, it seems to lack cohesion as a concept. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the “New Atheist Novel” is more of an “Anti- (or Alter-) Theistic Novel” which encompasses not mere anger against religion but rather a critical and sometimes polemical and mistaken vision of the “religious other.” Thus, it seems in the end the “New Atheist Novel” namenclature might not be inaccurate after all, but I tend to think–and the authors reinforce this–of the “New Atheism” along specifically Dawkinsian lines of thought, and Rushdie and Pullman’s works did not seem to fit this usage of the term. A minor gripe, but one worth noting.

This is a book well worth reading and referencing. Don’t be deceived by its length (111 pages of text); it truly has an enormous amount of useful information and discussion. I took a monstrous amount of notes on this book given its length. It will get you thinking, whatever your own view. I recommend it without reservation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology- I share a quote from The New Atheist Novel which discusses the notion that there is a mythology growing up around atheism.

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Questioning the Bible” by Jonathan Morrow

qtb-morrowQuestioning the Bible by Jonathan Morrow addresses 11 questions which offer challenges to the Bible’s authority. These questions are:

Is the Bible Anti-Intellectual?
What can we really know about Jesus?
How do we Know what the earliest Christians believed?
Why were some Gospels banned from the Bible?
Did the Biblical writers lie about their identity?
Has the Biblical text been corrupted over the centuries?
Are the Gospels full of contradictions?
Is the Bible unscientific?
Is the Bible, sexist, racist, homophobic, and genocidal?
What do Christians believe about the Bible?
Which interpretation of the Bible is correct?

Each of these questions is addressed through a number of means, and Morrow utilizes the latest scholarship in providing answers to these tough questions. Moreover, critical scholars like Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins are quoted and interacted with, which opens up avenues for more applications of the work to conversations.

Really, that’s what Questioning the Bible is intended for: a way to start conversations. The book is written for an introductory audience, but it is not ultra-light or lacking in content. There is an enormous amount of information packed into a small space in each chapter here, and that information will be invaluable to the reader tackling the above questions. It is also useful for those wishing to have the everyday conversations about faith that may come up.

Representative of Morrow’s approach is the chapter titled “Did the Biblical Writers Lie About Their Identity?” In this chapter, Morrow first provides a challenge from critical scholar Bart Ehrman. He then provides definitions of key terms like pseudonymity and pseudepigraphy. After that, he provides a critique of Ehrman’s position methodologically, and discusses how forgeries came into being and were recognized in the ancient world and the early church. He provides criticism in a way which is readable yet robust:

[W]e need to clearly state that the earliest Christians held to the thoroughly Jewish conviction… that God does not lie and he hates deception… Lying–even in the name of an apostle, done in love and for the greater good–would not be tolerated. (83)

These kinds of insights are found throughout every chapter, and can be immediately applied to everyday conversations about the faith. Finally, Morrow ends the chapter with a discussion of whether we can identify the authors of the Gospels with their traditional names/authors.  Each chapter follows a similar format in that it outlines the issue, provides definitions, and then offers correction and expansion where needed.

Morrow writes with a tone that maintains interest, while explaining sometimes technical arguments in ways that the average reader can understand. Another strength of the work is the way that Morrow balances different Christian viewpoints on issues like creation. Rather than assuming only one viewpoint is possible, he presents several major viewpoints in a way which favors none but allows for open dialogue about origins.

At the end of each chapter there is a helpful section which summarizes three major thinking points from the chapter, provides tips for having conversations on the topic of the chapter, and provides recommended reading on the topic of that chapter. These are invaluable sections and sometimes even have little homework assignments which will allow readers to practice what they have learned. Questioning the Bible is therefore made into a very valuable study tool which may be used by small groups like youth groups or Bible study groups to explore some of the most common questions leveled towards Christians.

Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority is a great introductory work to a number of the most frequently asked questions about the Bible. It comes recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “In Search of Moral Knowledge” by R. Scott Smith

ismk-smith

R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy is a systematic look at the possibility of moral knowledge in various metaethical systems, with an argument that a theistic, and specifically Christian, worldview is the most plausible way to ground the reality of morals.

Smith begins by providing overviews of various historical perspectives on ethics, including biblical, ancient (Plato and Aristotle), early (Augustine through Aquinas), and early modern (Reformation through the Enlightenment) systems. This survey is necessarily brief, but Smith provides enough information and background for readers to get an understanding of various ethical systems along with some difficulties related to each.

Next, the major options of naturalism, relativism, and postmodernism for ethics are examined in turn, with much critical interaction. For example, Smith argues that ethical relativism is deeply flawed in both method and content. He argues that relativism does not provide an adequate basis for moral knowledge, and it also undermines its own argument for ethical diversity and, by extension, relativism. Moreover, it fails to provide any way forward for how one is to live on such an ethical system and is thus confronted with the reality that it is unlivable. Ultimately, he concludes that “Ethical Relativism utterly fails as a moral theory and as a guide to one’s own moral life” (163).

For Naturalism, however, Smith contends the situation is even worse: “we cannot have knowledge of reality, period, based on naturalism’s ontology. Yet there are many things we do know. Therefore, naturalism is false and we should reject it not just for ethics, but in toto” (137). His argument for this thesis is, briefly, that naturalism has no basis for mental states–and therefore, for beliefs–and so we cannot have knowledge (see 147ff especially).

Various postmodern theses are also examined, including the highly influential views of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. Ultimately, Smith argues that there are several issues with these ethical positions, and primary among them is the difficulty that without any facts which are un-interpreted, there is no way to have moral knowledge, dialogue, or grounding (see 264ff, esp. 265; 277-278).

Finally, the book ends with Smith’s proposal for grounding moral knowledge: namely, Christian theism. First, he notes that there is a “crisis of moral knowledge” which is that it seems we really do have moral knowledge, but no solid basis for this knowledge. However, to solve the difficulty, we may find another ethical stance which can support this fact of moral knowledge. For supporting this thesis, he both presents arguments for Christian theism and notes the paucity of rival positions.

One major strength of Smith’s work is that he doesn’t merely outline or only critique the ethical systems with which he interacts. Instead, each system is allowed to present its theses on its own terms before Smith turns to a critical assessment. This is particularly evident in his interactions with Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas–each of whom has a dedicated chapter to their own systems and then a shared chapter of analysis and critique–but is the case in each instance of a system which he evaluates. This strength is increased when one considers the number of ethical systems Smith interacts with throughout the book. Although no work of this length (or any length, really) could be truly comprehensive, here is offered a broad enough variety of ethical theories that readers will be able to engage with those which are not mentioned.

There are tables scattered throughout the book which actually add quite a bit to the readability and argument. I commend Smith for a great use of these tools throughout the work.

I would have liked to see more development of the positive notion of exactly how Christian theism serves as the basis for moral knowledge. Smith does provide some clear insight into this, but it seems that after the significant development given to so many rival theories, the case for the Christian perspective could have gone deeper.

R. Scott Smith has accomplished an enormous achievement with In Search of Moral Knowledge both by providing an excellent survey and critique of relevant ethical systems and by coupling it with a positive case for a theistic–Christian–grounding for morality. The book can serve as an excellent text for a class on ethics, but may also be used by those interested in exposure to and critical insight into various ethical systems. Smith’s argument for Christian metaethics is compelling and strong, and his criticisms leveled against other systems–particularly naturalism and relativism–are crucial.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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