Book Reviews

This category contains 148 posts

Book Review: “The Open Minded Christian” by Richard Bushey

Richard Bushey’s book, The Open Minded Christian: How to Engage Charitably with Fellow Sinners presents a message that we often need to hear. That message is one of Christian love for neighbor.

Bushey outlines this necessary love of neighbor broadly in the first several chapters, noting that too often Christians tend to treat other Christians as though they were necessarily enemies of the faith. Moreover, this lack of charity extends to non-Christians as well. Repeated challenges are issued throughout the book for Christians to re-examine their own attitudes.

Several of the examples used to this regard are utilized very effectively. Bushey leads with a hot-button word like “evolution” or “homosexuality” and then turns around and presents analysis of how Christians tend to react to such topics. After that, he issues a call to Christians to act more Christlike in disagreement and to avoid jumping to conclusions about the “other” when it comes to issues like these. Thus, in the chapter on homosexuality, Bushey notes how quick many Christians are to disown or disavow people who are homosexual, thus leading to a continuing circle of anger and frustration. These and other examples are enlightening and help to bring to light how we ought to have a greater love of neighbor, even if we do not love everything about them.

A difficulty with the book is that there are many assertions about how certain groups shouldn’t split that ultimately seem unsubstantiated. For example: “[T]here is no ecclesiological reason that Calvinists and Arminians cannot congregate together” (7). First, what is meant by an “ecclesiological reason” as opposed to some other reason? A little ways down on the same page, Bushey seems to define what is meant by the term “ecclesiological reason”: “That is to say that if a church’s general practice is different from another, then creating different denominations make sense.” Second, why limit the scope of separation between denominations/churches to whatever is meant by “ecclesiological” reasons?

Given the definition Bushey apparently offers for “ecclesiological reason,” though, it seems that groups like Calvinists and Arminians do have reasons not to congregate together. For, if the umbrella is “general practice,” then many Calvinist churches have a general practice to speak of the sovereign decree of God in sermons and Bible studies; while many Arminian churches have a general practice to critique Calvinism from the pulpit (I have experienced both instances personally in different churches). Just a paragraph or so later, Bushey further clarifies, claiming that such ecclesiological differences are to be differentiated from “secondary” or “tertiary” differences, but again we have no definition of what is meant by those. I doubt that most convinced Arminians or Calvinists would feel their adherence to those sets of theological teachings are merely secondary or tertiary, given that it often comes back to the doctrine of God; but that is neither here nor there. The point is that some definitions offered at the outset would improve this work immensely.

Another problem is that Bushey at times mischaracterizes theological opponents when trying to demonstrate we ought not to do that very thing. For example, in section in which he is arguing that Christians ought to challenge their own beliefs in order to see if they match with reality, he writes, “The person who believes that water baptism washes away sins should dive into Romans 3-5 and try to prove that their view is wrong. They should read the text closely with the end in mind of proving that salvation comes by faith alone to the exclusion of baptism” (73). But this is a clear misunderstanding of what baptismal regeneration teaches. As one who affirms that (a Lutheran), I was shocked to see how my view was so clearly misrepresented here. It’s not as though by believing in baptismal regeneration, I deny salvation by faith alone. Far from it, and this shows how crucial a misunderstanding Bushey has here, for he seems to think that the view entails a kind of works-righteousness. Instead, Lutherans see baptism as a means of grace–an act of God; not a work of humanity. It was pretty jarring to have such a clear lack of understanding in a book that continually encourages understanding the other side.

Another example of this is the offhanded comment on the hypostatic union as allegedly entailing a kind of contradiction: “In the case of the hypostatic union, adherents deny that there are two persons within Christ, even though their view logically entails it” (88-89). Given that the hypostatic union has historically been affirmed as an orthodox understanding of Christology, and is used exactly to demonstrate that the two natures of Christ explicitly do not entail two persons, this is an astonishing statement. Indeed, one might ask how, exactly, two natures “logically entails” two persons. It doesn’t, and this basic, nonchalant dismissal of orthodox Trinitarian theology as being “inconsistent” is disappointing, to say the least.

The Open-Minded Christian is ultimately an uneven ride. The central message is one that needs to be heard, but it is surrounded by some serious misunderstandings and misrepresentations that make it difficult to take it as seriously as we ought to. It is worth a read for the good examples, but requires a critical eye.

The Good

+Some examples utilized quite effectively

The Bad

-Theologically suspect at times
-Some basic misunderstandings of opposing views
-Some grammatical errors

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the author. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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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: “Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism” by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

pc-stackhousejrPartners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism is a challenging, extraordinary work. The first thought many readers might have when they see the title of this book is “A conservative case for egalitarianism? What!?” Yet that is exactly what this is. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. presents a case for egalitarianism that will challenge those on either side of the issue to rethink various aspects of their view.

The book is organized around a number of chapters, each of which is quite short. Each chapter’s title basically states what the goal of that chapter is. For example, a chapter entitled “Counterarguments from Church History” presents counterarguments to Stackhouse’s position from, well, church history. The organization is helpful, though it should not be mistaken for a license to jump around within the book. The case made herein is progressive and builds up over the course of the whole book.

Central to Stackhouse’s model is the notion that complementarians and egalitarians often talk past each other or fail to recognize the genuine concerns and possible insights from the “other side.” Thus, he challenges egalitarians to take more seriously the arguments for maintaining complementarity in gender, while he pushes complementarians to realize how often their case is based on presupposition rather than the biblical texts themselves. In other words, Stackhouse is going to make you uncomfortable, no matter what your position is. And, frankly, that’s a good thing. I’m a staunch egalitarian who used to be just as entrenched a complementarian, and it was good for me to have a book that challenged the assumptions I’m working under now. I think that effectively any reader could benefit from Stackhouse’s approach, even in disagreement.

The breadth of topics the book addresses makes it an excellent resource. Church history, theology, exegesis, modern social science, and more are each pieces of evidence that is brought forward to shed light on the issue. Particularly interesting was the chapter “Why, then, Do Women Not Lead?” which answered the question with a number of arguments from social science to theology. This kind of integrated approach is used beneficially throughout the book.

A disadvantage of the way the book is organized is that there is little space to dedicate to individual exegesis. Make no mistake, this is not the strongest egalitarian case from the Bible that can be made. It is an introduction to the full scope and depth of egalitarian arguments, yes, but it should not be mistaken for the most powerful argument possible.

Stackhouse’s ultimate conclusion is that women should be allowed the same roles in leadership in the church and home as men are allowed to fulfill. Again, this is not to say he will not challenge those who agree with this conclusion. I was taken aback by how fair and balanced this case was, and I know of no other book that presents as broad an introduction to such a complex topic as this one. I highly recommend Partners in Christ to you.

The Good

+Will challenge virtually every reader
+Excellent case, in brief, for egalitarianism
+Addresses wide variety of topics, arguments, and counter-arguments
+Balanced approach

The Bad

-Quite brief on several key points
-Concedes the notion of the “feminization of worship”

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Partners in Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

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: “Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos” by Barry Webb

jrgc-webb

Barry Webb’s commentary, Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is part of the “preaching the word” series and presents the books in a pastoral, conversational fashion.

Webb continually brings up details of the text that are overlooked, bringing to light wonderful insights where people may tend to skip over. Minor judges (like Shamgar) are at times given as much detailed discussion as those we might consider more important. There is a clear method to this, as Webb seems uninterested in sharing those things readers learned and re-learned since Sunday School. This is a book that feels fresh and exciting–and I’ve read one of Webb’s other commentaries on Judges!

These insights are not limited to the minor judges, however. The sections on Gideon, Ehud, and Samson (one of my favorite Bible personages) are particularly excellent. Each will make readers look with more depth even at stories they think they knew. For example, regarding Eglon, the king Ehud kills, Webb points out that readers of the story should reflect on the interplay between Ehud’s bringing a harvest tribute and the corpulence of Eglon. The fatness of Eglon is, ironically, in part due to his gleaning food from Israel! It is just this kind of deep look at the text that can be found throughout the book, time and again, regarding the judges and Ruth.

The tone of the book is quite pastoral. There are no sections of Hebrew painstakingly pored over word-by-word. Admittedly, I love that kind of commentary. That’s not the kind of commentary this is. Instead, it is presented in a kind of conversational style that takes you directly to the story. A good word to describe the style is “immersive”: reading the commentary makes one feel as though they are inside the Bible story themselves, experiencing it, and seeing the world anew as the contemporaries might have. It is a pretty thrilling experience.

The section on Deborah as a “maverick” is unfortunate, because it undercuts the importance of the woman Deborah (though calling her a “maverick” seems on-point). Webb has written elsewhere (his commentary in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series on Judges) about how “there is no hint in the narrative or elsewhere in Scripture that her [Deborah’s] exercise of such a role [as leader/judge/prophetess] was contrary to God’s purposes, or a breach of his declared will in the way that the irregular worship practices of the period were” (Webb, The Book of Judges,  (Eerdman’s, 2012) 188). Here, however, Webb qualifies this endorsement, carefully pointing to a pattern of male leadership throughout the Old Testament and arguing that Deborah is exceptional in her role here as prophetess/Judge. Yet in the same chapter, he also notes how the Old Testament is a patriarchal culture, which makes Deborah’s function as judge/prophetess even more exceptional! The exceptional nature, however, is not that it is improper–as Webb himself admits–but rather that her acting in this function, a prophetess called by God, challenges the very patriarchy that Webb has noted (and, at times, challenged himself) as the background for Old Testament practices. That is, Deborah functions as an attack on that paradigm, not a confirmation of it.

Though Webb notes that Deborah was praised in her function, he nowhere points out how this very act of praising Deborah for her role as leader and prophetess of Israel entails a theological truth of the gifting of God for women in such positions. I was disappointed to see this subtle shift in Webb’s affirmations about Deborah from his other commentary. This makes the section on Deborah less insightful than it could have been, however, particularly given her importance in the book of Judges.

Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is a beautiful, pastoral book full of insights that will have you scrambling to grab your Bible and make notes. Although it isn’t perfect, it is a worthwhile read that will open the pages of the books covered in new ways. It is recommended.

The Good

+Full of intriguing details
+Immersive, engaging writing style
+Continually takes readers back to the text
+Plenty of background information

The Bad

-Inserts complementarian language into discussion of Deborah

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Barry Webb, Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

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: “American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion” by John Wilsey

aecr-wilsey

John D. Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion sheds light on the ways that Americans through history have conceived of the United States as a blessed nation.

The book is organized around various historical periods, from the origins of exceptionalism in the earliest colonial periods to modern times. One aspect of American exceptionalism is “the idea that Americans are a people specially chosen by God and given a destiny to fulfill by him…” (16, cited below).  Throughout the book, Wilsey shows how this idea has developed and how it has negatively impacted not only our theology but also the way the country developed politically and ethically.

Wilsey traces the sad history of slavery and expansion into North America, highlighting how the ideology of American Exceptionalism played into the whole endeavor. Because that which was deemed “American” was theologically tied to a concept of chosen nation and a skewed view of manifest destiny, people from the lowliest white farmer to the President of the United States were able to justify heinous acts upon fellow human beings. Furthermore, due to the concept of chosen nation that theologians lifted from the pages of the Bible and applied to the United States, many of these atrocities were dismissed as aspects of a new eschatological narrative pointing towards the concept of America’s growth and civil religion.

This notion is made particularly acute in the chapter entitled “The Innocent Nation” which shows how various American leaders portrayed the United States as innocent and without moral faults. Though this narrative was often challenged, it has been maintained over time and modified to keep up a notion of America as the moral light for all nations. The occasional mixing in of imagery is a powerful way Wilsey depicts narratives like this, such as the image of John Gust’s American Progress (featured on p. 78). Readers are exposed to a number of firsthand accounts and quotes from those involved in the process of theologizing and putting forth ideas about the United States.

Balance is an admirable feature of this book, which cautions against going to extremes in either direction related to the notion of the United States as a chosen nation. Moreover, even when critical of certain figures throughout history, Wilsey notes how many helped to bring about some good as well. For example, a few Presidents have perpetuated notions of America as an “Innocent Nation” while still working for justice and international peace–thus showing that exceptionalism can lead to a belief that those with the blessings ought to use them to help others.

What is all too often lacking in books like this is presentation of a way forward. That is, too often books like this focus solely on showing the problems with systematic corruption or evil, but then leave readers at a loss for how to combat it or try to move beyond it. Wilsey, however, laces commentary on “open exceptionalism” throughout the book as a way for Christians to remain appreciative of the blessings of their country without turning to an unbiblical view of deifying their nation. This open exceptionalism allows for Americans to see the United States as blessed with certain freedoms and prosperity, while still moderating notions that might lead to seeing America as above criticism or without fault. Thus, he provides a way to reevaluate our own views and move towards a position where we can remain patriotic while not falling into the traps of an exceptionalism that redefines Christianity.

American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion is an incisive critique of the notion of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion. Moreover, it provides a way forward for those wanting to help bring about change.

The Good

+Excellent analysis of American exceptionalism
+Balanced view
+Presents a positive way forward
+Utilizes several threads of evidence

The Bad

-Requires readers to draw out definitions on some points

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John D. Wilsey, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

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: “Reformation Readings of Paul” edited by Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh

rrp-allen-linebaughReformation Readings of Paul is a collection of essays that surveys how various Reformers read Paul. Each Reformer has a pair of essays dedicated to their thought on a specific aspect of the Pauline corpus. The first essay is generally focused on simply expositing what the Reformer thought, while the second essay is generally focused more upon the analysis of that Reformer’s thoughts on the letter(s) they were commenting upon. This gives a rather robust groundwork for further research as readers are exposed to a mass of commentary from the Reformers themselves alongside various works critiquing or expounding on that same body of work.

The Reformers and books covered are Martin Luther (Galatians), Philipp Melanchthon (Romans), Martin Bucer (Ephesians), John Calvin (1 & 2 Corinthians), and Thomas Cranmer (Letters). The selections were well-chosen, for they pair theologians either with books for which they are particularly well known (Luther and Galatians), or help draw out lesser-known insights (Calvin and Corinthians). I was particularly pleased to see Melanchthon among the choices, as he is often, it seems, overlooked in favor of others like Zwingli.

The essays are each of great value, even for those who may disagree with the theological conclusions of the specific Reformers. The reason is because these are not merely reporting what the Reformer believed, but also subjecting them to a fresh look, analyzing the Reformers’ readings of Paul with the very latest theological resources, whether this comes from updated (and more accurate) Greek texts or from the specific insights into the historical-cultural background of the texts themselves. Each essay calls on the readers to not only think about how that specific Reformer read Paul, but also to think about how they themselves have read (and possibly misread) Paul. They call to readers to be aware not just of the Reformers’ cultural blinders, but also of our own–the ways that we have simply assumed meanings within the text which may not be there.

Another great value of the work is that it critically interacts with the Reformers’ readings. These are not (merely) criticism, but they also show how modern scholars have sometimes ignored the genuine insight these Reformers can provide into the text. The essays on Bucer were particularly excellent in this regard. The application of critique is not, however, danced around. Corrections are made where necessary, and, as David Fink notes in his essay on Luther (see my Sunday Quote on this), the Reformers themselves would have endorsed such correction.

The main downside to the book, in my opinion, is that because two essays are dedicated to each Reformer, fewer Reformers are put forward. Those included make quite a bit of sense, but it would have been nice to be able to access an even wider swath of Reformation Readings of Paul. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a Christian feminist, and I can’t help but wonder whether at least one female author could have been found to contribute to this work. It’s not a substantive critique, but it would be nice to give ear to a broader range of voices in a collection like this.

It is rare to find collections of essays in which not a single one seems off beat, but Reformation Readings of Paul is such a collection. Each essay has much of value, and readers of all levels of familiarity with the Reformers will benefit. It is highly recommended.

The Good

+Representative looks at some major figures of the Reformation
+Challenges readers to understand their own biases
+Interacts with most current scholarship
+Applies modern insights to the Reformers, and vice versa
+Consistently excellent essays

The Bad

-Could have used wider selection of Reformers
-Little background given to each individual Reformer

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of this work. I was not required to provide any specific kind 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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Michael Allen and Jonathan A. Linebaugh, editors, Reformation Readings of Paul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

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: “Joy in the Journey” by Steve and Sharol Hayner

jj-haynerJoy in the Journey is a collection of reflections from a couple (and occasionally friends and family) going through the struggle with a terminal illness. Steve Hayner was president of InterVarsity, as well as holding a number of other teaching and pastoral conditions. He died of cancer in early 2015.

The book is composed almost entirely of blog-like entries into CaringBridge, a web site that allows people to share their journeys through illness. Thus, readers experience the journey with the Hayners as they find out Steve’s diagnosis, realize the disease is terminal, and continue to live their lives.

A surprising number of applicable insights are found throughout the posts. One example was Steve’s reflection on “wasting time” and using time wisely in the face of death. He not only outlined some ideas for how to consider time usage, but also stressed the importance of doing things you enjoy, and how relaxation should not just be considered time-wasting. Alongside insights like these is an infectious sense of hope.

Steve, Sharol, and friends all display a vision of looking ahead to the joyful life with Christ, and the hope that is brought through reflection on the Word of God. Interspersed throughout the book are poems and hymns, allusions to and quotes from the Bible, and more. These tidbits are not just insights into the hope found in Jesus, but also provide ways to reflect upon grief and joy in life.

It would have been nice to include some sort of index or way to find specific discussions within the text. More discussion of some of the comments made throughout the book might have also made it more useful. As it stands, however, it remains a beautiful book that has several insights and reasons for hope all over.

Joy in the Journey is a hard read, but one that provides several helpful insights into living–and, sadly but necessarily, dying–well.

The Good

+A glimpse into a godly journey towards the end of life
+Gripping emotionally
+Several insights packed into the journal-like entries

The Bad

-No additional commentary for how to apply the insights and stories

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not asked to provide any specific sort of feedback whatsoever. 

Source

Steve and Sharol Hayner, Joy in the Journey (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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: “Expository Apologetics” by Voddie Baucham, Jr.

ea-buachamExpository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham, Jr. puts forward an apologetics methodology that is largely presuppositional in its approach. The core of Baucham’s approach is the use of biblical texts in engaging with those who do not believe.

A central aspect of Baucham’s methodology is the notion that the problem of unbelieve is not a lack of information but rather sin. He bases this claim on an interpretation of Romans 1 that is very much in line with that of other presuppositional apologists (see my post on the topic here). Because of this, Baucham alleges, apologetic approaches which approach others with information (such as an argument for the existence of God) rather than the Gospel (i.e. direct exposition of the Bible) fail.

Baucham also appeals to Scripture throughout the book, noting that the use of God’s word ought to be central to our lives as Christians and therefore central to our witness. He argues rightly that every single Christian ought to be engaged in apologetics; it is not something merely for experts.

Chapter 5, which emphasized learning apologetics through the use of historical creeds, confessions, and catechisms, was an excellent piece of advice for apologists. This was a breath of fresh air as too often Christians ignore the historical definitions of faith which are full of the richness of Christian thinkers throughout time. Baucham notes that anyone who attempts to dismiss a creedal tradition by saying “No creed but the Bible” has already made their own creed to which they adhere.

The book has many applicable insights into doing apologetics. This is worth taking note of, because often introductory apologetics books claim to present a method, but then never show that method in action. This makes it difficult to actually understand how to do apologetics or what is even meant by all the discussion about method. Baucham, however, continually uses examples that have direct practical application. Chapter 9 “Preaching and Teaching Like an Expository Apologist” is full of practical insights for apologists trained and untrained. Chapter 8 applied various ways to answer objections to a number of different situations. I appreciated how much practical advice is found throughout the book. It should be noted that a primary target for these practical engagements is same-sex marriage. It would have been nice to have the focus be on atheism rather than on specific moral issues, but the practical advice given can be applied to other situations as well.

A serious question might be raised about the audience of the book. Baucham claims that it is for “everyone” but then goes on to outline the audiences he intends. “The first audience is the heathen” (Kindle location 293). Surely, the use of this term will prejudice those who do not believe towards the book immediately. Heathen has come to be understood as very pejorative, and it is difficult to see why it was chosen. Moreover, he adopts the biblical use of the term “fool” not just in its technical sense, but also throughout the book to refer to those who do not believe. One wonders whetherthose who are described as heathen fools would be willing to read the book.

Another difficulty with the book is Baucham’s suggestion that children are basically little unbelievers. This stands in contrast to the notion of having faith like a child (which suggests that children have faith). Elsewhere, Baucham discusses the question one of his children asked him and how it demonstrated this child had not come to faith in Christ yet. But of course children ask questions about all kinds of things, and this does not entail they don’t believe in them. Indeed, Baucham’s continual assertion that unbelief is a problem of sin rather than information suggests that he is going against his own advice here. He treats his own children’s information problem as though this proves they are atheistic. This kind of theology is deeply troubling, and it cuts against the grain of Jesus’ own words about little children coming to him and having faith such as those little children.

The critique of other apologetic methods is also off base. For example, Baucham is highly critical of any method which does not use Scripture throughout the whole process. He cites a number of verses that speak of the power of God’s word, as well as other presuppositional thinkers like Sye Ten Bruggencate to forcefully admonish those apologists who use other forms of apologetics. However, such a critique is fundamentally flawed, for despite presuppositionalists’ commitment to realizing the epistemic effects of sin, they maintain this critique despite the fact that atheists often immediately shut down conversation–whether by refusing to continue, mocking, or the like–when the Christian cites Scripture. Baucham allows for this in some fashion by coming sidelong with Scriptural principles rather than direct citations, but if that is his position, then his whole critique is misguided to begin with! After all, a Scriptural principle is surely that God exists. Ergo, an apologist seeking to prove that God exists without explicitly citing Scripture is permitted to do so on Baucham’s own view, despite his critique of that very same apologist.

For some reason, Baucham also clings to using male pronouns for everything throughout the book, referring to humanity as “man,” and talking about all believers as “men.” Interestingly, the only female pronoun I noticed being used generically in the whole book was for an atheist “interlocutor.” When portions of the book refer to not needing to be seen as wise by “men” and or needing to be thought of well by “men,” one wonders whether Baucham simply dismisses women’s opinions entirely.

Expository Apologetics is an ultimately uneven ride introducing presuppositional apologetics to a broad audience. There is much applicable knowledge here, to be sure. However, it is alongside some poor arguments against other apologetic methods, questionable use of terminology, and some disturbing theological conclusions. It’s worth the read for the applicable knowledge, but there are many pitfalls to be found.

The Good

+Emphasizes the notion that every Christian should be an apologist
+Creeds seen as major point to drive apologetics
+Good amount of practical application to apologetics

The Bad

-Poor use of terminology
-Suggests children are to be treated as unbelievers
-Consistently uses male pronouns and “man” instead of gender inclusive language
-Dismisses other forms of apologetics

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Voddie Baucham, Jr. Expository Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Links

The Unbeliever Knows God: Presuppositional Apologetics and Atheism– I write about the notion that all people have knowledge of God whether that is acknowledged or not. This has great implications for apologetics of all methods.

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– My other interests site is full of science fiction, fantasy, food, sports, and more random thoughts. Come on by and check it out!

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: “The Love of God” by John C. Peckham

lg-peckhamThere are many different views about what it means to say “God is love” or “God is loving.” Is God’s love like ours? Does God’s love mean God changes? Does God’s love mean God has potential rather than being pure act? How can God be loving? How is the love of God reconciled with justice and election? John C. Peckham’s work, The Love of God, is an attempt to answer many of these questions.

The book is organized topically, with each chapter focusing on a different aspect of divine-world relationship. These include the semantics of divine love, volitional and evaluative aspects of love, whether divine love can be emotional or foreconditioned, and whether that love is reciprocal. Other topics are addressed in addition to these, including the debate over various ways divine-world relationship may be portrayed.

Peckham surveys an enormous number of biblical passages as he analyzes these questions. Unfortunately, only rarely is much time spent on drawing out how these various citations are directly relevant to the points being made. Thus, readers are left to look up the many passages themselves to see whether they concur with the evaluation provided. Peckham largely sides with a perspective that favors human freedom. He also stands against the notion that God is completely immutable or changeless.

The latter point, however, is well-nuanced. Drawing on the work of Rob Lister, who affirms God’s impassibility alongside God’s capability of being impassioned, Peckham qualifies his concept of divine love and its relationship with the doctrine of impassibility. Effectively, he argues that God’s love is reciprocal but does not necessarily rule out the possibility of immutability. He does, however, seem to favor a perspective in which God at least partially changes in response to prayer and love.

Peckham’s perspective in the introduction appears to be quite broad-minded, allowing for concessions to those on either side of (and in between) debates like Calvinism-Arminianism, Thomism-other views, Augustinianism-other perspectives. However, as the book goes on, it becomes apparent that apart from a few places wherein there is some nuance (as noted above with immutability), Peckham draws conclusions with some certainty, while effectively setting aside the opposing view.

The value one gets out of The Love of God, then, largely depends on the amount of work one is willing to put into it. If one takes the time to look up the many, many biblical references, compare them back to the text, and examine the counter-arguments that Peckham offers, this is a book that is well worth the time spent. By contrast, those not willing to put in that time will at least get an idea of what the various major questions are regarding God-world relations and love, but will only be given one perspective on those questions in most cases. The questions are not left as open as many of them seem to require.

The Good

+Provides much insight into biblical teaching on various aspects of love
+Many citations to allow for further study

The Bad

-Not as broad-minded as it initially appears
-Occasionally dismissive of counter-arguments and rival positions

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

John C. Peckham, The Love of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

 

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: “The Great Christ Comet” by Colin Nicholl

gcc-nichollThere are few biblical images which capture the imagination as much as the Star of Bethlehem. Its prominent portrayal in films featuring the Nativity, in popular renditions of a Nativity scene, and its place in many Christmas carols demonstrates its continuing popularity. Colin Nicholl’s work, The Great Christ Comet is a significant contribution to scholarship about the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. Nicholl approaches the topic from both the standpoint of theology and astronomy.

Nicholl’s analysis of the biblical data is extensive and interesting. Early in the book, he establishes that the exegetical evidence is important to anyone–including astronomers–who would like to pinpoint what the Star of Bethlehem may have been.

As I read through the theological portions of the book, I found myself opening up my running Bible commentary document to add several notes as Nicholl provide insight into the text and argued for specifics about the narrative. In addition to interpreting the passage, he also sheds light on it from extrabiblical sources, particularly in regards to the Magi and Herod. Regarding the former, he discusses the practice and likely origin of the Magi, noting they were likely astrologer/astronomers from Babylon. Regarding the latter, he shows how the Massacre of the Innocents would not be so out of place for Herod, and why he would have been so willing to go to the depths of evil action that he did. There were many more times I found Nicholl’s exegesis enlightening on various passages–including prophetic ones in Numbers and Isaiah and others in Revelation.

The interpretation offered by Nicholl related to the movement of the Christ Comet is different than any I have read. Nicholl delves into Revelation 12:1-5a in order to argue that this passage describes a literal astronomical phenomenon with the celestial movements of Virgo, a comet, and a meteor storm in view. It was in this section that my confidence in his conclusions wavered. He makes a convincing argument for showing that the comet could have moved and shined in the way he believes is described in this passage, but I am less convinced by the simple connection of Revelation to Matthew in this literal, astronomical way. The infancy narrative of Matthew and the description in Revelation are both referencing the birth of Christ, but I’m not convinced John in Revelation is attempting to give a full explanation of a cosmic event that occurred here. Regardless of my reservations, however, Nicholl does establish that this is a possible, if not probable, reading of the text while also laying out in extensive detail how a comet could have engaged in this “cosmic drama.”

I am not an expert in astronomy, so my comments on that regard are that of an interested lay person. Nicholl gave significant background into astronomy before he delved into some of the data and the competing theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem. This included extensive discussion of the nature of different kinds of comets and how they move throughout. At many points these details are accompanied by historical drawings or artistic renditions of the aspects discussed. Nicholl’s theory is outlined in intricate detail, and it includes a kind of procession of the comet throughout various astrological signs to the point that it reaches Virgo. At this point, the Magi were convinced by the movement of the comet that a significant birth was occurring and they headed west. Nicholl draws upon the words of the Magi as well as Matthew and Luke’s infancy narrative, in addition to Revelation 12 to show that his theory corresponds to literal readings of the various passages and allows a real astronomical event to lie behind the explanation of the comet. This, however, does not mean that the comet is a purely naturalistic phenomenon, as Nicholl argues that the one-of-a-kind, astounding nature of this comet and its performance–down to marking the very location of Jesus’s home in Bethlehem–point to divine intent.

One significant difficulty with the book is the overall feeling of “assured results” found throughout. A search for “certainly” shows up 66 results; 9 for “unquestionably” (each used in context of conclusions drawn). Other words like “undoubtedly” (11 results) show up throughout as well. While it is admirable to have confidence in one’s own position, at times I wondered whether the arguments presented could yield such levels of confidence. The very existence of such continuing debate over the nature of the Star of Bethlehem calls into question any interpretation which comes along and offers certainty across the board, whether it is the refutation of other theories or the interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

So much is invested in the relation of Revelation 12 to the infancy narratives that if one remains unconvinced by his exegesis there, one may not find his overall theory convincing. However, this is not necessarily the case. The argument he presented for a great comet being the origin of the Star of Bethlehem was quite convincing to me, despite my not being fully sold on the Revelation 12 theory. One does not have to accept Nicholl’s view of how the comet played across the sky to accept that the comet is the best explanation.

As far as substantive critique of Nicholl, on the astronomical part I admit I don’t have the knowledge to offer much. Both theologically and astronomically, it seems Nicholl’s proposal is airtight and stunning. Frankly, that is probably where my suspicion comes from: I tend to be a bit suspicious of anything that is such a perfect fit. The Bible is a complex work, and the debate over the Star of Bethlehem is entrenched with many differing positions. Could it really be so simple (in the sense of having this be the answer)? I would like to say yes. I want to. But I’m not sure I can be fully on board. Nicholl has convinced me that the Star was a great comet, and the movement he describes seem possible, but it is perhaps only a personal feeling of reservation that holds me back from embracing the whole picture. This does say something for the strength of Nicholl’s argument, of course, for it suggests that it is really this personal reservation that holds me back rather than significant criticisms.

Nicholl’s concluding thoughts about the Christ Comet deserve to be quoted:

What the Great Christ Comet did… was extraordinary and merits wide telling. People of all disciplines… must come to grips with its story. In an era when science is often viewed as the enemy of religion, the Christ Comet suggests that science may be the best friend of religion. In a period when the claims of Christ are commonly disregarded, the Star callse upon all to give his claims a fresh reappraisal… (Kindle Location 7343).

Whatever one thinks about certain aspects of Nicholl’s argument, the book as a whole presents a comprehensive, deep case for the Star of Bethlehem being a great comet. The Great Christ Comet is a fantastic, deep read that will expose readers to a variety of topics in a fresh way. The amazing intricacy of the movement of the comet and its correspondence to the readings Nicholl presents in the book would be, if true, a monumentally powerful testament to the power of God and the truth of the Gospels. I enjoyed it immensely, even though I may not be fully convinced of every detail.

The Good

+Extensive look at the Biblical data
+Fascinating topic
+Provides background for astronomical analysis
+Massive scope with in-depth discussion

The Bad

-Overstates case at points
-Exegesis of some passages uncertain

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Colin Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other interests site for posts on science fiction, fantasy, television, and more!

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: “Scripture and Cosmology” by Kyle Greenwood

sc-greenwoodKyle Greenwood’s Scripture and Cosmology might initially seem to be just another introduction to the study of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cosmology related to the Bible, but it is not. It is much more than that. Greenwood, in his excellent book, relates not just ANE cosmology to the Bible, but also reflects on how theologians dealt with changes in the prevailing views of cosmology throughout Christian history. That is, Scripture and Cosmology provides a means for readers to explore in brief the history of Christian thought on Scripture and, well, cosmology of different times.

The book is organized around three parts: Scripture and Cosmos in Cultural Context (which explores the ANE background of the Bible and finding that cosmology in Scripture), Cosmology and Scripture in Historical Context (which examines the cosmology of Scripture alongside Aristotelian and Copernican Cosmology, along with how Christians read the Bible in these periods), and Scripture and Science (which ties together the previous two sections along with discussing how we should consider the findings therein).

Greenwood frankly notes that the Bible’s view of cosmology is situated directly within the ANE background of the text and the understanding of people groups surrounding Israel. He challenges some of the modern revisionist attempts to take texts about, for example, the land floating as an example of Earth in space (Job 26:7). His counter is to show that such a writing would fit nicely within the ANE understanding of a cosmic ocean rather than favoring a modern attempt to fit it into Big Bang cosmology.

The chapters on Copernicanism and Aristotelianism show that Christians have historically adjusted their readings of Scripture in light of modern cosmology. He cites several interpreters, including Aquinas, Augustine, Calvin, and Luther to show how some of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity have been shaped by their own contemporary views of cosmology and Scripture.

The book ends with a pair of chapters on interpretation of the Bible and the authority of Scripture in light of Greenwood’s findings. These are invaluable tools for those wishing to take the Bible’s text as it stands. Greenwood argues that divine accommodation is one of the acceptable ways to reconcile scriptural authority and the ancient cosmology found therein. The last chapter addresses various avenues for research and science and how a proper understanding of cosmology in Scripture will help to reconcile these issues.

I was particularly interested in the findings which compared Aristotelian cosmology to biblical cosmology. It is important to see that Christians have constantly been part of their own cultural understandings of the Bible and the cosmos, and that we are no less victim to the short-sightedness that can come from equating our understanding with ultimate truth. We must be aware that our own understanding is incomplete and that we should not try to make the Bible read how we think it should.

Scripture and Cosmology is a superb book that is enlightening and challenging on many different topics. As someone who has read extensively on science-faith issues, I still found many new avenues to explore in this book and much valuable insight. It was exciting to see a work that addressed not only the ANE context of the Bible but also how Christians have interacted with more modern views of cosmology throughout time. I very highly recommend this book.

The Good

+Demonstrates the relationship between the Bible and ANE Cosmology
+Shows history of Christian interaction with their own understandings of cosmology and the Bible
+Provides means for readers to explore questions of relating Cosmology and Scripture
+Several solid insights into exploring related issues
+Opens avenues for further research

The Bad

-Feels a bit rushed towards the end

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to write any specific kind 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 Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Kyle Greenwood, Scripture and Cosmology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

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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