Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Death Before the Fall” by Ronald Osborn

dbf-osborn

I eagerly anticipated the release of Ronald Osborn’s book, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, as it is a topic of great interest to me. The work is divided into two major sections: “On Literalism” and “On Animal Suffering.”

The first part occupies the bulk of the book (100/179 pages of text). In it, Osborn first offers his interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1. His take on it is that is fairly open to being taken in a number of ways. For example, having creatures come forth “from the earth” may be direct special creation, or a linguistic device aimed at describing the “open” status of creation–its ability to change and self-correct (see esp. 27-28).

After laying out the interpretation, Osborn sets out to show how “literalism” is a mistaken hermeneutic. He argues that literalism has been brought to the forefront due to Enlightenment ways of thinking. That is, biblical literalists are influenced by modernism and their readings tend to be highly reliant on that kind of rationalist epistemology (42ff). A major difficulty with literalism, he notes, is that it seems to ultimately lead to fideism: one’s view of what the “plain sense” reading of the Bible is must be taken as normative for all areas of inquiry (44; 45-46). Another difficulty is that literalism tends to actually go far beyond what the text says in order to defend a preferred interpretation of the text (56-57).

Scientific creationism, Osborn argues, is flawed because it isn’t a “progressive research program” but rather a “degenerative” one. That is, scientific creationism is simply adjusted in an ad hoc way to meet new challenges rather than predicting them (63ff). He rounds out this first part with a discussion of how literalism ultimately leads to circling the wagons and an “enclave mentality,” alongside various representatives of historical interpretation of Genesis–Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and Maimonides.

The second part focuses on animal suffering and approaches it from a number of angles. He begins the section with three difficulties with a “literalist” view of animal suffering and the Fall. Briefly, these are the notion that a flawless creation as put forward by some seems to simply be the winding up of a watch; that God is made to be a deceiver; and difficulties with how the curse is to be applied to animals (126ff). These are presented briefly but cogently and each offers a unique challenge to typical creationist readings of the text. Next, Osborn turns to explanations other than the Fall as reasons animals suffer. He turns to the book of Job and argues both that God may have created nature with predation and death and also that God’s answer to Job out of the whirlwind may be applied to animal suffering (154-155). Moreover, God’s choosing to participate in the world in the Incarnation helps to consummate all creation and bring it to completion (165).

A difficulty with the book is the sustained polemic against literalism/YEC. At times, Osborn shares great insights in the movement. Moreover, pointed criticism is surely needed in some form. Unfortunately, after some helpful introductory comments, he seems to degenerate into posturing against those with whom he disagrees. For example, after admitting that Gnosticism is rather ill-defined, he nevertheless goes on to compare literalism to Gnosticism and simply state that they each share certain features in common (86ff). I like to call this the “Gnostic fallacy” in which someone declares the ‘other’ to be a Gnostic in order to refute them. As Osborn himself notes, Gnosticism is hard to pin down, which also means it is very easy to twist various teachings into lining up with Gnosticism. I think this is honestly one example. [See comments for Osborn's clarifying comments on this section.]

This section is understandable, and it is easy for someone like Osborn–a former YEC (like myself)–to want to lash out against these formerly held, and sometimes damaging, beliefs, but it is not a very helpful. I suspect it will alienate any readers he would perhaps hope to engage in dialogue, which leaves one wondering about the audience for the book.

Another difficulty with Osborn’s sustained critique of “literalism” is that he never provides much insight into how and/or when texts are to be read literally. That is, would the Gospels need to be read literally when they speak of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again? Osborn clearly affirms this, but doesn’t provide mechanisms which distinguish between “literalism” and simply proper exegesis which would allow for and engage with literal readings of the texts.

One further problem is that the book, despite purporting to be about Death Before the Fall, only briefly addresses this issue. The book really doesn’t provide anything more than most basic non-young earth literature does when it comes to the issue. As such, it is difficult to determine exactly how useful the book is when compared to other works.

Ultimately, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering does not contribute much new to the debate over whether animal death could occur before the fall. Osborn presents many interesting points–particularly in his heavy critique of literalism as a method–and the book is worth the read, but its limited treatment of the title is a disappointment.

Readers who are interested in the topic of animal suffering and death before the fall are better served to pick up Michael Murray’s excellent and enthralling book, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Murray’s work is superior in both tone and treatment. It focuses entirely on the topic of animal suffering from a philosophical perspective (and is thus more academic than Osborn’s work, for better or worse). The work has a lengthy (33 pages) chapter dedicated explicitly to philosophical issues with animal suffering and the Fall, which makes it far more in-depth than the work reviewed here. Finally, it provides much greater depth on various theodicies when it comes to animal suffering. Those interested in that topic and the topic of death before the Fall or how the Fall relates to animal suffering would be better served to pick up Murray’s work.

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!- Do Trilobites Yield a Greater Good?- I discuss a very minor point in Murray’s work which shows how diverse its threads are for thinking on this topic.

Source

Ronald Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsit, 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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Book Review: “The Poverty of Nations” by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus

pov-nat

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is an ambitious book. Wayne Grudem (theologian) and Barry Asmus (economist) claim to put forward a list of 78 traits which, if incorporated at a national level, will bring about a solution to poverty. The book is an economic and moral/biblical treatise aimed at stamping out poverty through the production of goods and the integration of morality into global economic practice. Here, I’ll analyze it from its two primary thrusts: economic and moral. Then, we’ll discuss some of the issues involved in a book of this scope.

It is worth noting up front that I have a BS in Social Studies and had numerous classes on economics and international economics at a college level. This doesn’t make me an expert, but I think it allows me to take a decently accurate look at economic theories.*

Economics

The first half of the book focuses on issues of economics on a national level. Specifically, they endorse the free market as a way to bring prosperity to all nations. Their argument is based upon historical observations about how nations have gotten out of poverty and become prosperous.

Thus, the authors argue that fair trade and open borders (with low or no tariffs and the like) will drive the market to balance itself out and also increase the overall prosperity of people from various nations. Moreover, it will provide a means by which lesser-developed countries can utilize their comparative advantages to produce things that other countries are willing to pay a higher price such that they do not need to produce them. Demand drives the market, and the freer a market, the more demand is able to do so. The reason it is beneficial to allow demand to drive the market is because it allows for people to genuinely respond to others wants and constantly produce newer, better goods in more efficient ways, thus increasing the wealth across the board.

I should note that, by necessity, this is merely the briefest overview of this section of the book. Those who read The Poverty of Nations are essentially getting a fully realized introduction to international economics. In fact, the economic portion of the book is quite strong in many ways (though some issues with the complexity are noted below).

Biblical/Moral Issues

Like the economics portion, this half of the book has much to commend it. Though basic, much of the instruction is vital and important to realize as necessary for economic success. For example, government curtailing of bribery is important for an economic system to become more successful. Another, more complex example would be the notion that tariffs decrease the productivity of international trade and artificially increase prices.

The problem with much of the focus on the moral background to the “Free Market” is that Grudem and Asmus seem to assume or assert more often than they provide evidence. It’s easy for someone like me from a relatively free market system who favors open markets to nod along to how a free market encourages integrity because of the repeated transactions between the same persons and the like, but then a statement like this is made:

When people are held responsible by the voluntary personal interactions of the free market, they are typically more responsible. (Kindle Loc. 3784)**

Statements like this are frequently made, but after reading along and perhaps agreeing largely, one is forced to wonder about things like: “Where is the empirical evidence to show that this is actually the case?”; “To whom or to what are people more responsible to?”; “How are we capable of making judgments like this across incredibly complex systems like the economic practice of states, regions, nations, and the world?” The particular statement made above offers no empirical support for its claim, nor do the authors explore the complexities of simply stating that “people… are typically more responsible” in a free market. This statement, and others like it, leave me scratching my head and asking for the evidence. Certainly it is possibly true or perhaps it is true, but why think it without anything more than an assertion?

Another difficulty with this section is that throughout, the specific examples given are taken to be the biblical approach to economics. Now, I think one could fairly say that the Bible condemns bribery, but what of more complex issues like whether it actually endorses a free market? One constant refrain in the book is the use of Genesis 1:28 (“fill the earth and subdue it”) to support various things, from use of natural resources (which are rather shockingly claimed to be essentially unlimited: “[I]t is highly unlikely that any resources will be used up in the foreseeable future… we keep discovering huge new reserves of resources and inventing more creative ways to access them” (6606-6617)–but of course where are the huge new reserves of forests? fresh water? etc.?) to drive people to invent and make new things (3405), to making products from the earth specifically (1169), to move beyond subsistence farming (4207), and more.

One is forced to wonder whether the verse actually means all these things or if, perhaps, the Bible is simply under-determined when it comes to economic policy. I do genuinely wonder whether the Bible is to be treated as an economics textbook, which it often seems to be in this book. Quotes like these are scattered throughout, often in seemingly random fashion in the economics portion. The question is whether this really may be seen as a systematic treatment of the Bible on economy, or whether it may perhaps instead be mining the text to try to support claims about economy which are not really found therein. Not that these are unbiblical points; merely that they perhaps are not the focus or intention of the texts.

Complexities

The book seems to oversimplify on some aspects. It is common practice to use examples which allow an economist to shift just one aspect in order to demonstrate a theory.* That said, at times the examples used in The Poverty of Nations are often a bit too simplistic to believe. For example, at one point a thought experiment asks whether simply taking money from a group of wealthy elites would solve the existing issue of poverty. Although it seemed clear that simply attempting to redistribute wealth didn’t solve the problem, the proposed solution–the book’s solution–was to produce more goods. But it seems to me that if a number of elites were controlling the wealth in a country, just producing more goods would continue to line the pockets of those elite rather than specifically helping the poor.

Examples like this abound throughout the book, as simple solutions are offered to extremely complex issues. Economics is a wonderfully complex topic, but as the authors themselves note at the beginning, it is one which is hard to study due to the human factor in it. Despite the professed efforts to avoid such simplification (Kindle location 2115, for example), the book often does seem to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to solving economic problems.

That said, at other times the authors do a great job of speaking directly to the complexities of the issue. For example, their discussion of colonialism was marvelous and ably pointed out both the potential benefits and cons of those endeavors on our present world situation. It was a great way to survey a complex issue without trying to identify any one factor. Portions of the book like this make the places where it is simplistic stand out even more, however.

A final issue is that of audience: Asmus and Grudem claim the book is primarily written for leaders of impoverished nations, which–apart from coming off as a bit imperialistic–doesn’t actually seem to be the likely readership. The authors note others as possible audience, but I wonder whether we may end up with several people walking around with this as their only interaction with economic theory and assuming they are able to fix the world’s problems through this oft-simplified economics instruction.

Conclusion

The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution is at times brilliant, but at others frustrating. It is well-worth a read for Christians interested in economics and attempting to strike at the core of poverty through effective legislation and whole-nation solutions. It does provide a very useful introduction to international economics, and gives some very good ways forward for those wishing to engage on this topic. However, readers should go in with some caution: the simplification at times means that readers should not take this as the final word on this topic, nor should they assume by reading the book they are suddenly equipped to run national-level economic programs.

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!- A biblical answer to economic woes?- I discuss a quote from a section of The Poverty of Nations and whether it is true that the Bible may contain specific economic practice.

Source

Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

*I was a Social Studies major in college and so took a number of economics classes. I am making no claim to be an expert, but rather educated laity in this area.

**All references are to kindle locations.

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.

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: “To the Ends of the Earth” by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr.

tee-haykin-robinsonThe question of “Why evangelize?” is one which is often leveled against Calvinism. After all, it is reasoned, if people are fore-ordained to be elect or one of the damned, then why bother to go out and evangelize them? Interestingly, this is a charge which I think may be leveled against virtually any view of foreknowledge, so the Calvinist answers given in To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy have relevance for those of other backgrounds (like me, a Lutheran).

Contents

The book begins with a survey of the arguments made to suggest that Calvinism would not endorse evangelism or makes evangelism pointless. Clearly, the charge has come from many fronts throughout the history of the church. Then, Haykin and Robinson introduce the primary reason for others’ concerns about Calvinism’s evangelical prospects: that Calvin believed God had ordained some to be elect, and others to be damned, before the foundations of the world.

The authors defend the doctrine, taking on many of the key “all” passages which some argue make explicit the openness of salvation to all individual people. Calvin is brought to his own defense alongside a number of modern Calvinist theologians, ably presenting the Calvinist case for exegesis of these key passages, which basically is that when “all” or “world” is used, it is referring to the breaking open of salvation for all tribes and nations as opposed to merely the chosen people of Israel. The book goes beyond these basics and also outlines how other passages might be understood in this context.

Next, the authors turn to an exposition of Calvin’s theology of missions. Part of this theology was the notion that a Christian life lived was a profound witness to the Gospel. Word and deed were central to Calvin’s missions theology. This missional activity was to be for all people (Kindle location 993). Prayer was also central to Calvin’s theology, as he believed that it might be used by God to bring about change in persons (rather than change in God).

Historical Reformed missions are surveyed in the next sections. Calvin taught many going into France and certain torture and death if discovered, and even made significant efforts towards (ultimately failing) missions into Brazil. These efforts showed that through his actions, Calvin himself valued global missions.

Later Calvinist traditions and persons also demonstrated the urge to missions that the Reformer’s theology compelled. The Puritans sought to evangelize and frequently prayed for the same, though they may not have had the success of other contemporaries. Calvinist Baptists in England feverishly evangelized and planted churches, while also demonstrating concern for global evangelism (Kindle loc. 1420ff). Jonathan Edwards, contrary to some opinions, was also focused on missions by developing his own missional theology and also going on a mission to Native Americans himself.

The book closes with thoughts on “developing missional passion” through observations about Samuel Pearce, a theologian known in his time for fervent prayer and love of missions. Central to Pearce’s theology was the cross; Christ crucified was “his darling theme from first to last”; while the other primary theme of his life was a “passion for the salvation of his fellow human beings” (Kindle loc. 1978).

Evaluation

To the Ends of the Earth is a great, pithy read on a topic that should be of interest to many from a diverse array of backgrounds. It has appeal which goes beyond Calvinism in the way it demonstrates missions ought to be of central importance and also in its justification of missions even in light of the notion that there really do exist an elect people. Of course, the thrust of the book is to demonstrate that Calvinist theology does not undermine the need or motivation for missions. Those interested in that topic will find the most to benefit from the book. Regardless of one’s level of interest, however, the book generates its own avenues for exploration by introducing several little-known figures and historical events for further reading. It is short enough to enjoy in a single afternoon (as I did), yet deep enough to keep one’s mind occupied for some time afterwards.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the book, however, is its length in that there is little ultimate exposition of the counter-arguments to those who would fault Calvinism with lack of evangelical fervor. That is, readers are often left to tie the arguments off themselves instead of having them drawn out and defended. This, however, is a minor fault in what is an otherwise excellent book, regardless of one’s position on the arguments made therein. It was well worth the read, in my humble opinion.

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

Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson, Sr., To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

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.

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: “Chance and the Sovereignty of God” by Vern Poythress

Chance_comps.inddWhen I saw the title  Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events, I pounced on the opportunity to review it. This is a topic I’ve been considering for doctoral work so I was extremely excited to dive in.

The book starts off well, with discussions on the nature of chance and exploration of the biblical material for anything dealing with seemingly random events. Poythress ably shows that the Bible clearly presents God as in control of all these events. Numerous verses suggest that God is in control over “all” events, while verses which explicitly mention seemingly random or chance occurrences also attribute such events to divine knowledge and control. Poythress’ look into these topics is detailed and broad. He addresses the weather, random events like the toss of a die, human free choices, the life and death of the smallest creature or plant, and even gambling! These things are all argued to be ultimately, biblically under the sovereignty of God.

Another area the book excels in is the discussion of chance in rival worldviews. Any view which denies the centrality of God is one which suppresses the knowledge of God (Romans 1). Poythress notes that this means that “chance” may become a God-substitute. Chance is seen as being not only the explanation of events but their actual cause:

People are implying that [Chance] has the power to bring about events… The word chance first gets associated with events that we as humans cannot predict or explain… Then, in a second step… [Chance] becomes a label that we offer as the new explanation for the unpredictable event… We say “Chance brought it about”… (Kindle Location 1707)

Chance as an explanation, Poythress argues, is ultimately empty. For chance is substituted to become whatever we cannot predict or explain, and is then used itself as the explanation. I found Poythress’ comments here interesting and very insightful. His application of this concept to other worldviews later in the book makes it worth the read for these sections alone.

One difficulty with the book is the question of audience. At times, the discussion of probability theory becomes complex and very scholarly, but the earlier sections of the book speak broadly and with words that seem aimed more at a general readership. This mixture of technical and general writing makes it hard to pinpoint the audience. Who is supposed to read this book? What is it supposed to be used for?

Another problem I saw in the book is the lack of thorough argumentation for many points. No complaint of this nature may be lodged against the book’s discussion of probability theory, which is well fleshed-out. But on God’s relation to probability theory and how that relates back to sovereignty, there are often only a few sentences at a time to make a claim about the nature of the interrelationship. For example, throughout Section IV on “Probability and Mathematics,” there are lengthy discussions of probability theory with passages on how it relates back to God seemingly tacked on throughout. Near the beginning of this section, one sample is representative:

Both of these [mathematical] principles [discussed above] have their foundations in God… The separations within this world have their ultimate foundation in the distinction among the persons of the Trinity… The unity and diversity in outcomes rest… on the original pattern of unity and diversity in God. God has caused the creation to reflect his glory and wisdom. (Kindle Location 3346)

Poythress does make some earlier references to this argument, but it just never seems to be fully established and surely a statement about mathematical separations for probability in the world being a reflection of distinction among persons in the Trinity may cause some skepticism. It is a point which begs for more argumentation than was dedicated to it here. Where Poythress does address it (Chapter 11), we find more detail to the arguments, but even more questions left unanswered. For example, granting that God is revealed in all things which are made, why think that a sequence of flipping coins is explicitly a revelation of the Trinity instead of simply a revelation of God’s imbuing the universe with order and regularity so that seemingly random events are possible? But Poythress takes it as the former–a revelation of the Trinity–without so much as a comment on alternative possibilities.

Perhaps more problematic is that Poythress never seems to tackle the broader implications of his biblical argumentation. Yes, he put much work into showing God is sovereign over the weather, chance events, free will, and the like. But I kept thinking, “And now what?” What does it mean to say God is in control over natural disasters? What does it mean to say that the roll of dice I make in a game of Risk, for example, is controlled by God? What are the implications of the biblical data Poythress has set before me? Topics like these are taken up at points, only to be quickly set aside by a paragraph or even just a sentence or two.

Overall, Chance and the Sovereignty of God is an interesting look at an oft-neglected topic, but its scope is too broad and its argumentation at times too vague to be helpful. On biblical issues Poythress has offered much to consider. His outline of probability theory is helpful but technical. What I found after reading the book is that I continued to hope for a more detailed discussion on how sovereignty would interlink with chance. Yes, the book makes it plain that God has sovereignty over seemingly random events, but exactly how does that work? What does that mean for everyday life? At times these topics are taken up, only to be set down after but a few sentences. At times helpful and stunningly insightful, at other times frustratingly vague and broad, it’s a book that will leave you longing for more.

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

Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

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.

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: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa

hw-godawaI often say that every movie has a worldview. The same is true for any story. Brian Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, takes just such an approach to movies: what do films teach us? How might we critically evaluate movies?

First, Godawa introduces the concepts of a “cultural glutton” as opposed to a “cultural anorexic.” The point is that Christians are to be in the world not of it. It is one thing to say that violence in a movie is bad; but what of the context of the violence? The Bible also has many scenes which, if filmed, could even rate NC-17. The question is: what’s the point? When looking at film, Christians should look into the way the narrative shapes what happens in the movies.

In order to look into this theme, Christians must be equipped to seek out the context of stories as well as the explicit (and implicit) things they teach. In order to equip people to watch film critically, Godawa approaches this task is divided among several chapters by topics related to film and worldview. Each chapter begins with a summary of the topic of the chapter and how one might discover this theme in film. For example, in the chapter on “Postmodernism,” he begins with a definition and explanation of the concept. Then, he utilizes a slew of examples from various movies to show how postmodernism is found in them in either positive or negative light.

The chapters all cover interesting topics, and Godawa’s use of specific examples from movies are fantastic case studies for showing how critical engagement with worldviews can play out. Even better, Godawa’s explanations and applications could easily be used to apply outside of film and in areas like literature. Frankly, some of Godawa’s evaluation of popular films–including some I’ve enjoyed greatly–have forced me to rethink how I thought of the storyline. Movies which may appear to be fairly neutral or simply entertainment alone do indeed have their own way of approaching reality. Some of the movies which were brought to new light for me included “Gladiator,” “The Truman Show,” and “Groundhog Day.” Dozens of movies are treated throughout this book, and Godawa’s analysis is always interesting and thought provoking, encouraging the critical engagement he seeks.

Another great aspect of the book are the activities Godawa proposes for each chapter to apply what one has learned. These are frequently interesting and provide ways forward to put into practice the art of discernment when it comes to watching film.

One difficulty with a book like this is there is some necessary oversimplification. For example, Godawa, in his discussion of existentialism, writes: “Existentialism accepts the Enlightenment notion of an eternally existing materialistic universe with no underlying meaning or purpose” (95). Oddly, Godawa seems to downplay Kierkegaard’s very explicit Christian faith in light of his existential views, and Kierkegaard seems to become a kind of pariah through this analysis. Kierkegaard, for Godawa, is strangely aberrant from his general picture of existentialism as necessarily godless and without purpose.

At other points, films receive short shrift are are discussed in ways which seem a bit odd. Of course, engagement with these points actually encourages the sort of critical interaction Godawa is pursuing. Some offhand comments are a bit awkward and out of place (for example the bare assertion that “men are the leaders in home and public roles” in Christianity without qualification–in contrast with the declared equality of genders in Galatians 3:28 and the apostleship of a woman in Romans 16:7), but overall these negative points are outweighed by the service Godawa has done to provide critical perspective on worldviews in film.

Hollywood Worldviews is a great book which will encourage much discussion. It would serve as a good resource for those who wish to meaningfully engage the culture. People who read it will be equipped to have thoughtful conversations on the way movies put forth worldviews. The book should come with a warning, though, some of your favorite movies may not be what they seem!

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!

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

Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

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: “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her”

hs-gibsonFrom Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective is an extremely in-depth look at the doctrine of “definite atonement” (more commonly known as “limited atonement.” The editors define the doctrine in the introduction: “The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. The death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone” (Kindle location 463).

Due to the length of this book, I will split my review into broad comments on positives and negatives of the book, with a few specifics. It should be noted I didn’t simply reduce the positives to areas I agreed or negatives to disagreements. Rather, I have tried to be as fair as possible and show several areas of interest for this uniquely important work. I look forward to any comments you’d drop off with your own thoughts.

Positives

The most obvious positive of the book is its magisterial scope. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is a simply huge study which touches upon multiple avenues of research related to the topic of definite atonement. The book touches upon almost every conceivable aspect of the doctrine of limited atonement, from church history to biblical theology to pastoral implications and evangelism. As Daniel Strange comments in the chapter on “The ‘Uncomfortability’ of the ‘Unevangelized’ for a Universal Atonement”: “No doctrine is an island” (Kindle location 14696).

The portions of the book which deal with specific authors are extremely interesting. The chapter on Calvin, for example, shows (in my mind) beyond a reasonable doubt that Calvin–at the least–would have found definite atonement a logical path for his theology to take. The chapter on “Blaming Beza” highlights some interesting aspects of the development of the doctrine which were fascinating.

Many chapters could be held up as “highlights,” but I particularly would say that Strange’s aforementioned chapter, which provides an argument that any view which holds that at least some are not saved is a form of limited atonement was a major highlight of the book. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Strange, his argument forces those who disagree with him to contend with it. Other major highlights are the chapters on Calvin by Paul Helm (an author whose previous work I have enjoyed), the chapter on John Owen (which highlights some aspects of Owen’s teaching I found particularly interesting), and the chapter on “The Triune God” and definite atonement by Robert Letham.

To say that these are “highlights” is to do injustice to the work as a whole, however, which simply provides a comprehensive argument for definite atonement. Even as one who does not hold to the doctrine, I was impressed by the incredible scope of the work and very interested in the historical development of the doctrine as it was highlighted therein. This book is a good read, even if you ultimately disagree with its conclusions. And, if you do disagree, you will be forced to think long and hard about your disagreement.

Negatives

Perhaps the biggest issue is that at multiple points, conclusions drawn from evidence seems overstated. One example, drawn from the chapter on Definite Atonement in Church History, states that Justin Martyr fairly clearly held to definite atonement. Now, I’m not claiming to be a patristic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me the passages cited are hardly a resounding endorsement of definite atonement. Indeed, Martyr said that “[Christ] was going to endure, cleansing through his blood those who believed in him” (Kindle Location 1088). I’m not at all sure why this would be taken as evidence for definite atonement, because apart from universalists, anyone who believes Christ died for the salvation of humanity would also hold that Christ’s death ultimately cleanses the elect; those who believe. None who disbelieve are ultimately cleansed, for the application of Christ’s atonement was not brought about. Now the point is not to demonstrate this latter view is correct; my point is merely that the conclusion drawn here is actually overstated.

Going with the same section, one could just as easily take the passage cited from Martyr about how Christ “ransomed” us as allegedly pointing to the ransom theory of atonement. The problem is this latter case would also be a clear overstatement. Only by starting with a paradigm and reading Martyr through that lens does the alleged evidence turn out to support that conclusion.

Another example comes from the chapter on “Problematic Texts” by Thomas Schreiner. There, in dealing with 1 Timothy 2:1-7, he states “The immediate [contextual] reference to ‘kings and all who are in high positions’ (v. 2) suggests that various classes of people are in view” (Kindle location 9564). For support, he cites further context and a commentary. However, on face value alone, if 1 Timothy 2:2 is indeed that which limits the scope of the passage, one would have to wonder how “kings and… high positions” could be comprehensive in the way required by “all.” I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I by no means rank among kings or those in high places, but I do think that I am part of “all” or at least “various classes of people…” Moreover, Schreiner seems to think that v. 2 is the limiting factor, but the flow of the passage seems to fit more with the notion that all people includes those who are kings and those in high places and that Paul is simply emphasizing the latter group as particularly worth praying for (after all, leaders are those most in need of God’s guiding hand). Schreiner goes on to argue based upon this that the best reading is, again, “all kinds of people” not merely “all people.”

Apart from the fact that Paul could have simply said “all kinds of people” to make it clear that that were his intended meaning, the text itself again goes against Schreiner’s view, because its context is not “all kinds” but rather “kings” or “those in high places…” In any case, I would think this passage would lead to caution about the conclusion, not the absolute conclusion given later: “[T]he pastorals… focus on salvation being accomplished for all without distinction, both Jews and Gentiles…” (Kindle location 9989).

Unfortunately, examples like this may be easily multiplied. Throughout the book, conclusions seem to be drawn prior to the evidence, and so evidence is made to neatly fit with the conclusion. Conclusions often seem to be overstated throughout, without much caution for some of the more difficult passages or acknowledgement that there is diversity among even those who hold to definite atonement on the interpretation of various biblical passages or authors.

Conclusion

Looking back over the review, I can’t help but think that it is inadequate. The scope of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is so massive that it simply cannot be adequately covered in a review of readable length. Anyone who wishes to deny the doctrine of definite atonement must contend with this work and engage with it critically. Those who hold to definite atonement will find their view ably defended. As a reader, I was challenged as much as I was engaged. I recommend the book highly for those interested in this doctrine, though I do wish there were perhaps some more acknowledgement of the real difficulties on various points.

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!

Source

David Gibson and Jonathan  Gibson, eds., From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

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: “Imaginative Apologetics” edited by Andrew Davison

ia-ad Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition seeks to provide readers with ways to apply their imagination to the defense of the faith. John Milbank, in the foreword, suggests that apologetics may be used to instruct in the faith and also provide access to a transcendent reality through the imagination: “Instead of… a falsely ‘neutral’ approach… which accepts without question the terms and terminology of this world, we need a mode of apologetics prepared to question the world’s assumptions down to their very roots…” (xx). This mode “does not pretend that we have any access to what lies beyond the world save through the world and its analogical participation in that beyond” (xxi). Thus, the imagination may engage with the truth of religion.

The book is a series of essays dedicated broadly to this topic. Some of these are quite on-point. Donna Lazenby’s essay “Apologetics, Literature, and Worldview” is among these. In it, Lazenby engages with various atheists through the use of literature and suggests that non-theistic literature ultimately is left in a void, seeking a greater reality. Graham Ward’s essay “Cultural Hermeneutics and Christian Apologetics” is equally insightful, as Ward applies various critical theories to examining the broader implications for culture and understanding. Alison Milbank’s “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange” shows how the imagination may be engaged in worship and the religious life. These essays alone are worth the price of entry, and there are other bright spots throughout the work which are just as engaging.

However, Imaginative Apologetics is not without some serious flaws. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the book, in my opinion, is the sometime refrain and skepticism against “theistic proofs.” For example, John Hughes, in “Proofs and Arguments” suggests that “the rationalist project of proofs has sold out the Christian faith to deism and turned the God of Jesus Christ into an idol of human reason” (7). Strong words, but I’m not sure they are at all true. In particular, Hughes seemed to broadly label essentially any attempt at natural theology as equivalent to this rationalism. Later, Hughes does give a nod to the project of natural theology but–in a seemingly confused fashion–suggests that arguments like cosmological arguments are merely “more ancient arguments.” I wonder how he would comment on the modern retooling of the Kalam Cosmological Argument… would this be a project of “rationalism” and making deistic idols; or an evidence pointing to the truth of theism? The lack of distinctions being made left the definitions given in this essay (a lead-in for the rest of the discussion) with a decidedly amorphous view of the project of apologetics as a whole.

Later essays emulate this error at times. Craig Hovey’s “Christian Ethics as Good News” (an interesting piece itself) addresses a strange and seemingly false dichotomy of “two different understandings of what apologetics is all about… quasi-legal defences of a certain sort of self-confident Protestant who went around armed with a hundred and one proofs… [or] the early Church’s efforts to defend the faith against misunderstanding from their pagan neighbours…” (98). Hovey expressed some caution: “My unease with the proof version of apologetics stems from my suspicion that… [it may make] the point of being a Christian… to be right or rational” (99). Although he admits he wants to be right and rational too; he says there is more to Christianity than that.

I admit I know of no published Christian apologist today who thinks that “the point of being a Christian” is to be right and rational. Of course, that doesn’t at all preclude the project of proving Christianity to be true. Christianity is about Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord and Savior, but of course if that is itself not true, Christianity is rather pointless, isn’t it? Hovey’s comments seem to divorce Christianity from being a historical reality; and this, as I showed above, is a kind of confusion over the project of apologetics which occurs in other places in the book.

As I noted, there are moments of utter brilliance found throughout the text. Ultimately, however, it seems the book does not live up to its title. At times some authors flounder with understanding the meaning and application of apologetics, but more importantly, few essays seem to actually recommend or apply a method of apologetics which engages the imagination [with noted exceptions above, as well as tidbits throughout every essay... and I'd like to note Alister McGrath was, as usual, excellent (though perhaps also off topic with his essay on science and apologetics)]. The book, it seems, is often more about its subtitle (“Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition”) than its title. Although at times interesting, I found it an overall disappointment. Perhaps that is due to my own high expectations going in, but there it is. A few gems make it well worth the read, but I would recommend a critical eye on the commentary on the nature of apologetics and readers should realize that only at times does it focus on the application of the imagination to apologetics.

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: “Think Christianly” by Jonathan Morrow- Interested in engaging the culture on multiple levels? I highly recommend this book by Morrow for those who want to critically encounter the surrounding culture and “think Christianly” throughout their lives.

Source

Alison Milbank, “Apologetics and the Imagination: Making Strange” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 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: “Pig and the Accidental Oink! – Picture Book Apologetics”

pao-pbaWhen I found out about “Picture Book Apologetics” I was intrigued by the notion of bringing apologetics into the realm of picture books. Pig and the Accidental Oink! explores the Kalam Cosmological Argument through a dialogue of characters in the story.

…What? Right, that’s what the book does. But J.D. Camorlinga, the author, doesn’t just throw phrases like that into the children’s book. For this review, I’ll start at the end. The end of the book has two pages dedicated to parents interested in taking the content of the book beyond its pages. One page has an activity suggestion, the other has an explanation of the content in greater detail (here is where the term “Kalam Cosmological Argument” is used–and defined!).

The activity involves chocolate chip cookies (a bonus) and uses them to explain the notion that something does not come from nothing. The note to parents is helpful and provides avenues for further exploration.

The picture book itself is engaging and fun. Two children encounter a pig, who insists that “It makes more sense to believe that everything began by accident” than that God created the universe. The children go home, dejected, but their father explains that things don’t just pop into existence out of nothing; observation in the lives of the children shows that things which begin have causes. Armed with a new strategy for discussing beginnings, the children return to Pig and convince him that he can’t just posit an accident as the most reasonable explanation when his own experience contradicts it. They then run and play together happily.

Though I’m not completely sure about the wisdom of making the skeptical stand-in a pig (a bit too polemical, perhaps?), there is much to commend in Accidental Oink! The story is fun to follow; the characters are interesting, and the art is great. The illustrations are quite good. They’re what looks like colored pencil drawings and they’re vibrant and they avoid the generic look that some children’s books have. There remains a kind of charming style throughout the book that is recognizable on its own. Moreover, it’s definitely the kind of book to start all kinds of great conversations.

Pig and the Accidental Oink! comes highly recommended for children about 5 and up. The concepts are heavy, but the way they are approached is in such a way that they may inspire conversation and deeper thought for a wide range of ages.

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!

Youth Apologetics Network- An interesting site which seeks to provide resources for youths related to apologetics. They are affiliated with Picture Book Apologetics as well. Great resources to explore for those interested in youth ministry.

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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: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery

fff-jwmJohn Warwick Montgomery (hereafter JWM) is about as evidentialist as they come, and Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics is a collection of his essays which shows, through application, his apologetic method from a number of contexts. Here, I will go through the book to highlight main points of the individual essays and the book as a whole. Then, we’ll discuss some of the main theses in the text. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what you think of JWM’s theses.

Central to JWM’s apologetic methodology is the notion that one need not presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to defend it. For him, one may make the appeal to the skeptic by going to the skeptic and battling their reasoning on their own grounds. He states his thesis succinctly:

Few non-Christians will be impressed by arguments… in which the Christian stacks the deck by first defining ‘rationality’ and ‘internal consistency’ in terms of the content of his own revelational position and then judges all other positions by that self-serving criterion. (xix, cited below)

JWM surveys various attacks on the practice of evidential apologetics and argues that they fail (28ff). Although he deals with various liberal objections to apologetics, the core of his concern is for the objections raised by those who feel as though the evidentialist approach does injustice to faith. In response, he notes that any approach which removes Jesus from historical investigation–from hard evidence capable of being explored by all–reduces Him to a “historical phantasm” and does injustice to the reality of the incarnation (34-35).

The possibility of miracles and the argument of Hume engages in “circular reasoning” for Hume’s argument relies upon “unalterable experience” which is, of course his own experience and that of those who agree with him. Moreover, the definition of miracle has been slanted in such a way as to make it either irrelevant or beyond the realm of evidence by various parties (46ff). A case study of the miracle of the resurrection provides proof that miracles may be examined with an evidentialist mentality, for any who wish to deny the notion must relegate history to a place which may never be accessed through evidence (56ff).

JWM analyzes Muslim apologetics and concludes that it provides a number of lessons for Christian apologetists. Among these is the notion that merely showing the falsity of other religions is not enough for an evidential defense (93-94), the notion that “no religion is deducible from self-evident a prioris…” (97), and mere appeal to “try out” a religion is not enough to establish its credibility (98).

One of JWM’s most famous (or infamous, depending upon your view) essays is “Once Upon an A Priori,” in which he launched a broad-spectrum attack on presuppositional apologetics as a methodology. In this essay, JWM argues that when one suggests there is no neutral epistemic ground between two positions whatsoever–as presuppositional apologists do–”Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal to neutral evidencve is eliminated” (115). Because there are no neutral facts, there can be no appeal to facts to make one’s case; instead, all one is able to do is argue in circles against each other… “appeal to common facts is the only preservative against philosophical solipsism and religious anarchy…” (119). Instead, Christians must, like Paul, “become all things to all” people (122) in order to make the case for Christianity.

The practice of apologetics, for JWM, is intended to break down the barriers to belief. But the evidences are so strong that they obligate belief in Christian theism. However, the work of the Spirit is the work of conversion. The “evidential facts are God’s work, and the sinner’s personal acceptance of them… is entirely the product of the Holy Spirit” (150).

After an essay appealing to Christians to continue to use mass communication to spread the Word, JWM turns to “The Fuzzification of Biblical Inerrancy.” By “fuzzification,” he means (following James Boren), “the presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217). In its application to inerrancy, it means the constant adjustment of inerrancy to make it invulnerable to attack in often ad hoc ways. What one is left with is “inerrancy devoid of meaningful content…” (223). In order to combat this, JWM suggests explicit definitions of terms such that one has a firm grasp upon what is meant by inerrancy, rather than a constant modification of the term and meaning.

There are a few areas of disagreement I would express with JWM’s theses. First, his apparent dismissal of the practice of taking the “falsity of one religion” as proof of another (93-94). He is correct in that the falsity of any given religion does not entail the truth of any other one. However, it seems to be the case that the falsity of any one religion does entail that any which have not been proven false are inherently more probable. Second, I think his reaction against presuppositionalism has led him to reject all of its tenets a bit too vehemently. For example, it seems to me that in his rejection of the notion there can be “no neutral ground” he also seems to jettison the notion that facts are interpreted no matter what the facts are. However, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether he is making a statement in a vaccuum or against a context. In relation to “facts,” he clearly holds the facts are determinative enough to demonstrate Christianity; but he also holds that people will not accept said facts other than through God’s action. Thus, perhaps the gulf between his position and that which he rejects is not so wide.

These disagreements aside, I also have enormous respect for and agreement with much of the content of Faith Founded on Fact. JWM effectively disposed of any apologetic method which inherently ignores the value of evidentialist reasoning, and he did so through not only apologetic but also theological reasons (i.e. it turns Christ into an “historical phantasm”). Moreover, his critique of presuppositional methodology–though at times off base (as noted above), does not entirely miss the mark. In particular, his critique that presuppositionalism voids any kind of objective method for determining facts is troubling for those who have presuppositional tendencies (readers should note that I myself think presuppositionalism has some merit–see my posts on the topic).

Faith Founded on Fact, put simply, is fantastic. In this review, I have only surveyed a small number of the areas I found to be of note throughout the work. JWM is witty and clever as usual, but he also raises an enormous number of points to reflect upon whether one agrees with his views or not. He offers a number of ways to approach apologetics from an evidentialist perspective, while also offering some devastating critiques of those who would allege that evidentialism fails. The book is a must read for anyone interested in apologetics.

Links

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion- I summarize and analyze an incredible lecture given by John Warwick Montgomery which I had the pleasure of attending at 2012′s Evangelical Theological Society Conference. JWM argues for an evidential view of religious conversion.

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 Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy Inc., 2001).

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: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan

ibg-wcRarely does a book come along which forces a reader to completely rethink how they’ve viewed a whole slew of interrelated topics. Winfried Corduan’s latest work on the origin of religion is just such a book. I’ve waited some time to finish writing the review simply because it’s taken a while to reflect upon its content and reread and absorb many of the arguments to support the conclusions Corduan provides. Here, I offer some thoughts which can only touch upon the wealth of information in this fantastic book.

The Thesis

Winfried Corduan’s central thesis is simply stated:

Regardless of how one explains the origin of human beings, one cannot get around the fact that the first religion of human beings was monotheism, the recognition and worship of one God.

The way Corduan defends this claim is initially through analysis of competing claims of major thinkers in the past and present on the origin of religion. He then provides a positive case for original monotheism.

Critical Examination of Competing Views

Corduan surveys a number of major thinkers in anthropology who have proposed various ways that religion may have arisen and developed. A central thought throughout many of these thinkers is the notion that cultures, like organisms, evolve. Thus, the thought was that the earliest stages of religion would be “primitive” while later stages of religion would be more complex and perhaps people would even move beyond religion.

The various theses Corduan examines are each interesting in their own light. Max Müller’s theory that mythology is corruption of human language is wonderfully imaginative, though ultimately bereft of real evidential backing. E.B. Tylor’s application of Darwinism to the development of religion remains highly influential but also provides insight into how a paradigm may corrupt and even create evidence. Andrew Lang set the stage for later thought about how religion may have developed, but unfortunately his theory suffered from assumptions that anyone not “developed” like the Europeans was clearly inferior or lower on the evolutionary scale. Thus, his theory suffered from its own brand of self-confirmation and key blind spots.

A telling critical insight Corduan provided which applies to many of the evolutionary perspectives on the origin of religion is that the field evidence gathered for these hypotheses operated under a critical assumption: “nineteenth-century anthropology proceeded on the premise that the ancient past has preserved itself. We can still see it in full bloom in the cultures of tribal people. Human beings who are now living on a stone-age level must have preserved stone-age culture, they argued.

But of course this doesn’t follow at all. It is perfectly possible for such “stone age” societies to in fact be extremely complex and advanced. In fact, Corduan provides much evidence to suggest that this is exactly the case. Highly complex rituals and traditions are often found in these allegedly primitive societies. Moreover, many of these societies show kinds of vestiges of original monotheism, which itself provides counter-evidence to the hypothesis that these societies support the notion of evolution of religion.

A Case for Original Monotheism

Corduan’s case for original monotheism incorporates many aspects of Wilhelm Schmidt’s work. Thus, he dedicates a few chapters to analysis and defense of Schmidt’s theories. Schmidt’s theories are based off of his analysis of how cultures shift. Corduan provided fascinating and practical examples to look at how cultural movement works. One application of this to the origin of religion is that societies shift and push competing cultures either to adapt and integrate or to be pushed more to the fringes. Early settlers are often supplanted by later explorers who stayed in one place and developed before moving on. Allegedly primitive societies are often found in the deserts or at the outskirts of society because they were the first to move on and thus developed only as they settled in ever-distant areas. However, this cannot be used to support the notion that a “stone age” level of a society today entails the preservation of cultural behaviors and practices from such a time period.

The shifting of cultures through “culture circles” thus is used to evaluate how religion may have developed and moved across the Earth. Most importantly, Schmidt worked with the anthropological data that other researchers used, but he approached it without the dogmatic stance that the development of religion must have been Darwinian. This assumption led many other researchers to reject or downplay aspects of the observational evidence because they did not fit the theory. Schmidt discovered, however, that a number of cultures had vestiges of monotheism from earlier times. This resulted in Schmidt hypothesizing that one possible explanation for the shared original monotheism of these cultures could have been an actual deity.

Corduan then provides analysis of a number of critical responses to Schmidt as well as more modern evolutionary or simply agnostic approaches to the origin and diversification of religion. Finally, he surveys a number of world religions to see if aspects of original monotheism may still be found therein.

religious-symbolsInteresting Avenues to Explore

Other avenues are opened as Corduan analyzes specific cultures, such as Egypt or China, and finds that Egypt’s brief affair with “monotheism” may not have been as significant as some take it or that China’s modern religious thought perhaps reflects an original monotheism beneath the surface.

The application of various aspects of anthropological research and the rejection of agnostic approaches to the origins of religion also open up new avenues for research and exploration. If we don’t assume that we can’t know something, how might we approach the project of discovering how religion may have originated and spread? Corduan, of course, provides Schmidt’s theories as one way, though he also integrates insight even from those scholars with whom he disagrees. Thus, he provides a rather integrative approach to the question.

The analysis of various anthropologists who have thought on issues of the origins of religion also open up new ideas to explore, books to read, and evidence to consider.

Avenues for exploration like this are found throughout the book in droves. I mean that: there is so much in this book that makes me want to know more, to learn more. That is coupled with the fact that it made me realize, again, how little I do know regarding entire fields of research and study. In the Beginning God is a call not only to re-evaluate one’s presuppositions, but also a vast treasury of topics to explore.

Of course another extremely interesting thought to examine is that if monotheism were the original religion of people of all sorts, might this have implications for apologetics? Ultimately, Corduan answers in the affirmative. He argues that at least some aspects of this study point to the existence of a monotheistic deity as a possible explanation for the data. He does not think that the anthropological study provides a comprehensive case for the Christian truth, but he does ultimately argue it can be one factor among many to show the truth of Christianity.

A Final Defense

The immediate reaction of some might be that Corduan’s bias yields his results. Similarly, in Schmidt’s time, some alleged that missionary influence led to the purported evidence for original monotheism. However, it should be clear that although everyone has a bias, the evidence presented by Corduan seems impossible to dismiss as simply the wishes of a theist. Rather, he has provided sound reasons for thinking that original monotheism is a relevant hypothesis which perhaps outstrips its opponents in terms of explanatory scope.

Conclusion

In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism  is a simply incredible read. Each new layer of the text provides new insights and discoveries, each of which builds off the body of the text already perused. Corduan has provided critical insight into the state of modern anthropology regarding the origins of religion. He has also established original monotheism as a significant rival theory to those schools of thought. The book will shift paradigms, cause wonder, and provide resources for you to explore and engage with wonderfully exciting topics. Corduan has truly created a masterwork, and I can’t recommend it 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!

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?- I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?- I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

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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