Book Reviews

This category contains 96 posts

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

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

tcct-gward

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

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

swt-cosper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

Book Review: “Questioning the Bible” by Jonathan Morrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

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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 Search of Moral Knowledge” by R. Scott Smith

ismk-smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

Source

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

SDG.

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

Book Review: “The Illustrated Guide to the 12 Apostles”

800px-Caravaggio_Doubting_ThomasLet’s get this out of the way: it’s really hard to tell the disciples apart. They have similar names, they’re all lumped together usually, some are barely even mentioned, etc., etc. The Illustrated Guide to the 12 Apostles by Jeffrey Kranz and illustrated by Laura Converse Kranz is a free (!) e-book which seeks to solve some of these difficulties.

Each apostle has a pretty neat sketch drawing depicting them (which is largely conjecture), along with several icons and other images which help to distinguish between them. These are each individually helpful, and the icons and the like are based upon the few details mentioned about each apostle in the Bible.

The work surveys all the information we know for certain about the apostles as found in the Bible, while also noting other details we know from tradition and the like. For example, John is one of the most prolific writers of the Bible, as he authored Revelation, John, and 1-3 John as well. These details are extraordinarily helpful at distinguishing the various apostles from each other, and provide some sort of way to remember them as individuals rather than as a group.

The book is brief (55 pages) but packed with useful information. It’s a quick read that can also serve as a handy reference book related to the apostles. I highly recommend it, particularly at its (free) price. The book may be downloaded here. I would also very highly recommend you check out The Overview Bible, a web site dedicated to bringing general Bible knowledge to all. It’s very informative and the posts are all great reads.

Links

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

SDG.

Book Review: “Total Truth” by Nancy Pearcey

Total-TruthNancy Pearcey’s Total Truth is dedicated to bringing Christianity into every realm of knowledge rather than relegating it to the outskirts. That is, Christianity is to be seen as “total truth,” applicable to every aspect of reality. It’s a lengthy book so any review of this size is going to leave things out by necessity. I’ll first provide a brief overview. Then, I’ll emphasize some areas I found helpful and areas I questioned.

Overview

The first section of the book is a call for Christians to integrate their worldview into every aspect of reality rather than bifurcating it and only living in different spheres of reality at different times. Next, Pearcey frames the debate over worldviews in terms of a battle for beginnings as she argues Darwinism fails and Intelligent Design is more plausible. Integrated into this section is the notion that Darwinism is a way of looking at reality and a worldview-level belief which is being used to displace Christianity.

The third part traces a brief history of Christianity in America with an eye towards showing that Americans have tended to privatize their religion and use the fact/value split to relegate religion to the area of values. The last chapter addresses how we might live out the Christian worldview in every aspect of our lives.

There is a series of appendices which address topics like Islam, materialism, apologetic method, and politics. Finally, a study guide is included in the edition I was provided, which gives summaries, additional stories, and some questions for each chapter.

Helpful Areas

Pearcey’s emphasis on integrating Christianity into all aspects of our lives is commendable. She accurately describes the plight of many when she speaks of how Christians approach their lives as though church is religion and the rest is something else. Instead, she advocates an integration of the Christian worldview into every aspect of life.

The historical background Pearcey provides into various areas of thought is enlightening and encourages further study into several important areas, including the first and second Awakening.

The stories Pearcey shares throughout the book are great at grabbing and holding attention. They make for good illustrations of many of her points, and also make the book more readable.

The outline of the Fact/Value split and the damage it has done to intellectual and faithful life was much appreciated. Pearcey demonstrated that this alleged split is generally a construct which is used by various worldview systems to try to relegate certain beliefs into the “value” sphere and outside of factual claims. Her incisive critique of this method was both on-point and helpful. The appendices covered interesting topics, and the one on apologetic method, in particular, was worth reading and considering.

Areas I Questioned

At many points throughout the book there is a somewhat conspiratorial tone. That is, it seems to be alleged that somehow all the skeptics (particularly Darwinists) banded together in order to try to overthrow Christianity and American values. It is continually alleged that Darwin was explicitly trying to overthrow religion or at least the possibility of taking religion seriously in the “fact” domain. Many sources were cited in order to justify these claims, but I’m still not convinced that there is some kind of grand conspiracy, nor am I convinced that this is the best way to approach claims about knowledge.

In the section on how Christians can integrate their faith into all aspects of life, Pearcey shares a story about a young man with a marketing degree who was hired to raise funds for a Christian ministry. He “immediately set about implementing the standard techniques he had learned… including a sharp increase in the number of fundraising letters sent out…” (7597).* He defended this choice by saying that statistical analysis showed this would lead to more funds raised. Pearcey’s analysis is as follows:

[I]f any secular organization can achieve the same results using the same “guaranteed” methods, where is the witness to God’s existence? How does relying on statistically reliable patterns persuade a watching world that God is at work? (7610)

I was surprised by this comment. Are we to assume that Christians should ignore statistical analysis? Could not such statistical regularities be part of God’s providential plan (something, in fact, argued by Poythress)? It seems that Pearcey is discounting the possibility of “secular” methods working. But God has ordered the universe in such a way that statistical regularities will occur, and to suggest that we as Christians must reject such regularities and do something else so that we can “persuade a watching world that God is at work” may lead to disaster. I’m not saying we should not trust in God to provide, but when God has revealed a way that things work to us, that’s just as providential as a miraculous windfall of donations [to go off the fundraising example]. Perhaps by following trusted methods, we can prove to a watching world that Christians don’t reject facts or reality.

Pearcey, unfortunately, clings to a view of gender-essentialism: the notion that certain aspects of gendered persons are essential to their nature. For example, after talking about the relegation in modern society of Christianity to the “upper shelf” (the values shelf) of the fact-value split, she laments over the “feminization of the church.” Now the so-called feminization of Christianity has many problems (see my linked post), but Pearcey’s work seems determined to really drag out all stops to present a seeming bogey-woman of femininity:

The underlying dynamic is that the church was adopting a defense strategy vis-a-vis the culture at large. Many churchmen simply retreated from making cognitive claims for religion that could be defended in the public square. Instead, they transferred faith to the private sphere of experience and feelings–which put it squarely into the domain of women. (6978)

I found this, and many statements like it, to be utterly shocking. It seems to be patently absurd to say that “experience” and “feelings” are “squarely… the domain of women.” Really? According to this view, men somehow devoid of all feeling or reliance upon experience and instead manly men spend the day making all sorts of cognitive claims (devoid of experience, mind you, so presumably about Platonic forms or somesuch). I find this to be clearly false. Men have feelings, and that doesn’t make them womanly. Men also have experience (!?). Unfortunately, claims like this persist throughout the book.

Perhaps most importantly, the book doesn’t seem to adequately address the main topic of the book: the need to integrate Christianity into every aspect of life. The final chapter does ask Christians to be godly in their business dealings, to avoid lying and cheating and the like. Moreover, Christians are called to trust in God in their endeavors and view their lives as providentially governed by God. However, I was left wanting much more. After having around 25% of the total length of the book (the beginning chapters, 120ish pages in the print version) dedicated to how Christians seem to not know how to integrate their worldview into their lives, it seemed like having so little space dedicated (about 30 pages in the print version) to how this might actually work in practice was a letdown.  It seems like the even the direction offered was pretty straightforward, as Christians at least should know that they are to avoid lying, cheating, etc. in their day-to-day lives and careers.

But how does the Christian go beyond these bite-sized bits like “Moment by moment, we must learn to say no to sin and worldly motivations” (7414) or “[we are to follow] biblical principles in the personal and practical spheres of life” (7516)  and get to a position of total integration of Christianity in our lives? Maybe I hope for too much, but I think there ought to be more to it than that. I don’t pretend to say I can do better outlining it, but I do think that there is much more that could have been said here. What readers are left with is essentially a call to be Christians in all their lives, but I think they’ll largely be left asking “how?”

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

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

*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: “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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