J.W. Wartick

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“Elysium” – Our Hopes, Greed, Class, and Suffering

elysium“Elysium” is one of a string of recent action flicks which have taken to exploring bigger issues than how to make the biggest explosion. Here, we’ll look at some themes in the movie and reflect on how they might resonate with the Christian worldview. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows. I will not summarize the plot, though a summary may be found here.

Greed and Suffering

The story seems to center around the issue of greed. After all, the premise is essentially that human greed leads to great suffering. The question of whether there is a moral obligation to end suffering is front and center in the movie. The citizens of Elysium live a life of luxury, conveniently located far away from the strife that inhabitants of Earth must undergo. There is a clear and obvious dichotomy between the lives of the people planetside and those on the space colony.

It’s a premise which seems obvious, but there is a twist in the film, which impacts the force of this question. Once the final outcome is determined, and the reprogramming of citizenship is brought about to include all people, Elysium’s automated defenses and medical robots immediately begin helping the people of Earth. Medical shuttles are dispatched with instant-healing devices to help the new citizens. This twist throws a wrench into the reasoning of the question of obligation to end suffering: what if one has nothing to lose in order to help others?

Thus, the question goes beyond mere greed. It is a question of how humans will seek to hold on to what they have, even when it costs nothing to help others. It’s a poignant way to portray the issue, and one which forces viewers to think upon their own attitudes regarding what we have and seek to hold on to.

Of course, this portrayal of the issue doesn’t take away from the question of whether there is an obligation to end suffering. I think the answer, from a Christian perspective, is that we of course do. Then, the question must be asked of how to best alleviate suffering. These and other questions are raised by the film, and in ways which provoke much continued thought.

Class

The issues of greed and suffering are also bookended in the film by the question of class. Even on Earth, where poverty seemed to be ubiquitous, class was an issue. There were those with jobs, those who begged, and those who turned to crime. The sharp distinction between citizens of Elysium and those of Earth makes the point even more obvious. Once again, as Christians, we are forced to ask how we might address this issue of inequality. There are to be no such distinctions in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28), so how might we help to work towards ending racial, class, and other inequalities on Earth?

Hope

There is a constant theme of hope in what seems like a hopeless world. The people of Earth realize that help could come from Elysium, but they must get there first. They turn their hope to the stars, but there is a Nun who educates the young Max that there is beauty on Earth as well–beauty in humanity, despite our fallen nature.

Conclusion

“Elysium,” though featuring some objectionable content, is a film with much to ponder from a Christian perspective. How are we to approach other humans in a way which doesn’t undermine their dignity? We are to work to end suffering, to bring about equality. We are to prevent a scenario like “Elysium” from ever happening.

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).

Elysium: Fighting for Paradise- Anthony Weber addresses a number of other worldview issues brought up in the movie on his fantastic site, Empires and Mangers. Be sure to follow his great blog.

The picture in this post is from a movie poster and I use it under fair use. 

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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An Apologist’s Insights on “God’s Not Dead”

gods-not-deadI recently had the chance to watch “God’s Not Dead,” a film which presents a story in which a college student decides to take a stand for his faith against the pressure of an atheistic philosophy professor. A summary of the plot may be found here. As an apologist with an MA in the field, I thought my comments might help provide some insight into the film. I’ll offer a look at some aspects of the film which I wanted to address. Feel free to chime in in the comments with your own thoughts.

Apologetics

The movie presents a clear picture of the need for apologetics. When challenged by attacks on the faith it is important to always have a reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15). Josh Wheaton–the protagonist–put together a decent presentation of various evidences for theism in the snippets that viewers get through the film. Of course, these are very simplified and don’t address several major issues with the arguments, but it gets the point across. It also, I have noted through conversations with others, spurred much interest in the area of apologetics. That’s awesome!

That said, I think there are some issues with even the arguments presented in the film. First, after Wheaton has presented the cosmological, design, and other arguments for theism, he is challenged by Professor Radisson on the notion that one just has to choose between atheism and theism. Wheaton acknowledges that yes, it is a choice. Now, there are a number of issues with this portrayal. First, it treats the balance of evidence as a kind of 50/50 proposition, which is, I would think, hardly the position of anyone. Second, it presents a view of belief in which we can just choose what we believe. This is called “doxastic voluntarism” which is a fancy way of saying that one can believe propositions at will. But that is a highly controversial position (just try to force yourself to believe that “Fairies fill my refrigerator every morning” and you’ll see the folly of it) and also flies in the face of biblical accounts of what faith is. Third, here I’ll tip my bias a bit and say I’m fairly well convinced that the balance of evidence is hardly 50/50 but actually compelling.

Another difficulty with the apologetic in the film is that it seems like the lynchpin argument offered was actually just a point of rhetoric. Wheaton presses Professor Radisson and asks “Why do you hate God?” and follows it up with [paraphrased]: “How can you hate someone who doesn’t exist?” This is the last straw and what prompts the class to vote by standing to say that “God’s not dead.” Although I think rhetoric has a clear place in the Christian apologetic (and has since the earliest times: see the apologetic works of Lactantius and Arnobius in the 200-300s AD), I thought it was an odd choice to make it the climactic argument for God. Perhaps it was because this added to the drama of the moment–and I suspect that’s right–but it did so at the cost of detracting from whatever apologetic the film could put forward.

I did, however, appreciate the interaction with some top scholars like Hawking and Lennox. I think it is very important for Christians interested in apologetics to read the top scholars in their fields in order to best get acquainted to the arguments.

Characters or Caricatures?

The way the Muslim father was portrayed was problematic. In the beginning of the film we see him dropping off his daughter and showing great concern for her. Later, he shares an intimate discussion of his faith and the importance of obedience in his background. But then, when it is revealed his daughter has converted to Christianity, he not only kicks her out of the house, but he also immediately hits her more than once. Now, I make no claims to being an expert on this, but I know from anecdotal evidence only that people are indeed kicked out of their homes for converting to Christianity (and sometimes for deconverting), and this is surely a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to address this as an issue.

But the problem I saw was that the Muslim father’s immediate reaction was violence, without any explanation or any background for thinking this would be a reaction. The rest of the film up to this point had shown him as a caring father who was concerned for the faith and well-being of his daughter. To have him immediately turn to violence when she converted was jarring and I think it speaks to our cultural presuppositions about the religious “Other” to portray the “Other”–the Muslim–in that way. We need to move beyond such stereotypes and into genuine dialogue with those of other faiths, always looking to share the light and love of Christ with them.

On the positive side, the film did do a great job speaking to the importance of reaching out to others like the young man from China. It also emphasized missions in a number of ways, like centering some major plot points around a very amiable character as a missionary.

Pastoral Care

I appreciated the comments about the work of a pastor, in which Pastor Dave in the film was comparing his own work to that of a missionary friend’s and felt his own day-to-day tasks were mundane and trivial. The answer given by the missionary, however, was essentially that such work is part of the work of God as well and that we each occupy a place which God has put us in to make an impact on the world. I thought this was a great message and one that deserves further exploration.

On the other hand, I thought that the pastoral care at points in the movie presented some difficulties. For example, Pastor Dave’s conversation with Josh Wheaton before Wheaton decides to for sure stand up to his professor boiled down to a couple citations (not even quotations) of Bible verses to look up later and the comment that “It’s not easy, but it’s simple” [I may have the order in this quotation wrong]. I’ll be blunt: I think that this is actually a gross oversimplification. Quoting Matthew 10:33 (click for reference) does not actually make the issue facing Wheaton “simple.”

For example, would it be “denying” Christ to acknowledge that one might not have the resources available as a freshman student in a general studies philosophy class (and not a major) to take on a philosophy professor on the topic of God’s existence? I don’t think so. One could instead acknowledge that both the clearly adversarial tone taken in the environment and one’s own lack of knowledge or expertise in the area make it likely that one may actually harm the body of Christ by, well, looking like a freshman non-philosophy student outmatched by an atheistic philosophy professor. Wheaton, of course, has the benefits of film, so he is able to put together a beautiful powerpoint each week and manages to pound the books so hard that he can articulate the cosmological, design, and other arguments within a few days. But is this a realistic perspective? Moreover, is it a “simple” application of the passage to our lives?

Conclusion

“God’s Not Dead” awakens people to the need for apologetics. That is a great compliment, because it is a much-needed awakening. However, it has several issues (including those mentioned above) with the presentation of apologetics, its portrayal of the “Other,” and the oversimplification of several arguments, positions, and even pastoral care and reading of texts. In short, it’s a mixed bag.

Links

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

SDG.

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

Sunday Quote!- The Heartbeat and Delight of Christianity

h-mcgrathEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Heartbeat and Delight of Christianity

I re-read Alister McGrath’s Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth recently and found it to be just as thought-provoking and engaging as when I read it the first time. One beautiful line was about the core of Christianity:

If there is a heartbeat of the Christian faith, it lies in the sheer intellectual delight and excitement caused by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is the one whom the church finds to be intellectually luminous, spiritually persuasive, and infinitely satisfying, both communally and individually. (17, cited below)

I found this passage quite powerful. Jesus is the heartbeat of Christianity, and our delight. Without Christ, there is no faith. Without our Lord, there is no salvation. But McGrath goes beyond that: Jesus of Nazareth is an intellectually compelling person, which drives us to seek out formulations to explain who He is; Christ is satisfaction and communal unity.

Have you thought about Jesus in these ways? How has Jesus spurred your intellect? In what ways have you recently delighted in the person of Jesus Christ?

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- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Book Review: “Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth” by Alister McGrath- Check out my review of McGrath’s book.

Source

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

SDG.

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.

Christian Discerment Regarding Music: A reflection and response

worship-in-churchI recently read a post which called for “discernment concerning the Christian music world.” The author, “EvangelZ” writes:

We have been told to be discerning in terms of what types of secular music to not assimilate into our minds if it is degrading, anti-Christ, and vulgar, to name a few.  But what about the call to be discerning concerning the Christian music world?

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. We should–must–be discerning when it comes to what music we engage with. Our engagement with both Christian music and “secular” music (whatever these categories even mean) should be reflective of the content of that music. The list EvangelZ provided above is hardly comprehensive, but a good place to start. If our “Christian” music is “degrading” or “vulgar,” that would certainly seem to exclude it from any use in a worship service, and should be a strong reason against our integrating that music into our lives.

Indeed, I would contend that the content of the music should be essentially the criterion (with notable exceptions below) for the music deemed acceptable for a Christian to consume. Of course, there should be a real acknowledgement that some people have different levels of discernment or resilience than others (can we eat the meat offered in sacrifice to false gods or not? after all, it’s just some meat left out for some false idol? [see here if you're not sure what I'm referencing]).

However, after this introductory comment, EvangelZ spent the rest of the post discussing how we should us discernment regarding Christian music by way of the lives of those who made the music. For example, one issue highlighted was Tim Lambesis’ (singer for “As I Lay Dying”) apostasy. Now, setting aside the issue of whether any “As I Lay Dying” song could even possibly be used in a worship service (although I like metal, I hardly think it lends itself to corporate worship and singing praises), what I want to briefly touch on is exactly this notion: should our discernment apply to content of the music or to the lives of the musicians (or, of course, both)?

After reading the post, I wrote a comment, and I’d like to just reflect on what I wrote there a bit more. I’ll reproduce my comment, in part, here:

[T]he criteria given for discernment in “Christian” music are pretty much all matters of personal character of the musicians, not the actual content of the music. I’m wondering why on the one hand it is content (“secular” music) but on the other (“Christian” music), it is the people producing the music. This raises a number of questions for me:

1) Why the difference in criteria?
=> 1A) Is it because music functions didactically and so we should be aware of who is “teaching” us through music?
=> 1B) If so, then do we need to know about the lives of every single person who has written a song that we use in worship before we are able to use it?
2) If we are to use character as a criteria of discernment for worship music, does that not essentially mean we can’t use any music?
=> Explanation: everyone is a sinner in the process of sanctification, so by default anyone who has written a song we use in worship has still sinned.
=> 2A) Or is the issue simply unrepentant sin?

I think all of these questions are issues we must deal with as we consider the need for discernment in whatever music we listen to. I’ll provide a brief reflection on each issue I raised in these questions:

1) I am unconvinced that there should be any difference in our criteria for discernment when reflecting on Christian or “secular” music. Part of this is because I’m not sure such a dichotomy actually does exist (see here), and part is because I don’t know why such a distinction should exist.
1A) If we grant that hymns or music used in church functions didactically–as teaching–then perhaps a case could be made, but I think, abstractly, the content should once again be the ultimate judge of whether a teaching is good (or not).
1B) Because we cannot feasibly be required to know about the lives of all who write the music we listen to, this cannot serve as a viable criterion for discernment. Perhaps exceptions could be made in those cases wherein we do know something should (and what does “should” mean here?) disqualify one (i.e. I could see the knowledge that ‘the person who wrote this hymn is a satanist’ as a perfectly sound reason for not using a hymn), but one cannot realistically be expected to know about the lives of every single artist who writes any part of our hymnody (or music generally).

2) Because all are sinners, if character is a criterion for discernment, it would seem that all are disqualified.
2A) However, perhaps the qualification could be made that it is merely persistent, unrepentant sin which should disqualify one. But then one has muddied the waters via 1B again.

Thus, I think that for Christians, the best way to use discernment is to apply the truths of the Bible to the content of the music. We cannot realistically be expected to know the backgrounds of every individual who writes the music we may listen to or use in worship, and with the caveat noted above, I think the criterion simply should be the content–the lyrics–of the music. How do we analyze the content? Well I think there are a number of factors, including those rightfully noted above by EvangelZ. God’s revelation in Scripture and the gift of conscience should be our guides.

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!

On Christian Music- I reflect on the category of “Christian Music” and whether it is even a functionally helpful tool.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task- I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

The Call for Discernment Concerning the Christian Music World- Be sure to read the post to which I responded here, and see what you think of their reasoning. I think this is an issue worth discussing.

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.

 

Sunday Quote!- Building the Argument from Undesigned Coincidences

psalms-scrollEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Build the Argument

J.J. Blunt (1794-1855) wrote what I consider to be one of the strongest pieces of apologetics literature ever written, Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings Both of the Old and New Testaments. The book focuses, clearly enough, on the argument from undesigned coincidences. I’ll not explain the argument here, as I have done so already. But Blunt operated under no false hopes of having comprehensively covered this extremely broad argument:

Much, however, of the same kind of testimony I have no doubt has escaped all of us; and still remains to be detected by future writers on the Evidences. (v, cited below)

Blunt’s words are a call to action for the Christian apologist. The argument from undesigned coincidences is extremely powerful, but it also has massive depths to explore throughout the totality of the Bible which have not even begun to be explored. Moreover, Blunt began the work of relating these “coincidences” to contemporary literature by relating the Gospels and Acts to Josephus, but surely there is much more work to be done by exploring other literature outside of the Bible and seeing how these might be cross-confirmed.

So, fellow Christian apologists, let’s get to 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!

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- the argument stated- I outline the basics of the argument from undesigned coincidences. I also provide an example of the argument in practice.

Sunday Quote- If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

John James Blunt, Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings of both the Old and New Testament, New York, 1847.

SDG.

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.

——

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.

Is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue?

4vha-zondervan[Adam] must be a real individual who rebels against a clear divine directive at a specific moment in real time in a real place. (Barrick, 221, cited below)

One of the many issues which comes up related to the debate over the historical existence of Adam and Eve is the relation of Adam to Christ. Specifically: does undermining of the reality of Adam’s historical person undermine the work of Christ? Here, we’ll explore that question.

To be clear: we are not here exploring whether or not Adam really existed or whether there really was a real pair, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity sprang. Rather, the question is this: if one denies the historical Adam and Eve, does one undermine the Gospel of Christ? Whatever one thinks of the answer to the question of the historical persons, one should consider the answer to this question as well. There are many issues to be addressed, so this post will only touch on a few. Write a comment to let me know your own thoughts or other issues you think of.

“Gospel” Issue?

In order to ask whether the history of Adam is a “Gospel” issue, we must first consider exactly what is meant by a “Gospel” issue. Definitions are important, and my own search for the meaning of this term yielded a whole range of definitions. Thus, I’m going to focus on a kind of working definition: to say something is a “Gospel” issue is to say that a specific doctrine, if untrue, undermines the Gospel [here meaning the glorious truth of salvation through Jesus Christ] and possibly one’s salvation itself. In the definitions I’ve found, and the use I’ve seen of this term, I believe this is an accurate understanding.

The Historical Adam as a Gospel Issue- Two Perspectives

The book, Four Views on The Historical Adam, provides a good background for exploring difference of opinion among evangelical scholars on the historicity of Adam. Most telling for our question is the young earth perspective and the theistic evolutionist response to it. William Barrick argues that the historical Adam is indeed a Gospel issue:

the biblical description of sin depends entirely on the historicity of Adam. He must be a real individual… in real time in a real place… [denial of the historical Adam] has serious implications for the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of Christ… [quoting John Mahoney]: “If the first man is not historical and the fall into sin is not historical, then one begins to wonder why there is a need for our Lord to come and undo the work of the first man.” That makes the historicity of Adam a gospel issue. (Barrick, 221-222)

Barrick’s argument seems pretty clear: if no historical Adam lived and acted in the Fall, then what reason is there for Christ to come as the second Adam and restore humanity to God? If Barrick’s argument is successful, it does seem to establish that the historical Adam is indeed vital to an understanding of the truths of salvation.

Denis Lamoureux takes up the challenge of restoring confidence in the possibility of the Gospel without an historical Adam. His argument is instead that when “behaviorally modern humans” showed up (about 50,000 years ago), they broke their relationship with God (he does not make explicit how this may have occurred). Moreover, he argues that Barrick’s argument is unsuccessful because it is a non sequitor–the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. Is it really the case, Lamoureux asks, that the reality of sin “depend[s] entirely” upon a historic Adam (Lamoureux, 229)? Barrick’s argument was simply to appeal to the requirement for sin to be an action against God (itself a disputable claim–does sin really require action or is it possible to have [actually] sinful inclination?–but we’ll set that aside). Lamoureux notes that saying there was no historical Adam does not undermine or remove the reality of sinful activity.

Moreover, Lamoureux argues that Barrick’s argument conflates the historicity of Adam with the historicity of the resurrection (ibid). Not only that, but:

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, not Adam. The gospel is about the reality of sin, not how sin entered the world. The gospel is about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, not specifically Adam’s sin. (ibid, 229)

Adam and the Gospel

So is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue? Returning to our definition, it seems to me fairly clear that one’s salvation is not determined by whether one believes in a historical Adam. The foundation of faith is Christ raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Lamoureux is right to point out that the Gospel is ultimately the message of our salvation through Jesus Christ. The first part of our definition, however, asks whether the grounding for this salvation might be undermined. Romans 5:12-21 seems to demonstrate that Christ came to save humanity as the second Adam, and that a real person, Adam, really did sin and created the need for salvation.

Lamoureux’s counter to this is to argue that such statements are divine accommodation–that is, Paul did believe in a single, historical Adam, but that doesn’t mean there was one. The debate over this must wait for a different post, but for now I’ll just say that although I think there is divine accommodation in God’s revelation, I’m not convinced it involves allowing for very clearly false statements (such as the claim that Adam existed if Adam did not exist).

So if there is no historical Adam, it seems to me that this entails at least a denial of the specificity of the text in Romans 5. Thus, one could say that this undermines the basis for salvation. However, if one is willing to strip down to the bare bones of “Mere Christianity,” might one still preserve the Gospel? At this point I say yes. The basis for our salvation is belief in Jesus Christ, not belief in Adam. This does not mean that I think the historical Adam is unimportant or non-existent. Rather, I would say that anyone who does wish to say the historical Adam is necessary for salvation has yet to demonstrate that claim.

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions- I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Check out other posts on the origins debate within Christianity.

Sources

William Barrick, “A Historical Adam: Young-Earth Creation View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

Denis Lamoureux, “Response from the Evolutionary View” in Four Views on The Historical Adam (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

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: “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.

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