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Book Review: “Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community” by James M. Todd III

sats-toddJames M. Todd III’s Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community argues that Christians are no longer subject to any of the laws of the Old Covenant/Old Testament. It’s an extraordinary claim, particularly if one has not been exposed to such a position before, but one that Christians must engage with in order to have a full view of the proper relation between the Law and their lives.

Todd’s exposition of three primary views related to OT Laws is particularly interesting. There are, he argues, three primary ways of interacting with OT legislation: “Moral Law” Christians, who view the laws as binding but break them into moral, ceremonial, and civil, asserting only moral laws ought to be followed; “Ten Commandment” Christians who use the Ten Commandments for the baseline of morality, and “No-Old-Law”Christians who believe that Christians are not under authority of OT laws in any way. He highlights strengths and weaknesses of each position. Moral Law Christians run into the problem that the threefold division of OT Law is nowhere explicitly taught in Scripture, and that, moreover, in the ANE (ancient Near East) there would have been very little understanding of or motivation to make such religious/civil distinctions as is required by this division. Ten Commandment Christians struggle to explain how to deal with the Sabbath, among other issues. No-Old-Law Christians must explain how it avoids antinomianism as well as the problem of dealing with the Hebrew Scriptures as Christian Scripture. Though brief, this discussion alone was worth reading the book for.

The “No-Old-Law” position is defended by Todd largely through exegetical arguments, showing that the Law was viewed holistically, that it was intended to govern the entire covenant community of Israel, and ultimately that the new community in Christ–the church–is not bound by the same legislation. His argument is more detailed, of course, but those are the basics. He backs it up by looking deeply at the covenant community in the Hebrew Scriptures, noting some difficulties with other perspectives, and finally arguing his own position doesn’t just dismiss the Old Testament.

I was somewhat surprised to see Lutherans grouped in the “No-Old-Law” category, but saw that Todd put Lutherans there due to the notion of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. However, when he continued to discuss the Law/Gospel distinctiveness and those who hold to that position, I believe he somewhat misrepresented the Lutheran position, particularly when he wrote that such a position “results in a negative view toward law in general; law exists simply for convicting sinners of their sin” (42). I’m not sure why Todd would conclude this is a negative view of the law. Lutherans teach that the Law always condemns; the Gospel always saves. This doesn’t mean the Law is negative, but rather that it has the extremely powerful and important place of bringing sinners to repentance and rightness with God! Though this was an extremely minor point in the book–and, to his credit, Todd noted the Third Use of the Law in Lutheranism would potentially get around this problem in a footnote–I would have liked to see a more balanced perspective on the Lutheran view here.

Another difficulty with Todd’s perspective is that, despite his objections that some “No-Old-Law” perspectives take a negative view of the law, his own perspective effectively dismisses it entirely. Indeed, he dedicates a whole chapter to piecing back together the importance of the Law for Christian readers, not by offering a holistic approach to the Law (as with the threefold distinction view), nor by a separation of spheres (as with the Lutheran perspective). Rather, his own approach is to note that the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures provides important historical and cultural context for much of the narrative related to the Old Covenant community. Thus, the Law is important for Christians in order to understand the Bible fully. Such a view has initial appeal, but ultimately I’m not convinced it stands up to scrutiny. It is the case that understanding the laws concerning Sabbath and the like will provide readers with a better comprehension of the narratives, but Todd would be hard pressed to make such a case for every law in the Hebrew Scriptures. How, in fact, does knowing the prohibitions about eating shellfish really impact one’s reading of any narrative in the Hebrew Bible? I know of nothing other than the possibility of a very oblique approach to just knowing the general cultural background. But if that’s the case, then Todd’s view of Law and Gospel cannot actually account for the importance of at least some portions of Scripture. This objection, to me, is enough reason to reject Todd’s development of his perspective in favor of something like the Lutheran perspective (though the latter does need fuller development regarding exactly what is meant by “Law” and obedience to it/condemnation from it).

One final point I’d like to raise is that the book isn’t quite as focused as one might expect. A few of the chapters could have been appendices (particularly the last chapter), and at least two appendices could have been part of the main text (especially the one in which Todd answers some arguments against his position). There are many objections that could be raised to Todd’s view (not including those I’ve already raised), and it would have been nice to see an even larger positive case with more objections answered.

Sinai and the Saints is an incredibly interesting book. Though I found myself thinking his perspective has a few fundamental flaws, I think that there are many challenges he raises to competing perspectives that must be met. Moreover, with some more development, his own perspective could potentially get around some of the flaws I’ve highlighted here. Regardless of what one thinks, Sinai and the Saints is an essential read for Christians wanting to learn exactly what it is they are to do regarding the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s fascinating, engaging, and challenging, even if flawed.

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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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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“Manual of Christian Evidences” – Fisher Chapter 5 Guided Reading

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 5

Fisher writes:

The character of Jesus as it is depicted in the Evangelists is one of unequalled excellence… It unites.. in perfect harmony, the qualities of the saint and of the philanthropist… The world beholds in Jesus its ideal of goodness. (32-33)

Fisher’s argument, as he develops it, is that the idea of Jesus’ character comes through a great number of anecdotes and stories from several different sources, yet remains consistent. The consistency of this portrayal gives credence to the notion that it is accurate, and that lends itself to the idea that Christianity must be of divine origin, for “there is no reason to think that any other faultless and perfect character has ever existed” (35). Moreover, the sinlessness of Jesus “gives credibility to his testimony respecting himself” (ibid).

I think this is a pretty intriguing argument from Fisher- that Jesus’ character points to the truth of Christianity. It is worth noting, I think, some aspects of this argument. First, it does rely upon an appeal to the notion that Jesus’ character is, indeed, impeccable. Such an argument has broad appeal–indeed, to this day almost everyone tries to get Jesus on their “side”, whether that is as a prosperity teacher, a Hindu guru, or something else–but I wonder if it is really possible for us to just assume that it is true.

I have seen some attacks on Christianity from the perspective of Jesus’ comments on various things. It has been alleged that his comments incite divisions in families (i.e. “hate” your family, love Jesus instead) or even provoked violence. How might we offer an effective argument to counter this? Does it just mean we have to work to counter every claim, or can we take a different approach?

Second, Fisher’s argument also relies on the notion that people could not actually invent such a character consistently. It is possible that this is true, but I wonder if the continual publications of epic sagas have undercut this a bit as well. After all, a series like “The Wheel of Time” has consistent characters that persist through a 14-book series, some of which are over a thousand pages on their own. Indeed, the last three books were authored by a different author, so that shows consistency of characters not just within one author but over multiple authors. Does this point against the idea that consistency of character shows Jesus was real?

I think a possible response might be to point to the unity of the moral character of Christ claim with the claim of consistency of character. It may be possible to write consistent characters over quite a bit of time, but is it possible to do so with a character who is without sin and demonstrably moral? If we can answer some of the difficulties with the first point above, this argument gains more traction.

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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.

Dean Koontz’s “Odd Thomas” series- Faithful Goodness in the Face of Evil

saint-odd

Dean Koontz is an insanely popular author, having sold over 450 million copies of his books. His Odd Thomas series has also been a stunning success. Here, I will take a worldview level look at the whole series. There will be SPOILERS for the whole series in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plots of these works, but brief summaries can be found on Wikipedia (follow internal links).

Faithful Goodness

I think the concept of “faithful goodness” best summarizes the main character, Odd Thomas. I call it faithful goodness because time and again, Odd has every reason to flee from doing right, yet he persists in doing the right thing. He believes in a higher order to the universe to which all–including himself–are held accountable, but this is not the motivation for his continuing to do what is right. Rather, he acts as a kind of sacrificial/Christ figure.  He does what is right because that is his nature. Ultimately, that leads him to giving up his life to save others. “Saint,” indeed.

Evil and Violence

The Odd Thomas series is filled with murderers, torturers, and worse. What kind of redemptive themes might be found amidst the chaos of all this evil? Dean Koontz stated in an interview:

I don’t shy away from having violent things happen, but I don’t dwell on it. I feel, as a Christian, writing books that have a moral purpose to them, it’s actually incumbent upon me to write about evil, because this kingdom is Satan’s and he is the prince of the world. It’s here and it’s among us… My villains are pathetic. I never glorify a villain. I couldn’t write something like Hannibal because there’s something there that makes the villain the most glamorous person in the piece. I can’t write that. I don’t find evil glamorous. You’ll never find it that way in my books. (Cited by Anthony Weber)

Ultimate glory does not belong to evil. It will be extinguished. Although evil and violence persist in the world in which we now live, that is a temporary state of affairs. Christ our King will come to create anew, bringing life and vanquishing death.

Yet this does not mean that we can ignore evil now, or that we should be apathetic toward it. Like Odd, we must persist in fighting it, faithfully clinging to the reality that God–the ultimate Good–will triumph in the end.

Hope

Hope is a defining and central feature of the Odd Thomas series. Whether it is Odd’s hope to be reunited to his lost life, Stormy, or the eschatological hope for the final consummation of the Kingdom, it is this reality that drives Odd and gives him comfort even amid the most vile circumstances.

It is worth noting that Odd’s hope is ultimately focused towards the hereafter, rather than the present world. Christians should also remember that our current reality is not what we should try to ground all our hopes in. We can gain the whole world, yet lose our soul. Our final hope must be grounded in the coming of God’s kingdom and the New Creation.

Conclusion

Dean Koontz’s works continually show the workings of Christian faith and a worldview that allows for mystery in the universe. I highly recommend picking up some of his books to explore the integration of the Christian worldview into fiction, and the way they can be woven together. I will give a warning: they are for mature audiences only.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Saint Odd– Anthony Weber reflects on the final book in the series, Saint Odd, from a Christian perspective. I highly recommend this post and also following his excellent site.

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 Faithful Artist” by Cameron J. Anderson

fa-andersonThe Faithful Artist by Cameron J. Anderson reflects on the alleged tension between Christianity and the arts. Anderson first outlines the reasons for this perceived (and sometimes real) tension, then explores ways Christians can engage with and perform the arts in meaningful–and faithful–ways.

Anderson argues that much of the alleged tension between the arts and Christianity is, in fact, perceived as part of a false choice between sticking to depicting their faith in their art and being popular. There are other false dichotomies explored, including the sacred/secular. Having explored some of these tensions, Anderson turns to a number of ways that secularism and anti-Christian thought have at points utilized or even attempted to co-opt the arts. Along the way, he also shows how Christians have at times in history (and to this day) helped perpetuate the art vs. religion myth by casting our or even destroying the arts. Ultimately, he offers a vision for the Christian artist to plough forward.

Such a straightforward depiction of the book’s contents doesn’t do it service, because, in fact, Anderson utilizes each chapter as a kind of holistic approach to discussing the arts and Christianity. It’s a complex work on a complex topic, but written in an engaging, thought-provoking way. Readers are encouraged to reflect upon artworks shown throughout, both black and white and in color in some plates in the middle. Christians are called to think more critically about the arts, while also acknowledging the benefits thereof. Artists are challenged to not abandon their faith for the sake of the arts.

The Faithful Artist is an intriguing look at exactly what it means to be an artist and a Christian. But it is much more than that. As a reader who is not an artist, per se, I found it deeply engaging and immersive. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Explores numerous topics in engaging way
+Interacts with prominent thinkers and artists
+Encourages readers to go beyond the text and apply its insights

The Bad 

-At times, complex for what seems an intermediate level work

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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