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Book Review: “Scrooge and the Question of God’s Existence” by Steve Luhring

Scrooge and the Question of God’s Existence is a modern day retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In this version, Scrooge is a militant atheist who does his best to write works to convince people to become atheists themselves. Not only that, but he is working to pass legislation that makes certain forms of speech illegal. There will be some minor SPOILERS for the plot in this review.

There are other twists to the basic plotline of A Christmas Carol, as well. In this one, Cratchit is a pastor who has been imprisoned because of legislation Scrooge helped pass. Also, one of Cratchit’s children has been influenced by Scrooge’s writings and himself turned to atheism, much to the chagrin of his parents. When the ghosts come to visit Scrooge, they don’t merely show him the fruits of his life, they also bring up significant arguments for the existence of God, most forcefully the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument.

One aspect of the work that is perhaps a little overdone is its commitment to the idea that non-Christians automatically try to silence Christians. Though this does happen occasionally, those cases are often highlighted at the expense of the many non-Christians who do not do anything of the sort. It would have been interesting, perhaps, to see a more reasonable atheist perspective presented here, though I understand the limits of the format.

The book is well-written and in places even manages to capture the feel of the original work by Dickens. It has clever turns of phrase and an attention to detail that give it a similar feel to the original. Though I tend to be hyper-aware of grammatical and spelling errors, I didn’t notice anything particularly egregious as I went through. Overall, the story is interesting and actually feels like a fresh take rather than something that’s just aping the source material.

I enjoyed my read-through of Scrooge and the Question of God’s Existence. It’s a clever, well-written little play on the classic work, though it does feel somewhat heavy-handed at times in its presentation of a particular brand of Christianity. Recommended.

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

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SDG.

——

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

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Book Review: “Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright” edited by James M. Scott

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright seeks to explore N.T. Wright’s thesis about the notion of continuing exile being a controlling belief for the theology of second-temple Judaism and, by extension, early Christianity. The essays come from a variety of perspectives and are led with one by N.T. Wright himself introducing his thesis. Essay topics range from analysis of the Hebrew word(s) for “Exile” to seeing the Exile as positive rather than negative or providing a sacramental interpretation of Exile.

Any collection of essays will have highs and lows. I felt this collection was fairly even in high quality essays. Across the board, it delivered on interesting topics (even if it was not always clear why the topic is important–more on that below). Highlights for me were the inclusion of Walter Brueggemann- a phenomenally interesting OT scholar, a rather deep essay on the terminology on restoration and exile in the New Testament and LXX (Septuagint), and Robert Kugler’s “nuance” of N.T. Wright’s thesis which made it more clear what Wright was saying and highlighted some of his thesis’ importance. The book bears reading and re-reading as one considers specific theological questions about Exile–surely a pervasive theme in biblical theology–and restoration.

I was surprised, however, by how even-toned even the detractors of Wright’s thesis were in this collection. Wright’s discussion of Justification has  caused serious controversy–and often shed more heat than light in some circles–and his discussion of Exile has seemed to me just as contentious. Yet the negative essays included here only touched on the areas of disagreement. Though essays like Jörn Kiefer’s “Not All Gloom and Doom” strike at the heart of Wright’s thesis by, in this case, undercutting the sheer horror of exile to the authors of the Bible, few seem to critically engage Wright on a truly broad level.

Indeed, if there’s any serious shortcoming in the book, it is that at no point is the importance of the debate truly outlined and expanded upon. Indeed, readers may be forgiven for wondering, at times, what is so contentious about some of these points–and why they matter. At one point, as I read about the positive interpretations of Exile in Judaism, I wondered- “So what?” If Wright is right, then Exile is a pervasive theme and key to understanding the entire Bible. That seems like a big deal. But most of the essays here seem to make it sound like minutiae. Having read the book, and a few chapters twice, I am left wondering about the big picture and what, exactly, is at stake in some of it.

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright is an interesting collection of valuable essays. Though it doesn’t always highlight the practical importance of its topic, it does engage with some heady subjects of interpretation on many levels that readers interested in this debate would surely benefit from. As I’ve often found to be the case, though, I was left at times wondering why Wright is found to be so contentious, and

The Good 

+Variety of perspectives offered
+Wide swath of engagement with Wright

The Bad

-Doesn’t explain enough of why the debate is important

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give 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!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Lost World of Israelite Conquest” by John Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is another fantastic work from the pen of John Walton, this time writing with his son, J. Harvey Walton. Walton has a number of these introductory works that focus on revealing the world of the Ancient Near East to his readers to help make sense of the Bible. In this work, the authors take on the question of what we are to make of the conquest narratives in the Bible.

There are often several perspectives Christians take in response to these accounts, as the authors note: they may argue that God is in control of all things and if God chooses to use one people to massacre another, that is God’s will; they may instead argue that the accounts are Israel’s political use of God to justify their own acts; others soften the first perspective but note how morally bankrupt the Canaanites are, arguing that they deserved destruction; or they may argue that the accounts don’t actually teach about genocide at all, but are rather, properly interpreted, rhetoric. The authors of The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest argue, instead, that when we properly understand the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of these passages, their meaning becomes more clear.

Perhaps one of the most radical propositions in the book, from the modern apologetic perspective, is that there is an entire section dedicated to the argument that “The Canaanites are not depicted as guilty of sin” (31ff). They are not saying the Canaanites are perfect, but rather that the Bible does not highlight the sinfulness of the Canaanites over and against any other group of people. Thus, to argue that the Canaanites were particularly guilty of sin, or that they took what was rightfully Israel’s, is mistaken. They establish this through both looking at the Bible’s own words about the Canaanites, and by evaluating the ANE context of these accounts. After arguing, briefly, that the Conquest accounts are a recapitulation of the creation accounts, the authors delve deeply into the translation of the Hebrew word, “Herem.” The word, contextually, often allows those who are “herem”‘d to continue existing. Thus, the authors argue, the meaning of the term is not destruction of individuals but rather the destruction of identity: to “herem” something is to “remove from use” that something. Thus, they argue, the Canaanites were not all put to the sword or killed; rather, their identity was subsumed into Israelite identity.

Another important point the authors make is that wars in the ancient world were fought in different ways and often with different goals or ideals of outcomes than we have today. A people’s deity was depicted fighting alongside that people, and these wars were often over identity as people.

The authors, then, reject the popular apologetic argument today that the accounts are hyperbolic in scope and thus can be seen as something like mere skirmishes. Instead, they argue that the conquest accounts are writing about war as the people of the ANE fought it, with the purposes and in the contexts in which they fought those wars. Overall, I found the authors’ theses pretty convincing. It certainly does away with some of the simpler dismissals of the accounts as merely hyperbolic. However, I wonder how the authors might respond to a more nuanced and extended argument like that of K. Lawson Younger, Jr.’s Ancient Conquest Accounts. In that work, Younger draws upon archaeological data as well as analysis of the battles as described in the biblical texts to show, in part, that the accounts are not genocide but rather wars waged against strongholds and fortresses in rather strategically advanced ways. To anticipate a reply, I believe the Waltons might argue that such analysis could easily be incorporated into their own account, for so long as one is not trying to establish the accounts as merely hyperbolic, one may align oneself with their own perspective.

Other recent works like Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan offer robust defenses of the hyperbolic approach to interpreting the text. The authors did address Copan directly and I believe this book, though the index of Lost World… doesn’t feature either author, making it difficult to confirm. Responding to Copan, they argue that at least part of his approach is anachronistic and reads a modern view of demonic powers onto the Hebrew text. I think it would have been helpful, though, to have a longer discussion of the hyperbolic interpretation. Indeed, the subject index doesn’t even have the word “hyperbole,” though it was mentioned several times. It will be interesting to see how modern defenders of the hyperbolic interpretation interact with the Walton thesis.

Overall, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is a broad, thought-provoking book. Though readers familiar with the field will certainly be left wanting more questions answered, they will benefit as much as any other reader due to the expertise on ANE context that is brought to bear on these difficult passages. I read the book and would say I feel largely convinced by it, though either due to my own adherence to the hyperbolic view or something else, I still have questions about their thesis. I am firmly convinced, though, that any reader with interest in this topic must pick up and read this important work.

The Good 

+Fascinating application of ANE context to difficult topic
+Broad focus with many lines of evidence applied to question
+Sheds fresh light on the topic
+Opens many lines of further inquiry

The Bad

-Could use more discussion of some modern alternatives
-Index seems somewhat incomplete

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give 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!

 

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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