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“The Count of Monte Cristo” – Faith, Vengeance, and Destiny

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Several friends had recently talked about finishing this book and how much they enjoyed it. I also recalled seeing the recent-ish movie several years ago (though, having finished the book, I threw it on hold at the library, so I’ll be watching it again!). Also, there’s a delicious sandwich that I at least assume got its name from this book, which makes it even better. But other than these fleeting glimpses, I knew pretty much nothing about Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo going in. The memory of the movie had faded, and I just recalled there was some guy who wanted revenge. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

The Count of Monte Cristo is, on the surface level, a novel of vindication and revenge. It’s an adventure that spans more than a thousand pages. Yet it remains a page-turner that demands to be devoured in sitting after sitting. But on the deeper level, it is a fantastically Christian look at the world and God’s action therein.

The set up for the plot involves the man who would be the count getting set up by several who wish him ill for various reasons. But throughout even that section, “Providence” is constantly in view. Providence is historically one way people talked about divine activity in the world, so the reader is led to see Dumas’s viewpoint as having a divine hand in many acts. And, indeed, as our lead character begins his quest for vindication and vengeance, bringing blessings and curses upon those who helped or hindered him, we as readers cannot help but associate his actions with those of God. We want the Count to succeed in his quest for revenge; it is so well planned, and he has become a man of almost limitless poise and focus. It is not until the count has one part of his vengeance go “too far” that he starts to have second thoughts.

These second thoughts translate into an awareness that our Count’s activity is not just the hand of God acting. Though we as readers have been rooting for him throughout, it becomes clearer that the assumptions we’ve made about how the story is going are wrong. It’s as though Dumas played into our expectations, allowing us to think that, perhaps, here is the kind of “divine vending machine” that we so often wish to turn God into. Here, in at least this story, God is working in the way that we want, dispensing a kind of hard justice on wrongdoing and giving great benefit to those who deserve it. But our Count realizes that this is not, in fact, what is happening. His own actions have been, well, his own. Has he been aided by God? Yes, in the sense that his endeavors could not have all succeeded without some acts of Providence. But he has presumed too much. Like Job in the Bible, he has questioned God; nay, he has gone farther and turned himself into the hand of God, dishing out vengeance and blessing as he wished. And his actions have led to a great wrong with the death of innocents.

So Dumas asks us to take ourselves back out of the shoes of the Count, to stop assuming that we know what is supposed to happen. Instead, he has lured us into this complacency, thinking we know how things ought to be, when instead we should be approaching the acts of God with fear and trembling, carefully avoiding the notion that we can make God act in the ways we desire. Hidden in plain sight within this apparent adventure novel, we have a serious theological commentary that forces us to re-examine who God is and how God acts. How often we make God into what we want, thinking we can control God! Yet here we see how foolish that is, and how we must once again evaluate the assumptions we have made.

So apart from this deep theological discussion, is there a good book? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The novel is so well written. I found it un-put-down-able. It’s a true page turner even at its doorstop-like heft. The story is full of beautiful description and overflowing with heart and depth.

There is far more that I could say about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a phenomenal achievement. It definitely stands among my favorite works of all time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, dear readers.

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!)

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: “Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views” edited by Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker

I love multiview books. I find them generally enlightening, filling in details about views I don’t hold (and sometimes didn’t even know existed) while also showing how my own view (or one like it) stacks up against others. Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views presents a multiview book on doing theology as an evangelical.* I found it to be highly informative, though I was somewhat perplexed by some aspects of the book.

The views presented here as different theological methods for evangelicals are “Bible Doctrines/Conservative Theology” presented by Sung Wook Chung, “Missional Theology” presented by John R. Franke, “Interdisciplinary Theology” presented by Telford C. Work, “Contextual Theology” presented by Victor Ifeanyi Ezigbo, and “Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology” presented by Paul Louis Metzger.

The Bible Doctrines view is essentially grounded in the notion that we use the Bible as a source to draw information from and then outline what the Bible teaches. The Bible is the data, theology is presenting and systematizing that data. Chung appeals to the historical grammatical view in support of this, arguing that while history and textual criticism may provide some correctives, the core is to ask “what does the Bible teach” and end the discussion there. The missional view does theology with a focus on the church lived/living its mission to make disciples of all nations. Thus, it is an inherently practical theology, looking to apply what the Bible teaches to the mission of Christ’s church. Interdisciplinary theology is an approach that utilizes any field of study, making theology the “queen of the sciences” while integrating insight from biology, psychology, literary studies, and more. Interestingly, Work does a case study based on homosexuality and Christianity, arguing that the question is not “Is homosexuality wrong” but rather what kind of people we ought to try to be to conform to the image of Christ. Contextual theology seeks to make the Gospel of Christ understandable and appealing to all people not by applying a one-size-fits all doctrinal mold or practice but rather by utilizing insights from cultures that exist to show the truth of Christ. The Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology chapter was the most difficult in the book, utilizing themes from Barth (along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer an Colin Gunton) to draw out a dogmatic theology for Christianity.

There is some clear overlap between a few of these views, particularly the missional/contextual view and the “Bible Doctrines”/Trinitarian views. The responses at the end of the book didn’t allow individual authors to respond back to the responses, something I did miss. It would have been nice to see, for example, I’d be curious to see how Ezigbo might respond to Chung on the challenge he offered to contextual theology and the possibility of syncretism or the authority of Scripture.

Ezigbo’s essay struck me as particularly insightful, and his responses were perhaps the best in the book. His challenge to Metzger, for example, is on point: “Clearly Metzger exhibits the characteristics of theologians whose theological reflections focus primarily on peer-driven questions… One could only wonder what Metzger’s study of Barth would like like if his aim were to discern Barth’s relevance to the contemporary christological questions that Christians with no formal theological education are asking today” (181-182). Ezigbo notes that he isn’t saying that peer-driven questions are irrelevant, “but if theologians expect their theological reflections to benefit all Christians… they should seek to develop skills and the patience required to exegete the… contexts that shape the life of Christians and their communities” (182). I found this a clear challenge for myself as well, as one who is very interested in the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How do we ensure as people doing and discussing theology that our discussions actually have relevance? Of course, one could argue more abstractly that if Barth’s dogmatics are true, then in the broadest sense they are relevant for all people, no matter how obscure, in that truth impacts reality. But that seems cold comfort when the challenge is much more personal: why should Barth’s insights matter to me? It’s food for thought, I think.

One thing that was only addressed in passing by a few of the authors was the strangeness of seeing theological method as an either/or. As a good Lutheran, I love me some ‘both-and.’ It seems to me, as a reader, that these methods could each benefit from one another, and that trying to practice one exclusively would be detrimental. Dogmatics need context. Interdisciplinary studies need some mission. The Bible Doctrines approach could probably stand to acknowledge some of the inherent concerns there (eg. a tendency to assume that one’s own presuppositions of the text or “plain sense” reading is, in fact, correct, despite possible evidence to the contrary).

I found Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views to be a very interesting book, and one which raises many avenues for further research. Those interested in systematic theology, especially, ought to pick it up to read through it. The authors provide some challenges for each of the approaches in the book, and it is important that we do not become too simplistic in our working out of theology.

*I am a Lutheran (specifically of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and although my denomination has “evangelical” in the name, Lutherans are generally different from what is considered broadly evangelical views, particularly in regard to the sacraments. Though, to be fair, Lutherans were the first to identify “evangelical” as a term to call themselves. I give this caveat to show my own outlook on the book.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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 Battle for Bonhoeffer” by Stephen R. Haynes

The Battle for Bonhoeffer by Stephen R. Haynes highlights the ways that people across theological, social, and political spectrums have played tug-of-war with Bonhoeffer’s thought, words, and legacy. As Charles Marsh puts it in his Foreword, “It is understandable… that readers with different theological and ideological perspectives would desire to claim Bonhoeffer as their own. ‘Excerpting Bonhoeffer’ has become a familiar exercise in each team’s effort to win…” (ix). Yet Bonhoeffer’s legacy is far more complex than a simple Google quote mine would allow. In my own reading of Bonhoeffer’s works, it is clear that it would be simple to find conflicting messages even within the same sermons at times. Like Martin Luther, for example, reading Bonhoeffer and interpreting him is like peeling away the layers of an onion, trying to get to the core. It takes care, precision, and thought. Unfortunately, as Haynes notes throughout this book, few people are concerned with doing so.

Though the subtitle is “Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump,” there is far more to the book than dealing with the recent Trump phenomenon. Haynes notes how people on both the right and left have distorted or ignored aspects of Bonhoeffer’s legacy to turn in him into a supporter of their own positions. Marsh sets the table well, asking: “Have you heard progressive Christians cite the passage in Ethics calling abortion ‘nothing but murder’? Or recall Bonhoeffer’s preference for monarchy over democracy?” (xii). Haynes notes how Bonhoeffer was cited on one hand by Vietnam draft resisters, peace activists, liberation theologians, death-of-God thinkers on the left, and on the right by people who oppose abortion or same-sex marriage (and, regarding the latter, Haynes notes insights from both Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory and Diane Reynolds The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [which I reviewed here] for reasons this may be quite inaccurate]). The baffling array of topics Bonhoeffer is alleged to have endorsed or condemned suggests that the quote mining being done through his legacy belies an inner complexity that is far deeper.

Haynes surveys the history of interpretation of Bonhoeffer, particularly in America, through the next several chapters. He places a special emphasis on seeing how evangelicals have viewed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What is interesting in this latter topic is that, initially at least, Bonhoeffer was viewed positively but with some “warning flags” by American evangelicals who interacted with his works. Several appreciated his resistance to Nazi ideals, but were put off by his apparent lack of concern for things like “a high view of Scripture/inerrancy” and his being influenced by liberal German theologians. This portrait by the early evangelicals of Bonhoeffer is far more accurate than the one that has been passed into our own time, in part because it allowed for a multifaceted Bonhoeffer who was complex enough to resist being easily integrated into any one position.

Fairly early on, however, the complexities of Bonhoeffer’s thought and life began to be ignored in favor of seeing him as a figurehead for resistance to one’s own preferred ideas. Haynes demonstrates how Bonhoeffer was used to resist George W. Bush and the “war on terror,” and then ironically turned around to resist the “culture of death” under Barack Obama. The raising of the “Bonhoeffer flag” behind such opposed viewpoints should have served as a warning sign, but it unfortunately did not.

Enter Eric Metaxas. Metaxas’s biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was an extreme departure from Bonhoeffer scholarship generally. For one thing, Metaxas himself admitted to virtually ignoring or explicitly shunning the conclusions of 70 years of Bonhoeffer scholarship both at home and abroad. The cover flap for the book features a spurious quote from Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself…” that has since been passed all over the world and even “quoted” multiple times in Congress on record. To say that using an invented quote from Bonhoeffer on the cover of a biography of the man is a bad sign is an understatement. Haynes notes many, many problems with the biography, from a lack of engagement with Bonhoeffer’s actual works (and ignoring, for example, his Letters and Papers from Prison, which is one of the most important works for understanding his developed thought) to a recasting of Bonhoeffer into an American Evangelical. Yet it is Metaxas’s biography that has become the torch-bearer for the populist Bonhoeffer, making an image of the man that is incredibly distorted. For my own part, when I read Metaxas’s work, I was struck by how entirely de-Lutheranized Metaxas had made Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who explicitly stated that, for example, without the Lord’s Supper there is no Christianity and who certainly supported infant baptism and regeneration, but Metaxas excised such details from his own dim look at Bonhoeffer’s theology, preferring to pull out those things which were more amenable to the typical American evangelical.

It was the populist view of Bonhoeffer which lead to notions of a “Bonhoeffer Moment” at various times before, during, and after the 2016 election cycle. Haynes spends some time noting how it was frequently said during the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that American Christians were facing a “Bonhoeffer Moment” in which they would need to resist the government’s tyranny. Haynes notes how many evangelicals made comparisons to previous Supreme Court rulings, conveniently ignoring those unjust rulings they supported or the just ones they opposed. More decisively, Haynes notes that after Obergefell, evangelicals rallied around a woman who was part of an anti-Trinitarian sect to be their martyr for the cause. In the time since, though, very little has been done by evangelicals in their supposed “Bonhoeffer Moment.” This kind of co-option of the man’s legacy is a disservice to all involved.

Haynes doesn’t limit his analysis of the “battle for Bonhoeffer” to just the positives of Bonhoeffer’s life. Metaxas and others have argued Bonhoeffer is a “Righteous Gentile” (Metaxas even made “righteous gentile” part of his additional subtitle to his biography). But Bonhoeffer has explicitly been turned down for that technical categorization for a few reasons: 1) he wrote or supported some things that were seemingly anti-Semitic; and 2) though he did become a martyr, it wasn’t specifically due to his efforts to help the Jews during the Holocaust, which is a criterion for being deemed a “Righteous Gentile.” Bonhoeffer certainly opposed the Nazi treatment of the Jews and did help some Jews escape Germany (though at arm’s length for the most part–simply helping get proper papers from afar); but that was not his project or his main reason for opposing Nazi Germany. And that’s okay. It is important not to lionize Bonhoeffer for things he didn’t actually do, and Haynes is careful to help readers realize that.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer isn’t very long, but its length shouldn’t be taken for a lack of depth. It’s a thoughtful, critical, and sometimes convicting read. As one who is deeply indebted to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my own theology and thought, I found ways in which I had been distorting him in this book as well. Haynes’ book provides an invaluable correction to distortions on the man’s life, times, and thought. I very highly recommend it.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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: “Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages” edited by Kyle R. Greenwood

Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages is an invaluable resource to understanding the book of Genesis and creation. The book’s scope is impressive, encompassing not only Christian interpretations but also early Rabbinic interpretations, Second Temple Judaism, and the rediscovery of the Ancient Near East with its implications for understanding Genesis. The book is a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning about Genesis.

Each chapter in the book is full of valuable insights. Greenwood himself starts it off by tracing the impact of these creation accounts across the Old Testament. Michael Matlock’s chapter on Second Temple Jewish literature and Genesis 1 and 2 is fascinating, both for its providing a brief introduction to that body of literature and for insights into how later traditions would shape one’s reading of the text. Some Jewish interpreters (eg. Josephus) seemed comfortable expanding on the story themselves, adding whatever details they believed might add interest or even theological emphasis to the text. Of course that doesn’t undermine much careful attention to details of the texts that modern interpreters sometimes miss. Ira Brent Driggers’ chapter uses the intriguing word “appropriations” to describe the New Testament’s use of the Genesis account. Among other things of interest, this chapter leads readers to wonder exactly how NT authors used the Old Testament and what that may mean for our own interpretations. Early Rabbinic interpretation is the subject of Joel S. Allen’s chapter, in which he shows some of the ways post-destruction of the temple Judaism saw figures like Adam and Eve.

Stephen O. Presley’s chapter on the Ante-Nicene Fathers touches on a number of major early Christian thinkers and shows how the interpretation of Genesis continued to develop in sometimes divergent ways. C. Rebecca Rine’s entry on the Nicene and Post-Nicene interpretations shows how Scripture was seen as a pathway to transformation (121) and so a focus on application of the text led to some unique readings (such as creating a baseline for spiritual writings based on the 6-day pattern). Questions raised by these Nicene/Post-Nicene thinkers included wondering why days were in the narrative at all–something that some modern interpreters would be baffled by for all their own emphasis on the importance of the days. Medieval Jewish theology is the center of Jason Kalman’s chapter, which demonstrates the sometimes radical divergence Christian vs. Jewish readings of the same verses could have. Some of these readings included seeing that Genesis didn’t actually entail an order of creation whatsoever (157). Timothy Bellamah’s chapter provides the Christian Medieval contrast to the previous chapter, showing how much fruitful theology continued in this period, often dismissed. Aquinas, of course, is the giant of this era, and he gets some due attention here. The Protestant Reformers were interested in Genesis 1 and 2 in part for their own polemical purposes and in part as their project to go back to the source continued. Jennifer Powell McNutt draws from this rich Christian tradition to highlight various points of emphases by the Reformers.

Another important aspect of the book is the chapter on the Ancient Near East by David T. Tsumura. Because much of this knowledge was lost for a lengthy period of time, many interpretations of Genesis through the ages did not take into account the actual cultural milieu from which it sprang. The Protestant Reformers, for example, had no access to these materials, so their call to go ad fontes–to the source–could not actually complete the task. The interpretation of Genesis ought not to be considered a settled matter from the Reformation to today, and even allegedly literal readings of Genesis owe as much to modern discoveries as to the texts themselves. Aaron T. Smith’s chapter on Post-Darwinian interpretations shows both how yes, in some ways evolution impacted readings of Genesis, but in others it caused a true pursuit of going back to the beginning. Cosmology is central to debates over how Genesis is to be read.

If it hasn’t already become clear, it should be stated plainly that this book is an absolute treasure trove of information, with many, many strands of further research to be pursued upon its completion. Each chapter is worthy of inclusion, and each is well-written and as intriguing as the next. That in itself is an achievement because the book is consistently engrossing.

I very highly recommend Since the Beginning to you, readers. It’s a book that will have you thinking about your own reading of the text, and may even give you insight into where that reading may have its origins.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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: “Last Call for Liberty” by Os Guinness

Os Guinness issues a call to question ourselves and what we mean by “freedom” and “liberty” in the United States in his book Last Call for Liberty. He argues that the United States must work to restore its faith in the “covenant” of the Constitution and help preserve liberty through its republican system.

Perhaps the most prominent theme throughout the book is that of 1776 vs. 1789. The dates refer to the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Guinness never really delves into defining this alleged conflict, though he does stick with the definition of “classical liberal” vs. “left/liberal.” The pervasiveness of this theme would lead readers to think that there would be some elucidation of the specifics of this distinction, but those readers are left wanting. Guinness simply refers to those dates throughout the book as though readers will just know and agree how horrible the French Revolution was for “liberty” (however defined) and how wonderful and perfect the American Revolution was for liberty. That is supposed to be obvious to anyone reading the book, apparently, because there is no point at which Guinness argues the point. In the introduction, for example, when he first introduces the theme, he writes:

Either the classical liberalism of the republic will prevail and 1776 will defeat 1789, or the Left/liberalism of 1789 will defeat 1776, and the republic will fail and become a republic in name only. (4)

Those are some dire words. Probably they should have some basis in argument, definition, and reality. But readers will never know if this distinction has a reality from the arguments presented in the book, because Guinness blithely assumes readers will go with his argument, despite never actually having made it.

The 1776/89 theme is pervasive throughout the book, and is continually used either as the point of an argument or as a way to hammer opposing views. For example, at one point Guinness states that “There can be no truce between 1776 and 1780. The clash of freedoms has to be settled in favor of one way or another, for they lead in entirely different directions” (179). Readers won’t really have a firm idea of what those directions are beyond 1776 is good and 1789 bad; but beyond that point is the absurdity of the actual statement made. “No truce” between the two can exist? How about the fact that, historically, the United States did, in fact have a truce with the Revolutionaries of 1789 and ultimately even an alliance? Sure, the relationship between the two countries soured to the point of a pseudo war, but it healed again shortly thereafter. Why? Because the United States was more favorably inclined towards a French country that had thrown off its monarchy than other countries that were dedicated to preserving theirs (eg. Britain). I admit I have simplified things historically, but even this analysis provides more historical background to the two years than Guinness does in close to 300 pages of text! Not only that, but Guinness had, at an earlier point, argued that history is the test for different systems to work, citing, of course, the worst possible examples of political systems that are different from a republic in his argument. But if history is the test for truth claims, his absurd claim that there can be no truce between 1776/1789 has been tested and is false.

Much of the rest of the book is filled with vague or explicit notions of American exceptionalism. The United States has the best system because it does, right? For example, only pages after Guinness condemns Athenian democracy for its limits on freedom because it only gave certain men the right to vote and Athens didn’t give in to reasoned arguments against slavery (77-78), he goes on to praise the United States for its own wonderful adherence to liberty. I don’t know whether to be amused by the irony or saddened by the apparent intentional ironing out of history’s wrinkles. After all, the 1776 liberty and freedom-loving republic Guinness wants us to all to hearken back to as the best example itself only allowed certain men the right to vote and endorsed and made laws for slavery. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply conflicted Guinness’s words are with his own thesis throughout the book. Whose liberty and freedom is Guinness really concerned with here? I can’t help but ask the question, because his ignoring of the wrongs of slavery and limited votes in the earliest days of the republic are set alongside nearly worshipful praise of the wisdom of the Founders demands that we ask whose power Guinness is concerned with.

Another major problem with the book is the style of writing Guinness has. At very few points was I able to draw out a thread of an argument. Rather, throughout the work, waxing eloquently is taken in the place of argument. It’s the kind of writing style that will pump up an audience already firmly in agreement with the thesis, but it doesn’t advance the argument or really even state it in any way. Alongside these vague statements that nevertheless provide good quote-mining is the notion that the United States somehow, in 1776, did something akin to making a proper covenant with God by being “under God” in the formation of the nation. I am still not sure I understand Guinness’s point here, but neither do accept fault for not understanding it. Like most other points in the book, this covenant/constitution/under God unity is never explained but merely assumed and orated upon.

Guinness apparently also felt the need to jump on the bandwagon of at least referencing the concept of calling younger people “snowflakes” and restating some of the mockery directed towards those who were upset by results of an election. For a man who literally wrote a book about how we must work to preserve freedom and liberty, it is deeply ironic to read condemnations of people feeling passionately about the results of efforts to do so. Sure, Guinness probably disagrees with how these others are voting, but for him to complain about the passion people felt about elections is asinine. How can Guinness seriously place this complaint having just written a book trying to put forward a passionate cry for liberty? Oh, and don’t forget to blame 1789 for people not conforming to Guiness’s standards of how people should react to elections, as well. Not content to stop with that self-condemning thought, Guinness also equivocates between the notion of political correctness and “newspeak” from the book 1984. It’s not a sick take down of the “Left” (or the Right, really) unless we bring up some of our favorite dystopic novels, right? This equivalency is stunning, because it seems to imply that Guinness actually believes that calls to, say, use accurate language for people groups is the same as literally changing truth to falsehood. Maybe he does believe that, in which case his own position seems much more dangerous to liberty than those he condemns.

Really, the entire book reads like someone who is having to face the fact that his position–that of an elder white male–is no longer valued simply by virtue of being an elder white male. Liberty is easily defined into power for his own position, and this definition is made almost explicit when he, as noted above, praises the United States’ republican system that excluded all non-white people, females, and non-land owners from voting in the glorious year of 1776. It’s hard to take seriously a man who can make such a heartless statement in praise of that system who then turns around and complains about others not liking his viewpoint.

Last Call for Liberty is the kind of alarmist and elitist work that Guinness purports to condemn in the book itself. By aligning himself so closely with the notion that the United States is under (or should be under) some kind of divine mandate and “covenant,” Guinness preaches to the choir of American exceptionalism. By sweeping the faults of our form of “liberty” under the rug, he engages in the very immunization against facts that he criticizes the “left/liberal” of doing. It is at times baffling to see such contradictory sentiments contained in the same book. Unfortunately, I believe that its primary audience will find it as faultless as they find our country.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even 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: “Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context” by Daniel White Hodge

Daniel White Hodge’s Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context is much more than a book about missions, though it has plenty there. It challenges readers to broaden perspectives, think critically about their own assumptions, and engage with cultures they may not have otherwise done.

The book starts off with an exploration of Christianity and “the theological turn of the twentieth century.” This theological turn was, in part, a moving away from seeing Christianity as a kind of turning everyone into white people with ways of thinking and culture. After World War II, there was a questioning of authority and the structures that were set in place to maintain authority that began to be challenged. But missiology hasn’t kept up with all the trends. As communities of black people began to be formed outside the church in the Post Soul context, these communities relied less upon the church, which then attempted outreach, turning it again, unfortunately, into a viewpoint where the dominant white culture and hierarchy became enshrined as part of the church and, therefore, of the mission preached to the community.

Throughout this first section, we see how racism in the church and the accompanying silencing of the voices of people of color led to multiple challenges in the American church. As people began to associate the church with oppression, they began to see Christ and orthodox Christianity as inherently wound up in the same systems. Opposition to doctrines that were taught by missionaries who seemed to care much more for the numbers they could draw than for the people or empowerment of the oppressed became part of the experience of many people of color. Hodge, here, shows through both anecdotes and broader analysis that this opposition to orthodoxy in some sections of the church arose from opposition to those associated with the orthodoxy. And here’s where the book begins to truly challenge its readers. After all, I personally cannot say how often I’ve heard about how much it is ideas that matter rather than the people who put the ideas forward. Objective truth, that is, is true no matter who shares it. I believe that. But when the people who share objective truth are actively oppressing you and preventing, sometimes by force, family members from doing things like voting, it becomes difficult to see where the lines should be drawn between the objective truths and the objective lies and distortions being put forward by the same individuals or groups of people.

There is a kind of blithe assumption that we–all people, that is–can just separate whatever someone believes or teaches from the person. Truth is supposed to be impersonal, and so it doesn’t matter if the one who is teaching the Gospel is a Klansman, because it still is the true Gospel. Objectively, that is true, but the message it sends is that the Gospel is associated with the Klan, whether we want it to be or no. That means the challenges faced by missiology must include not just teaching objective truths, but demonstrating that these objective truths are capable of objectively changing reality for both the one sharing the truths and for those who hear them. And that is exactly what the Gospel of Christ is about, for it ushers in salvation through the Kingdom of God. Hodge’s book continues to challenge readers throughout. Nowhere does he say that heresy is good or that it should be accepted, but he does call readers to see how heresy might become appealing when orthodoxy is associated with structures that oppress.

Hodge weaves data and anecdotes throughout the book. The segments from interviews are particularly poignant, as readers learn about young people of color who faced challenges of racism even in their small Christian groups. One example I remember is of a large black man who did his best to be cheerful, funny, and self-deprecating in order to come off as non-threatening to his church community only to have that community doubt his reports of aggression from police and white people outside that community purely based on his status as a large black man.

Then, Hodge turns to Hip Hop and an analysis of some major works in that genre to see how they’ve helped shape the thought and even theology of communities. Though often dismissed offhand as sinful due to content including cuss words, sex, violence, and drugs, hip hop is one way that people are trying to make sense of the world. But the analysis of Hip Hop isn’t an attempt to excuse its content; rather, it is a demonstration of the power of that content for communities experiencing that content and a call to develop missiology that acknowledges this context. It shows how Hip Hop has its own missiology and theology, deeply spiritual and often developed out of a Christian context and background.

Homeland Insecurity: A Hip Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context is a challenging, fulfilling read. It’s a call to readers to go beyond the straightforward and look, truly look at the way we impact our communities. Moreover, it is a call to action. I highly recommend it.

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!

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

Jehovah’s Witnesses are in your community. What do you do?

The headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society- credit: By Sergio Herrera – Sergio Herrera’s (Q.Entropy) Flickr page, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15112279

Over the weekend, there were Jehovah’s Witnesses that had flown in to go door-to-door in our community. I typed up a brief list of things to think about or discuss if they are in your own neighborhood. I do not claim this is comprehensive; this is just a starting point for discussions.

Above all else, please be courteous and kind in all of your interactions with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If you are interested in having a discussion, be aware of a few things:
1) They have certain passages they have been trained to expect (eg. John 1:1) and will not deviate from their own “translation” which, though wrong, will not be fruitful in trying to dissuade them from.
2) They are seeking the truth, just as we are.
3) They do not believe Jesus is God, but rather Michael the Archangel (though I have had some deny this)–see below for a few verses to discuss this.
4) They believe they must work to get to heaven. Emphasize God’s grace in your own interactions with them.

If you do want to go into some depth, here are some good passages:
1. Compare Isaiah 44:24 (YHWH/The LORD [they’d say Jehovah] is speaking and says that God made the heavens “by myself.” to Colossians 1:16 in which the son creates all things–if the Son creates all and God creates all “by myself,” who is the Son? [Note: their translation will say that the Son creates all “other” things in Colossians 1, inserting the word “other” many times in the opening chapter where it doesn’t exist in the Greek manuscripts, but this doesn’t undermine the point, because even if it says “other” things, those other things are things Jehovah creates “by myself” in Isaiah]
2. Compare Revelation 22:8-9 [John bows down to an angel, thinking, apparently, the angel is God or worthy of worship] to Hebrews 1:5-6 (and following) [the Son is listed as being worshiped and even angels must worship the Son].
3. Walk through Jeremiah 23:5-6 in their own translation. Ask who the first verse is about–who is the one from the branch of David? Jesus, clearly, and they’ll agree. Then in verse 6, what is the name that Jesus will be called–JEHOVAH our righteousness. It says this in their own translation. So if the prophecy is about Jesus, and Jehovah says the name of this coming king will be Jehovah…. who is Jesus?

Finally, pray for those with whom you disagree.

SDG.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 11-13

After a 5 year hiatus, I decided to continue my look at David Montgomery’s work, The Rocks Don’t Lie. For a refresher, the book is from the perspective of a geologist as he looks at Noah’s flood in light of geology, but he also includes material on contemporary accounts and some reflections on faith.

Chapters 11-13

The stark impact of catastrophic events on our planet’s past is clear in the geologic record. Montgomery uses his own experience as a geologist and the history of geology to show how catastrophism is part of modern geology, despite young earth creationists often claiming modern geology only appeals to uniformitarianism. Geologists began integrating catastrophe and uniformity almost from the beginning, as challenges to Lyell’s strictest uniformitarianism emerged from geologic evidence. Thus, far from what is too often portrayed as an either/or situation, geology truly is both/and when it comes to the two streams of evidence.

It is even possible that one such catastrophic event led to the stories of the flood as found in the Ancient Near East, including in the Bible. Glacial events led to massive buildups of water, and as the ice would melt in front of that water, it would release huge torrents that could carve canyons and flood enter massive regions quickly. Clear evidence of this having happened through ice dam failures is seen in both North America and Eurasia (210ff). One such massive event helped fill Hudson bay and the Great Lakes. It is possible that a similar event occurred with the Black Sea that could have led to so many stories in the region about massive floods. Yet creationists are unwilling to accept this evidence. Montgomery writes:

There was a time when both geologists and conservative Christians would have interpreted the evidence of a catastrophic Black Sea flood as proof of Noah’s Flood and confirmation of the historical veracity of Genesis. But times have changed. Now geologists present evidence in support of Noah’s Flood, and creationists hold out for belief in a global flood for which no evidence can be found (223).

In Chapter 12, Montgomery explores reasons why some Christians reject so much compelling evidence for a truly ancient earth and the lack of a global flood. One of the primary reasons, he thinks, is due to a belief that such evidence undercuts the truth of the Bible. He notes the impact of Whitcomb and Morris and their book The Genesis Flood upon this movement. It continues to have immense impact despite being rejected by geologists–including Christians–as clearly mistaken. The attacks upon conventional geology fall short of the truth and often show basic misunderstandings of geology. Christian geologists have continued to push back against this “flood geology,” yet it persists in some corners.

In the final chapter, entitled “The Nature of Faith,” Montgomery reflects upon his own journey. He came in with a clear goal of refuting creationist claims wholesale, but as he explored evidence for major local floods as well as reading Christians on the topic, his view of the nature of faith changed. He notes that he sees science and faith not as enemies but “as an awkward egalitarian waltz” (247). Montgomery, though not (to my knowledge) a Christian, suggests that Christianity has much to offer and has done some work for science as well as against it. He argues that one thing needed is “a historically informed understanding of how people read and interpreted sacred texts in the past” (249) so that we can form a better picture of the past. Similarly, “Genesis 1 remains powerful and relevant today if read as a symbolic polemic intended for early monotheists rather than as a Bronze Age scientific treatise” (251). Too often, “We will only look for evidence that confirms our beliefs” rather than challenging ourselves and keeping our minds open (253). Though religion cannot answer every scientific question, neither can science make religion an illusion (255).

I found Montgomery’s final chapter, in particular, extremely helpful. It’s the kind of outsider perspective that is truly constructive and helpful. It makes me wonder how his own outlook may have changed in the 6 years since the publication of this book. He is articulate and fair. Indeed, his suggestions for people of faith ought to be well-taken, alongside his critiques of skeptical perspectives. The idea that faith is a sickness or illusion is too prominent today, but people of faith also need to acknowledge that some of that stems from a denial of clear evidence. If we set our faith on things that are clearly wrong (for example, young earth creationism), it discredits our faith.

 

Links 

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1– Montgomery surveys the intent of the book and how his own investigation of the flood led him to some surprising results. He expected a straightforward refutation of creationism, but found the interplay with science and faith to be more complex than he thought.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2-3– First, Montgomery gives a survey of the basics of geology. Then he notes some serious problems with young earth paradigms related to the Grand Canyon and fossils in the Americas as well as on mountains.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapter 4– Montgomery surveys a number of early flood geological theories and shows how theological interpretations continued to change as evidence was discovered through time.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 5-7– A brief early history of the study of geology and paleontology is provided, and early theories about the flood begin to form alongside them.

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!)

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 9

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 9

Fisher’s argument in chapter 9 centers on the credibility of the apostles. In Chapter 8, he argued for the credibility of the Gospels, so he builds on the notion that the Gospels may be trusted to report the words of the Apostles to the question of why we ought to trust them.

First, he notes that we ought to generally trust people unless we have reason to distrust them, whether through intent to deceive or some independent reason to doubt their testimony (71). Other reasons to distrust them may be that they were “enthusiasts” or “simpletons.” A primary reason Fisher cites to trust the apostles is that they give testimony that shows them in a poor light. One example is Paul’s own writings in which he states that he persecuted the church (72-73). They also admit their own contentions about who should be first–the inner fights they had, and the rebukes against some of them by Jesus. Their willingness to show themselves as foolish or mistaken in various forms lends credence to their reports as truth.

Regarding the miracles they report, Fisher touches on the mythic theory put forward by David Friedrich Strauss–that the miracles found in the Gospels were imagined by followers of Jesus who were so caught up in him that they (intentionally or not) invented tales about his power. Fisher counters this by noting that this gets the story backwards, for the reason so many were interested in Jesus was because of the very miracles those selfsame people are alleged to have invented. How could they have become followers of Christ on account of miracles if they themselves invented them (74-75)?

One objection to the authenticity of the Gospels is found in alleged discrepancies between their accounts. Fisher approaches this argument from a few different ways. First, he notes that many of these alleged contradictions are not actually contradictions at all. He does not exhaustively look at such contradictions (for such a look, it is interesting to look at J.J. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences). Second, Fisher argues that minor discrepancies are to be expected in any human testimony. Should we demand 100% agreement in all testimony everywhere, courts would have to be “shut up, for the most veracious witnesses seldom agree in all the minutiae which enter into their testimony” (76).  One example I use personally is that of someone’s height. I’m short for an adult man, so on the witness stand I may call someone “tall” who someone of average of height might call “average.” Such a discrepancy in testimony doesn’t suggest we’d both be wrong, but that human perspective changes based on who the witness is. Fisher’s comments here would likely make some uncomfortable regarding specific doctrines of inspiration, particularly a stringent view of inerrancy. It seems Fisher is willing to allow for their to be even some factual discrepancies between the Gospels due to their human authorship. Third, Fisher notes that the Gospels are not intended to be exhaustive historical accounts but rather the remembrances of eyewitnesses, and so frequently the apparent contradictions or discrepancies could be resolved by simply having more detail. These details are often provided by other Gospel accounts, so it is important to compare them.

Regarding the miracles in the apostles’ accounts, Fisher notes a few lines of evidence. First, they verify revelations. Second, the miracles go against prevailing belief, such that they went against expectations. Third, several of the miracles were in circumstances people felt they were highly unlikely to occur. Fourth, the apostles were subject to persecution regarding their belief in many of these miracles. Thus, if they were inventing them, it was likely they would have given up the invention rather than try to maintain their false pretense. Fifth, the manner of reporting of miracles the apostles had was such that it lends credence to “sobriety of mind” rather than invented myths. Regarding the appearances of Christ, one of the points Fisher makes is that they were limited in time and scope. If they were invented, why would the appearances have stopped?

I think regarding Fisher’s last point, we could note that some do still allege appearances of Christ here and there. There are the infamous “Jesus toast” type of instances, which are dismissed by virtually all, including believers. So again, this seems to go against the idea that Christ-followers were or continue to be particularly prone to the invention and perpetuation of the miraculous. This doesn’t go into issues of charismata and the like, but questions and responses could be asked here as we continue to look at the nature of the miraculous.

Fisher’s succinct chapter here is filled with lines of thought. Again, he merely touches on most issues, but his arguments seem powerful. What takeaways did you have from this chapter?

Study Questions

  1. Fisher’s response to Strauss is quite brief. How might you expand it? What other interactions with Strauss have you run into?
  2. What do you think of Fisher’s comments regarding discrepancies in the apostles’ accounts? How might his answer impact one’s view of the Bible?
  3. What apparent contradictions have you seen in the Bible that you have been able to resolve?

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.

——

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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