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Book Review: “Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive” by Jonathan Walton

Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive is a provocative title for a book, and the subtitle: “And the Truth that Sets Us Free” only calls for a closer look. Jonathan Walton, in this work, calls for a close look at several pervasive ideas in the United States and calls them out for being mistaken on several counts.

Walton pulls no punches in his denunciation of the mixture of Christianity with nationalism. Early on, he notes that “Many Christians hold the same level of commitment to the Pledge of Allegiance that they hold to the Apostles’ Creed” (12). One could go on from this statement and note that plenty of Christians likely have the former memorized but know almost nothing about the formulation of the Apostles’ belief as outlined in the Creed. What does this say about the allegiance of American Christianity? Walton continues to press this kind of point throughout the book.

What are the twelve lies? They are: We are a Christian Nation; We All Are Immigrants, We Are a Melting Pot, All Men Are Created Equal, We Are a Great Democracy, The American Dream is Alive and Well, We are the Most Prosperous Nation in the World, We Are the Most Generous People in the World, America Is the Land of the Free, America Is the Home of the Brave, America Is the Greatest Country on Earth, and We Are One Nation. One’s visceral reaction to seeing these sentiments as “lies” is a good guide for how much this book is needed. I personally had a negative response to calling some of these lies, but as Walton drew out his meaning and the implications for a Christian life, came to find myself in agreement on most of his points.

Walton continues to make convicting points throughout the book. For example, while talking about the lie that “All Men are Created Equal,” Walton notes that it encourages us to see all achievement as personal success, thus leading to a kind of works righteousness in which if one just does what they ought, they receive (financial) reward. It’s a distortion of the Christian message, and ignores real, societal challenges to success that exist. It also encourages the vision of politeness rather than true kindness. Walton writes, “Preserving the image of a society that is polite and respectful and rewards hard work and grit is more important than genuine kindness, justice, and living like every person is made in the image of God” (65). It is this kind of insight and call to true Christianity that is found throughout the book.

Each chapter goes back to the Bible and Christianity to find a truth instead of the lie that nationalism and what Walton calls “White American Folk Religion” offers. For example, in the chapter on the “melting pot,” Walton points out that God’s kingdom is not a melting pot and instead that it will have every tribe, tongue, and nation–that God’s Kingdom is “shalom [peace] amid difference” (57). Again, the book is filled to the brim with this kind of insight.

Twelve Lies that Hold America Captive is a thoughtful, challenging book. It calls Christians to do better–to see beyond themselves and even their country to the ties that bind us all together in Christ. I recommend it very highly.

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.

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The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Creationism: An Unnecessary Match

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, at their 2019 convention, re-iterated an affirmation and strengthened adherence to statements about creation and evolution made previously by Synod bodies. Res. 5-09A, according to the report from the LCMS, restates the position of earlier statements in the Synod, including a 1932 doctrinal statement that states, among other things:

We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

In effect, the Resolution (Res. 5-09A) is a significant and modern reiteration of creationism within the LCMS, specifically of young earth creationism. Thus, it also more emphatically excludes and alienates those within the Synod who do not affirm such a position and who have explored the possibility of other positions within the church.

I believe God has made me and all creatures?

There are a number of problems, of course, with such a statement. The quote provided above issues a bald appeal to Luther’s Small Catechism with the statement that “I believe God has made me and all creatures.” On the surface, this appears to be an attempt to use that quote to support direct, fiat creationism. Yet when one reads the rest of that section of the Small Catechism, one finds that the same exact section also states “[God] also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Yet the LCMS is not also passing resolutions that affirm direct, fiat action by God in the providing of our clothes, food, drink, shoes, house, and home. They’re not passing resolutions in which Synod laity is expected to affirm that God literally created their clothing and gave it to them directly. But the Catechism does make those statements in the exact same context, without any such qualification. This means that the Catechism does not exclude means when it comes to divine providence regarding these matters. God uses means to provide us with food, home, and clothing. Similarly, God may have used means when it comes to “God made me and all creatures.”

The appeal to the lack of humans being present at creation cuts both ways. No member or pastor in the LCMS was present when God created the heavens and the Earth, so how is it that they may define in more exacting detail how God created them? Indeed, they say that we ought to look at God’s own record, which explicitly states that the heavens declare God’s glory. Scientists have looked to the heavens to see direct evidence of God’s glorious creation. Such evidence, God’s “speech” from the heavens (Psalm 19), points to a universe much, much more ancient than the six- to ten-thousand years most young earth creationists affirm, especially those who are so exacting in defining days as “6 natural days” (more on that below, though).

Six Natural Days?

The Resolution (5-09A) reiterates that creation is in “6 natural days.” But the fact is that the concept of a day as 24 hours is itself a giving into cultural norms of our own time. The length of a day has changed through history, as is demonstrable from such things as the variance in Earth’s rotation, tidal forces, and more can and have changed the length of the day, either permanently or for short periods of time (read more on this phenomenon here). Now, these fluctuations are extremely minor, so the objection may be lodged that this doesn’t impact the concept of a “24 hour day” or a “natural day.” Once one does admit that minor variations are acceptable, however, it becomes much less clear why major variations or even different meanings may not be explored. After all, nothing in the Bible states that God held the Earth in a completely still, static state as the creation week continued. It may be the case that even with a “standard” or “natural” day, the actual duration of each of the 6 days of creation could have varied. So, again, the very concept itself is flawed, for it both reads into the Bible things that are not there and ignores actual observational evidence that it is wrong. In attempting to circumvent science and purely affirm Scripture, the LCMS has fallen into the trap of bringing along scientific presuppositions that are hidden in the premises of their statements, thus doubling the error by both affirming a non-scientific viewpoint and smuggling in scientific assumptions that undermine their position.

Consequences of the Position

The fact is that the LCMS attempt to “take a stand” on this issue places it squarely and officially outside of any possibility for youths or adults to reconcile the official stance of their denomination with modern science. As someone who was within the LCMS and is no longer, I can say that this is one of the reasons I left. The total disregard for any viewpoint that went against a (then unofficial) stance on the timing and/or means of creation as well as the lack of regard for science generally was a massive difficulty for me within the denomination. Making this the official stance will do nothing but exacerbate that same concern for many, many more. I distinctly recall several conversations with other LCMS people, young and old, about how the denomination’s stance on creation was a significant hurdle for them in their faith life.

This is about much larger issues than whether the LCMS will lose or gain members; it is about the actual faith lives of those within the denomination. By drawing the wagons in tighter in the circle, the LCMS pastors have rejected the duty to be pastoral to their congregants and aligned their church body with a statement that cannot be reconciled with mainstream science with mountains of data and evidence to support it. Youths will be told that not to affirm this “6 natural day” creation is to oppose the Bible, and because the LCMS has so strongly emphasized that to believe as they do just is to trust the Bible, such a rejection will lead to crises of faith. As someone who experienced this in my own life, this is deeply disturbing and disappointing. The church body has effectively taken a stance on a non-essential that will lead to many questioning essential issues.

There are many, many more issues with the stance of the LCMS here, as well. For example, in my own experience I have seen several LCMS churches utilize program materials from creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis. Yet, for all the LCMS purports to value doctrinal purity and affirm centrally Lutheran beliefs, their support for groups like Answers in Genesis shows that the Synod is far more interested in aligning with broad evangelical theology than in maintaining a distinctive Lutheranism. The use of youth materials from Answers in Genesis is troubling, not only because it stands so clearly against modern science, but because Answers in Genesis also uses its website to promote non-and even anti-Lutheran positions on things like baptism. For example, a search for “baptism” on the Answers in Genesis Website yields immediate links like this one, a sermon from Charles Spurgeon, in which he states:

the very great majority of Christian people think infant children are fit and proper subjects for this ordinance [baptism]; we, on the other hand, believe that none are fit and proper subjects for the ordinance of baptism, except those who really believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their King.

Yet the LCMS, an unashamedly Lutheran organization, is perfectly willing to hold hands with an organization that promotes strictly anti-Lutheran materials as top results on its website? Why? Because, again, the LCMS has fallen into the trap of valuing evangelicalism and the narrative of the “culture wars” more than it values its own adherence to Lutheran doctrine. This strong and hard stance on young earth creationism is just one of the many results of such a capitulation, but it is also one of the most vehement positions the LCMS is promoting within its churchwide body.

A Personal Appeal

The LCMS recently published a report in which it was revealed that the “2017 Confirmation Survey identified around a 1-in-3 rate of retention for individuals after confirmation” in the LCMS. This number spawned a number of discussions and responses to it. One such response, the “Executive Summary” of the survey, stated as a category that “Congregations must be safe places for young people to wrestle with life and faith in order for them to faithfully reach out to today’s culture.” Taking such a hard stance on a scientific issue that the LCMS is unwilling or unable to actively engage with (as shown by reliance on outside resources like Answers in Genesis) is the exact opposite of being a “safe place for young people to wrestle with life and faith…” It was not a safe place for me, personally, as I dealt with some of these difficult topics. I came very near to leaving the faith entirely, and it was ironically an LCMS person who said that Jesus resurrection didn’t hinge upon whether the Earth was 10,000 or 10 billion years old that helped me rethink my faith. But now, the LCMS has made even that slight possibility outside the bounds. Their statement has tied people’s faith with the age of the Earth, and that should not and must not be the foundation for any Christian faith 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!

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate– In-depth coverage and analysis of the famous debate between young earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the science guy.

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: “Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith” by Richard Harries

Haunted by Christ is a riveting look at how modern writers dealt with lingering doubts, anger, sorrow, and the question of Christianity. Richard Harries asks readers to engage with several writers to ask them questions that might not normally be asked, and he challenges readers in ways that are intricately tied into these authors’ lives.

First, it is worth pointing out that the concept of “modern” here is being used in the technical sense, related to modernism. Harries sets this period starting with Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and Closing in the early 20th century. The authors Harries surveys are Dostoevsky, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett, W.H. Auden, William Golding, R.S. Thomas, Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown, Elizabeth Jennings, Graham Greene with Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo, and Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman, and Marilynne Robinson. Readers familiar with the works of these authors will know they run the gamut from skeptics to devout Christians. What ties them together, in Harries reading, is that their works are “haunted” by the supernatural, and specifically through a grappling with the person of Jesus Christ.

As a reader, I was unfamiliar with many of the authors, not having read much from the modernist movement. (This line makes me want to say sorry to my English teachers.) Nevertheless, Harries gives enough biographical information on each author to understand the points he’s making. Indeed, most of the information in the book is biographical, as Harries draws out each authors’ struggle with faith and coming to terms with the person of Jesus Christ. Even the skeptics surveyed clearly interact with Christianity, even if in negative ways.

I found several chapters of particular interest. Seeing C.S. Lewis’s and Philip Pullman’s competing mythologies set alongside each other for examination was fascinating. The chapter on W.H. Auden and his quiet, almost “polite” faith drew to light the great impact culture can have on one’s perception of religion and the work of God. The chapter on Golding makes me want to read more from him, despite not enjoying The Lord of the Flies. Emily Dickinson as “smouldering volcano” was an insightful look at a phenomenally successful poet. Each chapter had something that struck me, though the book also left me wishing I did know more about the authors and their works. I suspect Harries would be pleased to know his work led me to reach out and start reading some of these other works.

The biographical way Harries writes integrates worldview questions into the writings of each author. It never felt as though he subverted their own personal narratives, however. He didn’t pull punches in describing the way a skeptic like Pullman spoke about religion. Nor did he cover up aspects of authors’ lives that some might find unappealing. It’s an honest, almost unyielding book. It made me uncomfortable at times, but in ways that challenged me to learn and understand.

Haunted by Christ is a fascinating work. Harries offers insight and vision into Christianity in ways that I hadn’t really thought of before. It made me want to read many of the authors mentioned. And it made me want to know what someone who actually was more familiar with these authors might think. 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.

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.

“Women in the History of the Church” by William Weinrich in in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless -a critical review

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“Women in the History of the Church: Learned and Holy, But Not Pastors” by William Weinrich

First, the subtitle of this chapter leads us to some expectations. Minimally, I expect Weinrich to offer a definition of “pastor” that can be established from the Bible. Second, I expect Weinrich to firmly establish that the many, many, many women in church history and the Bible who occupied several roles in leadership did not occupy that office that he ought to define: the pastor. This means we need a very clear definition of what it is to be a pastor so that we can say person A is a pastor, and person B is clearly not. So, for example, if “pastor” means “someone who preaches sermons in worship,” I expect the author to establish that definition in the Bible, and show that women did not do that and that men did. I want to reiterate the section introduction for this and following chapters made a number of far-reaching claims about women, pastors, and church history. I have written on those claims here, so we can evaluate whether this and other chapters establish them.

After a very brief survey of a few books about women in church history, Weinrich starts the chapter off by going through different things women did do in the church. He offers a brief look at the ministry of deaconess which developed over time, especially in the east (110-112). The deaconess was “an ordained member of the clergy” (112). A few individuals are surveyed as well. In more modern times, he notes that Deaconesses operated in a number of functions, especially in the Anglican church (113-114). Then, Weinrich offers a short look at women’s contributions to the intellectual and literary heritage of the church. This section includes a look at the hymnody of the church and how women have written much of them. “Christian women have exercised spiritual power in many ways,” notes Weinrich in the next section, noting women as martyrs and their prayerful power in church history. He notes prophetic figures in the early church (121-122) and through the Middle Ages. Here is one of the few parts in these sections where Weinrich makes an effort to show that though these women did all these wonderful things, they weren’t fully included in leadership. He writes, “…it is doubtful whether one can speak meaningfully of the ‘egalitarianism of the double monasteries’…” apparently because “the abbesses had no espicopal power and no power to excommunicate or to administer the sacraments” (123). Protestantism has a rich history of women of faith as well, including women preaching and being involved in outreach, making colleges for the training of pastors, and the like (see esp. his discussion of the Wesleyan tradition on 125).

It is not until the next section of the chapter that Weinrich turns his argument around. Having noted that women were involved in services of prayer, charity, pastoral roles such as helping the widows or even having the “office” of widow, that women have deeply influenced and shaped the theology of the church through their writings of both theological treatises and their hymns that continue to teach the laity and guide worship, that women were involved in religious orders in extraordinary ways and that their spiritual power and administration is to be lauded, he now decides that women, though, ought not to be pastors. Why the turnabout? Well, Weinrich puts it: “until the very recent past, the ‘office’ of teaching and of the sacramental ministry, with the jurisdictional powers this implies, has been reserved for men.” The snarky side of me here would like to quote Rev Tevye “Fiddler on the Roof” and say we have now found the reason: “Tradition!” Indeed, Weinrich even notes “anomalies” throughout church history in which women did occupy these roles, but they’re relegated to “anomalies” apparently because they don’t match the tradition Weinrich prefers to enforce.

Weinrich goes on, quoting people in church history who used 1 Timothy 2:12 to restrict women from teaching. He also once again allows the ugly head of Gnosticism to take over, arguing that it is because of the Gnostics (here, as in the chapter on Gnosticism, apparently categorized as a single, holistic unit despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) that women were originally allowed to be teachers or ministers. Weinrich then surveys a number of other instances throughout church history in which women did serve in sacramental ministry or teach with an eye for showing how often it was decried by others in the church. Once again, the echoing cry of “Tradition!” appears to be the response to whether women may be allowed in this function. He ends with a note that “It has been only in the last half of the twentieth century that the major Protestant church bodies have begun to accept women as regular preachers and pastors” (134-135). Again, apparently because this does not match with the traditions in the church, we are to accept on face value that women ought not to occupy these roles.

At the beginning, we asked whether Weinrich would define the role of pastor. The closest he gets is to say that it is the “office” of teaching and of the sacramental ministry. The definition is vague enough so as to be effectively useless, particularly when he has already noted that women served in prophetic roles, as teachers through hymns and theological treatises, occasionally as serving the sacraments (though this was denounced–tradition must get its say), caring for the poor, founding colleges that trained pastors, becoming martyrs, and many, many more active duties related to the church.

Finally, going back to the questions this section must answer to satisfy the claims of the editors, let’s evaluate this chapter.
Claim 1: “The practice of ordaining women to the pastoral office is a novelty in the history of the church.” (107)

This claim is actually directly falsified because Weinrich notes how very early on women were engaged in this practice, even if he does relegate them to “Gnostics” or other “anomalous” groups.

Claim 2: “Fueled by theological movements that set the charismatic distribution of the Spirit in opposition to an established office, the emerging equalitarianism of the feminist movement, historical criticism’s distrust of the biblical text, and in some cases a pragmatism that saw the ordination of women as a way to alleviate the clergy shortage… many Protestant denominations took steps to ordain women.” (ibid)

This claim may be true, though Weinrich doesn’t do much to support it. For example, he doesn’t blame historical criticism for women pastors and acknowledges that some groups did this practice long before “historical criticism” was a category of thought.

Claim 3: The women who are noted in the history of the church “were holy and learned but never pastors” (referencing an upcoming chapter’s claims).

Falsified by Weinrich’s “anomalies” in the history of the church. “Never” is a universal negative.

Claim 4: “Ordination of women is a monumental turn in the history of the Church.” (107)

It has existed since very early on in the history of the church, as Weinrich notes, though he relegates them to anomalies.

Claim 5: “[Ordination of women] puts those church bodies that practice it on dangerous ground, for it indicates that they are out of step not only with two thousand years of Christian history but with the will of the Lord of the Church.” (Ibid)

It is difficult to see what relevance this chapter even has in regards to this claim.

Links

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

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

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

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: “Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance” by Reggie L. Williams

Reggie L. Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is a deep look at how Bonhoeffer’s experience in New York, and more specifically in Harlem, shaped him as a theologian of resistance against Hitler. It’s not just that, though, as it also traces Bonhoeffer’s intellectual development, specifically about racism, both before and after this epochal change.

First, Williams outlines the early theological development of Bonhoeffer, tracing his early intellectual development as well as his struggles to find a church home while visiting the United States. Here, in the United States, Bonhoeffer first encountered white racial terrorism in the form of lynching. Later, he would appeal to a German theologian to speak out against the charade of trials against in Scottsboro, in which nine black men were falsely accused of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death and killed. This caused something of an awakening for Bonhoeffer to racial violence, though he still had to become aware of his own biases.

The movement of Bonhoeffer from a proponent of volk (the German word for “Folk) type nationalism to a race-conscious and anti-racist perspective is one of the most fascinating portions of Williams’s research. While Bonhoeffer retained several core convictions throughout his life, his thought about race was directly impacted by his time in Harlem. Germany had been a colonial power until the Treaty of Versailles assigned the nation’s colonies to the winning powers, and many German people longed for that Imperial power once again. Williams demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s own thought was impacted by this, particularly when he surveys Bonhoeffer’s early sermons and discussions of the concept of volk.

Williams then draws an outline of the Harlem Renaissance, including major thinkers and themes, as well as how some of these thinkers and themes explicitly or implicitly show up in Bonhoeffer’s works. Unfortunately, at least one of the works that would provide more insight into this has been lost (a paper Bonhoeffer wrote on black thinkers while in the United States). Nevertheless, Williams demonstrates that the themes of the Harlem Renaissance, along with Bonhoeffer’s own time in Harlem, became deeply influential on his later life. It is in this section that Williams does the most to bring to light strands of thought in Bonhoeffer that might otherwise be missed. Specifically, he traces the constant theme of Jesus identifying with the marginalized as something that would lead to active theology of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s thought. This theme is highlighted both in the thought of W.E.B. Du Bois and the poem “Black Christ” by Countee Cullen, which Bonhoeffer was aware of. The latter is lain out in detail, and shows both how Harlem Renaissance theology could be linked to liberation theology and how Bonhoeffer’s thought developed along that direction as well. It was black thinkers who helped awaken in Bonhoeffer a truly great desire for resistance against racism.

Another major theme of Williams’s work is that of empathy. He argues throughout that Bonhoeffer’s move towards empathy was something that he found through observing segregation in the United States and the resistance to it in Harlem. This, Williams argues, developed into a “Christ-Centered Empathic Resistance,” which is the last part of Bonhoeffer’s life as he actively worked against the Nazis in Germany.

The bulk of Williams’s work focuses on Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States, supporting his theses with meticulous notes and documentary evidence. The endnotes are full of additional argumentation as well as sources and reading.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is an essential read for those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology of resistance. More than that, Williams provides here both an historic overview of Bonhoeffer’s thought and the ways in which one might develop him further. The unity of Bonhoeffer’s thought with Harlem Renaissance thinking and the movement of that into modern movements for societal justice is another major theme in the book. It’s a rare work that surveys the thought of a thinker while also offering insight into how modern thought might move forward along the same lines or go beyond its subject. Highly recommended.

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: “Phoebe: A Story” by Paula Gooder

Phoebe: A Story by Paula Gooder is two books in one: a fictional picture of what Phoebe’s life and society might have looked like; and an academic exploration of this same society, world, and individual.

Paula Gooder writes in a style that is engaging and informative. The plot of the narrative section grabbed my interest from the get-go with its interweaving of biblical details with background information from historical studies as well. The main plot is of interest, following Phoebe through potential struggles and a narrative that gives readers rich imagery of what house churches were like and how these could have differed in different places due to income levels, the patrons, and the like. Gooder gives a vital look into the life of early Christians, doing so in a way that is winsome in style. What’s interesting is that, due to the integration of some biblical persons, I as a reader was hyper-aware of these characters. I have to say, I was a bit sad that I didn’t love Junia as a character in Gooder’s book as much as I’d have hoped. But Gooder makes these characters seem true to life, with real motivations and interests beyond simply being set pieces for teaching readers about early Christianity.

The second part is full of notes that bring historical and theological insight into the narrative woven throughout the book. They provide justification for various narrative choices, background information about how things may have been in the early church, and are full of rich details about Christian life. Gooder’s research is quite thorough and will give interested readers more avenues for exploration.

Readers should note that the book is probably best enjoyed with one finger in the endnotes to integrate those notes into their reading of the narrative. I saw the notes section at the back, but read the book front-to-back, thinking that since the notes were called “Part 2,” it made sense to read Part 1 and then 2. But doing so meant I missed out on several key points of interest within the narrative, which meant I went back and re-read portions to make more sense of what Gooder was saying. The book doesn’t have an introduction or preface to recommend this reading order, so be aware of it.

Readers will find much of interest in Phoebe: A Story. From the background information to the more intimate picture of what life may have looked like in the early church, this book is well-worth the time investment. 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.

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: “Atheism? A Critical Analysis” by Stephen E. Parrish

Stephen E. Parrish analyzes atheism with the sharpest tools of analytic philosophy in his latest book, Atheism? A Critical Analysis. After an introductory chapter looking at the issues at hand (circularity, the meaning and extent of worldview, definitions of key words like faith, and the specific type of atheism he’s analyzing–the most prominent one in contemporary philosophy today, naturalistic atheism), Parrish takes up the task of inspecting atheism from all sides, with chapters on competing theories of existence, the existence and order of the universe, the existence of the mind, ethics, and beauty and evil.

The chapter on competing theories of existence is insightful as it both helps divide different worldviews and categorize them and offers a fuller look at what Parrish calls ‘perfect being theism’ which is essentially classical theism sans a strong view of divine simplicity. With definitions under the belt, Parrish then dives into the critical analysis of naturalistic atheism.

The first question explored is that of the universe’s existence and order. Here, Parrish surveys the various possibilities. On naturalistic atheism, the universe may either exist by chance or necessity. He then offers deep analysis of each possibility. The concept of brute fact–that the universe just exists as it does by chance–is, frankly, brutalized in Parrish’s analysis. For example, the idea that our universe is the way it is and ordered because it just happens to be the one in an untold trillions chance that we exist and observe it, and that any other universe would have been just as likely, so we just happened to be likely, does not stand up to scrutiny when one also factors in the selection of an orderly, life-permitting universe like our own. As Parrish’s example points out, if we roll one trillion fair/unloaded dice, what is the likelihood of getting a six on every roll? Each additional sequence would be exponentially less likely. Then, if one rolls the trillion dice a trillion times, the odds of getting this sequence is remote in the extreme. That is, unlikely dice rolls are much, much, much more likely than lucking out and selecting the desired sequence of all 6 rolls. So even if there are an infinite number of possible universes, there is still a set of universes within that overall set of possible universes which would be infinitely less likely to exist, for we’d be trying to select a specific universe with a specific set of circumstances (eg. our own, as opposed to one in which no life is possible, or all that exists is a single star, or a black hole or something of the sort). So brute fact theory still has not accounted for the unlikely nature of our own universe. It is, effectively, equivalent to hand waving and saying the odds don’t matter, we just exist. Calling that an explanation for the existence of the universe is a misnomer at best (see Parrish’s analogy on p. 118). The universe as existing with necessity is analyzed by Parrish in a similar, thought-provoking fashion.

The existence of mind is the next question, and Parrish has done significant work on this question from a philosophical perspective in another work of his, The Knower and the Known (see my two part review: part 1, part 2). Here, Parrish offers a more succinct but nevertheless thorough analysis of the major philosophical positions on the mind from a naturalistic perspective. After a survey of the main options (eg. eliminativism, identity theory, supervenience, and more), he turns to pointing out problems with materialism such as the relationship between the brain and consciousness (146-147), the notion that consciousness is an illusion (147-148), and intentionality–that thoughts sem to be about things (148). Dualism, Parrish notes, has its own set of difficulties, but theism is able to offer a better explanatory power than naturalism because theism has reality as fundamentally personal due to the personal nature of God, thus allowing for an explanation for mind that does not reduce it to nothing, make it illusory, or any other position that suffers from the problems of effectively making consciousness a fiction, or, minimally, a non-intentional state (163).

The next two chapters cover ethics, value, and beauty and note how though these things seem to be observable aspects of our universe, naturalistic atheistic attempts to explain them fail on a number of levels. In particular, they struggle to explain how they can either exist or be objective. Two appendices at the end of the book provide a look at atheism’s ideological development and the social impacts of atheism. The latter appendix is particular aimed to be an answer to those that charge religion specifically is the cause of the worst of society’s ills.

Of the admirable aspects of this book, there is a noted effort to both present the strongest arguments atheists have to offer, including such noted names as J.L. Mackie and Graham Oppy, and an effort in tandem to avoid making arguments that not all Christians could agree with (eg. avoiding making something like ID theory a primary pillar of analyzing atheism in regards to natural order).

It should be noted that this work is intended for a more general audience, with more analogies and basic information presented than in Parrish’s other work. Nevertheless, it still remains deep and incisive in its reasoning and analysis, and readers of any level of expertise in relevant areas will find parts of interest. It would be hard to find a more well-reasoned, deeper look at analyzing atheism in the analytic tradition in a way that is written with accessibility to a more general readership in mind. Words and phrases like “worldview” and “probability structure” are utilized throughout the text, but Parrish defines them in the introductory chapters in such a way that readers will be able to grasp them. When it comes to the analysis itself, because of his engagement with major thinkers and positions in modern atheism, the book will be useful to any reader who finds the topic of interest. Atheism? A Critical Analysis comes recommended without reservations. Any reader can benefit from this extraordinary work.

Full Disclosure: I am named in the acknowledgements of the book, read an early draft, and provided some feedback on the early draft as well. I received a review copy from the author.

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!

The Knower and the Known by Stephen E Parrish– I wrote an extensive two-part review of Stephen E. Parrish’s book on dualism and naturalistic theories of mind. See the second part as well.

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.

 

Junia and Bayesian Epistemology: Philosophical probability trumping Biblical scholarship?

Alexander Pruss is one of the smartest people I’ve encountered. Though I don’t always agree with his conclusions, the sharpness of his intellect and his wit is always fascinating. His blog is frequently a place to flex mental muscles, as he offers small, one-off arguments to spur discussion. Recently, he wrote a post entitled “Junia/Junias and the base rate fallacy” Pruss argued that application of Bayesian analysis to biblical scholarship would help solve the question of whether Junia/Junias was an apostle. Apologies in advance for possible lack of care with terms like “factor,” “probability,” and “odds”; I tried to be careful but I’m tired.

The Argument

The preliminaries are explanations of Bayes’ Theorem and the meaning of the “base rate fallacy,” both of which are easily searched online, but I provided the links here (with all the caveats that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and Wikipedia articles don’t make anyone an expert). With that information in mind, we approach Pruss’s argument.

Pruss does fudge the numbers some, admitting he hasn’t explored the question on the actual numbers for some of these probabilities. So, for example, he begins by giving a 9:1 factor for Junia:Junias names in the early church. With that, and with the note that to avoid the base rate fallacy, we ought to assign a probability (he gives .9) to the question of whether this person was “among” the apostles, it yields a .19 rate of false positives for people who are not woman apostles to be assigned the notion of being a woman apostle. Moreover, if we say that there are 12 male apostles (the disciples) for every one female apostle (Junia), the probability of an apostle being a woman is now 1/13. Finally, because “not everyone Paul praises is an apostle” we have to assign a probability to whether Paul is praising an apostle here (Pruss gives it .3). This means that “the chance that a randomly chosen person that Paul praises is a female apostle even given the existence of female apostles is only about (1/13)×(1/3) or about three percent.”

Plugging in the .19 we got above for false positives and doing more math (read his post), we now discover that “even assuming that some apostles are female, the probability that Junia/s is a female apostle is at most about 14%, once one takes into account the low base rate of women among apostles and apostles among those mentioned by Paul.”

Pruss immediately notes the numbers are made up and could change the overall results.

Analysis

There are some significant problems with Pruss’s argument here. First, the fact is that there is no extant name “Junias/Junianias” found anywhere in lexical evidence whatsoever. Thus, instead of .9 for Junia being a woman, it should be 1. One comment pointed this out and Pruss pressed the argument that even in this case, the math would still be “significantly less than 50%” for Junia to be a female apostle. Doing the math is too hard for my tired brain, but let’s just say he’s right. The question still remains of why the chances for Junia to be a female apostle would be so low.

Looking at his other percentages, it seems a large part of the argument, once we’ve established Junia is female, turns on whether it is the case that she may not be “among” the apostles. Pruss’s position here falls into the goalpost moving arguments that complementarians have engaged in since the lexical evidence turning her into a man came up dry. Typically, this is how it goes:

Junia was not a man => Okay, Junia was not an apostle => Okay, Junia was not the type of apostle that was authoritative

The third stage above is one that is essentially a theological fiction supported almost entirely by punting to the fallacious importation of the semantic range of a word into a foreign context. When Paul wrote to say that Junia was an apostle, according to this argument, but she was one only in the semantic meaning of the word apostle as witness/sent one/messenger. Never mind that the word is used for an office in the New Testament, including in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 12:28). No, because it does not serve the purpose of continuing to prevent women from holding pastoral office, the entire semantic range of meaning for the word “apostle” must be imported in order to reduce Junia in status once again. This fallacious importation of meaning is a demonstration of an ad hoc explanation. (Unfortunately, Pruss himself succumbs to this goalpost moving argument in the comments on this post when he questions whether Junia as an apostle would be an authoritative apostle or not.)

But it is the second stage that is at question initially, and here, once again, it seems that the importation of complementarian assumptions into the text has occurred, for this reading goes against the earlier known readings from church fathers (see here, for example) which saw Junia as an apostle and did not import the lexical range of the word into “among” either. So, again, the factor needs to be moved from .9 to 1.

The proportion of male:female apostles is made up, as Pruss acknowledges. It’s possible that the reality is 1:1 or 100:1. So it would be possible to move numbers around to make it either extraordinarily likely Junia was a woman apostle or unlikely. It also seems to me the 1/3 possibility that Paul is praising an apostle seems high. So again, this would potentially lower the probability for Junia as a woman apostle. It could raise it, though that seems unlikely given the biblical text. Nevertheless, significant gains were made with “Junia” being established as the name and being among the apostles. And, the question of just how likely something ought to be in order to be epistemically justified in believing it is itself a matter of very hot debate. If, say, the likelihood for Junia being a woman apostle were 33%, would someone be justified in holding that belief? The answer to that question is very messy indeed.

But the most relevant evidence, the most clear counter-point to Pruss wasn’t even considered. That is this: using prior probability to determine the likelihood of an event does not matter if the event has already occurred. That is, if it is the case that Paul does name a woman apostle, then whether or not this was likely or unlikely given any number of other prior probability considerations does not change what Paul does in Romans 16:7. And while Pruss tries to say that his use of Bayesian theorem ought to somehow guide biblical scholars in their reading of this text, what he doesn’t consider is that highly improbable events do occur and that if they do, whether or not the event is improbable does not impact the event’s actually having occurred. Indeed, it is unclear as to why a biblical scholar should take such prior probability into account to begin with (apart from, potentially, taking caution with offering interpretations that are particularly unlikely). Suppose that the name were not Junia but Rebecca and the Greek text were so clear as to make it impossible to take it as anything but “among the authoritative apostles” (despite their being no use of this term in the NT and it being a demand for evidence by complementarians that they cannot meet for people they themselves admit to being apostles). What then? Would a scholar be justified in dismissing the sentence written by Paul that “Rebecca was an authoritative office-holding apostle” simply because of prior probabilities? It seems obvious the answer is no. So then the question is why should the biblical scholar be beholden to prior probabilities in a supposedly less clear case (and again, I by no means grant that it is unclear)? Again, the answer seems to be that the scholar ought not to worry about that, given the relevant data is directly in front of them.

Conclusion

Bayesian reasoning is interesting. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and learning about it from time to time. Whether or not it is helpful to theological questions is a concern for a different time, though it is a fascinating question to ponder (related questions such as how can we fill in sometimes arbitrary probabilities for certain events/people/etc. and still think the theological reasoning is sound would be interesting to explore in depth). In this specific case, though, it seems clear that Pruss’s argument fails for several reasons. All of these center around the actual meaning of the text (the name Junia and the meaning of “among the apostles”) which no amount of external probabilities can alter. Pruss’s argument is a fun mental exercise that need not undermine confidence in the data of the text itself: Junia was a female apostle. Pruss’s claim that biblical theologians ought to use Bayesian reasoning in their exegesis does not seem to be sustained by this example.

Links

A Brief Biblical Proof for Women Pastors– Read why 1 Corinthians 12:28 is an even bigger problem for complementarians, as it effectively guarantees women may hold the same or more authority than that of pastors.

On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.

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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