Advertisements

Archive for

“The Shadow Rising” by Robert Jordan- a Christian (re)reads the Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 4, The Shadow Rising. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Allure of Evil

Robert Jordan has already developed some strands of plot through the series in which it is clear that evil isn’t always easily identified. In The Shadow Rising, though, he takes it to another level, and does this by making a more real picture of the allure of evil. That allure is found in the person of Lanfear, who has teased Rand through the earlier works in the series and now shows herself more fully as one of the Forsaken. The ways in which evil weaves itself into our lives and being is not as easily spotted as some may think.

Trust in Security and State

Another aspect of this allure of evil is the way in which we tend to put our trust and interest in the desire for security rather than peace. I have written more extensively about this theme elsewhere, but here in The Shadow Rising we see it illustrated to perfection. Back home, Perrin finds that the people of Two Rivers have come to giving up their own peace of mind in exchange for the security and protection allegedly offered by the Children of the Light. But this protection comes at a high cost. It may mean that Trollocs don’t kill them in their beds–maybe–but it also means that they have to submit to the inquisition that comes with having the Children in town. They don’t tolerate differences of opinion; they love throwing accusations of darkfriend around. This resonates with contemporary culture as well, as we use labels like “liberal” or “fundamentalist” to deride others and silence their opinions. Moreover, in the United States, we have consistently exchanged true peace for the security that is allegedly offered by guns, by keeping the feared “other”–immigrant, asylum seeker, refugee–out of our country, and by constant arms races that seek “peace” through force. But that kind of security also comes at a stiff cost. Is it worth it?

Moreover, if we put our trust in the state or in any other powers of the world (Children of the Light, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party), we have essentially elevated those powers to the place of God. Rather than trusting in God, we trust in the idol of the state, the leader, the organization. That is indeed idolatry, and frankly is something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, called blasphemy.

Cool Moments

Okay, setting aside the theological and philosophical inquiries for a moment, how many really awesome moments happened in this book? We once again run into Verin, and series veterans will know who she is and enjoy the interaction with Perrin here. Perrin gets married!? Yeah, he does. Faile is totally perfect for him, too. Rand makes it rain in the Waste. Nynaeve fights against a Forsaken, and wins! There are just so many awesome moments here that it is hard to contain them all. Which ones were your favorites?

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

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.

Advertisements

Book Review: “A Theology of Interreligious Relations” by Henning Wrogemann

Henning Wrogemann has written a massive, detailed look at interreligious relations from a Christian perspective. A Theology of Interreligious Relations specifically provides a way forward in Christian interaction with other religions.

The book is divided into six parts. The first part focuses on recent Christian theologies of religion. The second part is about how Islam and Buddhism view other religions. The third part is about how to build a theology of interreligious relations. The fourth part is about the dialogical in religious relations. The fifth part builds a theology of interreligious relations. The sixth part discusses intercultural theology and mission alongside religious studies.

One surprising thing in the book was Wrogemann’s look at other religions’ own theologies of interreligious relations. The fascinating Part II of the work looks at how Islam and Buddhism view other religions. For my own part, I’ve only ever thought of religious diversity within a framework of Christian options of exclusivism, inclusivism, and universalism. But of course these categories are deeply steeped in Christian theology to begin with, and so do not come close to exhausting all the options for interreligious relations. This part of the book was particularly enlightening to me as a reader, as it opened my eyes into many more approaches to the religious “other” than I had been aware of, and also how other religious view Christianity.

The examination of recent theologies of religion was just as interesting. Wrogemann’s critical analysis of theses like John Hick’s universalism is worth the price of admission for the book on its own, but Wrogemann offers a whole spectrum of approaches and subjects them to this same critical, insightful analysis.

The building up of his own theology of interreligious relations provides several ways forward in speaking with people of other religious traditions and interacting with them in ways that do not compromise one’s own beliefs while also being true to the central aspects of Christianity. For example, addressing the question of the particularism of Trinitarian theology when it comes to interreligious dialogue, Wrogemann argues that we “must pay attention not only to God’s revealedness but also to the ongoing hiddenness of God’s action in the world…” (424, emphasis his). This means that Christian theology’s task is, at least in regards to interreligious dialogue, “to help interpret ongiong ambivalences” when it comes to such questions (ibid). Additionally, Wrogemann bases his theology for interreligious dialogue squarely in the space of biblical revelation, insisting that we may only build this theology from the revelation of God as revealed in God’s Word and, more explicitly even, in Christ himself (see, for example, Wrogemann’s discussion of the need to acknowledge one’s own faults and work towards understanding by way of exegesis of Matthew 5 on p. 383-384).

When I decided to read the book, I did not realize it was the third in a trilogy on the topic of intercultural theology by Wrogemann. Having read it, though, I would say that the book stand quite well on its own.

A Theology of Interreligious Relations is a surprising, challenging book that readers well return to time and again. Wrogemann’s work here has established a serious starting point for Christian theology of other religions, and one which takes other religious claims seriously. It comes highly recommended, particularly for anyone with an interest in how Christianity may relate to other religions.

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.

“What is a Girl Worth?”- Rachael Denhollander’s Challenging, Thoughtful Memoir of exposing abuse

Rachael Denhollander rocketed into the public eye by speaking out against Larry Nassar, formerly a renowned therapist for USA Gymnastics who is now a convicted sex criminal. Her memoir, How Much is a Girl Worth? is a difficult read filled with moments of hope.

Denhollander describes how her interest in gymnastics rose and how her own dedication to the sport led to her getting into the top tier. That top billing ultimately led to recommendations to be treated by Larry Nassar, who was seen by many as having innovative treatments that could fix many symptoms and problems with gymnasts. Nassar, however, began a process of grooming and building trust that he betrayed to sexually abuse Rachael and more than 250 others.

Denhollander shows how abusers build the trust that leads to their being able to abuse others. She also describes how difficult it was to even acknowledge the abuse–coming to the realization that what Nassar was doing was not treatment but abuse. When someone is told by everyone with inside knowledge that someone else is trustworthy and doing innovative treatments, processing that as a child to discern that there is abuse happening is extremely difficult. Readers should be aware there are descriptions of the abuse in this book. It’s a challenging, disturbing read that exposes the abuse of Nassar and call readers to help prevent and prosecute more abuse.

Denhollander also offers critique of Christian cover-ups of abuse as well as how her own faith helped her. For example, Denhollander describes a Sunday school class in which the teacher and others said that King David did not abuse Bathsheba because should have gotten herself out of the situation he manipulated and used his power to get her into. Rather than seeing this as power rape, many of the people in her high school Sunday school class, including her teacher, said David did not abuse Bathsheba. As someone who had been abused and who recognized the signs, this was a disturbing moment for Denhollander, who writes, “This wasn’t just about me. I knew there was at least one rape victim sitting in that class too, and statistically, many more survivors… I knew they would feel guilt for their abuse–and the sting of those words [blaming Bathsheba for the abuse and/or exonerating David], untrue though they were, could be devastating…” (90). Denhollander’s own faith comes through poignantly when she recounts a scene using her notebook as she struggled coming to terms with God and her experiences (101ff). She began with the premise that “There is right and wrong” and as she developed her thoughts she decided that the things that she knew–that God defines good, that God is just and loving–couldn’t be contradicted by the answers she couldn’t figure out yet. It an exhausting (using her word) experience, but one that clearly helped ground her.

The book then recounts Denhollander’s developing relationship with Jacob, whom she met through talking online and who exemplified giving support throughout the rest of the book. From there, readers learn of her work to expose Larry Nassar as an abuser, the pushback she received from it, and, ultimately his being sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. She also describes her own frustration with the fact that time and again, victims were not being given voices are being allowed to make decisions about whether plea bargains would be offered or how various aspects of the case were handled. It’s a strong reminder that reform is needed in handling cases related to abuse.

How Much is a Girl Worth? should be read and digested in order to help ensure that abuse is caught when it happens and that covering it up should never be tolerated. More than that, it’s a testament to the power of faith and hope in awful situations.

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.

Apologetics Guided Reading: George Park Fisher “Manual of Christian Evidences” Chapter 11

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 11

Fisher notes the charge that the apostles had “erroneous opinions on certain subjects” and makes it more clear that it may be related to scientific questions like “astronomy, or of other sciences.” Such a charge, however, is largely irrelevant because we can acknowledge they held mistaken views of such things and they may have been “greatly excelled” in knowledge of these topics by others of their or our own day. Instead, what matters is whether someone can show what they report in the Gospels for their testimony of the facts is untrue (86).

The question of religious opinions of the apostles has also been called to account, and Fisher notes one area charged with error was the belief that Jesus would return quite soon. To rebut this, Fisher highlights several passages in which it is made clear that none knows when Christ will return except for the Father, and that those who believe the apostles held this erroneous belief are more likely to discover it. Others have argued that the apostles’ discussion of demons and demoniacs is cause for seeing error, but Fisher offers to possible solutions. One is to accept physical/mental ailments for the cause of these reports and hold that Christ condescended to the beliefs of the time to see, say, epilepsy as evidence of demonic activity. Another solution he offers is more open minded: “Too little is known of the supernatural world to warrant a dogmatic denial of such an influence exercised by evil spirits (89). That is, Fisher argues that we assume much if we grant a supernatural realm and then turn around to deny that it could have such physical manifestations. One might argue that even someone who remains agnostic should grant this as a possibility, for only “dogmatic denial” can exclude this possibility.

Study Questions

1. What do you make of Fisher’s argument that apostolic error regarding scientific questions is irrelevant to their testimony regarding the events they witnessed?

2. Fisher acknowledges that some may simply state that Christ’s healing of demons and discussions of the same could be accommodation to the cultural understandings of the people of his time. What problems might their be with such a reading? How could it be strengthened?

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.

Book Review: “Surprised by Paradox” by Jen Pollock Michel

Paradox has a long history in Christian theology, as much as some have tried to eliminate it. Jen Pollock Michel, in Surprised by Paradox, reclaims some of that theological heritage and encourages Christians to acknowledge that we do sometimes live in a world of “both and” rather than “either/or.”

There are many aspects of Christian theology that incorporate both/and. The Incarnation is perhaps the most obvious, with its acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. I love the language Jen Pollock Michel uses here, with a chapter title like “The Great I AND” to parallel the notion of the great “I AM.” Jesus Christ as both God and human being seems paradoxical, but rather than rejecting this truth, Christian theology embraces it fully. Other aspects highlighted for these both/and statements are the Kingdom of God–with its embrace of all people from every walk of life and corner of the planet; grace, with forgiveness while also embracing the words of God and obedience to God; and lament–the cry for God for justice while God is the suffering God.

Each section of the book is followed by some discussion questions that do truly dig deeply into the theological background of each chapter. The book is written at an introductory level, making it good for a study group or for those interested in seeing how Christianity can get beyond the constant drum of “either/or” in our culture.

As a Lutheran, we have a long tradition of both/and that embraces sometimes difficult doctrines, like how can bread and wine also be the body and blood of Christ? It would have been interesting to see sacraments fully incorporated into the discussion of the book.

The book surprisingly has moments where a rather narrow either/or view is taken even in context of trying to show the possibility of faith and, as the back cover says, the “difficult, wondrous dissonance of and.” For example, chapter 5 starts off with a story in which someone is complaining to the pastor about a prayer used in worship that touched on a Canadian Supreme Court decision regarding physician-assisted death. The older person making the complaint supported the notion of physician-assisted death and felt this prayer divided the congregation on a political issue. This prayer, as described, was “for the Christian doctors in our church and our city who were struggling to reconcile their Christian convictions with their legal obligations” (65). The prayer as described seems innocuous enough–those in favor or opposed to the practice could agree that God’s guidance is needed for such difficult questions. But as the story plays out, it quickly turns towards a strict either/or situation. The pastor thanks the parishioner for their concern, but then immediately turns around and makes a statement comparing those who stay silent on the topic of physician assisted death to those who stayed silent in the fight against the Nazis to protect the Jews (66). Moreover, the pastor says seeing the right side of the issue can sometimes only happen later, and that Christians need to take a stand that may put them on “the ‘wrong’ side of our current cultural moment” (ibid). Reading this story, I thought that Jen Pollock Michel was likely going to use it as a story about how we try to divide the Kingdom of God and make assumptions about those with whom we disagree–after all, jumping immediately to comparing this member of the church to a Christian complicit with the Nazis is a rather startling move. But that’s not the case! Instead, the Pollock Michel uses it as an example of a Christian asking just how much of their life they must cede to God. How much does the Kingdom of God demand for room in the political sphere of the Kingdom of humanity? Going on, she states that this means that following Jesus isn’t just on Sunday mornings (66-67). The clear implication is that this conversation was perfectly reasonable and that the parishioner who spoke up as being on the other side of the issue was justly condemned for being like those who stayed silent in the face of the Nazis, and that if they’d only allow Christ to be King of their hearts, their mind would changed. There’s no acknowledgement here that Christians can still value life and see that, perhaps, the artificial means we have of extending life through painful and sometimes debilitating means may not be in line with a sense of fully valuing life at every stage. There’s no acnkowledgement of the complexity of this issue, just a story of what is apparently seen as a rightful condemnation of a fellow Christian, who apparently should have allowed Jesus to tell them what to do regarding this issue (never mind that perhaps they did do so and think they came up on the other side). None of this is to suggest physician-assisted death is great moral good or even that I as a reader am in favor of it. But to allow this conversation to stand out as an example, not of how we drive wedges between fellow believers in an either/or fashion, but as an example seen as just condemnation of an immoral person not following Jesus, is truly startling in a book dedicated to seeing how we live in a “wondrous” and “difficult” and “dissonant” world.

Overall, Surprised by Paradox is a fascinating introduction to how Christians may see the world beyond the either/or. At times, it serves itself as a startling reminder of how we continue to drive wedges between believers even if we try to embrace these difficult issues. It is a good introduction to a highly complex topic, though readers ought to be aware that they should look on some aspects with a critical eye.

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: “Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition” by Justin Mandela Roberts

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influence stretches far and wide, and his concept of “worldly” or “religionless” Christianity is one of his most enduring traditions. That notion of the concreteness of his theology has led some to think that he rejected metaphysical aspects of the faith altogether. In Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition, Justin Mandela Roberts pushes back against that thinking and argues that Bonhoeffer’s theology is, instead, one that stands alongside that of doxology, sacrament, and metaphysics.

The book is slim, but offers a wealth of detailed analysis of Bonhoeffer’s works from a number of angles that seem less common in Bonhoeffer scholarship. Bonhoeffer’s view of worship is analyzed, for example, as going beyond Barth while also integrating much of sacred tradition. Roberts’ analysis of Bonhoeffer’s thought on metanoia–the conversion or dark night of the soul–was a fascinating, personable read. The “Sacramental Interpretation” integrates Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology with a view of the Word of God. Indeed, if there is a downside to reading the book, it may be found in the flurry of citations, musings, quotes, and ideas thrust at the reader in quick succession, making it difficult to absorb any one idea before moving swiftly onto the next. That said, Roberts’ analysis is helpful in many ways, both opening new interpretive lenses and new paths to explore for those interested in seeing how Bonhoeffer’s work may have opened up had he developed it further.

It was strange that Roberts opted to begin the book with a slight of Bonhoeffer. The second sentence of the introduction states “His academic pieces, including Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, and Creation and Fall, offer nothing particularly remarkable as scholarly resources for the theological and philosophical traditions” (1). Given the fact that Creation and Fall is essentially the bulk of chapter 5’s focus is largely on Creation and Fall and each of the other works is cited as well, it seems Roberts would disagree with himself here, as he evidently finds these works quite remarkable indeed! Contextually, Roberts is opining on what it is that has made Bonhoeffer such an impactful figure on modern thought, possibly as an attempt to make him more real or down to earth for the average reader, but reading it was jarring in a book dedicated entirely to an interpretation of this apparently unremarkable figure.

Roberts’s work helps integrate Bonhoeffer’s thought into a broader Christian theology and practice. Sacred Rhetoric is an interesting, challenging read recommended for those looking to dig deeply into Bonhoeffer’s theological practices and metaphysics.

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– many more posts, book reviews, and discussions of and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his life, theology, and thought (scroll down for more).

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: “Escaping the Beginning? Confronting Challenges to the Universe’s Origin” by Jeff Zweerink

Whether the universe had a beginning or not is a hotly debated topic in philosophical, theological, and scientific circles. Jeff Zweerink is an astrophysicist who works with Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that comes from an Old Earth Creationist perspective. With Escaping the Beginning, he has written an important, insightful resource for people wishing to explore the science of various theories that preclude a beginning of the universe.

Zweerink’s book is robust on the scientific theories around the universe, multiverse, and quantum theory. Chapters in the book include “The Case for a Beginning,” “Did Our Universe Reincarnate?”; “Did Our Universe come from Nothing?”; “If Hawking and Krauss are Right, Does That Remove God?” and many more. These chapter titles hint at the content of each chapter, and each is absolutely filled with clear explanations of some pretty advanced theories on physics and astronomy. Zweerink covers the major theories of the multiverse and goes deeply into the labors of Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking to come up with theories that do not require a beginning to the universe. He does this by sticking to the science, showing where these theories have holes or import philosophical assumptions (which are usually unacknowledged by those putting them forward), and giving analysis of each theory on the table. Each chapter is followed by a brief summary of the contents of that chapter as well as some discussion questions.

Zweerink makes a strong case that many of these theories still do not get away from the need for an absolute beginning or a Creator. For example, even the theories which posit the universe came from quantum effects in a vacuum still must posit a reason for the vacuum itself existing to begin with.

The book ends with a discussion of whether Christianity could still be true even if there were no beginning of the universe. Zweerink argues from Scripture that there must be a creation out of nothing to align with the biblical evidence. Zweerink does not, however, engage with the parts of Christian tradition that does maintain the universe is eternal. Though in the minority, there are clear instances of Christian believers throughout history who held the universe was eternal and that this was unproblematic. Most obvious as examples are those Christians who hold to Platonic thought and see the universe as eternal due to philosophical precommitments on that regard. Thus, though it seems the Christian tradition and Scriptures align more readily with a beginning of the universe, it does not seem to be the case that such a belief is absolutely necessary for Christianity to survive. Further discussion of that topic would be well afield of the book, but it would have been good to have included at least an acknowledgement of this tradition in the section that alleges Christianity cannot comport with an eternal universe.

What makes the book especially laudable is that Zweerink consistently admits when their are difficulties with his own position–that the universe had a beginning–or where the challenges to his view can even come to be strengthened in the future. For example, though it is clear throughout that Zweerink favors a Big Bang model as an actual beginning of the universe, he notes that oscillating models provide a challenge to this position and that scientific challenges may confirm the latter and usurp the Big Bang model for the origins of the universe (84). This kind of frank discussion of the science is commendable, particularly in a book about science written from a Christian perspective with a clear position at stake. Yet Zweerink consistently notes that when he makes predictions or comes out on one side or the other in various debates where his own position might be falsified or confirmed. It makes the book that much more valuable to have one that not only lays out all of these scientific theories and approaches them from a particular Christian perspective but also notes where that perspective might be challenged.

Escaping the Beginning is a fantastic resource for those who want to learn about the latest scientific research related to the beginning (or lack thereof) for our universe. It is commendably even in its presentation of the evidence, and Zweerink is clear when he provides predictions and how they might be challenged. The book is an achievement, and very much worth anyone picking up to read.

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.

Ted Chiang’s Religious Vision and Critique in “Exhalation”

Ted Chiang is one of the more well-known names publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories today. His short story, “Stories of Your Life” was the basis for the film “Arrival” (which I discussed here). His latest collection, Exhalation: Stories is another thought-provoking, moving collection of stories that will make readers think deeply about many questions. What struck me is that, despite Chiang being an atheist, his is remarkably knowledgeable about religion and, though he challenges various religious traditions at points, he also writes stories that resonate with them. I wanted to discuss his religious vision and critique in this book. There will be SPOILERS for some of these stories ahead.

Omphalos

Readers who have done a lot of digging into the esoteric origins of young earth creationism will recognize the title of this short story a nod to one of the most obscure but also earliest examples of young earth literature, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse. In Gosse’s book, written before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, he argues that the fossil record was actually created with the appearance of age and thus doesn’t give evidence of the actual age of the earth. Gosse effectively introduced the argument of “appearance of age” into the young earth creationist repertoire of arguments for their position, and he did it before the evidence for evolution had reached the stage it has now.

In Chiang’s short story, he imagines a scientist interacting with the world that genuinely does appear to be young. In this world, fossils are found that show no evidence of prior age. Tree rings do not falsify a young earth. The evidence on the planet all gives way to yielding the result that the Earth really is young. But some evidence isn’t fixed. The multiplicity of language begins to show that it is from accident rather than by design. Moreover, some question comes into mind as to why the universe was created–was it really made for us, or for some other group of beings somewhere else? The evidence for the miraculous continues, but the purpose of the character we follow in the story begins to get called into question. This leads to the challenge that if this person was not created with a specific purpose, they are left to their own devices to find purpose, and they choose to search… for purpose.

“Omphalos” serves as a lens to question: what would it mean if the universe were not made for humans? (I don’t think it was, and wrote this article to that effect, though it has diverged some from my current views in 6 years.) Chiang’s story is a masterful look at how we might perceive the universe differently as what we think collapses around us. It also asks questions about purpose in a universe in which we don’t have our own, unique purpose. It’s a thought experiment but one that needs to challenge us.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

The first story in the collection, “The Merchant…” is a series of smaller stories about how some different rings that allowed for time travel impacted people’s lives in a fantastic setting with explicitly Muslim religious expression. As the stories told by the merchant make the reader understand, the longing to be able to change the past and set events right to make up for mistakes is strong. But the concluding lines of the story make clear the point:

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough. (36)

I have read this story before in another collection of Chiang’s, but it still struck me as forcefully as it did the first time. The deep yearning to change the past is found in so many of us now. But it is a longing we can’t fulfill. Yet even without magical rings that allow for time travel by passing through them, we can still find what is enough: repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

Exhalation: Self-Destruction and Miracle

The title story of this collection, “Exhalation,” was a Hugo Award winner for best short story. In this story, there is a society of mechanical beings with brains that work based on pressure of the air. One of these beings discovers that its society is beginning to slow down in computations and the reason is due to the way they’re using their resources, pumping air from one place to another, which changes the air pressure and thus their capacities. From this, the being basically finds the second law of thermodynamics and posits that all things will eventually move towards equilibrium–dooming its society.

This short story has many intriguing threads. First, the notion of self-destruction by actions that are initially seen as good or profitable or beneficial. Clear parallels exist between this story and our own, as humanity continues to destroy the good creation of God through our own efforts to seek ease of transportation, luxury, and profit over all else.

Another startling aspect of “Exhalation” is the conclusion towards the end, that life itself is miraculous, because it manages to survive in a universe that is bent upon ultimately driving it out (the second law of thermodynamics means there will be an inevitable heat death of the universe). Life does seem to be a miracle: its diversity, persistence, the emergence of consciousness, and the very fact that life exists stand out. Though there may be natural explanations for these stages, the wonder of them cannot be totally explained in such naturalistic means. There is a sense of the miraculous in life.

Conclusion

There are many other themes found throughout this collection of stories, as well as his others. Questions about what it means to be a person; what mental life is like; how we destroy ourselves; and more. What are some themes you’ve picked up? What stories resonated with you? Check out Exhalation: Stories for some though-provoking stories.

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: “Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology” by J.P. Moreland

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology provides an introduction to and critique of the philosophical position of scientism.

Moreland defines scientism as “the view that the hard sciences–like chemistry, biology, phsyics, astronomy–provide the only genuine knowledge of reality” (Kindle location 263-271, hereafter citations are also Kindle locations). He provides several examples of how he’s encountered this belief in various realms.

The strength of the book is found in Moreland’s arguments that scientism is self-refuting, the possibility of nonscientific knowledge, several principles theism explains that scientism cannot, and the attempt to integrate science and Christian thought. For example, when arguing about scientism being self-refuting, Moreland notes that the claim of scientism itself is a philosophical claim that cannot be tested through the hard sciences. But he goes further, noting that many are aware of this significant difficulty in the theory and instead argue that it can be a kind of first principle. But again, such an attempt to insulate the claim from scientific inquiry itself is a philosophical endeavor, essentially establishing the first principles of knowledge on a basis that those principles themselves reject.

Moreland also offers a condensed form of Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism: basically, if we agree that evolution is true and that naturalism is true–all that exists is the material world–then, minimally, we have at least some small reason to believe our cognitive facilities may be untrustworthy.

Where Moreland struggles is when he tries to outline the vast influence he believes scientism has in our culture. Essentially anything Moreland perceives as a societal ill can be tied back to scientism, in his view. Universities having any sort of secular slant? Scientism is to blame. People believing evolution is true? Scientism is to blame. Specific instances of perceived moral decay? Scientism caused it.

The problem with this is it begins to read more like a screed against positions in disfavor with Moreland than a tightly argued philosophical attack on scientism. A specific example can be found in chapter 3, entitled “How scientism changed the universities.” After an introductory quote from Dallas Willard, who taught at USC from 1965-2013 and is thus taken, apparently, to be broad evidence for the totality of experience at all universities, Moreland argues following another scholar (see below) that American universities followed a specific, three-stage path from 1880-1930 that went from a “Religious Stage” through a “Scientific Stage” before ending up at a “Humanities and Extracurricular Stage” (Kindle location 561-570). Tellingly, Reuben is the only citation of any study in the entire chapter–a work from 1996 about which Moreland states “I have relied on Reuben’s insightful analysis for much of what follows in this chapter” (Kindle location 639).

But following this brief look at what is surely a substantial claim (did all universities in America follow this pattern? based on what evidence? what other studies back up this data?), Moreland goes on to state that the central problem is found in the fact/value distinction and, allegedly, that science became the only knowledge that universities–all of them, apparently–valued (577). This, in turn, de-centered Christian monotheism “from the cognitive domain” and led to the impossibility of having unified curriculums or even “justifying why one discipline should have anything at all to do with another…” (588). One may well wonder how such a claim can be justified when there are such clearly inter-related disciplines as critical theory or intersectionality on the rise which explicitly demand convergence of numerous disciplines, but one also wonders what the evidence is for these claims to begin with. More importantly for the thesis at hand, the question is whether scientism is specifically and verifiably to blame for such a shift in university cultures. Moreland states that it is rather explicitly, but does little to actually support that claim. The same goes for many other things he views as societal ills–scientism is clearly at fault for them all. How? It’s unclear.

Another problem is that Moreland, as he has elsewhere, is quick to assert that his own vision of reality just is the only possible biblical view of reality and so those who disagree with it just are influenced by scientism and secularism and ought to be condemned. In a revealing passage, Moreland writes:

Thus, the ‘dialogue’ between science and theology or biblical exegesis is really a monologue, with theologians asking scientists what the latest discoveries allow them to teach:
Homosexuality is caused by our DNA? No problem. The Bible doesn’t teach the immorality of homosexuality anyway. We have misread it for two thousand years.
Neuroscience shows there is no soul? No problem. Dualism and the soul are Greek ideas not found in the Bible, which is more Hebraic and holistic.
A completely naturalistic story of evolution is adequate to explain the origin and development of all life? No problem. After all, the Bible isn’t a science text.
Studies in the human genome suggested human life did not begin with Adam and Eve? No problem. We can reread the historical narrative in a new way.
And on and on it goes. (Kindle location 1025ff)

Moreland, of course, sees scientism to blame for all of this. Christians and even theologians, he asserts, are so steeped in scientism that they cannot see past it and instead conform all of their theological beliefs to the latest fashionable science. But Moreland doesn’t establish his claim in reality. This lengthy passage shows his feelings about all of these developments, but it fails to account for the fact that without scientific discoveries that may challenge interpretations of Scripture, these discussions wouldn’t be possible in the first place. That is, he complains about he lack of “dialogue” between science and theology, but is apparently upset when that dialogue leads some to differing conclusions from himself, which conclusions, of course, can only be due to the theologians total capitulation to scientism.

Never mind that science and theology have informed each other for much of history. Note that one of Moreland’s complaints is not “Exploration of space and mathematical models have shown that the Earth revolves around the sun? No problem. The Bible doesn’t actually teach that the Sun revolves around the Earth.” Never mind that Moreland would almost certainly hold that latter position, and that such a revision of reading the Bible did in fact take place. Never mind that some theologians actually did turn to seeing divine accommodation in Scripture when it came to scientific truths instead of demanding that a re-reading of the Bible make it so that the sun did not literally rise. No, this is an issue that Moreland himself agrees with, so it can’t be due to scientism, right?

These examples show a weakness in the book that is unfortunate, because on some other counts it is quite strong. Moreland is keen to cast aspersions on rival theological positions and to blame scientism for more than he can establish in reality that it may make readers of the book less interested in those parts of the book he does establish fairly well. For example, his critique of the possibility of rational thought given a purely scientistic worldview is spot-on, and his analysis of how scientism is self-defeating ought to seal the deal for most readers.

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology is a brief but solid critique of scientism contained within a broader attack on secularism in general. What’s unfortunate is that Moreland seems to see the latter as not just entirely encompassed (or at least caused by) the former, but also that he does so without reason for making such an equivocation. The book thus ends up as an uneven look at an important topic.

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.

Sunday Quote!- “Death is Hell… if not…” – Bonhoeffer

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

Death is Hell… if not

I was really blown away by this passage from Bonhoeffer’s works as I was reading through today. Have had a lot of reason to reflect on death/dying recently, and this message was just so powerful to me:

Death is Hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death. When the fierce apparition of the death’s head, which frightens us so, is touched by our faith in God, it becomes our friend, God’s messenger; death becomes Christ himself.- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, DBWE 13, 3/3 p. 335, “Sermon on Wisdom 3:3.”

Links

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

On Christian Music– I wrote a post about the label “Christian music” and how that can lead to a number of difficulties with discernment.

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A Reflection and Response– I reflect in depth on how we can use our discernment properly when it comes to music.

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

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

SDG.

Advertisements

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,548 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
Advertisements