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Book Review: “Embracing Evolution: How Understanding Science Can Strengthen Your Christian Life” by Matthew Nelson Hill

Embracing Evolution by Matthew Nelson Hill is a surprising and engaging book about Christianity and science. Hill is also the author of Evolution and Holiness (my review here), another novel book that looked at how evolutionary science could inform specifically Wesleyan notions of holiness and perfection. Here, Hill calls Christians to come to understand that, far from being something that undermines Christianity, evolution can provide a fruitful grounds for exploration of the Christian life.

The intriguing premise of Embracing Evolution means that as a reader, I was hoping it would provide even more exploration of that premise–that evolution can be grounds for exploring the Christian life. I was somewhat surprised to then see several chapters dedicated to showing the basics of reading the Bible and understanding the science of evolution and its relation to theology. These are good chapters to introduce readers who may not have considered this intersection in a positive light before, or who need some background on evolution to understand its potential applications. 

The rubber does finally meet the road in the final three chapters of this pithy book, as Hill explores how evolution can inform various aspects of Christian living. The first thing Hill points out is that acknowledging evolutionary heritage gives us knowledge which allows us to bring about change. Genetic lineage can help trace disease as well as potential mental illness, and this can help us care for our bodies. Additionally, instincts to eat certain kinds of food at all times have been outpaced by the changes we have made in the way we live. Because we have access to agriculture and (generally) more than just meat, humans have outpaced the rate at which built-in instincts with the brain can operate. This means that we need to shape behavior to work against various temptations which may entrap us. But, as Hill writes, evolutionary heritage isn’t just baggage, it can also bring about avenues for hope. We can work to “overcome [our] genes and live holy lives” (113, emphasis his). Here, Hill advocates again a Wesleyan approach that sees the Holy Spirit’s action and human free will working together to live holiness, as God works within creation (114-115). 

Embracing Evolution is an intriguing book full of new avenues for exploration. Readers interested in finding out how Christianity might be positively impacted by evolutionary theory–particularly if they favor a Wesleyan theology–will see this as a must-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.

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

“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory of Babylon 5

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory(ies) of Babylon 5

I’ve often argued that science fiction can explore the deepest questions of the human condition. It allows creators to make stories of how humanity ought (or ought not) to be. It also lets people play with themes in ways that are unexpected, subversive, or meaningful in many different ways. Babylon 5 frequently explores religious themes in its episodes. “The Summoning” has several themes come to a head as we see just how deep some of the allegorical background of the show flows.

G’Kar is an alien character who has endured much throughout the series to this point. His people, the Narn, have been at war with another alien species, the Centauri. The Centauri have enslaved the Narn after defeating them. G’Kar has gone from a prestigious ambassadorial post to a pariah on the Babylon 5 space station. Finally, he is captured and put at the whims of the Centauri elite.

The Emperor of the Centauri at this point is Cartagia, a kind of Nero stand-in. He delights in tormenting G’Kar for his own pleasure, and for that of his court. G’Kar endures several ways of suffering which parallel Christ’s suffering. The image I used in this post shows him carrying one of the instruments of his torture in a scene that is surely intended to parallel Christ’s carrying of the cross. In one scene, he is wearing a kind of crown with spikes seemingly screwed into it around his head, akin to a crown of thorns. Though the imagery is somewhat overt, the subtleties behind the imagery is its own commentary on the depth of the show and its allegory of Christ. Cartagia wants to force G’Kar into some expression of pain, and finally resorts to a lashing. No one has managed to survive 40 lashes, and G’Kar is whipped 39 times before he finally cries out in pain. That number may not seem important, until one turns to Deuteronomy 25:3 and sees that punishment is not to exceed 40 lashes. Traditionally, some have said that Jesus was lashed 39 times. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:24, discusses being lashed 39 times on five separate occasions. Throughout this whole sequence in this episode, as well as the few before, we see that G’Kar is a kind of allegory for Christ, suffering in behalf of his people. 

I already mentioned how Cartagia is like Nero, but I wanted to draw that out. His hedonism at the cost of all else is one of the most obvious parallels. His utter contempt for any other people is narcissism, yes, but it’s so over the top and insidious that it takes it to another level. As he smiles, there is an ominous tinge to everything he does. Others try to emulate him to keep him pleased, and end up failing and being discarded or killed. The Nero parallels are there, but he could also be interpreted as a kind of stand-in for love of self over others, the easiest but also most easily corrupting sins. The greatest demonstration of this may be in his willingness to toss aside his own people for the sake of being remembered as a god. Cartagia’s delusions of grandeur could almost be humorous if he didn’t have the will and power to bring about some of his most dastardly plans. Cartagia then–whether he is a Nero, a Satan, or a kind of stand-in for human moral failing that evolves into monstrous evil–is another religious theme here. Is it a commentary on the overbearing power of the nation state? A questioning of the human condition? A nod to the spiritual power of corrupting evil? I think each viewer can take something away from it, and that is the power of a truly excellent work of art.

Babylon 5 is a show that inspires as much as it entertains. It makes viewers think, even decades after the show run finished. A powerful emotional response is almost unavoidable in an episode like “The Summoning,” and I’m sure I’ve missed some details as well for how the parallels might play out. Regardless, it’s a beautiful narrative that leads to reflection on the life–and death–of Christ, as well as how evil can so readily corrupt in heinous ways. 

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out here!

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!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for more).

SDG.

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

Book Review: “The Future of Open Theism” by Richard Rice

Richard Rice’s The Future of Open Theism introduces the theological topic of open theism, traces its past development, and outlines its impact on several major doctrines and how they might be developed farther along the lines of open theism. Open theism is the view that “God is open to the world, and the world is open to God. Both Creator and creatures contribute to the ongoing course of events, and God experiences these events as they happen” (1, Rice’s definition expands a paragraph or more). 

The book is divided into two parts: Part I is “The Origin and Development of Open Theism” and Part II is “Themes of Open Theism.” In the first part, Rice turns to the historical development of Open Theism. He notes that while open theism largely came to attention due to the book The Openness of God in 1994, it had several historical antecedents. Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), Rice notes, was “perhaps the essential figure in the history of ‘free will theism'” (11). Arminius opened the path for new explorations of free will in relation to God’s action, but unlike open theists, he did affirm that God’s foreknowledge was absolute (12). Adam Clarke (1760-1832) argued that some historical events were contingent, but due to his view of divine eternity, he still maintained a kind of absolute knowledge of the future for God (12-14). Several other authors are surveyed from later dates as well.

The next few chapters trace the modern development of the concept of open theism, which Rice acknowledges was not directly found in any of the antecedents noted in the first chapter, as well as the controversy that almost immediately surrounded it. The chapter entitled “Critics and Conflicts” is not just a fascinating look into the theological pushback open theism faced but also hints at the political workings of organizations like the Evangelical Theological Society and various universities. One of the largest conflicts was over whether open theists could remain in specifically evangelical circles, given the apparent denial of long-held notions of God’s foreknowledge in their theological system. Some argued to shut open theists out of the Evangelical Theological Society, while open theists made a case that they were making their arguments from Scripture and were thus decidedly in the evangelical camp. Open theists also argued their model of foreknowledge made better sense of passages in which God expressed regret over a decision while also offering a stronger refutation of any notion that God holds/held false beliefs than other systems (57). Open theists were eventually able to carve out space for themselves in theological circles and Rice notes that the shift moved from conflict to conversation from there. The philosophical implications and arguments in favor of open theism are the subject of an entire chapter, and readers on either side will surely benefit from engagement with these. Part I is rounded out with a chapter surveying the various expressions of open theism.

Part II turns to the themes of open theism and major theological developments open theism either has led to or could be developed towards. Perhaps the largest question open theism is posed to answer is the question of human freedom. Open theism seems to provide the most straightforward theological path for genuinely free human action. Standing against various philosophies, potential scientific conclusions (i.e. naturalistic determinism), and theologies that create major problems for human free action, open theism gives an alternative that attempts to truly open human freedom as a possibility. Rice also makes a powerful argument that open theists ought to eliminate the term “limit” from their language related to God and open theism. He notes that open theism is not placing limits on God’s activity, but rather acknowledging biblical language related to those acts and attempting to stay true to the fullness of God’s–and human–activity. Other theological concepts that open theism has either had large impact on or could be developed towards include the doctrine of the Trinity (and seeing Trinitarian relations in time as acts of divine love taking place as part of God’s experience in time), Christology (a stronger commitment to divine activity in everyday human life), the church (spiritual gifts, God’s action in human society, etc.), and doctrines of the Last Things (transforming relationships with God). 

Rice provides a broad look at the total scope and history of open theism in this impressive book. As a reader who is not an open theist but who has read quite a bit on the topic, it was still informative and even challenging at times. Rice delivers a book that is as described–an overview of open theism from past through future–while also touching upon an impressive range of points while never losing focus. There are many areas this reader would critique as far as the content is concerned (the novel nature and only recent discovery of what is alleged to be the correct view of divine foreknowledge, for example), but as far as the book itself goes, it does what it sets out to do and more. For that, it is an invaluable resource for those interested in learning about open theism. 

The Future of Open Theism demonstrates that open theism is a powerful theological concept, but it also shows that there is still much work to be done for establishing the concept within broader Christian thought. Whether one agrees with the position or not, it is an edifying, challenging 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.

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” by Cordwainer Smith- Love as Resistance

It’s no secret that I love science fiction. I’ve written on various science fiction works on this site before, and have a second website that is largely dedicated to writings on science fiction (Eclectic Theist). I’ve been on a journey discovering vintage science fiction. Cordwainer Smith is a major figure in that scene, and for good reason. Though he died fairly young, he churned out a number of short stories, novellas, and one novel, almost all of which are set in a shared universe spanning thousands of years. Smith was a Christian who pushed the boundaries in his fiction, using the strangeness of his world.

“The Dead Lady of Clown Town” is one of the stories set in his larger universe. It is intentionally resonant with the story of Joan of Arc, down to a character named D’Joan. In this world, there are the underpeople–animals who have been cross-bred or genetically altered to express various human features–whether physical or mental. The underpeople are used as, essentially, slave labor. They’re discarded and tossed aside whenever their usefulness is undercut. At one point, Smith writes of hospitals for humans that stand empty even as the underpeople are desperate for their care. The reason the hospitals are empty  is because  the underpeople aren’t allowed to be treated in them. They’re underpeople, after all.

The climax of the story has D’Joan being burned alive, but even as she burns, she cries out in love for those who burn her. The other underpeople had risen up with her, crying out and embracing people, calling out that they loved them. The love the underpeople bring unlock all possibilities. Robots come to be aware of their selves; Lords and Ladies are horrified or delighted by turns. Humans run in terror; while others stand around in shock. It’s a dizzying, poignant scene that, even more than 50 years later, evokes images of resistance.

The resistance of the underpeople is one of love. They reach out and embrace those who would seek to hate or even destroy them. Their resistance is built upon a powerful cry that resonates with that of forgiveness and hope rather than hatred and injustice. The underpeople cry “love; love!” and they die smiling. It’s a stunning scene, and one that we cannot help but see parallels throughout time. Smith published this story in 1964, in the heart of the Civil Rights era. It is impossible to not see parallels with Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance movement and his nonviolence, even while calling out injustice in the strongest terms.

But the resistance of the underpeople is transformational: it changes their whole society, as well as everyone it touches. If we truly desire a just society, we must have a society that is capable of changing rather than rejecting. When those we’ve designated as the “other” reach out to us for embrace, we must not reject them. We must treat them as we wish to be treated.

Set in the context of Smith’s other stories, this is a story that sets off the founding of a religion based on equality of all sentient beings. It’s a beautiful, hopeful future envisioned by Smith. In our own time, as resistance to injustice builds, we have powerful voices also rising up to cry out for those who are downtrodden. May it ever be.

Links

“We the Underpeople”  – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future– I look at Smith’s vision for the future of humanity, good and bad; bleak and hopeful.

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

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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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