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Book Review: “Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers” by Catherine J. Wright

It is rare to read a book that is not just insightful, but also formative and challenging. Catherine J. Wright’s Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers is one such book. Each part of the subtitle is deeply important to the contents of the book. Wright introduces readers to a number of early readers of the Gospel of Luke and provides their insights into how to read the texts. These insights often challenge modern readings and spiritualization of the text.

Each section–on Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer–features a chapter that highlights how the early church read the Gospel of Luke on these issues. That means readers will see how Augustine, Chrysostom, and many others read Luke on questions related to those topics. It’s deeply important to read about that, because those early readers have a different cultural context than we do. Their readings can therefore offer correctives that highlight the importance of the texts in ways that we may not think of otherwise.

The sections start with a chapter in which Wright goes through Luke highlighting where verses or stories reflect the theme at hand. For example, in the section on simplicity, Wright shows how frequently Jesus speaks about giving to the poor and highlights the plight of the poor and the difficulties and sinfulness in wealth. Pairing this with the second chapter in the section on how the early church read these verses shows how many modern readings that try to spiritualize these texts do not align with both the earliest readings and probably the intended meaning of the text. A second chapter in each section highlights the first-century context of the passages and how understanding the challenges of that time can lead to correcting our readings of the text as well.

Some of the content with simplicity has been highlighted, but each section has numerous parts worth interacting with. Whether it’s the challenge to live humble lives or how to read Jesus’s prayers and pray ourselves, Wright constantly brings applicable insights to the table throughout the book.

Wright’s Spiritual Practices of Jesus is a phenomenal read that could even change how readers live their lives. By reading the early church on Jesus, readers are exposed to challenges to our own culture that can cause use to rethink our reading of the text and the ways we live. Highly recommended.

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context”

Christianity is a global religion, yet many discussions of theology are dominated by American or European voices. In Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context, the editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo seek to provide a partial remedy to this problem.

The Majority World is sometimes called the Global South. It’s the part of Earth in which the majority of humans reside and includes Africa, Asia, and Latin America, among other places. The editors have focused on giving theologians from these places voices addressing several major topics in theology. The book is organized around six parts with multiple essays in each part. These parts are: The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World, The Spirit Over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World, So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World, The Church from Every Tribe and Tongue: Ecclesiology in the Majority World, and All Things New: Eschatology in the Majority World.

The essays are each of interest. This reader read the book front-to-back, but it is clear that it could be read in parts, used for classes with individual essays, or in any number of other ways. One thing that readers ought to keep in mind is that each of these essays is just that–a single essay introducing one perspective on a huge topic. Thus, for example, the fascinating essay “The Trinity in Africa: Trends and Trajectories” by Samuel Waje Kunhiyop shows readers some ways in which African theologians are exploring the doctrine of the Trinity. Readers should not come away thinking that these are the only trends or that all African theologians are thinking along these lines. That said, Kunhiyop brings readers to engage with numerous lines of African theology. Each of the essays included in this collection is like that: it provides a way forward for additional exploration.

One example of an essay that provides many avenues for additional reading is “Asian Reformulations of the Trinity: An Evaluation” by Natee Tanchanpongs. Tanchanpongs Highlights several Asian theologians and the way they have discussed or reformulated the doctrine of the Trinity within their own contexts. It’s a fascinating read and one that allows Tanchanpongs to analyze numerous ways to take the Trinity in exploratory theology.

Majority World Theology is an excellent introduction to global theology. Readers can treat it as a reference book, read it front-to-back, or sample as they see fit. Most importantly, readers will be exposed to global perspectives on Christianity that they otherwise may not have ever experienced.

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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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.

National Fossil Day 2021

Today, October 13, is National Fossil Day, and I’d like to share a picture of one of my favorite fossils with you. It is a dinosaur tail that was trapped in amber. There are a number of remarkable things about this, but the most obvious is that it is clear, visual proof of evolution in action. You can clearly see, simply from looking at the image, that this is an animal’s tail, and that it is covered with primitive feathers. This is a transitional fossil, and one that’s not merely etched in stone (which itself is evidence enough, but also with 3D imagery, as if the life of this creature were trapped in an instant for us to observe.

For much of my life, I not only didn’t think evolution was true, but also believed it was a lie. I also thought that it was something that could not be believed while also being a Christian. Well, I’m still a Christian and the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. I’d be happy to discuss that with anyone who has questions about it. I’ve also written extensively about my own journey regarding evolution and Christianity here. The beautiful thing is that God created a universe that continues to amaze us, that continues to teem with life in many different varieties. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Book Review: “The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach” by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew

A systematic doctrine of creation is the core of Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew’s The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach. The subtitle begs questions about what is meant by this specific doctrine of creation. First, the authors follow the theology of Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch Reformed theologian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second, the notion of being “constructive” means the doctrine builds upon itself, layer upon layer, making a truly systematic approach.

The authors pursue a broad approach, first discussing the historic Christian Creeds and their place in a construction of a doctrine of creation, then moving on to a broad historical overview of the doctrine itself. Next, they turn to God’s omnipotence and its bearing on creation, then move through biblical and theological discussion of creation to show a specific view of how Creation occurred and what relevance it has for today. Providence–God’s sustaining of the world–is a subject of its own chapter, followed by a chapter about Christ and the Holy Spirit in the New Creation, and the book ends with a application of the doctrine of creation to a few modern topics. There is a short appendix about missional neo-Calvinism at the end.

The way Ashford and Bartholomew build the doctrine of creation is infused with insight from Kuyper throughout, though it’s clear that calling it “Kuyperian” is more to designate it as along the Newo-Calvinist tradition than specifically or robotically following Kuyper. I am by no means an expert in Kuyper’s theology. My comment to this effect is based upon the extensive use of more modern citations as well as more generalized theological strands than simply adherence to Kuyper. Much as a Lutheran might call their approach Lutheran without explicitly following Luther in every regard, the authors are doing the same here.

It was interesting to see the first chapter begin with a discussion of the historic Christian Creeds and a defense of their use in helping construct a doctrine of creation. The book’s audience is clearly intended to be broader than Dutch Reformed readers, and this was perhaps included to show the authors have done their legwork regarding why we should see the Creeds as important to faith formation and theology today. As a Lutheran myself, it is just a given that the Creeds are of great import, and it was most interesting to see the authors engaging in such an extended defense of their use. Speaking of the book’s audience–this book is one that will largely yield fruits based on two things: the effort the reader puts into understanding and following the systemic theology therein; and one’s own theological biases. For example, the author’s discussion of the creation accounts (yes, the “s” is intentional) in Genesis was of great interest to this reader, but others might be inclined to see the accounts as a unified whole. More specifically on the doctrines of providence, omnipotence, and elsewhere, the authors’ Neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian view looms large and so will challenge readers who hold other positions.

I was somewhat surprised to see the focus in the chapter about God’s omnipotence to be so specifically focused on God the Father. Indeed, the chapter itself, following the language of the Apostle’s Creed, is titled “God, the Father Almighty.” But one gets a sense within the chapter that the other members of the Trinity are almost afterthoughts in this aspect of the doctrine of Creation. This is most clear when the authors use language that seems almost a concession in describing the role of the other divine Persons: “we know that the Son and the Spirit are also involved in the act of creation” (140). However, those Persons get little say until a later chapter discusses the New Creation (306ff). Many modern controversies are discussed, with views of omniscience and providence being at the center of a section about creatio continua (continued creation). Here, the authors wrestle with authors within their own tradition (eg. Barth’s resistance to philosophy p. 290-292 and elsewhere) as well as others like Molinists with competing views (they argue for an Augustinian view against the Molinist position, see p. 293-294, but also the discussion on 126).

Numerous intriguing insets are found throughout the text, such as an extended discussion of creation out of nothing (133-137) that includes some discussion of ancient Near Eastern literature. However, the authors focus much more upon Christian tradition and writings than on any attempt to understand the contemporary culture or meanings inherent in the text from an ANE perspective. Many other insets highlight important topics relevant to the issues at hand and present readers with more extensive looks at the authors’ arguments.

I was quite surprised in the final chapter to see the author’s application of their systematic theology to contemporary issues. I wasn’t surprised to see that application made–surely if a Christian doctrine of creation is true, it ought to be able to speak to many modern problems–but rather with the seeming lack of care given in this section to sources and argumentation. Specifically, the authors turn to the question of transgender individuals. They make a distinction between gender dysphoria and “transgender ideology” (360) and assert that “we must recognize transgenderism as deeply incoherent” (ibid). Beyond that, they agree with another writer that “it is a gnostic denigration of the material body that nonetheless insists that a trans person must transform his or her body in order to be whole…” among other things. Here we see the ugly aphorism that “If I don’t like a theological position, it must be Gnosticism” rearing its ugly head.

Beyond the utter historical nonsense that is the equivocation of modern transgender ideology to ancient Gnosticism without anything more than bald assertion, the authors themselves produce the very type of incoherent argument they accuse their interlocutors of performing. First, their definition of “transgender ideology” as the belief that “a person can be born into the body of the wrong sex and can be transformed into the other sex through gender reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy” (ibid). This definition may reflect the beliefs of some people, but surely not a broad enough consensus as to lump all who go beyond mere acknowledgement of gender dysphoria into this category. Moreover, the authors themselves seem to totally miss one of the central aspects of an understanding of gender dysphoria–something they at least seem to acknowledge as a real difficulty–as they move quite swiftly from discussion of “sex” to discussion of gender. Just one page after their definition, they continue: “A person should not, and indeed cannot, change his or her gender” (361). This seems utterly confused, because the language they’re using reflects objectivity of gender standards which simply cannot be the case given how frequently throughout history those expectations have changed. Men in Elizabethan England were expected to wear ruffles and stockings, so according to these authors’ confused understanding, men today are either sinfully attempting to change their gender by not doing so, or the whole of societal expectations in that era and place were themselves mistaken and indeed impossible (referring to the language of “cannot”). Given the deep misunderstandings of the basic tenets and talking points of modern discussions of transgender topics (something I myself do not claim any expertise in), it seems the authors may have been better served if they’d let the topic lie instead of attempting a triumphant broadside that dissolves into silliness on the most superficial examination.

It is clear that readers of The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach will be challenged on many levels as they read the book. It is an impressive look at what it means to build a doctrine of creation within a specific theological tradition. There are some stumbles throughout the book, but readers–especially those interested in Reformed doctrine–will find much of interest. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend some of the discussion of modern topics.

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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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.

“Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation” by Joel Looper

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time in America has been the subject of much scholarly discussion. It is clear it had enormous impact on his theology, but what hasn’t been as clear is exactly what kind of impact it may have had. Joel Looper’s phenomenal, challenging work, Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation not only seeks to answer definitively what kind of impact Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States had on the man and his theology, but also shows how extremely timely Bonhoeffer’s words and warnings about American theology can be for us today.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, “What Bonhoeffer Saw in America,” is Looper’s deep narration of Bonhoeffer’s life in America. Here, Looper delves deeply into Bonhoeffer’s coursework at Union Theological Seminary, who he interacted with, and what he himself reports about the situation with American theology. This part lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Here, Looper’s depth of knowledge and exploration of Bonhoeffer’s theology is on full display. It’s not just a report of Bonhoeffer’s time and words, but also an analysis that helps elucidate themes in Bonhoeffer’s writing from this time period that make much more clear what his issues were with American theology. Much of Bonhoeffer’s writing from his time in America is difficult to understand or comprehend without significant knowledge of contemporary issues, and Looper does an admirable job filling in those gaps, showing readers the background for understanding many of Bonhoeffer’s critiques. For example, some have utilized Bonhoeffer’s hard critiques of the social gospel to attempt to decry modern movements for social justice. However, Looper demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s critique of the social gospel is not because it seeks to bring justice, but rather because it displaces the very gospel itself–that is, it doesn’t center revelation in Christ in the Christian message (see, for example pages 41, 46, and especially 48-49). The problem is not the ultimate efforts to feed the poor, stand with the oppressed, &c. The problem is, rather, the starting point of theology and its abandonment of revelation as the ultimate grounds.

The second part of the book focuses on Bonhoeffer’s analysis of American Protestantism specifically. American theology, as read by Bonhoeffer, had a primary problem in that it was “Protestantism without Reformation.” The meaning of this phrase is complex, but Looper notes that for Bonhoeffer, it can be traced back to Wycliffe and the Lollards. This sounds like an obscure point, but Looper, making Bonhoeffer’s own arguments clearer, shows how and why one might take this to be the case, particularly in the circles in which Bonhoeffer ran. It is clear, of course, that Bonhoeffer was not exposed to all of American theology, but what he saw ran in this vein, and the more conservative branches of theology he encountered were, in his opinion, little more than the most blunt and un-nuanced attempts to enforce orthodoxy. The Protestantism of the United States is so influenced by the strands Bonhoeffer mentioned that even Jonathan Edwards, cited by many as one of the greatest theologians America as produced, doesn’t even mention the church in his discussion of what one needs to be saved (75-76). American churches gave up any kind of confessional standard, only enforcing them after splitting again and again, and, in doing so, abandoned the Christian confession (86). American Protestants, for Bonhoeffer, no longer had something against which to protest, because they had severed themselves so distantly from the one true, holy, catholic church (86-87).

Even more damning is Bonhoeffer’s analysis of secularization in America. The pluralism enforced in America led to a kind of secularization of the church and idolization of the individual to the point that the allegiance was given to the nation state rather than to the church and God (102-103). This can be traced, again, to English dissenters who formed the backbone of colonial America. The secularization of the church is not due to some outside force acting upon it, but rather due to the church itself abandoning the word and being, again, a Protestantism without any kind of Reformation. In America, rather than having state churches, secularization came into play precisely because of the focus on freedom and independence–the church then becomes a mouthpiece for the alleged freedom the state provides (106-107).

Bonhoeffer’s own oft-misunderstood theology of the two kingdoms is, according to Looper, central to his understanding of the Gospel as well. Here is where Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism is so central to his understanding of the problems with American theology and beyond. The call for “thy kingdom come” must include both church and state precisely because of the two kingdoms theology–the church and state are both necessary and linked to one another (113-114). Thus, the famous phrase from Bonhoeffer about “seizing the wheel” is not actually revolutionary but rather counter-revolutionary. Bonhoeffer saw the Nazis as the revolutionaries, and such an understanding fits well within the Two Kingdoms theology Bonhoeffer so ardently supported.

The third part of the book centers around objections to both Bonhoeffer’s view of the American church and objections that seek to counter this narrative. For example, much has been made of Bonhoeffer’s largely positive analysis of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Looper doesn’t downplay this positive theme in Bonhoeffer’s analysis of America, but he does contextualize it. The Abyssinian Baptist Church was, to our knowledge, the only African American church he encountered in the United States apart from perhaps one or two Sundays in the American south (131). Bonhoeffer has threads that sound like W.E.B. Du Bois in some of his analysis of the American situation, such as when he talks about what is “hidden behind the veil of words in the American constitution saying ‘all men are created free and equal'” (136). It’s clear this had a positive and even eye-opening impact on Bonhoeffer, and traces of this can be found in his theology. Bonhoeffer’s own discussion of Jews in Germany, such as in his “The Church and the Jewish Question” may have been somewhat influenced here. Looper analyzes Bonhoeffer’s discussion of the Jewish people and shows how, while at times it is couched in problematic language, it demonstrates a deeper understanding and concern than one could credit him merely given his background or upbringing. (The whole section on this is a fascinating read, showing clear analysis that’s well-worth reading. See p. 141-146 in particular.) Bonhoeffer’s theology, however, remained firmly German Lutheran, and his own life-risking efforts in behalf of the Jews were not traceable to some kind of vague Western morality of “equality of all” but rather, Looper asserts, clearly based upon his Christology (150). Thus, Bonhoeffer’s experience with the Abyssinian church demonstrates a caveat in his analysis of American theology. Rather than a total rejection of all American theology, Bonhoeffer’s words ought to be seen directed exactly as they were, against the overwhelmingly popular academic streams of thought in contemporary American theology.

Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and his now famous Letters and Papers from Prison have led some to argue that he changed his views profoundly while in prison. Looper instead notes that his late-stage theology has continuity with that of his earlier life.

Looper’s work serves as a powerful challenge to many theologies of today. For those adhering to modern forms of the social gospel, Bonhoeffer’s warnings and critiques of that movement from his own time continue to apply: are these movements removing Christ from the center? For progressive Christians, Bonhoeffer’s critique of the social gospel can loom large–“Do such [progressive] theologies tend to respond to the critique of the word [revelation, Scripture] and think critically about their subjects in its wake? Or, rather, do they often begin with the (oppressed) self and work from the experience of that self and the non-ecclesial community with which it identifies? If the latter, are these theologies then only variants of ‘religious’ logic…?” (197-198). For conservatives, especially American evangelicals, Looper notes that the constant efforts to try to maintain a “seat at the table” in the larger world and their defense of their institutions, even to the point of, as many have said, voting while “holding their nose” for someone who, ethically, cannot be defended, would have been seen by Bonhoeffer as “Niebuhrian realism, pragmatism par excellence, and, in working from this script, evangelicals both brought the name of Christ into disrepute and forgot how the economy of God and of the church are supposed to work… Bonhoeffer would have called this evangelical struggle a cause of American secularization, not a buffer against it” (196). Bonhoeffer would see American theology today as a total abandonment of Protestant norms, exactly because of his theology of two kingdoms (joined with Luther’s) and because of the stark pragmatism of the right and the rush to de-center the Gospel on the left (198). Looper’s book thus serves as a blunt reminder of the dangers of our modern theological era and the need to offer correctives.

I have now read more than 70 books by or about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his theology, and the world he inhabited in order to try to understand more about the man and his theology. Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation easily ranks in the top 10 of those books. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Bonhoeffer’s theology should consider it a must read. More importantly, though, those wishing to have an understanding of American theology and its problems to this day should seek out this fantastic book. I highly recommend it without reservation.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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