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Book Review: “The Samaritan Woman’s Story: Reconsidering John 4 After #ChurchToo” by Caryn A. Reeder

The Samaritan Woman’s Story by Caryn A. Reeder engages the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 both in interpretive history and in light of modern questions.

The book is split into two parts. The first part surveys the history of interpretation of this passage, all the way up to the modern day. The second part puts the story in context, looking at the meaning of the text and the people involved in their own day.

The history of interpretation of John 4 is fascinating, and Reeder offers numerous highlights throughout these early chapters. Several of the earliest readers of the Samaritan woman saw it straightforwardly as her being in some kind of sexual sin or as a prostitute, and engaged the story on a level that operated with those assumptions. Often, these interpreters also carried misogynist baggage from their cultural context. Intriguingly, one exception was Origen, whose reading completely avoids casting the Samaritan woman in a poor light not because he was enlightened on women’s issues but because he held to an allegorical reading of the story (34-40). In each chapter, Reeder surveys specific interpreters, and boxes in the text highlight specific contextual or historical points of interest related to the main text. After looking at the early church, Reeder advances through John Calvin, Dwight Moody, and others into the present day. Here, she draws attention to the #ChurchToo movement and its highlighting of the abuses done to women within the church. The interpreters and interpretations she focuses on in this latter section are still diverse, and highlight a number of ways people within the church have re-centered the story to discuss modern problems.

The second part provides readers with a number of tools to look at the text, whether it’s the background of what women’s lives were like in Jesus’s time or how marriage worked in the ancient world. Reeder finishes with a reimagination of the story that puts her forward as a model of Christian discipleship, among other things. The reading she provides is in context and grounded in historical reality and the text.

The book has discussion questions at the end and could be used for a group study.

The Samaritan Woman’s Story is a timely text that will engage readers with John 4 in highly relevant ways. But it’s more than that, it also provides a broad look at a much-interpreted and much-misunderstood text. I highly recommend it.

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

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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.

“The Shape of the Past” by John Warwick Montgomery- A Christian Historiography?

John Warwick Montgomery is a Christian apologist who is perhaps best-known for his defense of the method of evidentialism and attacks on presuppositionalism. The Shape of the Past is a work that outlines a Christian historiography–a Christian way of reporting history. I first read it maybe a decade ago or so and remembered it being fairly impactful to my own development. I read it again recently and was struck by how my perceptions of it changed. While I still believe it to be useful book in some ways, I also found difficulties in others. Montgomery’s central theses developing a supposed Christian philosophy of history are problematic.

The first four chapters of the book focus on definitions of history and historiography, an intriguing look at history as time travel, classical conceptions of historiography, and modern histography [modern at the time- 1975]. These present a survey of some major approaches to history and historiography, while highlighting a few problems Montgomery identifies without what he’s going to build up as a central development of historical writing and research. For example, early on Montgomry notes that historians at some point must make decisions about motivations, acts, etc. such that they are making decisions about what is “humanly possible” or probable. But whither the criteria for “humanly possible”? Ultimately, he argues, “the historian’s conception of human nature stems from his general philosophy of life…” (14). Historians, on this problem, must have a sound philosophy of life in order to make sound judgments about historical events.

Montgomery here is clearly on to something, but he fails to take seriously enough his own noted problem. If, as he says, historians are dependent upon their philosophy and background beliefs in order to make determinations about history, how is objectivity in history possible? While it can largely be agreed that historical events did happen, the exacting details of how they happened are much harder to pin down. And if an historian states that, say, a specific soldier on the battlefield at Gettysburg turned right when he in fact turned left, what does this mean for the “objectivity” of history and the truth thereof? Does this undercut the rest of the historian’s narrative? How much of it is discredited by “minor” details being wrong? And if historical evaluation depends so much upon one’s philosophy of life, how does one even begin to judge said evaluations? Most of these questions don’t get answered (and some aren’t even asked) in the book.

To be fair, Montgomery isn’t trying to answer questions he didn’t ask. I bring them up because they seem a logical extension of the problems he himself points out with history, and it would be interesting to see his answers to them. He does, however, turn to objectivity in history. How are Christians different in this regard?

“The Christian Answer” is the title of Chapter Five, which purports to offer a Christian solution to this difficulty. To get there, Montgomery insists that Christianity can provide the valid interpretation of history because its truth is “‘accessible to science’ and rests upon an objective foundation”; namely, he argues that the Christian worldview rests upon “the objective, historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (138). However, to get to the point that resurrection is an “objective, historical truth,” he uses a very brief evidentialist style argument: that the Gospels “are found to be trustworthy historical documents”; that they report Jesus “exercis[ing] divine prerogatives”; that they describe Christ’s bodily resurrection “in minute detail”*; that the resurrection “cannot be discounted on a priori grounds” [emphasis removed]; that Christ spoke the truth regarding the OT and confirms the NT; and that “It follows from the preceding that all Biblical assertions bearing on philosophy of history are to be regarded as revealed truth” (138-139).

Examining each of these steps in detail is beyond my scope here. Instead, I want to reflect on the reasoning. The problem at hand is: how do we find objectivity in Christianity to give us a valid interpretation of history? The answer is a purported historical fact. But how do we validly interpret that question of the resurrection? So far as I can tell, Montgomery is insisting that it is an historical fact. But the question he’s seeking to answer is whether Christianity can provide an objective basis for historical interpretation, and then he answers that with an historical interpretation: that the resurrection is objective fact. It’s a circle, and I’m not sure how it is supposed to escape that circle. I don’t see a way out of this circle. Even if one introduced some hidden premises about historical reasoning to get to the historicity of the resurrection, that would undercut his argument that Christianity is the objective arbiter of historical interpretation by introducing some external mechanism for that same evaluation. It seems hopeless to me.[1]

Now, it is possible to simply state that Montgomery’s argument here has failed, but that Christianity is valuable in historiography because it can give an objective (or at least “better” by some measure) way of interpreting history. While that would undermine much of his argument, it would leave one free to delve into the questions of what Christianity brings to the table as an evaluative tool. Montgomery does list several “principles of Christian historical interpretation,” and some of these are indeed valuable. For example, under metaphysical principles, he notes that Christianity gives the possibility to historical intepretation that history is inherently meaningful due to “God’s… activity” (145). This would take some effort to hash out, but it seems a potentially fruitful path to pursue.

Other principles he gives seem almost hopelessly naïve, in my opinion. For example, he argues that “human nature is constant” on Christianity, and so “the Christian historian has the assurance that a common ground exists between himself and the [people] of past ages whom he studies…” (148). So, he lists Louis XVI as one possibility for the Christian historian to be able to “confidently interpret motives” due to this constancy of human nature (ibid). Even conceding that human nature is constant, one would wonder how that alone would make it possible to determine the motives of Louis XVI with such confidence, especially if purely based upon that premise. After all, the vast chasm between my own experience and that of Louis XVI makes even the smallest decisions we have to make entirely different. Because I have made so few decisions that even resemble decisions with which Louis XVI was presented, that should give me at least some caution in drawing out his motivations for specific tasks. Other criteria Montgomery presents are helpful, but some need additional caveats.

Ultimately, The Shape of the Past is a frustratingly tantalizing read. Montgomery’s writing style is winsome and matter-of-fact. He writes in an easy manner about all sorts of scholarly topics. The central theses, however, remain unproven and possibly viciously circular. His criteria for Christian historians are a mixed bag. It’s unclear to this reader that Montgomery truly provides a reason to suppose Christianity is superior to other historiographic methods when it comes to objectivity in history. A specifically Christian historiography might be possible and even desirable, but it will need to be heavily supplemented from here.

*Interestingly, Mark does not do this unless one accepts the longer ending as genuine.

[1] Montgomery does note several potential objections to his view, but none of them hint at the circularity inherent in this reasoning: 1. We need an objective standard for historical evaluation; 2. historical evaluation shows that the resurrection is objectively true; 3. therefore, Christianity can be the objective standard for historical evaluation.

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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.

“The Towers of Midnight” by Brandon Sanderson and 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, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The penultimate book in the Wheel of Time series is a doorstopper. It’s got plenty to discuss, and I’ve only picked a few themes out. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Renewing of Creation

There are several times in the book in which Rand shows up and makes a kind of renewal of creation. In chapter 1, we see a town relying on their apple harvest to prevent them from starving, only to have it corrupted and destroyed. Rand shows up, and after a brief discussion with a farmer, the apples are blooming and ready for harvest again. I think of Isaiah 35:1: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (NIV). But this isn’t the only thematic parallel to the renewing and refreshing of creation. Later, Rand tells a group to open their sacks of grain (chapter 25). All they’ve opened so far has shriveled grain mixed with pests. But they follow Rand’s direction and find abundance of good grain. It’s like Jesus telling the disciples to fish on the other side of the boat, or turning water into wine. Rand’s parallels with the Messiah here are strong, though in the world of the novels it seems more like he’s bringing balance than making all things new.

Subterfuge Over

Rand, as he continues to step into the memories of Lews Therin, decides the time for subterfuge is over (chapter 13). “Today is a day of reunion, not of death,” Rand says as he sends Darkfriends out of his camp. I felt this was a kind of Narnia-esque moment, where evil is made plain but not completely destroyed–all things must happen in their times. Whether the parallel is Aslan willingly giving himself up, or allowing servants of the White Witch to flee, I was strongly reminded of similar feelings and scenes.

Malice or Ignorance?

It’s easy to assign the label “darkfriend” to others, just as we today can easily assign labels like “heretic,” or “apostate” to those with whom we disagree. When Maradon is opened at last to Ituralde’s army (chapter 24), it is only because someone took the initiative to overrule its governor. The question is raised over whether he was a darkfriend, and it is somewhat ambiguous whether he is or not. But the question arises in how we assign malice so often when it might be ignorance or cowardice instead. We need to be careful to assign labels to those who don’t deserve them and be willing to try to convince others of seeing things our way instead of so quickly other-ing them and rejecting them.

Prophecy

Prophecy is a recurring theme throughout the series, and questions of how to interpret prophecy abound. Late in The Towers of Midnight, there’s a discussion of how prophecy works in the world (chapter 51). Rand points out that if he’d been just a bit earlier in meeting up with the borderlanders, he’d have destroyed them for daring to slap him. They took something as a prophecy and a test, but he took it as a “foolish gamble.” While Paitar claims his family analyzed the prophecy “a hundred times over,” he says the words “seemed clear.” Rand points out that some prophecies are “not like the others”–they’re a “declaration of what might happen, not advice.”

Often, Christians see verses they take as prophecies in Scripture and then assume they can discern clear meanings. After all, one’s family or theological forebears analyzing a prophecy a “hundred times over” cannot be wrong, right? But if we choose to act or not act based upon how we take a prophecy which we may or may not be interpreting correctly, is that truly what the verses are there to tell us? Christians all too frequently ignore prophetic utterances warning against greed, accumulation of wealth, and injustice at the expense of seeking headline-grabbing events that they take to tell us about end times. Instead, perhaps those actions are “foolish gambles,” working to try to discern hidden meanings in prophecies rather than acting on ethical demands.

Conclusion

The Towers of Midnight is another excellent entry that somehow manages to stay action-packed and intense despite its absurdly long length. What worldview-level questions did you find in the novel?

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The Wheel of Time: A Worldview Hub– All my Wheel of Time-related posts can be found here. Let me know what you think!

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: “Enjoying the Old Testament” by Eric A. Seibert

Enjoying the Old Testament by Eric A. Seibert is an invitation to Christians to read and love the Old Testament.

I admit this reader was shocked when I realized the ultimate purpose of the book. When I saw the subtitle: “A Creative Guide to Encountering Scripture,” I assumed the book was some kind of work introducing the OT. It is that… kind of. What the book is really trying to do is encourage Christians who are hesitant about reading the OT to actually do so and even enjoy doing so. I was shocked because I, personally, love the OT and spend as much time as I can therein. However, Seibert’s careful and sometimes cheeky writing drew me in nonetheless as he encouraged fellow Christians to read and understand.

The book is arranged around three parts: Preparing to Read the Neglected Testament; Having Fun with the Old Testament; and Encountering the Old Testament in New Ways. The first part exhorts and even cajoles Christians to read the OT, while helping set expectation and discuss a mindset that might be needed to do so. The second part helps, among other things, highlight how even the “boring” parts can be found meaningful. The third part offers some ways to read the OT that might help readers, both hesitant and not, encounter the OT in new ways.

Enjoying the Old Testament will hopefully accomplish the goal it sets out to do: bring Christians to read and encounter more Scripture. Seibert’s style and chapters will certainly help any reader who is hesitant to understand and draw out the reasons for doing so. The book accomplishes the task set before it.

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

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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