J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.
J.W. Wartick has written 1321 posts for J.W. Wartick – Reconstructing Faith

Problems for the Minimal Facts Argument for Jesus’s Resurrection?

The minimal facts argument for Jesus’s Resurrection is one of the more popular arguments I’ve read–and learned–in apologetics-related circles. Basically, it goes like this: there are certain facts which the majority of scholars agree upon regarding Jesus’s resurrection such that, when considered together, make the resurrection the most reasonable or only possible explanation of the facts. I have personally used this argument to great effect and for some time thought it a fairly strong argument. However, I believe there are some problems with the argument. These make me hesitant to continue using it as I did before.

I was considering the minimal facts argument recently and something a philosopher* said stuck with me. Namely, that the minimal facts argument conflates sociology with epistemology. Now, what does that mean? Essentially, it means that the argument attempts to use a sociological method–counting up which scholars believe (or don’t believe) a certain historical fact occurred–in place of epistemology–“it is reasonable to believe x.” I’ve oversimplified this, because I want readers to think more about the problem than about my wording of it. This is important, because A) I’m not an epistemologist and so don’t have the skillset to present the point as well as one with training in that area would and B ) I think it’s still a powerful objection that needs to be weighed instead of debating my own wording of the argument.

It shouldn’t be downplayed that this at least appears to be a major problem. The minimal facts argument essentially smuggles in a kind of epistemology along with the sociological data. In other words, the skeptic–or Christian–is expected to move from “the majority of scholars believe these facts” to “these facts are reasonable for me to believe.” Or, minimally (sorry), that “it is reasonable to believe these facts.” But without an epistemic support system, once the argument is laid bare like that, it seems almost farcical. While I’d not go so far as to say it’s logically fallacious,** it does have the look of an unwarranted move.

Another way the argument conflates epistemology with sociology is just that–it essentially treats the counting up and tallying of scholars*** as a genuine way to find and ground knowledge. And while this may not seem entirely unreasonable–after all, I would tend to see a significant majority of immunologists agreeing that a vaccine is safe and effective as a good reason to believe that myself–the move itself needs more argument. Moreover, because the argument is dealing with historical facts, it has additional wrinkles to the move from “scholars think x” to “it is a fact that x.” The aside about vaccines is a good counterpoint, because it is possible to physically test and confirm scholars’ opinions in that regard. However, for an historical fact, the opinions of numerous scholars about whether an event took place stands on somewhat less firm ground. As someone interested in historiography, myself, I realize it is tenuous ground indeed.

In most popular versions of this argument, there’s a kind of hand-waving that occurs regarding these minimal facts. The argument goes that a “majority of scholars” agree upon whatever fact. That fact may be, for example, that the disciples believed Jesus appeared to them after his death. Another fact may be that Jesus died from crucifixion. Now, let’s say of 100 scholars of history, 95 believe the first, and 95 the second. That’s a great majority! They may not be the same 95, of course, but 95 is still a solid number. The more facts that get introduced/discussed, the more acute this problem seems. So, let’s say you introduce the empty tomb, and 85 scholars believe in that. Are they all included in the other 95? If not, does it seem to take away something from the argument? I believe it may, though I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly what the problem is.

Another issue with the argument, and the epistemology/sociology point is relevant here, is that the opinions of scholars is subject to change. I’ve read before how in many fields of science it often takes a generational shift before a theory can be fully accepted, despite massive evidence for its being true. The reason is because people tend to cling to what they know–or believe–to be true even in the face of evidence to the contrary. What this means for historical scholarship is that it is entirely possible, generation to generation, that the “majority of scholars” could have rather large shifts in opinion. If, for example, death by crucifixion were to drop off the map for a majority of scholars in relevant fields, would that mean it is unreasonable to believe that Jesus died by crucifixion? Hardly. But according to how this argument is used, it would be. Or, perhaps, it would seem to be.

Questions about what is meant by “majority” abound, though in the strictest and strongest versions of the minimal facts argument, the entry point for “majority of scholars” is kept quite high instead of appealing to any amount over 50%. When one considers this, though, it again makes the problem of arbitrariness loom. Who gets to determine what percentage of scholars is required for reasonable acquiescence on the part of laity? And are those scholars in the minority inherently irrational for disagreeing?

There’s also the question of how the scholars themselves are being represented. For example, is it really true that all scholars lumped together as agreeing about Jesus’s death by crucifixion actually agree to the same minimal fact in the same way? Maybe. But it’s hard to know unless one is presented with exactly how the question is presented to the scholars and what they said in response. This seems a minor point, until one begins to explore what could be meant by it. Jesus died by crucifixion seems straightforward, but the mental baggage that comes with that sentence for many people is huge. Of course, one could potentially counter this by saying “But what is truly meant is, on the simplest level, simply that Jesus died by execution on a cross. Surely that’s simple enough that we can know whether a scholar believes that or not.” I basically agree with the heart of that, but still wonder about things like whether those scholars would agree about what is meant by “Jesus,” for example. I don’t mean whether they believe Jesus is God in human flesh–that’s beyond what I mean. Instead, I wonder whether some of those scholars in the “agree” category might say “yes, there was probably a first century man named Jesus who was executed by crucifixion.” But would they agree that was the Jesus born of Mary, with Joseph as (surrogate) father, and even other details? I’m not so sure about that. And that does make a huge difference. Moreover, without seeing the method behind how we got “majority of scholars” in agreement about this very basic historical claim, it’s difficult to analyze it in any meaningful way.

All of this is to say that I think we ought to be quite careful in our use of the minimal facts argument. I’m not entirely convinced we should be using it at all, to be honest. Much scholarly work needs to be done to lay the groundwork for the argument, and a surprising amount of that groundwork needs to be on the side of epistemology, because one of the biggest problems is that the argument itself doesn’t seem to do the work it claims to be able to do. Finally, because it is unfortunately the case that questioning people’s beliefs happens when one questions established apologetic arguments, I want to very clearly say that I believe Jesus physically rose from the dead and that that is an historic fact. I am just unconvinced that this argument is the way to establish that.

*The philosopher was Lydia McGrew. I credit her with being the on to point out this problem to me and several others. I’ve expanded on some reflection on that here.

**I’ve seen some claim it is basically an argumentum ad populum or appeal to authority, but the former is inaccurate given that the argument is, in its strongest form, based upon actual scholars in relevant fields and the latter is a mistake because appeal to authority is only fallacious when it is done, er, fallaciously.

***I mean this literally, because some apologists (notably Gary Habermas) have done extensive work literally tallying up opinions of scholars in relevant areas to make the argument.

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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: “How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology” by James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman

“How do you know?” sounds like such a simple question. It’s the kind of question a young child might fire off dozens of times a day to a flustered parent who tries to explain how they know that the sun can burn skin or that the mourning doves don’t pose any threat to their walk. But, like many simple questions, when one thinks more deeply about it, it becomes deeply complex. After all, how do we know what we know? That’s the question that James K. Dew, Jr. and Mark W. Foreman turn towards in How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge, and such a study lends itself directly to asking questions. The titles of the 11 chapters of the book reflect this, with headings like “What Do We Perceive?” and “Do We Need Justification?” Along the way, the authors introduce a wealth of information to the reader, along with resources for further exploration, discussion questions, and more. The book is clearly intended as an introductory textbook, and would serve that function well. But because of its format, it would also serve the general reader who wants to learn more about epistemology without having to dive right into a major work on the topic.

The authors focus largely on modern authors, bringing the latest thinking on the topics invovled to the reader. For example, in the chapter on justification, much is made of Alvin Plantinga’s work on epistemic justification and warrant. The book is written from a Christian perspective, but its rarely exclusive to Christian thinking. What makes the perspective useful, for one, is that the readings include several Christian authors, but only when they’re at the forefront of their fields. For example, it makes sense to include Plantinga and William Alston in the section on justification, because they’ve done so much work on the topic. The topic of “revelation” treated in an epistemology text sets this one apart, as well. It allows readers to engage with questions about faith that aren’t ordinarily addressed in this context.

How Do We Know? is a great introduction to several massive topics. Readers will come away with many question, but also equipped with several paths to explore and ways to pursue those questions. 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.

Much Ado About Nothing: Alisa Childers’ “Another Gospel?”

I believe one of the most important thing anyone can do for their edification is to read books with which one disagrees. There are a number of reasons for this, such as the possibility that such books may enlighten or even change one’s position about at topic or to ensure that one does not misrepresent the “other side” when discussing topics with which you disagree. Alisa Childers’ Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity* presents her opinions on what she calls Progressive Christianity, and, being sometimes labeled progressive myself, I figured it was worth taking a look.

The book has a Foreword by Lee Strobel, a journalist who writes bestselling apologetic works centered around interviews of experts and whose fame was only increased by the “A Case for Christ” movie about his life. I was honestly stunned when I saw his example of sailing a boat and needing an anchor to ensure one’s safety. He goes on to say that the anchor for Christianity is… what? Reading the analogy, I most definitely expected the answer to the question: “What is the anchor of Christianity?” to be, well, Christ! After all, Christ is the chief cornerstone of our faith (Ephesians 2:19-20). It seems reasonable to expect that the anchor would be similar enough to a cornerstone in an analogy to have Christ be the answer. Well, you’d be wrong. Strobel’s answer is: “In Christianity, the anchor is sound biblical doctrine” (xiii). Strobel’s answer is not only surprising but also wrong. Christ just is the foundation and anchor of our faith. Having the right beliefs is all well and good, but those right beliefs are nothing but foolishness without Christ. I belabor this point because Strobel’s answer in this foreword is indicative of Childers’ approach. For Childers, progressive Christianity is a threat not because it fails to honor Christ or because Christ is not at work in the progressive Church. No, progressive Christianity is a danger because they don’t agree with her own definition and beliefs of what is entailed by “sound biblical doctrine.”

Childers provides autobiographical details throughout the book, many of which resonated with me because I had some similar experiences growing up in the church. Childers was apparently a member of a CCM group known as ZOEgirl, which had songs I’m sure I’ve listened to at some point. What’s interesting is that these autobiographical details are often used as the foundation for her chapters dealing with her analysis of progressive Christianity. For example, a surprising example of a pastor who was an agnostic with whom she took a class serves, apparently, as her definition of what a progressive Christian is. I don’t say this to be disingenuous. It just appears that, as far as Childers is operating, her experience with this agnostic pastor became so formative for her with her visceral reaction away from him that she then associates anything even remotely related to that pastor’s views as progressive and therefore not really Christian, in her mind. I admit I’m taking some psychoanalysis too far here, but if one reads the book just trying to find what she means by “progressive Christianity,” this seems to be the ultimate answer. Indeed, Childers herself writes that this single class “would permanently embed the voice of a skeptic into my mind–that has to this day affected my ability to read the Bible without inner conflict” (20-21). That Childers reveals this is good, because it tells us about her biases. But then it clouds not just her personal reading of the Bible, but also her interaction with any Christian who strays from an unconflicted idea of “sound biblical doctrine.”

Childers words quoted above reveal what seems a painful experience to her based on her wording about conflict. It also shows a recurring theme in Another Gospel?, namely, that doubt is inherently to be distrusted or “fixed.” A later example occurs in Childers discussion of church, “Fixing What Isn’t Broken.” Over the course of a few pages, Childers delivers a terribly confusing message about doubt, first noting the problem with defining faith as 100% certainty all the time (49-50), then helpfully suggests that faith is “trust based on evidence” (51), and finally suggests that churches must become “safe places for those who experience doubt” (51-52). That sounds great, until Childers adds the addendum, “If people don’t feel understood, they are likely to find sympathy from those in the progressive camp who thrive on reveling in doubt. In progressive Christianity, doubt has become a badge of honor to bask in, rather than an obstacle to face and overcome” (52). Citation. Needed. Childers has absolutely nothing to back this up. Again, contextually, the aforementioned agnostic pastor is mentioned (50), apparently setting up Childers’ entire view of what progressive Christianity is, such that she can make these broad stroke claims about “progressive Christianity” without even a single citation of evidence. Indeed, one may wonder based on her own encouragement of churches to become “safe places” (note that she dare not use safe “spaces,” for that term is too progressive) for doubters is itself evidence that the non-progressive church itself dares not “face and overcome” the “obstacle” of doubt. Her words are insulting at best, and uninformed in the text itself.

Critical theory serves as a bogeyman in Another Gospel? just as it does in much conservative Christianity. Rather than providing any primary sources to discuss what critical theorists actually believe or think, Childers is content to set up false dichotomies regarding critical theory and Christianity (59-61). She ends this brief section with this whopper: “[W]hen someone accepts the ideas of critical theory, it can begin to erode their Christian worldview… It can lead someone into progressive Christianity, which already devalues the historic Christian answers to these ‘worldview questions’ and focuses on actions over belief. That becomes just another works-based gospel that ebbs and flows with cultural norms” (61). This passage is riddled with unwarranted assumptions, and Childers hasn’t even come close to establishing that progressive Christianity does anything of the sort regarding what she claims.

Claims about historical Christian belief abound in Another Gospel?, but it is clear that Childers has, at best, a passing knowledge of selections from church history. Her claims about the apparent unanimity of church history in agreement with her own current moral compass should set off alarm bells already (again, see quote above). Once she actually turns to discussing church history, those alarms turn into blaring claxons. For example, her discussion of “digging into their [church fathers’] writings” is especially revealing in that she she portrays them as seemingly united in doctrine (78-80), emphasizing that there are “hundreds” of quotes (81) about Scripture showing similar views to her own, but failing to demonstrate that what they were saying actually aligns in any way to her own views beyond superificial similarities in appealing to Scriptural authority. Yes, the church fathers had a high view of Scripture, but the way Childers writes, one comes away thinking they aligned on virtually everything else regarding morals, doctrine, &c.

A simple demonstration of Childers’ strange mixture of attempted awareness of church history and ignorance thereof is her treatment of universalism. I’m not a universalist myself, but it is clear there is a strand of universalist thought throughout church history. Childers’ discussion rejects universalism with little more than a trite “I learned that it is not biblical” and a quote from Richard Bauckham (187). The standard proof texts for eternal conscious torment are cited, but Childers seems to think that universalists have never even attempted to deal with these, and shows no actual awareness of a position like conditional immortality. No, for Childers, unsurprisingly at this point, it’s her way or the highway. After all, we know the anchor of Christianity is what? For Childers, it’s sound biblical [read: her view] doctrine.

Childers’ chapter about atonement is abysmal. I don’t use that word lightly, but Childers shows that she’s totally uninformed about historical positions on the atonement. Yes, there are voices in progressive Christianity that talk about the atonement theory in ways that don’t make sense historically as well. Yes, the “cosmic child abuse” narrative is nonsense. But also, yes, there have historically been several atonement theories. And Childers has the audacity to conclude this chapter by writing “Progressive Christians assume they are painting God in a more tolerant light by denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. But in reality, they are simply constructing a codependent and impotent god who is powerless to stop evil. That god is not really good. That god is not the God of the Bible. That god cannot save you” (224). Throughout this chapter, Childers cherry-picks quotes from various people and then trashes them based on proof texts that she presumably believes prove substitutionary atonement as the One True Atonement Theory. But if Childers really, truly believes that one must hold to substitutionary atonement or else have a “god” who “cannot save you,” then she’s writing off many, many Christians even back to church fathers throughout history. And the thing is, I genuinely do not believe Childers has any idea she’s doing this. Childers could not actually believe what she writes about competing atonement theories while also quoting C.S. Lewis in a positive light (Lewis did not believe that a single theory of atonement was necessary, as anyone who has read his views in Mere Christianity would know, and he seems to have held to a ransom theory or some variation thereof, though Lewis scholars continue to debate this). The chapter on atonement is, once again, Childers widely missing the mark. And that’s unfortunate, because a genuine critique of those within progressive circles who say things like “cosmic child abuse” needs to be written, but maybe it just can’t be done by someone who’s going to throw people’s salvation into question. Again, for Childers, the “achor” of Christianity seems to be “sound biblical doctrine” (read: doctrine she agrees with) rather than Christ.

Another Gospel? is an unfortunate mess. I say unfortunate because I, as a sometimes-labeled progressive Christian, believe that progressive Christians could use a gut check at times. It is true that the “cosmic child abuse” view some Christians put forward is astonishingly ignorant of church history and probably very poor Trinitarian theology, at that. It is true that progressive Christianity could stand to think more strongly about church history. It is true that progressive Christianity could use some subtle corrections. But Childers’ work is not that work. It is a series of misrepresentations, mistakes, and fear-mongering. Childers, like Strobel, appears to think that the anchor of Christianity is doctrine, not Christ. Perhaps they could each learn from so many progressives I’ve known personally who value Jesus so much that they’re willing to be uncomfortable with their own beliefs or those of others for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they could learn that God is strong and powerful enough to exceed our own expectations and break out of the boxes we set up.

*I did not comment upon the subtitle in the main body of my text because I know authors often don’t get to choose their titles or even subtitles. Nevertheless, the implication of progressive Christianity being so obviously untrue that “lifelong Christians” (such as myself, a lifelong, sometimes labeled progressive Christian) must “seek truth in response” to it is, minimally, a tough pill to swallow.

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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.

Book Review: “Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation” by Gavin Ortlund

Augustine looms large over the course of church history, and he’s frequently enlisted by people on various–and sometimes contradictory–sides of theological debates. Gavin Ortlund, in Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation, seeks to show that Augustine’s doctrine of creation has much to teach us to this day about not just the theological underpinnings of a doctrine of creation but also humility in conclusions.

The first question to ask, though, is whether Augustine should be relevant to today’s debates over the doctrine of creation. Often, Christians today (at least in the United States) focus on heated discussions about evolution, death before the Fall, the historicity of Adam, and related issues. Much of the discussion is about science–or what counts as science. What can Augustine have to say to such debates, when he predated them by 1500 years? In one stirring account, Ortlund answers the question:

Imagine a young man in his late teen years. He has recently moved to the city to go to school. In the course of his study, he becomes convinced that the Genesis creation account is inconsistent with the most sophisticated intellectual trends of the day. He rejects the Christian faith in which he was raised, giving his twenties to youthful sins and worldly ambition.

Eventually, he encounters CHristians who hold to a different interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, and his intellectual critique of Christianity is undermined. He enters into a time of indecision and deep angst. His mother continues to pray for him. Finally, after much personal struggle, he has a dramatic conversion experience.

This is the testimony of St. Augustine…

Ortlund, 1

It’s a powerful introduction to the rest of the book, because as one reads it, it’s clear that it’s talking about a modern youth in college, learning about geology or evolution in depth for the first time. In fact, it’s Augustine, whose story parallels that of many today. His own struggles can help illumine some of the most controversial topics today.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Augustine brings, though, is a deep sense of humility regarding the creation account. Augustine certainly had strong opinions about how it could be read, but he also realized he could be wrong. Ortlund notes that Augustine emphasized the need to “patiently endure different (orthodox) views” and quotes Augustine’s warnings against presumptuousness of assuming one is correct and obviously so (91-92). Indeed, Augustine goes on to argue that “mischievous arguments” made about the meaning of the sacred text regarding Creation goes against the very purpose of their writing, namely, to produce charity in us (92-93). While he notes that there are some certainties regarding the creation texts, he also puts some of the most hotly disputed topics of our day into the “uncertain” category. For example, the meaning of the days in the Genesis text is one thing that he sees as uncertain, and it is clear that no one can rightly charge Augustine with allegedly giving in to some kind of “evolutionary viewpoint” as Christians who note the same today are often charged with (93-94).

Augustine’s patience and humility arises, in part, from a kind of pastoral concern for certainty (or lack thereof) regarding articles of faith. Ortlund writes, “Augustine can be open to uncertainty because he regards the purpose of theological inquiry to be godliness… we do not always know in advance what will lead to godliness, and so there should be an openness and humility in the posture with which we inquire about the doctrine of creation… Augustine[‘s] patien[ce]…. is [due to] his concern for the spiritual consequences of particularly interpretations. Thus, in the Confessions, he asks, ‘How can it harm me that it should be possible to interpret these words in several ways, all of which may yet prove to be true?'” (97, emphasis his).

The doctrine of creation itself is one Augustine wrote much upon and some of it helps highlight forgotten aspects of the doctrine in our own time. Whether it’s a concern for divine priority in creation (28ff) or Trinitarian agency (43ff); whether it’s the place of angels in creation (as the light of creation? see 125-128) or the importance of temporal beauty (154ff), Augustine’s insights will surprise readers at times while also directing potential further studies into the doctrine of creation.

Augustine also had points that are relevant to some of today’s hotly debated topics, though. For example, the question of animal death looms large in our own time due to charges about death before the fall and evolution, but Augustine, over a thousand years before Darwin, saw the death of Adam and Eve as something they “contracted” from the world that was already present in animals (154). This leaves open the possibility of animal and even pre-human death before the fall, so long as one is willing to have some sort of specially created or even made immortal human pair to have as an originating couple. Again, Augustine could not have been influenced by our modern science, so his insights into possibilities related to this and other topics allow us to glean a kind of unbiased view of the breadth of orthodox options in the modern creation debate.

Ortlund turns to questions of the Fall and evolution as well, noting that Augustine’s theology, while not developed to accommodate biological evolution, could certainly be developed in that direction. For example, Augustine argued that Adam and Eve held a “conditional immortality” that was, in part, granted through the tree of life (209).

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation is a work that can change the tone of the modern debates over creation. By asking an ancient interpreter not to weigh in on modern debates, but instead to speak to the doctrine of creation and then asking that doctrine some of the modern questions, Ortlund has presented a fascinating case for carefully reading and interacting with the text. I very highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Christianity and science, historical theology, or theological retrieval.

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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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.

Genocide and the Challenge of Apologetics: Randal Rauser’s “Jesus Loves the Canaanites”

There are times we read things in the Bible and we blow past them, not registering the content as disturbing because we have absorbed some explanation for its content that automatically allows us to keep moving. Randal Rauser’s Jesus Loves the Canaanites: Biblical Genocide in the Light of Moral Intuition confronts that practice in regards to the apparently genocidal passages in the Bible. Rauser analyzes the text from the perspective of international law in regards to the definition of genocide, compares it to the modern example of a close-in genocide in Rwanda, analyzes various apologetic approaches to the text, and finally, offers his own possible reading. Fair warning to readers- because the book discusses genocide, there is frank description of brutal violence, including violence of a sexual nature, and this includes discussions related to children.

For my part, Rauser’s powerful look at international law’s definition of genocide and application of the same to the text of Scripture is one of the strongest aspects of the book. Rauser notes that genocide does not necessarily require the intent to actually kill every single person of a demographic; rather, according to the definition of genocide, it also may simply be the action of removing or changing a group to ensure that group does not exist in an area. Rauser moves from the definition of genocide to its application in modern examples, and takes a very deep look at genocide in Rwanda. The reason he uses Rwanda as an example is because much of the killing took place up close and with weapons or implements used by hand (eg. a machete). This modern example, then, is closer to what would have occurred according to a plain reading of the narratives in the Bible.

Rauser notes the intense psychological distress not just upon the ones against whom the attack came, but also upon the perpetrators. This latter point is extremely important, and not one that I personally had reflected upon much. My own training in apologetics had inoculated me somewhat against the horrors of mass killing if one takes the texts at face value, but I had never before considered the immense psychological toll the killing would take upon the killers. Of course, now that I’ve written that, it seems obvious, but think about this, as Rauser does, in terms of the text. God has a chosen people whom he commands to destroy/remove an entire people group from the land in which they’re entering. After striking down tens or hundreds of individual men, women, and children with their own hands and whatever weapons they’d have had, their bodies covered with the blood of those who cried out for mercy, but were not spared, the Israelites are expected to have blissfully settled in and happily enjoyed their time in the land without ever a thought of the cruel, inhuman violence they had carried out to get there. It’s preposterous to think that could happen, and reasonable to assume the Israelites would have had an enormous amount of PTSD, sociopathy, and other mental health problems that would arise with their own actions, let alone the continued act of dehumanization or rationalization of their activity. This would surely have had a generations-spanning impact on the psychological health of the Israelite people, and thinking that God would have seen that as worth visiting upon God’s chosen people requires serious reflection.

By the time Rauer’s intensive analysis of the violence inherent in taking the text at face value is done, it is clear Christians options are somewhat limited. Though it is possible to bite the bullet and accept the immense mental damage done to a few generations of Israelites to secure the land for God’s people, it should cause extreme discomfort to do so. Hence, Rauser turns to various apologetic attempts to explain the text.

The first few attempts essentially accept the text as it stands and try to justify the violence. Thus, apologetic approaches that see the Canaanites as irredeemably evil or corrupting in influence against the Israelites argue that they had to all be killed in order to end this potential menace to their society. Of course, such an approach runs up against the problem of mental harm to the Israelites themselves, but it also seems quite extreme. Surely the sick and dying, the children, the infants do not pose such a threat to the incoming people of God! But according to this reading, they too must die. It seems cruel at best, but illogical as well. Attempts to argue for the truth of the text as just war reasoning also appear to fail. Readings of the text that see it as hyperbolic are somewhat less problematic, but Rauser points out that even most of these readings require acceptance of killing of the most vulnerable people in the land.

Rauser’s ultimate approach is to see the text as something to formulate disciples who love God and neighbor. These texts, argues Ruaser, cannot be seen as straightforward narrative because “When contemporaneous documentation and archaeological evidence fomr the region do not support the claims of documents composed centuries later, the wise course is to go with the weight of documentary and archaeological evidence. And that means that we should conclude based on the evidence that the conquest of Canaan likely never occurred in the manner described” (Kindle location 4652). Though Rauser only briefly notes this documentary and archaeological evidence, this reader has read the same problem with a straightforward reading of the text elsewhere. It is worth wondering then, why the text was written. Rauser notes the difference between the intended meaning of the text and the plain sense reading of the text and argues that if we approach the text from a perspective of believers seeking wisdom, we can then see it as teaching us to love God and others.

Rauser’s approach, then, has at least some in common with the approach of Webb and Oeste in Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? (my review here). The latter argue that the text is intended to move readers towards redemption and an ending of war, though Webb and Oeste accept much more of the narrative as written as historical reality than Rauser suggests. Rauser interacts with some other views that are somewhat similar to his own, rejecting some aspects of each. For example, his overview of Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is largely positive, but notes that Boyd seems to fail to account for the lack of archaeological evidence in his own analysis.

What Rauser’s book does best, though, is force the problem for apologists. It is all too easy to look the other way when confronted by texts of horror in the Bible. Rauser turns a microscope on these texts and shows how they provide unique challenges for apologists. Additionally, he shows how most of the major options and explanations fail to account for the texts themselves in a satisfactory way. Much of this is through his analysis of moral intuition–we can sense when something seems off about a moral explanation. The alternative Rauser offers takes into account archaeological evidence as well as a few strands of explanatory power that have been offered through church history. Rauser’s account, I think, offers perhaps the only way to read the text faithfully while not subscribing to some kind of selective errancy.

Jesus Loves the Canaanites forces readers to look with open eyes upon the text of the Bible and think about in in far deeper ways than they may have done before. For that alone, it’s worth reading. But Rauser offers extensive interaction with and critique of apologetic methods, historical and modern, related to the biblical text. He also offers a possible solution to the text that maintains its integrity and inspiration. Much more could be said about Rauser’s various analyses of apologists, readings of the text, and own view, but this review should, hopefully, encourage others to go and read the book. It’s a must read for anyone wanting to look more deeply at these texts.

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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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!

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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: “Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship” by Derek W. Taylor

Derek W. Taylor’s Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship explores Bonhoeffer’s rich theology to answer questions about ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and missions.

Taylor first uses the introduction to present a central thesis: that hermeneutics is an ecclesial practice. We read texts in and for community. Bonhoeffer dedicated much of his theological energy and output to this notion, and Taylor brings it front and center throughout the book. For example, Taylor starts with discussion of Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being that reads it as part of the task of reading the church as under, in, and of Christ. Contrary to some, who shoehorn Bonhoeffer wholly into the role of a follower or disciple of Barth, Taylor notes that with Act and Being, Bonhoeffer identified as problematical Barth’s tendency towards anti-ecclesiology (35). Taylor brings Hans Urs von Balthasar into the conversation as well, noting that Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic avoids passivity while also showing the word as a way to encounter Christ (33-36).

The church, however, must be wary of seeing itself merely as caretaker or ultimate interpreter of scripture. Instead, it is important to read scripture against ourselves. If we lose that ability, “Bonhoeffer warns, we end up remaking a God in the imago hominis” (49). It’s all too easy for the church or the individual to become comfortable with the text instead of letting it speak to and even, again, against us. Our desire to contemporize the text becomes dangerous as we tend to “echo interpretive interests brought to the text” instead of allowing the text to speak to us (50-51).

Reading scripture leads us to Christ, but Christ is present now. Bonhoeffer was powerfully aligned with seeing Christ as truly present among us in the church. This, moreover, leads to discussion of Christology, one which sees Christ as truly fully human and fully divine (73-75)–able to be with us now, truly present in sacrament (114-115). As an aside, Taylor’s discussion of meeting the risen Christ at the eucharistic table is powerful, but he seems reluctant to fully embrace the meaning of that presence–ending on the note that objective presence is ambiguous (though I may be misreading him here). One wonders how, if that present is ambiguous in an objective sense, the foregoing discussion of Christ being truly Christ today and in history and present makes sense. For Bonhoeffer, throughout his theology, remained a committed Lutheran, and would absolutely have affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Supper. Moreover, the point made earlier (73) about Christ being fully human and divine seems to obviate any supposed problems with that Lutheran doctrine.

Later, Taylor’s discussion of Bonhoeffer’s “religion come of age” is especially insightful. Instead of being a fully humanist or non-religious standpoint, Bonhoeffer seemed to see some of the “trappings” that others have enlisted his concepts in getting rid of as absolutely essential. Things like the Eucharist and Baptism remained central to Bonhoeffer’s theology (129ff). However, what Bonhoeffer was warning against was two problems: the first, a total retreat of the church to hide from the problems of the world; the second, a transformation of the church into one constantly chasing “relevance” and an apologetic agenda (128). These are what Bonhoeffer hoped to strip away in the church come of age. Some traditions of the church “lose their social credibility” but nevertheless, some “must be retained and sheltered against profanation” (130). We must “at all times ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today?'” while recognizing our cultural context may dominate and change–for the worse–our answers to that question (131). Only a well-formed church community can help guard against these difficulties. The reductionist tendency to see Bonhoeffer’s theology as reducing Christ to the church is badly mistaken; instead, Taylor argues “Bonhoeffer’s imagination remains dexterous… [he] refuses to settle for an answer [to the question of “Where is the risen one now?”] that would restrict Christ’s movement. While some theologians proffer the ascension as a means of securing Christ’s location, Bonhoeffer recognizes that even though he has ascended, Jesus has not vanished into the heavenly realms. He continues to stride through history, fulfilling his promise to be with his disciples until the end of the age… So, where is Jesus? He is leading the church toward the kingdom. Bonhoeffer would answer, in other words, by pointing to the church while simultaneously pointing ahead of it” (132).

Bonhoeffer is not frequently considered as a theologian of missions, but Taylor argues that his hermeneutics must presuppose ecclesiology and that we have to seriously take the claim by some that “mission is the mother of theology” (200). Here, Taylor sees Bonhoeffer’s warnings against two kidns of churches as especially powerful. The dangers presented are a church that turns itself in and sets itself as a unique culture (the “culturalist option”) contrasted with the church that downplays its distinctiveness from the world for the sake of mission (the “secularist option”) (201ff). Bonhoeffer himself saw the church in the United States of his time as being guilty of the secularist option, but then saw it in his own church in Germany, something he worked against for the rest of his life (213ff).

Scriptural hermeneutics is difficult, anyone who tells you different is selling you something. (Forgive the reference to a great movie.) Bonhoeffer’s theological work constantly shows this as a difficulty. Poignantly, Bonhoeffer himself noted that even the things that seem easiest–like the command to love your neighbor–quickly become quite complex when it comes to asking what exactly is meant by that (must we change our neighbor? do we care for them bodily? etc.). A command to “love your neighbor,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, “does not say to us unequivocally: You should do this” (quoted on p. 257). This is, in part, why Christ has gifted us the church: as a community existing in and for Christ, we can work to understand the word of God. Then, we become disciples.

Reading Scripture as the Church is an insightful journey into Bonhoeffer’s theology that both readers new to Bonhoeffer and those who have studied his works for years will glean much of interest from. A careful, close reading of the text will yield much worth pursuing for any reader. 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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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: “Voices and Views on Paul” by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” broke like a storm across some segments of Christian scholarship. With Voices and Views on Paul, Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers step back and offer an analysis and summary of some contemporary perspectives on Paul.

The first chapter offers a broad view of the New Perspective on Paul, giving definitions as well as showing the primary thrust of those studying in that field. Then, individual scholars’ works are covered in detail, including entire chapters devoted to E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James D. G. Dunn, respectively. After those weighty chapters, two more chapters cover additional modern perspectives of Paul. The final chapter looks at what we can conclude from this study as well as explores some avenues for additional Pauline research.

So what is the “new perspective on Paul”? As the authors point out in the retrospective at the beginning, it’s no longer a new perspective, having first been coined as a phrase in 1983 and also not being a perspective so much as several different perspectives with some often sharp divisions and disagreements (1). So the authors offer a broad background for how this divergent stream of thought got started, and note that it tends to focus on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (3). This question–that of how Paul viewed the relationship between Jew and Gentile and how his own theology grew out from Judaism–is central to scholars working within the so-called “New Perspective.”

The chapters on individual scholars offer lengthy outlines of their own perspectives, along with some points of possible contact and division between them. E. P. Sanders, for example, shows a remarkable and necessary focus upon Judaism in the New Testament, which included both the need to show how scholars had constructed a negative portrait and the need for a portrait of Judaism in the New Testament that shows how Second Temple Judaism was perceived and interacted with New Testament works, particularly Paul’s (19). Sanders offered a “Copernican revolution” in NT scholarship by using his concept of “covenantal nomism” which balanced both the legalism that some perceived in the notion of law/covenant with Judaism and the notion of God’s mercy and atonement with those who have broken the law (25). Sanders’s work is monumental and well-argued, but also doesn’t fully account for the origins of Paul’s notion of sin, nor its importance within Paul’s own works (35ff).

The chapter on N. T. Wright (whom, admittedly, this reader has some bias towards) is equally fascinating. It notes the massive swathe of Wright’s writings upon Paul and how they almost all tie together to make the point at the center of Wright’s thesis: that Paul pushes back against the Imperial cult in his works and centers the Kingdom as covenant as his focus. Wright also focuses upon Israel and the story of the coming Messiah–which leads to significant questions about how the law fits into this (73ff). Wright’s vulnerability lies in perhaps over-reading texts to make them fit into this notion of the imperial cult and hyperbole against it. Even so, Wright’s massive project offers needed correctives to understanding how Paul’s writings worked and, crucially, Wright offers a more global perspective, pulling in scholarship that others did not to support his point.

Dunn’s focus upon the law offers much rich insight for readers to delve into, while also offering a stronger look at Paul’s own conversion and his ethics than some of the other authors. The Apocalyptic Paul is a perspective offered by several scholars, focusing upon the genre of apocalyptic texts (itself a somewhat nebulous concept–see p. 139-141). One problem with apocalyptic readings of Paul is that when they focus so heavily upon the apocalyptic, they tend to have a break between Paul and contemporary Judaism which is much stronger than Paul’s writings themselves seem to suggest (149). Other apocalyptic readings of Paul have tended towards demytholigizing of Paul which doesn’t seem to be fully present in Paul’s own works (157ff). What these works on an apocalyptic Paul do do, however, is provide us with reason to take more seriously Paul’s own apocalyptic imagery and some language related to the apocalyptic which is sometimes missed. Several works on Paul also have focused upon correctives to Reformation readings of Paul, which were sometimes focused primarily on separation from Catholicism rather than upon providing a strong reading of Paul himself (see, for example, 209-211 regarding Calvin and rewards in heaven/God’s love of humanity).

Voices and Views on Paul is an absolutely invaluable work for those interested in any way in Pauline scholarship. It provides significant introductions to some of the most recent thinkers as well as some of the most influential works in the field. It also provides no small amount of critique and potential avenues for further exploration. It’s a great read that is recommended highly.

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

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.

Apologetics Has Issues

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

I recently had an experience that forcefully reminded me of the deficiencies with apologetics, or, perhaps more accurately, apologists. For background, I have a degree in Apologetics myself, and have studied it for over a decade. I’m not a leading apologist–I don’t show up in lists on the internet of most popular apologists or anything of the sort. But I do have expertise. I’ve put in my time, got the degree, talked to the people.

About two years ago, I wrote a post called “What’s Wrong with Apologetics?” There, I highlighted some of the main problems I’ve observed with apologetics and apologists myself. These included things like “We believe we are experts when we’re not.” The words I wrote 2 years ago feel even more true and relevant today.

The interaction that reminded me so strongly of that post was centered around a statement a Christian made which was controversial. When I challenged some of the most outspoken people to post evidence for their claims, they posted a link to a video of a Christian with no relevant expertise and no published peer-reviewed work in the field. Once this was pointed out, the response was that because this person in the video had allegedly studied the field for a decade, it meant they were an expert, and that what mattered were the arguments, not the person.

Honestly, this is what led me to the somewhat disturbing conclusion I’ve been circling for years. We apologists are just not very good at holding ourselves to the same standard to which we hold others. In other words, I think perhaps the biggest issue in Christian apologetics is that we have a double standard.

1. We have a double standard when it comes to who we trust. People in general tend to trust sources which agree with positions they already hold. Apologists seem to think we’re immune to this, but we’re not. The example I mentioned above is a good one. The video shared happened to put forth a position that those sharing it agreed with. Thus, it didn’t matter that the person involved had no relevant credentials. They were just right, and their credentials were either artificially inflated in order to make them more relevant (“They have studied this topic for decades!”) or simply dismissed as irrelevant (“It’s the arguments that matter, not who’s making them.”)

Fellow apologists, there is absolutely no way we would accept this from someone with whom we were reasoning. For example, Richard Dawkins has written about religious-based topics for decades. He has no relevant degree in theology whatsoever, but he has certainly written entire works dedicated to telling people Christianity and religion in general is just obviously silly and wrong. Now, imagine if an atheist came along and said that because Dawkins had “studied the topic for decades,” he was an appropriate expert when it came to telling us what Christianity is or how to define it. That would be absurd. Yet that’s exactly the kind of thing we very frequently when it comes to discussing things on our side.

2. We have a double standard when it comes to objectivity. We are all too quick to believe that we have an objective position. That is, we think that we are capable of rising above our own subjective consciousness and have a position which is capable of judging all others. That’s just not possible. The notion of “neutral ground” when it comes to big questions is impossible, and to criticize others for pointing that out is, frankly, absurd. We have to acknowledge that we have biases, and certainly attempt to be as neutral as possible when it comes to analyzing facts. But we also must be aware of the fact that we cannot be truly, totally, entirely impartial.

3. We don’t take emotions seriously. This is another serious problem for apologists. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen apologists decrying emotions. Whether it’s saying that an opponent doesn’t need to get emotional or whether it’s downplaying the emotional attachment we get to the questions at hand, we have to be honest and take emotions seriously. Frankly, to think otherwise is to make ourselves inhuman. If you don’t feel a deep, abiding love for Jesus Christ–something intimately connected with your emotions–and you’re doing apologetics, you should probably rethink what you’re doing. Our love of Christ and worship of God deeply involve our emotions, and we cannot just remove them from the equation when we’re reasoning with others. Moreover, the Bible itself offers direct refutation of this strange distance from emotions so many apologists attempt to accomplish. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” Weeping is an intense emotional experience. Surely if our Lord and Savior expresses his emotions, we shouldn’t sneer at the emotions of others.

Conclusion

There continues to be so many things wrong with apologetics. But it’s still something that I think can be useful. I hope these points will help fellow apologists think about what we’re doing and how we’re presenting ourselves as we make a case for Christ.

Links

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I raise a number of pitfalls apologists ought to avoid.

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!

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: “Reading While Black: African American Interpretation as an Exercise of Hope” by Esau McCaulley

Engaging with scripture is an important part of all Christian living. In Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, Esau McCaulley introduces readers to the interpretive movement of black churches. Though obviously not monolithic, McCaulley draws from numerous strands of the tradition to put together, as the title states, a hopeful exercise of interpreting the Bible.

After an introductory chapter that talks about “making space for Black ecclesial interpretation,” each chapter focuses on a question or stance that Black interpreters have asked or taken regarding the text. That first chapter is worth reflecting upon, though. In a modern American church in which a loud, visible number of white male pastors are decrying any recognition of race and attempting to totally abolish it as a concept for questions in the church, is there actual space for Black ecclesial interpretation? Some have argued that Galatians 3:28 means that talking about race is prohibited in church, but of course many of those same people who try to abolish discussions of race based upon that passage are happy to affirm hierarchal relationships regarding men and women. Galatians 3:28 seems to be much more about breaking down barriers society has erected–not about abolishing any recognition that people can be different. Turning to what McCaulley himself writes, he notes that Progressives often go to the opposite extreme, with a set goal going towards the text of deconstruction (7). Evangelicals and mainline Protestants have essentially dominated the theological landscape of the United States, and McCaulley calls upon Progressives to make space for Black reconstruction of the text (8-9) while also noting the subtle and even unsubtle disdain for Black culture and comments about Black churches being unsound theologically (10-12). McCaulley, in other words, calls out the whole spectrum of white churches in America for downplaying or even discrediting Black voices.

The second chapter turns to the New Testament and Black interpretations that apply it to theology of policing. I have to frankly admit I was a bit skeptical going in, but McCaulley draws out how the passages and stories in the New Testament can be applied to questions of policing today. In other words, McCaulley quickly taught me that I haven’t been open enough to thinking more broadly about learning from the text and applying it to our lives. McCaulley’s careful reading of the text notes that we have to see the analogies and disanalogies between Rome, soldiers, and police before we go applying passages like Romans 13 directly to our everyday lives (34-38).

The book just ramps up from there, showing how the New Testament can apply to the political witness of the church–how have moderates and others actually slowed the movement of the Spirit in the Kingdom? The pursuit of justice is a clearly powerful theme throughout the entirety of Scripture, and modern opposition to anything related to speaking of justice in the church is about as unbiblical as one can get. McCaulley warns of several problems with writing of Black interpretations. He writes, “Some… suggest that the starting point for African American biblical exegesis is a predetermined definition that serves as a filter through which we examine biblical texts to see if they meet our standard. The problem with this approach is that it assumes the inspiration and in effect infallibility of our current sociopolitical consensus and the inability of the biblical text to correct us” (73, emphasis his). Making us the arbiters of God’s Word is clearly mistaken, and McCaulley notes that “The Black Christian” [instead] “brings his or her questions to the text and the text poses its own questions to us” (ibid). The important takeaway is that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have a message of salvation, liberation, and reconciliation that itself shapes the African American Christian’s vision of the present and the future” (ibid) but this is immediately followed by: “But things are not so simple… We are not blank slates upon which the Scriptures can write anything” (ibid). The rest of the chapter provides numerous examples of seeing justice present in the Bible (eg. in the Magnificat) and how that resonates with Black theological hope.

Multiethnicity and black identity find resonance in Scripture. Anger is a theme found in scripture as well, and Black suffering can find both an outlet and a way to reconcile experience with reality. Israel’s own “personal and corporate rage” about exile and Babylon find resonance in Black experience. McCaulley walks readers through a detailed look at Paul’s words related to Onesimus and Philemon, noting that the cultural conventions of the time were being subverted, so application must be careful related to today’s challenges (see, for example 154-155).

Even this survey of some of the contents of this pithy book cannot capture the immense range and scope of McCaulley’s work here. It will challenge readers at essentially any part of the political or theological spectrum. Endorsed by readers as diverse as Lecrae and N.T. Wright, Reading While Black is a fascinating read that will challenge and inform readers at many levels. 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.

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.

Book Review: “Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, Chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker, 1931-1946”

The years 1931-1946 were world-shattering and life-altering. Alan Don was the chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker of Commons in England during this period. In Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, we are treated to an open look at his reflections on this time.

The introduction to the diaries provides significant context, background material about Alan Don, and insight into how Don lived and his importance. These diaries were confidential, but Don himself gave them to be read later in his life. It’s difficult to say how remarkable this is, because it gives a firsthand account of many major events in the United Kingdom for those wanting to learn more about this time period. The editor opted not to leave out any material that could be considered especially personal, again because Don provided them intact. Thus, these diaries offer a surprising mix of personal reflections, insights, and revelations into life during this period.

The diary entries themselves range from mundane reporting of moving from place to place to theological reflections, questions of church minutiae, and everyday life. Reading the diaries straight through is revealing over time, as everyday life changes in regard to some of the events happening around the world. Readers could also choose to pick individual topics. A robust index makes this fairly simple to do. For example, if one wants to see what Don says about Germany, one can go to the index, pick Germany (or a sub-topic related thereto), and find numerous entries throughout these years that ultimately yield an evolving understanding of the situation. This is especially interesting due to Don’s interaction with so many major figures of the time, as he gives personal insight and reflection on some of these meetings.

But this isn’t to leave aside those everyday moments or the minutiae of the church, either. It’s refreshing to see that Alan Don worries about such things as whether an ornate Bible is too heavy for someone to carry, what kind of meal he will have at a private gathering, or any other number of personal insights. It reveals a truly human person on the pages, even while giving so many major insights.

Don also writes on the end of each year a brief aside. Comparing the end of 1941 to the end of 1942 is of interest, for example. At the end of 1941, Don writes “Thus ends a year of dramatic events during which the tide of war seems to have turned definitely in our favour – thanks mainly to the Russian army and the British Navy” (384, he goes on to report more specifically). At the end of 1942, though, Don writes, “1942 started badly and we have surmounted many disappointments and disasters in our struggle with the aggressors. But the tide is on the turn and 1943 may see us nearing our immediate goal” (404). He goes on, “Anti Christ is abroad and compromise is unthinkable” (ibid). The evolution of his understanding of events is a truly fantastic thing to read, and to have it intermixed with theological insights makes it a wonderful read.

Faithful Witness is a rare look at the private life and thoughts of a figure with connections to nearly every major player in the United Kingdom during World War 2. It’s a valuable read for that reason, but Don’s tone and constant reflection make it a fascinating study in everyday life and theological reflection during this period as well. Readers interested in this period of history should see it as a must-read. It’s even moreso a required reading for those interested in the intersection of World War 2 and how people viewed it theologically. It’s a tremendous resource and a wonderful 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.

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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.

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