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 1308 posts for J.W. Wartick – Reconstructing Faith

Book Review: “Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience” by Carl F Ellis, Jr.

Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience by Carl F. Ellis, Jr. is an exploration of African Americans’ interactions with Christianity in the united states with an emphasis on evaluating it by means of the Gospel. The hugeness of the project Ellis, Jr. puts forward and my own unfamiliarity with anything but the broadest strokes of the same means that my evaluation will largely be based upon its content rather than my own confirmation of its analysis.

Ellis, Jr. interweaves the book with historical narrative and analysis of how racism and other negative outcomes occur in our society. African American experience in the United States started almost entirely with being enslaved. Ellis Jr. notes how this Christianity of the land of the United States became rejected by black thinkers like Frederick Douglass. Douglass wrote of a distinction between the Christianity of Christ and that of the land (of the US) in that the latter was based upon enslavement and cruelty while the former is “pure, peaceable, and impartial” (20). Ellis Jr. notes how perspective is incredibly important in understanding the experience of others.

The question of the truth of Christianity and the Gospel are central to Free at Last? Ellis, Jr. notes that “Scripture describes at least two types of unrighteousness: ungodliness and oppression…” The distinction is important because one can lead into another, even unconsciously: “For example, if a person has a racist attitude, he or she is guilty of ungodliness. If, however, that person imposes his racism on others, forcing he to live in substandard conditions, then he is guilty of oppression” (28). Grace can serve as a solution to these sinful attitudes, actions, and dispositions.

A majority of the rest of the book traces African American experience from the earliest times of the United States into the 1990s, with a particular focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. However, these are also interspersed with broader historical insights, analysis of streams of thought, and more. A fascinating section has Ellis, Jr. arguing that the movement towards Islam in African American experience cannot provide the same universality that Christianity does. In part, this is because orthodox Muslim teaching is that the Qur’an “is in Arabic only” (152). More importantly, the attempted de-Christianization of black culture through Islam can only either turn black culture into Muslim/Arabic culture or result in unorthodox Islam (121ff). Christianity, argues Ellis, Jr., provides a way forward for black Americans to experience universal hope (158ff).

This does not mean that Christianity has no pitfalls, however, for African Americans and indeed for people generally. Ellis, Jr. notes several “Anti-God Christianity-isms” that corrupt Christianity’s message but are all too common. These include Christianity that is anti-intellectual, Christianity that attempts to make God obligated to humans, Christianity that makes God into a kind of religious tyrant, and Christianity that puts God in a box (167-168). The last chapter of the book offers Ellis, Jr.’s vision for a renewal of Christianity and black experience.

Free at Last? is a compelling account of African American experience in regards to Christianity. Originally published in the late 1990s, this updated version offers a strong challenge to the modern cries out against allegedly anti-Christian ideas and philosophies from within the church while also arguing strongly for a robust Christian vision going forward. It’s a fascinating read, and I 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.

Links

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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

“The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari” Babylon 5 and Repentence

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

Babylon 5 and Repentence: “The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari”

The first, most obvious point to make here is that the episode title is a kind of play on “Dark Night of the Soul,” a mystic work by St. John of the Cross. The work focuses not on general difficulties, which the phrase is sometimes used to denote now. Instead, it focuses on divine union and the purgation, or purification, of the soul. And that is certainly the central theme in “The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari.” 

Mollari appears to be poisoned at the beginning but instead has suffered from a heart attack, and in his dream, he is told that his heart is giving out from the weight of his conscience. From there, we are witness to a number of ghostly visitations somewhat like A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Mollari is visited by many characters whom we’ve grown to know and love, but they’re all seeming to push him through his own purgations of the soul. 

The primary purgation that must happen for Mollari is, quite simply, accepting responsibility. I think of the concept of responsibility in much deeper ways, having reflected on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s specific concept of responsibility as taking on the guilt–even of others–for the good of all. And Mollari is the master of evading responsibility. At this point in the series, he has already committed vast, awful acts of horrific scope. Or, at the very least, he has stood by silently observing those acts which he helped orchestrate. Although he’s tried to atone for them in some ways through his actions, he has continually refused to acknowledge the evil he has committed with anything more than a few facial expressions. In this episode, his reckoning has come.

The most powerful way this plays out is when the dream-G’Kar arrives and absolutely skewers Mollari for his complicity, time and again saying “You said nothing” as Mollari protests that he couldn’t have stopped the events. The refrain–“You said nothing” continues as G’Kar then props Mollari up on a whipping post himself so that he can experience psychologically the pain he visitied upon the Narn people. Ultimately, Mollari realizes that he wants to live, and that to live he must accept his guilt–his responsibility. He cries out “I’m sorry!” and in that moment, his eyes open, and he’s back on the operating table, looking at the real G’Kar. He manages to get out the words “I’m sorry.” G’Kar–now the real one, not the one who’d been torturing him in his dreams–acknowledges the apology with the tilt of his head and a slight smile. It may not seem like much, but for these two–who stood on opposite ends of an attempted genocide–it is a huge moment, and one that shows Mollari has grown and indeed learned quite a bit about his life during his “very long night.” 

There are other, subtle moments of theological and social commentary mixed throughout the episode. For example, Vir, in the dream, tells Mollari that prophecies are just guesses that turn out to be right, while if they turn out wrong, they are called metaphors. I found this less a jab on the concept of prophecy and rather a cautious warning about how to interpret prophecies. It’s easy today, for example, to devolve the reading of Scripture into headlines-reading attempts at prophecy. But to do that to the text of books like Revelation or Isaiah is to do great damage to the actual thrust of those biblical works, which are often much more a call towards justice and reconciliation than they are about whether attack helicopters would exist in two thousand years (or more) from the time they were written. We would do well to make sure we’re not falling into the “metaphor or guesses” camp and instead reading prophecy in context and trying to discover what it would have meant at the time and why. Prophecy is much more often, as I noted, a call for justice and a crying out for God’s help than it is some kind of secret code in which to find the sequence of future events. 

“The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari” is a superb, thoughtful episode of Babylon 5. We, too, need to take responsibility for our actions and do more than say nothing when we see injustice occurring. I hope you’ll join me in discussion of the episode, and make sure to check out my Babylon 5 Hub (on my other website) for more discussion of the series in general. 

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

Book Review: “Talking Back to Purity Culture” by Rachel Joy Welcher

Purity culture is a movement that grew up within American Christianity with an intense emphasis on a specific definition of sexual purity. Rachel Joy Welcher’s Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality approaches that culture from a perspective that agrees with some of the basic motivations while disagreeing with the baggage that comes along with it.

Welcher surveys the landscape of purity culture with a look at history behind the movement. She summarizes a number of major works, highlighting the general view of this movement. Essentially, it focuses on hardened gender roles and extreme emphasis on importance of “purity,” by which is meant not just virginity but a kind of resistance to and avoidance of sexuality in almost any instance. Thus, for example, moves to “kiss dating goodbye” in favor of courtship regulated, approved, and observed by parents.

The movement towards purity does not come without additional baggage, however. Welcher notes several of these points through chapters about “The Idolization of Virginity” and “Female Responsibilities.” In the latter, she observes that the weight of purity largely falls upon women who, according to proponents of this movement, must do things like “dress modestly” and “select… attract… [and] satisfy her spouse” (42ff). This means that women are often left in fear that something as simple as an exposed bra strap will be enough to tempt others into sin, a responsibility that women ought not have to bear. Boys and men are taught similar ideas, and this has its own weight. For example, men are taught that they are almost insatiably sexual, seeing the simplest thing (an out of place bra strap, for example) as arousing and causing intense desire. When men don’t feel that way, they can then feel inadequate. The Purity Culture movement paints with a broad brush that basically forces all men and women individually into these specific behaviors, desires, and obligations, thus alienating those who do not feel they fit neatly into the buckets presented. Welcher also notes the problems that arise with purity culture and those who have been sexually abused or don’t fit all the norms presented.

The final few chapters focus on Welcher’s corrections to purity culture. While still maintaining a fairly conservative view of sexuality, Welcher notes that purity culture simply doesn’t correspond adequately to reality. However, she also pushes back against some of the stronger objectors to it. Nadia Bolz-Weber, for example, comes into scope as Welcher states that Bolz-Weber’s more permissive sexual ethic that included opening herself to her boyfriend erotically post-divorce is a “gospel of self” and exhorts readers to “not be deceived” (134). “Holiness is not premarital sex without shame,” writes Welcher (135). These notes might strike some readers as a reinforcement of some of the sexual ethic behind purity culture, and I’m not sure that’s entirely mistaken.

The last section of the book, in a chapter about purity culture “moving forward,” features Welcher using similar language to many of the writings of purity culture: “Loneliness is real, but lust does not love you. Its only desire is to tear you apart, limb from limb” (184). Those who have been especially harmed by purity culture’s expectations and adherents may find the pushback against purity culture is not as strong here as they’d like. Fairness demands acknowledging that this is beyond Welcher’s intent, but one wonders about the use of words like “lust” in the sentence quoted above. There is a remarkable amount of wiggle-room in definitions of lust, and a lot of baggage that comes with it. While Welcher pushes back on purity culture, this reader wonders whether she may not have taken it far enough. Though critical of more progressive thinkers like Bolz-Weber, Welcher may have moved too quickly to dismiss their whole sale attack on purity culture due to the broad damage it has done.

The book has discussion questions and activities throughout, allowing it to be readily used for a group study.

Talking Back to Purity Culture is a fascinating read. It not only provided insight and directions into the movement, but directed ways forward. As I read the book, I found myself reflecting upon it and how purity culture came into my own life at times and how it shaped who I am as a person. The book will surely provide groundwork for much future discussion, and hopefully allow more to “talk back” to purity culture with more informed voices.

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.

Finding Humor and Delight in Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945 and came upon, again, a moment that gave startling insight into Bonhoeffer’s character. It also raised questions. The passage was from a letter he wrote to his dear friend, Eberhard Bethge on Jaunaury 25, 1941:

The Schiller film [a reference to Friedrich Schiller, directed by Herbert Maisch (1940)] that I recently saw, was terrible: pathetic, clichéd, phony, unreal, unhistorical, badly acted, kitsch! Go see it yourself. [DBWE16:128]

I laughed out loud reading this passage. After a string of invective against this film (about which I know nothing), Bonhoeffer tells his friend to “Go see it yourself.” It made me sit back and wonder–why is it that Bonhoeffer thinks the film is still worth seeing? He doesn’t explain further; merely writes “This is the way I imagined Schiller as a junior in high school” (ibid). But it’s clear something about it struck him as an aspect of the film that his friend would enjoy. It’s a private, shared moment that we as readers get insight into.

It also made me think of how much humor and delight–and speculation!–there is in reading the collected works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Moments like this are found in abundance. They’re insights into private, shared ideas, funny asides, and stirring insights that can be appreciated more the more one reads Bonhoeffer (and about him). Another example that has had long term impact on me is the realization that Bonhoeffer was dedicated to reading the Moravian Daily Texts and discussing them. This is an insight that I came upon reading Laura Fabrycky’s excellent Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus (my review here). 

But only by reading these lengthy volumes in detail will one stumble upon these wonderful morsels of wisdom, humor, and delight. Readers will also come upon so many more questions, like the one I mentioned above–why does Bonhoeffer want his friend to watch a movie he clearly hated? But it is this kind of thing that spurs scholarship, and indeed curiosity, forward. 

So let me encourage you–if you’re interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, go get the collected works. Pick a volume that strikes your interest, pore over its text and notes, and join me in a journey of delight, humor, questions, and insights.

Links

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read all my posts related to Bonhoeffer and his theology.

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.

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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.

Ravi Zacharias and Problems with Apologetics

Ravi Zacharias was one of my early introductions to Christian apologetics. He was formative in how I approached some ideas, and his way of turning a phrase still sticks in my mind. Ravi Zacharias was also a fraud and a repeat sexual abuser. Christians need to deal with this. Apologists like me need to with this. We need to do it in a way that does not excuse but rather acknowledges this and works to ensure systems are in place to prevent it from happening in the future.

Early on, I was a bit off put by some of his examples. I cannot recall the exact book–it may have been Jesus Among Other Gods–but he used a story of a man propositioning a woman who sat next to him on a flight for a large sum of money. Eventually he admits he doesn’t have a lot of money, and the woman, horrified, asks what kind of woman he thinks she is. He cynically responds that she already established that by accepting his larger offer. It’s an off color story, but one that targeted women in a way that made me pretty uncomfortable. I wish I’d paid more attention then. I continued to buy and read his books until I started to move on to more intensive apologetics training and hone in on topics that moved beyond what he wrote about.

It came out some years ago that Ravi Zacharias inflated his credentials. There’s not really any way around this. He claimed to be a professor at Oxford. He claimed to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. These and several other claims which were false and admitted in writing to be false by him at various points demonstrated a clear and substantial case that he had inflated his credentials on purpose to lend himself credibility. This was enough for me at the time to immediately stop citing and recommending his works. I didn’t do enough. I should have done more to warn others about the problems then, because even this was a severe problem for someone at the front lines of apologetics–defending the truth while deceiving.

More recently, severe allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse were leveled against Ravi Zacharias. And, in the last few weeks, the independent firm hired by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to investigate these claims confirmed that they are, in fact, credible. It was more than once, a pattern of planned and sustained abuse across multiple victims. It’s horrifying and unimaginable the damage that Zacharias did. It must be condemned in the strongest of terms, and it must lead to broad change across apologetics organizations and individuals.

There are some things Christians can and even must do to in order to prevent things like this happening again. Unfortunately, too few Christians and especially apologists are stepping up to do so. I remember being told time and again when I was taking graduate level courses on apologetics that “the Gospel is offensive enough.” The point was that, as Paul wrote, the Cross seems like foolishness to those who don’t believe. It’s enough for apologists to contend for the faith. To put up additional barriers, like backing unconditionally those celebrity Christians accused of wrongdoing, is to make the Gospel offensive. By our works we will be known, and too many Christians and even–perhaps at times especially–apologists have sullied the name of Christ with covering wrongdoing and siding with the oppressor, the abuser, and the wealthy over the oppressed, those harmed, and the needy.

The first thing Christian apologetics organizations must do is have outside accountability. I do not know all the details of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, but from those who have spoken out, it sounds as though there was very little accountability within the organization. Christians must do things openly and with all willingness to show accountability, paper trails, and willingness to change when needed.

A second thing that can be done is to stop lionizing individual apologists. Too many Christian apologists make their name into a selling point. I have long observed and tried to focus efforts into encouraging apologists to work to be experts in a few select areas and rely upon each other when other issues come up. This helps avoid the pressure to “know everything,” to inflate credentials, and perhaps most importantly, to make apologists into celebrities. When we decide that a single name–like Ravi Zacharias–is worth hitching our wagons to, it becomes much more difficult psychologically to acknowledge any possibility of that name being wrong. I’ve seen it with other apologists as well. Too often, we apologists are willing to defend the person and even the errors of that person because of their name, whether it’s Christological errors, inflating credentials, or even, horrifyingly, abuse. I use my name on my blog, and I have to confess it was in part because of my own aspirations to be one of those names. I hope that my efforts in the past few years to reconstruct my faith have shown that is not my goal going forward.

Third, we need to listen to those outside our circles. I am in a lot of apologetics groups, and I often see the same topic over and over again with the same people and web sites cited. When someone comes along with an outside voice, our tendency is to circle the wagons and shout them down rather than listen to and acknowledge their concerns. This applies to arguments related to the existence of God, but it also applies to broader theological topics, ethics, and, unfortunately, to covering up mistakes made. The latter easily turns into being willing to be apologists for abusers. We cannot let that happen. It must never happen.

Finally, we need to act swiftly and decisively in the face of credible accusations. It’s easy to appeal to court language like “innocent until proven guilty,” but that is not how the body of Christ ought to work. We need to work to protect victims as quickly as possible and speak up for those who are silenced. This is a fine line, and one that I myself am still figuring out, but we are far, far too often on the wrong side of this line. We, again, circle the wagons rather than listening to critique of someone we have lionized. We need to stop. I stated above that I stopped citing Ravi after I came upon evidence he had inflated his credentials. This evidence was put forward by an atheist, and simply because of that too many Christians dismissed it and my own concerns. A better approach would be to investigate and act upon that evidence. Going alongside this, with Zacharias specifically, we ought to immediately stop citing his works, using his examples, sharing any videos of him, or recommending him in any way whatsoever. To do so damages our witness going forward.

I hope this post will be taken to heart and start some discussion. We need to change. As Christians, and as apologists, we need to change.

SDG.

Links

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I ask questions and offer answers regarding what I believe is wrong with apologetics generally.

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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: “Reimagining Apologetics: The Beauty of Faith in a Secular Age” by Justin Ariel Bailey

Reimagining Apologetics: The Beauty of Faith in a Secular Age is not the book I expected it to be. When I saw the title, I expected the book to be a kind of ground rules work for reinventing the wheel with apologetics and seeing arguments and the like in new ways. Instead, Justin Ariel Bailey seeks with the book to re-imagine apologetics. That is, he’s seeking to re-enchant apologetics with the human imagination and capture minds for Christ.

The first part of the book discusses apologetics and the imagination. Bailey notes the alleged crisis of doubt in an increasingly secular England alongside the “authenticity” demanded by Schleiermacher’s vision of Christianity. These chapters are very strong and provide enormous insight into the problems contemporary apologetics has in reaching people. Primarily, Bailey notes that this is due to a problem with enchantment, failing the imagination, and not providing a robust way to engage people beyond mere argumentation.

The second part of the book outlines models for reimagining apologetics through George MacDonald and Marilynne Robinson. These two thinkers have been hugely influential, and Bailey argues that they offer a different way of doing apologetics by capturing the imagination instead of having specific argumentation.

I do wish that Bailey had included some more examples in the models for re-imagining apologetics. Or, failing that, perhaps examples that haven’t been used as frequently in the literature. George MacDonald and Marilynne Robinson serve as fine examples for using the imagination in apologetics, but they’ve also received quite a bit of attention. It would be interesting to see a book like this explore, for example, the strands of faith found in the wildly imaginative worlds of someone like Gene Wolfe. I’m not saying that specifically we need Wolfe or anyone else, but it would be helpful to have explorations of figures whom we may not have seen as frequently in apologetics literature. That said, Bailey’s examination of the two he chose as emblematic for his project is insightful and robust.

Reimagining Apologetics seeks to encourage readers to think of apologetics in ways that may win people for Christ in ways that don’t conform to what is usually thought of as “apologetics” today. Part of that means a return to the way apologetics was done in the past. Another part means reimagining the future of apologetics–a future in which we use both heart and mind to conform others and ourselves to Christ. Recommended.

(All Amazon links are associates.)

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

Links

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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

“Winter’s Heart” by Robert Jordan- A Christian (re)reads The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Winter’s Heart

I’m reading this novel for the third time, and this time I listened to it. It’s amazing to me to see how differently I approach different issues it raises 5 years after I first wrote about it on this blog, and nearly 15 years since I first read the book. For one thing, I remember friends at the time I first read it saying it was a rather tedious read. But I have quite enjoyed the novel the three times I read it. But this third time did highlight some of the problems with Jordan’s later books in the series. There’s so much fluff in this novel. It could have been edited down to be about half the length and still gotten all the major points across. I don’t know if this is a result of me reading much more speculative fiction since even 5 years ago or what, but I just noticed some of the problems more than I did the first and second go-rounds.

Another difference is in myself, and that is explored more thoroughly below, in the section titled “Peace and Security?” It is fascinating to me that my own growth as a person can be measured against my reaction over time to this fantasy series. The intense strength of the imagination on formation should not be underplayed.

Self-Image

The concept of self looms large throughout the whole series, but perhaps especially so in Winter’s Heart. Whether it’s Rand still making sense of his own powers and authority as the Dragon Reborn or the women who are in love with him trying to navigate their own feelings about him and each other–the notion of self is critical throughout the novel. But self-image is part of this, too. Characters throughout the book are obsessed with how others view them. did their demeanor give something away? Did they dress properly? Or, “No, I won’t be dressing that way.”

Is this obsession with self-image a product of Jordan’s fluffing the novel and including so many additional details? I’m not sure, but it was something that stuck with me.

Peace and Security?

When I wrote about Winter’s Heart on this blog last time, I centered in on the situation in Far Madding, where weapons were highly restricted from being carried around openly. I noted the following passage:

“No need for any man to defend himself in Far Madding… The Street Guards take care of that. Let any man as wants start carrying a sword, and soon we’d be as bad as everyplace else…” (538)

I focused, as Jordan seemed to, on the fact that violence still continued wherever the guards were not. The implication, though I didn’t spell it out, is that Far Madding is foolish to prevent people from bringing weapons of all sorts into their city. It didn’t prevent violence, after all!

But now, looking back on what I wrote, and thinking about Christian responses to violence, I think that I, like Jordan and the naysayers of Far Madding and controls on weapons, confused Peace with Security. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was killed by the Nazis, wrote about the fact that “Peace must be Dared.” He wrote:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war.

(DBWE 13, 308-309)

Placing trust in weapons and feeling secure means that we have essentially traded security for peace. Instead of peace, we have sought safety. Peace means daring to thwart war by daring the great venture–calling peace down on our neighbors.

Conclusion

Winter’s Heart is maybe the “fluffiest” entry in the series so far, with plenty of length conversations and descriptions of clothes and locales to make it feel bloated. That said, readers who enjoy verbose descriptions of a fantasy setting we’ve grown to love–and if you’ve come this far, I hope you love The Wheel of Time–will glean quite a bit to love from this novel. Those most interested in worldview and the main plot will have to wade through quite a bit to get there, but Jordan’s series remains thoughtful and compelling.

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Links

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

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration” by Matthew S. Harmon

The theme of rebellion against God and being exiled from God’s presence or the land looms large throughout the Bible. In Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration by Matthew S. Harmon introduces that theme, traces it throughout the Bible, and directs readers to a deeper understanding of Scripture.

The book is part of the series “Essential Studies in Biblical Theology” which is intended to show the “fundamental or ‘essential’ broad themes of the grand story line of the Bible” (ix). This book clearly meets that pattern, as Harmon shows the theme of exile and rebellion–and the possibility of restoration–throughout the Bible from the fall through Israel and into the life of the church. The introductory chapter, “Sin and Exile in Contemporary Experience” sets the stage as it shows that these themes can still resonate with people today.

The book, while short, provides an expansive look at the titular theme. Harmon first shows the theme in humanity’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, then shows how the threat of exile was given to Israel through God’s word. Then, it turns to the reality of exile when Israel rebels (chapter 3) and the return from exile through repentance (chapter 4). Jesus’s life and ministry show the inauguration of a new era in which exile is ended through the restoration of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension (chapters 5-6). Harmon then touches on how we are to live “as exiles in a Fallen World” (chapter 7) and the end of exile in the New Creation (chapter 8). Finally, Harmon turns to practical implications of the whole study (chapter 9) and provides recommendations on further reading.

Rebels and Exiles is a good introduction to a complex, deep topic found throughout Scripture. Harmon provides the basic outlines and major strands of the theme while pointing readers in directions to do further reading. Recommended.

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

Links

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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

Androids overthrow their god- “Tower of Glass” by Robert Silverberg

The best fiction makes us think about the real world in new and challenging ways. Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass is one book that has made me think quite a bit. Silverberg is one of the greats of New Wave science fiction that had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. In Tower of Glass, originally published in 1970, Silverberg offers up a plot that has echoes of the Tower of Babel, as well as Christian theology and other questions being raised. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. There are sexually explicit scenes in the novel. 

The core of Tower of Glass‘s plot is that an alleged alien communication has been received on Earth and the wealthiest man in the world is trying to build an immense tower that will allow him to communicate via tachyons with these purported aliens. The man, Krug, was made wealthy by his inventions, the androids. The androids are separated in a kind of caste system by their abilities. They’re not robots, because they’re made of organic material, but they’re effectively a kind of specialized clone, so far as I can tell. These androids and their interactions with humans are the other major part of the plot. 

The central question of the narrative, on a surface level, is whether androids and humans are equal. There is a political party dedicated to android equality. The androids themselves have developed a religion. It directly parallels Christianity in many ways, with its own symbology, liturgy, and hymns. It also has a distinctly trinitarian quality in which Krug is seen as a Christ figure for them, while they also worship a transcendent Krug. At one point in the novel, we’re told humans have cast off religions as a kind of relic of the past, but the plot itself leads to asking whether that is truly a way for humanity to transcend its roots or abandon reason. 

Manuel, Krug’s son, is having an affair with one of the “Alpha” (highest functioning) androids, Lilith. The name is intentionally a reference to the woman from Jewish mythology, and the parallels between her manipulation of Manuel and the Talmudic Lilith are certainly a thread to pursue. After one scene in which Manuel has sex with her as he’s trying to reassure himself that he believes androids are equal with humans, she convinces him to go to his father to speak with him about android equality. Manuel brings one of the android holy books to his father, showing Krug that he is the center of their religion and hope for equality. Krug utterly rejects this, essentially undercutting himself as the androids’ god. The androids revolt, going on a mass rampage that will change the Earth forever. Krug kills his most loyal android, Thor Watchman, after he discovers Thor has caused the great Tower of Glass to topple. Krug then rushes to the spaceship he’s been building to try to get to the aliens for whom he’s building the tower. A few loyal–or perhaps nostalgic–androids aid him, and send him to the stars in the final scene of the book.

There are layers upon layers of meaning in this novel. I’ll start at the end. The Tower of Babel was described in the Bible as an attempt by humanity to reach the heavens–the realm of the gods. The Tower of Glass was an attempt by Krug to reach out to possibly mythic aliens, an obsession that he becomes increasingly enamored by as the novel goes on. The collapse of the Tower of Glass happens as worldwide rebellion strikes, sowing confusion, chaos, and fire. Babel’s construction was halted by confusion caused by the scrambling of languages in the biblical story. Krug takes it one step farther, finally escaping Earth in a real and symbolic rise into the heavens, the realm of the gods, as he pursues his own ends. We don’t know how his journey will end, but the possibility that he will simply be burned to a crisp by the star on the other end of the voyage is very real. The symbolism of the event in the novel is ambiguous. Accompanied by the fall of the Tower of Glass, it certainly resonates with the story of Babel, but in what way? Is the Glass like Babel–its own attempt to reach the gods in space and try to claim their arcane knowledge? I don’t know, but it’s this kind of science fiction that I love. It’s the kind that keeps us thinking.

The android equality movement and the question of the humanity of androids also looms large. The resonance of their clearly false religion with Christianity begs the question of what Silverberg is trying to say about human religion. Again, at one point Manuel notes that humans have essentially left religion behind. And with the religion of the androids being clearly false, one wonders what is being implied by this. The very object of the androids’ faith ends up a false god, fleeing from the planet during its greatest crisis, pursuing his vain dream of communicating with aliens. Yet the inherent need for a faith remains in the androids, as they send their theologians scrambling to make sense of the world events. And we also have to wonder about what humanity has done with the freedom granted by the androids. We don’t see much of broader society outside the narrow path Silverberg leads us on in the novel. But it seems that the humans we do encounter are self-obsessed, lazy, and even jealous of each other in some ways. They care little about anything except their own pleasure. Which people more closely reflect humanity in the novel? Is it the androids, with their faith seeking understanding, or the humans, who rely, essentially, on slave labor for all of their accomplishments?

Silverberg’s novel is clearly not a defense of religion. Indeed, it may be seen as an attack on religion. It could be argued either way. But what is clear is that we often make our own “towers” that we worship, creating idolatrous visions of what humanity can become if we simply try hard enough–or exploit enough resources and others–to do so. Tower of Glass is the kind of science fiction that makes us think more about our own lives and actions, and that’s the kind I love most. 

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here. This is a link to my other site that focuses on my non-theology or apologetics related interests.

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

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

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

SDG. 

Book Review: “The Other Side of the Wall” by Munther Isaac

The question of Israel and Palestine looms large in contemporary politics, but it also looms large theologically for many people around the globe. Munther Isaac’s The Other Side of the Wall gives a firsthand account of the land, along with a theological exploration of Israel, Palestine, and lament and hope.

Isaac starts the book with “An Invitation” in which he calls on readers to realize that the situation is probably far more complex than they’ve heard or been taught. So many factors–cultural, political, theological–are competing for attention in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it makes it difficult to sort them all out. Additionally, a simplistic portrayal of the conflict in the United States, particularly among certain theological traditions, effectively erases Palestinian Christian voices from the narrative.

Next, Isaac leads readers on a journey of, as the subtitle says, lament and hope. There’s much to lose heart about when it comes to relationships in Israel and Palestine. But there’s also reason to hope. Too many global Christians ignore the plight of Palestinian Christians, whose rights are often trampled. Additionally, the voices of Palestinian Christians are ignored or even specifically excluded (see, for example, the story Isaac shares on 29ff about his letter to the editor). When people don’t fit neatly into the boxes that Christians have set up related to the conflict, it is easier to ignore them than to engage with them.

Christian Zionism is then analyzed by Isaac, and he notes that it has essentially become a kind of imperialism imposing the will of (largely American) Christians outside the land onto the people of the land. Simplistic readings of the biblical text yield results that exclude Palestinian Christians from the conversation and turn people into instruments. Isaac explores the promises of the land made in the Bible and notes the conditions given related to them in multiple places. He also highlights the problematic language and interpretations of the Bible put forward by many Christians related to Israel and the people living there. The notion that Jews need to rebuild the temple, only to be excluded from the Kingdom of God, is particularly nefarious. Yet this view is extremely common in American Evangelicalism, as people argue that prophecies demand the Temple return to Israel, while simultaneously arguing that Jews will be condemned for not believing in Christ. This turns people into instruments of theological systems in an alarming fashion.

Isaac argues this last point especially forcefully on 125ff, where he notes the teaching of a “prophecy expert” who argued that those Jews who did not believe in Jesus would be massacred, according to the Bible, and the remaining third would embrace Jesus as Messiah during a millennial reign. Isaac also noted that this has created tension in Jewish-Christian relations, as so many “prophecy experts” and evangelical Christians support the state of Israel abstractly while also holding views that treat Jews as objects in their eschatological narratives (126-127).

Isaac constantly challenges assumptions made about Israel and Palestine, noting how easy it is to move from “Arab” to “Muslim” and “not one of us” or an excluded voice (108). This also highlights the knee-jerk reaction of many American Christians to Muslims in general, which is far from reflecting the love of Christ for all our neighbors. He writes, “If You Hate Muslims, You Hate Jesus, Too. If We Love Jesus, We Will Love Hindus” (120, emphasis his).

Isaac wraps up the book with reasons for hope and ways to find love of neighbor and share in that hope going forward.

The Other Side of the Wall is an enlightening read. Isaac provides personal accounts while incisively critiquing (primarily American) Christianity for ignoring the plight of Palestinian Christians and mischaracterizing events in Israel in order to play games with Scripture. It’s a powerful critique, while also providing reasons for hope and a call to follow Christ by truly loving our neighbor. Highly recommended.

(All Amazon links are associates.)

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

Links

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

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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

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