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J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.
J.W. Wartick has written 1226 posts for J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

Book Review: “All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone” by Brian J. Tabb

Revelation inspires extremes of opinions. Today, people heatedly argue over its meaning, what is to be taken literally, when its events will/have/should happen. It was challenged on its canonicity in the Reformation and before. What can be done to bring some light to this mysterious, complex book? Brian J. Tabb attempts, in All Things New, to provide a way forward in reading Revelation not as an obscure, impenetrable text, nor as a newspaper to tell us about the end times, but rather as a capstone of Scripture that highlights theological themes throughout the whole Bible.

Tabb notes in the introduction the disputed nature of Revelation. Rather than trying to refute all the positions with which he disagrees, he instead seeks from the beginning to build a reading of Revelation that makes sense of its place in Scripture.

First, Tabb turns to how Revelation reveals the Triune God, highlighting the use of language throughout the Bible to demonstrate how the book reveals God’s Triuine nature. This first part is a fascinating section as Tabb draws on broad swathes of Scripture to show that the author of Revelation drew from all over the Bible to demonstrate the Trinity as well as the work of the divine Persons. Next, Tabb turns to themes in Revelation of suffering for God, witnessing, and worship. The third part focuses on judgment, salvation, and restoration. Here again Tabb’s argument is holistic, seeking to show how the author of Revelation drew from Biblical imagery to make their argument about these themes. It is important to note the way that the author of Revelation uses this language, which seems to work against the notion that they took everything literally themselves, picking and choosing from throughout the canon to make their points. Finally, part four shows Revelation’s view of the word of God as trustworthy, prophetic, and true.

Tabb’s work here is admirable in that he has written a book that could benefit readers of many different views related to the book of Revelation and its meaning. All Things New is a helpful book in clarifying the meaning and purpose of one of the most debated and confusing books in the canon.

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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“Darwin Devolves” – Behe’s Rewriting of Evolution: A Critique from a Christian

Michale Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, purports to demonstrate that a major challenge to evolution is that rather than producing new functions, the demonstrable changes that we can see in experimental science is due to “devolution” or loss-of-function in genes. Behe bases this, in part, on his “First Rule”: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution… Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain” (185). (It’s stated somewhat differently on the first page of the book: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any functional gene whose loss would increase the number of a species offspring” – emphasis his.)

I am sympathetic to Behe’s project. As a Christian, I would prefer there to be testable, obvious proof that God exists, and Intelligent Design theory purports to be that for at least some kind of cosmic “intelligence.” On the flip side, I am also wary, because I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that “a god who could be proved by us would be an idol” (DBWE 11, 260). I’m not convinced that God works in such a way as to leave tantalizing fingerprints all over everything for us to find. God is personal and we relate to God in a personal way, not in an abstract way that can remain impersonal or without challenge. For most of my life, I was a young earth creationist, and then spent several years studying apologetics and advocating ID theory. Since then, I’ve become much more skeptical of ID theories, and Behe’s book illustrates several of the reasons why.

Selection Effect

One of the biggest difficulties I have with Behe’s book here, as well as with ID in general, is that there is, of necessity, a selection effect happening in the examples used. That is, the human author making the argument must be selecting examples rather than showing the whole range of life and applying their theory to it (to do the latter would be prohibitively time-consuming and likely impossible). But because there is such human agency in selecting the examples, the tendency towards selecting those examples which most easily support one’s theory is at least possibly in play.

In Darwin Devolves, selections of which evidence is discussed appears to be a large part of the weight of the argument. Evidence is mustered from polar bears and the deleterious way they acquired (perhaps not the term Behe would use) “white” fur, from laboratory experiments with bacteria and fruit flies, and from the (in)famous Darwin’s Finches. In each case, it is shown (I believe demonstrated–though I admit I’m not an expert so it is possible that this is wrong) that the “evolution” of certain features (eg. different forms of beak, see p. 143ff) is not new information or beneficial mutations but rather mutations or deletions genetically that are acting on existing DNA in ways that Behe calls “devolutions” rather than evolution.

Though it seems contentious to change the terminology of genetic reshuffling/deleting on existing information to “devolution” when it seems most assuredly an example of evolution (if not, necessarily, fitting within Behe’s specific definition(s)–more on that below), assuming Behe is right here, it would be a fascinating argument if it carried the day. But Behe must demonstrate, for his argument to work and for evolution (again, his usage) to fail, that such deletions/reshuffling is the case in every single instance of purported evolution. That would be a monumental task (and likely impossible), but one way to approach it would be to broaden the selection of data and to take on some of the most powerful evidences of evolution. But here we see the selection of Behe appears to be quite artificial. In addition to the selection effect, Behe fails to note that the very thing he’s arguing shows the failure of evolution as a theory (loss-of-function, etc.) in a lab experiment for E. Coli are, in fact, an expected outcome for such a lab experiment, and the evidence for genuinely new information is dismissed.

Additionally, given Behe’s language about loss-of-function and his “first rule,” readers would be right to expect that the data would support loss-of-function as the predominant, if not the only, means by which scientists have been able to mention what they call evolution. But that is demonstrably not the case. Rice and Lang note:

In humans only ∼3.5% of exonic and splice site variants (57,137 out of 1,639,223) are putatively loss‐of‐function (Saleheen et al. 2017), and a survey of 42 yeast strains found that only 242 of the nearly 6000 genes contain putative loss‐of‐function variants (Bergström et al. 2014). 

Gregory Lang and Amber Rice ” Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/evo.13710

Behe’s challenge to evolution doesn’t mention these and other related facts. The selection effect is operating strongly here, and it is selecting out those aspects of the data that do not match the theory.

Misrepresentations and Language

Throughout the book, there were difficulties with Behe’s use of terminology and misrepresentations of arguments. The definition of “evolution,” for example, seems malleable to fit Behe’s needs. He begins by noting that Darwin’s own theory couldn’t account for genetic data (Darwin didn’t know about it) and so had to be modified. But as more modifications to the theory happen, Behe seems to take that as evidence that evolution is, minimally, in crisis. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the various ways scientists have modified the theory of evolution, according to Behe–in order to “shoehorn” various discoveries into it. But one would hardly discredit the theory of gravity due to the fact that it has been modified to account for more modern discoveries. Would Behe use the same charged language that we have “shoehorned” in modern science to the theory of gravity in order to discred it? Doubtful.

Additionally, Behe is quick to dismiss evolution and evidence for it as useless or baseless. For example, across pages 22-24 he notes various examples that have been said to have evolved and then asserts that deleting the word “evolved” doesn’t change the information in the sentence. For example, “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘wiggle dance.'” Behe then asserts that no information is lost if one just says the birds “have a wiggle dance.” But this seems to be clearly untrue, for the claim that the birds “evolved” a wiggle dance would include in it inherited traits, genes, and behaviors, where as merely “having” a dance does not. Even if one is anti-evolution, the claim that deleting the word “evolved” from sentences like that doesn’t delete information seems puzzling.

Behe is also keen to discredit natural selection. On 99-100 he offers an example that he alleges proves that increased DNA is not due to selection but rather entirely to the amorphous term called “luck.” But renaming selection “luck” doesn’t really undermine the fact that Behe doesn’t seem to have an answer for how DNA increases within his “First Rule” system. Indeed, across these pages, he actually attributes the formation of DNA increase to environmental factors and having the increased DNA continue due to isolation. But that is exactly what evolutionary theory suggests–when populations are isolated, there is the chance for selection to operate differently one one group than on another. Behe saying this is “serendipity” or “luck” seems clear obfuscation on his part–avoidance of the fact that it is exactly due to factors alleged by evolution to drive natural selection that has led to increase in DNA.

Perhaps the part of the book is Behe’s charge that evolution must produce entirely new lifeforms, including new phyla, given enough time. In looking at Darwin’s finches, he argues that the changes among them is incredibly tiny, given the amount of time they’ve had as an isolated population. he asserts that it is “very unlikely” that an environmental factor is limiting their evolution (155) and goes on to ask whether 2 million years in isolation is too little time for evolution to make major changes. After noting that “profoundly different animal phyla… arose during the Cambrian explosion… in only about ten million years” (ibid), along with some other swift evolution, he incredibly states: “Surely we should expect at least one crummy new phylum, class, or order to be conjured by Darwin’s vaunted mechanism in the time the finches have been on the Galapagos. But no, nothing” (ibid). Behe’s claim is, frankly, absurd. I don’t know of any evolutionary biologist who suggests that entirely new phyla are a necessary outcome of long-term isolation. Additionally, to compare the emergence of phyla during the Cambrian–before life had even begun to walk the land–to the state of the islands is disingenuous to the highest degree. Remarkably, Behe does nothing to acknowledge the extreme differences between the examples he cited and the state of the islands; instead, he writes, “A surprising but compelling conclusion is that Darwin’s mechanism has been wildly overrated–it is incapable of producing much biological change at all” (ibid). There is can be no doubt that this strong conclusion is in no way demonstrated by the fact that finches didn’t transform into new phyla, but Behe draws these kind of strong conclusions from minimal data throughout the book.

Conclusion

Darwin Devolves is tantalizing in theory, but in practice it does not prove what it sets out to prove. It would be nice, as the dust jacket states, to come to the point where “It’s time to acknowledge the conclusion that only an intelligent mind could have designed life.” But with all those weighted terms comes a burden of proof that is not met in the text. I have no doubt that an intelligent mind–God–brought forth life, but I remain unconvinced that God did so in a way that required direct intervention throughout the process.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, 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.

“Harriet” (2019 film)- Faith and Freedom – A Christian look at the movie

“Harriet” is a fantastic film about the real life of Harriet Tubman. What struck me most, though, were the themes of faith and freedom found throughout the story.

Faith

Christianity is a central theme in the movie. Near the beginning, we witness an African American pastor preaching about how slaves must obey their masters no matter what. In a stunning twist, this pastor later turns out to be part of the underground railroad–a nod to the real life pastor who did the same in Tubman’s life. As a cover, it was brilliant: who would suspect the man who preaches about how slaves will burn in hell for running away would also be assisting that very act? The fact remains, though, that many, many white pastors supported and buttressed the enslavement of fellow humans through the use of just such Bible verses. What the Civil War did with theology is its own, fascinating story, but that battle between a literalistic reading of such passages and seeing the visions of freedom in narratives like that of Moses is played out in an engrossing way in this movie.

The use of spirituals throughout the film is also intensely personal and moving. The scene showing Tubman leading a raid that freed many slaves during the Civil War towards the end of the movie juxtaposed with her singing “Wade in the Water” is perfection itself. Too often, we tend to spiritualize spirituals, along with our hymns and liturgy–even what the Bible itself says. But there is no question that there are real life applications of these verses and these words that people sang. It would be impossible for those enslaved to not see themselves paralleled in the stories about Moses–let my people go! And it would be right for them to do so as a challenge to a simplistic reading of verses that tell slaves to obey masters. These kind of deep, complex issues aren’t fully explored in the film, but the fact that even begins to raise them makes it one of the most fascinating movies I’ve seen recently.

Harriet Tubman is portrayed claiming to have visions from God, and this claim is apparently paralleled in her real life. Several historians today believe this was a condition of epilepsy or something like it that was caused by the actual injury documented in the movie from the weight being thrown at Tubman’s head. But Tubman herself saw these visions as being from God, though perhaps not quite in the way the film portrays–as they warn of specific dangers before they happen. Is it possible that Harriet was used by God in this way? It seems the answer must be yes, for her life was clearly one of fighting for justice as a life of faith. Whatever messy theological problems come from that are questions for a different time, though they are worth reflecting upon. If our theology can’t account for the real, lived experience of people who claim to be used by God and demonstrate that in their lives, it probably is in need of some revising.

Freedom

Freedom is a basic human right,and throughout the film, we see Tubman repeating the phrase “be free or die” (and variations on it). This is true to the real life Tubman, as well. What is fascinating, again, is that this theme of freedom is not tied into a secular, abstract sense of freedom, but a theological, almost liturgical sense in which freedom is something that God will bring–bringing justice against the enslavers.

The constant sacrifice of the freedom of fellow humans is a theme that isn’t quite as strong in the film, but the horrible ramifications of the Fugitive Slave Act are vividly portrayed. The Fugitive Slave Act is one of the most heinous laws passed in the history of our country, and its contentious nature helped drive the country towards Civil War. What is particularly fascinating is the subtle jab at the “Lost Cause” that is taken towards the end of the movie. The “Lost Cause” thesis was a rewrite of history by those with Southern interests in mind to argue the Civil War was about states’ rights rather than about slavery. (It manifestly was about slavery, including trumping states’ rights in order to save slavery.) In the film, Tubman notes that the lost cause was the enslavement of other humans–a cause which is as morally bankrupt and “lost” as it is possible to be.

Reflections

There is no doubt that “Harriet” has me thinking about some of the deep questions of faith and freedom. I already put one biography of Tubman on hold at the library and eagerly anticipate reading it.

There were a few things that I did think were negatives in an otherwise excellent film. One was the character of Bigger Long, a black slave catcher. There is no direct evidence that any black slave catcher was involved in trying to thwart Tubman, to my knowledge (please point me to a historical source if you have one). It seems like this selection was made, apparently, to make it so that not every “bad guy” in the movie was a white person. Though it is true there were some African American slave catchers, they were obviously much less common than white ones. The decision to make Bigger Long an example of such is odd.

I also loved the scene with Harriet giving her speech to Seward and a crowd gathered there as they debated what to do about the Fugitive Slave Act, but was disappointed to see someone clearly portraying Frederick Douglass get scolded by Tubman as not remembering what it was like to be enslaved because he was too important now. The character of Douglass (who I don’t believe ever is explicitly named as such, but the hair styling and time he talks makes it quite clear) is shown giving a stirring call to thwart the enslavers just before this. This sensitivity on my part may be because I think Frederick Douglass is one of the most important, fascinating figures in all of United States history, rather than as a negative point. See my work reflecting on Douglass as a prophet of freedom.

“Harriet” as a whole is a fascinating, intense film that shows the evils of slavery without becoming voyeuristic about it. It also does an excellent job highlighting the difficulties with faith and freedom in our country’s history, as well as in the real lived lives of those back then. It also calls us to do better now for our society and overthrow the bonds–real or imagined–that thwart freedom and faith today.

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.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

SDG.

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

Book Review: “The Lost World of the Torah” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The series John H. Walton (with others along the way) has written on “The Lost World of…” serves to shine light from studies on the Ancient Near East (ANE) onto questions of interpretation of Scripture. In The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton tackle questions about the meaning of the Torah and Old Testament Law for us today. Specifically, they examine what the Torah would have meant in its Ancient Near Eastern context to those who wrote it down and passed it along to us.

First, the authors outline their methodology. Specifically, they note that the Old Testament is an ancient document, and so we ought to be aware of its ancient context and the background beliefs of those who read it in its own time and how that could impact its meaning for us as well. It is also the case that our own cultural background influences the way that we think law and legislation work. Specifically, we tend to think of law and legislation as rigid and unbreakable, but even into today some societies see law less as legal code than as a way to show the regulation of society through social norms and customs (19).

The Torah, then, is best understood as expressions of wisdom rather than legislation, which itself means that instead of seeing the Torah as a sense of “you ought,” it is better understood as “you will know” or something similar (45). The Torah is a “collection of examples that combine to form a description of the desired established order” (ibid). Trying to make the Torah acontextual is a potentially dangerous path that undermines its meaning (100).

Understanding the Torah in its ancient context frees Christian interpreters from the constant battle of trying to sort which parts of Torah are required legislation and which are not. “It is neither a question… about the unchanging law of an unchanging God nor a presumption that morality is relative” (100). Thus, “when people try to sort out which parts of the Old Testament ‘law’ are still relevant and which parts are not, they are really trying to determine which sayings are culturally relative and which are not” (ibid). It is actually this very approach that yields a relativistic response to Scripture, because as interpreters attempt to lock down the Torah into inflexible, unchanging legislation for all time, they are forcing their own view of morality onto God’s Word. “[I]f we have to be selective about which passages we mine for moral guidance and which we reject, it is not Scripture that is guiding us but our own preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. As a corollary, then, whatever is producing our sense of right and wrong, which we are using to filter and evaluate Scripture, is not Scripture” (171).

Christian interpreters who insist on divisions like ceremonial, civil, and moral for the Torah are once again imposing a foreign context onto the Scripture itself. Effectively, they have made their own view of which laws fall into which categories the determining factor for what ought to determine morality for all people for all time. There are no labels in the text that demonstrate which of the alleged legislation falls into which preconceived category, so the categories themselves are sorted by the interpreter based on their own biases and understanding of what it ought to be saying. This is extremely clear when specific issue are raised. For example, why take laws about eating of shellfish as “ceremonial” but not laws about what people wear? Essentially, it is the interpreter who then turns and says one is ceremonial and the other is moral. Understanding the Torah as being concerned with God’s covenant with the people also helps illuminate the meaning of certain difficult passages. It is often suggested, for example, that the legislation regarding cross-dressing is moral because it refers back to homosexuality which it is then argued is a moral law and specifically sinful. But the Waltons note that the ANE context of the text includes the disruption of order found in ceremonies of Ishtar (186). Though this may not have been the exact reason these prohibitions existed in the Torah, the Waltons note that “the practice of cross-dressing in the ancient world operated under different premises than it does in modern society. Most importantly, it is not demonstrably associated with homosexuality. Blurring of boundaries violates order, but that sense of order is inherent in the ideology of the society” (187). So again, it is important not to proof text from the Torah and remove it from its original context because that may result in misapplying Scripture.

The Waltons address the question of objective morality in an inset (206-207). They note that objective morality probably does exist as do moral obligations and that they very well may be grounded in God, but our own moral systems are very much products of our cultural contexts and understandings. It is very easy to assume one’s own morality or beliefs about moral codes are objective and binding for all people

The Walton’s arguments are sure to be controversial, but have weighty evidence behind them. Moreover, their arguments, as noted above, help to solve some of the greatest difficulties for Christians in questions of dealing with Torah from a Christian perspective. Rather than dismissing the Torah or picking and choosing which parts to obey based on a superimposed interpretive grid, the Waltons here present a compelling argument for seeing the Torah in its context as it was: evidence of the covenant between God and humanity.

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.

 

Book Review: “Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour” by John Goldingay

There are many questions that arise for Christians as we read the Old Testament. There are almost as many different answers to each question as there are questions. John Goldingay, in Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour attempts to answer some of these questions by giving Christians concrete ways forward in addressing the Old Testament and ethics.

After a brief introduction outlining the meaning of ethics and how one might look at the Old Testament for guidance, Goldingay dives directly into questions of what guidance the Old Testament might offer for Christians regarding ethics. Specifically, he divides the questions into qualities, aspects of life, and relationships. Then, he looks at some specific texts and people in the Old Testament and how one might derive ethical guidance from them.

There are many broad topics in a book like this, which addresses ethical questions from how we ought to act in Godlikeness to how animals ought to be treated. Mostly, he follows a format that draws from numerous OT texts in order to try to show a specific direction for ethical inquiry and answers. Among the most difficult questions Goldingay approaches are those to do with sexuality–who are people allowed to have sex with–and questions about wealth and family. He tends to fall in the moderately conservative realm in the answer to all of these questions.

Goldingay’s approach to ethical questions in the Old Testament leaves many questions untouched. That is a necessity, of course, because only a massive tome could truly address many of the topics related to ethics in the Old Testament in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, readers may wonder about how Goldingay specifically derives his ethical standards. He does, of course, bring texts to the forefront in order to argue for each point, but he does little to address some of the more difficult passages in the Old Testament. Additionally, others have argued that an approach to the Old Testament that treats its laws like a kind of codified rule of ethics is indeed mistaken (eg. John Walton). These are highly relevant questions–especially when an answer to them may undermine the very basis for Goldingay’s project to begin with. Goldingay, I believe, has gone into these questions elsewhere in more detail, but for this book it mostly just serves as a straight up guide to how Goldingay believes the Old Testament ought to be viewed ethically.

Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour is an intriguing book that, like many works on the topic, will generate much discussion for those engaged in the topic. Those looking to try to determine some ethical outlook from the Old Testament will be rewarded, but some questions about the method and theory itself remain unanswered.

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 2- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part II

We left off last time with Alexander Campbell having just outlined his own project for the defense of Christianity, which shows a number of arguments that are different from those used today in apologetics. But one argument worth highlighting is where he charges Owen’s position with having to essentially undermine all human testimony. Campbell here is alluding to the position of Owen and many people today that only that which is able to be experienced by direct sense perception is credible. But if true, Campbell charges, it follows that:

To complete the process of degradation, [humans are] to be taught that [they] ha[ve] no faculty, or power of learning or knowing any thing but by
[their] senses , or that [they] can receive no certain information from the testimony of [their] ancestors.
…That all the information which is traditional or handed down, is false and incredible. (page 18 of the edition linked)

In other words, if we truly affirm that only that which can be perceived is to be believed, all human testimony, all tradition, all knowledge handed down is false–or at least, ought to be doubted. This is a point which persists to this day when speaking of Christianity and atheism. Often, the position is taken that only scientific knowledge is verifiable or trustworthy. But if that’s the case, it would mean that every person is an island of ignorance. After all, it is impossible for one person to even begin to scientifically test every single discovery for themselves. Simply having someone tell them how gravity works, about the Big Bang, or the like would entail believing testimony as opposed to that which one has tested oneself. Humans, in other words, must believe testimony whether we like it or not.

Owen then, rises and offers his own principles. First, that “truth is always consistent with itself.” Second, that “No name or authority, whatever may be its nature, can change truth into falsehood or falsehood into truth, or can, in any way, make that which is true to be false, or that which is false to be true” (20). Astute readers may jump ahead and try to guess where Owen plans to take these axioms in his attack on Christian faith. For now, Owen’s own words are enlightening.

After noting that humanity is spread about all kinds of different places, Owen notes the necessity, then, for humans to have gained knowledge in their own locales. These introduce prejudices and assumptions based on one’s own perspective which Owen charges we ought to try to remove–a quest for universally verifiable facts (21). Here is where Owen approaches the meat of his early argument:

In furtherance of this mighty change in the destinies of mankind, I am now to prove “that all the religions of the world have originated in error; that they are directly opposed to the divine unchanging laws of human nature; that they are necessarily the source of vice, disunion, and misery; that they are now the only obstacle to the formation of a society, over the earth, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense,and of sincerity and affection. And that these district religions can be no longer maintained in any part of the world, except by keeping the mass of the people in ignorance of their own nature, by an increase of the tyranny of the few over the many.” (21)

It would be easy to simply dismiss these lofty claims as impossible for Owen to prove, but if we are seeking truth it is important to examine the arguments even of those with whom we disagree. Tucked in between these assertions of Owen, some of which he will argue for at length, are some hints as to how Christians were perceived in his own time–as well as our own–along with some truly challenging questions about Christianity specifically. There are, after all, many religions in the world. If we agree with Owen’s claims that these cannot contradict each other and that no testimony may make that which is false true, then we must account for the great many divergent beliefs about the ultimate reality in our universe. Additionally, the notion that all religions lead to vice, disunion, and misery is often countered by ways religion has benefited the world. Historically, it is important to see that this debate took place on the soil of the United States and was published in 1829. During this time, there were Christian ministers explicitly arguing in favor of slavery and even of slaves needing to submit to the cruelest forms of punishments of their masters, using the Bible to back their claims. The charges against Christianity are not always easily answered by argument; Owen’s arguments show that practice is just as important as beliefs.

Owen then launches into a series of points to establish the accidents of birth in time and location of every human being. No one can determine when they’re born, where they’re born, what their parents believe, or anything of the sort (22-23). After that, he argues about how characters are developed with some questionable generalizations about psychology and child rearing. Owen then argues from all of this that no one can determine their own character or beliefs. From there, Owen argues that the origins of all human religions have come from the most ignorant and darkest of all times, and so they ought to be rejected as ideas which, due to their accident of circumstance having been formed in the worst of times, will not yield the greatest good for the most people (26-27). It’s important to note throughout these arguments of Owen’s where assumptions are made or stated without argument. For example, he says:

doctrines and fables could not, at first, be received, except through force, fraud, or ignorance, they have been the cause of shedding the blood of the most conscientious and best men in all  countries, of deluging the world with all manner of crime, and in producing all kinds of suffering and misery. (27)

But Owen has certainly not established that all “doctrines” were first established through force, fraud or ignorance. He’s playing to the audience here, and it is important to note that. He goes on to assert that all “fables and doctrines” lead to poverty or fear of it, ignorance, and many more ills (27-29). Moreover, it is only by historical accident that his audience, Owen charges, are teaching their children Christianity rather than any other belief system (29).

We’ll leave off here for now, anticipating Campbell’s response, beginning on page 30.

Questions

  1. What do you think of Campbell’s points regarding sense perception and testimony?
  2. Is there anything objectionable in Owen’s two principles on page 20?
  3. How can we as apologists witness to others not merely with sound arguments, but with actions that show Christianity is worthy of consideration?
  4. What do you think about the way Owen is using historical accidents of birth as the backbone of argument so far? How might such arguments be answered?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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: “Disability and the Way of Jesus” by Bethany McKinney Fox

The question of what it means to be “healed” is one of those that seems simple on first glance, but upon closer examination becomes extremely complex quite swiftly. Bethany McKinney Fox’s Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church is an exploration of many of these complex questions. Fox brings light to these questions by surveying many perspectives in sometimes surprising and challenging ways.

Fox challenges assumptions from the get-go, pushing readers to look beyond their assumptions about what it means to experience healing or even to desire it. Too often, people assume that someone with a disability wants to be “healed” so that they can be “normal”–but this itself smuggles in a number of perceptions and assumptions about what the person who has a disability is feeling or thinking. Fox even notes the ways our language can change these perceptions.

The bulk of the book, though, deals with biblical texts related to healing and brings a number of perspectives to bear on these texts. After a look at the context in the First Century of Jesus as healer, Fox brings the perspectives of physicians, people with disabilities, and pastors to bear on various healing texts in the Bible. These often bring very different ideas to the text and come away with surprising readings. For example, do the texts suggest healing is something everyone ought to seek? Do they demand Christians pray for healing? What does it mean to be healed? These questions get very different answers depending upon who is reflecting upon them.

Finally,the book turns to what it means to be healed in the Bible, as well as practices of the church that can help assist healing. Here, there is a stirring call to the church to break the structures that bind those with disabilities in addition to trying to bring healing and holistic care to all people.

Disability and the Way of Jesus is a fascinating read that will force readers to rethink assumptions and examine Scripture texts anew while also looking for new applications to their personal lives. 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.

——

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: “Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World” by Wolf Krötke

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World by Wolf Krötke is a formidable interpretation of both Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Specifically, this collection focuses on how each of these theologians sought to relate to what they viewed as a post-Christian world.

Karl Barth is the subject of the first half of the book, and Krötke offers a range of topics engaging with Barth’s theology at multiple points. Krötke begins with an essay that highlights the challenges of engaging with Karl Barth to begin with. Then, he moves into Barth’s attack on “religion” itself as unbelief. Of course, what is meant by “religion” is key in this and many other essays, and the exact meaning of the term is notoriously difficult to pin down. Thus, much of the discussion here and elsewhere is spent drawing out what is being critiqued as “religion” vs. how Christianity can offer a better way forward.

Election, for Barth, is the “sum of the gospel,” and Krötke spends one essay discussing what is meant by Barth’s doctrine of election. In this doctrine, Barth sees that many major theological problems can be reconciled through Christ’s “Yes” to humanity (86).

Krötke’s interactions with Bonhoeffer are insightful and sometimes surprising, even to the point of being stunning (a word this reviewer used when taking notes on a few of the pages). In particular, the final essay on Bonhoeffer about Bonhoeffer’s “Nonreligious Interpretation of Biblical Concepts” alongside the “Missionary Challenge of the Church” was fascinating. Therein, Krötke notes that Bonhoeffer was extremely against any concept of God as a God available to us at our whim. God is not the kind of being who is available at the push of a button. Additionally, Krötke interprets Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity as putting forth the idea that God in Christ chooses to become powerless for us, such that in Christ, God leads us to the suffering of the cross (242-244). Rather than a God who could right all wrongs and does not, or one who cannot do so, the God of religionless Christianity, as Krötke reads it, is God in Christ who enters the world and, in doing so, intentionally gives up power in order to lead humanity to God. It’s a fascinating look at Bonhoeffer’s work, and a somewhat alarming interpretation in some ways, but also one that takes the notion of deity and makes it squarely within Christian theology.

Other essays on Bonhoeffer are equally fascinating, whether its when Krötke notes that Bonhoeffer’s life itself has become a theological resources for his interpreters or when he turns to the question of Bonhoeffer’s letters to his fiancee. On the latter point, Krötke reflects on his own attempts to look at Bonhoeffer’s letters to Maria von Wedermeyer. Ultimately, he found himself deciding that it was a kind of voyeurism–the theologian moving into an intensely personal scene in order to try to find any resource. It was a kind of question about biography and finding the past that this reader hadn’t considered before.

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World is a fascinating, engaging, and challenging read. I highly recommend it to those interested in the legacy of either one (or both) of these fascinating individuals. Krötke consistently presents startling insights and fascinating ways to move research forward. 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.

——

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: “Doing Theology with the Reformers” by Gerald L. Bray

The theology of the Reformation is a deep, complex issue. Gerald L. Bray is the editor of a number of commentaries, including Reformation Commentaries on Scripture and numerous other books. He brings much experience to the questions related to bringing the theology of the Reformers to light for modern readers. Bray’s book Doing Theology with the Reformers is an excellent place for readers to start gaining an understanding of the questions, controversies, and ongoing conclusions of the Reformation.

Bray divides the book into six major topics, each with a chapter dedicated to it: the education of a reformer, the sources of theological authority, the interpretation of the Bible, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Godly commonwealth, and the emergence of confessional theology. Each of these chapters has several subdivisions that help readers learn about each major topic.

The book excels at bringing to the forefront topics that will challenge readers to be careful in their interpretation of the Reformers’ theology. The Reformers clearly situated within their own cultural contexts (often with theology tailored to speak to then-current events), and those contexts are important for understanding how to read them and why their thoughts developed in the directions they did. The chapter on education is a great example of this, demonstrating that the Reformers’ had their own academic experiences that are far different from those of today.

The chapter on the sources of theology was fascinating, showing how the Reformers sought to go back to the source—the Scriptures–while also acknowledging the difficulties presented by attempting such an approach. The following chapter on the interpretation of the Bible in the Reformers’ thought is enlightening, as it shows that the modern debates over the same often experience similar difficulties to those of today. Bray argues that the Reformation Hermeneutic, however, is intensely personal in the sense that it is primarily about transformation: the Reformation hermeneutic demanded the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers and the Bible could not be rightly understood outside of that experience (103-104).

The work of the Holy Spirit was taken in different ways by many Reformers and led to some of the greatest rifts theologically both then and today. Such issues as the Sacraments and the Christian life served as dividing lines for the Reformers. These issues continue to divide Christians today. Additionally, the question of what it means to have church and state is dramatically divisive, just as it was in the time of the Reformation. During the Reformation, there was also a revitalized interest in confessionalism, proclaiming the specifics of different faith traditions as they emerged. Bray ties the book together with an attempt to show some of the core theological emphases of the Reformation. These are the radical character of the Fall, salvation, the church, and spiritual authority.

Doing Theology with the Reformers is a fascinating introduction to the Reformers’ thought. The exploration of the Reformers’ emergent and emerging thought–along with how it developed and its origins–makes the book a valuable resource for those interested in Reformation theology today.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“The Fires of Heaven” 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, we continue the series with Book 5, The Fires of Heaven. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Power Corrupts, and Politics and Religion? 

In The Fires of Heaven, we are introduced to the Prophet of the Dragon, Masema. He has used Rand’s name to build himself a power base, and it is unclear yet whether he actually believes the things he says about the Dragon Reborn or not. What does seem clear is that this is a case of power corrupting. Masema goes mad over violations of protocol, he believes he has the right and the need to restrict even what people wear, how they act, and the like. His unification of religious belief and political power has become a corruption that is dangerous even for those who are trying to help Rand. In our own history, the unity of political and religious power has often played out in totalitarian ways as well, with absolute power corrupting and leading to danger for any who disagree.

The question of how the church and state ought to interact is an ancient one, and one heavily tinged by cultural referents. In the United States, it has become influenced greatly by the notion of “separation of church and state,” a dogma repeated so often it has become enshrined in the political sphere. There are many, many perspectives on the question, and my own preferred one is that of the Lutheran view of the Two Kingdoms–that the Kingdom of God is able to offer correction to the Kingdom of the World, but that the Kingdom of the World must not interfere with the Kingdom of God. Similarly, the realm of the world is generally to be left to the governance of human reason, only called upon to repent when needed.

With The Fires of Heaven, one might ask what kind of divisions of the political and religious are being suggested. There is certainly a sense of unease about Masema and his policies, but what will happen going forward? What kind of commentary might Robert Jordan be offering here?

Sacrifice

Moiraine gives her life up (maybe?) to defeat Lanfear. Birgitte nearly does the same to fight another Forsaken. Here we have the theme of sacrifice playing out rather clearly, though the implications of these sacrifices won’t be found out for some time yet. In Birgitte’s case, it leads to a linking of Birgitte with Elayne as a Warder. The theme of sacrifice hasn’t played prominently so far in the series, and it is clear Moiraine’s sacrifice is totally unexpected to Rand, who was blindsided by it.

Actions have Consequences

Balefire gets much discussion in this book, with its possibility of burning away threads of time and altering the past in unpredictable, terrifying ways. This ties into a broader sense of consequence throughout the series, in which actions have consequences that tend to be far ranging. Whether its simply walking through a town as a Ta’veran and causing weddings, accidents, and more or burning away an enemy permanently, there are serious repercussions for actions in the world. One can’t help but think of our own world, in which some of the smallest actions can have wide ranges of impact.

Conclusion

I have to say I thought The Fires of Heaven was a bit slower moving than the previous books. Despite its massive length, there also didn’t seem to me to be as much to discuss from a worldview perspective. What did you think of this novel? What worldview issues did you notice on reading it? Let me know in the comments.

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.

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