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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 1149 posts for J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sermon Demands We Hear Him Today

There is one sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s I can’t seem to shake. Sure, many of his writings stick with me, and I consider his influence absolutely formative in my own faith life. But in our time as people debate issues like immigration, welfare, and the like, Bonhoeffer’s sermon on Luke 16:19-31 delivered on May 29, 1932 in Berlin has spoken to me time and again. I’d like to share a few of Bonhoeffer’s own words. All are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works, Volume 11, Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work: 1931-1932 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012). The sermon begins on page 443.

One cannot understand and preach the gospel concretely enough. A real evangelical sermon must be like holding a pretty red apple in front of a child or a glass of cool water in front of a thirsty person and then asking: do you want it? …But it just isn’t that way–we all know that.

…We have spiritualized the gospel–that is, we have lightened it up, changed it. Take our gospel of the rich man and poor Lazarus. It has become common practice to see as the whole meaning of the story that the rich should help the poor. That is, it is turned into a story illustrating a moral. But this particular story especially, if one allows oneself to be affected fully by its original meaning, is something very different from that, namely, a very concrete proclamation of the good news itself. Admittedly so concretely, so powerfully worded, that we don’t even take it seriously anymore.

…Blessed are you Lazaruses of all the ages, for you shall be consoled in the bosom of Abraham. Blessed [are] you outcasts and outlaws, you victims of society, you men and women without work, you broken down and ruined, you lonely and abandoned, rape victims and those who suffer injustice, you who suffer in body and soul; blessed are you, for God’s joy will come over you and be over [your] head forever. That is the gospel, the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order, which is God’s world and God’s order…

…Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you who dress in purple and live happily in luxury, for you shall suffer eternal thirst.

Blessed poor, outcast, leprous Lazarus yesterday and today, for you have a God. Woe [to you] who live happily in luxury and are respected yesterday and today. That [is] the most concretely preached good news of God for the poor.

…There are always those in our midst who know better than the New Testament itself what the New Testament may and may not say. What we have just said here is, of course, a rough interpretation of the New Testament intended for rough common people. It couldn’t be about that. If something in the New Testament really sounds as rough as what we just said, you have to take it and spiritualize it… It’s not just simply the physically poor who are blessed and the physically rich who would be damned. But the main thing is always what a person’s attitude is toward his poverty and towards his wealth…

…Now, I ask you, where in the story of the poor Lazarus does it say anything about his inner life? Who tells us that he was a man who within himself had the right attitude toward his poverty? Just the opposite, he may have been quite a pushy poor man, since he lay down in front of the rich man’s doorstep and did not go away. Who tells us anything about the soul of the rich man? That is precisely the frightening thing about this story–there is no moralizing here at all, but simply talk of poor and rich and of the promise and the threat given to the one and the other. …And where do we get the incredible presumption to spiritualize these things that Christ saw and did very concretely?

We must end this audacious, sanctimonious spiritualization of the gospel. Take it as it is, or hate it honestly!

What does the gospel that was brought to the weaklings, the common people, the poor, and the sick have to do with us? …We disdain the mass of Lazaruses. We disdain the gospel of the poor. It undermines our pride, our race, our strength. We are rich, but with pride… It is so easy to disdain these masses of Lazaruses. But if just one of these would really meet you face-to-face–the unemployed Lazarus, Lazarus the accident victim, Lazarus whose ruin you caused, your own begging child as Lazarus, the helpless and desperate mother, Lazarus who has become a criminal, the godless Lazarus–can you go up to him and say: I disdain you, Lazarus? …And if you can’t do that, why then do you first act as if it were something great to be able to do that?

With this sermon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached an incredible message of law–one that would resonate with his audience, largely of privileged people in Berlin. The line about “our pride, our race, our strength” was a direct attack on the Nazi propagandists and the integration of the same terminology into the German Christian church. But he didn’t leave his message with the Law. Like any good Lutheran, he followed it up with the salve of gospel. He went on:

Who is Lazarus? You know it yourself: your poorer brother who cannot cope with life’s outward or its spiritual aspects… suffering, who craves the crumbs from under your table. …here at the end, in all humility, the last possibility must [be] considered, at the limits of all human and divine possibilities: we are all Lazarus before God. The rich man, too, is Lazarus. He is the poor leper before God. Only when we know that we are all Lazarus, because we all live through the mercy of God, do we see Lazarus in our brother…

We should see–see poor Lazarus in his full frightening misery and behind him Christ–who invited him to his table and calls him blessed. Let us see you, poor Lazarus, let us see you, Christ, in poor Lazarus. Oh, that we might be able to see. Amen.

Amen.

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!

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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Book Review: “New Testament Christological Hymns” by Matthew E. Gordley

Christianity has a history of confessions and liturgy that goes back all the way to the New Testament. In New Testament Christological Hymns, Matthew E. Gordley, the hymnody of the New Testament is brought into the limelight.

New Testament hymnody? Are there actually hymns in the New Testament, and, if so, how might we identify them? Gordley begins with a chapter answering exactly these questions, dealing with some of the best scholarship and critical questions about the texts themselves. Having established the existence of New Testament hymns included within the text, Gordley turns to showing how these hymns might have been used in NT worship and how the hymns reflect some of the cultural struggles and theological issues the early church was dealing with.

The next several chapters deal with individual hymns included in the New Testament text. In each case, Gordlye provides a substantive analysis of the hymn, analyzes it theologically, discusses any textual critical issues that exist with the text, and draws out its implications for Christians to this day. These analyses are invaluable for anyone who is interested in the theology of the New Testament, Christology, or the beliefs of the early Christian church.

Gordley’s tone and method throughout are highly scholarly, as he engages the forefront of NT scholarship. Footnotes throughout the text direct readers both to sources and further reading, making the book valuable as a research tool as well.

The things I found most valuable in the text were Gordley’s look at the cultural context of the New Testament hymns, showing how they often paralleled and subverted things like Latin hymns for emperors or gods, and the deep concern for discerning the Christological implications of these hymns in the New Testament and their usage in the early church.

New Testament Christological Hymns is a fascinating, scholarly look at the Christology of the New Testament church. Anyone interested in seeing what the earliest Christians believed and how they worshiped should pick this book up and read it carefully.

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: “Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion is about as no-holds barred as the title seems to suggest. The book starts with a broadside from Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II: “So-called white evangelicals, who say so much about what God says so little–and so little about what God says so much–have dominated public discourse about religion in America for my entire adult life. They have insisted that faith is not political, except when it comes to prayer in school, abortion, homosexuality, and property rights… What these so-called evangelicals have done is nothing short of theological malpractice” (1). From there, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove issues a call to recognition and repentance that deserves a hearing.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part goes over the history of Christianity in America with an emphasis on both slaveholders and religion and modern anecdotes about religion in some parts of America. The second part focuses on redirecting some aspects of faith back towards true Christian perspective on justice and Gospel.

Wilson-Hartgrove’s account is at least partially autobiographical as he traces his own experiences with observing racism and living in areas steeped with a history of slaveholding religion. He also discusses how we might go about changing the narrative going forward, working to restore Christ to the church.

Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion is a difficult read. It issues a strong call to realize the alliance with racist perspectives that the church in the United States historically has participated in. Though it may not be as robust in possible solutions as some other works, it does a good job issuing a call to action for Christians everywhere.

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.

 

 

“‘As In All the Churches of the Saints’: A Text-Critical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35” by David W. Bryce in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“‘As In All the Churches of the Saints’: A Text-Critical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35” by David W. Bryce

The first thing to note in this chapter is that it directly contradicts the previous chapter. In the previous chapter, Kriewaldt and North made the claim that the textual integrity of this passage, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is “certain.” That word is a very strong claim. Yet at the very beginning of this chapter by David W. Bryce, we find that there are textual critical issues that indicate it does not have “certainty” when it comes to textual integrity. Indeed, the entire chapter is dedicated to just that issue. Of course, Bryce ultimately concludes that the text is not an interpolation, which could hardly be anything but a foregone conclusion given his theological commitments, but the very fact that there is enough material to even question whether the text is an interpolation must surely indicate it is not “certain.”

Bryce begins by noting an argument for the text here being an interpolation. Though no ancient manuscripts omit the verses, the placement is unclear because some manuscripts have it placed after verse 40, while others have it where it generally appears in modern English translations after verse 33. Bryce surveys the manuscripts and argues that the placement of the verses after verse 40 stems from a single, no longer extant Western manuscript (61).

Interestingly, Bryce then turns to a section in which he tries to discern who the alleged scribe is who may have tried to take 1 Cor. 14:34-35 out of the text. One of the aspects of the profile of this alleged single scribe is that “He opposed the exclusion of women from the ordained ministry and sought to reverse the traditional ecclesiastical practice of his day” (63). But what is this based upon? Nothing more than a conclusion that a non-extant single manuscript led to the verses being seen as a possible interpolation in the Western text type. Of course, those who have read a lot of textual criticism know conclusions based on extrapolated manuscripts aren’t uncommon; but to go from that extrapolation to theological conclusions about the alleged single (and male) scribe who may have taken the verses out of their context seems to be an exercise in mythmaking.

Yet Bryce is not content to merely leave it at some unnamed scribe of allegedly questionable theological motivations. Instead, he goes on to argue that the scribe is none other than the heretic Marcion! Just in case readers are confused by this jump, I want to outline the argument here. Bryce argues first that the evidence for 14:34-35 coming after verse 40 (and therefore possibly being an interpolation due to it being a “floating text” is only found in the Western tradition. Because it is only in a few manuscripts, he posits that the evidence comes originally from a single, earlier manuscript that no longer exists. Because it being an interpolation would aid those who believe women may be pastors [never mind any other possible motivations], he argues that it must be from a scribe who stood against his own tradition’s practice of not ordaining women. Now, he argues that this scribe was Marcion because Paul was “Marcion’s hero” and Marcion practiced exegesis by cutting out verses he didn’t like wholesale (64). Marcion used the Western text type, Bryce argues, and he would have had the motivation to take out these verses from the original text. From there, Bryce concludes that “Marcion had motive, opportunity, and an established modus operandi to excise this offensive passage and reclaim, what was for him, the pure text of St. Paul” (65).

Simply reading through this maze of reasoning ought to be enough to lead readers to question it, but there are any number of problems with his hypotheses. First, he has presented no actual reason to even think that the omission or movement of the text was intentional other than that it is a convenient text for his own position (and therefore someone would want to remove it). Second, Marcion’s creation of his own texts seems to have been rather notorious even in his own time, as Bryce notes in his own argument. If that’s the case, then why would a man who went from basically cutting out the Old Testament from the Bible go to such effort to try to remove a single verse? Why not simply publish an entirely new New Testament with all of his excisions therein instead of trying to plant a single manuscript somewhere to deceive later generations? Third, Bryce’s argument assumes quite a bit about how manuscripts can be transmitted intentionally by reading intention behind such a transmission of an alleged non-interpolation. After all, to read intent rather than error into the “mistake” is an evaluation of purpose of the scribe, one clearly not warranted when by Bryce’s own admission we don’t even have the alleged single original source manuscript. Fourth, Bryce’s own analysis of the text does not warrant his conclusion that the verses in question must have been original to the text (see next paragraph). Fifth, Bryce’s attempt to place a notorious heretic as the one to blame for evidence for an interpolation looks unfortunately like an attempt to poison the well against his opponents. Sixth, Bryce’s analysis of the textual critical data is mistaken (see below).

Philip B. Payne has argued forcefully for the text being an interpolation. In his work, Man and Woman: One in Christ he lays out the case, and while Bryce downplays or doesn’t include elements such as scribal distigme notating potential interpolations in the text. Moreover, directly in contradiction to Bryce’s conclusion, Payne notes that:

Codex Vaticanus’s evidence that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation is especially important for several reasons. Its distigme (mark of a textual variant) at the end of v. 33 with no corresponding distigme at the end of v. 40 is evidence of a textual variant that was not the Western displacement was written prior to Codex Vaticanus.

So Bryce’s conclusion that the textual evidence can or should be traced back to a single Western manuscript is incorrect. Codex Vaticanus’s textual evidence reveals that the textual variant goes beyond the Western text type. This single piece of counter-evidence guts much of Bryce’s theorizing both regarding how pervasive the variant is and, certainly, all of his hypotheses about Marcion being responsible. Payne’s article also notes several issues with Bryce’s analysis of MS. 88, as interested readers can peruse.

Bryce’s essay, then, is mistaken on several counts. First, his theorizing about the source of the textual variant (again, which simple existence contradicts the previous chapter in this very book) is based upon tenuous evidence at best. Second, his analysis of the textual critical evidence misses key points regarding the Western tradition and beyond. It seems that those who argue that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 indeed an interpolation may be on to something, and that Bryce’s argument, though requiring an answer, doesn’t overcome the evidence of the text being just such an interpolation. Surely Bryce, with his commitment to ensuring we only follow those texts that are original to the Bible, would therefore agree that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 must not be followed in “all the churches of the saints.”

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!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

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.

Jews and the Book of Concord: Why we cannot affirm “unconditional subscription”

A title page of the Book of Concord

I’m a Lutheran, though some would say I am not. Why? Because many try to define out of existence those who adhere to the Book of Concord “in so far as” it agrees with Scripture as opposed to “because” it agrees with Scripture. Entire denominations argue that the affirmation “because” is the only way to be a genuine Lutheran. I have argued that this places adherents in an impossible situation before. First, I’ve argued that there are actually wrong interpretations of Scripture in the Book of Concord. There is also at least one etymological error. Must Lutherans, to be Lutheran, be saddled with these? According to the “because” position, the answer is yes, they must affirm these errors.

But it gets worse. In light of the despicable act of evil that occurred in Pittsburgh and with Reformation Day having just passed, I’ve been reading about Martin Lutherr and also decided to look up what the Book of Concord says about Jews. I believe the latter demonstrates conclusively that we cannot and must not give the Book of Concord “unconditional subscription.”

Unconditional Subscription?

I take my definition from one of the conservative Lutheran sites that is pushing for this as the definition of Lutheran:

What is an “unconditional subscription” to the Confessions?
Confessional Lutheran pastors are required to “subscribe,” that is, to pledge their agreement unconditionally with the Lutheran Confessions precisely because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. This is the way our pastors, and all laypeople who confess belief in the Small Catechism, are able with great joy and without reservation or qualification to say what it is that they believe to be the truth of God’s Word. (Lutheran Reformation emphasis removed)

Unconditional subscription, then, is the notion that Lutherans must pledge to agree without reservation to the entirety of the Lutheran Confessions, which are those contained in the Book of Concord.

Jews and the Book of Concord

I have not cited every instance of the occurrence of “Jew” or “Jewish” in the Book of Concord. Rather, here I’ll be citing three instances which I believe demonstrate beyond a doubt that we cannot affirm unconditional subscription without seriously compromising our morality.

The first section comes from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII, section 18:

This is absolutely a Jewish opinion, to hold that we are justified by a ceremony, without a good disposition of the heart, i.e., without faith.

There are a number of problems with this sentence even apart from the use of “Jewish” here. First, it doesn’t just imply but states that Jewish “opinion” believes in justification without faith. Yet this contradicts the New Testament’s own teaching on the faith of Jewish people. For example, Hebrews 11:8-10:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

So Abraham, the father of Judaism, acted by faith, looking forward to the city whose designer is God. This famous passage in the New Testament goes on to affirm the faith of Rahab, Sarah, Jacob, the Israelites coming out of Egypt, and many, many more Jews, noting, ultimately, that though they acted on faith none of them received the promised final perfection (Hebrews 11:39-40). So the Book of Concord appears to simply be wrong in this offhanded remark about how “Jewish opinion” holds to a position that is “without faith.”

The next sentence in the Apology states that this “Jewish opinion,” now united with the Pope, is “impious” and “pernicious.” This ascribed to a view of faith that was simply assigned offhandedly to the Jewish people without proof!

The Large Catechism is one of the most important expositions of Lutheran faith, and therein, regarding the Ten Commandments, it is stated (Conclusion of the Ten Commandments, section 330):

 Therefore it is not in vain that it is commanded in the Old Testament to write the Ten Commandments on all walls and corners, yes, even on the garments, not for the sake of merely having them written in these places and making a show of them, as did the Jews…

Here, a practice of Jews is simply dismissed offhand as “making a show” of the Ten Commandments. Jewish practice surrounding the Ten Commandments is dismissed as simply for the sake of having them written; as if the Jewish people had no more regard for the Ten Commandments than anyone else. I hope it need not be stated that we should not “unconditionally subscribe” to this.

A final example comes from the Solid Declaration VII, section 30:

 Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, [1 Corinthians 11:27] sins not merely against the bread and wine, not merely against the signs or symbols and emblems of the body and blood, but shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, as there [in the Holy Supper] present, he dishonors, abuses, and disgraces, as the Jews, who in very deed violated the body of Christ and killed Him; just as the ancient Christian Fathers and church-teachers unanimously have understood and explained this passage.

Here is a seriously problematic passage, though it is historically tied to the context. The Germany of Luther’s day was filled with anti-Semitic imagery, sayings, and practices. Churches had imagery of Jews suckling on pigs; the notion of Jews as killers of Christ was quite common. And here, in the Book of Concord, we see that leaking in, as Jews generally, not just a handful of people but all Jews are blamed for the “violation” of the body of Christ and killing him. Not only that, but it is alleged that the Church Fathers and “church-teachers” unanimously agree upon this language. This is exactly the language that is used to this day to attack Jews as “Christ-killers” and to raise anti-Semitic sentiment among Christians. This is the kind of language that we must take a firm stand against.

I realize some may stand up and try to cite 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 here, arguing that the New Testament teaches specifically that Jews killed Jesus. Such would be a mistaken conclusion, because it also speaks of “the Jews” as killing the prophets. Jesus and the prophets were Jewish, and the common use of the phrase “Jews” in the New Testament refers to the leaders (see its use in the Gospels, each written by people who were Jewish, to refer to certain factions among Judaism).

Conclusion

I have already argued that the Book of Concord has errors of etymology and interpretation. In this post, we see that its treatment of the Jews is deeply problematic. Those who argue that we must have “unconditional subscription” to the Book of Concord must affirm these problematic statements in the name of being a “true” Lutheran. But what is more Lutheran than self-examination, confession of sins (like those of anti-Semitism), and the continuing Reform of the church? What can be more Lutheran than demanding that any document with which we agree, we will only agree with “in so far as” it agrees with Scripture?

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!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Another Problem for Book of Concord Inerrantists– I discuss an etymological error in the Book of Concord.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

“The Count of Monte Cristo” – Faith, Vengeance, and Destiny

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Several friends had recently talked about finishing this book and how much they enjoyed it. I also recalled seeing the recent-ish movie several years ago (though, having finished the book, I threw it on hold at the library, so I’ll be watching it again!). Also, there’s a delicious sandwich that I at least assume got its name from this book, which makes it even better. But other than these fleeting glimpses, I knew pretty much nothing about Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo going in. The memory of the movie had faded, and I just recalled there was some guy who wanted revenge. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

The Count of Monte Cristo is, on the surface level, a novel of vindication and revenge. It’s an adventure that spans more than a thousand pages. Yet it remains a page-turner that demands to be devoured in sitting after sitting. But on the deeper level, it is a fantastically Christian look at the world and God’s action therein.

The set up for the plot involves the man who would be the count getting set up by several who wish him ill for various reasons. But throughout even that section, “Providence” is constantly in view. Providence is historically one way people talked about divine activity in the world, so the reader is led to see Dumas’s viewpoint as having a divine hand in many acts. And, indeed, as our lead character begins his quest for vindication and vengeance, bringing blessings and curses upon those who helped or hindered him, we as readers cannot help but associate his actions with those of God. We want the Count to succeed in his quest for revenge; it is so well planned, and he has become a man of almost limitless poise and focus. It is not until the count has one part of his vengeance go “too far” that he starts to have second thoughts.

These second thoughts translate into an awareness that our Count’s activity is not just the hand of God acting. Though we as readers have been rooting for him throughout, it becomes clearer that the assumptions we’ve made about how the story is going are wrong. It’s as though Dumas played into our expectations, allowing us to think that, perhaps, here is the kind of “divine vending machine” that we so often wish to turn God into. Here, in at least this story, God is working in the way that we want, dispensing a kind of hard justice on wrongdoing and giving great benefit to those who deserve it. But our Count realizes that this is not, in fact, what is happening. His own actions have been, well, his own. Has he been aided by God? Yes, in the sense that his endeavors could not have all succeeded without some acts of Providence. But he has presumed too much. Like Job in the Bible, he has questioned God; nay, he has gone farther and turned himself into the hand of God, dishing out vengeance and blessing as he wished. And his actions have led to a great wrong with the death of innocents.

So Dumas asks us to take ourselves back out of the shoes of the Count, to stop assuming that we know what is supposed to happen. Instead, he has lured us into this complacency, thinking we know how things ought to be, when instead we should be approaching the acts of God with fear and trembling, carefully avoiding the notion that we can make God act in the ways we desire. Hidden in plain sight within this apparent adventure novel, we have a serious theological commentary that forces us to re-examine who God is and how God acts. How often we make God into what we want, thinking we can control God! Yet here we see how foolish that is, and how we must once again evaluate the assumptions we have made.

So apart from this deep theological discussion, is there a good book? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The novel is so well written. I found it un-put-down-able. It’s a true page turner even at its doorstop-like heft. The story is full of beautiful description and overflowing with heart and depth.

There is far more that I could say about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a phenomenal achievement. It definitely stands among my favorite works of all time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, dear readers.

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views” edited by Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker

I love multiview books. I find them generally enlightening, filling in details about views I don’t hold (and sometimes didn’t even know existed) while also showing how my own view (or one like it) stacks up against others. Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views presents a multiview book on doing theology as an evangelical.* I found it to be highly informative, though I was somewhat perplexed by some aspects of the book.

The views presented here as different theological methods for evangelicals are “Bible Doctrines/Conservative Theology” presented by Sung Wook Chung, “Missional Theology” presented by John R. Franke, “Interdisciplinary Theology” presented by Telford C. Work, “Contextual Theology” presented by Victor Ifeanyi Ezigbo, and “Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology” presented by Paul Louis Metzger.

The Bible Doctrines view is essentially grounded in the notion that we use the Bible as a source to draw information from and then outline what the Bible teaches. The Bible is the data, theology is presenting and systematizing that data. Chung appeals to the historical grammatical view in support of this, arguing that while history and textual criticism may provide some correctives, the core is to ask “what does the Bible teach” and end the discussion there. The missional view does theology with a focus on the church lived/living its mission to make disciples of all nations. Thus, it is an inherently practical theology, looking to apply what the Bible teaches to the mission of Christ’s church. Interdisciplinary theology is an approach that utilizes any field of study, making theology the “queen of the sciences” while integrating insight from biology, psychology, literary studies, and more. Interestingly, Work does a case study based on homosexuality and Christianity, arguing that the question is not “Is homosexuality wrong” but rather what kind of people we ought to try to be to conform to the image of Christ. Contextual theology seeks to make the Gospel of Christ understandable and appealing to all people not by applying a one-size-fits all doctrinal mold or practice but rather by utilizing insights from cultures that exist to show the truth of Christ. The Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology chapter was the most difficult in the book, utilizing themes from Barth (along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer an Colin Gunton) to draw out a dogmatic theology for Christianity.

There is some clear overlap between a few of these views, particularly the missional/contextual view and the “Bible Doctrines”/Trinitarian views. The responses at the end of the book didn’t allow individual authors to respond back to the responses, something I did miss. It would have been nice to see, for example, I’d be curious to see how Ezigbo might respond to Chung on the challenge he offered to contextual theology and the possibility of syncretism or the authority of Scripture.

Ezigbo’s essay struck me as particularly insightful, and his responses were perhaps the best in the book. His challenge to Metzger, for example, is on point: “Clearly Metzger exhibits the characteristics of theologians whose theological reflections focus primarily on peer-driven questions… One could only wonder what Metzger’s study of Barth would like like if his aim were to discern Barth’s relevance to the contemporary christological questions that Christians with no formal theological education are asking today” (181-182). Ezigbo notes that he isn’t saying that peer-driven questions are irrelevant, “but if theologians expect their theological reflections to benefit all Christians… they should seek to develop skills and the patience required to exegete the… contexts that shape the life of Christians and their communities” (182). I found this a clear challenge for myself as well, as one who is very interested in the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How do we ensure as people doing and discussing theology that our discussions actually have relevance? Of course, one could argue more abstractly that if Barth’s dogmatics are true, then in the broadest sense they are relevant for all people, no matter how obscure, in that truth impacts reality. But that seems cold comfort when the challenge is much more personal: why should Barth’s insights matter to me? It’s food for thought, I think.

One thing that was only addressed in passing by a few of the authors was the strangeness of seeing theological method as an either/or. As a good Lutheran, I love me some ‘both-and.’ It seems to me, as a reader, that these methods could each benefit from one another, and that trying to practice one exclusively would be detrimental. Dogmatics need context. Interdisciplinary studies need some mission. The Bible Doctrines approach could probably stand to acknowledge some of the inherent concerns there (eg. a tendency to assume that one’s own presuppositions of the text or “plain sense” reading is, in fact, correct, despite possible evidence to the contrary).

I found Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views to be a very interesting book, and one which raises many avenues for further research. Those interested in systematic theology, especially, ought to pick it up to read through it. The authors provide some challenges for each of the approaches in the book, and it is important that we do not become too simplistic in our working out of theology.

*I am a Lutheran (specifically of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and although my denomination has “evangelical” in the name, Lutherans are generally different from what is considered broadly evangelical views, particularly in regard to the sacraments. Though, to be fair, Lutherans were the first to identify “evangelical” as a term to call themselves. I give this caveat to show my own outlook on the book.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Battle for Bonhoeffer” by Stephen R. Haynes

The Battle for Bonhoeffer by Stephen R. Haynes highlights the ways that people across theological, social, and political spectrums have played tug-of-war with Bonhoeffer’s thought, words, and legacy. As Charles Marsh puts it in his Foreword, “It is understandable… that readers with different theological and ideological perspectives would desire to claim Bonhoeffer as their own. ‘Excerpting Bonhoeffer’ has become a familiar exercise in each team’s effort to win…” (ix). Yet Bonhoeffer’s legacy is far more complex than a simple Google quote mine would allow. In my own reading of Bonhoeffer’s works, it is clear that it would be simple to find conflicting messages even within the same sermons at times. Like Martin Luther, for example, reading Bonhoeffer and interpreting him is like peeling away the layers of an onion, trying to get to the core. It takes care, precision, and thought. Unfortunately, as Haynes notes throughout this book, few people are concerned with doing so.

Though the subtitle is “Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump,” there is far more to the book than dealing with the recent Trump phenomenon. Haynes notes how people on both the right and left have distorted or ignored aspects of Bonhoeffer’s legacy to turn in him into a supporter of their own positions. Marsh sets the table well, asking: “Have you heard progressive Christians cite the passage in Ethics calling abortion ‘nothing but murder’? Or recall Bonhoeffer’s preference for monarchy over democracy?” (xii). Haynes notes how Bonhoeffer was cited on one hand by Vietnam draft resisters, peace activists, liberation theologians, death-of-God thinkers on the left, and on the right by people who oppose abortion or same-sex marriage (and, regarding the latter, Haynes notes insights from both Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory and Diane Reynolds The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [which I reviewed here] for reasons this may be quite inaccurate]). The baffling array of topics Bonhoeffer is alleged to have endorsed or condemned suggests that the quote mining being done through his legacy belies an inner complexity that is far deeper.

Haynes surveys the history of interpretation of Bonhoeffer, particularly in America, through the next several chapters. He places a special emphasis on seeing how evangelicals have viewed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What is interesting in this latter topic is that, initially at least, Bonhoeffer was viewed positively but with some “warning flags” by American evangelicals who interacted with his works. Several appreciated his resistance to Nazi ideals, but were put off by his apparent lack of concern for things like “a high view of Scripture/inerrancy” and his being influenced by liberal German theologians. This portrait by the early evangelicals of Bonhoeffer is far more accurate than the one that has been passed into our own time, in part because it allowed for a multifaceted Bonhoeffer who was complex enough to resist being easily integrated into any one position.

Fairly early on, however, the complexities of Bonhoeffer’s thought and life began to be ignored in favor of seeing him as a figurehead for resistance to one’s own preferred ideas. Haynes demonstrates how Bonhoeffer was used to resist George W. Bush and the “war on terror,” and then ironically turned around to resist the “culture of death” under Barack Obama. The raising of the “Bonhoeffer flag” behind such opposed viewpoints should have served as a warning sign, but it unfortunately did not.

Enter Eric Metaxas. Metaxas’s biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was an extreme departure from Bonhoeffer scholarship generally. For one thing, Metaxas himself admitted to virtually ignoring or explicitly shunning the conclusions of 70 years of Bonhoeffer scholarship both at home and abroad. The cover flap for the book features a spurious quote from Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself…” that has since been passed all over the world and even “quoted” multiple times in Congress on record. To say that using an invented quote from Bonhoeffer on the cover of a biography of the man is a bad sign is an understatement. Haynes notes many, many problems with the biography, from a lack of engagement with Bonhoeffer’s actual works (and ignoring, for example, his Letters and Papers from Prison, which is one of the most important works for understanding his developed thought) to a recasting of Bonhoeffer into an American Evangelical. Yet it is Metaxas’s biography that has become the torch-bearer for the populist Bonhoeffer, making an image of the man that is incredibly distorted. For my own part, when I read Metaxas’s work, I was struck by how entirely de-Lutheranized Metaxas had made Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who explicitly stated that, for example, without the Lord’s Supper there is no Christianity and who certainly supported infant baptism and regeneration, but Metaxas excised such details from his own dim look at Bonhoeffer’s theology, preferring to pull out those things which were more amenable to the typical American evangelical.

It was the populist view of Bonhoeffer which lead to notions of a “Bonhoeffer Moment” at various times before, during, and after the 2016 election cycle. Haynes spends some time noting how it was frequently said during the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that American Christians were facing a “Bonhoeffer Moment” in which they would need to resist the government’s tyranny. Haynes notes how many evangelicals made comparisons to previous Supreme Court rulings, conveniently ignoring those unjust rulings they supported or the just ones they opposed. More decisively, Haynes notes that after Obergefell, evangelicals rallied around a woman who was part of an anti-Trinitarian sect to be their martyr for the cause. In the time since, though, very little has been done by evangelicals in their supposed “Bonhoeffer Moment.” This kind of co-option of the man’s legacy is a disservice to all involved.

Haynes doesn’t limit his analysis of the “battle for Bonhoeffer” to just the positives of Bonhoeffer’s life. Metaxas and others have argued Bonhoeffer is a “Righteous Gentile” (Metaxas even made “righteous gentile” part of his additional subtitle to his biography). But Bonhoeffer has explicitly been turned down for that technical categorization for a few reasons: 1) he wrote or supported some things that were seemingly anti-Semitic; and 2) though he did become a martyr, it wasn’t specifically due to his efforts to help the Jews during the Holocaust, which is a criterion for being deemed a “Righteous Gentile.” Bonhoeffer certainly opposed the Nazi treatment of the Jews and did help some Jews escape Germany (though at arm’s length for the most part–simply helping get proper papers from afar); but that was not his project or his main reason for opposing Nazi Germany. And that’s okay. It is important not to lionize Bonhoeffer for things he didn’t actually do, and Haynes is careful to help readers realize that.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer isn’t very long, but its length shouldn’t be taken for a lack of depth. It’s a thoughtful, critical, and sometimes convicting read. As one who is deeply indebted to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my own theology and thought, I found ways in which I had been distorting him in this book as well. Haynes’ book provides an invaluable correction to distortions on the man’s life, times, and thought. I very highly recommend it.

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

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: “Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages” edited by Kyle R. Greenwood

Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages is an invaluable resource to understanding the book of Genesis and creation. The book’s scope is impressive, encompassing not only Christian interpretations but also early Rabbinic interpretations, Second Temple Judaism, and the rediscovery of the Ancient Near East with its implications for understanding Genesis. The book is a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning about Genesis.

Each chapter in the book is full of valuable insights. Greenwood himself starts it off by tracing the impact of these creation accounts across the Old Testament. Michael Matlock’s chapter on Second Temple Jewish literature and Genesis 1 and 2 is fascinating, both for its providing a brief introduction to that body of literature and for insights into how later traditions would shape one’s reading of the text. Some Jewish interpreters (eg. Josephus) seemed comfortable expanding on the story themselves, adding whatever details they believed might add interest or even theological emphasis to the text. Of course that doesn’t undermine much careful attention to details of the texts that modern interpreters sometimes miss. Ira Brent Driggers’ chapter uses the intriguing word “appropriations” to describe the New Testament’s use of the Genesis account. Among other things of interest, this chapter leads readers to wonder exactly how NT authors used the Old Testament and what that may mean for our own interpretations. Early Rabbinic interpretation is the subject of Joel S. Allen’s chapter, in which he shows some of the ways post-destruction of the temple Judaism saw figures like Adam and Eve.

Stephen O. Presley’s chapter on the Ante-Nicene Fathers touches on a number of major early Christian thinkers and shows how the interpretation of Genesis continued to develop in sometimes divergent ways. C. Rebecca Rine’s entry on the Nicene and Post-Nicene interpretations shows how Scripture was seen as a pathway to transformation (121) and so a focus on application of the text led to some unique readings (such as creating a baseline for spiritual writings based on the 6-day pattern). Questions raised by these Nicene/Post-Nicene thinkers included wondering why days were in the narrative at all–something that some modern interpreters would be baffled by for all their own emphasis on the importance of the days. Medieval Jewish theology is the center of Jason Kalman’s chapter, which demonstrates the sometimes radical divergence Christian vs. Jewish readings of the same verses could have. Some of these readings included seeing that Genesis didn’t actually entail an order of creation whatsoever (157). Timothy Bellamah’s chapter provides the Christian Medieval contrast to the previous chapter, showing how much fruitful theology continued in this period, often dismissed. Aquinas, of course, is the giant of this era, and he gets some due attention here. The Protestant Reformers were interested in Genesis 1 and 2 in part for their own polemical purposes and in part as their project to go back to the source continued. Jennifer Powell McNutt draws from this rich Christian tradition to highlight various points of emphases by the Reformers.

Another important aspect of the book is the chapter on the Ancient Near East by David T. Tsumura. Because much of this knowledge was lost for a lengthy period of time, many interpretations of Genesis through the ages did not take into account the actual cultural milieu from which it sprang. The Protestant Reformers, for example, had no access to these materials, so their call to go ad fontes–to the source–could not actually complete the task. The interpretation of Genesis ought not to be considered a settled matter from the Reformation to today, and even allegedly literal readings of Genesis owe as much to modern discoveries as to the texts themselves. Aaron T. Smith’s chapter on Post-Darwinian interpretations shows both how yes, in some ways evolution impacted readings of Genesis, but in others it caused a true pursuit of going back to the beginning. Cosmology is central to debates over how Genesis is to be read.

If it hasn’t already become clear, it should be stated plainly that this book is an absolute treasure trove of information, with many, many strands of further research to be pursued upon its completion. Each chapter is worthy of inclusion, and each is well-written and as intriguing as the next. That in itself is an achievement because the book is consistently engrossing.

I very highly recommend Since the Beginning to you, readers. It’s a book that will have you thinking about your own reading of the text, and may even give you insight into where that reading may have its origins.

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: “Last Call for Liberty” by Os Guinness

Os Guinness issues a call to question ourselves and what we mean by “freedom” and “liberty” in the United States in his book Last Call for Liberty. He argues that the United States must work to restore its faith in the “covenant” of the Constitution and help preserve liberty through its republican system.

Perhaps the most prominent theme throughout the book is that of 1776 vs. 1789. The dates refer to the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Guinness never really delves into defining this alleged conflict, though he does stick with the definition of “classical liberal” vs. “left/liberal.” The pervasiveness of this theme would lead readers to think that there would be some elucidation of the specifics of this distinction, but those readers are left wanting. Guinness simply refers to those dates throughout the book as though readers will just know and agree how horrible the French Revolution was for “liberty” (however defined) and how wonderful and perfect the American Revolution was for liberty. That is supposed to be obvious to anyone reading the book, apparently, because there is no point at which Guinness argues the point. In the introduction, for example, when he first introduces the theme, he writes:

Either the classical liberalism of the republic will prevail and 1776 will defeat 1789, or the Left/liberalism of 1789 will defeat 1776, and the republic will fail and become a republic in name only. (4)

Those are some dire words. Probably they should have some basis in argument, definition, and reality. But readers will never know if this distinction has a reality from the arguments presented in the book, because Guinness blithely assumes readers will go with his argument, despite never actually having made it.

The 1776/89 theme is pervasive throughout the book, and is continually used either as the point of an argument or as a way to hammer opposing views. For example, at one point Guinness states that “There can be no truce between 1776 and 1780. The clash of freedoms has to be settled in favor of one way or another, for they lead in entirely different directions” (179). Readers won’t really have a firm idea of what those directions are beyond 1776 is good and 1789 bad; but beyond that point is the absurdity of the actual statement made. “No truce” between the two can exist? How about the fact that, historically, the United States did, in fact have a truce with the Revolutionaries of 1789 and ultimately even an alliance? Sure, the relationship between the two countries soured to the point of a pseudo war, but it healed again shortly thereafter. Why? Because the United States was more favorably inclined towards a French country that had thrown off its monarchy than other countries that were dedicated to preserving theirs (eg. Britain). I admit I have simplified things historically, but even this analysis provides more historical background to the two years than Guinness does in close to 300 pages of text! Not only that, but Guinness had, at an earlier point, argued that history is the test for different systems to work, citing, of course, the worst possible examples of political systems that are different from a republic in his argument. But if history is the test for truth claims, his absurd claim that there can be no truce between 1776/1789 has been tested and is false.

Much of the rest of the book is filled with vague or explicit notions of American exceptionalism. The United States has the best system because it does, right? For example, only pages after Guinness condemns Athenian democracy for its limits on freedom because it only gave certain men the right to vote and Athens didn’t give in to reasoned arguments against slavery (77-78), he goes on to praise the United States for its own wonderful adherence to liberty. I don’t know whether to be amused by the irony or saddened by the apparent intentional ironing out of history’s wrinkles. After all, the 1776 liberty and freedom-loving republic Guinness wants us to all to hearken back to as the best example itself only allowed certain men the right to vote and endorsed and made laws for slavery. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply conflicted Guinness’s words are with his own thesis throughout the book. Whose liberty and freedom is Guinness really concerned with here? I can’t help but ask the question, because his ignoring of the wrongs of slavery and limited votes in the earliest days of the republic are set alongside nearly worshipful praise of the wisdom of the Founders demands that we ask whose power Guinness is concerned with.

Another major problem with the book is the style of writing Guinness has. At very few points was I able to draw out a thread of an argument. Rather, throughout the work, waxing eloquently is taken in the place of argument. It’s the kind of writing style that will pump up an audience already firmly in agreement with the thesis, but it doesn’t advance the argument or really even state it in any way. Alongside these vague statements that nevertheless provide good quote-mining is the notion that the United States somehow, in 1776, did something akin to making a proper covenant with God by being “under God” in the formation of the nation. I am still not sure I understand Guinness’s point here, but neither do accept fault for not understanding it. Like most other points in the book, this covenant/constitution/under God unity is never explained but merely assumed and orated upon.

Guinness apparently also felt the need to jump on the bandwagon of at least referencing the concept of calling younger people “snowflakes” and restating some of the mockery directed towards those who were upset by results of an election. For a man who literally wrote a book about how we must work to preserve freedom and liberty, it is deeply ironic to read condemnations of people feeling passionately about the results of efforts to do so. Sure, Guinness probably disagrees with how these others are voting, but for him to complain about the passion people felt about elections is asinine. How can Guinness seriously place this complaint having just written a book trying to put forward a passionate cry for liberty? Oh, and don’t forget to blame 1789 for people not conforming to Guiness’s standards of how people should react to elections, as well. Not content to stop with that self-condemning thought, Guinness also equivocates between the notion of political correctness and “newspeak” from the book 1984. It’s not a sick take down of the “Left” (or the Right, really) unless we bring up some of our favorite dystopic novels, right? This equivalency is stunning, because it seems to imply that Guinness actually believes that calls to, say, use accurate language for people groups is the same as literally changing truth to falsehood. Maybe he does believe that, in which case his own position seems much more dangerous to liberty than those he condemns.

Really, the entire book reads like someone who is having to face the fact that his position–that of an elder white male–is no longer valued simply by virtue of being an elder white male. Liberty is easily defined into power for his own position, and this definition is made almost explicit when he, as noted above, praises the United States’ republican system that excluded all non-white people, females, and non-land owners from voting in the glorious year of 1776. It’s hard to take seriously a man who can make such a heartless statement in praise of that system who then turns around and complains about others not liking his viewpoint.

Last Call for Liberty is the kind of alarmist and elitist work that Guinness purports to condemn in the book itself. By aligning himself so closely with the notion that the United States is under (or should be under) some kind of divine mandate and “covenant,” Guinness preaches to the choir of American exceptionalism. By sweeping the faults of our form of “liberty” under the rug, he engages in the very immunization against facts that he criticizes the “left/liberal” of doing. It is at times baffling to see such contradictory sentiments contained in the same book. Unfortunately, I believe that its primary audience will find it as faultless as they find our country.

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

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