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Book Reviews

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Book Review: “A History of Western Philosophy From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism” by C. Stephen Evans

A History of Western Philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans is a valuable entry in the list of single-volume histories of philosophy. Evans approaches the topic from a Christian perspective, though he does integrate critiques into the exposition of philosophies as he goes. Instead, he offers a perspective in the end of philosophers with which he has significant disagreements.

It would be impossible to summarize the whole work here. Instead, I’ll offer a few highlights. In addition to the introduction and concluding summary, there are 22 chapters focusing on either individual philosophers (eg. Aquinas, David Hume) or movements (eg. Enlightenment Deism, Early Christian Thought). Evans writes in a truly winsome and interesting manner, and his explanation of each philosophy is written in a way that, initially at least, draws the reader into thinking it may be “the” philosophy. When Evans believes there is important criticism to offer, he generally does so at the end of each chapter. When other philosophers have offered significant critiques, Evans incorporates those into the chapter. One example of the latter is the Ontological Argument of Anselm, which receives attention in several different chapters (for example in the chapters on Kant, Early Medieval Philosophy, The High Middle Ages (I) and (II)) with major philosophers either arguing against it or making improvements.

I particularly enjoyed those philosophies which at points seemed unanswerable. For example, George Berkeley’s immaterialism caught my interest when I first got into philosophy, and the puzzle of his thought remains one that intrigues me. As Evans aptly sums it up: “Few people find Berkeley’s arguments convincing. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to see just what is wrong with the arguments” (333). Indeed! Yet, as Evans notes, Berkeley’s arguments just ring of wrongness somehow. Denying the existence of the material world just seems… off to us. It’s one of those pesky philosophical problems that makes the field so intriguing and frustrating all at once.

The chapter on Hume was of interest as well, though I personally hoped he would bring up George Campbell, a contemporary of Hume whose A Dissertation on Miracles offers a decisive rebuttal to Hume’s arguments on miracles. Nevertheless, this and many other chapters are full of insights and interest. The footnotes offer much by way of further reading, as well.

A few criticism might be leveled at this stage. First, there is a notable lack of women in Evans’s survey. Though he does allude to this and does include one woman philosopher as a title philosopher for a chapter, a ratio of >20:1 is not great. A diversity of voices in this regard might have heightened the usefulness of the book. Another critique to offer would be the rather uncritical acceptance of “Western” as denoting something understood by all. In the introduction, there is a brief look at this topic, but little commentary at all is offered on how one distinguishes “Western” from any other kind of philosophy. As with any broad concept like this, it seems almost too broad to be useful. After all, if people like Augustine from Africa and Clement from Alexandria are “Western,” what does the term mean, exactly? Indeed, included in this definition of “Western” are philosophers from New Zealand and Australia. The term just doesn’t seem helpful to begin with.

The strengths of this volume should now be apparent. It presents a broad look at many of the most famous philosophers (and philosophies) that people run into in the United States. Evans offers critical feedback where appropriate, and he presents each philosophy in an effective, interesting manner.

C. Stephen Evans has done a service making this historical look at philosophy. It is surprisingly readable, while also presenting the views of many philosophers in a fair way.  I recommend A History of Western Philosophy as an introduction to the topic alongside other, firsthand works.

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

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SDG.

——

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

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Book Review: “Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought” edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sphere of influence seems to expand almost daily, as I read about his life and theology online and in books. Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought, edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick, is a collection of essays showing how Bonhoeffer’s influence extends into many and sometimes disparate strands of thought into our time and, certainly, beyond.

Engaging Bonhoeffer is a delight to read. Having read many books on Bonhoeffer and related works by now, I feel especially joyful when some fresh analysis or aspect of his thought is brought to light that I had not considered before. The authors in this collection bring many such moments, as they demonstrate how many others have carried the torch of Bonhoeffer’s legacy and, at times, done so with critical engagement. Though it is true most collections of essays have ups and downs, this one seems to be a collection of hits.

The essay on liberation theology may surprise some given the recent push to attempt to integrate Bonhoeffer’s legacy into a contemporary (American) evangelical fold. Bonhoeffer’s deep and repeated exegesis of biblical passages having to do with the poor, the oppressed, and more is set alongside the fact that Bonhoeffer himself was no less than the bourgeois of the bourgeois. Geffrey B. Kelly and Matthew D. Kirkpatrick show how despite his background, Bonhoeffer transcended his own privileged place to be named in some strands of liberation theology as a precursor to the movement and by others as an early liberation theologian. Bonhoeffer’s inclusion in the movement by those who are in the movement is due, the authors note, to (at least) two things- the uncompromising position Bonhoeffer takes in regards to God’s suffering with those who are suffering and his unwillingness to cede theology to broad metaphysics and abstraction rather than reality at hand.

Another contribution by Kirkpatrick, “Situations, Contexts, and Responsibility: Bonhoeffer’s Ethics in the Thought of Joseph Fletcher, Paul Lehmann, and H. Richard Niebuhr” fascinates with the examination of Bonhoeffer’s ethics set alongside a subjective theory of ontology. Kirkpatrick notes that while Bonhoeffer has similar thinking to much of situational ethics, he also does ground his ethics objectively in the person of Christ. The essay was a challenging read as it also presents the possibility for a way forward in the broad debate over Bonhoeffer’s views on pacifism and how to interpret some seemingly contradictory ideas. Is it possible that, instead, Bonhoeffer may consistently be understood through a lens of situation ethics?

The chapter on Karl Barth shows that Barth struggled much of his life to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s legacy and Bonhoeffer’s own interactions and comments upon his (Barth’s) work. The essay on Bonhoeffer and Jurgen Moltmann shows how some thinkers have critically interacted with Bonhoeffer, building some ideas and offering criticism of others. Another essay on the death of god theologians shows how some of Bonhoeffer’s language was co-opted for purposes certainly beyond his intent, but that do highlight some aspects that he may have pursued if he’d had the chance.

His influence on many others is considered as well: Stanley Hauerwas, Rowan Williams, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorothee Soelle, Wolf Krotke, the earliest English commentators on Bonhoeffer, Ronald Gregor Smith and J.A.T. Robinson, Eberhard Jungel, Gerhard Ebeling, Paul Ricouer, and Jean-Yves Lacoste. My own familiarity with some of these is effectively nothing, so having Bonhoeffer’s thought linked to them and expanded was fascinating as a way of demonstrating his far-reaching legacy and the many, many ways people have adapted his thought.

Engaging Bonhoeffer is an excellent series of essays that will open up new avenues of exploration for readers to pursue. I highly recommend it for any who are interested in Bonhoeffer’s thought and how it is being shaped as his legacy in modern thinkers from many different perspectives.

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.

“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight- A prophet for then and now

[H]e is the lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. –Frederick Douglass (quoted on p. 361)

Frederick Douglass is one of the most important thinkers in the history of the United States. David W. Blight’s fantastic biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom shows the man in a way I hadn’t met him before, despite reading one of his three (!) autobiographies. I write in this post that he is a prophet for then and now because much of what Douglass had to say can still apply to today. His philosophical insight, his way of speaking, and his life’s devotion to a cause are things we can think on and emulate to this day.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, took help where he could, taught himself to read and write, and escaped from slavery. He became one of the most traveled people of his century, a prolific speaker, writer, abolitionist, and philosopher. Blight uses the term “prophet” in the way that highlights Douglass’s words to moral persuasion, just as so many of the Old Testament prophets did. And Douglass was a deeply Christian man who saw two faiths that were incompatible co-existing in the United States: the religion of slaveholding and the religion of Christ.

Douglass existed in a place where few others did. A former slave, he told firsthand accounts of the brutality of that horrific system and its injustice. Working with white abolitionists, he favored more radical views and even, at times, the perfectionism of some aspects of the abolitionist movement, while also moderating some of his positions depending upon the crowd to which he spoke. An insightful, lucid thinker, he called injustice to account and pointed out the true hypocrisy of people calling themselves Christians while perpetrating awful deeds. One example of the clarity of thought he provided united with his “radical” persuasions about antislavery can be found in his philosophical argument about the morality of the slaveholder and slave: “The morality of a free society can have no application to slave society. Slaveholders have made it almost impossible for the slave to commit any crime, known either to the laws of God or to the laws of man. If he steals, he takes his own; if he kills his master, he imitates only the heroes of the revolution” (quoted on page 57). This kind of sharp logic is revolutionary and world-changing, and many saw it as such.

Douglass’s life would be impossible to summarize here. Blight’s biography is one of those which goes for a fairly comprehensive look at the life of its subject. A few notes along the way: Douglass reacted to and changed his view on some things over time. His bootstrap-type thinking for African Americans was moderated in later years as he saw how inequality could be enforced through Jim Crow laws and the like. He married a white woman after his first wife died, causing no small amount of controversy and showing his–and Helen Pitts’s–commitment to the equality of all people regardless of skin color. He leveled vicious attacks on slaveholders and their cruelty but later in life moderated some of these claims, perhaps in order to try to assist with the reunification of a country he saw as died and resurrected after the Civil War. There is no shortage of rich detail to his life. Blight points out how Douglass was, as any would be, prone to shaping his personal narrative to fit current needs. He was also one who enjoyed the spotlight and did not wish to cede it to other rising stars, though he did help mentor many African Americans and was generous with his often overestimated wealth.

Though Blight does little reflection on Douglass’s application to our day, the parallels could be drawn out. For one, racism continues to exist to this day. Organizations that are white nationalist, KKK, and the like continue to exist. Less overt racism continues in supposed color-blind laws that are unequally applied. Moreover, the co-existence of true faith–the faith in Christ–with radical heresy and anti-Christian beliefs continues to this day in movements like the Prosperity Gospel. Any Christianity which tears people down rather than freeing them with grace, which divides rather than unites (as in Galatians 3:28) is a Christianity without Christ. Let us allow Douglass to continue to be our prophet of freedom and listen to his words today.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a truly monumental work on the life of a monumental human being. Douglass is a name that every American ought to be familiar with. He was a prophet of our country and one whose words should continue to stir us to fight inequality on every level. Biographies that truly shake and shape the reader are few and far between, but this is one that did so for me.

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: “Interpreting Eden” by Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress offers a contribution to the interpretation of Genesis with his book Interpreting Eden. His arguments are primarily centered around targeting rival readings of Genesis.

One of the more controversial claims in a book full of such claims is Poythress leveling his sites on interpreting the language in the Bible about the state of the universe. Poythress is keen to demonstrate that the author of Genesis and authors of Scripture did not believe, as many have argued, that the earth had a solid dome over its sky. He draws several lines of evidence in support of his theory that, basically, these authors had an accurate view of the Earth. First, he argues throughout the work that the biblical authors write with a perspectival view in mind. That is, they are writing from the perspective of how things appear. So, for example, saying that the sun rises in the east is not a claim about objective reality but rather accurately reflects how one observing the sun from the Earth might see it.

Interestingly, Poythress couches his discussion of the “dome of the sky” language in the Bible not in interactions with experts in the Ancient Near East who make this argument and seemingly make it clear that this is exactly what the ancient Israelites believed, but rather he makes his interlocutor a “modern student” who somewhat naively reads the Bible literally (see, for example, Kindle locations 1196-1210). So, rather than critically interacting with the many scholarly accounts by experts on the Ancient Near East, Poythress presents the readings of cosmology as a cacophony of voices, strangely concluding that “My point is not to decide between various interpretations [of ANE evidence or cosmology], but to point out that the existence of variant interpretations constitutes a difficulty” (location 1228). But Poythress would hardly allow this same level of critical uncertainty when it comes to, say, biblical texts that are favored by Reformed theologians to make their point. Yet it is unclear that the many, many variant interpretations of virtually any text in the Bible present such a similar difficulty which, for Poythress, ultimately leads him to conclude that readings which allow for ANE background to be carried along with the biblical text “border… on incoherence” (1255). Would he make this same conclusion in regard to the dissonant voices of his own preferred texts to back his theological conclusions elsewhere? Doubtful.

Moreover, Poythress’s use of analogies obfuscates issues rather than clarifying him. His notion of the vehicle-cargo approach virtually insists upon a lieralistic interpretation of the analogy while he uses it to make vague and metaphorical points. Here again, he fails to interact with experts in the ANE and instead attacks what he sees as a “physicalist” reading of the Old Testament, without allowing these rival interpreters to even make their arguments. He then simply concludes that “Modern physicalist readings run the danger of not recognizing analogy and metaphor in ancient texts” (1280) despite himself acknowledging that these same modern readers make analogies between other ANE texts and Genesis!

Poythress also tries to show that a comprehensive picture of providence is required and then contradicted by some views within Christianity. He writes:

Among people who claim to be Christian, something akin to deism still exists in our time. It consists in the idea that… created things are sufficient in themselves to develop under their own power. In other words, God is basically uninvolved in detailed development. (Kindle location 424)

This appears to be a somewhat veiled jab at theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, depending upon one’s preferred parlance), who would see evolution as proceeding generally under its own power. It is here worth noting that Poythress does not acknowledge the vast diversity within those who affirm evolution and Christianity. For example, many evolutionary creationists affirm that while evolution may appear random, that does not preclude it from being directed by God or ordained and ordered by God. Indeed, Poythress himself has argued at length that we humans may perceive something as chance when it is in fact ordered by God. To then turn around and claim that this means people are only “claiming” to be Christian when they would affirm this same approach to evolution seems disingenuous at best. Moreover, Poythress goes on to say that “The deistic view affirms that God sustains the existence of the wind and the water” (Kindle loc. 431). This left me wondering what definition of deism Poythress is operating under, as deism is explicitly the view that God creates the universe but then does not interact with it. The act of sustaining existence is itself a miraculous act of God, and so would contradict a deistic perspective, which instead is explicitly mechanistic in its understanding of creation after the deistic god has created it (see, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s discussion of Deism alongside the Enlightenment). So Poythress’s charge is off base and, again, seems disingenuous, particularly for him to say these people “claim to be Christian…”

Time and again, Poythress makes it clear that there is an agenda in this book. He isn’t going to the text as often as one might think, given the subtitle of the book as a “Guide to faithfully reading and understanding Genesis 1-3.” Instead, he continually uses his presupposed interpretive lens to bash his theological opponents, who are referred to as deists, who “claim to be Christian,” who are “old fashioned liberals,” who are naive, etc. This judgment-laden language ought to show readers exactly what is happening in the book. It isn’t an attempt to objectively approach the text; it is a practice in using one’s own presupposed lenses to then conclude all other positions are in the wrong. Oddly, for example, after spending quite a large portion of the early part of the book in critiquing the notion that the biblical text is a vehicle for some ANE views that may be wrong or scientifically misinformed, Poythress himself acknowledges that “distinct cultures and subcultures may have shared some stock images” (2797). Does this mean the text of Scripture is a vehicle carrying the cargo of ANE allusions to “stock images” like the “contrast between chaos and order”? It certainly seems that is what Poythress is saying, yet he already claimed that such a view is “incoherent” earlier in the book. Yet it becomes clear that Poythress himself cannot help but acknowledge the ANE influence on the biblical text. Thus, despite his aversion to seeing parts of the biblical text as ANE background, which he argues allows readers to “simply excise anything they want by labeling it in their minds as merely a vehicle” (1454) he allows himself the leeway to claim that this “stock imagery” is present. Is it impossible for Poythress, then, to decide parts of the text are “stock images” when he finds them too difficult to assimilate into his own perspective? He doesn’t seem to think so, but his own position is effectively the same, here, as those he claims to oppose. He just arbitrarily assigns his position the label of “conservative” and “inerrancy” while excluding others from the Kingdom for their “claims to be Christian.”

Ultimately, Interpreting Eden is a book that will benefit most those who already agree with Poythress’s theological presuppositions. His arguments against “physicalist” interpretations and his unsubtle attempts to paint those with whom he disagrees as “deists” make it clear there is a theological agenda at play here rather than an attempt to grapple with the very real problem many of these texts present to the modern reader (who is, ironically, his main interlocutor).

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: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Psalms 73-150” edited by Herman J. Selderhuis

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the commentary on Psalms 73-150.

The general introduction gives readers insight into the different schools of interpretation that developed  during the Reformation. The introduction to this Psalms, specific to this volume, provides readers with some background on understanding the context in which the Reformers wrote, along with some common themes. For example, the fact that the Psalms were effectively a prayerbook for the Hebrews lead to it being seen as a prayerbook for the church, from which the Reformers derived no small amount of theology. Selderhuis also comments on the anti-Semitic (he calls it anti-Judaic to try to avoid anachronisms associating it with more modern anti-Semitism) sentiment found in so many of the Reformers. He comments on the irony of the fact that so many Reformers loved the Hebrew language and interacted with various Jewish scholars to do their interpretation, but remained anti-Judaic in their comments and attitude. He also notes how the Reformers saw in the Psalms a model for how we Christians ought to rejoice, ask, and pray.

The selection of contributors for this volume is quite well done. It is particularly interesting to see the comments of Cardinal Cajetan (best known for his opposition for Luther) set alongside those of Martin Luther. Another comparison to make is between John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius.  Other, lesser known names, are just as interesting. Martin Bucer is one of the most well-known of these “less known” contributors, such as Wolfgang Musculus or the English Annotations. These diverse and broad perspectives allow for the occasional side-by-side look at opposing schools, along with giving readers insights into some of the figures of the Reformation they may not have encountered otherwise. Some of the contributors were unknown to me. There is, as with every volume, a useful set of brief (short to long paragraph-length) biographical sketches of each contributor to give some background.

Perhaps the most consistent theme in the Psalms with the Reformers is their reading of the Psalms as being about Christ. Time and again, various Reformers (but particularly Luther) assert that a certain Psalm just is about Christ. Other times, with imprecatory Psalms, for example, it is fascinating to see the divergence among the Reformers. Psalm 109 is a good example of this. Luther, for example, reads it as a warning against taking vengeance in one’s own hands. Johannes Althamer and Johann Rurer read it as a curse against heresy and factions–a clear reading of their own historical context into the Bible. Robert Bellarmine reads the Psalm straightforwardly as being about Christ being persecuted by Judas and the Jews, but here we don’t see Luther offering such a comment (though he may have–it may just not appear in this volume). Calvin sees it as an exhortation to believers to bring every care to God. Though most of these aren’t strictly contradictory, this shows how diverse the Reformers could be in reading a single Psalm. Moreover, it shows the general penchant for reading their own current events into Scripture (or vice versa) and for reading Christ into parts of Scripture.

Psalm 104 is another fascinating study, as it has led to different discussions in our own day, too. Modern readers sometimes turn to this passage to see what it may say about creation debates–something that doesn’t come up in the Reformation discussion of the same passage. A hotly disputed part in this Psalm (hotly disputed in an American evangelical context, anyway) is the meaning of the Behemoth, and here the only suggestion about that is that it was a large beast–possibly one generally unknown. This helps give modern readers some perspective, too. Like the Reformers, our own concerns about what the text should say can sometimes come into our readings of the texts. Reading commentaries from those who lived in different times can offer a corrective for that, letting us see how the issues we assume are central to the text were understood–or not–by others.

It may be a foregone conclusion to say this volume on Psalms 73-150 is essential for anyone interested in Reformation readings of Scripture. The Psalms are an area that the Reformers across the board focused on, and it gives critical perspective on how various Reformers read Scripture. 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: “Can ‘White’ People Be Saved?” edited by Sechrest, Ramirez-Johnson, and Yong

Can “White” People Be Saved? The provocative title of this book is sure to catch many an eye, cause head shaking, visceral anger, or curiosity. Of course white people can be saved! Anybody can be saved! But how we react to this very challenge to being as white people–myself included–may tell us something about our need to read the content of this book.

The titular essay begins by noting that, of course, white people can be saved. But the concept of “whiteness” is itself a social construction (for more on this, see The History of White People, a book that shows how the concept of “white” person developed) and it is the defense of this “White” concept that leads to truly anti-Christian behaviors, both historically and to this day.

The book is a collection of essays, and like any collection, it has both ups and downs throughout. Perhaps the most important insight of the entire book, and one that I have thought of time and again, is found in Andrew T. Draper’s chapter entitled “The End of ‘Mission.'” Therein, Draper calls for people to truly listen to the “other”:

White folks need not protest that our hearts are in the right place but instead must focus on how the white economies of privilege we have constructed marginalize others. Imagine the transformation in relationships marked by difference if even a fraction of the grace that White folks extend to one another in regard to intentions were extended to all people. For instance, we as White people are often defensive when confronted with something offensive we have said and protest that “we didn’t mean in that way.” But, if our ignorance has hurt others, it doesn’t matter how we meant it. (183)

I was so struck by this passage because it’s something I’ve observed time and again. When racism is called out, too often the response is “I didn’t mean to offend you” or “You’re too easily offended” instead of “I’m sorry.” Ignorance is sometimes even appealed to: “I didn’t know that was offensive” is seen as a defense rather than as a call to get informed and learn about cultures and beliefs outside of our own. Imagine if, instead, we simply said “I’m sorry, can you help me understand how I offended you so that I can avoid doing so in the future?” or “I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me and help me take steps to avoiding hurting you.” Those are truly Christian responses to harm–perceived or real. It is not our place to determine when others ought to feel offended–or not. Instead, it is our place to work for unity and forgiveness.

Later in this same essay, supersessionism was effectively equated with anti-Semitism (185). Though Draper is certainly right to note how that theology has led to applications of such, to equate the two seems to be going farther than the data allows. However, more and more recent evidence seems to suggest the two are often linked. The essay on mission in India by Daniel Jeyaraj was fascinating and shows how no matter how good intentions are, outcomes can lead to colonization. A stunning epilogue by Erin Dufault-Hunter, written in the style of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters offers insight into many of the themes found throughout the book and a call to action.

Can “White” People Be Saved?  is a challenging book that asks readers to rethink assumptions and think about things in ways they may never have done so before. If only for that, it is worth reading, but the depth of its insights are more than offset by the occasional question I have. 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: “Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?” by Ian Hutchinson

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? by Ian Hutchinson is an introductory-level apologetics work by a scientist that touches upon many, many questions that might be asked of believers.

The book is based largely upon Hutchinson’s own experiences of fielding questions as a speaker at Veritas Forum engagements. Thus, the book is set up in a question-and-answer format which groups like questions together. The book is a kind of grab-bag of topics that can be read either cover-to-cover or skimmed to find relevant questions.

The whole thing, however, is a fairly basic introduction to apologetics. Given the number of books of this particular type, readers may immediately, and fairly, ask why this book is relevant to them. The simplest answer is that this book is written by someone who, as a physicist, approaches the scientific questions with greater detail and knowledge than most books of this type. Hutchinson writes in a winsome manner, but he doesn’t skirt tough topics. Moreover, he approaches the questions included in  the volume with the mind of a scientist. He does not pull punches when it comes to scientific theories that have been demonstrated through many strands of evidence.

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? is a good introduction to a number of apologetics questions. It is particularly useful as a book to give to those who may be more interested in the scientific aspects of faith questions.

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: “Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal” by Craig M. Gay

Craig M. Gay argues in Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal that human flourishing is not grounded in blind advancement for the sake of advancement but rather in a theological grounding of the Incarnation and its vision for the future of humanity.

Gay begins by noting that he is not intending to dismiss technology or be some kind of Luddite. Instead, he urges that we–all people–need to view technology with at least some measure of caution. Rather than accepting hat life-changing technologies will just get developed and used, it may be worth a dose of skepticism when it comes to thinking about how these technologies may impact our lives and future.

A survey of a few reasons for skepticism about technology is first offered. For example, Gay explores the notion that things like Google and easy access to search engines, simultaneously with limiting factors like 140 (or 280) characters may be making humans lazy intellectually (37ff). The easy access to surface-level information tends to make everyone feel an expert, while not engaging in long-term, strategic thinking or planning (ibid). Alongside this, when aspects of thinking or behavior become autonomous, human abilities decline as we simply rely on autonomous features to assist us. Autonomous systems deprive humans of the ability to learn through experience (37-38). Technological unemployment–the notion that autonomy will replace human jobs–is another concern. Technology can outdo humans at a significant rate in some fields, leading to unemployment and potential lost of means of living.

Gay argues that there is a kind of “technological worldview” that is offered that drives complacency when it comes to the development and adoption of new technologies. This worldview, in part, is made up of materialist assumptions about the world, such as the notion that a scientific explanation of the world can allow us to re-engineer or re-organize the world as we see fit. A mechanistic view of nature accompanies this, and it is interesting to observe that some of this comes from Christian thinkers of the past.

A question of “what now” appears obvious following these concerns about humanity and technology. Gay argues we must course correct against notions that disembody humans. We ought to repent of our continued desire for and striving after of total autonomy that separates us from God (169). Worship and faith life must be encouraged to be deeply personal rather than impersonal. We can see the full embodying nature of Christianity in the Incarnation, and the Eucharist is offered as a deeply personal and real example of this. Here, Gay’s vision of the Eucharist is deeply influenced by John Calvin, and the mileage different readers may get from this final reflection may depend upon how they align with this view. As a Lutheran myself, I think it doesn’t go far enough.

A critical comment might be offered in response to portions of the book. For example, the cautionary tale of technology, in general, may be offset over time by other factors. Automation of basic tasks may allow humans to explore new heights that they had not done before. Though it is clear that search engines and encyclopedias online make it easy to gain a simple, surface level knowledge of virtually anything, they can also encourage further research and study through additional sources and links and citing books. Though I wouldn’t claim there is no cause for concern regarding technology and the human future, it also seems that we may be at a crossroad in which we can work actively to harness technology for human good rather than retreat from or slow it down–something that seems unlikely to happen.  Indeed, if the “technological worldview” is as pervasively imbibed as Gay appears to suggest, it may be impossible at this point to slow down technology, so working actively towards developing teaching techniques and other important human skills to work with technologies as they develop may be a better tactic.

Overall, Modern Technology and the Human Future is a book that will make readers think, whether they agree or disagree. At minimum, it will spur readers to think critically when they engage with modern technology and perhaps push themselves to learn more about it and try to control their own interaction with 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: “Welcoming the Stranger” by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang

Note: This is a review for the Revised and Expanded edition of the book published in 2018. The original book was published in 2009.

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, & Truth in the Immigration Debate is a deep look at the the topic of immigration and its relation to Christianity. The book provides a kind of three-pronged approach to thinking about immigration (this approach is surmised from the content as opposed to being explicitly noted in the book itself)- it presents anecdotes and firsthand accounts of people from different walks of life as immigrants or families of immigrants; it shows statistics and facts related to immigration (centered around the United States), and it offers a biblical perspective on immigration.

The stories included in the book are scattered throughout and make the topic of issue exactly what it is–a personal, deeply impactful issue on families and individuals. One area these stories made particularly eye-opening to me was the issue of legal vs. illegal immigration. Though it is often presented as black and white–people ought to wait to enter the country legally, the stories of people stuck in the middle belie this. If one overstays their visa, for example, they become “illegal” and if they leave the country and apply to re-enter, there is then a 10 year waiting period they must endure before reapplying. This complicates issues as families are spread across several countries and the means to pay for the application process is often in the United States with the job the individual had been working the whole time. Other stories highlight issues of taxes, benefits, poverty, and more.

The facts and statistics provided throughout the book–sometimes in in-text boxes–are extremely important. For example, the notion that “illegal immigrants” are intentionally coming to the United States to not work and take benefits is falsified when one sees that labor participation rate for immigrants (legal and illegal) is over 90%, which is higher than that of citizens born in the United States. Another issue is that of taxes–it is sometimes alleged that “illegal immigrants” don’t pull their fair share of taxes when compared to the benefits received. But in addition to paying state, local, and excise taxes they also pay property taxes and estimates from the Social Security Administration state that “nearly half [of undocumented workers] are paid ‘on the books’ with payroll taxes deducted from each paycheck” (27-28). This means they are paying social security which they will never be able to benefit from given their undocumented status. In effect, these undocumented workers are actually supplementing the social security of “legal” workers in the United States. Additionally, though undocumented workers benefit from roads, national security, parks, etc. they also are ineligible for a number of public benefits, such that their tax contribution is often higher than the alleged cost to the country. On top of this, even “legal” immigrants are often excluded from public benefits for at least the first 5 years of their residence (29). The narrative that immigration costs more than it brings in is, at best, vastly underestimating the complexity of the issue, and at worst it is simply false. The fact is, also, that immigration has been of great value to the United States both in the past and into today. Proof of this assertion is found across several chapters of the book as well.

The biblical text has much to say about immigration and the “sojourner in our land” (I have written about this issue here). The authors outline these vast swathe of texts across a chapter towards the middle of the book. They highlight how there are clearly immigrants and immigration in Scripture (eg. Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Jesus). They note that there is a biblical mandate to care for immigrants and how, with Christ, there is no longer the issue of foreign/gentile/Jew but instead all are citizens together in Christ–an issue which is largely washed over in the heated discussions about immigration. Issues of justice–which are often taken by Americans to mean “act with justice regarding criminal justice”–are analyzed from the Hebrew text, noting that the issue is not criminal justice but higher Justice–God’s justice. It’s not merely is someone obeying the law, but is the law itself just (95)?

Finally, the authors offer advice about politics and immigration issues in the church today, largely built from conclusions found across the previous issues.

A few areas of critique of the book are likely, though this reviewer does not believe they present a serious challenge. First, the book is almost entirely centered around the issue of immigration in the United States. This does downplay its usefulness in a global perspective, but it makes it extremely valuable by addressing issues that are involved in the debate in the United States specifically. Second, some may critique the use of anecdotes as trying to reduce the issue to a few “sob stories.” Though this is a possibility, the authors are presenting firsthand accounts of real people with real issues, and even if it is a limited scope (which it does not seem to be), Christians ought to be concerned even about individuals. Third, one may argue that the use of Scripture is too broad to be applied to current immigration issues. There are a few problems with this response. For one, it seems to undermine the ability of Scripture to speak to our situation today. If one argues that Scripture cannot speak on a topic due to that topic’s complexity today, the it seems to set artificial limits on the ability of God to speak today. (It is certainly possible that these passages do not speak to specific issues today, but that argument needs to be made rather than dismissing a rather broad testimony of the Bible wholesale in favor of something like the laws of the land taking precedent.) Finally, the sheer broadness and variety of passages involved in making the case for caring for the stranger/immigrant suggests that such a quick move to dismiss this evidence is unwarranted.

Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, & Truth in the Immigration Debate is a necessary, needed, and thought-provoking book that any Christian interested in immigration in the United States ought to read. I highly recommend it.

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

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: “A Week in the Life of Rome” by James L. Papandrea

James L. Papandrea’s A Week in the Life of Rome is a kind of historical fiction work mixed with numerous expositions on the ancient world. It provides readers with insights into the early Christian church in Rome, First Century Roman Life, and more.

Central to the book is the plot that weaves it all together. Papandrea introduces readers to a number of characters, including slaves, the walthy, clients, Christians, and catechumens. A few biblical names show up, too. The story is actually more interesting than I expected. It captured me in a way that novels often do, and I truly was not expecting that from a book that at first seemed like just a clever way to info-dump about ancient Rome. The main plot is quite well done and I felt myself wanting to learn more about Stachys and Urbanus in particular. The relationship betwen these Roman men helps serve as a background for giving readers numerous expositions.

The expositions scattered throughout the book are quite welcome and give essential information at each point. The relationship between Stachys and Urbanus, for example, serves to show readers the client-patron relationship in ancient Rome. This relationship can help in understanding some biblical texts and certainly the cultural world from which early Christian writings sprang. One exposition I remember in particular was about culinary habits of the wealthy Romans, such as eating small birds or mice roasted and dipped in honey and poppy seeds (do not sign me up for this one). Another interesting aside was the exploration of the Phoenix as a symbol of Christians in the earliest time periods, though it faded out of use rather quickly.

Reading this book will truly teach readers a wealth of information, but will do so in a way that is engaging in unexpected ways. A Week in the Life of Rome is an informative, interesting book. Papandrea makes a narrative that is interesting and insightful all the way through. The book is a great way to learn about ancient Rome and Christianity. 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.

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