Book Reviews

This category contains 179 posts

Book Review: “Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis” by Carl A. Raschke

ct-raschkeCarl Raschke’s Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis is a brief look at the integration of critical theology into global theology. Now that I’ve basically just restated the title in different terms, what does it actually mean? Raschke states it as: “The thesis… is that the new era of global crisis demands a whole new theological formulary that is unprecedented both in the content of the challenges it faces and in the conceptual resources or ‘intellectual capital’ on which it must draw” (10). Essentially, the idea is that there is a global crisis–a kind of intermingling of ideas that makes it difficult to sort out what is what–and in order to deal with that, Christian theology must utilize a new set of tools for thinking and conceptualizing ideas.

After a chapter outlining this “Age of Crisis” in greater depth (along with a very brief history of critical theory), Raschke draws upon many lines of critical theory to show how it might be used to communicate Christianity effectively on a global scale. Mostly, this plays along the lines of highlighting several important critical thinkers (Jurgen Habermas, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and the like) and showing how their thought may be applied to broader theological trends. Of course, none of this is done naively, as some of the pitfalls of critical theory are also acknowledged. But the focus is almost entirely on what critical theory brings to the table as far as the “global crisis” is concerned. It is worth noting here that the book assumes a general working knowledge of many of these important thinkers.

One question which it seems to me Raschke did not adequately deal with is the question of whether “new” theology is a good thing. As many have said in various ways, “new theology” tends to be heresy. There’s a reason that the historic church made confessions and creeds–in order to establish boundaries for orthodoxy. Thus, some may argue there is a danger to trying to make a truly new theology, for it may just be a rehashing of old errors, as so many modern heresies are. I didn’t see any specific place where Raschke dealt with this objection at length. I suspect his answer would be that yes, new theology in a sense is a dangerous endeavor, but when genuinely new challenges arise (i.e. globalization/globalism and how to make sense of Christianity in a somewhat universal fashion), it calls for new evaluations. Yes, there is truly nothing new under the sun in some sense, because what Raschke calls for is a critical look at existing theology and sources thereof so that we do not get too attached to cultural expressions of Christianity as just being orthodoxy. On these proposed responses, I believe Raschke to be correct. But he doesn’t make this or any other specific defense at length, so far as I can tell.

Critical Theology is a needed work that will get readers to look, well, critically at ideas they may have taken for granted before. It’s a deep work, despite its brevity.

The Good

+Brings critical theory to bear in theology
+Challenges perspectives
+Encourages further study

The Bad

-At times may leave those unfamiliar with the topic befuddled
-Little defense of the notion of “new theology”

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide 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!

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Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Theology and Science Fiction” by James F. McGrath

One of my favorite pastimes is to read and write science fiction. One of my others is to read and write theology. Thus, the intersection of the two is sure to catch my interest, and James F. McGrath’s book, Theology and Science Fiction serves as an excellent way to show how intertwined the two are. McGrath’s central thrust is to show how people may think of science fiction and theology as a cultural interchange. He does this by showing several parallels with science fiction and theology, and then outlining various views of science fiction and theology (science fiction against/as theology; theology as/against science fiction; etc.).

McGrath ably utilizes key source material while avoiding the pitfall of assuming readers of the book will be familiar with the entire field of science fiction. Rather than a survey of the who’s who in science fiction, then, the book serves as a kind of primer on how to reflect theologically upon science fiction, as well as how to perhaps integrate the two in meaningful, forward-moving ways.

The book is therefore full of broad points that trace themes such as “robots as gods” or “aliens as saviors,” reminiscent of the excellent Scientific Mythologies. The key with McGrath’s book, however, is a less negative assessment of science fiction overall. Yes, he acknowledges that often science fiction can be written against theology, but also draws out key areas in which the two overlap and even where theology can be written as science fiction and vice versa. These make for great ways to reflect on one’s own reading and writing in these areas and open avenues for research.

Gnosticism, Daoism, and many other views of the world are surveyed alongside science fiction as McGrath ably shows the wideness of the field.

Overall, Theology and Science Fiction is a worthy, exciting read. It would serve equally well as a textbook for a kind of cultural-integration theology course or as reading for those interested in either science fiction or theology (and certainly both). It comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Avoids potential pitfalls of being too negative or too positive
+Surveys wide range of views and possibilities
+Provides fruitful discussion points that may lead readers to more exploration

The Bad

-A tad short
-Perhaps too few examples

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church” by Jon Coutts

asm-couttsJon Coutts’ A Shared Mercy explores the doctrine of forgiveness from the perspective of Karl Barth. Because it is the perspective of Karl Barth, it also reflects on doctrine of the church, as this was central to Barth’s thought. However, Coutts argues we must be careful not to subordinate all doctrines Barth taught under his doctrine of the church.

The book is organized into 6 chapters that largely center on two parts: Barth’s doctrine of forgiveness and what a full doctrine of forgiveness based on Barth might look like in application. Throughout the book there is a kind of unity between these topics as Coutts takes what Barth taught on forgiveness and applies it.

First, Coutts notes that because Christ taught that forgiveness is central to the lives of his followers, it follows that forgiveness is central to the church (1). Thus, exploring Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we ought to expect to find forgiveness as a central, not tertiary teaching. Coutts argues throughout the book that this is, indeed, what we find, though little has been studied in regards to Barth on forgiveness in the church in contemporary theology.

Readers may be concerned that a book so focused on a somewhat obscure topic may lack applicable insights, but Coutts does a great job not merely reporting Barth’s beliefs but also deriving thoughts therefrom that have application to the contemporary Christian. One example is the question of whether forgiveness first requires one to wait for repentance:

A legitimate practical concern… [is] the perpetuation of victimhood that seems to be implied when the imperative [to forgive] is self-giving and forgiving love. But this is founded on a misconception of the call to cruciform discipleship… Even if the abusive party is unrepentant, the result is not unforgiveness, but an acknowledgement of nonreconciliation… Forgiving the abuser is not the perpetuation of victimhood but the free offer of further reconciliation. (154-155)

This and many other passages provide direct application to the lives of believers. At several points, then, Coutts ably demonstrates the way to bring scholarship to the person in the pew, something that is too-often lacking in scholarly works.

As a Lutheran, I appreciated the highlighting of the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for Christian community, though I think Barth’s teaching on these sacraments falls short of the biblical teaching. Yes, baptism is a sign of community, but Barth and Coutts each seem to err in seeing baptism as a kind of political action of the church rather than a gracious action of God. Similarly, the view of the Lord’s Supper as being primarily a work of the church rather than a gracious gift of God takes away the greatness of the gift.

Because the book is so focused on a specific aspect of Barth’s teaching, it does at times read a bit too much like a journal article–engaging with very specific opponents with little context. However, these moments are thankfully few and far between.

A Shared Mercy is an interesting, surprisingly applicable study on forgiveness in Barth’s doctrine. More importantly, it shares information that can be applied directly to the broader church. The importance of a doctrine of forgiveness ought never to be understated, as it is so central to Christian teaching. As such, this book is an important contribution to understanding what we as Christians, and the church, are called to do.

The Good

+Insights into Barth’s theology of the church, in balanced perspective
+Background for modern discussions of forgiveness
+More applicable material than me be expected

The Bad

-Sometimes reads a bit more like a journal article than a book
-Reduces both baptism and the Lord’s Supper to human act

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “No Skin in the Game: The God of the Jehovah’s Witness” by Frank H. Armstrong

nsitg-armstrongFrank Armstrong’s No Skin in the Game is a pithy introduction to defending orthodox Christianity against Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Central to Armstrong’s book is the notion that we must not focus merely on firing proof-texts back and forth, but rather that we ought to see the meta-narrative of Scripture and keep that in mind as we evaluate claims of how to interpret key texts.

Armstrong focuses on this meta-narrative of God as love and uses it to show that God the Son and the Father must be co-eternal. Moreover, he continues to note the continuity of Scriptures between the Testaments by showing that those things ascribed to the Father (which Jehovah’s Witnesses call Jehovah) are then ascribed to Christ (eg. creation). It is truly remarkable how many applicable examples Armstrong manages to pack into a short work.

The book provides not just a grab-bag of important verses but a guide for how to use the Bible to reason with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Several examples of verses shown with key phrases changed to reflect Jehovah’s Witness theology highlight this. The book is therefore thoroughly practical and will be useful to those hoping to engage with Jehovah’s Witness theology.

If I had one critique it is that the example of conjoined twins alongside the Trinity may cause some confusion. Armstrong argues that conjoined twins show in principle that one being may be the center of multiple persons, and as far as demonstrating that, it may not be objectionable. The problem is that such a comparison begs further comparison, and the example quickly breaks down as one considers whether conjoined twins really are one being or are two that happen to occupy the same space. Other difficulties arise upon further reflection. For what Armstrong was trying to demonstrate, it works alright, but the problem with any analogy of the Trinity is that it breaks down and may cause confusion if pressed.

No Skin in the Game is an exciting, economical introduction to witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I recommend it.

The Good

+Brief, readable style
+Puts forward many key texts
+Focuses on core ideas

The Bad

-Example of conjoined twins may cause confusion.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The New Christian Zionism” edited by Gerald R. McDermott

ncz-mcdermottThe New Christian Zionism is a book of essays aimed to show that Zionism is both true and not necessarily linked to dispensationalism. Chapters range from hermeneutics to international law as authors approach the questions related to Christian Zionism from a number of angles.

The best chapters are those that focus specifically on exegesis and one controversial but historically interesting chapter on international law and theology. The exegetical chapters provide, at times, a formidable challenge to contrary opinions. In particular, David Rudolph’s chapter arguing for Zionism in the Pauline corpus argues cogently that some of the alleged proof-texts against “particularity” (read: Zionism/etc.) that speak of differences between Jew and Gentile as “nothing” do not literally eliminate all distinctions, because similar language is used by Paul in contexts that do not or cannot mean nothing. Robert Nicholson’s analysis of international law is sure to be controversial, but cannot be simply dismissed.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is that at several points the authors undermine their own commitment to scholarly engagement and instead resort to mud-slinging at their opponents. Discussions of eschatology are often unnecessarily heated, and at times authors if The New Christian Zionism do little but stoke the flames. For example, in a chapter on “Biblical Hermeneutics,” Craig Blaising writes “…the claim that Matthew is thereby teaching that Israel’s identity as an ethnic, national, territorial reality is ending as such and being replaced by the singular person of the Christ… reads too much into the text. It belongs to an anti-Semitic, anti-Judaic interpretation of Matthew that is generally rejected today” (84).

Apart from not actually putting forward what I think most amillennialists I’ve read believe with Matthew (i.e. not replacement but rather fulfillment; not redefinition but revealing), it’s stunning that this claim can be just thrown out there basically without commentary or defense. Though not frequent, such accusations are found in various parts of the book and do little to sell the point that McDermott attempted to put forward in the introduction that this book was not uniquely dispensational nor were its authors unaware of the complexity of the debate. Flat-out accusations of Antisemitism against those who believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT promises does little to advance discussion and smacks of being either desperate or uncomprehending. Blaising does little here to refute the alternative interpretation but rather dismisses it through guilt by (perceived) association. This is intellectual dishonesty at the basest level, and shows little-to-no engagement with one’s opponents.

In a chapter entitled “Theology and the Churches: Mainline Protestant Zionism and Anti-Zionism,” Mark Tooley reports on several Mainline Protestant Denominations’ interactions with Israel and policy related thereto. Interestingly, the United Methodist Church’s repeated stance to note that both Israeli Jews live amidst oppression while also citing Palestinian suffering and injustice against Palestine is labeled as an attempt to equate Zionism with racism. The Presbyterian Church (USA) urged the United States in 1983 to stop sending aid to Israel so long as they continued to settle on the West Bank. Episcopalians opposed moves by Israel that were seen as violating human and civic rights. This support of basic human rights for Palestinian peoples is put under a subheading called “‘Final Solution’ of Palestinian Problem.” This is astonishing. The call by these church bodies for protection of human rights was then labeled by the author as a “Final Solution,” hearkening ominously to the Final Solution the Nazis heinously carried out against the Jews. Such labeling shows a monumental incapacity for understanding opposing viewpoints, as well as an astounding lack of tact and awareness of historical perspective. The concluding statements of the chapter are most revealing:

Official mainline Protestantism’s outspoken hostility toward Israel and indifference to human rights abuses by far more repressive regimes reflects a divorce from ethical reality by religiously heterodox church bodies… Evangelical leaders… tempted to follow the mainline example should study its consequences. (219)

Of course, no reference was given to show that this indifference is indeed the case. For example, the briefest search on the internet turns up that just in 2015 the United Methodist Church raised $2 million for the Syrian/Iraq refugee crisis–hardly a show of indifference towards human rights abuses. The message of several of the authors of The New Christian Zionism, then, ought not to be missed: if an individual or a church body does not express Zionist tendencies, they will be denounced as similar to Nazis, as Antisemites, and the like, and your contributions to other areas will be overlooked or ignored.

Another difficulty is the constant use of verses stripped of context in order to make points. At many points, discussion will be happening in one book, and then a portion of a single verse from another book will be brought over as a proof text to put forward the interpretation being given. Certainly some of this is for space considerations, but it seems strange to jump around so frequently in citations. It would be simpler to follow the argument if proof texts were put either in parentheses after a statement (as is the case in the overwhelming majority of instances in the book) or cited in full with deeper discussion.

The historical analysis offered in the book is often uneven. Several early church writers are cited as supersessionists, and often labeled as having that position due to anti-Judaism, though these same writers are frequently taken out of context. When it is alleged that the majority of patristics scholars agree on something, only one citation of one scholar is offered. Moreover, some of the same church writers are cited as both Zionist and anti-Zionist writers. For example, though Irenaeus and Justin Martyr are both stated to be “replacement theologians,” they are recruited as Zionists-in-principle because they believed that eschatological fulfillment would center around Jerusalem (54). In other words, though these early writers were explicitly the opposite of Zionists by the author’s own admission, they are still recruited to the cause as early Christian Zionists.

None of these criticisms should be taken to mean that it is unnecessary or even wrong to support Israel in some endeavors. However, the dangers of both making one-to-one connections with the current nation-state and the theocracy of the Hebrew Scriptures and of blithely dismissing real wrongs committed by the current state of Israel are illustrated throughout this book.

The New Christian Zionism set out to show that Zionism is not intrinsically linked to dispensationalism and that Zionism is the correct viewpoint for Christians. I believe it failed on the latter point, and the former point is still in dispute. Though some arguments found in the book are intriguing, the majority are built on poor use of church history, proof-texting out of context, or simply by insulting and dismissing opposing views.

The Good

+Interesting exegetical background
+Insight into wide range of topics

The Bad

-Flat-out accusations of anti-Semitism against those who disagree
-Strips many verses of context to make points
-Historical analysis lacking
-Fails to carry thesis
-Highly uneven in presentation

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Eight Women of Faith” by Michael A.G. Haykin

8wf-haykinHaykin’s Eight Women of Faith sets out with an admirable goal: highlight the contributions of women at key points in church history. The women chosen each have biographical information reported alongside brief discussion of their primary contributions to theology. In this sense, the book achieves its goal.

One difficulty with the book is the lack of critical historical perspective. For example, Jane Austen is gently chastised for her aversion to evangelicalism(Kindle location 1994ff), while then being recruited for the same evangelical cause (Location 2005, 2064). But to see evangelicalism of today as the same as evangelicalism in Austen’s own time (the late 18th and early 19th centuries) does little justice to the development of what has been called “evangelical” over that time into today. This is perhaps the most glaring example in the book, but time and again similar oversight of historical perspective is demonstrated.

Another negative is that Haykin’s work is clearly written with a very specific doctrinal agenda in mind that undercuts the book’s value outside of the circle of those with whom he agrees. For example, he spends no small amount of time promoting the Calvinist view of the Lord’s Supper, attempting to cling both to a literal and figurative meaning of Christ’s words (see especially the excursus in the chapter on Anne Dutton starting around Kindle Location 903). Later, a lengthy section of the chapter on Ann Judson is dedicated to highlighting Judson’s autobiographical account of her change from pedobaptism (infant baptism) to a more Baptist position. Very few arguments are offered in favor of the latter position, other than highlighting that Judson herself believed the arguments for the it were stronger than for infant baptism. This is not a deep theological work, but this section again shows no interaction with opposing views and so provides those who come from a different background little reason to read or enjoy the book.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the book is the irony of continually attempting to silence women’s voices in a book that is, on the surface, about calling attention to them. This begins on the very first page of the Forword, as Karen Swallow Prior writes, “Both within the church and outside it, we too have treated in a similar fashion the biblical admonition against women preaching: we focus on the single thing that is off-limits and thereby fail to see the abundant opportunities and roles God has clearly offered…” (Kindle location 59-64). Of course, this biblical admonition is not cited–and could not be, for there is no Bible verse that says women cannot preach (it is instead an inference from a number of verses that are often misread)–but beyond that, the point is that the book highlights the silence of women throughout.

In the chapter on Anne Dutton, for example, we see that Dutton argued for the validity of her theological writings, so long as they were not read in churches or used in public worship but rather read privately (Kindle loc 825-834). But of course the line drawn in the sand here between private and public use is not drawn in the Bible but in human tradition. Moreover, the prior alleged admonition against women preaching comes from verses that, if read literally as must be the case for restring women in the ministry, also would prevent women from speaking at all in church, yet one of the women highlighted is Anne Steele, a prolific hymn writer.

All of this is to say that the book has a very limited appeal. Only those from the very specific perspective of Reformed Baptists will be able to see their perspective put forward without critique. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for the publisher, Crossway, continues to publish Reformed Baptist books. It’s not a bad thing to have books that appeal to your own readers. The problem is that anyone outside of that perspective has no reason to read the book. Their views are not presented well if they are presented at all, and there is an almost self-congratulatory feel to the way specific doctrines are presented. Moreover, the lack of historical perspective gives the book a simplistic feel that grants readers only the most surface-level understanding of the issues at hand.

The best that can be said for Eight Women of Faith is that it at least acknowledges that women have made significant contributions to the Christian faith. It just doesn’t acknowledge all of women’s contributions, and continues to limit women.

The Good

+Highlights importance of women in church history

The Bad

-Unbalanced perspective
-Uncritical look at historical development of theology
-Undermines women’s voices while ostensibly uplifting them
-Limited appeal beyond denominational lines

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Silence and Beauty” by Makoto Fujimura

sb-fujimuraMakoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is a difficult book to categorize. It is, in part, an answer to the problem of evil, part an examination of Shusaku Endo’s book Silence, part cross-cultural dialogue between Western Christianity and Japan, and part a work of art criticism. It is, in my opinion, itself a work of beauty that inspires much reflection.

Fujimura’s major reflections center around Shusaku Endo’s classic, Silence. An appendix at the end of the book provides a summary of Silence that is pretty deep, so readers who haven’t read the novel can read and appreciate this book regardless. Of course Fujimura strongly urges readers to carefully read Silence, and I’d echo that sentiment, as Endo’s work is one of the most profound explorations of faith I have ever read. The basics are that a missionary arrives in Japan, where major persecution of Christians is currently occurring. One of the central images–figuratively and literally–in the book is that of the fumi-e, which is an image of Christ that the Japanese believers are required to trample upon in order to renounce their faith and demonstrate allegiance with Japan rather than foreign faith.

Fujimura continually returns to this image–the fumi-e–as an image of betrayal, hiddenness of God, and beauty. The novel Silence constantly asks the question: Why is God silent through this suffering? This leads Fujimura to reflection upon what it means to say God is silent, as well as the meaning of apostasy and faith. His reflections are often poetic–not literally, but the way he writes is beautiful and lyrical. He leads readers to deeper thought rather than providing immediate answers.

Another major aspect of Silence and Beauty is the unity of arts and faith. Fujimura is a renowned artist who utilizes ancient Japanese techniques to create modern art. Several of his–and other–works are featured in color in a set of plates towards the middle of the book. I found his reflection upon these and other artworks to be fascinating, and to demonstrate how the visual arts are extremely important in a life of faith. Even more intriguingly, however, he also points to how art and the image of the fumi-e may not be easily understood in a Western context.

At last, this leads us to the third major aspect of the book, which is that Japanese culture and Western culture are different. Yes, this seems a no-brainer, but Fujimura, who has straddled the line between these cultures for his entire life, approaches it from an insider’s perspective on both sides, demonstrating how blithe dismissal of certain symbolic aspects in the West does not do justice to the importance of those same ideas in Japan. This, he argues, is part of the way that Christians have been talking past the Japanese in a culture that, at some times in history, was considered prime territory for seeds of faith to grow. Fujimura issues a call for better evangelistic efforts to Japan, as well as a cry for those in the West to try to come to a fuller understanding of Japanese culture and history.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is an amazing book that fuses multiple disciplines and ideas together into a wonderfully readable, thought-provoking whole. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Integrates arts seamlessly into narratives
+Full of anecdotes with direct application
+Careful and thought-provoking examination of the problem of evil
+Cross-cultural insights are fair and substantive
+Exposes readers to many new ideas

The Bad

-More subdued in some conclusions than necessary

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Makoto Fujimura Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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!

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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: “Justification” by N.T. Wright

justification-wrightN.T. Wright’s views about the doctrine of justification have continued to be quite controversial, and his book Justification is a brief summary of his entire project. Essentially, Wright is attempting to go back to the Pauline corpus to see exactly what Paul means by the doctrine of justification. Part of this project, for Wright, is to become aware of the idea that we may be asking the texts the wrong questions from the get-go. We need to understand the context to which Paul was writing before we can even properly formulate questions.

Wright begins with a number of preliminary comments. He first outlines the difficulties faced by biblical interpreters when they do start with the wrong questions. He argues that a number of our interpretations are based less on the text than an interpretation of the text itself. He argues that the Reformation tradition ought to continue to lead us to question even Reformation conclusions about texts like Galatians–and Luther’s “mistaken” reading (according to Wright) thereof. In other words, we need to acknowledge that we could be deeply mistaken, and have been deeply mistaken, about the meaning of these texts for hundreds of years. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but one that ought to be taken seriously. Acknowledging the possibility that an interpretation is based less on the text than on tradition or modern assumptions is one of the first steps to understanding the text.

Then, Wright proceeds to show the context to which Paul was writing. Specifically, much of the context he was writing to makes certain parts of the text make a lot more sense than they may otherwise. When you realize what was happening in the early church it becomes easier to understand some of the basic questions Paul was asking and answering. Next, Wright outlines his view of justification, which is admittedly never distilled (so far as I can tell) down to a single sentence. It is thus difficult to say exactly what his view is without an extended excursus longer than a book review, but the bare-bones basics, at risk of being overly simplistic, is that justification is God’s work through Israel of bringing the whole world to himself, declaring it righteous not through imputed righteousness, but through a law court declaration of righteousness. Yes, before those who understand Wright’s position better than I do, this is very simplistic and misses some key points of his doctrine. Yet, I have to make the attempt to summarize as best I can what he was arguing.

Finally, Wright concludes with lengthy exegesis of a number of Pauline passages. Though he himself says these are but the first steps along the lines of understanding Paul, it ought to be noted that it is in this section of the book that Wright engages most thoroughly with critics of his position as well as providing a positive statement of his view. This new edition that I’m reviewing adds an additional introduction from Wright, which outlines the continuing debates over Pauline theology.

One difficulty with Wright’s approach that many may object to is the notion that it undermines the perspicuity of Scripture. Now, I’m one who hates throwing that term around, because perspicuity is used as a kind of battering ram doctrine to try to silence critics on all sorts of topics. However, the real doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture, yes, inherited from the Reformation, is that the Bible is clear in that which is necessary to understand for salvation. If, however, Wright is correct in saying that must understand a great deal of historical context before we can even get to the right questions for the doctrine of justification, this seems to make it quite complex indeed to get to the knowledge that people need for salvation. Of course, Wright would–and did–argue that this is already starting off on the wrong track, because Paul was not so much interested in individual salvation as he was interested in the plan of Salvation through Israel of the whole world. And that is a fair answer, though it does seem to–in some sense–undermine the clarity of Scripture as has been taught. Once again, Wright would probably accept this and argue that that idea is itself an inherited tradition that the Reformers themselves would call us to examine and test by Scripture.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the book to me was the continued targeting of Luther and Lutheran theology by Wright. I know of some Lutheran pastors who have argued Wright’s position is not far at all from the Lutheran one, and others who believe he is as far from Lutheranism on justification as possible. Though this may simply show confusion within Lutheran theology, it may also show–and I think does–that Wright’s position (and probably Luther’s) is not so clearly stated as he thinks. Moreover, I am curious about the continued calling out of Lutherans (and, yes, Reformed thinkers) by Wright, considering that his position seems, on the face of it, so utterly close to what Lutherans do believe about justification, and much farther from some other denominational perspectives.

Justification is required reading for those interested in Pauline theology, whether one agrees with Wright or not. That said, it is unfortunate that a decent amount of the work seems to be polemical against perceived enemies rather than embracing potential allies.

The Good

+Leads readers to a deeper look at biblical texts
+Provides solid background to understanding Pauline corpus
+Outlines Wright’s ways in a concise fashion

The Bad

-Strangely focused on the Lutheran position
-Not always very clear

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

N.T. Wright, Justification (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Introduction to World Christian History” by Derek Cooper

iwch-cooperDerek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History provides a look at the development of Christianity across the world. It is a broad introduction to Christianity around the globe.

The book is formatted both by space and time. That is, sections on each general area (i.e. Asia) are traced for a specific time period (i.e. First through Seventh Centuries). Thus, readers looking to have a reference to work from need not look much farther than this book. Other readers, who may simply be interested in the broad development of world Christianity will not be disappointed either. Cooper does an excellent job showing the ebb and flow of Christianity’s spread across vast regions of time and place. Individual stories of prominent Christians are told in historical context to highlight specific periods or ideas. These individual stories accompany a broader narrative that is delivered in a readable, engaging style.

What makes the book particularly excellent is the way it provides all levels of readers with more to explore. It is an introductory text, for sure, but the notes are excellent and the topics explored are so broad that even readers with serious knowledge of Christian history will find more to explore. It is such a vast topic that no one can grasp each area, and Cooper gives glimpses into history that entice, like stained glass windows, much study.

The only real downside here is unavoidable: with so much material covered, it is impossible to get a complete picture of any one topic. Readers must go beyond this introduction. But again, kudos to Cooper for making readers want to do so with such a rich narrative style.

Introduction to World Christian History is the kind of book that will broaden readers minds in a number of ways. From those merely interested in a specific region to those who want to know just how we got to where we are, the book has broad appeal. Cooper’s style makes it extremely accessible for any level of reader, with plenty to tantalize more advanced readers as well. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Fantastic overview covering large swathes of time and space
+Provides readers with broader understanding of Christianity
+Written in an interesting, readable style

The Bad

-Extremely brief on many interesting points

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Taking Pascal’s Wager” by Michael Rota

tpw-rotaMichael Rota’s Taking Pascal’s Wager is an introduction to the defense of Pascal’s Wager, one of the most maligned arguments for the truth of Christianity.

One of the things that makes Pascal’s Wager most intriguing is the fact that, unlike many theistic arguments, the Wager seems uniquely suited for reasoning with the skeptic. That is, it is intentionally put forward in such a way as to convince the skeptic that Christianity is a good idea. Rota highlights this aspect of the Wager, particularly in two places: first, where he analyzes the probability behind the argument to demonstrate that, on the whole, the Wager is more beneficial taken than not, and second, in the last section of the book which shows practical outcomes of taking the Wager.

The sections on the probability behind the Wager are excellent. Rota condenses down a lot of probability theory and philosophical reasoning based on probability in ways that are easy to understand. This alone makes the book worth a read because it will allow those interested to explain and defend the Wager much better than they may otherwise. Rota also addresses some of the most common objections to the Wager, noting that things like the many gods challenge fail to make a convincing case against the Wager.

The last part of the book utilizes people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer to highlight the practical consequences of the wager. Bonhoeffer lost his life in the pursuit of Christian faith. Was it worth it? Rota’s examples give insights into lives that readers might not otherwise know about, and show that even lives that are full of sorrow are worth it, supposing God does exist.

I did think that the book somewhat seemed to get off track in the middle section, as Rota proceeded from speaking of Pascal’s Wager into discussion of various reasons to think Christianity is more likely true than not. I understand that this was part of his project, but given the amount of works that have been offered with a general introduction to things like the moral, cosmological, and other arguments, I think the space would have better been filled with a deeper look at Pascal’s Wager and the probability theory behind it. Further, more space dedicated to objections to the wager would be helpful.

Taking Pascal’s Wager is a worthy read. It introduces readers to the strength of Pascal’s Wager while also providing–uniquely, I think–a look at the practical outcomes of taking that wager. Although it could be improved by a deeper discussion of the probability behind the Wager and various objections to it, I believe this is an important book for anyone who wants to become more acquainted with one of the most unique arguments for Christianity. Readers interested in Pascal’s Wager ought also check out Jeff Jordan’s phenomenal Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God.

The Good

+Real-life examples of the cost of discipleship highlight message
+Solid analysis of probability theory behind the argument
+Provides broad-spectrum defense of the Wager

The Bad

-Uses endnotes instead of footnotes
-Not quite as focused as one might like

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Michael Rota, Taking Pascal’s Wager (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy 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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