Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation” by Gavin Ortlund

Augustine looms large over the course of church history, and he’s frequently enlisted by people on various–and sometimes contradictory–sides of theological debates. Gavin Ortlund, in Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation, seeks to show that Augustine’s doctrine of creation has much to teach us to this day about not just the theological underpinnings of a doctrine of creation but also humility in conclusions.

The first question to ask, though, is whether Augustine should be relevant to today’s debates over the doctrine of creation. Often, Christians today (at least in the United States) focus on heated discussions about evolution, death before the Fall, the historicity of Adam, and related issues. Much of the discussion is about science–or what counts as science. What can Augustine have to say to such debates, when he predated them by 1500 years? In one stirring account, Ortlund answers the question:

Imagine a young man in his late teen years. He has recently moved to the city to go to school. In the course of his study, he becomes convinced that the Genesis creation account is inconsistent with the most sophisticated intellectual trends of the day. He rejects the Christian faith in which he was raised, giving his twenties to youthful sins and worldly ambition.

Eventually, he encounters CHristians who hold to a different interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, and his intellectual critique of Christianity is undermined. He enters into a time of indecision and deep angst. His mother continues to pray for him. Finally, after much personal struggle, he has a dramatic conversion experience.

This is the testimony of St. Augustine…

Ortlund, 1

It’s a powerful introduction to the rest of the book, because as one reads it, it’s clear that it’s talking about a modern youth in college, learning about geology or evolution in depth for the first time. In fact, it’s Augustine, whose story parallels that of many today. His own struggles can help illumine some of the most controversial topics today.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Augustine brings, though, is a deep sense of humility regarding the creation account. Augustine certainly had strong opinions about how it could be read, but he also realized he could be wrong. Ortlund notes that Augustine emphasized the need to “patiently endure different (orthodox) views” and quotes Augustine’s warnings against presumptuousness of assuming one is correct and obviously so (91-92). Indeed, Augustine goes on to argue that “mischievous arguments” made about the meaning of the sacred text regarding Creation goes against the very purpose of their writing, namely, to produce charity in us (92-93). While he notes that there are some certainties regarding the creation texts, he also puts some of the most hotly disputed topics of our day into the “uncertain” category. For example, the meaning of the days in the Genesis text is one thing that he sees as uncertain, and it is clear that no one can rightly charge Augustine with allegedly giving in to some kind of “evolutionary viewpoint” as Christians who note the same today are often charged with (93-94).

Augustine’s patience and humility arises, in part, from a kind of pastoral concern for certainty (or lack thereof) regarding articles of faith. Ortlund writes, “Augustine can be open to uncertainty because he regards the purpose of theological inquiry to be godliness… we do not always know in advance what will lead to godliness, and so there should be an openness and humility in the posture with which we inquire about the doctrine of creation… Augustine[‘s] patien[ce]…. is [due to] his concern for the spiritual consequences of particularly interpretations. Thus, in the Confessions, he asks, ‘How can it harm me that it should be possible to interpret these words in several ways, all of which may yet prove to be true?'” (97, emphasis his).

The doctrine of creation itself is one Augustine wrote much upon and some of it helps highlight forgotten aspects of the doctrine in our own time. Whether it’s a concern for divine priority in creation (28ff) or Trinitarian agency (43ff); whether it’s the place of angels in creation (as the light of creation? see 125-128) or the importance of temporal beauty (154ff), Augustine’s insights will surprise readers at times while also directing potential further studies into the doctrine of creation.

Augustine also had points that are relevant to some of today’s hotly debated topics, though. For example, the question of animal death looms large in our own time due to charges about death before the fall and evolution, but Augustine, over a thousand years before Darwin, saw the death of Adam and Eve as something they “contracted” from the world that was already present in animals (154). This leaves open the possibility of animal and even pre-human death before the fall, so long as one is willing to have some sort of specially created or even made immortal human pair to have as an originating couple. Again, Augustine could not have been influenced by our modern science, so his insights into possibilities related to this and other topics allow us to glean a kind of unbiased view of the breadth of orthodox options in the modern creation debate.

Ortlund turns to questions of the Fall and evolution as well, noting that Augustine’s theology, while not developed to accommodate biological evolution, could certainly be developed in that direction. For example, Augustine argued that Adam and Eve held a “conditional immortality” that was, in part, granted through the tree of life (209).

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation is a work that can change the tone of the modern debates over creation. By asking an ancient interpreter not to weigh in on modern debates, but instead to speak to the doctrine of creation and then asking that doctrine some of the modern questions, Ortlund has presented a fascinating case for carefully reading and interacting with the text. I very highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Christianity and science, historical theology, or theological retrieval.

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.

Genocide and the Challenge of Apologetics: Randal Rauser’s “Jesus Loves the Canaanites”

There are times we read things in the Bible and we blow past them, not registering the content as disturbing because we have absorbed some explanation for its content that automatically allows us to keep moving. Randal Rauser’s Jesus Loves the Canaanites: Biblical Genocide in the Light of Moral Intuition confronts that practice in regards to the apparently genocidal passages in the Bible. Rauser analyzes the text from the perspective of international law in regards to the definition of genocide, compares it to the modern example of a close-in genocide in Rwanda, analyzes various apologetic approaches to the text, and finally, offers his own possible reading. Fair warning to readers- because the book discusses genocide, there is frank description of brutal violence, including violence of a sexual nature, and this includes discussions related to children.

For my part, Rauser’s powerful look at international law’s definition of genocide and application of the same to the text of Scripture is one of the strongest aspects of the book. Rauser notes that genocide does not necessarily require the intent to actually kill every single person of a demographic; rather, according to the definition of genocide, it also may simply be the action of removing or changing a group to ensure that group does not exist in an area. Rauser moves from the definition of genocide to its application in modern examples, and takes a very deep look at genocide in Rwanda. The reason he uses Rwanda as an example is because much of the killing took place up close and with weapons or implements used by hand (eg. a machete). This modern example, then, is closer to what would have occurred according to a plain reading of the narratives in the Bible.

Rauser notes the intense psychological distress not just upon the ones against whom the attack came, but also upon the perpetrators. This latter point is extremely important, and not one that I personally had reflected upon much. My own training in apologetics had inoculated me somewhat against the horrors of mass killing if one takes the texts at face value, but I had never before considered the immense psychological toll the killing would take upon the killers. Of course, now that I’ve written that, it seems obvious, but think about this, as Rauser does, in terms of the text. God has a chosen people whom he commands to destroy/remove an entire people group from the land in which they’re entering. After striking down tens or hundreds of individual men, women, and children with their own hands and whatever weapons they’d have had, their bodies covered with the blood of those who cried out for mercy, but were not spared, the Israelites are expected to have blissfully settled in and happily enjoyed their time in the land without ever a thought of the cruel, inhuman violence they had carried out to get there. It’s preposterous to think that could happen, and reasonable to assume the Israelites would have had an enormous amount of PTSD, sociopathy, and other mental health problems that would arise with their own actions, let alone the continued act of dehumanization or rationalization of their activity. This would surely have had a generations-spanning impact on the psychological health of the Israelite people, and thinking that God would have seen that as worth visiting upon God’s chosen people requires serious reflection.

By the time Rauer’s intensive analysis of the violence inherent in taking the text at face value is done, it is clear Christians options are somewhat limited. Though it is possible to bite the bullet and accept the immense mental damage done to a few generations of Israelites to secure the land for God’s people, it should cause extreme discomfort to do so. Hence, Rauser turns to various apologetic attempts to explain the text.

The first few attempts essentially accept the text as it stands and try to justify the violence. Thus, apologetic approaches that see the Canaanites as irredeemably evil or corrupting in influence against the Israelites argue that they had to all be killed in order to end this potential menace to their society. Of course, such an approach runs up against the problem of mental harm to the Israelites themselves, but it also seems quite extreme. Surely the sick and dying, the children, the infants do not pose such a threat to the incoming people of God! But according to this reading, they too must die. It seems cruel at best, but illogical as well. Attempts to argue for the truth of the text as just war reasoning also appear to fail. Readings of the text that see it as hyperbolic are somewhat less problematic, but Rauser points out that even most of these readings require acceptance of killing of the most vulnerable people in the land.

Rauser’s ultimate approach is to see the text as something to formulate disciples who love God and neighbor. These texts, argues Ruaser, cannot be seen as straightforward narrative because “When contemporaneous documentation and archaeological evidence fomr the region do not support the claims of documents composed centuries later, the wise course is to go with the weight of documentary and archaeological evidence. And that means that we should conclude based on the evidence that the conquest of Canaan likely never occurred in the manner described” (Kindle location 4652). Though Rauser only briefly notes this documentary and archaeological evidence, this reader has read the same problem with a straightforward reading of the text elsewhere. It is worth wondering then, why the text was written. Rauser notes the difference between the intended meaning of the text and the plain sense reading of the text and argues that if we approach the text from a perspective of believers seeking wisdom, we can then see it as teaching us to love God and others.

Rauser’s approach, then, has at least some in common with the approach of Webb and Oeste in Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? (my review here). The latter argue that the text is intended to move readers towards redemption and an ending of war, though Webb and Oeste accept much more of the narrative as written as historical reality than Rauser suggests. Rauser interacts with some other views that are somewhat similar to his own, rejecting some aspects of each. For example, his overview of Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is largely positive, but notes that Boyd seems to fail to account for the lack of archaeological evidence in his own analysis.

What Rauser’s book does best, though, is force the problem for apologists. It is all too easy to look the other way when confronted by texts of horror in the Bible. Rauser turns a microscope on these texts and shows how they provide unique challenges for apologists. Additionally, he shows how most of the major options and explanations fail to account for the texts themselves in a satisfactory way. Much of this is through his analysis of moral intuition–we can sense when something seems off about a moral explanation. The alternative Rauser offers takes into account archaeological evidence as well as a few strands of explanatory power that have been offered through church history. Rauser’s account, I think, offers perhaps the only way to read the text faithfully while not subscribing to some kind of selective errancy.

Jesus Loves the Canaanites forces readers to look with open eyes upon the text of the Bible and think about in in far deeper ways than they may have done before. For that alone, it’s worth reading. But Rauser offers extensive interaction with and critique of apologetic methods, historical and modern, related to the biblical text. He also offers a possible solution to the text that maintains its integrity and inspiration. Much more could be said about Rauser’s various analyses of apologists, readings of the text, and own view, but this review should, hopefully, encourage others to go and read the book. It’s a must read for anyone wanting to look more deeply at these texts.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship” by Derek W. Taylor

Derek W. Taylor’s Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship explores Bonhoeffer’s rich theology to answer questions about ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and missions.

Taylor first uses the introduction to present a central thesis: that hermeneutics is an ecclesial practice. We read texts in and for community. Bonhoeffer dedicated much of his theological energy and output to this notion, and Taylor brings it front and center throughout the book. For example, Taylor starts with discussion of Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being that reads it as part of the task of reading the church as under, in, and of Christ. Contrary to some, who shoehorn Bonhoeffer wholly into the role of a follower or disciple of Barth, Taylor notes that with Act and Being, Bonhoeffer identified as problematical Barth’s tendency towards anti-ecclesiology (35). Taylor brings Hans Urs von Balthasar into the conversation as well, noting that Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic avoids passivity while also showing the word as a way to encounter Christ (33-36).

The church, however, must be wary of seeing itself merely as caretaker or ultimate interpreter of scripture. Instead, it is important to read scripture against ourselves. If we lose that ability, “Bonhoeffer warns, we end up remaking a God in the imago hominis” (49). It’s all too easy for the church or the individual to become comfortable with the text instead of letting it speak to and even, again, against us. Our desire to contemporize the text becomes dangerous as we tend to “echo interpretive interests brought to the text” instead of allowing the text to speak to us (50-51).

Reading scripture leads us to Christ, but Christ is present now. Bonhoeffer was powerfully aligned with seeing Christ as truly present among us in the church. This, moreover, leads to discussion of Christology, one which sees Christ as truly fully human and fully divine (73-75)–able to be with us now, truly present in sacrament (114-115). As an aside, Taylor’s discussion of meeting the risen Christ at the eucharistic table is powerful, but he seems reluctant to fully embrace the meaning of that presence–ending on the note that objective presence is ambiguous (though I may be misreading him here). One wonders how, if that present is ambiguous in an objective sense, the foregoing discussion of Christ being truly Christ today and in history and present makes sense. For Bonhoeffer, throughout his theology, remained a committed Lutheran, and would absolutely have affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Supper. Moreover, the point made earlier (73) about Christ being fully human and divine seems to obviate any supposed problems with that Lutheran doctrine.

Later, Taylor’s discussion of Bonhoeffer’s “religion come of age” is especially insightful. Instead of being a fully humanist or non-religious standpoint, Bonhoeffer seemed to see some of the “trappings” that others have enlisted his concepts in getting rid of as absolutely essential. Things like the Eucharist and Baptism remained central to Bonhoeffer’s theology (129ff). However, what Bonhoeffer was warning against was two problems: the first, a total retreat of the church to hide from the problems of the world; the second, a transformation of the church into one constantly chasing “relevance” and an apologetic agenda (128). These are what Bonhoeffer hoped to strip away in the church come of age. Some traditions of the church “lose their social credibility” but nevertheless, some “must be retained and sheltered against profanation” (130). We must “at all times ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today?'” while recognizing our cultural context may dominate and change–for the worse–our answers to that question (131). Only a well-formed church community can help guard against these difficulties. The reductionist tendency to see Bonhoeffer’s theology as reducing Christ to the church is badly mistaken; instead, Taylor argues “Bonhoeffer’s imagination remains dexterous… [he] refuses to settle for an answer [to the question of “Where is the risen one now?”] that would restrict Christ’s movement. While some theologians proffer the ascension as a means of securing Christ’s location, Bonhoeffer recognizes that even though he has ascended, Jesus has not vanished into the heavenly realms. He continues to stride through history, fulfilling his promise to be with his disciples until the end of the age… So, where is Jesus? He is leading the church toward the kingdom. Bonhoeffer would answer, in other words, by pointing to the church while simultaneously pointing ahead of it” (132).

Bonhoeffer is not frequently considered as a theologian of missions, but Taylor argues that his hermeneutics must presuppose ecclesiology and that we have to seriously take the claim by some that “mission is the mother of theology” (200). Here, Taylor sees Bonhoeffer’s warnings against two kidns of churches as especially powerful. The dangers presented are a church that turns itself in and sets itself as a unique culture (the “culturalist option”) contrasted with the church that downplays its distinctiveness from the world for the sake of mission (the “secularist option”) (201ff). Bonhoeffer himself saw the church in the United States of his time as being guilty of the secularist option, but then saw it in his own church in Germany, something he worked against for the rest of his life (213ff).

Scriptural hermeneutics is difficult, anyone who tells you different is selling you something. (Forgive the reference to a great movie.) Bonhoeffer’s theological work constantly shows this as a difficulty. Poignantly, Bonhoeffer himself noted that even the things that seem easiest–like the command to love your neighbor–quickly become quite complex when it comes to asking what exactly is meant by that (must we change our neighbor? do we care for them bodily? etc.). A command to “love your neighbor,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, “does not say to us unequivocally: You should do this” (quoted on p. 257). This is, in part, why Christ has gifted us the church: as a community existing in and for Christ, we can work to understand the word of God. Then, we become disciples.

Reading Scripture as the Church is an insightful journey into Bonhoeffer’s theology that both readers new to Bonhoeffer and those who have studied his works for years will glean much of interest from. A careful, close reading of the text will yield much worth pursuing for any reader. Highly recommended.

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

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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: “Voices and Views on Paul” by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” broke like a storm across some segments of Christian scholarship. With Voices and Views on Paul, Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers step back and offer an analysis and summary of some contemporary perspectives on Paul.

The first chapter offers a broad view of the New Perspective on Paul, giving definitions as well as showing the primary thrust of those studying in that field. Then, individual scholars’ works are covered in detail, including entire chapters devoted to E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James D. G. Dunn, respectively. After those weighty chapters, two more chapters cover additional modern perspectives of Paul. The final chapter looks at what we can conclude from this study as well as explores some avenues for additional Pauline research.

So what is the “new perspective on Paul”? As the authors point out in the retrospective at the beginning, it’s no longer a new perspective, having first been coined as a phrase in 1983 and also not being a perspective so much as several different perspectives with some often sharp divisions and disagreements (1). So the authors offer a broad background for how this divergent stream of thought got started, and note that it tends to focus on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (3). This question–that of how Paul viewed the relationship between Jew and Gentile and how his own theology grew out from Judaism–is central to scholars working within the so-called “New Perspective.”

The chapters on individual scholars offer lengthy outlines of their own perspectives, along with some points of possible contact and division between them. E. P. Sanders, for example, shows a remarkable and necessary focus upon Judaism in the New Testament, which included both the need to show how scholars had constructed a negative portrait and the need for a portrait of Judaism in the New Testament that shows how Second Temple Judaism was perceived and interacted with New Testament works, particularly Paul’s (19). Sanders offered a “Copernican revolution” in NT scholarship by using his concept of “covenantal nomism” which balanced both the legalism that some perceived in the notion of law/covenant with Judaism and the notion of God’s mercy and atonement with those who have broken the law (25). Sanders’s work is monumental and well-argued, but also doesn’t fully account for the origins of Paul’s notion of sin, nor its importance within Paul’s own works (35ff).

The chapter on N. T. Wright (whom, admittedly, this reader has some bias towards) is equally fascinating. It notes the massive swathe of Wright’s writings upon Paul and how they almost all tie together to make the point at the center of Wright’s thesis: that Paul pushes back against the Imperial cult in his works and centers the Kingdom as covenant as his focus. Wright also focuses upon Israel and the story of the coming Messiah–which leads to significant questions about how the law fits into this (73ff). Wright’s vulnerability lies in perhaps over-reading texts to make them fit into this notion of the imperial cult and hyperbole against it. Even so, Wright’s massive project offers needed correctives to understanding how Paul’s writings worked and, crucially, Wright offers a more global perspective, pulling in scholarship that others did not to support his point.

Dunn’s focus upon the law offers much rich insight for readers to delve into, while also offering a stronger look at Paul’s own conversion and his ethics than some of the other authors. The Apocalyptic Paul is a perspective offered by several scholars, focusing upon the genre of apocalyptic texts (itself a somewhat nebulous concept–see p. 139-141). One problem with apocalyptic readings of Paul is that when they focus so heavily upon the apocalyptic, they tend to have a break between Paul and contemporary Judaism which is much stronger than Paul’s writings themselves seem to suggest (149). Other apocalyptic readings of Paul have tended towards demytholigizing of Paul which doesn’t seem to be fully present in Paul’s own works (157ff). What these works on an apocalyptic Paul do do, however, is provide us with reason to take more seriously Paul’s own apocalyptic imagery and some language related to the apocalyptic which is sometimes missed. Several works on Paul also have focused upon correctives to Reformation readings of Paul, which were sometimes focused primarily on separation from Catholicism rather than upon providing a strong reading of Paul himself (see, for example, 209-211 regarding Calvin and rewards in heaven/God’s love of humanity).

Voices and Views on Paul is an absolutely invaluable work for those interested in any way in Pauline scholarship. It provides significant introductions to some of the most recent thinkers as well as some of the most influential works in the field. It also provides no small amount of critique and potential avenues for further exploration. It’s a great read that is recommended highly.

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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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: “Reading While Black: African American Interpretation as an Exercise of Hope” by Esau McCaulley

Engaging with scripture is an important part of all Christian living. In Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, Esau McCaulley introduces readers to the interpretive movement of black churches. Though obviously not monolithic, McCaulley draws from numerous strands of the tradition to put together, as the title states, a hopeful exercise of interpreting the Bible.

After an introductory chapter that talks about “making space for Black ecclesial interpretation,” each chapter focuses on a question or stance that Black interpreters have asked or taken regarding the text. That first chapter is worth reflecting upon, though. In a modern American church in which a loud, visible number of white male pastors are decrying any recognition of race and attempting to totally abolish it as a concept for questions in the church, is there actual space for Black ecclesial interpretation? Some have argued that Galatians 3:28 means that talking about race is prohibited in church, but of course many of those same people who try to abolish discussions of race based upon that passage are happy to affirm hierarchal relationships regarding men and women. Galatians 3:28 seems to be much more about breaking down barriers society has erected–not about abolishing any recognition that people can be different. Turning to what McCaulley himself writes, he notes that Progressives often go to the opposite extreme, with a set goal going towards the text of deconstruction (7). Evangelicals and mainline Protestants have essentially dominated the theological landscape of the United States, and McCaulley calls upon Progressives to make space for Black reconstruction of the text (8-9) while also noting the subtle and even unsubtle disdain for Black culture and comments about Black churches being unsound theologically (10-12). McCaulley, in other words, calls out the whole spectrum of white churches in America for downplaying or even discrediting Black voices.

The second chapter turns to the New Testament and Black interpretations that apply it to theology of policing. I have to frankly admit I was a bit skeptical going in, but McCaulley draws out how the passages and stories in the New Testament can be applied to questions of policing today. In other words, McCaulley quickly taught me that I haven’t been open enough to thinking more broadly about learning from the text and applying it to our lives. McCaulley’s careful reading of the text notes that we have to see the analogies and disanalogies between Rome, soldiers, and police before we go applying passages like Romans 13 directly to our everyday lives (34-38).

The book just ramps up from there, showing how the New Testament can apply to the political witness of the church–how have moderates and others actually slowed the movement of the Spirit in the Kingdom? The pursuit of justice is a clearly powerful theme throughout the entirety of Scripture, and modern opposition to anything related to speaking of justice in the church is about as unbiblical as one can get. McCaulley warns of several problems with writing of Black interpretations. He writes, “Some… suggest that the starting point for African American biblical exegesis is a predetermined definition that serves as a filter through which we examine biblical texts to see if they meet our standard. The problem with this approach is that it assumes the inspiration and in effect infallibility of our current sociopolitical consensus and the inability of the biblical text to correct us” (73, emphasis his). Making us the arbiters of God’s Word is clearly mistaken, and McCaulley notes that “The Black Christian” [instead] “brings his or her questions to the text and the text poses its own questions to us” (ibid). The important takeaway is that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have a message of salvation, liberation, and reconciliation that itself shapes the African American Christian’s vision of the present and the future” (ibid) but this is immediately followed by: “But things are not so simple… We are not blank slates upon which the Scriptures can write anything” (ibid). The rest of the chapter provides numerous examples of seeing justice present in the Bible (eg. in the Magnificat) and how that resonates with Black theological hope.

Multiethnicity and black identity find resonance in Scripture. Anger is a theme found in scripture as well, and Black suffering can find both an outlet and a way to reconcile experience with reality. Israel’s own “personal and corporate rage” about exile and Babylon find resonance in Black experience. McCaulley walks readers through a detailed look at Paul’s words related to Onesimus and Philemon, noting that the cultural conventions of the time were being subverted, so application must be careful related to today’s challenges (see, for example 154-155).

Even this survey of some of the contents of this pithy book cannot capture the immense range and scope of McCaulley’s work here. It will challenge readers at essentially any part of the political or theological spectrum. Endorsed by readers as diverse as Lecrae and N.T. Wright, Reading While Black is a fascinating read that will challenge and inform readers at many levels. Highly recommended.

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

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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: “Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, Chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker, 1931-1946”

The years 1931-1946 were world-shattering and life-altering. Alan Don was the chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker of Commons in England during this period. In Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, we are treated to an open look at his reflections on this time.

The introduction to the diaries provides significant context, background material about Alan Don, and insight into how Don lived and his importance. These diaries were confidential, but Don himself gave them to be read later in his life. It’s difficult to say how remarkable this is, because it gives a firsthand account of many major events in the United Kingdom for those wanting to learn more about this time period. The editor opted not to leave out any material that could be considered especially personal, again because Don provided them intact. Thus, these diaries offer a surprising mix of personal reflections, insights, and revelations into life during this period.

The diary entries themselves range from mundane reporting of moving from place to place to theological reflections, questions of church minutiae, and everyday life. Reading the diaries straight through is revealing over time, as everyday life changes in regard to some of the events happening around the world. Readers could also choose to pick individual topics. A robust index makes this fairly simple to do. For example, if one wants to see what Don says about Germany, one can go to the index, pick Germany (or a sub-topic related thereto), and find numerous entries throughout these years that ultimately yield an evolving understanding of the situation. This is especially interesting due to Don’s interaction with so many major figures of the time, as he gives personal insight and reflection on some of these meetings.

But this isn’t to leave aside those everyday moments or the minutiae of the church, either. It’s refreshing to see that Alan Don worries about such things as whether an ornate Bible is too heavy for someone to carry, what kind of meal he will have at a private gathering, or any other number of personal insights. It reveals a truly human person on the pages, even while giving so many major insights.

Don also writes on the end of each year a brief aside. Comparing the end of 1941 to the end of 1942 is of interest, for example. At the end of 1941, Don writes “Thus ends a year of dramatic events during which the tide of war seems to have turned definitely in our favour – thanks mainly to the Russian army and the British Navy” (384, he goes on to report more specifically). At the end of 1942, though, Don writes, “1942 started badly and we have surmounted many disappointments and disasters in our struggle with the aggressors. But the tide is on the turn and 1943 may see us nearing our immediate goal” (404). He goes on, “Anti Christ is abroad and compromise is unthinkable” (ibid). The evolution of his understanding of events is a truly fantastic thing to read, and to have it intermixed with theological insights makes it a wonderful read.

Faithful Witness is a rare look at the private life and thoughts of a figure with connections to nearly every major player in the United Kingdom during World War 2. It’s a valuable read for that reason, but Don’s tone and constant reflection make it a fascinating study in everyday life and theological reflection during this period as well. Readers interested in this period of history should see it as a must-read. It’s even moreso a required reading for those interested in the intersection of World War 2 and how people viewed it theologically. It’s a tremendous resource and a wonderful read.

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!

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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: “Thinking About Evolution: 25 Questions Christians Want Answered” by Anjeanette Roberts, Fazale Rana, Sue Dykes, and Mark Perez

Reasons to Believe is a science-faith thinktank that operates from the perspective of Old Earth Creationism. Essentially, they hold that the earth and universe are billions of years old, but that God created progressively. Individual species or families were created by God ex nihilo at different points in time. Recently the organization published a book, Thinking About Evolution: 25 Questions Christians Want Answered that explores the evidence for evolution.

The book is written around 25 chapters corresponding to the eponymous questions. These questions are: “Does Evolution Explain Life on Earth?; Is Religious Belief the Only Reason to Question Evolution?; What’s Philosophy Got to Do With Evolution?; How Can We Keep Our Thinking Free from Fallacy?; Is Evolution Really a Problem for the Christian Faith?; What is Chemical Evolution?; Is Microevolution a Fact?; Does Microbial Evolution Prove Evolution is True>’ Is Natural Selection the Blind Force Driving Evolution?; Is There a Novelty Problem for Evolution?; What to Do with Teleology in Evolution? Can Evolutionary Processes Generate New Information?; Does Evolution Explain the Fossil Record?; What about the Genetic Similarity between Humans and Chimps?; Are the Hominin Fossils Evidence for Human Evolution?; Did Humans and Neanderthals Interbreed?; Did Neanderthals Create Art?; Can Evolutionary Processes Explain the Origin of Eukaryotic Cells?; Can Evolution Repeat Outcomes?; Can Evolutionary Co-option Explain the Irreducible Complexity of Biochemical Systems?; Has Evolution Refuted the Watchmaker Argument?; Is the Watchmaker Really Blind?; Is Junk DNA Evidence for Evolution?; Why Are We Progressive Creationists?; What if Big-E Evolution is True?

I wrote all these chapter titles out because it’s worth seeing that this is the content of the book. At a glance, readers interested in science-faith intersections probably have a number of assumptions about the answers to these questions, given the creationist background of Reasons to Believe. These assumptions may line up, but there are also sure to be some surprises mixed in there. For example, microevolution is most definitely affirmed as factual, but a significant amount of ink is spilled about trying to guarantee Neanderthals aren’t in any way associated with humans.

One thing that’s evident throughout the book is that there are numerous assumptions guiding the way evidence is interpreted by the authors. This is, of course, totally impossible to avoid. We all have assumptions that go into how we interpret anything. But some of these assumptions are put forward as almost obvious statements as though all Christians can or should agree. For example, in the chapter on “Is Evolution Really a Problem for the Christian Faith?” by Fazale Rana, he writes “Science should have no problem detecting a Creator’s handiwork–and even determining a Creator’s attributes,” (72). Prior to this remarkable statement, SETI is cited as an example of scientists attempting to find intelligence based on scientific assumptions. But of course, SETI and similar endeavors are predicated on the notion that intelligence wants to be discovered or that it is, in principle, discoverable. Yet many Christians may oppose this. For example, there is a lengthy tradition and numerous writings related to the hiddenness of God. Paul K. Moser, a philosopher, has written a few books on the topic of evidence for God only being available purposively (for example, The Elusive God). If, as Christian theology affirms, God is personal, then it seems quite possible that a person would have reasons to perhaps hide from or not be available for evidence in conventional means, especially given that person’s goals may be relational to humans rather than purely evidentiary. All of this is to say that certain assumptions made by the authors in this book are worth challenging. The very model that Reasons to Believe operates upon–a kind of strong concordism in which science will ultimately reveal God (or, minimally, unveil that the Bible is unchallenged by science, properly interpreted)–relies upon such assumptions. If they’re mistaken, significant questions about the inputs and outputs of the model would be raised.

The evidence for evolution is extremely strong. I don’t think the authors would seriously dispute that statement, given that they frankly acknowledge microevolution and microbial evolution. However, when confronted by this evidence, and the rather reasonable inference that one can move from small changes over large time to bigger changes, the authors shut down. For example, in the chapter on microbial evolution, Anjeanette Roberts writes, “But does microbial evolution involve production of totally novel protein products, cellular structures, cellular functions, metabolic pathways, or stepping stones to major transitions between kinds of organisms? …That’s highly debatable” (106). One might want to debate this, but the mere fact that just a sentence before, it had been acknowledged that microbial evolution does occur means that such “stepping stones” are in place. If we can observe microbial evolution in such small time spans, then given hundreds of millions of years, it seems to be little more than a lack of imagination to insist that such larger changes could not possibly occur. Of course, that’s not how strongly worded the objection is here. Throughout the book, the authors dance along this fine line of implying the evidence for evolution is highly contentious or questionable while also having to acknowledge that evolution just does occur.

For example, Sue Dykes makes it clear that she questions the existence of transitional forms, but then has to explain away the transitional forms that have been discovered in the fossil record (161ff). The reason to dismiss transitional forms appears to be that Dykes prefers to define transitional forms in the now-archaic way Darwin did as finding exacting step-by-step A-to-B lineages that we know for certain show the transition from A-Z. But this is not how evidence works. If we had the evidence to plays someone at the scene of a crime at the time in which it occurred with the weapon and intent to commit murder, someone coming along and saying “Ah ha! You cannot tell me the exact sequence in which the victim was stabbed!” wouldn’t be a compelling reason to question the suspect’s guilt. The sequence is there, though the order may be hotly contested. Examples Dykes investigates include whale evolution, which is quite frankly a compelling series of transitional fossils. Why are they questioned, then? Because there is the occasional discovery that may perhaps have a fossil dated differently or one form showing up earlier than expected! But that doesn’t really undermine the sequence any more than having one’s ancestor (grandparent, say) still alive today would mean one could not have been born yet. On a total-species level, it would be surprising to see entire species that were successful and ubiquitous enough for there to have actually been preserved fossils of them just dying off the exact moment a somewhat more adapted creature came along. Moreover, it is difficult for me to take seriously the questioning of transitional fossils when so many striking examples have been found. Not just the ones that exist in the public’s memory writ large, but also numerous amazing examples, like turtles, having “halfway” point type fossils. I wrote about some of these elsewhere. Again, do we have every one of the presumably hundreds of species preserved to get from point A-to-Z? No. But missing C, D, F, G, H, and I hardly precludes calling B, E, J, and M transitional forms.

The authors occasionally fall into the unfortunate position of implying that because scientists have updated predictions and models due to changing evidence, we can question the core idea. Sue Dykes writes about Hominin fossils, “It seems that the more we dsicover and the more we test, the more frustrated paleontologists become. New discoveries regularly undermine the ideal of a clear, single evolving lineage leading to modern humankind” (177). Well yes, because I doubt there are any paleontologists who actually that that “ideal” is attainable in actuality. Evolution is messy. It doesn’t produce simple chains. There are offshoots, branches that break off, never to come back, divergence, convergence, and more. Simply having a ton of fossils that fit to show evolution is occurring and not being able to find an “ideal” lineage doesn’t undermine the evidence for evolution. The stunning number of fossils and traits that can be found amongst them instead shows the compelling notion of evolution over time.

I was also surprised to see Fazale Rana seem to argue that evolutionary biologists would think that if we turned back the clock, evolution would just repeat results (225). I believe it was in Dawkins’s work that I read (reading it as a skeptic of evolution, more than a decade ago) that evolution would do the exact opposite. The metaphor was a videotape: if we rolled back the tape, the movie evolution would play would be completely different, because the forces acting upon nature that drive evolution couldn’t possibly be replicated. This seems to undermine the whole chapter in which Rana makes this statement about replicating results. Convergent evolution doesn’t really seem to be evidence against evolution, either, which is the somewhat confusing point that may be alluded to in this chapter (“Can Evolution Repeat Outcomes?”). Instead, Rana argues convergence points to progressive creationism due to shared features. But this was not established in the text, and the point Rana made about rewinding the clock seems to me to be mistaken.

A few chapters hint at more difficult problems for evolution. The question of irreducible complexity was compelling to me for quite a while, but though the authors here make the case, it still seems that co-option is but one of the several possible ways evolution could account for seemingly irreducible complexity. As has been pointed out by others much more in the know than I, irreducible complexity itself is something of a construct. For example, it may be the case that taking out a part of the eye that allows us to focus upon something would make the eye unable to function as an eye, but it would hardly make it useless. The mere ability to sense light/dark would be extremely advantageous on a number of levels. Another problem that is raised in the book is the question of generating information. I myself have become pretty skeptical of this argument, though, because it seems something of a category error. Yes, there is a strong metaphorical connection between human written language and the “language” of DNA, but to equate them to the point that is required for introducing intelligent design into the process is a stretch at best. Rana makes his case by pointing to the stunning improbability of randomly producing a functional cytochrome (153), but the very nature of evolution makes this nonsensical. Evolution isn’t randomly generating series of DNA strands in order to, hopefully, come up with a functional and beneficial protein. Instead, it is operating upon existing, functional (and even deleterious or non-functional) features. Simply stating blind probabilities is to massively overstate the range of actual possibility.

The concluding chapter is perhaps the best chapter of its kind I’ve read in any creationist literature anywhere. Anjeanette Roberts writes, “there are many faithful Christians today who confess Christ as Lord, hold the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, and believe in real miraculous events… while also holding that God used the initial conditions he established at the creation along with evolutionary processes to accomplish his purposes for life’s biological history on Earth” (282).

Later, she writes, “After all, it is not one’s view of origins that determines a person’s Christian status” (ibid). Then, she writes this great counterfactual: “If at some point in the future, the scientific evidence shows that evolutionary mechanisms are the mechanisms of god’s creation, then interpretive models… will fill a needed space in biblical Christian thought,” (283). Though not fully stating it, it is clear the implications here are that Roberts, and presumably other RTB scholars, are acknowledging that if evidence existed to convince them evolution were true, they would utilize some of the models for reconciling that with biblical truth that they already see as viable. This is an extraordinarily honest position, particularly for a creationist organization. Too often, people accuse creationists of being liars and/or deceivers, obfuscating truth. I have noted numerous points of disagreement with the book in my own review here. But let it be said that I think that RTB has done extremely valuable work, and that they’ll continue to do so. I can’t help but admire the integrity and honesty of their scholars, and am honored to work alongside them for God’s Kingdom.

Thinking About Evolution will give readers a solid base for understanding the most prominent old earth creationist perspective. While I think that the case it builds against evolution is lacking, I appreciate the candor, the integrity, and the genuine searching for truth the authors are pursuing. Readers interested in the intersection of Christianity and science will appreciate this book.

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

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: “Splendour in the Dark: C. S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work” by Jerry Root

C. S. Lewis’s writings loom large in the church today, whether because of the massive influence of The Chronicles of Narnia or his spiritual works like Mere Christianity. Jerry Root brings attention to one of his lesser-known works Dymer, a narrative poem that was written before Lewis converted to Christianity. In Splendour in the Dark, Root argues that Dymer shows Lewis’s development of spiritual growth, intellectual prowess, and writing skill in ways that reverberate through his later works.

The book begins with an annotated edition of the narrative poem, Dymer, itself (annotations from David C. Downing). This narrative poem encompasses over 100 pages of the book and is a valuable resource. The annotations from Downing consistently provide insights and points of interest for readers. The text itself is an interesting narrative though, as Downing and Root each note, it has its faults. What it does show, however, is a remarkable elasticity of thought and willingness to explore deep issues at work in Lewis’s earlier life.

Root’s chapters are composed of 3 lectures with responses about Dymer. Root highlights the importance of the narrative poem in Lewis’s life, as he had it come upon him all at once, but waited for some time before publishing it 11 years later (133). Lewis’s fascination with writing and classics included the belief that one should use “literary form to match what it was he [Lewis] wanted to say” (138). One can see this throughout his works. Lewis saw the importance of form to function and message.

The concept of mutability and change is present in Dymer as well, and Root argues that this theme is in Lewis’s notion that “reality is iconoclastic” (143ff, see also 230). The necessity of change means that indoctrination will ultimately fail (145), and that those structures humans attempt to make to endure will fall. Lewis’s fascination with myth looms large throughout the poem, and certainly in his later works (173ff). Root continues to draw from Dymer to show Lewis’s influences on his later works, though he doesn’t explicitly make those connections at times. Readers will need some familiarity and appreciation for Lewis’s works to get the most out of this book.

Each chapter has a response from another scholar in a related field. These responses are largely affirmations of what was in the lecture they append.

Fans of C. S. Lewis should consider Splendour in the Dark a must-read. It brings attention to one of his lesser-known works while also providing thoughtful analysis and application to everyday life for Christians. Recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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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