Book Reviews

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Book Review: “The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom” by Andrew Abernethy

igk-abernethyAndrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom has a kind of dual purpose: introducing readers to the overarching themes of the Book of Isaiah and to show that Kingdom in particular is central to understanding the Book of Isaiah.

Abernethy acknowledges a number of difficulties with Isaiah, including the difficulty of tying down its historical context, the problem of a “meta-history” of the book and its composition and getting to its final form, and the sheer size of it going against several attempts at a unified meaning. Nevertheless, he takes on that latter task, and on the way manages to deal with the other difficulties, at least in passing.

Abernethy traces the concept of “Kingdom” in Isaiah through five chapters that each focus on one aspect of the Kingdom: God as King now and to come; God as saving King, God as warrior/compassionate king; lead agents of the king; and the people of God’s kingdom. The first three of these provide a broad thematic overview of Isaiah, splitting it into three parts, and the latter two cover each of the three parts related to the thesis.

The book is quite dense despite having a somewhat introductory idea. That is almost certainly because Isaiah itself is so dense that in order to do it justice, Abernethy was forced to introduce a vast amount of information. What makes the book particularly useful is that Abernethy ties Isaiah not just together, but also into the canonical narrative, and this is perhaps most prominent in the God as saving King and people of God’s kingdom sections. As an example, in the section on God as saving king, there is a small (two-page) section on Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10 in canonical context which contains over a dozen references to other canonical references (this at a glance). Abernethy thus deftly balances reading Isaiah on its own terms with understanding it both in its historical and canonical context. The fact that such a sentence can be written itself speaks highly of the work.

Perhaps the biggest strike against the book is that because it does have a rather basic feeling to it, and because Isaiah is itself so dense, the work feels much longer than it actually is. It stands at 200 pages sans the appendix, but feels much longer simply because so much space is covered, with multitudes of Scriptural references on each page. This makes me question what audience the book was written towards, as beginners will likely feel it is a daunting read, while those who’ve done a good amount of reading on Isaiah already will have picked up on most of the themes contained here. That said, the book can easily serve as a great reference and tool to glance over when one wants to explore the book of Isaiah in more depth. It is about as compact an introduction–while still being useful–as one could expect.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom isn’t trying to forge much new ground. Rather, it is a dense survey of a book of the Bible that is packed full of information. Abernethy does readers a service by helping to unpack Isaiah while sticking to broad themes rather than individual debates.

The Good

+Focus on broad themes makes it more readable
+Good reference work for themes in Isaiah
+Highlights many of the more interesting questions about the book of Isaiah

The Bad

-Incredibly dense for such a short read
-May be off-putting to some of the target audience

Book Review: “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists” by Mark R. Teasdale

ene-teasdaleMark Teasdale’s Evangelism for Non-Evangelists is one of those deceptively simple books. Yes, the title basically describes exactly what its contents are, and yes, it is full of information that will make even those who think they know what it means delve more deeply into the topic.

From the get-go, Teasdale undermines the biases readers may have in regards to evangelism. Not only is there no one size fits all approach to evangelism, but that very notion has done serious damage to efforts made by Christians in the past (10-11). Another challenge is lobbed at American evangelicalism, as Teasdale not only notes that evangelism cannot be reduced to contemporary evangelicalism, but also acknowledges that progressive theologians and others are capable of evangelizing and having worthwhile perspectives as well (17-19). These are the kind of often difficult insights Teasdale offers throughout the book, and for that reason alone the book is worth reading.

But the book is much more than a collection of challenges against one’s preconceptions. As the title suggests but does not fully reveal, it is a work of the heart of an evangelist who seeks to teach others to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is not an easy task. Evangelism is not merely something that will succeed based on effort, but is Spirit-led. Evangelism takes serious effort on the part of the one wishing to spread the Gospel. Evangelism involves contextualizing not just the teachings of Christianity, but also making sense of why Christianity is important for whatever individual one encounters. In short, evangelism is tough, and more complex than many may realize.

Fear not, however, as Teasdale provides many practical insights to help those interested in evangelizing to learn how to become more effective evangelists, though it will take time. Although a summary of these points will sound overly basic (i.e. “get to know the individual”), Teasdale’s points are presented succinctly but in ways that I think most readers will benefit from.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists is one of those rare books I can recommend without any reservation. It’s a fast read, but one that demands reflection and re-reading. It has challenges to readers that are on-point without ever being overbearing. It’s a fantastic work that introduces a necessary topic for Christian living.

The Good

+Many practical applications
+Goes beyond American evangelical tradition
+Full of insights into the practice of evangelism

The Bad

-None

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: “Insider Jesus” by William A. Dyrness

ij-dyrnessWhat does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in non-Western cultures? Could it mean something different than it does in places like the United States and Europe? These are some of the questions that Insider Jesus by William A. Dyrness seeks to answer.

Dyrness, in this pithy book, focuses on contextualization and the frequent misunderstanding of the same. Contextualization is often seen by some as being the distortion of Christianity to fit a culture; at the opposite extreme, it is seen as a kind of imperialistic co-opting of whatever culture is being witnessed to. Dyrness calls us to move past these extremes and come to understand that we must take a critical look at our assumptions about what other Christians should do and how they should behave. Often, these “shoulds” reflect our culture rather than a biblical understanding of Christianity.

Dyrness utilizes a number of case studies to highlight examples of “insider movements” in which Christians are not abandoning their culture while still following Jesus. These studies include Latin America and Africa with interfaith dialogues, emergent Christianity in places like India, and more. Each shows some ways in which Christianity is making headway in places that it might not have otherwise done. Each may make readers uncomfortable as we are forced to see that many of the things we take for granted culturally are not even understood in other cultures.

It is this last point that is perhaps most important to Dyrness’s thesis. Spreading the Gospel of Christ does not mean spreading our culture. As Christians, we’re called to be all things to all people, and that may, at times, make us uncomfortable. Some may here charge Dyrness with syncretism–a dreaded word in interfaith discussions–but such an accusation would be off-base. As Dyrness argues, using the thought of Kang-San Tan, a Christian from a Buddhist background, that we must

…distinguish between the danger of external identification with two religious communities and the possibility, even the necessity for those from these religious backgrounds, of maintaining an inward multireligious identity… Christianity itself necessarily exhibits an integration that reflects its historical and cultural situation… Every Christian religious expression represents some combination of indigenous values and religious practices… and the impact of the Christian Gospel… on this (124-125, emphasis his)

The point is that many of the things we think of as normal for Christian worship (standing during the Gospel reading, for instance) are clearly a use of cultural context to worship our God. Such things are not necessary for other groups, but when they are absent, it may lead us to wrongly think these other groups are mistaken.

Insider Jesus provides a much-needed critical perspective on insider movements that encourages readers to be aware of these movements and how their own faith is influenced by many similar aspects. It’s an uncomfortable read at times because it highlights areas of our own blindness about our religion. Several points Dyrness makes are controversial, but he provides enough argument and context that readers will be challenged even where they disagree.

The Good

+Provides framework for thinking through controversial questions
+Further study encouraged with sources to pursue
+Good job introducing complex topics

The Bad

-Exegetical sections brief with sometimes questionable conclusions

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: “Cold-Case Christianity For Kids” by J.Warner Wallace and Susie Wallace

J. Warner Wallace and Susie Wallace have teamed up to bring introductory apologetics to a level that can be understood and digested for kids in Cold-Case Christianity for Kids. How does it fare?

The book is set up as though readers are entering into a school for police cadets with an emphasis on detective work. Each chapter is centered around exploring another aspect of evidence related to a case related to a skateboard (how did it get to where it was and who does it belong to?) and gets tied into discussion of Christian apologetics.

Chapter by chapter, readers learn how to think. Yes, many facts about the New Testament and Jesus are presented, but they are presented alongside critical insight into how to think and conduct investigation into such facts. These investigations include testing witnesses, learning about what kinds of evidence might be important, learning how to infer, separating artifacts from evidence, and more. I was impressed with how the authors conveyed some really complex elements of reasoning in ways that would, I think, be understandable for children.

The book is set in a kind of storybook format as the reader continues this cadet school, learning more about how to investigate a case while also having a story told about the investigation related to the skateboard. It’s an engaging way to present to readers without being overbearing.

I think the target audience for this book would be about ages 8-12. Some older students might find the way it includes the reader in the text a little cheesy, but younger students might not as easily follow the lines of evidence. Speaking of target audience, I was a little disappointed that the study guides included in the text rely quite a bit on fill-in-the-blank questions. Though some questions were more open-ended and allowed for more reflection, the majority were effectively filling in the blank, which I have found to be more akin to busy work than something that helps to learn.

Another great aspect of the book is the tie-in website which features chapter-by-chapter videos lead by J. Warner Wallace helping explain the core of the chapter. He’s an engaging speaker and the videos could easily be integrated by an adult leader. The site also has more study tools and a guide for adults to lead study. It’s a solid tie-in website.

Overall, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids is a good introduction to apologetics that will help teach kids to think critically. I recommend it.

The Good

+Hands-on examples with real applications
+Teaches how to think in many cases
+Great tie-ins on the website

The Bad

-Over-reliance on fill in the blanks for study guides

Book Review: “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures” by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker

mhsc-gbUnderstanding the context to which we are ministering is one of the most important aspects of mission–and other–work. Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker have provided, in Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, a way to understand cultural practices that are far from what many in the West experience. I found it to be enlightening, and a little alarming, because it showed many times where I may have given offense without even realizing it.

Georges and Baker utilized a number of stories to illustrate some of the difficulties in understanding honor-shame cultures when one’s background is not in that culture. For those, like me, with a limited grasp of the topic, honor-shame cultures ought to be defined, but that itself is difficult. Basically, these cultures have a system where the community is valued more highly than the individual, and shame, rather than guilt, is the result of violations of the strictures of society. Such a perspective means that, for example, the core problem with one’s violation of the codes of society is not that we make mistakes (as in our individualistic societies) but rather that our very being has been corrupted. Thus, rather than trying to justify or apologize for our mistake, it is more important to cover that mistake (see especially the table on page 38).

We often see honor-shame cultures as silly or backwards–possibly even morally wrong or bankrupt–because our very understanding of human interaction is built upon a different system. Why should we have to highlight someone else’s importance in order to get what we deserve? Just as easily, the other could ask why we refuse to honor them with the standing in society that they possess? These stories help highlight both the strangeness of the “other” in the honor-shame culture and the way that we may be equally seen as brusque at best to people of other cultures. The early chapters, in particular, highlight these points.

Even more importantly–and the above is certainly vital–we may be misreading the Bible due to our misunderstanding of honor-shame cultures. For example, the many rules about purity and what makes someone unclean are almost impossible to understand without some grasp of honor-shame culture. The chapters on biblical background for understanding this and other aspects of Christianity that can really only be fully understood in honor-shame contexts.

Finally, Georges and Baker provide a number of practical applications for what they highlighted in the first 100 or so pages. These applications range across spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. Three appendices provide (lots of) key scripture passages on honor-shame, biblical stories that address honor-shame cultures, and resources for further reading.

Throughout the book, smart use of tables and graphs helps readers visualize the differences in cultures that lead to many misunderstandings. If there is one complaint I have the book it is that I desired more exegetical considerations, which is basically to say that I’d love a follow-up work that focuses on understanding critical biblical passages. In other words, there’s little to complain about here. It is a book full of insights that are both practical and engaging.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures is one of those rare books that makes you sit back and think–really think–about how you understand the “other.” For that alone, it is worth the read. Set that alongside a good helping of practical applications and biblical theology, and the book is a must-read. It comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Provides numerous examples to help think through the issues
+Use of graphics smartly done
+Highlights very important, but often misunderstood topics
+Encourages critical interaction

The Bad

-More exegesis of some key passages would be helpful

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: “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!

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: “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. 

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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: “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.

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