Book Reviews

This category contains 174 posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

+Highlights importance of women in church history

The Bad

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

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

Links

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

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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: “Silence and Beauty” by Makoto Fujimura

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

-More subdued in some conclusions than necessary

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

Source

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

Links

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

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: “Justification” by N.T. Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Source

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

-Extremely brief on many interesting points

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Source

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“Her Dangerous Visions” by Brandon Barr- Prophecy, Evil, and Hope

hdv-barrBrandon Barr’s Her Dangerous Visions is a science fiction/fantasy drama that will suck you in and not let go. Here, I’ll offer a brief review of the book alongside a few comments on themes found therein. The shortest possible review is: get the book, it’s great.

Review

Barr’s writing style is direct, but has depth. There is an enormous amount of political drama, tension around love, and action packed into each page of the book. Moreover, Barr seamlessly combines elements of science fiction and fantasy, such that it is difficult to categorize the book neatly. But that combination works remarkably well here, as Barr moves from farms to space with ease.

This first entry in the series offers glimpses of a broader universe, leaving readers wanting more from future installments. The focus is on the planets that are involved in a conflict, Loam and Hearth, that is apparently much more than any of their inhabitants realize.

Barr’s style is driven by characters. The characters are all remarkably deep. They have qualities that make readers get immediately invested, and faults that make readers want to scream at the pages as they watch favorite characters make foolish choices time and again. Meluscia was my favorite character–a woman whose ailing father is debating whom to appoint as his successor. She works to become that successor, but her desires in other areas could throw her off her apparently single-minded quest. Winter, another character, is said to be a seer, but the visions she sees continue to show sickening danger. Does she share the visions to try to prevent what they foretell, or keep them silent in the hopes that sharing them will not cause them to happen? Each character, as I said, is full of depth and develops of the course of the story. They feel very real–with motivations, aspirations, and faults that drive them.

The plot itself is complex, with layers peeled away through the course of the book and in interludes between sections. The pace never lets up, and once readers start, they won’t be able to put it down.

Overall, Her Dangerous Visions is a simply phenomenal read. I highly recommend it, just be ready to read for a while, because you’ll want to dive into the next book ASAP.

There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Prophecy

Prophecy is clearly an important part of the book and the whole series. Winter’s gifting as a Seer means that she must try to understand what it means and come to comprehend it. There are portions where scenes with Winter remind me of biblical prophets and their own struggles. Think about it: how many prophets truly had it easy in the Bible? Nathan had to tell the King he’d committed great evil; Elijah was hunted for much of his career; John the Baptist ate bugs in the wilderness; etc. Similarly, Winter doesn’t have it easy, and finds herself questioning the wisdom of deity in this book. There is more to be explored in the coming books in the series, but at the end of Her Dangerous Visions, it is difficult to see where Winter may end up on her journey.

Evil

Evil is not often black-and-white in the real world, but there are some clear instances of it being such (i.e. Stalin/Hitler). Similarly, Barr’s book shows evil at times being black-and-white, but at other times it is much more subtle. Much of the evil in the book is from the characters themselves–finding themselves motivated wrongly by lust or vengeance rather than by virtues. It is a dimension that, as I said, makes the characters feel very real, and causes reflection in readers.

Hope

In our world, hope may be found in Christ, no matter how bad the darkness gets. Similarly, in Her Dangerous Visions, hope is found in trusting in others and the goodness of God. The spiritual realm in the novel is not fully revealed yet, so it will be interesting to see how it comes to be shaped over time.

Conclusion

I’d recommend readers pick up Brandon Barr’s book. He’s a man of faith who has written a phenomenal set of novels that are thought-provoking and thrilling.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

 

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Modern Art and the Life of a Culture” by Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness

malc-adJonathan Anderson and William Dyrness analyze how modern art reflects the cultural mindset in Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, the inaugural entry in a new series on Studies in Theology and the Arts from InterVarsity Press. The most important thing is whether the book will be of interest to those who have little-to-no training in arts or theology. That is, can the book really bridge the gap between these fields? As one trained in theology, but with only the most introductory (read: general studies requirements) knowledge of art, from that side, I’d say the answer is a resounding yes.

Anderson and Dyrness explore modern art through the lens of H.R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. However, they are not uncritical of this source material. Rookmaaker, they argue, was too quick to see more points of contact between Christianity and modern art than might be intended. However, Rookmaaker also provided a paradigm for viewing works of art as the basis for critical interaction rather than the life of or intentions of the artists themselves. This paradigm is quite useful, but it would be remiss to completely ignore the intent or life of the artist when looking at a work of art. It is this latter point which carries throughout the book, as the authors look at individual works of art, critically reflecting on them while also giving a holistic view of the artists themselves.

These descriptions are never boring or overdone. The authors write in an engaging style that weaves theology and art together in ways that are often surprising and frequently thought-provoking. The artists included are from a range of theological background and understandings. Thus, the book provides a broad look at different geological regions and their art from about the 1800s on (with some dabbling into earlier periods) that will give readers a working understanding of how the development of these styles interacted with the surrounding culture. At times, these stories are fascinating–how did the aristocracy or church react to differing depictions of icons in Russia, for example–and they always provide needed background and concrete examples.

The book also includes a number of full-color pictures to examine which are integrated into the text in useful ways. They are beautiful and often haunting. If there is one critique I may offer of the book, it is that more pictures would have been helpful. Some chapters have almost no images. Some have only black-and-white pictures. It is great to have more pictures, but the black-and-white ones make it a little difficult to discern details. More pictures would have helped readers like me–untrained in the arts–to get a better grasp on what some parts of the text were discussing. I looked up multiple paintings and images online to get a better understanding, but having them included in the text would have made it an even more excellent resource.

What is perhaps most important in the book, however, is the critical perspective the authors offer. It is impossible to give a wholesale acceptance or rejection of a field of art, and the authors provide ways to engage with both individuals and single pieces of art in ways that go beyond simply looking at the painting. It can be said, honestly, that the book will make readers want to go out, look at art, and let it speak to them in new and more profound ways. To say that about a book intended to get Christians thinking theologically about art is to give it the highest praise.

Modern Art and the Life of a Culture provides an excellent way to kick off a series on theology and the arts. It is engaging, eye-opening, and beautiful. Readers from many fields will find things of interest, and the authors provide numerous points of contact for future study. It is a highly recommended work.

The Good

+Introduces reader to an array of topics
+Critical interaction with source material
+Provides example of art criticism from Christian perspective
+Draws from international sources
+Includes beautiful color artwork

The Bad

-Difficult to discern some details in the black and white pictures

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

Source

Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness, Modern Art and the Life of a Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Earliest Christologies” by James L. Papandrea

tec-papandreaJames L. Papandrea’s The Earliest Christologies is an introduction to examination of five views of who Christ was in the earliest church. Papandrea examines views of Christ as angel, prophet, phantom, cosmic mind, and Word/Logos.

The strongest point of the book is that it provides a reasoned, non-sensationalist accounting of the diversity of Christological positions in the early church. Too often, authors try to play up great conflict in the early church and what became orthodoxy as merely whatever view happened to have the most powerful adherents. None of that exists in The Earliest Christologies, which instead gives an overview of each position and shows that orthodoxy was superior in key ways.

Readers will get a broad overview of each of the five positions examined, along with multiple directions they could take further study, should they desire. It’s a solid introductory text.

Two primary difficulties face the book, and they are interlinked. The book is quite short, and so is necessarily brief on multiple important points, offering little by way of analysis. Papandrea notes throughout that the looks at Christology provided herein are “neater, cleaner, and more well-defined than they would have been in ‘real life'” (105). This brevity isn’t necessarily a major drawback, as it is intended as a work that introduces readers to the various positions on Christology in the earliest church, but it may leave some readers wanting more.

Well-written and stuffed with information, The Earliest Christologies provides a much-needed introduction to historical views of Christ. Although its brevity may limit its usefulness to introductory reading, such a work is necessary and it comes recommended. It would serve as an excellent text for a class on Christology or a high-level Bible study group.

The Good

+Provides a reasoned voice in examining early Christology
+Wealth of information in an accessible format

The Bad

-Extremely brief on multiple points
-Little by way of analysis

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific 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: “Undeniable” by Douglas Axe

undeniable-axeUndeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed by Douglas Axe is an explanation of Intelligent Design theory at a lay level. Axe contends that by appealing to “common science”—the notion that experience is integral to how we live and that each individual is, in a sense, a scientist because we use experience to make models and figure out how things work (60-61)—the inference to design will be vindicated.

A central aspect of Axe’s case is appeal to what he calls “The Universal Design Intuition” defined as “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge” (20). This intuition, argues Axe, is supported by experimental data, including difficulties with forming proteins to form specific chemical transformations (33ff). He also utilizes mathematical modeling to show that it is effectively impossible to achieve certain results purely by chance (89ff). It is insight that is required to achieve the results that we see in biology, he argues. There is no amount of repetition possible to offset the improbability of life in our universe and life as we see (103).

Counter-arguments to design are addressed, including the multiverse. Axe argues that “aimless wandering” of chance effectively means that anything but design for the results we observe is impossible. There is a specific “target area” which must be achieved to get life, and the odds against hitting that target are infinitesimal to the point that they are practically impossible (113ff).

Ultimately, Axe concludes, “Functional coherence makes accidental invention fantastically improbable and therefore physically impossible” (160). The sheer improbability stacked against the notion that life could evolve functionally to new life forms makes it physically impossible, thus showing that design is the best inference when it comes to life. Scenarios which are alleged to show evolution in action require tweaking from outside, thus demonstrating that insight and design are required for life (198ff; 209). Moreover, “Nothing evolves unless it already exists” (214), and the existence of life cannot merely evolve from non-life given the probabilities stacked against it.

Why, then, do so few scientists advocate for design or see it in nature? Axe’s answer to this question is that there is enormous bias and no small amount of power being wielded against the design inference: “Harm comes to science not by people hoping to find a particular result but by people trying to suppress results that go against their hopes” (45). He argues that there is at least some intentional suppression of design theory and that new ideas take time to gain space in academia (46ff; 215ff).

Axe’s argument is geared towards lay readers, though it does have a few new things to offer those who have read the majority of ID literature already. His analysis of the mathematics behind design inferences will help gain an understanding of what is meant by “possible” in logical vs. physical senses. Moreover, his firsthand experience of experimental confirmation gives him a voice that is not often heard in defense of ID. It is not merely modeling that is happening, but rather experimentation with results.

That said, there are a few issues in the book. First, I think that the continued appeal to bias as the reason for rejecting ID is overdone. Although some certainly do reject ID due to bias against  the notion of a creator or designer, there are many who reject it because they find its arguments either inconclusive or mistaken. Bias exists, but it is not the only reason for rejecting ID theory any more than materialism is the only reason for rejecting ID. Second, evolution is treated as a kind of singular entity, with natural selection as the only mechanism proposed to accomplish the diversification of species. Though he acknowledges some efforts to modify evolutionary theory that acknowledge other mechanisms (220-224), he dismisses such efforts as “patching holes” instead of as serious alternative proposals. I admit I have no expertise in evolutionary biology, but I am familiar enough with the idea to know that several different notions of how evolution may produce new life forms are proposed, and that most acknowledge some combination of several factors is probably right. It seemed strange for Axe to largely dismiss these as dead ends. Third, there are several points of the argument that seemed rushed or simply passed by. I understand this is a book for laity, but the movement from seeing some aspect of evolution as physically impossible to design is an inference that requires some explanation beyond assertion.

Overall, Undeniable provides more food for thought for those interested in Intelligent Design and the debate between ID advocates and opponents. Axe does offer some insights that I, at least, haven’t read anywhere else. The book is also written at a level that almost any reader could pick it up and get the core of Axe’s argument. Those interested in the debate over Intelligent Design would be well-served to pick up a copy. I will be interested in seeing what responses are offered.

The Good

+Good introduction to ID theory
+A fresh take on some aspects of ID
+Use of examples that are easy to understand

The Bad

-Relies too much upon perceived bias in science
-Skims through much argumentation
-Little interaction with alternate evolutionary scenarios

Source

Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016).

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology” by Jordan Cooper

tgd-cooperThe Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology presents a broad-spectrum look at Reformed theology from a Lutheran perspective.* Cooper breaks this analysis up into three parts: Predestination and Free Will, Worship and the Sacraments, and Salvation. These parts are intended to show the greatest dividing lines between Reformed and Lutheran thought.

It is really quite exciting to see how well-read Cooper is on both Reformed and Lutheran thought. On the Reformed side, he frequently cites Calvin (of course), Bavinck, Edwards, Piper, Grudem, and more. On the Lutheran side, he draws from Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Kolb, and more. This thorough use of sources on both sides helps shield against bias, as Cooper continually cites the words of prominent theologians of each tradition.

Cooper provides in each chapter a presentation of Reformed thought on the topic, drawing extensively from prominent Reformed thinkers past and present, as well as various Reformed Confessions. Then, he provides a look at the Lutheran perspective, often quoting the Lutheran Confessions as well as prominent Lutheran thinkers. After providing this comparison, Cooper argues for the Lutheran position, noting the points of divergence along the way. At many points, this analysis is fairly robust. However, at other points Cooper does swiftly move from one point to another before providing enough to establish each point.

One of the things that comes to the front most clearly in the book is just how close Reformed and Lutheran thought are on a number of issues. Unfortunately, as close as the two traditions come on many areas, the chasm between the two remains vast. This is particularly clear in regards to the Sacraments and Predestination. I was also pretty surprised to see how different the Reformed and Lutheran view regarding worship is. The regulative principle within Reformed thought–that whatever is not commanded in Scripture ought not to be done in worship–was something that startled me. I hadn’t considered such a position, but Cooper showed the arguments for and against this position, coming down on the side of Lutheranism (again, he’s coming from that perspective), which sees worship as something that God allows for more leeway in than do Reformed thinkers.

It is truly amazing how much information Cooper manages to convey in just 200 pages. Readers are introduced to both Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on a number of important theological topics, treated to both exposition of those views and offered critique of the Reformed position all in a very clear style and form.

There are two minor critiques I’d offer of the book. The first is the continued use of the archaic “man” to refer to all people. There were, in fact, a few places in which I had to work to discern whether Cooper meant all people or just men when it came to what he was writing. A second critique is that because of the books relatively short length, some of the arguments on either the Reformed or Lutheran side seem extremely brief, leaving some of the arguments inconclusively demonstrated.

Jordan Cooper’s The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology is a vast trove of information and analysis. Extensively researched and well-reasoned, it will provide readers unfamiliar with either Reformed or Lutheran theology (or both) an introduction to each tradition as well as a look at how they may interact with one another.

The Good

+Engages with prominent theologians from each group
+Historically informed
+Treats Reformed thought fairly
+Vast wealth of information

The Bad

-Continued use of archaic “man” etc. as inclusive
-Some points are breezed through very quickly

*It is worth noting my own bias here: I am a Lutheran who was raised Lutheran and, though I wandered a little bit, have become quite convinced of Lutheran theology in recent years.

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

Source

Jordan Cooper The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015).

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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