Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Killing a Messiah” by Adam Winn

Adam Winn’s Killing a Messiah is a novel set in 1st century Judea that shows different perspectives before, during, and somewhat after Holy Week. The book follows several characters, invented or historical, as events swirl leading up to the Crucifixion.

Judah, a leader of a Jewish resistance group, is probably the driving force for action in the novel. Pilate has a much more prominent place than one might expect given the biblical narrative (more on that below). A shopkeeper, Caleb, attempts to avoid the major events taking place around him. Eleazar, the son of High Priest Caiaphas, has his own politically motivated agenda.

The novel introduces a number of factors that stirred conflict in Judea during this time, and Winn does a competent job showing how this may have impacted people at various levels in Israel’s hierarchy. I was surprised, however, at how little a voice was given to any female characters in the book. There are 4 main perspectives, none of which is a woman. Yet in the biblical narrative, we see women featuring hugely in the events. It feels a bit like a missed opportunity to not have a narrative perspective from someone like one of the women who helped fund Jesus’s ministry. What would she have been like? How would she have viewed the political turmoil happening around Jesus? Perhaps I’m just interested in parts of the narrative that did not interest Winn, but I, unfortunately, cannot help but feel a strong sense of “what might have been” throughout the novel.

What’s interesting is that Winn’s framing of the events throughout this period allow him to address several issues that don’t often come up in discussions of the biblical text. For one, he places Pilate directly in the midst of the events. While his use of fictional embellishments in the narrative underscore Pilate as being involved throughout the process, it also helps highlight the possibility that Pilate was intentionally being portrayed somewhat like a puppet for the Jewish leaders by the biblical authors. The theological possibilities of this aren’t drawn out by Winn.

Another point Winn makes (see author’s note, 228-229) is that Jesus was still popular with many of the people in Jerusalem and instead the events were brought about by the High Priest Caiaphas and other elites attempting to stop what was perceived as “illegal and seditious” activity by Jesus and his followers.

The author’s note, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting parts of the whole work. In fact, I almost wish that we’d simply gotten a lengthy exposition of the points Winn raises in the note than a historical fiction novel. The novel reads well enough, but it drags at times and seems to struggle to piece the characters into the narrative rather than having them drive the narrative.

Overall, Killing a Messiah is a good read, but one that will leave readers wanting more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the tantalizing hints Winn gives in the narrative and note at the end will make readers want to learn more about the points he’s making.

(All Amazon links are affiliates links.)

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, Volume IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth” edited by N. Scott Amos

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the commentary on Joshua, Judges, and Ruth

Joshua, Judges, and Ruth have an enormous number of issues that need to be addressed for any reader no matter when they lived. The introduction to this volume shows that several of the topics Reformation-era theologians were interested carry into today- the place of women, creation and providence, sacraments, and more. Reformation theologians also were more focused on some of these than modern theologians are, giving insight in ways that are often unexpected. 

The book of Joshua has many theological issues that continue to be debated to this day. The promise of the land to the people of Israel is seen by some of these Reformers as a conditional promise (eg. the English Annotations which note that the promise is given “if they would wholly follow the Lord their God….” (7)). The Reformers often provided highly figurative interpretations of passages throughout the Bible. John Mayer’s linking of Joshua to Jesus sees the crossing of the Jordan as a kind of baptism (20-21). Rahab was particularly controversial among the Reformers–should she have deceive to assist the Israelites? Is she an acceptable role model? Was she a woman of faith? Theologians from Philipp Melanchthon (Lutheran)  to Cardinal Cajetan (a counter-Reformer) weigh in on these topics. And again, this is one of the great strengths of this series and of each commentary in it. Readers will get numerous opinions from a range of theological perspectives, giving insight into the debates of the Reformation and the range of theological visions presented during that period.

Judges presents its own series of difficult questions. Jephthah’s apparent sacrifice of his daughter is approached from many directions, whether chastising him for making a foolish vow (Calvin) or noting that Rabbinic interpretation differs from most Christian interpretation of the passage (Johannes Brenz, 363). Other theologians try to make what Jephtah vowed non-literal (eg. Konrad Pellikan, 363-364). Once again this passage remains debated to this day and the multiplicity of voices from the Reformation can help guide that interpretation. Deborah is another hotly debated topic, as Reformers note her leadership or try to avoid the implications of the same. 

Ruth’s primary division of opinion–though there are many–is around Naomi’s plan for Boaz. Did Naomi plan for Ruth to seduce Boaz, or was something else going on? Most of the Reformers either play with euphemism here or are either unaware of or ignore the potential implications of Ruth 3. This section of the commentary is especially interesting, as the Reformers try to reconcile the passage with their expectations of the biblical text. 

The commentary has moments like this throughout the text, set alongside passages that clearly draw out the theological positions of individual Reformers. It, like the other works in this series, is an excellent read. It will lead you to delving back into the Scriptures yourself as you read the Bible alongside some of the major (and minor!) theologians of the Reformation Period. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Joshua, Judges, Ruth is a must-read for anyone interested in this field. 

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Embracing Evolution: How Understanding Science Can Strengthen Your Christian Life” by Matthew Nelson Hill

Embracing Evolution by Matthew Nelson Hill is a surprising and engaging book about Christianity and science. Hill is also the author of Evolution and Holiness (my review here), another novel book that looked at how evolutionary science could inform specifically Wesleyan notions of holiness and perfection. Here, Hill calls Christians to come to understand that, far from being something that undermines Christianity, evolution can provide a fruitful grounds for exploration of the Christian life.

The intriguing premise of Embracing Evolution means that as a reader, I was hoping it would provide even more exploration of that premise–that evolution can be grounds for exploring the Christian life. I was somewhat surprised to then see several chapters dedicated to showing the basics of reading the Bible and understanding the science of evolution and its relation to theology. These are good chapters to introduce readers who may not have considered this intersection in a positive light before, or who need some background on evolution to understand its potential applications. 

The rubber does finally meet the road in the final three chapters of this pithy book, as Hill explores how evolution can inform various aspects of Christian living. The first thing Hill points out is that acknowledging evolutionary heritage gives us knowledge which allows us to bring about change. Genetic lineage can help trace disease as well as potential mental illness, and this can help us care for our bodies. Additionally, instincts to eat certain kinds of food at all times have been outpaced by the changes we have made in the way we live. Because we have access to agriculture and (generally) more than just meat, humans have outpaced the rate at which built-in instincts with the brain can operate. This means that we need to shape behavior to work against various temptations which may entrap us. But, as Hill writes, evolutionary heritage isn’t just baggage, it can also bring about avenues for hope. We can work to “overcome [our] genes and live holy lives” (113, emphasis his). Here, Hill advocates again a Wesleyan approach that sees the Holy Spirit’s action and human free will working together to live holiness, as God works within creation (114-115). 

Embracing Evolution is an intriguing book full of new avenues for exploration. Readers interested in finding out how Christianity might be positively impacted by evolutionary theory–particularly if they favor a Wesleyan theology–will see this as a must-read. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Future of Open Theism” by Richard Rice

Richard Rice’s The Future of Open Theism introduces the theological topic of open theism, traces its past development, and outlines its impact on several major doctrines and how they might be developed farther along the lines of open theism. Open theism is the view that “God is open to the world, and the world is open to God. Both Creator and creatures contribute to the ongoing course of events, and God experiences these events as they happen” (1, Rice’s definition expands a paragraph or more). 

The book is divided into two parts: Part I is “The Origin and Development of Open Theism” and Part II is “Themes of Open Theism.” In the first part, Rice turns to the historical development of Open Theism. He notes that while open theism largely came to attention due to the book The Openness of God in 1994, it had several historical antecedents. Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), Rice notes, was “perhaps the essential figure in the history of ‘free will theism'” (11). Arminius opened the path for new explorations of free will in relation to God’s action, but unlike open theists, he did affirm that God’s foreknowledge was absolute (12). Adam Clarke (1760-1832) argued that some historical events were contingent, but due to his view of divine eternity, he still maintained a kind of absolute knowledge of the future for God (12-14). Several other authors are surveyed from later dates as well.

The next few chapters trace the modern development of the concept of open theism, which Rice acknowledges was not directly found in any of the antecedents noted in the first chapter, as well as the controversy that almost immediately surrounded it. The chapter entitled “Critics and Conflicts” is not just a fascinating look into the theological pushback open theism faced but also hints at the political workings of organizations like the Evangelical Theological Society and various universities. One of the largest conflicts was over whether open theists could remain in specifically evangelical circles, given the apparent denial of long-held notions of God’s foreknowledge in their theological system. Some argued to shut open theists out of the Evangelical Theological Society, while open theists made a case that they were making their arguments from Scripture and were thus decidedly in the evangelical camp. Open theists also argued their model of foreknowledge made better sense of passages in which God expressed regret over a decision while also offering a stronger refutation of any notion that God holds/held false beliefs than other systems (57). Open theists were eventually able to carve out space for themselves in theological circles and Rice notes that the shift moved from conflict to conversation from there. The philosophical implications and arguments in favor of open theism are the subject of an entire chapter, and readers on either side will surely benefit from engagement with these. Part I is rounded out with a chapter surveying the various expressions of open theism.

Part II turns to the themes of open theism and major theological developments open theism either has led to or could be developed towards. Perhaps the largest question open theism is posed to answer is the question of human freedom. Open theism seems to provide the most straightforward theological path for genuinely free human action. Standing against various philosophies, potential scientific conclusions (i.e. naturalistic determinism), and theologies that create major problems for human free action, open theism gives an alternative that attempts to truly open human freedom as a possibility. Rice also makes a powerful argument that open theists ought to eliminate the term “limit” from their language related to God and open theism. He notes that open theism is not placing limits on God’s activity, but rather acknowledging biblical language related to those acts and attempting to stay true to the fullness of God’s–and human–activity. Other theological concepts that open theism has either had large impact on or could be developed towards include the doctrine of the Trinity (and seeing Trinitarian relations in time as acts of divine love taking place as part of God’s experience in time), Christology (a stronger commitment to divine activity in everyday human life), the church (spiritual gifts, God’s action in human society, etc.), and doctrines of the Last Things (transforming relationships with God). 

Rice provides a broad look at the total scope and history of open theism in this impressive book. As a reader who is not an open theist but who has read quite a bit on the topic, it was still informative and even challenging at times. Rice delivers a book that is as described–an overview of open theism from past through future–while also touching upon an impressive range of points while never losing focus. There are many areas this reader would critique as far as the content is concerned (the novel nature and only recent discovery of what is alleged to be the correct view of divine foreknowledge, for example), but as far as the book itself goes, it does what it sets out to do and more. For that, it is an invaluable resource for those interested in learning about open theism. 

The Future of Open Theism demonstrates that open theism is a powerful theological concept, but it also shows that there is still much work to be done for establishing the concept within broader Christian thought. Whether one agrees with the position or not, it is an edifying, challenging read. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Outgrowing Dawkins: God for Grown-Ups” by Rupert Shortt

Outgrowing Dawkins: God for Grown-Ups by Rupert Shortt is a pithy response to Richard Dawkins’s Outgrowing God

The book is divided into three chapters which read like individual essays. In the first chapter, Shortt argues that science and religion are not incompatible. He uses some anecdotes to show the power of citing, say the fact that it was a Catholic priest who proposed the Big Bang theory (3) or simply saying science doesn’t exhaust all of reality (4) in everyday conversation. Shortt also notes that honest inquiry can lead to belief in God, that God as ground of existence can provide a way for relating science/Christianity, that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, and that even those who allegedly demonstrate warfare between Christianity and science are largely Christians themselves (eg. Galileo, Newton, etc.) (5-10). 

Shortt also notes that Dawkins’s general assault on religion is so acontextual and broad that it almost becomes nonsensical. Because Dawkins aims at religion (in general) as causing false or harmful beliefs (in general), it’s not difficult to parody Dawkins’s own style to say, for example, that science has a history of causing harmful or false beliefs (19). Here’s an example of where Shortt may have been served providing additional examples. Perhaps Shortt could have quickly cited examples of scientists using racist or racially biased methods or studies to cause direct harm to people. The example he did use–broadly noting that one could just as easily say all “left-wing endeavour is bogus… because of the horrors perpetrated by Stalin, Mao, and Fidel Castro” (ibid) is one that may strike home for some readers but is so broad that it could be conceived as committing the same error of Dawkins. Of course, this is partially Shortt’s point–that Dawkins’s critique is absurd because he either doesn’t know or can’t be bothered to focus on any specifics. 

Shortt also fires broadsides on Dawkins’s general style, noting that Dawkins “substitutes mockery for analysis” (36). Shortt notes, briefly, many other difficulties with Dawkins’s understanding of claims of robust Christianity (for example the creation of the universe on p 37-41). The book closes out with an offering of a more robust Christianity and an exhortation to deeper understanding of the same.

Ultimately, Outgrowing Dawkins is somewhat unsatisfying as a reader. It’s possible this is because Dawkins’s own work is so bereft of knowledge of religion that responding to it is difficult, but Shortt’s responses are so pithy that it often left this reader wanting more. The book is a good way to get simple talking points in response to Dawkins’s brand of one-liner atheism, but it doesn’t have the depth to fully respond to a more robust charge. Again, that might be because Dawkins is incredibly surface-level when it comes to discussing religion himself, but it would be nice to go beyond such simplistic responses and counter-points. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology” by Samantha L. Miller

Chrysostom is best known for being “golden-mouthed” due to his eloquence of preaching. Samantha L. Miller examines Chrysostom’s theology in Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology with a particular eye towards his anthropology and demonology. 

The book is divided into 5 chapters that take a deep look at the context and content of Chrysostom’s theology. The first chapter broadly covers “Jewish, Pagan, and Christian Demonology Before Chrysostom,” as the chapter is entitled. It’s a fascinating chapter that gives readers insight into aspects of the early Christian world that aren’t often discussed, so far as this reader has seen. For example, the concept of Jews as having a reputation of being magicians in their world due to the various ritual objects and practices, such as incantations, being fairly common (17). This was, in part, because Jews, as Christians and even many Pagans, were concerned about the impact demons could have on their everyday life, as well as major events (16). Included in this chapter is a section on Pagan demonologies which shows that “at a popular level, Christians  thought about demons much the same was their Jewish and pagan neighbors did” (22). Origen features prominently in theology that influenced Chrysostom, and Origen’s catalogue of demonic activities showed that he did not believe demons could force human beings to sin; merely tempt them (25). This would be part of Chrysostom’s own teaching on demons as well, leading Chrysostom to an emphasis on virtue and resisting temptation that can, in part, be traced to this aspect of demonology. 

The next chapter outlines Chrysostom’s own demonology, which was, as noted above, deeply influenced by his context. But that’s not to say he was entirely dependent upon his context, either. Miller notes that Chrysostom rejected many of the fears of others in his world, arguing (as did Origen) that while demons can tempt Christians, they cannot force them into sin. Additionally, Chrysostom’s concern was deeply pastoral and apologetic in its focus. Reading Job, for example, Chrysostom both argued that some suffering being caused is not necessarily evil, but that it is clear that the harm Job suffers comes from Satan (47-48). Chrysostom argued that people must “understand… events correctly” in order to rightly understand the world. Rather than consigning suffering to fate, one must see the various possibilities within different forms of suffering for good. But one must never dismiss true evil as something which is not evil (48). Of course, being golden-mouthed, Chrysostom wrote far more eloquently than this reader in the summary. Miller balances outlining Chrysostom’s views with lengthy quotes to give readers direct insight into his meaning as well as his style. Chrysostom, moreover, went against prevailing opinion of his time regarding demonology by noting that in Job, the devil is only able to cause harm with the permission of God. Thus, the devil is almost actually “useful” in the book of Job because the devil encourages people to be vigilant and resist evil (49-50). Miller also outlines the origin of demons, their nature, their activity, and more related to Chrysostom’s view in this chapter.

Miller then turns to virtue and the Greco-Roman concept of Proairesis, which occupies much of the final three chapters as virtue is highly important to Chrysostom’s anthropology and soteriology. Chrysostom was deeply influenced by and conversant with Greek philosophers, but at important points broke with philosophers like Plato (for example, on the immortality of the soul, p. 84). Chrysostom was also comfortable picking and choosing from the varoius philosophical schools, moving between Stoicism and Platonism on issues like the nature of the soul, while also drawing from Aristotle and Epictetus for other aspects of his philosophy. Central to Chrysostom’s view of virtue was the notion that the agent is autonomous and able to truly choose between good and evil (91, 93, 97ff). Proairesis- a Greek term that is “the locus of moral responsibility” is “that which makes both praise and blame possible” (98). Chrysostom believed this was absolutely necessary to virtue, and encouraged Christians to actively choose that which is good and resist the temptations of the devil. Chrysostom exhorted catechumens and the baptized to “live… angelic life” and choose that which is right, resisting demons and temptation (109). This was something Chrysostom clearly taught that believers were capable of doing, and that they ought to continue in virtue their whole lives. Modern debates may read various positions back onto Chrysostom, but contextually the pastoral importance of what he said was potentially life-changing and freeing. Chrysostom’s noted the body was created by God, and so could be virtuous, thus refuting the notion “that the body is inherently evil” (111). His theology countered the fears and addressed the concerns of Christians in his own time and place, which made it deeply important while also being contextual. 

Christ’s importance for Chrysostom is in salvation, yes, but also in the “possibility of Christian virtue” which “is a result of Christ’s prior work on behalf of human beings” (153). Divine-human cooperation loomed large in Chrysostom’s soteriology, such that Miller analyzes different strands of scholarship that studies Chrysostom to show scholars both affirming Chrysostom as being synergistic and arguing against the notion (see esp. 153ff). Miller argues that using “synergistic” to describe Chrysostom’s theology is “a misleading term” because Chrysostom himself saw it as flowing one direction–God’s assistance to humans in the process, not humans assisting God in salvation (155-156). 

 Miller’s lucid accounts of Chrysostom’s world and view of soteriology which closely tied into his notions of virtue is a must-read for those interested in Patristic studies. Chrysostom’s reputation as “golden-mouthed” is often the only thing many know about him, if anything. Chrysostom’s Devil shows that he was a deep thinker with a strong pastoral care for the people to whom he preached. It’s full of insights for those interested in the topic. Highly recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology” by Steven J. Duby

Steven J. Duby approaches the difficult topic of trying to discuss the nature of God as God from a metaphysical perspective in God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology. The major questions he tackles are whether we can know God as God is in Himself (Duby uses the masculine throughout to refer to God’s being, which I will follow in this review for simplicity’s sake), and how we might know God as God is.

These are not easy questions, despite seeming obvious at first glance. For example, the question of how we might know God in Himself is notoriously difficult and fairly controversial. Can we speak of God univocally? Turning to this question first, Duby in the last full chapter discusses what he considers the “(Right) Doctrine of Analogy.” That doctrine has to both balance divine transcendence and divine communication, which, Duby concludes, means that a right balance will make us hopeful that creaturely language might be used in theology proper (290-291). Duby leans towards the Thomistic use of analogy as a right way to refer to God, though it seems his response is more hopeful for the possiblity of univocity than some. However, Duby does fall on the side that analogy is the only real possibility, and defends against modern arguments for univocity (284ff). Here, I find myself in some disagreement with Duby here. Admitting that I’m no expert, I think the weight of the arguments for univocity is actually much heavier than he seems to. For example, Scotus’s view that analogy “‘is simply equivocation without an a priori univocally predicable concept'” (284, quoting Daniel Horan) is, on its face, correct. Duby’s response, that “in an analogical account of theological language a divine attribute still shares an aspect of its ratio with the corresponding creaturely attribute” reads as basically conceding the point. Nevertheless, Duby’s arguments related to analogy are ably written and certainly force careful thought, no matter what one’s position is going in.

Duby’s main points about how he views God in Himself are outlined in a response to Karl Barth’s positions related to the Incarnation and beyond. His points are ninefold, and some are directly related to side issues rather than the main point, so I’ll summarize them into just a few points. First, Duby argues that God is “complete in se without reference to creatures and their history” (48); God’s attributes are not “parts” to be added to God’s essence but “nothing other than his eternal essence” (49); knowledge of God in Himself is not purely negative (51); and a strong affirmation of divine simplicity is affirmed (51-55). Duby spends much of the rest of the book defending these points, and the discussions are deep (as above). 

There are a few other points I’d like to highlight, though these reveal more of my own background alongside the book’s content. First is the strange use of scholarship in regards to Martin Luther’s theology. For example, when Duby discusses Luther’s view of the “hidden God,” the lens through which he views it is decidedly Reformed. Now, that seems a given since from what I understand within the book Duby is Reformed himself, but it also means that Luther’s own view gets a strange hearing. Speaking of Luther’s hidden God, Duby writes that “Even a sympathetic interpreter of Luther like Carl Trueman calls Luther’s discussion of God’s hidden will ‘brutal'” (46). But of course, while Trueman may be “sympathetic,” he’s a Confessional Reformed Christian whose position on many, many doctrinal issues would see Luther’s view as necessarily mistaken in order to maintain his own confessions. Why is Trueman cited as a kind of final arbiter of the state of Luther’s doctrine? It seems the reason is because he’s Reformed. And Carl Trueman being cited as sympathetic makes sense due to his, well, sympathetic book on Luther and the Christian Life (link to my review), but that sympathetic reading is a general one. Citing Trueman as a kind of final arbiter of Luther’s validity here seems odd, given that it’s just obvious that a “Confessional Reformed” believer would strongly disagree with a Lutheran position that is a point of departure between their traditions. 

Then, turning to Duby’s defense of the extra Calvinisticum over and against Lutheran theology once again seems more an exercise in self-affirmation of a chosen doctrine than in understanding the Lutheran position. But here I reveal my own biases, Yet Duby’s seeming twists to accommodate the notion that Christ is God while trying to restrain Christ’s power–preventing the God-man from exercising that very power of God–is revealing to this reader, at least. Moreover, Duby’s response to Barth on this point seems to misunderstand the objection to the extra Calvinisticum as a denial of the hypostatic union, since he writes “what if assimilation of the two natures is simply not necessary? What if it is sufficient to affirm that the hypostasis himself is the locus of union?” (182). But Lutherans–and, so far as I can tell, Barth, to whom Duby is responding–do not deny the hypostatic union, nor its sufficiency, and certainly do not “assimilate” the two natures. Responding to Duby, one may well ask “What if God the Son were actually allowed by Calvinists to exercise God’s power?” It’s a bit on the nose to ask the question thus, but the loaded nature of the question gets at the underlying point: Duby’s position–and that of Calvinists and Reformed believers generally–seems to put artificial limits on God in order to maintain their own theological commitments regarding things like the Lord’s Supper. 

God in Himself is a fascinating look at some of the deepest questions about God. The book will be most valuable to those readers who wish to engage the questions from a Reformed perspective–either to see how to better argue for their own positions, or to argue against the Reformed view. Duby outlines and defends numerous positions with great care, and it’s worth the read even in disagreement. 

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts” by William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste

The question of genocide in the Bible is a serious one, and one which frequently is brought up in discussions with non-Christians. Christians who think seriously about the question no doubt also feel severe discomfort as they attempt to understand these war texts. William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste address the most difficult questions presented by the biblical texts in their book Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wresting with Troubling War Texts.

The book has disturbing content related to violence, sexual violence, torture, and violence against children. For this review, I will not be delving deeply into the content in these parts, but it is important to note that there are graphic descriptions from the ANE related to these horrific acts. They are relevant to the point of the book. 

After an introduction providing an overview for the course of the book, the authors turn to the hard questions found in the biblical text: questions related to genocide and war rape. The authors are refreshingly honest when it comes to the text, showing how the traditional answers given to the question of genocide in the war texts often fail. The traditional answers are answers like “God as source of holy war commands”–just having God command something makes it justice. Another traditional answer is the good purposes for holy wars. Along with this, the non-innocent status of the Canaanites and their own atrocities are often given as one of the traditional answers–these wars were God dispensing justice against the wickedness of the Canaanites. A final answer is that the wars are a foreshadowing the eschatological war. The problems with these traditional answers are provided in brief discussions of each. For example, the answer of the wickedness of the Canaanites cannot account for the awfulness of genocide and war rape: “The evil nature of any crime, no matter how insidiously evil it is, does not legitimize any and every sort of punishment action taken against the perpetrator” (42). 

The authors do note, however, that the traditional answers can do some of the heavy lifting regarding questions of the war texts, but it depends on the type of question being asked. The questions being asked in the texts aren’t about military ethics but rather about the justice of various acts in question–such as driving others out of a land. Those questions are questions the traditional answers can do work on, but they don’t work for many contemporary ethical questions. In order to answer questions of modern ethical concern, one must approach Scripture holistically and also seeing how better answers can come from reading the Bible redemptively in conjunction with other answers.

Reading the Bible redemptively implies that there is movement within the biblical text that directs readers towards drawing ethical conclusions in the future. This isn’t a reductionist approach that says this is all there is to the war texts (82) but rather an argument that movement is a crucial meaning for the text. Alongside this, the authors focus quite a bit both on the argument that the “genocide” aspect of the texts includes quite a bit of hyperbole (and answering objections to this thesis). The most obvious argument in favor of the notion of hyperbole in the text is that in the texts themselves one sees statements that none were left alive set right alongside statements of people being left alive. Accompanying this, there is broad evidence from the Ancient Near East that hyperbole regarding military conquest and victories was the norm rather than a modern invention. But these answers still don’t quite get at the heart of the push for real ethical responses to questions on things like war rape.

To answer the awful questions related to war rape, the authors explore the broad evidence for the practice in the Ancient Near East alongside the way that Israel was not allowed to engage in the practices typical for their time and region. Along with this, the authors closely examine the texts noting that arguments for implied war rape don’t seem to align with the evidence from the entire stories. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 [the book references this as Deuteronomy 21:4-10 on more than one point, but that reference is contextually not what they meant] is one of the most awful passages in the Bible. Webb and Oeste note the many ways this diverges from the broad ANE behavior regarding war rape, and how it provided for time to grieve, acknowledging the intensity of grief, providing rights, and protecting the woman’s honor. None of these, of course, undermines how brutal and awful this text still is, but the providing of strictures that go well beyond anything in the ANE shows a counter-cultural, surprising ethic for its time. Combining answers like this with the argument that the Bible shows a redemptive movement towards a better ethical standard provides a more holistic approach to the text that both acknowledges its horrors while also not downplaying its counter-cultural standards.

There is much, much more detail related to the biblical text, as well as examination of counter-proposals and evidence found throughout the book. Webb and Oeste do a better job than almost any book I’ve seen that tries to provide an answer to the questions of genocide and war rape from a position that does not simply write off the passages as irredeemable. They don’t completely ignore the texts, nor do they try to say nothing in them is awful. The redemptive-movement hermeneutic allows them to do this while also arguing for a cohesive text. 

A final part of the authors’ argument is to argue that God is uneasy with war and that several verses show that God is uneasy with war and moving towards redemption. The crown of this argument is, of course, Christ. The authors argue against others who have strong discontinuity between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Their own approach sees Jesus as apocalyptic warrior who brings the Kingdom of God.

Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? is a challenging book that will force readers to think about some of the most terrifying topics in the Bible. The authors do an admirable job of not shrinking from the horrors in Scripture while also seeking a holistic understanding that honors the notion that the text is God’s Word.  

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets” by David G. Firth

What does the Bible have to say about the “stranger” or the “foreigner”? It’s an expansive question, but one that should inform Christians as they explore modern issues of immigration or refugees. David G. Firth, in Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets, examines texts related to these questions as found in the Former Prophets–Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings.

Firth’s brief introduction argues that we can use narrative texts for normative values. Reading the text as such requires being attentive to the ways the narrator speaks of the events being narrated, as well as being aware of the ANE context in which the texts were written that comes with different expectations about how to read a text. The reader must also be aware of the assumptions they are bringing to the text and work to see how their own preconceptions can shape the way they interpret the text (3).

The next four chapters go over each of the former prophets in turn, giving an orientation to the reader for the text and then diving into the major questions of foreigners in the text. Joshua is a fascinating place to start here, because most would expect the book’s view of the foreigner to be universally negative, given the conquest narratives therein. However, Firth points out the fact that even upon entering the land, the first kindness was shown by a stranger (Rahab). Going from there, other texts invite larger examination of the notion of the “foreigner” in Joshua, as, for example, a threefold view of foreigner/stranger is found in the text: strangers as neutral/threat/positive. This means, argues Firth, that “Ethnicity itself is not the issue. Rather, the concern is with the possible religious impact of these peoples…” (38). The setting up of cities of refuge helps reinforce this impression. 

Judges is one of this reader’s own favorite books of the Bible, and Firth highlighted some aspects of great interest. For example, Shamgar (Judges 3:31) appears to be little more than a sidenote in Judges, and is not, in fact, even listed as having judged! But Firth notes there is more to Shamgar’s story than a single verse may seem to convey. First is the fact that Shamgar’s name is not an Israelite name, being composed of four root letters rather than three. Second, it seems clear Shamgar was not a Yahwist, for the denotation as “Son of Anath” suggests Shamgar followed the Canaanite goddess of the same name. And this, then, could explain why Shamgar is not given the title of “judge,” for the book’s concern with enforcing Yahwist worship leads the author not to give that title to Shamgar. And, moreover, this highlights the significance of Shamgar’s inclusion, for it shows that God has “no problem in using a foreigner to deliver Israel… but he does not grant them positions of leadership” (72). Along with other examples, Shamgar highlights a theme in Judges that God uses foreigners for God’s will as well, and that the Israelites’ own divisions among themselves (Judges 17-21) raises questions of “how Israel can function as the people of God” (92). 

Samuel’s central theme related to foreigners, argues Firth, is seeing them as means for assessing Israel. For example, in Samuel, David’s legitimacy as ruler is mediated through an Amalekite rather than an Israelite (113-114). Time and again, foreigners are used as examples to highlight the actions of Israelites, often as a contrast–a foreigner being more true to God/word than an Israelite. The book also shows how encounters with foreigners can lead to integration rather than devastation. Kings deals more with foreigners beyond the borders of Israel, and shows once more that the central value was not about ethnicity or nation, but rather about worship of Yahweh (172). 

Firth’s closing words, in a summary and concluding chapter about including the stranger, are words that call readers to action. “In a world that builds walls between communities, or makes the environment hostile for foreigners, this was an example of what the people of God can be: a community that does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, because we serve a God who does not do so. This is an ethic that is easily talked down in political discourse, but therefore one that is more important for the church, as the people of God, to live out and show a different way of life” (185-186).

David G. Firth’s exploration of the place of the “stranger” or “foreigner” in Including the Stranger will provide readers with a wealth of resources for learning about the biblical view of those from elsewhere. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Reading Buechner” by Jeffrey Munroe

Reading Buechner is a call to engage with the writings and thought of Frederick Buechner. I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical of the project. I’d heard Buechner’s name occasionally, but nothing from or about him had ever stuck. Munroe’s introduction, however, grabbed me from the beginning, and his impassioned call to engage with this Christian thinker has me going to the library to find at least one book to read.

What was it that Munroe managed to do in this book? Simply put, he offered a genuine, enthusiastic look at the breadth and depth of work of Frederick Buechner. Four parts divide the book into looking at Buechner as a memoirist, a novelist, a popular theologian, and preacher. Each section has its own intriguing way of introducing Buechner’s thought to readers, along with a guide for suggested reading from Munroe. It’s a simply fantastic way to introduce an author with such a broad array of works while also letting readers in on his own love of the subject and his personal reflections on the works. It’s nearly impossible to not pick up on at least some of Munroe’s enthusiasm.

Reading Buechner was a surprising read for me. Something about the way Munroe called to me as a reader, and it is hard to completely ignore his enthusiasm for his subject. I recommend it.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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