Book Reviews

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Book Review: "Becoming C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis (1898-1918)" by Harry Lee Poe

C.S. Lewis is a champion of the faith whose life story is familiar and oft-retold. Having read a couple biographies of Lewis, I was a bit skeptical of yet another biography of the man coming out–and a multi-volume one at that! What could be added? But then I saw that Harry Lee Poe wrote it, and having enjoyed some works from him in the past, I decided to give Becoming C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Young Jack Lewis (1898-1918) a try.

One thing that immediately sets the biography apart is that it is a look specifically at C.S. Lewis’s younger years. Harry Lee Poe argues persuasively that these early years of Lewis’s life were both incredibly formative and essential to understanding the man he would become. one major aspect of this book is showing Lewis’s own path of faith. The notion of Lewis going from an atheist to a Christian is well-known, but his move from being a Christian to an atheist is less commonly discussed. It’s clear from Poe’s work that Lewis essentially experienced a kind of milquetoast faith that did not appeal to him whatsoever, while eagerly pursuing certain vices as well. Some sordid details of his predilections are touched upon in this regard, and this helps readers understand Lewis more fully as well.

Another aspect of Lewis’s early life that Poe documents as being extremely important to the later man is his burgeoning interest in classics and myth. Whether it was in translating for himself some classic works or his own intense reading through various myths about King Arthur, Lewis’s interest in myth was found and nourished from an early age. There is little question that it stuck with him for the rest of his life and became essential to understanding the man he became. Lewis’s complex familial relations are also touched upon throughout this biography, as the influence of his brother and family on his life is drawn out by Poe in some detail.

Poe writes this biography in a voice that immediately grabs the reader. He is both sympathetic to the subject while also not excusing character flaws. His writing is well-suited to biography and as one reads Becoming C.S. Lewis, one feels as though one is engaged in a conversation with the author about the fascinating subject.

Becoming C.S. Lewis is a fascinating, detailed look at the earliest parts of C.S. Lewis’s life. Poe is a skilled author with a deep knowledge of the subject, and that makes this biography a must-read for those even remotely interested in the life, theology, or fiction of C.S. Lewis. Highly recommended.

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles” by Timothy Larsen

George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles is a series of lectures and responses on the Scottish poet/author/pastor and his legacy for our time.

The book is a publication of part of the Hansen Lectureship series, a series of lectures dedicated to the legacies of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, and Owen Barfield. Essentially, it is to provide a “means of escape for prisoners”–speaking theologically, the lectureship is to provide ways to escape from our narrow-minded self-centeredness and “be equipped for practical deeds in real life” (5).

Larsen’s contribution to this series focuses on George MacDonald, and he does so in three lectures that emphasize MacDonald’s look at the incarnation, his discussion of the crisis of doubt, and the re-enchantment of the world. Each lecture has several highlights. I was particularly struck by the second lecture about the crisis of doubt, which related through MacDonald’s characters and poetry the struggle of the Victorian era’s own awakening to new challenges to traditional theology and thought. MacDonald used his characters to show that doubting was not something to be attacked or undermined, but rather was a part of faith formation, particularly in an era with new challenges.

George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles is a brief but fascinating look at the works of MacDonald and how his legacy can impact us to this day. Recommended.

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Making of Stanley Hauerwas: Bridging Barth and Postliberalism” by David B. Hunsicker

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the most influential theologians of our time. He is well-known for his pacifism, as well as his works on theological ethics more generally. David B. Hunsicker, in The Making of Stanley Hauerwas, sheds valuable insight into the influences on Hauerwas as well as how he has created his own synthesis of thought.

Central to the book are the concepts of postliberalism and Barthianism. Is Hauerwas a Barthian, as he claims? Or is he fully in the postliberal camp, as others have charged? Of course, the definitions of “Barthian” and “postliberal” are highly relevant to this. A Barthian, Hunsicker argues, can fairly be described as someone who has a genuine understanding of and use of Barth. It is possible to be someone who is “indirectly influenced” by Barth by interacting but perhaps not understanding Barth (3-4). Postliberalism is difficult to pin down, with somewhat broad and slippery definitions. Ultimately, Hunsicker notes that there is no single postliberalism (8) but that it can still be a useful way to categorize thinkers among a broad stream of thought. Specifically for Hauerwas, Hunsicker argues that he falls into postliberalism’s pragmatic bent within theology (9). Hauerwas, then, is envisioned in this book as a Barthian postliberal–he’s both/and rather than either/or when it comes to those often opposed categories.

The rest of the book delves into the details of Hauerwas’s ethical theology in order to draw out both the influence of Barth on it and to show his innovations, all set within the context of Hauerwas’s stated claims to be genuinely trying to interpreter Barth and apply his theology to today. He starts with a chapter outlining the influences on Hauerwas from his life. Then, he shows how Hauerwas moves with and beyond Barth.

Next is a brief case study on the question of abortion from a theological, ethical perspective. This chapter is of particular interest because it shows how Hauerwas applies both postliberal and Barthian insights to make a theological case against abortion. It also shows how those united streams of thought create a different case against abortion that rejects a natural law framework and instead grounds the debate theologically. Part of this is a rejection of accepting the premises of non-Christians in debates over the topic (79). It’s a fascinating chapter that shows Hauerwas’s own ethical innovations on Barth’s uncompromising theology.

The following chapters go back and forth on showing influences and usage of Barth and postliberalism by Hauerwas. The last section wraps up the book by giving insights into Hauerwas’s doctrine of the church, itself a major part of Barth’s project.

Hunsicker is unafraid to be critical of the subject of his work. Regarding Hauerwas defense of John Howard Yoder and the way he sexually abused many women, Hunsicker notes somewhat laconically that this “problematizes” Hauerwas’s dependence upon Yoder’s work.

The Making of Stanley Hauerwas is a deep, engaging look at the theological and ethical formation of one of the most important theologians of our time. For those interested in Hauerwas’s work, it is an absolute must-read. For me, as one who hasn’t engaged much with Hauerwas, it was still of great interest, with several points that caused me to think more deeply on theological and ethical topics.

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: "Spirit Outside the Gate: Decolonial Pneumatologies of the American Global South" by Oscar García-Johnson

Oscar García-Johnson’s work, The Spirit Outside the Gate, focuses on how the Holy Spirit–and the “logic of Pentecost”–tears down borders and decolonizes Christianity.

That introduction is dense, and itself needs some unpacking. Essentially, García-Johnson argues that Christians’ history of global conquest–specifically of European conquest–has led to an association of Christianity with a logic that creates borders and sets up the “Other” as “outside the gate.” In contrast to this, he argues that Christianity has the capacity of freedom through the Holy Spirit to unite Christians across the globe. He makes this argument through the examination of specific pneumatologies–studies of the Holy Spirit.

The argument is woven throughout the book and is complex. First, García-Johnson notes the narrative(s) of the American Global South as well as some challenges and visions therein. Then, he highlights the meaning of “gates” and how theologies have been constructed as almost gatekeepers in ensuring that those “outside” the gate do not have a voice. Next, he highlights some specific ways in which there are “ungating Christian logics” in the Global South. For example, Christian epistemology is taken to be a direct challenge to colonial power, along with several systems of thought that undermine unity, equity, and equality (99). More specific explorations of various pneumatologies follow, and García-Johnson wraps up the discussion with ways that global Christianity can integrate the insights of the American Global South to create a “church without borders” that exhibits the power of the Spirit.

The Spirit Outside the Gate is a challenging read. Time and again I had to re-read sections to grasp exactly what was being argued, not because of lack of clarity but because of the complexity of the topics involved. García-Johnson here issues a truly interdisciplinary challenge to Christianity to take seriously the message of freedom that comes with the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he puts the work and power of the Holy Spirit at the center of Christian thought and understanding in ways that the Spirit has not frequently enough been highlighted. It’s a fascinating, difficult book. 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: “The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Volume 2” edited by Victoria J. Barnett

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the most influential theological voices of the 20th century, whose words resonate into the 21st century in wonderful and sometimes challenging and surprising way. Victoria J. Barnett, editor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works in English, has, with The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 2, put together a collection of his sermons that is both relevant and insightful into his life.

Barnett introduces each sermon so that readers have a context in which to place it. Often, this demonstrates the radical nature of his sermons as well as other biographical details about Bonhoeffer that shine through in his preaching. For example, when the German church experienced a takeover by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer preached sermons that went against the grain of going along with the state.

It is difficult to find a place to begin to understand a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each word he wrote seems so carefully considered, each quote needs to be placed within its broader context. It is easy to misquote him or to twist what he said. As such, a collection of sermons like this is almost an ideal entry point into his theology. Not only does a sermon contain whole theological points, but it also does so in a somewhat condensed form. One could argue–rightfully, I think–that drawing individual quotes from Discipleship may actually do damage to understanding the whole. But with sermons, one can listen, analyze, and parse wholly contained thoughts in a more condensed form.

Another thing that the collection does well is display the whole range of Bonhoeffer’s talent for sermons. Yes, his sermons tended on the scholarly side, but he tailored his sermon to the audience, and some of them are deeply personal. Others explore heavy theological concepts like the communication of attributes.

A few quotes from Bonhoeffer’s sermons seem in order to demonstrate the depth of this text:

We have become accustomed to seeing religion as something that corresponds to a need of the human soul and satisfies this need… But we forget the one most important question: whether religion is also something true, whether it is the truth.

Bonhoeffer, preaching from Finkenwalde after the Confessing Church refused to publicly come out condemning antisemitism:
“Babylon, which on its own power defies Christ, the crucified Lord… Babylon.. demands nothing of its subjects except blind love and intoxication… who would dare say that this Babylon is not eternal?–it will take a bad fall–woe to it!–how anxiously the Christian community… must… have yearned for its fall!”
Bonhoeffer makes a direct link between the hatred and action against a group of people (Jews) and defiance of Christ and acting as the apocalyptic Babylon.

Time and again stirring insights like these pour from the pages of Bonhoeffer’s sermons.

The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Volume 2 is a valuable addition to any theological library. Even if one already owns his entire collected works, this collection puts together a number of impactful sermons with important contextual details that make it a necessary part of a Bonhoeffer collection.

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: “Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, and the Meaning of Life” by Alister McGrath

Alister E. McGrath, in Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, and the Meaning of Life, constructs a pithy look at the titular question through the lenses of two of the most famous (or infamous, depending your leanings) thinkers of the last century.

This short volume features four chapters about, respectively, why meaning matters, reasoned belief, whether there is a God, and what human nature is. C.S. Lewis and Richard Dawkins almost could not be more far afield in their answers to these questions, but McGrath does a good job integrating thoughts of each of them into the text so that readers can understand some of the answers they gave.

What may surprise readers at times is how Dawkins’s views effectively take to extremes some of Lewis’s cautions. For example, Dawkins is highly critical of myth and the notion of letting it control our lives. But Lewis isn’t an ignorant fool simply because he was a Christian. Lewis himself offers cautions regarding the way that myths can lead to stigmatization and false beliefs (13). On another extreme, Dawkins purports to believe that science is proof and effectively nothing else is. But Lewis notes that the very concept of proof is illusive even on some physical questions. Do we need to discount the possibility of any true beliefs simply because we cannot prove them?

What is perhaps most interesting is the very brief synthesis of thought McGrath offers near the end, where he notes that while these thinkers disagree sharply on the meaning of various questions, they agree that there are problems in the way of pursuing human goals and that there are limitations on human nature. For Dawkins, the primary thing in the way, so to speak, is our own genetic and evolutionary past, to which we may be dancing whether we want to or not. For Lewis, the captivity of sin has engulfed us and prevented us from pursuing goals.

Ultimately, McGrath leaves the questions open ended at the close of the book. What he accomplishes in Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, and the eaning of Life is to get readers to consider these deep questions and perhaps how they may relate to each other. He also opens up avenues for further exploration.

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: “A Week in the Life of a Slave” by John Byron

A Week in the Life of a Slave by John Byron is a combination of an historic fiction novel and a text exploring background of 1st Century Christianity. Like other books in the series, this one features a number of biblical characters. It focuses on the persons of Philemon and Onesimus, weaving what we know from the Bible into a narrative that jumps back and forth between Ephesus and Laodicea and into early Christianity.

The book is set up so that readers can go through and just read the plot, but throughout there are insets that give deep background information relevant to the plot. Readers are treated, then, to a book that is a combination of a story that asks questions of the biblical text–what was happening in the background?–while also giving a wealth of information to those wanting to know about the world of early Christianity.

The main plot is good, with its focus on Philemon and Onesimus, centered around Paul as well. The way it bounced back and forth between cities created some interest. The value of the book, though, is more to be found in the background information provided that helps readers understand what’s happening in the Bible. What was slavery like in Rome? What rights did slaves have? When the Bible speaks of conversions of households, what did that mean for slaves? What were some of the gods being worshiped in the cities mentioned in the Bible? These, and many, many more questions are answered throughout the book.

A Week in the Life of a Slave is another fascinating entry in this series. It gives readers deep insights into what slavery was like in the first century world in which Christianity was born while also delivering some background to make an intriguing plot for some familiar names. 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: “All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone” by Brian J. Tabb

Revelation inspires extremes of opinions. Today, people heatedly argue over its meaning, what is to be taken literally, when its events will/have/should happen. It was challenged on its canonicity in the Reformation and before. What can be done to bring some light to this mysterious, complex book? Brian J. Tabb attempts, in All Things New, to provide a way forward in reading Revelation not as an obscure, impenetrable text, nor as a newspaper to tell us about the end times, but rather as a capstone of Scripture that highlights theological themes throughout the whole Bible.

Tabb notes in the introduction the disputed nature of Revelation. Rather than trying to refute all the positions with which he disagrees, he instead seeks from the beginning to build a reading of Revelation that makes sense of its place in Scripture.

First, Tabb turns to how Revelation reveals the Triune God, highlighting the use of language throughout the Bible to demonstrate how the book reveals God’s Triuine nature. This first part is a fascinating section as Tabb draws on broad swathes of Scripture to show that the author of Revelation drew from all over the Bible to demonstrate the Trinity as well as the work of the divine Persons. Next, Tabb turns to themes in Revelation of suffering for God, witnessing, and worship. The third part focuses on judgment, salvation, and restoration. Here again Tabb’s argument is holistic, seeking to show how the author of Revelation drew from Biblical imagery to make their argument about these themes. It is important to note the way that the author of Revelation uses this language, which seems to work against the notion that they took everything literally themselves, picking and choosing from throughout the canon to make their points. Finally, part four shows Revelation’s view of the word of God as trustworthy, prophetic, and true.

Tabb’s work here is admirable in that he has written a book that could benefit readers of many different views related to the book of Revelation and its meaning. All Things New is a helpful book in clarifying the meaning and purpose of one of the most debated and confusing books in the canon.

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 Lost World of the Torah” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The series John H. Walton (with others along the way) has written on “The Lost World of…” serves to shine light from studies on the Ancient Near East (ANE) onto questions of interpretation of Scripture. In The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton tackle questions about the meaning of the Torah and Old Testament Law for us today. Specifically, they examine what the Torah would have meant in its Ancient Near Eastern context to those who wrote it down and passed it along to us.

First, the authors outline their methodology. Specifically, they note that the Old Testament is an ancient document, and so we ought to be aware of its ancient context and the background beliefs of those who read it in its own time and how that could impact its meaning for us as well. It is also the case that our own cultural background influences the way that we think law and legislation work. Specifically, we tend to think of law and legislation as rigid and unbreakable, but even into today some societies see law less as legal code than as a way to show the regulation of society through social norms and customs (19).

The Torah, then, is best understood as expressions of wisdom rather than legislation, which itself means that instead of seeing the Torah as a sense of “you ought,” it is better understood as “you will know” or something similar (45). The Torah is a “collection of examples that combine to form a description of the desired established order” (ibid). Trying to make the Torah acontextual is a potentially dangerous path that undermines its meaning (100).

Understanding the Torah in its ancient context frees Christian interpreters from the constant battle of trying to sort which parts of Torah are required legislation and which are not. “It is neither a question… about the unchanging law of an unchanging God nor a presumption that morality is relative” (100). Thus, “when people try to sort out which parts of the Old Testament ‘law’ are still relevant and which parts are not, they are really trying to determine which sayings are culturally relative and which are not” (ibid). It is actually this very approach that yields a relativistic response to Scripture, because as interpreters attempt to lock down the Torah into inflexible, unchanging legislation for all time, they are forcing their own view of morality onto God’s Word. “[I]f we have to be selective about which passages we mine for moral guidance and which we reject, it is not Scripture that is guiding us but our own preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. As a corollary, then, whatever is producing our sense of right and wrong, which we are using to filter and evaluate Scripture, is not Scripture” (171).

Christian interpreters who insist on divisions like ceremonial, civil, and moral for the Torah are once again imposing a foreign context onto the Scripture itself. Effectively, they have made their own view of which laws fall into which categories the determining factor for what ought to determine morality for all people for all time. There are no labels in the text that demonstrate which of the alleged legislation falls into which preconceived category, so the categories themselves are sorted by the interpreter based on their own biases and understanding of what it ought to be saying. This is extremely clear when specific issue are raised. For example, why take laws about eating of shellfish as “ceremonial” but not laws about what people wear? Essentially, it is the interpreter who then turns and says one is ceremonial and the other is moral. Understanding the Torah as being concerned with God’s covenant with the people also helps illuminate the meaning of certain difficult passages. It is often suggested, for example, that the legislation regarding cross-dressing is moral because it refers back to homosexuality which it is then argued is a moral law and specifically sinful. But the Waltons note that the ANE context of the text includes the disruption of order found in ceremonies of Ishtar (186). Though this may not have been the exact reason these prohibitions existed in the Torah, the Waltons note that “the practice of cross-dressing in the ancient world operated under different premises than it does in modern society. Most importantly, it is not demonstrably associated with homosexuality. Blurring of boundaries violates order, but that sense of order is inherent in the ideology of the society” (187). So again, it is important not to proof text from the Torah and remove it from its original context because that may result in misapplying Scripture.

The Waltons address the question of objective morality in an inset (206-207). They note that objective morality probably does exist as do moral obligations and that they very well may be grounded in God, but our own moral systems are very much products of our cultural contexts and understandings. It is very easy to assume one’s own morality or beliefs about moral codes are objective and binding for all people

The Walton’s arguments are sure to be controversial, but have weighty evidence behind them. Moreover, their arguments, as noted above, help to solve some of the greatest difficulties for Christians in questions of dealing with Torah from a Christian perspective. Rather than dismissing the Torah or picking and choosing which parts to obey based on a superimposed interpretive grid, the Waltons here present a compelling argument for seeing the Torah in its context as it was: evidence of the covenant between God and humanity.

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: “Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour” by John Goldingay

There are many questions that arise for Christians as we read the Old Testament. There are almost as many different answers to each question as there are questions. John Goldingay, in Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour attempts to answer some of these questions by giving Christians concrete ways forward in addressing the Old Testament and ethics.

After a brief introduction outlining the meaning of ethics and how one might look at the Old Testament for guidance, Goldingay dives directly into questions of what guidance the Old Testament might offer for Christians regarding ethics. Specifically, he divides the questions into qualities, aspects of life, and relationships. Then, he looks at some specific texts and people in the Old Testament and how one might derive ethical guidance from them.

There are many broad topics in a book like this, which addresses ethical questions from how we ought to act in Godlikeness to how animals ought to be treated. Mostly, he follows a format that draws from numerous OT texts in order to try to show a specific direction for ethical inquiry and answers. Among the most difficult questions Goldingay approaches are those to do with sexuality–who are people allowed to have sex with–and questions about wealth and family. He tends to fall in the moderately conservative realm in the answer to all of these questions.

Goldingay’s approach to ethical questions in the Old Testament leaves many questions untouched. That is a necessity, of course, because only a massive tome could truly address many of the topics related to ethics in the Old Testament in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, readers may wonder about how Goldingay specifically derives his ethical standards. He does, of course, bring texts to the forefront in order to argue for each point, but he does little to address some of the more difficult passages in the Old Testament. Additionally, others have argued that an approach to the Old Testament that treats its laws like a kind of codified rule of ethics is indeed mistaken (eg. John Walton). These are highly relevant questions–especially when an answer to them may undermine the very basis for Goldingay’s project to begin with. Goldingay, I believe, has gone into these questions elsewhere in more detail, but for this book it mostly just serves as a straight up guide to how Goldingay believes the Old Testament ought to be viewed ethically.

Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour is an intriguing book that, like many works on the topic, will generate much discussion for those engaged in the topic. Those looking to try to determine some ethical outlook from the Old Testament will be rewarded, but some questions about the method and theory itself remain unanswered.

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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