Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Forming Resilient Children: The Role of Spiritual Formation for Healthy Development” by Holly Catterton Allen

Forming Resilient Children by Holly Catterton Allen is not just a parenting book, though it is that. It also provides research-based insights into children’s spiritual formation and development.

The book has four parts. The first outlines foundational concepts, the second discusses families and children’s spirituality, the third looks at the role churches play, and the fourth takes a deeper look at resilience and trauma. Each chapter has anecdotes from real-life people about children’s resilience. Each chapter also has some data or research-based information about children and spirituality. For example, in a chapter about the way grandparents can help shape their grandchildren’s spirituality, research from Barna is provided showing how grandparents are often more intentional about spiritual interactions with children (71). The stories of real children coming through stressful or traumatic situations are touching, but also provide a basis for how to look at each chapter and things to think about.

Some readers may be surprised by the insights in this book. Research shows that children’s spirituality is revealed essentially from birth, as the connections we make are universal (17-19). I was one surprised by this, though I honestly shouldn’t have been, since it seems clear that God has made humans to be spiritual creatures. At many points, the author shares ways people can build children up not just to be resilient, but also to follow spiritual practices and establish a life of faith.

Forming Resilient Children is an excellent read that opens a number of insights into how to form connections between children and their faith. It also provides a basis for learning about resilience and bringing kids through difficult times. 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 Coming Race Wars: Expanded Edition” by William Pannell

The Coming Race Wars is a work from William Pannell that was originally written after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. The expanded edition reviewed here is largely the same, but has an extra Afterword that discusses the state of race and the church today.

What is immediately apparent as one reads through the book is how clearly false the narrative is that lumps any criticism of the church or state on race into allegations of bowing to critical race theory or some other bogeyman. Pannell is direct and firm in his critique of the church and its failure related to race relations.

Pannell addresses many of the stereotypes that linger into today, whether it is the notion that simply being a black male is enough to be dangerous or the double standards when it comes to violent acts. The book closes with a brief afterword that notes that the rise of nationalism is just symptomatic of its racist past. He also highlights the problems with economic disparity and political ideology driving segregation of churches and people more generally (171ff).

The Coming Race Wars is a good read for those interested in evangelicalism and race. It can also serve as a stark reminder that the issues of today have often been addressed in the past.

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: “Does God Exist? A History of Answers to the Question” by W. David Beck

W. David Beck’s Does God Exist? A History of Answers to the Question is a remarkable historical survey of some of the best-known arguments for the existence of God. In a crowded field of books about the existence of God, Beck’s work sets itself apart by providing both an historical survey of the ways these arguments developed and working explanations and analyses of the arguments into today.

The first chapter introduces readers to the origins of theistic arguments, providing a broad background for the rest of the book. After that, the chapters act as a kind of typology of theistic arguments, dividing them into chapters on cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, moral arguments, and ontological arguments, respectively. A final chapter closes the book with a look ahead at the prospects and possibilities for theistic arguments and conclusions based upon the same.

Each chapter on a type of argument traces the argument from its earliest clear example into the modern day. It is important to note that these chapters are necessarily broad and plural. What I mean is that the chapters end with the plural “arguments” rather than “argument” for a reason–each type of theistic argument has numerous ways of presenting the argument and several different proponents and detractors through history and into today. Thus, for example, the cosmological argument can be traced back to the earliest known writings on philosophy both East and West and into today with sophisticated arguments based (in some cases) upon modern cosmology or physics.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on ontological arguments, which are surely the more opaque but hotly debated theistic arguments today. As with every other chapter, Beck doesn’t shy away from showing both theistic and atheistic takes on the argument. He gives the atheist philosopher Graham Oppy quite a bit of space and somewhat amusingly quotes Oppy to the effect of saying ontological arguments may work but it’s difficult to know whether they succeed. That is, due to the amazingly confusing nature of the multifarious questions any ontological argument raises (such as “is existence a property?”), it is possible the arguments work but don’t succeed–they don’t convince people due to the many trails and red herrings they raise. As someone deeply interested in the ontological argument, I found this a great way to end a thoroughly thought-provoking chapter.

Each chapter has its own issues raised. It’s already been mentioned, but bears repeating that Beck includes both theists and atheists in his survey of arguments. Many objections are noted, for example, in a lengthy section on the analysis of Aquinas’s version of a cosmological argument from the philosopher Paul Edwards (1923-2004). Over the course of several pages, Edwards’s objections to cosmological arguments are noted, but Beck also shows how several of these objections fail, even by Edwards’s own admission. Such introduction of modern debates, often featuring back-and-forth discussion edited for succinctness by Beck, make the book highly readable despite often heady subject matter. Again, each section must be brief, so the book provides more of an overview than it does anything in depth, but it’s clear how easily readers could pursue additional reading based on extensive, annotated bibliographies Beck provides section-by-section.

Does God Exist? is a fascinating read, even for readers like myself who are veterans of apologetics training or who have read hundreds of books on the subject. It could easily be used as a springboard for more discussion, as a reference with bibliographical data, or a grab bag of discussion. Beck has provided an invaluable resource to help spur additional discussion, and doesn’t shy away from highlighting powerful objections to theistic arguments even as he concludes it is reasonable and justifiable to believe God exists. 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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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: “Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers” by Catherine J. Wright

It is rare to read a book that is not just insightful, but also formative and challenging. Catherine J. Wright’s Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers is one such book. Each part of the subtitle is deeply important to the contents of the book. Wright introduces readers to a number of early readers of the Gospel of Luke and provides their insights into how to read the texts. These insights often challenge modern readings and spiritualization of the text.

Each section–on Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer–features a chapter that highlights how the early church read the Gospel of Luke on these issues. That means readers will see how Augustine, Chrysostom, and many others read Luke on questions related to those topics. It’s deeply important to read about that, because those early readers have a different cultural context than we do. Their readings can therefore offer correctives that highlight the importance of the texts in ways that we may not think of otherwise.

The sections start with a chapter in which Wright goes through Luke highlighting where verses or stories reflect the theme at hand. For example, in the section on simplicity, Wright shows how frequently Jesus speaks about giving to the poor and highlights the plight of the poor and the difficulties and sinfulness in wealth. Pairing this with the second chapter in the section on how the early church read these verses shows how many modern readings that try to spiritualize these texts do not align with both the earliest readings and probably the intended meaning of the text. A second chapter in each section highlights the first-century context of the passages and how understanding the challenges of that time can lead to correcting our readings of the text as well.

Some of the content with simplicity has been highlighted, but each section has numerous parts worth interacting with. Whether it’s the challenge to live humble lives or how to read Jesus’s prayers and pray ourselves, Wright constantly brings applicable insights to the table throughout the book.

Wright’s Spiritual Practices of Jesus is a phenomenal read that could even change how readers live their lives. By reading the early church on Jesus, readers are exposed to challenges to our own culture that can cause use to rethink our reading of the text and the ways we live. Highly recommended.

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

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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: “Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context”

Christianity is a global religion, yet many discussions of theology are dominated by American or European voices. In Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context, the editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo seek to provide a partial remedy to this problem.

The Majority World is sometimes called the Global South. It’s the part of Earth in which the majority of humans reside and includes Africa, Asia, and Latin America, among other places. The editors have focused on giving theologians from these places voices addressing several major topics in theology. The book is organized around six parts with multiple essays in each part. These parts are: The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World, The Spirit Over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World, So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World, The Church from Every Tribe and Tongue: Ecclesiology in the Majority World, and All Things New: Eschatology in the Majority World.

The essays are each of interest. This reader read the book front-to-back, but it is clear that it could be read in parts, used for classes with individual essays, or in any number of other ways. One thing that readers ought to keep in mind is that each of these essays is just that–a single essay introducing one perspective on a huge topic. Thus, for example, the fascinating essay “The Trinity in Africa: Trends and Trajectories” by Samuel Waje Kunhiyop shows readers some ways in which African theologians are exploring the doctrine of the Trinity. Readers should not come away thinking that these are the only trends or that all African theologians are thinking along these lines. That said, Kunhiyop brings readers to engage with numerous lines of African theology. Each of the essays included in this collection is like that: it provides a way forward for additional exploration.

One example of an essay that provides many avenues for additional reading is “Asian Reformulations of the Trinity: An Evaluation” by Natee Tanchanpongs. Tanchanpongs Highlights several Asian theologians and the way they have discussed or reformulated the doctrine of the Trinity within their own contexts. It’s a fascinating read and one that allows Tanchanpongs to analyze numerous ways to take the Trinity in exploratory theology.

Majority World Theology is an excellent introduction to global theology. Readers can treat it as a reference book, read it front-to-back, or sample as they see fit. Most importantly, readers will be exposed to global perspectives on Christianity that they otherwise may not have ever experienced.

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

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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: “The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach” by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew

A systematic doctrine of creation is the core of Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew’s The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach. The subtitle begs questions about what is meant by this specific doctrine of creation. First, the authors follow the theology of Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch Reformed theologian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second, the notion of being “constructive” means the doctrine builds upon itself, layer upon layer, making a truly systematic approach.

The authors pursue a broad approach, first discussing the historic Christian Creeds and their place in a construction of a doctrine of creation, then moving on to a broad historical overview of the doctrine itself. Next, they turn to God’s omnipotence and its bearing on creation, then move through biblical and theological discussion of creation to show a specific view of how Creation occurred and what relevance it has for today. Providence–God’s sustaining of the world–is a subject of its own chapter, followed by a chapter about Christ and the Holy Spirit in the New Creation, and the book ends with a application of the doctrine of creation to a few modern topics. There is a short appendix about missional neo-Calvinism at the end.

The way Ashford and Bartholomew build the doctrine of creation is infused with insight from Kuyper throughout, though it’s clear that calling it “Kuyperian” is more to designate it as along the Newo-Calvinist tradition than specifically or robotically following Kuyper. I am by no means an expert in Kuyper’s theology. My comment to this effect is based upon the extensive use of more modern citations as well as more generalized theological strands than simply adherence to Kuyper. Much as a Lutheran might call their approach Lutheran without explicitly following Luther in every regard, the authors are doing the same here.

It was interesting to see the first chapter begin with a discussion of the historic Christian Creeds and a defense of their use in helping construct a doctrine of creation. The book’s audience is clearly intended to be broader than Dutch Reformed readers, and this was perhaps included to show the authors have done their legwork regarding why we should see the Creeds as important to faith formation and theology today. As a Lutheran myself, it is just a given that the Creeds are of great import, and it was most interesting to see the authors engaging in such an extended defense of their use. Speaking of the book’s audience–this book is one that will largely yield fruits based on two things: the effort the reader puts into understanding and following the systemic theology therein; and one’s own theological biases. For example, the author’s discussion of the creation accounts (yes, the “s” is intentional) in Genesis was of great interest to this reader, but others might be inclined to see the accounts as a unified whole. More specifically on the doctrines of providence, omnipotence, and elsewhere, the authors’ Neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian view looms large and so will challenge readers who hold other positions.

I was somewhat surprised to see the focus in the chapter about God’s omnipotence to be so specifically focused on God the Father. Indeed, the chapter itself, following the language of the Apostle’s Creed, is titled “God, the Father Almighty.” But one gets a sense within the chapter that the other members of the Trinity are almost afterthoughts in this aspect of the doctrine of Creation. This is most clear when the authors use language that seems almost a concession in describing the role of the other divine Persons: “we know that the Son and the Spirit are also involved in the act of creation” (140). However, those Persons get little say until a later chapter discusses the New Creation (306ff). Many modern controversies are discussed, with views of omniscience and providence being at the center of a section about creatio continua (continued creation). Here, the authors wrestle with authors within their own tradition (eg. Barth’s resistance to philosophy p. 290-292 and elsewhere) as well as others like Molinists with competing views (they argue for an Augustinian view against the Molinist position, see p. 293-294, but also the discussion on 126).

Numerous intriguing insets are found throughout the text, such as an extended discussion of creation out of nothing (133-137) that includes some discussion of ancient Near Eastern literature. However, the authors focus much more upon Christian tradition and writings than on any attempt to understand the contemporary culture or meanings inherent in the text from an ANE perspective. Many other insets highlight important topics relevant to the issues at hand and present readers with more extensive looks at the authors’ arguments.

I was quite surprised in the final chapter to see the author’s application of their systematic theology to contemporary issues. I wasn’t surprised to see that application made–surely if a Christian doctrine of creation is true, it ought to be able to speak to many modern problems–but rather with the seeming lack of care given in this section to sources and argumentation. Specifically, the authors turn to the question of transgender individuals. They make a distinction between gender dysphoria and “transgender ideology” (360) and assert that “we must recognize transgenderism as deeply incoherent” (ibid). Beyond that, they agree with another writer that “it is a gnostic denigration of the material body that nonetheless insists that a trans person must transform his or her body in order to be whole…” among other things. Here we see the ugly aphorism that “If I don’t like a theological position, it must be Gnosticism” rearing its ugly head.

Beyond the utter historical nonsense that is the equivocation of modern transgender ideology to ancient Gnosticism without anything more than bald assertion, the authors themselves produce the very type of incoherent argument they accuse their interlocutors of performing. First, their definition of “transgender ideology” as the belief that “a person can be born into the body of the wrong sex and can be transformed into the other sex through gender reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy” (ibid). This definition may reflect the beliefs of some people, but surely not a broad enough consensus as to lump all who go beyond mere acknowledgement of gender dysphoria into this category. Moreover, the authors themselves seem to totally miss one of the central aspects of an understanding of gender dysphoria–something they at least seem to acknowledge as a real difficulty–as they move quite swiftly from discussion of “sex” to discussion of gender. Just one page after their definition, they continue: “A person should not, and indeed cannot, change his or her gender” (361). This seems utterly confused, because the language they’re using reflects objectivity of gender standards which simply cannot be the case given how frequently throughout history those expectations have changed. Men in Elizabethan England were expected to wear ruffles and stockings, so according to these authors’ confused understanding, men today are either sinfully attempting to change their gender by not doing so, or the whole of societal expectations in that era and place were themselves mistaken and indeed impossible (referring to the language of “cannot”). Given the deep misunderstandings of the basic tenets and talking points of modern discussions of transgender topics (something I myself do not claim any expertise in), it seems the authors may have been better served if they’d let the topic lie instead of attempting a triumphant broadside that dissolves into silliness on the most superficial examination.

It is clear that readers of The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach will be challenged on many levels as they read the book. It is an impressive look at what it means to build a doctrine of creation within a specific theological tradition. There are some stumbles throughout the book, but readers–especially those interested in Reformed doctrine–will find much of interest. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend some of the discussion of modern 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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation” by Joel Looper

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time in America has been the subject of much scholarly discussion. It is clear it had enormous impact on his theology, but what hasn’t been as clear is exactly what kind of impact it may have had. Joel Looper’s phenomenal, challenging work, Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation not only seeks to answer definitively what kind of impact Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States had on the man and his theology, but also shows how extremely timely Bonhoeffer’s words and warnings about American theology can be for us today.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, “What Bonhoeffer Saw in America,” is Looper’s deep narration of Bonhoeffer’s life in America. Here, Looper delves deeply into Bonhoeffer’s coursework at Union Theological Seminary, who he interacted with, and what he himself reports about the situation with American theology. This part lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Here, Looper’s depth of knowledge and exploration of Bonhoeffer’s theology is on full display. It’s not just a report of Bonhoeffer’s time and words, but also an analysis that helps elucidate themes in Bonhoeffer’s writing from this time period that make much more clear what his issues were with American theology. Much of Bonhoeffer’s writing from his time in America is difficult to understand or comprehend without significant knowledge of contemporary issues, and Looper does an admirable job filling in those gaps, showing readers the background for understanding many of Bonhoeffer’s critiques. For example, some have utilized Bonhoeffer’s hard critiques of the social gospel to attempt to decry modern movements for social justice. However, Looper demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s critique of the social gospel is not because it seeks to bring justice, but rather because it displaces the very gospel itself–that is, it doesn’t center revelation in Christ in the Christian message (see, for example pages 41, 46, and especially 48-49). The problem is not the ultimate efforts to feed the poor, stand with the oppressed, &c. The problem is, rather, the starting point of theology and its abandonment of revelation as the ultimate grounds.

The second part of the book focuses on Bonhoeffer’s analysis of American Protestantism specifically. American theology, as read by Bonhoeffer, had a primary problem in that it was “Protestantism without Reformation.” The meaning of this phrase is complex, but Looper notes that for Bonhoeffer, it can be traced back to Wycliffe and the Lollards. This sounds like an obscure point, but Looper, making Bonhoeffer’s own arguments clearer, shows how and why one might take this to be the case, particularly in the circles in which Bonhoeffer ran. It is clear, of course, that Bonhoeffer was not exposed to all of American theology, but what he saw ran in this vein, and the more conservative branches of theology he encountered were, in his opinion, little more than the most blunt and un-nuanced attempts to enforce orthodoxy. The Protestantism of the United States is so influenced by the strands Bonhoeffer mentioned that even Jonathan Edwards, cited by many as one of the greatest theologians America as produced, doesn’t even mention the church in his discussion of what one needs to be saved (75-76). American churches gave up any kind of confessional standard, only enforcing them after splitting again and again, and, in doing so, abandoned the Christian confession (86). American Protestants, for Bonhoeffer, no longer had something against which to protest, because they had severed themselves so distantly from the one true, holy, catholic church (86-87).

Even more damning is Bonhoeffer’s analysis of secularization in America. The pluralism enforced in America led to a kind of secularization of the church and idolization of the individual to the point that the allegiance was given to the nation state rather than to the church and God (102-103). This can be traced, again, to English dissenters who formed the backbone of colonial America. The secularization of the church is not due to some outside force acting upon it, but rather due to the church itself abandoning the word and being, again, a Protestantism without any kind of Reformation. In America, rather than having state churches, secularization came into play precisely because of the focus on freedom and independence–the church then becomes a mouthpiece for the alleged freedom the state provides (106-107).

Bonhoeffer’s own oft-misunderstood theology of the two kingdoms is, according to Looper, central to his understanding of the Gospel as well. Here is where Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism is so central to his understanding of the problems with American theology and beyond. The call for “thy kingdom come” must include both church and state precisely because of the two kingdoms theology–the church and state are both necessary and linked to one another (113-114). Thus, the famous phrase from Bonhoeffer about “seizing the wheel” is not actually revolutionary but rather counter-revolutionary. Bonhoeffer saw the Nazis as the revolutionaries, and such an understanding fits well within the Two Kingdoms theology Bonhoeffer so ardently supported.

The third part of the book centers around objections to both Bonhoeffer’s view of the American church and objections that seek to counter this narrative. For example, much has been made of Bonhoeffer’s largely positive analysis of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Looper doesn’t downplay this positive theme in Bonhoeffer’s analysis of America, but he does contextualize it. The Abyssinian Baptist Church was, to our knowledge, the only African American church he encountered in the United States apart from perhaps one or two Sundays in the American south (131). Bonhoeffer has threads that sound like W.E.B. Du Bois in some of his analysis of the American situation, such as when he talks about what is “hidden behind the veil of words in the American constitution saying ‘all men are created free and equal'” (136). It’s clear this had a positive and even eye-opening impact on Bonhoeffer, and traces of this can be found in his theology. Bonhoeffer’s own discussion of Jews in Germany, such as in his “The Church and the Jewish Question” may have been somewhat influenced here. Looper analyzes Bonhoeffer’s discussion of the Jewish people and shows how, while at times it is couched in problematic language, it demonstrates a deeper understanding and concern than one could credit him merely given his background or upbringing. (The whole section on this is a fascinating read, showing clear analysis that’s well-worth reading. See p. 141-146 in particular.) Bonhoeffer’s theology, however, remained firmly German Lutheran, and his own life-risking efforts in behalf of the Jews were not traceable to some kind of vague Western morality of “equality of all” but rather, Looper asserts, clearly based upon his Christology (150). Thus, Bonhoeffer’s experience with the Abyssinian church demonstrates a caveat in his analysis of American theology. Rather than a total rejection of all American theology, Bonhoeffer’s words ought to be seen directed exactly as they were, against the overwhelmingly popular academic streams of thought in contemporary American theology.

Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and his now famous Letters and Papers from Prison have led some to argue that he changed his views profoundly while in prison. Looper instead notes that his late-stage theology has continuity with that of his earlier life.

Looper’s work serves as a powerful challenge to many theologies of today. For those adhering to modern forms of the social gospel, Bonhoeffer’s warnings and critiques of that movement from his own time continue to apply: are these movements removing Christ from the center? For progressive Christians, Bonhoeffer’s critique of the social gospel can loom large–“Do such [progressive] theologies tend to respond to the critique of the word [revelation, Scripture] and think critically about their subjects in its wake? Or, rather, do they often begin with the (oppressed) self and work from the experience of that self and the non-ecclesial community with which it identifies? If the latter, are these theologies then only variants of ‘religious’ logic…?” (197-198). For conservatives, especially American evangelicals, Looper notes that the constant efforts to try to maintain a “seat at the table” in the larger world and their defense of their institutions, even to the point of, as many have said, voting while “holding their nose” for someone who, ethically, cannot be defended, would have been seen by Bonhoeffer as “Niebuhrian realism, pragmatism par excellence, and, in working from this script, evangelicals both brought the name of Christ into disrepute and forgot how the economy of God and of the church are supposed to work… Bonhoeffer would have called this evangelical struggle a cause of American secularization, not a buffer against it” (196). Bonhoeffer would see American theology today as a total abandonment of Protestant norms, exactly because of his theology of two kingdoms (joined with Luther’s) and because of the stark pragmatism of the right and the rush to de-center the Gospel on the left (198). Looper’s book thus serves as a blunt reminder of the dangers of our modern theological era and the need to offer correctives.

I have now read more than 70 books by or about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his theology, and the world he inhabited in order to try to understand more about the man and his theology. Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation easily ranks in the top 10 of those books. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Bonhoeffer’s theology should consider it a must read. More importantly, though, those wishing to have an understanding of American theology and its problems to this day should seek out this fantastic book. I highly recommend it without reservation.

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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: “Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present” edited by Timothy Larsen

Timothy Larsen is an author whose works have fascinated me time and again, so when I saw his edited volume on evangelicals’ reading of the Bible, I knew I had to hop in. Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present is a superb look at some specific ways evangelicals have engaged with the Bible throughout the last several centuries.

Collections of essays are often hit-or-miss affairs, but Larsen has compiled a selection of essays full of excellent topics and insights. The essays are grouped by century, starting in the 18th and terminating in the 21st. They rnage fro mearly evangelical readings of the Bible to global evangelical mindset in today’s contexts. Instead of providing an overview of every one of these great works, I’ll highlight a few I found especially insightful.

With “British Exodus, American Empire: Evangelical Preachers and the Biblicisms of Revolution,” Kristina Benham introduces readers into the ways in which American evangelicals and their British forebears used the biblical narrative–particularly those of the Exodus–to draw parallels to their own situations in colonial and Revolutionary America. It’s a fascinating look at how one’s own context can shape how one reads Scripture. Mark A. Noll’s “Missouri, Denmark Vesey, Biblical Proslavery, and a Crisis for Sola Scriptura” engages with readings of the Bible and advocates of slavery. Indeed, at times the proslavery position claimed the high ground of reading the Bible more literally or even accurately than did those who opposed slavery. Such readings of the Bible in evangelicalism are too often ignored or skirted around.

Malcom Foley’s essay about resisting lynching, “‘The Only Way to Stop a Mob’: Francis Grimke’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance” seems poignant to this day, despite being part of twentieth century readings of Scripture. Catherine A. Brekus’s examination, “The American Patriot’s Bible: Evangelicals, the Bible, and American Nationalism,” shows how evangelicalism in the 21st century has so often conflated nationalism, patriotism, and theology. Her detailed analysis of what may seem an aberration also highlights how emblematic of American Evangelicalism the American Patriot’s Bible actually is.

This short sampling of just a few topics out of the 12 essays offered shows the broad array of topics available to the reader. I can’t emphasize just how refreshing this collection was. Yes, the topics are focused around a single subject: evangelical readings of the Bible; but they did so from such broad categories that each essay felt it broached new and intriguing avenues of exploration for the reader.

One drawback of collections of essays does loom here, though: there is, again, an unbalance in authors selected. I’m unsure of the racial breakdown in authorship, but the contributors are heavily weighted towards males, with at least 2/3 being men. Though each essay is excellent on its own merits, one wonders whether there couldn’t have been more attention paid to a diversity of voices.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter gives readers a broad swathe of topics related to evangelicals’ reading of the Bible both past and present. Each essay brings a unique perspective and whole avenues of new reading and insight along with it. This volume is 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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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: “Worshiping with the Reformers” by Karin Maag

What did worship during the Reformation look like? Karin Maag’s Worshiping with the Reformers provides a broad look at what worship during time of the Reformers was like, what kind of singing–if any–they did, and answers a host of other questions about worship during this formative time for the Christian church.

Each chapter explores various branches of the Reformers’ churches and their practices on the topic at hand. These chapters cover: going to church, at church, preaching, prayer, baptism, communion, the visual arts and music, and worship outside church. Firsthand accounts of worship abound, along with the occasional humorous (in retrospect–certainly not at the time) reports of charges being leveled at people for improperly worshiping, not showing up, and more. Every individual chapter has some fascinating detail to take away.

What’s especially of interest to those looking to explore Reformation history is the broad areas of unity of practice along with the rather sharp distinctions between the various branches of Reformers on things like music in worship, the use of art, or how to practice sacraments–and what they ought to be called. These practices show that the Reformation, far from being a truly unified movement, was one in which Christians were exploring the meaning of worship in often unique and divergent ways. Set alongside that, however, there is unity found in the importance of Scripture, attempts to return to biblical practices, and more. Maag consistently provides a combination of firsthand accounts and third person analysis, making the book a fascinating read from cover to cover.

Worshiping with the Reformers is a fascinating glimpse into the worship practices of various branches of the Reformation during that time of societal change. Readers with interest in the Reformation, worship styles, or even European history will find this a fascinating book.

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

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SDG.

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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: “Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World” by E. Randolph Richards and Richard James

Sometimes, there are passages in Scripture that can be hard to understand. One holdup for those of us in the United States, for example, is our individualist lenses as we read the Bible. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James’s Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes shows readers how they might be misunderstanding the Bible–or even missing some core points–due to those lenses.

The authors split the discussion into three parts: social structures of the Biblical world; social tools: enforcing and reinforcing our values; and “Why does collectivisim really matter to me?” These sections each show different aspects of the ancient world and how those cultural norms could directly impact how certain verses and stories would have been understood. Additionally, the authors show how our modern readings could use some correction based upon understanding the cultural background of Scripture.

The social structures of the biblical world are the subject of the first chapter, and the authors make it clear fairly quickly why these social structures ought to matter to our reading of the Bible. The story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife is used to show the various ways honor, shame, and other factors played into the way the human characters acted. While it seems possible to grasp some of this without a broader understanding of Ancient Near Eastern social structures, it is also clear that such an understanding adds much to the reading of these stories.

Patronage also looms large in the Bible, and a fascinating chapter on how these relationships played out explains not just how patronage culture works today but also how we can see that very same kind of relationship throughout the Bible. For example, patronage “created new households” with the patron-client relationship, and this was behind the understanding of many of Paul’s points in his letters (106ff, see esp 109, emphasis theirs).

After reading this book, readers will come away with an understanding of honor-shame, patronage-client, and other cultural norms found in the Bible which are often obscured by our individualist lenses. Books like this, which provide insight into understanding the Bible without trying to force readers into a particular theological perspective, are extremely valuable.

Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes demonstrates that we can very easily misunderstand God’s word if we approach it the wrong way. It is highly recommended for both individual readers seeking to learn more about how to understand Scripture as well as for small groups.

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.

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