Book Reviews

This category contains 170 posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Source

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

Links

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

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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.

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Prophecy

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

Evil

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

Hope

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

Conclusion

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

Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Source

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Undeniable” by Douglas Axe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Source

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

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

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

Source

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

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology” by Shao Kai Tseng

kbitShao Kai Tseng’s Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology is a thorough examination of Barth’s lapsarian position. There are two major positions in Reformed circles regarding how God ordered the divine decrees. Supralapsarianism teaches that God decreed election (who would be saved) and reprobation (who would be condemned) prior to the Fall, while infralapsarianism teaches that God first decrees the Fall, then election and reprobation (among other things). Not all Reformed thinkers hold to one of these two positions. For a fuller explanation, see here, or look more deeply at the book. Barth, historically, has been understood as a supralapsarian, and even at times explicitly claimed that position for himself. Tseng argues, however, that Barth’s position is truly infralapsarian.

Tseng argues for his thesis through an examination of Barth’s developing thought. He begins with Barth’s earliest works and then traces his thought on problems of atonement, decree, and redemption throughout his life. Tseng interacts with numerous interpreters of Barth, utilizing them to support his theory or showing where they are mistaken.

The two greatest difficulties with the book are linked. Tseng’s tone is relentlessly even, such that there are few breaks for readers to pause and consider the contents, and few examples of application of the texts are given. This means that there is little reason given to investigate the central topic of the book: Barth’s lapsarian position. Why, exactly, does Barth’s lapsarian position actually matter to us now? Other than scratching a curious itch, what application does it have? Surely, for historical reasons, it is good to know where Barth ought to line up, but beyond that Tseng doesn’t give much of a reason for seeing why this impacts broader theological studies.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the book is without merit. Those deeply interested in Barth will want to engage with it and debate its contents. Moreover, because Tseng looks deeply at Barth’s developing thought, it provides some analysis of Barth’s overall theology.

Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology is dry and fairly esoteric. For those who are deeply interested in Barthian thought, however, this will be necessary reading, particularly if one wants to engage in Barth’s doctrine of election. If one wishes to delve deeply into Barthian thought and Reformed disputes over lapsarian positions, this is a good read, but its audience is limited to that group.

The Good

+Exposes readers to large amounts of Barth’s thought
+Utilizes interpreters of Barth well
+Detailed look at the central topic

The Bad

-Little reason offered to pursue central topic
-Tone doesn’t put much “life” in the text itself

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

Source

Shao Kai Tseng, Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (And Why That’s a Good Thing)” by Jen Wilkin

nlh-wilkin

Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him is an introduction to the study of divine attributes.

Each chapter is laid out in much the same fashion: an anecdote begins each with a way to conceptualize the topic of the chapter (such as omnipotence), then an exposition of the meaning of the term and its importance in the Bible, following this there are a few ways that humans distort whatever divine attribute is being discussed, and the chapter closes with a few study questions, verses for more exploration, and a prayer. The format makes it ideal to use as a 10-11 meeting study group.

Upon starting the book, I immediately realized I wasn’t the intended audience. Although I checked the catalogue description and didn’t see anything about this, the book is apparently intended for study by women who are interested in getting deeper into theology. I’m a man, but I don’t think this precluded me in any way from doing a review of the book.

Wilkin’s use of examples, I felt, was particularly helpful. As I said, each chapter begins with an anecdote that helps illustrate the attribute or quality that is being disussed. Wilkin uses examples throughout the text to help make the abstract concrete, and I didn’t notice any that seemed to be off point. I also thought including sections on how humans distort various divine attributes was a wise choice, and made the book even more practical and applicable than it might otherwise have been.

The book is not without flaws, however. One of the most obvious is the somewhat ironic continued usage of the archaic “man” to refer to all humanity. Because the book is explicitly written for women (see the Introduction), this makes saying things like “our fellow man” in the same context as “we” sound stilted and strange. A deeper problem is that control of one’s own body is treated as a “sin” explicitly and exclusively even when it comes to a disease like anorexia or other eating disorders (Kindle Location 1746): “when we cross the line into unhealthy control [of our bodies], we move… to idolatry. This can take the form of… eating disorders…” No grace is offered in this passage for those who do struggle with things like eating disorders. Indeed, the message conveyed is contextually that all we need to do is stop “striving for control” and take away our commitment to “your own sovereignty” and we can then conquer these sinful issues. This is a deeply problematic to engage with something like an eating disorder, because eating disorders impact people mentally as well as physically to the point where it takes outside intervention to stop. Indeed, it is at this point that it might make the most sense to offer grace, because God’s inworking on humanity is what it takes to fight against such darkness in the world.

None Like Him is, ultimately, a decent introduction to the topics it covers. It doesn’t go much beyond the basics, but it does offer a good format and examples to help think through the issues. However, it is marred by a simplistic understanding of sin and adherence to archaic forms of expression.

The Good

+Interesting use of day-to-day examples
+Helpful format

The Bad

-Archaic use of masculine to refer… to women
-Treats disorders as inherently sinful

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

Source

Jen Wilkin, None Like Him (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

Book Review: “Wesley and the Anglicans” by Ryan Nicholas Danker

wa-dankerWesley and the Anglicans by Ryan Nicholas Danker is an historical project about the developing split between John Wesley and the Methodists on the one hand and the Anglicans and Evangelicals on the other. Danker’s work offers a mixture of data and correction, exploring the topic in a way that brings new insights.

Danker does an excellent job interweaving different disciplines into his approach to the issues at hand. Instead of taking a purely theological approach to the reasons Wesley and the Anglicans split, he argues forcefully that sociological and political issues were just as–if not more–important to the division than the theological reasons. Indeed, theologically there was an Evangelical movement with Anglicanism (Danker uses Evangelical to refer to those within the Anglican church and evangelical to refer to those either immediately or ultimately outside of it). There were plenty of theological sympathies to be had for Wesley’s movement within the Anglican communion, but John Wesley (and Charles Wesley, his brother) ultimately pushed against the political and sociological hierarchy too hard to maintain unity.

Indeed, for Wesley, his commitment to aspects of the Anglican Church made the pushback from Evangelicals (and others) within the church more surprising to him. These ideas are developed through a number of case studies. For example, because of Wesley’s commitment to evangelism, he continued to encourage lay preaching. When confronted about how this may lead to laity taking over the Sacraments and the like, Wesley was (to sum up Danker’s argument) surprised; after all, he was not encouraging these lay preachers to make their own church buildings or orders of hierarchy–how could this therefore be seen as a challenge to the Anglican Church? Wesley’s own intriguing mixture of old and new made it difficult both for him to understand why he was being criticized so harshly and for those within the Anglican Church to see why he was being so divisive.

Political pressures were also brought to bear on the topic, and much of this was due to hierarchy within the church and concerns over how Wesley’s teaching might lead to a collapse of this hierarchy and unity of belief. Thus, laws were passed which began to make lay preaching more and more difficult, for small groups were suddenly considered rivals to official church business by law. Further pressure came from the laity, which began to push back and wonder why they couldn’t do things like administer the Sacraments. All of this came to a head over the course of several meetings of the Methodists, and ultimately led to the split with the Anglican Church we see today.

Danker does an admirable job uniting so many divergent threads into one continuous stream, but he does so in a way that sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. Perhaps the main downside of the book is that it reads very dryly. It doesn’t so much bring life to the historical persons and events as it does describe them. This does an adequate job of presenting the ideas and important topics, but it makes it less exciting to read than some other historic works. It conveys information, but doesn’t necessarily awaken a love of the topic in the reader.

Wesley and the Anglicans is an interesting read about a vital point in church history. Danker also demonstrates that church history ought to incorporate broader studies into its approach than just theology or history. It isn’t the most exciting history book, but it presents readers with a great deal of information on a topic of interest.

The Good

+Sheds light on an important time in church history
+Multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates sociology and politics into theology
+Full of information

The Bad

-Dryly presented

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

Source

Ryan Nicholas Danker, Wesley and the Anglicans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers” by Uche Anizor and Hank Voss

rcvpab-anivossThe doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” is one that is easily misunderstood but joyfully affirmed by a number of Christian groups across denominational lines. Uche Anizor and Hank Voss’ book, Representing Christ: A Priesthood of All Believers is an attempt to hash out the particulars of this challenging, freeing doctrine.

The authors note the potential pitfalls of the doctrine while also showing the ways that the notion of the priesthood of all believers can be applied to many different situations. After some excellent introductory remarks–including a look at how priesthood is viewed in different theological traditions–they dive into chapters on the Scriptural basis for the doctrine, Martin Luther’s contribution to recovering the doctrine, the Trinity and our priesthood, the practices of the priesthood of all, and the overall implications and applications of the doctrine.

The doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” has long been credited to Martin Luther, though he did not use the specific phrase and some Luther scholars (cited by Anizor and Voss) dispute that this doctrine can be derived from his writings. Despite these apparent challenges, the authors demonstrate not only the roots of the teaching in Luther’s writings, but also the fruit that such a doctrine bore for him. As a Lutheran myself, it was refreshing to see Luther’s contribution highlighted rather than ignored. Indeed, Luther’s notion of the functions of the believer–preaching and teaching the word, baptizing, administering the Lord’s Supper, binding and loosing sins, prayer, sacrifice, judging doctrine–is used as a basis for the ongoing discussion.

These 7 points are developed later in the book and serve as a great, applicable portion of the book. The authors rightly note the importance for the church of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and do so in ways that show how their importance comes in part from the way they create a fellowship of believers. The other aspects of this priesthood of all believers are equally insightful. Something like “binding and loosing sins” may seem quite abstract, but Anizor and Voss manage to make such a notion relevant and practical.

Highlighting the life of the Trinity and Christ’s role as great high priest was another strong point of the book. However, in this section there was a continued emphasis on the notion that it is “especially appropriate” to worship the Father in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit (100, cited below).  Now I’ll not dispute that this is indeed one way that we ought to direct worship- praise to the Father in the name of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. But the authors belabored this point so much that I wondered why this was the case. After all, they clear agree that it is appropriate to worship the Son and the Spirit. If that is the case, then what basis is there for the claim of “especial” appropriateness regarding worship of the Father? We need to be careful in Trinitarian doctrine to not establish a hierarchy within the Trinity, and indeed the ancient Athanasian Creed states, “And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.” This creedal statement which has historically been defining for the whole Christian church makes it clear that all three persons are to be worshiped in unity, and although the formula Anizor and Voss put forward is Trinitarian, I wonder why the emphasis is on worship being directed to the Father. No person of the Trinity is more worthy of worship than any either, and our worship ought to be directed towards the Triune God, not “especially” towards one person.

One aspect missing from the discussion in the book is the notion of both men and women in this role as priests. Indeed, the point where this could have most easily been highlighted is in the Garden of Eden, where Voss and Anizor note the way the Garden of Eden is like a type of temple (28) and Adam is a kind of priest-king in the Garden (26ff). Someone is notably absent in this discussion: Eve. Eve was placed alongside Adam in Eden and also given the charge to have dominion over it; why should she be excluded from the discussion of priestly act in the Garden? It seems it would have been quite appropriate to include such a discussion here, and I wonder whether the lack of her inclusion is an attempt to restrict the priesthood of all believers after all. There remain many church bodies who exclude women from the role of representing Christ, and often this teaching is reinforced by keeping some parts of Scripture silent on the topic. In Representing Christ, we see no explicit mention of Eve as serving alongside Adam in these functions, despite reference to sections in which she appears. The priesthood of all believers is an explosive doctrine that frees both men and women, and to ignore this aspect of the doctrine does it disservice.

Representing Christ is an important look at a doctrine that is too often misunderstood or abused. The priesthood of all believers is a freeing doctrine, but not one that throws any kind of order in the church out the window. The authors do a fair job of pointing this out, but I cannot help but wonder why they didn’t go even farther and show how this priesthood of believers can free not only “us” in the general sense, but also, to take from a well-informed author, show that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male and female, for we are one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).

The Good

+Highlights importance of Luther’s contributions
+Provides Scriptural basis for the doctrine
+Gives practical examples for applying content

The Bad

-Where’s Eve?
-Avoids some of the apparent implications of the doctrine regarding women
-Awkward wording of some Trinitarian discussion

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

Source

Uche Anizor and Hank Voss, Representing Christ: A Vision for the Priesthood of All Believers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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