Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community” by James M. Todd III

sats-toddJames M. Todd III’s Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community argues that Christians are no longer subject to any of the laws of the Old Covenant/Old Testament. It’s an extraordinary claim, particularly if one has not been exposed to such a position before, but one that Christians must engage with in order to have a full view of the proper relation between the Law and their lives.

Todd’s exposition of three primary views related to OT Laws is particularly interesting. There are, he argues, three primary ways of interacting with OT legislation: “Moral Law” Christians, who view the laws as binding but break them into moral, ceremonial, and civil, asserting only moral laws ought to be followed; “Ten Commandment” Christians who use the Ten Commandments for the baseline of morality, and “No-Old-Law”Christians who believe that Christians are not under authority of OT laws in any way. He highlights strengths and weaknesses of each position. Moral Law Christians run into the problem that the threefold division of OT Law is nowhere explicitly taught in Scripture, and that, moreover, in the ANE (ancient Near East) there would have been very little understanding of or motivation to make such religious/civil distinctions as is required by this division. Ten Commandment Christians struggle to explain how to deal with the Sabbath, among other issues. No-Old-Law Christians must explain how it avoids antinomianism as well as the problem of dealing with the Hebrew Scriptures as Christian Scripture. Though brief, this discussion alone was worth reading the book for.

The “No-Old-Law” position is defended by Todd largely through exegetical arguments, showing that the Law was viewed holistically, that it was intended to govern the entire covenant community of Israel, and ultimately that the new community in Christ–the church–is not bound by the same legislation. His argument is more detailed, of course, but those are the basics. He backs it up by looking deeply at the covenant community in the Hebrew Scriptures, noting some difficulties with other perspectives, and finally arguing his own position doesn’t just dismiss the Old Testament.

I was somewhat surprised to see Lutherans grouped in the “No-Old-Law” category, but saw that Todd put Lutherans there due to the notion of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. However, when he continued to discuss the Law/Gospel distinctiveness and those who hold to that position, I believe he somewhat misrepresented the Lutheran position, particularly when he wrote that such a position “results in a negative view toward law in general; law exists simply for convicting sinners of their sin” (42). I’m not sure why Todd would conclude this is a negative view of the law. Lutherans teach that the Law always condemns; the Gospel always saves. This doesn’t mean the Law is negative, but rather that it has the extremely powerful and important place of bringing sinners to repentance and rightness with God! Though this was an extremely minor point in the book–and, to his credit, Todd noted the Third Use of the Law in Lutheranism would potentially get around this problem in a footnote–I would have liked to see a more balanced perspective on the Lutheran view here.

Another difficulty with Todd’s perspective is that, despite his objections that some “No-Old-Law” perspectives take a negative view of the law, his own perspective effectively dismisses it entirely. Indeed, he dedicates a whole chapter to piecing back together the importance of the Law for Christian readers, not by offering a holistic approach to the Law (as with the threefold distinction view), nor by a separation of spheres (as with the Lutheran perspective). Rather, his own approach is to note that the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures provides important historical and cultural context for much of the narrative related to the Old Covenant community. Thus, the Law is important for Christians in order to understand the Bible fully. Such a view has initial appeal, but ultimately I’m not convinced it stands up to scrutiny. It is the case that understanding the laws concerning Sabbath and the like will provide readers with a better comprehension of the narratives, but Todd would be hard pressed to make such a case for every law in the Hebrew Scriptures. How, in fact, does knowing the prohibitions about eating shellfish really impact one’s reading of any narrative in the Hebrew Bible? I know of nothing other than the possibility of a very oblique approach to just knowing the general cultural background. But if that’s the case, then Todd’s view of Law and Gospel cannot actually account for the importance of at least some portions of Scripture. This objection, to me, is enough reason to reject Todd’s development of his perspective in favor of something like the Lutheran perspective (though the latter does need fuller development regarding exactly what is meant by “Law” and obedience to it/condemnation from it).

One final point I’d like to raise is that the book isn’t quite as focused as one might expect. A few of the chapters could have been appendices (particularly the last chapter), and at least two appendices could have been part of the main text (especially the one in which Todd answers some arguments against his position). There are many objections that could be raised to Todd’s view (not including those I’ve already raised), and it would have been nice to see an even larger positive case with more objections answered.

Sinai and the Saints is an incredibly interesting book. Though I found myself thinking his perspective has a few fundamental flaws, I think that there are many challenges he raises to competing perspectives that must be met. Moreover, with some more development, his own perspective could potentially get around some of the flaws I’ve highlighted here. Regardless of what one thinks, Sinai and the Saints is an essential read for Christians wanting to learn exactly what it is they are to do regarding the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s fascinating, engaging, and challenging, even if flawed.

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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.

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Book Review: “The Faithful Artist” by Cameron J. Anderson

fa-andersonThe Faithful Artist by Cameron J. Anderson reflects on the alleged tension between Christianity and the arts. Anderson first outlines the reasons for this perceived (and sometimes real) tension, then explores ways Christians can engage with and perform the arts in meaningful–and faithful–ways.

Anderson argues that much of the alleged tension between the arts and Christianity is, in fact, perceived as part of a false choice between sticking to depicting their faith in their art and being popular. There are other false dichotomies explored, including the sacred/secular. Having explored some of these tensions, Anderson turns to a number of ways that secularism and anti-Christian thought have at points utilized or even attempted to co-opt the arts. Along the way, he also shows how Christians have at times in history (and to this day) helped perpetuate the art vs. religion myth by casting our or even destroying the arts. Ultimately, he offers a vision for the Christian artist to plough forward.

Such a straightforward depiction of the book’s contents doesn’t do it service, because, in fact, Anderson utilizes each chapter as a kind of holistic approach to discussing the arts and Christianity. It’s a complex work on a complex topic, but written in an engaging, thought-provoking way. Readers are encouraged to reflect upon artworks shown throughout, both black and white and in color in some plates in the middle. Christians are called to think more critically about the arts, while also acknowledging the benefits thereof. Artists are challenged to not abandon their faith for the sake of the arts.

The Faithful Artist is an intriguing look at exactly what it means to be an artist and a Christian. But it is much more than that. As a reader who is not an artist, per se, I found it deeply engaging and immersive. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Explores numerous topics in engaging way
+Interacts with prominent thinkers and artists
+Encourages readers to go beyond the text and apply its insights

The Bad 

-At times, complex for what seems an intermediate level work

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

Links

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

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: “Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists” by David Glass

anc-glassEveryone seems to be talking about atheism. The so-called “New Atheists” are out and proud. Their books are in every bookstore, waiting to perpetuate ideas about religion: that it is evil and causes violence, that its adherents are positively irrational or even delusional, and more. Dressed to impress, atheism is sporting “new clothes,” and David Glass, in his Atheism’s New Clothes, seeks to expose them. Glass explores the primary works of the “New Atheism”: Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

Glass starts Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists by outlining the claims of the new atheism. One problem with this movement is that it rejects theistic belief simply because it is, according to them, simply obvious that theism is false and so they do not bother to interact on a scholarly level with theistic discussions.[1] In particular, the new atheists define faith in a way which is most helpful to their own case and refuse to interact with theologians on the topic. Harris goes so far as to argue that they can ignore what theologians say because they are allegedly irrelevant to the faith of the faithful.[2] However, Harris’ argument is based upon reading Hebrews 11 in “the right way,” which is of course his own reading that is not based upon the Greek or even exegesis of any sort.[3]

Glass counters the contentions of the New Atheists’ by exploring a number of Christian responses to faith throughout history.[4] He notes that the consensus is that “within Christianity it is entirely appropriate to provide arguments and evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity… note that the New Atheists fail to engage with any [view of faith outlined by Glass] or any other well-thought out view on the subject.”[5]

Another prominent aspect of the New Atheism is that science is alleged to undermine belief in God. They rail against a god-of-the-gaps and make it out as though that is the only way religion has interacted with science. Glass, however, notes that “science took root in a monotheistic, and specifically Christian culture, rather than a polytheistic or pantheistic culture… The question here is how such scientists [Christians who were scientists] could really have engaged in their work of science by its very nature removes the need for God as the New Atheists maintain… They thought of their work as expressing how the universe behaves in accordance with the laws God had put in place.”[6] In contrast to the notion that believers propose God to explain what science cannot, Glass stresses that, like Swinburne, it is more a matter of explaining why science explains.[7]

Can miracles occur? The New Atheists immediately appeal to Humean types of arguments, but Glass argues that these fail. In fact, it seems that here it is the atheist being unreasonable, for “it seems that no amount of evidence would be considered adequate to make it reasonable to believe a miracle had occurred.”[8]

Glass then turns to evidence for the existence of God. He outlines over the course of two chapters a cosmological argument—one which argues from the beginning of the universe—an argument from the orderliness of the universe, and an argument from consciousness.[9] The arguments Glass presents are fairly familiar, but by tying them into a discussion of the New Atheists’ responses (or lack thereof), Glass provides a valuable resource for answering the objections of those who use a similar tactic. For example, in response to the fine-tuning argument from the orderliness of the universe, Glass notes that the New Atheists’ “reasoning seems to be that the mere feact that some… scenario might be possible is all that is required to make it preferable to theism as an explanation…”[10] Yet, Glass notes, this leads to some things which the New Atheists would not find palatable, like the notion that “miracles such as the resurrection occur naturally somewhere in the multiverse without God having to bring them about.”[11]

Glass uses a chapter to focus upon Dawkins’ arguments against God specifically. He notes that Dawkins wavers between a Humean argument and a Darwinian argument: on the one hand he seems to argue that miracles are in principle impossible; on the other hand, he argues that Darwinism has undermined belief in miracles. Yet the arguments themselves offset each other. Why argue that Darwinism undermines the miraculous origins of life if miracles are, in principle, impossible?[12] Furthermore, Glass argues that both arguments ultimately fail to challenge belief in God.[13]

The New Atheists all seem to think that they can explain religion by showing how it evolved. By using the concept of a “meme”—an idea which can evolve just as much as any biological organism—they hold that religion has evolved as a useful capacity, but we have outgrown its usefulness.[14] However, Glass points out that even if this could explain how religious belief can arise, it would not explain away religious belief as untrue.[15] In regards to Christianity in particular, the argument would do nothing to explain the historical evidence for the religious practice.[16] More fundamentally, however, the argument could be applied to any area of knowledge, and therefore undermine all belief. It is self-defeating.[17]

Glass goes on to analyze theism as opposed to materialism in regards to morality. Although materialism may be able to explain how we have moral beliefs, “it does not tell us whether we actually have such an obligation [to be moral].”[18] Religion is very often based upon revelation, the notion that God has revealed truths to humans. Glass argues that the New Atheists’ rejection of revelation is based upon a number of assumptions and faulty arguments.[19] A particular problem is their terse dismissal of revelation based upon conflicting revelations. Glass asks, “Is it really the case that there is no evidence to distinguish [the truth claims of various claimed revelations]?” and argues that there are, in fact, ways to determine the truth of a revelation.[20] Atheists also claim that the Bible in particular has a morally reprehensible code, but Glass notes that much of this is based upon a misunderstanding or naïve reading of the text.[21]

Finally, Glass argues that Christianity in particular is based upon a claim which can be investigated: the resurrection of Christ.[22] He argues from a minimal facts perspective; that is, he argues that there are certain historical facts which must be explained by a hypothesis and that no rival theory to the resurrection succeeds in explaining these facts.[23] As he closes his work, Glass notes that only on theism can life have real meaning, purpose, and rationality.

There have been a number of works written to respond to the New Atheists, and interested readers may wonder where Atheism’s New Clothes stands out. Glass provides perhaps the most in-depth look at the specific arguments of Dennett and Dawkins in particular. Furthermore, the book is presented not just as a response to the New Atheists but as an apologetic primer. It contains a number of arguments for the existence of God and an extended defense of the truth of the Gospels as well as the resurrection of Jesus. These qualities make it essential reading for those looking to respond to atheists who make claims similar to the New Atheists’. The thoughtfulness with which Glass approaches the arguments of the New Atheists and his in depth analyses make it a worthy read for those looking to respond specifically to the authors of the four aforementioned books. Christians should not let this book pass by.

This review was originally posted at Apologetics 315.

[1] David Glass, Atheism’s New Clothes (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2012), 24ff.
[2] Ibid, 39.
[3] 40.
[4] 42ff.
[5] 51.
[6] 69.
[7] 72-73.
[8] 86.
[9] 93ff.
[10] 133, emphasis his.
[11] Ibid.
[12] 151ff, see especially 163 for this apparent problem.
[13] 158ff.
[14] 180ff.
[15] 184ff.
[16] 187-189.
[17] 190-195.
[18] 212.
[19] 238ff.
[20] 243ff.
[21] 249ff.
[22] 265ff.
[23] 286ff.

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!

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass– In this post, David Glass, himself an able response-man to the New Atheism, highlights one primary argument atheists make regarding theism: that theists have all the burden of proof on their side.

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: “Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call” by Jonathan Hoglund

cbtg-hoglundThe notion of an “effectual call”- the notion that God’s call is itself that which brings about salvation, apart from human action – is theologically controversial and has been at the focus of many intra- and extra-Protestant debates since the Reformation. Jonathan Hoglund in Called by Triune Grace approaches the topic from the notion of divine rhetoric–persuasive communication–and argues that such a perspective helps to make sense of the idea of effectual calling.

Hoglund approaches the issues from a perspective that should be interesting to readers on either side of the debate about effectual call. He spends little time trying to persuade readers that “effectual call” is itself a valid category, instead focusing on the impact of and means for God performing such an effectual call. Ultimately, he settles upon divine rhetoric as this means. Divine rhetoric–not just the Bible itself but in the stories within the Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s working–provides the means by which an effectual call may be issued. Issues of language, speech-act theory, and more are raised and discussed, often with intriguing results.

Throughout the text, he appeals to numerous biblical texts to expand on his points, often highlighting aspects that may be overlooked.

Particularly insightful is Hoglund’s appeal to writers outside specifically conservative Calvinist traditions. Along the way, he engages with Luther, Wesley (briefly), Francis Pieper (Lutheran), Barth, N.T. Wright, and more. It is refreshing to see such engagement, particularly in a topic that tends to be seen by many evangelicals as the sole domain of Calvinists. In fact, the Lutheran tradition and some streams of Anglicanism and others have much to say regarding monergism and the effectual call. Seeing such contributions and thoughts acknowledged and engaged with was great.

If there is a downside to the book, it is that because Hoglund focuses so specifically on the notion of divine rhetoric, it seems he may miss out on other aspects of the effectual call. Though he does acknowledge other perspectives, the highly-focused nature of the book leaves little time for engaging other possibilities.

Called by Triune Grace is a fascinating, deep look at the notion of an effectual call. For those interested in this topic, no matter what their perspective, it comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Provides significant interaction even with thinkers outside the Reformed positions
+Clearly and concisely argued
+Intriguing topic

The Bad

-Perhaps too narrowly focuses the means of the divine call

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!

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.

The (Un)Just City- Jo Walton’s “The Just City,” Gender, Gods, and Morality

tjc-waltonJo Walton’s The Just City is unlike anything I’ve read before. She seamlessly combined philosophy, theology, and fantasy into an epic tale that was difficult to put down. The plot is centered around the notion that Apollo and Athene, the Greek gods, decide to go through time and collect people who desired to attempt to build Plato’s Republic. Here, we’ll examine the book from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Christian Morality Opposed to Justice?

One scene features Maia speaking with Ikaros, a man who had embraced various aspects of the Republic with fervor. Maia believes that Ikaros was a Dominican monk in his former life, but she finds that he is quick to exclude Christianity from the bounds of possibility in the City. The reason is because he doesn’t believe Christianity to be true, or at least any aspect of truth capable of matching their new perspective:

[Ikaros reasons:] “I reconciled Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Platonism, and Zoroastrianism… But don’t you see, we were doing it starting from a belief that Christianity was true. If instead it’s the Greek Gods who are true… then what price salvation? They can mix from the other side, we could say that Plato was really talking about God. But from this side [believing the Greek Gods], well, we can’t see that when Jesus said he’d be in his father’s house that he was really talking about Zeus, now can we?” (88)

Ironically and horribly, after having this conversation about how Christian morality is not Truth and also needlessly complex, Ikaros rapes Maia. He reasons that they are allowed to have eros love without obligations required by Christian morality, and he mocks her adherence to Christianity.

Concentric Circles of Gods

In the world of The Just City, the Greek gods are very real and active. What might this suggest about Christianity and other faiths? We’ve already seen how one character argues that introducing Christian morality would have been unnecessary. But what of Christianity itself?

Apollo is incarnate within the City and only a few know who he actually is. He has a discussion with Sokrates (Socrates) and Simmea regarding souls and gods. We’ll pick up his commentary at “the good part”:

Many circles [of divinities] is right; all human cultures have their own appropriate gods. But the only thing on top is Father. It isn’t a set of concentric rings… [the one Apollo is correcting] thought of it as a hierarchy with divinities subordinated to others. It isn’t like that at all. It’s a set of circles of gods pretty much equal to each other but with different responsibilities, and linked by Father.” (285)

When he is specifically asked about Jesus and Mary, etc., Apollo states:

Christianity is one of those circles… Jesus is just as real and just as much Father’s son as I am… (285-286)

Such a view of course is just as fantastical as the book itself is. The attempt to mash all religions together into one amalgam centered around a divine being not only does injustice to those faiths which have no divine being, but also to those that do. The latter would have to effectively shed all pretext of having truth claims about reality, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see in the next two books of this trilogy who the “Father” turns out to be and how the attempt to reconcile different faiths plays out, but at this point it is fairly obvious that it will play out in a way that Christians and believers of other faith traditions could not endorse.

Gender

Maia, a woman from the 19th century, finds that the options she has ahead of her in her own time are quite bleak. She loves scholarship, but has no way to pursue it. In the introduction to her character we find that she longs for a God that is not limited by masculine concepts of divinity. We can take this as a challenge to ourselves to not make God into a gendered being (apart from the gender of the man Jesus Christ).

There are several explicit scenes in the book, and these tie into the themes it is exploring with gender. The scenes largely center around the issues of power that come into sex. Thus, the aforementioned rape of Maia by Ikaros. Apollo himself is trying to figure out why Daphne preferred to turn into a tree rather than “mate” with him (aka be raped by him). Apart from the obvious (this book is not for children or even young adults), we find that preconceptions about gender and power are challenged throughout. Women say no, and mean it (shocking, right? [sarcasm]); men begin to discover that the actions they take are often sexist; beliefs that women are incapable of philosophizing are challenged.

Conclusion

The Just City turns out to be as much about injustice as it is about justice. In a way, we may think of this as what would inevitably happen whenever imperfect beings attempt to create true justice on their own: they fail, often miserably. It will be interesting to see what happens with the “circles” of deity that Walton has come up with to try to integrate divergent and differing worldviews into one. Including such discussions of course makes the book stand firmly against Christian orthodoxy; but the context these challenges are set in makes it worthwhile to offer counter-arguments to the sections that are objectionable. It can, in a way, be practice for critically examining one’s own beliefs.

Whatever the case, for now we find that the “Just City” is not.

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!

Read through my other posts on popular books here (scroll down for more).

Source

Jo Walton, The Just City (New York: Tor, 2014).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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: “Signposts to God” by Peter Bussey

stg-busseySignposts to God by Peter Bussey is an introductory apologetics book written by a particle physicist. It surveys specifically the fields of physics and astronomy to argue that these fields “point the way to belief.”

The first question–and a fair one–that needs to be asked about this book is this: “Why another introductory apologetics book?” There are so many introductory books on the market at this point that it seems kind of pointless to have another one. But seeing Signposts to God as merely an introductory apologetics book would be to do it injustice. Unlike some of the better known works in this area, Bussey’s work is not merely a series of the most popular arguments for theism with an argument for the resurrection thrown in point to Christianity. Bussey’s approach features a rather robust look at modern physics and astronomy before diving into two primary arguments: the argument from cosmological design (teleological argument) and the argument from first cause (cosmological argument). Thus, Bussey’s book has a narrower focus than many introductory books, which means that it ultimately gives readers a better working knowledge of the lofty topics it contains.

Bussey’s intriguing approach of introducing readers to some basics of astronomy and physics before diving in means that readers will be better able to articulate their own beliefs while also interacting with criticisms more easily. There’s a great difficulty in apologetics-circles, I think, of people thinking that reading one book will be enough to make them an expert and able to answer every argument ever put forward against Christianity. This is definitely not the case, and Bussey’s humble approach speaks volumes to this.

Illustrative of Bussey’s approach is his brief mention of the biological design argument (often referred to as Intelligent Design or something similar). He notes that it can be intuitively clear that a natural path to some feature seems impossible, but that time and again such intuitions seem  to be proven wrong. Thus, he doesn’t outright reject such forms of apologetics, but rather urges a word of caution when trying to use one specific feature of one specific creature to point to a designer. Moreover, he ties this thought back into the argument he does make from the design of the universe as a whole to show that the latter does not face the same possibly mistaken conclusions.

The man problem with the book, I think, is that there are no charts or graphics to speak of. While certainly not a requirement, they would have been helpful in explaining some of the concepts Bussey is trying to introduce. Of course, I suspect not having so many graphics was a conscious choice on the part of the author to prevent readers from being distracted or misled by such illustrations. Nonetheless, I thought it was worth mentioning.

It’s hard not to say that Signposts to God feels in some ways like just another introductory apologetics book. However, the distinctives that have been noted above help to set it apart from the pack as a fresh take on some of the questions that have been asked many times. Readers looking for a fairly scientific approach to apologetics by an expert in a relevant field ought to immediately grab it.

The Good

+Separates from a crowded field through a narrow focus
+Written by expert in relevant fields
+Provides ways forward for exploration

The Bad

-Could use some charts/graphics to help break it up

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

Links

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

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 Message of Spiritual Warfare” by Keith Ferdinando

msw-ferdinandoThe Message of Spiritual Warfare by Keith Ferdinando is an exploration of spiritual warfare throughout the Bible. The topic immediately conjures sensational images to mind of demons vying with pitchforks against a frightened mob. Searching the book’s title brings up all sorts of strange books on the topic promising to teach Christians the exact method for fighting their inner and outer demons. In other words, Ferdinando has plunged into a topic that, if he were me, he would have stayed away from. So much disinformation and sensationalism is out there that the task of sorting through it all seems monumental. Ferdinando, however, does this in seemingly the exact right way: by taking readers back to Scripture.

Ferdinando’s work is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. Rather than attempting to deal with the endless iterations of views on demon possession, spiritual warfare, cosmic warfare, and the like, Ferdinando points directly towards what the Bible tells us about this volatile topic. In doing so, he avoids the difficulty of making an overly-bloated work filled with attempts to discredit other positions while also avoiding jumping into the controversy. The book surveys a huge number of passages in no small amount of depth, and its format is such that readers could easily use it either as a reference (looking at individual passages as they come to them in their own reading) or as a work to read through time and again.

Ferdinando’s balanced approach is like a breath of fresh air, particularly as one who has read little on the topic but has still encountered some very strange and unbiblical perspectives. Ferdinando doesn’t do much to urge readers away from sensationalism, rather he expounds on Scripture to show that many prominent views of spiritual warfare are simply mistaken. In one example, he highlights the fact that demon possession in the New Testament is not confronted by violence, by trying to force the demon to speak its name, or by some other ritual; rather, demons are confronted by Jesus’ name and the use of prayer. Full stop. By showing this from the Bible itself, Ferdinando effectively puts to rest the debate. Another instance can be found on page 87 when he writes of demon possession and that it is treated in the New Testament not as a sin to be confessed but rather as something from which people are delivered. These and many other helpful points effectively serve notice to those views of demon possession and spiritual warfare which prey upon people’s fears.

I would note that Ferdinando does allow himself to get sidetracked at times by somewhat unrelated points. For example, at one point he offers a few paragraphs on the nature and extent of eternal punishment, taking as his example the fate of Satan in Revelation. Though this is an interesting topic, it wasn’t terribly related to the theses in his book. This does’t happen often, but when it does it seems to take away from the thrust of the book.

The Message of Spiritual Warfare is an even, thoughtful look at a too-often sensationalized topic. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Even-tempered tone
+Thoroughly grounded in Scripture

The Bad

-Occasionally gets sidetracked by other issues

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

Links

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

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: “Becoming a Pastor Theologian” edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand

bpt-wilson-hiestandBecoming a Pastor Theologian edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand is a collection of essays centered around the idea that the minister ought also to be engaged with theology. The essays included cover topics centered around “The Identities of the Pastor Theologian,” “The Pastor Theologian in Historical Perspective,” and “The Pastor Theologian and the Bible.”

Highlights include for part 1 Peter Leithart’s essay on integrating theology into the church; for part 2 an essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and for part 3 essays on apologetics and “The Female Ecclesial Theologian.” Each of these (and most of the others) has many directly applicable insights. That is the strength of the book: whether an essay is about a specific person (eg. Bonhoeffer) or a broader topic (eg. exegesis), the focus is on putting tools in the reader’s hands as far as applying insights into the job of a pastor theologian.

The text is about 200 pages, and there are 15 essays and an introduction squeezed in, meaning each chapter averages about 12.5 pages. Though this is a decent length for a journal article, it leaves each essay feeling a bit abrupt, particularly given the constant commitment to the central theme. Itself not a bad thing–indeed, commitment to the central theme of “pastor theologian” is a good thing–this means that each author spends at least some time outlining what is meant by pastor theologian, which becomes unnecessary after the introduction. Moreover, a few of the essays do have very little applicable ideas found therein.

Another difficulty is that there is a limited scope as far as ecclesiology is concerned. Indeed, the only mention of “megachurch” is found in a rather stereotypical contrast between a megachurch and the “small local church” as if one is inherently better than the other. Yet it is difficult, biblically, to see how such a potshot could be justified. It’s a minor thing, but I think worth mentioning. Moreover, the chapter on exegesis suffers from a frankly naive view of Scripture. The author asserts that the historical critical approach to the Bible entails “the loss of connection between the doctrines of the church and the text of Scripture, primarily because Scripture is expected… to be grounded historically in its ancient context. This excludes… eternal theological truths” (143, emphasis added). Not only is this demonstrably false, for one could very easily understand a text in an ancient historical context while still saying that it could have an eternal theological truth, but it also shows an astonishing lack of concern for understanding what the text actually means. Though this view is perhaps moderated a bit later in the same essay, the assertion that grounding the meaning of the Bible in its historical context somehow necessitates undermining theology is alarming.

The essay on “The Female Ecclesial Theologian” was good, though I think it could have gone even farther in noting the contributions can make and have made in this field. However, I appreciated the argument that by excluding women’s voices, we have been losing out on the richness and fullness of Christian theology. The author, Laurie L. Norris closes by stating, “May we worthily bear God’s image together in service to the church.” Amen.

Overall, Becoming a Pastor Theologian has a number of valuable insights, but the quality of the essays is uneven. It’s worth the read for those interested in the topic, but it must be done with a critical eye.

The Good

+Diversity of topics
+Strong adherence to central theme
+Much to apply

The Bad

-Uneven quality of essays
-Small space to each topic
-Surprisingly limited scope of ecclesiology

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

Links

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

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 Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom” by Andrew Abernethy

igk-abernethyAndrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom has a kind of dual purpose: introducing readers to the overarching themes of the Book of Isaiah and to show that Kingdom in particular is central to understanding the Book of Isaiah.

Abernethy acknowledges a number of difficulties with Isaiah, including the difficulty of tying down its historical context, the problem of a “meta-history” of the book and its composition and getting to its final form, and the sheer size of it going against several attempts at a unified meaning. Nevertheless, he takes on that latter task, and on the way manages to deal with the other difficulties, at least in passing.

Abernethy traces the concept of “Kingdom” in Isaiah through five chapters that each focus on one aspect of the Kingdom: God as King now and to come; God as saving King, God as warrior/compassionate king; lead agents of the king; and the people of God’s kingdom. The first three of these provide a broad thematic overview of Isaiah, splitting it into three parts, and the latter two cover each of the three parts related to the thesis.

The book is quite dense despite having a somewhat introductory idea. That is almost certainly because Isaiah itself is so dense that in order to do it justice, Abernethy was forced to introduce a vast amount of information. What makes the book particularly useful is that Abernethy ties Isaiah not just together, but also into the canonical narrative, and this is perhaps most prominent in the God as saving King and people of God’s kingdom sections. As an example, in the section on God as saving king, there is a small (two-page) section on Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10 in canonical context which contains over a dozen references to other canonical references (this at a glance). Abernethy thus deftly balances reading Isaiah on its own terms with understanding it both in its historical and canonical context. The fact that such a sentence can be written itself speaks highly of the work.

Perhaps the biggest strike against the book is that because it does have a rather basic feeling to it, and because Isaiah is itself so dense, the work feels much longer than it actually is. It stands at 200 pages sans the appendix, but feels much longer simply because so much space is covered, with multitudes of Scriptural references on each page. This makes me question what audience the book was written towards, as beginners will likely feel it is a daunting read, while those who’ve done a good amount of reading on Isaiah already will have picked up on most of the themes contained here. That said, the book can easily serve as a great reference and tool to glance over when one wants to explore the book of Isaiah in more depth. It is about as compact an introduction–while still being useful–as one could expect.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom isn’t trying to forge much new ground. Rather, it is a dense survey of a book of the Bible that is packed full of information. Abernethy does readers a service by helping to unpack Isaiah while sticking to broad themes rather than individual debates.

The Good

+Focus on broad themes makes it more readable
+Good reference work for themes in Isaiah
+Highlights many of the more interesting questions about the book of Isaiah

The Bad

-Incredibly dense for such a short read
-May be off-putting to some of the target audience

Book Review: “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists” by Mark R. Teasdale

ene-teasdaleMark Teasdale’s Evangelism for Non-Evangelists is one of those deceptively simple books. Yes, the title basically describes exactly what its contents are, and yes, it is full of information that will make even those who think they know what it means delve more deeply into the topic.

From the get-go, Teasdale undermines the biases readers may have in regards to evangelism. Not only is there no one size fits all approach to evangelism, but that very notion has done serious damage to efforts made by Christians in the past (10-11). Another challenge is lobbed at American evangelicalism, as Teasdale not only notes that evangelism cannot be reduced to contemporary evangelicalism, but also acknowledges that progressive theologians and others are capable of evangelizing and having worthwhile perspectives as well (17-19). These are the kind of often difficult insights Teasdale offers throughout the book, and for that reason alone the book is worth reading.

But the book is much more than a collection of challenges against one’s preconceptions. As the title suggests but does not fully reveal, it is a work of the heart of an evangelist who seeks to teach others to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. This is not an easy task. Evangelism is not merely something that will succeed based on effort, but is Spirit-led. Evangelism takes serious effort on the part of the one wishing to spread the Gospel. Evangelism involves contextualizing not just the teachings of Christianity, but also making sense of why Christianity is important for whatever individual one encounters. In short, evangelism is tough, and more complex than many may realize.

Fear not, however, as Teasdale provides many practical insights to help those interested in evangelizing to learn how to become more effective evangelists, though it will take time. Although a summary of these points will sound overly basic (i.e. “get to know the individual”), Teasdale’s points are presented succinctly but in ways that I think most readers will benefit from.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists is one of those rare books I can recommend without any reservation. It’s a fast read, but one that demands reflection and re-reading. It has challenges to readers that are on-point without ever being overbearing. It’s a fantastic work that introduces a necessary topic for Christian living.

The Good

+Many practical applications
+Goes beyond American evangelical tradition
+Full of insights into the practice of evangelism

The Bad

-None

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

Links

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

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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