Book Reviews

This category contains 167 posts

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!

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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: “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!

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: “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.

Book Review: “Political Church” by Jonathan Leeman

pc-leeman

Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule is a detailed study of the interaction between Christianity and the public sphere. Leeman’s central thesis is that the church, as the local assembly, acts as an embassy–a political place in which Christ’s rule on earth is present.

The book is broken up into 6 lengthy chapters, each building on the last, as Leeman argues for his thesis. The first two chapters address the questions “What is politics?” and “What is an Institution?” From there, Leeman builds on politics of creation, the Fall, the New Covenant, and the Kingdom.

One of the most critical areas of the book is that there is no such thing as a totally neutral ground from which to build a political system. There is no religiously neutral political philosophy. To make the case for this central point, Leeman draws extensively from people like William Cavanaugh and Stanely Hauerwas. Essentially, the point is that because one’s religious beliefs (or alleged lack thereof) govern, effectively, all areas of one’s thought, one cannot excise them without effectively abandoning those beliefs, thus going against them. There is much more to this argument, but it is one of the many fascinating areas Leeman highlights.

Exactly how does the church act as an embassy for Christ? The sixth chapter, “The Politics of the Kingdom,” presents a number of fascinating insights into this question. Leeman takes a deep look at the notion of the “Keys of the Kingdom,” drawn from Matthew 16 (334ff). This discussion draws from multiple commentaries and spans questions from “what is the church?” to “how ought we perform church discipline?” to whether the church ought to function as a kind of civil magistrate. These kind of deep questions permeate the pages of Political Church such that readers will want to spend a great deal of time poring over the text and reflecting on the points therein.

There are a few areas worth critiquing in the book. First, much discussion time is spent on the notion of how exactly God’s covenant went from old to new covenant, but this all plays out on a kind of amorphous theological backdrop such that it is difficult to determine exactly what Leeman is saying. Is he pushing a kind of dispensational theology? At points it seems so, but other times it does not. Because the theological point here is not central to his book, Leeman doesn’t give readers enough to see where he’s coming from, particularly in chapter four’s (The Politics of the Fall) discussion of different covenants.

Another difficulty is, admittedly, drawn from a minor point in the book. Leeman states explicitly that, “if membership in the new covenant requires both the activity of the Spirit and the assent of the individual to God… then membership in… the church… should… be restricted to those who give their assent. To place infants born into a ‘Christian’ nation onto church roles misidentifies God’s presence, reputation, righteousness and justice…” (272). On the one hand, his notion that membership in the church requires both the Spirit and assent is explicitly tied to his understanding of the body of the church as a political one. On the other hand, although he stresses that exact point, it is never clear exactly what that means in terms of justification. This takes us away from the purpose of his book, but given statements like these it seems clear that justification is at least some part of what he is referring to. Justification is the work of the spirit, saving people who are dead slaves to sin who cannot free themselves. But if that’s the case, then his objection to infants being placed on church rolls seems to fall apart, for although infants cannot express consent, that does not seem to be required for the doctrine of justification. As a Lutheran particularly, I affirm that infants may have faith, because faith is a gift of the Spirit rather than an act of humans. Yet even here, Leeman might object noting that he is speaking in political terms rather than in the terms I am using.

A final difficulty is with Leeman’s reading of Luther’s Two Kingdoms model. Although he does avoid the most egregious misinterpretations of Luther on this point, Leeman argues that Luther’s model turns God’s people/not-God’s-people into church/state or Word/state. Then, he argues that the Bible and the church have words for those who are not God’s people as well and the state rules over God’s people (274-275, for example). But this is not what Luther’s model entails. It’s not that church/state on Luther’s model never interact; indeed, Leeman’s own conception seems to be extremely close to the core of what Luther was getting at in his doctrine of Two Kingdoms. He constructs it around the idea that there are two ages rather than two kingdoms, and that there are two kinds of life- secular and eternal (275). Yet even this speaking of two ages ultimately comes back to noting that there is “present simultaneity of the ages,” leading one to wonder how far from “two kingdoms” that exist simultaneously Leeman’s own argument truly is. This does go beyond Luther, but I think it’s the direction Luther’s own teaching was aiming towards, and it is interesting that Luther draws frequent mention as being close, but mistaken (29-31; 177; 275; etc.).

These minor points, though I have labored over them, do little to take away from the monumental importance of this work. Leeman has done a tremendous service to those interested in delving deeply into a theological vision of church and state. Each chapter brings together exegesis, philosophy, and sociology in informative, often surprising ways.

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule is an important work that is sure to influence all who read it, whether they agree with the contents or not. It is essential reading for those curious about the interplay between Christianity and politics. I highly recomend it.

The Good

+Engages with multiple voices throughout church history
+Generally offers balanced, ecumenical perspective
+Blends exegesis, systematics, sociology, and more
+Extensive interaction with experts in related fields

The Bad

-Wrongfully excludes children and infants from Christ’s Kingdom
-Somewhat vague on some theological points

Source

Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (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 Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth- Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” Edited by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney

gcmaeThe Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is one of the best analyses of young earth creationism on the market. In this beautifully illustrated text, the Grand Canyon is used as a test site to analyze Flood Geology, the notion that Noah’s Flood radically shaped the face of the Earth and can account for much of the sedimentary layers we observe. The Grand Canyon is an especially appropriate test case because there are young earth creationist (hereafter YEC) books published on the Canyon, and many YEC works reference the Grand Canyon in explanations of their theories.

Part 1 outlines two views of the Grand Canyon: that of flood geology, in which the vast majority of the Canyon’s sediment was laid down during Noah’s Flood; and that of conventional geology, in which long time periods and observable, repeated processes can account for the Canyon. This part includes chapters contrasting the time frames of flood geology and conventional geology, showing the massive difference between the two views conclusions about how the Canyon formed. Part 2 is entitled “How Geology Works” and covers things like sedimentary rocks, plate tectonics, and time measurements. Part 3 looks at fossils and what they tell us about the age of the Grand Canyon. Part 4 surveys how the Grand Canyon was carved. Part 4 gives a verdict on flood geology from the evidence provided.

The authors provide an introduction to geology generally speaking, and then focus what is covered onto the Grand Canyon. Throughout the whole book, the Grand Canyon serves as the testing ground for what modern geology teaches about the Earth. Then, it is contrasted with what YECs claim about the age of the earth and the processes that formed it. Time and again, this shows that YEC claims are found wanting. The chapters on fossils are particularly telling in this regard.

For example, Joel Duff demonstrates, in “Tiny Plants – Big Impact: Pollen, Spores, and Plant Fossils” that there are entire, massive chunks of sediment without any pollen or plant spores contained therein. And these layers aren’t just randomly distributed; they’re in the oldest layers of the rock, such that it demonstrates what conventional scientists have claimed, that there simply were no pollinating plants long ago. But if flood geology is to be believed, these sediments were laid down during Noah’s Flood, which would have entailed all kinds of mixing of dead plants and animals as the surface of the Earth was radically changed. How then, are there thousands of feet of sediment without any pollen? How did microscopic plant matter manage to get sifted out in such a clear distinction from other layers? This is the kind of in-depth look at the specifics of flood geology that abound everywhere in the book. YEC arguments are subjected time and again to direct refutation like this, making the book invaluable.

The book is also valuable simply as an introduction to geology as well as some biology and other sciences. I learned an extraordinary amount from the book, and I feel fairly confident that I had a working knowledge of geology. In other words, the book is not simply a refutation of flood geology in the Grand Canyon, it can also serve as a valuable introduction to several related topics.

I would be remiss if I did not call out the beauty of the book. There are breathtaking full-color photographs of the Grand Canyon throughout the book, accompanied by numerous graphs and charts. But these illustrations do more than just look pretty, they are almost always explicitly tied into the text in meaningful ways. I found myself thoroughly poring over each and every one, whether I was looking for the division between layers of rock in a photograph or flipping back to a chart repeatedly as I came to understand it better. These illustrations are perhaps made more impressive by the modest price of the book ($26.99 regular price on Amazon). Simply put, you can’t get books with this much information and as beautifully put together as this for that price, yet here it is.

There are only two minor points I’d like to mention as negatives, but they are closer to nitpicking than anything else. First, although the introductory chapters (and a few other places) note that the young earth creationist arguments about the Grand Canyon are scientific and expressly stated as being testable, I suspect many YECs will respond to the book by appealing to some presuppositional theological perspective. Though this would be a mistaken response, it would have helped the book to perhaps include one chapter showing how the YEC claims about the Canyon are inherently scientific and can be tested without a specific theological narrative. Again, this point is made, I just think it could have been elaborated a bit more. Second, there was the briefest mention of one of the most popular arguments for Intelligent Design, that of the Cambrian explosion. The mention was so short that it is difficult to see what the authors were intending.

I have read dozens, perhaps hundreds of books on the debate over science and religion. That said, The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is a remarkable achievement. It provides some of the most thorough, in-depth analysis of young earth creationist reasoning that is available to date. It is beautifully illustrated with photos and charts that are directly related to the text, and it is reasonably priced. If you’re looking for analysis of flood geology from a scientific perspective, this book gives you the perfect test scenario. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Good

+Huge amount of information from geology to biology
+On-point analysis of flood geology
+Helpful charts and graphs
+Stunning photographs throughout linked to the text
+Features women’s voices
+Direct engagement with prominent YEC writings
+Reasonable price

The Bad

-Perhaps too light on the theological side
-Only the briefest engagement with ID

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

The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (Kregel, 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: “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today” by Mark Devine

bonhoeffer-devineMark Devine’s Bonhoeffer Speaks Today is a pithy summary of the doctrines of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how they might be applicable now.

The book is organized around chapters that each focus on how Bonhoeffer’s thought might be applied to today. Within each chapter are sub-headings, sometimes as short as one paragraph, that look at specific aspects of his works or life to apply them now. The brevity of the book is one of its strengths. Often, stirring insights can be found in a section no longer than a few sentences. I think this shows both the depth and intricacy of Bonhoeffer’s own thought as well as the way Devine has arranged the book to highlight them.

There are two areas I’d like to critique in regards to the book. The first is that Bonhoeffer’s clear Lutheranism is ignored. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is clearly a Lutheran through-and-through with a commitment to orthodox Lutheran understanding of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. To write of Bonhoeffer speaking today without incorporating his sacramental understanding which is so integral to his theology is to take away from Bonhoeffer much of his voice. The second criticism is that the language used throughout the book continues to use the archaic “man” to refer to “men and women” as well as other gendered language when it would be just as simple to make the language inclusive.

Bonhoeffer Speaks Today is full of practical theology from the writings of one of the most engaging theologians of the 19th Century. If you’re looking for an introduction to his thought, this is a good place to start. However, be aware that a central aspect of Bonhoeffer–his Lutheranism–is notably absent.

The Good

+Excellent brief introduction to Bonhoeffer’s life and context
+Filled with juicy quotations
+Many, many digestable insights

The Bad

-Does not use gender inclusive language
-No mention of Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism

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!

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology?- A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives– I look at an argument that Bonhoeffer’s theology is “troubling” to evangelicals and point out how much of it is merely a product of his Lutheran background.

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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