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Book Reviews

This category contains 268 posts

Book Review: “Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness” by John Lennox

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness addresses one of my all-time favorite Bible stories. I may be a bit biased, as my name is Joseph, but I’ve always loved this narrative. I also had it assigned as a narrative to translate from Hebrew in college, which only deepened my love for this story. Lennox’s title says it: this story has it all. But what of this book? I was excited to dive in to find out what John C. Lennox, a rather famous man in some Christian circles, would have to say about this narrative.

Lennox is a somewhat strange choice for a book on Joseph on the face of things. A search of “John Lennox” with terms like “Joseph” and “Bible” brings up a number of videos of Lennox discussing this narrative, however, showing something of a longstanding interest in the topic. Lennox’s training is in mathematics, though he has written extensively in the fields of apologetics in particular as well as science-faith topics. Where this becomes relevant is when Lennox delves more deeply into the background of texts. He leans heavily on other thinkers for this, and seems particularly reliant upon Kenneth A. Kitchen. These include citations from a text from 1966, along with the more recent On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006). Kitchen is an excellent scholar with impeccable credentials, but again, the heavy reliance on other scholars by Lennox makes any background here seem superficial.

Nevertheless, Lennox does provide quite a bit of background for readers. He begins not with the start of the Joseph narrative, but with an overview of the structure of Genesis, including a re-reading of many of the Genesis accounts. Though this may seem somewhat unnecessary, Lennox does this to give a real sense of place, time, and setting for the Joseph narrative, making it feel even more alive and fresh than it might otherwise. Lennox is keen throughout the book to show that God’s judgement, mercy, and sovereignty are in play throughout the narrative.

Lennox gives plenty of context for readers, but mostly follows an totally expository path, deviating little from the content of the story itself. Where he does deviate, it sometimes goes into strange territory. For example, when discussing “Joseph’s rise to power,” Lennox goes on a tangent about confidence, which leads to a discussion about Christianity in “the West.” In the midst of this discussion, Lennox cites others noting that “there has been a collapse of Western self-confidence…” He then goes on to link this loss of confidence to a rise in trust in science as over and against Christianity. Following previously cited authors, Lennox argues that “confidence in God and in the Lord and the Gospel is being shaken as never before” (154). Then, Lennox just brings Joseph back in. Joseph was just “a single individual, with no other human group supporting him, yet such was his conviction of the truth of the message he had… that he influenced the future of an entire nation. That is the sort of confidence in God… that is necessary in order to stand up and reverse the trend of weakness and lack of conviction and authenticity that characterize far too much of that which calls itself Christian” (155). Frankly, I am baffled by this rabbit trail. Apart from the strangeness of demanding that Christianity be characterized by strength and authenticity rather than being humble (Ephesians 4:2, for example), it also seems very much like a grasp by Lennox to make an application in a section that he has thus far done little to make practical theology happen.

The story of Joseph, of course, features prominently at least one woman: Potiphar’s wife. Lennox goes over the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph in detail. Once more, Lennox is keen to make applications to today from the story, including arguing that sexual activity “including pornography” is encouraged in “our contemporary world.” In contrast, Lennox argues, this leads to bitterness and anti-social behavior. To combat this, we ought “to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right” (128). Later, when discussing Potiphar’s attempt to frame Joseph, Lennox appeals not to the Bible but to the common proverb “a woman scorned” to make his point (129), attempting an appeal to what he seems to think is a shared agreement–women, right? This movement from an individual woman–Potiphar’s wife–to all women: “a woman scorned,” is surely overdone and not a little insulting. Lennox’s implication seems to be that Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to frame Joseph is just what we ought to expect from a woman who was trying to seduce a man like Joseph. But this is the very kind of generalizing from abusive behavior to excuses that has led to so many problems in the world and church around the topic of abuse. I was surprised to see this, but then Lennox follows it with another disappointing statement, saying that Potiphar’s wife “denounced Joseph to the other servants, playing the race card” (129). This “race card” was that Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph due to his being a Hebrew (Genesis 39:13-15). But the use of “race card” in this way is clearly pejorative. Lennox doesn’t give any further context for this statement, but this kind of terminology is often used to denounce those who point to real, current abuses happening due to people’s race. What makes it particularly odd is that Lennox puts this apparent condemnation of lumping whole groups together right next to his own action doing the same (“race card” means calling Joseph Hebrew to denounce him is bad, but in the very same paragraph Lennox uses “a woman scorned” to reference the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” proverb that implies all women act in this manner). It’s an alarming and disappointing series of discussions from Lennox in this section.

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness is a competent look at a beautiful story. Lennox gives much by way of background, but derives most of the details from other sources. When he makes contemporary applications, they are quite uneven. The theological leanings of the reader will most likely be the determining factor in one’s enjoyment.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

 

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“The Ordination of Women: A Twentieth-Century Gnostic Heresy?” by Louis A. Brighton in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“The Ordination of Women: A Twentieth Century Gnostic Heresy?” by Louis A. Brighton

First, do an exercise for me. Search “gnostic heresy” on your preferred search engine. Now, look at Gnosticism on Wikipedia. Confused yet? I am–because Gnosticism is a radically diverse set of beliefs that has effectively had that label slapped on it. And, in modern times, virtually any position anyone wants to condemn theologically has been referred to as Gnosticism. The fluidity of the label is notorious, leading some thinkers to effectively give up the term, or at least argue it is much more diverse than we may think. But here, Brighton makes an effort to rebrand egalitarians–those who support the ordination of women–as some kind of modern Gnostic heresy. Let’s dive in.

Brighton begins the chapter with a series of questions, ultimately concluding with questions that effectively present Brighton’s thesis: “How did the role of women in Gnosticism relate to Gnostic theology, specifically the article of God? Secondly, this paper notes the oopposition of the early church to both the Gnostic practice or ordaining women and the Gnostic doctrine of God” (91). Related to this claim is his assertion that “It is quite clear that the early church saw an important and intimate connection between the practice of women serving as priests… and the doctrine and teaching about God” (ibid).

Brighton then cites a few church fathers speaking poorly about women being teachers in the church. For example, he quotes Tertullian as saying it is audacious to allow women “even to baptize!” (92). It is odd that Brighton would favorably quote this, because this goes against the Lutheran Confessions. The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.” (See more here on a Sacramental/Lutheran view of women in church leadership) Moreover, at various levels of being taught by people, including pastors, in the LCMS, I have been told that women may baptize, at least in the case of an emergency. But Brighton makes no reference to the Confessions, nor to the possibility that Tertullian may have gone too far. Instead, he presses on in his point.

Next, Brighton notes various ways women interacted in society in the Graeco-Roman world. Ultimately, he accurately states that “It is difficult… to be dogmatic… and certainly it is not possible to make a blanket statement about what was or was not socially acceptable” (93). After giving a very brief survey of some Gnostic sources, Brighton moves on to the role of women in Gnosticism. “In some of the Gnostic texts women appear equal to men in being authorities for the establishment of doctrine” (95). What is odd here is that though Brighton notes positive examples of women in the Gnostic texts, he ignores or excludes those which are negative. This is, perhaps, because he’s seeking to support his conclusion that “The role of women in Gnosticism is in striking contrast to the role that women held in Orthodox Christianity” (96). This statement, to put it bluntly, is historically vacuous. Brighton doesn’t demonstrate this whatsoever. Simply citing a few positive statements in a select few Gnostic writings does nothing to demonstrate the following essential points for Brighton to support his thesis: 1) that “orthodox Christianity” was a single unit with unified teaching in this time before Nicaea (and after, for that matter); 2) that Gnostics universally held to a different position on women than “orthodox Christians” universally did; 3) that Gnosticism spoke with one voice; 4) that orthodoxy spoke with one voice on women; 5) that Christians treated women differently in every case; 6) that no “orthodox” Christians had women as leaders (something which is demonstrably false–see concluding paragraph below). Any one of these points is deleterious to Brighton’s point, but together they show that he hasn’t even begun to make his case for such a strong conclusion.

Brighton states that in Gnosticism, God is portrayed as feminine. He argues that this is in “marked contrast to both the canonical scriptures and the orthodox church’s belief, in which the feminine element is absent in both thought and symbolism of God” (97). This is a surprising claim, given that very clear statements in the Bible itself are made in which feminine symbolism is used of God. For example, though Brighton earlier decries Gnosticism for seeing God as Wisdom and therefore feminine, Wisdom in Proverbs 1 and 8 has long been seen in many strands of orthodoxy to be a reference to God or even Christ, and is a decidedly feminine portrayal. Both men and women are created in the “image” of God in Genesis–which would suggest that both masculine and feminine aspects are present in the Godhead. In the Bible, God is seen as giving birth (Deuteronomy 32:18, which unites masculine and feminine imagery); as a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13); as a mother bear (Hosea 13:8); as like a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14); as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37); and more. If even one of these is a feminine symbol of God, Brighton is wrong, but it is clear that every single one of these is a feminine symbol of God and in church history there are plenty of “orthodox” Christians who saw feminine imagery of God as well, especially surrounding the Wisdom passages in Proverbs. Brighton is just wrong here, and it undermines essentially his entire argument in this section, which is based on a denial of any such imagery.

What is remarkable is that in the very next section, Brighton actually lists several of these examples, but doesn’t acknowledge in any way that this would present a problem for his thesis that it is “absent”! The rest of this section is spent on Brighton noting various other sources certain Gnostic groups used to see feminine imagery, but it hardly undermines anything that is actually present in the Bible! Brighton then attacks one strand of Gnostic thought that equivocates on good and evil and sees God as the source of evil, spending a few paragraphs attacking this notion. But nowhere does he actually link this to any modern feminist theology, nor does he link it to egalitarianism in any way.

In another surprising turn, Brighton’s conclusion follows this, and he re-asserts that the theology of God of Gnosticism was rejected, but then goes on to say that “this paper concludes that orthodox Christianity of the early church, with its theology of the Triune God, could not but reject the practice of the ordination of women into the public ministry” (105). What? Where does Brighton even make this connection in any real sense? He doesn’t actually argue that the early church saw this connection, nor did he demonstrate that there was a connection! Indeed, he even lists Bible verses that disprove one of his central claims! Yet here, he turns around and argues that somehow modern egalitarians are Gnostics? There is no connection made anywhere between the two schools of thought, other than the incidental fact that each ordains women (and Brighton even fails to adequately define Gnosticism or show that ordination of women was a universal Gnostic practice, which it almost certainly was not). There is no evidence here mustered against the ordination of women; it’s just a survey of Gnostic texts followed by Brighton’s rejection thereof.

A significant issue with Brighton’s thesis is that it doesn’t actually align with all of Gnosticism. In attempting to link modern-ish egalitarianism to Gnosticism, Brighton failed to take into account the whole breadth of Gnostic thought and factions. Instead, he simply asserts without argument that the two are equivalent. But Brighton doesn’t deal with those Gnostic texts or beliefs that run contrary to his thesis. For example, in the Gospel of Thomas, one of the very texts Brighton cites to push his point, one finds saying 114:

Simon Peter says to them: “Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!” Jesus says: “See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

Does this saying appear to align with Brighton’s theory that Gnostics favored women and are somehow equivalent to modern day egalitarians? Clearly not. But Brighton should have been aware of this and many, many other sayings and beliefs detrimental to women in Gnostic thought.

Perhaps the most significant problem with Brighton’s position is that it discounts entirely those examples in the early church that run contrary to his point. For one, there are numerous examples in the New Testament itself of women in roles of leadership. Junia is an apostle; Phoebe and Priscilla are various levels of church leaders, women were clearly named as prophets numerous times, Lydia and Nympha are stated as having churches in their houses, and the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, in which there doesn’t appear to be a distinction whatsoever between men and women prophesying, is affirmed in Acts 2. For more on some of these, see here. But Brighton doesn’t account for any of these examples, nor does he deal with the documentary evidence in the early church of many other church leaders. Yet these are direct refutations of his thesis. Either he doesn’t know about these counter-examples, or he intentionally does not mention them. Either way, it is a significant oversight, and one that refutes him. Moreover, as we have seen several times above, simply charging others with Gnosticism is hardly a fruitful way to engage with other positions. This chapter is most accurately described as a lengthy move to poison the well against egalitarians.

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!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

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: “Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom” by Brandon J. O’Brien

Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom explores, largely, the life and thought of Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor who helped navigate between the completely hands-off approach to religion that Thomas Jefferson argued for and the notion of theocracy other Americans were trying to establish.

O’Brien’s look at Backus’s life begins with a look at the reasoning behind seeing the need for revival in the United States. Backus was struck by the need for this revival and dedicated his life to preaching. Ultimately, he moved to Baptist theology from his life as a farmer and part of the “separate church.” His theology developed through his life. It is in outlining this development that I found O’Brien’s book occasionally problematic. It is difficult to present such large theological issues in such a small space, but at times it seemed as though Backus’s movement theologically is one all should make–somewhat odd considering O’Brien says his own theological journey moved him in the opposite direction (from Baptist to Presbyterian). Perhaps this is a case of a biographer effectively conveying the convictions of their subject, but it was distracting at times here. It felt jarring to be pulled from a narrative of Backus’s life into an exposition of Baptist theology, only to be thrown back in again.

Backus’s look at how religion and state should work continued to develop as well. His view ultimately helped influence how we view religious liberty today. Backus refused to affirm anything like a theocracy in which the state was simply established with a religion. But he also argued against a complete separation that did not allow the state to have some involvement in religion. The issue was to do so fairly. Backus had drafted his on bill of rights for protecting religious liberty which has many parallels to the Constitution that was ultimately adopted. Backus’s bill provided for all people to follow their own convictions regarding faith, though it also was rejected because many thought Backus was bringing false accusations about his own liberties being constrained. It is interesting, then, to see that Backus was a rival of Paine and Adams, and it was ultimately they who adopted a bill of rights quite similar to the one that Backus presented.

Demanding Liberty is a somewhat uneven look at the life of a man who was more influential on the formation of the United States than most may think. It provides an interesting but flawed overview of his life and influence. For those interested in the topic of religious freedom in the United States, it is worth picking up for a read.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Mad or God?” by Pablo Martinez and Andrew Sims

C.S. Lewis’s famous trilemma is central to Martinez and Sims’s investigation in Mad or God? That trilemma states:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the devil of hell…” (cited on page xi)

The trilemma, then, is that Jesus is, as many have put it, mad, bad, or God (or Liar, Lord, or Lunatic). In Mad or God?, Martinez and Sims examine the claim in light of whether Jesus can be read as a madman. What’s interesting is that, unlike many works on the trilemma (or ones which reference it), this one is written by two who have expertise in the topic. According to the author blurbs, Pablo Martinez is a psychiatrist and Andrew Sims is a “world-renowned authority on the study of the symptoms of the mind (psychopathology).”

The book is centered around chapters which examine Jesus’s words in the Gospels and looking at whether, from a psychiatric standpoint, they qualify as various forms of psychopathy. These chapters examine, then, whether Jesus was mentally disturbed, psychotic, suffered from mental impairment, had a questionable character, lived a consistent life, sustained healthy relationships, was tested by adversity, had a positive influence, and made claims that might be sustained.

Each chapter is fairly short and gets straight to the heart of the claim. While acknowledging the difficulty with psychoanalysis of people who are long-dead, the authors work with the information on hand–the words and acts of Jesus in the Gospels. For example, in the chapter on psychosis, the authors outline the symptoms of psychopathy and look at the accusation of the same for Jesus. Of particular interest is the reaction of Jesus’s family, which the authors argue is understandable given the claims Jesus was making. Then, the authors go through individual symptoms of psychosis and argue that Jesus does not cohere with these symptoms. This is essentially the model for each chapter of the book, making it an easy reference for those interested in the trilemma argument. If someone says that Jesus was mentally impaired, flip to that chapter and see why we may trust he was not. If they wish for positive evidence of soundness of mind, a perusal of the chapters on relationships and consistency will serve.

An objection that might immediately come up to this work is that if the Gospels are not trustworthy historical accounts of Jesus’s words, then the whole argument falls apart. Sims and Martinez essentially leave this argument to others, and indeed there are many, many works which seek to answer this objection. Essentially, this book’s aim is to show that if we take the words and actions of Jesus as having been reported in a trustworthy manner, then it is clear that Jesus is not a lunatic.

Mad or God? is a unique and pithy look at one of the most popular arguments for the deity of Christ. With its short length, it does not comprehensively deal with every issue that may come up, but as a quick reference for those wishing to make this argument, it is excellent.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther” by Michael P. DeJonge

Michael P. DeJonge’s thesis in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther may be summed up as saying the best interpretative framework for understanding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology and thought is by understanding him as a Lutheran theologian specifically engaged in Luther’s thought.

DeJonge supports his thesis primarily through two strands of evidence: first, by showing Bonhoeffer’s close readings of and interactions with Luther; and second, by demonstrating that Bonhoeffer’s perspective on important controversies was a Lutheran perspective.

Bonhoeffer’s interactions with Luther outpace his interactions with any other theologian. DeJonge cites a statistic: Bonhoeffer cites or quotes Luther 870 times, “almost always approvingly”; “The next most frequently cited theologian is a distant second, Karl Barth with fewer than three hundred” (1). This alone may serve to demonstrate Bonhoeffer’s concern for interacting with Luther, but DeJonge goes on to note that Bonhoeffer also strove to correct competing interpretations of Luther, and affirm specifically Lutheran doctrine. For instance, in his interactions with Karl Holl, one of his teachers, he goes against Holl’s interpretation of Luther’s view of religion, arguing that Luther’s Christology saves one from idolatry of the conscience, which he felt Holl may have slipped into. Bonhoeffer also affirmed the emphasis on Christ’s “is” statements when it came to the Lord’s Supper, defending the position that “this is my body” means Christ is truly present in the Supper (70ff).

DeJonge’s argument expands to a demonstration that Bonhoeffer aligned with a Lutheran understanding on important issues. The Lord’s Supper has already been noted, but it is worth pointing out that in regards to this, Bonhoeffer explicitly sided with Luther against Karl Barth and the Reformed tradition, which argued that the finite could not contain the infinite. Instead, Bonhoeffer affirmed that, by virtue of the infinite, the infinite could be contained in the finite; allowing for a Lutheran understanding of real presence in the Supper. Another major controversy DeJonge notes is that of the interpretation of Luther’s “Two Kingdoms.” DeJonge argues that Bonhoeffer has been misunderstood as rejecting Luther’s doctrine in part because Luther’s doctrine itself is misunderstood. Thus, DeJonge engages in a lengthy section in which he traces the influence of Troelsch on the understanding of Luther’s Two Kingdoms and how often it is Troelsch’s understanding rather than Luther’s that is seen as “the” doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Going against this, Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the Two Kingdoms are closer to Luther’s position than many have argued.

DeJonge also interacts with other interpretations of Bonhoeffer, such as an understanding of Bonhoeffer as a pacifist, which has been a common understanding among some. Utilizing his deep analysis of the Two Kingdoms doctrine, DeJonge counters that Bonhoeffer’s comments about resisting the Nazis align with this doctrine much more closely than they do to a pacifist understanding. Like Stephen R. Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer, DeJonge notes that Bonhoeffer’s resistance cannot be linked explicitly to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Though it is clear that Bonhoeffer detested this treatment, DeJonge argues he did so not through a broadly humanitarian theology (going against some interpreters here), but rather due to his understanding, again, of the Two Kingdoms. When the Nazis sought to attack the Jews, particularly by separating them from the so-called German Christians, they issued a direct assault on the body of Christ–the church. Thus, Bonhoeffer’s resistance to these ideals, again, springs from a Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms. (As an aside, it is worth nothing DeJonge also acknowledges the contributions some aspects of Martin Luther’s own writings had to the Nazi ideology. However, DeJonge here shows how Bonhoeffer’s understanding of his theology set him against these anti-Semitic notions.)

Finally, DeJonge demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s view of justification–certainly a vastly important doctrine for Luther and Lutherans–ought to be properly understood as Lutheran rather than anything else. Time and again, throughout the book, DeJonge carefully demonstrates how an interpretation of Bonhoeffer suffers when not understood in a Lutheran lens. Over and over, readings of Bonhoeffer that make sense in one context are shown to fail when compared to the whole of his writings. DeJonge also manages to offer a coherent account of Bonhoeffer’s theology that does not set an “early Bonhoeffer” against a “late Bonhoeffer” nor does it read the whole of his thought through any one work. As such, DeJonge offers a truly compelling reading of the totality of Bonhoeffer’s work.

Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther is an incredibly important work for understanding the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Anyone who is interested at all in the theology of Bonhoeffer and understanding it fully would do well to read and digest it. I cannot recommend it highly enough for those who wish to understand the theology of this man.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness” by Benjamin T. Conner

Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness by Benjamin T. Conner’s subtitle gives an effective outline of the contents of the book: Exploring Missiology Through the Lens of Disability Studies. Conner provides readers with an introduction to a whole field of disability studies in a short space, giving them tools to explore further and apply knowledge immediately to their contexts.

The book is divided into two parts. The first sets the stage by introducing, first, disability studies and then introducing mission studies, providing each in context with the other. The second part focuses on enabling witness, showing that disabilities provide much to the church’s witness.

What happened to this reader, time and again throughout the book is that my eyes were opened to issues I hadn’t even considered before. Conner’s mission is surely, in part, to awaken people in the church to the powerful witness of people with disabilities to speak to our contexts. I was aware, already, of some issues regarding “ableist” interpretations of Scripture. For example, arguments that heaven will necessarily mean all disabilities will be wiped out can be seen by some as meaning that part of their identity–such as being deaf–is something inherently bad that needs to go away, when in reality is an “enabling” part of their life.  Despite some awareness to these issues, though, I found that Conner awakened new understandings and approaches I had never thought of. For one, how is it that people with disabilities impact the congregation in ways that help to preach Christ to all? How do we go beyond seeing “disabled” persons as mere totems and rather as people with their own interpretive capacities and outreach? I have personally grown up and lived in churches throughout my life with people with various levels of disability and have found their witness to be extremely valuable.

Another surprising aspect was Conner noting how easily mental health is marginalized and/or not addressed or not seen as a “real” disability. Gatekeeping exists within concepts of disability as well, such that sometimes people are told they are not “really” disabled or that they should view themselves in a certain way. Moreover, disabilities continue to be seen as inherently negative (see example above regarding heaven) when they are often not viewed as such by the people living their experience as such.

Conner goes beyond these mere introductions and calls readers into an awareness of how disabled persons have their own cultures and capacities that are, unfortunately, too often left untapped or even overthrown or colonized by even well-meaning people.

My own writing of this review has been made difficult–in a good way–by more awareness of how disabilities are perceived by myself as an abled person and one who has not paid much attention to the language I use of others.

Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness is an eye-opening introduction to the issues related to ability and disability in the church. On a personal note, as someone who is married to someone who’s considered permanently disabled, I found the book deeply insightful and helpful. I highly recommend it.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality” by André Dumas

André Dumas’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a deep look at the theology and philosophy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offering the thesis that Bonhoeffer’s primary aim was to show that God is reality and really interacts with the world. Though this may seem a rather mundane claim, Dumas’s point is that “reality” is rather strictly defined for Bonhoeffer, and, as he argues, this leads to some intriguing insights into Christian theology and philosophy.

One side note before reviewing the work: this book was originally published in French in 1968 and in English in 1971. Dumas is, in part, responding to the “death of God” movement that turned Bonhoeffer into a kind of secular saint Nevertheless, this work is highly relevant to today’s theological and philosophical inquiry as well, particularly due to the keen interest in Bonhoeffer’s life and work.

Central to Bonhoeffer’s thought, argues Dumas, is the struggle between objective revelation and existential interpretation. Alongside this is the question of reality, which, for Bonhoeffer, was this-worldly. Christianity is not to be reduced to a religion, in this case meant to denote a faith that points to the other-world or beyond this world to a different and disconnected reality. Instead, it is about this world, the very one we are in. Dumas notes that “Bonhoeffer was… drawn to the Old Testament, because the living God within it becomes known only in the here-and-now of human life. The absence in the Bible of any speculation about the beyond, about the abode of the dead, about inner feelings, or about the world of the soul, strongly differentiates the faith and anthropology of Israel from the various religions that surround it. For Israel [and Bonhoeffer], God can only be encountered in the reality of this world. To withdraw from it is to find oneself beyond his reach” (144). Alongside this is the need to avoid either total subjectivism about the word of God while also not falling into the danger of objectification.

In order to combat these difficulties, Dumas argues that Bonhoeffer sees Christ as the structure of the world, God entering reality to structure it around himself. Thus, for Bonhoeffer, Christ is “the one who structures the world by representing its true reality before God until the end” (32). This is important, because this means that Bonhoeffer is not encouraging a Christianity that sees the ultimate goal as “salvation” from the world. “When biblical words like ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’… are used today, they imply that God saves us by extricating us from reality, blissfully removing us from any contact with it. This is both gnostic and anti-biblical” (ibid). Christ is the true center of all things, and the structure which upholds the true reality, one with Christ at the center.

These central aspects of Bonhoeffer’s thought are then the main force of Dumas’s arguments when it comes to “religionless Christianity” and the questions of realism and idealism. Regarding the latter, Nietzsche remains a major force in philosophy as one who also argued for a kind of realism. But Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, though having similar influences, came to utterly different conclusions and interpretations of that “realism.” Nietzsche “cannot get beyond the terrible ambiguity of loneliness in the world, against which Bonhoeffer rightly affirms the reality of co-humanity, willed by God in his structuring of the world, and embodied by Christ in his life and death for others” (161). Thus, “Bonhoeffer… agrees with Nietzsche on the primacy of reality… But Bonhoeffer disagrees with Nietzsche about the nature of that reality” (ibid). And Bonhoeffer’s vision of reality is concrete as well, but one which avoids the stunning loneliness and hopelessness of Nietzsche.

The non-religious church is a major question in Bonhoeffer’s later thought, but one which must be viewed holistically with the rest of Bonhoeffer’s ideas, as Dumas argues. Thus, the non-religious church is not an atheistic one or a “secular Christian” one. Instead, it is one which “will then rediscover a langauge in speaking of God [that] will not release one from the earth… The resurrection will not re-establish the distance between God and man that was overcome by the cross… Instead, [the community of the church] will be nourished by its participation here on earth in the task of restructuring everyday life, just as Jesus Christ did earlier on its behalf” (209). This cannot be interpreted as a call to go against faith in Christ but rather as a radical call to make Christ the center once again. This is the linchpin of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics as well, for it calls to make Christ the center, a re-structuring and ordering of the world which will change everything, and an order which Bonhoeffer died following.

Dumas is an able interpreter of Bonhoeffer, and one who avoids entirely the danger of separating Bonhoeffer’s work into distinct eras or prioritizing some works over others. Dumas argues instead that Bonhoeffer’s thought is unified, though of course it does develop over time. Therefore, Dumas finds Sanctorum Communio just as important as Letters and Papers from Prison for understanding Bonhoeffer’s thought. His book demonstrates the ability of Bonhoeffer not simply as theologian or martyr but also as philosopher, drawing from Hegel and others to create a systematic view of the world with Christ as the center, as the structure of reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a fascinating work that ought to be read by any looking to understand the works of Bonhoeffer.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Conformed to the Image of His Son” by Haley Goranson Jacob

Haley Goranson Jacob’s Conformed to the Image of His Son is a deep, detailed look at the meaning of “conformity with Christ,” specifically in Romans 8:29. Her primary thesis is that this “conformity” is the participation on Christ’s rule over creation as renewed humanity (266).

First, Haley Goranson Jacob outlines the many positions authors have taken on the meaning of Romans 8:29 (“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” [NIV].) These positions are no attempt to explain the meaning, a combination of other meanings, physical conformity to Christ (having the same physical form), spiritual or moral conformity, conformity to the Sons’ eschatological glory (here glory means something like radiance), and a sacrificial conformity in which the believer suffers like Christ (3). After brief engagement with these views–and a longer rebuttal to several of them later in the book–she dives into an analysis of Jewish meanings of glory and glorification. Then, she looks broadly at Romans and what glory and glorification means therein.

Participation in Christ’s glory in several passages is analyzed next, alongside images of who the Son is. The purposing of conformity rounds out the discussion on Romans 8:29 specifically.

From my own perspective, Garonson Jacob’s position seems to be quite correct. There is a kind of unity between her arguments about the conformity to Christ and the meaning of being the image of God in Genesis. If we take that image to mean, as John Walton argues, a kind of surrogate for God in creation, then it makes sense that post-fall, part of God’s plan would be to restore that image through conformity. I must admit to being no expert on this topic, and I found it honestly a little surprising to see how controversial this reading apparently is. Goranson Jacob’s analysis of rival views was particularly helpful here, and it helped me see how some of these other positions would be tied into, as mine is, wider theological commitments.

I recommend Conformed to the Image of His Son to those looking for an in-depth treatment of the meaning of being one with Christ. The study is applicable to a broader view of what it means to be Christian and who Christ is.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“The Changeling” by Victor LaValle – Seeing the Humanity in the Other… or not

I don’t think it is a secret to say that I love books. Part of loving books as much as I do means joining book clubs, and places like Goodreads allow for networking about books around the globe. I am somewhat active in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads, and in August, we read The Changeling by Victor LaValle. I found it to be deeply moving, at times disturbing, and, on reflection, ingenious. LaValle seems particularly interested in the notion of seeing humanity in those we consider “other.” There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Changeling

Amal El-Mohtar at NPR had an intriguing post on the book as well, which gives a summary, with a caveat:

Here is more or less what most synopses I’ve seen of The Changeling say: Apollo Kagwa is a rare book dealer and new father, in love with his wife, Emma, and their infant son Brian, named after the vanished father who haunts Apollo’s dreams. But when Emma commits an unspeakable act of violence and disappears, Apollo’s left grasping at the threads of his unravelled life, following them through a labyrinth of strange characters, mysterious islands and haunted forests, all occupying the same space as the five boroughs of New York City.

This is accurate — but the experience of reading the book is something else. The storytelling gets compressed and decompressed at various points like the air in a bellows, stoking the fire under the story, burning away its disguises and sending it shrieking up the chimney.

When I finished reading the book, I initially thought it was a bit odd. Like El-Mohtar, I could summarize the book, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt the various threads in the plot needed to be stripped away and removed, so that I could see what was underneath. What his plot summary leaves out is that Emma is ultimately found vindicated because their son was replaced with a changeling by a man whose family has been working to steal children to feed to a troll for an extraordinary length of time. But all of this is tied, in a way, back into a discussion of racism. The main characters are almost all people of color, while the two characters who work to feed the trolls the children of people of color are white.

As I thought about the plot of the book, I realized that it could be a kind of metaphor for talking about race relations in the United States. The idea of whites taking away black children to give to a “troll” is a poignant way to think about slavery. The heartless attitude of those who take the children away is also similar to the comments made about various “political” issues like immigration or shootings.

I asked the author on Twitter a bit about the interpretation of the book. He replied that the idea of seeing it as a commentary on race relations was on track, but also that one of the white characters had the motivation that he simply couldn’t imagine a correspondence between how much he loved the children and how much their own parents did. There’s a kind of disconnect in understanding the “other” that leads to heinous acts. It is this disconnect that is perhaps most alarming and heart-rending in the book. LaValle draws readers in with a truly beautiful story of falling in love, loving books (I have to admit the used book seller aspect of the plot gave me much joy) and then hammers home a point about the brutality of our world so suddenly that it shocks the reader.

Sin has that same effect. It breaks into a peaceful picture, most violently when we see it in Genesis 3. Into God’s very good creation comes sin, and it changes everything. The serpent offers a substitute–a changeling–for reality, pushing a vision of the future to Adam and Eve that they accept instead of trusting God. Racism is sinful, and LaValle’s work highlights the intensity of violence and the person-destroying nature of that sin.

Near the end of the book, there is this brief aside at the end of Chapter 102:

Apollo lingered. He approached the stones, skirting around until he found the largest one, what had been the troll’s head. He could still make out the soft depression of those great blind eyes. He brushed each one with a finger. He leaned close to the stone and pressed his forehead to it. He felt as if he was finally burying what had been haunting him since he was a child. A funeral not for his father but his fatherlessness. Let that monster rest.

A funeral for his fatherlessness. I was deeply moved by this line and have been thinking about it ever since. I don’t really know how or why it made me think so much about it, but it has stuck with me. Just another aspect of a book that forces its readers to reflect.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a moving, disturbing work. I recommend it highly, and would love to discuss it with you.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Healing our Broken Humanity: Practices for Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World” by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill

Healing our Broken Humanity: Practices for Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World is a practical look at how to bring about change through a commitment to action in the community of Christ. The authors have created a practical work that lets readers immediately make applications to their lives, particularly if they are able to do so with a small group of other committed individuals.

The authors begin with a brief look at the brokenness of humanity. This brokenness shows that we have created false barriers between each other that are often put into structures that keep us apart. The authors propose 9 practices that are designed to heal broken humanity, and these are the subjects of the next nine chapters. These practices are: reimagine church; renew lament; repent together; relinquish power; restore justice; reactivate hospitality; reinforce agency; reconcile relationships; and recover life together.

The individual chapters on each of these practices do three primary things: 1) elucidate the meaning of the practice; 2) show how this practice can engage the “other” to restore humanity and relationships; and 3) demonstrate how to engage in the practice in a group setting. For example, the chapter on “repent together” goes over, briefly, why we need to repent, including choosing nationalism over others; worshiping freedom and choice, and the like. Then, it expands on the things we need to repent of. Finally, it gives an outline for how to practice repentance in small groups, including praying for God to convict us of our sin, going into the community to speak with those who are marginalized or to whom we ought to repent; practicing lament from the previous chapter; make personal commitments to repentance; and more.

If there is a downside to the book, it is that it almost demands being done in a small group setting. As an individual reading it, I came away with a desire to do so again with a group. This is, of course, one of the goals, but it means that its applicability is largely geared towards group settings.

Churches that truly wish to commit to making real, lasting change in their communities and healing through reconciliation ought to consider Healing our Broken Humanity necessary reading. I recommend it, particularly for use in a group setting.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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