book review

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Book Review: “The Rise of Evangelicalism” by Mark A. Noll

The Rise of Evangelicalism is a broad look at the early history of the movement called “evangelicalism” in global (though largely American/British) perspective.

Mark A. Noll is one of the major names that comes up when discussing modern church history, and for good reason. Here, he alternates between sweeping across the ocean(s), traversing countries, and magnifying small moments that lead to the birth of evangelicalism as movement. Noll splits the rise of evangelicalism into several moments and movements, eventually acknowledging that it becomes too broad to even envision it as a connected movement anymore, showing readers the global spread.

Readers also will get background of the driving forces behind evangelicalism and its growth, reasons that it may have spawned in specific times and places, and the way it grew. The book is, at its core, a big picture overview, however. It will serve as a springboard for additional reading as people can travel down one of the many hundreds of avenues for further research Noll’s research opens up or serve as a standalone look at how this movement came to span the globe.

The Rise of Evangelicalism is a great reference for readers wanting to know about the history of that movement. Recommended.

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Gender Identity & Faith” by Mark A. Yarhouse and Julia A. Sadusky

Gender Identity & Faith: Clinical Postures, Tools, and Case Studies for Client-Centered Care is one of those books that tells you exactly what it is with the title and subtitle. Or does it? As a non-professional, I didn’t realize exactly how focused on the subtitle the book would be. Nevertheless, I found quite a bit of interest as I read the book.

Mark A. Yarhouse and Juila A. Sadusky explore questions of gender identity in a clinical setting, offering specific, concrete advice and even exact examples for how to go about having these discussions. Thus, there are specific examples of people who came in seeking therapy for a variety of gender identity related issues, and the authors share these examples from a wide array of backgrounds. Some were supported by family, others were not. Some had favored pronouns, others hadn’t contemplated that. The variety of specific examples show just how complex these topics are, going far beyond the yes-or-no that is often offered in faith settings.

The authors also offer concrete advice for therapists and others, along with worksheets that can be used to discuss topics of gender identity. I am not trained in this field, so I can’t comment much on how useful they are, but I did find them of interest as a lay person in the setting.

Some reviews of the book have attacked it for not taking an entirely negative stance towards anyone who questions gender identity. Such attacks are short-sighted and scientifically uninformed. While Yarhouse and Sadusky don’t really dive into any of this, the fact is that strict binaries of gender identity (eg. boys wear blue/girls wear pink) are obviously constructed by humans rather than being objective aspects of reality. Additionally, the existence of intersex persons, whose numbers are far higher than most people know, is a direct challenge for such binaries. So far as this reader could tell (without any relevant degree–only an interest in the topic), the authors take a neutral stance regarding the questions, seeking instead to bring help and healing to people wherever they are on their journey.

Gender Identity and Faith is a useful book for Christians (and non-Christians who want to know more about faith and gender identity) wishing to discuss gender identity in clinical settings. That’s the book’s purpose. Readers who aren’t involved in that field–such as myself–will still find it of interest to see how these topics can be approached.

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis” by Jason M. Baxter

C.S. Lewis was a man deeply influenced by myth. In The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis, Jason M. Baxter shows how Medieval thought and “great books” shaped C.S. Lewis’s mind and thought.

The book’s short length (165 pages of text) belies the deep insights found throughout. Baxter is clearly well-versed with medieval thought, and he brings this knowledge to bear on the life, thought, and works of C.S. Lewis. Whence some of Lewis’s insights about mysticism, death, and apologetics? The answer is medieval thought. Baxter traces medieval influence on C.S. Lewis’s life, but also highlights how influential this same thought was on his works, both theological, apologetical, and more. It is beyond clear, having read the book, that Lewis was deeply committed to medieval thinking, and used that thought to critique his modern world.

I especially enjoyed how Baxter made the insights in each chapter feel somewhat applicable to today. Rather than just outlining a one-to-one correspondence of Lewis with Medieval thought, he also highlights how that thought could have impact on our own lives. For example, in the chapter on prayer, much discussion is spent on the numinous experience, ultimately bringing it home with the analogy of Lucy from Narnia as an example of how to pray. Insights like this can be found throughout the book.

The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis is useful both to those interested in exploring the background to Lewis’s thought and to those who wish to learn more about Medieval Christianity and thought. It’s an intriguing look at deep topics.

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Faithful Anti-Racism” by Christina Barland Edmondson and Chad Brennan

Anti-Racism is a hot-button topic right now. Too many have a knee-jerk response to it instead of actually learning about it. Christina Barland Edmondson & Chad Brennan’s Faithful Anti-Racism introduces Christians to anti-racism and how to apply it in their lives.

After the introduction, 11 chapters introduce Christians to a number of topics related to anti-racism. These call on faithful Christians to apply the Bible, stand for justice, understand our past, and more. Several chapters directly address topics that frequently yield seemingly fruitless debates on social media. The authors do a great job delving into such divisive topics in a winsome way that focuses on bringing Christian living to the forefront.

The book consistently brings applicable knowledge to the table. There are even chapters looking at how Christians can measure progress and help change society. Regarding the former, for example, the authors argue that we have to move past simplistic numbers and into real change in order to measure progress. They offer a number of ways of doing so that will challenge individuals and organizations.

Every chapter has discussion questions and a prayer.

Faithful Anti-Racism is an excellent read for individuals or groups looking to actively oppose racism in society. Recommended.

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

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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: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Matthew” Edited by Jason K. Lee and William M. Marsh

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series continues to deliver excellent insight into how the Reformers read and talked about Scripture. New Testament Volume I: Matthew is no different in that regard.

The editors have again selected a huge swathe of Reformers from whom to draw commentary. The major names are all there, along with many Reformers ranging from less well-known to those that only dedicated students of the Reformation will know about. The bibliographical sketches of the Reformers included in the series so far alone makes for fascinating reading, as one can browse through hundreds of mini-biographies and learn more about the Reformation and links between Reformers than one can in many other books.

The commentary itself is arranged verse-by-verse, allowing for commentary on Matthew section-by-section. Each pause in the text allows for a number of Reformers to be cited, and the editors do an excellent job balancing selection of hot topics of today with topics the Reformers themselves debated heatedly over. Sometimes these overlap, but some of the questions included may be surprising to modern readers. For example, regarding the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18), commentary includes Joseph Hall providing a kind of poetic condemnation of Herod’s cruelty; John Calvin comparing it to the slaughter of the Benjaminites in Jeremiah, Juan de Maldonado stating that the Babylonian Captivity was a kind of slaughter, and John Lightfoot reflecting more deeply on the Jeremiah quote.

Time and again, on verse after verse, the editors bring many different perspectives–sometimes in conflict–to the fore, giving readers a rich background of Reformation commentary as well as a deeper understanding of the texts themselves. Topics like baptism (ex: Matthew 3) receive notable commentary from major Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) while also bringing in lesser-known voices to weigh in on more specific topics (eg. Phillip Melanchthon).

The book serves equally well if someone is trying to just open up to study a specific passage or if one is interested in reading front-to-back to read alongside the Reformers. It’s a marvelous commentary if people have an even passing interest in knowing about how people during the Reformation period read Scripture.

Matthew is another excellent entry in a fabulous series of commentaries. Those especially interested in Reformation thinking and debates should consider it a must-buy, but the book will serve very well as a standalone commentary as well. The broadness of views presented and enormous number of topics touched upon make the book incredibly valuable. Recommended.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Samaritan Woman’s Story: Reconsidering John 4 After #ChurchToo” by Caryn A. Reeder

The Samaritan Woman’s Story by Caryn A. Reeder engages the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 both in interpretive history and in light of modern questions.

The book is split into two parts. The first part surveys the history of interpretation of this passage, all the way up to the modern day. The second part puts the story in context, looking at the meaning of the text and the people involved in their own day.

The history of interpretation of John 4 is fascinating, and Reeder offers numerous highlights throughout these early chapters. Several of the earliest readers of the Samaritan woman saw it straightforwardly as her being in some kind of sexual sin or as a prostitute, and engaged the story on a level that operated with those assumptions. Often, these interpreters also carried misogynist baggage from their cultural context. Intriguingly, one exception was Origen, whose reading completely avoids casting the Samaritan woman in a poor light not because he was enlightened on women’s issues but because he held to an allegorical reading of the story (34-40). In each chapter, Reeder surveys specific interpreters, and boxes in the text highlight specific contextual or historical points of interest related to the main text. After looking at the early church, Reeder advances through John Calvin, Dwight Moody, and others into the present day. Here, she draws attention to the #ChurchToo movement and its highlighting of the abuses done to women within the church. The interpreters and interpretations she focuses on in this latter section are still diverse, and highlight a number of ways people within the church have re-centered the story to discuss modern problems.

The second part provides readers with a number of tools to look at the text, whether it’s the background of what women’s lives were like in Jesus’s time or how marriage worked in the ancient world. Reeder finishes with a reimagination of the story that puts her forward as a model of Christian discipleship, among other things. The reading she provides is in context and grounded in historical reality and the text.

The book has discussion questions at the end and could be used for a group study.

The Samaritan Woman’s Story is a timely text that will engage readers with John 4 in highly relevant ways. But it’s more than that, it also provides a broad look at a much-interpreted and much-misunderstood text. 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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“The Shape of the Past” by John Warwick Montgomery- A Christian Historiography?

John Warwick Montgomery is a Christian apologist who is perhaps best-known for his defense of the method of evidentialism and attacks on presuppositionalism. The Shape of the Past is a work that outlines a Christian historiography–a Christian way of reporting history. I first read it maybe a decade ago or so and remembered it being fairly impactful to my own development. I read it again recently and was struck by how my perceptions of it changed. While I still believe it to be useful book in some ways, I also found difficulties in others. Montgomery’s central theses developing a supposed Christian philosophy of history are problematic.

The first four chapters of the book focus on definitions of history and historiography, an intriguing look at history as time travel, classical conceptions of historiography, and modern histography [modern at the time- 1975]. These present a survey of some major approaches to history and historiography, while highlighting a few problems Montgomery identifies without what he’s going to build up as a central development of historical writing and research. For example, early on Montgomry notes that historians at some point must make decisions about motivations, acts, etc. such that they are making decisions about what is “humanly possible” or probable. But whither the criteria for “humanly possible”? Ultimately, he argues, “the historian’s conception of human nature stems from his general philosophy of life…” (14). Historians, on this problem, must have a sound philosophy of life in order to make sound judgments about historical events.

Montgomery here is clearly on to something, but he fails to take seriously enough his own noted problem. If, as he says, historians are dependent upon their philosophy and background beliefs in order to make determinations about history, how is objectivity in history possible? While it can largely be agreed that historical events did happen, the exacting details of how they happened are much harder to pin down. And if an historian states that, say, a specific soldier on the battlefield at Gettysburg turned right when he in fact turned left, what does this mean for the “objectivity” of history and the truth thereof? Does this undercut the rest of the historian’s narrative? How much of it is discredited by “minor” details being wrong? And if historical evaluation depends so much upon one’s philosophy of life, how does one even begin to judge said evaluations? Most of these questions don’t get answered (and some aren’t even asked) in the book.

To be fair, Montgomery isn’t trying to answer questions he didn’t ask. I bring them up because they seem a logical extension of the problems he himself points out with history, and it would be interesting to see his answers to them. He does, however, turn to objectivity in history. How are Christians different in this regard?

“The Christian Answer” is the title of Chapter Five, which purports to offer a Christian solution to this difficulty. To get there, Montgomery insists that Christianity can provide the valid interpretation of history because its truth is “‘accessible to science’ and rests upon an objective foundation”; namely, he argues that the Christian worldview rests upon “the objective, historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (138). However, to get to the point that resurrection is an “objective, historical truth,” he uses a very brief evidentialist style argument: that the Gospels “are found to be trustworthy historical documents”; that they report Jesus “exercis[ing] divine prerogatives”; that they describe Christ’s bodily resurrection “in minute detail”*; that the resurrection “cannot be discounted on a priori grounds” [emphasis removed]; that Christ spoke the truth regarding the OT and confirms the NT; and that “It follows from the preceding that all Biblical assertions bearing on philosophy of history are to be regarded as revealed truth” (138-139).

Examining each of these steps in detail is beyond my scope here. Instead, I want to reflect on the reasoning. The problem at hand is: how do we find objectivity in Christianity to give us a valid interpretation of history? The answer is a purported historical fact. But how do we validly interpret that question of the resurrection? So far as I can tell, Montgomery is insisting that it is an historical fact. But the question he’s seeking to answer is whether Christianity can provide an objective basis for historical interpretation, and then he answers that with an historical interpretation: that the resurrection is objective fact. It’s a circle, and I’m not sure how it is supposed to escape that circle. I don’t see a way out of this circle. Even if one introduced some hidden premises about historical reasoning to get to the historicity of the resurrection, that would undercut his argument that Christianity is the objective arbiter of historical interpretation by introducing some external mechanism for that same evaluation. It seems hopeless to me.[1]

Now, it is possible to simply state that Montgomery’s argument here has failed, but that Christianity is valuable in historiography because it can give an objective (or at least “better” by some measure) way of interpreting history. While that would undermine much of his argument, it would leave one free to delve into the questions of what Christianity brings to the table as an evaluative tool. Montgomery does list several “principles of Christian historical interpretation,” and some of these are indeed valuable. For example, under metaphysical principles, he notes that Christianity gives the possibility to historical intepretation that history is inherently meaningful due to “God’s… activity” (145). This would take some effort to hash out, but it seems a potentially fruitful path to pursue.

Other principles he gives seem almost hopelessly naïve, in my opinion. For example, he argues that “human nature is constant” on Christianity, and so “the Christian historian has the assurance that a common ground exists between himself and the [people] of past ages whom he studies…” (148). So, he lists Louis XVI as one possibility for the Christian historian to be able to “confidently interpret motives” due to this constancy of human nature (ibid). Even conceding that human nature is constant, one would wonder how that alone would make it possible to determine the motives of Louis XVI with such confidence, especially if purely based upon that premise. After all, the vast chasm between my own experience and that of Louis XVI makes even the smallest decisions we have to make entirely different. Because I have made so few decisions that even resemble decisions with which Louis XVI was presented, that should give me at least some caution in drawing out his motivations for specific tasks. Other criteria Montgomery presents are helpful, but some need additional caveats.

Ultimately, The Shape of the Past is a frustratingly tantalizing read. Montgomery’s writing style is winsome and matter-of-fact. He writes in an easy manner about all sorts of scholarly topics. The central theses, however, remain unproven and possibly viciously circular. His criteria for Christian historians are a mixed bag. It’s unclear to this reader that Montgomery truly provides a reason to suppose Christianity is superior to other historiographic methods when it comes to objectivity in history. A specifically Christian historiography might be possible and even desirable, but it will need to be heavily supplemented from here.

*Interestingly, Mark does not do this unless one accepts the longer ending as genuine.

[1] Montgomery does note several potential objections to his view, but none of them hint at the circularity inherent in this reasoning: 1. We need an objective standard for historical evaluation; 2. historical evaluation shows that the resurrection is objectively true; 3. therefore, Christianity can be the objective standard for historical evaluation.

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Everlasting People: G.K. Chesterton and the First Nations” by Matthew J. Milliner

The Everlasting People: G.K. Chesterton and the First Nations is a book I picked to read because the premise seems so utterly strange. I admittedly avoid Chesterton somewhat actively, in part because of his extreme anti-Protestantism, and in part because of his misogynistic comments about women. I’m also wary of colonialism and the title smacked of that as a possibility. But something about the description got to me, and I gave it a try. I’m glad I did, because what I found was Matthew J. Milliner’s fascinating study that looks at individual places, their First Nations heritage, and Christianity.

The book is a series of lectures with responses from different scholars. The first lecture, the Sign of Jonah, discusses cave art, the ways in which myths about “savages” have been perpetuated, Chesterton’s own counter words about how cave art should correct some of the myths, other art, Turtle Island, and more. The second lecture is largely about Chicago and the First Nations heritage that was displaced and destroyed there and elsewhere. In this lecture, he offers alternate meanings for the stars on the Chicago flag. The third lecture turns to Chesterton’s poetry and the Byzantine imagery of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” while uniting it with discussion of white expansion and warfare against First Nations people.

Throughout, G.K. Chesterton is used as a backdrop; whether quotes that speak to Milliner’s specific focus or with more extended discussion. Milliner doesn’t cover up Chesterton’s ills, but rather seeks to offer correction where needed and elucidation when possible.

Each chapter has a response from a different scholar to Milliner, and though these are short, they often offer their own insights and discussion of First Nations culture and the richness of humanity. In almost every section there is some kind of new delight, fascinating detail, or new avenue to explore that is initially unexpected. Milliner and those responding to him offer a wealth of knowledge. The unexpected way they manage to discuss Christianity, First Nations people, First Nations artists, and more (some of the responses themselves are by people from First Nations groups) make the book a wonderful read from front to back.

I don’t really know what I expected when I started The Everlasting People. I also don’t know how to adequately describe it. It’s a fairly slim volume with a rather massive amount of content and encouragement for further reflection and learning. It’s one of those books that makes you think about it long afterwards, and flip it open to a random page to see what might be found. 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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “From Plato to Christ” by Louis Markos

What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Quite a lot, if one reads Louis Markos’s From Plato to Christ. The work is a partly a look into Plato’s thought, and partly a survey of how Plato’s thought impacted Christianity through its early history.

Markos wastes little time essentially baptizing Plato after the fact. The first page of the preface has Markos claiming that Plato’s writings can be read “as inspired writings used by the God of the Bible to prepare the ancient world for the coming of Christ and the New Testament” (ix). On the same page, he says that Plato is the “culmination of the best of the pagan (Pre-Christian) wisdom” (ibid). One might wonder how, say, the Hebrew Scriptures fit into this scheme, and whether Markos lumps Judaism in with “paganism” as it is pre-Christian or whether he simply dismisses it as being capable of preparing the ancient world for the coming of Christ. Markos’s fervor to recommend Plato to his readers seemingly has no limits, as he quickly navigates through chapters that analyze several of Plato’s writings and argue that he offers a kind of vision for Christianity in the future. I may indeed be understating how eagerly Markos endorses Plato, as he later quotes C.S. Lewis approvingly stating that “Prophets and holy men… do not so much teach us morality as remind us of it” (57). This quote is then applied, at least by implication, to Plato.

Those looking for a critical analysis will need to look elsewhere. Markos’s enthusiasm knows few bounds. Even the very occasional time in which he points out something problematic in Plato’s thought are steeped in explanations about why that might have been part of Plato’s belief system. There is also little by way of critiquing Plato’s system itself, something with a long and storied tradition within Christian philosophy and theology. One might forgive the book for this, as it clearly isn’t intended to be a total look at Christian Platonism, but it seems worth mentioning given that readers without background knowledge on the subject may walk away from reading the book thinking that Christians generally have no problem with Platonism despite there being entire systems of thoughts developed to circumvent or deny Platonism in Christianity.

One example is in the chapter outlining The Republic. Markos outlines the way the republic is built by noting it is Socrates presenting all of these ideas. In a way, this shields Plato from criticism, but allows Markos to pour on praise when he agrees with Plato (see the shift from Socrates to Plato on page 27, for example). There is little about the awful way the city is set up to essentially force young adults into sexual relationships to produce offspring as dictated by the city’s leaders. Markos, having shifted before to claiming that these parts of the text reflect a more mature Plato using Socrates as a mouthpiece, in a footnote directly and singularly assigns Socrates the blame for this eugenic and ethical quagmire (45n9). Plato, it appears, can actually do no wrong.

Markos’s survey of Christian history and influence from Platonism is of interest, though not without problems of its own. He questions Origen’s orthodoxy due to his universalism, which fails to account for the lengthy stream of orthodox Christians (some of whom, as Origen, were condemned much later as heretical for their beliefs) who held to universalism or at least something similar. These sections provide insight into at least the range of Christians who were influenced by Plato, however.

From Plato to Christ is an enthusiastic endorsement of Plato and Platonism for Christians to explore. It’s difficult for this reader to wholly endorse the work, as it presents so uneven a picture both of Platonic thought and early Christian history that it could lead to a skewed view going forward. However, it could serve as an introduction to Christian Platonism for those interested who read it with a critical eye.

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Postmortem Opportunity” by James Beilby

Questions about eternity abound, but one of the most complex is the question of what happens to people who never heard the Gospel. If, the question goes, people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ are condemned, what about people who never even had the chance to decide for themselves? James Beilby’s book, Postmortem Opportunity: A Biblical and Theological Assessment of Salvation After Death is, in part, an answer to that question.

Put simply, Beilby here defends Postmortem Opportunity (hereafter PO in my text), which has the core claim (using his terminology) that: “those who die without receiving a genuine opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel will receive a Postmortem Opportunity to do so” (35, emphasis removed). Of course, there’s quite a bit to unpack even in this claim, such as what constitutes a “genuine opportunity.” Beilby does a commendable job of drawing out definitions and carefully moving readers through each step of the argument.

Beilby starts with a chapter that goes over common views on the destiny of the unevangelized, whether it’s universal salvation, predestination, or any number of other possibilities. In the chapter in which he defines PO, he outlines ways his version may differ from others, such as when it will occur and to whom it will be given. Throughout this and other sections, he uses thought experiments to explain situations. One example was the very helpful and challenging thought experiment regarding the fate of believers who either were on the way to disbelief or non-believers who were very close to believing before they died. It was helpful to clarify that faith and belief is not a kind of black-and-white, all-or-nothing situation, and that robust soteriology must deal with that fact.

Next, Beilby goes over arguments for and against PO, surveying both biblical, historical, and theological arguments. Beilby musters numerous verses to support each aspect of affirmative points he affirms in his view of PO, while also raising some of the objections that immediately come up in any discussion of PO. Interestingly, Beilby has a chapter to explicitly reject inclusivism as a conjunction with his PO, noting that his version basically makes affirmations that would preclude inclusivism and perhaps even make it unnecessary.

Beilby’s argument is interesting and certainly presents the most robust case for PO I have ever encountered. Though, to be fair, some of that may be my own lack of research into the topic. Nevertheless, Beilby’s modest conclusions that PO is, minimally, a possibility based on Scripture and broader theological concerns seem supported by his arguments here.

There are a few critiques I want to point out, however. First, the way Beilby treats biblical texts as data points to be collated as pros and cons for theological argument may call into question some of his interpretations thereof. For example, in the chapter entitled “Scriptural Evidence for Postmortem Opportunity,” he supports one aspect of his PO theory, that people are only condemned for explicit rejection of Christ, by mustering John 3:18, Matthew 10:32-33, and more verses to show that it is a theme found in Scripture. I am tempted to read scripture this same way, as it is what appeals most to my analytical mind.* However, I’m not convinced that this is the best way to read and interpret Scripture. Instead, I believe that the verses cited have contexts that are pointing to entirely different purposes of the entire thought happening. That doesn’t preclude that some kind of tangential points can be found in individual verses, including what Beilby argues is there, but I think more caution regarding interpretation and appealing to broader contexts for these verses would make the argument much stronger. I’m not fully convinced proof texting is a necessarily mistaken way of reading the text, but I am convinced that using the text in that way can and does frequently significantly damage the text. Such a critique can hardly be limited to Beilby, but can certainly be applied to myself and many others.

Another critique is that Beilby unnecessarily limits the scope of his argument fairly early on by saying his version of PO “assumes an explicitly Arminian soteriology” (75). His reasoning behind this appears to be that PO assumes a kind of synergistic view of salvation (75ff). However, to this reader, who is Lutheran and so neither Calvinist or Arminian in soteriology, Beilby’s self-imposed limitation is premature. I suspect this limitation was on purpose for the sake of not having to adjust his PO model to account for other soteriological views. I, however, think that his view of PO could be adjusted without losing too much to match different theological systems. From my own Lutheran upbringing, while many I know would reject PO out of hand, the teaching and affirmation about Christ descending to Hell/the dead was always explicit and strong. From there, it’s not much of a stretch to ask what Christ was doing there, and a kind of PO could flow out from an historic/credal background.

Postmortem Opportunity is a fascinating read on a number of important topics. I admit it has challenged my own views on several topics, and certainly has me going to scripture to read it more fully. I recommend the book for any readers interested in soteriological positions, and those interested in challenging their views.

*My thanks to a friend for pointing out this aspect of reading verses out of context and as data points.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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