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book review

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Book Review: “Surprised by Paradox” by Jen Pollock Michel

Paradox has a long history in Christian theology, as much as some have tried to eliminate it. Jen Pollock Michel, in Surprised by Paradox, reclaims some of that theological heritage and encourages Christians to acknowledge that we do sometimes live in a world of “both and” rather than “either/or.”

There are many aspects of Christian theology that incorporate both/and. The Incarnation is perhaps the most obvious, with its acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. I love the language Jen Pollock Michel uses here, with a chapter title like “The Great I AND” to parallel the notion of the great “I AM.” Jesus Christ as both God and human being seems paradoxical, but rather than rejecting this truth, Christian theology embraces it fully. Other aspects highlighted for these both/and statements are the Kingdom of God–with its embrace of all people from every walk of life and corner of the planet; grace, with forgiveness while also embracing the words of God and obedience to God; and lament–the cry for God for justice while God is the suffering God.

Each section of the book is followed by some discussion questions that do truly dig deeply into the theological background of each chapter. The book is written at an introductory level, making it good for a study group or for those interested in seeing how Christianity can get beyond the constant drum of “either/or” in our culture.

As a Lutheran, we have a long tradition of both/and that embraces sometimes difficult doctrines, like how can bread and wine also be the body and blood of Christ? It would have been interesting to see sacraments fully incorporated into the discussion of the book.

The book surprisingly has moments where a rather narrow either/or view is taken even in context of trying to show the possibility of faith and, as the back cover says, the “difficult, wondrous dissonance of and.” For example, chapter 5 starts off with a story in which someone is complaining to the pastor about a prayer used in worship that touched on a Canadian Supreme Court decision regarding physician-assisted death. The older person making the complaint supported the notion of physician-assisted death and felt this prayer divided the congregation on a political issue. This prayer, as described, was “for the Christian doctors in our church and our city who were struggling to reconcile their Christian convictions with their legal obligations” (65). The prayer as described seems innocuous enough–those in favor or opposed to the practice could agree that God’s guidance is needed for such difficult questions. But as the story plays out, it quickly turns towards a strict either/or situation. The pastor thanks the parishioner for their concern, but then immediately turns around and makes a statement comparing those who stay silent on the topic of physician assisted death to those who stayed silent in the fight against the Nazis to protect the Jews (66). Moreover, the pastor says seeing the right side of the issue can sometimes only happen later, and that Christians need to take a stand that may put them on “the ‘wrong’ side of our current cultural moment” (ibid). Reading this story, I thought that Jen Pollock Michel was likely going to use it as a story about how we try to divide the Kingdom of God and make assumptions about those with whom we disagree–after all, jumping immediately to comparing this member of the church to a Christian complicit with the Nazis is a rather startling move. But that’s not the case! Instead, the Pollock Michel uses it as an example of a Christian asking just how much of their life they must cede to God. How much does the Kingdom of God demand for room in the political sphere of the Kingdom of humanity? Going on, she states that this means that following Jesus isn’t just on Sunday mornings (66-67). The clear implication is that this conversation was perfectly reasonable and that the parishioner who spoke up as being on the other side of the issue was justly condemned for being like those who stayed silent in the face of the Nazis, and that if they’d only allow Christ to be King of their hearts, their mind would changed. There’s no acknowledgement here that Christians can still value life and see that, perhaps, the artificial means we have of extending life through painful and sometimes debilitating means may not be in line with a sense of fully valuing life at every stage. There’s no acnkowledgement of the complexity of this issue, just a story of what is apparently seen as a rightful condemnation of a fellow Christian, who apparently should have allowed Jesus to tell them what to do regarding this issue (never mind that perhaps they did do so and think they came up on the other side). None of this is to suggest physician-assisted death is great moral good or even that I as a reader am in favor of it. But to allow this conversation to stand out as an example, not of how we drive wedges between fellow believers in an either/or fashion, but as an example seen as just condemnation of an immoral person not following Jesus, is truly startling in a book dedicated to seeing how we live in a “wondrous” and “difficult” and “dissonant” world.

Overall, Surprised by Paradox is a fascinating introduction to how Christians may see the world beyond the either/or. At times, it serves itself as a startling reminder of how we continue to drive wedges between believers even if we try to embrace these difficult issues. It is a good introduction to a highly complex topic, though readers ought to be aware that they should look on some aspects 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.

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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Book Review: “Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition” by Justin Mandela Roberts

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influence stretches far and wide, and his concept of “worldly” or “religionless” Christianity is one of his most enduring traditions. That notion of the concreteness of his theology has led some to think that he rejected metaphysical aspects of the faith altogether. In Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition, Justin Mandela Roberts pushes back against that thinking and argues that Bonhoeffer’s theology is, instead, one that stands alongside that of doxology, sacrament, and metaphysics.

The book is slim, but offers a wealth of detailed analysis of Bonhoeffer’s works from a number of angles that seem less common in Bonhoeffer scholarship. Bonhoeffer’s view of worship is analyzed, for example, as going beyond Barth while also integrating much of sacred tradition. Roberts’ analysis of Bonhoeffer’s thought on metanoia–the conversion or dark night of the soul–was a fascinating, personable read. The “Sacramental Interpretation” integrates Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology with a view of the Word of God. Indeed, if there is a downside to reading the book, it may be found in the flurry of citations, musings, quotes, and ideas thrust at the reader in quick succession, making it difficult to absorb any one idea before moving swiftly onto the next. That said, Roberts’ analysis is helpful in many ways, both opening new interpretive lenses and new paths to explore for those interested in seeing how Bonhoeffer’s work may have opened up had he developed it further.

It was strange that Roberts opted to begin the book with a slight of Bonhoeffer. The second sentence of the introduction states “His academic pieces, including Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, and Creation and Fall, offer nothing particularly remarkable as scholarly resources for the theological and philosophical traditions” (1). Given the fact that Creation and Fall is essentially the bulk of chapter 5’s focus is largely on Creation and Fall and each of the other works is cited as well, it seems Roberts would disagree with himself here, as he evidently finds these works quite remarkable indeed! Contextually, Roberts is opining on what it is that has made Bonhoeffer such an impactful figure on modern thought, possibly as an attempt to make him more real or down to earth for the average reader, but reading it was jarring in a book dedicated entirely to an interpretation of this apparently unremarkable figure.

Roberts’s work helps integrate Bonhoeffer’s thought into a broader Christian theology and practice. Sacred Rhetoric is an interesting, challenging read recommended for those looking to dig deeply into Bonhoeffer’s theological practices and metaphysics.

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– many more posts, book reviews, and discussions of and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his life, theology, and thought (scroll down for more).

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: “Escaping the Beginning? Confronting Challenges to the Universe’s Origin” by Jeff Zweerink

Whether the universe had a beginning or not is a hotly debated topic in philosophical, theological, and scientific circles. Jeff Zweerink is an astrophysicist who works with Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that comes from an Old Earth Creationist perspective. With Escaping the Beginning, he has written an important, insightful resource for people wishing to explore the science of various theories that preclude a beginning of the universe.

Zweerink’s book is robust on the scientific theories around the universe, multiverse, and quantum theory. Chapters in the book include “The Case for a Beginning,” “Did Our Universe Reincarnate?”; “Did Our Universe come from Nothing?”; “If Hawking and Krauss are Right, Does That Remove God?” and many more. These chapter titles hint at the content of each chapter, and each is absolutely filled with clear explanations of some pretty advanced theories on physics and astronomy. Zweerink covers the major theories of the multiverse and goes deeply into the labors of Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking to come up with theories that do not require a beginning to the universe. He does this by sticking to the science, showing where these theories have holes or import philosophical assumptions (which are usually unacknowledged by those putting them forward), and giving analysis of each theory on the table. Each chapter is followed by a brief summary of the contents of that chapter as well as some discussion questions.

Zweerink makes a strong case that many of these theories still do not get away from the need for an absolute beginning or a Creator. For example, even the theories which posit the universe came from quantum effects in a vacuum still must posit a reason for the vacuum itself existing to begin with.

The book ends with a discussion of whether Christianity could still be true even if there were no beginning of the universe. Zweerink argues from Scripture that there must be a creation out of nothing to align with the biblical evidence. Zweerink does not, however, engage with the parts of Christian tradition that does maintain the universe is eternal. Though in the minority, there are clear instances of Christian believers throughout history who held the universe was eternal and that this was unproblematic. Most obvious as examples are those Christians who hold to Platonic thought and see the universe as eternal due to philosophical precommitments on that regard. Thus, though it seems the Christian tradition and Scriptures align more readily with a beginning of the universe, it does not seem to be the case that such a belief is absolutely necessary for Christianity to survive. Further discussion of that topic would be well afield of the book, but it would have been good to have included at least an acknowledgement of this tradition in the section that alleges Christianity cannot comport with an eternal universe.

What makes the book especially laudable is that Zweerink consistently admits when their are difficulties with his own position–that the universe had a beginning–or where the challenges to his view can even come to be strengthened in the future. For example, though it is clear throughout that Zweerink favors a Big Bang model as an actual beginning of the universe, he notes that oscillating models provide a challenge to this position and that scientific challenges may confirm the latter and usurp the Big Bang model for the origins of the universe (84). This kind of frank discussion of the science is commendable, particularly in a book about science written from a Christian perspective with a clear position at stake. Yet Zweerink consistently notes that when he makes predictions or comes out on one side or the other in various debates where his own position might be falsified or confirmed. It makes the book that much more valuable to have one that not only lays out all of these scientific theories and approaches them from a particular Christian perspective but also notes where that perspective might be challenged.

Escaping the Beginning is a fantastic resource for those who want to learn about the latest scientific research related to the beginning (or lack thereof) for our universe. It is commendably even in its presentation of the evidence, and Zweerink is clear when he provides predictions and how they might be challenged. The book is an achievement, and very much worth anyone picking up to 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: “Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel” by David S. Robinson

Robinson shows in Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel that Bonhoeffer was influenced by, but also departed from GWF Hegel’s philosophy and theology on a number of key points. The book serves as a way to see Bonhoeffer through a Hegelian lens, and also note how Bonhoeffer developed Hegel’s thoughts in some key ways, particularly related to the community of the church.

Robinson begins with outlining some of Hegel’s thought related to the community and the somewhat elusive Geist (Spirit) in his thought. Then, he turns to Hegel’s incorporation of those ideas into the unfolding of Revelation in history and how Bonhoeffer specifically also incorporated revelation into history. The coming of Christ leads to a new community and the creator-human (Jesus Christ) opens new possibilities for the one and the many to come into conversation with each other. More explicitly, Robinson then turns to Christology in both Bonhoeffer and Hegel. Robinson argues Hegel’s Trinitarian theology–including the  was not pantheistic but instead understood relationship as a central aspect of community. Bonhoeffer utilized similar themes in writing about Christ as existing in the community of the church.

One particularly fascinating chapter focused in on Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology, contrasting it with how Hegel viewed the Eucharist. Bonhoeffer explicitly aligned himself against the Reformed objections to the Lutheran understanding of real presence of Christ in the bread and wine. Franz Hildebrandt, a friend of Bonhoeffer’s, utilized Hegelian thought to counter Karl Barth’s Reformed understanding of “this is my body” (132-134). Bonhoeffer himself incorporated Hegel’s concepts of seeing doctrine ad integral to the community to see Christ present in the Word preached as well as in the sacrament–the est of the sermon and sacrament (142). Hegel’s vision of the Eucharist sees union of objective and subjective into one through Christ, and he sees the Sacrament as the place where the Geist may become indwelling in the human person (146). Such a Lutheran understanding is reaffirmed and even made stronger in Bonhoeffer’s position, as he argues that one cannot distinguish idea from history/nature (though Robinson argues this was not necessarily Hegel’s position; see p. 147ff).

Community continues to be important as the concepts of freedom and revolution arise in Hegel and Bonhoeffer. These are questions of community that must be asked, and the thinkers diverge on this point. Hegel has been seen as an “apologist for Prussia” (169ff), though Robinson argues that he would better be understood as someone seeking Reform within existing institutions (172). Bonhoeffer addresses these questions through confessional space and seeing the church as the body of Christ–Christ existing as community in the church (177ff).

The concept of the Volk–folk–a kind of nationalist precursor to the Nazi ideology in Germany, is one that looms large in Hegel and Bonhoeffer in different ways. Robinson argues that Hegel’s Volkish tendencies were exacerbated and expanded by later Neo-Hegelian thinkers who sought exclusion based upon bloodlines and race, turning Hegel’s concepts of Geist into blood and “racialism” (197-198). Nevertheless, the dominant strand of Hegelian thought that arose in Bonhoeffer’s time was highly tied to Volk and bloodlines, an intensely racist theme that was used by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer, however, was exposed to thinkers apart from Hegel and one of those who helped shape his thought was W.E.B. Du Bois, whose The Souls of Black Folk, Robinson argues, was at least intrinsically influential for Bonhoeffer’s thinking. Both Hegel and Bonhoeffer criticized the state for its treatment of Jews and emphasized their humanity (204-206; 207-09). Hegel’s thought was Eurocentric, despite some aspects of criticizing the nationalism of his peers. Bonhoeffer’s thinking, Robinson argues, became transnational and ecumenical.

Robinson clearly carries the argument that Bonhoeffer was deeply influenced by Hegel’s thought. Whether it was by way of contrast or utilizing similar structure of arguments, Bonhoeffer’s training made him cognizant of Hegelian philosophy and interacted with it at many points.

Christ and Revelatory Community in Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Hegel is a fascinating look at Bonhoeffer’s reception of Hegelian thought. Robinson demonstrates that Bonhoeffer developed some ideas along Hegelian lines, while also sharply breaking from them in some respects. I highly recommend it for those looking to delve deeply into Bonhoeffer’s thought.

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: “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins” by Bishop, Funck, Lewis, Moshier, and Walton

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective is a massive introduction to various sciences alongside Christian thought from the perspective of evolutionary creationists (also known as theistic evolution). It can fairly be said to be the most comprehensive book of which this reader is aware of for giving a broad look at the many related fields in the origins debate within Christianity.

The book is broken into 7 parts: Getting Started on the Journey, which offers 4 chapters on biblical interpretation, doctrine of creation, pursuing origins questions, and seeing science and theology together; Cosmic Origins, which has 6 chapters starting with a look at Genesis and then going through the details of Big Bang theory, Fine-Tuning, and biblical/theological perspectives; Origin and Geologic History of the Earth, which has 8 chapters on the origin and formation of the Earth and Solar system, the history of geology, discussions of the biblical Flood, how we know about geologic timescales, plate tectonics, finding history in rocks and fossils, and biblical/theological perspectives; Origin of Life on Earth, which has 5 chapters discussing spontaneous generation to abiogenesis, the chemistry of prebiotics, biological information, alternate scenarios, and biblical/theological perspectives; Origin of Species and Diversity of Life, which has 5 chapters on the history of the theory of evolution, the modern synthesis, evidence for evolution, developments in evolutionary theory, and biblical/theological perspectives; Human Origins, which has 4 chapters on the biblical story, physical anthropology, genomic evidence, and biblical/theological perspectives on the image of God; and a Concluding Postscript, which is 1 chapter tying things together. The book is about 630 pages of text, with a glossary, general index, and scripture index. Throughout the whole book, there are color illustrations and charts, and it is richly detailed.

To be sure, there are many books with a lot of this information that you can find elsewhere. The things that set this book apart are 1) its comprehensive scope, with experts from various fields contributing huge sections of data and reflections from a Christian standpoint; 2) its one-stop shop type of reference; 3) its extensive look at the scientific evidence for evolution alongside some counters to arguments against it; 4) its accessible format; 5) the wealth of its illustrations (in color!). Many books in the creation-evolution debate have tended to focus almost entirely on theological questions or scientific ones (though I acknowledge there are exceptions). Rarely is the evidence presented in such a balanced fashion, and with such detail when it comes to the scientific arguments. It’s a massive text that is a bit daunting to read cover-to-cover, but the tone is so accessible and the explanations so well-written that it remains interesting and readable throughout.

The book can be read either in individual chapters or front-to-back. Thus, it would be useful as a textbook in many classes, or as a study book, or as a reference tool for interested readers. This is the kind of book that people like this reader have been longing for: a truly broad introduction to the many, many topics that converge upon theories of origins that is presented from a perspective that remains thoroughly orthodox in its theology. Those who oppose evolution will find here not some conspiracy or lies, but rather evidence and data backed with a warm, winsome tone that encourages readers to explore these tough questions.

Some of the most contentious questions, of course, receive the most space. Human Origins, as noted above, has its own entire section with more than 50 pages dedicated to the topic. Some things that struck me in that section were, first, the theological introduction that shows some of the questions that come up even from a “simple” reading of the text. Second, the extensive look at the physical and genomic evidence for human evolution is presented in a straightforward way. From my own background, I tended to think that any such evidence was falsified or simply presented in a misleading way. It would be impossible to accuse the authors here of doing so, as they note (especially earlier in the discussion of evolution) some of the problems with classification. But these problems are not demonstrations of the theory being false; rather, they show that we will probably never have a complete picture. For example, one common charge I have seen is that because scientists cannot put together a sequence of fossils that show human evolution in a chain: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H but rather that we have an idea that it may be A-D-G-J or something of the sort, this means there is no sequence. But that is demonstrably false. A ladder that is missing a step could still be identified as a ladder, just an incomplete one. Similarly, an incomplete fossil record does not demonstrate there is no such record or series. What’s particularly surprising, though, is how comprehensive the fossil record we do have is, particularly related to human origins. Though the exact sequence will likely be debate in perpetuity, the fact remains that there are many, many, many fossils of clear ancestors of humanity throughout the fossil record, and that a comparison of skulls, MRI measured brain sizes, etc. seems to demonstrate a sequence that does exist, even if incomplete. Of course, there is much more offered in regards to human evolution, such as population genetics, and the like, but the evidence is presented here and is fascinating.

Readers who are wondering about the scientific credibility of evolution will find this an excellent work to pick up. Those already convinced will have a superb introduction to the topic on hand that does not eschew faith for science or vice versa. The authors do a truly commendable job of showing that Christianity does not counter science, and neither does science show Christianity is false.

The chapters on geology are another excellent section, which teach the basics of geology alongside real-world examples that show the principles are sound. Coming from a young earth background, it was the geologic evidence that convinced me some years ago the Earth had to be much older. The authors present real, measurable evidence to show the earth is much more ancient than a few thousand years. But set alongside that is the valuable history of thought surrounding the age of the earth and how these discoveries were made, often by Christian geologists! To see how yes, science has changed as we’ve come to a fuller understanding helps readers understand that as well. The origins of life is another hotly contested area, and the authors do a good job of showing that it remains contentious while there is much work being done that suggests even biological information may have a natural origin. The many theories of origins will continue to be tested and improved, but we should be careful to attempt to plug God into the gap in understanding between what we don’t know yet and what may be discovered. Indeed, some of the scenarios presented for the origin of life continue to gain credibility as tests confirm aspects of their theorizing.

The authors have, with Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective , written a book that is sure to be a reference point for years to come. Though science constantly updates and changes with new discoveries and insights, the book is destined to be fruitful for some time. It provides a serious, fairly comprehensive introduction to many of the most hotly contested issues within Christianity today. It comes highly 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.

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: “Placemaking and the Arts” by Jennifer Allen Craft

Jennifer Allen Craft’s Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life is one of those books that lives at an intersection of topics one might not normally see as connected. Craft pulls together insights from the Bible and Christian theology on the concepts of place and embodiment with her extensive knowledge of the arts to draw readers’ attention to how our theology of place may be developed and grown.

After a brief introduction, Jennifer Allen Craft provides working definitions of place and art. Place is not merely physical; it involves social relationships, networks of people, and one’s mental states as well. Moreover, space is distinguished from place in that the former is a kind of universal denotation while the latter is particular (8-9). The reason to deal with place as Christians is because it helps answer who we are and why we are here–really here in a sense as embodied creations of God. Art is notoriously difficult to define, and Craft opts for a somewhat general definition, with a few qualifications: art, for her, “will be generally referring to some practice or object of the fine arts…” though she also includes craft, folk art, and other “making” practices (21). Art is important because it helps humans define themselves and relations to others.

Craft argues that the arts can help us to cultivate responsible relationships with the natural world. Integrating nature into our imagination helps us see it as valuable and calls us to protect it. Humans as the image of God can be seen as co-creators rather than simply those exercising conquest of the earth. We participate, through art, in creation and the natural world.

Art can also help in the processes of homemaking and hospitality, each aspects of place that allow us to form our own space. Craft notes the ways that people have created false dichotomies or devalued the arts as well as ways we can correct those misunderstandings. The arts can enter into church as well, leading to worship and the sense of community. Interaction with art can also help stir a sense of wonder at the majesty of God’s creation. The arts can also help Christians see the Kingdom of God on earth and the shaping of that Kingdom in the here and now.

The book is peppered throughout with images, both black-and-white and (in a set of plates in the middle) in color. These help illustrate Craft’s points more vividly and allow the reader to reflect directly upon the themes of the book.

Placemaking and the Arts is a fascinating look at the unity of two themes that aren’t often explored in conjunction. On a higher level, it is a call to Christians to be co-creators with God and to see the impact of the arts on every aspect of our lives.

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: “Phoebe: A Story” by Paula Gooder

Phoebe: A Story by Paula Gooder is two books in one: a fictional picture of what Phoebe’s life and society might have looked like; and an academic exploration of this same society, world, and individual.

Paula Gooder writes in a style that is engaging and informative. The plot of the narrative section grabbed my interest from the get-go with its interweaving of biblical details with background information from historical studies as well. The main plot is of interest, following Phoebe through potential struggles and a narrative that gives readers rich imagery of what house churches were like and how these could have differed in different places due to income levels, the patrons, and the like. Gooder gives a vital look into the life of early Christians, doing so in a way that is winsome in style. What’s interesting is that, due to the integration of some biblical persons, I as a reader was hyper-aware of these characters. I have to say, I was a bit sad that I didn’t love Junia as a character in Gooder’s book as much as I’d have hoped. But Gooder makes these characters seem true to life, with real motivations and interests beyond simply being set pieces for teaching readers about early Christianity.

The second part is full of notes that bring historical and theological insight into the narrative woven throughout the book. They provide justification for various narrative choices, background information about how things may have been in the early church, and are full of rich details about Christian life. Gooder’s research is quite thorough and will give interested readers more avenues for exploration.

Readers should note that the book is probably best enjoyed with one finger in the endnotes to integrate those notes into their reading of the narrative. I saw the notes section at the back, but read the book front-to-back, thinking that since the notes were called “Part 2,” it made sense to read Part 1 and then 2. But doing so meant I missed out on several key points of interest within the narrative, which meant I went back and re-read portions to make more sense of what Gooder was saying. The book doesn’t have an introduction or preface to recommend this reading order, so be aware of it.

Readers will find much of interest in Phoebe: A Story. From the background information to the more intimate picture of what life may have looked like in the early church, this book is well-worth the time investment. 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.

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: “Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrannicide: Bonhoeffer’s Church-World Theology and His Changing Forms of Political Thinking and Involvement” by David M. Gides

The question of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s view on subjects related to war: Just War, Pacifism, Tyrranicide, and related issues is one that is hotly contested in Bonhoeffer scholarship. David M. Gides’s Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrranicide: Bonhoeffer’s Church-World Theology and His Changing Forms of Political Thinking and Involvement makes the case that Bonhoeffer did not experience a unity of thought on the subject and instead changed over time. Gides argues that Bonhoeffer ultimately developed a church-world theology that went beyond a conservative Lutheran Two Kingdoms position as well as against a time in his life in which he held to pacifism.

Gides separates Bonhoeffer’s thought on church-world relations into four phases, in contrast with what he says is the majority opinion that separates his thought into three stages. These phases are the church and world in mild tension, the church and world in heightened tension, the church against or apart from the world, and the church as the world. Gides argues that, too often, interpreters of Bonhoeffer’s thought have taken quotes from different parts of his life in order to try to form a cohesive picture, when instead Bonhoeffer’s thought had significant development through these phases (xii-xiii).

In the earliest phase, Bonhoeffer was decidedly not a pacifist and saw violence as potentially being sanctified through certain actions like laying down one’s life for the neighbor or to take up arms to defend the Volk (folk = the nation/people) (112-114). Gides argues this earliest statement and those like it were driven by a conservative or traditional Lutheran understanding of the Two Kingdoms theology which allowed for this lack of engagement with the state by Christians. Heightened tension in the world led Bonhoeffer to back off these early statements. Later in his life, Bonhoeffer felt a drive for ecumenism and pacifism, but this movement included engagement in the world directly. Here we see Bonhoeffer’s three stages of church-state engagement: questioning the state’s actions, providing service to victims of the state, and ultimately seizing the wheel itself from the state (also known as the famous “drive a spoke through the wheel” statement) to direct it away from evil (185). Later, Bonhoeffer makes some extremely strong statements about peace, including a powerful statement about the differences between peace and security. These show that he had moved into a pacifistic view, but his pacifism in this phase of his life, according to Gides, was one that separated the church from the state almost entirely, to the point where the church had to move away from or against the state (220-224; 230ff; see also his discussion of Discipleship in this context). Finally, Gides argues Bonhoeffer developed a church-world theology that allowed for direct action in which the church is the world and tyrannicide is possible. This phase included Bonhoeffer’s own involvement in the Abwehr and in part of a plot to kill Hitler (328-332).

Gides’s work is challenging and well-thought out. He presents serious challenges for several views, especially those that argue that Bonhoeffer remained explicitly pacifist (or that he was pacifistic throughout his life) as well as views that see Bonhoeffer’s thought as entirely cohesive. It does seem clear that Bonhoeffer’s thought developed on these questions, particularly comparing his pacifistic stage (phase 3) to his earliest thoughts on peace and war (phase 1).

There are some challenges to Gides’s theses, as well. One is the challenge offered by a minority of Bonhoeffer scholars that Bonhoeffer was not involved in the plot to kill Hitler at all (eg. in Bonhoeffer the Assassin?). Gides’s work was written before this other work, so it’s difficult to know what his defense would be, but it seems Gides would answer that Bonhoeffer does seem to be clearly involved in this plot, or at least, minimally, in actions that set him against the state in ways that could lead to such plots. That alone would undermine a fully pacifist view. Gides does acknowledge the diversity of pacifistic views (too often, pacifism is seen as a unified thought), and it would be interesting to see a full engagement with his work from the side of a pacifist developing a view from Bonhoeffer’s thought. It does seem to me Bonhoeffer made contributions to pacifistic thought, but that he could not be included in any pacifist position that holds to absolute non-violence.

Another challenge is that of Lutheran Two Kingdoms theology itself. Gides mentions this theology at multiple points in the work, but doesn’t do much legwork to define how he’s using it. Most often, Gides uses it alongside the word “conservative,” making it a narrower referent than the broader notion of Two Kingdoms thinking. Specifically, Gides seems to denote by “Two Kingdoms” the later developed Lutheran position that held to a kind of pseudo separation of church and state that enabled many in Germany to simply look the other way with what the secular authorities were doing, thus excusing or even participating in atrocities. However, such a theory of Two Kingdoms is one that, while “conservative” in the sense of being what seemed to be the traditional view in Germany at the time of Bonhoeffer’s life, does not fully show the breadth of thought on the Two Kingdoms theology of Luther. Indeed, Gides’s view of Bonhoeffer’s final position seems to be one that may actually be more fully in line with Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology than was the “conservative” position of the same during his life (see, for example, DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther). In fact, one could make the argument that we could read Bonhoeffer cohesively within the bounds of Lutheran Two Kingdoms thought. Thus, Gides’s phases would be different interpretations of the Two Kingdoms theology, and the final phase especially may be closest to Luther’s own thinking on the topic. His phases in thought could then be seen to be sliding along the possible interpretations of Two Kingdoms theology. Gides does make the distinction that he is speaking of this “conservative” Two Kingdoms thought, but when he stresses that Bonhoeffer apparently rejected Two Kingdoms thinking, I believe he goes too far, because it seems more accurate to say that Bonhoeffer’s ultimate church-world theology was that of a fully realized Two Kingdoms.

Gides’s Pacifism, Just War, and Tyrranicide is a thoughtful reflection and interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s theology of church-world relations. His unique division of Bonhoeffer’s thought is reason for reflection, while his ultimate thesis will surely spark debate among those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology. More importantly, he provides a way forward in reading Bonhoeffer’s ultimate theology, though not one that sees it as cohesive throughout his life.

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!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read more posts I’ve written on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and thought. There are also several Bonoheffer-specific book reviews here.

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: “A History of Western Philosophy From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism” by C. Stephen Evans

A History of Western Philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans is a valuable entry in the list of single-volume histories of philosophy. Evans approaches the topic from a Christian perspective, though he does integrate critiques into the exposition of philosophies as he goes. Instead, he offers a perspective in the end of philosophers with which he has significant disagreements.

It would be impossible to summarize the whole work here. Instead, I’ll offer a few highlights. In addition to the introduction and concluding summary, there are 22 chapters focusing on either individual philosophers (eg. Aquinas, David Hume) or movements (eg. Enlightenment Deism, Early Christian Thought). Evans writes in a truly winsome and interesting manner, and his explanation of each philosophy is written in a way that, initially at least, draws the reader into thinking it may be “the” philosophy. When Evans believes there is important criticism to offer, he generally does so at the end of each chapter. When other philosophers have offered significant critiques, Evans incorporates those into the chapter. One example of the latter is the Ontological Argument of Anselm, which receives attention in several different chapters (for example in the chapters on Kant, Early Medieval Philosophy, The High Middle Ages (I) and (II)) with major philosophers either arguing against it or making improvements.

I particularly enjoyed those philosophies which at points seemed unanswerable. For example, George Berkeley’s immaterialism caught my interest when I first got into philosophy, and the puzzle of his thought remains one that intrigues me. As Evans aptly sums it up: “Few people find Berkeley’s arguments convincing. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to see just what is wrong with the arguments” (333). Indeed! Yet, as Evans notes, Berkeley’s arguments just ring of wrongness somehow. Denying the existence of the material world just seems… off to us. It’s one of those pesky philosophical problems that makes the field so intriguing and frustrating all at once.

The chapter on Hume was of interest as well, though I personally hoped he would bring up George Campbell, a contemporary of Hume whose A Dissertation on Miracles offers a decisive rebuttal to Hume’s arguments on miracles. Nevertheless, this and many other chapters are full of insights and interest. The footnotes offer much by way of further reading, as well.

A few criticism might be leveled at this stage. First, there is a notable lack of women in Evans’s survey. Though he does allude to this and does include one woman philosopher as a title philosopher for a chapter, a ratio of >20:1 is not great. A diversity of voices in this regard might have heightened the usefulness of the book. Another critique to offer would be the rather uncritical acceptance of “Western” as denoting something understood by all. In the introduction, there is a brief look at this topic, but little commentary at all is offered on how one distinguishes “Western” from any other kind of philosophy. As with any broad concept like this, it seems almost too broad to be useful. After all, if people like Augustine from Africa and Clement from Alexandria are “Western,” what does the term mean, exactly? Indeed, included in this definition of “Western” are philosophers from New Zealand and Australia. The term just doesn’t seem helpful to begin with.

The strengths of this volume should now be apparent. It presents a broad look at many of the most famous philosophers (and philosophies) that people run into in the United States. Evans offers critical feedback where appropriate, and he presents each philosophy in an effective, interesting manner.

C. Stephen Evans has done a service making this historical look at philosophy. It is surprisingly readable, while also presenting the views of many philosophers in a fair way.  I recommend A History of Western Philosophy as an introduction to the topic alongside other, firsthand works.

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: “Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought” edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sphere of influence seems to expand almost daily, as I read about his life and theology online and in books. Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought, edited by Matthew D. Kirkpatrick, is a collection of essays showing how Bonhoeffer’s influence extends into many and sometimes disparate strands of thought into our time and, certainly, beyond.

Engaging Bonhoeffer is a delight to read. Having read many books on Bonhoeffer and related works by now, I feel especially joyful when some fresh analysis or aspect of his thought is brought to light that I had not considered before. The authors in this collection bring many such moments, as they demonstrate how many others have carried the torch of Bonhoeffer’s legacy and, at times, done so with critical engagement. Though it is true most collections of essays have ups and downs, this one seems to be a collection of hits.

The essay on liberation theology may surprise some given the recent push to attempt to integrate Bonhoeffer’s legacy into a contemporary (American) evangelical fold. Bonhoeffer’s deep and repeated exegesis of biblical passages having to do with the poor, the oppressed, and more is set alongside the fact that Bonhoeffer himself was no less than the bourgeois of the bourgeois. Geffrey B. Kelly and Matthew D. Kirkpatrick show how despite his background, Bonhoeffer transcended his own privileged place to be named in some strands of liberation theology as a precursor to the movement and by others as an early liberation theologian. Bonhoeffer’s inclusion in the movement by those who are in the movement is due, the authors note, to (at least) two things- the uncompromising position Bonhoeffer takes in regards to God’s suffering with those who are suffering and his unwillingness to cede theology to broad metaphysics and abstraction rather than reality at hand.

Another contribution by Kirkpatrick, “Situations, Contexts, and Responsibility: Bonhoeffer’s Ethics in the Thought of Joseph Fletcher, Paul Lehmann, and H. Richard Niebuhr” fascinates with the examination of Bonhoeffer’s ethics set alongside a subjective theory of ontology. Kirkpatrick notes that while Bonhoeffer has similar thinking to much of situational ethics, he also does ground his ethics objectively in the person of Christ. The essay was a challenging read as it also presents the possibility for a way forward in the broad debate over Bonhoeffer’s views on pacifism and how to interpret some seemingly contradictory ideas. Is it possible that, instead, Bonhoeffer may consistently be understood through a lens of situation ethics?

The chapter on Karl Barth shows that Barth struggled much of his life to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s legacy and Bonhoeffer’s own interactions and comments upon his (Barth’s) work. The essay on Bonhoeffer and Jurgen Moltmann shows how some thinkers have critically interacted with Bonhoeffer, building some ideas and offering criticism of others. Another essay on the death of god theologians shows how some of Bonhoeffer’s language was co-opted for purposes certainly beyond his intent, but that do highlight some aspects that he may have pursued if he’d had the chance.

His influence on many others is considered as well: Stanley Hauerwas, Rowan Williams, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorothee Soelle, Wolf Krotke, the earliest English commentators on Bonhoeffer, Ronald Gregor Smith and J.A.T. Robinson, Eberhard Jungel, Gerhard Ebeling, Paul Ricouer, and Jean-Yves Lacoste. My own familiarity with some of these is effectively nothing, so having Bonhoeffer’s thought linked to them and expanded was fascinating as a way of demonstrating his far-reaching legacy and the many, many ways people have adapted his thought.

Engaging Bonhoeffer is an excellent series of essays that will open up new avenues of exploration for readers to pursue. I highly recommend it for any who are interested in Bonhoeffer’s thought and how it is being shaped as his legacy in modern thinkers from many different perspectives.

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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