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Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 4: Theistic Evolution and the Old Testament

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on the Old Testament.

The Old Testament and Theistic Evolution

John D. Currid’s chapter is entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament.” Such a title shows that Currid’s purpose is not just to say that other science-faith positions are easier to align with the Bible, but rather that TE is explicitly excluded because it is directly incompatible with the Old Testament. There is no way Currid could fairly be expected to refute every possible way TE could be constructed, but it is clear that his task is to show that the major ways that TEs read the Old Testament on creation are not just mistaken but actually in some way are incompatible with the texts themselves. To his credit, that is what he attempts to do in this chapter.

After a brief story about an early controversy over TE and some comments on scholars who continue to embrace TE, Currid dives into his examination of some of the main TE ways to read the Old Testament. First, he examines the work of John Walton. I have read and reviewed much of Walton’s work, including several posts here (scroll down to browse). Walton is an expert on the Ancient Near East and much of his work is tied up into his thesis that we must take this ANE context into account as we read the biblical text. Currid’s strategy for approaching Walton’s interpretation is to claim that the ANE documents are not solely interested in functions but rather do teach about the material origins of the cosmos (844). To back up this claim, Currid surveys a number of texts from the ANE and says that they are clearly focusing on the physical origins of the universe. He also argues that Genesis 1-3 seems to be clearly focused on physical origin as well (850ff).

Currid’s analysis here is mistaken, however. For one thing, he himself admits that in Genesis 1:2 and thereafter “the universe and, in particular, the earth is pictured in the process of creation” (850). Because Currid states plainly that this Genesis account is about “putting things in their right places,” this seems to contradict his claim that the focus of Genesis 1-3 is primarily about physical origins or that it ought to at least in part be taken as such. His own analysis of the text effectively grants Walton’s point, that physical creation is here being ordered by function. Indeed, it is telling that Currid does not look more deeply at Walton’s own points regarding individual days of creation. As Walton argues, if we take these as physical creation events we find that they contradict our own observations of the material world. For example, there is no solid expanse in the sky, as the text speaks of on the second day of creation. Yet Currid’s own look at the days in context of Walton’s view (851) is merely to list individual things he believes were physically created on each day, completely missing Walton’s own explicitly stated point about why those verses cannot be about physical creation. It seems that here Currid has failed to demonstrate that TE is directly incompatible with the Old Testament.

Next, Currid turns his analysis to those who view Genesis 1-3 as myth “in the sense of a legendary story without determinable basis in fact or history” (851ff). This view sees the creation account(s) not as scientific but rather as a shared basis for telling stories about the purpose of creation–a mythic meaning for those stories. Currid begins his critique of this position by asking “Why does Genesis 1-3 contain so many elements that appear to be literal history if in fact it was borrowed from an ancient Near Eastern myth?” (852). But of course that is exactly what is at question on this view! That is, he can’t simply assert that Genesis 1-3 is literal history and then claim that because it “appear[s] to be literal history” it can’t be mythic. That’s just begging the question. To his credit he goes on to claim that the author of Genesis was practicing demythologization to turn the ANE mythic tale into “monotheistic, non-mythic orthodoxy” (853). To support this, he notes places where he believes there is anti-mythic polemic in the creation account(s). While I think it true that there is certainly some polemic here, one thing that Currid failed to consider is whether the polemic is anti-mythic in the sense he means–that is, is it against legendary stories that don’t have a determinable basis in fact or history–or is the polemic rather against polytheistic paganism of the groups surrounding Israel? That is, could the story not be both mythic and polemical? I think it certainly could be, and the bare possibility of this being its purpose undermines the claim that the Old Testament is incompatible with this specific view of Theistic Evolution.

The third position Currid considers is that the account is theological or figurative rather than a literal creation account. This reading is of course tied up in the previous two, to the point that it shows how diverse TE and indeed non-TE readings of Genesis 1-3 are. Nevertheless, Currid presses on and argues that “Genesis 1-3 bears all the markings of Hebrew historical narrative” (860). Yet Currid does not, at any point, demonstrate whatever he defines as “Hebrew historical narrative” is some kind of literal, objective history. As someone who has studied historiography, I find myself quite skeptical of this position and wonder what Currid’s view of “history” is. Nevertheless, if Currid is right, this still doesn’t demonstrate a complete incompatibility between TE and Genesis 1-3. After all, one could perhaps read it historically but take its objective meaning as different from whatever Currid believes.

The chapter ends on some analysis of etiological readings of Genesis 1-3. These are readings that see the Old Testament as written in response to various events or observations about the world around the authors. As I admittedly have little experience of or reading in etiology regarding the accounts here, I’ll leave Currid’s analysis as it stands.

Overall, it should be clear that Currid fails to establish his central thesis: that TE is incompatible with the Old Testament. Indeed, both Walton’s theory and the mythic theory come out largely unscathed from his rebuttal. Walton’s thesis is effectively granted by Currid’s own analysis. Regarding the mythic thesis, Currid simply offers an alternative explanation rather than a thorough rebuttal. Thus far, at least, TE seems theologically sound.

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: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 3: Philosophical Critique

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the philosophical critique offered in the book.

Philosophical

As I read through the chapters on the philosophical critique of Theistic Evolution, I found that although each chapter was thoughtful and interesting, there was little by way of actual refutation of TE in the chapters.

Stephen C. Meyer and Paul A. Nelson, in a chapter entitled “Should Theistic Evolution Depend on Methodological Naturalism?,” state that TEs “accept a philosophical rule known as methodological naturalism… [which] asserts that, to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain by strictly physical or material–that is, non-intelligent or non-purposive–causes” (561) and then argue that “…no sound justification exists for holding methodological naturalism… Christians should not use [methodological naturalism] as a reason for adopting theistic evolution, or excluding other theories” (561-562). The chapter is extremely long and filled with a number of analogies and parallels, but the thrust of it is of course centered around these theses at the beginning. But suppose that Christians don’t use methodological naturalism as a reason for adopting theistic evolution or excluding other theories? Indeed, that is the case for myself. I am still not entirely convinced of methodological naturalism as the only way to do science; but I am leaning that direction. However, the reason I began to lean towards TE was because I found time and again that evolutionary theory seemed the best explanation for the observations we have. So I suppose it is possible that methodological naturalism is a poor reason for adopting TE; but that doesn’t mean TE is false, nor does it mean methodological naturalism is false. Indeed, in my reading, this methodological naturalism is an operating assumption. Indeed, I doubt that many TEs would say it is impossible for some natural feature of life to be designed; rather, the argument would be that we have yet to see evidence thereof, and time and again natural explanations are better. This latter point allows scientists to feel justified in looking for natural causes for the features of life rather than going through something like Dembski’s explanatory filter and positing design when current research comes to a dead end.

The very next chapter of the book, by Stephen Dilley, simply argues that “Theistic evolutionists should reject methodological naturalism” (593). Again; suppose this is true. If true, does it show theistic evolution is false? No. Maximally, it just means that methodological naturalism is not the best way to go about things as a TE.

J.P. Moreland’s chapter’s lofty title caught my attention: “How Theistic Evolution Kicks Christianity Out of the Plausibility Structure and Robs Christians of Confidence that the Bible is a Source of Knowledge.” Certainly, Moreland’s chapter appears to be a broadside against TE. In his “summary” of the chapter, Moreland puts his argument thus: “…given the widespread scientism–the view that the hard sciences are the only or the vastly superior way to know things…–in our culture, theistic evolutionists reinforce this view by constantly revising biblical teachings and interpretations because science says so. Thus, by adopting this unbiblical epistemological outlook, theistic evolutionists weaken the rational authority of biblical teaching among Christians and non-Christians” (633). Moreland’s concern, then, is not that TE actually inherently destroys Christianity, but rather that because TEs allegedly continually change what they think the Bible says [which part? where? why?], it undermines confidence in the Bible.

Moreland argues, for example, that TEs have changed their position on the soul because of science, turning towards physicalism as opposed to dualism regarding the mind-body problem due to advances in neuroscience. Alongside blithely noting that “Jesus believed in a soul” (655) (what did Jesus mean by “soul”? Does physicalism truly deny the possibility of a soul or does it say that the soul is emergent or part of the physical self? Are our ideas about the “soul” so advanced or perfect that we can easily claim Jesus is certainly in agreement with us?), Moreland’s broader claim is that TEs willingness to change what the Bible says about the soul (which, as I’ve read on this issue, is not very much and rather vague–this, coming from someone who would consider himself a Thomist regarding the mind-body problem) demonstrates that TEs are willing to undercut dualism in behalf of science.

Though Moreland does briefly acknowledges that theology may change, he quickly goes on to state that “we should be very careful and reluctant to revise what the church has held for centuries…” (657). He goes on, “…it seems hardly a coincidence that just when the naturalistically informed culture puts pressure on us to believe a certain thing, even though the history of biblical interpretation supports the exact opposite, we conveniently discover that we have misunderstood the Scriptures all along!” (658). Indeed, that would be convenient if that were what is happening, but before there was cultural pressure from the “naturalistically informed culture,” Christians like George Frederick Wright were noting that God’s special divine interaction with the world is not appealed to for the movement of planets and need not be for things like the diversification of life. Wright wrote at a time when evolution was still a theory very much debated, so he can hardly be accused of caving to cultural pressure. The TEs we see today are in that same line of tradition that stretches back more than 100 years, seeking to understand the teachings of Scripture and what God has revealed to us by nature. Moreover, as Alister McGrath notes, “Christian theology undergoes periodic revision, often in response to particular situations within the culture at large, even if it could be argued that it nevertheless keeps certain core ideas at the centre of its vision” (Alister McGrath, The Science of God, 27-28). Whether it was the development of Nicene orthodoxy, the condemnation of the Donatists, or the rejection of the prosperity gospel, Christianity has often changed or clarified issues in response to cultural pressures. That’s because we don’t have the full picture. Now we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), so we must constantly seek for truth and revise our ideas as we run into more evidence, no matter where it comes from.

Moreland also turns his sights against non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) and claims that TEs largely hold to this view and that it undercuts Christian doctrines and ethics. How? Because if we say that science can only test some claims, apparently that means that we would automatically assume that other doctrines or ethical positions are merely subjective. This unfortunate non-sequitor is the kind of argumentation I’d expect to be beneath Moreland, a scholar I respect. In no way does NOMA entail that there can be no objectivity outside of science, unless one then pairs it entirely with scientism. But very few TEs would embrace full-on scientism, because, after all, they remain theists and so affirm that God exists and is the ground of reality. Thus, this fanciful tale in which scores of TEs are out there undermining Christian doctrines and ethics and calling them subjective seems fear-mongering. Indeed, some TEs are among the most steadfast and brilliant theologians of our time and certainly do affirm objectivity in theology and ethics (for example, John Walton and Alister E. McGrath).

C. John Collins’ chapter on God’s action in the world largely seeks to say that we should allow for miracles in the workings of the natural world, something that I doubt many TEs would deny. The difference is that many TEs (though certainly not all) would see things like the emergence of life or the way nature is set up to allow for evolution and lead to humans as miraculous, while leaving the individual workings to “natural” processes. Again, very few people today would demand Christians affirm that the movement of the planets is an act of special divine intervention, even though historically many Christians did affirm that and the Bible explicitly states that the “heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Yet we don’t have books arguing against Christians who don’t believe that the movement of the stars or weather patterns are the direct acts of God? Why not? Because we have accepted that God may use natural processes, and that this, too, is glorious.

Other chapters argue about the origin of conscience, the problem of natural evil on evolution, and the interaction of science and scripture. These are interesting, but again seem to do little to undercut the position of TE.

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: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 2: Science

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the scientific critique offered in the book.

Science

I admit I am by no means an expert in science and so do not feel adequate to fully interact with the scientific chapters in this book. Chapter topics include “Three Good Reasons… to reject Darwin’s Explanation of Life” by Douglas Axe, the problem of information for evolution, the problem(s) of mechanism(s) for evolution, the question of first life and its arising on earth, the problem of having front-end loaded design for evolution, DNA mutations being inadequate to explain evolution, embryology as a challenge to evolution, multiple chapters against universal common descent, arguments for unique human origin, and the way bias can lead investigations in science.

Again, it would not be possible to even give an overview of all of these chapters without several thousand more words, so I’ll just go over a few of the notes I took throughout the chapters.

Douglas Axe’s chapter includes a rather strange claim that is pretty central to his whole proposal. He has argued before about the plainness of design and our ability to detect it. He continues this argument in his chapter arguing for rejecting Darwinism. Yet one of his points is that things like clouds do not point clearly to design. Specifically, he states:

To the theist… nothing happens apart from God. But then, no theist came to that view by looking at clouds or craters [on the moon]. Such things are not at all inconsistent with God’s presence, but neither do they confront us with his presence. (90)

Such a statement is quite strange, because historically it seems pretty clear that such things do, in fact, point to God’s presence for many theists. Most notably, the Bible itself states rather clearly: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). It seems obvious from this passage that David, at least, felt that such things as clouds and the skies and the heavens—yes, perhaps even moon craters–declared the glory of God and the works of God’s hands. They are used as paradigms for showing the exact thing that Axe says they are not. But of course to admit that would be to undercut Axe’s whole point. After all, if the mundane things may actually point us to God and indeed confront us with God’s presence, then the whole objection to Darwinism based on it reducing life to “natural” causes itself falls apart.[3] 

Stephen C. Meyer’s chapter that argues having “Front-End Loaded” design makes no difference for theistic evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists has its own problems with grand claims. Meyer states:

Some theistic evolutionists affirm that God actively directs the evolutionary process by… directing seemingly random mutations toward particular biological endpoints… this view contradicts the (scientifically) orthodox neo-Darwinian view of the evoltionary process as a purely purposeless, unguided, and undirected mechanism… (218).

It is odd, though, for Meyer to insist that theistic evolutionists must have their directions of speculation or insight governed by atheistic perspectives (he specifically cites Richard Dawkins in favor of his assertion). Of course, the whole point of being a theistic evolutionist is that God exists and so saying God may be involved in the process is simply an outworking of that theism. To artificially limit theistic evolutionists to the thought process of Richard Dawkins is a bit absurd, and again hints that the way these authors are looking at TE may itself be problematic.

In the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Does it Work?” by Stephen C. Meyer, Ann K. Gauger, and Paul A. Nelson, the authors ask “Why insist on synthesizing Christian theology, or a biblical understanding of creation, with a scientifically failing theory of origins [read : evolution]?” (257). I can’t help but wonder at this total confidence. I continually try to learn more and read magazines like Smithsonian and Scientific American. I read manuscript-length science book when possible. Time and again, I find that there are new and continued confirmations of evolutionary theory in these magazines. Yes, the theory continues to change, but it also continues to find affirmation in discovery after discovery. Yet authors like those of this book continue to rely on the same quotes time and again to support their own assertions.[4] If it is true that evolution is truly a failing theory of origins, why is it that we don’t see the majority of scientists turning away from it? Sure, it is possible there is some massive conspiracy, but is that what we are being asked to believe?

Finally, in a chapter arguing against human evolution by Casey Luskin entitled “Missing Transitions: Human Origins and the Fossil Record,” I found a number of problems. The first is that Luskin’s chapter often focused on works focused towards lay people in the reporting on fossils, apparently trying to show how sensationalized new discoveries are. But having excitement over new fossil discoveries–and having sometimes inaccurate reporting–does not somehow discredit those same fossil finds. Another difficulty is one I have seen time and again in creationist and ID literature, namely that they argue that because there is not an exact, agreed upon sequence of A-B-C…Z, there must be no sequence. But of course, that doesn’t follow whatsoever. It may be that the sequences is not A-B-C…. but rather A-C-B….Z, but that hardly means there is no sequence with start and endpoints. This is a problem I have observed time and again, and an argument I found pretty compelling for many years until I began to research more and more of the literature. Simply having disagreement about the order of transitional forms does not entail that there are no transitional forms. Yet Luskin makes exactly this kind of argument on pages 444ff. Indeed, he makes it explicit in his conclusion, after quoting a pair of paleontologists to the tune of saying that the sequence of human ancestors is unknown, Luskin confidently asserts “With the fossil evidence for human evolution so weak, why should our theistic evolutionist brothers and sisters insist that the church must adopt their viewpoint?” (473). That is a major non sequitor. Imagine a defense attorney on a murder case arguing that because the prosecution could not precisely put a serial killer’s victims in order of when they were killed, it followed that there were no murders or that there was no sequence. Of course, anyone paying attention would be shocked at this seeming confusion. But that is what Luskin and others are expecting readers to accept as evidence against TE, saying simply that because there is disagreement of sequence, there can be no sequence.

[3] Indeed, the earliest days of theistic evolutionists had advocates making this exact point. George Frederick Wright, for example, argued that just as it is not problematic to acknowledge the movements of the planet are due to natural causes, it would not be problematic to see life’s development as the same. See my post on Wright’s theology.

[4] Multiple sources cited are older than 20 years. Time and again, people familiar with Intelligent Design will find themselves reading the same quotes from the same authors. Of course, if someone is right, the age of what they wrote or the fact that it gets quoted multiple times is hardly a problem. But I am left wondering why we can’t hear about more recent publications showing how disastrous evolution is or more dissenters from evolution. Instead, disagreement about details is often taken to be the same as showing evolution is wrong or that evolution is in crisis.

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: “A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth” by Michael Bruner

I love fiction, though I typically stick to science fiction, fantasy, and some mystery/thriller when I read fiction. I haven’t gotten as much into what is most typically called “literary fiction” but I had heard of Flannery O’Connor and knew one of my English teachers in high school was a big fan. When I saw this book about O’Connor and how her fiction showed the Christian Faith, I was extremely interested. Having read the book, I rushed off to pick up a collection of O’Connor’s short fiction. That should probably tell you whether I thought this book was worth reading or not.

Bruner’s look at O’Connor’s fiction is both semi-biographical and applicable. He traces O’Connor’s writings through her descriptions of herself and what she was thinking at the time. He shows how she integrated her faith into her writing, often in somewhat subversive ways. O’Connor dealt with the tough questions of the times–questions like race and pain that never go away–through the lens of fiction. O’Connor was writing in a southern and often racist context and showed how she dealt with this problem from a Christian perspective. Sometimes this took the form of showing evil for what it is–mindless and wrongheaded. Other times this meant showing a character in a positive light who might not be a traditional protagonist

Alongside these issues, Bruner also examines the influences on O’Connor’s writings and sheds particular light on the impact of Baron von Hugel. The latter’s writings were also infused with Catholic faith and perhaps inspired some of the directions O’Connor took with her own fiction.

If there’s one strike in the book it is that it was, at times, difficult to follow the flow due to my own unfamiliarity with O’Connor’s writings. The book was surely written with those who have at least some familiarity with O’Connor’s work in mind, so this is but a minor complaint, but readers who go in blind to O’Connor’s body of work should be aware of the possibility for some confusion here.

Bruner’s A Subversive Gospel is an enlightening work that will send readers to O’Connor’s work with new lenses. Or, if they, like me, haven’t encountered her works before, it may send them to the library to explore this intriguing character in greater depth. Recommended.

The Good

+Insights into O’Connor’s life as a writer

The Bad

-At times somewhat obscure for those without intimate awareness of O’Connor’s body of work

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: Viable@140 by George Gmitro

I’m going to lay it all out right here at the beginning, and yes this will be a big SPOILER for this novel: this book’s premise is that a man and woman get pregnant, she decides to have an abortion, and he kidnaps her and keeps her sedated for the duration of the pregnancy so that she will have the baby rather than an abortion. Your reaction to that description probably tells you what you need to know about this book. Frankly, if your reaction is anything than abject horror, I think there’s some serious issues going on. There will be more, serious SPOILERS in the rest of this review.

Viable@140 is Gmitro’s attempt to portray a story in which what it means to be pro-life is radically questioned and challenged. To my astonishment as I continued reading, it became clear that Gmitro is at the least, not definitively rejecting this as being completely unacceptable morally. Once again, the premise is that Lance kidnaps his fiancee, Sandi, who is pregnant because she’s going to have an abortion. Then, he uses sedatives to keep her knocked out for the duration of her pregnancy so that she won’t have the abortion. Meanwhile, the world is looking for Lance. Eventually, they find him but a huge group of pro-life people turns out to defend lance and his child. Eventually, millions of people, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush walk their laps around the residence Lance is keeping his fiancee comatose within. Would-be assassins attempt to kill him so that the news story doesn’t break and get the public talking about abortion. News stations gag the news, and only the brave Fox News station will take the story and report the truth. These are things that happen in the book.

What happens to Sandi after the baby has been safely delivered into Lance’s hands? After all, million(s) of people have now seen or heard how horrible she is and admire Lance for his bravery in kidnapping her and keeping her sedated for six months! Well, fear not, for, as a Doctor tells us in the book, “Since she was not awake through most of this ordeal, leading mental health experts believe that any immediate negative psychological effects will be minimal and by not having the abortion, may have prevented psychological injury in the long term…” (Kindle location 5139ff). I am genuinely flabbergasted by this statement. The woman will spend the rest of her life as the villain who wanted an abortion, who lay comatose as million(s) marched around the house in which she was interred, who had the baby and was whisked off the scene to privacy, etc. But fear not, because her fiance kept her knocked out for the event! Indeed, whatever psychological scarring Lance may have caused her, it would have been vastly outweighed by the psychological damage of having an abortion, according to these fictional leading mental health experts.

I in no way think that consequentialism is a valid moral theory, but that moral theory is actually what this comes down to. The idea is that it is less harmful to kidnap and sedate someone for 6 months than it is to kill the unborn. Whatever pro-and-con scale one chooses here, I believe that the idea itself is irrelevant. Why? Because I do not believe that the consequences brought about by action are what makes the action right or wrong to begin with. After all, it seems obvious that simply killing someone who is 100% certain they would get an abortion before they get pregnant would prevent the abortion. However, that is also obviously wrong, despite the consequence that it prevents an abortion. In a more true-to-life example, bombing an abortion clinic or killing its employees may prevent some abortion(s), but in no way is it justified morally. Indeed, if one were to take the example here in Viable@140 to its logical extreme and apply consequentialism as a moral theory, it is morally justifiable to simply incarcerate all pregnant women to prevent them from having abortions. But such a suggestion is clearly monstrous to begin with.

I’m a firm believer in always trying to say something positive about something, especially when it must be so negative overall. I could say that this book may at least get people talking about the debate over abortion. But I’m afraid it would cause people to create a straw man of the pro-life position rather than allowing us to give the full force of our position. So even that tentative remark must be qualified.

I am pro-life, and I have written multiple times on this topic, including on the reasons, both scientifically and philosophically, I think abortion is wrong. However, in no way can I endorse the conclusions or heavy implications of this book. From its implied morality to the use of questionable moral foundations, I find it wanting. Moreover, its use of the “Fox News is the only true news source” meme throughout is as tired as it is untrue. Pro-life advocates, we cannot justify wrongdoing in the name of this movement. If and when we do, whatever alleged moral high ground we may hold is gone. The very foundations for our position will erode. Consequentialism is not the answer, it is actually the exact problem.

I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Book Review: “Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright” edited by James M. Scott

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright seeks to explore N.T. Wright’s thesis about the notion of continuing exile being a controlling belief for the theology of second-temple Judaism and, by extension, early Christianity. The essays come from a variety of perspectives and are led with one by N.T. Wright himself introducing his thesis. Essay topics range from analysis of the Hebrew word(s) for “Exile” to seeing the Exile as positive rather than negative or providing a sacramental interpretation of Exile.

Any collection of essays will have highs and lows. I felt this collection was fairly even in high quality essays. Across the board, it delivered on interesting topics (even if it was not always clear why the topic is important–more on that below). Highlights for me were the inclusion of Walter Brueggemann- a phenomenally interesting OT scholar, a rather deep essay on the terminology on restoration and exile in the New Testament and LXX (Septuagint), and Robert Kugler’s “nuance” of N.T. Wright’s thesis which made it more clear what Wright was saying and highlighted some of his thesis’ importance. The book bears reading and re-reading as one considers specific theological questions about Exile–surely a pervasive theme in biblical theology–and restoration.

I was surprised, however, by how even-toned even the detractors of Wright’s thesis were in this collection. Wright’s discussion of Justification has  caused serious controversy–and often shed more heat than light in some circles–and his discussion of Exile has seemed to me just as contentious. Yet the negative essays included here only touched on the areas of disagreement. Though essays like Jörn Kiefer’s “Not All Gloom and Doom” strike at the heart of Wright’s thesis by, in this case, undercutting the sheer horror of exile to the authors of the Bible, few seem to critically engage Wright on a truly broad level.

Indeed, if there’s any serious shortcoming in the book, it is that at no point is the importance of the debate truly outlined and expanded upon. Indeed, readers may be forgiven for wondering, at times, what is so contentious about some of these points–and why they matter. At one point, as I read about the positive interpretations of Exile in Judaism, I wondered- “So what?” If Wright is right, then Exile is a pervasive theme and key to understanding the entire Bible. That seems like a big deal. But most of the essays here seem to make it sound like minutiae. Having read the book, and a few chapters twice, I am left wondering about the big picture and what, exactly, is at stake in some of it.

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright is an interesting collection of valuable essays. Though it doesn’t always highlight the practical importance of its topic, it does engage with some heady subjects of interpretation on many levels that readers interested in this debate would surely benefit from. As I’ve often found to be the case, though, I was left at times wondering why Wright is found to be so contentious, and

The Good 

+Variety of perspectives offered
+Wide swath of engagement with Wright

The Bad

-Doesn’t explain enough of why the debate is important

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!

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 Lost World of Israelite Conquest” by John Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is another fantastic work from the pen of John Walton, this time writing with his son, J. Harvey Walton. Walton has a number of these introductory works that focus on revealing the world of the Ancient Near East to his readers to help make sense of the Bible. In this work, the authors take on the question of what we are to make of the conquest narratives in the Bible.

There are often several perspectives Christians take in response to these accounts, as the authors note: they may argue that God is in control of all things and if God chooses to use one people to massacre another, that is God’s will; they may instead argue that the accounts are Israel’s political use of God to justify their own acts; others soften the first perspective but note how morally bankrupt the Canaanites are, arguing that they deserved destruction; or they may argue that the accounts don’t actually teach about genocide at all, but are rather, properly interpreted, rhetoric. The authors of The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest argue, instead, that when we properly understand the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of these passages, their meaning becomes more clear.

Perhaps one of the most radical propositions in the book, from the modern apologetic perspective, is that there is an entire section dedicated to the argument that “The Canaanites are not depicted as guilty of sin” (31ff). They are not saying the Canaanites are perfect, but rather that the Bible does not highlight the sinfulness of the Canaanites over and against any other group of people. Thus, to argue that the Canaanites were particularly guilty of sin, or that they took what was rightfully Israel’s, is mistaken. They establish this through both looking at the Bible’s own words about the Canaanites, and by evaluating the ANE context of these accounts. After arguing, briefly, that the Conquest accounts are a recapitulation of the creation accounts, the authors delve deeply into the translation of the Hebrew word, “Herem.” The word, contextually, often allows those who are “herem”‘d to continue existing. Thus, the authors argue, the meaning of the term is not destruction of individuals but rather the destruction of identity: to “herem” something is to “remove from use” that something. Thus, they argue, the Canaanites were not all put to the sword or killed; rather, their identity was subsumed into Israelite identity.

Another important point the authors make is that wars in the ancient world were fought in different ways and often with different goals or ideals of outcomes than we have today. A people’s deity was depicted fighting alongside that people, and these wars were often over identity as people.

The authors, then, reject the popular apologetic argument today that the accounts are hyperbolic in scope and thus can be seen as something like mere skirmishes. Instead, they argue that the conquest accounts are writing about war as the people of the ANE fought it, with the purposes and in the contexts in which they fought those wars. Overall, I found the authors’ theses pretty convincing. It certainly does away with some of the simpler dismissals of the accounts as merely hyperbolic. However, I wonder how the authors might respond to a more nuanced and extended argument like that of K. Lawson Younger, Jr.’s Ancient Conquest Accounts. In that work, Younger draws upon archaeological data as well as analysis of the battles as described in the biblical texts to show, in part, that the accounts are not genocide but rather wars waged against strongholds and fortresses in rather strategically advanced ways. To anticipate a reply, I believe the Waltons might argue that such analysis could easily be incorporated into their own account, for so long as one is not trying to establish the accounts as merely hyperbolic, one may align oneself with their own perspective.

Other recent works like Did God Really Command Genocide? by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan offer robust defenses of the hyperbolic approach to interpreting the text. The authors did address Copan directly and I believe this book, though the index of Lost World… doesn’t feature either author, making it difficult to confirm. Responding to Copan, they argue that at least part of his approach is anachronistic and reads a modern view of demonic powers onto the Hebrew text. I think it would have been helpful, though, to have a longer discussion of the hyperbolic interpretation. Indeed, the subject index doesn’t even have the word “hyperbole,” though it was mentioned several times. It will be interesting to see how modern defenders of the hyperbolic interpretation interact with the Walton thesis.

Overall, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is a broad, thought-provoking book. Though readers familiar with the field will certainly be left wanting more questions answered, they will benefit as much as any other reader due to the expertise on ANE context that is brought to bear on these difficult passages. I read the book and would say I feel largely convinced by it, though either due to my own adherence to the hyperbolic view or something else, I still have questions about their thesis. I am firmly convinced, though, that any reader with interest in this topic must pick up and read this important work.

The Good 

+Fascinating application of ANE context to difficult topic
+Broad focus with many lines of evidence applied to question
+Sheds fresh light on the topic
+Opens many lines of further inquiry

The Bad

-Could use more discussion of some modern alternatives
-Index seems somewhat incomplete

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!

 

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: “Theologies of the American Revivalists” by Robert W. Caldwell III

What images does the word “revival” bring to your mind? For me, the image is a rather monolithic one of fiery preaching and hands waving, altar calls and massive crowds. Robert W. Caldwell III’s Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney surveys the field of these American revivals and offers both a corrective and instructive voice.

The work is organized around different revival movements. Caldwell III differentiates between such movements as the Congregationalists, the New Divinity Movement, Jonathan Edwards, the Second Great Awakening, the Early American Baptists, Charles Finney, and more. After these chapters providing overviews of these varied movements, a chapter follows offering analysis of and response to revival theology.

What the overview chapters revealed to me was that my vision of what a “revival” looks like was really an amalgamated picture combining elements of Jonathan Edwards, the New Divinity Movement, and more. This is one of the greatest strengths of the book; it provides readers with clearer definitions of and differentiation between Revival movements. Each movement had a slightly different goal, many had differing views of what it meant to be “saved,” prayer and spirituality differed as well. Caldwell III helps draw these lines in an interesting, if sometimes dry, way.

The analysis of Revivalist theology leads Caldwell III to argue that a “moderate evangelical” theology can reveal a kind of shared link between all the revivalist movements, as well as reveal the underpinnnings of modern evangelicalism. This latter insight is particularly valuable, especially due to modern evangelicalisms oft-bemoaned lack of self-awareness regarding its roots. Caldwell, through this book, shows that evangelicalism did not spring ex nihilo, but rather had its own period of development with an interesting and sometimes checkered past.

Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney is a fascinating work. Caldwell III has shown that the American Revivals were interconnected in many important ways, but more intriguingly, has shown the spontaneity of the movement and its continuing impact.

The Good 

+Demonstrates the diversity of the American revivals, as well as connections between them
+Shows a broad historical perspective while also focusing on major voices
+Important historically for understanding its topic

The Bad

-Somewhat dry at times

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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: “Imaginative Prayer” by Jared Patrick Boyd

Jared Patrick Boyd seeks, with Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for your Child’s Spiritual Formation, to provide a groundwork for practical, imaginative prayer life that parents can experience alongside their children.

The book’s format provides a year of imaginative prayer for parents and children. After a few brief introductory chapters, Boyd gets to the meat of the book, which is a series of practical applications of strategies and ideas to prayer imaginatively. What exactly does that mean? Boyd argues that humans are impacted through their imagination, and not engaging the imagination means we miss a lot of possible formation for ourselves and others. Rather than providing a simple definition of what it means to pray imaginatively, Boyd walks readers through a series of ways to do just that.

There are 6 parts to the yearlong guide, focusing on God’s love, loving others, forgiveness, Jesus is the King, the good news of God, and the mission of God. Each has activities, questions, and ways to reflect throughout the time spent on each activity. The format of each is approximately similar, beginning with a reflection on a biblical story, followed by a question and answer, a written-out prayer with built-in pause cues, and further questions and reflections for parents to integrate. I particularly enjoyed examples like checking out a book of natural history to look at the various creatures God made and talk about the creations God loves and how much God has created. Other examples include using water to show how sharing provides greater abundance, reading the Bible and trying to imagine how the characters themselves would have felt in the context of the stories, etc. Essentially, every parent should be able to find at least a few activities they feel comfortable and even excited about sharing with their children. Many will benefit from using every single one over the course of a year.

If there is one complaint I have, it is how very specific some aspects are. Especially in the prayer sections, where Boyd even maps out the specific length of pauses between certain lines. It just seems like a bit too much specificity in a resource that is intended to encourage imagination. However, it could also be helpful for those who are really concerned about how to begin.

Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for your Child’s Spiritual Formation provides a unique way to pray and do devotions with school-aged kids. The book seems an excellent way to encourage spiritual growth for children–and their parents.

The Good 

+Helpfully concrete
+Many, many varieties of activities, questions, and reflections to choose from
+Use of diverse sources for citations and quotes

The Bad

-A bit overly specific on some aspects

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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: “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?” edited by Keathley, Stump, and Aguirre

Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? is a book that I would have thought nearly impossible when I started reading on issues of science and faith. The book brings together two Christian organizations with opposing viewpoints on origins to have an amiable, informative discussion on their different views. There is so much heat in such discussions that it seems as though sometimes people can’t even begin such a conversation. I’m happy to say that this book is an example of a thoughtful engagement on both sides.

The book is arranged so that on each topic, each side gets several pages to address the questions at hand. Then, the moderator offers an extra question(s) for each side, and a shorter section is given to the commentators. The book is not a debate book; instead, it is a series of questions with the answers given from two different perspectives. This makes it an invaluable reference to compare and contrast these two leading views from major organizations related to science-faith issues.

The topics that are covered start with a general outline of the perspective of each group Biologos is the evolutionary creation perspective, and Reasons to Believe presents the Old-Earth Creationist perspective. Evolutionary creation (often called theistic evolution) is the view that modern evolutionary science and Christianity are compatible and true (yes, there’s much more to it, but this is the bare-bones version). The Old-Earth Creationist perspective, as presented by Reasons to Believe, is a Day-Age look at Genesis (i.e. each day of creation corresponds to a period of creation, over time) that sees science confirming specific teachings in the Bible.

After this general outline, many topics are discussed, including how each group interprets the Bible, which positions are viable regarding Adam and Eve, natural evil, how God interacts in the natural world, the scientific method, evolution, geological evidence and the origin of life, the fossil record and hominids, genetics and common descent, and anthropology. Again, these topics aren’t discussed as debates, which gives each side more time to outline their own position and give a meatier response to the questions posed.

I cannot emphasize enough how important I believe this book is. Not only does it show that organizations with opposed views on important topic can have truly edifying interactions, it also serves as an invaluable reference for learning about both Old Earth and Evolutionary Creation. I highly recommend Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? to my readers.

The Good 

+Superb, concise presentation of the two views
+Well done moderation with staying on topic and pushing for more interesting discussions
+Chock-full of content from both sides of the discussion
+Excellent tone and amiable discussion throughout
+Great group of contributors

The Bad

-Some sections are just too short to hit all the points that need to be hit, even for an overview

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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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