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Susan Pevensie, C.S. Lewis, and Enchantment

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is one of the most instantly recognizable and beloved series of children’s stories of all time. In the series, there is a land called Narnia into which human children occasionally stumble, frequently to epic and long-lasting effect. Susan Pevensie is one of these children. She’s the eldest daughter of the Pevensie clan, one of four children to enter Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She goes on to eventually become Queen Susan the Gentle.

Later, however, when readers encounter The Last Battle, an apocalyptic exploration of Narnia that includes many of Lewis’s own beliefs, we discover that Susan is, astonishingly, not with the other Pevensies. Susan, we are told by her somber brother Peter, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.” Apparently, she has taken to calling the former adventures in Narnia as just some games the kids played when they were younger, and she’s now much too grown-up for that sort of thing. Susan, we’re told, is much more interested in “nylons and lipstick and invitations” than she is in anything like Narnia.

I remember the first time I read this section. I was sitting in my parochial grade school, using the free time I had during the day to voraciously read anything that came my way. This book, I’d been waiting for. I’d been scared of reading it, because the cover with the unicorn, horn bloodied, was more than a little alarming. But I’d dived in, and discovered one of the strangest adventures I’d read. I didn’t know what to make of it, what with the deceitful animals, people who ignored reality right there in front of them, and more. But then Susan hit, and it hit me like a load of bricks. Surely Susan would never forget Narnia! It felt like a betrayal. Susan, who so practically believed what she saw. Susan, who thought of bringing coats into the always-winter Narnia. Susan, who was always the reasonable one. Susan, who was the Gentle. She was no longer a friend of Narnia? How was this possible? And how was it possible that Susan, who’d literally grown into adulthood as a Queen of Narnia, pretended it was all just a game? Was this the kind of horrifying thing that would happen to me when I grew up?

There has been a lot written about the problem of Susan. A friend shared a Youtube video that explained many of the problem(s) away by contextualizing some of the things within Lewis’s own world that he may have been referencing. I enjoyed it, but some of the explanation didn’t sit right with me because it felt so much like explaining away rather than simply contextualizing. A wonderful post on Tor.com, “The Problem(s) of Susan” by Matt Mikalatos, highlighted many of the issues I have with Susan as an adult. Mikalatos concludes:

“Jack [C.S. Lewis], believe me, if Susan looks for Aslan, she’ll find him. If she asks a question, he’ll answer. If she—even in her old age, even years and years from now—finds herself finds herself alone in that great house, and wanders into the old guest room and gently, not quite believing, raps her knuckles on an ancient wardrobe door, believe me, Jack, Aslan will be waiting to throw it open. And then at last the true happily ever after can begin.”

I love that, and I think it sits so well with me as an adult. Perhaps it is true that Lewis himself didn’t allow himself an expansive enough vision of Narnia–nay, Aslan’s–power. That’s something to think about.

The child in me wonders, though, if Lewis has outwitted me again. Perhaps that scene with Susan isn’t written for the adults–it’s for the children. It’s for children who, like me, would be stunned to think that Susan could forget Narnia. It’s a scene about the loss of enchantment, and one that teaches children to never let go of the enchantment of our own world–our own Narnia. A world in which God the Son entered human flesh and gave himself to die for us.

The notion of enchantment, wonder, and myth is absolutely central to Lewis’s writings throughout his life, whether from his younger period as an atheist, or as an old man. The idea that he might be sneaking this concept into one of his most powerful–and powerfully confusing–works doesn’t seem entirely impossible. If so, then Susan is a heartrending example of the loss of enchantment. Instead of Aslan’s call, she holds out for invitations to parties; instead of donning a bow, she cares deeply for nylons. It’s a tragic story, even as it stretches the limits of imagination given the character Susan has been established to be. Perhaps it is Susan’s nature as Susan the Gentle which leads her into disenchantment–she pursues the trappings of ostensible adulthood in order to continue to act as protector to her siblings. Her mannerisms and dedication lead her, tragically, towards disenchantment. It’s an awful story, and a jarring one. Perhaps it’s meant to be.

I don’t think that’s what Lewis was doing, but I wonder. Could C.S. Lewis have been playing a final twist, a final call towards enchantment for us–as children? A call to not give up on the world, and to realize that faith and hope really are powerful. I suppose I’ll always wonder whatever happened to Susan. Mikalatos’s answer is the one that resonates most with me. But I also like the idea of enchantment–as it feels exactly like something Lewis would do. Perhaps it is.

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “A Short History of Christian Zionism” by Donald M. Lewis

Christian Zionism is a major force in today’s political landscape. It’s especially powerful in the United States, but it’s also a global force. Donald M. Lewis’s A Short History of Christian Zionism gives readers a background for understanding what Christian Zionism is, where and when it came from, and how it impacts us to this day.

The book specifically deals with the time period from the Reformation to the modern day. Chapters cover a huge range of topics, largely in chronological order. First, Lewis’s helpful introduction deals with the competing definitions of Zionism and related terms. Ultimately, he settles upon this as a definition for Christian Zionism: it is “a Christian movement which holds to the belief that the Jewish people have a biblically mandated claim to their ancient homeland in the Middle East” (3, emphasis removed). Lewis notes how Christian Zionism has played a part in identity formation, especially for those in the dispensationalist movement. From there, Lewis moves into tracing the history of the movement itself. The first chapter does give a brief history from the Early Church to the Reformation, after which several chapters deal with different strands of Zionism emerging from various links to the Reformation. From there, links are forged showing Christian Zionism in American Puritanism, 19th Century British Evangelicalism, and how prominent a role the British Empire played in establishing some of the groundwork for later Zionist movements. The vision of World War I and II as vindications for Premillennialism and the correlating rise of Premillennial Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism presents a fascinating case study in the tenth chapter, and multiple developments in Palestine and global revivalist and Zionist activities form out the rest of the book.

Each chapter is filled with enlightening information. I was especially surprised to learn about the Balfour Declaration, a 1917 document in which the British Government publicly declared its support for a “national home of the Jewish people.” This, despite it being opposed by or ignored by many Jews of the time. The chapters outlining the rise of Christian Zionism in the British Empire laying the groundwork for this Declaration and how that declaration impacted later Zionism were absolutely fascinating.

Insights like those are present in virtually every chapter. The early is often cited by modern Zionists to support their reading of Scripture, but Lewis shows how many in the early church were largely ambivalent to ideas that would later form the basis for Christian Zionism. Lewis also is consistently even-keeled in his evaluation of Christian Zionism, rarely offering direct critique or support for any specific aspects of Christian Zionism. It makes the book invaluable as a reference work with little to bother readers about how it reports the historical information.

A Short History of Christian Zionism is a commendably fair evaluation of the Christian Zionist movement. Any readers remotely interested in the topic would be well-served to pick up and read a copy of this fine historical 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.

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

SDG.

——

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

“Knife of Dreams” by Robert Jordan- a Christian (re)Reads “A Wheel of Time”

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

Action Becomes Reality

In Knife of Dreams, Faile and her companions are being held captive by the Shaido Aiel. In the process, they are forced into servitude and beaten at the whims of their overlords. Faile soon realized the best strategy would be to fain timidity, but also realized the dangers of this:

“[Faile] hoped that Sevanna [one of the Aiel] thought her tamed… She hoped that she was not being tamed. Pretend something too long, and it could become truth… She had to escape before [her husband] got himself killed in the attempt [to rescue her]. Before she stopped pretending.” (167)

Blaise Pascal, after outlining his famous wager (which I defend here), noted that one may align oneself towards belief. That is, when someone begins to act as though one believes a certain way, it can turn into a reality that one believes a certain way. From a worldview perspective, then, we should always be wary of how we live our lives and what we surround ourselves with. However, it is possible to become over-zealous in this regard. After all, Faile herself knew that she wasn’t “tamed” in any way, merely acting the part. In a way, the reluctance or even opposition to role-playing games (eg. Dungeons & Dragons) or other forms of imaginative play in some Christian circles is ignorance of the human capacity for objectivity. We are capable of discerning reality from pretend, and to claim it is inherently dangerous to do the latter is to lose some of what it means to be human–to be image bearers of God by creating anew.

Toxic Masculinity

It finally clicked for me as I was listening to the early parts of this novel that the Children of the Light are, in many ways, an analogue for toxic masculinity. I don’t know if this was intentional on Jordan’s part, so don’t read intent into what I’m saying here. But what is clear is the many parallels. The Children’s extreme dislike of the Aes Sedai bleeds over into distrust of women generally. But more than that, the reasons for their distrust of Aes Sedai ultimately can be peeled away as little more than a thin veneer of misogyny. After all, they have to admit the Aes Sedai will be on the “right side” when it comes to the Last Battle, and even admitting that is nearly impossible. Why? Because it seems as though women are rising above their “place” or the limits of power that the male-dominated Children of the Light seem to think they should have. I’m honestly kind of embarrassed I didn’t notice this thematically before.

The name of the group can easily be read as a not-so-subtle riff on New Testament language referring to followers of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Unfortunately, too many Christians have bought into cultural disdain for women, whether in the earliest days of the church as Gnosticism and Greek philosophy bled into the early church’s writings about women or into today as Christian leaders continue to be at the forefront of saying women ought not to preach, despite the Bible itself saying both sons and daughters will prophesy (Joel 2:28/Acts 2:17). Too often, overzealousness like that of the Children of the Light leads to oppression.

Conclusion

Knife of Dreams is one of my favorite books in the series. In many ways, it is a major turning point not just as the series gets turned over to Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s death, but also because the plot is turned at last towards the Last Battle and the events that will bring all of the series into completion.

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The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll 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: “The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach” by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew

A systematic doctrine of creation is the core of Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew’s The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach. The subtitle begs questions about what is meant by this specific doctrine of creation. First, the authors follow the theology of Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch Reformed theologian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second, the notion of being “constructive” means the doctrine builds upon itself, layer upon layer, making a truly systematic approach.

The authors pursue a broad approach, first discussing the historic Christian Creeds and their place in a construction of a doctrine of creation, then moving on to a broad historical overview of the doctrine itself. Next, they turn to God’s omnipotence and its bearing on creation, then move through biblical and theological discussion of creation to show a specific view of how Creation occurred and what relevance it has for today. Providence–God’s sustaining of the world–is a subject of its own chapter, followed by a chapter about Christ and the Holy Spirit in the New Creation, and the book ends with a application of the doctrine of creation to a few modern topics. There is a short appendix about missional neo-Calvinism at the end.

The way Ashford and Bartholomew build the doctrine of creation is infused with insight from Kuyper throughout, though it’s clear that calling it “Kuyperian” is more to designate it as along the Newo-Calvinist tradition than specifically or robotically following Kuyper. I am by no means an expert in Kuyper’s theology. My comment to this effect is based upon the extensive use of more modern citations as well as more generalized theological strands than simply adherence to Kuyper. Much as a Lutheran might call their approach Lutheran without explicitly following Luther in every regard, the authors are doing the same here.

It was interesting to see the first chapter begin with a discussion of the historic Christian Creeds and a defense of their use in helping construct a doctrine of creation. The book’s audience is clearly intended to be broader than Dutch Reformed readers, and this was perhaps included to show the authors have done their legwork regarding why we should see the Creeds as important to faith formation and theology today. As a Lutheran myself, it is just a given that the Creeds are of great import, and it was most interesting to see the authors engaging in such an extended defense of their use. Speaking of the book’s audience–this book is one that will largely yield fruits based on two things: the effort the reader puts into understanding and following the systemic theology therein; and one’s own theological biases. For example, the author’s discussion of the creation accounts (yes, the “s” is intentional) in Genesis was of great interest to this reader, but others might be inclined to see the accounts as a unified whole. More specifically on the doctrines of providence, omnipotence, and elsewhere, the authors’ Neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian view looms large and so will challenge readers who hold other positions.

I was somewhat surprised to see the focus in the chapter about God’s omnipotence to be so specifically focused on God the Father. Indeed, the chapter itself, following the language of the Apostle’s Creed, is titled “God, the Father Almighty.” But one gets a sense within the chapter that the other members of the Trinity are almost afterthoughts in this aspect of the doctrine of Creation. This is most clear when the authors use language that seems almost a concession in describing the role of the other divine Persons: “we know that the Son and the Spirit are also involved in the act of creation” (140). However, those Persons get little say until a later chapter discusses the New Creation (306ff). Many modern controversies are discussed, with views of omniscience and providence being at the center of a section about creatio continua (continued creation). Here, the authors wrestle with authors within their own tradition (eg. Barth’s resistance to philosophy p. 290-292 and elsewhere) as well as others like Molinists with competing views (they argue for an Augustinian view against the Molinist position, see p. 293-294, but also the discussion on 126).

Numerous intriguing insets are found throughout the text, such as an extended discussion of creation out of nothing (133-137) that includes some discussion of ancient Near Eastern literature. However, the authors focus much more upon Christian tradition and writings than on any attempt to understand the contemporary culture or meanings inherent in the text from an ANE perspective. Many other insets highlight important topics relevant to the issues at hand and present readers with more extensive looks at the authors’ arguments.

I was quite surprised in the final chapter to see the author’s application of their systematic theology to contemporary issues. I wasn’t surprised to see that application made–surely if a Christian doctrine of creation is true, it ought to be able to speak to many modern problems–but rather with the seeming lack of care given in this section to sources and argumentation. Specifically, the authors turn to the question of transgender individuals. They make a distinction between gender dysphoria and “transgender ideology” (360) and assert that “we must recognize transgenderism as deeply incoherent” (ibid). Beyond that, they agree with another writer that “it is a gnostic denigration of the material body that nonetheless insists that a trans person must transform his or her body in order to be whole…” among other things. Here we see the ugly aphorism that “If I don’t like a theological position, it must be Gnosticism” rearing its ugly head.

Beyond the utter historical nonsense that is the equivocation of modern transgender ideology to ancient Gnosticism without anything more than bald assertion, the authors themselves produce the very type of incoherent argument they accuse their interlocutors of performing. First, their definition of “transgender ideology” as the belief that “a person can be born into the body of the wrong sex and can be transformed into the other sex through gender reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy” (ibid). This definition may reflect the beliefs of some people, but surely not a broad enough consensus as to lump all who go beyond mere acknowledgement of gender dysphoria into this category. Moreover, the authors themselves seem to totally miss one of the central aspects of an understanding of gender dysphoria–something they at least seem to acknowledge as a real difficulty–as they move quite swiftly from discussion of “sex” to discussion of gender. Just one page after their definition, they continue: “A person should not, and indeed cannot, change his or her gender” (361). This seems utterly confused, because the language they’re using reflects objectivity of gender standards which simply cannot be the case given how frequently throughout history those expectations have changed. Men in Elizabethan England were expected to wear ruffles and stockings, so according to these authors’ confused understanding, men today are either sinfully attempting to change their gender by not doing so, or the whole of societal expectations in that era and place were themselves mistaken and indeed impossible (referring to the language of “cannot”). Given the deep misunderstandings of the basic tenets and talking points of modern discussions of transgender topics (something I myself do not claim any expertise in), it seems the authors may have been better served if they’d let the topic lie instead of attempting a triumphant broadside that dissolves into silliness on the most superficial examination.

It is clear that readers of The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach will be challenged on many levels as they read the book. It is an impressive look at what it means to build a doctrine of creation within a specific theological tradition. There are some stumbles throughout the book, but readers–especially those interested in Reformed doctrine–will find much of interest. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend some of the discussion of modern topics.

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

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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: “Worshiping with the Reformers” by Karin Maag

What did worship during the Reformation look like? Karin Maag’s Worshiping with the Reformers provides a broad look at what worship during time of the Reformers was like, what kind of singing–if any–they did, and answers a host of other questions about worship during this formative time for the Christian church.

Each chapter explores various branches of the Reformers’ churches and their practices on the topic at hand. These chapters cover: going to church, at church, preaching, prayer, baptism, communion, the visual arts and music, and worship outside church. Firsthand accounts of worship abound, along with the occasional humorous (in retrospect–certainly not at the time) reports of charges being leveled at people for improperly worshiping, not showing up, and more. Every individual chapter has some fascinating detail to take away.

What’s especially of interest to those looking to explore Reformation history is the broad areas of unity of practice along with the rather sharp distinctions between the various branches of Reformers on things like music in worship, the use of art, or how to practice sacraments–and what they ought to be called. These practices show that the Reformation, far from being a truly unified movement, was one in which Christians were exploring the meaning of worship in often unique and divergent ways. Set alongside that, however, there is unity found in the importance of Scripture, attempts to return to biblical practices, and more. Maag consistently provides a combination of firsthand accounts and third person analysis, making the book a fascinating read from cover to cover.

Worshiping with the Reformers is a fascinating glimpse into the worship practices of various branches of the Reformation during that time of societal change. Readers with interest in the Reformation, worship styles, or even European history will find this a fascinating book.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Making of C. S. Lewis (1918-1945): From Atheist to Apologist” by Harry Lee Poe

C. S. Lewis is one of the best known Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Harry Lee Poe has been working on a multivolume biography of the man, presenting a revealing and detailed portrait of his life and intellectual development. The first volume, Becoming C. S. Lewis: A Biogaphy of Young Jack Lewis covered 1898-1918 (my review). Here, in The Making of C. S. Lewis (1918-1945): From Atheist to Apologist, we see Lewis in adulthood as he moves from atheism to Christianity and, ultimately, to defending the faith. Readers could certainly read this as a standalone work and glean enormous insight into Lewis’s life, but the first biography is also well-worth the effort.

Harry Lee Poe documents extensively the life of Lewis, but he does so with a style that remains engaging throughout. The biography is divided into various periods of Lewis’s life, such as his return to Oxford, his academic work and war work, and more. Each chapter explores not just Lewis’s life, but also his intellectual development and work. Having recently read Splendour in the Dark: C. S. Lewis’s Dymer in His Life and Work by Jerry Root (review here), it was great to see Poe also highlighting several aspects of this lesser-known work of Lewis’s pre-Christian days. Lewis was pleased to be published, and it was one of the moments that his father also seemed to be pleased with. Perhaps more importantly, however, Lewis’s fascination with myth and enchantment of the world was already fully formed before his conversion. Poe notes the derision with which Lewis held several Christian influences on his life, but how he later changed his views as he encountered more devout believers. Poe balances this experience of Lewis with his intellectual development, showing how Lewis’s exploration of myth and legend led him to be fascinated by Christianity even as he was enthralled by the behavior of some of its adherents.

Lewis as a Christian continued to write and explore themes of myth, while also being pushed by several friends who influenced how and what he wrote. From such exploration, we received works like Miracles, as Lewis was encouraged to write a book defending the possibility of the titular events. Of course, Lewis’s fiction is also a much-beloved aspect of his writing, though the period covered in this book covers his Space Trilogy and not Narnia. Lewis clearly had apologetic intent in mind for these books, as he worked against some of the prevailing themes in science fiction at the time.

One difficulty with this biography is that, while Poe occasionally mentions some of Lewis’s failings, he seems to gloss over others and ignore or leave out some aspects of Lewis’s life that may not be as palatable to the presumably largely American Evangelical audience it is intended to reach. Regarding the latter, for example, no mention of Lewis’s interest in sadomasochism is made here, despite it being recently documented in other works. Additionally, Lewis is portrayed most frequently as a kind of “mere Christian,” a portrayal which makes some sense in light of his own writings. However, this also means that it leaves out some of his Anglicanism and unique beliefs. It’s possible some of this latter discussion will happen in the final volume of the biography, but it makes some of the discussion of C. S. Lewis’s intellectual Christianity seem milquetoast at times. Additionally, little analysis of Lewis’s thoughts are offered here. The style Poe has chosen is generally to simply report the events of Lewis’s life without commentary. Thus, when Lewis makes some alarming comments about women, they are noted with little comment.

Much discussion of Lewis’s personal life, financial situation, and work is included in the biography. Learning of Lewis’s work to philanthropize using the income from his writings even as he failed to make much on them was one of the more intriguing details about his life. Reading of his interactions with the inklings and others who influenced his thought makes him feel much more real and connected to the reader than he was before. Poe does a superb job of weaving all of this into his overall narrative of Lewis’s life.

The Making of C. S. Lewis is another deep dive into the life of a man who is a spiritual hero for many. Poe writes in a way that captures the reader and draws them deeply in to the life of a man whose ideas continue to shape the minds of millions of Christians to this day. 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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception” by Petra Brown

It’s no secret that I have been deeply impacted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology. However, as with everything, I believe it is important to read views which are critical of your own. Sometimes, this can help moderate your own enthusiasim for a view by showing potentially problematic aspects of it. Other times, reading something which disagrees with your views can help confirm you in that view as you rebut the critique. Petra Brown’s book, Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception is a remarkable critique leveled directly at Bonhoeffer’s ethic. I found it enlightening and, at times, course-correcting.

The central point Brown argues that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is dangerous because it essentially allows the individual Christian disciple to justify essentially any form of violence so long as they believe they are living in a state of “exception.” Brown cites numerous examples of Christians who used violence, claiming Bonhoeffer for support when challenged on it.

The state of exception is developed by Brown through the lens of Carl Schmitt, a Nazi jurist who developed the notion of “state of exception” as “a state of emergency which requires decisive action by the sovereign (in Schmitt’s case) or by other actors within the state” (5). Schmitt is explicitly cited by Brown as the lens through which she’s viewing the state of exception and analysis of Bonhoeffer, though she also clearly state’s Bonhoeffer’s own concept of exception is intended “in a fairly straightforward way, based on Machiavelli’s concept of necessita” (106). Brown rigorously documents Bonhoeffer’s writings showing that he did speak about a state of exception, along with the need for potential individual action on the part of the disciple. However, Brown’s own definition of exception is, by her own argument, placed squarely within Schmitt’s writings, not those of Bonhoeffer. And, since Brown denotes a significant divergence between the two, this seemingly undercuts her central point. Indeed, at times this reader wondered if the point was more akin to arguing that Bonhoeffer’s ethic could be misunderstood in light of other writers on states of exception, thus becoming dangerous because of that misunderstanding. Yet Brown herself seems to be arguing that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is problematic in just this sense: that it can and does yield individual, “lone wolf” type violence. The tension between these two points is, to my eye, not resolved.

Brown does make attempts to unite Bonhoeffer’s state of exception with that of Schmitt’s, but these arguments are tenuous. For example, she notes that one possible objection to her use of Schmitt with Bonhoeffer is that comparing Schmitt’s ideas with the “emerging ideas of Bonhoeffer” is mistaken because Schmitt was “a German Catholic who explicitly claimed to speak from a Catholic position” (112). Brown argues instead that Schmitt’s position was “highly idiosyncratic” compared to traditional Catholic political stance such that it was “neither neoscholastic, nor Romantic as German Catholicism tended to be at the time” (ibid). Of course, showing Schmitt had theological distance from Roman Catholicism of his time and place does not somehow mean that Bonhoeffer’s state of exception can be seamlessly united with Schmitt. Indeed, it is telling that after making these distinctions, Brown simply moves on with the analysis of Schmitt’s concept of exception rather than attempting to unite it with Bonhoeffer’s. Indeed, she noted earlier that Bonhoeffer’s position is more akin to Machiavelli, from whom she says Schmitt is “a significant departure” (114). This, again, makes it seem as though Brown’s point is less that Bonhoeffer’s ethic itself is dangerous than that it can be dangerous once one unites it with other ethical theories or concepts that are, yes, adjacent to it, but not actually part of it.

On this latter point, I think Brown and I are in general agreement. In fact, Brown’s argument here seems to demonstrate that American evangelicals who cite Bonhoeffer in support of violent acts are doing so by misunderstanding him. But Brown, as far as I saw (and I could have missed something in my own reading), never actually makes this point explicitly. Instead, the implication is that Bonhoeffer’s own ideas are dangerous in that exact way; but that point is not sufficiently established.

Another area in which Brown’s argument loses ground is that she attempts–and fails–to adequately account for Bonhoeffer’s moderation of that state of exception and ethic when related to the church. She acknowledges that Bonhoeffer’s writings about church-community present a significant problem to her reading of Bonhoeffer’s ethic as dangerous (184). However, even as she agrees that one cannot isolate Bonhoeffer’s discussion of ethics from his discussion of the church-community, she works to move Bonhoeffer’s concept of church to that of an individual.

Brown writes, “Bonhoeffer regards the church-community not as an institution, but as a collective person; the personhood of the church-community reflects its identity as the ‘body of Christ’ that is made [up of] ‘actual, living human beings who follow Christ” (187). Thus, she says, “The church community is understood by Bonhoeffer to have ‘personhood,’ and as such I suggest that it can suffer the same isolation experienced by Abraham or the isolated disciple in her obedience to Christ’s call” (ibid). The passage she quotes in support of giving the church-community personhood is from Discipleship (aka The Cost of Discipleship). Brown moves from this quote using the words “actual living beings who follow Christ” to saying the church-community has personhood. However, Bonhoeffer himself, in that very passage which Brown quotes, is not making that point. Instead, Bonhoeffer’s point is made explicitly: the church-community is the physical embodiment of Christ on Earth, preaching God’s word to the world (DBWE 4: 225-226). Thus, for Bonhoeffer, the church-community does not become personal by means of its composition of persons. No, for Bonhoeffer, the church-community has personhood because it becomes Christ to others. And this remarkable claim obviates the difficulty Brown is trying to press. For the church-community is not reducible to a person except that that person is Christ in the world. Therefore, Brown’s argument here fails, because she reduces the church-community to the person in the wrong direction. For her argument to work, it must be reducible, again, to the Christian acting as lone wolf, possibly through violence. But in fact, Bonhoeffer’s reduction is to bring it all to Christ.

One difficulty for Brown is that shared by her imagined–and real–opponents in interpreting Bonhoeffer. Namely, by lifting his name and ethic of the pages of a book and the specific time in which he lived and plugging it in to modern debates, they’ve assumed the context and intent of his ethic today. I need to unpack this a bit. It is abundantly clear that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is not meant to be a list of principles from which people are supposed to draw to make their decisions. Indeed, his ethic does encourage individual action. However, it always does so within the community of believers. Brown’s rebuttal for this was mentioned above, but I think it is worth noting again that community for Bonhoeffer is irreducible to the individual except that of Christ. Thus, the lone wolf violence about which Brown worries and which several have attempted to justify using Bonhoeffer’s words is deeply mistaken in putting Bonhoeffer’s name to it. Just as Bonhoeffer argues one cannot have church without sacrament, so too does he insist upon the church community as working together to embody Christ on Earth. Acting in state of exception does not mean merely acting individually–it means acting along with Christ and the church.

Brown’s arguments do have merit. It is demonstrable that many violent acts have been done in the name of, or at least justified after the fact by, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Brown’s argument that Bonhoeffer’s own ethic justifies this violence is, I believe, mistaken. However, her argument has powerful force if one includes those positions which are adjacent to Bonoheffer’s. So, for example, if one integrates others’ views of a state of exception, it becomes much simpler to justify violence. If one ignores or is ignorant of Bonhoeffer’s insistence upon the church-community and acting ethically alongside that, it becomes much easier to justify violence. So, is Bonhoeffer God’s conspirator, ushering in the possibility for violent acts by Christians? Yes and no. Yes, if Bonhoeffer’s ethic is read divorced from much of its context and with others’ interpretations and concepts smuggled in. No, if one takes Bonhoeffer at his own words.

There is, however, one clear exception to this. Brown presses hard on a sermon Bonhoeffer gave in Barcelona in which he clearly stated that even violent acts could be sanctified. She states, “I don’t believe that the 1929 Barcelona lecture can be dismissed as an aberration” for Bonhoeffer’s ethic. Her attempt to unify this lecture with Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Discipleship is intriguing. I also think that we ought to see Bonhoeffer’s ethic more as unified whole than as a collection of different positions. The Barcelona lecture needs to fit into that somewhere. Of course, Bonhoeffer himself wrote of having some regrets about what he’d written before, so one wonders if it’s possible that, due to the influence of pacifism on his views, he would have wholly rejected what he said in Barcelona. That, or, as others have argued, perhaps Bonhoeffer was moving along a continuum of a Lutheran view of ethics, and one can unify the whole through that. Whatever the case, more work needs to be developed to discover what was meant by Bonhoeffer in Barcelona, or whether Brown’s case succeeds at this point.

Petra Brown’s Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception presents a significant challenge for Bonhoeffer scholarship. Those who wish to engage with Bonhoeffer’s ethics–particularly those of resistance–ought to engage carefully with Brown’s critique.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read all my posts related to Bonhoeffer and his theology.

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SDG.

——

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

Eternal Conscious Torment, Degrees of Suffering, and Infinite Punishment

One argument for affirming Eternal Conscious Torment (hereafter ECT) is that it allegedly makes more sense of divine justice.* So, for example, the argument is that awful dictators like Stalin or Hitler being simply executed by God (such as in some views of Conditionalism) is unjust, but rather their punishment must be much more severe in order to satisfy justice. To rework ECT and allow for a more palatable sense of justice, the concept of degrees of punishment is sometimes introduced, such that those who did not commit great atrocities suffer less than those who did. Another argument for ECT is that because God is infinite and God is the wronged party when creatures sin, those finite creatures must suffer infinite punishment for justice to be served. Below, I’ll argue that these arguments related to ECT fail.

Degrees of Punishment

Intuitively, it seems unjust that someone who say, did not come to belief in Jesus Christ due to not hearing the Gospel proclaimed have the same level of punishment in eternity as someone like Stalin does or someone who intentionally misleads people about Christ. Thus, the argument goes, to preserve that sense of justice, there are degrees of punishment in hell. Instead of debating the merits of that argument, I’d like to highlight a significant problem for the ECT position on this view. Namely, ECT does not, in fact, allow for degrees of punishment on the basis of it being eternal.

Eternity is a long time. It is infinite. Defenders of ECT are adamant: this punishment goes on forever, without end. However, once one introduces the infinite into real life situations, such as eternal conscious torment, some difficulties appear. To explain, examples like Hilbert’s Hotel can help explain some of these situations. In Hilbert’s Hotel, there are infinite rooms which are all full with infinite people. But, alas, a guest would like to check in! No problem, Hilbert just moves every guest down one room, thus making room for another guest! It sounds paradoxical because it is. That’s not how things in the real world seem to work. Nothing truly seems infinite.

For defenders of ECT, hell is infinite. Let’s say we have two people in ECT’s view of hell. One, Jill, has a degree of punishment significantly smaller than that of Joseph Stalin. Let’s say that Jill’s suffering is only 1/1000 that of Stalin. Now, to determine how much suffering any individual suffers, one can multiply the amount of suffering by the amount of time they’re suffering that amount. But infinity multiplied in such a fashion remains infinity. In both Jill and Stalin’s case, that amount of time is infinite. Thus, their total suffering is equal, because the quantitative suffering they receive moment to moment ultimately multiplies to be an equal, infinite amount of suffering. The aggregate suffering which each endures is infinite. All of the unsaved, regardless of who they are or what actions they did in this life, ultimately suffer an equal amount: infinitely.

This means that the argument about degrees of punishment related to ECT fails, because all of the lost suffer the same ultimate fate: infinite suffering.

Different Infinites

It is true that there are different kinds of infinities in math. However, those differences aren’t relevant in this case for a few reasons. One reason is that no individual’s suffering is infinite at any given moment (this is important, as we will see in the next section). That is, we can quantify one’s temporal suffering, say, on a range of 1-1000. Because of that, the calculus of infinites doesn’t change here. Though there are different kinds of infinite, the degrees of punishment being discussed here are not–and cannot–be significant enough to impact that ultimate amount of aggregate suffering in a way that makes the infinites mathematically discernable.

The other problem is that mathematical proof can show that the different type of infinites don’t matter in the case of ECT. See the Appendix below.

Infinite Suffering and the Justice of an Infinite God

Another argument in favor of ECT is that, because one has wronged an infinite being, the punishment must be infinite. If I’m right about the above problem for ECT, ECT succeeds at providing infinite aggregate punishment, but only at cost of undermining any possibility of degrees of punishment. But the fact that it is only aggregately infinite yields another problem: no finite being actually suffers an infinite amount, which undermines another argument for ECT.

Humans are finite–this is a given and indeed is part of the proponent of ECT’s argument for needing an infinite punishment for wronging an infinite God. However, because humans are finite, they are incapable of suffering, at any given moment, an infinite amount. So, while their suffering will be an aggregate or ultimate infinity, given the infinite time of eternity, at no point in time can one say “Stalin has suffered infinitely.” The reason for this is that, at any given moment in eternity, the amount of suffering would still be finite, having not yet reached an infinite amount. For every given moment, t, there is another moment, t +1, that would yield more suffering.

What this means, then, is that no one in hell, at any given moment, has suffered or will have suffered infinitely (excepting the abstract ultimate or aggregate eternity). But if God’s justice can only be served by meting out infinite suffering to finite creatures, then God’s justice is never satisfied, for all such creatures doomed to infinite suffering must continue to suffer without ever reaching the actual infinite amount of suffering. Therefore, the argument in favor of ECT from God’s infinite justice fails.

Addendum: Infinite Life in Christ

Another outcome of my reasoning is that degrees of reward in heaven must ultimately be the same as well. Thus, any view which deems it necessary for there to be varying degrees of eternal bliss faces the same difficulties as ECT does, for all of the saved will experience infinite bliss. Therefore, views of eternal rewards which rely upon infinite rewards fail.

*Interestingly, the opposite is also often held by those who argue for positions apart from ECT.

Appendix: Mathematical Proof and Infinite Suffering

This mathematical proof was made by Jonathan Folkerts, a Physics Doctoral Student.

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SDG.

——

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

Much Ado About Nothing: Alisa Childers’ “Another Gospel?”

I believe one of the most important thing anyone can do for their edification is to read books with which one disagrees. There are a number of reasons for this, such as the possibility that such books may enlighten or even change one’s position about at topic or to ensure that one does not misrepresent the “other side” when discussing topics with which you disagree. Alisa Childers’ Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity* presents her opinions on what she calls Progressive Christianity, and, being sometimes labeled progressive myself, I figured it was worth taking a look.

The book has a Foreword by Lee Strobel, a journalist who writes bestselling apologetic works centered around interviews of experts and whose fame was only increased by the “A Case for Christ” movie about his life. I was honestly stunned when I saw his example of sailing a boat and needing an anchor to ensure one’s safety. He goes on to say that the anchor for Christianity is… what? Reading the analogy, I most definitely expected the answer to the question: “What is the anchor of Christianity?” to be, well, Christ! After all, Christ is the chief cornerstone of our faith (Ephesians 2:19-20). It seems reasonable to expect that the anchor would be similar enough to a cornerstone in an analogy to have Christ be the answer. Well, you’d be wrong. Strobel’s answer is: “In Christianity, the anchor is sound biblical doctrine” (xiii). Strobel’s answer is not only surprising but also wrong. Christ just is the foundation and anchor of our faith. Having the right beliefs is all well and good, but those right beliefs are nothing but foolishness without Christ. I belabor this point because Strobel’s answer in this foreword is indicative of Childers’ approach. For Childers, progressive Christianity is a threat not because it fails to honor Christ or because Christ is not at work in the progressive Church. No, progressive Christianity is a danger because they don’t agree with her own definition and beliefs of what is entailed by “sound biblical doctrine.”

Childers provides autobiographical details throughout the book, many of which resonated with me because I had some similar experiences growing up in the church. Childers was apparently a member of a CCM group known as ZOEgirl, which had songs I’m sure I’ve listened to at some point. What’s interesting is that these autobiographical details are often used as the foundation for her chapters dealing with her analysis of progressive Christianity. For example, a surprising example of a pastor who was an agnostic with whom she took a class serves, apparently, as her definition of what a progressive Christian is. I don’t say this to be disingenuous. It just appears that, as far as Childers is operating, her experience with this agnostic pastor became so formative for her with her visceral reaction away from him that she then associates anything even remotely related to that pastor’s views as progressive and therefore not really Christian, in her mind. I admit I’m taking some psychoanalysis too far here, but if one reads the book just trying to find what she means by “progressive Christianity,” this seems to be the ultimate answer. Indeed, Childers herself writes that this single class “would permanently embed the voice of a skeptic into my mind–that has to this day affected my ability to read the Bible without inner conflict” (20-21). That Childers reveals this is good, because it tells us about her biases. But then it clouds not just her personal reading of the Bible, but also her interaction with any Christian who strays from an unconflicted idea of “sound biblical doctrine.”

Childers words quoted above reveal what seems a painful experience to her based on her wording about conflict. It also shows a recurring theme in Another Gospel?, namely, that doubt is inherently to be distrusted or “fixed.” A later example occurs in Childers discussion of church, “Fixing What Isn’t Broken.” Over the course of a few pages, Childers delivers a terribly confusing message about doubt, first noting the problem with defining faith as 100% certainty all the time (49-50), then helpfully suggests that faith is “trust based on evidence” (51), and finally suggests that churches must become “safe places for those who experience doubt” (51-52). That sounds great, until Childers adds the addendum, “If people don’t feel understood, they are likely to find sympathy from those in the progressive camp who thrive on reveling in doubt. In progressive Christianity, doubt has become a badge of honor to bask in, rather than an obstacle to face and overcome” (52). Citation. Needed. Childers has absolutely nothing to back this up. Again, contextually, the aforementioned agnostic pastor is mentioned (50), apparently setting up Childers’ entire view of what progressive Christianity is, such that she can make these broad stroke claims about “progressive Christianity” without even a single citation of evidence. Indeed, one may wonder based on her own encouragement of churches to become “safe places” (note that she dare not use safe “spaces,” for that term is too progressive) for doubters is itself evidence that the non-progressive church itself dares not “face and overcome” the “obstacle” of doubt. Her words are insulting at best, and uninformed in the text itself.

Critical theory serves as a bogeyman in Another Gospel? just as it does in much conservative Christianity. Rather than providing any primary sources to discuss what critical theorists actually believe or think, Childers is content to set up false dichotomies regarding critical theory and Christianity (59-61). She ends this brief section with this whopper: “[W]hen someone accepts the ideas of critical theory, it can begin to erode their Christian worldview… It can lead someone into progressive Christianity, which already devalues the historic Christian answers to these ‘worldview questions’ and focuses on actions over belief. That becomes just another works-based gospel that ebbs and flows with cultural norms” (61). This passage is riddled with unwarranted assumptions, and Childers hasn’t even come close to establishing that progressive Christianity does anything of the sort regarding what she claims.

Claims about historical Christian belief abound in Another Gospel?, but it is clear that Childers has, at best, a passing knowledge of selections from church history. Her claims about the apparent unanimity of church history in agreement with her own current moral compass should set off alarm bells already (again, see quote above). Once she actually turns to discussing church history, those alarms turn into blaring claxons. For example, her discussion of “digging into their [church fathers’] writings” is especially revealing in that she she portrays them as seemingly united in doctrine (78-80), emphasizing that there are “hundreds” of quotes (81) about Scripture showing similar views to her own, but failing to demonstrate that what they were saying actually aligns in any way to her own views beyond superificial similarities in appealing to Scriptural authority. Yes, the church fathers had a high view of Scripture, but the way Childers writes, one comes away thinking they aligned on virtually everything else regarding morals, doctrine, &c.

A simple demonstration of Childers’ strange mixture of attempted awareness of church history and ignorance thereof is her treatment of universalism. I’m not a universalist myself, but it is clear there is a strand of universalist thought throughout church history. Childers’ discussion rejects universalism with little more than a trite “I learned that it is not biblical” and a quote from Richard Bauckham (187). The standard proof texts for eternal conscious torment are cited, but Childers seems to think that universalists have never even attempted to deal with these, and shows no actual awareness of a position like conditional immortality. No, for Childers, unsurprisingly at this point, it’s her way or the highway. After all, we know the anchor of Christianity is what? For Childers, it’s sound biblical [read: her view] doctrine.

Childers’ chapter about atonement is abysmal. I don’t use that word lightly, but Childers shows that she’s totally uninformed about historical positions on the atonement. Yes, there are voices in progressive Christianity that talk about the atonement theory in ways that don’t make sense historically as well. Yes, the “cosmic child abuse” narrative is nonsense. But also, yes, there have historically been several atonement theories. And Childers has the audacity to conclude this chapter by writing “Progressive Christians assume they are painting God in a more tolerant light by denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. But in reality, they are simply constructing a codependent and impotent god who is powerless to stop evil. That god is not really good. That god is not the God of the Bible. That god cannot save you” (224). Throughout this chapter, Childers cherry-picks quotes from various people and then trashes them based on proof texts that she presumably believes prove substitutionary atonement as the One True Atonement Theory. But if Childers really, truly believes that one must hold to substitutionary atonement or else have a “god” who “cannot save you,” then she’s writing off many, many Christians even back to church fathers throughout history. And the thing is, I genuinely do not believe Childers has any idea she’s doing this. Childers could not actually believe what she writes about competing atonement theories while also quoting C.S. Lewis in a positive light (Lewis did not believe that a single theory of atonement was necessary, as anyone who has read his views in Mere Christianity would know, and he seems to have held to a ransom theory or some variation thereof, though Lewis scholars continue to debate this). The chapter on atonement is, once again, Childers widely missing the mark. And that’s unfortunate, because a genuine critique of those within progressive circles who say things like “cosmic child abuse” needs to be written, but maybe it just can’t be done by someone who’s going to throw people’s salvation into question. Again, for Childers, the “achor” of Christianity seems to be “sound biblical doctrine” (read: doctrine she agrees with) rather than Christ.

Another Gospel? is an unfortunate mess. I say unfortunate because I, as a sometimes-labeled progressive Christian, believe that progressive Christians could use a gut check at times. It is true that the “cosmic child abuse” view some Christians put forward is astonishingly ignorant of church history and probably very poor Trinitarian theology, at that. It is true that progressive Christianity could stand to think more strongly about church history. It is true that progressive Christianity could use some subtle corrections. But Childers’ work is not that work. It is a series of misrepresentations, mistakes, and fear-mongering. Childers, like Strobel, appears to think that the anchor of Christianity is doctrine, not Christ. Perhaps they could each learn from so many progressives I’ve known personally who value Jesus so much that they’re willing to be uncomfortable with their own beliefs or those of others for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they could learn that God is strong and powerful enough to exceed our own expectations and break out of the boxes we set up.

*I did not comment upon the subtitle in the main body of my text because I know authors often don’t get to choose their titles or even subtitles. Nevertheless, the implication of progressive Christianity being so obviously untrue that “lifelong Christians” (such as myself, a lifelong, sometimes labeled progressive Christian) must “seek truth in response” to it is, minimally, a tough pill to swallow.

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship” by Derek W. Taylor

Derek W. Taylor’s Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship explores Bonhoeffer’s rich theology to answer questions about ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and missions.

Taylor first uses the introduction to present a central thesis: that hermeneutics is an ecclesial practice. We read texts in and for community. Bonhoeffer dedicated much of his theological energy and output to this notion, and Taylor brings it front and center throughout the book. For example, Taylor starts with discussion of Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being that reads it as part of the task of reading the church as under, in, and of Christ. Contrary to some, who shoehorn Bonhoeffer wholly into the role of a follower or disciple of Barth, Taylor notes that with Act and Being, Bonhoeffer identified as problematical Barth’s tendency towards anti-ecclesiology (35). Taylor brings Hans Urs von Balthasar into the conversation as well, noting that Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic avoids passivity while also showing the word as a way to encounter Christ (33-36).

The church, however, must be wary of seeing itself merely as caretaker or ultimate interpreter of scripture. Instead, it is important to read scripture against ourselves. If we lose that ability, “Bonhoeffer warns, we end up remaking a God in the imago hominis” (49). It’s all too easy for the church or the individual to become comfortable with the text instead of letting it speak to and even, again, against us. Our desire to contemporize the text becomes dangerous as we tend to “echo interpretive interests brought to the text” instead of allowing the text to speak to us (50-51).

Reading scripture leads us to Christ, but Christ is present now. Bonhoeffer was powerfully aligned with seeing Christ as truly present among us in the church. This, moreover, leads to discussion of Christology, one which sees Christ as truly fully human and fully divine (73-75)–able to be with us now, truly present in sacrament (114-115). As an aside, Taylor’s discussion of meeting the risen Christ at the eucharistic table is powerful, but he seems reluctant to fully embrace the meaning of that presence–ending on the note that objective presence is ambiguous (though I may be misreading him here). One wonders how, if that present is ambiguous in an objective sense, the foregoing discussion of Christ being truly Christ today and in history and present makes sense. For Bonhoeffer, throughout his theology, remained a committed Lutheran, and would absolutely have affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Supper. Moreover, the point made earlier (73) about Christ being fully human and divine seems to obviate any supposed problems with that Lutheran doctrine.

Later, Taylor’s discussion of Bonhoeffer’s “religion come of age” is especially insightful. Instead of being a fully humanist or non-religious standpoint, Bonhoeffer seemed to see some of the “trappings” that others have enlisted his concepts in getting rid of as absolutely essential. Things like the Eucharist and Baptism remained central to Bonhoeffer’s theology (129ff). However, what Bonhoeffer was warning against was two problems: the first, a total retreat of the church to hide from the problems of the world; the second, a transformation of the church into one constantly chasing “relevance” and an apologetic agenda (128). These are what Bonhoeffer hoped to strip away in the church come of age. Some traditions of the church “lose their social credibility” but nevertheless, some “must be retained and sheltered against profanation” (130). We must “at all times ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today?'” while recognizing our cultural context may dominate and change–for the worse–our answers to that question (131). Only a well-formed church community can help guard against these difficulties. The reductionist tendency to see Bonhoeffer’s theology as reducing Christ to the church is badly mistaken; instead, Taylor argues “Bonhoeffer’s imagination remains dexterous… [he] refuses to settle for an answer [to the question of “Where is the risen one now?”] that would restrict Christ’s movement. While some theologians proffer the ascension as a means of securing Christ’s location, Bonhoeffer recognizes that even though he has ascended, Jesus has not vanished into the heavenly realms. He continues to stride through history, fulfilling his promise to be with his disciples until the end of the age… So, where is Jesus? He is leading the church toward the kingdom. Bonhoeffer would answer, in other words, by pointing to the church while simultaneously pointing ahead of it” (132).

Bonhoeffer is not frequently considered as a theologian of missions, but Taylor argues that his hermeneutics must presuppose ecclesiology and that we have to seriously take the claim by some that “mission is the mother of theology” (200). Here, Taylor sees Bonhoeffer’s warnings against two kidns of churches as especially powerful. The dangers presented are a church that turns itself in and sets itself as a unique culture (the “culturalist option”) contrasted with the church that downplays its distinctiveness from the world for the sake of mission (the “secularist option”) (201ff). Bonhoeffer himself saw the church in the United States of his time as being guilty of the secularist option, but then saw it in his own church in Germany, something he worked against for the rest of his life (213ff).

Scriptural hermeneutics is difficult, anyone who tells you different is selling you something. (Forgive the reference to a great movie.) Bonhoeffer’s theological work constantly shows this as a difficulty. Poignantly, Bonhoeffer himself noted that even the things that seem easiest–like the command to love your neighbor–quickly become quite complex when it comes to asking what exactly is meant by that (must we change our neighbor? do we care for them bodily? etc.). A command to “love your neighbor,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, “does not say to us unequivocally: You should do this” (quoted on p. 257). This is, in part, why Christ has gifted us the church: as a community existing in and for Christ, we can work to understand the word of God. Then, we become disciples.

Reading Scripture as the Church is an insightful journey into Bonhoeffer’s theology that both readers new to Bonhoeffer and those who have studied his works for years will glean much of interest from. A careful, close reading of the text will yield much worth pursuing for any reader. 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.

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