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Book Review: “The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation” by Amanda W. Benckhuysen

The history of interpretation is an important subject for understanding Christian theology. One part of that history that is, thankfully, at last getting the attention that it deserves is the history of women’s interpretation. Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s The Gospel According to Eve is a fascinating look at this history that particularly focuses on questions related to women in Christian theology and practice.

Benckhuysen explores several topics from the perspective of women interpreters, drawing on women who wrote throughout Christian history on these fascinating topics. The main themes surveyed are Interpreting Eve–a chapter that focuses on how women interpreted the passages related to Eve; Defending Women’s Worth, in which women interpreters highlight the equality of women; promoting women’s education; Supporting Women as Wives and Mothers; Empowering Women to Preach and Teach; Forming the Character of Children; Advocating for Social Reform; and Influencing Gender Ideology.

There are many major points of interest found throughout the book. The chapter on women as wives and mothers sounds like it may be an affirmation of traditional gender roles, and some of the authors tended in that direction, but it also had fascinating early discussions from women about the beauty and wonder of breast-feeding and questions of class related to it. Here specifically Benckhuysen cites Elizabeth Clinton (c. 1574-c. 1630) and Hannah More (1745-1833) as two women who wrote on this topic. Clinton cited multiple biblical examples of women who nursed their children, but also broadened her argument beyond what was best for mother or child. She argued additionally that using wet nurses had a negative impact on lower classes due to taking away the autonomy of women, whose husbands often directly made deals over how much they’d be selling their services for (103-104).

The chapter on women preaching and teaching shows women both interacting directly with biblical texts often used to silence women’s voices, while also citing examples of pragmatic cases in which women needed to teach or preach. Benckhuysen also shows the array of women’s opinions on the topic, as some women agreed women should preach but still argued they ought to be under the authority of men. Time and again, in chapter after chapter, Benckhuysen shares portraits of women and their work that show the breadth of women’s voices throughout Christian history and the importance of hearing these diverse voices and opinions on a wide array of topics.

The Gospel According to Eve is a fantastic introduction to both the history of women’s interpretation and to investigating questions about the theological importance of women in Christian thought and practice. It is highly recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “For the Life of the World: Jesus Christ and the Church in the Theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas” by Robert J. Dean

The question of what the church is supposed to do–what exactly is it supposed to be in the here and now of this world–is absolutely central to both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas. In For the Life of the World, Robert J. Dean analyzes these two major theologians’ views of the church and puts them into dialogue with each other.

First, Dean introduces both Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas and argues that each was deeply influenced by Barth and also saw the question of the nature of church in the world as of primary importance. Then, Dean moves into three primary topics that occupy the majority of the book. First, “This man is God”- the person of Jesus Christ in Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. After noting the background for Bonhoeffer’s lectures in Christology–a background in which the Nazi Party was rising to total power–Dean notes that Bonhoeffer’s Christology was a challenge to any human attempt at sovereignty over the human person. Christ, according to Bonhoeffer, is radically “for me” and directs us towards being “for others.” Christ is truly present in the church now, not just as an abstract entity. Christ is concrete and this-worldly, such that theologies that try to abstract Christ or make him not present are deeply mistaken. For Hauerwas, Christ’s humanity is emphasized. Hauerwas’s central concern is very often ethics, and his Christology emphasizes that as well. Hauerwas also sees the importance of Christ as being uniquely present to and for us.

The second major topic in For the Life of the World is the church itself. Specifically, Dean introduces readers to the ecclesiology of Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas in turn. Bonhoeffer’s context is once more important, as he wrote about the church and its definition while he was involved in the struggle for the church’s soul as the Nazis took over Christianity with the German Christian movement. Bonhoeffer helped operate an illegal seminary, seeking to train pastors in a confessing church. As such, Bonhoeffer’s theology of church deeply emphasized community and the being there “for others” as Christ to them. Dean addresses some of the objections to Bonhoeffer’s theology of community, including from Bonhoeffer’s seminal work, Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself saw some dangers in his own writings on discipleship, but stood by what he had written because of its use as a protest against comfortable, cultural Christianity (83). Bonhoeffer emphasized the church as central to the economy of salvation–he would not have been someone who would agree with sentiments like “I commune with God by mountain climbing” (assuming the sentiment, as it and similar ones often are, is suggesting one can/should do such things instead of being part of a church community). Instead, Christ comes to us in the church community and calls us to be part of that same community. Additionally, Bonhoeffer offered a critique of Barth in his ecclesiology, for Bonhoeffer’s notion of the true church being absolutely necessary for ourselves and for the other contrasts with Barth’s dictum that the world would not be necessarily lost with no church (92ff).

Hauerwas’s ecclesiology sees the church as a “colony of resident aliens” (108ff). The church, as such, is “an identifiable people in the world… formed in their faith and develop[ed]… as embodied, timeful human beings” (109). Hauerwas’s own ecclesiology has come under fire as being a kind of colonialism, due to his emphasis on the church as “a visible community distinguished from the world” (112ff). Some of this critique ought to be granted, such as the need to recognize the danger of defining church merely by opposition to some aspect of reality. Hauerwas’s ecclesiology also emphasizes sanctification and ethics. He, too, critique’s Barth’s ecclesiology, but Hauerwas does so because he sees Barth as being too over-determined by his attack on theological liberalism (123-126).

The third major theme Dean addresses is the question of the church and world in the theologies of Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. Dean argues that this is a such a major theme in Bonhoeffer that “Bonhoeffer’s entire corpus could profitably be read as an indirect theological commentary on the relationship between church and state” (157). For Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran view of Two Kingdoms has become corrupted by those who suggest that Christians cannot offer a real critique of the state as well as the means to effectively absorb the church by the state. Thus, Bonhoeffer reacted against the Hegelian view of church and state and saw the talk of orders of creation for what it was–a way to fail to seriously interact with the fallen nature of the world and justify state violence and overreach (159). Bonhoeffer instead attacks any notion that the state can exist apart from the revelation of God in Christ (161) and thus Christians cannot simply flee behind an imagined barrier of church and state to avoid accountability for the other. Dean works this all through Bonhoeffer’s own nuanced use of “mandates” to understand church-state relationships.

Hauerwas’s view of church and state is intriguing because Dean argues Hauerwas’s theology of the state is omission by design. Additionally, Hauerwas remains agnostic about things like the ideal form of government (191, 193). Hauerwas does, however, see the dangers that states can devolve into and the threat they can be to humanity. He also sees that hope cannot be found in placing leaders in positions of power in a political system; rather, hope is found in “concrete communities which live out in their ordinary day-to-day lives a true politics” that helps the other and avoids politics of death (197).

After drawing out some conclusions about the nature of the church in the world, Dean has a brief appendix on Tyrannicide and Bonhoeffer’s own thought in relation to it. It provides a fairly balanced view that does justice to Bonhoeffer’s own nuance and struggle with questions of violence and the state.

The overview provided here doesn’t fully do justice to what Dean accomplishes in For the Life of the World. Though he often presents Bonhoeffer/Hauerwas’s views in parallel, he also draws out where they intersect, agree, and disagree. Additionally, he gives his own brief analysis of what insights Christians can draw from these two important theologians. I recommend the book highly for those interested in either one of the theologians discusses, but also for those interested in questions of church and state in the Christian life.

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

Links

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

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.

“Lord of Chaos” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (Re)Reads The Wheel of Time

“Humanity retreated, and the Shadow advanced.” – Robert Jordan, “Lord of Chaos,” p. 450.

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, we continue the series with Book 6, Lord of Chaos. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Shadow

One of the strongest themes throughout the book is the pending doom of the rise of evil. Evil advanced throughout the land, and had been making advances historically throughout the region with little opposition. In our world, it seems often that evil continues to exist unchecked. The parallels are palpable as one reads the book. One scene paints this reality starkly. Rand al’Thor is looking over a number of maps:

Borders and names were enough to rank the maps by age. On the oldest [nations were butted up against each other. Then…] Maredo was gone… Caralain vanished…. other nations… eventually [became] unclaimed land and wilderness. Those maps told a story of fading since Hawkwing’s empire crumbled, of humanity in slow retreat. A second Borderland map showed… the Blightborder fifty miles further north too. Humanity retreated , and the Shadow advanced. (440-450)

These names would be unfamiliar to those who haven’t read the series, but the implication should be clear: the maps showed the steady retreat of humanity in the face of the evil forces of the “Shadow.” The picture is breathtaking: one can easily imagine a series of maps showing encroaching darkness. But beyond the mere imaginary, it seems to be a fact that humanity–true humanity–is constantly retreating from evil. The evils of human trafficking, hunger, dishonesty, abortion, and the like continue to be perpetuated, and yet humanity is more interested–much like the people of The Wheel of Time–in the everyday mundane occurrences. Those things which “don’t harm me” are ignored. If we could see a map, we could see the Shadow encroaching as well.

It’s important not to completely focus on doom and gloom, however. In Lord of Chaos, the Dragon is Reborn, and the opportunity to defeat the Shadow is approaching. But those who know of prophecies know that this Dragon may also bring much destruction to the world. The Christian narrative presents a picture less bleak: evil is already defeated through our Lord. Final victory is inevitable.

Destruction of Life and other Injustice

The wanton destruction of life is found through much of Lord of Chaos. The forces of evil are not the only ones who are killing the innocent, however. Even those who call themselves the “Children of Light” bring about much evil through their actions. One scene which illustrates this is found in the way that a “Child of the Light” decided to deal with those who had sworn to the Dragon–the coming defender of the world:

He had managed to kill some of [the Dragonsworn], at least, though it was hard fighting foes who melted away more often than they stood, who could blend into the accursed streams of refugees… He had found a solution, however… The roads behind his legion were littered now, and the ravens fed to bursting. If it was not possible to tell the Prophet’s trash from refugee trash, well then, kill whoever clogged the way. The innocent should have remained in their homes where they belonged; the Creator would shelter them anyway. (611)

There is much injustice in this passage. First, the victims are blamed for their destruction: the reasoning is that they brought it upon themselves. Unfortunately, reasoning like this is frequently found today when people comment on various tragedies. We should not blame the victims, but rather go to their aid. Second, there is a kind of notion that “the Creator” (God?) would be pleased with this destruction, or at least could not be bothered to intervene. Again, this kind of reasoning is sometimes mentioned: God will sort them out, why bother with the possible consequences of bombing targets in civilian zones? Why deal with the plight of the refugee? Third, this plight of the refugee is found throughout the book. What of those who have been displaced by violence and war? In the book, it is actually Rand al’Thor who is the one who cares most about them. In our world, it should be the Christian who rushes to aid the defenseless.

Prophecy

The world of “The Wheel of Time” continues to be deeply steeped in fulfilled prophecy–whether coming fulfillment or already culminated. The emphasis on prophecy plays into the notion in Jordan’s world that there is a “Wheel of Time” which leads to a kind of cyclical universe model.

For our purposes, it is worth simply considering the notion that prophecies may have unexpected fulfillment. Rand does not always meet the prophecies of the Dragon in expected ways. Similarly, the way that some prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled is not the way that many at the time (or now) expected.

Onward!

We have seen that Lord of Chaos brings up a number of interesting themes. From here, we shall move onward into more books in the series. What are your thoughts on these themes? Do you have any other major themes you can think of as being found within the series?

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: “Ministering in Patronage Cultures: Biblical Models and Missional Implications” by Jayson Georges

Ministering in Patronage Cultures: Biblical Models and Missional Implications is a book that serves two major needs for interested readers. First, it provides readers with information on how patronage cultures work and where those kind of models can be found in the Bible. Second, it provides insight into how to do missions in patronage cultures. Jayson Georges has firsthand experience of just that kind of missional work, and he draws on his own experience as well as an array of sources to present readers with valuable insights into the topics at hand.

As a reader, the part of the book I was most interested in was in the biblical models for patronage and how they can help us to understand biblical interactions more effectively. However, the parts of the book focused on missional work was also interesting to me.Georges defines patronage as “a reciprocal relationship between a patron and a client” (9). This basic understanding is expanded to show the various expectations of clients and patrons as well as how those interactions re often built or even severed.

In the Bible, YHWH and Israel are perhaps the most obvious example of patron/client, and Georges draws out how this can help to understand the various ways YHWH treats covenant as well as the interactions throughout the Old Testament. Paul is used as an example in the New Testament and it’s worth noting that Georges shows fairly clearly that Paul at times favors Patronage but at other times rejects it. These appear to be different responses to differing circumstances in which Paul found himself. Jesus and the Kingdom is another example Georges cites to show the patronage culture and how that came into play in the Bible.Seeing God as a patron helps readers understand sin as ingratitude for the blessings from God and salvation as patronage. Georges notes many of the ways that this plays out in the Bible as well as with major theologians like Anselm.

From a missional perspective, Georges tries to offer a generalized approach. He does, however, offer this with a caution because it is easy to take a generalization and misapply it. There are many different cultures that take a patronage approach, but that does not mean they all have the same ideas about patronage or how that should play out. It is also important to see how because people are imperfect, they cannot fully apply a concept of God as patron to themselves. It is easy to abuse the power of a patron, and it is also easy to misunderstand exactly what it ought to mean for the believer and the person involved in missions. Using God as a model does, however, allow for correction to what Georges calls “corrupt patronage.” Finally, Georges sees patronage as a lens in which we can see spiritual practice and development.

Ministering in Patronage Cultures is an insightful work that highlights modern problems and solutions while also showing a paradigm that can help shed light on various themes found throughout the Bible. I recommend it to those who wish to undertand more about patronage cultures in context of Christian thought and practice.

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.

Faith is Messy

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I’ve taken a kind of hiatus from some kinds of posts. I’ve mostly been posting a ton of book reviews. Part of that is because I have been reading all the time, trying to expand horizons and learn more. Another aspect of it is that my views have been changing, meshing, melding, and morphing over time, to the point that I kept thinking I should post on things and then being loathe to confidently put forward ideas that I wasn’t convinced were true.

I am hoping that pattern stops now. I have a lot of things going on in my personal life, but I also have a lot I’d like to write on and reflect on with you. If you’re a longtime reader, thanks so much for sticking with me through this, and I hope you’ll continue to read and comment going forward! If you’re new here, welcome! I hope you’ll bear with me on this journey.

First, there are still going to be a lot of book reviews. It’s a thing I like doing and that I like to think I’m fairly good at. Second, I’m still very interested in a lot of the things I wrote on before: apologetics, science and Christianity, and theology (especially Bonhoeffer!). I’ll still be writing on those things.

Faith is messy. That’s maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned on my own walk. It’s easy to have a set list of specific, explicit instructions about how the way things ought to be. It’s easy to stay in the position that you’re right and everyone around you is, at best, mistaken, or at worst actively deceiving others. It’s easy to subscribe to a view and never let it be questioned. Some people can live with that–and I’m not trying to judge them. I can’t live that way, though. I have to question, to poke and prod and find out if the ideas work. I don’t want to spend my life living behind a set of doctrinal statements that I’ve not at least tried to confirm for myself. I’ll be writing a lot more about this going forward.

So what do I mean that faith is messy? I mean that, for me, many of the things I was taught at various levels–all the way through graduate school–turned out to be much more complex than I thought at the time. Questions about what it means to affirm inerrancy, questions about hell–and heaven!, questions about what it means to live as a Christian today. I asked questions about my own Christian identity, and what it means to be orthodox.

I lost a lot of friends. I don’t know if it was because I was asking questions that were too difficult, or if it was that I felt some anger and lashed out when the answers I received seemed too simple to deal with the complexity I saw. Either way, I don’t begrudge them–but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Those are just some of the issues I’ve struggled with, and the struggle has been highly formative. I hope you’ll join with me as I write about some of my faith journey, and maybe even comment, and walk with me. I hope to explore the faith even more fully as I write and reflect on my journey, and I want you to join me.

I’ve decided to rebrand my blog a bit, too. Instead of “Always Have a Reason” – I’m naming the site “Reconstructing Faith.” It is one thing to deconstruct faith–that’s easy to do. But here, I’m going to be doing the hard work, hopefully with your help, of reconstructing faith.

Book Review: “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context” by Michael LeFebvre

The common saying that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” applies perhaps especially well to theology. It shouldn’t be surprising, as it is a topic that attempts to make sense of the infinite. Questions in Christianity about creation abound. Modern debates are often more heat than light, with apparently no way to come to an understanding. Michael LeFebvre’s The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context is a book that can help to break that deadlock and help readers learn about some of the context and meaning of key Old Testament passages.

The core of LeFebvre’s thesis is that the Old Testament narratives center around key aspects of everyday life in their temporal contexts. Specifically, the heavenly lights and the agricultural cycle–which crops could be grown when, harvest time, etc.–helped ground those who spoke and wrote the Old Testament in ways that they would understand. From this, LeFebvre notes that we do the Old Testament damage when we insist upon it providing a kind of modern journalistic approach to dates and dating. The way festivals and days were used in the Old Testament helped provide information to those who heard it about how life ought to be lived and how labor and worship go hand-in-hand.

LeFebvre makes this argument over the course of three major parts. Part I- Israel’s Calendars examines the way calendars were used in the Bible and what reference points they had for understanding time. Part II – Festivals and Their Stories surveys the festivals mentioned throughout the Old Testament and why they were celebrated, grounding them both in the context of the Old Testament text and the time and places in which they occurred. Part III – The Creation Week examines the creation week with the insights gained from Parts I and II in mind.

Part I is a deep exploration of how ancient Israel would have read time, showing not only the use of the stars, the moon, and the sun, but also the way seasons ran throughout the region as ways that people measured their own lives and ways of going about living. LeFebvre is fairly comprehensive in his look at all the stories in the Old Testament that have dates as well as bringing up every festival and examining its importance and usage in the Old Testament. Readers will likely find much to examine and benefit from throughout these first two parts.

It is in part III where the rubber meets the road and LeFebvre applies his insights into timing throughout the Old Testament to the specific questions about the week of creation. The days themselves are laid out in such a way as to correspond to his theses about how Israel ordered itself. LeFebvre makes a strong argument that these creation days are not intended to be read in light of modern science and forced into such a box. Instead, they are intended to give order to creation and one’s own life, providing a reason for Sabbath as well as an understanding of all creation within the context of God’s ordered running of the seasons and universe.

The Liturgy of Creation is an excellent look at what the calendars, seasons, and dates in the Old Testament mean in their own context. LeFebvre brings light to some of the more difficult questions in interpretation, while also challenging readers to examine their own assumptions about the text. Highly recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism” edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry

Sometimes a book comes along that makes you as a reader realize that everything you thought you knew about a certain topic was wrong. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism is sure to be one of those books for many people. The editors, Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry put together a collection of essays that challenge common assumptions and “knowledge” about New Testament textual criticism to the point of overturning expectations and forcing readers to re-think their research. Make no mistake, if you’re not an expert in this specific field–and perhaps even if you are–this book is going to challenge your preconceptions and even what you thought you knew.

After a foreword by renowned textual critic Daniel Wallace and an introduction that opens up the themes of the book, Timothy N. Mitchell’s chapter on autographs (entitled “Myths about Autographs: What they Were and How Long They May Have Survived”) is the first to set a major challenge to assumptions about the New Testament text. The autographic text is considered to be the original text. Thus, an autograph, in the mind of those interested in Christian apologetics or the transmission of the New Testament, is often what is affirmed as being the copy that was inspired or inerrant or the goal of textual criticism to find. Various apologetists have made claims about the autographs surviving long enough to produce many copies over decades (or even centuries) (27). Yet Mitchell points out that some have argue that the concept of a single original itself is mistaken (28). The way documents were disseminated in the ancient world was very different from the way we spread documents, and the same “original” may have been produced several times, with minor edits or even major ones depending on the audience. Specific examples in the ancient world are cited, which challenge the very concept of a single autographic text. Another difficulty would be the concept of multiple autographs. Copying an original for the author to keep was a common practice, but then which would be the autograph–the one sent to one or another person, or the one kept by the author (39-41)? The claims about longevity of the authographs also meet serious challenges, due to climate, persecution, and many other possible problems with thinking that any supposed original text could have survived centuries.

Note that all of these challenges–which are detailed, of course in the book–are all from the first non-introductory chapter alone. There are more than 10 additional chapters outlining many, many assumptions about NT textual criticism and the errors they make. Chapter three outlines questions about the number of NT manuscripts as well as why having more manuscripts might not be better. If all we had was a multiplicity of error-ridden manuscripts, that would hardly be better than just a few very precise ones. Chapter four notes the common errors in citation of numbers of other ancient literature’s manuscript evidence vs. that of the NT (this will have those involved in apologetics–like me–checking their numbers). The next two chapters deal with dating manuscripts and the immense difficulties with getting at which MSS are earlier than other ones at times. Additionally, earlier manuscripts aren’t always better than later manuscripts, in part because later manuscripts might be based on manuscripts that are even earlier than the earliest extant manuscripts!

Questions about who made copies of the NT are another common myth-making scenario. As is often the case in the book, the issue is much more complex. Many claim that the copies were made by untrained hands just scrawling what they could from the NT on whatever they had at hand, while others claim the opposite is true–trained hands copied them and ensured few errors. The truth is somewhere in between. Myths about how scribes made errors are abundant, and attempts to discern scribal intent are shown to be often impossible, but at other times somewhat easier to demonstrate. The number of variants is wildly huge in the claims about how many there are, and the way they are counted is often misstated. Too often, apologists and others claim that variant counts include misspellings, but this is not the case–the huge number of variants would only increase astronomically were misspellings included in the count! Questions about how much of the NT really could be constructed from the patristics are also addressed, and the answer is a somewhat interesting middle ground once again, in which the question of tradition looms large. Canonicity, translations modern and ancient, and more are addressed as well.

All of this is to say the book is an absolute treasure trove of information for those interested in any way in the textual reliability of the New Testament. It is tempting in any day and age to seek certainty, but Christians–and hopefully others–ought to really be seeking after truth. This book helps get at that, providing ways forward for additional research while also blowing open the doors of understanding both hyper-critical and overly optimistic myths about the possibility of getting at the “original” New Testament.

Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism is an invaluable resource for those interested in textual criticism. It points out many major errors that persist in common knowledge while also opening many avenues for new research. There are few times I think a book comes along that everyone should read, but this is one that anyone with even the slightest interest in the reliability of the New Testament ought to read, mark, and inwardly digest.

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.

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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 Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy” by James R. Payton, Jr.

Eastern Othodoxy is often an almost impenetrable system of thought for Christians of different theological persuasions. James R. Payton, Jr.’s The Victory of the Cross: Salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy seeks to dispel some of that confusion by focusing closely on a specific theological question–salvation–and explaining it from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.

James R. Payton, Jr. comes at these controversial questions from the perspective of an evangelical with a deep understanding of the Orthodox faith. He explores some of the major themes in Eastern Orthodoxy related to salvation and brings light to them for those who might not have any real understanding of how Orthodoxy views certain topics. After a brief introduction, Payton sets the stage with a discussion of the cross, then walks readers through what might be a somewhat familiar path of going from a chapter on the need for salvation (also viewed in Orthodoxy as universal, though their view of original sin is less a culpable sin than a tendency towards sin) and moving into the focus on the savior, Christ. The way God saved humanity is one that is debated in non-Eastern circles as well, and here Payton focuses largely on the awe that the salvation brought with Christ inspires. One of the most controversial–perhaps only for its strangeness to non-Orthodox ears–aspects of Orthodox theology related to salvation is deification. An entire chapter is dedicated to that concept, along with a following chapter on “becoming like God” on the path to salvation.

Payton does an excellent job of grounding Eastern Orthodox beliefs in its practice and highlighting how much Orthodoxy draws from Church Fathers as well as orthopraxy. What is so often lost in many forms of Christianity today is the practice of lived faith. There’s a sense of “Yeah, I’m saved, and I read my Bible and go to church, and that’s it.” But Eastern Orthodoxy’s view of salvation does not allow such a surface level faith, at least not when done rightly. Instead, it demands a whole life committed to Christ and infused with the divine in contemplation and, indeed, in one’s own life. Payton’s work helps explain those aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy which may be strange to those who haven’t encountered it before while also ably highlighting the depth of the practice of faith and a life focused on the sign of the Cross.

The Victory of the Cross is a fascinating, adept introduction to the nature of salvation in Eastern Orthodoxy. It will serve readers not only as a way to springboard discussions into Eastern Orthodoxy, but also as a path to coming to a better understanding of the richness of the Christian tradition worldwide.

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.

Sunday Quote!- Answering Questions about Faith from Biblical Language Alone?

Occasionally, on Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Answering Questions about Christian Doctrine from Biblical Language Alone?

I’ve started to read a massive work on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity during what is called the Arian Controversy: The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God : The Arian Controversy 318-381 by R.P.C. Hanson. It’s already been eye-opening in a number of ways, and I thought a quote to help illustrate one of those points would be helpful. As the early church began to dispute the doctrine of the Trinity in earnest, it became clear that simply appealing to biblical language was not enough:

The theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself. (xxi)

Hanson’s point here is that each side of this controversy appealed to biblical language and even tradition to support their claim to be orthodoxy. When faced with such discord, the Christian church was forced to come to a decision point, and Hanson notes that this decision was “to form dogma” (ibid). The Christian Church had to come to realize the necessity of coming to agreed upon interpretations of the biblical language, because the questions that were being raised were about that language itself.

This raises, of course, many additional questions, some of which are uncomfortable. For example: If such hugely important doctrinal questions could not be resolved simply by appeal to the biblical language, what does this mean for some forms of sola scriptura? It seems that some formulations of that doctrine clearly allow for tradition and even dogma to decide questions of interpretation, but more extreme forms surely cannot adequately defend orthodox Christian doctrine. Another question that it raises is: What kind of controversies does the church have now that each side appeals to biblical language on but can find no ultimate resolution there?

The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God has already been challenging and enlightening. It’s a behemoth at 900+ pages, but it seems well worth the time investment.

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!

On Christian Music– I wrote a post about the label “Christian music” and how that can lead to a number of difficulties with discernment.

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A Reflection and Response– I reflect in depth on how we can use our discernment properly when it comes to music.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 4- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part IV

We left off last time at an intermission (page 40) and pick up there. The moderators interject here to try to reign in the conversation, asking Owen and Campbell to limit the discussion in this afternoon (think about it–multiple days-long debates!) to the first proposition at question, namely “that all religions have been founded in ignorance” (40). Owen begins his defense of the proposition.

First, Owen flatly states that he would not have to defend the proposition that all religions ever are ignorant if humans were not themselves kept in ignorance of “what manner of beings they were, how they were formed at birth, and how their characters were afterword produced for them” (40-41). This bold claim has interest to us today–what more have we learned about these questions than Owen and Campbell might have known in 1829? It seems clear we know more about at least a few of these questions, though one could argue that psychology, anthropology, and biology have digressed–that position would be interesting to see defended. Nonetheless, what does it say that religions persist to this day, almost 200 years later, with possibly more knowledge of these questions than Owen had?

Owen goes on, here making a much more interesting claim: he states that he will demonstrate that humans are different from whatever any religion supposes them to be and that none of the religions apply to humans as they truly are (41). What is interesting to reflect on at this point in the debate is how frequently Owen makes these lofty, impossible to prove claims. Is he really going to survey every religion ever in existence to demonstrate individually that they are all impossible to reconcile with what he believes is human nature? No, of course not. But keep an eye on modern debates over the existence of God or the nature of Christianity as well–how often do the interlocutors in those debates make similarly grand claims without support?

Owen goes on to claim that to prove his contention, we need only to look at ourselves and the facts that we know of right now (41). Here he makes one of the first relevant points to Christianity specifically in the debate so far (though he does so as an attack on “all” religions, apparently): he argues that human beings come into the world entirely ignorant of the state of things and without control over their formation, and concludes from that any religion that teaches humanity is by nature sinful or “bad” (as he puts it) is therefore mistaken. Specifically, Owen asserts that “no being… can ever be made to become responsible for [its] nature” (ibid).

Owen goes on to stress his previous argument that no one is in control of the circumstances of their birth, such that it is an accident of history that people are born into places in which they believe whatever religion they believe (41-43). He asks, “Who amongst us decided that he should be taught to speak English, be instructed in the Christian religion and belong to his particular sect?” (43). He then appeals to the commonality of all humanity in being accidents of birth to find unity: all the things which separate us, he asserts, can be attributed to the accidents of circumstance (I’m using the phrase “accident” here to substitute for his wordier descriptors). Thus, we can turn to our neighbors and unite with them over our shared humanity. It is a powerful call to a humanist faith in the unity of all humankind.

Campbell rises to meet this mixed challenge. And he does so with startling clarity:

Let us try this position with a reference to our existing institutions : all schools and colleges have been founded and predicated on the ignorance of man ; all testimony has been predicated on the ignorance of man; all the books that have ever been printed are predicated on the ignorance of man? Are not these facts? But does the existence of these facts cast any opprobrium [censure], obloquy [public verbal abuse], or disparagement upon books, human testimony, or seminaries of instruction?— These terms, then, have nothing in their nature or import calculated to engender a prejudice against religion. (45)

Campbell goes on in to frankly concede Owen’s point that all religions are founded in ignorance, so long as it is taken by that to mean that all religions are founded on humans who do not have the capacity to control the place of their birth, the circumstances thereof, etc. But rather than concluding that this means the are all false or unnecessary, Campbell flips the narrative on its head and says that this ignorance itself shows the need for religion! The reason, he asserts, is because religion helps us to sort out the many things that happen as accidents of birth and provides a basis for morality and rational sorting out of all the myriad of details that we are made aware of throughout our lives. ” If, then, [people] need a religion at all, they need it because of their ignorance. It was instituted to remove human ignorance, and the necessity of supernatural revelation has ever been predicated on that ignorance” (45).

The question of what human knowledge is gained and what is necessary is “thorny,” as Campbell notes, and he goes on to state that Owen’s position effectively makes all human capacities and reasoning necessary based upon the way Nature operates on them. But nature itself does not explain all things, and the capacity for our observation of all things is not limitless. Metaphysical truths, like many principles of mathematics which seem unquestionable, can become difficult when the test of observation is applied, but that does not undermine the possibility for their truth.

Moreover, Campbell argues that we are not entirely products of circumstance: Owen himself went against the nature of British society from which he sprang. The ceding of all knowledge to circumstance has led to a number of ideas that are difficult to reconcile with reality, according to Campbell. Among these are those philosophers who came to deny right and wrong; others who denied the existence of the physical world; and many other difficult positions. Then, Campbell goes on a somewhat lengthy discourse about not just Owen’s 12 principles (introduced before) but also on how philosophers in general tend to pick a favored principle (or set thereof) and reduce all human activity and thought down to that–an exercise that is often futile, according to Campbell (47-49).

With this, Campbell concludes, and the two retired for the day. We, too, will leave off here (page 51) and pick it up later. For now, think on how the debate of this day played out: Owen asserts that all religions are founded on ignorance due to circumstances of birth. Campbell concedes the point but notes that if that is the argument, all human institutions are also founded in the same ignorance, such that it is hardly a reason to dismiss religion specifically. Moving on, Campbell argues that religion is necessary exactly for the reason Owen asserts it ought to be condemned. A fascinating day for the debate, don’t you agree?

Questions

  1. Do we know more about what manner of beings humans are, how we are formed at birth, and how characters are produced than Owen and Campbell did in the 1800s? Is it historical hubris to suggest we might? And, if so, what does that say for Owen’s thesis that if we just knew about these questions, all humanity would disavow all religions as ignorance?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s counter-charge that religion is, in fact, made necessary by humanity’s ignorance?
  3. Should the bare fact of accident of birth be an argument against a position–religion, philosophy, etc.?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

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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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