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“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight- A prophet for then and now

[H]e is the lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. –Frederick Douglass (quoted on p. 361)

Frederick Douglass is one of the most important thinkers in the history of the United States. David W. Blight’s fantastic biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom shows the man in a way I hadn’t met him before, despite reading one of his three (!) autobiographies. I write in this post that he is a prophet for then and now because much of what Douglass had to say can still apply to today. His philosophical insight, his way of speaking, and his life’s devotion to a cause are things we can think on and emulate to this day.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, took help where he could, taught himself to read and write, and escaped from slavery. He became one of the most traveled people of his century, a prolific speaker, writer, abolitionist, and philosopher. Blight uses the term “prophet” in the way that highlights Douglass’s words to moral persuasion, just as so many of the Old Testament prophets did. And Douglass was a deeply Christian man who saw two faiths that were incompatible co-existing in the United States: the religion of slaveholding and the religion of Christ.

Douglass existed in a place where few others did. A former slave, he told firsthand accounts of the brutality of that horrific system and its injustice. Working with white abolitionists, he favored more radical views and even, at times, the perfectionism of some aspects of the abolitionist movement, while also moderating some of his positions depending upon the crowd to which he spoke. An insightful, lucid thinker, he called injustice to account and pointed out the true hypocrisy of people calling themselves Christians while perpetrating awful deeds. One example of the clarity of thought he provided united with his “radical” persuasions about antislavery can be found in his philosophical argument about the morality of the slaveholder and slave: “The morality of a free society can have no application to slave society. Slaveholders have made it almost impossible for the slave to commit any crime, known either to the laws of God or to the laws of man. If he steals, he takes his own; if he kills his master, he imitates only the heroes of the revolution” (quoted on page 57). This kind of sharp logic is revolutionary and world-changing, and many saw it as such.

Douglass’s life would be impossible to summarize here. Blight’s biography is one of those which goes for a fairly comprehensive look at the life of its subject. A few notes along the way: Douglass reacted to and changed his view on some things over time. His bootstrap-type thinking for African Americans was moderated in later years as he saw how inequality could be enforced through Jim Crow laws and the like. He married a white woman after his first wife died, causing no small amount of controversy and showing his–and Helen Pitts’s–commitment to the equality of all people regardless of skin color. He leveled vicious attacks on slaveholders and their cruelty but later in life moderated some of these claims, perhaps in order to try to assist with the reunification of a country he saw as died and resurrected after the Civil War. There is no shortage of rich detail to his life. Blight points out how Douglass was, as any would be, prone to shaping his personal narrative to fit current needs. He was also one who enjoyed the spotlight and did not wish to cede it to other rising stars, though he did help mentor many African Americans and was generous with his often overestimated wealth.

Though Blight does little reflection on Douglass’s application to our day, the parallels could be drawn out. For one, racism continues to exist to this day. Organizations that are white nationalist, KKK, and the like continue to exist. Less overt racism continues in supposed color-blind laws that are unequally applied. Moreover, the co-existence of true faith–the faith in Christ–with radical heresy and anti-Christian beliefs continues to this day in movements like the Prosperity Gospel. Any Christianity which tears people down rather than freeing them with grace, which divides rather than unites (as in Galatians 3:28) is a Christianity without Christ. Let us allow Douglass to continue to be our prophet of freedom and listen to his words today.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a truly monumental work on the life of a monumental human being. Douglass is a name that every American ought to be familiar with. He was a prophet of our country and one whose words should continue to stir us to fight inequality on every level. Biographies that truly shake and shape the reader are few and far between, but this is one that did so for me.

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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!

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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.

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Book Review: “Interpreting Eden” by Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress offers a contribution to the interpretation of Genesis with his book Interpreting Eden. His arguments are primarily centered around targeting rival readings of Genesis.

One of the more controversial claims in a book full of such claims is Poythress leveling his sites on interpreting the language in the Bible about the state of the universe. Poythress is keen to demonstrate that the author of Genesis and authors of Scripture did not believe, as many have argued, that the earth had a solid dome over its sky. He draws several lines of evidence in support of his theory that, basically, these authors had an accurate view of the Earth. First, he argues throughout the work that the biblical authors write with a perspectival view in mind. That is, they are writing from the perspective of how things appear. So, for example, saying that the sun rises in the east is not a claim about objective reality but rather accurately reflects how one observing the sun from the Earth might see it.

Interestingly, Poythress couches his discussion of the “dome of the sky” language in the Bible not in interactions with experts in the Ancient Near East who make this argument and seemingly make it clear that this is exactly what the ancient Israelites believed, but rather he makes his interlocutor a “modern student” who somewhat naively reads the Bible literally (see, for example, Kindle locations 1196-1210). So, rather than critically interacting with the many scholarly accounts by experts on the Ancient Near East, Poythress presents the readings of cosmology as a cacophony of voices, strangely concluding that “My point is not to decide between various interpretations [of ANE evidence or cosmology], but to point out that the existence of variant interpretations constitutes a difficulty” (location 1228). But Poythress would hardly allow this same level of critical uncertainty when it comes to, say, biblical texts that are favored by Reformed theologians to make their point. Yet it is unclear that the many, many variant interpretations of virtually any text in the Bible present such a similar difficulty which, for Poythress, ultimately leads him to conclude that readings which allow for ANE background to be carried along with the biblical text “border… on incoherence” (1255). Would he make this same conclusion in regard to the dissonant voices of his own preferred texts to back his theological conclusions elsewhere? Doubtful.

Moreover, Poythress’s use of analogies obfuscates issues rather than clarifying him. His notion of the vehicle-cargo approach virtually insists upon a lieralistic interpretation of the analogy while he uses it to make vague and metaphorical points. Here again, he fails to interact with experts in the ANE and instead attacks what he sees as a “physicalist” reading of the Old Testament, without allowing these rival interpreters to even make their arguments. He then simply concludes that “Modern physicalist readings run the danger of not recognizing analogy and metaphor in ancient texts” (1280) despite himself acknowledging that these same modern readers make analogies between other ANE texts and Genesis!

Poythress also tries to show that a comprehensive picture of providence is required and then contradicted by some views within Christianity. He writes:

Among people who claim to be Christian, something akin to deism still exists in our time. It consists in the idea that… created things are sufficient in themselves to develop under their own power. In other words, God is basically uninvolved in detailed development. (Kindle location 424)

This appears to be a somewhat veiled jab at theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, depending upon one’s preferred parlance), who would see evolution as proceeding generally under its own power. It is here worth noting that Poythress does not acknowledge the vast diversity within those who affirm evolution and Christianity. For example, many evolutionary creationists affirm that while evolution may appear random, that does not preclude it from being directed by God or ordained and ordered by God. Indeed, Poythress himself has argued at length that we humans may perceive something as chance when it is in fact ordered by God. To then turn around and claim that this means people are only “claiming” to be Christian when they would affirm this same approach to evolution seems disingenuous at best. Moreover, Poythress goes on to say that “The deistic view affirms that God sustains the existence of the wind and the water” (Kindle loc. 431). This left me wondering what definition of deism Poythress is operating under, as deism is explicitly the view that God creates the universe but then does not interact with it. The act of sustaining existence is itself a miraculous act of God, and so would contradict a deistic perspective, which instead is explicitly mechanistic in its understanding of creation after the deistic god has created it (see, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s discussion of Deism alongside the Enlightenment). So Poythress’s charge is off base and, again, seems disingenuous, particularly for him to say these people “claim to be Christian…”

Time and again, Poythress makes it clear that there is an agenda in this book. He isn’t going to the text as often as one might think, given the subtitle of the book as a “Guide to faithfully reading and understanding Genesis 1-3.” Instead, he continually uses his presupposed interpretive lens to bash his theological opponents, who are referred to as deists, who “claim to be Christian,” who are “old fashioned liberals,” who are naive, etc. This judgment-laden language ought to show readers exactly what is happening in the book. It isn’t an attempt to objectively approach the text; it is a practice in using one’s own presupposed lenses to then conclude all other positions are in the wrong. Oddly, for example, after spending quite a large portion of the early part of the book in critiquing the notion that the biblical text is a vehicle for some ANE views that may be wrong or scientifically misinformed, Poythress himself acknowledges that “distinct cultures and subcultures may have shared some stock images” (2797). Does this mean the text of Scripture is a vehicle carrying the cargo of ANE allusions to “stock images” like the “contrast between chaos and order”? It certainly seems that is what Poythress is saying, yet he already claimed that such a view is “incoherent” earlier in the book. Yet it becomes clear that Poythress himself cannot help but acknowledge the ANE influence on the biblical text. Thus, despite his aversion to seeing parts of the biblical text as ANE background, which he argues allows readers to “simply excise anything they want by labeling it in their minds as merely a vehicle” (1454) he allows himself the leeway to claim that this “stock imagery” is present. Is it impossible for Poythress, then, to decide parts of the text are “stock images” when he finds them too difficult to assimilate into his own perspective? He doesn’t seem to think so, but his own position is effectively the same, here, as those he claims to oppose. He just arbitrarily assigns his position the label of “conservative” and “inerrancy” while excluding others from the Kingdom for their “claims to be Christian.”

Ultimately, Interpreting Eden is a book that will benefit most those who already agree with Poythress’s theological presuppositions. His arguments against “physicalist” interpretations and his unsubtle attempts to paint those with whom he disagrees as “deists” make it clear there is a theological agenda at play here rather than an attempt to grapple with the very real problem many of these texts present to the modern reader (who is, ironically, his main interlocutor).

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: “Can ‘White’ People Be Saved?” edited by Sechrest, Ramirez-Johnson, and Yong

Can “White” People Be Saved? The provocative title of this book is sure to catch many an eye, cause head shaking, visceral anger, or curiosity. Of course white people can be saved! Anybody can be saved! But how we react to this very challenge to being as white people–myself included–may tell us something about our need to read the content of this book.

The titular essay begins by noting that, of course, white people can be saved. But the concept of “whiteness” is itself a social construction (for more on this, see The History of White People, a book that shows how the concept of “white” person developed) and it is the defense of this “White” concept that leads to truly anti-Christian behaviors, both historically and to this day.

The book is a collection of essays, and like any collection, it has both ups and downs throughout. Perhaps the most important insight of the entire book, and one that I have thought of time and again, is found in Andrew T. Draper’s chapter entitled “The End of ‘Mission.'” Therein, Draper calls for people to truly listen to the “other”:

White folks need not protest that our hearts are in the right place but instead must focus on how the white economies of privilege we have constructed marginalize others. Imagine the transformation in relationships marked by difference if even a fraction of the grace that White folks extend to one another in regard to intentions were extended to all people. For instance, we as White people are often defensive when confronted with something offensive we have said and protest that “we didn’t mean in that way.” But, if our ignorance has hurt others, it doesn’t matter how we meant it. (183)

I was so struck by this passage because it’s something I’ve observed time and again. When racism is called out, too often the response is “I didn’t mean to offend you” or “You’re too easily offended” instead of “I’m sorry.” Ignorance is sometimes even appealed to: “I didn’t know that was offensive” is seen as a defense rather than as a call to get informed and learn about cultures and beliefs outside of our own. Imagine if, instead, we simply said “I’m sorry, can you help me understand how I offended you so that I can avoid doing so in the future?” or “I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me and help me take steps to avoiding hurting you.” Those are truly Christian responses to harm–perceived or real. It is not our place to determine when others ought to feel offended–or not. Instead, it is our place to work for unity and forgiveness.

Later in this same essay, supersessionism was effectively equated with anti-Semitism (185). Though Draper is certainly right to note how that theology has led to applications of such, to equate the two seems to be going farther than the data allows. However, more and more recent evidence seems to suggest the two are often linked. The essay on mission in India by Daniel Jeyaraj was fascinating and shows how no matter how good intentions are, outcomes can lead to colonization. A stunning epilogue by Erin Dufault-Hunter, written in the style of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters offers insight into many of the themes found throughout the book and a call to action.

Can “White” People Be Saved?  is a challenging book that asks readers to rethink assumptions and think about things in ways they may never have done so before. If only for that, it is worth reading, but the depth of its insights are more than offset by the occasional question I have. I recommend it.

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

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: “Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal” by Craig M. Gay

Craig M. Gay argues in Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal that human flourishing is not grounded in blind advancement for the sake of advancement but rather in a theological grounding of the Incarnation and its vision for the future of humanity.

Gay begins by noting that he is not intending to dismiss technology or be some kind of Luddite. Instead, he urges that we–all people–need to view technology with at least some measure of caution. Rather than accepting hat life-changing technologies will just get developed and used, it may be worth a dose of skepticism when it comes to thinking about how these technologies may impact our lives and future.

A survey of a few reasons for skepticism about technology is first offered. For example, Gay explores the notion that things like Google and easy access to search engines, simultaneously with limiting factors like 140 (or 280) characters may be making humans lazy intellectually (37ff). The easy access to surface-level information tends to make everyone feel an expert, while not engaging in long-term, strategic thinking or planning (ibid). Alongside this, when aspects of thinking or behavior become autonomous, human abilities decline as we simply rely on autonomous features to assist us. Autonomous systems deprive humans of the ability to learn through experience (37-38). Technological unemployment–the notion that autonomy will replace human jobs–is another concern. Technology can outdo humans at a significant rate in some fields, leading to unemployment and potential lost of means of living.

Gay argues that there is a kind of “technological worldview” that is offered that drives complacency when it comes to the development and adoption of new technologies. This worldview, in part, is made up of materialist assumptions about the world, such as the notion that a scientific explanation of the world can allow us to re-engineer or re-organize the world as we see fit. A mechanistic view of nature accompanies this, and it is interesting to observe that some of this comes from Christian thinkers of the past.

A question of “what now” appears obvious following these concerns about humanity and technology. Gay argues we must course correct against notions that disembody humans. We ought to repent of our continued desire for and striving after of total autonomy that separates us from God (169). Worship and faith life must be encouraged to be deeply personal rather than impersonal. We can see the full embodying nature of Christianity in the Incarnation, and the Eucharist is offered as a deeply personal and real example of this. Here, Gay’s vision of the Eucharist is deeply influenced by John Calvin, and the mileage different readers may get from this final reflection may depend upon how they align with this view. As a Lutheran myself, I think it doesn’t go far enough.

A critical comment might be offered in response to portions of the book. For example, the cautionary tale of technology, in general, may be offset over time by other factors. Automation of basic tasks may allow humans to explore new heights that they had not done before. Though it is clear that search engines and encyclopedias online make it easy to gain a simple, surface level knowledge of virtually anything, they can also encourage further research and study through additional sources and links and citing books. Though I wouldn’t claim there is no cause for concern regarding technology and the human future, it also seems that we may be at a crossroad in which we can work actively to harness technology for human good rather than retreat from or slow it down–something that seems unlikely to happen.  Indeed, if the “technological worldview” is as pervasively imbibed as Gay appears to suggest, it may be impossible at this point to slow down technology, so working actively towards developing teaching techniques and other important human skills to work with technologies as they develop may be a better tactic.

Overall, Modern Technology and the Human Future is a book that will make readers think, whether they agree or disagree. At minimum, it will spur readers to think critically when they engage with modern technology and perhaps push themselves to learn more about it and try to control their own interaction with it.

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

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.

“The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (re-)Reads “The 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 begin my re-read of the series. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Cost of Darkness

Evil has a real, palpable effect on the world in The Eye of the World. Everything it touches, it corrupts. Darkfriends–those who aid the Dark One–are not always visibly evil, but a key figure–a darkfriend who had been a merchant to Two Rivers–gets twisted into an almost unrecognizable form. Trollocs are the “standard” bad guy in the Wheel of Time, and their features are distortions of reality: human forms mixed with those of beasts. The Forsaken, who make an appearance later, are again visible distortions of nature. If I wanted to go all Aristotelian-Thomistic on it, one could argue the evil has impacted the nature of these things, turning them from their proper ends and towards ends that lead to physical abnormalities and certainly impacting their capacity to see beyond their evil desires. The Foresaken, in particular, are twisted to the will of the Dark One and against each other. Evil, in Jordan’s world, has real impact. It is not just something to shake our heads at.

Yet even in our world–the real world–evil does have an impact. It doesn’t physically distort its perpetrators, but it does impact their well-being. It may not immediately show up in their everyday lives, at least from the outside, but by going against proper ends–by going against that which is good–evildoers distort nature and disrupt it. Sin corrupts and needs to be healed–it is not something that heals itself.

Men and Women

A theme throughout the whole series is the interactions between men and women. In some ways, Jordan seems to play into tropes of chivalry and the like, but then he subverts them, sometimes playfully, throughout the book. There are multiple scenes that become running jokes to fans of the series in The Eye of the World, whether it is Perrin and Rand each wishing the other were there to confide in about women or the hair tugs, there are several things Jordan integrates into his storytelling that seem to, at first, perhaps reinforce gender norms. However, the shared heritage of the One Power, which men are unable to touch at this point without going insane, is one way he subverts these norms. Another is through having the women themselves subvert expectations within the narrative. Egwene and Rand’s story, for example, seems like a clear setup for a love story settling in over time, but when push comes to shove it becomes much more. Egwene and Nynaeve each go against expectations, realizing roles for themselves that push them beyond what their cultural expectations were. For example, Egwene in The Eye begins to see her potential for the One Power, as does Nynaeve, yet back in Two Rivers and abroad this may as well paint them as Darkfriends–or worse, something to be feared and totally unknown. It will be interesting in this re-read to see how Jordan continues to play with broader gender narratives.

Myth and Reality

A constant theme throughout The Eye of the World is that of myth and reality, which is itself set alongside prophecy and fulfillment throughout the whole series. The folk of Two Rivers see Aes Sedai as practically myths themselves, but when it comes to the news of false Dragons or even the mundane things like Trollocs, they’re nothing more than myths in the unreal sense. But myth has a way of worming its way into reality. The people of Two Rivers, unfortunately, must face reality rather starkly when those legends come to life and Trollocs attack. More broadly speaking, Rand and the others must come to realize that their perceptions of what is real or possible may be wrong.

This theme of reality and myth resonates with the real world. Many things are dismissed as wrong or fairy tales when they are in fact grounded in reasonable beliefs. Others try to deny evidence that is directly before them (like those who deny that Jesus even existed, for example). But our world is one that is full of wonder and mystery still. Perhaps it is time to confront our own presuppositions and skepticisms and allow evidence to sway opinions. And that’s just it–evidence does sway opinions in The Eye of the World, sometimes in very quick and easy ways–seeing a Trolloc attack–but other times it takes much more. Seeing is believing, as they say, but testimony is also evidence, and Rand and company are just beginning to learn about more myth breaking in to reality.

Prophecy and fulfillment, as I said, goes alongside this notion of myth and reality. The Dragon is a terrible, fearsome one who is prophesied, and there are seemingly clear ways to know when the Dragon has come along. Many false Dragons have come and gone. The world awaits with fear the one who will fulfill the prophecies. It’s not quite like the anticipation of the Messiah, but it does show how expectations can be very different from what one thinks a clear reading of the texts entails.

Conclusion

The Eye of the World remains a compelling narrative nearly 30 years after its initial publication. Jordan wove myth, narrative, prophecy, and humanity together into a coherent whole that only begins with this first book. What questions do you have coming out of reading the book? What other worldview issues did you see arise?

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “A Week in the Life of Rome” by James L. Papandrea

James L. Papandrea’s A Week in the Life of Rome is a kind of historical fiction work mixed with numerous expositions on the ancient world. It provides readers with insights into the early Christian church in Rome, First Century Roman Life, and more.

Central to the book is the plot that weaves it all together. Papandrea introduces readers to a number of characters, including slaves, the walthy, clients, Christians, and catechumens. A few biblical names show up, too. The story is actually more interesting than I expected. It captured me in a way that novels often do, and I truly was not expecting that from a book that at first seemed like just a clever way to info-dump about ancient Rome. The main plot is quite well done and I felt myself wanting to learn more about Stachys and Urbanus in particular. The relationship betwen these Roman men helps serve as a background for giving readers numerous expositions.

The expositions scattered throughout the book are quite welcome and give essential information at each point. The relationship between Stachys and Urbanus, for example, serves to show readers the client-patron relationship in ancient Rome. This relationship can help in understanding some biblical texts and certainly the cultural world from which early Christian writings sprang. One exposition I remember in particular was about culinary habits of the wealthy Romans, such as eating small birds or mice roasted and dipped in honey and poppy seeds (do not sign me up for this one). Another interesting aside was the exploration of the Phoenix as a symbol of Christians in the earliest time periods, though it faded out of use rather quickly.

Reading this book will truly teach readers a wealth of information, but will do so in a way that is engaging in unexpected ways. A Week in the Life of Rome is an informative, interesting book. Papandrea makes a narrative that is interesting and insightful all the way through. The book is a great way to learn about ancient Rome and Christianity. 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: “The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God” by David Baggett and Marybeth Baggett

The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God is a witty look at the moral argument and some objections to it.

The book begins with an overview of the moral argument (more like moral arguments because there are several varieties) throughout the centuries, giving readers a working knowledge of the major philosophers who have engaged with the argument in the past. A brief section addresses Euthyphro’s dilemma in between the major sections before transitioning into positive arguments in favor of the premises of the moral argument. The argument the Baggett’s present is an abductive version of the argument rather than a deductive one. That is, their argument relies on observations of moral facts leads to God’s existence as the best conclusion from these facts.

David and Marybeth Baggett provide readers with anecdotes and examples to break up the more philosophical portions of the book, and there are study questions at the end of each chapter. The book is geared towards those with up to a moderate knowledge of the moral argument and can serve as an introduction to the same. Overall, the book seems to be presenting the argument in a winsome way alongside giving the basics such that readers will come away able to articulate the argument themselves.

The Morals of the Story: Good News about a Good God is a good introduction to one of the more intriguing theistic proofs. It acts as an introductory synthesis to much of David Baggett’s earlier work on the same argument. It’s recommended for those who are engaging in apologetics and interested in exploring this argument further. It could be used as a study group book, as well.

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: “Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness” by John Lennox

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness addresses one of my all-time favorite Bible stories. I may be a bit biased, as my name is Joseph, but I’ve always loved this narrative. I also had it assigned as a narrative to translate from Hebrew in college, which only deepened my love for this story. Lennox’s title says it: this story has it all. But what of this book? I was excited to dive in to find out what John C. Lennox, a rather famous man in some Christian circles, would have to say about this narrative.

Lennox is a somewhat strange choice for a book on Joseph on the face of things. A search of “John Lennox” with terms like “Joseph” and “Bible” brings up a number of videos of Lennox discussing this narrative, however, showing something of a longstanding interest in the topic. Lennox’s training is in mathematics, though he has written extensively in the fields of apologetics in particular as well as science-faith topics. Where this becomes relevant is when Lennox delves more deeply into the background of texts. He leans heavily on other thinkers for this, and seems particularly reliant upon Kenneth A. Kitchen. These include citations from a text from 1966, along with the more recent On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006). Kitchen is an excellent scholar with impeccable credentials, but again, the heavy reliance on other scholars by Lennox makes any background here seem superficial.

Nevertheless, Lennox does provide quite a bit of background for readers. He begins not with the start of the Joseph narrative, but with an overview of the structure of Genesis, including a re-reading of many of the Genesis accounts. Though this may seem somewhat unnecessary, Lennox does this to give a real sense of place, time, and setting for the Joseph narrative, making it feel even more alive and fresh than it might otherwise. Lennox is keen throughout the book to show that God’s judgement, mercy, and sovereignty are in play throughout the narrative.

Lennox gives plenty of context for readers, but mostly follows an totally expository path, deviating little from the content of the story itself. Where he does deviate, it sometimes goes into strange territory. For example, when discussing “Joseph’s rise to power,” Lennox goes on a tangent about confidence, which leads to a discussion about Christianity in “the West.” In the midst of this discussion, Lennox cites others noting that “there has been a collapse of Western self-confidence…” He then goes on to link this loss of confidence to a rise in trust in science as over and against Christianity. Following previously cited authors, Lennox argues that “confidence in God and in the Lord and the Gospel is being shaken as never before” (154). Then, Lennox just brings Joseph back in. Joseph was just “a single individual, with no other human group supporting him, yet such was his conviction of the truth of the message he had… that he influenced the future of an entire nation. That is the sort of confidence in God… that is necessary in order to stand up and reverse the trend of weakness and lack of conviction and authenticity that characterize far too much of that which calls itself Christian” (155). Frankly, I am baffled by this rabbit trail. Apart from the strangeness of demanding that Christianity be characterized by strength and authenticity rather than being humble (Ephesians 4:2, for example), it also seems very much like a grasp by Lennox to make an application in a section that he has thus far done little to make practical theology happen.

The story of Joseph, of course, features prominently at least one woman: Potiphar’s wife. Lennox goes over the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph in detail. Once more, Lennox is keen to make applications to today from the story, including arguing that sexual activity “including pornography” is encouraged in “our contemporary world.” In contrast, Lennox argues, this leads to bitterness and anti-social behavior. To combat this, we ought “to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right” (128). Later, when discussing Potiphar’s attempt to frame Joseph, Lennox appeals not to the Bible but to the common proverb “a woman scorned” to make his point (129), attempting an appeal to what he seems to think is a shared agreement–women, right? This movement from an individual woman–Potiphar’s wife–to all women: “a woman scorned,” is surely overdone and not a little insulting. Lennox’s implication seems to be that Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to frame Joseph is just what we ought to expect from a woman who was trying to seduce a man like Joseph. But this is the very kind of generalizing from abusive behavior to excuses that has led to so many problems in the world and church around the topic of abuse. I was surprised to see this, but then Lennox follows it with another disappointing statement, saying that Potiphar’s wife “denounced Joseph to the other servants, playing the race card” (129). This “race card” was that Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph due to his being a Hebrew (Genesis 39:13-15). But the use of “race card” in this way is clearly pejorative. Lennox doesn’t give any further context for this statement, but this kind of terminology is often used to denounce those who point to real, current abuses happening due to people’s race. What makes it particularly odd is that Lennox puts this apparent condemnation of lumping whole groups together right next to his own action doing the same (“race card” means calling Joseph Hebrew to denounce him is bad, but in the very same paragraph Lennox uses “a woman scorned” to reference the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” proverb that implies all women act in this manner). It’s an alarming and disappointing series of discussions from Lennox in this section.

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness is a competent look at a beautiful story. Lennox gives much by way of background, but derives most of the details from other sources. When he makes contemporary applications, they are quite uneven. The theological leanings of the reader will most likely be the determining factor in one’s enjoyment.

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: “Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom” by Brandon J. O’Brien

Demanding Liberty: An Untold Story of American Religious Freedom explores, largely, the life and thought of Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor who helped navigate between the completely hands-off approach to religion that Thomas Jefferson argued for and the notion of theocracy other Americans were trying to establish.

O’Brien’s look at Backus’s life begins with a look at the reasoning behind seeing the need for revival in the United States. Backus was struck by the need for this revival and dedicated his life to preaching. Ultimately, he moved to Baptist theology from his life as a farmer and part of the “separate church.” His theology developed through his life. It is in outlining this development that I found O’Brien’s book occasionally problematic. It is difficult to present such large theological issues in such a small space, but at times it seemed as though Backus’s movement theologically is one all should make–somewhat odd considering O’Brien says his own theological journey moved him in the opposite direction (from Baptist to Presbyterian). Perhaps this is a case of a biographer effectively conveying the convictions of their subject, but it was distracting at times here. It felt jarring to be pulled from a narrative of Backus’s life into an exposition of Baptist theology, only to be thrown back in again.

Backus’s look at how religion and state should work continued to develop as well. His view ultimately helped influence how we view religious liberty today. Backus refused to affirm anything like a theocracy in which the state was simply established with a religion. But he also argued against a complete separation that did not allow the state to have some involvement in religion. The issue was to do so fairly. Backus had drafted his on bill of rights for protecting religious liberty which has many parallels to the Constitution that was ultimately adopted. Backus’s bill provided for all people to follow their own convictions regarding faith, though it also was rejected because many thought Backus was bringing false accusations about his own liberties being constrained. It is interesting, then, to see that Backus was a rival of Paine and Adams, and it was ultimately they who adopted a bill of rights quite similar to the one that Backus presented.

Demanding Liberty is a somewhat uneven look at the life of a man who was more influential on the formation of the United States than most may think. It provides an interesting but flawed overview of his life and influence. For those interested in the topic of religious freedom in the United States, it is worth picking up for a read.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” by Aviva Chomsky- immigration, legal status, and personhood

Immigration is an extremely messy issue. Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, “law and order” has been a cover for making the “other” unwanted and “illegal.” Every human being has basic human rights. Those do not need to be earned. Aviva Chomsky’s book, Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal provides both historical background to how immigration came to be viewed in such a negative light as it now is as well as arguments for the basic human rights and dignity of all.

Chomsky provides historical data to understand how immigration became illegal. This is extremely valuable and important because too often, people just say that their ancestors came to the United States the “right way” and make the assumption the process was similar to what it is today. However, there was very little regulation of immigration whatsoever until racial bias began to lead to quotas for people coming in. The Chinese were some of the earliest people targeted, as exceptions and quotas were made to prevent Chinese from becoming citizens. Mexicans were, historically, another national group that was seen either as non-immigrants (not because they were here illegally–no laws governed such migration until relatively recently–but because it was simply taken as a given Mexicans would not stay in the United States) or as a group to be suppressed in its immigration status. Nationality was used to allow for colorblind laws that would simply restrict immigration on one’s nation. As Chomsky writes, “Once status is inscribed in the law, this becomes an automatic justification for inequality: ‘it’s the law!'” (25). The movement to national exclusion of immigrants allowed racist policies to be enshrined in law. After all, countries are not races. Once race could no longer be allowed to deny citizenship, “nationality stood in for it, and citizens of countries like China lost their right to immigrate” (35).

Laws had to be made in order to restrict immigration. Chomsky notes the inequality of movement of people: a United States citizen can, generally, get their passport and unlock travel to virtually any country in the world. Some travel may require a visa with an extra fee, but there aren’t many total restrictions on travel. Contrast this with attempting to enter the United States: here, we have laws that restrict people of other nationalities from entering our country. Similarly, though Chomsky’s book was written before the current administration under President Trump, there have been arguments for and actions banning travel to the United States purely based upon one’s religion. Such restrictions are social, legal constructs that allow the definition of human beings to be tied to national or religious affiliation. Feasibly, this could be expanded almost indefinitely. Thus, immigration law is not an unchanging, immutable thing but rather something that has changed and continues to change. It is mistaken simply to write off the “other” as illegal or even as “other” purely based on laws that have not even been in effect for more than a few decades.

Chomsky delves into the questions related to undocumented status and alleged eligibility for various benefits (it is almost certainly more complex than any reader may think). Then, she moves into undocumented status and working. What is of interest is that labor laws that target undocumented immigrants has, in several cases, led to economic hardship. The exploitation of undocumented laborers helps drive the standard of living citizens of the United States have become used to. One example is in agriculture. “Farm work is so marginal, strenuous, and low paid, that if workers achieve legal status, they quickly move to other sectors… True, for many Mexicans… low-wage, temporary, migrant labor in the United States offers a viable or even hopeful alternative to poverty at home. But this merely means that the US agricultural system depends upon the existence of a lot of extremely poor people in Mexico” (127-128). Furthermore, by making migrant workers “illegal,” this allows citizens of the United States to benefit from their low-cost labor while also not having to provide them with any benefits in turn. “Although the current system benefits many people in the United States, we must also recognize its fundamental injustice and think seriously about how it works and what steps could make it more just. If immigrants are being exploited by the current system, and if undocumentedness is one of the concepts that sustains inequality and unjust treatment, then we need to question undocumentedness itself” (150).

The impact of immigration laws and changing ideals about documentation has tremendous impact on families as well, dividing families and forcing cruelty upon some of the people in the greatest need. The laws that exist in our present situation have come from both Republicans and Democrats, so neither party can claim a high moral ground when it comes to immigration reform. However, such reform is needed, and Chomsky provides several suggestions. Comprehensive reform is a difficult goal to aim for, but Chomsky suggests we ought to instead perhaps question the very basis for immigration law to begin with. A longer quote helps illustrate her points:

[W]e have become accustomed to the notion that controlling the border is a basic prerequisite for security, safety, and sovereignty… The entire immigration apparatus is based on the presumption that we know where people belong and we need to legislate their mobility.
It’s also based on some unquestioned assumptions about countries. It is not OK for a public park… to discriminate regarding who is allowed to enter its space. But it’s OK for a country to do that… US immigration laws do just that: discriminate, on the basis of nationality, regarding who is allowed to be where.
If we really want to address the problem of undocumentedness, or so-called “illegal” immgiration, we need to look more in depth at why the United States made some immigration illegal to begin with… It’s just the latest stage in a centuries-long process of legislated inequality, a process both global and domestic. (205-206)

That is, we need to question the very basis for the need for such strong immigration laws rather than accept public assumptions about them. Reform includes a reformation of our minds and thoughts: a questioning of assumptions and looking at facts instead. Since immigration does contribute to our economy in numerous ways (some of which Chomsky documents), we ought to question why there is such a push to restrict it. “In the most immediate terms, we as a society created illegal immigration by making immigration illegal” (208). Is such a move actually something that is necessary? If so, why? These questions need to be answered not by knee-jerk reactions or platitudes such as “a nation without borders is no nation.” After all, nations may still have borders while allowing for immigration. The United States managed to do so all the way until 1882 when immigration laws targeted Chinese people!

Undocumented is a book that is worth reading no matter your political persuasion. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have offered a holistic view of personhood that allows us to adequately view the rights of all humans as equal. This is something we ought to address. Particularly for Christians, there is no question that all people are equal and deserving of our protection. Chomsky has provided historical perspective and even a way forward in thinking on this complex issue.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

 

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