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Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance” by Reggie L. Williams

Reggie L. Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is a deep look at how Bonhoeffer’s experience in New York, and more specifically in Harlem, shaped him as a theologian of resistance against Hitler. It’s not just that, though, as it also traces Bonhoeffer’s intellectual development, specifically about racism, both before and after this epochal change.

First, Williams outlines the early theological development of Bonhoeffer, tracing his early intellectual development as well as his struggles to find a church home while visiting the United States. Here, in the United States, Bonhoeffer first encountered white racial terrorism in the form of lynching. Later, he would appeal to a German theologian to speak out against the charade of trials against in Scottsboro, in which nine black men were falsely accused of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death and killed. This caused something of an awakening for Bonhoeffer to racial violence, though he still had to become aware of his own biases.

The movement of Bonhoeffer from a proponent of volk (the German word for “Folk) type nationalism to a race-conscious and anti-racist perspective is one of the most fascinating portions of Williams’s research. While Bonhoeffer retained several core convictions throughout his life, his thought about race was directly impacted by his time in Harlem. Germany had been a colonial power until the Treaty of Versailles assigned the nation’s colonies to the winning powers, and many German people longed for that Imperial power once again. Williams demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s own thought was impacted by this, particularly when he surveys Bonhoeffer’s early sermons and discussions of the concept of volk.

Williams then draws an outline of the Harlem Renaissance, including major thinkers and themes, as well as how some of these thinkers and themes explicitly or implicitly show up in Bonhoeffer’s works. Unfortunately, at least one of the works that would provide more insight into this has been lost (a paper Bonhoeffer wrote on black thinkers while in the United States). Nevertheless, Williams demonstrates that the themes of the Harlem Renaissance, along with Bonhoeffer’s own time in Harlem, became deeply influential on his later life. It is in this section that Williams does the most to bring to light strands of thought in Bonhoeffer that might otherwise be missed. Specifically, he traces the constant theme of Jesus identifying with the marginalized as something that would lead to active theology of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s thought. This theme is highlighted both in the thought of W.E.B. Du Bois and the poem “Black Christ” by Countee Cullen, which Bonhoeffer was aware of. The latter is lain out in detail, and shows both how Harlem Renaissance theology could be linked to liberation theology and how Bonhoeffer’s thought developed along that direction as well. It was black thinkers who helped awaken in Bonhoeffer a truly great desire for resistance against racism.

Another major theme of Williams’s work is that of empathy. He argues throughout that Bonhoeffer’s move towards empathy was something that he found through observing segregation in the United States and the resistance to it in Harlem. This, Williams argues, developed into a “Christ-Centered Empathic Resistance,” which is the last part of Bonhoeffer’s life as he actively worked against the Nazis in Germany.

The bulk of Williams’s work focuses on Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States, supporting his theses with meticulous notes and documentary evidence. The endnotes are full of additional argumentation as well as sources and reading.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus is an essential read for those interested in Bonhoeffer’s theology of resistance. More than that, Williams provides here both an historic overview of Bonhoeffer’s thought and the ways in which one might develop him further. The unity of Bonhoeffer’s thought with Harlem Renaissance thinking and the movement of that into modern movements for societal justice is another major theme in the book. It’s a rare work that surveys the thought of a thinker while also offering insight into how modern thought might move forward along the same lines or go beyond its subject. Highly recommended.

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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Book Review: “Phoebe: A Story” by Paula Gooder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Atheism? A Critical Analysis” by Stephen E. Parrish

Stephen E. Parrish analyzes atheism with the sharpest tools of analytic philosophy in his latest book, Atheism? A Critical Analysis. After an introductory chapter looking at the issues at hand (circularity, the meaning and extent of worldview, definitions of key words like faith, and the specific type of atheism he’s analyzing–the most prominent one in contemporary philosophy today, naturalistic atheism), Parrish takes up the task of inspecting atheism from all sides, with chapters on competing theories of existence, the existence and order of the universe, the existence of the mind, ethics, and beauty and evil.

The chapter on competing theories of existence is insightful as it both helps divide different worldviews and categorize them and offers a fuller look at what Parrish calls ‘perfect being theism’ which is essentially classical theism sans a strong view of divine simplicity. With definitions under the belt, Parrish then dives into the critical analysis of naturalistic atheism.

The first question explored is that of the universe’s existence and order. Here, Parrish surveys the various possibilities. On naturalistic atheism, the universe may either exist by chance or necessity. He then offers deep analysis of each possibility. The concept of brute fact–that the universe just exists as it does by chance–is, frankly, brutalized in Parrish’s analysis. For example, the idea that our universe is the way it is and ordered because it just happens to be the one in an untold trillions chance that we exist and observe it, and that any other universe would have been just as likely, so we just happened to be likely, does not stand up to scrutiny when one also factors in the selection of an orderly, life-permitting universe like our own. As Parrish’s example points out, if we roll one trillion fair/unloaded dice, what is the likelihood of getting a six on every roll? Each additional sequence would be exponentially less likely. Then, if one rolls the trillion dice a trillion times, the odds of getting this sequence is remote in the extreme. That is, unlikely dice rolls are much, much, much more likely than lucking out and selecting the desired sequence of all 6 rolls. So even if there are an infinite number of possible universes, there is still a set of universes within that overall set of possible universes which would be infinitely less likely to exist, for we’d be trying to select a specific universe with a specific set of circumstances (eg. our own, as opposed to one in which no life is possible, or all that exists is a single star, or a black hole or something of the sort). So brute fact theory still has not accounted for the unlikely nature of our own universe. It is, effectively, equivalent to hand waving and saying the odds don’t matter, we just exist. Calling that an explanation for the existence of the universe is a misnomer at best (see Parrish’s analogy on p. 118). The universe as existing with necessity is analyzed by Parrish in a similar, thought-provoking fashion.

The existence of mind is the next question, and Parrish has done significant work on this question from a philosophical perspective in another work of his, The Knower and the Known (see my two part review: part 1, part 2). Here, Parrish offers a more succinct but nevertheless thorough analysis of the major philosophical positions on the mind from a naturalistic perspective. After a survey of the main options (eg. eliminativism, identity theory, supervenience, and more), he turns to pointing out problems with materialism such as the relationship between the brain and consciousness (146-147), the notion that consciousness is an illusion (147-148), and intentionality–that thoughts sem to be about things (148). Dualism, Parrish notes, has its own set of difficulties, but theism is able to offer a better explanatory power than naturalism because theism has reality as fundamentally personal due to the personal nature of God, thus allowing for an explanation for mind that does not reduce it to nothing, make it illusory, or any other position that suffers from the problems of effectively making consciousness a fiction, or, minimally, a non-intentional state (163).

The next two chapters cover ethics, value, and beauty and note how though these things seem to be observable aspects of our universe, naturalistic atheistic attempts to explain them fail on a number of levels. In particular, they struggle to explain how they can either exist or be objective. Two appendices at the end of the book provide a look at atheism’s ideological development and the social impacts of atheism. The latter appendix is particular aimed to be an answer to those that charge religion specifically is the cause of the worst of society’s ills.

Of the admirable aspects of this book, there is a noted effort to both present the strongest arguments atheists have to offer, including such noted names as J.L. Mackie and Graham Oppy, and an effort in tandem to avoid making arguments that not all Christians could agree with (eg. avoiding making something like ID theory a primary pillar of analyzing atheism in regards to natural order).

It should be noted that this work is intended for a more general audience, with more analogies and basic information presented than in Parrish’s other work. Nevertheless, it still remains deep and incisive in its reasoning and analysis, and readers of any level of expertise in relevant areas will find parts of interest. It would be hard to find a more well-reasoned, deeper look at analyzing atheism in the analytic tradition in a way that is written with accessibility to a more general readership in mind. Words and phrases like “worldview” and “probability structure” are utilized throughout the text, but Parrish defines them in the introductory chapters in such a way that readers will be able to grasp them. When it comes to the analysis itself, because of his engagement with major thinkers and positions in modern atheism, the book will be useful to any reader who finds the topic of interest. Atheism? A Critical Analysis comes recommended without reservations. Any reader can benefit from this extraordinary work.

Full Disclosure: I am named in the acknowledgements of the book, read an early draft, and provided some feedback on the early draft as well. I received a review copy from the author.

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!

The Knower and the Known by Stephen E Parrish– I wrote an extensive two-part review of Stephen E. Parrish’s book on dualism and naturalistic theories of mind. See the second part as well.

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.

 

Junia and Bayesian Epistemology: Philosophical probability trumping Biblical scholarship?

Alexander Pruss is one of the smartest people I’ve encountered. Though I don’t always agree with his conclusions, the sharpness of his intellect and his wit is always fascinating. His blog is frequently a place to flex mental muscles, as he offers small, one-off arguments to spur discussion. Recently, he wrote a post entitled “Junia/Junias and the base rate fallacy” Pruss argued that application of Bayesian analysis to biblical scholarship would help solve the question of whether Junia/Junias was an apostle. Apologies in advance for possible lack of care with terms like “factor,” “probability,” and “odds”; I tried to be careful but I’m tired.

The Argument

The preliminaries are explanations of Bayes’ Theorem and the meaning of the “base rate fallacy,” both of which are easily searched online, but I provided the links here (with all the caveats that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and Wikipedia articles don’t make anyone an expert). With that information in mind, we approach Pruss’s argument.

Pruss does fudge the numbers some, admitting he hasn’t explored the question on the actual numbers for some of these probabilities. So, for example, he begins by giving a 9:1 factor for Junia:Junias names in the early church. With that, and with the note that to avoid the base rate fallacy, we ought to assign a probability (he gives .9) to the question of whether this person was “among” the apostles, it yields a .19 rate of false positives for people who are not woman apostles to be assigned the notion of being a woman apostle. Moreover, if we say that there are 12 male apostles (the disciples) for every one female apostle (Junia), the probability of an apostle being a woman is now 1/13. Finally, because “not everyone Paul praises is an apostle” we have to assign a probability to whether Paul is praising an apostle here (Pruss gives it .3). This means that “the chance that a randomly chosen person that Paul praises is a female apostle even given the existence of female apostles is only about (1/13)×(1/3) or about three percent.”

Plugging in the .19 we got above for false positives and doing more math (read his post), we now discover that “even assuming that some apostles are female, the probability that Junia/s is a female apostle is at most about 14%, once one takes into account the low base rate of women among apostles and apostles among those mentioned by Paul.”

Pruss immediately notes the numbers are made up and could change the overall results.

Analysis

There are some significant problems with Pruss’s argument here. First, the fact is that there is no extant name “Junias/Junianias” found anywhere in lexical evidence whatsoever. Thus, instead of .9 for Junia being a woman, it should be 1. One comment pointed this out and Pruss pressed the argument that even in this case, the math would still be “significantly less than 50%” for Junia to be a female apostle. Doing the math is too hard for my tired brain, but let’s just say he’s right. The question still remains of why the chances for Junia to be a female apostle would be so low.

Looking at his other percentages, it seems a large part of the argument, once we’ve established Junia is female, turns on whether it is the case that she may not be “among” the apostles. Pruss’s position here falls into the goalpost moving arguments that complementarians have engaged in since the lexical evidence turning her into a man came up dry. Typically, this is how it goes:

Junia was not a man => Okay, Junia was not an apostle => Okay, Junia was not the type of apostle that was authoritative

The third stage above is one that is essentially a theological fiction supported almost entirely by punting to the fallacious importation of the semantic range of a word into a foreign context. When Paul wrote to say that Junia was an apostle, according to this argument, but she was one only in the semantic meaning of the word apostle as witness/sent one/messenger. Never mind that the word is used for an office in the New Testament, including in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 12:28). No, because it does not serve the purpose of continuing to prevent women from holding pastoral office, the entire semantic range of meaning for the word “apostle” must be imported in order to reduce Junia in status once again. This fallacious importation of meaning is a demonstration of an ad hoc explanation. (Unfortunately, Pruss himself succumbs to this goalpost moving argument in the comments on this post when he questions whether Junia as an apostle would be an authoritative apostle or not.)

But it is the second stage that is at question initially, and here, once again, it seems that the importation of complementarian assumptions into the text has occurred, for this reading goes against the earlier known readings from church fathers (see here, for example) which saw Junia as an apostle and did not import the lexical range of the word into “among” either. So, again, the factor needs to be moved from .9 to 1.

The proportion of male:female apostles is made up, as Pruss acknowledges. It’s possible that the reality is 1:1 or 100:1. So it would be possible to move numbers around to make it either extraordinarily likely Junia was a woman apostle or unlikely. It also seems to me the 1/3 possibility that Paul is praising an apostle seems high. So again, this would potentially lower the probability for Junia as a woman apostle. It could raise it, though that seems unlikely given the biblical text. Nevertheless, significant gains were made with “Junia” being established as the name and being among the apostles. And, the question of just how likely something ought to be in order to be epistemically justified in believing it is itself a matter of very hot debate. If, say, the likelihood for Junia being a woman apostle were 33%, would someone be justified in holding that belief? The answer to that question is very messy indeed.

But the most relevant evidence, the most clear counter-point to Pruss wasn’t even considered. That is this: using prior probability to determine the likelihood of an event does not matter if the event has already occurred. That is, if it is the case that Paul does name a woman apostle, then whether or not this was likely or unlikely given any number of other prior probability considerations does not change what Paul does in Romans 16:7. And while Pruss tries to say that his use of Bayesian theorem ought to somehow guide biblical scholars in their reading of this text, what he doesn’t consider is that highly improbable events do occur and that if they do, whether or not the event is improbable does not impact the event’s actually having occurred. Indeed, it is unclear as to why a biblical scholar should take such prior probability into account to begin with (apart from, potentially, taking caution with offering interpretations that are particularly unlikely). Suppose that the name were not Junia but Rebecca and the Greek text were so clear as to make it impossible to take it as anything but “among the authoritative apostles” (despite their being no use of this term in the NT and it being a demand for evidence by complementarians that they cannot meet for people they themselves admit to being apostles). What then? Would a scholar be justified in dismissing the sentence written by Paul that “Rebecca was an authoritative office-holding apostle” simply because of prior probabilities? It seems obvious the answer is no. So then the question is why should the biblical scholar be beholden to prior probabilities in a supposedly less clear case (and again, I by no means grant that it is unclear)? Again, the answer seems to be that the scholar ought not to worry about that, given the relevant data is directly in front of them.

Conclusion

Bayesian reasoning is interesting. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and learning about it from time to time. Whether or not it is helpful to theological questions is a concern for a different time, though it is a fascinating question to ponder (related questions such as how can we fill in sometimes arbitrary probabilities for certain events/people/etc. and still think the theological reasoning is sound would be interesting to explore in depth). In this specific case, though, it seems clear that Pruss’s argument fails for several reasons. All of these center around the actual meaning of the text (the name Junia and the meaning of “among the apostles”) which no amount of external probabilities can alter. Pruss’s argument is a fun mental exercise that need not undermine confidence in the data of the text itself: Junia was a female apostle. Pruss’s claim that biblical theologians ought to use Bayesian reasoning in their exegesis does not seem to be sustained by this example.

Links

A Brief Biblical Proof for Women Pastors– Read why 1 Corinthians 12:28 is an even bigger problem for complementarians, as it effectively guarantees women may hold the same or more authority than that of pastors.

On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.

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.

What if?

What if we loved our neighbor as much as we loved our soldiers?

Who is my neighbor?

Illegal immigrant

Refugee from afar

What if we loved illegals as much as we loved our soldiers?

 

What if we loved our neighbor as ourselves?

What if we didn’t say #notall but instead said #nomore?

What if we didn’t say #alllives but asked what can we do?

What if we loved the “other” as ourselves?

 

What if we let Jesus be as radical a challenge to our lives as we ought?

What if we took it seriously that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”?

The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world

What does that mean for us?

 

What if we asked ourselves to examine what we believe?

In which place does “America First” leave God?

 

“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.

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: “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.

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “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.

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