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Book Review: “The Religion of American Greatness” by Paul D. Miller

Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness is a conservative pushback against Christian Nationalism. Miller is a professor at Georgetown, was on staff for the National Security Council, served in the Army, and has background in a number of related topics. He’s written for The Gospel Coalition, The Washington Post, and others.

Miller’s perspective is valuable because he’s a sympathetic reader. He clearly understands and has read the material related to Christian nationalism, but as a conservative he doesn’t just remain unconvinced, but rather clearly believes that Christian nationalism is fatally flawed on a number of levels.

Chapters in the book explore cases for and against Christian nationalism, look into the Bible and nationalism, and even explore more current events like the Trump phenomenon. Miller’s views on things like identity politics reflect his more conservative starting point, which may make him more sympathetic to readers already starting on the right end of the political spectrum. Yet even for readers of a more liberal bent, this book serves up a number of excellent analyses and insights into Christian nationalism that will provide them with discussion points that may resonate with those with whom they disagree.

There are numerous excellent insights found throughout the book. For example, Miller notes repeatedly that one issue with nationalism is that it tends to define nation states by shared cultural heritage, but this does not reflect the actual composition of nations that exist. That means that Christian nationalism must either advocate for a kind of voluntary or force dividing of people along preconceived cultural lineages or modify its proposals related to nationalism (see, for example, page 33ff). Some readers may wish Miller would drill down into that argument further–after all, the Christian nationalist definition of nations seems to almost demand a kind of ethnocentric division of humanity and, combining that with its belief that Christian culture would be some kind of inherent feature of some nations, would inevitably yield ethnic hierarchy–but Miller’s argument is more focused than that, and, as noted above, is directed in such a way as to convince some who might not listen to those arguments from implication. Miller does, however, note many of the difficulties inherent in such definitions, such as the existence of people who cannot be placed neatly within any of the broad cultural categories nationalists use. Of course, on this latter point, one again may wish for some kind of note that nationalists then almost have to be forced to a kind of kin-ism, in which only people from certain ethno-cultural groups should interact or, at the least, have children together. But what Miller does is place the arguments of nationalists on the table, where the implications can be drawn out. He nails them down with words from their own writings, and notes the problems even from within their own perspectives. Miller’s analysis thus avoids the head on [and, in my opinion, accurate] accusations of racism and related problems that may drive off some readers while still showing the implications are there.

Another excellent section is Miller’s chapter on the Bible and nationalism. Here, for example, he analyzes the claims of nationalists related to the nation of Israel, often seen as a kind of model for what Christian nationalism ought to be. The Bible itself vitiates against Christian nationalism, for it undercuts the very definitions nationalists attempt to use in order to construct their perspectives. Israel, the Bible teaches us, was a mixed multitude from the time it emerged from Egypt (121). This directly contradicts nationalist tendencies to demand shared cultural background for the formation of nation states and identity. Going on, Israel intermingled languages (Hebrew and Aramaic, among others), mixed familial bonds, and more. The thing that set it apart was merely its relationship to its God; not any kind of shared cultural background (121-122). Insights like this can be found throughout the chapter, and, indeed, the book.

The Religion of American Greatness is a needed response to Nationalism from a background that at least some people within that movement will listen to. It’s the kind of book well-worth reading for people of any background, and certainly could be recommended or bought and given to people who are interested in the topic. I recommend those interested in the topic have a copy on their shelf for reference or lending whenever possible.

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SDG.

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

Book Review: “Ancient Christian Texts- Cyril of Alexandria Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews”

Learning from the earliest theologians in the church is something I think every Christian ought to do. InterVarsity Press’s excellent “Ancient Christian Texts” series is one I’ve explored occasionally, and I was excited to see Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews from Cyril of Alexandria pop up for review. Here, fragments of Cyril’s commentaries have been put together sequentially for readers to browse and learn from.

A general introduction and an introduction to this specific work help set the stage. Readers won’t find a simple verse-by-verse commentary here, but rather a pieced together group of comments from various fragments of Cyril of Alexandria. Though this may make it sound like there’s little of value here, the opposite is in fact the case. Reading ancient Christian commentary on scripture is often enlightening for a number of reasons, and Cyril’s comments are no different.

One of the best reasons to read commentaries like this is to find the twofold truth that ancient Christians often were discussing the same questions we have today and also often had their own questions that aren’t as wrapped up in today’s discourse. The latter is especially interesting to me, and examples of this abound throughout this work. One example is found in the discussion of angels and Hebrews 1:4. Here, Cyril only briefly addresses the question of angels before diving in to an argument that the Arians are mistaken about God the Son being “originate” due to their reading of this verse. The latter still has relevance to this day, but Cyril’s brief comment about angels being like servants was striking to me as well. Little insights like this come up throughout the book, even in the scattered fragments of comments that one finds strewn across the books in view.

Longer comments are found as well, with some lengthy discourse occurring–including in Hebrews. Reading what an ancient Christian commentator had to say about this book can also help readers highlight aspects of the text they may not have noticed before. Again, an example may help–in Romans 14:20-22 Cyril is quick to note that we should refrain from some things that are permissible for the sake of others but even more for ourselves, because permissible things could make us fleshly in luxurious passions. A kind of ascetic background looms here, but the broader point of being wary of luxurious excess is a good point to be made. Small comments like this can be found all over the book.

Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews is another excellent entry in the Ancient Christian Texts series. Recommended highly for readers interested in learning about ancient Christian commentary on Scripture.

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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.

The Shroud of Turin: An Apologetics Sinkhole?

I have noticed an increasing amount of interest in some apologetics circles about the Shroud of Turin. When I was in graduate school, there was a group of people studying apologetics I deemed “The Shroud Crowd” due to their especial interest in the topic. Increasingly, I have seen articles getting shared about the supposed authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. For those unfamiliar, the Shroud of Turin [wiki link] is alleged to be the burial shroud in which Jesus was wrapped or covered after the crucifixion. Yes, the actual thing. One could see why this would be of great apologetic interest if it could be shown to be genuine.

I’ve found is that apologetic arguments in favor of the authenticity of the Shroud often fall victim to some of the issues I’ve found in apologetics more broadly. One of these is the tendency to make major claims instead of modest ones. Apologists tend toward maximal conclusions when minimal ones might be easier to establish based upon argument. But because maximal conclusions are more exciting and easily seen as relevant, apologists tend to focus on those rather than more minimalistic arguments. For the specific scenario of the Shroud, I have seen multiple videos of apologists arguing for its authenticity explicitly stating that “It is the true burial Shroud of Christ” without any kind of hedging or contextualizing of that claim. Such a bold claim needs a massive amount of evidential support to carry the day. A more modest claim regarding the Shroud might be more defensible[1]. By claiming not only that this is a burial shroud of someone in the first century, or someone who was crucified, or some other more modest claim, the apologist is taking on the burden of proof a number of degrees of certainty higher. After all, supposing the Shroud is from the first century and is from Palestine and is an actual burial shroud of someone who was crucified. None of that yet makes it the burial shroud or cloth of Jesus Christ!

Now, the apologists arguing in favor of that latter claim would likely counter by saying the miraculous nature of the image itself and how it was formed point to it being the shroud of Christ, but my point is that that claim itself needs a much more significant defense than a mere claim that it is a burial shroud of a crucified person. But of course that more modest claim doesn’t have the theological and apologetic import that making it the shroud of Christ would provide. It would be much less interesting if it were just an anonymous burial covering of a crucified man from the first century[2]. And for the apologist, the apologetic value of the shroud would be greatly undermined if it weren’t directly pointing at Christ.[3]

Another common mistake apologists make is to throw every possible argument at a question instead of focusing on the best arguments. Videos, lectures, and presentations I’ve watched about the Shroud of Turin are generally excellent examples of this very problem. Rather than focusing upon a select few extremely powerful evidences–or at least developing one or two arguments more fully–the apologist throws every possibly related argument in favor of their position out there. The seeming conclusion is then sometimes that this constitutes a great deal of evidence for the apologist’s claim. But simply making arguments is not the same as finding evidence. Conflating argument and evidence is a major problem in apologetics generally. Additionally, a bunch of speculative phrases or hypothetical scenarios thrown out alongside a few pieces of actually compelling arguments doesn’t bolster the strength of the latter, but can rather distract or even undermine them. Examples of this very situation regarding arguments related to the Shroud of Turin will be a primary focus of my future post(s) on this topic.

Apologists arguing for the authenticity of the Shroud also tend to make a number of seemingly outlandish claims related to it. For example, more than once I’ve seen arguments made that the Shroud’s image could only have been made by radiation coming from a body being miraculously resuscitated. While it is perfectly acceptable to hold such a belief, it is to me apparent that we can’t do much to evaluate such a claim. After all, how are we even supposed to begin testing it? We have no way to resuscitate a dead body, and no way to induce a miracle, so a claim that that is exactly the one and only possible explanation is either unable to be grounded in reality or may only be held as a pillar of faith. That’s fine, but claims like this are being presented at times as if they are themselves evidence!

So, where are we going from here? My plan is to look at a few apologetics videos related to the Shroud of Turin and analyze the arguments therein. I’ll be using the video(s) to show how apologists are arguing in favor of its authenticity and then offering my own counters to and problems found with several of these arguments.

I am by no means an expert in several of the related topics. I take some comfort in the fact that, so far as I have been able to determine, those apologists making arguments in favor of the Shroud are also people without expertise in any related field (eg. radiometric dating). That said, I want to make it clear that I’m not claiming any special authority in this area. I’m just an interested observer who believes there are severe problems in many of the most popular arguments in favor of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. I also want to be clear that I am a faithful Christian. It would certainly be wonderful if we could have such a wonderful piece of evidence for the resurrection, but I do not want to have people staking their belief in Christianity on what I believe are poorly constructed arguments.

[1] I say “might be more defensible” because while it would be easier to defend a more modest claim, I’m not convinced the endeavor would be worthwhile, nor am I convinced that a more modest claim could be carried on the evidence.

[2] Though, to be fair, any extant burial shroud from the first century of anyone, let alone someone who was crucified, would be of major archaeological interest, I would assume.

[3] And again, in this case, a more modest claim would still have apologetic value. After all, such an extant shroud could tell us a lot about how crucifixion occurred, the way it impacted the body, etc., etc., all of which would have apologetic import to some degree.

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What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I raise a number of pitfalls apologists ought to avoid.

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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: “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit” by Clark H. Hinnock (Second Edition)

Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit is a deep look at pneumatology- the theology of the Spirit.

Pinnock starts off noting the importance of the Spirit as a Person of the Trinity as well as the oft-neglected study of the same. Then, over the course of seven chapters, he outlines theological questions and answers related to the spirit: the Trinity, Spirit in Creation, Spirit and Christology, Spirit and Church, Spirit and Union, Spirit and Universality, and Spirit and Truth.

These chapters provide broad outlines of the titular topics, while also challenging Christians to think more deeply about them. For example, in the chapter about the Spirit and Universality, Pinnock presses the point that the Spirit is truly work in all things. He draws from C.S. Lewis’s depiction of Aslan in The Last Battle to note that Christian thinkers have not inconsistently pointed out that God can even work through and in other religions. And how else to consider this than to think of the activity of the Spirit in drawing all towards God? Elsewhere, Pinnock considers the question of the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, arguing that it seems to him to subordinate the Spirit to the Son. He also touches on a number of other potentially controversial topics. At more than one point, Pinnock notes that he considered using feminine pronouns for the Spirit due to the use of feminine imagery as well as feminine words for the Spirit in Scripture, but opted out. His reasoning here seems somewhat confusing, and largely amounts to that he wasn’t sure evangelicals would be ready for that yet (see esp. page 277).

The second edition features a foreword and commentary by Daniel Castelo. I found these additional notes to be helpful, and enjoyed his summaries at the end of each chapter. I was actually a bit disappointed that the frequency of notes went down a bit towards the end of the book. Whenever they appeared, Castelo’s comments were insightful and helped elucidate the text in some way.

Flame of Love is a fascinating read that explores issues in which Christians, unfortunately, are not often well-versed. Pinnock not only brings the focus to the Holy Spirit, but also challenges some potential preconceived notions about the same. Readers, whether they agree or disagree, will be challenged by his work.

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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: “Gender Identity & Faith” by Mark A. Yarhouse and Julia A. Sadusky

Gender Identity & Faith: Clinical Postures, Tools, and Case Studies for Client-Centered Care is one of those books that tells you exactly what it is with the title and subtitle. Or does it? As a non-professional, I didn’t realize exactly how focused on the subtitle the book would be. Nevertheless, I found quite a bit of interest as I read the book.

Mark A. Yarhouse and Juila A. Sadusky explore questions of gender identity in a clinical setting, offering specific, concrete advice and even exact examples for how to go about having these discussions. Thus, there are specific examples of people who came in seeking therapy for a variety of gender identity related issues, and the authors share these examples from a wide array of backgrounds. Some were supported by family, others were not. Some had favored pronouns, others hadn’t contemplated that. The variety of specific examples show just how complex these topics are, going far beyond the yes-or-no that is often offered in faith settings.

The authors also offer concrete advice for therapists and others, along with worksheets that can be used to discuss topics of gender identity. I am not trained in this field, so I can’t comment much on how useful they are, but I did find them of interest as a lay person in the setting.

Some reviews of the book have attacked it for not taking an entirely negative stance towards anyone who questions gender identity. Such attacks are short-sighted and scientifically uninformed. While Yarhouse and Sadusky don’t really dive into any of this, the fact is that strict binaries of gender identity (eg. boys wear blue/girls wear pink) are obviously constructed by humans rather than being objective aspects of reality. Additionally, the existence of intersex persons, whose numbers are far higher than most people know, is a direct challenge for such binaries. So far as this reader could tell (without any relevant degree–only an interest in the topic), the authors take a neutral stance regarding the questions, seeking instead to bring help and healing to people wherever they are on their journey.

Gender Identity and Faith is a useful book for Christians (and non-Christians who want to know more about faith and gender identity) wishing to discuss gender identity in clinical settings. That’s the book’s purpose. Readers who aren’t involved in that field–such as myself–will still find it of interest to see how these topics can be approached.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis” by Jason M. Baxter

C.S. Lewis was a man deeply influenced by myth. In The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis, Jason M. Baxter shows how Medieval thought and “great books” shaped C.S. Lewis’s mind and thought.

The book’s short length (165 pages of text) belies the deep insights found throughout. Baxter is clearly well-versed with medieval thought, and he brings this knowledge to bear on the life, thought, and works of C.S. Lewis. Whence some of Lewis’s insights about mysticism, death, and apologetics? The answer is medieval thought. Baxter traces medieval influence on C.S. Lewis’s life, but also highlights how influential this same thought was on his works, both theological, apologetical, and more. It is beyond clear, having read the book, that Lewis was deeply committed to medieval thinking, and used that thought to critique his modern world.

I especially enjoyed how Baxter made the insights in each chapter feel somewhat applicable to today. Rather than just outlining a one-to-one correspondence of Lewis with Medieval thought, he also highlights how that thought could have impact on our own lives. For example, in the chapter on prayer, much discussion is spent on the numinous experience, ultimately bringing it home with the analogy of Lucy from Narnia as an example of how to pray. Insights like this can be found throughout the book.

The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis is useful both to those interested in exploring the background to Lewis’s thought and to those who wish to learn more about Medieval Christianity and thought. It’s an intriguing look at deep topics.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Faithful Anti-Racism” by Christina Barland Edmondson and Chad Brennan

Anti-Racism is a hot-button topic right now. Too many have a knee-jerk response to it instead of actually learning about it. Christina Barland Edmondson & Chad Brennan’s Faithful Anti-Racism introduces Christians to anti-racism and how to apply it in their lives.

After the introduction, 11 chapters introduce Christians to a number of topics related to anti-racism. These call on faithful Christians to apply the Bible, stand for justice, understand our past, and more. Several chapters directly address topics that frequently yield seemingly fruitless debates on social media. The authors do a great job delving into such divisive topics in a winsome way that focuses on bringing Christian living to the forefront.

The book consistently brings applicable knowledge to the table. There are even chapters looking at how Christians can measure progress and help change society. Regarding the former, for example, the authors argue that we have to move past simplistic numbers and into real change in order to measure progress. They offer a number of ways of doing so that will challenge individuals and organizations.

Every chapter has discussion questions and a prayer.

Faithful Anti-Racism is an excellent read for individuals or groups looking to actively oppose racism in society. Recommended.

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

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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: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Matthew” Edited by Jason K. Lee and William M. Marsh

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series continues to deliver excellent insight into how the Reformers read and talked about Scripture. New Testament Volume I: Matthew is no different in that regard.

The editors have again selected a huge swathe of Reformers from whom to draw commentary. The major names are all there, along with many Reformers ranging from less well-known to those that only dedicated students of the Reformation will know about. The bibliographical sketches of the Reformers included in the series so far alone makes for fascinating reading, as one can browse through hundreds of mini-biographies and learn more about the Reformation and links between Reformers than one can in many other books.

The commentary itself is arranged verse-by-verse, allowing for commentary on Matthew section-by-section. Each pause in the text allows for a number of Reformers to be cited, and the editors do an excellent job balancing selection of hot topics of today with topics the Reformers themselves debated heatedly over. Sometimes these overlap, but some of the questions included may be surprising to modern readers. For example, regarding the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18), commentary includes Joseph Hall providing a kind of poetic condemnation of Herod’s cruelty; John Calvin comparing it to the slaughter of the Benjaminites in Jeremiah, Juan de Maldonado stating that the Babylonian Captivity was a kind of slaughter, and John Lightfoot reflecting more deeply on the Jeremiah quote.

Time and again, on verse after verse, the editors bring many different perspectives–sometimes in conflict–to the fore, giving readers a rich background of Reformation commentary as well as a deeper understanding of the texts themselves. Topics like baptism (ex: Matthew 3) receive notable commentary from major Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) while also bringing in lesser-known voices to weigh in on more specific topics (eg. Phillip Melanchthon).

The book serves equally well if someone is trying to just open up to study a specific passage or if one is interested in reading front-to-back to read alongside the Reformers. It’s a marvelous commentary if people have an even passing interest in knowing about how people during the Reformation period read Scripture.

Matthew is another excellent entry in a fabulous series of commentaries. Those especially interested in Reformation thinking and debates should consider it a must-buy, but the book will serve very well as a standalone commentary as well. The broadness of views presented and enormous number of topics touched upon make the book incredibly valuable. Recommended.

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

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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 Samaritan Woman’s Story: Reconsidering John 4 After #ChurchToo” by Caryn A. Reeder

The Samaritan Woman’s Story by Caryn A. Reeder engages the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 both in interpretive history and in light of modern questions.

The book is split into two parts. The first part surveys the history of interpretation of this passage, all the way up to the modern day. The second part puts the story in context, looking at the meaning of the text and the people involved in their own day.

The history of interpretation of John 4 is fascinating, and Reeder offers numerous highlights throughout these early chapters. Several of the earliest readers of the Samaritan woman saw it straightforwardly as her being in some kind of sexual sin or as a prostitute, and engaged the story on a level that operated with those assumptions. Often, these interpreters also carried misogynist baggage from their cultural context. Intriguingly, one exception was Origen, whose reading completely avoids casting the Samaritan woman in a poor light not because he was enlightened on women’s issues but because he held to an allegorical reading of the story (34-40). In each chapter, Reeder surveys specific interpreters, and boxes in the text highlight specific contextual or historical points of interest related to the main text. After looking at the early church, Reeder advances through John Calvin, Dwight Moody, and others into the present day. Here, she draws attention to the #ChurchToo movement and its highlighting of the abuses done to women within the church. The interpreters and interpretations she focuses on in this latter section are still diverse, and highlight a number of ways people within the church have re-centered the story to discuss modern problems.

The second part provides readers with a number of tools to look at the text, whether it’s the background of what women’s lives were like in Jesus’s time or how marriage worked in the ancient world. Reeder finishes with a reimagination of the story that puts her forward as a model of Christian discipleship, among other things. The reading she provides is in context and grounded in historical reality and the text.

The book has discussion questions at the end and could be used for a group study.

The Samaritan Woman’s Story is a timely text that will engage readers with John 4 in highly relevant ways. But it’s more than that, it also provides a broad look at a much-interpreted and much-misunderstood text. I highly 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.

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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.

“The Shape of the Past” by John Warwick Montgomery- A Christian Historiography?

John Warwick Montgomery is a Christian apologist who is perhaps best-known for his defense of the method of evidentialism and attacks on presuppositionalism. The Shape of the Past is a work that outlines a Christian historiography–a Christian way of reporting history. I first read it maybe a decade ago or so and remembered it being fairly impactful to my own development. I read it again recently and was struck by how my perceptions of it changed. While I still believe it to be useful book in some ways, I also found difficulties in others. Montgomery’s central theses developing a supposed Christian philosophy of history are problematic.

The first four chapters of the book focus on definitions of history and historiography, an intriguing look at history as time travel, classical conceptions of historiography, and modern histography [modern at the time- 1975]. These present a survey of some major approaches to history and historiography, while highlighting a few problems Montgomery identifies without what he’s going to build up as a central development of historical writing and research. For example, early on Montgomry notes that historians at some point must make decisions about motivations, acts, etc. such that they are making decisions about what is “humanly possible” or probable. But whither the criteria for “humanly possible”? Ultimately, he argues, “the historian’s conception of human nature stems from his general philosophy of life…” (14). Historians, on this problem, must have a sound philosophy of life in order to make sound judgments about historical events.

Montgomery here is clearly on to something, but he fails to take seriously enough his own noted problem. If, as he says, historians are dependent upon their philosophy and background beliefs in order to make determinations about history, how is objectivity in history possible? While it can largely be agreed that historical events did happen, the exacting details of how they happened are much harder to pin down. And if an historian states that, say, a specific soldier on the battlefield at Gettysburg turned right when he in fact turned left, what does this mean for the “objectivity” of history and the truth thereof? Does this undercut the rest of the historian’s narrative? How much of it is discredited by “minor” details being wrong? And if historical evaluation depends so much upon one’s philosophy of life, how does one even begin to judge said evaluations? Most of these questions don’t get answered (and some aren’t even asked) in the book.

To be fair, Montgomery isn’t trying to answer questions he didn’t ask. I bring them up because they seem a logical extension of the problems he himself points out with history, and it would be interesting to see his answers to them. He does, however, turn to objectivity in history. How are Christians different in this regard?

“The Christian Answer” is the title of Chapter Five, which purports to offer a Christian solution to this difficulty. To get there, Montgomery insists that Christianity can provide the valid interpretation of history because its truth is “‘accessible to science’ and rests upon an objective foundation”; namely, he argues that the Christian worldview rests upon “the objective, historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (138). However, to get to the point that resurrection is an “objective, historical truth,” he uses a very brief evidentialist style argument: that the Gospels “are found to be trustworthy historical documents”; that they report Jesus “exercis[ing] divine prerogatives”; that they describe Christ’s bodily resurrection “in minute detail”*; that the resurrection “cannot be discounted on a priori grounds” [emphasis removed]; that Christ spoke the truth regarding the OT and confirms the NT; and that “It follows from the preceding that all Biblical assertions bearing on philosophy of history are to be regarded as revealed truth” (138-139).

Examining each of these steps in detail is beyond my scope here. Instead, I want to reflect on the reasoning. The problem at hand is: how do we find objectivity in Christianity to give us a valid interpretation of history? The answer is a purported historical fact. But how do we validly interpret that question of the resurrection? So far as I can tell, Montgomery is insisting that it is an historical fact. But the question he’s seeking to answer is whether Christianity can provide an objective basis for historical interpretation, and then he answers that with an historical interpretation: that the resurrection is objective fact. It’s a circle, and I’m not sure how it is supposed to escape that circle. I don’t see a way out of this circle. Even if one introduced some hidden premises about historical reasoning to get to the historicity of the resurrection, that would undercut his argument that Christianity is the objective arbiter of historical interpretation by introducing some external mechanism for that same evaluation. It seems hopeless to me.[1]

Now, it is possible to simply state that Montgomery’s argument here has failed, but that Christianity is valuable in historiography because it can give an objective (or at least “better” by some measure) way of interpreting history. While that would undermine much of his argument, it would leave one free to delve into the questions of what Christianity brings to the table as an evaluative tool. Montgomery does list several “principles of Christian historical interpretation,” and some of these are indeed valuable. For example, under metaphysical principles, he notes that Christianity gives the possibility to historical intepretation that history is inherently meaningful due to “God’s… activity” (145). This would take some effort to hash out, but it seems a potentially fruitful path to pursue.

Other principles he gives seem almost hopelessly naïve, in my opinion. For example, he argues that “human nature is constant” on Christianity, and so “the Christian historian has the assurance that a common ground exists between himself and the [people] of past ages whom he studies…” (148). So, he lists Louis XVI as one possibility for the Christian historian to be able to “confidently interpret motives” due to this constancy of human nature (ibid). Even conceding that human nature is constant, one would wonder how that alone would make it possible to determine the motives of Louis XVI with such confidence, especially if purely based upon that premise. After all, the vast chasm between my own experience and that of Louis XVI makes even the smallest decisions we have to make entirely different. Because I have made so few decisions that even resemble decisions with which Louis XVI was presented, that should give me at least some caution in drawing out his motivations for specific tasks. Other criteria Montgomery presents are helpful, but some need additional caveats.

Ultimately, The Shape of the Past is a frustratingly tantalizing read. Montgomery’s writing style is winsome and matter-of-fact. He writes in an easy manner about all sorts of scholarly topics. The central theses, however, remain unproven and possibly viciously circular. His criteria for Christian historians are a mixed bag. It’s unclear to this reader that Montgomery truly provides a reason to suppose Christianity is superior to other historiographic methods when it comes to objectivity in history. A specifically Christian historiography might be possible and even desirable, but it will need to be heavily supplemented from here.

*Interestingly, Mark does not do this unless one accepts the longer ending as genuine.

[1] Montgomery does note several potential objections to his view, but none of them hint at the circularity inherent in this reasoning: 1. We need an objective standard for historical evaluation; 2. historical evaluation shows that the resurrection is objectively true; 3. therefore, Christianity can be the objective standard for historical evaluation.

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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