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“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White – Honor, King David, and Justice

ofk-whiteT.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.

Honor

Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-

If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)

Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.

King David… Arthur

In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.

Justice

One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.

The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:

For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)

The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).

Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.

Other Topics

There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.

The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:

Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)

Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.

Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.

Conclusion

The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).

SDG.

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

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Naturalism and the Sublime in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

To be sublime is to be “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe” according to Oxford Dictionaries. As Alan Gregory has argued in Science Fiction Theology, scientific (or sometimes nearly magical) sublime frequently replaces transcendent reality in science fiction. I believe this can just as easily be noted within science writing as well. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a prime example of this subversion of the transcendent by explicitly naturalistic sublime.

Tyson fills his book with language of the sublime. Simply looking at the table of contents shows how he has worked to replace religious themes with his own naturalistic paradigm. Chapter titles include “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” a reference to the popular biography of Christ of the same title; “On Earth as in the Heavens,” a play on the line from the Lord’s Prayer; and “Let There Be Light,” the opening line of the creation account in the Bible. These titles intentionally play on the transcendent themes from which they are are derived.

The naturalistic sublime continues in the opening chapter, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which echoes Genesis with its opening:

In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago… (17)

These words spur a narrative of the universe from a purely naturalistic perspective. Of course, Tyson is not content to merely echo religious language; he must also make explicit that his naturalistic sublime is intentionally replacing God.

The naturalistic sublime effectively turns the universe–the cosmos–into its god. It glories in the beauty of the universe as the telos in itself. Tyson’s language of the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and echoing of the Genesis account with the replacement of God’s activity with purely naturalistic explanation is one example of this. Ignoring that many, many, many Christians agree that his “Greatest Story” is the way that the universe was created, Tyson creates his own narrative of the naturalistic sublime. It becomes most explicit in the closing chapter, which we quote at some length:

The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge… its attributes are clear:
The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it is… for everyone.,,
The cosmic perspective is humble.
The cosmic perspective is spiritual–even redemptive–but not religious…
The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae, but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.
The cosmic perspective [gives an]… indication that perhaps flag-waving and space exploration do not mix.
The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth, but also valeus our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself. (205-207)

Thus, Tyson makes quite explicit his idea of the naturalistic sublime. It is scientific–by which he means naturalistic–and for all. Eschewing such petty things as definitions or clarity of terms, Tyson allows for spirituality and, generously, an amorphous and undefined notion of rdemption, but not religion in his cosmic sublime. The kinship of all with all is offered as a kind of final, ultimate sublime for all to finally be one (apparently Tyson forgot this idea had already existed in many of those “religions” he rejects, including his clear primary target, Christianity: 1 Corinthians 15:28, for example).

But Tyson is not content to merely offer this vision of cosmic, naturalistic sublime to his readers. He closes with a commandment: to ponder these cosmic truths “At least once a week, if not once a day…” so that we may wonder at the way new discoveries may “transform life on Earth” (207).

When Tyson confronts the Big Questions like how the universe’s beginning may itself have begun, he simply punts the question in typical naturalistic fashion:

…some religious people assert, with a tinge of righteousness, that something must have started it all: a force greater than all others…. that something is, of course, God.
But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition we have yet to identify…? Or what if the universe just popped into existence from nothing? Or what if everything we know and love were just a computer simulation rendered for entertainment by a superintelligent species?
These philosophically fun ideas usually satisfy nobody. Nonetheless, they remind us that ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist… What we do know, and what we can assert without further hesitation, is that the universe had a beginning. (32-33)

Tyson’s tone is itself an intriguing study in deep irony. Even as he references those silly religious people who assert that God must have created the universe, he throws a dig out there about their self-righteousness. But just as he’s doing that, he turns around to, himself with no small amount of righteous-pride, assert his ignorance of the universe. He throws out a number of answers that he calls “philosophically fun” and then shrugs his shoulders. His own pride–his sublime–is found in the not-knowing. Though we know, according to Tyson, that the universe had a beginning, we should satisfy ourselves with ignorance and just ask “what if?” questions to pass the time.

Tyson’s universe is itself the means, end, and glory. It is the non-transcendent, naturalistic sublime. As we’ve shown above, the universe itself is what replaces the transcendent for Tyson. Devotional rites are proposed. Religious language is wholly appropriate, in Tyson’s world, to use for the universe. It is the Greatest Story; It is the Beginning; It is the Light; Its Will must be done, despite our ignorance of it. It is the naturalistic sublime’s only hope. God help us.

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!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Microview: “Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects” edited by Paul Gould

A Picture I took on a snowy, overcast day. Rights reserved.

Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects will surely be viewed by many as a kind of idiosyncratic book on a topic of little interest, let alone importance. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The difficulty of abstract objects and how they relate to God is something which touches on matters of divine aseity, the truth of propositions, and even how we conceive of things like properties and universals.

The introductory essay by the editor, Paul Gould, does much to provide background on the topic, why it’s a problem, and what major views there are related to it. The individual views are each interesting and come from sometimes radically different perspectives. Do abstract objects exist independently of God? Might they instead depend on God? Do they even “exist” in the sense of having ontological existence? These questions are each approached in different ways by the various authors.

The range of views is fairly broad, with such views as Platonism, other forms of realism, creationism, and anti-realism are presented. Each essay presents the author’s own set of answers to the questions about abstracta and leads to several solid insights.

One difficulty with the book is the chapter titles do little to provide insight into what the view of each author is, so unless one pays attention to the introduction, one has to guess at the author’s view until it is explicitly stated (which it may or may not be).

Ultimately, the lack of space authors are given both in their essays and responses means that the book does little at points to shed light on the topic. The authors are at times reduced to saying little more than that they disagree with a point of another without having room to expand on that disagreement. Because of the lack of depth, readers are left wondering at times what the authors’ views even are. For example, I read Yandell’s initial essay with little concept of exactly what he was arguing for as opposed to what he argued against. I re-read the essay and realized he stated his view only in a short paragraph. It really is inexcusable in a book which offers different views to have so little space for each view, particularly when the topic is as complex as that of abstract objects.

Despite this lack of space, the book is very interesting and provides much insight into the difficulty of God and abstract objects. It is unfortunate that such a complex topic wasn’t given the space it needs to truly get off the ground.

The Good

+Interesting topic with a great set of contributors
+Very solid introduction
+Offers both responses from other authors and a rejoinder for each essay
+Smart selection of views with insights from each

The Bad

-Extremely technical arguments with little room for expounding on them
-Chapters are too short at times to even understand what each view is
-Chapter titles cause confusion by not putting forth authors’ views

Overall

Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects is an interesting book on an important, if oft-neglected, topic. However, the very short length given to each contributor makes it very difficult to even get a grasp of what the authors’ views are. Despite this lack of space, the book is extremely interesting and provides much insight into the difficulty of God and abstract objects. It is unfortunate that the interesting topic wasn’t given the space it needs to truly get off the ground.

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!)

Source

Beyond the Control of God?: Six Views on The Problem of God and Abstract Objects edited Paul Gould (Bloomsbury, 2014).

 

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: “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” edited by Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price

apologetics-romanApologetics in the Roman Empire is a collection of essays centered around apologetic interaction between Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the first through fourth centuries. The essays cover a wide range of topics, from Pagan attempts to defend Hellenism to the apologetic writings of Eusebius.

The value of this book is found primarily in a survey of the interplay between Pagan, Jewish, and Christian apologists during this time period, but from these interactions, readers can find a number of applications. The apologetic styles early Christians used allow readers to seek to apply them to their own reasoning. Some of the early arguments Pagans made against Christians have been reiterated in our own time, and the responses Christians gave can be integrated and updated in reply.

Each individual essay has a virtual treasure trove of content that gives insight into how apologetics was done but also in how it might be done into today. I found every essay to be compelling and insightful. Unfortunately, the editors themselves argued early on that few people would be interested in a study like this beyond learning about the time period being discussed (I briefly look at this quote and claim here). I disagree vehemently. This is a book from which anyone interested in apologetics will glean much.

I cannot recommend Apologetics in the Roman Empire highly enough. Its broadness of application is far beyond the seemingly obscure appeal to those specifically interested in this period. Whether one is looking into how to approach apologetic styles, how Christian thinkers of the past dealt with certain objections, or how debates which occurred in the first few centuries of Christianity impact our thought today, readers are treated to a wealth of research and information which will bear fruit in their thought.

Links

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

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover these enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

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.

Natural Law, human morality, and self-interest in Leland vs. Bolingbroke: A centuries-old discussion that remains relevant today

leland-viewJohn Leland’s (1691-1766) epic takedown of Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke’s (1678-1751) argument for natural law from a deistic perspective as found in Leland’s A View of the Principal Deistical Writers That Have Appeared in England in the Last and Present Century (available free online) is a wonder to behold. Leland’s work is a massive 2-Volume tome that basically surveys the entire field of the deistic controversy in the 18th century and provides not just an overview of the deists’ writings, but also response to them and extensive commentary on other written responses. In other words, the book is probably the single most valuable contemporary account of the deistic controversy that was written.

Leland deals extensively with Bolingbroke and engages nearly every part of Bolingbroke’s argument for deism. Here, I want to highlight one passage from Leland’s account:

Those may justly regard universal benevolence as a fundamental law of our nature, who suppose a social principle, and a benevolent disposition, distinct from self-love, to be an original disposition, natural to the human heart, and implanted by the Author of our beings; but if self-love be, as [Lord Bolingbroke] represents it, the only original spring of human actions, and the centre of the whole system, universal benevolence cannot be properly represented as the fundamental law of our nature. Upon this scheme the private interest of the individual, whenever it happens to come in competition with the public good, ought to be preferred.

The relevance of this very argument to modern debates over morality, particularly on atheistic schema, is immediately apparent. Without God, in a universe sans not just creation but also sans design, sans lawgiver, etc., it seems self-interest is really the only possible “ought” to be found. But if that is the case, why not acknowledge that morality in the best interest of “all” or “the group” is at best a fiction? Let’s not be mistaken; many atheists do acknowledge exactly that. But there remain holdouts, certain that a framework for discovering morality.

As Leland notes, however, it would be very difficult to get around the notion that without some kind of divine law or lawgiver, self-interest seemingly must become the basis for morality. Indeed, though Leland lived before Darwin, it would seem that non-theistic evolution would suggest this as well: self-preservation and the passing on of one’s genes as the greatest good. But if that is the case, it becomes clear that no matter how lofty our expectations or claims about morality become, when it comes down to it, self-interest will be the final arbiter of morality. If that is the case, then it becomes difficult to maintain that universal benevolence or some other good could be actually attainable on such a system.

Perhaps a counter-argument could be that we could set the goal at universal benevolence, but acknowledge the failings of the system. But if that is the case, it seems the failings of the system itself–allowing self-preservation/interest to be the true ultimate arbiter of morality–decries the system. The goal would become “universal benevolence, so long as it does not impede my self-interest” and that seems to be a very problematic way to view morality. Of course, one could simply bite the bullet and acknowledge this as the best possible moral system to offer without God. So be it.

Links

Historical Apologetics– Check out all my posts on historical apologetics.

For more reading on the psychological studies behind spanking, see Psychology Today as well as the summary article linked above (or here).

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!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

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

Jesus, the Demon-Possessed Man, and Christology- Luke 8:26-39

A recent reading in church struck me because I’ve been in conversations with some who deny the deity of Christ of late. The reading was from Luke 8. Verses 38-39 are what caught my attention:

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him (NIV).

Did you catch that? Jesus says “tell how much God has done for you.” How does the man respond? By telling what Jesus had done for him. The text goes to a different story immediately after this. There is no correction of the man’s behavior or any implication that the man did the wrong thing. Jesus tells him to speak of what God has done, and he obeys by telling what Jesus had done. Who, then, is Jesus?

One may respond by saying that Jesus is the means by which God healed the man. Thus, it was proper for the man to speak of Jesus without implying that Jesus is God. However, this misses the crucial linking of the terminology: the parallelism in “how much God has done for you” with “how much Jesus had done for him” is quite clear in both the English translation and the Greek original. This parallelism does not suggest any kind of difference between the two, or some kind of intermediary in between the two.

Thus, it appears that here in Luke we have a subtle acknowledgement of the deity of Christ.

Links

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

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

“Manual of Christian Evidences” – Fisher Chapter 6 Guided Reading

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 6

Once again we see that Fisher’s time is quite different from our own in many ways, as he notes that “No one doubts that the Gospels contain a great deal that is true about the life and teaching of Christ” (37). All kinds of people doubt that now, but that doesn’t do much to undermine Fisher’s apologetic in this section. Here are some of the highlights.

Fisher notes that Jesus continually tried to retire to solitary places, and that he commanded others not to report the miracles done by him. “No one can reasonably question that these injunctions not to report miracles were uttered by him. There is no motive that could account for the invention of them, especially since it is added that they were disregarded” (38). This seems to be clearly the case. Why invent the notion that Jesus gave commands that were immediately disobeyed? It doesn’t fit the narrative of the alleged myth of Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus went on to caution against “excessive esteem of miracles,” which would undercut any reason for inventing accounts of the miraculous to begin with. Too often, people argue that the miraculous in Jesus’ account demonstrates that it must be myth (here not using myth in the technical sense, but in the sense of “untrue”). But if these miracles were invented to show how great Jesus is, why have Jesus caution against exactly that interpretation, and why have Jesus ask people not to spread stories about them?

Another interesting point Fisher makes is that no miracles are attributed to John the Baptist, despite this man’s importance in testifying for Jesus. He asks, “If there had been a dispoistion to make up stories of miracles that did not occur, why is not John credited with works of a like nature?” (40). After all, if John’s testimony was so important–and it clear that it was–and miracles were allegedly invented to highlight the importance of Jesus and others, why does John not have any attributed to him? The only answers to these questions will be ad hoc–invented to try to avoid the questions asked.

The notion that miracles were invented in these narratives is difficult to defend under scrutiny. These and other points Fisher makes in this brief chapter are powerful.

Questions

Do you think that it is true that Jesus’ commands not to tell anyone about his miracles must be genuine? What other explanations might be possible? What evidence might go against other explanations?

What purpose do the miracles seem to have when you re-read the accounts?

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

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

Book Review: “The Qur’an in Context” by Mark Robert Anderson

Mark Robert Anderson takes on a monumental task in his book The Qur’an in Context: providing an overview of the Qur’an without divorcing it from its own context, all while setting it alongside Christian beliefs and critiques. The long and short of it is that he succeeds masterfully at this task.

First, Anderson explores the cultural context of the Qur’an, exploring, briefly, the life of of Muhammad and his context. Then, chapters exploring aspects of the worldview within the Qur’an go over such topics as Adam, Sin, God’s Immanence, etc. A whole section is dedicated to the Quranic view of Jesus, and the book ends with a Christian evaluation of the Qur’an. I can’t really emphasize enough how important every single chapter is. Within each chapter, Anderson skillfully and fairly presents the picture the Qur’an puts forward on the topic, often giving some additional context for the discussion. Then, there is often some Christian evaluation within the chapter itself, though much is deferred to the final section. This makes the book absolutely necessary for any Christian interested in learning about Islam and the teachings of Muhammad.

It is clear that Anderson has done his homework, and I was enlightened multiple times on aspects of Quranic theology that I hadn’t picked up on before. For example, in the section on Immanence in the Qur’an, I discovered that the theism of Islam doesn’t always portray Allah as the kind of separate, wholly removed from the world deity I had thought before. Instead, like in Christianity, the Quranic God is shown to be active in creation and working with people to bring about ends, despite also having absolute sovereignty and control. These kinds of details are found on almost every page, and make the book a great reference.

The Qu’ran in Context is now my go-to recommendation for Christians looking to learn about the Qur’an. It can be paired with a number of other books to get a more complete picture of Islam in general, but Anderson’s work can stand on its own as an exploration to dialogue with Muslims and their Scripture.

The Good

+Generous perspective regarding Muslim approaches to their own Scripture
+Takes seriously differences between Christians and Muslims
+Offers contextual basis for understanding the Qu’ran
+Extremely valuable summaries and interaction

The Bad

-Nothing to complain about means I mostly have to leave this row blank

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide 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!)

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

SDG.

——

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

Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan Trilogy”- Justice, War, and Love

Beautiful insert art from "Goliath," the third book in the Leviathan Trilogy.

Beautiful insert art from “Goliath,” the third book in the Leviathan Trilogy.

Scott Westerfeld is an extremely popular author of young adult literature. I recently dived into his “Leviathan Trilogy,” a series that tells an alternate history of World War I as steampunk. What is steampunk? Well… it’s hard to sum up, but for those not in the know, check out Wikipedia’s description. In this alternate history, the powers that split the world are aligned as either Clanker (using machinery, guns, and the like) or Darwinist (using genetically modified creatures to do battle). There will be SPOILERS for the series in what follows.

 Honor and Nationalism

The series begins with Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg, the son of the Archduke in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, being spirited away at night because people who do not want him to have any chance of becoming the Emperor are after him. Count Volger is one of those who have conspired to whisk him away. Volger’s character is interesting because although he is portrayed as largely unlikable from the perspective of Alek [Prince Aleksander], he is one of the most honorable characters in the series.

Volger acts as a kind of moral voice, but one which is strongly tied to nationalism. Volger’s honor provides a framework for Alek to learn from, and he does so spectacularly when he acts rightfully to stop a potential mass destruction later in the series (see below regarding Tesla). However, Volger is not infallible, and his moral compass appears to be inherently tied to what is good for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and what he perceives is good for Alek. This is in contrast to a wider, broader vision of moral action which would allow for self-critique on a national level as well. Volger at points seems to see how his moral/nationalist vision puts him at odds with what he thinks is right and wrong, but his commitment to that system makes it difficult for him to get beyond it.

Even if the reader thinks Volger is wrong, however, the honor he shows throughout the novels is something to be admired. The way that he acts selflessly at multiple points throughout the trilogy is noteworthy, and sets a strong moral example throughout the books. Again, this is interesting because from the narrator’s (Alek’s) perspective, Volger sometimes seems an insufferable grouch. However, Alek ultimately realizes the goodness of Volger, much to his own benefit.

These reflections lead naturally to a kind of self-examination for those who tend to think of their own nation in exceptionalist terms. Although exceptionalism is not, in and of itself, a moral wrong, it can very easily lead to the pervasive, systematic injustice. Volger’s character allows readers to examine this kind of thinking in a fictional setting, which makes it safer to think about while still engaging the reader on a deep level.

War and Justice

A central aspect of the trilogy as it plays out over an alternate World War I is the unity and disunity between the concepts of war and justice. In Leviathan, Great Britain seems to enter the war purely due to some perceived obligation–it doesn’t want to see the “Clankers” win. By the time we get to the third book, however, the depth of the discussion is much greater. Tesla has apparently developed a weapon capable of wiping out entire cities. Is it just to use such a weapon to bring an immediate end to the war, if that means sacrificing millions of lives to save tens of millions?

Thus, there are numerous questions about war and justice raised throughout the series. Some of these remain open questions–such as whether Great Britain in this example was right to wage war–while others are explored more thoroughly. One of these is Tesla’s attempt to use a weapon that allegedly can destroy entire cities. When he attempts to do so, Alek rushes to stop him, resulting in Tesla’s death. Here we see an act that might normally be considered a wrong–causing the death of another (though the moral status of its intent is something worth contemplating as well)–ends up being, ostensibly, a good. Ironically, Tesla’s weapon did not actually have the power he thought it did.

Male Privilege

Deryn Sharp has to pretend to be a boy in order to pursue a dream of serving in the air force of Great Britain. The subtle criticisms of male privilege found throughout the series is worth commenting on. One wonders whether we have actually overcome some of the clear biases against the capabilities of women that are mentioned throughout the Leviathan Trilogy. For example, resistance to women as firefighters, police officers, and the like persists in our time.

Conclusion

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy is a thought-provoking set of novels. It is also a beautiful story of love and adventure, with wonderful illustrations found throughout. It’s the best kind of story: one that makes you think.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

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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: “Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community” by James M. Todd III

sats-toddJames M. Todd III’s Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community argues that Christians are no longer subject to any of the laws of the Old Covenant/Old Testament. It’s an extraordinary claim, particularly if one has not been exposed to such a position before, but one that Christians must engage with in order to have a full view of the proper relation between the Law and their lives.

Todd’s exposition of three primary views related to OT Laws is particularly interesting. There are, he argues, three primary ways of interacting with OT legislation: “Moral Law” Christians, who view the laws as binding but break them into moral, ceremonial, and civil, asserting only moral laws ought to be followed; “Ten Commandment” Christians who use the Ten Commandments for the baseline of morality, and “No-Old-Law”Christians who believe that Christians are not under authority of OT laws in any way. He highlights strengths and weaknesses of each position. Moral Law Christians run into the problem that the threefold division of OT Law is nowhere explicitly taught in Scripture, and that, moreover, in the ANE (ancient Near East) there would have been very little understanding of or motivation to make such religious/civil distinctions as is required by this division. Ten Commandment Christians struggle to explain how to deal with the Sabbath, among other issues. No-Old-Law Christians must explain how it avoids antinomianism as well as the problem of dealing with the Hebrew Scriptures as Christian Scripture. Though brief, this discussion alone was worth reading the book for.

The “No-Old-Law” position is defended by Todd largely through exegetical arguments, showing that the Law was viewed holistically, that it was intended to govern the entire covenant community of Israel, and ultimately that the new community in Christ–the church–is not bound by the same legislation. His argument is more detailed, of course, but those are the basics. He backs it up by looking deeply at the covenant community in the Hebrew Scriptures, noting some difficulties with other perspectives, and finally arguing his own position doesn’t just dismiss the Old Testament.

I was somewhat surprised to see Lutherans grouped in the “No-Old-Law” category, but saw that Todd put Lutherans there due to the notion of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. However, when he continued to discuss the Law/Gospel distinctiveness and those who hold to that position, I believe he somewhat misrepresented the Lutheran position, particularly when he wrote that such a position “results in a negative view toward law in general; law exists simply for convicting sinners of their sin” (42). I’m not sure why Todd would conclude this is a negative view of the law. Lutherans teach that the Law always condemns; the Gospel always saves. This doesn’t mean the Law is negative, but rather that it has the extremely powerful and important place of bringing sinners to repentance and rightness with God! Though this was an extremely minor point in the book–and, to his credit, Todd noted the Third Use of the Law in Lutheranism would potentially get around this problem in a footnote–I would have liked to see a more balanced perspective on the Lutheran view here.

Another difficulty with Todd’s perspective is that, despite his objections that some “No-Old-Law” perspectives take a negative view of the law, his own perspective effectively dismisses it entirely. Indeed, he dedicates a whole chapter to piecing back together the importance of the Law for Christian readers, not by offering a holistic approach to the Law (as with the threefold distinction view), nor by a separation of spheres (as with the Lutheran perspective). Rather, his own approach is to note that the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures provides important historical and cultural context for much of the narrative related to the Old Covenant community. Thus, the Law is important for Christians in order to understand the Bible fully. Such a view has initial appeal, but ultimately I’m not convinced it stands up to scrutiny. It is the case that understanding the laws concerning Sabbath and the like will provide readers with a better comprehension of the narratives, but Todd would be hard pressed to make such a case for every law in the Hebrew Scriptures. How, in fact, does knowing the prohibitions about eating shellfish really impact one’s reading of any narrative in the Hebrew Bible? I know of nothing other than the possibility of a very oblique approach to just knowing the general cultural background. But if that’s the case, then Todd’s view of Law and Gospel cannot actually account for the importance of at least some portions of Scripture. This objection, to me, is enough reason to reject Todd’s development of his perspective in favor of something like the Lutheran perspective (though the latter does need fuller development regarding exactly what is meant by “Law” and obedience to it/condemnation from it).

One final point I’d like to raise is that the book isn’t quite as focused as one might expect. A few of the chapters could have been appendices (particularly the last chapter), and at least two appendices could have been part of the main text (especially the one in which Todd answers some arguments against his position). There are many objections that could be raised to Todd’s view (not including those I’ve already raised), and it would have been nice to see an even larger positive case with more objections answered.

Sinai and the Saints is an incredibly interesting book. Though I found myself thinking his perspective has a few fundamental flaws, I think that there are many challenges he raises to competing perspectives that must be met. Moreover, with some more development, his own perspective could potentially get around some of the flaws I’ve highlighted here. Regardless of what one thinks, Sinai and the Saints is an essential read for Christians wanting to learn exactly what it is they are to do regarding the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s fascinating, engaging, and challenging, even if flawed.

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!)

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

SDG.

——

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

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