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Book Review: “A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman” by Holly Beers

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman by Holly Beers is a part-historical fiction, part-nonfiction fusion that explores what the life of a Greco-Roman woman who was encountering Christianity may have looked like. It’s part of the “A Week in the Life of…” series from InterVarsity Press (See reviews of other entries in this series here–scroll down for more), and it’s another success. Each of these books is a standalone, providing unique historical background and individual narratives.

Beers writes the fictional portions about Anthia, a young woman and wife who encounters in just one week many of the struggles of people in the ancient world. Beers’s narrative is deeper than one might expect for a kind of slice-of-life narrative. Anthia’s story immediately drew me in as a reader due to the compelling, sympathetic way she is portrayed. She’s not simply a foil for background information; no, she reads as someone who lives and breathes in the ancient world, and who experienced everyday tragedy. Fears of childbirth and its dangers, navigating the strictures of society, and the simple pleasures of warm water are just some of the insightful character-building Beers weaves throughout the narrative.

The historical information included throughout is just as fascinating as in other entries in the series. These are usually presented in boxes throughout the text, which highlight numerous aspects of ancient society and life. One of the most fascinating of these for this reader was the look at associations in the Greco-Roman world and how that was also integrated into the plot. The text box on p. 23 shows the importance of associations and how membership was usually gained. Other information about “urban sanitation” (read: toilets), living in apartments, and perfume were also highlights. 

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman is a deep look at what the lives of women would have been like in ancient Rome. It provides readers with a compelling main character to go along with a number of important insights into the day-to-day lives of people of the time that will enrich readers who are interested in the history of Christianity or of the ancient world. Recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity” by Vince L. Bantu

Christianity has always been a global religion, but awareness of those global roots and the impact across the world is not high. Vince L. Bantu, in A Multitude of All Peoples, demonstrates the eclectic, beautiful, global vision of Christianity across the world.

After an introduction looking at Christianity as a global religion, Bantu examines the “roots of Western Christianity Identity Politics. Here, Bantu argues that Christianity as a Hellenistic Latin/Greek religion has its origins in the 3rd/4th century with the rise of Constantine and the sometimes rewriting of church history. With the enshrinement of Christianity as state religion, it became all too easy to see the faith indelibly tied to the state, and specifically the construct of the “West.” This view didn’t entirely come from “Western” sources, either. Bantu shows that Persian Christians, for example, saw the ties of Christianity and Rome and viewed it with some suspicion, seeing the ties of church and state as making Christians loyal to the nation rather than God (21-22). The Hellenization of theology occurred in this period too, despite some of the most important Christian thinking happening outside of the global West. The Council of Chalcedon, long seen as a standard of Orthodoxy, itself used Hellenistic terminology and ended up causing division in the church. Such divisions were exacerbated by political schisms as borders changed (31-33). Bantu traces the history of these through more serious schisms and Christianity’s earliest encounters with Islam.

The next chapter gives an overview of Christianity’s roots in Africa. Egypt was a major part of the growth of Christianity and Christians there trace their lineage through St. Mark. The religious roots of Egypt itself shaped Christianity there, as Bantu argues Cyril explicitly developed Christian theology as a counter to worship of Isis and Horus. Nubia is another major area of growth in Africa, and the conflict between Christianity and Islam there ultimately led to a peace that lasted for centuries. Due to this peace, Nubian Christianity was able to thrive and encounter other cultures that it integrated into Nubian identity (90-93). Ethiopia was noher place of significant growth and development of early Christianity. King Ezana helped integrate Christianity into the area of his domain, and he continued some of his pre-Christian religion as well, forming a kind of syncretism that in some ways lasted for centuries afterwards (100-102). Ethiopian Christianity would go on to influence global Christianity to the extent that seeing Christianity as solely “white man’s religion” instead of a part of African culture is an untenable description (103). North African Christianity also made contributions to global faith and practice, which Bantu traces through Carthage and many other places.

The Middle East also experienced massive growth of Christianity and cannot be ignored when it comes to historical Christianity or the history of the church. Syria was a huge part of this global growth as Antioch became a center of Christianity. Syriac theology and poetry has been formative for Christianity since the outset, though that influence was downplayed throughout long periods of time. Thankfully, a recovery of Syrian Christian traditions and theology is continuing into today (124ff). Lebanon, Arabia, and Armenia also had massive surges of Christanity as it spread across the globe. In Armenia, Christianity confronted Zoroastrianism in complex ways (148ff). The Armenian church continues into today as one of the ancient traditions of Christianity. In Georgia, we find another ancient Christian tradition that reaches back into the fourth century CE. Georgian Christianity continues into today with an identity that is at least “synonymous with the Georgian identity that began in Late Antiquity” (164).

The Silk Road provided a fertile missions field for early Christians as well, and Bantu traces the spread of Christianity through Asia. Persia’s first Christians were largely identified with the Jewish community that had lived there since the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century BCE. Persian Christians, however, had to encounter a kind of ancient identity politics that demanded they become servants of Caesar in order to be truly Christian. Bantu draws some parallels to today’s own challenges for non-white/non-Western people and Christianity from this (169-170). The origins of Christianity in India have been commonly attributed to the work of the Apostle Judas Thomas, and some interesting historical (and ahistorical) debate over the apocryphal Acts of Thomas and stories therein do not take away from the broader fact that Christianity came to India at a fairly early time (180ff). Christianity also spread across central Asia. Some of this spread was through areas controled by the Mongolian civilization which was generally tolerant for Christianity. China encountered Christianity during the Tang dynasty (618-907CE) and the opening of trade that accompanied it. Contextualization was central to the Christian faith in China, and various symbols were adopted (204ff). Christianity flourised under a tolerant rule of the Mongolians in china but later declined due to persecution and direct anti-Christian campaigns in China and elsewhere (215-217).

A Multitude of Peoples is a necessary read for anyone interested in global Christianity, and, in particular, interested in Christianity beyond what has been called the “West.” It’s an exciting book that makes readers think about the ancient roots of Christian faith even while tracing the successes and failures of the same. Bantu demonstrates unquestionably that Christianity, from its earliest periods, reached across the globe and shaped–and was shaped by–cultures across the world. May it ever be so.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Laura M. Fabrycky

The intersection of the scholarly and the intimate is a rare gift. At first, some readers may think that scholarly works simply cannot be intimate. How can someone be so closely associated with a topic while also writing in a serious, academic way? Laura M. Fabrycky’s work, Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer shows how that can be done related to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By integrating her personal experiences of leading tours at the Bonhoeffer Haus and in Germany with insights into the background of Bonhoeffer’s life, Fabrycky manages to create a unique read in the field of Bonhoeffer scholarship.

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is a kind of memoir, exploring Fabrycky’s own interaction with Bonhoeffer through her time in Germany. Because of this, it offers a deeply personal look at many aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life. But alongside that, Fabrycky also offers scholarly details to go along with her reflections such that a compelling narrative-driven exploration of Bonhoeffer. But the book provides more than that–it is much more a kind of look at Bonhoeffer’s place and how that impacted his life and decisions. Seeing how locations in Germany were set up helped to understand certain points in Bonhoeffer’s life more thoroughly. 

Fabrycky’s style is excellent. The chapter on learning to ride bikes and finding locations related to Bonhoeffer’s life while navigating the strange world (to Americans) of European rules regarding bikes was an absolutely fascinating read. Time and again, Fabrycky’s style drew this reader in to the extent that it truly felt like riding along the streets with her while exploring the interior of Bonhoeffer’s life through buildings and places. Another example of this was her note of the roadside crucifixions, which, contextually, were used by the Nazis to bolster anti-Semitism in portraying the Jews as those to fully blame for killing Christ. 

But a strong sense of place and personal reflection are not all that is offered in this fascinating work. Fabrycky continually draws readers’ eyes and imaginations to reading alongside and experiencing alongside Bonhoeffer, examining concepts of friendship, how Bonhoeffer read Scripture, and concepts of loyalty and nationalism. Because these are integrated into a broader, personal narrative, it once again presents readers with a feeling of sitting next to Fabrycky and exploring and experiencing these things oneself. One example is related to Bonhoeffer’s use of Moravian watchwords, called Die Losungen (see Kindle locations 1718ff). Fabrycky writes, “These were, and are, daily Scripture meditations published every year by the Moravian Brethern, a Protestant group that traces its religious heritage to a pre-Reformation movement of pietists who were committed to Scripture, prayer, an evangelism… Bonhoeffer and many others used their so-called watchwords… as a daily devotional practice, and it was one he commended to others as well” (ibid). After reading this, this reviewer looked it up, and it turns out one can subscribe to these to this day via email, and it has been edifying practicing a religious discipline Bonhoeffer himself commended. After reading this from Fabrycky, moreover, this reviewer was reading in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works and noticed several times these very watchwords were mentioned in letters and elsewhere. It was a fascinating insight that let this reader focus more on aspects of Bonhoeffer’s works that had been missed before. These kind of insights are found in abundance throughout Keys… and make it an invaluable look at Bonhoeffer’s thought life.

One critique I have is of the portrayal of church and state in Lutheran theology. Fabrycky writes, for example, that Bonhoeffer’s pacifism challenged Lutheran ideals in German society. She also writes that “Being a good Lutheran and a good German meant inhabiting two worlds at the same time… the spiritual… and the secular…but these worlds were fully compartmentalized from one another” (Kindle Location 3922). Much debate has gone into Bonhoeffer scholarship regarding Two Kingdoms theology, and Fabrycky here aligns herself with those who read as Lutheran what others read as distortions of Luther. This may be semantics, but many (such as Trey Palmisano in Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, review here) have argued that Bonhoeffer’s stance on church and state is the genuine Lutheran position. Further, several have argued that Bonhoeffer’s position is both consistent and draws directly from Luther to offer a corrective to the notion of Volk that turned the Two Kingdoms doctrine into a justification of essentially any state action (see Michael P. DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, review here). I also favor an approach that sees Bonhoeffer’s theology of church and state–the Two Kingdoms doctrine–both as genuinely Lutheran and consistent, such that his view of pacifism would have challenged those Lutherans who had effectively ceded the Two Kingdoms doctrine to a carte blanche for the state. 

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is an enthralling, captivating read. It reads as though one is exploring Bonhoeffer’s world through the mind of one who has been deeply impacted by close connection with his physical world, even decades removed. It will give readers insights into Bonhoeffer that this reader, at least, hasn’t found elsewhere. It’s the kind of unique work that even the most thorough reader of Bonhoeffer’s life and related works will likely find fresh and insightful. Highly recommended. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters” by Carmen Joy Imes

The question of what to do with the Old Testament and what to do with the Law specifically is one that has loomed large throughout all Christian history, from questions about the Judaizers of Acts 15 all the way to the present. Carmen Joy Imes works to provide an answer to several questions about Christianity and its relation to the covenant at Sinai specifically in Bearing God’s Image.

Central to Imes’s argument is the notion that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” is a misunderstood commandment. Instead, we ought to see it in the context of being God’s name-bearers, those who carry God’s word throughout the world.

The first part of the book focuses on becoming the people who are God’s name-bearers. Perhaps the central feature of the book is found in this part as Imes notes several major points related to Christian living. First, the question of the Ten Commandments–Imes notes that people assume the Ten Commandments apply in every way to everyone to this day, but in reality they were part of the cultural mandate going along with the covenant with God at Sinai. Additionally, the second commandment about taking the Lord’s name in vain makes it seem as though God’s name is a swear word, which is almost the exact opposite of what it should be seen as. The commandment, according to Imes, truly is about bearing God’s name falsely–that is, it is a commandment not to claim to be of God while not acting as though one is of God. As she puts it, it ought to “change… everything about how we live” (51, emphasis hers).

Going along with this notion of being God’s name bearers, Imes draws on several sources to highlight the way they practiced religion in the Ancient Near East and how that would play out in context of the commandment. For example, the way covenantal priesthood dressed was itself one aspect of this (72-74).

Part two focuses on how we ought to live as God’s people who bear God’s name. This begins with asking what Moses and Joshua themselves made of this way of living. Next, Imes surveys more of the Old Testament to draw out living in God’s name throughout the Bible. Jesus is another way to live out God’s name, as Jesus is the name above all other names (151ff). She draws this same strand through some of the epistles as well.

Bearing God’s Image is written at an introductory level and could serve as a study group book fairly easily. It would help readers get exposed to many ideas related to the Christian use of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s a solid introduction to a complex topic. Recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Genealogical Adam and Eve” by S. Joshua Swamidass

There is little doubt that an enormous amount of ink has been spilled over the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve given an evolutionary account. Often, the charge against theistic evolutionists is that they cannot or do not affirm what is thought to be required of biblical theology related to Adam and Eve. At other times, appeal to Adam and Eve is looked down upon as a quaint, outdated, and clearly mistaken view. Into that fray steps S. Joshua Swamidass with the book The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry. Swamidass argues that there is a way past these seemingly endless debates.

The genealogical hypothesis is central to Swamidass’s argument. Swamidass’s thesis is genealogical, not genetic. Genetics can be used to provide a “tunnel vision” for ancestry (31), but genealogical ancestry is a broader, common language way of looking at ancestry. The hypothesis has 6 main components: 1. Adam and Eve lived recently in the Middle East; 2. they are the genealogical ancestors of everyone (specifically by AD 1); 3. They are specially, or de novo created; 4. interbreeding occurred between the lineage of Adam and Eve and others; 5. no additional miracles apart from special creation of Adam and Eve are allowed (for the purpose of the hypothesis); 6. assume two findings of evolutionary science: human descent common with the great apes and that the size of the human population never dipped to a single couple (p. 26-27).

Swamidass argues that rather than looking at trying to tie all humans together genetically, we may be able to do so genealogically. Once one traces ancestry back by a certain number of generations, one will effectively have so many ancestors that the number would exceed the number of humans who were alive at the time. That’s an absurd conclusion, of course, but it doesn’t account for the way that family trees intermingle and mesh together in many different ways. Nevertheless, due to the exponential way that tracing one’s family history back, Swamidass argues that it’s likely that we can argue that all humans have common ancestors as recently as several thousand years ago.

Swamidass takes this extrapolation and notes that because of this, one can affirm most of the major tenets of traditional Christian belief regarding Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve could have been specially created–science cannot test for this either way–a few thousand years ago, and still be the common ancestors of all living humans. What his thesis does have, of course, is humans outside the garden. But Swamidass notes that even traditional readings of the text have struggled with that due to questions of who Adam and Eve’s children married, or who Cain was afraid of, etc.

One could easily see how Swamidass’s hypothesis could be tweaked in different ways depending upon one’s own conclusions about the data or theological presuppositions. Some theistic evolutionists would likely dispute thesis 3, while creationists would dispute several theses. But what Swamidass has done is effectively offered a possible solution to the many, many science-faith controversies related to Adam and Eve. One can, on Swamidass’s thesis, affirm both the findings of evolutionary biology as well as virtually every aspect of the traditional view of Adam and Eve. The extraordinary import of this should not be understated: Swamidass has offered a defense of a hypothesis that virtually anyone who has written on the topic will need to contend with.

The Genealogical Adam & Eve is sure to be a controversial book. Yet hopefully, within that controversy, there can be a discussion of coming to agreement on specific doctrinal topics, and a broadening of areas where unity can be found. Swamidass has done serious, scholarly work here that anyone who wants to deal with the topic of Adam and Eve will need to address.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, we continue the series with Book 6, Lord of Chaos. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

The Shadow

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

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

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

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

Destruction of Life and other Injustice

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

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

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

Prophecy

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

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

Onward!

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

Links

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Faith is Messy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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