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Book Review: “The Future of Open Theism” by Richard Rice

Richard Rice’s The Future of Open Theism introduces the theological topic of open theism, traces its past development, and outlines its impact on several major doctrines and how they might be developed farther along the lines of open theism. Open theism is the view that “God is open to the world, and the world is open to God. Both Creator and creatures contribute to the ongoing course of events, and God experiences these events as they happen” (1, Rice’s definition expands a paragraph or more). 

The book is divided into two parts: Part I is “The Origin and Development of Open Theism” and Part II is “Themes of Open Theism.” In the first part, Rice turns to the historical development of Open Theism. He notes that while open theism largely came to attention due to the book The Openness of God in 1994, it had several historical antecedents. Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), Rice notes, was “perhaps the essential figure in the history of ‘free will theism'” (11). Arminius opened the path for new explorations of free will in relation to God’s action, but unlike open theists, he did affirm that God’s foreknowledge was absolute (12). Adam Clarke (1760-1832) argued that some historical events were contingent, but due to his view of divine eternity, he still maintained a kind of absolute knowledge of the future for God (12-14). Several other authors are surveyed from later dates as well.

The next few chapters trace the modern development of the concept of open theism, which Rice acknowledges was not directly found in any of the antecedents noted in the first chapter, as well as the controversy that almost immediately surrounded it. The chapter entitled “Critics and Conflicts” is not just a fascinating look into the theological pushback open theism faced but also hints at the political workings of organizations like the Evangelical Theological Society and various universities. One of the largest conflicts was over whether open theists could remain in specifically evangelical circles, given the apparent denial of long-held notions of God’s foreknowledge in their theological system. Some argued to shut open theists out of the Evangelical Theological Society, while open theists made a case that they were making their arguments from Scripture and were thus decidedly in the evangelical camp. Open theists also argued their model of foreknowledge made better sense of passages in which God expressed regret over a decision while also offering a stronger refutation of any notion that God holds/held false beliefs than other systems (57). Open theists were eventually able to carve out space for themselves in theological circles and Rice notes that the shift moved from conflict to conversation from there. The philosophical implications and arguments in favor of open theism are the subject of an entire chapter, and readers on either side will surely benefit from engagement with these. Part I is rounded out with a chapter surveying the various expressions of open theism.

Part II turns to the themes of open theism and major theological developments open theism either has led to or could be developed towards. Perhaps the largest question open theism is posed to answer is the question of human freedom. Open theism seems to provide the most straightforward theological path for genuinely free human action. Standing against various philosophies, potential scientific conclusions (i.e. naturalistic determinism), and theologies that create major problems for human free action, open theism gives an alternative that attempts to truly open human freedom as a possibility. Rice also makes a powerful argument that open theists ought to eliminate the term “limit” from their language related to God and open theism. He notes that open theism is not placing limits on God’s activity, but rather acknowledging biblical language related to those acts and attempting to stay true to the fullness of God’s–and human–activity. Other theological concepts that open theism has either had large impact on or could be developed towards include the doctrine of the Trinity (and seeing Trinitarian relations in time as acts of divine love taking place as part of God’s experience in time), Christology (a stronger commitment to divine activity in everyday human life), the church (spiritual gifts, God’s action in human society, etc.), and doctrines of the Last Things (transforming relationships with God). 

Rice provides a broad look at the total scope and history of open theism in this impressive book. As a reader who is not an open theist but who has read quite a bit on the topic, it was still informative and even challenging at times. Rice delivers a book that is as described–an overview of open theism from past through future–while also touching upon an impressive range of points while never losing focus. There are many areas this reader would critique as far as the content is concerned (the novel nature and only recent discovery of what is alleged to be the correct view of divine foreknowledge, for example), but as far as the book itself goes, it does what it sets out to do and more. For that, it is an invaluable resource for those interested in learning about open theism. 

The Future of Open Theism demonstrates that open theism is a powerful theological concept, but it also shows that there is still much work to be done for establishing the concept within broader Christian thought. Whether one agrees with the position or not, it is an edifying, challenging read. 

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

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Outgrowing Dawkins: God for Grown-Ups” by Rupert Shortt

Outgrowing Dawkins: God for Grown-Ups by Rupert Shortt is a pithy response to Richard Dawkins’s Outgrowing God

The book is divided into three chapters which read like individual essays. In the first chapter, Shortt argues that science and religion are not incompatible. He uses some anecdotes to show the power of citing, say the fact that it was a Catholic priest who proposed the Big Bang theory (3) or simply saying science doesn’t exhaust all of reality (4) in everyday conversation. Shortt also notes that honest inquiry can lead to belief in God, that God as ground of existence can provide a way for relating science/Christianity, that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, and that even those who allegedly demonstrate warfare between Christianity and science are largely Christians themselves (eg. Galileo, Newton, etc.) (5-10). 

Shortt also notes that Dawkins’s general assault on religion is so acontextual and broad that it almost becomes nonsensical. Because Dawkins aims at religion (in general) as causing false or harmful beliefs (in general), it’s not difficult to parody Dawkins’s own style to say, for example, that science has a history of causing harmful or false beliefs (19). Here’s an example of where Shortt may have been served providing additional examples. Perhaps Shortt could have quickly cited examples of scientists using racist or racially biased methods or studies to cause direct harm to people. The example he did use–broadly noting that one could just as easily say all “left-wing endeavour is bogus… because of the horrors perpetrated by Stalin, Mao, and Fidel Castro” (ibid) is one that may strike home for some readers but is so broad that it could be conceived as committing the same error of Dawkins. Of course, this is partially Shortt’s point–that Dawkins’s critique is absurd because he either doesn’t know or can’t be bothered to focus on any specifics. 

Shortt also fires broadsides on Dawkins’s general style, noting that Dawkins “substitutes mockery for analysis” (36). Shortt notes, briefly, many other difficulties with Dawkins’s understanding of claims of robust Christianity (for example the creation of the universe on p 37-41). The book closes out with an offering of a more robust Christianity and an exhortation to deeper understanding of the same.

Ultimately, Outgrowing Dawkins is somewhat unsatisfying as a reader. It’s possible this is because Dawkins’s own work is so bereft of knowledge of religion that responding to it is difficult, but Shortt’s responses are so pithy that it often left this reader wanting more. The book is a good way to get simple talking points in response to Dawkins’s brand of one-liner atheism, but it doesn’t have the depth to fully respond to a more robust charge. Again, that might be because Dawkins is incredibly surface-level when it comes to discussing religion himself, but it would be nice to go beyond such simplistic responses and counter-points. 

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: “Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology” by Samantha L. Miller

Chrysostom is best known for being “golden-mouthed” due to his eloquence of preaching. Samantha L. Miller examines Chrysostom’s theology in Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology with a particular eye towards his anthropology and demonology. 

The book is divided into 5 chapters that take a deep look at the context and content of Chrysostom’s theology. The first chapter broadly covers “Jewish, Pagan, and Christian Demonology Before Chrysostom,” as the chapter is entitled. It’s a fascinating chapter that gives readers insight into aspects of the early Christian world that aren’t often discussed, so far as this reader has seen. For example, the concept of Jews as having a reputation of being magicians in their world due to the various ritual objects and practices, such as incantations, being fairly common (17). This was, in part, because Jews, as Christians and even many Pagans, were concerned about the impact demons could have on their everyday life, as well as major events (16). Included in this chapter is a section on Pagan demonologies which shows that “at a popular level, Christians  thought about demons much the same was their Jewish and pagan neighbors did” (22). Origen features prominently in theology that influenced Chrysostom, and Origen’s catalogue of demonic activities showed that he did not believe demons could force human beings to sin; merely tempt them (25). This would be part of Chrysostom’s own teaching on demons as well, leading Chrysostom to an emphasis on virtue and resisting temptation that can, in part, be traced to this aspect of demonology. 

The next chapter outlines Chrysostom’s own demonology, which was, as noted above, deeply influenced by his context. But that’s not to say he was entirely dependent upon his context, either. Miller notes that Chrysostom rejected many of the fears of others in his world, arguing (as did Origen) that while demons can tempt Christians, they cannot force them into sin. Additionally, Chrysostom’s concern was deeply pastoral and apologetic in its focus. Reading Job, for example, Chrysostom both argued that some suffering being caused is not necessarily evil, but that it is clear that the harm Job suffers comes from Satan (47-48). Chrysostom argued that people must “understand… events correctly” in order to rightly understand the world. Rather than consigning suffering to fate, one must see the various possibilities within different forms of suffering for good. But one must never dismiss true evil as something which is not evil (48). Of course, being golden-mouthed, Chrysostom wrote far more eloquently than this reader in the summary. Miller balances outlining Chrysostom’s views with lengthy quotes to give readers direct insight into his meaning as well as his style. Chrysostom, moreover, went against prevailing opinion of his time regarding demonology by noting that in Job, the devil is only able to cause harm with the permission of God. Thus, the devil is almost actually “useful” in the book of Job because the devil encourages people to be vigilant and resist evil (49-50). Miller also outlines the origin of demons, their nature, their activity, and more related to Chrysostom’s view in this chapter.

Miller then turns to virtue and the Greco-Roman concept of Proairesis, which occupies much of the final three chapters as virtue is highly important to Chrysostom’s anthropology and soteriology. Chrysostom was deeply influenced by and conversant with Greek philosophers, but at important points broke with philosophers like Plato (for example, on the immortality of the soul, p. 84). Chrysostom was also comfortable picking and choosing from the varoius philosophical schools, moving between Stoicism and Platonism on issues like the nature of the soul, while also drawing from Aristotle and Epictetus for other aspects of his philosophy. Central to Chrysostom’s view of virtue was the notion that the agent is autonomous and able to truly choose between good and evil (91, 93, 97ff). Proairesis- a Greek term that is “the locus of moral responsibility” is “that which makes both praise and blame possible” (98). Chrysostom believed this was absolutely necessary to virtue, and encouraged Christians to actively choose that which is good and resist the temptations of the devil. Chrysostom exhorted catechumens and the baptized to “live… angelic life” and choose that which is right, resisting demons and temptation (109). This was something Chrysostom clearly taught that believers were capable of doing, and that they ought to continue in virtue their whole lives. Modern debates may read various positions back onto Chrysostom, but contextually the pastoral importance of what he said was potentially life-changing and freeing. Chrysostom’s noted the body was created by God, and so could be virtuous, thus refuting the notion “that the body is inherently evil” (111). His theology countered the fears and addressed the concerns of Christians in his own time and place, which made it deeply important while also being contextual. 

Christ’s importance for Chrysostom is in salvation, yes, but also in the “possibility of Christian virtue” which “is a result of Christ’s prior work on behalf of human beings” (153). Divine-human cooperation loomed large in Chrysostom’s soteriology, such that Miller analyzes different strands of scholarship that studies Chrysostom to show scholars both affirming Chrysostom as being synergistic and arguing against the notion (see esp. 153ff). Miller argues that using “synergistic” to describe Chrysostom’s theology is “a misleading term” because Chrysostom himself saw it as flowing one direction–God’s assistance to humans in the process, not humans assisting God in salvation (155-156). 

 Miller’s lucid accounts of Chrysostom’s world and view of soteriology which closely tied into his notions of virtue is a must-read for those interested in Patristic studies. Chrysostom’s reputation as “golden-mouthed” is often the only thing many know about him, if anything. Chrysostom’s Devil shows that he was a deep thinker with a strong pastoral care for the people to whom he preached. It’s full of insights for those interested in the topic. 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: “God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology” by Steven J. Duby

Steven J. Duby approaches the difficult topic of trying to discuss the nature of God as God from a metaphysical perspective in God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology. The major questions he tackles are whether we can know God as God is in Himself (Duby uses the masculine throughout to refer to God’s being, which I will follow in this review for simplicity’s sake), and how we might know God as God is.

These are not easy questions, despite seeming obvious at first glance. For example, the question of how we might know God in Himself is notoriously difficult and fairly controversial. Can we speak of God univocally? Turning to this question first, Duby in the last full chapter discusses what he considers the “(Right) Doctrine of Analogy.” That doctrine has to both balance divine transcendence and divine communication, which, Duby concludes, means that a right balance will make us hopeful that creaturely language might be used in theology proper (290-291). Duby leans towards the Thomistic use of analogy as a right way to refer to God, though it seems his response is more hopeful for the possiblity of univocity than some. However, Duby does fall on the side that analogy is the only real possibility, and defends against modern arguments for univocity (284ff). Here, I find myself in some disagreement with Duby here. Admitting that I’m no expert, I think the weight of the arguments for univocity is actually much heavier than he seems to. For example, Scotus’s view that analogy “‘is simply equivocation without an a priori univocally predicable concept'” (284, quoting Daniel Horan) is, on its face, correct. Duby’s response, that “in an analogical account of theological language a divine attribute still shares an aspect of its ratio with the corresponding creaturely attribute” reads as basically conceding the point. Nevertheless, Duby’s arguments related to analogy are ably written and certainly force careful thought, no matter what one’s position is going in.

Duby’s main points about how he views God in Himself are outlined in a response to Karl Barth’s positions related to the Incarnation and beyond. His points are ninefold, and some are directly related to side issues rather than the main point, so I’ll summarize them into just a few points. First, Duby argues that God is “complete in se without reference to creatures and their history” (48); God’s attributes are not “parts” to be added to God’s essence but “nothing other than his eternal essence” (49); knowledge of God in Himself is not purely negative (51); and a strong affirmation of divine simplicity is affirmed (51-55). Duby spends much of the rest of the book defending these points, and the discussions are deep (as above). 

There are a few other points I’d like to highlight, though these reveal more of my own background alongside the book’s content. First is the strange use of scholarship in regards to Martin Luther’s theology. For example, when Duby discusses Luther’s view of the “hidden God,” the lens through which he views it is decidedly Reformed. Now, that seems a given since from what I understand within the book Duby is Reformed himself, but it also means that Luther’s own view gets a strange hearing. Speaking of Luther’s hidden God, Duby writes that “Even a sympathetic interpreter of Luther like Carl Trueman calls Luther’s discussion of God’s hidden will ‘brutal'” (46). But of course, while Trueman may be “sympathetic,” he’s a Confessional Reformed Christian whose position on many, many doctrinal issues would see Luther’s view as necessarily mistaken in order to maintain his own confessions. Why is Trueman cited as a kind of final arbiter of the state of Luther’s doctrine? It seems the reason is because he’s Reformed. And Carl Trueman being cited as sympathetic makes sense due to his, well, sympathetic book on Luther and the Christian Life (link to my review), but that sympathetic reading is a general one. Citing Trueman as a kind of final arbiter of Luther’s validity here seems odd, given that it’s just obvious that a “Confessional Reformed” believer would strongly disagree with a Lutheran position that is a point of departure between their traditions. 

Then, turning to Duby’s defense of the extra Calvinisticum over and against Lutheran theology once again seems more an exercise in self-affirmation of a chosen doctrine than in understanding the Lutheran position. But here I reveal my own biases, Yet Duby’s seeming twists to accommodate the notion that Christ is God while trying to restrain Christ’s power–preventing the God-man from exercising that very power of God–is revealing to this reader, at least. Moreover, Duby’s response to Barth on this point seems to misunderstand the objection to the extra Calvinisticum as a denial of the hypostatic union, since he writes “what if assimilation of the two natures is simply not necessary? What if it is sufficient to affirm that the hypostasis himself is the locus of union?” (182). But Lutherans–and, so far as I can tell, Barth, to whom Duby is responding–do not deny the hypostatic union, nor its sufficiency, and certainly do not “assimilate” the two natures. Responding to Duby, one may well ask “What if God the Son were actually allowed by Calvinists to exercise God’s power?” It’s a bit on the nose to ask the question thus, but the loaded nature of the question gets at the underlying point: Duby’s position–and that of Calvinists and Reformed believers generally–seems to put artificial limits on God in order to maintain their own theological commitments regarding things like the Lord’s Supper. 

God in Himself is a fascinating look at some of the deepest questions about God. The book will be most valuable to those readers who wish to engage the questions from a Reformed perspective–either to see how to better argue for their own positions, or to argue against the Reformed view. Duby outlines and defends numerous positions with great care, and it’s worth the read even in disagreement. 

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: “Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets” by David G. Firth

What does the Bible have to say about the “stranger” or the “foreigner”? It’s an expansive question, but one that should inform Christians as they explore modern issues of immigration or refugees. David G. Firth, in Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets, examines texts related to these questions as found in the Former Prophets–Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings.

Firth’s brief introduction argues that we can use narrative texts for normative values. Reading the text as such requires being attentive to the ways the narrator speaks of the events being narrated, as well as being aware of the ANE context in which the texts were written that comes with different expectations about how to read a text. The reader must also be aware of the assumptions they are bringing to the text and work to see how their own preconceptions can shape the way they interpret the text (3).

The next four chapters go over each of the former prophets in turn, giving an orientation to the reader for the text and then diving into the major questions of foreigners in the text. Joshua is a fascinating place to start here, because most would expect the book’s view of the foreigner to be universally negative, given the conquest narratives therein. However, Firth points out the fact that even upon entering the land, the first kindness was shown by a stranger (Rahab). Going from there, other texts invite larger examination of the notion of the “foreigner” in Joshua, as, for example, a threefold view of foreigner/stranger is found in the text: strangers as neutral/threat/positive. This means, argues Firth, that “Ethnicity itself is not the issue. Rather, the concern is with the possible religious impact of these peoples…” (38). The setting up of cities of refuge helps reinforce this impression. 

Judges is one of this reader’s own favorite books of the Bible, and Firth highlighted some aspects of great interest. For example, Shamgar (Judges 3:31) appears to be little more than a sidenote in Judges, and is not, in fact, even listed as having judged! But Firth notes there is more to Shamgar’s story than a single verse may seem to convey. First is the fact that Shamgar’s name is not an Israelite name, being composed of four root letters rather than three. Second, it seems clear Shamgar was not a Yahwist, for the denotation as “Son of Anath” suggests Shamgar followed the Canaanite goddess of the same name. And this, then, could explain why Shamgar is not given the title of “judge,” for the book’s concern with enforcing Yahwist worship leads the author not to give that title to Shamgar. And, moreover, this highlights the significance of Shamgar’s inclusion, for it shows that God has “no problem in using a foreigner to deliver Israel… but he does not grant them positions of leadership” (72). Along with other examples, Shamgar highlights a theme in Judges that God uses foreigners for God’s will as well, and that the Israelites’ own divisions among themselves (Judges 17-21) raises questions of “how Israel can function as the people of God” (92). 

Samuel’s central theme related to foreigners, argues Firth, is seeing them as means for assessing Israel. For example, in Samuel, David’s legitimacy as ruler is mediated through an Amalekite rather than an Israelite (113-114). Time and again, foreigners are used as examples to highlight the actions of Israelites, often as a contrast–a foreigner being more true to God/word than an Israelite. The book also shows how encounters with foreigners can lead to integration rather than devastation. Kings deals more with foreigners beyond the borders of Israel, and shows once more that the central value was not about ethnicity or nation, but rather about worship of Yahweh (172). 

Firth’s closing words, in a summary and concluding chapter about including the stranger, are words that call readers to action. “In a world that builds walls between communities, or makes the environment hostile for foreigners, this was an example of what the people of God can be: a community that does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, because we serve a God who does not do so. This is an ethic that is easily talked down in political discourse, but therefore one that is more important for the church, as the people of God, to live out and show a different way of life” (185-186).

David G. Firth’s exploration of the place of the “stranger” or “foreigner” in Including the Stranger will provide readers with a wealth of resources for learning about the biblical view of those from elsewhere. 

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: “Reading Buechner” by Jeffrey Munroe

Reading Buechner is a call to engage with the writings and thought of Frederick Buechner. I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical of the project. I’d heard Buechner’s name occasionally, but nothing from or about him had ever stuck. Munroe’s introduction, however, grabbed me from the beginning, and his impassioned call to engage with this Christian thinker has me going to the library to find at least one book to read.

What was it that Munroe managed to do in this book? Simply put, he offered a genuine, enthusiastic look at the breadth and depth of work of Frederick Buechner. Four parts divide the book into looking at Buechner as a memoirist, a novelist, a popular theologian, and preacher. Each section has its own intriguing way of introducing Buechner’s thought to readers, along with a guide for suggested reading from Munroe. It’s a simply fantastic way to introduce an author with such a broad array of works while also letting readers in on his own love of the subject and his personal reflections on the works. It’s nearly impossible to not pick up on at least some of Munroe’s enthusiasm.

Reading Buechner was a surprising read for me. Something about the way Munroe called to me as a reader, and it is hard to completely ignore his enthusiasm for his subject. I recommend it.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “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.

Yes, Christians (and I’m looking at you, apologists) should affirm that Black Lives Matter, and here’s why

Image Credit: By George Willis, Navy Agent Pensacola Navy Yard placed July 18 1840. – Pensacola Gazette, runaway slave reward for “SMART” dated July 22 1840,p.3 National Archives and Records Administration Washington DC, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68445221

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous,
    but dismay to evildoers. 

I have an MA in Christian Apologetics. Because of the circles I run in due to my interest in apologetics, I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of posts bemoaning Christians supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. These posts often center around the notion that the organization Black Lives Matter is inextricably tied to critical race theory, which itself is alleged to be completely anathema to Christianity. 

I’m going to suggest the opposite. I’m going to say Christians absolutely must support Black Lives Matter as a movement because black lives do matter. Full stop. And this argument doesn’t need to be over whether critical race theory may be used by Christians or not. I don’t need to wade into those waters for my point. 

If you’re asking the question “Should Christians support ‘Black Lives Matter’?” the first thing you should ask immediately following that question is a simple one. Do black lives matter? If they do, then you’ve answered the question. And the reason I’m saying this is because the answer needs to be simplified. People have been, intentionally or not, conflating the entire movement with one organization with which they disagree. I’ve directed this post somewhat at apologists because I’m an insider there, and I’m quite frustrated. We need to do better, fellow apologists, at leading the way as people who want to be thought leaders in Christianity. We need to do better. We need to express more care with our thinking, while also expressing more care for following what the Bible actually tells us to do

You see, no Christian apologist worthy of the name would agree that if an organization arose that went around saying #JesusisLord, every Christian ever has to agree with everything that person or organization says or does. yet it is a fact that Jesus is Lord. Right? Right? But it would be absolutely absurd to insist that every single person who ever has said anything like “Jesus is Lord” or #JesusisLord must therefore be intrinsically tied up in whatever the organization or person who made the phrase popular said or did. Indeed, looking at the history of Christianity, we better be very, very careful to make the point that support of a statement–even one made by members of an organization with the same name as a movement–does not entail support of everything in that movement or organization. If that were true, then all Lutherans must agree with Luther’s antisemitic statements; all Southern Baptists need to agree with the many, many antebellum Baptists who preached pro-slavery sermons; all Christians have to be indicted by the raping that occurred during the Crusades; and the sad, awful, and sordid history of every aspect of Christianity anywhere done by anyone who has ever said “Jesus is Lord” would be applied to every single one of us. 

But that’s wrong, because that’s not how reality works. I can affirm Jesus is Lord without also affirming everything even every other modern Christian says. In fact, I’m sure you do the same thing. That’s because we realize that Jesus is Lord is true, but not everything said or done by Christians is true or good. Guess what: the statement “black lives matter” is true. It is. 

None of this is to say that the specific Black Lives Matter organization is right or wrong about any- or everything. But I’ll tell you one thing: they are 100% totally correct in saying that black lives matter. And if you disagree with that, the problem is with you, not with the organization, not with people who you see as rioting, and not with anything else. It’s with you. 

If we’re Christians, we believe the Bible speaks to us today. It teaches us to this day. The quote with which I started this post was from Proverbs 21:15. It is just one of a great many Bible passages that urge us to seek justice. And believe it or not, the way God’s justice comes is sometimes surprising. Sometimes, even the chosen people of God get things wrong. That’s why, for example, Jonah’s anger over God’s justice speaks so clearly to some of us today. We are too often like Jonah, fleeing rather than trying to bring God’s loving forgiveness to people with whom we disagree. But God is a God who works in ways we don’t always understand. God used even the ungodly to bring justice. Be careful, lest we stand in the way of God’s justice in a moment in which we as Christians should be standing up and also declaring that yes, black lives matter and yes, we should seek justice for them. 

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:17 

It’s a powerful thing when we can sit and listen to our neighbors who say they are oppressed without rushing to explain it away as an aspect of critical race theory or some other straw man we’ve set up so that we don’t have to do what the Bible tells us to do. Yes, those are strong words, and they are so needed right now, however unfortunate that is. Think about it. If you’re a Christian apologist- which have you spent more time doing of late: critiquing critical race theory and trying to correct people about the Black Lives Matter movement or actually seeking to learn from those who are crying out for help? Which do you think is more valuable for the building of God’s Kingdom? 

What about lawbreakers? I chose the picture for this post for a reason. It’s from an 1840 advertisement for capturing a fugitive slave. This ad was before the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, but it is still a fact that trying to escape from slavery was unlawful. These fugitive slaves were lawbreakers. But who was in the right–the “fugitive” or the enslaver? Let’s practice some extreme, tremendous care that we do not align our Christian morality to that of the law of the state. Laws change, but God’s will and justice never change. Justice came for those evildoers who enslaved others in the United States. We should pray that justice continues to roll from God to our nation to this day. 

Finally, we as apologists need to practice better care for our thoughts. When confronted by a new idea, our tendency is to analyze it, break it apart, and see how it fits together. Too often, this also becomes a practice in self-affirmation. Is it any wonder that so many apologists who were unconcerned about racism in the United States before the recent protests are suddenly up in arms about Critical Race Theory and calling on other Christians to disavow any kind of “social justice movement.” We need to think long and hard about that. Why was that our instinct–including my own? How do we break out of it? For me, it was going and actually reading books about racial injustice and disparities in the United States. Yep, we have to do that thing that apologists love doing: read books. But there’s a big caveat here: not just books that support our own views. We need to humble ourselves and acknowledge we might just be wrong on this topic, and do the work to learn about it. Because we absolutely cannot and must not make new stumbling blocks for Christianity. In my apologetics classes, I remember hearing time and again how “Christianity is offensive enough.” How do you think people feel when they see people like us–trained apologists–lining up to explain how Christians cannot support the Black Lives Matter movement, conflating it entirely with the organization? Is that actually a good witness? Is it even a good use of our time? No. It’s not. Why not? I’ll tell you:

Black. Lives. Matter.

It’s time to be humble; to act justly; and to love mercy. It’s time for apologists to do what the Bible says.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

Links

Book Review: “Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores” by Dominique DuBois Gilliard– Learn about our criminal justice system and how it needs to be reformed. 

“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight– A prophet for then and now- Learn about Frederick Douglass, a powerful Christian voice who helped speak for justice in ways that continue to resonate into our own time.

“How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi– I review and summarize major aspects of this book on antiracism on my other site. 

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: “Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery” by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah

Unsettling Truths is an examination of the impact of the “Doctrine of Discovery” that goes beyond a survey and into the consequences of this doctrine across theological sociological, and historical lines. 

The Doctrine of Discovery is a deeply problematic idea in the history of the world, and Mark Charles, a Navajo/Dutch man notes at the beginning that the problems start with the name. “You cannot discovery lands already inhabited” (13). The Doctrine of Discovery itself as a historical reality emerged from European powers as they sought to consolidate power overseas. Tied with a number of papal bulls, this doctrine provided legal precedents that continue to govern in some ways how we view native rights (15). Of course, the doctrine is also deeply rooted in views that see Europeans as superior to other peoples, for it undermines the rights of native peoples and implies that their claims to the land and even life are not germane to the “discovery” of those same lands by European powers. 

Discovery as a kind of founding belief in the United States helped guide the shape of the country, from the Constitution to current court cases as well. This may seem a sweeping claim, but the authors support it with data. For example, the Doctrine of Discovery is cited in court cases from 1954, 1985, and 2005. In the latter, City of Sherrill, New York v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the doctrine of discovery is explicitly cited as reason to deny the Oneida Indian Nation sovereignty over land they had purchased, despite it being land that was, in part, to have been given to their people by treaty with the United States. Moreover, the 2005 opinion cited precedent from an 1823 opinion in which the Native tribes were called “savages” (though the 2005 opinion omitted the term) and said that the increased value of the land because it was converted from “wilderness” into cities was another reason cited to rule against the Oneida Indian Nation of New York (126-127). The implication is, of course, that when Native groups owned the land, it was “wilderness” ( = not civilized/savage) but now that it has been turned into cities ( = civilization/Western), it is more valuable and, more importantly, able to be determined by U.S. courts instead of treaties. The repeated breaking of treaties and use of courts to bolster non-Native American ownership of land and property should be something to alarm any American, especially Christians who are taught to treat others as they would be treated.

The authors also bring to light many practical applications that are derived from the historical and modern background in the book. For example, one early chapter on “The Power of Narratives and the Imagination” goes over how false narratives of discovery can help construct realities of institutional, internalized, and externalized power imbalances. These power imbalances play out in our prison systems, in our courts, and in everyday life, as the authors demonstrate time and again throughout the book. 

Unsettling Truths is a good introduction to the problems with the Doctrine of Discovery and, more importantly, how that doctrine has impacted society to this day. 

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.

“Passing Through Gethsemane” – Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity

A very fragile human moment.

I’ve never watched Babylon 5 before, but I got the whole series on a great sale and have been watching it from the beginning. In this post, please do not SPOIL anything past the episode discussed. There will, of course, be major spoilers for this episode.

Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity- “Passing Through Gethsemane”

There are moments when you’re watching something on TV or a movie when you realize it’s a transcendent time. Something about what’s happening on the show clicked; one of those moments where everything aligned. “Passing Through Gethsemane” was one of those episodes for me. It may be the first time TV has ever touched me on such a spiritual level.

Near the beginning when we see Brother Edward, a Trappist Monk, talking about the Garden of Gethsemane. He says that there, Jesus could have chosen to leave, postponing the inevitable. It was a “very fragile human moment” that resonates so deeply with Brother Edward. Later in the episode, we discover that  Edward has been mind wiped and is, in fact, a notorious killer. He himself starts to discover this as a telepath reawakens his memories–apparently as a step of a plot to get revenge from families of the victims. Edward finds himself in a kind of broken psyche, realizing who he was, but also that his entire life and outlook on the universe has changed. Who is he, now?

Edward asks whether there is “enough forgiveness for what I’ve done” as he contemplates his former life, and the implications of being that same person. The answer, provided by Brother Theo of the Trappist Monks, is simple: “Always. Always.” Edward’s killed by the families of his victims, but he chooses to go to his death, knowing what they will do. He sees it as his own “passing through Gethsemane” and the fragility of the human condition one finds there. He apparently saw justice and forgiveness align and chose that path.

One astute reader pointed out the problematic nature of seeing Edward as a good man, since he was, in a sense, made that way. As a viewer, I viewed Edward-as-he-is as a completely new and different person than Edward-as-he-was, the murderer. This is aside from the moral question of the mind-wipe as punishment which seems highly questionable at best. (Feel free to comment on that below, I’d love a discussion on that, too.) As I reflected on this, it reminded me (as a Lutheran, particularly) of baptism. Edward’s old self was like the Old Adam, which we drown in the waters of baptism, creating a rebirth and, in a sense, a New Adam/self washed clean by Christ. The metaphysics of this metaphor playing out become quite complex as one thinks about it, because here the question of the morality of a mind wipe is writ large. But I’m thinking of the outcomes, not in a consequentialist way, but in a pragmatic one. If Edward has been created anew, however that happened, he seems a new man. For the baptism analogy, this plays out quite well and, while likely unintentional, makes me think even more on that sacrament. 

Theo and Sheridan have a conversation about “Where does revenge end and justice begin?” and Sheridan makes a point that forgiveness is a “hard thing”–likely himself thinking about his wife. But then, we discover Malcolm–one of the men who committed the vigilante act against Edward–is mind wiped and himself one of the Trappists. And Theo turns Sheridan’s words back on him. Knowing Sheridan is enraged by this vigilante killing, Brother Theo says that Sheridan himself just made a comment about forgiveness being a hard thing. Sheridan pauses in his rage and shock, and finally shakes the new Brother Malcolm’s hand. 

It’s not often that you get to see full on theologizing in a television series, but this episode presents just that. Of course, it never fully realizes the whole of the Christian message, but it is powerful and compelling for Christians all the same. It may also speak to those who aren’t Christian, due to the beauty of the moment. And I suspect that’s what the writer(s) was going for. Christ, here, is seen as facing a “very fragile human moment,” but the total importance of it is made to sound more like an ethical moral choice than something about the fate of humanity. However, there is no question that this episode beautifully shows the humanity of that moment. Yes, Jesus Christ is God the Son, but we must not forget that he was the God-man, fully human as well. I was struck deeply by how this episode made that point so clearly. To humanity as turning on this moment with Christ in Gethsemane, able to “delay the inevitable” but choosing instead to pass through Gethsemane. It’s beautiful. 

The other ethical-theological aspect here is the notion that individual humans can also “pass through Gethsemane” with their own trials/temptations. We have our own fragile human moments, and those can define who we are. Babylon 5 doesn’t portray the help we receive from the Holy Spirit here, but I still think it is to be commended both for the genuine look at the humanity of Christianity and the beauty of its story.

Appendix: A number of comments on Facebook when I shared this post raised questions about the death penalty and the justice of the mind wipe. I’m opposed to the death penalty, and I think that the book and movie of “Just Mercy” help explain some of the issues surrounding that. They’re highly applicable to discussions of the mind wipe as well.

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– My “Eclectic Theist” site features a number of posts discussing my first watch-through of Babylon 5. Check them out 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!

Also see my other looks into television (scroll down for 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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