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Book Review: "Spirit Outside the Gate: Decolonial Pneumatologies of the American Global South" by Oscar García-Johnson

Oscar García-Johnson’s work, The Spirit Outside the Gate, focuses on how the Holy Spirit–and the “logic of Pentecost”–tears down borders and decolonizes Christianity.

That introduction is dense, and itself needs some unpacking. Essentially, García-Johnson argues that Christians’ history of global conquest–specifically of European conquest–has led to an association of Christianity with a logic that creates borders and sets up the “Other” as “outside the gate.” In contrast to this, he argues that Christianity has the capacity of freedom through the Holy Spirit to unite Christians across the globe. He makes this argument through the examination of specific pneumatologies–studies of the Holy Spirit.

The argument is woven throughout the book and is complex. First, García-Johnson notes the narrative(s) of the American Global South as well as some challenges and visions therein. Then, he highlights the meaning of “gates” and how theologies have been constructed as almost gatekeepers in ensuring that those “outside” the gate do not have a voice. Next, he highlights some specific ways in which there are “ungating Christian logics” in the Global South. For example, Christian epistemology is taken to be a direct challenge to colonial power, along with several systems of thought that undermine unity, equity, and equality (99). More specific explorations of various pneumatologies follow, and García-Johnson wraps up the discussion with ways that global Christianity can integrate the insights of the American Global South to create a “church without borders” that exhibits the power of the Spirit.

The Spirit Outside the Gate is a challenging read. Time and again I had to re-read sections to grasp exactly what was being argued, not because of lack of clarity but because of the complexity of the topics involved. García-Johnson here issues a truly interdisciplinary challenge to Christianity to take seriously the message of freedom that comes with the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he puts the work and power of the Holy Spirit at the center of Christian thought and understanding in ways that the Spirit has not frequently enough been highlighted. It’s a fascinating, difficult book. 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.

Frozen 2: A Christian Perspective- Changes, Safety, and Love

Frozen 2 released on November 22, 2019 to a smashing success. The first movie is among the most beloved films from Disney in recent times, and the second had much to live up to. Here, I offer a look at some major themes in the movie, evaluating it from a Christian perspective. Let me know what you thought in the comments! There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

My Love is Not Fragile – Seeking the Unchanging

A major theme throughout the film, whether it’s “Some Things Never Change”–one of the headlining pieces from the soundtrack, or the constant question of whether love can endure through hardships and whether promises can be counted on.

Perhaps the most poignant line in the movie for me was when Kristoff was talking with Anna near the climax. Anna apologizes for leaving him, and his response is “My love is not fragile.” It’s a strong affirmation of the strength of his love for Anna. Love is perhaps the central theme of the interactions of the characters–whether it’s friendship, the love among family, or the love of a relationship, it is presented as being the kind of thing that doesn’t change.

Of course, we also know that that kind of love does change–it waxes and wanes, and can even fade away entirely. Relationships break, conditions are set where there ought to not be any, people lie, cheat, and betray each other.

From a Christian perspective, though, we also know that love is something unchanging, because it reflects the nature of God. God is love, and God’s love is not fragile–it is the sturdiest, most powerful thing in the universe. Because of God’s love, we are saved. Frozen 2, then, reflects that truth for us–even as we may wonder at the changing nature of the world around us, we can remind ourselves that “some things never change” and that that is where we can ground our hope.

Colonialism and Having it All?

Another central theme of the movie is that of conflict between Arandelle and the Northuldra people. It turns out that Elsa and Anna’s grandfather made a treaty with the Northuldra but betrayed them, angering the spirits of the forest and leading to a break between the two peoples that appears irreparable. But the time in the woods has led to a kind of uneasy truce between the soldiers from Arandelle and the Northuldra people in the enchanted forest.

As Elsa and Anna discover the truth of the past, it is Anna who takes direct action to heal the division, realizing that the building of a dam to benefit Arandelle was also a way to destroy Northuldra’s way of life. She gets the massive stone giants to destroy the dam, and Arandelle itself is saved by Elsa’s magic. In a way, this is an everybody wins kind of scenario. It is through the direct intervention of the spirits (more on this below) that the waters settle in a way that doesn’t continue to threaten Arandelle.

In our own world, we have many situations like Arandelle and Northuldra, many situations where one group of people have taken advantage of another, marginalized them, even actively killed them. How do we work to heal those wounds? Perhaps the most important first step is to listen–really listen–to the “other” and take seriously their concerns. Direct action may even be necessary–action that might place one’s own interests at risk. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that peace is something that must be dared, and as Christians we need to be willing to dare that peace. We need to be willing to dare that we can help make amends for past mistakes, and try to bring healing in places where there has only been hurt.

Spirits and the Spirit

I mentioned the forest spirits already, but it’s worth reflecting on them again. Each of the spirits is explained through natural phenomena, in a way. The fire spirit is a kind of salamander creature that burns, the wind is… wind, water is the movement of the waves, and earth is the power of the ground in earthquakes and some stone giants. Yes, these are mythical and magical elements, but they can also provide a way for looking at the world by Christians as well. We know that in God all things live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28), and the Spirit of God is working in our world still. Even as we find natural explanations for things like the wind an the movement of the earth, that doesn’t mean that God is absent; rather, it means that God is working with God’s own creation, sustaining it and nurturing it. When we destroy God’s creation with our greed or our inaction, we are dishonoring God.

Conclusion

Frozen 2 is a very different film from the first installment. It is deeper, older, and wiser. It has more inside jokes for adults, and it has themes that most kids probably won’t entirely understand. It is a way to speak with kids about the nature of God through God’s unchanging love and God’s sustaining creation. It also gives a way to look on the complex past of human relationships and how we need to work for reconciliation.

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.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

SDG.

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

Book Review: “A Week in the Life of a Slave” by John Byron

A Week in the Life of a Slave by John Byron is a combination of an historic fiction novel and a text exploring background of 1st Century Christianity. Like other books in the series, this one features a number of biblical characters. It focuses on the persons of Philemon and Onesimus, weaving what we know from the Bible into a narrative that jumps back and forth between Ephesus and Laodicea and into early Christianity.

The book is set up so that readers can go through and just read the plot, but throughout there are insets that give deep background information relevant to the plot. Readers are treated, then, to a book that is a combination of a story that asks questions of the biblical text–what was happening in the background?–while also giving a wealth of information to those wanting to know about the world of early Christianity.

The main plot is good, with its focus on Philemon and Onesimus, centered around Paul as well. The way it bounced back and forth between cities created some interest. The value of the book, though, is more to be found in the background information provided that helps readers understand what’s happening in the Bible. What was slavery like in Rome? What rights did slaves have? When the Bible speaks of conversions of households, what did that mean for slaves? What were some of the gods being worshiped in the cities mentioned in the Bible? These, and many, many more questions are answered throughout the book.

A Week in the Life of a Slave is another fascinating entry in this series. It gives readers deep insights into what slavery was like in the first century world in which Christianity was born while also delivering some background to make an intriguing plot for some familiar names. 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: “All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone” by Brian J. Tabb

Revelation inspires extremes of opinions. Today, people heatedly argue over its meaning, what is to be taken literally, when its events will/have/should happen. It was challenged on its canonicity in the Reformation and before. What can be done to bring some light to this mysterious, complex book? Brian J. Tabb attempts, in All Things New, to provide a way forward in reading Revelation not as an obscure, impenetrable text, nor as a newspaper to tell us about the end times, but rather as a capstone of Scripture that highlights theological themes throughout the whole Bible.

Tabb notes in the introduction the disputed nature of Revelation. Rather than trying to refute all the positions with which he disagrees, he instead seeks from the beginning to build a reading of Revelation that makes sense of its place in Scripture.

First, Tabb turns to how Revelation reveals the Triune God, highlighting the use of language throughout the Bible to demonstrate how the book reveals God’s Triuine nature. This first part is a fascinating section as Tabb draws on broad swathes of Scripture to show that the author of Revelation drew from all over the Bible to demonstrate the Trinity as well as the work of the divine Persons. Next, Tabb turns to themes in Revelation of suffering for God, witnessing, and worship. The third part focuses on judgment, salvation, and restoration. Here again Tabb’s argument is holistic, seeking to show how the author of Revelation drew from Biblical imagery to make their argument about these themes. It is important to note the way that the author of Revelation uses this language, which seems to work against the notion that they took everything literally themselves, picking and choosing from throughout the canon to make their points. Finally, part four shows Revelation’s view of the word of God as trustworthy, prophetic, and true.

Tabb’s work here is admirable in that he has written a book that could benefit readers of many different views related to the book of Revelation and its meaning. All Things New is a helpful book in clarifying the meaning and purpose of one of the most debated and confusing books in the canon.

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.

“Darwin Devolves” – Behe’s Rewriting of Evolution: A Critique from a Christian

Michale Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, purports to demonstrate that a major challenge to evolution is that rather than producing new functions, the demonstrable changes that we can see in experimental science is due to “devolution” or loss-of-function in genes. Behe bases this, in part, on his “First Rule”: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution… Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain” (185). (It’s stated somewhat differently on the first page of the book: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any functional gene whose loss would increase the number of a species offspring” – emphasis his.)

I am sympathetic to Behe’s project. As a Christian, I would prefer there to be testable, obvious proof that God exists, and Intelligent Design theory purports to be that for at least some kind of cosmic “intelligence.” On the flip side, I am also wary, because I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that “a god who could be proved by us would be an idol” (DBWE 11, 260). I’m not convinced that God works in such a way as to leave tantalizing fingerprints all over everything for us to find. God is personal and we relate to God in a personal way, not in an abstract way that can remain impersonal or without challenge. For most of my life, I was a young earth creationist, and then spent several years studying apologetics and advocating ID theory. Since then, I’ve become much more skeptical of ID theories, and Behe’s book illustrates several of the reasons why.

Selection Effect

One of the biggest difficulties I have with Behe’s book here, as well as with ID in general, is that there is, of necessity, a selection effect happening in the examples used. That is, the human author making the argument must be selecting examples rather than showing the whole range of life and applying their theory to it (to do the latter would be prohibitively time-consuming and likely impossible). But because there is such human agency in selecting the examples, the tendency towards selecting those examples which most easily support one’s theory is at least possibly in play.

In Darwin Devolves, selections of which evidence is discussed appears to be a large part of the weight of the argument. Evidence is mustered from polar bears and the deleterious way they acquired (perhaps not the term Behe would use) “white” fur, from laboratory experiments with bacteria and fruit flies, and from the (in)famous Darwin’s Finches. In each case, it is shown (I believe demonstrated–though I admit I’m not an expert so it is possible that this is wrong) that the “evolution” of certain features (eg. different forms of beak, see p. 143ff) is not new information or beneficial mutations but rather mutations or deletions genetically that are acting on existing DNA in ways that Behe calls “devolutions” rather than evolution.

Though it seems contentious to change the terminology of genetic reshuffling/deleting on existing information to “devolution” when it seems most assuredly an example of evolution (if not, necessarily, fitting within Behe’s specific definition(s)–more on that below), assuming Behe is right here, it would be a fascinating argument if it carried the day. But Behe must demonstrate, for his argument to work and for evolution (again, his usage) to fail, that such deletions/reshuffling is the case in every single instance of purported evolution. That would be a monumental task (and likely impossible), but one way to approach it would be to broaden the selection of data and to take on some of the most powerful evidences of evolution. But here we see the selection of Behe appears to be quite artificial. In addition to the selection effect, Behe fails to note that the very thing he’s arguing shows the failure of evolution as a theory (loss-of-function, etc.) in a lab experiment for E. Coli are, in fact, an expected outcome for such a lab experiment, and the evidence for genuinely new information is dismissed.

Additionally, given Behe’s language about loss-of-function and his “first rule,” readers would be right to expect that the data would support loss-of-function as the predominant, if not the only, means by which scientists have been able to mention what they call evolution. But that is demonstrably not the case. Rice and Lang note:

In humans only ∼3.5% of exonic and splice site variants (57,137 out of 1,639,223) are putatively loss‐of‐function (Saleheen et al. 2017), and a survey of 42 yeast strains found that only 242 of the nearly 6000 genes contain putative loss‐of‐function variants (Bergström et al. 2014). 

Gregory Lang and Amber Rice ” Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/evo.13710

Behe’s challenge to evolution doesn’t mention these and other related facts. The selection effect is operating strongly here, and it is selecting out those aspects of the data that do not match the theory.

Misrepresentations and Language

Throughout the book, there were difficulties with Behe’s use of terminology and misrepresentations of arguments. The definition of “evolution,” for example, seems malleable to fit Behe’s needs. He begins by noting that Darwin’s own theory couldn’t account for genetic data (Darwin didn’t know about it) and so had to be modified. But as more modifications to the theory happen, Behe seems to take that as evidence that evolution is, minimally, in crisis. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the various ways scientists have modified the theory of evolution, according to Behe–in order to “shoehorn” various discoveries into it. But one would hardly discredit the theory of gravity due to the fact that it has been modified to account for more modern discoveries. Would Behe use the same charged language that we have “shoehorned” in modern science to the theory of gravity in order to discred it? Doubtful.

Additionally, Behe is quick to dismiss evolution and evidence for it as useless or baseless. For example, across pages 22-24 he notes various examples that have been said to have evolved and then asserts that deleting the word “evolved” doesn’t change the information in the sentence. For example, “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘wiggle dance.'” Behe then asserts that no information is lost if one just says the birds “have a wiggle dance.” But this seems to be clearly untrue, for the claim that the birds “evolved” a wiggle dance would include in it inherited traits, genes, and behaviors, where as merely “having” a dance does not. Even if one is anti-evolution, the claim that deleting the word “evolved” from sentences like that doesn’t delete information seems puzzling.

Behe is also keen to discredit natural selection. On 99-100 he offers an example that he alleges proves that increased DNA is not due to selection but rather entirely to the amorphous term called “luck.” But renaming selection “luck” doesn’t really undermine the fact that Behe doesn’t seem to have an answer for how DNA increases within his “First Rule” system. Indeed, across these pages, he actually attributes the formation of DNA increase to environmental factors and having the increased DNA continue due to isolation. But that is exactly what evolutionary theory suggests–when populations are isolated, there is the chance for selection to operate differently one one group than on another. Behe saying this is “serendipity” or “luck” seems clear obfuscation on his part–avoidance of the fact that it is exactly due to factors alleged by evolution to drive natural selection that has led to increase in DNA.

Perhaps the part of the book is Behe’s charge that evolution must produce entirely new lifeforms, including new phyla, given enough time. In looking at Darwin’s finches, he argues that the changes among them is incredibly tiny, given the amount of time they’ve had as an isolated population. he asserts that it is “very unlikely” that an environmental factor is limiting their evolution (155) and goes on to ask whether 2 million years in isolation is too little time for evolution to make major changes. After noting that “profoundly different animal phyla… arose during the Cambrian explosion… in only about ten million years” (ibid), along with some other swift evolution, he incredibly states: “Surely we should expect at least one crummy new phylum, class, or order to be conjured by Darwin’s vaunted mechanism in the time the finches have been on the Galapagos. But no, nothing” (ibid). Behe’s claim is, frankly, absurd. I don’t know of any evolutionary biologist who suggests that entirely new phyla are a necessary outcome of long-term isolation. Additionally, to compare the emergence of phyla during the Cambrian–before life had even begun to walk the land–to the state of the islands is disingenuous to the highest degree. Remarkably, Behe does nothing to acknowledge the extreme differences between the examples he cited and the state of the islands; instead, he writes, “A surprising but compelling conclusion is that Darwin’s mechanism has been wildly overrated–it is incapable of producing much biological change at all” (ibid). There is can be no doubt that this strong conclusion is in no way demonstrated by the fact that finches didn’t transform into new phyla, but Behe draws these kind of strong conclusions from minimal data throughout the book.

Conclusion

Darwin Devolves is tantalizing in theory, but in practice it does not prove what it sets out to prove. It would be nice, as the dust jacket states, to come to the point where “It’s time to acknowledge the conclusion that only an intelligent mind could have designed life.” But with all those weighted terms comes a burden of proof that is not met in the text. I have no doubt that an intelligent mind–God–brought forth life, but I remain unconvinced that God did so in a way that required direct intervention throughout the process.

Links

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!

SDG.

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

Book Review: “The Lost World of the Torah” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The series John H. Walton (with others along the way) has written on “The Lost World of…” serves to shine light from studies on the Ancient Near East (ANE) onto questions of interpretation of Scripture. In The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton tackle questions about the meaning of the Torah and Old Testament Law for us today. Specifically, they examine what the Torah would have meant in its Ancient Near Eastern context to those who wrote it down and passed it along to us.

First, the authors outline their methodology. Specifically, they note that the Old Testament is an ancient document, and so we ought to be aware of its ancient context and the background beliefs of those who read it in its own time and how that could impact its meaning for us as well. It is also the case that our own cultural background influences the way that we think law and legislation work. Specifically, we tend to think of law and legislation as rigid and unbreakable, but even into today some societies see law less as legal code than as a way to show the regulation of society through social norms and customs (19).

The Torah, then, is best understood as expressions of wisdom rather than legislation, which itself means that instead of seeing the Torah as a sense of “you ought,” it is better understood as “you will know” or something similar (45). The Torah is a “collection of examples that combine to form a description of the desired established order” (ibid). Trying to make the Torah acontextual is a potentially dangerous path that undermines its meaning (100).

Understanding the Torah in its ancient context frees Christian interpreters from the constant battle of trying to sort which parts of Torah are required legislation and which are not. “It is neither a question… about the unchanging law of an unchanging God nor a presumption that morality is relative” (100). Thus, “when people try to sort out which parts of the Old Testament ‘law’ are still relevant and which parts are not, they are really trying to determine which sayings are culturally relative and which are not” (ibid). It is actually this very approach that yields a relativistic response to Scripture, because as interpreters attempt to lock down the Torah into inflexible, unchanging legislation for all time, they are forcing their own view of morality onto God’s Word. “[I]f we have to be selective about which passages we mine for moral guidance and which we reject, it is not Scripture that is guiding us but our own preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. As a corollary, then, whatever is producing our sense of right and wrong, which we are using to filter and evaluate Scripture, is not Scripture” (171).

Christian interpreters who insist on divisions like ceremonial, civil, and moral for the Torah are once again imposing a foreign context onto the Scripture itself. Effectively, they have made their own view of which laws fall into which categories the determining factor for what ought to determine morality for all people for all time. There are no labels in the text that demonstrate which of the alleged legislation falls into which preconceived category, so the categories themselves are sorted by the interpreter based on their own biases and understanding of what it ought to be saying. This is extremely clear when specific issue are raised. For example, why take laws about eating of shellfish as “ceremonial” but not laws about what people wear? Essentially, it is the interpreter who then turns and says one is ceremonial and the other is moral. Understanding the Torah as being concerned with God’s covenant with the people also helps illuminate the meaning of certain difficult passages. It is often suggested, for example, that the legislation regarding cross-dressing is moral because it refers back to homosexuality which it is then argued is a moral law and specifically sinful. But the Waltons note that the ANE context of the text includes the disruption of order found in ceremonies of Ishtar (186). Though this may not have been the exact reason these prohibitions existed in the Torah, the Waltons note that “the practice of cross-dressing in the ancient world operated under different premises than it does in modern society. Most importantly, it is not demonstrably associated with homosexuality. Blurring of boundaries violates order, but that sense of order is inherent in the ideology of the society” (187). So again, it is important not to proof text from the Torah and remove it from its original context because that may result in misapplying Scripture.

The Waltons address the question of objective morality in an inset (206-207). They note that objective morality probably does exist as do moral obligations and that they very well may be grounded in God, but our own moral systems are very much products of our cultural contexts and understandings. It is very easy to assume one’s own morality or beliefs about moral codes are objective and binding for all people

The Walton’s arguments are sure to be controversial, but have weighty evidence behind them. Moreover, their arguments, as noted above, help to solve some of the greatest difficulties for Christians in questions of dealing with Torah from a Christian perspective. Rather than dismissing the Torah or picking and choosing which parts to obey based on a superimposed interpretive grid, the Waltons here present a compelling argument for seeing the Torah in its context as it was: evidence of the covenant between God and humanity.

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: “Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour” by John Goldingay

There are many questions that arise for Christians as we read the Old Testament. There are almost as many different answers to each question as there are questions. John Goldingay, in Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour attempts to answer some of these questions by giving Christians concrete ways forward in addressing the Old Testament and ethics.

After a brief introduction outlining the meaning of ethics and how one might look at the Old Testament for guidance, Goldingay dives directly into questions of what guidance the Old Testament might offer for Christians regarding ethics. Specifically, he divides the questions into qualities, aspects of life, and relationships. Then, he looks at some specific texts and people in the Old Testament and how one might derive ethical guidance from them.

There are many broad topics in a book like this, which addresses ethical questions from how we ought to act in Godlikeness to how animals ought to be treated. Mostly, he follows a format that draws from numerous OT texts in order to try to show a specific direction for ethical inquiry and answers. Among the most difficult questions Goldingay approaches are those to do with sexuality–who are people allowed to have sex with–and questions about wealth and family. He tends to fall in the moderately conservative realm in the answer to all of these questions.

Goldingay’s approach to ethical questions in the Old Testament leaves many questions untouched. That is a necessity, of course, because only a massive tome could truly address many of the topics related to ethics in the Old Testament in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, readers may wonder about how Goldingay specifically derives his ethical standards. He does, of course, bring texts to the forefront in order to argue for each point, but he does little to address some of the more difficult passages in the Old Testament. Additionally, others have argued that an approach to the Old Testament that treats its laws like a kind of codified rule of ethics is indeed mistaken (eg. John Walton). These are highly relevant questions–especially when an answer to them may undermine the very basis for Goldingay’s project to begin with. Goldingay, I believe, has gone into these questions elsewhere in more detail, but for this book it mostly just serves as a straight up guide to how Goldingay believes the Old Testament ought to be viewed ethically.

Old Testament Ethics: A Guided Tour is an intriguing book that, like many works on the topic, will generate much discussion for those engaged in the topic. Those looking to try to determine some ethical outlook from the Old Testament will be rewarded, but some questions about the method and theory itself remain unanswered.

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.

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 2- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part II

We left off last time with Alexander Campbell having just outlined his own project for the defense of Christianity, which shows a number of arguments that are different from those used today in apologetics. But one argument worth highlighting is where he charges Owen’s position with having to essentially undermine all human testimony. Campbell here is alluding to the position of Owen and many people today that only that which is able to be experienced by direct sense perception is credible. But if true, Campbell charges, it follows that:

To complete the process of degradation, [humans are] to be taught that [they] ha[ve] no faculty, or power of learning or knowing any thing but by
[their] senses , or that [they] can receive no certain information from the testimony of [their] ancestors.
…That all the information which is traditional or handed down, is false and incredible. (page 18 of the edition linked)

In other words, if we truly affirm that only that which can be perceived is to be believed, all human testimony, all tradition, all knowledge handed down is false–or at least, ought to be doubted. This is a point which persists to this day when speaking of Christianity and atheism. Often, the position is taken that only scientific knowledge is verifiable or trustworthy. But if that’s the case, it would mean that every person is an island of ignorance. After all, it is impossible for one person to even begin to scientifically test every single discovery for themselves. Simply having someone tell them how gravity works, about the Big Bang, or the like would entail believing testimony as opposed to that which one has tested oneself. Humans, in other words, must believe testimony whether we like it or not.

Owen then, rises and offers his own principles. First, that “truth is always consistent with itself.” Second, that “No name or authority, whatever may be its nature, can change truth into falsehood or falsehood into truth, or can, in any way, make that which is true to be false, or that which is false to be true” (20). Astute readers may jump ahead and try to guess where Owen plans to take these axioms in his attack on Christian faith. For now, Owen’s own words are enlightening.

After noting that humanity is spread about all kinds of different places, Owen notes the necessity, then, for humans to have gained knowledge in their own locales. These introduce prejudices and assumptions based on one’s own perspective which Owen charges we ought to try to remove–a quest for universally verifiable facts (21). Here is where Owen approaches the meat of his early argument:

In furtherance of this mighty change in the destinies of mankind, I am now to prove “that all the religions of the world have originated in error; that they are directly opposed to the divine unchanging laws of human nature; that they are necessarily the source of vice, disunion, and misery; that they are now the only obstacle to the formation of a society, over the earth, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense,and of sincerity and affection. And that these district religions can be no longer maintained in any part of the world, except by keeping the mass of the people in ignorance of their own nature, by an increase of the tyranny of the few over the many.” (21)

It would be easy to simply dismiss these lofty claims as impossible for Owen to prove, but if we are seeking truth it is important to examine the arguments even of those with whom we disagree. Tucked in between these assertions of Owen, some of which he will argue for at length, are some hints as to how Christians were perceived in his own time–as well as our own–along with some truly challenging questions about Christianity specifically. There are, after all, many religions in the world. If we agree with Owen’s claims that these cannot contradict each other and that no testimony may make that which is false true, then we must account for the great many divergent beliefs about the ultimate reality in our universe. Additionally, the notion that all religions lead to vice, disunion, and misery is often countered by ways religion has benefited the world. Historically, it is important to see that this debate took place on the soil of the United States and was published in 1829. During this time, there were Christian ministers explicitly arguing in favor of slavery and even of slaves needing to submit to the cruelest forms of punishments of their masters, using the Bible to back their claims. The charges against Christianity are not always easily answered by argument; Owen’s arguments show that practice is just as important as beliefs.

Owen then launches into a series of points to establish the accidents of birth in time and location of every human being. No one can determine when they’re born, where they’re born, what their parents believe, or anything of the sort (22-23). After that, he argues about how characters are developed with some questionable generalizations about psychology and child rearing. Owen then argues from all of this that no one can determine their own character or beliefs. From there, Owen argues that the origins of all human religions have come from the most ignorant and darkest of all times, and so they ought to be rejected as ideas which, due to their accident of circumstance having been formed in the worst of times, will not yield the greatest good for the most people (26-27). It’s important to note throughout these arguments of Owen’s where assumptions are made or stated without argument. For example, he says:

doctrines and fables could not, at first, be received, except through force, fraud, or ignorance, they have been the cause of shedding the blood of the most conscientious and best men in all  countries, of deluging the world with all manner of crime, and in producing all kinds of suffering and misery. (27)

But Owen has certainly not established that all “doctrines” were first established through force, fraud or ignorance. He’s playing to the audience here, and it is important to note that. He goes on to assert that all “fables and doctrines” lead to poverty or fear of it, ignorance, and many more ills (27-29). Moreover, it is only by historical accident that his audience, Owen charges, are teaching their children Christianity rather than any other belief system (29).

We’ll leave off here for now, anticipating Campbell’s response, beginning on page 30.

Questions

  1. What do you think of Campbell’s points regarding sense perception and testimony?
  2. Is there anything objectionable in Owen’s two principles on page 20?
  3. How can we as apologists witness to others not merely with sound arguments, but with actions that show Christianity is worthy of consideration?
  4. What do you think about the way Owen is using historical accidents of birth as the backbone of argument so far? How might such arguments be answered?

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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: “Disability and the Way of Jesus” by Bethany McKinney Fox

The question of what it means to be “healed” is one of those that seems simple on first glance, but upon closer examination becomes extremely complex quite swiftly. Bethany McKinney Fox’s Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church is an exploration of many of these complex questions. Fox brings light to these questions by surveying many perspectives in sometimes surprising and challenging ways.

Fox challenges assumptions from the get-go, pushing readers to look beyond their assumptions about what it means to experience healing or even to desire it. Too often, people assume that someone with a disability wants to be “healed” so that they can be “normal”–but this itself smuggles in a number of perceptions and assumptions about what the person who has a disability is feeling or thinking. Fox even notes the ways our language can change these perceptions.

The bulk of the book, though, deals with biblical texts related to healing and brings a number of perspectives to bear on these texts. After a look at the context in the First Century of Jesus as healer, Fox brings the perspectives of physicians, people with disabilities, and pastors to bear on various healing texts in the Bible. These often bring very different ideas to the text and come away with surprising readings. For example, do the texts suggest healing is something everyone ought to seek? Do they demand Christians pray for healing? What does it mean to be healed? These questions get very different answers depending upon who is reflecting upon them.

Finally,the book turns to what it means to be healed in the Bible, as well as practices of the church that can help assist healing. Here, there is a stirring call to the church to break the structures that bind those with disabilities in addition to trying to bring healing and holistic care to all people.

Disability and the Way of Jesus is a fascinating read that will force readers to rethink assumptions and examine Scripture texts anew while also looking for new applications to their personal lives. 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: “Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World” by Wolf Krötke

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World by Wolf Krötke is a formidable interpretation of both Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Specifically, this collection focuses on how each of these theologians sought to relate to what they viewed as a post-Christian world.

Karl Barth is the subject of the first half of the book, and Krötke offers a range of topics engaging with Barth’s theology at multiple points. Krötke begins with an essay that highlights the challenges of engaging with Karl Barth to begin with. Then, he moves into Barth’s attack on “religion” itself as unbelief. Of course, what is meant by “religion” is key in this and many other essays, and the exact meaning of the term is notoriously difficult to pin down. Thus, much of the discussion here and elsewhere is spent drawing out what is being critiqued as “religion” vs. how Christianity can offer a better way forward.

Election, for Barth, is the “sum of the gospel,” and Krötke spends one essay discussing what is meant by Barth’s doctrine of election. In this doctrine, Barth sees that many major theological problems can be reconciled through Christ’s “Yes” to humanity (86).

Krötke’s interactions with Bonhoeffer are insightful and sometimes surprising, even to the point of being stunning (a word this reviewer used when taking notes on a few of the pages). In particular, the final essay on Bonhoeffer about Bonhoeffer’s “Nonreligious Interpretation of Biblical Concepts” alongside the “Missionary Challenge of the Church” was fascinating. Therein, Krötke notes that Bonhoeffer was extremely against any concept of God as a God available to us at our whim. God is not the kind of being who is available at the push of a button. Additionally, Krötke interprets Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity as putting forth the idea that God in Christ chooses to become powerless for us, such that in Christ, God leads us to the suffering of the cross (242-244). Rather than a God who could right all wrongs and does not, or one who cannot do so, the God of religionless Christianity, as Krötke reads it, is God in Christ who enters the world and, in doing so, intentionally gives up power in order to lead humanity to God. It’s a fascinating look at Bonhoeffer’s work, and a somewhat alarming interpretation in some ways, but also one that takes the notion of deity and makes it squarely within Christian theology.

Other essays on Bonhoeffer are equally fascinating, whether its when Krötke notes that Bonhoeffer’s life itself has become a theological resources for his interpreters or when he turns to the question of Bonhoeffer’s letters to his fiancee. On the latter point, Krötke reflects on his own attempts to look at Bonhoeffer’s letters to Maria von Wedermeyer. Ultimately, he found himself deciding that it was a kind of voyeurism–the theologian moving into an intensely personal scene in order to try to find any resource. It was a kind of question about biography and finding the past that this reader hadn’t considered before.

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologians for a Post-Christian World is a fascinating, engaging, and challenging read. I highly recommend it to those interested in the legacy of either one (or both) of these fascinating individuals. Krötke consistently presents startling insights and fascinating ways to move research forward. 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.

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