Christianity

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Book Review: “Discerning Ethics: Diverse Christian Responses to Divisive Moral Issues” edited by Hak Joon Lee and Tim Dearborn

Discerning Ethics: Diverse Christian Responses to Divisive Moral Issues introduces numerous moral topics to Christians while providing insight into various approaches Christians have had to those same moral questions. Each chapter of the book introduces the moral topic at hand by providing a “real life” and “real world” example of how that moral question has arisen in the world and in real life. Then, different positions (in every chapter but one, three of them) are presented on that topic. Finally, each author gives a brief outline and defense of their own position on the question. The main text of the chapter is followed by discussion questions and recommendations for further reading.

The topics addressed in the book are broad and divided into four parts: ethics of the globe (climate change, poverty and income inequality, urban degradation, and immigration); of the body (access to health care, abortion, transgender, homosexuality and sexual identity); of violence (violence against women, war/nonviolence/just peacemaking, gun violence, and mass incarceration); and of formation (racism, disability, social and entertainment media, and public education).

The way the book is formatted allows for a surprising amount of depth despite the relatively short chapter length on each topic. For example, in the chapter on Access to Health Care by Brian White, the “real life” story reads, in part:

On April 8, 2016, the director of Uganda’s cancer institute at the Mulago Hospital announced that the country’s only radiotherapy machine, used for the treatment of a broad range of cancer patients, had finally broken down beyond repair. This machine typically treated around one hundred patients every day, and the hospital received nearly forty-four thousand new referrals each year, not only from Uganda but also from the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan… (91).

The story becomes my heartbreaking as Brian White notes that Victoria Akware, a woman who had cervical cancer, got the news just after having “sold her land to help pay for the long trip to the Uganda Cancer Institute to receive treatment…” (ibid). Clearly, this is a travesty on a major scale, as people’s lives are at risk due to inaccessible health care. The approaches to these topics White outlines are universal–everyone gets health care with a single-payer system; two tier, in which everyone gets a minimum level of care as a human right but can pay for higher levels of care; and private, in which health care is a commodity. As with the other chapters in the book, each of these positions has a specific thinker (or thinkers) the author draws from to expound their position. Ultimately, White argues for a position that he sees as a kind of middle way among these positions that provides for equality, need, and merit (see esp. 104-105).

Each chapter is outlined like this, and no matter what one’s own position is on the topic at hand, it will likely be challenged by having other positions presented fairly and own their own merits. Possibly the author’s perspective will provide its own challenge as well. Each chapter was excellent in its own ways, and several chapters provided surprising perspectives that I didn’t necessarily expect.

One example of the latter was the chapter on homosexuality and sexual identity by Matthew Jones. The author of this chapter is a gay man who is celibate because he believes that his conscience is bound to not act on his sexuality. His own “real life” story includes being removed from a pastoral internship for even admitting to his sexual identity (144-145). Jones’s analysis of the varied positions is insightful and should give a challenge to readers from any position. For example, he notes that the position that holds to a kind of sexual essentialism often fails to provide any context for people to live out their lives in a way that can comport to the expectations of their beliefs (154). On the far other end, Jones argues that Christians who hold to full biblical acceptance of differing sexual identities do not do justice to the texts involved (155). Again, wherever one falls on this spectrum, one will likely find their position challenged to do better by both real people involved and by their own work to live out Christ’s commands in the world.

The one caution this reader would give for the book is that readers should try to see it for what it is–an introduction to the topics it discusses. There is no way to fully engage with all of these topics in the length given, but the editors and authors set up a way to at least get an idea for why people, and Christians specifically, may think differently on these important issues. The book would serve as an excellent guide for one’s own exploration of contentious topics, a superb book to read in a study group, or as a textbook for a class on ethics.

Discerning Ethics is a fantastic introduction to numerous moral topics. It affords Christians access to diverse voices on important moral topics that are challenging in our own time. I recommend it highly.

(All Amazon links are affiliates links.)

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.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Succinct Question on American Nationalism

Living in the United States today, one may wonder about what seems to be a rising surge of national pushback against anything that seems to be “Unpatriotic.” The most obvious example is the outrage against Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem at games played by the National Football League.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in New York City at Union Theological Seminary in 1930-1931. He saw his own version of nationalism rising in the United States. As he took notes during his class “Ethical Interpretation of Current Events,” he jotted down “Nationalism militant + economic.” Those words certainly ring true for the United States now. But what are we to do about it? Right after that brief line, Bonhoeffer wrote a question that still somehow answers what we ought to do. And with six words he undermined all attempts to unite nationalism and Christianity together:

What is the flag to God?

DBWE 10:429

And we must ask ourselves the same question. If we are enraged by those kneeling to the flag, we must reset. “What is the flag to God?” It is nothing. And we ought not to elevate it–or our nation–more than we ought.

Moreover, if we turn our hopes and trust towards the flag–towards the nation–we replace God with the flag and the nation. It becomes idolatrous. Our hope is not in the nation, which rises and falls. God stands forever. God is our hope. In God we trust, but we cannot say that while truly meaning “our country.”

What is the flag to God?

Links

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– Come read all of my posts about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

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

SDG.

——

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

“The Path of Daggers” by Robert Jordan – A Christian (Re)reads The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.

Systems of Power

At one point in The Path of Daggers, Rand is surveying his arrayed forces and he considers their loyalty (and lack thereof). But in this considering, he notes:

they feared him [Rand] far more than they did the Aiel. Maybe more than they did the Dark One, in whom some did not really believe… (327-328)

The people, it seems, were more concerned with firmly holding their own wealth or gaining positions of authority and power than they were with the true evil which threatened the world. Unconvinced by the coming tribulation, they instead sought favor from the most powerful man in the world. The condition, it seems, is one which mirrors our own at points. Rather than being concerned with evil facing our world, or rather than fighting injustice, people are obsessed with gain that cannot be carried over across death and the grave. The true powers which threaten the world are left to expand and strengthen,while people seek their own gain.

It is a kind of pragmatism which infects us: injustice is “over there” and we are “right here,” so why be concerned with it? The notion that there is a spiritual realm with any sort of power is shrugged off, ignored, or even scorned as ancient superstition, unworthy of concern. Like the people who surround Rand in the book, we convince ourselves that evil has no power in the world and “[the Dark One”] could [not] and would [not] touch the world harder than he had already (328).

Of course, broadening these insights, it is easy to see how this might apply to systems of power more generally. Far too many people are dismissive of how we are capable of setting up systems that continue to exclude or oppress for years and decades to come. Yet the Bible teaches us that we must fight oppression, even in the very systems and powers of the world that are set up.

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.

Ezekiel 22:29

We need to seek out how oppression works, even if it is unintentional, and seek to end it in any form. We need to be less afraid of the powers of the world than we are of doing justice and walking rightly with God.

The people of the Wheel of Time became more afraid of Rand than they did the very real (Satan-like) threat of the Dark One. That was because they feared what might happen to their wealth, their things, and their worldly lives more than they feared eternal consequences. They cared more about themselves than about others. As Christians, we are called to the exact opposite, though too often we also stumble. When calls come to end oppression and seek justice, it is too often Christians who are the first to try to dodge or diminish those calls. We should obey the word of God and fear God rather than humans.

(All Amazon Links are Amazon Affiliates Links.)

Links

The Wheel of Time– Read all my posts on The Wheel of Time (scroll for more).

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: “Killing a Messiah” by Adam Winn

Adam Winn’s Killing a Messiah is a novel set in 1st century Judea that shows different perspectives before, during, and somewhat after Holy Week. The book follows several characters, invented or historical, as events swirl leading up to the Crucifixion.

Judah, a leader of a Jewish resistance group, is probably the driving force for action in the novel. Pilate has a much more prominent place than one might expect given the biblical narrative (more on that below). A shopkeeper, Caleb, attempts to avoid the major events taking place around him. Eleazar, the son of High Priest Caiaphas, has his own politically motivated agenda.

The novel introduces a number of factors that stirred conflict in Judea during this time, and Winn does a competent job showing how this may have impacted people at various levels in Israel’s hierarchy. I was surprised, however, at how little a voice was given to any female characters in the book. There are 4 main perspectives, none of which is a woman. Yet in the biblical narrative, we see women featuring hugely in the events. It feels a bit like a missed opportunity to not have a narrative perspective from someone like one of the women who helped fund Jesus’s ministry. What would she have been like? How would she have viewed the political turmoil happening around Jesus? Perhaps I’m just interested in parts of the narrative that did not interest Winn, but I, unfortunately, cannot help but feel a strong sense of “what might have been” throughout the novel.

What’s interesting is that Winn’s framing of the events throughout this period allow him to address several issues that don’t often come up in discussions of the biblical text. For one, he places Pilate directly in the midst of the events. While his use of fictional embellishments in the narrative underscore Pilate as being involved throughout the process, it also helps highlight the possibility that Pilate was intentionally being portrayed somewhat like a puppet for the Jewish leaders by the biblical authors. The theological possibilities of this aren’t drawn out by Winn.

Another point Winn makes (see author’s note, 228-229) is that Jesus was still popular with many of the people in Jerusalem and instead the events were brought about by the High Priest Caiaphas and other elites attempting to stop what was perceived as “illegal and seditious” activity by Jesus and his followers.

The author’s note, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting parts of the whole work. In fact, I almost wish that we’d simply gotten a lengthy exposition of the points Winn raises in the note than a historical fiction novel. The novel reads well enough, but it drags at times and seems to struggle to piece the characters into the narrative rather than having them drive the narrative.

Overall, Killing a Messiah is a good read, but one that will leave readers wanting more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the tantalizing hints Winn gives in the narrative and note at the end will make readers want to learn more about the points he’s making.

(All Amazon links are affiliates links.)

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: “Embracing Evolution: How Understanding Science Can Strengthen Your Christian Life” by Matthew Nelson Hill

Embracing Evolution by Matthew Nelson Hill is a surprising and engaging book about Christianity and science. Hill is also the author of Evolution and Holiness (my review here), another novel book that looked at how evolutionary science could inform specifically Wesleyan notions of holiness and perfection. Here, Hill calls Christians to come to understand that, far from being something that undermines Christianity, evolution can provide a fruitful grounds for exploration of the Christian life.

The intriguing premise of Embracing Evolution means that as a reader, I was hoping it would provide even more exploration of that premise–that evolution can be grounds for exploring the Christian life. I was somewhat surprised to then see several chapters dedicated to showing the basics of reading the Bible and understanding the science of evolution and its relation to theology. These are good chapters to introduce readers who may not have considered this intersection in a positive light before, or who need some background on evolution to understand its potential applications. 

The rubber does finally meet the road in the final three chapters of this pithy book, as Hill explores how evolution can inform various aspects of Christian living. The first thing Hill points out is that acknowledging evolutionary heritage gives us knowledge which allows us to bring about change. Genetic lineage can help trace disease as well as potential mental illness, and this can help us care for our bodies. Additionally, instincts to eat certain kinds of food at all times have been outpaced by the changes we have made in the way we live. Because we have access to agriculture and (generally) more than just meat, humans have outpaced the rate at which built-in instincts with the brain can operate. This means that we need to shape behavior to work against various temptations which may entrap us. But, as Hill writes, evolutionary heritage isn’t just baggage, it can also bring about avenues for hope. We can work to “overcome [our] genes and live holy lives” (113, emphasis his). Here, Hill advocates again a Wesleyan approach that sees the Holy Spirit’s action and human free will working together to live holiness, as God works within creation (114-115). 

Embracing Evolution is an intriguing book full of new avenues for exploration. Readers interested in finding out how Christianity might be positively impacted by evolutionary theory–particularly if they favor a Wesleyan theology–will see this as a must-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.

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.

“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory of Babylon 5

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.

“The Summoning” – The Christological Allegory(ies) of Babylon 5

I’ve often argued that science fiction can explore the deepest questions of the human condition. It allows creators to make stories of how humanity ought (or ought not) to be. It also lets people play with themes in ways that are unexpected, subversive, or meaningful in many different ways. Babylon 5 frequently explores religious themes in its episodes. “The Summoning” has several themes come to a head as we see just how deep some of the allegorical background of the show flows.

G’Kar is an alien character who has endured much throughout the series to this point. His people, the Narn, have been at war with another alien species, the Centauri. The Centauri have enslaved the Narn after defeating them. G’Kar has gone from a prestigious ambassadorial post to a pariah on the Babylon 5 space station. Finally, he is captured and put at the whims of the Centauri elite.

The Emperor of the Centauri at this point is Cartagia, a kind of Nero stand-in. He delights in tormenting G’Kar for his own pleasure, and for that of his court. G’Kar endures several ways of suffering which parallel Christ’s suffering. The image I used in this post shows him carrying one of the instruments of his torture in a scene that is surely intended to parallel Christ’s carrying of the cross. In one scene, he is wearing a kind of crown with spikes seemingly screwed into it around his head, akin to a crown of thorns. Though the imagery is somewhat overt, the subtleties behind the imagery is its own commentary on the depth of the show and its allegory of Christ. Cartagia wants to force G’Kar into some expression of pain, and finally resorts to a lashing. No one has managed to survive 40 lashes, and G’Kar is whipped 39 times before he finally cries out in pain. That number may not seem important, until one turns to Deuteronomy 25:3 and sees that punishment is not to exceed 40 lashes. Traditionally, some have said that Jesus was lashed 39 times. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:24, discusses being lashed 39 times on five separate occasions. Throughout this whole sequence in this episode, as well as the few before, we see that G’Kar is a kind of allegory for Christ, suffering in behalf of his people. 

I already mentioned how Cartagia is like Nero, but I wanted to draw that out. His hedonism at the cost of all else is one of the most obvious parallels. His utter contempt for any other people is narcissism, yes, but it’s so over the top and insidious that it takes it to another level. As he smiles, there is an ominous tinge to everything he does. Others try to emulate him to keep him pleased, and end up failing and being discarded or killed. The Nero parallels are there, but he could also be interpreted as a kind of stand-in for love of self over others, the easiest but also most easily corrupting sins. The greatest demonstration of this may be in his willingness to toss aside his own people for the sake of being remembered as a god. Cartagia’s delusions of grandeur could almost be humorous if he didn’t have the will and power to bring about some of his most dastardly plans. Cartagia then–whether he is a Nero, a Satan, or a kind of stand-in for human moral failing that evolves into monstrous evil–is another religious theme here. Is it a commentary on the overbearing power of the nation state? A questioning of the human condition? A nod to the spiritual power of corrupting evil? I think each viewer can take something away from it, and that is the power of a truly excellent work of art.

Babylon 5 is a show that inspires as much as it entertains. It makes viewers think, even decades after the show run finished. A powerful emotional response is almost unavoidable in an episode like “The Summoning,” and I’m sure I’ve missed some details as well for how the parallels might play out. Regardless, it’s a beautiful narrative that leads to reflection on the life–and death–of Christ, as well as how evil can so readily corrupt in heinous ways. 

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.

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.

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: “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.

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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: “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.

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “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.

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