Church History

This tag is associated with 21 posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “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.

“Section II: Historical Studies” in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I continue my review of Women Pastors? edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless here with a few brief comments on the introduction to Section II: Historical Studies. I thought it was worth commenting on due to the way it sets the table for the upcoming chapters.

Section II: Historical Studies Introduction

There are several claims made within this three paragraph introduction to the Historical Studies section. We will outline those claims, make a few comments, and then use this post to see whether these claims are supported and sustained by the arguments in the chapters that follow.

Claim 1: “The practice of ordaining women to the pastoral office is a novelty in the history of the church.” (107)

This claim is fairly straightforward, and the editors go on to clarify, noting that the first woman ordained in the United States was ordained in 1853. The implication seems to be that this was around the first time women were ordained into the pastoral office. This is a positive claim about a universal negative: to sustain the claim, the authors must demonstrate no women ever was ordained as a pastor in the history of the church before a time that could be called a “novelty.” We have already seen issues with this. One problem is the definition of the “pastoral office,” something the editors clearly struggled with. Some authors have simply not defined the pastoral office, assuming readers would fill in the gaps. Others have defined it in such a way that there is not a single example of anyone holding such an office anywhere in the New Testament. So the first step of a defense of this claim is to establish what the pastoral office is, and demonstrate it in the New Testament itself. The second step is to show the universal negative is true; something nearly impossible. Moreover, given that another author has granted some sects did ordain women (though they were, he claims, entirely Gnostic ones), one would have to demonstrate those were not examples of the early church whatsoever. Additionally, the examples in the New Testament of women leading (eg Phoebe, Prisca/Priscilla, Junia) have to be shown to clearly not be functioning as the pastoral office, however defined. Will these authors manage to show these to be true? If they do not, this claim is false.

Claim 2: “Fueled by theological movements that set the charismatic distribution of the Spirit in opposition to an established office, the emerging equalitarianism of the feminist movement, historical criticism’s distrust of the biblical text, and in some cases a pragmatism that saw the ordination of women as a way to alleviate the clergy shortage… many Protestant denominations took steps to ordain women.” (ibid)

The authors in the following section must show that these different influences are demonstrably what made churches ordain women rather than anything else, like a re-exploration of church history or the Bible’s teaching on women. We should see in-depth sociology happening here, done by authors with expertise in the history of ideas and social development of thought. They must outline the movement of theology from point A to point B by means of these various movements said to be the instrument thereby people ordained women. If not, this claim is falsified.

Claim 3: The women who are noted in the history of the church “were holy and learned but never pastors” (referencing an upcoming chapter’s claims).

I find this claim very important, but also very slippery. After all, we’ve already seen (links above) that the definition of “pastor” is unclear throughout this book. The authors must provide a very clear, textually sound definition of pastor. If not, how can they even claim that any one group of people were “never pastors”? So, again, we must see a clear definition of what a pastor is. Then, we should see the authors surveying many, many women throughout church history and showing how they do not meet that definition. The definition must not be tailored to make it beg the question against women pastors (eg. by saying “pastors are men who lead worship”). Instead, it must be a definition that can be used to show one person is a pastor, and another is not by virtue of the roles of the pastor. The author of whatever chapters involved in this should have expertise in church history.

Claim 4: “Ordination of women is a monumental turn in the history of the Church.” (107)

This claim is tied closely in with claims 1 and 3 and faces the same issues.

Claim 5: “[Ordination of women] puts those church bodies that practice it on dangerous ground, for it indicates that they are out of step not only with two thousand years of Christian history but with the will of the Lord of the Church.” (Ibid)

The first problem here is the editors already falsified this claim. 2000 years is a set period of time. Jesus died sometime around AD 33-35, though there are a few who move it a few years outside that range. Thus, 2000 years from AD 33 would be 2033. We have not yet reached that year, so people ordaining women are not outside of 2000 years of Christian history. The editors themselves note a woman ordained in 1853, which would be 1820 years of history, if it were the first ordination of any woman anywhere. One may object and say this is a petty complaint. But this section is the “historical studies” section. We should expect historical precision here, of all places. But “two thousand years” has better rhetorical value, so that’s what the editors used rather than an actual number corresponding to reality. The authors then have an impossible task: showing the history of the church is different from what it is. Moreover, they must demonstrate that the ordination of women goes specifically against the will of the Lord of the Church.

In the coming posts, we will see whether the authors sustain these lofty claims.

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!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “A Week in the Life of Rome” by James L. Papandrea

James L. Papandrea’s A Week in the Life of Rome is a kind of historical fiction work mixed with numerous expositions on the ancient world. It provides readers with insights into the early Christian church in Rome, First Century Roman Life, and more.

Central to the book is the plot that weaves it all together. Papandrea introduces readers to a number of characters, including slaves, the walthy, clients, Christians, and catechumens. A few biblical names show up, too. The story is actually more interesting than I expected. It captured me in a way that novels often do, and I truly was not expecting that from a book that at first seemed like just a clever way to info-dump about ancient Rome. The main plot is quite well done and I felt myself wanting to learn more about Stachys and Urbanus in particular. The relationship betwen these Roman men helps serve as a background for giving readers numerous expositions.

The expositions scattered throughout the book are quite welcome and give essential information at each point. The relationship between Stachys and Urbanus, for example, serves to show readers the client-patron relationship in ancient Rome. This relationship can help in understanding some biblical texts and certainly the cultural world from which early Christian writings sprang. One exposition I remember in particular was about culinary habits of the wealthy Romans, such as eating small birds or mice roasted and dipped in honey and poppy seeds (do not sign me up for this one). Another interesting aside was the exploration of the Phoenix as a symbol of Christians in the earliest time periods, though it faded out of use rather quickly.

Reading this book will truly teach readers a wealth of information, but will do so in a way that is engaging in unexpected ways. A Week in the Life of Rome is an informative, interesting book. Papandrea makes a narrative that is interesting and insightful all the way through. The book is a great way to learn about ancient Rome and Christianity. 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: “Early Christian Readings of Genesis One” by Craig D. Allert

The Christian church has an interesting relationship with the earliest Christians. In the United States, at least, there is a kind of distrust at times of these early Christians, who seemingly got so much wrong. But alongside that there is an attempt to appeal to them, when convenient, to make theological points, claiming that one’s own belief stretches back to the earliest Christian era. Craig D. Allert, in Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation, shares insights into what these early Christians believed and taught about Genesis chapter 1 and literal readings of the same.

Allert begins the book by providing some context. First, he argues for why Christians today should care about what the early Christian writers (Church Fathers) thought about anything. Second, he argues that Christians have tended to distort or appropriate the Fathers into their own view, often without warrant. He explores this through several “real world” examples, including demonstrating that Ken Ham (a young earth creationist and founder of “Answers in Genesis”) and Hugh Ross (an old earth creationist and founder of “Reasons to Believe”) are mistaken in their reading of the Fathers in aligning with their positions. Then, he goes into the meaning of “literal” in the early church and shows how the term cannot easily be unilaterally applied even to individuals.

Next, Allert surveys a few specific Fathers and topics to show how they read Genesis one. Basil of Caesarea (329-379) is one who is often taken to be a literalist, but Allert demonstrates that Basil’s reading of Genesis one, despite his argument about needing to read it as the “common reading” cannot be taken to insist upon a “literal” or young-earth reading of the text. Origen and Augustine are also prominent Fathers in the text, as the former is taken to be a prime example of an analogous or spiritualizing of the text (not always the case) and the latter is taken as an ally for both sides. There is an extended discussion on the “days” of Genesis one, which the fathers read quite differently than most anyone does today.

Early Christian Readings of Genesis One is an excellent look at the way Christians read Genesis one in the earliest periods. It helps dispel a number of incorrect views of the same, and lets readers read large portions of these early writings for themselves. It is a valuable resource.

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: “Living Wisely with the Church Fathers” by Christopher A. Hall

What kind of insight can we glean from the church fathers, anyway? That’s a question I’ve heard often and asked myself before I began to delve into the answers. Hall’s series on the fathers is a lengthy answer to that question.

The first logical question is about this book as a series. Is it possible to read this without reading the other books and gain insight? Yes, absolutely. I, in fact, did not read any of the other books in the series and didn’t even know it was one until I read the introduction. I imagine readers would gain more from reading the entire series, but would also say that it is perfectly acceptable to read just this one.

This book is about living with the fathers. Specifically, it is about how we ought to live in light of Christ. Chapters focus on martyrdom, wealth and poverty, war and military service, sex and the dynamics of desire, life as male and female/marriage, life and death, entertainment, and the well-ordered heart. An incredibly broad array of topics, to say the least.

Highlights of the book include the chapters on entertainment, wealth and poverty, and war and military service. Regarding the latter, it seems clear that “for hundreds of years, the ancient church opposed service in the military” (126). However, perspectives began to change later, specifically with Constantine and Augustine. Nevertheless, a strong commitment to pacifism in the church remained a lively option even to this day. Entertainment is a tough field to navigate, and though some seem to suggest that people today face worse challenges than ever before, it is clear that in Ancient Rome, with its debauchery and gladiatorial games, had much to deal with as well. The way the early church dealt with this, argues Hall, reveals a kind of threefold response to entertainment: “first, the intimate link between Roman entertainment and Roman religious life; second, specifically what was being offered as entertainment; and third, the effect of this entertainment on God’s image bearers…” (199). It is easy to see how this can be applied to entertainment today, though Hall doesn’t spend much time highlighting how the application might be transferred. Regarding wealth and poverty, Hall notes that the wealthy and poor were both early Christians, and even then too many Christians ignored the plight of the poor (61). What we do with our wealth shows the state of our heart. If there is something negative to be said about the book it is that at  times, it seems Hall may smuggle a few of his own theological perspectives into the positions of the church fathers, but these are few and far between.

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers is a broad look at the theology of the early church regarding the Christian life. Those interested in learning more about Christian living or historical theology should check it out.

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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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: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 6: Theistic Evolution and Historical Christian Doctrine

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on historical theology.

Historical Christian Doctrine

Gregg R. Allison’s chapter is entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with Historical Christian Doctrine.” As with the chapter on the New Testament and that on the Old Testament, this is a strong claim that requires the author not merely to demonstrate that TE has difficulty meshing with historical theology, but rather that the author show conclusively that such melding is impossible. After all, TE is supposed to not just be difficult to reconcile with historical Christian doctrine, but rather simply “incompatible” with it. As we will see, this claim is far too strong for Allison to carry.

The chapter begins with a rather strange assertion that, of anyone, church leaders cannot hold to TE because they are charged to root out false doctrine (927-928). Yet this is exactly what is at question, right? The question is whether TE is false doctrine; starting a chapter that purports to show this is the case by simply demanding church leaders drop TE because it is false doctrine is question begging from the start.

Remarkably, after a brief overview in which he claims to show that the early church held to ex nihilo creation, Allison then states that “Biblically, the silence of Scripture on how God created the heavens and the earth implied creation ex nihilo” (930). I was taken aback by reading this. Here, in the middle of a chapter with lofty enough goals to claim that TE is incompatible with historic Christian doctrine, we find that one of the key points in favor of a full on doctrine of creation ex nihilo os that Scripture is “silent” on it! Not only is this an argument from silence, but Allison words it as though no one could possibly disagree–the silence “implied” the doctrine he prefers. That’s quite convenient. Moreover, although plenty of TEs would and do affirm ex nihilo creation of the universe, Allison is of course trying to expand this to include, minimally, diversity of life. Yet he doesn’t actually show that, generally, historic thinkers would have agreed or even understood what was meant by such an application of ex nihilo creation. Indeed, that continues to be one of the biggest problems throughout this section and the two previous chapters–the authors simply assert that something is “historical” or make statements that entail ancient thinkers knew about things like the diversity of life (when manifestly they did not–hence the debates over whether fossils were actually vestiges of ancient creatures or not up through the 1600s and slightly beyond [1]).

I was equally surprised by the analysis of Aquinas’ thought regarding creation. I realize that Allison is an expert in church history and so perhaps was glossing here, but he seems to be conflating on the use of the term “creation” regarding Aquinas’ thought (and throughout the essay, in fact). That is, when Allison uses the word “creation,” he seems to take it to mean comprehensive ex nihilo creation of all things, without exception. However, he does not actually do the work to demonstrate that his meaning is the same as that of the historical figures he cites. More importantly, in some cases it seems to not be the meaning  of the original author. For Aquinas, Allison cites a passage that he says shows Aquinas did not give the power to create to any creatures. But of course, the use Aquinas is intending seems to be moving from nonbeing to being, whereas TEs and evolution in general would be movement from being to being, or as Aquinas’ own categories would seem to imply, the creatures are actualizing potency rather than pure act or moving from nonbeing to being. After all, if Allison’s reading of Aquinas here is correct, it would seem to imply that procreation is impossible. But surely Aquinas knew that creatures procreate! Thus, his meaning cannot entail that creatures have no power to move from potential to actual; instead, it is Allison’s rather idiosyncratic use of the word “create” here that he uses to govern what Aquinas could mean. Of course, what Aquinas means according to Allison would, perhaps, exclude TE. But again, though I haven’t read a huge amount of Aquinas and only a dozen or so books about his thought, I am fairly confident that his use of “create” in the passage Allison uses is not what Allison makes it out to be. Potency is exactly that which creatures do have in Aquinas’ thought, so creation in his thought is, yes, ex nihilo but also, no, not meaning that creatures’ forms can never change. After all, if they did, he could simply define that as part of the potency within the creature. And that is exactly what several prominent Thomists have done.[2]

The same use of the word “create” continues through the rest of Allison’s chapter. Time and again he takes “create” to mean something like the ex nihilo formation of all things which now exist (including diversity of species). Yet many, many studies have demonstrated this is not accurate (or, minimally, called into question Allison’s reading). John Walton, for example, has argued quite extensively that creation was a way of expressing order in cosmos. It would be surprising if none of the early church writers held to the same ANE expressions as the Bible in regards to some of this language. But Allison does not engage with these kinds of studies. He simply uses the word create, declares it is unanimously and unilaterally used to mean what he says it does, and moves on.

Allison’s study of pre-Adamite theory is more interesting, but even there he does not acknowledge the questions people have asked about, for example, who Cain was afraid of in the early chapters of Genesis if the only humans on the planet were those of his family group. Allison then goes on to cite many confessions of faith that do state things like having Adam and Eve as the physical predecessors of all humans. From my own Lutheran tradition, he cites Hollaz (though not the Lutheran Confessions) and a confession of the modern Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. I was raised LCMS but am now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and our confession does not parallel the LCMS. If nothing else, this shows that church doctrine is intended to change and meet new challenges. Alister McGrath has written extensively on this, but I think he has conclusively shown that yes, doctrine forms in response to new ideas. Evolution is one of those new ideas and the debates we are having now demonstrate McGrath’s point. Whether the church as a whole ever settles on this issue is beside the point: it is clear that new explorations of doctrine and new arguments are being made about an issue that had not before been on the horizion of intra-Christian discussion. This ought not to be seen as a concession of Allison’s point–that TE is incompatible with historical Christian doctrine. Indeed, at best he has shown that a selection of confessions of faith are incompatible with the belief that Adam and Eve had contemporaries.

In the next section, Allison asserts that TE is incompatible with specific doctrinal standards of the church. Whence he draws these apparently universal standards is not provided; they are simply asserted. For example, the first point is that TE “does not go far enough” in its affirmations on creation. According to whom? Allison, of course. The second point, that TE holds God didn’t intervene in the creation of life or diversity thereof is “in clear conflict with the church’s historical position” is alarming in that, again, he seems to completely miss the Thomistic possibility of final causation or ends in being, and many TEs from across the Christian spectrum have already done the work showing that a robust view of providence is quite possible on TE.

Finally, Allison briefly surveys a very few of the modern theologians who affirm some form of TE. Rather than seeing this as a rather broad-spectrum demonstration that many, many, many Christians from almost every faith tradition disagree with his analysis of church history, he simply dismisses them by saying that the “overwhelming consensus of church history still argues against following their lead in embracing some form of theistic evolution” (951). This kind of doctrinal hubris is more than a little alarming, but it also goes against the entire point of his whole chapter. If TEs can cite people as broadly based as C.S. Lewis, B.B. Warfield [though there is an appendix claiming Warfield was not TE], Tim Keller, John Stott, John Walton, Deborah Haarsma, Etienne Gilson, N.T. Wright, etc., etc. as advocates for their position, is that not a kind of consensus in its own right? Or at least enough of a challenge to it? Allison says no, of course, but must we?

Once more, we see a chapter fail to demonstrate its thesis. Far from showing TE is incompatible with historical church teaching, the most Allison has done is show that some selected confessions (even having to go so far as picking the  one stream of certain branches of Protestantism) would show that Adam and Eve must be the first humans. This is hardly the kind of broad spectrum consensus-based agreement against TE one would expect when the chapter purports to show incompatibility between positions. But that’s what readers have. Yet even in the analyses we do read, we find that it is Allison’s own use of the word “create” to unilaterally unite people as diverse as Aquinas and Francis Turretin in the same meaning without argument that dominates the conversation. Suffice to say, I, for one, remain unconvinced that  Allison has shown TE really is incompatible with historical Christian doctrine. Is there work to do? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean no work has been done or that it cannot be done.

[1] See the work of John Ray (1627-1705), for example, to see how the debate over the meaning of fossils. Some great readings can be found on this site (click individual links to read).

[2] One example would be Etienne Gilson, who did not consider himself as a Neo-Thomist, though he has been classified as Thomist in his thought. His work “From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again” is an example of just how easily a Thomist model would be compatible with evolution.

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

Source

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

SDG.

——

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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