Advertisements

historical theology

This tag is associated with 9 posts

Book Review: “Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages” edited by Kyle R. Greenwood

Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages is an invaluable resource to understanding the book of Genesis and creation. The book’s scope is impressive, encompassing not only Christian interpretations but also early Rabbinic interpretations, Second Temple Judaism, and the rediscovery of the Ancient Near East with its implications for understanding Genesis. The book is a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning about Genesis.

Each chapter in the book is full of valuable insights. Greenwood himself starts it off by tracing the impact of these creation accounts across the Old Testament. Michael Matlock’s chapter on Second Temple Jewish literature and Genesis 1 and 2 is fascinating, both for its providing a brief introduction to that body of literature and for insights into how later traditions would shape one’s reading of the text. Some Jewish interpreters (eg. Josephus) seemed comfortable expanding on the story themselves, adding whatever details they believed might add interest or even theological emphasis to the text. Of course that doesn’t undermine much careful attention to details of the texts that modern interpreters sometimes miss. Ira Brent Driggers’ chapter uses the intriguing word “appropriations” to describe the New Testament’s use of the Genesis account. Among other things of interest, this chapter leads readers to wonder exactly how NT authors used the Old Testament and what that may mean for our own interpretations. Early Rabbinic interpretation is the subject of Joel S. Allen’s chapter, in which he shows some of the ways post-destruction of the temple Judaism saw figures like Adam and Eve.

Stephen O. Presley’s chapter on the Ante-Nicene Fathers touches on a number of major early Christian thinkers and shows how the interpretation of Genesis continued to develop in sometimes divergent ways. C. Rebecca Rine’s entry on the Nicene and Post-Nicene interpretations shows how Scripture was seen as a pathway to transformation (121) and so a focus on application of the text led to some unique readings (such as creating a baseline for spiritual writings based on the 6-day pattern). Questions raised by these Nicene/Post-Nicene thinkers included wondering why days were in the narrative at all–something that some modern interpreters would be baffled by for all their own emphasis on the importance of the days. Medieval Jewish theology is the center of Jason Kalman’s chapter, which demonstrates the sometimes radical divergence Christian vs. Jewish readings of the same verses could have. Some of these readings included seeing that Genesis didn’t actually entail an order of creation whatsoever (157). Timothy Bellamah’s chapter provides the Christian Medieval contrast to the previous chapter, showing how much fruitful theology continued in this period, often dismissed. Aquinas, of course, is the giant of this era, and he gets some due attention here. The Protestant Reformers were interested in Genesis 1 and 2 in part for their own polemical purposes and in part as their project to go back to the source continued. Jennifer Powell McNutt draws from this rich Christian tradition to highlight various points of emphases by the Reformers.

Another important aspect of the book is the chapter on the Ancient Near East by David T. Tsumura. Because much of this knowledge was lost for a lengthy period of time, many interpretations of Genesis through the ages did not take into account the actual cultural milieu from which it sprang. The Protestant Reformers, for example, had no access to these materials, so their call to go ad fontes–to the source–could not actually complete the task. The interpretation of Genesis ought not to be considered a settled matter from the Reformation to today, and even allegedly literal readings of Genesis owe as much to modern discoveries as to the texts themselves. Aaron T. Smith’s chapter on Post-Darwinian interpretations shows both how yes, in some ways evolution impacted readings of Genesis, but in others it caused a true pursuit of going back to the beginning. Cosmology is central to debates over how Genesis is to be read.

If it hasn’t already become clear, it should be stated plainly that this book is an absolute treasure trove of information, with many, many strands of further research to be pursued upon its completion. Each chapter is worthy of inclusion, and each is well-written and as intriguing as the next. That in itself is an achievement because the book is consistently engrossing.

I very highly recommend Since the Beginning to you, readers. It’s a book that will have you thinking about your own reading of the text, and may even give you insight into where that reading may have its origins.

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.

Advertisements

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.

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: “Introduction to World Christian History” by Derek Cooper

iwch-cooperDerek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History provides a look at the development of Christianity across the world. It is a broad introduction to Christianity around the globe.

The book is formatted both by space and time. That is, sections on each general area (i.e. Asia) are traced for a specific time period (i.e. First through Seventh Centuries). Thus, readers looking to have a reference to work from need not look much farther than this book. Other readers, who may simply be interested in the broad development of world Christianity will not be disappointed either. Cooper does an excellent job showing the ebb and flow of Christianity’s spread across vast regions of time and place. Individual stories of prominent Christians are told in historical context to highlight specific periods or ideas. These individual stories accompany a broader narrative that is delivered in a readable, engaging style.

What makes the book particularly excellent is the way it provides all levels of readers with more to explore. It is an introductory text, for sure, but the notes are excellent and the topics explored are so broad that even readers with serious knowledge of Christian history will find more to explore. It is such a vast topic that no one can grasp each area, and Cooper gives glimpses into history that entice, like stained glass windows, much study.

The only real downside here is unavoidable: with so much material covered, it is impossible to get a complete picture of any one topic. Readers must go beyond this introduction. But again, kudos to Cooper for making readers want to do so with such a rich narrative style.

Introduction to World Christian History is the kind of book that will broaden readers minds in a number of ways. From those merely interested in a specific region to those who want to know just how we got to where we are, the book has broad appeal. Cooper’s style makes it extremely accessible for any level of reader, with plenty to tantalize more advanced readers as well. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Fantastic overview covering large swathes of time and space
+Provides readers with broader understanding of Christianity
+Written in an interesting, readable style

The Bad

-Extremely brief on many interesting points

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide 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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy 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.

Sunday Quote!- Why invite sinners?

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Why Invite Sinners?

Origen is one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Christianity. In one of his works, Contra Celsum (available in an excellent Kindle edition of his works), he replies to the skeptic, Celsus, who charged Christians with effectively dismissing sin and inviting the unrighteous into Christianity instead of the righteous. Origen replied in Book III, Chapter LXI:

Not to participate in mysteries, then, and to fellowship in the wisdom hidden in a mystery, which God ordained before the world to the glory of His saints, do we invite the wicked, and the thief, and the housebreaker, and the prisoner, and the committer of sacrilege, and the plunderer of the dead, and all those others whom Celsus may enumerate in his exaggerating style, but such as these we invite to be healed.

Origen’s point is that Christianity is a religion that does call sinners of all varieties, but it does not call them to a kind of “free pass”- it calls them to the healing that can only be had through the washing by the Lord Jesus Christ.

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 Christian Music– I wrote a post about the label “Christian music” and how that can lead to a number of difficulties with discernment.

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A Reflection and Response– I reflect in depth on how we can use our discernment properly when it comes to music.

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

Constantine’s Faith and the Myth of “Constantine’s Takeover”

Constantine-1There is a narrative within some branches of Christianity (and some… “offshoots”) regarding church history. It is a narrative in which Constantine is seen as the great evil (whether intentionally or not) which corrupted Christianity. The narrative basically goes like this: Constantine rose to power, then everything went wrong in Christianity. He made Christianity the state religion, which introduced scores of nominal Christians into the church. He made service in the church a well-paying position, which corrupted the office of the ministry. He himself was probably not even a Christian!

So the story goes. Is it accurate?

From Narrative to History

The question of Constantine is one of history. Too often, people have subjected Constantine to psychoanalysis, analyzing an ancient historical figure’s mental state to determine his motives. Historical study may indeed speculate about such things, but to suggest, as some do, that one may uncover some nefarious ancient plot to take over Christianity and lead it into heresy is to engage in writing historical fiction. So what may we actually learn from the historical accounts? Peter Leithart’s work, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom directly addresses this question to pursue the “real” Constantine.

Leithart notes that it seems clear that Constantine actually paid much deference to Christianity (Leithart, 93; 121ff; 128-129; 326-328, etc., cite below). He was keen to prevent major divisions within the Church which could have resulted, for example, from the Arian controversy. Hence, he called a council at Nicaea which would define Christian orthodoxy for centuries to come. Constantine himself likely favored the view of Arius, but when the Nicene Council ultimately came against Arianism, Constantine submitted to the defining of orthodoxy.

Constantine’s life appears to be one not of a plot to take Christianity over for political gain, but rather as a life lived struggling with newfound faith and attempting to integrate that faith into public policy. Alister McGrath notes that Constantine’s faith led him to legalize Christianity and sanction it, with some interesting and perhaps unforeseen side-effects:

The new imperial status of Christianity meant that its unity and polity were now matters of significance to the state. (McGrath, 139, cited below)

The much-discussed question of why, if Constatine’s faith were genuine, he would have waited until his deathbed to get baptized is easily answered by his belief that he should wait until the last possible moment to gain the purifying from sins which baptism would provide (Leithart, 299-300).

Frankly, the more one reads about Constantine, the more difficult it becomes to imagine him as someone whose faith was not genuine. Like any Christian, he had his faults–he was a sinner-saint–but he also worked through his position to try to spread and unite Christianity. Leithart notes that many of Constantine’s laws were “more often Christian in effect than in intent” (304). What he means by this is that many laws he made spring from a Christian worldview, though not being explicitly Christian themselves. For example, he outlawed gladiator shows–hardly something which can be said to be explicitly Christian–and this demonstrated Constantine’s genuine concern for human life and the “image of God” in humanity which was noted in yet another law he made (303-304).

In another work, a collection of essays on  Apologetics in the Roman EmpireMark Edwards, having traced various lines of thought in Oration to the Saints (and arguing that it was a work by Constantine), notes:

[The work] reveals an emperor who was able to give more substance to his faith than many clerics, and an apologist whose breadth of view and fertile innovations make it possible to mark him with the more eminent theologians of his age (275).

It’s time to set aside the notion that Constantine was somehow “faking it.”

dc-leithartConstantine’s Takeover?

The “narrative” of Constantine has, unfortunately, often dipped into the notion that he was indeed a Pagan who overthrew traditional Christianity and condemned Christianity to political power-plays for centuries after his death. This notion simply does not line up with historical reality. Although Constantine’s enriching of the church’s coffers did lead to church positions becoming a political gain, it also provided a counter-balance to Imperial authority (Leithart, 304).

Moreover, Leithart argues that the notion that Constantine himself brought about so many wrongs to the church is historically fictitious: “[T]here was a brief, ambiguous ‘Constantinian moment’ in the early fourth century, and there have been many tragic ‘Constantinian moments’ since. There was no permanent, epochal ‘Constantinian shift'” (287). Indeed, the notion of church and state was something found seeded in Augustine’s writings (286) and although Constantine did bring about some monumental changes, the effects they had could only take place over vast amounts of time. It would be impossible to argue that the Catholic Church of the Medieval Period was directly the same or even the exact result of Constantine’s policy.

Finally, Constantine’s policies and actions “Baptized Rome” (Leithart, 301ff). He built churches, empowered bishops, called for unity, and deferred to church teaching. His laws, as noted above, were rooted in a genuinely Christian worldview and sprung from faith.


Conclusion: Defending Constantine

Was Constantine a perfect human? Obviously not. But was Constantine a Pagan who dramatically undermined Christianity; was he a usurper of the Church’s authority who did incalculable damage to Christianity? It does not seem so. Whatever your views on the matters, one must contend with strong historical evidence for the genuineness of Constantine’s faith.  His policies indeed may have (and at points certainly did) damage the church, but was that his intent? Again, psychoanalysis of ancient figures is dubious, but the actions Constantine took were those of someone with genuine concern for the stability of Christianity. Most telling, perhaps, were his actions that were not explicitly stamped with Christianity but reflective of his background beliefs: by seeking to end violence, help alleviate poverty, and the like, he demonstrated his faith.

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!

Sources

Peter Leithart, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

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.

Sunday Quote: Do we need to agree with past thinkers?

readinggenesis1-2-CharlesEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Do we need to agree with past thinkers?

I recently read through Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversationwhich has given me a lot to reflect upon. One quote that struck me was from Jud Davis:

A beloved teacher once said, “If you cannot find at least one ancient, one medieval, and one modern commentator who shares your view, it probably means you are wrong.” Over the years, I have thought long and hard about this statement, and I believe it is exactly right because if you could not find such examples, you would be forced to say, “Everyone before missed it until me.” (215)

I thought this was an interesting quote because it says much about how one approaches theological issues. First, there is some concern regarding this passage for me because it seems that some truths are indeed missed by everyone until someone discovers (or rediscovers) them. Second, there is a real concern for whether one innovates in doctrine and thus becomes a heretic. That is, innovation in theology is often divergence from established truths. These established truths are often established exactly because they follow from the text. Thus, an innovation which says, for example, that Jesus is not God is rightly denounced as heretical.

Based upon these conflicting concerns, I think it is permissible to say there is some tension within the practice of historical theology and exegesis. We must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of either ignoring the voices of the past or being too cautious to reconsider the evidence for certain positions. Going to either extreme would be dangerous. The most prominent danger, in my opinion, is the danger of using a passage like this to squelch debate or exploration. Ultimately, the text is the arbiter of truth, not established interpretations. If someone comes up with a “new” look at a text, it is important to consider it on its own terms rather than reject it because it is new. The weight of unanimity in the past should be seen to increase the standard of proof for those who disagree, but it should not be used to silence those who seek truth.

What are your thoughts on the balance between historical scholarship and new interpretations?

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!

Source

Jud Davis, “Unresolved Major Questions: Evangelicals and Genesis1-2” in Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation edited J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).

“The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus” by Adam English – A Seasonably Appropriate Book Review

swsc-english

In the quest for the real Santa Claus, what is discovered more often than not is that he can assume any shape. He can accommodate anyone… (191)

There are many discussions floating around about the “real” Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas. I have a bit of a side interest in the topic because I was never a believer in Santa Claus and so I’ve always been interested in the reality behind the myth. So, when I received The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus
for Christmas last year, I was excited to dive in for the season this year

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work is English’s discussion of the historiographical difficulties related to unearthing the historical Nicholas of Myra. The difficulty with discovering the “real Santa Claus”–Saint Nicholas–is compounded by the fact that Nicholas of Myra (the Nicholas in question) is often confused with Nicholas of Sion (10; 80; 120; 174). Historical accounts of the life of Nicholas have often conflated these two persons, which means historians must extract them from each other in order to make an account of either. English confronts the possibility that Nicholas did not exist–a possibility put forth by some scholars, in fact–head-on by noting the multiple, independent sources for his life. Although Nicholas did not leave behind a legacy of his own writings, the extant evidence, argues English, is enough to acknowledge his existence as well as a historical core of stories about his life (11ff).

English does a great job of reflecting upon the apparently historical narrative while also drawing out the legends and apologetic tales which grew up around the narratives. Throughout the book, he reports a number of stories related to the life of Nicholas of Myra. He reports these stories seemingly in order of legendary development. For example, the famous story of Nicholas’ gift of gold to three women in need (about to be sold into prostitution) received more embellishment as time went on (57ff). However, English does not always do a great job of making the distinctions clear when these various types of tales are discussed. Part of this is probably due to the historiographical difficulties noted above, but it would have been nice for English to at least offer his opinion regarding the stories he related as to which he felt might be accurate as opposed to inaccurate. At some points he does, but at others he simply offers a series of increasingly surprising accounts without any commentary as to the possible historicity of the accounts.

A central part of the work focuses upon the council of Nicaea and the famous incident of Nicholas’ alleged slapping or punching of Arius or a different heretic (Arian) at the event. English argues that it is unlikely that it would have been Arius, because Arius was not a bishop and so likely would not have been present at the council itself  (101-107). Moreover, English believes that a different story, in which Nicholas reasons with an avowed Arian to change his view, is more likely the historical background for the story (107-109). Nicholas’ own place at the council is disputed, but his orthodoxy is acknowledged by all his biographers, and it is likely that he defended the orthodox position at the council itself (107ff).

Apart from his participation at Nicaea, Nicholas also, of course, performed the basic functions of a bishop, which at his time included helping to resolve issues in Myra and the surrounding area (115ff). He helped with the struggle against pagan belief and practice, and at this point some of the stories and legends of Nicholas of Sion were often intermixed with those stories of Nicholas of Myra (120-125).

English’s work also draws out the way that Nicholas of Myra has been adapted for multiple purposes and occasions. Whether this is through the adaptation of his apparently real, historical life to various theological discussions (including Aquinas) or legends which were developed to supplement his legacy and individual viewpoints, Nicholas’ story continues to have widespread appeal.

The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus is an interesting read on a compelling man. Perhaps the most interesting part is the frequent fusion of myth and legend with the historical account. Those interested in the life of the “real Santa Claus” should immediately grab the book for their collection.

Links/Source

Adam English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told– I wrote about the interplay between myth and reality in the stories about Nicholas. I wrote about how the myth of Nicholas actually bolsters the Christian worldview by pointing toward our longing for the ideal.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook 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.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 4: “Does God Get what God Wants?”

Chapter 4

Outline

Bell starts the chapter by surveying a number of statements from church’s web sites regarding hell. These statements range from the unsaved being separated from God forever to eternal conscious torment. He seems to be pointing readers towards a kind of discontinuity between these statements and the statements about God’s power and love:

I point out these parallel claims: that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that millions of people will spend forever apart from this God… even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4- seems to be NIV]

…How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do… but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great. (97-98)

Bell asks a poignant question: “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” (98). He then goes through a number of verses focused around God’s love. He notes the parables in Luke 15 about people pursuing their desires and concludes, “The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever” (101).

Bell turns to the reason that many people think God may fail in his desire to save everyone. From the perspective of those who advocate the views he outlined at the beginning of the chapter, “love, by its very nature, is freedom… God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end” (103). However, Bell argues that “We aren’t fixed, static beings–we change and morph as life unfolds.”

Tied into this notion of the unfixed nature of our lives, he seems to hold that it is possible that people can choose to come to Christ after they die. He asks, “why limit that chance [the chance to come to Christ] to a one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities… [The chance is given for] as long as it takes, in other words” (106-107).

Bell then traces this notion through Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius. He goes so far as to cite Augustine saying “‘very many’ believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God” (108).

He argues that “central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory” (ibid). Moreover, he argues that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). He notes that “serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions [about hell and salvation] in a number of ways” (ibid).

Next, Bell turns to an analysis of the book of Revelation. he notes that the book ends with notion that the gates of the city “never shut” and infers that “gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (114-115).

Bell ends the chapter with what seems like a poetic inference. He goes into prose and concludes that: “[Love] always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (119).

Analysis

There is much to discuss in this chapter. First, it is important to note that Bell has done much to cause reflection upon the subject of hell. It is something that we as a group of believers need to be thinking on. Too often, the subject is cast aside. Bell has done admirably in bringing the topic to the table.

Moreover, Bell is correct to note that confusion can be caused by simply throwing statements on hell “out there” in a void. It is important to contextualize statements about heaven and hell and make clear what is meant by the phrases that are used in the discussion.

Bell seemingly just assumes that there will be more chances to “accept Christ” in the afterlife. His discussion of the possibility of people changing after death implies this perspective, but he has done nothing to establish it. Perhaps he will do so in a later chapter, at which point we will evaluate his argument for that perspective. Indeed, thus far his argument seems to be a kind of straw man: he asserts the notion that people are changeable beings even in the afterlife as a counterpoint to those who hold that people will continue to choose evil in the hereafter as though this choice is the reason people hold to the eternal hell view. Yet this is not the case; many who hold this position do argue that people will continue to choose evil, but the reason that people are condemned to hell is because they rejected the God, whose existence and power are obvious (Romans 1) in their lives. No one has an excuse (Romans 1:20).

Bell’s utilization of church fathers is problematic. I can’t help but think there is a subtle twisting of some of their views to fit his position. In particular, he cites Augustine as “acknowledging” that “very many” believed in “ultimate reconciliation of all people” (107-108). Yet Augustine himself categorically denies and denounces this position. In fact, almost the entirety of Book XXI of The City of God argues explicitly against this tradition, including Augustine’s arguments against Origen, whom Bell cites in the same breath as Augustine. I hope Bell was merely being sloppy here, but the impression I get is really that the uninformed reader would see this and assume that Augustine is at least in the same realm as Origen, which is very, very mistaken.

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but let’s look what Augustine says (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

So we see that Augustine, far from being anywhere near Origen’s view on the topic, endorses the Church’s condemnation of Origen as a heretic in this regard. Yet where does Bell reveal this? Where does Bell interact with historical theology? No, he seems perfectly content to throw out a bunch of names out of context together and let readers make their own assumptions. I realize this is a popular level book, but I can’t help but be very worried about Bell’s style here. It is very misleading. Maybe he does note later in the book that Origen was condemned as a heretic for this view, and that Augustine endorses this condemnation, but considering Bell seemingly endorses Origen’s view, I very much doubt that he will reveal that it was condemned by the Church.

More damning is the fact that Bell is able to, seemingly seriously, say that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). I admit that I agree in one sense–there have been many universalists throughout church history. However, that view was condemned as heretical. Augustine upholds that condemnation in The City of God. One can hardly believe that Bell is capable of saying that this view is “At the center of the Christian tradition.” No, the church at large does not condemn this view as specifically heretical; but Bell is placing the view in a context in which it was condemned as heresy and then saying that it was the “center” of that tradition. That is  a stretch, to say the least.

Here again we see one of Bell’s biggest methodological problems: he simply introduces a notion, argues that there are diverse views, and then assumes that they are all equally legitimate. but this is simply mistaken. Multiplication of viewpoints does not mean they are equally valid. Furthermore, Bell’s lack of interaction with historical theology on this point, when he himself is the one who introduces several of the church fathers, is questionable at best. Moreover, he says these teachers were “orthodox” when in fact Origen specifically was far from orthodox in his beliefs, as even a cursory study of Origen would reveal. Origen lived at a time before certain views were made explicit, yes, so he in a sense gets a pass in that his theology was intentionally exploratory. However, many of his views were later condemned, including the one Bell endorses. For Bell to turn around and use Origen to support his diversity of orthodox views on the topic is seemingly dishonest.

Moreover, one must wonder about Bell’s analysis of the meaning of the gates of heaven as open. Instead of looking at this passage in context, in which the notion of a city with open gates would imply a city unthreatened by outsiders because all enemies were defeated (which fits much better into the book of Revelation), Bell states explicitly “If gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (115). Think on this for a moment. What Bell has stated here undermines the notion of security of salvation. Now I do not hold to the doctrine of eternal security; however, I do affirm that once people are saved and in the New Creation in heaven, they are not about to change their status. They aren’t “going” anywhere. Bell’s view here undermines the assurance of salvation. His view of “love winning” also serves to illustrate this point, for if there is “always room for the other to decide” we must ask: is there always room to choose hell? Can “love win” by letting us walk away from the eternal salvation we are promised in Christ?*

Conclusion

I admit I have been highly critical in this chapter. I have tried throughout so far to find positive things to say about Bell’s work, and as I noted, Bell does well in this chapter to center discussion around the hard questions.

However, there are numerous problems with Bell’s work in this chapter. His use of the church fathers is highly problematic. I won’t rehearse the arguments again (see above). Oddly, his view also seems to imply that we have absolute autonomy and the ability to simply walk out of heaven whenever we wish. That in itself is another great difficulty, for it undermines the assurance of salvation we have in Christ: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Bell continues to use the method of argumentation in which he simply notes diverse views on a topic and concludes that all are somehow equally at the table or equally valid.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

*My thanks to my wife for this point.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

“Cross Roads” by Wm. Paul Young- An Evangelical’s Perspective

cross roadsOne of the biggest publishing phenomena of late, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young generated discussion among people all over the world, selling over 18 million copies. I have discussed that book elsewhere, and now I turn to Cross Roads, Young’s recently released novel. Please note that this will not be a review and I will not provide a summary of the plot. Instead, I am exploring the theological and philosophical themes that Young raises throughout Cross Roads. There will be Spoilers ahead.

Free Will

The notion of crossroads is a major theme throughout the work, and Young utilizes the imagery to discuss free will metaphorically. Anthony Spencer (Tony), the main character, finds himself inside his mind, which is portrayed as a kind of land with various roads and places inside it. Initially, he begins exploring this land and finds himself coming to numerous forks in the road. He continues to find these forks and realizes that as he continues to make choices, “it occurred to Tony that the number of direction decisions was diminishing; options were significantly decreasing” (35). Young doesn’t expand on this much, but it seems like a vivid illustration of libertarian free will, wherein one’s choices in the past do indeed influence their choices in the future. As Tony makes choices on his path, he finds that the choices available to him decrease. The reason, it seems, is because his choices have started to form his world. It seems to me that this is a great way to show libertarian free will in literature.

Church

A robust theology of church and salvation is something that I think is necessary for an adequate theology. I find one reason for this illustrated well by Young:

Church, thought Tony. He hadn’t set foot inside one of those since his last foster family had been religious. He and Jake [Tony’s brother] had been required to sit silently for what seemed like hours… He smiled to himself, remembering how he and Jake had schemed together and ‘gone forward’ one night at church, thinking it would win them points with the family, which it did. The attention their conversions garnered was initially rewarding, but it soon became clear that ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ dramatically increased expectations for strict obedience to a host of rules they hadn’t anticipated. He soon became a ‘backslider,’ in a category, he discovered, that was profoundly worse than being pagan in the first place. (124)

It seems clear to me that here the act of conversion has itself become a work, rather than a gift of grace. Tony’s concept of conversion at this point in the book is that of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Unsurprisingly, when he fails to perform other adequate works–obeying a set of rules. The problem with this theology should become clear immediately. By suggesting that Christianity is about “going forward” and publicly affirming a faith, this form of theology puts the believer in the position of affirming faith, rather than receiving it as a gift. When faith becomes a public work, it becomes the Law instead of the Gospel. When demands for works are made on faith, then faith itself becomes a work. Unfortunately, this kind of works-righteousness sneaks into theology at all levels, ever seeking a place to grow.

The problems with this theology are portrayed vividly in this illustration. The notion that people need to make a public declaration of faith leads to its abuse, as Tony and Jake attempted to do, but it also leads to difficulties for those who believe their declaration was itself true (unlike Tony and Jake, who simply did it to glorify themselves in the eyes of their foster parents). When someone makes their “decision for Christ,”  their faith life becomes wrapped up in that decision. Their walk with God is contingent upon their continuing to make this decision. Unfortunately, this type of theology makes faith all about one’s own decisions, rather than Christ’s justification and the free gift of faith.

Women

There are many church bodies who do not ordain women to the office of the ministry. That is, they hold beliefs that say women should not be spiritual leaders of men in the church. Young explores this issue when Pastor Skor shows up and challenges Maggie, one of the main characters, regarding her outburst during a church service.  Pastor Skor takes Maggie’s outburst and disruptive behavior as a clue to him from God that he has been too lax in his instructing his congregation in the Bible. He makes an argument that women should not be leaders in church and should remain silent:

And we affirm the Word, which declares there is no longer male or female [Galatians 3:28], but… the Word is speaking of how God sees us, not about how we function in the church, and we must always remember that God is a God of order. It is vital that each person play their part, and as long as they stay within the roles that God has mandated, the church functions as it was meant to… (167)

The pastor goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to support his position. Yet Young, through Clarence, an elder who is with the pastor to talk with Maggie, provides a counter-argument to this reasoning:

It is sarcasm… I believe that the apostle Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote what you read… He is quoting a letter that these folk sent him with questions, and he is in total disagreement with what they have written to him. (168-169)

Clarence defends this position by alluding to 1 Corinthians 14:36, apparently using the KJV: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Given the way this verse is worded, Clarence holds that verses 34-35 are a quote from a letter the Corinthians sent to Paul which Paul then responds to sarcastically by wondering whether the Corinthians think that God’s word came only to them.

Young’s offered interpretation seems possible, but perhaps not made explicit enough. It seems to me possible that Paul would have made it more clear that he was quoting another’s writing here. The KJV seems to support the interpretation given to 1 Cor 14:36 here, but other translations phrase it differently, in such a way that the verse seems to be more of a challenge to readers to dismiss what Paul is declaring in 34-35.

Of course, one could still argue that Young’s interpretation has great strength, noting that nowhere in the Bible do we see this command in the Scripture “as the law also says” and so we may infer that Paul is referencing an extra-biblical teaching and rebutting it. In fact, this seems to line up with Young’s argument perfectly because we can see that Paul would be citing a Judaizer’s teaching in the church in Corinth–who would hold that the silence of women is taught by the Law [Jewish extra-biblical law]–and then refuting this by noting that the word of God did not come from them alone (see Katharine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women for an extended look at this argument). It seems to me that this does have some significant strength, thus empowering Young’s argument.

Therefore, it seems to me that Young offers a fairly decent egalitarian interpretation of the passage, though he could have given other arguments which would take into account the passage’s cultural context, in which women were speaking out of turn in worship. The core of the statement seems to me to be that the women in this specific context needed to learn from their husbands at home and remain silent in church so that they did not cause disruption.

The way the scenario plays out in the book is also difficult to evaluate because Maggie definitely was disrupting the church service and would have appeared at least slightly crazy to those around her. She was screaming about a demon speaking to her and was, in fact, mistaken about that. I think she can be forgiven for her extreme reaction given the strange situation in which she found herself, but the Corinthians passage is in context all about order in worship in general, and certainly people bursting in screaming about demons would be disorderly worship.

Thus, it seems to me that Young offers a possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he has made his case problematic by the narrative context in which he placed it. It is worth noting that this work will get people talking about the issue. Young has given a somewhat strong version of a lengthy egalitarian argument in the form of narrative.

Practical Ethics and Disability

Cabby, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, is featured prominently throughout the book. Young uses him as a foil to show that those with disabilities have much to contribute to modern society. Perhaps the most poignant way he does this is through the negative portrayal of Tony’s view of Cabby:

Tony had never known a ‘retarded’ person. He wasn’t sure if that is what you called them… His opinions on most nonbusiness matters may not have been founded on evidence or experience, but he was sure of them. People like Cabby were an  unproductive drain on the resources of society; they were valuable only to their families. He believed they were tolerated because of liberal persuasions, not because such people had any intrinsic worth… It is easy to create a category of persons, like retarded or handicapped, and then pass judgment on the group as a whole. He wondered if that was not the heart of all prejudice. (108-109)

In contrast to Tony’s view, Cabby turns out to be insightful and delightful. He is shown to have positive value in a number of ways that go beyond his immediate family. He ultimately shows the practical usefulness of inherent human worth.

God 

For Young, understanding God as relationship is central to the concept of deity. The concept of deity that is presented is that of Trinity. Much ink will be spilled, I feel certain, on whether or not Young portrays the persons of the Trinity correctly, just as there was in The Shack (see my own discussion here).

Young’s position seems to be largely unchanged from that in The Shack, and so much of the commentary will follow the same line. I think he does a very good job of exploring the inter-relational character of God and the temporal submission of Christ in the incarnation to God the Father. Some may see the primary difficulty with Young’s portrayal of God is that the Father makes very little appearance in the book, but near the end readers find out that is not the case. In fact, the Father is intricately involved in all aspects of God and the life portrayed in the novel.

Those who conceptualize God as inherently male will have a problem with the book, however. Unfortunately, some paganism has indeed hung on in the church, wherein some view God as a gendered being. In the Bible, however, we find that God is spirit and not a man. Thus, I think that Young’s use of gender with God may shock some but also underscores the fact that God is not a gendered being, and instead transcendent.

Historical Theology

Young offers a short discussion of historical theology and God that seems to me to at least partially miss the mark. It is very brief, but I think it is worth discussing. Young puts the following commentary in the mouth of Jesus himself:

The Greeks, with their love for isolation [of deity] influence Augustine and later Aquinas… and a nonrelational religious Christianity is born. Along come the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, who do their best to send the Greeks back outside the Holy of Holies, but they are barely in the grave before the Greeks are resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion. The tenacity of bad ideas is rather remarkable, don’t you think? (73)

There are a number of problems with this small passage. First, Augustine heavily influenced both Calvin and Luther. In fact, Calvin’s theology is tied very intricately to Augustine’s view of free will and original sin. Similarly, Luther’s view of original sin derives directly from Augustine’s exposition in City of God. Second, it seems unfair to view Aquinas as a kind of anti-relationalist when it comes to God’s nature. Aquinas very much emphasized the triunity of God, which was (and is!) an extremely important topic. To thus accuse Aquinas of undermining God’s relational-ness seems unfair. Finally, the notion that the influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity is somehow inherently bad seems a bit shortsighted. There are innumerable positive contributions that reflection on Greek thought has brought into the fold of Christianity. Among these are the very concept of free will that Young pushes in his book, along with a number of aspects of Trinitarian and Incarnational theology that Young seems to support. This may seem to be a nitpick, but it seems to me that if Young is going to use his book to make comments about historical theology, it is vastly important to get that historical development right.

Conclusion

Cross Roads is another thought-provoking work by Young. Those who read it will be forced to think about all the topics on which it touches, regardless of whether they agree with Young’s conclusions or not. As with The Shackthis book will almost certainly be widely read. Those who are interested in Christian theology and apologetics should consider the book a must-read simply for its cultural relevance. Ultimately, Young has authored another fictional work that will inspire conversations about theology on a wide scale.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

Advertisements

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,546 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
Advertisements