J.W. Wartick

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Book Review: “Signposts to God” by Peter Bussey

stg-busseySignposts to God by Peter Bussey is an introductory apologetics book written by a particle physicist. It surveys specifically the fields of physics and astronomy to argue that these fields “point the way to belief.”

The first question–and a fair one–that needs to be asked about this book is this: “Why another introductory apologetics book?” There are so many introductory books on the market at this point that it seems kind of pointless to have another one. But seeing Signposts to God as merely an introductory apologetics book would be to do it injustice. Unlike some of the better known works in this area, Bussey’s work is not merely a series of the most popular arguments for theism with an argument for the resurrection thrown in point to Christianity. Bussey’s approach features a rather robust look at modern physics and astronomy before diving into two primary arguments: the argument from cosmological design (teleological argument) and the argument from first cause (cosmological argument). Thus, Bussey’s book has a narrower focus than many introductory books, which means that it ultimately gives readers a better working knowledge of the lofty topics it contains.

Bussey’s intriguing approach of introducing readers to some basics of astronomy and physics before diving in means that readers will be better able to articulate their own beliefs while also interacting with criticisms more easily. There’s a great difficulty in apologetics-circles, I think, of people thinking that reading one book will be enough to make them an expert and able to answer every argument ever put forward against Christianity. This is definitely not the case, and Bussey’s humble approach speaks volumes to this.

Illustrative of Bussey’s approach is his brief mention of the biological design argument (often referred to as Intelligent Design or something similar). He notes that it can be intuitively clear that a natural path to some feature seems impossible, but that time and again such intuitions seem  to be proven wrong. Thus, he doesn’t outright reject such forms of apologetics, but rather urges a word of caution when trying to use one specific feature of one specific creature to point to a designer. Moreover, he ties this thought back into the argument he does make from the design of the universe as a whole to show that the latter does not face the same possibly mistaken conclusions.

The man problem with the book, I think, is that there are no charts or graphics to speak of. While certainly not a requirement, they would have been helpful in explaining some of the concepts Bussey is trying to introduce. Of course, I suspect not having so many graphics was a conscious choice on the part of the author to prevent readers from being distracted or misled by such illustrations. Nonetheless, I thought it was worth mentioning.

It’s hard not to say that Signposts to God feels in some ways like just another introductory apologetics book. However, the distinctives that have been noted above help to set it apart from the pack as a fresh take on some of the questions that have been asked many times. Readers looking for a fairly scientific approach to apologetics by an expert in a relevant field ought to immediately grab it.

The Good

+Separates from a crowded field through a narrow focus
+Written by expert in relevant fields
+Provides ways forward for exploration

The Bad

-Could use some charts/graphics to help break it up

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated 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.

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Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers: Reformation 500

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_Bread2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers

Luther himself wrote on perspicuity in no uncertain terms:

[T]hat in Scripture there are some things abstruse, and everything is not plain–this is an idea put about by the ungodly Sophists… I admit… that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of al the subject matter of Scripture. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 110, cited below)

So far as I know, Luther did not change his stance on the perspicuity of Scripture. As the Reformation continued, however, it became clear that such a stance might not be appropriate regarding the entirety of every declaration of Scripture. Lutheran reformers qualified perspicuity, noting that it applied only to that which pertains to salvation.[1] Heinrich Schmid, in his Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (translated 1875) compiles quotations from the major early Lutheran reformers to outline what Lutherans taught. Regarding perspicuity, Schmid notes:

If the Sacred Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures… But whilst such perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contianed in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them… it is also not maintained that the Sacred Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites [such as the language, maturity of judgment, unprejudiced mind, etc.].(Schmid, 87-88, emphasis his)

Schmid’s summary of Lutheran doctrine in the Reformation period sounds different from what Luther taught in The Bondage of the Will, but he shows from direct citations that this is the direction Lutherans moved in regarding perspicuity. To whit, Gerhard:

It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood… (quoted in Schmid, 89)

Quenstedt:

We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are very obscure… not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit… (ibid, 90, Quenstedt goes on to deny that there are doctrines that are so obscure that they “can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly”)

Hollaz:

The perspicuity of Scripture is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed… (ibid, 91)

The whole section clarifies and explains the earliest Lutheran teaching regarding perspicuity of Scriptures, and it is clear that it is acknowledged that not every single text is plain, that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is required to understand Scripture rightly, and that plain passage of Scripture are to be used to interpret those which seem obscure.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this shift in perspective on perspicuity happened due to the very real differences on some major doctrines within the Protestant movement itself. If every single statement the Scriptures made about  doctrine were so clear, how could such divisions exist within a movement that was upholding sola scriptura? The answer was that perspicuity applied to that which is essential for salvation, and that shift in perspective can be observed in the writings of the Lutherans listed here.

What applications might this have? The first is that the many attempts by Christians to argue for their own doctrinal perspectives simply by appealing to the perspicuity of Scriptures fails. To argue that someone else denies perspicuity of Scripture because they disagree on certain doctrinal positions is an abuse of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scriptures. It also shows an incapacity to show one’s own point clearly from the Scriptures themselves. A second application is that it acknowledges some of the difficulty in understanding Scripture rightly.

The doctrine of perspicuity is a major aspect of Reformation theology. It should not, however, be over-generalized and abused in the way that it has, unfortunately, often been used.

[1] In researching this post, I noticed that the Wikipedia page on the clarity of Scripture has been edited to suggest without qualification that all Lutherans hold to the notion that “Lutherans hold that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly. God’s Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.” The citations provided to show that all Lutherans hold to this teaching are not to any of the early Lutheran reformers, nor are they citations of the Book of Concord; rather, they are references to two sources published by a publishing house of one form of American Lutherans. These sources are from 1934 and 1910, respectively, and not in the Reformation period nor do they, so far as I can tell, speak for all Lutherans. Given the evidence cited above from Quenstedt, Gerhard, and the like, I find it hard to believe such a claim could be substantiated.

Sources

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation edited by Rupp and Watson (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969).

Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

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.

Book Review: “The Message of Spiritual Warfare” by Keith Ferdinando

msw-ferdinandoThe Message of Spiritual Warfare by Keith Ferdinando is an exploration of spiritual warfare throughout the Bible. The topic immediately conjures sensational images to mind of demons vying with pitchforks against a frightened mob. Searching the book’s title brings up all sorts of strange books on the topic promising to teach Christians the exact method for fighting their inner and outer demons. In other words, Ferdinando has plunged into a topic that, if he were me, he would have stayed away from. So much disinformation and sensationalism is out there that the task of sorting through it all seems monumental. Ferdinando, however, does this in seemingly the exact right way: by taking readers back to Scripture.

Ferdinando’s work is thoroughly grounded in Scripture. Rather than attempting to deal with the endless iterations of views on demon possession, spiritual warfare, cosmic warfare, and the like, Ferdinando points directly towards what the Bible tells us about this volatile topic. In doing so, he avoids the difficulty of making an overly-bloated work filled with attempts to discredit other positions while also avoiding jumping into the controversy. The book surveys a huge number of passages in no small amount of depth, and its format is such that readers could easily use it either as a reference (looking at individual passages as they come to them in their own reading) or as a work to read through time and again.

Ferdinando’s balanced approach is like a breath of fresh air, particularly as one who has read little on the topic but has still encountered some very strange and unbiblical perspectives. Ferdinando doesn’t do much to urge readers away from sensationalism, rather he expounds on Scripture to show that many prominent views of spiritual warfare are simply mistaken. In one example, he highlights the fact that demon possession in the New Testament is not confronted by violence, by trying to force the demon to speak its name, or by some other ritual; rather, demons are confronted by Jesus’ name and the use of prayer. Full stop. By showing this from the Bible itself, Ferdinando effectively puts to rest the debate. Another instance can be found on page 87 when he writes of demon possession and that it is treated in the New Testament not as a sin to be confessed but rather as something from which people are delivered. These and many other helpful points effectively serve notice to those views of demon possession and spiritual warfare which prey upon people’s fears.

I would note that Ferdinando does allow himself to get sidetracked at times by somewhat unrelated points. For example, at one point he offers a few paragraphs on the nature and extent of eternal punishment, taking as his example the fate of Satan in Revelation. Though this is an interesting topic, it wasn’t terribly related to the theses in his book. This does’t happen often, but when it does it seems to take away from the thrust of the book.

The Message of Spiritual Warfare is an even, thoughtful look at a too-often sensationalized topic. It comes recommended.

The Good

+Even-tempered tone
+Thoroughly grounded in Scripture

The Bad

-Occasionally gets sidetracked by other issues

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated 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.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless: Reformation 500

Martin Luther2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless

Luther’s critique of indulgences was a typical (for him) combination of insight and invective. He sought to clearly condemn not just the sale of but also the use of indulgences, which means parts of his critique remain quite relevant today. Here we will draw primarily from Luther’s explanations of his 95 theses.

Luther argued that the pope actually has no power over purgatory and, moreover, that if the pope did have this power, he ought to exercise it:

If the pope does have the power to release anyone from purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish purgatory by letting everyone out? (81-82, cited below)

The question cuts straight to he heart of the system in which the pope is exalted as having power over souls in purgatory. It is clear that Luther did not at this point denounce the doctrine of purgatory. What his point is directed at instead, is the claim that the pope does have such power. After all, if the pope does have such power, then why would he not simply release all the souls from purgatory immediately, thus granting a most generous and wonderful reprieve? The fact that the pope of Luther’s time did not do so and was in fact selling indulgences for coin spoke volumes about the doctrine itself and the need for reformation.

But the point still has relevance today, as one might ask the question: if the pope today currently has the power over purgatory, why does he not simply release all those who are suffering there? One possible answer might be because it is just that people undergo such suffering or bettering of themselves in purgatory that they might truly be, er, reformed. But then the question of the two kingdoms comes to mind. After all, such a response effectively strips the pope of the power that has allegedly been granted him, for if the spiritual benefits of purgatory are so great, why does he ever exercise the power he is said to hold? The argument can proceed indefinitely in a circle, which seems to show that the initial point is valid.

Luther, however, did not stop there. Rather than questioning the power of the pope to grant indulgences, he also noted the great spiritual harm such indulgences do:

Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security… Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. Those persons are damned who think that letters of indulgence make them certain of salvation. (82)

Indulgences, by granting pardon from sin or the consequences thereof, produce a false sense of security of salvation that may lead rather to damnation. For once one believes that because someone else has told them future or past sins are paid for by some collection of merit of others, they may believe that they are forgiven, when they have not confessed and repented of that sin to God. Thus, a false sense of security is gained, but in reality the person may be condemned, not having received full and free forgiveness of their sins.

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!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

Source

Quotes from Luther are from Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon, 1950). It appears as though Bainton was either translating directly from a German edition or paraphrasing Luther.

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.

“Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child”- A biblical view of disciplining children?

Photograph by Feliciano Guimarães acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Accessible here.

Photograph by Feliciano Guimarães acquired through Wikimedia Commons.
Accessible here.

Spare the rod, spoil the child

I was spanked and no harm came of it

The Bible teaches spanking

Recently, I was involved in a discussion about Christian parenting. An article was shared that showed findings from 5 decades of research (!) that demonstrate spanking causes harm. Some of the first responses immediately appealed to a biblical view of disciplining children, including one comment that said if we accepted this study as Christians we’d have to cut the verse that says “Spare the rod, spoil the child” out of the Bible. What follows is my response, with some expanded comments.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

There is no such verse, so I guess that’s not a problem.

When people use this phrase and claim it is biblical, they are probably referring to what that common saying alludes to, Proverbs 13:24. Therein we see that the word for “rod” is the same word in Hebrew used for the shepherd’s staff in Psalm 23:4, there bringing comfort. Indeed, the shepherd’s crook/staff/rod is probably what is being referenced in Proverbs as well, there showing that correcting children is proper–just as we correct the path of the wandering sheep. But we don’t beat the sheep with the staff, it is used to turn the sheep back to the right path. Thus, the meaning is, I think, more aligned with saying that we ought to correct our children when they stray, just as a shepherd corrects the straying sheep.

We can’t rely on the English translation to make a point over against the Hebrew. The same word used for a shepherd’s staff is the one used in Proverbs. It’s the same word, shebet, in Proverbs 23:13, another text often referenced to support the notion of spanking or “spare the rod, spoil the child.” It reads:

 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. (NIV)

Further, if you compare Exodus 21:20, which speaks of beating with a rod causing death, to Proverbs 23:13, which assures the reader that the child will not die, there is a difficulty in taking the latter literally, because otherwise death is a distinct possibility which is even legislated against in the former. Indeed, Proverbs 23:14 makes the context clear- correction is saving the child from Sheol. But if that’s the case, then how could it be read as striking in a way that could cause death (Exodus parallel) while also explicitly being intended to save from death Proverbs 23:14: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death” (NIV, ESV reads “save him from Sheol”)? It doesn’t make much sense to save someone from death in a way that causes death.

The Hebrew of Proverbs 23:14 for “strike” is nakah in Hiphil, thus meaning it is causative and, again, seems to point to the same metaphorical meaning I drew out above for 13:24. Strong’s notes the common figurative use of “nakah” in the OT.  That is reinforced in Brown Driver Briggs which shows both intensification of the word (slaughter/etc.) as well as less strong meanings (clapping hands, hail).

Are other readings possible? Sure they are. But corporal punishment is not the only possible translation, and it seems to yield a contradiction. We can’t rely on the English translation to be the end-all-be-all of how we read the Bible. It comes with the assumptions of the translators. I’m not saying they’re wrong–just that it is simplistic to appeal to the English as the final say.

Clarifications

I was asked to explain what alleged metaphor is being employed, as well as the reference to Exodus 21:20. I was also countered by saying the words for rod and staff are being used together in Psalm 23 so why did I draw the conclusion I did.

The metaphor that is employed is fairly straightforward: just as you use a rod to correct the sheep–guiding them with strikes–so we should correct the wrong paths our children take. The metaphor is not that we should strike children–that is the literal reading, and one that I think I’ve shown is not even necessary–but rather that like shepherd we guide children on the right path.

The appeal to Exodus 21:20 is to show that beating with a rod was known to kill people and that was punished. Yet in Proverbs the use of a rod for the child has no implication of death and indeed a direct denial that death is even possible. If we read them both literally there is a contradiction: striking with rod causes death; striking with a rod will not cause death. Use of the words metaphorically, as outlined in the preceding paragraph, clears up this apparent contradiction.

Psalm 23- I’m not so sure about the confusion here. Sure, both words are used inclusively, but that doesn’t change the Hebrew word being translated as rod is also translated as shepherd’s staff and is the word used in each verse presented so far. Nothing in this relies on the word being separated out from context in Psalm 23. Instead, I am appealing to the Hebrew to show that the word is the same as the one used in Psalm 23:4.

Spanking and Anecdotes

One final point I’d like to bring forward is that anecdotes are not arguments. Very often in this discussion (and others), one cites a study or makes a comment, and then someone else responds saying something along the lines of “Well was spanked [had this happen to me, etc.], and I turned out okay” as if this is a counter-argument. It isn’t. Having incidents that don’t cohere with the general trend is to be expected, and appealing to an anecdote doesn’t invalidate such general trends or rules. The study linked above is in no way discredited by the, I’m sure, many thousands of people who were spanked but turned out “okay.” That doesn’t undermine the mounting evidence that spanking is not the best option.

Conclusion

I have shown in this post that texts or sayings commonly cited in support of spanking do not necessitate or even condone the act. The Bible does not necessitate spanking as a way to discipline children. It does, however, teach that parents are to correct wrong behavior, and, like the shepherd, turn their children back to the right path. Given the increasing evidence that spanking is a poor option, Christian parents ought not feel they must use it to discipline their children. Those who choose not to spank may do so with a clean conscience.

Links

For more reading on the psychological studies behind spanking, see Psychology Today as well as the summary article linked above (or here).

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

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, 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.

“We the Underpeople” – Cordwainer Smith and Humanity in the Future

wtu-smith

Cordwainer Smith (actual name: Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) was an expert in psychological warfare, a scholar of Eastern Asia, an Anglican, and a science fiction author, among other things. He wrote a number of short stories and one novel all set in the same universe–our own. These stories go from the past into the far future and put forward a vision of the future that is at once hopeful and bleak. Here, I’d like to discuss a few themes in the works of his I’ve read, collected in a volume called We the Underpeople by Baen. There will be some minor Spoilers in what follows.

Free Will and Determinism

A prominent theme found throughout Smith’s work is the discussion of free will and determinism. The “Rediscovery of Man” is a time period in which members of the Instrumentality decide that they need to change the world such that people aren’t always happy any more. You see, they made it so that accidents wouldn’t happen (or if they did, prompt healing was available), people wouldn’t say bad things, and the like. If someone did get unhappy, they were brain wiped and reconditioned. Everyone’s happy, see?

Yet the members of the Instrumentality argued and finally allowed for some unhappiness to be allowed back into people’s lives: the Rediscovery of Man.

Smith here notes that human freedom is something that is at the core of our being. Without it, “happiness” falls away into determinism. We may be “happy,” but it is a happiness that is not truly experienced or real. The feelings might be there, but the reality is not. The human capacity for wrongdoing and suffering is there, but it must be in order to have the capacity for truly experiencing and enjoying happiness and delight.

A challenge might arise here: what of heaven? I think this is a tough question, and one that I admit I have no answer I feel firmly about. It’s possible that the choices we make are, over time, enough to solidify us into a sinless existence (a position of Greg Boyd). Perhaps instead, the renewal of our minds that takes place in the New Creation helps us to avoid doing those things that we would not like to do but find ourselves doing in our fallen state.

Humanity and Inhumanity

Humans in Smith’s world have created “underpeople”–animals that have been bred to serve humans in various capacities. Yet these animals are self-aware and brutally oppressed. They experience free will and life, but are trampled by human wants and desires. They are not “people.”

The poignancy of this theme hits close to home when we consider those people who are often set aside in our own world. Things like the Rwandan Genocide are allowed to happen by those we have put in power because there aren’t resources there deemed worth protecting; people are allowed to starve to death because we don’t want to give “handouts,” and the like. How might we as Christians work to correct the wrongs in our own world done to those we have deemed “underpeople”?

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a major theme in Smith’s novel, Norstrilia. The main character, Rod McBan, is attacked by a bitter man, the Honorable Secretary, who is upset that he cannot also have his life extended for a very long time. At a pivotal scene in the book, McBan forgives the Honorable Secretary for the attacks. However, he also forgives himself, for he had–even in thought–mocked the man and his inability to get the same treatment as everybody else to extend his life. McBan realized that his own behavior towards the Honorable Secretary had, in part, lead to the man’s wrongs.

It is a stunning change in the tenor of the plot thread, for the reader had been prone to sympathizing with the main character and forgiving his own “innocent” jabs at the man who tried to kill him. Yet here, Smith elegantly points towards the need for mutual reconciliation and the need to confess one’s own sins. It is masterfully done and speaks very highly of the power of forgiveness.

Conclusion

Cordwainer Smith masterfully wove his Anglican worldview into his science fiction, but he did so very subtly. I haven’t even touched on some of the other messages conveyed in his body of work, such as the allegorical story of Joan of Arc. There is much to contemplate in the works, including human freedom and the need to forgive. I highly recommend his science fiction to my readers.

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!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Cordwainer Smith– Another blogger writes on the themes found throughout Cordwainer Smith’s science fiction.

 

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.

Book Review: “The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom” by Andrew Abernethy

igk-abernethyAndrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom has a kind of dual purpose: introducing readers to the overarching themes of the Book of Isaiah and to show that Kingdom in particular is central to understanding the Book of Isaiah.

Abernethy acknowledges a number of difficulties with Isaiah, including the difficulty of tying down its historical context, the problem of a “meta-history” of the book and its composition and getting to its final form, and the sheer size of it going against several attempts at a unified meaning. Nevertheless, he takes on that latter task, and on the way manages to deal with the other difficulties, at least in passing.

Abernethy traces the concept of “Kingdom” in Isaiah through five chapters that each focus on one aspect of the Kingdom: God as King now and to come; God as saving King, God as warrior/compassionate king; lead agents of the king; and the people of God’s kingdom. The first three of these provide a broad thematic overview of Isaiah, splitting it into three parts, and the latter two cover each of the three parts related to the thesis.

The book is quite dense despite having a somewhat introductory idea. That is almost certainly because Isaiah itself is so dense that in order to do it justice, Abernethy was forced to introduce a vast amount of information. What makes the book particularly useful is that Abernethy ties Isaiah not just together, but also into the canonical narrative, and this is perhaps most prominent in the God as saving King and people of God’s kingdom sections. As an example, in the section on God as saving king, there is a small (two-page) section on Isaiah 40:1-11 and 52:7-10 in canonical context which contains over a dozen references to other canonical references (this at a glance). Abernethy thus deftly balances reading Isaiah on its own terms with understanding it both in its historical and canonical context. The fact that such a sentence can be written itself speaks highly of the work.

Perhaps the biggest strike against the book is that because it does have a rather basic feeling to it, and because Isaiah is itself so dense, the work feels much longer than it actually is. It stands at 200 pages sans the appendix, but feels much longer simply because so much space is covered, with multitudes of Scriptural references on each page. This makes me question what audience the book was written towards, as beginners will likely feel it is a daunting read, while those who’ve done a good amount of reading on Isaiah already will have picked up on most of the themes contained here. That said, the book can easily serve as a great reference and tool to glance over when one wants to explore the book of Isaiah in more depth. It is about as compact an introduction–while still being useful–as one could expect.

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom isn’t trying to forge much new ground. Rather, it is a dense survey of a book of the Bible that is packed full of information. Abernethy does readers a service by helping to unpack Isaiah while sticking to broad themes rather than individual debates.

The Good

+Focus on broad themes makes it more readable
+Good reference work for themes in Isaiah
+Highlights many of the more interesting questions about the book of Isaiah

The Bad

-Incredibly dense for such a short read
-May be off-putting to some of the target audience

Book Review: “Insider Jesus” by William A. Dyrness

ij-dyrnessWhat does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in non-Western cultures? Could it mean something different than it does in places like the United States and Europe? These are some of the questions that Insider Jesus by William A. Dyrness seeks to answer.

Dyrness, in this pithy book, focuses on contextualization and the frequent misunderstanding of the same. Contextualization is often seen by some as being the distortion of Christianity to fit a culture; at the opposite extreme, it is seen as a kind of imperialistic co-opting of whatever culture is being witnessed to. Dyrness calls us to move past these extremes and come to understand that we must take a critical look at our assumptions about what other Christians should do and how they should behave. Often, these “shoulds” reflect our culture rather than a biblical understanding of Christianity.

Dyrness utilizes a number of case studies to highlight examples of “insider movements” in which Christians are not abandoning their culture while still following Jesus. These studies include Latin America and Africa with interfaith dialogues, emergent Christianity in places like India, and more. Each shows some ways in which Christianity is making headway in places that it might not have otherwise done. Each may make readers uncomfortable as we are forced to see that many of the things we take for granted culturally are not even understood in other cultures.

It is this last point that is perhaps most important to Dyrness’s thesis. Spreading the Gospel of Christ does not mean spreading our culture. As Christians, we’re called to be all things to all people, and that may, at times, make us uncomfortable. Some may here charge Dyrness with syncretism–a dreaded word in interfaith discussions–but such an accusation would be off-base. As Dyrness argues, using the thought of Kang-San Tan, a Christian from a Buddhist background, that we must

…distinguish between the danger of external identification with two religious communities and the possibility, even the necessity for those from these religious backgrounds, of maintaining an inward multireligious identity… Christianity itself necessarily exhibits an integration that reflects its historical and cultural situation… Every Christian religious expression represents some combination of indigenous values and religious practices… and the impact of the Christian Gospel… on this (124-125, emphasis his)

The point is that many of the things we think of as normal for Christian worship (standing during the Gospel reading, for instance) are clearly a use of cultural context to worship our God. Such things are not necessary for other groups, but when they are absent, it may lead us to wrongly think these other groups are mistaken.

Insider Jesus provides a much-needed critical perspective on insider movements that encourages readers to be aware of these movements and how their own faith is influenced by many similar aspects. It’s an uncomfortable read at times because it highlights areas of our own blindness about our religion. Several points Dyrness makes are controversial, but he provides enough argument and context that readers will be challenged even where they disagree.

The Good

+Provides framework for thinking through controversial questions
+Further study encouraged with sources to pursue
+Good job introducing complex topics

The Bad

-Exegetical sections brief with sometimes questionable conclusions

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated 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.

“Zeroboxer” by Fonda Lee- Bioethics in the Future, oh, and boxing

zeroboxerFonda Lee’s Zeroboxer is a science fiction work about the sport of zero-gravity boxing. See my review for more details on the work. Here, I’ll be highlighting aspects of the book that deal with bioethics, and offering some philosophical and theological comments on them.

The basics of the book are that Carr “The Raptor” Luka has been rising in the ranks as a great zeroboxer (one who boxes in zero-gravity). As his star rises, so does his fame, and possibly his infamy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Genetic Therapy vs. Enhancement

The first question is simple: What is the difference between genetic therapy or genetic enhancement? I wrote about this distinction elsewhere:

Gene therapy is the use of genetic research and information to cure illness. Speaking very hypothetically, suppose that we were able to discover the exact genetic code for illnesses like sickle cell anemia, isolate it, and replace it with a non-anemic code before a person was even born; that would be gene therapy. Genetic enhancement takes this a step further. It allows for modifying people genetically to enhance certain features such as physical strength, endurance, mental aptitude, and the like. It would, in a sense, create “super humans.”

In the world of Zeroboxer, genetic therapy is standard, and enhancement is regulated, but normalized.

The main character, Luka Carr, unbeknownst to himself, has “illegal” levels of enhancement. His mother allowed a criminal to modify him and make him some kind of superhuman. But it is hard to see why he should be faulted for it–after all, as he says, he’s still himself. It isn’t his fault that others made such choices around his life.

Enhancement is more common on Mars than on Earth. The latter, so-called “Terrans,” stage protests on Mars and about Martians as they seek to go against their “freakish” ways of enhancing. It’s not hard to imagine just this would happen. Who are we to play God, after all? But that kind of argument leads to questions about what it means to play God. Is it playing God to prevent illnesses through modern medicine? How far a step is it from surgery to correct vision to enhancing vision genetically? These questions defy easy answers.

Poverty and Enhancement/Therapy

Lee also raised the issue of poverty and the enormous inequalities that could be created by furthering genetic enhancement. Luka remarks on the state of a friend, Enzo, who’s just shown up wearing glasses:

“Why don’t you get your eyes fixed, then?”
[Luka] guessed the answer before Enzo lowered his face in embarassment. “My mom doesn’t have the money right now. She said maybe in a few months…”
A surge of anger brought heat to Carr[ Luka]’s scalp. It was bad enough that the kid had an asthmatic wheeze and carried around an inhaler. Now he was half-blind too? What next, a peg leg? Didn’t Enzo’s mother care that her son walked around with genetic poverty written all over him? (117)

The phrase “genetic poverty” is forward-thinking and possibly prophetic on the part of Lee. What happens if and when genetic therapy and enhancement become norms? It seems to me that therapy is potentially very valuable and a great good. But what kind of greater inequalities would come to be from it? We must try to anticipate these and work to prevent further inequalities. As Christians, we need to care for the impoverished, and that includes what might be considered “genetic poverty.”

Supposing diseases begin to be cured on a broader scale through genetic therapy, it seems that Christians ought to support these changes with every effort. After all, curing illness and helping those in need is what we are called to do. But what does this mean for enhancement?

That question is much more complex. Enhancement, it seems to me, would necessarily increase the inequity between the haves and have-nots. After all, those who have the money to get super-sight or super-strength or predispositions to being great musicians could simply cash in to do so. Those who don’t, cannot. But does this mean it is wrong? It’s a very difficult question, and one that I don’t have a firm answer on. I lean towards saying that such things are permissible, but regulation seems a wise choice given we have little idea what impact modifying genes might have on the broader person. Again, I’ve written more on these questions here. What are your thoughts on answers to these questions?

Conclusion

Zeroboxer is an unexpectedly thoughtful book. Though it has some flaws, it is a worthy read. Just be aware of the violent and explicit content. See my review for more details on that. Exploring these issues related to genetics is very important. I see this as a field that will be expanding rapidly over the next decades. Christians need to engage with it and think about it ahead of time.

Links

Genetics and Bioethics: Enhancement or Therapy?– I delve into deeper questions about genetic enhancement vs. therapy. I also provide some further reading on the topic.

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!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures” by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker

mhsc-gbUnderstanding the context to which we are ministering is one of the most important aspects of mission–and other–work. Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker have provided, in Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, a way to understand cultural practices that are far from what many in the West experience. I found it to be enlightening, and a little alarming, because it showed many times where I may have given offense without even realizing it.

Georges and Baker utilized a number of stories to illustrate some of the difficulties in understanding honor-shame cultures when one’s background is not in that culture. For those, like me, with a limited grasp of the topic, honor-shame cultures ought to be defined, but that itself is difficult. Basically, these cultures have a system where the community is valued more highly than the individual, and shame, rather than guilt, is the result of violations of the strictures of society. Such a perspective means that, for example, the core problem with one’s violation of the codes of society is not that we make mistakes (as in our individualistic societies) but rather that our very being has been corrupted. Thus, rather than trying to justify or apologize for our mistake, it is more important to cover that mistake (see especially the table on page 38).

We often see honor-shame cultures as silly or backwards–possibly even morally wrong or bankrupt–because our very understanding of human interaction is built upon a different system. Why should we have to highlight someone else’s importance in order to get what we deserve? Just as easily, the other could ask why we refuse to honor them with the standing in society that they possess? These stories help highlight both the strangeness of the “other” in the honor-shame culture and the way that we may be equally seen as brusque at best to people of other cultures. The early chapters, in particular, highlight these points.

Even more importantly–and the above is certainly vital–we may be misreading the Bible due to our misunderstanding of honor-shame cultures. For example, the many rules about purity and what makes someone unclean are almost impossible to understand without some grasp of honor-shame culture. The chapters on biblical background for understanding this and other aspects of Christianity that can really only be fully understood in honor-shame contexts.

Finally, Georges and Baker provide a number of practical applications for what they highlighted in the first 100 or so pages. These applications range across spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. Three appendices provide (lots of) key scripture passages on honor-shame, biblical stories that address honor-shame cultures, and resources for further reading.

Throughout the book, smart use of tables and graphs helps readers visualize the differences in cultures that lead to many misunderstandings. If there is one complaint I have the book it is that I desired more exegetical considerations, which is basically to say that I’d love a follow-up work that focuses on understanding critical biblical passages. In other words, there’s little to complain about here. It is a book full of insights that are both practical and engaging.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures is one of those rare books that makes you sit back and think–really think–about how you understand the “other.” For that alone, it is worth the read. Set that alongside a good helping of practical applications and biblical theology, and the book is a must-read. It comes highly recommended.

The Good

+Provides numerous examples to help think through the issues
+Use of graphics smartly done
+Highlights very important, but often misunderstood topics
+Encourages critical interaction

The Bad

-More exegesis of some key passages would be helpful

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated 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.

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