J.W. Wartick

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“Man of Steel” – A Christian look at themes in the film

man-of-steelEvery movie has a worldview. “Man of Steel,” the latest iteration of Superman, is no different. In fact, many explicit questions of worldview come up. Here, we’ll take a look at some major themes found in the movie. There will, of course, be SPOILERS below.

Morality

The question of morality looms large throughout the film. What does it mean to seek to do good in our world? At one point, Faora Ul, a commander in General Zod’s army, discusses how the fact that they have moved beyond morality has become an “evolutionary advantage” and that “evolution” always wins. I was struck by this brief aside for a few reasons. First, would moving apart from morality really be an advantage? Surely, it may lead to no self-sacrifice, but that self-sacrifice itself is something which preserves a race. In fact, the whole thrust of the film centered around the notion of self-sacrifice by Superman giving up those things which he liked or wanted in order to save others. The fact that Superman overcomes the moral nihilist is significant.

Second, does evolution always win? This is a question to consider for a different time and place, but surely I think one must wonder whether it is the case that having an advantage would guarantee victory in the race to survive. Any kind of random fluke could happen to eliminate a better-suited creature. Again, these are questions for another time, but in context of the movie, the whole notion was again overthrown, because Superman, with a stringent morality, overcame.

But at what cost? The climactic scene in which Superman confronts General Zod ends with Superman snapping Zod’s neck to prevent him from killing even more people. Superman’s self-made (but unmentioned in the movie) ethos of avoiding killing is thus itself overthrown. What does this say about objective morality? Is such a killing ever justified? Or, might it mean that Superman abandoned morality in order to confront the moral nihilist? Perhaps, instead, there are shades of virtue ethics found throughout, which confront Superman with a choice and allow him to carve out his own moral sphere?

These are questions suitable for reflection, and I think the movie does a great job asking the questions without spoon-feeding any answers.

Shades of a Savior?

Superman is, of course, readily seen as a savior-stand in. Superman is 33 years old, which is also the generally accepted age of Jesus at death. One scene depicts Superman in a church, and his face is set against a backdrop of a stained-glass depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The scenery is surely intentional–Superman is seeking to give himself up for the sake of humanity, just as Jesus did. But the way in which they go about this self-giving are radically different. Superman’s ultimate sacrifice is compromising his moral code in order to save people, while Jesus’ was the ultimate sacrifice–taking on death and becoming sin for our sake.

The question which all of this begs, then, is whether Superman might be envisioned as an interesting Jesus-parallel, a kind of allegory to be utilized to discuss the real Savior, or whether Superman is instead a kind of rival savior figure intentionally subverting the narrative of an incarnate deity. Support for the latter might be drawn from the notion that Superman would be “viewed as a god” simply because he came from a different world and the atmosphere/sun of Earth strengthened him to superhuman (groaner, I know) levels. Is this a subversive way to describe Christ? Well, really only if one wants to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was some sort of alien and that a radical deception has gone on for two millenia. Of course, some people would like to suggest just that, but how grounded in truth might it be?

Conclusion

It seems to me that the film, then, is a useful way to juxtapose saviors. What does it mean to be a savior? How does one bring that about? There are parallels between Jesus and the story of Superman, but the most important things are perhaps the contradictions in their stories and lives. Many interesting questions about morality are raised in the film as well, and it would be hard to argue that the story of the movie is not compelling. “Man of Steel,” it seems, is another way to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of life. What are your thoughts on the movie? What other themes might be discussed (like this post on Platonic thought)? Let me know in the comments below.

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 Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa– Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

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

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

Virtue Ethics and the Man of Steel– Check out this interesting post on the Platonic thought found throughout the movie.

SDG.

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

 

Arrival: Your Life Matters – A Christian Perspective

arrivalI had the chance to watch “Arrival” this past weekend. It was excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much good science fiction is steeped in worldview and forces us to reflect upon humanity. “Arrival” is just that: excellent science fiction. Here, I will discuss worldview issues the film brought forward from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Your Life Matters

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is one that could not be fully appreciated until the end. Once we see that Louise has been having not flashbacks but rather flash-forwards, we come to realize that she is seeing what will happen in the future. But that means the scene at the beginning, in which Louise has a daughter, Hannah, who eventually dies from cancer, will play out as she has seen it. And if that’s the case, then Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have a baby with him is something that leads, directly or indirectly, to her daughter’s death.

The question that arises, then, is whether such a life was worth living? The film presents what is one of the most beautiful ways of looking at such a question I have seen. The answer is yes. Without Hannah’s life, her poetry, joy, song, and dance could not have been part of the world. All of that would have been lost. Even the inevitable pain and tragedy that Louise and Ian will experience is part of that future world Louise saw: one in which love had a chance to play out in Hannah’s all-too-short life. It’s a message that says: Yes, your life matters, even if it is not perfect; even if it goes poorly.

And really, what right would Louise have to cut that life from the world? What right would she have to destroy that future life of Hannah, however painful it would become for herself and for her daughter? Would it really be better to cut off all the joy and beauty that her daughter would bring into the world just because Louise knew it would end badly? Such questions are monumentally important in an age in which choices of life and death are increasingly available.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Time

I found the theme of time to be quite engaging in the film. One may think that it was just a novelty to discuss non-linear time, but a number of major ancient cultures had non-linear views of time. I have much interest in studying Mesoamerica, for example, and basically across the board the Inca, Maya, Aztec, etc. had non-linear, cyclical views of time. Why does that matter? What does it have to do with worldview?

Well, in the film it was used largely as a way to tie the whole plot back together and show that one’s ideas about reality can be shaped by the way one conceptualizes of very basic ideas. But more importantly, one’s view of time impacts how one views reality itself. I have read time and again how a linear view of time helped to spur scientific discovery, among other things. A linear view of time allows for a logical A => B sequence of events in which causation is linked through time. A cyclical, or non-linear view of time would change that. In “Arrival,” it is unclear as to whether the ultimate non-linearity of time is viewed as cyclical (though the emphasis on circular imagery for the language might point in that direction). One wonders whether a non-linear view of time, taken to its conclusions, could actually ground such things as cause and effect. The movie provided a framework to think through such questions, and as someone who’s very interested in philosophy of time, I found that utterly engaging.

Time, Part 2

Another aspect of the discussion of time in the film is the implication that Louise sees the future, but also that she may be able to change it. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that Louise makes a conscious choice to allow the future she saw to play out. Does that mean the future is set in stone, or that her decisions actually will yield the future she saw? This may not seem very important for worldview, but a simple shift to examining divine omniscience might show how such a concept could impact worldview directly. If God knows the future, as I believe God does, what does that mean for human action? What does it mean if God does not comprehensively know the future, as open theists claim?

Such questions are not directly referenced in the film, but a moment’s reflection on how Louise responds to her own knowledge of the future makes these questions loom in the distance. I think it is important to think about how things like one’s view of time and God’s knowledge of the future impact things like human free choice, salvation, and the like.

Conclusion

“Arrival” is the best kind of science fiction: one that raises questions not just about the future but about humanity. I highly recommend readers go see the film. It’s phenomenal. Let me know what worldview questions were raised in your mind from watching the film.

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!

SDG.

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

Bonhoeffer As Reliable Guide?

dietrich_bonhoefferI seem to have made it something of a pastime explaining to others things about Lutheran belief, and often this pertains to discussions of Bonhoeffer. Almost everyone is trying to make Bonhoeffer in their own image. Whether it is the notion of calling Bonhoeffer an evangelical, or recruiting him to various other schools of thought, Bonhoeffer is enduring a kind of celebrity right now. That celebrity comes with its share of difficulties, including pushback. Some evangelicals have labeled Bonhoeffer dangerous. A recent article by William Macleod questions whether Dietrich Bonhoeffer may be a “reliable guide” when it comes to Christianity: Bonhoeffer – A Reliable Guide? That blog post levels a number of criticisms at the Lutheran theologian, and I would like to respond to this article, which I think misrepresents Bonhoeffer in many ways. I’ll not respond to every point, because Macleod overlaps points I’ve responded to before.

Methodological Notes

At the outset, I must point out a major problem with the article is that there is a distinct lack of citation throughout. Indeed, the only footnote is a reference to an article about Bonhoeffer, not a reference to Bonhoeffer’s works at all. Moreover, though many assertions are made about what Bonhoeffer wrote–as well as a few quotations–no references are provided, which makes it at many points impossible to easily track down the reference and so provide a full response. It is disturbing to me to see such lack of citation in an article that purports to correct evangelical thought on this theologian. How are we to evaluate an article that makes it difficult to even double-check the facts?

Second, Macleod does not define evangelical in this article, or provide a clear reference to what he means. Because there is great difficulty with the definition of “evangelical” in its modern and historical usage. Indeed, Bonhoeffer’s German Lutheran church historically simply referred to itself as evangelical–a tradition carried on to this day in my church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The problem is that the term “evangelical” often means different things to different people, a problem acknowledged in many circles. The article would have been helped had Macleod provided exactly his meaning of evangelical to compare his statements to.

Bonhoeffer as Liberal Theologian?

Macleod alleges, “Far from being an evangelical, Bonhoeffer was more liberal than Barth. He considered himself a ‘modern theologian who still carries the heritage of liberal theology within himself’.” Here we already see a difficulty with the methodology–where is this quote from Bonhoeffer to be found? A search online turned up other blog posts that give this same quote, but this one, for example, writes a citation [5] in brackets but then there is no referent for [5]. I finally managed to possibly track down a reference on a different article, but don’t have the book in front of me at this point so I can’t confirm it. However, even granting he said that, I’d love to see the context. After all, he could have been saying it in the sense of saying that he has been influenced by liberal theology, which was certainly found all around him in Germany. But of course Bonhoeffer himself, at the end of his life, explicitly argued against liberal theology at multiple points.

Bultmann seems to have somehow found Barth’s limitations, but he misconstrues them in the sense of liberal theology, and so goes off into the typical liberal process of reduction – the ‘mythological’ elements of Christianity are dropped… My view is that the full content, including the ‘mythological’ concepts, must be kept… this mythology (resurrection etc.) is the thing itself… (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 328-329)

Those are Bonhoeffer’s words, written in 1944 from prison. Does that look like an acceptance of liberal theology? Bonhoeffer does engage liberal theologians, of that there is no doubt, but he explicitly notes the deficiencies of their theology and argues the opposite position. Macleod’s attempt to poison the well here fails.

Bonhoeffer as Martyr

Macleod, amusingly, questions whether Bonhoeffer was a martyr:

When we think of Christian martyrs we think of the early Christians thrown to the lions for refusing to worship Caesar. We think of Reformers like Patrick Hamilton and William Tyndale burnt at the stake for preaching the gospel and for translating the Scriptures into the language of the people. In no sense were these men involved in conspiracies against the state. Bonhoeffer died for being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler… his death was not because of his beliefs, but rather for his ‘crime’ of conspiracy to murder.

I actually found myself chuckling here. I don’t know Macleod, and I know nothing about him. What I do know, and have seen many times, is a lack of understanding of church history among those broadly identifying themselves as evangelicals (I’m not the only one who bemoans this, on a different end of the spectrum than me stands James White, who I’ve heard on his podcast multiple times speak of the lack of knowledge of church history in evangelical circles). I preface that remark because Macleod’s comment about martyrs shows a bit of ignorance. If he wants to say Bonhoeffer’s not a martyr because he died for political reasons, perhaps he should go back and see that the worship of Caesar for which Christians were killed was, itself, a political killing. Virtually every book I’ve ever read on this early period of Christianity confirms this. For just one reference, check out the interplay between pagan and Christian apologists found in Apologetics in the Roman Empire.

Moreover, Macleod’s comment is amusing because the separation of belief from action is a very modernist/postmodernist separation, and one that could just as easily be used to say “the early Christian martyrs weren’t killed for their beliefs, they were killed for refusing to worship Caesar, a political act.” But of course that refusal is based on belief, just as Bonhoeffer’s ethical stance regarding Hitler was based on belief. Belief put into practice remains belief. The attempt to tarnish Bonhoeffer’s legacy as, yes, Christian martyr here bespeaks both lack of historical awareness and the overall tone of the article.

The Cross

Macleod accuses Bonhoeffer of decentralizing the cross because, according to Macleod, he did not believe in substitutionary atonement. More damningly, Macleod charges Bonhoeffer with seeing the cross as “an example and an inspiration.” I was astonished to read this from Macleod. Aside from the fact that Bonhoeffer wrote an entire book about Jesus Christ being the center not just of our faith but as the center of human history (Christ the Center, 59ff), he also repeatedly emphasized this in his other writings. Macleod stated, “For evangelicals the cross is at the centre of their faith.” I’m not at all sure why he thinks he should disagree with Bonhoeffer here, unless he just hasn’t read Bonhoeffer’s body of work.

Conversion

I’ve responded to this elsewhere, but Macleod’s words about conversion regarding Bonhoeffer are deeply troubling to me:

As a Lutheran he embraced the doctrine of baptismal regeneration – you are automatically born again when you are baptised. Around 1931 Bonhoeffer experienced a ‘conversion’, when he, as he puts it, discovered the Bible… Yet it was not what evangelicals normally call conversion, or what the Scriptures describe as the new birth. He rarely referred to it… He wrote, ‘We must finally break away from the idea that the gospel deals with the salvation of an individual’s soul’.

A number of things are problematic here. First, Macleod blatantly misrepresented the Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration by couching it in terms borrowed from Baptist theology. Baptismal regeneration is not about “automatically” being born again; it is about the gift of God that has been promised through baptism, even to infants. I’m not going to debate this rather obvious point here, but the fact that Macleod effectively dismisses Bonhoeffer simply because he’s Lutheran says something disturbing about his view of what it takes to be evangelical–apparently a view that excludes Lutherans entirely.

Moreover, Macleod once again conforms to modern American evangelicalism (not even sure if he’s from the United States, but the ideas he has are) by emphasizing the individual over the community. Any number of theologians have shown time and again that the evangelical focus on individual salvation is something born, historically, from a rather American emphasis on the individual rather than being something directly derived from Scripture. Not saying that individual salvation is not there, but as the primary theme? N.T. Wright, among others, has done some correction in this regard, and Bonhoeffer himself did in works like Life Together.

Universalist Bonhoeffer?

Macleod writes:

Bonhoeffer was a universalist, believing in the eventual salvation of all. He wrote that there is no part of the world, no matter how godless, which is not accepted by God and reconciled with God in Jesus Christ. Whoever looks on the body of Jesus Christ in faith can no longer speak of the world as if it were lost, as if it were separated from Christ. Every individual will eventually be saved in Christ.

There’s no citation here, or even a quote, so it is very hard to track down what he is referencing in Bonhoeffer’s writings. Of course, what he’s written here is not universalism, but rather a denial of limited atonement and, actually, the Lutheran view of incarnation. Luther himself emphasized that Christ is present in all of creation. With the incarnation, God is present with us. Macleod, again, doesn’t give a reference to track down, but based on the rest of the article I think he is just misunderstanding Bonhoeffer again. The Lutheran perspective denies limited atonement, and whether that is correct are not is hardly a specific accusation against Bonhoeffer. Of course, without a citation, all we can do is trust Macleod not to have misrepresented Bonhoeffer–something that, at this point, I’m unwilling to do. I haven’t read everything Bonhoeffer wrote, though I’ve read about 75% of his collected works at this point, and some of his books twice, and I don’t know of any reference that could be shown to be universalism explicitly rather than a denial of limited atonement. I await a citation.

Sabbath

Macleod again reveals how much he is reliant upon his presuppositions when he writes:

The Sabbath was given to man at creation. The command to keep the one day in seven holy was reiterated on Mount Sinai and written with the finger of God on tables of stone. Jesus kept the Sabbath and said that the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath. Bonhoeffer, however, is quite happy to play table tennis on Sunday or to attend the theatre.

So, again, we have Bonhoeffer critiqued for being Lutheran. This is a pretty clear example of Macleod showing his stripes. It’s not so much Bonhoeffer that’s the problem; it is anyone who isn’t some kind of Reformed Baptist that’s the problem. Bonhoeffer was just a convenient target because people know who he is. Besides all that, Macleod’s words show very clearly that according to him, humans were made for Sabbath, not the other way around. But of course that makes gospel into law–and the proper distinction of law and Gospel is one of the central teachings of Lutheranism. But again, this is a debate for a different place. It’s fair enough to point out that Macleod’s argument here relies on a very specific presupposition, one that certainly not all evangelicals share, let alone Lutherans.

Conclusion

I have already written about twice as much as I meant to, and more could be said. It is clear that Macleod’s article is little more than a hit piece. There are no explicit citations to Bonhoeffer’s works (even when he is directly quoted, allegedly!), Macleod constantly condemns Bonhoeffer for clearly Lutheran views, and the whole article is based upon Macleod’s theological convictions, many of which I doubt he could demonstrate all evangelicals share. The pot shot at Bonhoeffer alleging he’s not a martyr shows the overall attitude Macleod has towards those he disagrees with, but it also–like many other points in the post–demonstrates a lack of historical awareness that pervades much of the church. Perhaps we can use his article in one positive way: rather than as a warning against Bonhoeffer–a faith-filled, Lutheran, courageous–yes–martyr–we can see it as a warning of the dangers of not taking history seriously.

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!

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology?- A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives– I respond to a different article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We again see numerous misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Bonhoeffer and Lutheranism.

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

SDG.

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

 

Policy, or, Why I’m not voting for Donald Trump

white-houseI try to avoid straight-up politics on this blog, but I think it is important to discuss the election this year. Too often, as I’ve voiced my intention to not vote for Donald Trump, I’ve been told that we aren’t voting for a moral leader, but a President or something of the sort (a President, not a pastor… however you want to put it). But apart from the fact that separating morals from policy is impossible, the fact is that the reason I’m anti-Trump was, from the beginning, a matter of policy. Here are just a few of the policy-oriented reasons I’m not voting for Trump. Period. And they’re based, in part, on conservative values.

Religious Liberty

What is one of the most important thing for most conservatives? Freedom of religion. I find this a paramount part of our country’s greatness, myself. The fact that you may freely believe and practice your faith, whether it be Pentecostal, Calvinist, Lutheran, Hindu, or Buddhism is an ideal that is beautiful and necessary. Conservatives across the board point to the importance of religious freedom. Thus, with conservatives telling people they ought to vote for Trump based on policy, it is worth asking: do Trump’s policies support religious liberty?

The plain and clear answer is: no, obviously.

Think about it. Suppose Donald Trump had come out saying “We need a total and complete ban of all Christians entering the United States.” How do you think conservatives would have reacted? As they should have: by exploding. Such a statement would be a direct violation of religious freedom. It would be seeing someone’s faith as the sole reason for denying them entry into our country. But because he said it about Muslims, suddenly it’s seen as okay. Here’s the thing: religious liberty is, and always has been, religious liberty for all religions. Yes, if someone decides that their religion is to kill everybody, that would be a religion that could not be allowed liberty, but Islam is demonstrably diverse, with several distinct factions and offshoots, many of which denounce violence in the name of their faith. It’d be like banning all Christians because of the Branch Davidians or banning all Lutherans because the BTK killer happened to be, ostensibly, Lutheran.

But the point of this is not to debate whether Islam is violent or not (it’s not, inherently; with 1 billion Muslims in the world, if Islam was automatically violent, why are not all of these 1 billion Muslims killing people?). The point is that Trump explicitly made a statement in which religion was the single reason for exclusion from our country. That is a terrifying reality to think about, because as many conservative beliefs begin to be seen as oppressive, it is not very hard to see how conservatives could be next on the list of those banished from the country.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Pastor Martin Niemöller speaking of the Nazis

*Note: I realize Trump has somewhat scaled back this talk to having “extreme vetting,” but it is important to take into account the fact that his initial position of simply banning people based on religion.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech and the freedom of the press stand alongside religious freedom as some of the most important parts of our constitution and, frankly, our country. Yet, once again, we find that Donald Trump is no defender of such a freedom–a freedom that is put forward by conservatives as vastly important.

Donald Trump, frustrated with the media coming after him, Tweeted his frustration suggesting that “It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”

Um, yes it is, actually. That’s one of the things freedom of the press explicitly permits. Moreover, Trump has suggested libel and slander laws ought to be opened up to allow him to more easily sue and defeat others who speak badly of him. This is a terrifying reality in which we have a candidate who doesn’t respect freedom of speech because he doesn’t like what others say about him.

So here we have a Presidential candidate who believes it is acceptable to suggest changing the Constitution because he doesn’t like when people speak ill of him. I think that’s a real problem, and would suggest freedom of speech is yet another policy that should have conservatives fleeing from Trump, not flocking to him. For more on this topic, see this article from Red State, a conservative web publication.

Fiscal Policy

“The free market works–it just needs leadership, not dictatorship… We need legislation that gives American companies the tax priorities and financial support to create more of their technology and redirect more of their manufacturing here at home.” –Donald Trump, “Crippled America,” 81, 86-87.

“Nobody can build a wall like me. I will build a great wall on our southern border… Construction of the wall needs to start as soon as possible. And Mexico has to pay for it… Mexico will pay for it. How? We could increase the fees on temporary visas. We could even impound remittance payments derived from illegal wages. Foreign governments could tell their embassies to start helping, otherwise they risk troubled relations with America. If necessary we could pay for the wall through a tariff or cut foreign aid to Mexico…” – Donald Trump, “Crippled America,” 23-25.

Each of these quotes demonstrates that Trump is by no means a conservative when it comes to fiscal policy. One of the cornerstones of conservative fiscal policy is free trade. Yet in the first quote, Trump encourages protectionism in economics, which is the opposite of free trade. In the second quote, he supports tariffs as a possibility for paying for his projects. Again, raised tariffs are the opposite of free trade. Moreover, Trump has been vocal in opposition to NAFTA and other free trade agreements. Each of these shows beyond any question that Trump is not a conservative when it comes to fiscal policy.

Foreign Policy

“If we’re going to continue to be the policemen of the world, we ought to be paid for it. …There is another way to pay to modernize our military forces. If other countries are depending on us to protect them, shouldn’t they be willing… To pay for the servicemen and servicewomen and the equipment we’re providing? …We defend Germany. We defend Japan. We defend South Korea. These are powerful and wealthy countries. We get nothing from them.” –Donald Trump, “Crippled America,” 32, 34.

Whatever Trump has said about nuclear missiles and the like aside, this quote shows that Trump has very little grasp of foreign policy. He sees the United States as a mercenary that hasn’t been paid. He sees our military forces as dollars and cents. More astonishingly, he sees American lives lost defending allies as price tags. How much is the life of one soldier worth? Trump would put a price on it, and then sell that to the highest bidder. I’m not making that up: just read what he himself wrote in his election book!

Later in the same chapter he asks rhetorically why we didn’t make a deal with the leaders of Kuwait “that outlined how they would pay for us to get their country back for them…” (35) before Desert Storm.

Effectively, Trump here suggested we should have extorted money from the leaders of another sovereign nation before we went into military action. Thank goodness he wasn’t in charge of our country during World War 2! We would have had to negotiate with the Allies on the price of our help before we sent our brave soldiers to the shores of Normandy!

Trump has also been vocal about his opposition to NATO, an immensely important military alliance. The dismissal of many of our closest allies by Trump, often accompanied by accusations that the United States must pay too much money, once again shows that Trump’s foreign policy is based upon nothing but the bottom line. But of course foreign policy based purely on flawed economic theory (see “Fiscal Policy,” above) is not the best way to practice foreign policy. Neither is dismissing allies as though they have done “nothing” for us (see his quoted comments above on Germany, South Korea, and Japan).

Time and again, we see Trump’s foreign policy largely can be summed up by dollars and cents. When those dollar signs are set alongside the lives of Americans, as they clearly are in Trump’s mind, there’s a huge problem with his foreign policy.

SCOTUS

Look, simply appealing to the Supreme Court as the reason to select a President shows already how broken the system is. First of all, one’s alleged Supreme Court nominee list is not a “policy,” per se, so I’m confused by my conservative friends continuing to say that policy is the reason, and then citing SCOTUS as the only reason. That said, I don’t for a minute believe that we, conservatives or not, want Donald Trump selecting SCOTUS nominees. For one thing, as already mentioned, Trump believes the constitution should serve his whims when it comes to freedom of speech. Think he doesn’t know that the Supreme Court could help him achieve that if he can appoint judges he wants? Think again.

Of course, Trump has also said his pro-choice sister would make a great Supreme Court justice. He may have changed his mind about that–and it seems some are very willing to believe anything that Trump has changed his mind on–but for conservatives, that should have warning sirens blaring at full.

This article explores this difficulty further.

Abortion

It’s no secret that Trump is repeatedly on record voicing pro-choice ideals throughout his life. Only once he began to run for President–ostensibly as a conservative Republican–did Trump begin to say he was pro-life. But time and again, Trump has been blindsided by pro-life basics. When asked about what should happen if abortion were made illegal, he waffled his answer, saying there should be “some kind” of punishment for women who have abortions. More recently, in the third Presidential debate, he botched an explanation of partial birth abortion and failed to nail Clinton to the wall for her radically pro-choice perspectives that go against both science and logic.

Let’s be honest here, anyone who is truly convinced of the pro-life position ought to be able to articulate it, right? But Trump has demonstrated time and again that he cannot do exactly that. It should be extremely easy to expose Clinton’s talk about abortion for what it is: euphemism. But Trump could just repeat what seemed a memorized piece of rhetoric.

So we have an allegedly conservative Presidential candidate who can’t even articulate and defend the pro-life view beyond some catch phrases, and who fails to press the attack against what should be a fairly easy target.

Conclusion

There are many other reasons I would refuse to vote for Donald Trump, but I hope this post makes it clear that policy is one of those reasons. If my conservative friends and family and acquaintances–and I love you all, don’t let this sound any different–really, truly are conservative, they need to provide for me answers to all of the above. How is it that any of the above policies are conservative?

Grace and peace.

SDG.

Book Review: “The New Christian Zionism” edited by Gerald R. McDermott

ncz-mcdermottThe New Christian Zionism is a book of essays aimed to show that Zionism is both true and not necessarily linked to dispensationalism. Chapters range from hermeneutics to international law as authors approach the questions related to Christian Zionism from a number of angles.

The best chapters are those that focus specifically on exegesis and one controversial but historically interesting chapter on international law and theology. The exegetical chapters provide, at times, a formidable challenge to contrary opinions. In particular, David Rudolph’s chapter arguing for Zionism in the Pauline corpus argues cogently that some of the alleged proof-texts against “particularity” (read: Zionism/etc.) that speak of differences between Jew and Gentile as “nothing” do not literally eliminate all distinctions, because similar language is used by Paul in contexts that do not or cannot mean nothing. Robert Nicholson’s analysis of international law is sure to be controversial, but cannot be simply dismissed.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is that at several points the authors undermine their own commitment to scholarly engagement and instead resort to mud-slinging at their opponents. Discussions of eschatology are often unnecessarily heated, and at times authors if The New Christian Zionism do little but stoke the flames. For example, in a chapter on “Biblical Hermeneutics,” Craig Blaising writes “…the claim that Matthew is thereby teaching that Israel’s identity as an ethnic, national, territorial reality is ending as such and being replaced by the singular person of the Christ… reads too much into the text. It belongs to an anti-Semitic, anti-Judaic interpretation of Matthew that is generally rejected today” (84).

Apart from not actually putting forward what I think most amillennialists I’ve read believe with Matthew (i.e. not replacement but rather fulfillment; not redefinition but revealing), it’s stunning that this claim can be just thrown out there basically without commentary or defense. Though not frequent, such accusations are found in various parts of the book and do little to sell the point that McDermott attempted to put forward in the introduction that this book was not uniquely dispensational nor were its authors unaware of the complexity of the debate. Flat-out accusations of Antisemitism against those who believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT promises does little to advance discussion and smacks of being either desperate or uncomprehending. Blaising does little here to refute the alternative interpretation but rather dismisses it through guilt by (perceived) association. This is intellectual dishonesty at the basest level, and shows little-to-no engagement with one’s opponents.

In a chapter entitled “Theology and the Churches: Mainline Protestant Zionism and Anti-Zionism,” Mark Tooley reports on several Mainline Protestant Denominations’ interactions with Israel and policy related thereto. Interestingly, the United Methodist Church’s repeated stance to note that both Israeli Jews live amidst oppression while also citing Palestinian suffering and injustice against Palestine is labeled as an attempt to equate Zionism with racism. The Presbyterian Church (USA) urged the United States in 1983 to stop sending aid to Israel so long as they continued to settle on the West Bank. Episcopalians opposed moves by Israel that were seen as violating human and civic rights. This support of basic human rights for Palestinian peoples is put under a subheading called “‘Final Solution’ of Palestinian Problem.” This is astonishing. The call by these church bodies for protection of human rights was then labeled by the author as a “Final Solution,” hearkening ominously to the Final Solution the Nazis heinously carried out against the Jews. Such labeling shows a monumental incapacity for understanding opposing viewpoints, as well as an astounding lack of tact and awareness of historical perspective. The concluding statements of the chapter are most revealing:

Official mainline Protestantism’s outspoken hostility toward Israel and indifference to human rights abuses by far more repressive regimes reflects a divorce from ethical reality by religiously heterodox church bodies… Evangelical leaders… tempted to follow the mainline example should study its consequences. (219)

Of course, no reference was given to show that this indifference is indeed the case. For example, the briefest search on the internet turns up that just in 2015 the United Methodist Church raised $2 million for the Syrian/Iraq refugee crisis–hardly a show of indifference towards human rights abuses. The message of several of the authors of The New Christian Zionism, then, ought not to be missed: if an individual or a church body does not express Zionist tendencies, they will be denounced as similar to Nazis, as Antisemites, and the like, and your contributions to other areas will be overlooked or ignored.

Another difficulty is the constant use of verses stripped of context in order to make points. At many points, discussion will be happening in one book, and then a portion of a single verse from another book will be brought over as a proof text to put forward the interpretation being given. Certainly some of this is for space considerations, but it seems strange to jump around so frequently in citations. It would be simpler to follow the argument if proof texts were put either in parentheses after a statement (as is the case in the overwhelming majority of instances in the book) or cited in full with deeper discussion.

The historical analysis offered in the book is often uneven. Several early church writers are cited as supersessionists, and often labeled as having that position due to anti-Judaism, though these same writers are frequently taken out of context. When it is alleged that the majority of patristics scholars agree on something, only one citation of one scholar is offered. Moreover, some of the same church writers are cited as both Zionist and anti-Zionist writers. For example, though Irenaeus and Justin Martyr are both stated to be “replacement theologians,” they are recruited as Zionists-in-principle because they believed that eschatological fulfillment would center around Jerusalem (54). In other words, though these early writers were explicitly the opposite of Zionists by the author’s own admission, they are still recruited to the cause as early Christian Zionists.

None of these criticisms should be taken to mean that it is unnecessary or even wrong to support Israel in some endeavors. However, the dangers of both making one-to-one connections with the current nation-state and the theocracy of the Hebrew Scriptures and of blithely dismissing real wrongs committed by the current state of Israel are illustrated throughout this book.

The New Christian Zionism set out to show that Zionism is not intrinsically linked to dispensationalism and that Zionism is the correct viewpoint for Christians. I believe it failed on the latter point, and the former point is still in dispute. Though some arguments found in the book are intriguing, the majority are built on poor use of church history, proof-texting out of context, or simply by insulting and dismissing opposing views.

The Good

+Interesting exegetical background
+Insight into wide range of topics

The Bad

-Flat-out accusations of anti-Semitism against those who disagree
-Strips many verses of context to make points
-Historical analysis lacking
-Fails to carry thesis
-Highly uneven in presentation

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.

What evidence should we expect about Jesus? Smithsonian Magazine answers

Smithsonian owns all rights. I use under fair use.

Smithsonian owns all rights. I use under fair use.

I was browsing magazines at the library and saw the cover of the January/February Smithsonian (pictured). I grabbed it because it caught my interest with the article title. What impressed me most, however, was the several points made within the article. Though it at times took a conspiratorial tone, overall the point of the article was to show what daily life would be like in 1st Century Palestine.

One of the most interesting points is one that I think is often missed by the recent resurgence of those who are arguing that Jesus never existed. Namely, what kind of evidence should we expect to find when looking for the historical Jesus (if any). From the article:

“The sorts of evidence other historical figures leave behind are not the sort we’d expect with Jesus,” says Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University and a leading authority on Galilean history. “He wasn’t a political leader, so we don’t have coins, for example, that have his bust or name. He wasn’t a sufficiently high-profile social leader to leave behind inscriptions. In his own lifetime, he was a marginal figure and he was active in marginalized circles.” (49, cited below)

I think this quote shows much of the confusion that exists in Jesus mythicist circles. We can’t read 21st century expectations onto 1st century realities. Although Jesus is certainly an influential figure now, when he was crucified, he had disciples who had abandoned him and the only followers who stayed with him were women. Women were seen as unreliable witnesses in that time and place, and so the notoriety of Jesus, was of course, quite low. He was another messianic figure who had been crucified. It was only when some of these same women claimed to have seen the Christ as the first evangelists, spreading the message to the aforementioned disciples and beyond, that the message and fame of Jesus began to spread.

We cannot measure the evidence for Jesus’ life by what we would expect of similar figures today–or, worse–of what we’d expect from someone with Jesus’ influence now.

Source

Ariel Sabar, “Unearthing the World of Jesus” in Smithsonian (January/February 2016).

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!

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.

Book Review: “Silence and Beauty” by Makoto Fujimura

sb-fujimuraMakoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is a difficult book to categorize. It is, in part, an answer to the problem of evil, part an examination of Shusaku Endo’s book Silence, part cross-cultural dialogue between Western Christianity and Japan, and part a work of art criticism. It is, in my opinion, itself a work of beauty that inspires much reflection.

Fujimura’s major reflections center around Shusaku Endo’s classic, Silence. An appendix at the end of the book provides a summary of Silence that is pretty deep, so readers who haven’t read the novel can read and appreciate this book regardless. Of course Fujimura strongly urges readers to carefully read Silence, and I’d echo that sentiment, as Endo’s work is one of the most profound explorations of faith I have ever read. The basics are that a missionary arrives in Japan, where major persecution of Christians is currently occurring. One of the central images–figuratively and literally–in the book is that of the fumi-e, which is an image of Christ that the Japanese believers are required to trample upon in order to renounce their faith and demonstrate allegiance with Japan rather than foreign faith.

Fujimura continually returns to this image–the fumi-e–as an image of betrayal, hiddenness of God, and beauty. The novel Silence constantly asks the question: Why is God silent through this suffering? This leads Fujimura to reflection upon what it means to say God is silent, as well as the meaning of apostasy and faith. His reflections are often poetic–not literally, but the way he writes is beautiful and lyrical. He leads readers to deeper thought rather than providing immediate answers.

Another major aspect of Silence and Beauty is the unity of arts and faith. Fujimura is a renowned artist who utilizes ancient Japanese techniques to create modern art. Several of his–and other–works are featured in color in a set of plates towards the middle of the book. I found his reflection upon these and other artworks to be fascinating, and to demonstrate how the visual arts are extremely important in a life of faith. Even more intriguingly, however, he also points to how art and the image of the fumi-e may not be easily understood in a Western context.

At last, this leads us to the third major aspect of the book, which is that Japanese culture and Western culture are different. Yes, this seems a no-brainer, but Fujimura, who has straddled the line between these cultures for his entire life, approaches it from an insider’s perspective on both sides, demonstrating how blithe dismissal of certain symbolic aspects in the West does not do justice to the importance of those same ideas in Japan. This, he argues, is part of the way that Christians have been talking past the Japanese in a culture that, at some times in history, was considered prime territory for seeds of faith to grow. Fujimura issues a call for better evangelistic efforts to Japan, as well as a cry for those in the West to try to come to a fuller understanding of Japanese culture and history.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is an amazing book that fuses multiple disciplines and ideas together into a wonderfully readable, thought-provoking whole. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Integrates arts seamlessly into narratives
+Full of anecdotes with direct application
+Careful and thought-provoking examination of the problem of evil
+Cross-cultural insights are fair and substantive
+Exposes readers to many new ideas

The Bad

-More subdued in some conclusions than necessary

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.

Source

Makoto Fujimura Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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.

Book Review: “Justification” by N.T. Wright

justification-wrightN.T. Wright’s views about the doctrine of justification have continued to be quite controversial, and his book Justification is a brief summary of his entire project. Essentially, Wright is attempting to go back to the Pauline corpus to see exactly what Paul means by the doctrine of justification. Part of this project, for Wright, is to become aware of the idea that we may be asking the texts the wrong questions from the get-go. We need to understand the context to which Paul was writing before we can even properly formulate questions.

Wright begins with a number of preliminary comments. He first outlines the difficulties faced by biblical interpreters when they do start with the wrong questions. He argues that a number of our interpretations are based less on the text than an interpretation of the text itself. He argues that the Reformation tradition ought to continue to lead us to question even Reformation conclusions about texts like Galatians–and Luther’s “mistaken” reading (according to Wright) thereof. In other words, we need to acknowledge that we could be deeply mistaken, and have been deeply mistaken, about the meaning of these texts for hundreds of years. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but one that ought to be taken seriously. Acknowledging the possibility that an interpretation is based less on the text than on tradition or modern assumptions is one of the first steps to understanding the text.

Then, Wright proceeds to show the context to which Paul was writing. Specifically, much of the context he was writing to makes certain parts of the text make a lot more sense than they may otherwise. When you realize what was happening in the early church it becomes easier to understand some of the basic questions Paul was asking and answering. Next, Wright outlines his view of justification, which is admittedly never distilled (so far as I can tell) down to a single sentence. It is thus difficult to say exactly what his view is without an extended excursus longer than a book review, but the bare-bones basics, at risk of being overly simplistic, is that justification is God’s work through Israel of bringing the whole world to himself, declaring it righteous not through imputed righteousness, but through a law court declaration of righteousness. Yes, before those who understand Wright’s position better than I do, this is very simplistic and misses some key points of his doctrine. Yet, I have to make the attempt to summarize as best I can what he was arguing.

Finally, Wright concludes with lengthy exegesis of a number of Pauline passages. Though he himself says these are but the first steps along the lines of understanding Paul, it ought to be noted that it is in this section of the book that Wright engages most thoroughly with critics of his position as well as providing a positive statement of his view. This new edition that I’m reviewing adds an additional introduction from Wright, which outlines the continuing debates over Pauline theology.

One difficulty with Wright’s approach that many may object to is the notion that it undermines the perspicuity of Scripture. Now, I’m one who hates throwing that term around, because perspicuity is used as a kind of battering ram doctrine to try to silence critics on all sorts of topics. However, the real doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture, yes, inherited from the Reformation, is that the Bible is clear in that which is necessary to understand for salvation. If, however, Wright is correct in saying that must understand a great deal of historical context before we can even get to the right questions for the doctrine of justification, this seems to make it quite complex indeed to get to the knowledge that people need for salvation. Of course, Wright would–and did–argue that this is already starting off on the wrong track, because Paul was not so much interested in individual salvation as he was interested in the plan of Salvation through Israel of the whole world. And that is a fair answer, though it does seem to–in some sense–undermine the clarity of Scripture as has been taught. Once again, Wright would probably accept this and argue that that idea is itself an inherited tradition that the Reformers themselves would call us to examine and test by Scripture.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of the book to me was the continued targeting of Luther and Lutheran theology by Wright. I know of some Lutheran pastors who have argued Wright’s position is not far at all from the Lutheran one, and others who believe he is as far from Lutheranism on justification as possible. Though this may simply show confusion within Lutheran theology, it may also show–and I think does–that Wright’s position (and probably Luther’s) is not so clearly stated as he thinks. Moreover, I am curious about the continued calling out of Lutherans (and, yes, Reformed thinkers) by Wright, considering that his position seems, on the face of it, so utterly close to what Lutherans do believe about justification, and much farther from some other denominational perspectives.

Justification is required reading for those interested in Pauline theology, whether one agrees with Wright or not. That said, it is unfortunate that a decent amount of the work seems to be polemical against perceived enemies rather than embracing potential allies.

The Good

+Leads readers to a deeper look at biblical texts
+Provides solid background to understanding Pauline corpus
+Outlines Wright’s ways in a concise fashion

The Bad

-Strangely focused on the Lutheran position
-Not always very clear

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.

Source

N.T. Wright, Justification (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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.

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.

“Ben Hur” – Gods, Faith, Baptism, and Forgiveness

ben-hur-2016I had the chance to go see the new “Ben Hur” movie this past weekend. I think it is fair to say that I’m a huge fan of Ben Hur in many forms. I read the novel (at least) annually. I watch the Charlton Heston version of the film several times a year. It is one of the most utterly compelling plots I know of. It’s a tale of betrayal and revenge that turns into much more than that. (Be sure to see the Links at the end for several more of my posts about the book and other movie.) Here, I will look at this particular retelling of the story of Ben Hur and the worldview themes found therein. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gods and Faith

A contrast of faiths is found throughout the movie, yet it isn’t just a two-sided picture. We see Messala’s devotion to Roman gods early on in the film, as he prays to those gods for the safety of his adopted brother, Judah Ben Hur (in this version, Messala was orphaned and adopted by the House of Hur). Judah’s mother chastises him, saying that they serve a different God under her household. At a later point, the Hurs are celebrating a Jewish festival, and Messala acts somewhat left out. Judah Ben Hur asks him about this and comments that wine knows no specific god (implying that Messala can at least enjoy himself with the festal wine). Judah is indeed portrayed as something of a skeptic throughout much of the film, and that’s where we see some of the most subtle but intriguing aspects of the journey of faith found here.

Judah’s journey includes doubts about God, and he even speaks these in one of his encounters with Jesus. He asks Jesus how, if God has a plan that includes us, we are any better than slaves. Jesus replies in a way that is reminiscent of so many of his responses in the Bible, nodding to Esther, a former slave who at this point is Judah’s wife, and saying “ask her.” Cynically, this could be interpreted as a non-answer, but it also shows a similarity in fashion to the way Jesus often answered such questions that were posed not as genuine questions but as challenges. He turned the question inward and forced him to confront his own life.

Judah’s ultimate turning point comes after his defeat of Messala through a chariot race in the circus. He  stands before the crucified savior and he hears Jesus utter the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Judah breaks down and weeps, coming to a full realization that those words are not just empty: they are for him and about him. It is at the cross that Judah comes to a realization of his own inadequacy and need for forgiveness, and, yes, true faith.

Baptism

After the cross, the Hur family is healed by the water that mingles with the blood of Christ, just as in the earlier film version. This water washing away the dead flesh of leprosy is a perfect allegory for baptism, which saves through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). To see the water wash away the physical ailment here is a great allegory for baptism.

benhur-esther

Certainly one of the most interesting characters in the film.

Women in Ben Hur

The film does a pretty phenomenal job portraying women. First, there are women in the garden with Jesus when the Romans come to take him away. I think this almost certainly would have been the case, given how many women were close followers and later proclaimers of Christ. It was good to see the filmmakers decided not to skip over them. Second, the character of Esther was just as the image I shared here describes her- a defender, a confidant, and a believer. She remains faithful throughout the movie, despite having a few flaws.

Forgiveness

Perhaps the central theme in the movie is forgiveness. Indeed, they took some liberty with the plot to highlight this theme more effectively, leaving Messala alive and vengeful towards the end, only to forgive Judah as Judah forgives him. It is a beautiful scene, though it feels a tad rushed. The book doesn’t have this scene, though it also highlights forgiveness. Once again, it is clear that this is a Christian theme shown through the film.

Conclusion

“Ben Hur” is different from the Charlton Heston version of the story in several key ways, and diverges radically from the book on a few key points. That said, it is one of the most Christian messages I have seen recently in any movie. It has many wonderful portrayals of worldview found therein, and it does so in a much more intriguing way than almost any other film I know of recently.

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!

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic– I look at the 1959 epic film from a worldview perspective. How does the movie reflect the deeply Christian worldview of the book?

What About Those Who Haven’t Heard? – Part 1 of a case study on religious pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”– I examine two of the most popular answers to the question about those who have not heard about Jesus (and their eternal fate) from the book.

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace– The post introducing this entire series on “Ben Hur.” It has links to all the posts in the series.

SDG.

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