J.W. Wartick

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Book Review: “The Earliest Christologies” by James L. Papandrea

tec-papandreaJames L. Papandrea’s The Earliest Christologies is an introduction to examination of five views of who Christ was in the earliest church. Papandrea examines views of Christ as angel, prophet, phantom, cosmic mind, and Word/Logos.

The strongest point of the book is that it provides a reasoned, non-sensationalist accounting of the diversity of Christological positions in the early church. Too often, authors try to play up great conflict in the early church and what became orthodoxy as merely whatever view happened to have the most powerful adherents. None of that exists in The Earliest Christologies, which instead gives an overview of each position and shows that orthodoxy was superior in key ways.

Readers will get a broad overview of each of the five positions examined, along with multiple directions they could take further study, should they desire. It’s a solid introductory text.

Two primary difficulties face the book, and they are interlinked. The book is quite short, and so is necessarily brief on multiple important points, offering little by way of analysis. Papandrea notes throughout that the looks at Christology provided herein are “neater, cleaner, and more well-defined than they would have been in ‘real life'” (105). This brevity isn’t necessarily a major drawback, as it is intended as a work that introduces readers to the various positions on Christology in the earliest church, but it may leave some readers wanting more.

Well-written and stuffed with information, The Earliest Christologies provides a much-needed introduction to historical views of Christ. Although its brevity may limit its usefulness to introductory reading, such a work is necessary and it comes recommended. It would serve as an excellent text for a class on Christology or a high-level Bible study group.

The Good

+Provides a reasoned voice in examining early Christology
+Wealth of information in an accessible format

The Bad

-Extremely brief on multiple points
-Little by way of analysis

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific 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.

“Manual of Christian Evidences”- Fisher Chapter 3 Guided Reading

Image from a camping trip I took.

Image from a camping trip I took.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is quite short but has some thoughts to chew on. Perhaps the highlight is a brief exposition of the argument from felt need (also commonly called the argument from desire). Let’s talk about this and other issues below!

First, the discussion of the felt need for revelation in humanity (22-24). I wonder if this is an aspect of the argument that could be made stronger. It seems to me that the Bible speaks to the notion of all humanity knowing God, in some sense (Romans 1). But how do we tap into that? Do all people really have this felt need? There are plenty of atheists who deny such a felt need. I wonder if arguments focused on the existential need for Christianity could be expounded and strengthened. This argument is a different type than the more common one (below), but it still appeals to an pparent need within human nature that is met by Christianity. As more discoveries point to the notion of a “God gene” or psychological desire to believe in God, this argument, I think, actually gains more empirical support. Can such needs be reduced to nothing but genetics?

Second, regarding Fisher’s argument for the “way in which Christianity meets the deep wants of human nature” (25ff) is quite engaging. It is just the kind of argument people like us who are interested in historical apologetics are looking for: one that is not so commonly used now. But I think Fisher puts it forward masterfully. It is worth noting that he integrates wide ranges of evidence into his points. The first point is that the main truths of natural religion are put forth in Christianity in a “clear and vivid form” (25). Thus, Fisher is arguing that whatever is revealed in nature should point to the truth of Christianity. I’ve found this to be true time and again. After this first point, Fisher notes several lines of evidence that appeal to human conscience and desires.

I think this is an argument that could have broader appeal in our culture. People want to know that what they believe resonates with reality and pointing to how Christianity relates to desires can make it seem more real.

I do, however, wonder about things like the claim on p 26- “The moral precepts of Christianity are conformed to the dictates of conscience.” I think that this aspect of the argument would meet with vehement challenge as people charge Christianity with teaching against common sense and nature in regards to morality. How might we counter these responses?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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.

Book Review: “Undeniable” by Douglas Axe

undeniable-axeUndeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed by Douglas Axe is an explanation of Intelligent Design theory at a lay level. Axe contends that by appealing to “common science”—the notion that experience is integral to how we live and that each individual is, in a sense, a scientist because we use experience to make models and figure out how things work (60-61)—the inference to design will be vindicated.

A central aspect of Axe’s case is appeal to what he calls “The Universal Design Intuition” defined as “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge” (20). This intuition, argues Axe, is supported by experimental data, including difficulties with forming proteins to form specific chemical transformations (33ff). He also utilizes mathematical modeling to show that it is effectively impossible to achieve certain results purely by chance (89ff). It is insight that is required to achieve the results that we see in biology, he argues. There is no amount of repetition possible to offset the improbability of life in our universe and life as we see (103).

Counter-arguments to design are addressed, including the multiverse. Axe argues that “aimless wandering” of chance effectively means that anything but design for the results we observe is impossible. There is a specific “target area” which must be achieved to get life, and the odds against hitting that target are infinitesimal to the point that they are practically impossible (113ff).

Ultimately, Axe concludes, “Functional coherence makes accidental invention fantastically improbable and therefore physically impossible” (160). The sheer improbability stacked against the notion that life could evolve functionally to new life forms makes it physically impossible, thus showing that design is the best inference when it comes to life. Scenarios which are alleged to show evolution in action require tweaking from outside, thus demonstrating that insight and design are required for life (198ff; 209). Moreover, “Nothing evolves unless it already exists” (214), and the existence of life cannot merely evolve from non-life given the probabilities stacked against it.

Why, then, do so few scientists advocate for design or see it in nature? Axe’s answer to this question is that there is enormous bias and no small amount of power being wielded against the design inference: “Harm comes to science not by people hoping to find a particular result but by people trying to suppress results that go against their hopes” (45). He argues that there is at least some intentional suppression of design theory and that new ideas take time to gain space in academia (46ff; 215ff).

Axe’s argument is geared towards lay readers, though it does have a few new things to offer those who have read the majority of ID literature already. His analysis of the mathematics behind design inferences will help gain an understanding of what is meant by “possible” in logical vs. physical senses. Moreover, his firsthand experience of experimental confirmation gives him a voice that is not often heard in defense of ID. It is not merely modeling that is happening, but rather experimentation with results.

That said, there are a few issues in the book. First, I think that the continued appeal to bias as the reason for rejecting ID is overdone. Although some certainly do reject ID due to bias against  the notion of a creator or designer, there are many who reject it because they find its arguments either inconclusive or mistaken. Bias exists, but it is not the only reason for rejecting ID theory any more than materialism is the only reason for rejecting ID. Second, evolution is treated as a kind of singular entity, with natural selection as the only mechanism proposed to accomplish the diversification of species. Though he acknowledges some efforts to modify evolutionary theory that acknowledge other mechanisms (220-224), he dismisses such efforts as “patching holes” instead of as serious alternative proposals. I admit I have no expertise in evolutionary biology, but I am familiar enough with the idea to know that several different notions of how evolution may produce new life forms are proposed, and that most acknowledge some combination of several factors is probably right. It seemed strange for Axe to largely dismiss these as dead ends. Third, there are several points of the argument that seemed rushed or simply passed by. I understand this is a book for laity, but the movement from seeing some aspect of evolution as physically impossible to design is an inference that requires some explanation beyond assertion.

Overall, Undeniable provides more food for thought for those interested in Intelligent Design and the debate between ID advocates and opponents. Axe does offer some insights that I, at least, haven’t read anywhere else. The book is also written at a level that almost any reader could pick it up and get the core of Axe’s argument. Those interested in the debate over Intelligent Design would be well-served to pick up a copy. I will be interested in seeing what responses are offered.

The Good

+Good introduction to ID theory
+A fresh take on some aspects of ID
+Use of examples that are easy to understand

The Bad

-Relies too much upon perceived bias in science
-Skims through much argumentation
-Little interaction with alternate evolutionary scenarios

Source

Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York: HarperOne, 2016).

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

Book Review: “The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology” by Jordan Cooper

tgd-cooperThe Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology presents a broad-spectrum look at Reformed theology from a Lutheran perspective.* Cooper breaks this analysis up into three parts: Predestination and Free Will, Worship and the Sacraments, and Salvation. These parts are intended to show the greatest dividing lines between Reformed and Lutheran thought.

It is really quite exciting to see how well-read Cooper is on both Reformed and Lutheran thought. On the Reformed side, he frequently cites Calvin (of course), Bavinck, Edwards, Piper, Grudem, and more. On the Lutheran side, he draws from Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Kolb, and more. This thorough use of sources on both sides helps shield against bias, as Cooper continually cites the words of prominent theologians of each tradition.

Cooper provides in each chapter a presentation of Reformed thought on the topic, drawing extensively from prominent Reformed thinkers past and present, as well as various Reformed Confessions. Then, he provides a look at the Lutheran perspective, often quoting the Lutheran Confessions as well as prominent Lutheran thinkers. After providing this comparison, Cooper argues for the Lutheran position, noting the points of divergence along the way. At many points, this analysis is fairly robust. However, at other points Cooper does swiftly move from one point to another before providing enough to establish each point.

One of the things that comes to the front most clearly in the book is just how close Reformed and Lutheran thought are on a number of issues. Unfortunately, as close as the two traditions come on many areas, the chasm between the two remains vast. This is particularly clear in regards to the Sacraments and Predestination. I was also pretty surprised to see how different the Reformed and Lutheran view regarding worship is. The regulative principle within Reformed thought–that whatever is not commanded in Scripture ought not to be done in worship–was something that startled me. I hadn’t considered such a position, but Cooper showed the arguments for and against this position, coming down on the side of Lutheranism (again, he’s coming from that perspective), which sees worship as something that God allows for more leeway in than do Reformed thinkers.

It is truly amazing how much information Cooper manages to convey in just 200 pages. Readers are introduced to both Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on a number of important theological topics, treated to both exposition of those views and offered critique of the Reformed position all in a very clear style and form.

There are two minor critiques I’d offer of the book. The first is the continued use of the archaic “man” to refer to all people. There were, in fact, a few places in which I had to work to discern whether Cooper meant all people or just men when it came to what he was writing. A second critique is that because of the books relatively short length, some of the arguments on either the Reformed or Lutheran side seem extremely brief, leaving some of the arguments inconclusively demonstrated.

Jordan Cooper’s The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology is a vast trove of information and analysis. Extensively researched and well-reasoned, it will provide readers unfamiliar with either Reformed or Lutheran theology (or both) an introduction to each tradition as well as a look at how they may interact with one another.

The Good

+Engages with prominent theologians from each group
+Historically informed
+Treats Reformed thought fairly
+Vast wealth of information

The Bad

-Continued use of archaic “man” etc. as inclusive
-Some points are breezed through very quickly

*It is worth noting my own bias here: I am a Lutheran who was raised Lutheran and, though I wandered a little bit, have become quite convinced of Lutheran theology in recent years.

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

Source

Jordan Cooper The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015).

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: “Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology” by Shao Kai Tseng

kbitShao Kai Tseng’s Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology is a thorough examination of Barth’s lapsarian position. There are two major positions in Reformed circles regarding how God ordered the divine decrees. Supralapsarianism teaches that God decreed election (who would be saved) and reprobation (who would be condemned) prior to the Fall, while infralapsarianism teaches that God first decrees the Fall, then election and reprobation (among other things). Not all Reformed thinkers hold to one of these two positions. For a fuller explanation, see here, or look more deeply at the book. Barth, historically, has been understood as a supralapsarian, and even at times explicitly claimed that position for himself. Tseng argues, however, that Barth’s position is truly infralapsarian.

Tseng argues for his thesis through an examination of Barth’s developing thought. He begins with Barth’s earliest works and then traces his thought on problems of atonement, decree, and redemption throughout his life. Tseng interacts with numerous interpreters of Barth, utilizing them to support his theory or showing where they are mistaken.

The two greatest difficulties with the book are linked. Tseng’s tone is relentlessly even, such that there are few breaks for readers to pause and consider the contents, and few examples of application of the texts are given. This means that there is little reason given to investigate the central topic of the book: Barth’s lapsarian position. Why, exactly, does Barth’s lapsarian position actually matter to us now? Other than scratching a curious itch, what application does it have? Surely, for historical reasons, it is good to know where Barth ought to line up, but beyond that Tseng doesn’t give much of a reason for seeing why this impacts broader theological studies.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the book is without merit. Those deeply interested in Barth will want to engage with it and debate its contents. Moreover, because Tseng looks deeply at Barth’s developing thought, it provides some analysis of Barth’s overall theology.

Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology is dry and fairly esoteric. For those who are deeply interested in Barthian thought, however, this will be necessary reading, particularly if one wants to engage in Barth’s doctrine of election. If one wishes to delve deeply into Barthian thought and Reformed disputes over lapsarian positions, this is a good read, but its audience is limited to that group.

The Good

+Exposes readers to large amounts of Barth’s thought
+Utilizes interpreters of Barth well
+Detailed look at the central topic

The Bad

-Little reason offered to pursue central topic
-Tone doesn’t put much “life” in the text itself

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

Source

Shao Kai Tseng, Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology (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: “None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (And Why That’s a Good Thing)” by Jen Wilkin

nlh-wilkin

Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him is an introduction to the study of divine attributes.

Each chapter is laid out in much the same fashion: an anecdote begins each with a way to conceptualize the topic of the chapter (such as omnipotence), then an exposition of the meaning of the term and its importance in the Bible, following this there are a few ways that humans distort whatever divine attribute is being discussed, and the chapter closes with a few study questions, verses for more exploration, and a prayer. The format makes it ideal to use as a 10-11 meeting study group.

Upon starting the book, I immediately realized I wasn’t the intended audience. Although I checked the catalogue description and didn’t see anything about this, the book is apparently intended for study by women who are interested in getting deeper into theology. I’m a man, but I don’t think this precluded me in any way from doing a review of the book.

Wilkin’s use of examples, I felt, was particularly helpful. As I said, each chapter begins with an anecdote that helps illustrate the attribute or quality that is being disussed. Wilkin uses examples throughout the text to help make the abstract concrete, and I didn’t notice any that seemed to be off point. I also thought including sections on how humans distort various divine attributes was a wise choice, and made the book even more practical and applicable than it might otherwise have been.

The book is not without flaws, however. One of the most obvious is the somewhat ironic continued usage of the archaic “man” to refer to all humanity. Because the book is explicitly written for women (see the Introduction), this makes saying things like “our fellow man” in the same context as “we” sound stilted and strange. A deeper problem is that control of one’s own body is treated as a “sin” explicitly and exclusively even when it comes to a disease like anorexia or other eating disorders (Kindle Location 1746): “when we cross the line into unhealthy control [of our bodies], we move… to idolatry. This can take the form of… eating disorders…” No grace is offered in this passage for those who do struggle with things like eating disorders. Indeed, the message conveyed is contextually that all we need to do is stop “striving for control” and take away our commitment to “your own sovereignty” and we can then conquer these sinful issues. This is a deeply problematic to engage with something like an eating disorder, because eating disorders impact people mentally as well as physically to the point where it takes outside intervention to stop. Indeed, it is at this point that it might make the most sense to offer grace, because God’s inworking on humanity is what it takes to fight against such darkness in the world.

None Like Him is, ultimately, a decent introduction to the topics it covers. It doesn’t go much beyond the basics, but it does offer a good format and examples to help think through the issues. However, it is marred by a simplistic understanding of sin and adherence to archaic forms of expression.

The Good

+Interesting use of day-to-day examples
+Helpful format

The Bad

-Archaic use of masculine to refer… to women
-Treats disorders as inherently sinful

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

Source

Jen Wilkin, None Like Him (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” – Deconversion, Hope, and Strife

fog-follet

Ken Follett’s “The Century Trilogy” is a sweeping series . I just finished the first book, Fall of Giants, and realized there were several themes found therein that begged comment here. Here, I will analyze the book from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

I will not go over the plot of the book. A brief summary may be found here.

Deconversion

Billy Williams is a Welsh boy who goes to work in a coal mine. The first day on the job he is left alone in the pitch black–his lamp went out. Rather than wandering lost in the tunnels he keeps working until someone comes to get him. To keep himself from being too frightened, he sings Christian hymns and draws comfort from them. At the end, when the light is restored, he sees a fleeting vision of Christ just at the corner of the light and says “Thank you.”

If that sounds like the start of a storyline that will be an example of a life of faith to you, you would be disappointed. After an explosion in the coal mine, he is distressed by the problem of evil–why does God let bad things happen? As he grows older, Billy is exposed to textural criticism. He is disturbed that we don’t have copies of the original texts from which we get the words of the Bible. His father, who often preaches at their worship services, has insufficient answers. Later in life, Billy’s sister gets pregnant and is judged sharply by his father and their town because she is not married. He is strongly put off by the apparent hypocrisy of the people. He never returns to church.

I admit that “deconversion” may be a bit of a misnomer because it is never specifically said that Billy doesn’t believe in God anymore, but the implications are there. He has a deep distrust of and distaste for Christianity, it seems, after this.

The story illustrates the need for a firm foundation. Textual criticism is not something Christians should fear, as it allows us to recover the text of the Bible more accurately. The problem of evil is not unsolvable. And, unfortunately, Christian hypocrisy is actually something to be expected. Indeed, the Christian worldview would expect hypocrisy at times because we are still sinners in this world and will continue to commit wrongs, despite being people of faith. None of this was hinted at in the novel, but I suspect that this is due in part to the fact that Follett is himself an avowed secular humanist. There seems to be an agenda here (and see below).

Unfortunately, Billy’s story is similar to one we can see repeating in churches and families all over. We have not studied our faith. We have not worked out the hard problems related to Christianity, so when we are confronted by them, we are often found with pat answers rather than the truth. We need to actively seek out answers and be aware of our own limitations. Unable to answer every question, we should commit ourselves to a life of faith seeking understanding.

Hope

There is hope found in the darkness throughout the coming World War and the plights of the individual people. Hope is found largely in the actions of other people–the small kindnesses that are done even in the face of evil. As the world seems to be crashing down all around, it is relationships which keep people going. Some of these are vaguely religious in nature, though the persisting theme seems to be that people need to do for themselves whatever they’d like to accomplish.

Religious Leaders?

One persistent theme throughout the book is that those involved in the church are mean, nasty, and most likely sexual deviants. Any time a priest-whether Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglican–is mentioned or encountered, it is almost always in context of some offhand remark about how they sexually harassed a child or how someone who is now an adult remembers when they were asked to have sex with the priest, etc. It’s actually quite tiresome. While on the one hand it is important to note that there are those within Christianity who have abused power throughout time, on the other hand, to suggest that everyone in some sort of position in power was a power-hungry sexual predator is uneven, to put it mildly.

Those who are not in established religion–like Billy’s dad–are portrayed as aloof, distant, and largely uncaring. Billy’s dad does get a chance to redeem himself as he accepts Ethel back into the family, but only after he had to consider the possibility of having his whole family fall apart.

Conclusion

Follett has woven an intriguing story with a very strong premise. It is unfortunate that throughout there also seem to be straight polemics against Christianity. A better balance was needed to make it seem realistic and not so much a diatribe against Christianity. Some good takeaways can be had from reading the book, but the worldview it presents is largely bleak and hopeless.

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.)

Source

Ken Follet, Fall of Giants (Signet, 2012).

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.

Manual of Christian Evidences: Fisher Chapter 2 Guided Reading

100_2744I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, Fisher begins his defense of the possibility of miracles. Join me for a reflection on some of the key issues that come up in this chapter.

First, the question of defining miracles. Do you think that Fisher’s definition(s) are adequate? I ask this because I wonder whether there is potential for a false dichotomy between natural/supernatural phenomena. That is, I wonder if defining miracle as “an event which the forces of nature–including the natural powers of man–cannot of themselves produce and which must, therefore, be referred to a supernatural agency” (11) means that any storm, wind, etc. could not be referred to as miraculous. Clearly a wind that arises “out of nothing” without natural possibility of occurring as it did would be miraculous as defined here, but would it be if God just used a “natural” event? I’m not endorsing this theory, but suppose the turning of the Nile to “blood” is a reference to the color of the water being reddened by red mud that ran down the Nile from upriver. The timing was perfect, but the event was natural in this case. Does that make it natural rather than miraculous? Does the timing not factor at all? Would such an explanation remove the Nile turning to blood from the realm of the miraculous?

I don’t propose any specific answer to these questions, but my gut says that such an event would still be miraculous in at least some sense. And if that’s the case, the definition of miracle used here does create the false dichotomy I noted. Am I wrong on this? If so, why?

Second, the question of free will. Let’s not start a debate on the meaning of free will or anything of the sort. What I want to point to is Fisher’s use of free will as a “miracle” (12-13). He notes that the will moves physical forces yet it cannot be detected in a physical way. I think this is an intriguing example, and I wonder if others agree that this may be seen as “miraculous.”

However, I also wonder if his definition of miracles works against his example. After all, there is a clause he puts above: “including the natural powers of [hu]man[s].” Is free will in his example a natural power of humanity? I would think so. But in that case, it is not miraculous by his own definition. Is my reasoning fault here?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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.

Book Review: “Political Church” by Jonathan Leeman

pc-leeman

Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule is a detailed study of the interaction between Christianity and the public sphere. Leeman’s central thesis is that the church, as the local assembly, acts as an embassy–a political place in which Christ’s rule on earth is present.

The book is broken up into 6 lengthy chapters, each building on the last, as Leeman argues for his thesis. The first two chapters address the questions “What is politics?” and “What is an Institution?” From there, Leeman builds on politics of creation, the Fall, the New Covenant, and the Kingdom.

One of the most critical areas of the book is that there is no such thing as a totally neutral ground from which to build a political system. There is no religiously neutral political philosophy. To make the case for this central point, Leeman draws extensively from people like William Cavanaugh and Stanely Hauerwas. Essentially, the point is that because one’s religious beliefs (or alleged lack thereof) govern, effectively, all areas of one’s thought, one cannot excise them without effectively abandoning those beliefs, thus going against them. There is much more to this argument, but it is one of the many fascinating areas Leeman highlights.

Exactly how does the church act as an embassy for Christ? The sixth chapter, “The Politics of the Kingdom,” presents a number of fascinating insights into this question. Leeman takes a deep look at the notion of the “Keys of the Kingdom,” drawn from Matthew 16 (334ff). This discussion draws from multiple commentaries and spans questions from “what is the church?” to “how ought we perform church discipline?” to whether the church ought to function as a kind of civil magistrate. These kind of deep questions permeate the pages of Political Church such that readers will want to spend a great deal of time poring over the text and reflecting on the points therein.

There are a few areas worth critiquing in the book. First, much discussion time is spent on the notion of how exactly God’s covenant went from old to new covenant, but this all plays out on a kind of amorphous theological backdrop such that it is difficult to determine exactly what Leeman is saying. Is he pushing a kind of dispensational theology? At points it seems so, but other times it does not. Because the theological point here is not central to his book, Leeman doesn’t give readers enough to see where he’s coming from, particularly in chapter four’s (The Politics of the Fall) discussion of different covenants.

Another difficulty is, admittedly, drawn from a minor point in the book. Leeman states explicitly that, “if membership in the new covenant requires both the activity of the Spirit and the assent of the individual to God… then membership in… the church… should… be restricted to those who give their assent. To place infants born into a ‘Christian’ nation onto church roles misidentifies God’s presence, reputation, righteousness and justice…” (272). On the one hand, his notion that membership in the church requires both the Spirit and assent is explicitly tied to his understanding of the body of the church as a political one. On the other hand, although he stresses that exact point, it is never clear exactly what that means in terms of justification. This takes us away from the purpose of his book, but given statements like these it seems clear that justification is at least some part of what he is referring to. Justification is the work of the spirit, saving people who are dead slaves to sin who cannot free themselves. But if that’s the case, then his objection to infants being placed on church rolls seems to fall apart, for although infants cannot express consent, that does not seem to be required for the doctrine of justification. As a Lutheran particularly, I affirm that infants may have faith, because faith is a gift of the Spirit rather than an act of humans. Yet even here, Leeman might object noting that he is speaking in political terms rather than in the terms I am using.

A final difficulty is with Leeman’s reading of Luther’s Two Kingdoms model. Although he does avoid the most egregious misinterpretations of Luther on this point, Leeman argues that Luther’s model turns God’s people/not-God’s-people into church/state or Word/state. Then, he argues that the Bible and the church have words for those who are not God’s people as well and the state rules over God’s people (274-275, for example). But this is not what Luther’s model entails. It’s not that church/state on Luther’s model never interact; indeed, Leeman’s own conception seems to be extremely close to the core of what Luther was getting at in his doctrine of Two Kingdoms. He constructs it around the idea that there are two ages rather than two kingdoms, and that there are two kinds of life- secular and eternal (275). Yet even this speaking of two ages ultimately comes back to noting that there is “present simultaneity of the ages,” leading one to wonder how far from “two kingdoms” that exist simultaneously Leeman’s own argument truly is. This does go beyond Luther, but I think it’s the direction Luther’s own teaching was aiming towards, and it is interesting that Luther draws frequent mention as being close, but mistaken (29-31; 177; 275; etc.).

These minor points, though I have labored over them, do little to take away from the monumental importance of this work. Leeman has done a tremendous service to those interested in delving deeply into a theological vision of church and state. Each chapter brings together exegesis, philosophy, and sociology in informative, often surprising ways.

Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule is an important work that is sure to influence all who read it, whether they agree with the contents or not. It is essential reading for those curious about the interplay between Christianity and politics. I highly recomend it.

The Good

+Engages with multiple voices throughout church history
+Generally offers balanced, ecumenical perspective
+Blends exegesis, systematics, sociology, and more
+Extensive interaction with experts in related fields

The Bad

-Wrongfully excludes children and infants from Christ’s Kingdom
-Somewhat vague on some theological points

Source

Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (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.

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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.

“Conviction” by Kelly Loy Gilbert- Faith, Baseball, and the messiness of sin

Conviction-Kelly-Loy-Gilbert

Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Conviction is a novel that covers any number of sensitive topics, from faith to familial abuse, from homosexuality to racism. There are few punches pulled in the book, and it centers the narrative around both a baseball season and a murder trial. There will be SPOILERS for this thought-provoking book in what follows.

Baseball and Conviction

The plot centers around Braden as he waits to testify in his father’s murder trial. His father,  Martin Scott Raynor, Jr., is accused of intentionally running over and killing a police officer during a traffic stop. Meanwhile, the dead cop’s nephew plays baseball for the major rival team that Braden has to prepare to defeat. Braden is a pitcher, and many of the anecdotes in the book center around Braden’s experiences in baseball.

Indeed, many of the moments throughout the book where baseball is discussed are linked directly to faith and conviction. For example, years before the events of the book, Braden prayed for a sign from God and was at a San Francisco Giants game when a home run ball landed in his glove. He took it as a sign that his family would not fall apart. It did. Another example is Braden’s own focus on pitching and how it puts him in stark relief against the universe.

Conviction and Messiness

Above I mentioned that Braden had asked for a sign and felt he’d received it. Yet the interpretation he layered over the sign did not stand up to reality. His family–his dad Mart, and his brother Trey–did indeed fall apart spectacularly. But towards the end of the book, Braden realized that his interpretation had been too simplistic. It would be easier to walk away from God in disappointment, but that didn’t reflect the reality that Braden experienced.

What struck me most about Conviction is how uncomfortable it made me. It demonstrates, time and again, the messiness of a world that has been infected with sin. Braden’s father clearly cares about he and Trey, but he’s also both physically and verbally abusive. Mart also makes clearly racist statements at times, and these statements are never clearly condemned. Gilbert has written a subtler book than that. Readers are left to read the story and come to their own conclusions. Hints are left, but what Gilbert has done is present the world in all of its messiness. It would make me more comfortable if she had revealed clearly where her own stances were, but instead we are left with a plot and characters that feel remarkably like the real world. The real world is not so easy to put in individual boxes and definitions.

Perhaps that is what Gilbert does best, then, in Conviction. She portrays a world sin has infected by showing us broken people who don’t deserve grace. Nevertheless, grace is shown to them by a God who is near.

God’s Love

…I think about how with my dad, and with Trey, no matter what either one of them ever does I think I’ll still feel exactly the same way about them that I always have. I know it shouldn’t be like that because it isn’t safe, and because I think most other people get to choose who they care about and when to stop and it’s not fair… I think that’s the worst and the most dangerous thing I know.
But I hope–I hope–that’s something like what God feels about me. (327)

These lines are so poignant because of all that has come before them. Braden realizes that he loves his family unconditionally, and hopes that God feels that way about him.

Indeed, the love of God is one of the most prominent themes throughout the Bible, and Braden’s thoughts on this matter reflect, I think, the kind of existential reality that all Christians must live in. We realize that though we are sinners, God has declared us saints.

Conclusion

Conviction  is one of those rare novels that will keep you thinking about the story and characters long after you have read the book. I think it is one of the most honest, heart-rending books I have read. It comes highly recommended.

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

 

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