psychology

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Book Review: “Mad or God?” by Pablo Martinez and Andrew Sims

C.S. Lewis’s famous trilemma is central to Martinez and Sims’s investigation in Mad or God? That trilemma states:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the devil of hell…” (cited on page xi)

The trilemma, then, is that Jesus is, as many have put it, mad, bad, or God (or Liar, Lord, or Lunatic). In Mad or God?, Martinez and Sims examine the claim in light of whether Jesus can be read as a madman. What’s interesting is that, unlike many works on the trilemma (or ones which reference it), this one is written by two who have expertise in the topic. According to the author blurbs, Pablo Martinez is a psychiatrist and Andrew Sims is a “world-renowned authority on the study of the symptoms of the mind (psychopathology).”

The book is centered around chapters which examine Jesus’s words in the Gospels and looking at whether, from a psychiatric standpoint, they qualify as various forms of psychopathy. These chapters examine, then, whether Jesus was mentally disturbed, psychotic, suffered from mental impairment, had a questionable character, lived a consistent life, sustained healthy relationships, was tested by adversity, had a positive influence, and made claims that might be sustained.

Each chapter is fairly short and gets straight to the heart of the claim. While acknowledging the difficulty with psychoanalysis of people who are long-dead, the authors work with the information on hand–the words and acts of Jesus in the Gospels. For example, in the chapter on psychosis, the authors outline the symptoms of psychopathy and look at the accusation of the same for Jesus. Of particular interest is the reaction of Jesus’s family, which the authors argue is understandable given the claims Jesus was making. Then, the authors go through individual symptoms of psychosis and argue that Jesus does not cohere with these symptoms. This is essentially the model for each chapter of the book, making it an easy reference for those interested in the trilemma argument. If someone says that Jesus was mentally impaired, flip to that chapter and see why we may trust he was not. If they wish for positive evidence of soundness of mind, a perusal of the chapters on relationships and consistency will serve.

An objection that might immediately come up to this work is that if the Gospels are not trustworthy historical accounts of Jesus’s words, then the whole argument falls apart. Sims and Martinez essentially leave this argument to others, and indeed there are many, many works which seek to answer this objection. Essentially, this book’s aim is to show that if we take the words and actions of Jesus as having been reported in a trustworthy manner, then it is clear that Jesus is not a lunatic.

Mad or God? is a unique and pithy look at one of the most popular arguments for the deity of Christ. With its short length, it does not comprehensively deal with every issue that may come up, but as a quick reference for those wishing to make this argument, it is excellent.

Links

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

SDG.

——

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

Really Recommended Posts 7/15/16- Ark Encounter, Pokemon Go, the Trinity, and more!

postHello all! My apologies for missing out on the Really Recommended Posts for a few weeks. In between moving, doctor visits for the second child (!), and having family and friends in and out of the new place, it’s been absolutely chaotic. Anyhow, here are the latest reads I’ve found for you from around the web. As always, let me know what you think, and let the authors know as well!

Biologos Responds to the Ark Encounter– Answers in Genesis has made a huge splash in the news recently with their “Ark Encounter”- a $100 million theme park dedicated to young earth creationism. Here, from a different part of the spectrum of Christian belief about faith and science, Deborah Haarsma, the president of Biologos, offers a response to the Ark Encounter.

Pokemon Go and our longing for the world to be transformed– An intriguing post about how augmented reality games might point to our desire for more in the world than the mundane. My home church is a hotspot for Pokemon Go, in other news!

Send Dr. Giles to the Evangelical Theological Society Conference– Kevin Giles is one of the world’s foremost experts on Trinitarian theology and has written multiple books on the relation between God the Father and God the Son. I had the privilege of meeting him a few years ago and was blown away by both his courtesy and knowledge. Christians for Biblical Equality is raising money to send him to the ETS conference this year. This is greatly important, given the recent debates (click link to see summary) over the “Eternal Functional Subordination” of God the Son. Here’s another link from a different perspective on the topic.

As a Psychiatrist, I Diagnose Mental Illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.– An interesting read whatever your perspective, this article by a psychiatrist speaks on how sometimes phenomenon occur which cannot be explained but by agents.

Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on Soren Kierkegaard– Kierkegaard is one of the most misunderstood thinkers in Christianity. Here’s a crash course on his philosophical and theological thinking. Be sure to read the rest of the series to get introductions to a number of important thinkers.

Book Review: “Total Church” by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

total-churchTim Chester and Steve Timmis aim to present a gospel-centered vision of the local church as a fellowship community oriented towards missions in  Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community

The notion that the church must be community- and gospel- oriented is absolutely central to the whole book. Time and again examples are put forward towards how the house church can make a huge impact on individuals. The authors rightly emphasize the notion that sometimes measuring success by pure numbers is misleading and, yes, misguided. Throughout the book, a commendable call is issued to seek using the gospel of Christ and making missions a priority in church.

Many stories are provided throughout the book to help make these insights into a practical application. They are appreciated because it gives readers some hands-on ways to deal with situations. I also enjoyed much of the discussion on youth groups and “children’s church.” Basically, it was argued that we cannot simply make the kids a separate unit from the rest of the church. Youth groups cannot just be a game night, because once the youths get past that, “real, adult” church is so vastly different. We need to emphasize the truths of Christianity throughout our children’s lives from the very earliest stages.

The book, however, has some deeply problematic elements. First, the view put forward of counseling and psychology was, frankly, disturbing. There’s a lot going on in this chapter, but it really seems to come down to the authors saying that “secular” psychological treatment doesn’t help, only the gospel can. We just need to embrace the truths of the gospel and all will be well. One representative quote: “The Bible addresses the entire range of problems we experience in living in this world… It addresses all the basic and essential issues of what it means to be human, both in our sin and in our salvation” (Kindle location 1802; all references are to Kindle locations hereafter). Later, this is made into an application that if we just focus on Christ, our sufferings won’t seem significant. At the end of all of this, there is a vague reference to how some kind of counseling outside of church might also be needed, but it is too little, too late, too vaguely stated.

I think this is a deeply misguided attempt to describe a “Christian” view of counseling which simply is–ironically–not outlined in the Bible. Choosing a couple quotes about how our present suffering can be alleviated or overcome by God does not mean that going to “secular” [whatever that means–and in exclusion of the reality of Christian] psychologists and therapists is a poor decision. Yes, we should try to deal with and help with these issues in the context of a community of faith. But God forbid that we approach someone who self-harms [one example they used] and just tell them that their problem is reducible to a spiritual problem, as the authors do: “The term ‘spiritual’ is not simply another category alongside biological, physical, environmental, upbringing, or relationships. Each of those forms of suffering, passive or active, is always and at some point a spiritual and theological issue” (1881). This seems clearly reductionistic and potentially damaging. I felt this whole section was quite disturbing.

Second, there is a very dim view of academic theology put forward. The authors complain that academic theology is often just for academics and compare the probably legendary story of medieval debates over the number of angels on the head of a pin to modern evangelical theological journals as “no less obscure” (2159)! This is another huge difficulty in the book because it ignores the wide implications of “obscure” theology being done in academia for the church at large. By reducing theology to the task merely of the local church (2148), it seems there is something of a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in guiding the church at large, and, yes, a danger of local churches simply deciding that soul-destroying heresy is sound theology without any support from those “obscure” academics. A blithe dismissal of this enterprise relegates authors like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and more into the scrap heap of obscurity.

Third, the book largely dismisses the enterprise of apologetics as dealing with issues of the mind and instead argues that “The problem is not that we cannot know God. The problem is that we will not know God. It is a problem of the heart rather than the head” (2344). Later, this leads the authors to the claim that the goal of apologetics must be to “demonstrate that unbelief is a problem of the heart rather than a problem with the head” (2419). Apologetics is envisioned as not being intellectually engage but rather engaged with trying to show people the relational problems they have with God (2467). Not only does this reduce apologetics quite a bit in scope, but it also performs some serious psychoanalysis of those who do not believe by saying that the ultimate problem with every non-Christian is that they somehow have some passionate anger against God.

Now, unless we are to assume that all of these people are lying to us, plenty of atheists throughout history have grounded their rejection quite clearly in intellectual issues. Numerous modern studies have shown that the people leaving the church often do so because of perceived anti-intellectualism or a failure to engage the mind. The task of apologetics can not, and dare not do this, be reduced to vague exploration of the heart rather than the mind. We must engage with the intellectual attacks on Christianity and put forward our position in a winsome manner.

Fourth, the Chester and Timmis often say they are not saying their position is the only way to do something, but then continually pound the notion that their way is the only biblical or gospel-oriented way so often that one wonders whether they do believe other approaches might work. The discussion of the biblical warrant for house churches is but one example, where, after asserting that there is nothing inherently wrong with larger churches, the authors compares them to pagan temples founded due to Constantine’s making Christianity the civil religion of the Roman Empire [a historical reality that should be questioned, as it was not the official or exclusive religion until Theodosius I, though this is a complex topic not worth getting deeply into here] (1255). If one approach is “biblical” and other other is merely capitulation to replicate paganism, which one is acceptable? Speaking inclusive approaches but following up with things like this makes me wonder whether there is much generosity happening towards those with whom the authors disagree.

The kindle edition of the book also has some typos, such as replacing “initially” with “Initial” (yes, capitalized in the middle of sentences) at several places in the text. Another one is this portion: “I have used the Initial person, but not to trumpet my experience… I have used the Initial person to show that what I am describing is not impossible rhetoric or unrealistic idealism… At Initial they expressed concern that we did not have an accountability structure over and outside us…” (2782). Looking at the print edition on Amazon, I find that it says “first” in all these places. I don’t know if this is the same with all Kindle editions or just the one I received for review.

The Good

+Several good insights into how we might build communities in church
+Emphasis on holistic approach to youths and children

The Bad

-Extremely problematic discussion of counseling
-Often paints an inclusive picture, but then contradicts it with exclusion
-Some questionable exegesis
-Largely dismisses academic theology
-Largely undermines the majority of Christian apologetics

Conclusion

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community was, unfortunately, not what I had hoped for. Will readers get insights into founding house churches and making communities therefrom? Yes. But unfortunately there is an awful lot of baggage to go along with those insights, including, but not limited to, rejection of massive amounts of Christian academic theology, undercutting Christian apologetics, distorting a Christian view of therapy and psychological treatment, sometimes questionable exegesis, and more.

Crossway provided me with a copy of the book for review purposes. I was not obligated by the publisher to write any kind of review 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!)

Source

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway).

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.

Really Recommended Posts 10/3/14- Profanity in the Bible, Earth’s Age, “Uglies” and more!

postHere we have another round of links for your perusal, dear readers. The topics include the age of the Earth (you really must read this), interpreting the Bible, YA Literature, apologetics, and profanity in the Bible. Oh yeah, you read that last one correctly. Check the posts out, and if you liked them be sure to let the authors know. Let me know what you think in the comments here!

Smoking Gun Evidence of an Ancient Earth: GPS Data Confirms Radiometric Dating– People who deny that the Earth really is billions of years old often do so by trying to undercut radiometric dating. But what if we were able to independently confirm radiometric dating? That’s actually what scientists have been able to do, thus confirming the ancient age of the Earth. Check out this post to see the evidence.

What the Bleep does the Bible say about Profanity?– I found this to be a very thought-provoking post on how Christians should think about profanity. I don’t agree with everything here, but it certainly got my brain working. What are your thoughts on this issue? Be sure to read the post, as it gives some great insights.

Uglies, Pretties, and Specials: Scott Westerfield’s Brave New YA World– Young Adult Literature is one way to get our fingers on the pulse of the culture. Here, Anthony Weber (whose awesome site you should follow!) looks at Scott Westerfield’s look into a future in which physical beauty is even more important than it is now.

Are We “Standing Over” Scripture When We Interpret It?– Sometimes, people express concern with the need to read the Bible in its context and work with interpreting a passage. Shouldn’t it all just be clear? Are we placing ourselves over Scripture? Check out this brief post on this concern.

Christian apologetics: Is there, besides current popular approaches, another way to “take every thought captive”?– I have often thought of the need for an integrative approach to apologetics, which looks at the various methods holistically instead of atomistically. Here, someone who seems to favor the presuppositional method looks for the possibility of reconciling various apologetic methods.

The Need for Psychological Apologetics– It is important to realize that psychological issues impact people from all backgrounds. Here, Pastor Matt Rawlings argues that we need to awaken to the need for psychological apologetics.

Book Review: “The Making of an Atheist” by James S. Spiegel

The Making of an Atheist by James S. Spiegel is a dangerous book. The subtitle illustrates this well: “How Immorality Leads to Unbelief”. Spiegel’s thesis is that “Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. Such doubts are mere symptoms of the root cause–moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience” (11, his emphasis). Just above this statement is this similarly strongly worded proposal: “Perhaps we should consider the possibility that skeptical objections are the atheists’ facade, a scholarly veneer masking the real causes of their unbelief–causes that are moral and psychological in nature” (11, his emphasis).

I call the book dangerous for a few reasons. It is dangerous because Spiegel dares to assert something that Scripture holds to be quite true: there are cognitive consequences of sin. It is dangerous because the book unapologetically argues that atheism’s core tenants can be turned about; rather than atheism being a rationally superior view to theism, Spiegel argues that atheists are subject to the very objections they often raise against theism: it arises from psychological and moral deficiencies. Spiegel knows this book is dangerous. He writes “My thesis is an uncomfortable one. To suggest that religious skepticism is, at bottom, a moral problem will likely draw the ire of many people” (16).

Anyone who makes claims like these had better be prepared to back them up. Spiegel points to the oft-quoted passage from Thomas Nagel as a beginning for this discussion. Nagel writes “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right about my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that” (quoted in Spiegel, 10-11). This powerful quote serves as a backdrop for much of the book.

Spiegel starts off with an analysis of atheism. He points out that the “objection from evil” (the problem of evil) may not be so strong after all. He (rightly, I think) notes that “from a naturalist standpoint the objection from evil is incoherent” (27). This is because naturalism cannot have objective right and wrong. For this and other reasons, the most “powerful” objection to theism is dismissed and avoided.

This chapter has an important concession on Spiegel’s part. He notes that some of the things atheists point out (immoral activity in the church is one example) are indeed problems. Malpractice of believers is indeed something to point out and condemn. But the point is that these things are not objections to theistic belief, rather commentaries on the believers (38).

After a brief argument against atheism and an introductory level explanation of the teleological argument, Spiegel gets into the meat of his book: the causes of atheism. Following Paul C. Vitz, Spiegel argues that one psychological reason for the rejection of theism is a broken relationship with one’s earthly father (64). Spiegel forwards this as a kind of psychological argument against atheism. Just as Freud (and others) would like to argue that theism is mere wish-fulfillment put into practice with the “father figure in the sky”, so, here, Spiegel argues that atheism could be (in some cases) due to a rejection of that true father figure in the sky, as broken relationships are projected onto (and against) the Heavenly Father. “Human beings were made in God’s image, and the father-child relationship mirrors that as God’s ‘offspring'” (69).

Spiegel follows this interesting argument with an equally enlightening discussion in the (im)morality of many top atheistic scholars. He quotes Aldous Huxley, who states “Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because… it suits their books that the world should be meaningless” (73). This rejection of meaning allows immorality. If God exists, there is clearly an objective moral standard. Thus, by rejecting God, this standard doesn’t exist. Immorality can proceed freely.

There is another important point later in this same chapter: “one may willfully refuse to believe certain truths, even when there is strong evidence for them” (83). This is followed by an exploration of what this can mean. He quotes William James, who states, “If your heart does not want a world of moral reality, your head will assuredly never make you believe in one” (84). Ultimately, Spiegel argues, atheists choose not to believe (86).

This choice is made against a presupposed backdrop. Simply put, everyone has a kind of “paradigm” of background beliefs that filters and limits their selection of propositions to believe. Spiegel demonstrates that this happens even among the venerated field of science. There is no such thing as a truly objective human being (92-93). What this means to his thesis, then, is that by selecting a paradigm in which the standard of truth is such that it excludes theism, an atheist will never accept theism on any amount of evidence. Rather, they must make a complete paradigm shift that allows for such a reality (100ff).

This section of the book ends with Spiegel’s assertion that the descent into atheism is a willful rejection of God, made apart from evidence (or a perceived lack thereof). Further, sin can harden one’s heart against God, thus enforcing a paradigm that is anti-theistic in nature (113-114).

The Making of an Atheist closes with a section on the “Blessings of Theism.” Here, Spiegel simply lays out the blessings spelled out in Scripture that are ours in theism. He argues we should live a virtuous life. We have the right to thank and praise God. We can live as humble believers in Christ. I wish that Spiegel had included some of the blessings of Christ in this section, but I suppose that’s not the thesis of his book. One final important point Spiegel makes actually takes place in the endnotes in this last section. Spiegel states that “we should constantly examine and reform these beliefs in light of Scripture and sound reasoning” (141). I think this is an excellent point.

Overall, The Making of an Atheist is a fast read. It’s definitely written for the lay person, though it has enough philosophy in there to keep those looking for a bit of a deeper read engaged. It’s short (less than 150 pages), so it won’t take long to finish. Spiegel’s points are solid and I will explore his conclusions further. Spiegel’s “dangerous book” is very successful.

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