theology

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Book Review: “Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology” by Samantha L. Miller

Chrysostom is best known for being “golden-mouthed” due to his eloquence of preaching. Samantha L. Miller examines Chrysostom’s theology in Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology with a particular eye towards his anthropology and demonology. 

The book is divided into 5 chapters that take a deep look at the context and content of Chrysostom’s theology. The first chapter broadly covers “Jewish, Pagan, and Christian Demonology Before Chrysostom,” as the chapter is entitled. It’s a fascinating chapter that gives readers insight into aspects of the early Christian world that aren’t often discussed, so far as this reader has seen. For example, the concept of Jews as having a reputation of being magicians in their world due to the various ritual objects and practices, such as incantations, being fairly common (17). This was, in part, because Jews, as Christians and even many Pagans, were concerned about the impact demons could have on their everyday life, as well as major events (16). Included in this chapter is a section on Pagan demonologies which shows that “at a popular level, Christians  thought about demons much the same was their Jewish and pagan neighbors did” (22). Origen features prominently in theology that influenced Chrysostom, and Origen’s catalogue of demonic activities showed that he did not believe demons could force human beings to sin; merely tempt them (25). This would be part of Chrysostom’s own teaching on demons as well, leading Chrysostom to an emphasis on virtue and resisting temptation that can, in part, be traced to this aspect of demonology. 

The next chapter outlines Chrysostom’s own demonology, which was, as noted above, deeply influenced by his context. But that’s not to say he was entirely dependent upon his context, either. Miller notes that Chrysostom rejected many of the fears of others in his world, arguing (as did Origen) that while demons can tempt Christians, they cannot force them into sin. Additionally, Chrysostom’s concern was deeply pastoral and apologetic in its focus. Reading Job, for example, Chrysostom both argued that some suffering being caused is not necessarily evil, but that it is clear that the harm Job suffers comes from Satan (47-48). Chrysostom argued that people must “understand… events correctly” in order to rightly understand the world. Rather than consigning suffering to fate, one must see the various possibilities within different forms of suffering for good. But one must never dismiss true evil as something which is not evil (48). Of course, being golden-mouthed, Chrysostom wrote far more eloquently than this reader in the summary. Miller balances outlining Chrysostom’s views with lengthy quotes to give readers direct insight into his meaning as well as his style. Chrysostom, moreover, went against prevailing opinion of his time regarding demonology by noting that in Job, the devil is only able to cause harm with the permission of God. Thus, the devil is almost actually “useful” in the book of Job because the devil encourages people to be vigilant and resist evil (49-50). Miller also outlines the origin of demons, their nature, their activity, and more related to Chrysostom’s view in this chapter.

Miller then turns to virtue and the Greco-Roman concept of Proairesis, which occupies much of the final three chapters as virtue is highly important to Chrysostom’s anthropology and soteriology. Chrysostom was deeply influenced by and conversant with Greek philosophers, but at important points broke with philosophers like Plato (for example, on the immortality of the soul, p. 84). Chrysostom was also comfortable picking and choosing from the varoius philosophical schools, moving between Stoicism and Platonism on issues like the nature of the soul, while also drawing from Aristotle and Epictetus for other aspects of his philosophy. Central to Chrysostom’s view of virtue was the notion that the agent is autonomous and able to truly choose between good and evil (91, 93, 97ff). Proairesis- a Greek term that is “the locus of moral responsibility” is “that which makes both praise and blame possible” (98). Chrysostom believed this was absolutely necessary to virtue, and encouraged Christians to actively choose that which is good and resist the temptations of the devil. Chrysostom exhorted catechumens and the baptized to “live… angelic life” and choose that which is right, resisting demons and temptation (109). This was something Chrysostom clearly taught that believers were capable of doing, and that they ought to continue in virtue their whole lives. Modern debates may read various positions back onto Chrysostom, but contextually the pastoral importance of what he said was potentially life-changing and freeing. Chrysostom’s noted the body was created by God, and so could be virtuous, thus refuting the notion “that the body is inherently evil” (111). His theology countered the fears and addressed the concerns of Christians in his own time and place, which made it deeply important while also being contextual. 

Christ’s importance for Chrysostom is in salvation, yes, but also in the “possibility of Christian virtue” which “is a result of Christ’s prior work on behalf of human beings” (153). Divine-human cooperation loomed large in Chrysostom’s soteriology, such that Miller analyzes different strands of scholarship that studies Chrysostom to show scholars both affirming Chrysostom as being synergistic and arguing against the notion (see esp. 153ff). Miller argues that using “synergistic” to describe Chrysostom’s theology is “a misleading term” because Chrysostom himself saw it as flowing one direction–God’s assistance to humans in the process, not humans assisting God in salvation (155-156). 

 Miller’s lucid accounts of Chrysostom’s world and view of soteriology which closely tied into his notions of virtue is a must-read for those interested in Patristic studies. Chrysostom’s reputation as “golden-mouthed” is often the only thing many know about him, if anything. Chrysostom’s Devil shows that he was a deep thinker with a strong pastoral care for the people to whom he preached. It’s full of insights for those interested in the topic. Highly recommended.

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

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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!

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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: “God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology” by Steven J. Duby

Steven J. Duby approaches the difficult topic of trying to discuss the nature of God as God from a metaphysical perspective in God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian Theology. The major questions he tackles are whether we can know God as God is in Himself (Duby uses the masculine throughout to refer to God’s being, which I will follow in this review for simplicity’s sake), and how we might know God as God is.

These are not easy questions, despite seeming obvious at first glance. For example, the question of how we might know God in Himself is notoriously difficult and fairly controversial. Can we speak of God univocally? Turning to this question first, Duby in the last full chapter discusses what he considers the “(Right) Doctrine of Analogy.” That doctrine has to both balance divine transcendence and divine communication, which, Duby concludes, means that a right balance will make us hopeful that creaturely language might be used in theology proper (290-291). Duby leans towards the Thomistic use of analogy as a right way to refer to God, though it seems his response is more hopeful for the possiblity of univocity than some. However, Duby does fall on the side that analogy is the only real possibility, and defends against modern arguments for univocity (284ff). Here, I find myself in some disagreement with Duby here. Admitting that I’m no expert, I think the weight of the arguments for univocity is actually much heavier than he seems to. For example, Scotus’s view that analogy “‘is simply equivocation without an a priori univocally predicable concept'” (284, quoting Daniel Horan) is, on its face, correct. Duby’s response, that “in an analogical account of theological language a divine attribute still shares an aspect of its ratio with the corresponding creaturely attribute” reads as basically conceding the point. Nevertheless, Duby’s arguments related to analogy are ably written and certainly force careful thought, no matter what one’s position is going in.

Duby’s main points about how he views God in Himself are outlined in a response to Karl Barth’s positions related to the Incarnation and beyond. His points are ninefold, and some are directly related to side issues rather than the main point, so I’ll summarize them into just a few points. First, Duby argues that God is “complete in se without reference to creatures and their history” (48); God’s attributes are not “parts” to be added to God’s essence but “nothing other than his eternal essence” (49); knowledge of God in Himself is not purely negative (51); and a strong affirmation of divine simplicity is affirmed (51-55). Duby spends much of the rest of the book defending these points, and the discussions are deep (as above). 

There are a few other points I’d like to highlight, though these reveal more of my own background alongside the book’s content. First is the strange use of scholarship in regards to Martin Luther’s theology. For example, when Duby discusses Luther’s view of the “hidden God,” the lens through which he views it is decidedly Reformed. Now, that seems a given since from what I understand within the book Duby is Reformed himself, but it also means that Luther’s own view gets a strange hearing. Speaking of Luther’s hidden God, Duby writes that “Even a sympathetic interpreter of Luther like Carl Trueman calls Luther’s discussion of God’s hidden will ‘brutal'” (46). But of course, while Trueman may be “sympathetic,” he’s a Confessional Reformed Christian whose position on many, many doctrinal issues would see Luther’s view as necessarily mistaken in order to maintain his own confessions. Why is Trueman cited as a kind of final arbiter of the state of Luther’s doctrine? It seems the reason is because he’s Reformed. And Carl Trueman being cited as sympathetic makes sense due to his, well, sympathetic book on Luther and the Christian Life (link to my review), but that sympathetic reading is a general one. Citing Trueman as a kind of final arbiter of Luther’s validity here seems odd, given that it’s just obvious that a “Confessional Reformed” believer would strongly disagree with a Lutheran position that is a point of departure between their traditions. 

Then, turning to Duby’s defense of the extra Calvinisticum over and against Lutheran theology once again seems more an exercise in self-affirmation of a chosen doctrine than in understanding the Lutheran position. But here I reveal my own biases, Yet Duby’s seeming twists to accommodate the notion that Christ is God while trying to restrain Christ’s power–preventing the God-man from exercising that very power of God–is revealing to this reader, at least. Moreover, Duby’s response to Barth on this point seems to misunderstand the objection to the extra Calvinisticum as a denial of the hypostatic union, since he writes “what if assimilation of the two natures is simply not necessary? What if it is sufficient to affirm that the hypostasis himself is the locus of union?” (182). But Lutherans–and, so far as I can tell, Barth, to whom Duby is responding–do not deny the hypostatic union, nor its sufficiency, and certainly do not “assimilate” the two natures. Responding to Duby, one may well ask “What if God the Son were actually allowed by Calvinists to exercise God’s power?” It’s a bit on the nose to ask the question thus, but the loaded nature of the question gets at the underlying point: Duby’s position–and that of Calvinists and Reformed believers generally–seems to put artificial limits on God in order to maintain their own theological commitments regarding things like the Lord’s Supper. 

God in Himself is a fascinating look at some of the deepest questions about God. The book will be most valuable to those readers who wish to engage the questions from a Reformed perspective–either to see how to better argue for their own positions, or to argue against the Reformed view. Duby outlines and defends numerous positions with great care, and it’s worth the read even in disagreement. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross” by J. I. de Keijzer

Act and Being is perhaps Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most opaque and difficult book. J. I. de Keijzer seeks, in Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross, to show that Bonhoeffer’s book was, in fact, constructing a theology of the cross in conversation with Karl Barth, Martin Heidegger, and, most importantly, Martin Luther.

The introduction lays out de Keijzer’s project, including an emphasis on seeing Bonhoeffer in his context and, specifically, as a Lutheran theologian. This latter point is important, because de Keijzer goes on to emphasize the need to avoid starting with a defined theology of the cross in order to read that back onto Bonheoffer (and Barth–more on that soon) but instead to draw on the work of the individual to allow them to outline their theology of the cross (31). He then goes on to outline Barth’s theology of the cross and argue that Bonhoeffer is, himself, intentionally arguing for an alternative. Evidence for this is derived from Act and Being, Bonhoeffer’s second dissertation, and how it argues in a parallel structure to Karl Barth’s “Fate and Idea.”  

After showing that Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being is intended as a parallel and contrasting project to Barth’s own theology of the cross, de Keizjer notes several points of divergence Bonhoeffer takes over and against Barth. One of these is the argument over whether the finite can contain the infinite (Bonhoeffer sides with Lutheran theology here, and de Keijzer shows that the Lutheran view does not stumble in the ways Reformed/Calvinist theologians often charge it with). (He expands on this both on 42-43 and 109-111, the latter of which shows how this is a major dividing line between the two Reformation branches of theology.) Another is a series of problems Bonhoeffer–explicitly or not–shows in Barth’s theology, such as how Barth’s theology is individualistic rather than comunal, that he (Barth) essentially made Christianity into a branch of idealism (47-49), and most famously, Bonhoeffer’s charge that Barth’s theology is a negativism of revelation. The latter receives quite a bit of space in de Keizjer’s work, as he argues that Bonhoeffer sees Barth’s work as failing to fully create a Christian theology. The negativism (or positivism) in Barth’s thought regarding theology receives an answer, according to de Keijzer, in Bonhoeffer’s use of the theology of the cross because Bonhoeffer’s own theology offers 3 things that Barth’s does not: 1. it offers helpful insight to the nonreligious person; 2. it does not undercut grace as a gift; 3. it provides guidance in nonreligious interpretations of theological concepts (52-54). 

Martin Luther also looms large in de Keijzer’s discussion, as he notes that Luther cannot simply be reduced to one along a continuum of theologians who argued for a theology of the cross (55ff). Instead, Luther’s insights were essential for Bonhoeffer and, argues de Keijzer, for rightly understanding the theology of the cross in general. God’s real presence in and for the world is absolutely central to a right understanding of the incarnation and how God is present in Jesus’s flesh (57-58). Moving ahead, de Keijzer argues that Bonhoeffer’s theology of the cross provides a strong basis for just such a theology, giving several essential elements toward that end, such as the ambiguous relationship between revelation/faith and reason, the ability to use spacial metaphors fruitfully in theology, movement from the cross to the world, Christ on the cross as God acting in behalf of humanity, and a radically sacramental understanding of the body of Christ. 

Luther’s influence continues as de Keijzer notes that while it may look as though Bonhoeffer and Luther diverged regarding epistemology and faith, that is far from the case. Luther’s epistemological project was to make room for grace in his own context, while Bonhoeffer’s project was to break the epistemological barrier created by idealism in order to retrieve grace (115ff). Luther continues to be central to Bonoheffer in the latter’s reading of Heidegger. Heidegger himself was heavily influenced by Luther, and Bonhoeffer utilized Heidegger’s philosophy in Act and Being to deconstruct rationalistic schemes (127ff, esp. 138-140). Ultimately, of course, Bonhoeffer’s project is heavily focused on ecclesiology and how through the church, Christ truly is present with God’s people (162ff). 

Bonhoeffer’s Theology of the Cross is a fascinating look at a specific aspect of Bonhoeffer’s theology, and, more specifically, the points he was elucidating in his complex Act and Being. De Keizjer does a fantastic job of both explaining the finer points of Bonhoeffer’s view in contrast to his contemporaries and interlocutors while also showing how Bonhoeffer’s work may be applied to Christian life today. Highly recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation” by Amanda W. Benckhuysen

The history of interpretation is an important subject for understanding Christian theology. One part of that history that is, thankfully, at last getting the attention that it deserves is the history of women’s interpretation. Amanda W. Benckhuysen’s The Gospel According to Eve is a fascinating look at this history that particularly focuses on questions related to women in Christian theology and practice.

Benckhuysen explores several topics from the perspective of women interpreters, drawing on women who wrote throughout Christian history on these fascinating topics. The main themes surveyed are Interpreting Eve–a chapter that focuses on how women interpreted the passages related to Eve; Defending Women’s Worth, in which women interpreters highlight the equality of women; promoting women’s education; Supporting Women as Wives and Mothers; Empowering Women to Preach and Teach; Forming the Character of Children; Advocating for Social Reform; and Influencing Gender Ideology.

There are many major points of interest found throughout the book. The chapter on women as wives and mothers sounds like it may be an affirmation of traditional gender roles, and some of the authors tended in that direction, but it also had fascinating early discussions from women about the beauty and wonder of breast-feeding and questions of class related to it. Here specifically Benckhuysen cites Elizabeth Clinton (c. 1574-c. 1630) and Hannah More (1745-1833) as two women who wrote on this topic. Clinton cited multiple biblical examples of women who nursed their children, but also broadened her argument beyond what was best for mother or child. She argued additionally that using wet nurses had a negative impact on lower classes due to taking away the autonomy of women, whose husbands often directly made deals over how much they’d be selling their services for (103-104).

The chapter on women preaching and teaching shows women both interacting directly with biblical texts often used to silence women’s voices, while also citing examples of pragmatic cases in which women needed to teach or preach. Benckhuysen also shows the array of women’s opinions on the topic, as some women agreed women should preach but still argued they ought to be under the authority of men. Time and again, in chapter after chapter, Benckhuysen shares portraits of women and their work that show the breadth of women’s voices throughout Christian history and the importance of hearing these diverse voices and opinions on a wide array of topics.

The Gospel According to Eve is a fantastic introduction to both the history of women’s interpretation and to investigating questions about the theological importance of women in Christian thought and practice. It is highly recommended.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “For the Life of the World: Jesus Christ and the Church in the Theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas” by Robert J. Dean

The question of what the church is supposed to do–what exactly is it supposed to be in the here and now of this world–is absolutely central to both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas. In For the Life of the World, Robert J. Dean analyzes these two major theologians’ views of the church and puts them into dialogue with each other.

First, Dean introduces both Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas and argues that each was deeply influenced by Barth and also saw the question of the nature of church in the world as of primary importance. Then, Dean moves into three primary topics that occupy the majority of the book. First, “This man is God”- the person of Jesus Christ in Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. After noting the background for Bonhoeffer’s lectures in Christology–a background in which the Nazi Party was rising to total power–Dean notes that Bonhoeffer’s Christology was a challenge to any human attempt at sovereignty over the human person. Christ, according to Bonhoeffer, is radically “for me” and directs us towards being “for others.” Christ is truly present in the church now, not just as an abstract entity. Christ is concrete and this-worldly, such that theologies that try to abstract Christ or make him not present are deeply mistaken. For Hauerwas, Christ’s humanity is emphasized. Hauerwas’s central concern is very often ethics, and his Christology emphasizes that as well. Hauerwas also sees the importance of Christ as being uniquely present to and for us.

The second major topic in For the Life of the World is the church itself. Specifically, Dean introduces readers to the ecclesiology of Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas in turn. Bonhoeffer’s context is once more important, as he wrote about the church and its definition while he was involved in the struggle for the church’s soul as the Nazis took over Christianity with the German Christian movement. Bonhoeffer helped operate an illegal seminary, seeking to train pastors in a confessing church. As such, Bonhoeffer’s theology of church deeply emphasized community and the being there “for others” as Christ to them. Dean addresses some of the objections to Bonhoeffer’s theology of community, including from Bonhoeffer’s seminal work, Discipleship. Bonhoeffer himself saw some dangers in his own writings on discipleship, but stood by what he had written because of its use as a protest against comfortable, cultural Christianity (83). Bonhoeffer emphasized the church as central to the economy of salvation–he would not have been someone who would agree with sentiments like “I commune with God by mountain climbing” (assuming the sentiment, as it and similar ones often are, is suggesting one can/should do such things instead of being part of a church community). Instead, Christ comes to us in the church community and calls us to be part of that same community. Additionally, Bonhoeffer offered a critique of Barth in his ecclesiology, for Bonhoeffer’s notion of the true church being absolutely necessary for ourselves and for the other contrasts with Barth’s dictum that the world would not be necessarily lost with no church (92ff).

Hauerwas’s ecclesiology sees the church as a “colony of resident aliens” (108ff). The church, as such, is “an identifiable people in the world… formed in their faith and develop[ed]… as embodied, timeful human beings” (109). Hauerwas’s own ecclesiology has come under fire as being a kind of colonialism, due to his emphasis on the church as “a visible community distinguished from the world” (112ff). Some of this critique ought to be granted, such as the need to recognize the danger of defining church merely by opposition to some aspect of reality. Hauerwas’s ecclesiology also emphasizes sanctification and ethics. He, too, critique’s Barth’s ecclesiology, but Hauerwas does so because he sees Barth as being too over-determined by his attack on theological liberalism (123-126).

The third major theme Dean addresses is the question of the church and world in the theologies of Bonhoeffer and Hauerwas. Dean argues that this is a such a major theme in Bonhoeffer that “Bonhoeffer’s entire corpus could profitably be read as an indirect theological commentary on the relationship between church and state” (157). For Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran view of Two Kingdoms has become corrupted by those who suggest that Christians cannot offer a real critique of the state as well as the means to effectively absorb the church by the state. Thus, Bonhoeffer reacted against the Hegelian view of church and state and saw the talk of orders of creation for what it was–a way to fail to seriously interact with the fallen nature of the world and justify state violence and overreach (159). Bonhoeffer instead attacks any notion that the state can exist apart from the revelation of God in Christ (161) and thus Christians cannot simply flee behind an imagined barrier of church and state to avoid accountability for the other. Dean works this all through Bonhoeffer’s own nuanced use of “mandates” to understand church-state relationships.

Hauerwas’s view of church and state is intriguing because Dean argues Hauerwas’s theology of the state is omission by design. Additionally, Hauerwas remains agnostic about things like the ideal form of government (191, 193). Hauerwas does, however, see the dangers that states can devolve into and the threat they can be to humanity. He also sees that hope cannot be found in placing leaders in positions of power in a political system; rather, hope is found in “concrete communities which live out in their ordinary day-to-day lives a true politics” that helps the other and avoids politics of death (197).

After drawing out some conclusions about the nature of the church in the world, Dean has a brief appendix on Tyrannicide and Bonhoeffer’s own thought in relation to it. It provides a fairly balanced view that does justice to Bonhoeffer’s own nuance and struggle with questions of violence and the state.

The overview provided here doesn’t fully do justice to what Dean accomplishes in For the Life of the World. Though he often presents Bonhoeffer/Hauerwas’s views in parallel, he also draws out where they intersect, agree, and disagree. Additionally, he gives his own brief analysis of what insights Christians can draw from these two important theologians. I recommend the book highly for those interested in either one of the theologians discusses, but also for those interested in questions of church and state in the Christian life.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

“It’s a Yes or No Question!” – Reconstructing Faith

On my faith journey one of the hardest things was when people I used to agree with would aggressively demand yes or no answers to what they thought were simple questions but that I thought were incredibly difficult and complex to answer.

Then they’d be angry about my hesitancy to answer. “It’s just a yes or no question!” they’d exclaim. Many continue to offer these questions to me as I consider questions about faith. The dichotomies that are offered are thought to be definitional, of deepest concern, and simple. But so often they’re not–they’re false dichotomies, they’re secondary issues, and they’re incredibly complex. Even trying to explain some of the difficulty with how complex these issues are would take much more than a single blog post. I’ll show a few examples of some of these dichotomies, some of which I actually did have offered as yes/no questions to me.

Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Yes or no?
Do you believe in hell?
Do you believe we have souls?
Do you believe the Trinity is an essential doctrine?

Some readers might see some of these questions as quite simple–maybe even all of them, but here are some examples of the complexity:

Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? Yes or no?
What is meant by “created” here? Is it direct, fiat creation? Could God have used processes? What is meant by “heavens and the earth”?

Do you believe in hell?
What do you mean by hell? Do you mean endless, eternal, conscious torment? Do you mean literal fire? How does one “believe in” hell? Shouldn’t we all wish there were no hell and be hopeful that all might be saved, even if we don’t think all shall be?

Do you believe we have souls?
What is meant by the soul? Is it dualism? What kind of dualism–Cartesian, interactionism, emergentism? Could a Thomistic view of the soul be correct?

Do you believe the Trinity is an essential doctrine?
Yes, I do. But! What exactly does it mean to call it “essential”? Must one have it 100% correct in order to be saved? What does one make of the immense disagreement over subordination of the Son in recent debates, if so? What about questions of rejection of the Trinity being based upon rejection of colonialism?

Yes or no questions, intentionally or not, cut across sociological, theological, and philosophical lines without any precision and are seemingly designed to stop serious discussion and debate about a topic. They are used as a divisive tool, cutting apart people to show others what they’re right or wrong about? They’re traps that cut off discussion.

So yes, people will continue to get angry with me, but I refuse to allow some of these incredibly complex issues get boiled down to a yes or no question. It might make things simpler to boil down these topics to yes or no, affirm or deny type dichotomies, but it doesn’t help us get at truth. And that is what I desire: to seek truth.

Links

Reconstructing Faith– Read other posts as I search for truth and navigate the messiness that is faith.

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.

——

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 Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context” by Michael LeFebvre

The common saying that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” applies perhaps especially well to theology. It shouldn’t be surprising, as it is a topic that attempts to make sense of the infinite. Questions in Christianity about creation abound. Modern debates are often more heat than light, with apparently no way to come to an understanding. Michael LeFebvre’s The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context is a book that can help to break that deadlock and help readers learn about some of the context and meaning of key Old Testament passages.

The core of LeFebvre’s thesis is that the Old Testament narratives center around key aspects of everyday life in their temporal contexts. Specifically, the heavenly lights and the agricultural cycle–which crops could be grown when, harvest time, etc.–helped ground those who spoke and wrote the Old Testament in ways that they would understand. From this, LeFebvre notes that we do the Old Testament damage when we insist upon it providing a kind of modern journalistic approach to dates and dating. The way festivals and days were used in the Old Testament helped provide information to those who heard it about how life ought to be lived and how labor and worship go hand-in-hand.

LeFebvre makes this argument over the course of three major parts. Part I- Israel’s Calendars examines the way calendars were used in the Bible and what reference points they had for understanding time. Part II – Festivals and Their Stories surveys the festivals mentioned throughout the Old Testament and why they were celebrated, grounding them both in the context of the Old Testament text and the time and places in which they occurred. Part III – The Creation Week examines the creation week with the insights gained from Parts I and II in mind.

Part I is a deep exploration of how ancient Israel would have read time, showing not only the use of the stars, the moon, and the sun, but also the way seasons ran throughout the region as ways that people measured their own lives and ways of going about living. LeFebvre is fairly comprehensive in his look at all the stories in the Old Testament that have dates as well as bringing up every festival and examining its importance and usage in the Old Testament. Readers will likely find much to examine and benefit from throughout these first two parts.

It is in part III where the rubber meets the road and LeFebvre applies his insights into timing throughout the Old Testament to the specific questions about the week of creation. The days themselves are laid out in such a way as to correspond to his theses about how Israel ordered itself. LeFebvre makes a strong argument that these creation days are not intended to be read in light of modern science and forced into such a box. Instead, they are intended to give order to creation and one’s own life, providing a reason for Sabbath as well as an understanding of all creation within the context of God’s ordered running of the seasons and universe.

The Liturgy of Creation is an excellent look at what the calendars, seasons, and dates in the Old Testament mean in their own context. LeFebvre brings light to some of the more difficult questions in interpretation, while also challenging readers to examine their own assumptions about the text. Highly recommended.

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism” edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry

Sometimes a book comes along that makes you as a reader realize that everything you thought you knew about a certain topic was wrong. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism is sure to be one of those books for many people. The editors, Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry put together a collection of essays that challenge common assumptions and “knowledge” about New Testament textual criticism to the point of overturning expectations and forcing readers to re-think their research. Make no mistake, if you’re not an expert in this specific field–and perhaps even if you are–this book is going to challenge your preconceptions and even what you thought you knew.

After a foreword by renowned textual critic Daniel Wallace and an introduction that opens up the themes of the book, Timothy N. Mitchell’s chapter on autographs (entitled “Myths about Autographs: What they Were and How Long They May Have Survived”) is the first to set a major challenge to assumptions about the New Testament text. The autographic text is considered to be the original text. Thus, an autograph, in the mind of those interested in Christian apologetics or the transmission of the New Testament, is often what is affirmed as being the copy that was inspired or inerrant or the goal of textual criticism to find. Various apologetists have made claims about the autographs surviving long enough to produce many copies over decades (or even centuries) (27). Yet Mitchell points out that some have argue that the concept of a single original itself is mistaken (28). The way documents were disseminated in the ancient world was very different from the way we spread documents, and the same “original” may have been produced several times, with minor edits or even major ones depending on the audience. Specific examples in the ancient world are cited, which challenge the very concept of a single autographic text. Another difficulty would be the concept of multiple autographs. Copying an original for the author to keep was a common practice, but then which would be the autograph–the one sent to one or another person, or the one kept by the author (39-41)? The claims about longevity of the authographs also meet serious challenges, due to climate, persecution, and many other possible problems with thinking that any supposed original text could have survived centuries.

Note that all of these challenges–which are detailed, of course in the book–are all from the first non-introductory chapter alone. There are more than 10 additional chapters outlining many, many assumptions about NT textual criticism and the errors they make. Chapter three outlines questions about the number of NT manuscripts as well as why having more manuscripts might not be better. If all we had was a multiplicity of error-ridden manuscripts, that would hardly be better than just a few very precise ones. Chapter four notes the common errors in citation of numbers of other ancient literature’s manuscript evidence vs. that of the NT (this will have those involved in apologetics–like me–checking their numbers). The next two chapters deal with dating manuscripts and the immense difficulties with getting at which MSS are earlier than other ones at times. Additionally, earlier manuscripts aren’t always better than later manuscripts, in part because later manuscripts might be based on manuscripts that are even earlier than the earliest extant manuscripts!

Questions about who made copies of the NT are another common myth-making scenario. As is often the case in the book, the issue is much more complex. Many claim that the copies were made by untrained hands just scrawling what they could from the NT on whatever they had at hand, while others claim the opposite is true–trained hands copied them and ensured few errors. The truth is somewhere in between. Myths about how scribes made errors are abundant, and attempts to discern scribal intent are shown to be often impossible, but at other times somewhat easier to demonstrate. The number of variants is wildly huge in the claims about how many there are, and the way they are counted is often misstated. Too often, apologists and others claim that variant counts include misspellings, but this is not the case–the huge number of variants would only increase astronomically were misspellings included in the count! Questions about how much of the NT really could be constructed from the patristics are also addressed, and the answer is a somewhat interesting middle ground once again, in which the question of tradition looms large. Canonicity, translations modern and ancient, and more are addressed as well.

All of this is to say the book is an absolute treasure trove of information for those interested in any way in the textual reliability of the New Testament. It is tempting in any day and age to seek certainty, but Christians–and hopefully others–ought to really be seeking after truth. This book helps get at that, providing ways forward for additional research while also blowing open the doors of understanding both hyper-critical and overly optimistic myths about the possibility of getting at the “original” New Testament.

Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism is an invaluable resource for those interested in textual criticism. It points out many major errors that persist in common knowledge while also opening many avenues for new research. There are few times I think a book comes along that everyone should read, but this is one that anyone with even the slightest interest in the reliability of the New Testament ought to read, mark, and inwardly digest.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The New Testament in Seven Sentences” by Gary M. Burge

Gary M. Burge’s The New Testament in 7 Sentences is a brief introduction to several major themes of the New Testament. 

The seven sentences that Burge focuses on are all key parts of the NT and he uses these to build broader theological topics. The topics covered are fulfillment, kingdom, cross, grace, covenant, spirit, and completion. Generally, Burge tries to stay fairly neutral on some of the biggest theological debates among Christians. That’s not to say that none of the book would be controversial on that regard–the notion of ‘covenant’ and its meaning is probably the one most likely to generate conflict of these. That said, this would be a good work to introduce someone to the overall concepts in the New Testament. 

The book is designed to be used to jump start study of the Bible, whether alone or in small group settings. The last few pages are dedicated to a number of study questions that facilitate that study. 

The New Testament in 7 Sentences serves as a brief introduction to major theological issues in the New Testmaent. It would serve well as a study group book that could lead to wider discussion and honing in on specific topics. 

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Making of Stanley Hauerwas: Bridging Barth and Postliberalism” by David B. Hunsicker

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the most influential theologians of our time. He is well-known for his pacifism, as well as his works on theological ethics more generally. David B. Hunsicker, in The Making of Stanley Hauerwas, sheds valuable insight into the influences on Hauerwas as well as how he has created his own synthesis of thought.

Central to the book are the concepts of postliberalism and Barthianism. Is Hauerwas a Barthian, as he claims? Or is he fully in the postliberal camp, as others have charged? Of course, the definitions of “Barthian” and “postliberal” are highly relevant to this. A Barthian, Hunsicker argues, can fairly be described as someone who has a genuine understanding of and use of Barth. It is possible to be someone who is “indirectly influenced” by Barth by interacting but perhaps not understanding Barth (3-4). Postliberalism is difficult to pin down, with somewhat broad and slippery definitions. Ultimately, Hunsicker notes that there is no single postliberalism (8) but that it can still be a useful way to categorize thinkers among a broad stream of thought. Specifically for Hauerwas, Hunsicker argues that he falls into postliberalism’s pragmatic bent within theology (9). Hauerwas, then, is envisioned in this book as a Barthian postliberal–he’s both/and rather than either/or when it comes to those often opposed categories.

The rest of the book delves into the details of Hauerwas’s ethical theology in order to draw out both the influence of Barth on it and to show his innovations, all set within the context of Hauerwas’s stated claims to be genuinely trying to interpreter Barth and apply his theology to today. He starts with a chapter outlining the influences on Hauerwas from his life. Then, he shows how Hauerwas moves with and beyond Barth.

Next is a brief case study on the question of abortion from a theological, ethical perspective. This chapter is of particular interest because it shows how Hauerwas applies both postliberal and Barthian insights to make a theological case against abortion. It also shows how those united streams of thought create a different case against abortion that rejects a natural law framework and instead grounds the debate theologically. Part of this is a rejection of accepting the premises of non-Christians in debates over the topic (79). It’s a fascinating chapter that shows Hauerwas’s own ethical innovations on Barth’s uncompromising theology.

The following chapters go back and forth on showing influences and usage of Barth and postliberalism by Hauerwas. The last section wraps up the book by giving insights into Hauerwas’s doctrine of the church, itself a major part of Barth’s project.

Hunsicker is unafraid to be critical of the subject of his work. Regarding Hauerwas defense of John Howard Yoder and the way he sexually abused many women, Hunsicker notes somewhat laconically that this “problematizes” Hauerwas’s dependence upon Yoder’s work.

The Making of Stanley Hauerwas is a deep, engaging look at the theological and ethical formation of one of the most important theologians of our time. For those interested in Hauerwas’s work, it is an absolute must-read. For me, as one who hasn’t engaged much with Hauerwas, it was still of great interest, with several points that caused me to think more deeply on theological and ethical topics.

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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