theology

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Book Review: “Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers” by Catherine J. Wright

It is rare to read a book that is not just insightful, but also formative and challenging. Catherine J. Wright’s Spiritual Practices of Jesus: Learning Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer with Luke’s Earliest Readers is one such book. Each part of the subtitle is deeply important to the contents of the book. Wright introduces readers to a number of early readers of the Gospel of Luke and provides their insights into how to read the texts. These insights often challenge modern readings and spiritualization of the text.

Each section–on Simplicity, Humility, and Prayer–features a chapter that highlights how the early church read the Gospel of Luke on these issues. That means readers will see how Augustine, Chrysostom, and many others read Luke on questions related to those topics. It’s deeply important to read about that, because those early readers have a different cultural context than we do. Their readings can therefore offer correctives that highlight the importance of the texts in ways that we may not think of otherwise.

The sections start with a chapter in which Wright goes through Luke highlighting where verses or stories reflect the theme at hand. For example, in the section on simplicity, Wright shows how frequently Jesus speaks about giving to the poor and highlights the plight of the poor and the difficulties and sinfulness in wealth. Pairing this with the second chapter in the section on how the early church read these verses shows how many modern readings that try to spiritualize these texts do not align with both the earliest readings and probably the intended meaning of the text. A second chapter in each section highlights the first-century context of the passages and how understanding the challenges of that time can lead to correcting our readings of the text as well.

Some of the content with simplicity has been highlighted, but each section has numerous parts worth interacting with. Whether it’s the challenge to live humble lives or how to read Jesus’s prayers and pray ourselves, Wright constantly brings applicable insights to the table throughout the book.

Wright’s Spiritual Practices of Jesus is a phenomenal read that could even change how readers live their lives. By reading the early church on Jesus, readers are exposed to challenges to our own culture that can cause use to rethink our reading of the text and the ways we live. 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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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: “Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context”

Christianity is a global religion, yet many discussions of theology are dominated by American or European voices. In Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context, the editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo seek to provide a partial remedy to this problem.

The Majority World is sometimes called the Global South. It’s the part of Earth in which the majority of humans reside and includes Africa, Asia, and Latin America, among other places. The editors have focused on giving theologians from these places voices addressing several major topics in theology. The book is organized around six parts with multiple essays in each part. These parts are: The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World, The Spirit Over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World, So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World, The Church from Every Tribe and Tongue: Ecclesiology in the Majority World, and All Things New: Eschatology in the Majority World.

The essays are each of interest. This reader read the book front-to-back, but it is clear that it could be read in parts, used for classes with individual essays, or in any number of other ways. One thing that readers ought to keep in mind is that each of these essays is just that–a single essay introducing one perspective on a huge topic. Thus, for example, the fascinating essay “The Trinity in Africa: Trends and Trajectories” by Samuel Waje Kunhiyop shows readers some ways in which African theologians are exploring the doctrine of the Trinity. Readers should not come away thinking that these are the only trends or that all African theologians are thinking along these lines. That said, Kunhiyop brings readers to engage with numerous lines of African theology. Each of the essays included in this collection is like that: it provides a way forward for additional exploration.

One example of an essay that provides many avenues for additional reading is “Asian Reformulations of the Trinity: An Evaluation” by Natee Tanchanpongs. Tanchanpongs Highlights several Asian theologians and the way they have discussed or reformulated the doctrine of the Trinity within their own contexts. It’s a fascinating read and one that allows Tanchanpongs to analyze numerous ways to take the Trinity in exploratory theology.

Majority World Theology is an excellent introduction to global theology. Readers can treat it as a reference book, read it front-to-back, or sample as they see fit. Most importantly, readers will be exposed to global perspectives on Christianity that they otherwise may not have ever experienced.

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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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 Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach” by Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew

A systematic doctrine of creation is the core of Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew’s The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach. The subtitle begs questions about what is meant by this specific doctrine of creation. First, the authors follow the theology of Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch Reformed theologian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second, the notion of being “constructive” means the doctrine builds upon itself, layer upon layer, making a truly systematic approach.

The authors pursue a broad approach, first discussing the historic Christian Creeds and their place in a construction of a doctrine of creation, then moving on to a broad historical overview of the doctrine itself. Next, they turn to God’s omnipotence and its bearing on creation, then move through biblical and theological discussion of creation to show a specific view of how Creation occurred and what relevance it has for today. Providence–God’s sustaining of the world–is a subject of its own chapter, followed by a chapter about Christ and the Holy Spirit in the New Creation, and the book ends with a application of the doctrine of creation to a few modern topics. There is a short appendix about missional neo-Calvinism at the end.

The way Ashford and Bartholomew build the doctrine of creation is infused with insight from Kuyper throughout, though it’s clear that calling it “Kuyperian” is more to designate it as along the Newo-Calvinist tradition than specifically or robotically following Kuyper. I am by no means an expert in Kuyper’s theology. My comment to this effect is based upon the extensive use of more modern citations as well as more generalized theological strands than simply adherence to Kuyper. Much as a Lutheran might call their approach Lutheran without explicitly following Luther in every regard, the authors are doing the same here.

It was interesting to see the first chapter begin with a discussion of the historic Christian Creeds and a defense of their use in helping construct a doctrine of creation. The book’s audience is clearly intended to be broader than Dutch Reformed readers, and this was perhaps included to show the authors have done their legwork regarding why we should see the Creeds as important to faith formation and theology today. As a Lutheran myself, it is just a given that the Creeds are of great import, and it was most interesting to see the authors engaging in such an extended defense of their use. Speaking of the book’s audience–this book is one that will largely yield fruits based on two things: the effort the reader puts into understanding and following the systemic theology therein; and one’s own theological biases. For example, the author’s discussion of the creation accounts (yes, the “s” is intentional) in Genesis was of great interest to this reader, but others might be inclined to see the accounts as a unified whole. More specifically on the doctrines of providence, omnipotence, and elsewhere, the authors’ Neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian view looms large and so will challenge readers who hold other positions.

I was somewhat surprised to see the focus in the chapter about God’s omnipotence to be so specifically focused on God the Father. Indeed, the chapter itself, following the language of the Apostle’s Creed, is titled “God, the Father Almighty.” But one gets a sense within the chapter that the other members of the Trinity are almost afterthoughts in this aspect of the doctrine of Creation. This is most clear when the authors use language that seems almost a concession in describing the role of the other divine Persons: “we know that the Son and the Spirit are also involved in the act of creation” (140). However, those Persons get little say until a later chapter discusses the New Creation (306ff). Many modern controversies are discussed, with views of omniscience and providence being at the center of a section about creatio continua (continued creation). Here, the authors wrestle with authors within their own tradition (eg. Barth’s resistance to philosophy p. 290-292 and elsewhere) as well as others like Molinists with competing views (they argue for an Augustinian view against the Molinist position, see p. 293-294, but also the discussion on 126).

Numerous intriguing insets are found throughout the text, such as an extended discussion of creation out of nothing (133-137) that includes some discussion of ancient Near Eastern literature. However, the authors focus much more upon Christian tradition and writings than on any attempt to understand the contemporary culture or meanings inherent in the text from an ANE perspective. Many other insets highlight important topics relevant to the issues at hand and present readers with more extensive looks at the authors’ arguments.

I was quite surprised in the final chapter to see the author’s application of their systematic theology to contemporary issues. I wasn’t surprised to see that application made–surely if a Christian doctrine of creation is true, it ought to be able to speak to many modern problems–but rather with the seeming lack of care given in this section to sources and argumentation. Specifically, the authors turn to the question of transgender individuals. They make a distinction between gender dysphoria and “transgender ideology” (360) and assert that “we must recognize transgenderism as deeply incoherent” (ibid). Beyond that, they agree with another writer that “it is a gnostic denigration of the material body that nonetheless insists that a trans person must transform his or her body in order to be whole…” among other things. Here we see the ugly aphorism that “If I don’t like a theological position, it must be Gnosticism” rearing its ugly head.

Beyond the utter historical nonsense that is the equivocation of modern transgender ideology to ancient Gnosticism without anything more than bald assertion, the authors themselves produce the very type of incoherent argument they accuse their interlocutors of performing. First, their definition of “transgender ideology” as the belief that “a person can be born into the body of the wrong sex and can be transformed into the other sex through gender reassignment surgery and/or hormone therapy” (ibid). This definition may reflect the beliefs of some people, but surely not a broad enough consensus as to lump all who go beyond mere acknowledgement of gender dysphoria into this category. Moreover, the authors themselves seem to totally miss one of the central aspects of an understanding of gender dysphoria–something they at least seem to acknowledge as a real difficulty–as they move quite swiftly from discussion of “sex” to discussion of gender. Just one page after their definition, they continue: “A person should not, and indeed cannot, change his or her gender” (361). This seems utterly confused, because the language they’re using reflects objectivity of gender standards which simply cannot be the case given how frequently throughout history those expectations have changed. Men in Elizabethan England were expected to wear ruffles and stockings, so according to these authors’ confused understanding, men today are either sinfully attempting to change their gender by not doing so, or the whole of societal expectations in that era and place were themselves mistaken and indeed impossible (referring to the language of “cannot”). Given the deep misunderstandings of the basic tenets and talking points of modern discussions of transgender topics (something I myself do not claim any expertise in), it seems the authors may have been better served if they’d let the topic lie instead of attempting a triumphant broadside that dissolves into silliness on the most superficial examination.

It is clear that readers of The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach will be challenged on many levels as they read the book. It is an impressive look at what it means to build a doctrine of creation within a specific theological tradition. There are some stumbles throughout the book, but readers–especially those interested in Reformed doctrine–will find much of interest. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend some of the discussion of modern 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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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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.

“Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation” by Joel Looper

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time in America has been the subject of much scholarly discussion. It is clear it had enormous impact on his theology, but what hasn’t been as clear is exactly what kind of impact it may have had. Joel Looper’s phenomenal, challenging work, Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation not only seeks to answer definitively what kind of impact Bonhoeffer’s time in the United States had on the man and his theology, but also shows how extremely timely Bonhoeffer’s words and warnings about American theology can be for us today.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, “What Bonhoeffer Saw in America,” is Looper’s deep narration of Bonhoeffer’s life in America. Here, Looper delves deeply into Bonhoeffer’s coursework at Union Theological Seminary, who he interacted with, and what he himself reports about the situation with American theology. This part lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Here, Looper’s depth of knowledge and exploration of Bonhoeffer’s theology is on full display. It’s not just a report of Bonhoeffer’s time and words, but also an analysis that helps elucidate themes in Bonhoeffer’s writing from this time period that make much more clear what his issues were with American theology. Much of Bonhoeffer’s writing from his time in America is difficult to understand or comprehend without significant knowledge of contemporary issues, and Looper does an admirable job filling in those gaps, showing readers the background for understanding many of Bonhoeffer’s critiques. For example, some have utilized Bonhoeffer’s hard critiques of the social gospel to attempt to decry modern movements for social justice. However, Looper demonstrates that Bonhoeffer’s critique of the social gospel is not because it seeks to bring justice, but rather because it displaces the very gospel itself–that is, it doesn’t center revelation in Christ in the Christian message (see, for example pages 41, 46, and especially 48-49). The problem is not the ultimate efforts to feed the poor, stand with the oppressed, &c. The problem is, rather, the starting point of theology and its abandonment of revelation as the ultimate grounds.

The second part of the book focuses on Bonhoeffer’s analysis of American Protestantism specifically. American theology, as read by Bonhoeffer, had a primary problem in that it was “Protestantism without Reformation.” The meaning of this phrase is complex, but Looper notes that for Bonhoeffer, it can be traced back to Wycliffe and the Lollards. This sounds like an obscure point, but Looper, making Bonhoeffer’s own arguments clearer, shows how and why one might take this to be the case, particularly in the circles in which Bonhoeffer ran. It is clear, of course, that Bonhoeffer was not exposed to all of American theology, but what he saw ran in this vein, and the more conservative branches of theology he encountered were, in his opinion, little more than the most blunt and un-nuanced attempts to enforce orthodoxy. The Protestantism of the United States is so influenced by the strands Bonhoeffer mentioned that even Jonathan Edwards, cited by many as one of the greatest theologians America as produced, doesn’t even mention the church in his discussion of what one needs to be saved (75-76). American churches gave up any kind of confessional standard, only enforcing them after splitting again and again, and, in doing so, abandoned the Christian confession (86). American Protestants, for Bonhoeffer, no longer had something against which to protest, because they had severed themselves so distantly from the one true, holy, catholic church (86-87).

Even more damning is Bonhoeffer’s analysis of secularization in America. The pluralism enforced in America led to a kind of secularization of the church and idolization of the individual to the point that the allegiance was given to the nation state rather than to the church and God (102-103). This can be traced, again, to English dissenters who formed the backbone of colonial America. The secularization of the church is not due to some outside force acting upon it, but rather due to the church itself abandoning the word and being, again, a Protestantism without any kind of Reformation. In America, rather than having state churches, secularization came into play precisely because of the focus on freedom and independence–the church then becomes a mouthpiece for the alleged freedom the state provides (106-107).

Bonhoeffer’s own oft-misunderstood theology of the two kingdoms is, according to Looper, central to his understanding of the Gospel as well. Here is where Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism is so central to his understanding of the problems with American theology and beyond. The call for “thy kingdom come” must include both church and state precisely because of the two kingdoms theology–the church and state are both necessary and linked to one another (113-114). Thus, the famous phrase from Bonhoeffer about “seizing the wheel” is not actually revolutionary but rather counter-revolutionary. Bonhoeffer saw the Nazis as the revolutionaries, and such an understanding fits well within the Two Kingdoms theology Bonhoeffer so ardently supported.

The third part of the book centers around objections to both Bonhoeffer’s view of the American church and objections that seek to counter this narrative. For example, much has been made of Bonhoeffer’s largely positive analysis of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Looper doesn’t downplay this positive theme in Bonhoeffer’s analysis of America, but he does contextualize it. The Abyssinian Baptist Church was, to our knowledge, the only African American church he encountered in the United States apart from perhaps one or two Sundays in the American south (131). Bonhoeffer has threads that sound like W.E.B. Du Bois in some of his analysis of the American situation, such as when he talks about what is “hidden behind the veil of words in the American constitution saying ‘all men are created free and equal'” (136). It’s clear this had a positive and even eye-opening impact on Bonhoeffer, and traces of this can be found in his theology. Bonhoeffer’s own discussion of Jews in Germany, such as in his “The Church and the Jewish Question” may have been somewhat influenced here. Looper analyzes Bonhoeffer’s discussion of the Jewish people and shows how, while at times it is couched in problematic language, it demonstrates a deeper understanding and concern than one could credit him merely given his background or upbringing. (The whole section on this is a fascinating read, showing clear analysis that’s well-worth reading. See p. 141-146 in particular.) Bonhoeffer’s theology, however, remained firmly German Lutheran, and his own life-risking efforts in behalf of the Jews were not traceable to some kind of vague Western morality of “equality of all” but rather, Looper asserts, clearly based upon his Christology (150). Thus, Bonhoeffer’s experience with the Abyssinian church demonstrates a caveat in his analysis of American theology. Rather than a total rejection of all American theology, Bonhoeffer’s words ought to be seen directed exactly as they were, against the overwhelmingly popular academic streams of thought in contemporary American theology.

Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and his now famous Letters and Papers from Prison have led some to argue that he changed his views profoundly while in prison. Looper instead notes that his late-stage theology has continuity with that of his earlier life.

Looper’s work serves as a powerful challenge to many theologies of today. For those adhering to modern forms of the social gospel, Bonhoeffer’s warnings and critiques of that movement from his own time continue to apply: are these movements removing Christ from the center? For progressive Christians, Bonhoeffer’s critique of the social gospel can loom large–“Do such [progressive] theologies tend to respond to the critique of the word [revelation, Scripture] and think critically about their subjects in its wake? Or, rather, do they often begin with the (oppressed) self and work from the experience of that self and the non-ecclesial community with which it identifies? If the latter, are these theologies then only variants of ‘religious’ logic…?” (197-198). For conservatives, especially American evangelicals, Looper notes that the constant efforts to try to maintain a “seat at the table” in the larger world and their defense of their institutions, even to the point of, as many have said, voting while “holding their nose” for someone who, ethically, cannot be defended, would have been seen by Bonhoeffer as “Niebuhrian realism, pragmatism par excellence, and, in working from this script, evangelicals both brought the name of Christ into disrepute and forgot how the economy of God and of the church are supposed to work… Bonhoeffer would have called this evangelical struggle a cause of American secularization, not a buffer against it” (196). Bonhoeffer would see American theology today as a total abandonment of Protestant norms, exactly because of his theology of two kingdoms (joined with Luther’s) and because of the stark pragmatism of the right and the rush to de-center the Gospel on the left (198). Looper’s book thus serves as a blunt reminder of the dangers of our modern theological era and the need to offer correctives.

I have now read more than 70 books by or about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his theology, and the world he inhabited in order to try to understand more about the man and his theology. Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation easily ranks in the top 10 of those books. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Bonhoeffer’s theology should consider it a must read. More importantly, though, those wishing to have an understanding of American theology and its problems to this day should seek out this fantastic book. I highly recommend it without reservation.

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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: “Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present” edited by Timothy Larsen

Timothy Larsen is an author whose works have fascinated me time and again, so when I saw his edited volume on evangelicals’ reading of the Bible, I knew I had to hop in. Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present is a superb look at some specific ways evangelicals have engaged with the Bible throughout the last several centuries.

Collections of essays are often hit-or-miss affairs, but Larsen has compiled a selection of essays full of excellent topics and insights. The essays are grouped by century, starting in the 18th and terminating in the 21st. They rnage fro mearly evangelical readings of the Bible to global evangelical mindset in today’s contexts. Instead of providing an overview of every one of these great works, I’ll highlight a few I found especially insightful.

With “British Exodus, American Empire: Evangelical Preachers and the Biblicisms of Revolution,” Kristina Benham introduces readers into the ways in which American evangelicals and their British forebears used the biblical narrative–particularly those of the Exodus–to draw parallels to their own situations in colonial and Revolutionary America. It’s a fascinating look at how one’s own context can shape how one reads Scripture. Mark A. Noll’s “Missouri, Denmark Vesey, Biblical Proslavery, and a Crisis for Sola Scriptura” engages with readings of the Bible and advocates of slavery. Indeed, at times the proslavery position claimed the high ground of reading the Bible more literally or even accurately than did those who opposed slavery. Such readings of the Bible in evangelicalism are too often ignored or skirted around.

Malcom Foley’s essay about resisting lynching, “‘The Only Way to Stop a Mob’: Francis Grimke’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance” seems poignant to this day, despite being part of twentieth century readings of Scripture. Catherine A. Brekus’s examination, “The American Patriot’s Bible: Evangelicals, the Bible, and American Nationalism,” shows how evangelicalism in the 21st century has so often conflated nationalism, patriotism, and theology. Her detailed analysis of what may seem an aberration also highlights how emblematic of American Evangelicalism the American Patriot’s Bible actually is.

This short sampling of just a few topics out of the 12 essays offered shows the broad array of topics available to the reader. I can’t emphasize just how refreshing this collection was. Yes, the topics are focused around a single subject: evangelical readings of the Bible; but they did so from such broad categories that each essay felt it broached new and intriguing avenues of exploration for the reader.

One drawback of collections of essays does loom here, though: there is, again, an unbalance in authors selected. I’m unsure of the racial breakdown in authorship, but the contributors are heavily weighted towards males, with at least 2/3 being men. Though each essay is excellent on its own merits, one wonders whether there couldn’t have been more attention paid to a diversity of voices.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter gives readers a broad swathe of topics related to evangelicals’ reading of the Bible both past and present. Each essay brings a unique perspective and whole avenues of new reading and insight along with it. This volume 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.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

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: “Science and the Doctrine of Creation: The Approaches of Ten Modern Theologians” edited by Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp

The question of how the doctrine of creation interacts with science (and vice versa) has loomed large in the past few hundred years. Many theologians have offered a whole realm of responses to questions about how these two relate. Science and the Doctrine of Creation brings the views of ten theologians to the forefront, highlighting through essays by different authors the way these theologians interacted with science and creation.

The theologians in this collection range from the late 19th century through the early 21st century. They also span a wide range of denominational backgrounds. This gives the volume a robust look at several different strands of theological thought being applied to the doctrine of creation (though see below, on women).

B.B. Warfield has been at the center of several debates regarding Christianity and science because several different sides want to enlist his writings in their defense. Bradley J. Gundlach clarifies that Warfield’s views on evolution–that it’s complicated–while also showing Warfield’s fascinating piloting of a doctrine of creation that navigates several hot button topics in fairly unique ways. Jürgen Moltmann’s doctrine of creation operates seemingly apart from science, though the author of the essay on his theology, Stephen N. Williams, shows that there is more subtlety there that might provide a way forward in science-faith discussions. Abraham Kuyper’s discussion of science and creation is highlighted by aspects that show that one’s approach and intent may matter just as much as their outcomes, argues Craig Bartholomew (my words summarizing some of his content–see esp. 40-41). These and other highlights of the book show just how deep readers can go in thinking in different ways about the doctrine of creation in light of modern science.

I was disappointed by the overall lack of women in this volume. Only one of the ten essays was written by a woman, and not a single woman was selected as a subject of any of the essays. It is remarkable to me that among all modern theologians, not even one woman was selected to give voice to her view on science and creation. This is particularly egregious given that many women are involved in studying the intersection of the doctrine of creation and science. The book would have been improved by diversifying its sample of theologians and authors.

Science and the Doctrine of Creation shows a broad spectrum of views on the titular topics, but doesn’t integrate as many diverse voices as it may have been nice to see. That said, readers interested in Christianity and science will want to check out this book, particularly to see how wide the range of views there are even among just 10 theologians.

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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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: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception” by Petra Brown

It’s no secret that I have been deeply impacted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology. However, as with everything, I believe it is important to read views which are critical of your own. Sometimes, this can help moderate your own enthusiasim for a view by showing potentially problematic aspects of it. Other times, reading something which disagrees with your views can help confirm you in that view as you rebut the critique. Petra Brown’s book, Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception is a remarkable critique leveled directly at Bonhoeffer’s ethic. I found it enlightening and, at times, course-correcting.

The central point Brown argues that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is dangerous because it essentially allows the individual Christian disciple to justify essentially any form of violence so long as they believe they are living in a state of “exception.” Brown cites numerous examples of Christians who used violence, claiming Bonhoeffer for support when challenged on it.

The state of exception is developed by Brown through the lens of Carl Schmitt, a Nazi jurist who developed the notion of “state of exception” as “a state of emergency which requires decisive action by the sovereign (in Schmitt’s case) or by other actors within the state” (5). Schmitt is explicitly cited by Brown as the lens through which she’s viewing the state of exception and analysis of Bonhoeffer, though she also clearly state’s Bonhoeffer’s own concept of exception is intended “in a fairly straightforward way, based on Machiavelli’s concept of necessita” (106). Brown rigorously documents Bonhoeffer’s writings showing that he did speak about a state of exception, along with the need for potential individual action on the part of the disciple. However, Brown’s own definition of exception is, by her own argument, placed squarely within Schmitt’s writings, not those of Bonhoeffer. And, since Brown denotes a significant divergence between the two, this seemingly undercuts her central point. Indeed, at times this reader wondered if the point was more akin to arguing that Bonhoeffer’s ethic could be misunderstood in light of other writers on states of exception, thus becoming dangerous because of that misunderstanding. Yet Brown herself seems to be arguing that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is problematic in just this sense: that it can and does yield individual, “lone wolf” type violence. The tension between these two points is, to my eye, not resolved.

Brown does make attempts to unite Bonhoeffer’s state of exception with that of Schmitt’s, but these arguments are tenuous. For example, she notes that one possible objection to her use of Schmitt with Bonhoeffer is that comparing Schmitt’s ideas with the “emerging ideas of Bonhoeffer” is mistaken because Schmitt was “a German Catholic who explicitly claimed to speak from a Catholic position” (112). Brown argues instead that Schmitt’s position was “highly idiosyncratic” compared to traditional Catholic political stance such that it was “neither neoscholastic, nor Romantic as German Catholicism tended to be at the time” (ibid). Of course, showing Schmitt had theological distance from Roman Catholicism of his time and place does not somehow mean that Bonhoeffer’s state of exception can be seamlessly united with Schmitt. Indeed, it is telling that after making these distinctions, Brown simply moves on with the analysis of Schmitt’s concept of exception rather than attempting to unite it with Bonhoeffer’s. Indeed, she noted earlier that Bonhoeffer’s position is more akin to Machiavelli, from whom she says Schmitt is “a significant departure” (114). This, again, makes it seem as though Brown’s point is less that Bonhoeffer’s ethic itself is dangerous than that it can be dangerous once one unites it with other ethical theories or concepts that are, yes, adjacent to it, but not actually part of it.

On this latter point, I think Brown and I are in general agreement. In fact, Brown’s argument here seems to demonstrate that American evangelicals who cite Bonhoeffer in support of violent acts are doing so by misunderstanding him. But Brown, as far as I saw (and I could have missed something in my own reading), never actually makes this point explicitly. Instead, the implication is that Bonhoeffer’s own ideas are dangerous in that exact way; but that point is not sufficiently established.

Another area in which Brown’s argument loses ground is that she attempts–and fails–to adequately account for Bonhoeffer’s moderation of that state of exception and ethic when related to the church. She acknowledges that Bonhoeffer’s writings about church-community present a significant problem to her reading of Bonhoeffer’s ethic as dangerous (184). However, even as she agrees that one cannot isolate Bonhoeffer’s discussion of ethics from his discussion of the church-community, she works to move Bonhoeffer’s concept of church to that of an individual.

Brown writes, “Bonhoeffer regards the church-community not as an institution, but as a collective person; the personhood of the church-community reflects its identity as the ‘body of Christ’ that is made [up of] ‘actual, living human beings who follow Christ” (187). Thus, she says, “The church community is understood by Bonhoeffer to have ‘personhood,’ and as such I suggest that it can suffer the same isolation experienced by Abraham or the isolated disciple in her obedience to Christ’s call” (ibid). The passage she quotes in support of giving the church-community personhood is from Discipleship (aka The Cost of Discipleship). Brown moves from this quote using the words “actual living beings who follow Christ” to saying the church-community has personhood. However, Bonhoeffer himself, in that very passage which Brown quotes, is not making that point. Instead, Bonhoeffer’s point is made explicitly: the church-community is the physical embodiment of Christ on Earth, preaching God’s word to the world (DBWE 4: 225-226). Thus, for Bonhoeffer, the church-community does not become personal by means of its composition of persons. No, for Bonhoeffer, the church-community has personhood because it becomes Christ to others. And this remarkable claim obviates the difficulty Brown is trying to press. For the church-community is not reducible to a person except that that person is Christ in the world. Therefore, Brown’s argument here fails, because she reduces the church-community to the person in the wrong direction. For her argument to work, it must be reducible, again, to the Christian acting as lone wolf, possibly through violence. But in fact, Bonhoeffer’s reduction is to bring it all to Christ.

One difficulty for Brown is that shared by her imagined–and real–opponents in interpreting Bonhoeffer. Namely, by lifting his name and ethic of the pages of a book and the specific time in which he lived and plugging it in to modern debates, they’ve assumed the context and intent of his ethic today. I need to unpack this a bit. It is abundantly clear that Bonhoeffer’s ethic is not meant to be a list of principles from which people are supposed to draw to make their decisions. Indeed, his ethic does encourage individual action. However, it always does so within the community of believers. Brown’s rebuttal for this was mentioned above, but I think it is worth noting again that community for Bonhoeffer is irreducible to the individual except that of Christ. Thus, the lone wolf violence about which Brown worries and which several have attempted to justify using Bonhoeffer’s words is deeply mistaken in putting Bonhoeffer’s name to it. Just as Bonhoeffer argues one cannot have church without sacrament, so too does he insist upon the church community as working together to embody Christ on Earth. Acting in state of exception does not mean merely acting individually–it means acting along with Christ and the church.

Brown’s arguments do have merit. It is demonstrable that many violent acts have been done in the name of, or at least justified after the fact by, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Brown’s argument that Bonhoeffer’s own ethic justifies this violence is, I believe, mistaken. However, her argument has powerful force if one includes those positions which are adjacent to Bonoheffer’s. So, for example, if one integrates others’ views of a state of exception, it becomes much simpler to justify violence. If one ignores or is ignorant of Bonhoeffer’s insistence upon the church-community and acting ethically alongside that, it becomes much easier to justify violence. So, is Bonhoeffer God’s conspirator, ushering in the possibility for violent acts by Christians? Yes and no. Yes, if Bonhoeffer’s ethic is read divorced from much of its context and with others’ interpretations and concepts smuggled in. No, if one takes Bonhoeffer at his own words.

There is, however, one clear exception to this. Brown presses hard on a sermon Bonhoeffer gave in Barcelona in which he clearly stated that even violent acts could be sanctified. She states, “I don’t believe that the 1929 Barcelona lecture can be dismissed as an aberration” for Bonhoeffer’s ethic. Her attempt to unify this lecture with Bonhoeffer’s Ethics and Discipleship is intriguing. I also think that we ought to see Bonhoeffer’s ethic more as unified whole than as a collection of different positions. The Barcelona lecture needs to fit into that somewhere. Of course, Bonhoeffer himself wrote of having some regrets about what he’d written before, so one wonders if it’s possible that, due to the influence of pacifism on his views, he would have wholly rejected what he said in Barcelona. That, or, as others have argued, perhaps Bonhoeffer was moving along a continuum of a Lutheran view of ethics, and one can unify the whole through that. Whatever the case, more work needs to be developed to discover what was meant by Bonhoeffer in Barcelona, or whether Brown’s case succeeds at this point.

Petra Brown’s Bonhoeffer: God’s Conspirator in a State of Exception presents a significant challenge for Bonhoeffer scholarship. Those who wish to engage with Bonhoeffer’s ethics–particularly those of resistance–ought to engage carefully with Brown’s critique.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read all my posts related to Bonhoeffer and his theology.

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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.

Eternal Conscious Torment, Degrees of Suffering, and Infinite Punishment

One argument for affirming Eternal Conscious Torment (hereafter ECT) is that it allegedly makes more sense of divine justice.* So, for example, the argument is that awful dictators like Stalin or Hitler being simply executed by God (such as in some views of Conditionalism) is unjust, but rather their punishment must be much more severe in order to satisfy justice. To rework ECT and allow for a more palatable sense of justice, the concept of degrees of punishment is sometimes introduced, such that those who did not commit great atrocities suffer less than those who did. Another argument for ECT is that because God is infinite and God is the wronged party when creatures sin, those finite creatures must suffer infinite punishment for justice to be served. Below, I’ll argue that these arguments related to ECT fail.

Degrees of Punishment

Intuitively, it seems unjust that someone who say, did not come to belief in Jesus Christ due to not hearing the Gospel proclaimed have the same level of punishment in eternity as someone like Stalin does or someone who intentionally misleads people about Christ. Thus, the argument goes, to preserve that sense of justice, there are degrees of punishment in hell. Instead of debating the merits of that argument, I’d like to highlight a significant problem for the ECT position on this view. Namely, ECT does not, in fact, allow for degrees of punishment on the basis of it being eternal.

Eternity is a long time. It is infinite. Defenders of ECT are adamant: this punishment goes on forever, without end. However, once one introduces the infinite into real life situations, such as eternal conscious torment, some difficulties appear. To explain, examples like Hilbert’s Hotel can help explain some of these situations. In Hilbert’s Hotel, there are infinite rooms which are all full with infinite people. But, alas, a guest would like to check in! No problem, Hilbert just moves every guest down one room, thus making room for another guest! It sounds paradoxical because it is. That’s not how things in the real world seem to work. Nothing truly seems infinite.

For defenders of ECT, hell is infinite. Let’s say we have two people in ECT’s view of hell. One, Jill, has a degree of punishment significantly smaller than that of Joseph Stalin. Let’s say that Jill’s suffering is only 1/1000 that of Stalin. Now, to determine how much suffering any individual suffers, one can multiply the amount of suffering by the amount of time they’re suffering that amount. But infinity multiplied in such a fashion remains infinity. In both Jill and Stalin’s case, that amount of time is infinite. Thus, their total suffering is equal, because the quantitative suffering they receive moment to moment ultimately multiplies to be an equal, infinite amount of suffering. The aggregate suffering which each endures is infinite. All of the unsaved, regardless of who they are or what actions they did in this life, ultimately suffer an equal amount: infinitely.

This means that the argument about degrees of punishment related to ECT fails, because all of the lost suffer the same ultimate fate: infinite suffering.

Different Infinites

It is true that there are different kinds of infinities in math. However, those differences aren’t relevant in this case for a few reasons. One reason is that no individual’s suffering is infinite at any given moment (this is important, as we will see in the next section). That is, we can quantify one’s temporal suffering, say, on a range of 1-1000. Because of that, the calculus of infinites doesn’t change here. Though there are different kinds of infinite, the degrees of punishment being discussed here are not–and cannot–be significant enough to impact that ultimate amount of aggregate suffering in a way that makes the infinites mathematically discernable.

The other problem is that mathematical proof can show that the different type of infinites don’t matter in the case of ECT. See the Appendix below.

Infinite Suffering and the Justice of an Infinite God

Another argument in favor of ECT is that, because one has wronged an infinite being, the punishment must be infinite. If I’m right about the above problem for ECT, ECT succeeds at providing infinite aggregate punishment, but only at cost of undermining any possibility of degrees of punishment. But the fact that it is only aggregately infinite yields another problem: no finite being actually suffers an infinite amount, which undermines another argument for ECT.

Humans are finite–this is a given and indeed is part of the proponent of ECT’s argument for needing an infinite punishment for wronging an infinite God. However, because humans are finite, they are incapable of suffering, at any given moment, an infinite amount. So, while their suffering will be an aggregate or ultimate infinity, given the infinite time of eternity, at no point in time can one say “Stalin has suffered infinitely.” The reason for this is that, at any given moment in eternity, the amount of suffering would still be finite, having not yet reached an infinite amount. For every given moment, t, there is another moment, t +1, that would yield more suffering.

What this means, then, is that no one in hell, at any given moment, has suffered or will have suffered infinitely (excepting the abstract ultimate or aggregate eternity). But if God’s justice can only be served by meting out infinite suffering to finite creatures, then God’s justice is never satisfied, for all such creatures doomed to infinite suffering must continue to suffer without ever reaching the actual infinite amount of suffering. Therefore, the argument in favor of ECT from God’s infinite justice fails.

Addendum: Infinite Life in Christ

Another outcome of my reasoning is that degrees of reward in heaven must ultimately be the same as well. Thus, any view which deems it necessary for there to be varying degrees of eternal bliss faces the same difficulties as ECT does, for all of the saved will experience infinite bliss. Therefore, views of eternal rewards which rely upon infinite rewards fail.

*Interestingly, the opposite is also often held by those who argue for positions apart from ECT.

Appendix: Mathematical Proof and Infinite Suffering

This mathematical proof was made by Jonathan Folkerts, a Physics Doctoral Student.

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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.

Much Ado About Nothing: Alisa Childers’ “Another Gospel?”

I believe one of the most important thing anyone can do for their edification is to read books with which one disagrees. There are a number of reasons for this, such as the possibility that such books may enlighten or even change one’s position about at topic or to ensure that one does not misrepresent the “other side” when discussing topics with which you disagree. Alisa Childers’ Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity* presents her opinions on what she calls Progressive Christianity, and, being sometimes labeled progressive myself, I figured it was worth taking a look.

The book has a Foreword by Lee Strobel, a journalist who writes bestselling apologetic works centered around interviews of experts and whose fame was only increased by the “A Case for Christ” movie about his life. I was honestly stunned when I saw his example of sailing a boat and needing an anchor to ensure one’s safety. He goes on to say that the anchor for Christianity is… what? Reading the analogy, I most definitely expected the answer to the question: “What is the anchor of Christianity?” to be, well, Christ! After all, Christ is the chief cornerstone of our faith (Ephesians 2:19-20). It seems reasonable to expect that the anchor would be similar enough to a cornerstone in an analogy to have Christ be the answer. Well, you’d be wrong. Strobel’s answer is: “In Christianity, the anchor is sound biblical doctrine” (xiii). Strobel’s answer is not only surprising but also wrong. Christ just is the foundation and anchor of our faith. Having the right beliefs is all well and good, but those right beliefs are nothing but foolishness without Christ. I belabor this point because Strobel’s answer in this foreword is indicative of Childers’ approach. For Childers, progressive Christianity is a threat not because it fails to honor Christ or because Christ is not at work in the progressive Church. No, progressive Christianity is a danger because they don’t agree with her own definition and beliefs of what is entailed by “sound biblical doctrine.”

Childers provides autobiographical details throughout the book, many of which resonated with me because I had some similar experiences growing up in the church. Childers was apparently a member of a CCM group known as ZOEgirl, which had songs I’m sure I’ve listened to at some point. What’s interesting is that these autobiographical details are often used as the foundation for her chapters dealing with her analysis of progressive Christianity. For example, a surprising example of a pastor who was an agnostic with whom she took a class serves, apparently, as her definition of what a progressive Christian is. I don’t say this to be disingenuous. It just appears that, as far as Childers is operating, her experience with this agnostic pastor became so formative for her with her visceral reaction away from him that she then associates anything even remotely related to that pastor’s views as progressive and therefore not really Christian, in her mind. I admit I’m taking some psychoanalysis too far here, but if one reads the book just trying to find what she means by “progressive Christianity,” this seems to be the ultimate answer. Indeed, Childers herself writes that this single class “would permanently embed the voice of a skeptic into my mind–that has to this day affected my ability to read the Bible without inner conflict” (20-21). That Childers reveals this is good, because it tells us about her biases. But then it clouds not just her personal reading of the Bible, but also her interaction with any Christian who strays from an unconflicted idea of “sound biblical doctrine.”

Childers words quoted above reveal what seems a painful experience to her based on her wording about conflict. It also shows a recurring theme in Another Gospel?, namely, that doubt is inherently to be distrusted or “fixed.” A later example occurs in Childers discussion of church, “Fixing What Isn’t Broken.” Over the course of a few pages, Childers delivers a terribly confusing message about doubt, first noting the problem with defining faith as 100% certainty all the time (49-50), then helpfully suggests that faith is “trust based on evidence” (51), and finally suggests that churches must become “safe places for those who experience doubt” (51-52). That sounds great, until Childers adds the addendum, “If people don’t feel understood, they are likely to find sympathy from those in the progressive camp who thrive on reveling in doubt. In progressive Christianity, doubt has become a badge of honor to bask in, rather than an obstacle to face and overcome” (52). Citation. Needed. Childers has absolutely nothing to back this up. Again, contextually, the aforementioned agnostic pastor is mentioned (50), apparently setting up Childers’ entire view of what progressive Christianity is, such that she can make these broad stroke claims about “progressive Christianity” without even a single citation of evidence. Indeed, one may wonder based on her own encouragement of churches to become “safe places” (note that she dare not use safe “spaces,” for that term is too progressive) for doubters is itself evidence that the non-progressive church itself dares not “face and overcome” the “obstacle” of doubt. Her words are insulting at best, and uninformed in the text itself.

Critical theory serves as a bogeyman in Another Gospel? just as it does in much conservative Christianity. Rather than providing any primary sources to discuss what critical theorists actually believe or think, Childers is content to set up false dichotomies regarding critical theory and Christianity (59-61). She ends this brief section with this whopper: “[W]hen someone accepts the ideas of critical theory, it can begin to erode their Christian worldview… It can lead someone into progressive Christianity, which already devalues the historic Christian answers to these ‘worldview questions’ and focuses on actions over belief. That becomes just another works-based gospel that ebbs and flows with cultural norms” (61). This passage is riddled with unwarranted assumptions, and Childers hasn’t even come close to establishing that progressive Christianity does anything of the sort regarding what she claims.

Claims about historical Christian belief abound in Another Gospel?, but it is clear that Childers has, at best, a passing knowledge of selections from church history. Her claims about the apparent unanimity of church history in agreement with her own current moral compass should set off alarm bells already (again, see quote above). Once she actually turns to discussing church history, those alarms turn into blaring claxons. For example, her discussion of “digging into their [church fathers’] writings” is especially revealing in that she she portrays them as seemingly united in doctrine (78-80), emphasizing that there are “hundreds” of quotes (81) about Scripture showing similar views to her own, but failing to demonstrate that what they were saying actually aligns in any way to her own views beyond superificial similarities in appealing to Scriptural authority. Yes, the church fathers had a high view of Scripture, but the way Childers writes, one comes away thinking they aligned on virtually everything else regarding morals, doctrine, &c.

A simple demonstration of Childers’ strange mixture of attempted awareness of church history and ignorance thereof is her treatment of universalism. I’m not a universalist myself, but it is clear there is a strand of universalist thought throughout church history. Childers’ discussion rejects universalism with little more than a trite “I learned that it is not biblical” and a quote from Richard Bauckham (187). The standard proof texts for eternal conscious torment are cited, but Childers seems to think that universalists have never even attempted to deal with these, and shows no actual awareness of a position like conditional immortality. No, for Childers, unsurprisingly at this point, it’s her way or the highway. After all, we know the anchor of Christianity is what? For Childers, it’s sound biblical [read: her view] doctrine.

Childers’ chapter about atonement is abysmal. I don’t use that word lightly, but Childers shows that she’s totally uninformed about historical positions on the atonement. Yes, there are voices in progressive Christianity that talk about the atonement theory in ways that don’t make sense historically as well. Yes, the “cosmic child abuse” narrative is nonsense. But also, yes, there have historically been several atonement theories. And Childers has the audacity to conclude this chapter by writing “Progressive Christians assume they are painting God in a more tolerant light by denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. But in reality, they are simply constructing a codependent and impotent god who is powerless to stop evil. That god is not really good. That god is not the God of the Bible. That god cannot save you” (224). Throughout this chapter, Childers cherry-picks quotes from various people and then trashes them based on proof texts that she presumably believes prove substitutionary atonement as the One True Atonement Theory. But if Childers really, truly believes that one must hold to substitutionary atonement or else have a “god” who “cannot save you,” then she’s writing off many, many Christians even back to church fathers throughout history. And the thing is, I genuinely do not believe Childers has any idea she’s doing this. Childers could not actually believe what she writes about competing atonement theories while also quoting C.S. Lewis in a positive light (Lewis did not believe that a single theory of atonement was necessary, as anyone who has read his views in Mere Christianity would know, and he seems to have held to a ransom theory or some variation thereof, though Lewis scholars continue to debate this). The chapter on atonement is, once again, Childers widely missing the mark. And that’s unfortunate, because a genuine critique of those within progressive circles who say things like “cosmic child abuse” needs to be written, but maybe it just can’t be done by someone who’s going to throw people’s salvation into question. Again, for Childers, the “achor” of Christianity seems to be “sound biblical doctrine” (read: doctrine she agrees with) rather than Christ.

Another Gospel? is an unfortunate mess. I say unfortunate because I, as a sometimes-labeled progressive Christian, believe that progressive Christians could use a gut check at times. It is true that the “cosmic child abuse” view some Christians put forward is astonishingly ignorant of church history and probably very poor Trinitarian theology, at that. It is true that progressive Christianity could stand to think more strongly about church history. It is true that progressive Christianity could use some subtle corrections. But Childers’ work is not that work. It is a series of misrepresentations, mistakes, and fear-mongering. Childers, like Strobel, appears to think that the anchor of Christianity is doctrine, not Christ. Perhaps they could each learn from so many progressives I’ve known personally who value Jesus so much that they’re willing to be uncomfortable with their own beliefs or those of others for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps they could learn that God is strong and powerful enough to exceed our own expectations and break out of the boxes we set up.

*I did not comment upon the subtitle in the main body of my text because I know authors often don’t get to choose their titles or even subtitles. Nevertheless, the implication of progressive Christianity being so obviously untrue that “lifelong Christians” (such as myself, a lifelong, sometimes labeled progressive Christian) must “seek truth in response” to it is, minimally, a tough pill to swallow.

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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: “Voices and Views on Paul” by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” broke like a storm across some segments of Christian scholarship. With Voices and Views on Paul, Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers step back and offer an analysis and summary of some contemporary perspectives on Paul.

The first chapter offers a broad view of the New Perspective on Paul, giving definitions as well as showing the primary thrust of those studying in that field. Then, individual scholars’ works are covered in detail, including entire chapters devoted to E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James D. G. Dunn, respectively. After those weighty chapters, two more chapters cover additional modern perspectives of Paul. The final chapter looks at what we can conclude from this study as well as explores some avenues for additional Pauline research.

So what is the “new perspective on Paul”? As the authors point out in the retrospective at the beginning, it’s no longer a new perspective, having first been coined as a phrase in 1983 and also not being a perspective so much as several different perspectives with some often sharp divisions and disagreements (1). So the authors offer a broad background for how this divergent stream of thought got started, and note that it tends to focus on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (3). This question–that of how Paul viewed the relationship between Jew and Gentile and how his own theology grew out from Judaism–is central to scholars working within the so-called “New Perspective.”

The chapters on individual scholars offer lengthy outlines of their own perspectives, along with some points of possible contact and division between them. E. P. Sanders, for example, shows a remarkable and necessary focus upon Judaism in the New Testament, which included both the need to show how scholars had constructed a negative portrait and the need for a portrait of Judaism in the New Testament that shows how Second Temple Judaism was perceived and interacted with New Testament works, particularly Paul’s (19). Sanders offered a “Copernican revolution” in NT scholarship by using his concept of “covenantal nomism” which balanced both the legalism that some perceived in the notion of law/covenant with Judaism and the notion of God’s mercy and atonement with those who have broken the law (25). Sanders’s work is monumental and well-argued, but also doesn’t fully account for the origins of Paul’s notion of sin, nor its importance within Paul’s own works (35ff).

The chapter on N. T. Wright (whom, admittedly, this reader has some bias towards) is equally fascinating. It notes the massive swathe of Wright’s writings upon Paul and how they almost all tie together to make the point at the center of Wright’s thesis: that Paul pushes back against the Imperial cult in his works and centers the Kingdom as covenant as his focus. Wright also focuses upon Israel and the story of the coming Messiah–which leads to significant questions about how the law fits into this (73ff). Wright’s vulnerability lies in perhaps over-reading texts to make them fit into this notion of the imperial cult and hyperbole against it. Even so, Wright’s massive project offers needed correctives to understanding how Paul’s writings worked and, crucially, Wright offers a more global perspective, pulling in scholarship that others did not to support his point.

Dunn’s focus upon the law offers much rich insight for readers to delve into, while also offering a stronger look at Paul’s own conversion and his ethics than some of the other authors. The Apocalyptic Paul is a perspective offered by several scholars, focusing upon the genre of apocalyptic texts (itself a somewhat nebulous concept–see p. 139-141). One problem with apocalyptic readings of Paul is that when they focus so heavily upon the apocalyptic, they tend to have a break between Paul and contemporary Judaism which is much stronger than Paul’s writings themselves seem to suggest (149). Other apocalyptic readings of Paul have tended towards demytholigizing of Paul which doesn’t seem to be fully present in Paul’s own works (157ff). What these works on an apocalyptic Paul do do, however, is provide us with reason to take more seriously Paul’s own apocalyptic imagery and some language related to the apocalyptic which is sometimes missed. Several works on Paul also have focused upon correctives to Reformation readings of Paul, which were sometimes focused primarily on separation from Catholicism rather than upon providing a strong reading of Paul himself (see, for example, 209-211 regarding Calvin and rewards in heaven/God’s love of humanity).

Voices and Views on Paul is an absolutely invaluable work for those interested in any way in Pauline scholarship. It provides significant introductions to some of the most recent thinkers as well as some of the most influential works in the field. It also provides no small amount of critique and potential avenues for further exploration. It’s a great read that is recommended highly.

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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