theology

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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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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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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 Other Side of the Wall” by Munther Isaac

The question of Israel and Palestine looms large in contemporary politics, but it also looms large theologically for many people around the globe. Munther Isaac’s The Other Side of the Wall gives a firsthand account of the land, along with a theological exploration of Israel, Palestine, and lament and hope.

Isaac starts the book with “An Invitation” in which he calls on readers to realize that the situation is probably far more complex than they’ve heard or been taught. So many factors–cultural, political, theological–are competing for attention in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it makes it difficult to sort them all out. Additionally, a simplistic portrayal of the conflict in the United States, particularly among certain theological traditions, effectively erases Palestinian Christian voices from the narrative.

Next, Isaac leads readers on a journey of, as the subtitle says, lament and hope. There’s much to lose heart about when it comes to relationships in Israel and Palestine. But there’s also reason to hope. Too many global Christians ignore the plight of Palestinian Christians, whose rights are often trampled. Additionally, the voices of Palestinian Christians are ignored or even specifically excluded (see, for example, the story Isaac shares on 29ff about his letter to the editor). When people don’t fit neatly into the boxes that Christians have set up related to the conflict, it is easier to ignore them than to engage with them.

Christian Zionism is then analyzed by Isaac, and he notes that it has essentially become a kind of imperialism imposing the will of (largely American) Christians outside the land onto the people of the land. Simplistic readings of the biblical text yield results that exclude Palestinian Christians from the conversation and turn people into instruments. Isaac explores the promises of the land made in the Bible and notes the conditions given related to them in multiple places. He also highlights the problematic language and interpretations of the Bible put forward by many Christians related to Israel and the people living there. The notion that Jews need to rebuild the temple, only to be excluded from the Kingdom of God, is particularly nefarious. Yet this view is extremely common in American Evangelicalism, as people argue that prophecies demand the Temple return to Israel, while simultaneously arguing that Jews will be condemned for not believing in Christ. This turns people into instruments of theological systems in an alarming fashion.

Isaac argues this last point especially forcefully on 125ff, where he notes the teaching of a “prophecy expert” who argued that those Jews who did not believe in Jesus would be massacred, according to the Bible, and the remaining third would embrace Jesus as Messiah during a millennial reign. Isaac also noted that this has created tension in Jewish-Christian relations, as so many “prophecy experts” and evangelical Christians support the state of Israel abstractly while also holding views that treat Jews as objects in their eschatological narratives (126-127).

Isaac constantly challenges assumptions made about Israel and Palestine, noting how easy it is to move from “Arab” to “Muslim” and “not one of us” or an excluded voice (108). This also highlights the knee-jerk reaction of many American Christians to Muslims in general, which is far from reflecting the love of Christ for all our neighbors. He writes, “If You Hate Muslims, You Hate Jesus, Too. If We Love Jesus, We Will Love Hindus” (120, emphasis his).

Isaac wraps up the book with reasons for hope and ways to find love of neighbor and share in that hope going forward.

The Other Side of the Wall is an enlightening read. Isaac provides personal accounts while incisively critiquing (primarily American) Christianity for ignoring the plight of Palestinian Christians and mischaracterizing events in Israel in order to play games with Scripture. It’s a powerful critique, while also providing reasons for hope and a call to follow Christ by truly loving our neighbor. Highly recommended.

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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: “Killing a Messiah” by Adam Winn

Adam Winn’s Killing a Messiah is a novel set in 1st century Judea that shows different perspectives before, during, and somewhat after Holy Week. The book follows several characters, invented or historical, as events swirl leading up to the Crucifixion.

Judah, a leader of a Jewish resistance group, is probably the driving force for action in the novel. Pilate has a much more prominent place than one might expect given the biblical narrative (more on that below). A shopkeeper, Caleb, attempts to avoid the major events taking place around him. Eleazar, the son of High Priest Caiaphas, has his own politically motivated agenda.

The novel introduces a number of factors that stirred conflict in Judea during this time, and Winn does a competent job showing how this may have impacted people at various levels in Israel’s hierarchy. I was surprised, however, at how little a voice was given to any female characters in the book. There are 4 main perspectives, none of which is a woman. Yet in the biblical narrative, we see women featuring hugely in the events. It feels a bit like a missed opportunity to not have a narrative perspective from someone like one of the women who helped fund Jesus’s ministry. What would she have been like? How would she have viewed the political turmoil happening around Jesus? Perhaps I’m just interested in parts of the narrative that did not interest Winn, but I, unfortunately, cannot help but feel a strong sense of “what might have been” throughout the novel.

What’s interesting is that Winn’s framing of the events throughout this period allow him to address several issues that don’t often come up in discussions of the biblical text. For one, he places Pilate directly in the midst of the events. While his use of fictional embellishments in the narrative underscore Pilate as being involved throughout the process, it also helps highlight the possibility that Pilate was intentionally being portrayed somewhat like a puppet for the Jewish leaders by the biblical authors. The theological possibilities of this aren’t drawn out by Winn.

Another point Winn makes (see author’s note, 228-229) is that Jesus was still popular with many of the people in Jerusalem and instead the events were brought about by the High Priest Caiaphas and other elites attempting to stop what was perceived as “illegal and seditious” activity by Jesus and his followers.

The author’s note, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting parts of the whole work. In fact, I almost wish that we’d simply gotten a lengthy exposition of the points Winn raises in the note than a historical fiction novel. The novel reads well enough, but it drags at times and seems to struggle to piece the characters into the narrative rather than having them drive the narrative.

Overall, Killing a Messiah is a good read, but one that will leave readers wanting more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the tantalizing hints Winn gives in the narrative and note at the end will make readers want to learn more about the points he’s making.

(All Amazon links are affiliates links.)

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: “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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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.

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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: “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.

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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: “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.

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