theology

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Book Review: “The Lost World of the Torah” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The series John H. Walton (with others along the way) has written on “The Lost World of…” serves to shine light from studies on the Ancient Near East (ANE) onto questions of interpretation of Scripture. In The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton tackle questions about the meaning of the Torah and Old Testament Law for us today. Specifically, they examine what the Torah would have meant in its Ancient Near Eastern context to those who wrote it down and passed it along to us.

First, the authors outline their methodology. Specifically, they note that the Old Testament is an ancient document, and so we ought to be aware of its ancient context and the background beliefs of those who read it in its own time and how that could impact its meaning for us as well. It is also the case that our own cultural background influences the way that we think law and legislation work. Specifically, we tend to think of law and legislation as rigid and unbreakable, but even into today some societies see law less as legal code than as a way to show the regulation of society through social norms and customs (19).

The Torah, then, is best understood as expressions of wisdom rather than legislation, which itself means that instead of seeing the Torah as a sense of “you ought,” it is better understood as “you will know” or something similar (45). The Torah is a “collection of examples that combine to form a description of the desired established order” (ibid). Trying to make the Torah acontextual is a potentially dangerous path that undermines its meaning (100).

Understanding the Torah in its ancient context frees Christian interpreters from the constant battle of trying to sort which parts of Torah are required legislation and which are not. “It is neither a question… about the unchanging law of an unchanging God nor a presumption that morality is relative” (100). Thus, “when people try to sort out which parts of the Old Testament ‘law’ are still relevant and which parts are not, they are really trying to determine which sayings are culturally relative and which are not” (ibid). It is actually this very approach that yields a relativistic response to Scripture, because as interpreters attempt to lock down the Torah into inflexible, unchanging legislation for all time, they are forcing their own view of morality onto God’s Word. “[I]f we have to be selective about which passages we mine for moral guidance and which we reject, it is not Scripture that is guiding us but our own preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. As a corollary, then, whatever is producing our sense of right and wrong, which we are using to filter and evaluate Scripture, is not Scripture” (171).

Christian interpreters who insist on divisions like ceremonial, civil, and moral for the Torah are once again imposing a foreign context onto the Scripture itself. Effectively, they have made their own view of which laws fall into which categories the determining factor for what ought to determine morality for all people for all time. There are no labels in the text that demonstrate which of the alleged legislation falls into which preconceived category, so the categories themselves are sorted by the interpreter based on their own biases and understanding of what it ought to be saying. This is extremely clear when specific issue are raised. For example, why take laws about eating of shellfish as “ceremonial” but not laws about what people wear? Essentially, it is the interpreter who then turns and says one is ceremonial and the other is moral. Understanding the Torah as being concerned with God’s covenant with the people also helps illuminate the meaning of certain difficult passages. It is often suggested, for example, that the legislation regarding cross-dressing is moral because it refers back to homosexuality which it is then argued is a moral law and specifically sinful. But the Waltons note that the ANE context of the text includes the disruption of order found in ceremonies of Ishtar (186). Though this may not have been the exact reason these prohibitions existed in the Torah, the Waltons note that “the practice of cross-dressing in the ancient world operated under different premises than it does in modern society. Most importantly, it is not demonstrably associated with homosexuality. Blurring of boundaries violates order, but that sense of order is inherent in the ideology of the society” (187). So again, it is important not to proof text from the Torah and remove it from its original context because that may result in misapplying Scripture.

The Waltons address the question of objective morality in an inset (206-207). They note that objective morality probably does exist as do moral obligations and that they very well may be grounded in God, but our own moral systems are very much products of our cultural contexts and understandings. It is very easy to assume one’s own morality or beliefs about moral codes are objective and binding for all people

The Walton’s arguments are sure to be controversial, but have weighty evidence behind them. Moreover, their arguments, as noted above, help to solve some of the greatest difficulties for Christians in questions of dealing with Torah from a Christian perspective. Rather than dismissing the Torah or picking and choosing which parts to obey based on a superimposed interpretive grid, the Waltons here present a compelling argument for seeing the Torah in its context as it was: evidence of the covenant between God and humanity.

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.

 

“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 2- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part II

We left off last time with Alexander Campbell having just outlined his own project for the defense of Christianity, which shows a number of arguments that are different from those used today in apologetics. But one argument worth highlighting is where he charges Owen’s position with having to essentially undermine all human testimony. Campbell here is alluding to the position of Owen and many people today that only that which is able to be experienced by direct sense perception is credible. But if true, Campbell charges, it follows that:

To complete the process of degradation, [humans are] to be taught that [they] ha[ve] no faculty, or power of learning or knowing any thing but by
[their] senses , or that [they] can receive no certain information from the testimony of [their] ancestors.
…That all the information which is traditional or handed down, is false and incredible. (page 18 of the edition linked)

In other words, if we truly affirm that only that which can be perceived is to be believed, all human testimony, all tradition, all knowledge handed down is false–or at least, ought to be doubted. This is a point which persists to this day when speaking of Christianity and atheism. Often, the position is taken that only scientific knowledge is verifiable or trustworthy. But if that’s the case, it would mean that every person is an island of ignorance. After all, it is impossible for one person to even begin to scientifically test every single discovery for themselves. Simply having someone tell them how gravity works, about the Big Bang, or the like would entail believing testimony as opposed to that which one has tested oneself. Humans, in other words, must believe testimony whether we like it or not.

Owen then, rises and offers his own principles. First, that “truth is always consistent with itself.” Second, that “No name or authority, whatever may be its nature, can change truth into falsehood or falsehood into truth, or can, in any way, make that which is true to be false, or that which is false to be true” (20). Astute readers may jump ahead and try to guess where Owen plans to take these axioms in his attack on Christian faith. For now, Owen’s own words are enlightening.

After noting that humanity is spread about all kinds of different places, Owen notes the necessity, then, for humans to have gained knowledge in their own locales. These introduce prejudices and assumptions based on one’s own perspective which Owen charges we ought to try to remove–a quest for universally verifiable facts (21). Here is where Owen approaches the meat of his early argument:

In furtherance of this mighty change in the destinies of mankind, I am now to prove “that all the religions of the world have originated in error; that they are directly opposed to the divine unchanging laws of human nature; that they are necessarily the source of vice, disunion, and misery; that they are now the only obstacle to the formation of a society, over the earth, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense,and of sincerity and affection. And that these district religions can be no longer maintained in any part of the world, except by keeping the mass of the people in ignorance of their own nature, by an increase of the tyranny of the few over the many.” (21)

It would be easy to simply dismiss these lofty claims as impossible for Owen to prove, but if we are seeking truth it is important to examine the arguments even of those with whom we disagree. Tucked in between these assertions of Owen, some of which he will argue for at length, are some hints as to how Christians were perceived in his own time–as well as our own–along with some truly challenging questions about Christianity specifically. There are, after all, many religions in the world. If we agree with Owen’s claims that these cannot contradict each other and that no testimony may make that which is false true, then we must account for the great many divergent beliefs about the ultimate reality in our universe. Additionally, the notion that all religions lead to vice, disunion, and misery is often countered by ways religion has benefited the world. Historically, it is important to see that this debate took place on the soil of the United States and was published in 1829. During this time, there were Christian ministers explicitly arguing in favor of slavery and even of slaves needing to submit to the cruelest forms of punishments of their masters, using the Bible to back their claims. The charges against Christianity are not always easily answered by argument; Owen’s arguments show that practice is just as important as beliefs.

Owen then launches into a series of points to establish the accidents of birth in time and location of every human being. No one can determine when they’re born, where they’re born, what their parents believe, or anything of the sort (22-23). After that, he argues about how characters are developed with some questionable generalizations about psychology and child rearing. Owen then argues from all of this that no one can determine their own character or beliefs. From there, Owen argues that the origins of all human religions have come from the most ignorant and darkest of all times, and so they ought to be rejected as ideas which, due to their accident of circumstance having been formed in the worst of times, will not yield the greatest good for the most people (26-27). It’s important to note throughout these arguments of Owen’s where assumptions are made or stated without argument. For example, he says:

doctrines and fables could not, at first, be received, except through force, fraud, or ignorance, they have been the cause of shedding the blood of the most conscientious and best men in all  countries, of deluging the world with all manner of crime, and in producing all kinds of suffering and misery. (27)

But Owen has certainly not established that all “doctrines” were first established through force, fraud or ignorance. He’s playing to the audience here, and it is important to note that. He goes on to assert that all “fables and doctrines” lead to poverty or fear of it, ignorance, and many more ills (27-29). Moreover, it is only by historical accident that his audience, Owen charges, are teaching their children Christianity rather than any other belief system (29).

We’ll leave off here for now, anticipating Campbell’s response, beginning on page 30.

Questions

  1. What do you think of Campbell’s points regarding sense perception and testimony?
  2. Is there anything objectionable in Owen’s two principles on page 20?
  3. How can we as apologists witness to others not merely with sound arguments, but with actions that show Christianity is worthy of consideration?
  4. What do you think about the way Owen is using historical accidents of birth as the backbone of argument so far? How might such arguments be answered?

Links

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

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

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

SDG.

——

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: “Disability and the Way of Jesus” by Bethany McKinney Fox

The question of what it means to be “healed” is one of those that seems simple on first glance, but upon closer examination becomes extremely complex quite swiftly. Bethany McKinney Fox’s Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church is an exploration of many of these complex questions. Fox brings light to these questions by surveying many perspectives in sometimes surprising and challenging ways.

Fox challenges assumptions from the get-go, pushing readers to look beyond their assumptions about what it means to experience healing or even to desire it. Too often, people assume that someone with a disability wants to be “healed” so that they can be “normal”–but this itself smuggles in a number of perceptions and assumptions about what the person who has a disability is feeling or thinking. Fox even notes the ways our language can change these perceptions.

The bulk of the book, though, deals with biblical texts related to healing and brings a number of perspectives to bear on these texts. After a look at the context in the First Century of Jesus as healer, Fox brings the perspectives of physicians, people with disabilities, and pastors to bear on various healing texts in the Bible. These often bring very different ideas to the text and come away with surprising readings. For example, do the texts suggest healing is something everyone ought to seek? Do they demand Christians pray for healing? What does it mean to be healed? These questions get very different answers depending upon who is reflecting upon them.

Finally,the book turns to what it means to be healed in the Bible, as well as practices of the church that can help assist healing. Here, there is a stirring call to the church to break the structures that bind those with disabilities in addition to trying to bring healing and holistic care to all people.

Disability and the Way of Jesus is a fascinating read that will force readers to rethink assumptions and examine Scripture texts anew while also looking for new applications to their personal lives. I recommend it.

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: “Doing Theology with the Reformers” by Gerald L. Bray

The theology of the Reformation is a deep, complex issue. Gerald L. Bray is the editor of a number of commentaries, including Reformation Commentaries on Scripture and numerous other books. He brings much experience to the questions related to bringing the theology of the Reformers to light for modern readers. Bray’s book Doing Theology with the Reformers is an excellent place for readers to start gaining an understanding of the questions, controversies, and ongoing conclusions of the Reformation.

Bray divides the book into six major topics, each with a chapter dedicated to it: the education of a reformer, the sources of theological authority, the interpretation of the Bible, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Godly commonwealth, and the emergence of confessional theology. Each of these chapters has several subdivisions that help readers learn about each major topic.

The book excels at bringing to the forefront topics that will challenge readers to be careful in their interpretation of the Reformers’ theology. The Reformers clearly situated within their own cultural contexts (often with theology tailored to speak to then-current events), and those contexts are important for understanding how to read them and why their thoughts developed in the directions they did. The chapter on education is a great example of this, demonstrating that the Reformers’ had their own academic experiences that are far different from those of today.

The chapter on the sources of theology was fascinating, showing how the Reformers sought to go back to the source—the Scriptures–while also acknowledging the difficulties presented by attempting such an approach. The following chapter on the interpretation of the Bible in the Reformers’ thought is enlightening, as it shows that the modern debates over the same often experience similar difficulties to those of today. Bray argues that the Reformation Hermeneutic, however, is intensely personal in the sense that it is primarily about transformation: the Reformation hermeneutic demanded the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers and the Bible could not be rightly understood outside of that experience (103-104).

The work of the Holy Spirit was taken in different ways by many Reformers and led to some of the greatest rifts theologically both then and today. Such issues as the Sacraments and the Christian life served as dividing lines for the Reformers. These issues continue to divide Christians today. Additionally, the question of what it means to have church and state is dramatically divisive, just as it was in the time of the Reformation. During the Reformation, there was also a revitalized interest in confessionalism, proclaiming the specifics of different faith traditions as they emerged. Bray ties the book together with an attempt to show some of the core theological emphases of the Reformation. These are the radical character of the Fall, salvation, the church, and spiritual authority.

Doing Theology with the Reformers is a fascinating introduction to the Reformers’ thought. The exploration of the Reformers’ emergent and emerging thought–along with how it developed and its origins–makes the book a valuable resource for those interested in Reformation theology today.

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: “Priscilla” by Ben Witherington III

Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian is an exploration of early Christianity using an integration of fiction and fact, specifically centered on the biblical person, Priscilla. The book is written as an historical fiction account of her life looking back on various stages in early Christianity in Ephesus, Rome, and Corinth. We know from the Bible her importance and that she interacted with Paul and others. Ben Witherington III uses this information alongside a wealth of data about the early Christian world to construct an insightful look at early Christianity.

As a reader, I’ve enjoyed many of these works from InterVarsity Press bringing the early Christian world to life. This one is different from some of the other entries like A Week in the Life of Rome in that it focuses more on a specific biblical individual than on a broader look at early Christianity. In the process, though, Witherington highlights several of the early theological controversies in the church and uses Priscilla and those who knew her to answer some of these questions. For example, another biblical person who shows up is Junia (Romans 16:7), who Witherington points out is likely the same woman as Joanna (Luke 8:3) due to the way names translated between languages (97). Junia, Witherington notes, would have truly been an apostle, because in the Pauline usage, unless qualified, the term did indeed mean ones commissioned by the risen Christ himself (98).

These introductions to broader theological controversies within their first century context are important for readers looking to learn more about theology. At times, they feel a little bit contrived (eg, would there really need to be such detailed explanations about how Hebrew names translated into Latin or Greek for those who were familiar with the languages?) but the importance of the topics raised cannot be understated.

Readers are introduced to a great number of details about life in the first century, as well. Arranged marriages, the importance of places like Caesarea, arrangements in theaters and controversies about them, and many more historically relevant topics are raised throughout the text.

Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian is a good introduction both to the world of the early Christians and to many related theological topics in the early church.

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.

The Billy Graham Rule is a Capitulation to Secular Society

Put most succinctly, the “Billy Graham Rule” is a practice for Christian men in which they live by the moral stricture of never being alone with a woman who is not their wife. This means that Christian men who hold to this rule will not, for example, give a woman a ride home from a meeting. Many interpret the rule in such a way as to mean any one-on-one meeting between a man and woman. This interpretation would even preclude the possibility of a man meeting a woman for coffee in a public space.

The Billy Graham Rule has been criticized for many reasons. Some have argued that the Billy Graham Rule unnecessarily targets women as being universally “seductresses.” Others have argued it objectifies women, making them nothing more than a foil for men. Still others argue that the rule is inherently sexist because it targets women specifically for exclusion. Distressingly, many have pointed out that the Rule makes certain work relationships impossible, because one-on-one meetings can be required between supervisors and subordinates. While I think each of these arguments has value, I want to make my own argument against the rule. Namely, the problem with the Billy Graham Rule is that those who practice it are, in the name of alleged Christian values, in fact giving in to a complete capitulation to non-Christian thought patterns.

The message that is given in our culture is one which pushes the necessity of male-female relations being inherently sexual. On television shows, time and again, men and women who are “just friends” end up together. People who are dating other people start hanging out, they discover a rapport, and the message that is delivered is something akin to “Hey, they’re so good together because they can talk about X, Y, and Z! So now they’re dating.” The same thing plays out in many, many books. Men and women who start as friends inevitably start to wonder about the possibility of dating and often end up together. The message is pushed time and again: men and women can’t be just friends. Even the sitcom entitled Friends features these relationships happening. Secular society states the message loud and clear: men and women who get together one-on-one or who are friends will end up dating or at least one of them will develop feelings for the other.

The Billy Graham Rule presents an attempt to counter to this non-Christian message. It does so by undercutting the scenarios presented by simply making it impossible for a simple one-on-one chat over coffee or a ride home because it’s raining to develop into romantic or sexual feelings. But in doing so, it presents a solution to a problem that itself is what Christians ought to be confronting. Thus, among other possible problems with the Billy Graham Rule, it must be challenged on the front that it cedes to non-Christian society the possibility of male-female relations that remain Godly outside of marriage.

Rather than giving in to the message in secular society that men and women cannot hang out one-on-one without developing romantic or sexual feelings, Christians can offer a better way, a way that embraces the full humanity of both male and female. Men and women are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). This mutual submission is paired with a radical equality in which there is no male and female in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28). The very Word of God calls us to challenge the secular message that undercuts male-female relations and reduces them to mere sexual/romantic endeavors. Instead, we are to acknowledge our mutuality and our equality.

So go ahead men, give your women colleagues rides home after meetings. Go out for coffee to talk over a tough time. Do these things as a challenge to secular society and as a witness to the goodness of God–a God who calls us to mutuality in ways that only Christ can demand.

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!

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: “A Theology of Interreligious Relations” by Henning Wrogemann

Henning Wrogemann has written a massive, detailed look at interreligious relations from a Christian perspective. A Theology of Interreligious Relations specifically provides a way forward in Christian interaction with other religions.

The book is divided into six parts. The first part focuses on recent Christian theologies of religion. The second part is about how Islam and Buddhism view other religions. The third part is about how to build a theology of interreligious relations. The fourth part is about the dialogical in religious relations. The fifth part builds a theology of interreligious relations. The sixth part discusses intercultural theology and mission alongside religious studies.

One surprising thing in the book was Wrogemann’s look at other religions’ own theologies of interreligious relations. The fascinating Part II of the work looks at how Islam and Buddhism view other religions. For my own part, I’ve only ever thought of religious diversity within a framework of Christian options of exclusivism, inclusivism, and universalism. But of course these categories are deeply steeped in Christian theology to begin with, and so do not come close to exhausting all the options for interreligious relations. This part of the book was particularly enlightening to me as a reader, as it opened my eyes into many more approaches to the religious “other” than I had been aware of, and also how other religious view Christianity.

The examination of recent theologies of religion was just as interesting. Wrogemann’s critical analysis of theses like John Hick’s universalism is worth the price of admission for the book on its own, but Wrogemann offers a whole spectrum of approaches and subjects them to this same critical, insightful analysis.

The building up of his own theology of interreligious relations provides several ways forward in speaking with people of other religious traditions and interacting with them in ways that do not compromise one’s own beliefs while also being true to the central aspects of Christianity. For example, addressing the question of the particularism of Trinitarian theology when it comes to interreligious dialogue, Wrogemann argues that we “must pay attention not only to God’s revealedness but also to the ongoing hiddenness of God’s action in the world…” (424, emphasis his). This means that Christian theology’s task is, at least in regards to interreligious dialogue, “to help interpret ongiong ambivalences” when it comes to such questions (ibid). Additionally, Wrogemann bases his theology for interreligious dialogue squarely in the space of biblical revelation, insisting that we may only build this theology from the revelation of God as revealed in God’s Word and, more explicitly even, in Christ himself (see, for example, Wrogemann’s discussion of the need to acknowledge one’s own faults and work towards understanding by way of exegesis of Matthew 5 on p. 383-384).

When I decided to read the book, I did not realize it was the third in a trilogy on the topic of intercultural theology by Wrogemann. Having read it, though, I would say that the book stand quite well on its own.

A Theology of Interreligious Relations is a surprising, challenging book that readers well return to time and again. Wrogemann’s work here has established a serious starting point for Christian theology of other religions, and one which takes other religious claims seriously. It comes highly recommended, particularly for anyone with an interest in how Christianity may relate to other religions.

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: “Surprised by Paradox” by Jen Pollock Michel

Paradox has a long history in Christian theology, as much as some have tried to eliminate it. Jen Pollock Michel, in Surprised by Paradox, reclaims some of that theological heritage and encourages Christians to acknowledge that we do sometimes live in a world of “both and” rather than “either/or.”

There are many aspects of Christian theology that incorporate both/and. The Incarnation is perhaps the most obvious, with its acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. I love the language Jen Pollock Michel uses here, with a chapter title like “The Great I AND” to parallel the notion of the great “I AM.” Jesus Christ as both God and human being seems paradoxical, but rather than rejecting this truth, Christian theology embraces it fully. Other aspects highlighted for these both/and statements are the Kingdom of God–with its embrace of all people from every walk of life and corner of the planet; grace, with forgiveness while also embracing the words of God and obedience to God; and lament–the cry for God for justice while God is the suffering God.

Each section of the book is followed by some discussion questions that do truly dig deeply into the theological background of each chapter. The book is written at an introductory level, making it good for a study group or for those interested in seeing how Christianity can get beyond the constant drum of “either/or” in our culture.

As a Lutheran, we have a long tradition of both/and that embraces sometimes difficult doctrines, like how can bread and wine also be the body and blood of Christ? It would have been interesting to see sacraments fully incorporated into the discussion of the book.

The book surprisingly has moments where a rather narrow either/or view is taken even in context of trying to show the possibility of faith and, as the back cover says, the “difficult, wondrous dissonance of and.” For example, chapter 5 starts off with a story in which someone is complaining to the pastor about a prayer used in worship that touched on a Canadian Supreme Court decision regarding physician-assisted death. The older person making the complaint supported the notion of physician-assisted death and felt this prayer divided the congregation on a political issue. This prayer, as described, was “for the Christian doctors in our church and our city who were struggling to reconcile their Christian convictions with their legal obligations” (65). The prayer as described seems innocuous enough–those in favor or opposed to the practice could agree that God’s guidance is needed for such difficult questions. But as the story plays out, it quickly turns towards a strict either/or situation. The pastor thanks the parishioner for their concern, but then immediately turns around and makes a statement comparing those who stay silent on the topic of physician assisted death to those who stayed silent in the fight against the Nazis to protect the Jews (66). Moreover, the pastor says seeing the right side of the issue can sometimes only happen later, and that Christians need to take a stand that may put them on “the ‘wrong’ side of our current cultural moment” (ibid). Reading this story, I thought that Jen Pollock Michel was likely going to use it as a story about how we try to divide the Kingdom of God and make assumptions about those with whom we disagree–after all, jumping immediately to comparing this member of the church to a Christian complicit with the Nazis is a rather startling move. But that’s not the case! Instead, the Pollock Michel uses it as an example of a Christian asking just how much of their life they must cede to God. How much does the Kingdom of God demand for room in the political sphere of the Kingdom of humanity? Going on, she states that this means that following Jesus isn’t just on Sunday mornings (66-67). The clear implication is that this conversation was perfectly reasonable and that the parishioner who spoke up as being on the other side of the issue was justly condemned for being like those who stayed silent in the face of the Nazis, and that if they’d only allow Christ to be King of their hearts, their mind would changed. There’s no acknowledgement here that Christians can still value life and see that, perhaps, the artificial means we have of extending life through painful and sometimes debilitating means may not be in line with a sense of fully valuing life at every stage. There’s no acnkowledgement of the complexity of this issue, just a story of what is apparently seen as a rightful condemnation of a fellow Christian, who apparently should have allowed Jesus to tell them what to do regarding this issue (never mind that perhaps they did do so and think they came up on the other side). None of this is to suggest physician-assisted death is great moral good or even that I as a reader am in favor of it. But to allow this conversation to stand out as an example, not of how we drive wedges between fellow believers in an either/or fashion, but as an example seen as just condemnation of an immoral person not following Jesus, is truly startling in a book dedicated to seeing how we live in a “wondrous” and “difficult” and “dissonant” world.

Overall, Surprised by Paradox is a fascinating introduction to how Christians may see the world beyond the either/or. At times, it serves itself as a startling reminder of how we continue to drive wedges between believers even if we try to embrace these difficult issues. It is a good introduction to a highly complex topic, though readers ought to be aware that they should look on some aspects with a critical eye.

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: “Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition” by Justin Mandela Roberts

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s influence stretches far and wide, and his concept of “worldly” or “religionless” Christianity is one of his most enduring traditions. That notion of the concreteness of his theology has led some to think that he rejected metaphysical aspects of the faith altogether. In Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition, Justin Mandela Roberts pushes back against that thinking and argues that Bonhoeffer’s theology is, instead, one that stands alongside that of doxology, sacrament, and metaphysics.

The book is slim, but offers a wealth of detailed analysis of Bonhoeffer’s works from a number of angles that seem less common in Bonhoeffer scholarship. Bonhoeffer’s view of worship is analyzed, for example, as going beyond Barth while also integrating much of sacred tradition. Roberts’ analysis of Bonhoeffer’s thought on metanoia–the conversion or dark night of the soul–was a fascinating, personable read. The “Sacramental Interpretation” integrates Bonhoeffer’s sacramental theology with a view of the Word of God. Indeed, if there is a downside to reading the book, it may be found in the flurry of citations, musings, quotes, and ideas thrust at the reader in quick succession, making it difficult to absorb any one idea before moving swiftly onto the next. That said, Roberts’ analysis is helpful in many ways, both opening new interpretive lenses and new paths to explore for those interested in seeing how Bonhoeffer’s work may have opened up had he developed it further.

It was strange that Roberts opted to begin the book with a slight of Bonhoeffer. The second sentence of the introduction states “His academic pieces, including Sanctorum Communio, Act and Being, and Creation and Fall, offer nothing particularly remarkable as scholarly resources for the theological and philosophical traditions” (1). Given the fact that Creation and Fall is essentially the bulk of chapter 5’s focus is largely on Creation and Fall and each of the other works is cited as well, it seems Roberts would disagree with himself here, as he evidently finds these works quite remarkable indeed! Contextually, Roberts is opining on what it is that has made Bonhoeffer such an impactful figure on modern thought, possibly as an attempt to make him more real or down to earth for the average reader, but reading it was jarring in a book dedicated entirely to an interpretation of this apparently unremarkable figure.

Roberts’s work helps integrate Bonhoeffer’s thought into a broader Christian theology and practice. Sacred Rhetoric is an interesting, challenging read recommended for those looking to dig deeply into Bonhoeffer’s theological practices and metaphysics.

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

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– many more posts, book reviews, and discussions of and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his life, theology, and thought (scroll down for more).

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.

Ted Chiang’s Religious Vision and Critique in “Exhalation”

Ted Chiang is one of the more well-known names publishing science fiction and fantasy short stories today. His short story, “Stories of Your Life” was the basis for the film “Arrival” (which I discussed here). His latest collection, Exhalation: Stories is another thought-provoking, moving collection of stories that will make readers think deeply about many questions. What struck me is that, despite Chiang being an atheist, his is remarkably knowledgeable about religion and, though he challenges various religious traditions at points, he also writes stories that resonate with them. I wanted to discuss his religious vision and critique in this book. There will be SPOILERS for some of these stories ahead.

Omphalos

Readers who have done a lot of digging into the esoteric origins of young earth creationism will recognize the title of this short story a nod to one of the most obscure but also earliest examples of young earth literature, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot by Philip Henry Gosse. In Gosse’s book, written before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, he argues that the fossil record was actually created with the appearance of age and thus doesn’t give evidence of the actual age of the earth. Gosse effectively introduced the argument of “appearance of age” into the young earth creationist repertoire of arguments for their position, and he did it before the evidence for evolution had reached the stage it has now.

In Chiang’s short story, he imagines a scientist interacting with the world that genuinely does appear to be young. In this world, fossils are found that show no evidence of prior age. Tree rings do not falsify a young earth. The evidence on the planet all gives way to yielding the result that the Earth really is young. But some evidence isn’t fixed. The multiplicity of language begins to show that it is from accident rather than by design. Moreover, some question comes into mind as to why the universe was created–was it really made for us, or for some other group of beings somewhere else? The evidence for the miraculous continues, but the purpose of the character we follow in the story begins to get called into question. This leads to the challenge that if this person was not created with a specific purpose, they are left to their own devices to find purpose, and they choose to search… for purpose.

“Omphalos” serves as a lens to question: what would it mean if the universe were not made for humans? (I don’t think it was, and wrote this article to that effect, though it has diverged some from my current views in 6 years.) Chiang’s story is a masterful look at how we might perceive the universe differently as what we think collapses around us. It also asks questions about purpose in a universe in which we don’t have our own, unique purpose. It’s a thought experiment but one that needs to challenge us.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

The first story in the collection, “The Merchant…” is a series of smaller stories about how some different rings that allowed for time travel impacted people’s lives in a fantastic setting with explicitly Muslim religious expression. As the stories told by the merchant make the reader understand, the longing to be able to change the past and set events right to make up for mistakes is strong. But the concluding lines of the story make clear the point:

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough. (36)

I have read this story before in another collection of Chiang’s, but it still struck me as forcefully as it did the first time. The deep yearning to change the past is found in so many of us now. But it is a longing we can’t fulfill. Yet even without magical rings that allow for time travel by passing through them, we can still find what is enough: repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

Exhalation: Self-Destruction and Miracle

The title story of this collection, “Exhalation,” was a Hugo Award winner for best short story. In this story, there is a society of mechanical beings with brains that work based on pressure of the air. One of these beings discovers that its society is beginning to slow down in computations and the reason is due to the way they’re using their resources, pumping air from one place to another, which changes the air pressure and thus their capacities. From this, the being basically finds the second law of thermodynamics and posits that all things will eventually move towards equilibrium–dooming its society.

This short story has many intriguing threads. First, the notion of self-destruction by actions that are initially seen as good or profitable or beneficial. Clear parallels exist between this story and our own, as humanity continues to destroy the good creation of God through our own efforts to seek ease of transportation, luxury, and profit over all else.

Another startling aspect of “Exhalation” is the conclusion towards the end, that life itself is miraculous, because it manages to survive in a universe that is bent upon ultimately driving it out (the second law of thermodynamics means there will be an inevitable heat death of the universe). Life does seem to be a miracle: its diversity, persistence, the emergence of consciousness, and the very fact that life exists stand out. Though there may be natural explanations for these stages, the wonder of them cannot be totally explained in such naturalistic means. There is a sense of the miraculous in life.

Conclusion

There are many other themes found throughout this collection of stories, as well as his others. Questions about what it means to be a person; what mental life is like; how we destroy ourselves; and more. What are some themes you’ve picked up? What stories resonated with you? Check out Exhalation: Stories for some though-provoking stories.

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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