Book Review: Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; By Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

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Letter TThe topic of homosexuality has been discussed from a variety of angles from within the Christian context. Some scholars seek to address the ancient near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Scriptures were written to best understand their injunctions, others attempt to deal directly with and exegete the Biblical texts.

The goal of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their book here is to analyze how the most recent scientific research effects the Christian moral debate around homosexuality. To be clear, the book is not written to answer the question of whether homosexual actions are immoral in light of science, the authors begin from the assumption that it is. The goal is rather to show that “while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behavior, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance.”(p.13) The goal is to answer the question of how research on homosexuality should inform the Christian understanding of homosexuality.

Overview

The basic issue that Jones and Yarhouse see in the current climate is that “After the stem ‘science says…’ sweeping and inaccurate generalizations are often made. After such generalizations ethical conclusions are often thrown out that are only loosely tied to the supposed scientific facts.” (p29) This book is written both to clarify what the current research actually says and to analyze how those findings are brought to bear on ethical discussions.

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Book Review: Hitler’s Theology – By Rainer Bucher

Hitlers Theology Bucher
Letter TThere aren’t many individuals in modern history more studied – or at least referenced – that Adolf Hitler. As we know from Godwin’s Law, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”

One of the areas which has received less attention in all of this discussion is the topic of Hitler’s theology. Many assume that Hitler was an atheist, others that he was a Christian, and others believe that it is irrelevant what his thoughts about the theological were. A sea’s worth of ink has spilled trying to discern what happened in Germany during the early part of the 20th century, but very little on the topic of Hitler’s theological system. Enter Rainer Bucher.

Mr. Bucher’s goal in this is not to argue against or disprove Hitler’s theological views, but merely to study what they were, and to furthermore study why many theologians (and philosophers and scientists in actuality) welcomed his views so enthusiastically.

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Book Review: Galatians For You – Tim Keller

timkeller galatians for you.png
letter-gGalatians For You, as might be suspected, is a commentary on the book of Galatians. Timothy Keller’s aim with the book is to offer a bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applicable, and easily readable look at the book in question.

The key point of Galatians for Keller is the fact that “the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom. It is the way Christ transforms people, churches and communities” (p9). Paul is in essence calling his readers to live out the implications of the gospel, and Keller’s utmost goal is to point out to his readers how “It is not simply non-Christians but also believers who need continually to learn the gospel and apply it to their lives” (p11).

The commentary acts as a passage-by-passage (and to a degree verse-by-verse) breakdown of the book of Galatians. The chapters for each passage are then broken into two parts, with each part ending with a few “Questions for reflection.”

Throughout his commentary Keller lays out the uniqueness of the gospel and challenges the idolatrous habits in the lives of believers and nonbelievers alike. Keller brings out the fact that the gospel leads to both spiritual freedom, to cultural freedom, and to emotional freedom. The gospel offers freedom, and in a sense even freedom from the moral law, but – as Keller is keen to point out – “though not free from the moral law as a way to live, Christians are free from it as a system of salvation” (p42).

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Book Review: The Psychology of Atheism – By R.C. Sproul

SproulPsychologyofAtheism

Letter MMuch has been written trying to explain the psychology of theism. The foundational text in that field is probably Sigmund Freud‘s The Future of An Illusion, where Freud theorizes that religion came about as a sort of coping mechanism; it was comforting for early man to personalize the forces of nature and to turn their chiefs into legends, and eventually this evolved into the more institutional forms of religion.

Freud may have been the first, but he was far from the last. Feuerbach theorized that the gods were just man’s projections of himself onto the universal scale. Marx theorized that religion was just a way to keep the working class placated. Nietzche theorized that religion was rooted in fear of the nihil; Bertrand Russell followed a similar line of thinking. More recently, Richard Dawkins dismissed religion as a meme, a sort of ‘mind-parasite’.

In each case these writers are not asking “Is there a God?” Rather, they presuppose there is not a God, and then ask why there is religion. At the same time, they suppose – at the very least through implication – that they are explaining away or debunking religion. In each case these writers fail to realize that explaining what a man can or might do is not in the least determinate for what he actually did do. Or, as Sproul puts it:

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Book Review: The Dawkins Delusion – By Alister McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath

McGrath The Dawkinks Delusion.pngLetter TThere are many individuals who act as poster-boys for certain religious and anti-religious movements. For the New Atheists, one of those individuals is Richard Dawkins; for evangelical Christianity, one of them is Alister McGrath. Both are doctoral graduates from Oxford with degrees in the sciences.

The Dawkins Delusion, as one could easily guess from the title, is the Alister and his wife Joanna‘s response to  Dawkins book The God DelusionThe self-stated goal of the text is to “assess the reliability of Dawkins’s critique of faith in God” by means of challenging Dawkins “at representative points and let readers draw their own conclusions about the overall reliability of his evidence and judgement.”

Calling it a response might be abit of an overstatement, the book is actually much more like a extensive book review. It is not designed as a serious academic rebuttal – either in tone or in content – to Dawkins’ book, but is more of a survey of some of the key issues that the McGraths have with the book.

The book goes about assessing the shortcomings of Dawkins’ book by addressing four areas of Dawkins’ argument which McGrath takes to be key points (or at the very least, points which can be used as representative of Dawkins’ intellectual integrity). The four points addressed are Dawkins assertions that belief in God is fundamentally deluded, infantile, and irrational; that science has disproved God; that the origins of religion lie in wish fulfillment, mental viruses, or ‘memes’; and that religion is evil in and of itself.

Each of these areas offers a survey of what the McGraths take to be Dawkins’ arguments and offer cursory rebuttals to each: that religion is based upon mature rational belief; that science by definition cannot disprove God; that Dawkins’ assertions about the origin or religion are not scientific, ignore current anthropology, and are little more than ‘maybe it happened this way’ type statements; and that the goods produced by religion cannot be ignored (nor the evil produced by many atheists). Each point is made well enough, though in order to understand many of the reasons McGrath takes issue with Dawkins it would be necessary to look to the endnotes, as none of McGrath’s arguments are made in detail and many of them are asserted rather than argued.

As an academic rebuttal, the book isn’t very great. As a book review, it does well enough at addressing some of the issues. So while the book may have various shortcomings in terms of specific debate points, one way I think it stands out is in the grander picture that it presents. It is written in a more informal tone and offers alot of insight and draws many of its points from sources outside of The God Delusion (such as Dawkins other books, personal conversations, and other atheists). While this does make it worse as a direct critique of that book, it does give a nice perspective on the overall debate and of Dawkins view of the relation between science and religion – specifically that there can be no relation, that scientists (and even atheists) or say that there are limits to science or that there may be some compatibility must not be being honest, and that religious people who say the same (such as the Pope in regards to evolution) must be being equally dishonest.

But the overall message to be had from the book to expose the dogmaticism and lack of scientific or rational grounding for much of what the New Atheists argue. Reviewers on places like Amazon give McGrath grief for calling Dawkins’ views dogmatic and then presenting his own dogma, but a key difference is that Dawkins view completely crumbles if it is based on dogma, whereas the Christian view cannot. The entire basis of Dawkins’ position is that it is based upon and only upon scientific observation and reasoned logic, not dogma or emotion or unargued premises, and it is this point that make this book worthwhile – it points out where Dawkins is relying upon dogma, where he is diverging from science in order to fulfill his own agenda.

While the book is unlikely to convince anybody of anything, it is worth the very brief time it takes to read it (at less than 100 pages) at least in order to get a feel for the generalities of the debate.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure athiests whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers and others seeking truth.”-96

-“All ideals – divine, transcendent, human or invented – are capable of being abused.”-81

-“The book is often little more than an aggregation of convenient factoids suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact and loosly arranged to suggest that they constitute an argument.”-13

-“Yet the fact that Dawkins has penned a four-hundred-page book declaring that God is a delusion is itself highly significant. Why is such a book still necessary? Religion was meant to have disappeared years ago. For more than a century, leading sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists have declared that their children would see the dawn of a new era in which the “God delusion” would be left behind for good.”-8

Specific Criticisms

The tone of the book is probably its biggest problem, and the one that will likely keep it from being taken seriously by atheists. The McGraths’ come off as condescending and insulting at various points, often using sarcasm as a means of presenting their or their opponent’s position. It is not the tone of an academic text, but is much more along the lines of a Sunday school lesson aimed at condemning the rival position.

In that sense, this book is a good illustration of how not to interact with nonChristians; the tone undercuts whatever value the arguments have.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind – By Patrick Rothfuss

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Letter WWhile I enjoy reading fiction, it’s a rarity for me to find fiction that truly captivates me, especially within the fantasy genre. With my last fantasy book being Peter S. Beagle‘s The Last Unicorn, I was sitting pretty high in terms of what fantasy is capable of; luckily, The Name of the Wind didn’t disappoint, and while it isn’t nearly on the level of The Last Unicorn, it did blow my expectations out of the water and present me with a compelling and interesting story which kept me engrossed for all of the seven-hundred & twenty-two pages.

The central story is framed by the story of an a man disguised as an innkeeper, tracked down by a chronicler who wishes to write down his story, the story of how he came to be the legendary figure that he is (despite hiding as an innkeeper). It is this story which the chronicler records which makes up the bulk of the narrative, beginning when the main character – Kvothe – is a young boy and following his progression as a strives to enter the arcane university and excel at the magical arts.

While that makes the book sound abit like Harry Potter, the similarities end there. Rothfuss develops an exciting and mysterious fantasy world of his own with an innovative and captivating magical system, the two main parts of which include sympathy (a sort of mental science used to influence objects) and naming. The latter type of magic – being able to harness the true names of things – is more common in fantasy, but Rothfuss makes it his own.

The story itself is intriguing, and the nature of the world in which the story is set gradually unfolds as the young Kvothe attempts to find the answers he is looking for. What’s more, the book has a solid mixture of drama, action, and humor. Some characters I ended up genuinely feeling for, and there was more than one point at which I laughed out loud.

In the whole of the book I was never bored – one of the highest compliments I can give – and I highly recommend it.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Waterside is where people are poor. That make them beggars, thieves, and whores. Hillside is where people are rich. That makes them solicitors, politicians, and courtesans.”-p160

-“Now let me say this: when you’re traveling a good cloak is worth more than all your other possessions put together. If you’ve nowhere to sleep, it can be your bed and blanket. It will keep the rain off your back and the sun from your eyes. You can conceal all manner of interesting weaponry beneath it if you are clever, and a small assortment if you are not.”-p234

-“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”-p716

Specific Criticisms

There are a few minor criticisms that I have of the book. One is that the main character is almost too much of a prodigy, he is simply amazingly good at everything that he does, with his one flaw being that he is completely unaware of how to interact with girls, stupidly so, especially for somebody who grew up with traveling performers (one of whom seems to be a prostitute, or at least an exotic dancer).

My other small issue with the book is that the characters often times just say dumb things, things that nobody except a college freshman with only a year of philosophy under his belt would ever say. Things like “That’s bad psychology” or ‘that’s a logical fallacy!’. Only pretentious brats would talk like that during normal conversation. If that was Rothfuss’ goal then I guess more power to him, but these little bits seemed out-of-character to me, as if the author was just wanting to show off that he knows what a fallacy is (or maybe it’s just meant to show off how smart the characters are, that they can call things a fallacy).

Book Review: The Abolition of Man – By C.S. Lewis

Lewis Abolition of Man.pngLetter DDuring the past few centuries within discussions of philosophy there has been what might be called a revitalization of skepticism. This skepticism, what many deem free inquiry or free thought, has come to question everything, such that during the early Twentieth Century G.K Chesterton wrote that: “It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself.”

The Abolition of Man is C.S. Lewis‘ answer to this same thought, his answer to the skepticism which has once again begun to run rampant throughout all philosophy and all society since the beginning of modernity. Despite being a well-known Christian writer, in this particular text Lewis is not arguing distinctively for a religious system, but is simply addressing the question of objectivity and first principles.

In short, Lewis’ argument is in favor of what he terms the ‘Tao‘, that is, the “practical principles known to all men by Reason” or in other words “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.” In rejecting this Tao Lewis argues that mankind has created “men without chests.” They have done away with basic axioms of morality and virtue in attempt to create their own system.

Yet for Lewis this is impossible, stating that “neither in any operation with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values.” In short, in rejecting objective values the ‘Innovator’ has placed themselves in position in which they can have no values at all, and which any attempt to create values is simply a contradiction in which they draw upon the objectivity which they reject. This phenomena, combined with man’s attempts at conquering nature (first through doing away with old moralities and then through more physical means) paradoxically results in the state which the title describes, the abolition of man. Through skepticism they have done away with value and all obligation, leaving only the impulse of nature: “They are not men at all: they are artifacts. Mans’ final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”

Perhaps the summation of Lewis’ argument can be found here:

“If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere ‘nature’) is the only course left open. At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”

In the final analysis The Abolition of Man is a powerful argument for first principles, those basic and universal values which are shared by mankind, standing as self-evident and thereby forming the only foundation upon which anything – even any argument – can be based, for without axioms no progress can be made and nothing can be proven. Finishing out at a nice 81 pages the book can easily be read in one sitting and serves as wonderful food for thought while pondering the basic questions of morality and values.

Memorable Quotes:

-“No emotion is, in itself, a judgment; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

-“It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

“If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is of real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color…”

-“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Specific Criticisms

Perhaps my only criticism of this text is that I think Lewis sets out on a futile task by denying himself the argument for theism, specifically Christianity. Granted, he does state that “In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I myself am a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism. I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity… Whether this position implies a supernatural origin for the Tao is a question I am not here concerned with.”

Personally, I don’t believe that it is possible to address whether there are “ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason” without discussing (directly or indirectly) whether or not these have a supernatural origin; not only this, but sufficing to refer to these as simply the results of ‘Practical Reason’ is to do somewhat of a disservice to the creator who put them in place. There is no basis for Practical Reason outside theism. Perhaps one might dismiss this as attempt to gain a neutral ground with his audience, designating these axioms as natural reason and using a third party term (Tao) when speaking of them. This may be a valid case, though it still encourages the autonomy of man in such cases (where it is the this rebellious autonomy which is the true issue).

————————–

This isn’t a criticism, but simply an interesting note which I’d never noticed in Lewis before; that is, the presuppositional nature of some of his thought. Two quotes will do well to illustrate this

“But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking the Tao, and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from the Tao. If the Tao falls, all his own conceptions of value fall with it… Only by such shreds of the Tao as he has inherited is he enabled to even attack it.”

“Unless you accept these without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever. You cannot reach them as conclusions: they are premises… If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.”

In replacing the Tao with God, in replacing ‘for its own sake’ with ‘due to the nature of God, we begin to have one of the basic arguments of the presuppositional apologetic. That is, that without God one cannot have meaning, nor can one make sense of anything which they see before them. “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved” and the basis for their self-evidence is the testimony of God, the standards which He has set in place. Any system which is created apart from the Christian one is held up by boards and pillars borrowed from the Christian worldview, that is “Only by such shreds of [Christianity] as he has inherited is enabled to even attack it.” Or as Belloc states “Wherefore, it is said of heresies that ‘they survive by the truths they retain.'”

Compare this to statements made by presuppositional apologist Greg Bahnsen:

“If Christianity were not true, the unbeliever could not prove or understand anything. Only the Christian worldview makes sense out of the logic, science, morality, etc. to which both sides to the dispute appeal — not to mention, alone makes sense out of the very process of reasoning and arguing at all.”

“The unbeleiver is not completely blind to any and all truth, for he shares in common grace – yet this truth that he has is borrowed from us.”

Book Review: The Angelic Doctor‏ – By Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain The Angelic Doctor.pngLetter TThe Angelic Doctor, as one might well guess from the title, is Jacques Maritain‘s biography of Thomas Aquinas, as well as a treatise on the philosophy of monolithic thinker. The latter portions of the book are especially devoted to discussing the philosophy of Aquinas as it affects us today and laying out what Maritain believes to be the proper course of action for Christians in the face of the various systems of thought which face them.

As noted the first sections of the book are devoted to discussing the life of Aquinas in a purely biographical arena. The life of Aquinas as presented by Maritain is both readable and informative, as well as insightful.

With the life of Aquinas layed out Maritain goes on to speak of his philosophy. As posited by Maritain, “Saint Thomas’ method… is essentially universalist and positive. It aims indeed at preserving all the acquired knowledge of humanity in order to add to it and to perfect it; and it requires the more and more complete effacement of the personality of the philosopher before the truth of the object.” He goes on to note that “The philosophy of Saint Thomas is independent in itself of the data of faith: its principles and structure depend upon experience and reason alone.”

The prime duration of Maritain’s philosophy discussion is the exposition of his Thomism, concluding in a catalog of references to places in which the leaders of the Catholic church have shown support of that Thomism.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Thomism claims to use reason to distinguish the true from the false; it does not wish to destroy but to purify modern thought, and to integrate everything true that has been discovered since the time of Saint Thomas.”

-“The error of the modern world has been to claim to assure the reign of reason over nature by refusing the reign of super-nature over reason.”

-“I mean this in an altogether different sense: that common sense itself is an embryonic and rudimentary philosophy, a philosophy which has not yet reached the scientific state.”

Specific Criticisms

I’m unsure whether my criticisms serve as critiques of this book in particular, or of Maritain’s Thomism, or of Aquinas, or simply of Catholicism. It is possible my critiques are simply a reflection of my Protestantism. Either way they are the places I depart from the thought of the author (whether directly or indirectly).

My chief issue with the philosophy presented by Maritain, and the only one I’ll really bother to get into here, is that it sets up the problem of the Fall as an intellectual dilemma, it is one that he believes can be remedied by the use of the mind (which would make one wonder why there was any need of Christ if man could just think his way out of the trap he’d fallen into). Here are two examples of this mindset:

“A resurrection of metaphysics and a new expansion of charity: before all else this is the prerequisite for the return to human unity, to that unity which was perfect only in the Garden of Eden and in the heart of Christ in Gethsemane, but the longing for which will never cease to haunt us.”

“Now, it is important to realize that nothing below the intellect can remedy this disease which affects the intellect and which sprang from it; it is by intelligence itself that this disease will be cured. If intelligence is not saved, nothing will be saved.”

Within these two quotations we have presented everything which is in opposition to the message of Christ. In short, sin is not the problem. The issue is not one of the soul, or the will, but a simple problem of a diseased intellect – but the bright side is that even though it is the intellect which is diseased, the intellect is capable of curing itself!

A few other minor issues are the idea of a Christian philosophy being capable of existing independent of faith (operating solely on reason), as well as the general trend towards assimilating the ‘truth’ of all other philosophies into some Christian body of truth. The simple question is, ‘what are the qualifiers for bringing new truth into the Christian philosophy?’ Is it simply that which already agrees with Christian philosophy? In this case it would be redundant. Or is it simply acknowledging facts outside those expressly put forth in scripture (and/or tradition in the case of Catholicism).

Book Review: Augustine as Mentor – By Edward L. Smither

Smither Augustine as Mentor.pngLetter TThe first line when opening this book reads “How could a fifth-century African bishop be relevant to the twenty-first century?” and goes on to note that “Many pastors today… are struggling in isolation without a pastor to nurture their souls.”

The goal of Augustine as Mentor is to answer that question while providing for the concern of pastors in isolation. It is a text meant for aiding spiritual leaders in the task of mentoring, as well as being mentored.

The text is fairly simple in setup. It begins with a brief discussion of what mentor-ship is and uses the New Testament to develop a set of eight characteristics present in any good mentoring strategy, including: a group context, the mentor as a disciple, discernment in selection, a personal mentor-disciple relationship, sound teaching, modeling and involvement in ministry, releasing to ministry, and resourcing leaders. Following this introduction to the mentoring model Smither goes on to evaluate the most prominent First Century Christian leaders and demonstrate how each of them followed this model, including Cyprian, Basil, and Ambrose of Milan. This is followed by a discussion of who exactly mentored Augustine, so as to better understand his own mentoring strategy.

With this groundwork laid Smither comes around to the focus of the text, Augustine’s approach to mentoring and his thoughts on mentoring, finishing up with a short chapter on mentoring in the contemporary setting.

Smither’s work is certainly ripe with information and it can’t be held against him that he doesn’t provide plenty of backing to show that Augustine and the early church fathers did indeed employ all the characteristics of mentoring which he listed. And this is where he stops. As mentioned, the first line read when opening this book is “How could a fifth-century African bishop be relevant to the twenty-first century? ” What is the chief criticism to be had of this book? That it doesn’t answer the question that it starts out with.

The chapter on contemporary application is two pages long, that’s two out of two-hundred-fifty-nine. The other two-hundred-fifty-seven pages are all one long list of examples showing how Augustine demonstrated each of the characteristics presented. Smither claims in the preface that “From this evidence I will make an argument for his principles and convictions for mentoring spiritual leaders.” The problem is that he spent all his time putting forth the evidence and forgot to make his argument – the reader is left on their own to judge and figure out how to apply these characteristics of mentoring.

When reading a book one wants to know just what it is that the author is building up to, what insights they’ve gleaned through all their study. Smither shows you that he’s done his homework, but doesn’t bother to tell you what he’s learned from it – it’s all academia without application.

One thing to be said for the text is that it does serve to greatly widen the scope of just what it is that one should consider in terms of mentoring. It doesn’t just say that an older person needs to take a younger person under their wing or use similarly vague analogies, but presents a wide number of aspects through which mentoring can be done. While this particular aspect is helpful, it doesn’t seem to have been the actual goal of the book.

In the end, the book is an academic history book, not a book on spiritual leadership or mentoring. That said, it might serve as a decent source for somebody wanting to write a book that’s actually about spiritual leadership or mentoring, for somebody who wants to give legs to the academia provided by Smither.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Mentoring and discipleship, as observed in the New Testament and early Christian writings, was the work of on Christian helping another disciple or group of disciples grow in their knowledge and application of the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures.”

-“His teaching philosophy was student centered, and discussion topics were driven by participants’ interests because he believed that the external dialogue served to encourage the internal dialogue in each person.”

-“As Augustine took on the cares of the ministry, his focus went from philosophical speculation to practical Christian living.”

Specific Criticisms

A few more things to point out about his book.

1) The book, which is called ‘Augustine as Mentor’, doesn’t start talking about Augustine as a mentor until almost exactly halfway through the book – that’s 125 pages you have to wade through before you get to the topic at hand. And not only do you have to wade through all that, but almost every point made in those early chapters in terms of mentoring strategy are just repetitions of what’s going to be said about Augustine; thus, unless you just want to know a little more about Basil or Monica (Augustine’s mother) then in terms of this book there is absolutely no reason to read the second or third chapters (which between them are roughly 100 pages long).

2) The author is very monotonous, and is entirely too fond of merely listing things as if it somehow adds something to the text to have twenty examples of the same thing as opposed to one or two. Maybe he’s trying to demonstrate that he’s not simply picking a few isolated instances and extrapolating from them – and good for him if that’s his goal – but he could have put that information in an appendix instead of cluttering up the main body with it.

The absolute worst instances of this are when he talks about how people wrote letters or books as a form of mentorship. Smither isn’t content to say that they wrote letters, but proceeds to go on for multiple pages listing letter after letter that they wrote and giving a few word summary of what each letter entailed. Why? His only point is that they wrote letters, he doesn’t go on to say anything about the content of the letters or tie it in to any grander scheme, he just seems to think you might want a cursory knowledge of every letter and book Augustine ever wrote. Lets give an example:

“In Letters 42 and 45, written in 398, Augustine lamented that the had heard nothing from Pualinus and reiterated his request for Paulinus’s book. Around 404, he wrote Letter 80 inquiring from Pualinus about how to discern God’s will. In Letter 95, penned around 408, Augustine dialogued with Paulinus over the notion of eternal life while also responding to Pualinus’s questions about the nature of the resurrection body. Also, Augustine posed once again a question about Christian leisure that Pualinus had apparently failed to address. Finally, Letter 149, written in 415, was purely an exegetical resource in response to Pualinus’s questions on passages in the Psalms, in Paul, and in the Gospels… Augustine sent Letter 28 to Jerome via his disciple Profuturus in 394 or 395, though Profuturus was unable to fulfill the mission because he was ordained bishop of Cirta in 395. Meanwhile, the letter took nine years to get to Bethlehem… and on and on for TWENTY-SEVEN PAGES.

Twenty-seven pages of list after list addressing letter after letter. What is the point of this? Why does the reader need these dates and letter numbers? Why does the reader need to know that Profuturus wasn’t the best choice for messenger or how long the letter took to reach Bethlehem? And most importantly, what insight is the reader gaining into mentoring by wading through this, especially for modern-day application (which is supposed to be the point of the book)? The best thing the book can be compared to are the essays many students write in college where they have to meet a certain page limit, and while they have vast amounts of information they don’t necessarily have a thesis or a way to tie all the information together. If the deadline is near the solution is to just hope that they can hide behind a wall of information, hoping that their lack of exposition is masked by the sheer amount of information. This is the feel the reader gets from this book, as if the author had to reach a certain page limit and decided the best way to do that was to throw in a few dozen pages of fluff here and there.

3) Again, two pages of application. The main thing the author needs to do is balance his book. 99% evidence and 1% extrapolation is not a balance, its an afterthought – it’s as if the author made it to the end and thought “oh yea, I was supposed to be making an argument” but only had five minutes before he had to send off his manuscript.

Book Review: Captivating – By John & Stasi Eldredge

 

Eldredge Captivating.pngLetter IIn Wild at Heart the question of man’s soul, his design and his relation to God is analyzed; in Captivating the question is turned towards woman. With his wife as co-author the two set out to ‘unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul’.

As with man, woman is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image of God being reflected as is only done through the feminine nature, as the authors state: “And she, too, bears the image of God, but in a way that only the feminine can speak.”

This image is reflected in how “every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.”

The problem comes when the woman (or man) seeks to find these things in places other than God, when validation is sought from created things rather than the creator. They become haunted by questions and doubts concerning their beauty and they become wounded. This can be seen in two primary ways (both for men and women), “When a man goes bad, as every man has in some way gone bad after the Fall, what is most deeply marred is his strength. He either becomes a passive, weak man – strength sundered – or he becomes a violent, driven man – strength unglued. When a woman falls from grace, what is most deeply marred is her tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life. She becomes a dominating, controlling woman – or a desolate, needy, mousy woman.”

The goal of Captivating is to reveal the truth once more and to help in healing that wound and seeking ultimate validation through God.

Thus: “No man can tell you who you are as a woman. No man is the verdict on your soul… Only God can tell you who you are. Only God can speak the answer you need to hear. That is why we spoke of the Romance with him first… our core validation, our primary validation has to come from God.”

As with Wild at Heart, Captivating is built upon personal testimony coupled with Scriptural analysis and examples pulled from popular media so as to better relate to the reader. It is a call to women finding their true beauty, their true romance, in God, and at the same time to help mend her relationship with her fellow man.

I’m not sure how well I can give a true analysis of the heart of this book, simply for the fact that it is designed to speak to the soul of women rather than men, to confront their chief struggles rather than ours. I will say that I didn’t find it to have the passion or push which it’s counterpart did, it was a much quieter book. It might also be helpful for men who want to better understand the struggles of women in his life, but there are better books on the topic.

The text does well to lay out the human need of God, of not being able to rely upon ourselves or our fellows, and I think it is strong in this regard.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful.”

-“A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved”

-“Strength is what the world longs to experience from a man… Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman.”

-“Jesus has to thwart us too – thwart our self-redemptive plans, our controlling and our hiding, thwart the ways we are seeking to fill the ache within us. Otherwise, we would never fully turn to him for our rescue.”

Specific Criticisms

While I haven’t the insight to address the heart of this book there are a few qualms that I have with it.

Perhaps the first issue I have with the book is that it is forgettable. The reason I read the book twice was because when I went to write a review I couldn’t remember anything it said.

On top of being forgettable, the book also seems to make the feminine role entirely reactionary (bordering on passive). I’ve talked to women who loved the book Wild at Heart, but who felt largely uninspired by Captivating, and I think it’s largely because the book doesn’t inspire women to go out and do anything in the same way that Wild at Heart does, it just tells them to not be domineering and to be romanced. Where is the thrill here for women?

Along with these problems are additional theological ones. One of these is the place that the text places Eve (and woman in general) at the peak of creation, as if woman were somehow slightly higher in the scale of being than man, saying “Given the way creation unfolds, how it builds to ever higher and higher works of art, can there be any doubt that Eve is the crown of creation?” While I think it is a flattering way to interpret the passage and I in no way want to downplay the glory that is woman, I don’t think there is any basis for this interpretation of the text or any support for it elsewhere in Scripture. In short it simply doesn’t serve to add anything of substance to the text to warrant such a shaky interpretation.

Another issue is in the idea that “healing never comes against our will.” Now this is quite true in and of itself, healing (or salvation) do not come against our will; but this is simply for the reason that God through Christ works a new heart and a new will into us. It doesn’t come against our will because our wills are changed through the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit.

Finally the book pushes the notion – popular during its day – of romancing God, perhaps well in line with the sort of books that try and set up a woman’s relationship to God as a dating one. Simply, this is a not a narrative native to Scripture.

A few minor technicalities might also point to the erroneous interpretation of Song of Solomon as an analogy between Christ and the Church rather than between a man and a women, as well as having a fairly low view of the work of Christ overall.

One other note is one that I can’t quite put into words yet. I’ve now read this book twice on separate occasions, and both times there is a general feeling that there is something amiss. Usually this feeling comes about when a text is focusing on works rather than faith and grace, however there is no one place that I can point to in this text as being indicative of this, therefore I’ll leave off for now.