Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One – By John H. Walton

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Letter TPerhaps there is no topic more widely and hotly debated in the past century of Christianity – and especially in the past few decades – is that of creation and evolution as it relates to Genesis.

The Lost World of Genesis One is one of John H. Walton‘s multiple contributions to this discussion. This is a work which according to Walton serves to be faithful to the original context and to not only preserve but enhance the theological vitality of the text.

Central to Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 is an understanding that while the text does communicate to us and was written for all of humankind, it is not directly written to us, but to Israel; there is a barrier of sorts separating 21st century Western American and European cultures from that of the ancient Israelites). Because of this it is not only the language that needs to be translated but also the culture. While the key to translating certain ancient languages might have been the Rosetta Stone, for Walton the key to translating this ancient culture is the literature from the rest of the ancient world (noting that there are bound to be both similarities and differences).

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Book Review: The Call – By Os Guinness

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Letter TThis book has been sitting on my shelf for about three or four years. I had expected it to be rather trite and boring fluff. I was glad to have been proven wrong.

Every person has the desire to know that they are fulfilling their purpose in life; The Call, as the subtitle suggests, is about finding and fulfilling that central purpose. ‘Calling’ – in the context used by Guinness – is the specific purpose for which we were created: “calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service” (p4). It is in this calling, this purpose, that we find our identities.

Once the foundational idea of calling and its importance is laid Guinness proceeds to unpack the various aspects of calling: our primary calling is as followers of Christ, our secondary calling is to live, think, speak, and act for God as our sovereign. It is this secondary calling which – according to Guinness – comprises our specific ‘vocation’ (a teacher, lawyer, construction worker, etc), what Guinness calls “our personal answer to God’s address” (p31).

When viewed through this lens our calling gives us meaning, meaning which mere work or a mere job cannot. Despite referring to lines of work as ‘secondary callings’, Guinness pushes back against equating work with vocation, noting that “slowly such words as work, trade, employment, and occupation came to be used interchangeably with calling and vocation… The original demand that each Christian should have a calling was boiled down to the demand that each citizen should have a job” (p40). Guinness chief issue seems to be that secondary callings took center stage over the primary calling [to follow Christ]. He thereby seeks to counter the Protestant distortion of making the secondary calling primary and the Catholic distortion of confining calling only to the clergy.

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Book Review: The Pursuit of God – By A.W. Tozer

Tozer The Pursuit of God.pngLetter IIn his book The Knowledge of the Holy A.W. Tozer outlines what it is we mean when we speak of God, in The Pursuit of God he outlines what our response should be once we have found him. The Christian endeavor doesn’t end with salvation, with discovering God (or as it were, with God discovering us); even after God is acknowledged we are still to strive after him, indeed, because of this acknowledgment we strive after him. As Tozer says: “To have found God and still pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love…”

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Book Review: The Future of An Illusion – By Sigmund Freud

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Letter WWell known for his work in the fields of psychology and particularly his founding of the field of psychoanalysis, The Future of An Illusion is Freud‘s tackling of the foundations and future of religion, especially as it relates to civilization.

Religion, as Freud see is, arose out of the “necessity of defending oneself against the crushing superior force of nature” where “the primal father was the original image of God,” or rather a model on which he was shaped. Freud sees religion as a sort of neurosis which, with the advancements of science and proper education, the human race will eventually overcome.

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Exploring The Uniqueness of the Bible [In Its Ancient Near Eastern Context]

bible-and-coffeeLetter TThe ancient world was one filled with myths and stories of all types, stories about gods and about prophets and oracles who spoke with those gods. In secular society the Bible is often seen as just another one of these ancient myths.

The Bible is not just another myth, but it is in the context of these myths that the Bible was written. They provide the background against which we are to interpret the text; it was often these sorts of myths which the Biblical narrative was responding to. Thus, it is important for Christians to analyze the Scriptures in light of their ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural contexts.

So just what are the similarities and differences were between the Scriptures and those other myths which seem to bear some resemblance to it? It is by answering this question that we may determine whether or not the Bible is indeed unique in its content.

Some areas in which the Christian might compare the Scriptures to similar texts in the Near East include (1) how they present their creation accounts, (2) their understandings of morality, and (3) their understandings of prophecy and revelation.

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Book Review: Rid of My Disgrace – By Justin & Lindsey Holcomb

JandL Holcomb Rid of My Disgrace.pngletter-sSexual assault is not something that happens to someone, ends, and is over; rather, it has lasting effects that can have an impact on every aspect of the person’s life. In Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb seek to address shame and disgrace, particularly powerful and lasting influences on those who have experienced sexual assault. While these are real effects, there is hope for escape from them, and it is this hope which the authors seek to convey.

The authors go about addressing this in three parts. In the first part of their book the define sexual assault, analyze its effects (to include the trauma, negative stereotypes, and self-blaming), discuss the emotions which go along with it, and begin a discussion on how healing is to be found in the grace of God. The second part of the book focuses on how this grace is applied, with each chapter being preceded by the story of somebody who was sexually assaulted and gained the freedom of grace.

This section of the book seeks to address six ways that grace is applied: first in overcoming denial (facing the truth, admitting the damage, naming the evil, and seeking God’s presence); second in restoring the distorted self-image (through the renewed identity in Christ); third in defeating shame (through the biblical truth of its defeat by Christ on the cross, whereby shame no longer defines nor has power of you); fourth in removing guilt (through the biblical truth of the grace of God being applied; through the truth that you are accepted by God); fifth in assessing anger (realizing that anger is warranted and justified, and yet moving from this to find forgiveness); and sixth in escaping despair (through the hope of redemption in Christ).

This second section is the more practical application of theology portion of the book. In the third part they move on to a general presentation of the gospel of grace as particularly addressed to victims of sexual assault, and as seen through the lens of the Old and New Testaments, ending with a concluding prayer.

All in all, this text is an excellent presentation of the gospel’s power to overcome the shame and disgrace inflicted by sexual assault. While there is much other healing which may need to be done, the truths presented here are central to finding a solid basis on which the person may find freedom from their shame.

Memorable Quotes:

“What has happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame.”-p.15

“Grace is being loved when you are or feel unlovable.”-p.15

“the message you hear most often is self-heal, self-love, and self-help.”p.16

“Naming and describing the evil done to you does not ensure automatic personal healing. However it does provide clarity regarding sexual assault, and it allows for acknowledgement.”-p.35

“What you believe has a huge connection to how you respond to disgrace, violence, denial, shame, guilt…”-p.44

“Perhaps the greatest fear of a person marked by shameful defilement is the fear of exposure.”-p.102

“No longer do you have to hold your head in shame in prayer, but you can come to the Father with Christ-centred confidence.”-p.203

“Christ’s victory give us back our identity and restores our meaning.”-p.204

Book Review: Candide – By Voltaire

Voltaire Candide.pngLetter VVoltaire seems to be one of those figures in philosophy who’s name everybody recognizes and yet one doubts whether they’ve actually read anything by him. Most seem ready to quote him as saying “a witty saying proves nothing” whenever they’ve been bested with a quote; which is at once incorrect, a self-contradiction and a misquotation.

The writers of the movie The Nines are some of these individuals who know Voltaire’s name but don’t seem to have ever read him. This is evidenced in their having the main character reading a copy of Candide, while another character comments on the the desirability of “the best of all possible worlds” (and then the movie ends with the best of all possible worlds). While it’s true that Candide does revolve around the best of all possible worlds, it’s express goal is to argue that this world is not the best one possible.

Voltaire’s Candide, is as said, written in response to an argument in which his opponent is claiming that this world is the best that it can be and can be no different. The Professor Pangloss takes up the role of Voltaire’s opponent in the book, arguing that “‘It is demonstrable,’ said he, ‘that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. ‘” Whenever anything bad happens it is his role to respond “it was a thing unavoidable, a necessary ingredient in the best of worlds.”

The formula of the book is very simple, and it would suffice for the reader to simply read the first few chapters and the last – everything in-between is fluff serving to drive home a repetitive argument. Quite simply the story starts out with Pangloss giving his philosophy and then subsequently everything that can go wrong does, lots of murder, rape, and bloodshed designed as a counterargument to Pangloss, concluding with the notion that we must “cultivate our garden.”

I can’t say that I have much to say about the book. It’s short and can easily be read in one setting; if nothing else it’s worth picking up just so one can say they’ve read something by Voltaire. Candide’s shortness is rivaled only by it’s simplicity, which makes one wonder why it is even as long as it is.

Memorable Quotes:

“I was in hopes,” said Pangloss, “that I should reason with you a little about causes and effects, about the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and the pre-established harmony.”

At these words, the Dervish shut the door in their faces.

“I have only twenty acres,” replied the old man; “I and my children cultivate them; our labour preserves us from three great evils–weariness, vice, and want.”

-“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

Specific Criticism

Again, I have little to say about this text. It’s better seen as a philosophical rebuttal than a work of fiction, thus it gets monotonous rather quickly. My only annoyance is that it takes thirty chapters to say what it could have said in three.

Book Review: On Guard – By William Lane Craig

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Letter IIn the world of Christian apologetics, William Lane Craig is one of the contemporary giants, and is also one of the philosophers primarily responsible for the resurgence of classical Christian apologetics (as opposed to presuppositional).

On Guard is what is described as a “one-stop, how-to-defend-your-faith manual,” and aims at providing a basic overview of the classic arguments for the Christian faith. Craig begins his text by presenting a defense of apologetics itself, and a justification for it, to demonstrate of what great difference question such as “Does God exist?” and “Why does anything exist?” are of such importance. Following this Craig goes through some of the classical arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument, the argument of fine-tuning, the argument from morality, and also deals with the question of suffering. After this more philosophical approach to apologetics Craig turns to the more historical/evidentialist/Biblical approach, discussing such questions as the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, dispelling the mistaken belief that Jesus being a ‘legend’ is a valid option, and the exclusivity of the Christian faith.

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Book Review: The Concept of God – By Ronald H. Nash

 

809930Letter The Christian doctrine of God has throughout history been subject to incredible debate and controversy, specifically as regards his attributes. Within the past few centuries it has become increasingly common to question the coherence of the Christian view of God, with two of the most recent adversaries being those who believe that the Christian view of God (or any God) must be abandoned altogether (atheists) and those who wish to keep a view of God but wish to alter it dramatically (the Process theologians).

In The Concept of God Ronald Nash aims on the one hand to defeat the argument that theism is incoherent in itself, and on the other to address what road to take within theism. The two most visible alternatives are between Thomistic theism and Process theology, yet Nash desires to make it clear that this is not a mutually exclusive relationship.

Throughout the course of the text Nash analyzes six different attributes of God – omnipotence, omniscience, eternity, simplicity, immutability and necessity – in order to show that it is possible to create a coherent system between these and to create one that neither falls into Process theology nor is forced to be content with Thomism.RonNash

While Nash spends much time quoting other writers, the strength of this book is that it attempts not to leave any critique or option unaddressed. Furthermore, Nash is upfront in terms of his own thoughts on the matter, and when he is unsure of the absolute conclusion he lets the reader know.

All in all The Concept of God is not only a great discussion on six of the attributes of God and the doctrine of God overall, but it is also a great view into how the doctrine has developed throughout history and as well as the current trends in thought, which is where Nash’s liberal use of quotations comes in.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The conflict between Thomistic theism and Process theology s basically a revival of the struggle between competing schools of Greek philosophy, one emphasizing being, the other stressing the dominance of becoming.”(p31)

-“Since any sound argument or refutation must begin by presupposing certain rules, it is impossible to argue against someone who rejects the most basic rules of reasoning.”(p39)

-“Whatever God’s relation to the laws of logic may be, it is clear that all human thinking and communication must presuppose the law of non-contradiction… A supralogical God is a God about whom nothing can be said or known. Moreover, a supralogical God would introduce devastating implications into any religion promoting such a concept. If God can do self-contradictory acts, then there is no inconsistency in His promising eternal life to all who trust in Christ but actually condemning to everlasting damnation all who trust in Christ.”(p40)

-“So long as changes occur only in God’s intentional order (that is, in God’s consciousness), His immutability is not compromised.”(p102)

Specific Criticisms

All in all, I don’t have any criticisms of this book. I think the author could be a little more clear as to when he is giving the opponent’s position and when he is giving his own, but this is only minor.

Book Review: God and Philosophy – By Etienne Gilson

Gilson God and Philosphy.pngletter-god and Philosophy is author Etienne Gilson‘s history of philosophy as regards its relationship with the idea of God and the demonstration of his existence. The text is divided into four sections: God and Greek Philosophy, God and Christian Philosophy, God and Modern Philosophy, and Contemporary Thought, roughly following the progression of thought from the Milesians through Augustine and Aquinas to Descarte, Spinoza, and finally Kant, Comte, Einstein and Huxley.

The history of philosophy presented by Gilson is very well done, yet it is the analysis and critique found within each of the sections which makes the text truly worthwhile. Here we see the tension of the Greeks between philosophy and religion, the medieval wrestling with metaphysics that they borrowed from the Greeks, the Enlightenment in turn borrowing from the scholastics in reconciling their science, and finally the scientists disregarding metaphysics and wondering why their science cannot answer questions that it is no designed to ask.

All in all Gilson’s text is a lucid, insightful and fairly accessible text regarding the way that the world has approached the notion of God, the difficulties in reconciling him with the philosophies of the day, and the shortcomings of the various systems in confronting the question. I’ve chosen a rather large number of memorable quotes as I feel they can better sum up the position and the merits of this text than I can through summation.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The great curse of modern philosophy is the almost universally prevailing rebellion against intellectual self-discipline. Where loose thinking obtains, truth cannot possibly be grasped, whence the conclusion naturally follows that there is no truth.”(pXV)

-“The Greek gods are the crude but telling expression of this absolute conviction that since man is somebody, and not merely something, the ultimate explanation for what happens to him should rest with somebody, and not merely with something… Mythology is not the first step on the path to true philosophy. In fact, it is no philosophy at all. Mythology is a first step on the path to true religion: it is religious in its own right.”(p22)

-“Human reason feels at home in a world of things, whose essences and laws it can grasp and define in terms of concepts; but shy and ill at ease in a world of existences, because to exist is an act, not a thing.”(p67)

-“Modern philosophy has been created by laymen, not by churchmen, and to the ends of the natural cities of men, not to the end of the supernatural city of God.”(p74)

-“The essence of the true Christian God is not to create but to be.”(p88)

-“The true reason why this universe appears to some scientists as mysterious is that, mistaking existential, that is, metaphysical, questions for scientific ones, they ask science to answer them. Naturally, they get no answers. Then they are puzzled, and they say that the universe is mysterious.”(p123)

“Why should those eminently rational beings, the scientists, deliberately prefer to the simple notions of design, or purposiveness, in nature, the arbitrary notions of blind force, chance, emergence, sudden variation, and similar ones? Simply because they much prefer a complete absence of intelligibility to the presence of a nonscientific intelligibility.”(p130)

-“Yet the fact that final causes are scientifically sterile does not entail their disqualification as metaphysical causes, and to reject metaphysical answers to a problem just because they are not scientific is deliberately to maim the knowing power of the human mind.”(p132)

-“We do not need to project out own ideas into the economy of nature; they belong there in their own right. Our own ideas are in the economy of nature because we ourselves are in it. Any and every one of the things which a man does intelligently is done with a purpose and to a certain end which is the final cause why he does it… Through man, who is part and parcel of nature, purposiveness most certainly is part and parcel of nature. In what sense is it arbitrary, knowing from within that where there is organization there always is a purpose, to conclude that there is a purpose wherever there is organization?”(p134)

Specific Criticisms

I don’t really have any criticisms of this text. There are a few random bits that I either failed to understand or disagreed with, such as the assertion that science has been successful in coming to a “perfectly consistent philosophy of the mechanical universe of modern science” and this somehow shows that the pure philosophical positions are somehow found more truly in science than Christianity.