Review: From Chaos to Cosmos (2018)

9781433554971I really don’t know what to make of this work. Sidney Greidanus published From Chaos to Cosmos: Creation to New Creation through Crossway this year. The work really is more of a compendium of references than a “book” per se, inasmuch as Greidanus points to thematic evidence without much in terms of consolidation or argumentative momentum over the course of the book. From Chaos to Cosmos does not, then, make an argument so much as gesture to one which has already been made, or assumed.

That is not to say, however, that the book is without merit. Although the project does appear to have been poorly executed, the sheer quantity of recognizably purposeful uses of chaos-cosmos elements from the beginning of Scripture to the end is something to behold. When laid out in this format, it’s quite compelling. Chaos-cosmos is, I would argue, a subservient theme to “kingdom/anti-kingdom,” but it is nonetheless an important theme to note.

It’s just that the constructive element one would expect from this kind of book is wholly lacking. It was disappointing in that respect. Nevertheless, Greidanus’s book is certainly worth thumbing through to get a sense of this theme’s prominence throughout the scriptural narrative.


Review: Acting for Others (2017)

9781506409009Fortress Press’s Emerging Scholars series continues to be a valuable repository of original and illuminating scholarship from newly minted doctors in Christian theology. Michaela Kušnieriková’s Acting for Others: Trinitarian Communion and Christological Agency is no different. I don’t know where else you should expect to find Hannah Arendt, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Dumitru Staniloae put into such an invigorating conversation with one another.

Kušnieriková uses Arendt’s distinguishing between public and private spaces to set the stage for the discourse that follows. How does Bonhoeffer’s conception of the patriarchal-family dynamic of the church map onto Arendt’s political economy? How does Staniloae’s perichoretic Trinity correlate to Bonhoeffer’s patriarchy and Arendt’s conceptualization? How do each of these figures issue corrections to the rest, or how are they mutually complementary?

These are the sorts of questions that would be of particular interest to specialists in Arendt or Bonhoeffer or Staniloae, and especially to that distinguished subset of scholars specializing in the three of them together–but the innovative and constructive ways in which Kušnieriková has interacted with the three provides ample reason for even the curious to work through the book. The ethical strands teased out of this conversation are quite interesting (especially Bonhoeffer’s, because bae). For that reason alone, this book is certainly worth the read-through.

Review: Scientism and Secularism (2018)

m55690J.P. Moreland published Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology through Crossway this year. Moreland desires to assist the church in her response to the current intellectual milieu, in which truth is accessible only through rigorous application of the scientific method–implying that any “knowledge” obtained through other means is derivative at best, non-knowledge and harmful at worst.

I’m not totally convinced that scientism as Moreland understands it is the predominant mode of understanding at work in the world today; it certainly is a popular epistemology, though one among a number of others–common sense realism and intuitive knowledge epistemology, to name a couple. Nevertheless, insofar as Moreland’s guide is targeted at scientism as such, he is quite successful at flipping the tables and driving out smugglers of the anti-philosophical first principles of scientism. Moreland thoroughly strips scientism of its intellectual credibility, and for that reason alone it would be a handy resource for upcoming high school graduates on their way to college.

Moreland’s attempts at re-substantiating foundationalism as a workable epistemology can be forgiven. This book is quite adequate for the problem at hand. How should Christians respond to the privileged position the hard sciences have in our culture? Return the debate to the philosophical first principles, and work from there. Scientism is a bankrupt philosophy that denies its philosophical nature. Disassemble it in confidence.

I received a complimentary edition of this work from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Crucifixion of the Warrior God (2017)

CrucifixionCover_FINALvol1In contradistinction to the work itself, I will attempt to keep this review of Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God as short as possible. CotWG is a massive tome. Boyd managed to stretch what ought to have been, at most, a six hundred page work into a fifteen hundred page behemoth. Verbosity, liberality in block-quoting, relentless criticism-hounding–this work reads as though it would never end, and the final payoff was not nearly as satisfying as it ought to have been for such a long work. The most interesting upheaval of traditional interpretation is nestled in the book’s middle third, with the last third mind-numbingly and minutely detailing aspects of Boyd’s proposition but mostly by way of anticipating criticism and responding in advance. It’s exhausting.

The book is so poorly written I’m unsure how it was published in its current form. Whereas I had initially thought that Copan’s throwaway line about misspellings was unnecessarily petty, it is difficult to take the book seriously when “altar” and “alter” are confused consistently for pages at a time, for an example, or when you can’t go more than ten pages without another blatant misspelling.

9781506420738That the book apparently never made its way to the spellcheck phase of editing actually underscores the greater problem, the problem which most contributes to its excesses:  there’s no way this book was seriously edited at all, because, if it were, the exhaustive footnotes, anticipatory defenses, and hundreds of pages of semi-historical theology at the front would have been severely curtailed in, if not entirely omitted from, the main body. Crucifixion of the Warrior God reads as everything-Greg-Boyd-has-to-say-on-this-topic, and that is a horrific experience for readers. “Trim the fat” is the most helpful–and most difficult–lesson I’ve ever learned about writing. To his credit, Boyd has subsequently published a much condensed, popular version of this argument.

That CotWG is so unfinished really does a disservice to Boyd’s aim. For all of its faults, Crucifixion of the Warrior God truly contains novel and intriguing ideas, points drawn from the text which have primed me to read “between the lines” for a greater christological unveiling. Boyd’s conception of cosmic warfare, and the degree to which such warfare may be veiled by contemporary translations, surely ought to cause us to pause as we read through purported Old Testament accounts of god’s work despite explicit mentions of ANE deities, like Resheph. Whether the text intends to refer to “Resheph,” the Canaanite god of plague, or merely to reshephim, “plagues,” is a question that would not even be recognized without knowledge of the god Resheph. These are just a couple examples of Boyd’s interesting reinterpretation of Old Testament texts.

Again, the problem with CotWG is that Boyd has made his argument’s upshot so inaccessible that even its benefits are undone because they’re situated in such a poor frame. A second edition would benefit Boyd, to be sure, but I’m also certain that it would benefit the church as she wrestles with the Old Testament and Christ.

The Realsymbol and the Very Presence: Reviewing Being Salvation (2017)

9781506423326_0Karl Rahner is inscrutable. Like all the midcentury Germans, reading him is equivalent to walking through muddy pit. As fast as you’d like to go, you can go no faster than the prose will allow, and Rahner’s infamous multi-clause paragraphic sentences force you to take your time. This would be fine and dandy on its own. Unfortunately, Rahner makes extensive use of terminology born in the continental philosophy of Heidegger and Friends, which forces even the most voracious readers of philosophy and theology to take their time reading him.

All of which makes Brandon Peterson’s Being Salvation: Atonement and Soteriology in the Theology of Karl Rahner such a delight. Peterson writes with such clarity and depth of insight that you may even begin to doubt your facility with the English language. How could you miss these features? Or, how is Peterson able to so simply spell them out? The infamously opaque Rahner is opened up, and prominent contours of his project are distilled.

One often neglected aspect of Rahner’s work that Peterson draws out is Rahner’s absolute reliance on the Jesuit tradition. Frequently misrepresented as a baptizer of philosophical discourse, Rahner was in truth deeply committed to Ignatian spirituality, and Peterson demonstrates the centrality of this spirituality quite adequately–not merely as a stand-alone trivium but as an explanatory characteristic of Rahner’s work in toto.

Being Salvation is concerned chiefly with Rahner’s take on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. To get there, Peterson establishes the fundamental importance of Ignatian spirituality and disentangles Rahner’s notion of “Realsymbole” (symbolic realities) from our vernacular use of “symbol” as well as the more theologically-oriented notion of “Vertretungssymbole” (symbolic representations). Whereas the one is an intrinsic, self-expressive mediation of one’s “very presence,” the other is extrinsic and arbitrary. In understanding the Logos as the Realsymbol of the Father, Rahner understands Jesus not merely as a happenstance revelation of the Father but the “very presence” of god among people; there could be no other mediation, in other words.

One interesting extension of this argument, which Rahner makes, is that inasmuch as the Father’s Realsymbol is the Logos, the Logos’s Realsymbol is the Church, and the Church’s Realsymbole are the sacraments–baptism, communion, marriage, etc. These each mediate the “very presence” of their realsymbolisch counterpart. Of course, such line of argumentation may very well be the reason this work is warranted, as Protestants tend to accuse Rahner of understanding the Logos as a “mere symbol” of god rather than a “symbolic reality,” the distinction between which is blurred in part thanks to Protestant conceptions of the symbolic nature of the communion elements.

Nevertheless, that Jesus mediates the very presence of god on earth is central to Rahner’s soteriological account. Rahner rejects substitutionary models of atonement/salvation in favor of representative models, which he developed from his work in the patristics. Borrowing extensively from Irenaeus (specifically, his account of recapitulation), Rahner works from three basic principles to articulate his representative soteriology:

  1. Christ represents his people to god. Corollary:  we reciprocate through participation in Christ. The account Rahner gives seems to suggest that all people are god’s people; such would be an interesting concept.
  2. Christ represents god to the world. He does this through two mechanisms:
    • Eternal mediation–in Rahner’s words, “The ‘heaven’ to which the saved attain is not a pre-existing place or even state, but a reality which comes into being with Christ’s own resurrection, for he is himself salvation’s content, god made present to creation.” The Logos is and has always been the Realsymbol of the Father, and as such is “god made present to creation.”
    • Basileia–Jesus Christ is the manifestation, instantiation, ground, potentiality, and actuality of god’s kingdom on earth. There is no other realm for it; it exists purely in and through the Messiah.
  3. Salvation exists constitutively (rather than merely normatively) in the person of Jesus. Without Jesus, there can be no salvation. Jesus as the mediation of the “very presence” of god serves as the only possible means through which god’s presence could be manifest in the world, which is to say salvation.

Rahner’s corpus is certainly not an easy one to tackle. Peterson’s Being Salvation, however, provides a helpful scaffolding for students. Peterson dismisses Balthasar’s critiques of Rahner and, over the course of the book, illuminates some of the more difficult aspects of Rahner’s thought. I look forward to jumping back into Rahner’s work with Being Salvation under my belt.

I received a complimentary edition of this work in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Body Parts (2017)

9781506418568Michelle Voss Roberts published Body Parts: a Theological Anthropology through Fortress Press in 2017. In sum, the work is an attempt at integrating anthropological insights from non-dual Shaivism, a variant of Hinduism, into the broader Christian anthropological schema (23). That is to say, Roberts wants to incorporate the illuminative aspects of non-dual Shaivism to correct or strengthen the traditional imago dei model in Christian theology. The inherited model for most Christians (via Aquinas, et al) is an association of the imago with that which separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom–viz., rationality.[1] Human rationality, in other words, is the foundation upon which the imago dei is erected. Roberts disagrees, instead pointing toward a model in which the imago consists in the web of attributes belonging to humanity–but not to humanity in particular. (14)

Dysfunctional views of the imago motivate Roberts’s project. She outlines three key models and their limitations: (1) substance anthropology, in which value comes by virtue of a capacity; (2) functional anthropology, in which value comes by virtue of what we do; and (3) relational anthropology, in which value comes by virtue of our interdependence.

I am sympathetic to Roberts’s concerns. The disabled are excluded from traditional accounts of the imago, simply because their grasp on the sine qua non of “human” flourishing is so slight. I’m reminded of the problem in ethics, popularized by Peter Singer, of what to do with the perpetually comatose patient. What account of the human protects this sort of person (or persons like her), who lack a working, rational brain or who cannot perform a task or who do not relate to those around her? How do you affirm the inherent worth of individuals irrespective of their usefulness? Roberts’s chapter on “The Limited Body” touches on these issues well, though imperfectly. (The reinterpretation of original sin — the conditions within which we “overreach” our limits or fail to grasp our own finitude — is interesting, though certainly unorthodox.)

Nevertheless, the fundamental premise of the work concerns the incorporation of non-dual Shaivism into the Christian schema. In that respect, despite my fundamental agreement with Roberts on the inadequacy of the traditional model of the imago, I did not find her imaginative reworking compelling. There seem to be more fruitful avenues of exploration than Abhinavagupta’s “body parts”–the philosophical discourse on “dignity,” for one. Roberts should be lauded for the attempt. Putting these two widely divergent traditions in conversation was certainly an enticing read, but the result was not as illuminative as I had hoped. However, Roberts’s concern to include the disabled and the excluded in her account of the imago should characterize any future models of the doctrine.

[1] To be sure, grounding a human’s value in something can be an arduous task. Remy Debes, my former professor, outlines some of the philosophical problematics of “dignity” (a related, though distinguished, concept to the imago) in his 2009 article “Dignity’s Gauntlet,” which you can read here. I remember asking Dr. D about this article in his office as I was just beginning my philosophical training. He was (and still is) very generous with his time for his students and former students, and he has had a profound influence on my understanding of the art of teaching. “You are all philosophers,” indeed.

I received a complimentary edition of this work in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Walking Through Infertility (2018)

9781433559310In his 2018 book Walking Through Infertility, Matthew Arbo writes for couples struggling with infertility and for those who would desire to help them during this time–particularly during the early stages of grief. Arbo offers a gentle but firm account of a properly Christian response to infertility–namely, a disciple’s call “to come and die” and an acquiescence to the sovereign rule of god.

I cannot speak from a firsthand perspective, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if Arbo’s mode of writing as often discouraged the struggling as encouraged. It could be that such discouragement is due to weakness or poor discipleship; nothing written was out and out false.

Perhaps this tightrope of “hard truth” and offense speaks to the inherent difficulty of writing a book of this nature (i.e., pastoral, counsel-ish), whose aim ought to be saved for in-person pastoral care. However, were Arbo writing for pastors and counselors for the purpose of training them for this kind of care, the project would have been fundamentally changed. As it stands, the book is adequate for its purpose, although I found myself wishing for more rigorous and detailed interpretations in the early chapters.

The book shifts away from this forthrightly pastoral perspective for its final chapter, which addresses three of the major “last-ditch efforts” for those attempting to overcome infertility:  intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogacy. Surrogacy Arbo dismisses completely as a moral option, and IUI and IVF are themselves highly problematic as far as Arbo is concerned. The change in tone is obvious, and, while the subject matter is clearly appropriate for the work, it lacked a smoothing-out. Moreover, again citing what I wish the book could have been, I wanted a more robustly theo-ethical account of the shortcomings of IUI, IVF, and surrogacy. For the intended audience, it was surely adequate in the context of further pastoral care.

Walking through Infertility would be a valuable work in the context of local church pastoring for couples who are in the throes of infertility. Read by a pastor or counselor and a couple, this book could open conversations, which could in turn provide an opportunity for healing.

I received a complimentary edition of this work from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.