This blog will be dormant for the next month, while I concentrate on my studies and some extra reading and writing that I have planned.
A miscellaneous collection of notes, remarks, or selections.
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We’ll miss you. I hope the the work goes well!
Just FYI, A Living Text is now at:
Thanks, Joel. I’ll update my link.
N.T. Wright – Simply Christian.
Wright rightly emphasizes that Christianity is not just about going to heaven, but becoming part of a people and becoming part of a story, which includes the restoration of heaven and earth. He is good on the existential issues behind Christianity, such how the world seems out of kilter and full of injustice, and he is also good at putting Christianity in the context of the story of Israel. This fills in a lot of the lacunae in the other books I’ve read.
However, the book is rather rambling and for all his emphasis on story Wright is not much of a story teller. His garrulous style does not help. The reader is lost in a flurry of words.
There also isn’t much on Jesus, particularly on the atonement and resurrection. I have no doubt that Wright is an orthodox Christian, but, even though I’d probably agree more with Wright than Piper, if Wright’s presentation of those parts of Christianity are is as perfunctory as they are here, I can understand why people like John Piper have gone after him. Is he always this poor at making his points?
There is some good advice on prayer, but it’s hardly helpful to the beginner.
The book isn’t exactly a mess organizationally, but it does ramble a bit. A more precise title would have been something like Tom Wright Talks About Christianity or Tom Wright Rides His Favourite Hobbyhorses.
Some of Wright’s examples of injustice righted indicate that he has not thought particularly deeply about current political and social events. The end of apartheid, for example, seems to me to have been the replacement of one wicked regime by another, rather than a victory for justice. Such contemporary references may not hold up well.
In general, while this book definitely filled in some things that were missing from the other books in this genre, I certainly would not recommend as a book to introduce someone to the Christian faith. The style is offputting and rather vague and difficult to understand; in addition, the central parts of the Christian faith are given short shrift. Even Grudem would be better.
Might be useful as a corrective to some of the other books.
Sterling McMurrin – The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion
Parts Mormonism are quite easily (and frankly rather deservedly) mocked, what with the fairly obvious made out of whole cloth nature of something like the Book of Mormon, but it deserves to be taken more seriously on a theological level. McMurrin goes quite thoroughly through how Mormon theology is largely a response to the genuinely problematic parts of Christian theology, and this makes the book is a very good primer in those. Of course, McMurrin doesn’t go through the theological and philosophical weaknesses of positing such a limited god as the Mormons have, though he quite honestly does make note of how such a limited god can be problematic even on the level of popular piety, traditionally thought of as one of great strengths adhering to the Mormon idea of god. A limited god is not just a stumbling block for the philosophically inclined.
Though McMurrin is mostly being descriptive, his is an example of the kind of book you can learn a lot from, even if you disagree strongly with the ideas therein. Highly recommended.
Tried and failed to finally finish Nadia Bolz-Weber’s autobiography. Amiable, but shallow, with bad attempts at jokes. Nice lady, does some good work, but not much there there.
I love Wright’s scholarly works. However, his popular works, while preferable to many of the alternatives theologically, are not of the same calibre. For a scholarly treatment of Jesus, I recommend Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God most highly. I would easily count Jesus and the Victory of God as one of the dozen most important books I have ever read for the development of my thinking.
Yes, unfortunately Wright’s applications and illustrations in the areas of politics and economics are often sophomoric, more a clumsy application of biblical teachings to hobby horses of the left than careful and extensive reframing of our political vision through Scripture in a way that challenges all parties. Also, the idea that biblical principles neatly settle the prudential questions that shape our politics is one that Wright far too often falls for. His recent remarks on national healthcare are a good example of Wright’s failure to grasp that biblical principles cannot be applied to society in such a crude painting by numbers fashion. On many other issues he is perhaps surprisingly conservative: he has been very clear on the subject of homosexual relations and, despite his support of women priests, he is no feminist.
McMurrin’s book sounds very interesting: I might have to get my hands on a copy at some point.
I am currently reading Chris Seitz’s The Character of Christian Scripture, which is a helpful refresher on Brevard Childs’ canonical approach, if nothing else. I’ve always appreciated Seitz. Antonio López’s new release, Gift and the Unity of Being is well worth a read too. Stephen Asma’s Against Fairness raises some important issues, but is underwhelming so far.
Some background to my comments on McMurrin.
There has also been much recent research suggesting that ordinary people tend to have rather limited and anthropomorphic conceptions of God, which contradict the official theologies of their religion. (An good book on this would be Jason Slone’s Theological Incorrectness.) Agreed that this happens a lot. Converging with this, the Mormon argument (which they have long made) is that people just can’t relate to the more philosophical deity of official theology, this gets in the way of genuine piety, and the common Christian believer is actually ignoring the official Christian theology anyway. A limited God also supposedly solves several thorny theological issues, such as the problem of evil.
McMurrin, though he is mostly laying out the case for the limited Mormon conception of God, helped me realize that the average believer doesn’t just believe in a rather limited anthropomorphic deity, but rather tends to switch back and forth between anthropomorphic and classical theist conceptions of God as the occasion demands. Both the research and Mormon polemic are incomplete.
The Mormon God lacks transcendence and apparently that is a problem for both theologians and common believers.
Definitely an interesting area to study. Such debates tend to take different forms in evangelical circles, such as those surrounding Open Theism. As regards anthropomorphic descriptions of God, I think that orthodox Christians often have ways in which they could be giving fuller accounts of this.
On understandings of God, have you read David Bentley Hart’s recent book yet? I would recommend it as a worthy interlocutor to anyone looking into these questions.
1. Haven’t read the new Hart. Want to.
2. Yes, Open Theism is had definite similarities to Mormonism. Though McMurrin doesn’t use the term, I noticed many parallels while reading McMurrin.
3. Some of the best passages in McMurrin are when chides some of his fellow Mormons for importing classical theistic language back into their popular preaching, and speculates as to why they do it.
Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps
The book is a very articulate defense of and a fairly vivid description of the Mormon faith. Givens is a very good writer However, Givens and his wife seem to conflate Christianity with certain forms of Calvinism, and related movements in Catholicism such as Jansenism, and to put the worst possible spin on traditional Christian doctrines. It now strikes me that Mormonism is not only a response to genuine issues in traditional Christian theology, but a violent reaction against at least some forms of Calvinism specifically. (I don’t think it any surprise that the original Mormons originally came out of New England.) This is yet another book with which it is very useful to argue with, and provides a nice complement to the McMurrin, especially as the Givens actually believe this stuff, while McMurrin is more descriptive. (Both are well under 150 pages, and clearly written, so there’s no reason not to read them both.)
I fundamentally like large portions of Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, even Buddhism. But, for some reason, I dislike Mormon theology on a fundamental level, despite my admiration for Mormon community spirit and their relative success in upholding traditional morality. I just genuinely loathe the peppy All-American can-do spirit of it all. Perhaps this is also because Mormonism was formed deliberately in reaction against Christianity. It might well be described as an Anti-Christianity.
Givens is a literature professor and he writes very well. He is also vastly learned and comes up with many precursors of Mormon beliefs throughout Christian history. A very coherent and well organized, if fundamentally wrongheaded, book.
As a religious movement, Mormonism has always struck me as a highly American phenomenon and one which depends for a considerable amount of its credibility upon a more general American perception of the world. As a non-American it just doesn’t seem to resonate with me and seems designed for a very different sort of world.
Neither McMurrin nor the Givens go much into Mormon practice, nor do they much deal with the history and scriptures of Mormonism. It’s all theology. You’ll have to go elsewhere for those other things. I’d suggest Richard and Joan Ostling’s Mormon America for that.
Your a blessing; and will be missed.
Thanks! I will be back before people will have had much time to miss me. 🙂
Alasdair MacIntyre – After Virtue
Excellent historical account. Filled in lots of background for me, and MacIntyre deserves credit for formulating all sorts of ideas that I now take for granted. But an awful lot of his ideas, as formulated by him, seemed a bit anti-climactic after encountering them already in disciples like James Kalb and Jonathan Haidt.
Malcolm Guite – What Do Christians Believe?
Quite disappointing. The man obviously has some feeling for the cross and the resurrection which occasionally comes across here, and Guite has some real appreciation for many of the injustices perpetrated in the name of Christianity, but mostly this is a very superficial account. It is wishy washy on all sorts of controversial issues, and doesn’t indicate a particularly deep engagement with most political issues. The treatment of love is especially superficial. Yes, love is at the centre of the Christian faith. But nothing is more contested than the meaning of love.
(I’ve actually made it sound like there is more substance to the book than there is. But its great flaw is actually its pervasive superficiality. This is sad, because I know Guite has much more depth than is on evidence here. But he’s an inconsistent communicator.)
So far Lewis and Stott are at the top, Spufford and Grudem are in the middle, and Guite and Wright bring up the rear.
After Virtue is a superb book. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it. Most of my reading has been in the area of biblical scholarship lately, people such as Brevard Childs, Chris Seitz, Francis Watson, Richard Hays, and also Ignacio Carbajosa’s recent book Faith, the Fount of Exegesis. I also finished Andy Crouch’s Playing God last week. Well worth a read as a popular level treatment of the subject of power, though Richard Beck makes some very good criticisms here.
Since you are reading in the area of introductions to the Christian faith, one book that I would be interested to hear your thoughts on is Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, an Eastern Orthodox introduction to the Christian ‘world view’, which has a rather different flavour from most works that take up that task.