Rowland, Tracey. Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
This is an excellent survey of Benedict XVI’s theology. Rowland begins with an explanation of the various competing groups within Roman Catholicism before and after Vatican II; discuses different views regarding nature and grace; outlines Catholicism’s views of culture, economics, and politics; explains Benedict’s views on Scripture and Tradition; discusses the relation of love to morality in Benedict’s theology; and overviews Benedict’s approach to liturgy.
I found the opening chapter with its discussion of differing factions within Roman Catholicism the most interesting. Rowland identifies these groups as the Neo-Thomists, the French Ressourcement scholars, and the German and Belgian transcendental Thomists. The Neo-Thomists emerged in the Counter Reformation. The developed a "two-tier" view of nature and grace in defense against Protestant teaching about depravity. Rowland notes that at Vatican II the Ressourcement scholars and the Transcendental Thomists united to defeat the Neo-Thomists. By the 1970s these two groups had split. Rowland notes that Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II "straddled . . . both circles." Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI is located with the Ressourcement group. The Ressourcement scholars opposed the Neo-Thomists because they worried that their dualism "unwittingly fostered the secularization of western culture." The Transcendental Thomists, led by Karl Rahner, were much more sympathetic to modernity than the Ressourcement theologians. Whether Ratzinger is conservative or not depends on one’s location. Rowland notes that he is not conservative from the perspective of a Neo-Thomist. He is "decidedly" so from the perspective of the Transcendental Thomists.
One interesting aspect of the nature/grace discussion is that theologians like Herman Bavinck leveled criticism against Roman Catholicism for its nature/grace dualism. Recently some have criticized Bavinck for misreading Thomas. Yet it is important to recognize that Bavinck was reading Thomas as he had been read by Roman Catholics from the time of the Reformation until Vatican II.
Though Rome has moved closer to a Protestant position on nature and grace (thus making it an attractive ally for Protestants in the culture wars), the substance of many Protestant concerns remain. Rowland unpacks Benedict’s view of purgatory and indulgences at one place. She notes his support for Mariology to balance masculine aspects of the church. Benedict’s views of Tradition and Scripture as well as his views of the liturgy also place him at odds with orthodox Protestants. In addition, conservative Protestants may well find that he has conceded too much to modernist scholars in his biblical interpretation. Worship practices also remain a point of division between Rome and Protestantism, though on the matter of music, traditional Protestants will find themselves in agreement with the pope emeritus: "Ratzinger concludes none the less that it is difficult to lay down a priori musical criteria . . . —’it is easier to say what ought to be excluded than included.’ He is, however, quite sure that all rock music should be excluded, ‘not for aesthetic reasons, not out of reactionary stubbornness, not because of historical rigidity but because of its very nature,’ which is neo-Dionysian."
For someone looking for a careful, detailed study of Ratzinger’s theology, which opens a window onto the theological schools and debates of modern Roman Catholic theology, there is probably not a better book.
Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. The Oxford History of the United States. Edited by C. Vann Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
This is another well-written contribution to the Oxford History of the United States. Of course any history of the Great Depression has to reckon with competing economic theories, and any history that largely covers the years of the Roosevelt presidency has to reckon with competing, partisan evaluations of FDR. Kennedy identifies himself twice in the book as embracing a Keynesian approach to economics. In interviews about the book he identifies himself as personally occupying a center-left political position. He noted, however, that he thought it his duty as a historian to write with fairness and accuracy rather than to champion his own political point of view. I believe Kennedy largely succeeded. I read this volume along with Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man. Reading the two together gave a pretty good feeling for center-left and center-right interpretations of the Depression. The World War II section of the book covers material more familiar to many readers, but this book provides a good survey of the war.
Broadus, John Albert. Memoir of James Petigru Boyce. A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893.
James Boyce is a significant figure in American Baptist life. He recognized the importance of an educated Baptist ministry, and he devoted his life to seeing a Baptist seminary founded in the most adverse of circumstances. John Broadus, a close friend and co-laborer with Boyce in this work, is in many ways an ideal biographer.
In addition to telling the life of the man, Broadus also does an excellent job describing the school he gave himself to founding. For instance, there is a fascinating chapter that explains how the curriculum of Southern Seminary was set up so that students with limited education and students with college degrees and knowledge of the languages could learn together effectively. There are insights here that could well be applied to small seminaries around the world that face similar situations.
As a resident of Greenville, SC, the first location of Southern Seminary, I found additional interest in Boradus’s descriptions of the falls on the Reedy River, Paris Mountain, and other Greenville landmarks. Also interesting were his remarks on church life in the Greenville area. Greenville and its environs have long been blessed with many faithful gospel ministries. This is a heritage to cherish and perpetuate.
Nettles, Thomas J. James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009.
Thomas Nettles’s biography at times reads more like a nineteenth century biography than Broadus’s. It is overloaded at times with details that could have better summarized into key points. In general I preferred Broadus’s biography to Nettles. That said, Nettles gives an excellent account of the case of C. H. Toy. Broadus touched on the issue but did not delve into it. Since there are so many similarities in Toy’s move toward liberalism and some segments of left-leaning evangelicalism, that section is valuable. Nettles also gives a very helpful overview of Boyce’s theology that is lacking in Broadus’s Memoir. I’m glad I read both books, but if I were to read only one book on Boyce, it would be Broadus’s.
Anyabwile, Thabiti. "The Glory and Supremacy of Jesus Christ in Ethnic Distinctions and over Ethnic Identities." In For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. Edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
Reflections on John Piper’s theologically informed efforts to combat sins of discrimination against people of various ethnic backgrounds. Key ideas include common creation as image bearers of God, God’s sovereignty in the formation of people groups, God’s delight in the variety of ethnicities as shown by Revelation 5, and the unity that Christians of all ethnicities have in Christ.
Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Edited by Timothy McDermott. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1989. [Dispositions, Virtue, Sin and Vice; 220-75.
There is a renewed emphasis on Thomas as a biblical scholar in the literature these days. Thomas scholars are translating and commenting on Thomas’s biblical commentaries as a counterbalance to the caricature that he was primarily a philosopher theologian rather than a biblical scholar. And yet, in reading this section of the Summa I more than once wished that Thomas would have justified his theological claims by interacting with Scripture. More specifically, I’d like to see some scriptural grounding for Aquinas’s adoption of Aristotle’s virtue ethics and some discussion about how this ethical approach connects with the Scriptural themes of law and grace.
Vos, Arvin. Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought: A Critique of Protestant Views on the Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985. [Read chapters on faith; pp. 1-40]
Vos compares the thought of Aquinas and Calvin on various points. His thesis is that Aquinas and Calvin are in less conflict than normally thought (thought he grants some points of conflict). He takes Calvin’s critiques of the Schoolmen to be directed more at the Parisian theologians than at Aquinas (with whom he thinks Calvin was relatively unacquainted). In general Vos may well be right, though he seems inclined from the outset to minimize differences. His balancing position may itself need to be balanced.