Oswalt, John. The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
Oswalt argues that the recent trend toward classifying parts of the Bible as myth is not due to new evidence that has arisen over the past several decades. He further argues that despite surface similarities (e.g., tripartite temples or similar laws) a great difference in worldview separates Israel from the surrounding cultures. Oswalt finds the surface similarities expected. Cultures of particular times and places will share features. He finds the worldview differences striking because Israel’s worldview of transcendence has only appeared in the world in the religions that have some connection to the Bible: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. All other worldviews are worldviews of immanence. Oswalt concludes the book with defenses of the Bible’s historicity (and the importance of its historicity) against critics such as Bultmann and William Dever.
Carson, D. A. The Intolerance of Tolerance. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.
What explains a bank’s unwillingness to retain the bank account of a Christian organization that adheres to traditional Christian views on human sexuality? How do universities justify requiring Christian student organizations to admit officers who hold views contrary to Christian doctrine and practice? Why are doctors in some regions required to perform abortions and pharmacists required to carry and distribute abortion inducing drugs—despite their conscientious objections?
In The Intolerance of Tolerance D. A. Carson argues that these incidents follow from a new definition of tolerance, a tolerance that is remarkably intolerant. The old tolerance permitted a wide variety of views—each strongly held. Diversity existed, and so did debate. The old tolerance also functioned within a moral framework. People might disagree about aspects of the framework, but all believed that the "common good" included moral norms.
The new tolerance rejects all dogmatism as intolerant. According to the new tolerance, all views must be accepted as true (or, at least, potentially true). The moral framework that the old tolerance functioned within is rejected by the new tolerance as intolerant. In the end, significant moral discussion becomes impossible. Instead of discussing the rights and wrongs of various theories of poverty and crime, conceptions of marriage, or the origins, nature, and value of human life, "the public discourse focuses on what sanctions should be imposed on those who do not ‘tolerate’ (definitely the new sense!) the abolition of what were once the moral standards" (133-34).
Intolerance becomes the only vice when the new tolerance is dominant. Yet, ironically, those who function under the old view of tolerance must not be tolerated. This, Carson says, is "worse than inconsistency." The new tolerance views secularism as a neutral arbiter when it fact, as Carson takes the time to demonstrate, it has all the marks of a religious view in its own right. So ironically the free exercise of other religions must give way to the establishment of secularism.
The demand that religion retreat into its own private sphere is bad enough for Christianity and other religions for whom privatization contradicts core beliefs. But worse, even a privatized religion will not suit the secularism of the new tolerance. Even the internal affairs of religious groups are censured under the new tolerance. For instance, the Catholic Church is denounced as intolerant for denying the Eucharist to members who publically oppose its abortion policies, and evangelical Anglicans are castigated for not permitted heretical bishops to preach from their pulpits. Doctors in some areas are told they must perform abortions despite personal religious objections. When a government sanctions those who seek to uphold morality (rather than those who seek to undermine it), not even a privatized religion or a personal conscience offers protection. Democracies too, Carson warns, can be tyrannical.
At this point Carson’s book could grow dark and discouraging or angry and shrill. But Carson avoids this. He concludes with ten "ways ahead." Several of these suggestions center on ways of thinking and speaking which undermine the pretentious but hollow claims of the new tolerance. The last three ways forward deserve special mention: "evangelize," "be prepared to suffer," and "delight in God, and trust him." Though making the United States (or wherever) "a better place" is not the motive for evangelism, Carson notes "when the gospel truly does take hold in any culture, changes in that culture are inevitable" (174). But if suffering and persecution rather than cultural change awaits Western believers, it will be nothing more than the New Testament tells Christians they should expect–and nothing more than what many Christians around the world experience (175). Therefore: "Delight in God, and trust him. God remains sovereign, wise, and good. Our ultimate confidence is not in any government or party, still less in our ability to mold the culture in which we live." Our hope is in God.
This review first appeared on the BJU Campus Store Blog.
Plantinga, Jr., Cornelius. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Plantinga examines sin from a number of different angles and provides helpful categories for understanding sin. He particularly addresses sins that moderns are inclined to dismiss. Negatively, he’s abandoned the concept of original guilt.
McQuilkin, Robertson. A Promise Kept. Tyndale House, 2006.
This book is the personal story of Robertson McQuilkin’s care for his wife as she struggled with Alzheimers. McQuilkin organized the book around key phases in the standard marriage vows, and he speaks candidly about both the struggles and delights of keeping those vows.
Kraynak, Robert P. Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.
In this book Robert Kraynak explores a dilemma brought about by the affirmation of two theses. First, liberal democracy depends upon Christianity to justify its claims. Second, Christianity for most of its history has preferred illiberal forms of government. The dilemma these theses raise is this: are the majority of modern Christians correct in affirming liberal democracy as "the form of government most compatible with the Christian religion" (1).
In establishing the first thesis, Kraynak notes that liberal democracy (in distinction from ancient democracy) is based on a particular notion of human dignity that emphasizes personal autonomy. But none of the liberal philosophical schools, whether those of Hobbes, Kant, Mill, or Rorty, are able to establish a ground for this human dignity. Kraynak demonstrates that various schools of thought have sought to find this basis only to have the next philosophical school reject it as insufficient. In the end, the postmoderns give up and assume human dignity without having a basis for the assumption. Kraynak quotes Richard Rorty: "it is ‘part of our tradition . . . that [a] stranger from whom all dignity has been stripped [should] be taken in and re-clothed with dignity. This Jewish and Christian element in our tradition is gratefully invoked by freeloading atheists like myself’ who think that metaphysical debates are futile" (36, ellipses, brackets, and emphasis from Kraynak).
Christianity is able to provide a basis for human dignity, but that does not necessarily mean that liberal democracy is the governmental system that best fits Christianity. Kraynak establishes his second thesis by surveying Scripture and church history. He establishes the Old Testament to be patriarchal and monarchical. The New Testament does not endorse any form of government, though it does enjoin submission to the reigning monarch. Furthermore, he argues that the dignity that humans have from the imago Dei is not the dignity of autonomy as in the liberal conception. The case from church history is easy to make: Augustine praised various forms of government including both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire (when governed by Christian emperors); Aquinas and other medieval theologians preferred a monarchy with various checks; Calvin preferred an aristocracy with some democratic elements; Luther and the Anglicans defend monarchy; Wesley clearly opposed republicanism; the Roman Catholic Church has only recently reconciled itself to democracy.
If neither Scripture nor church history predisposes Christians to embrace liberal democracy as the best form of government why do most Christians now hold that view? Kraynak notes six common suggestions:
- Modern democracy arose from medieval ideas about natural law and from the Conciliar movement (Lord Acton, Brian Tierney, Richard Tuck).
- Modern democracy is rooted in the Reformation doctrines of justification by faith alone, the priesthood of the believer, and the supremacy of Scripture.
- Modern democracy emerged from Neo-Scholastic theories of popular sovereignty.
- Modern democracy arose from Enlightenment ideas.
- Christian acceptance of modern democracy grew from struggles against colonialism, slavery, and industrial abuses.
- Christian acceptance of modern democracy grew form the struggle against totalitarianism in the twentieth century.
Kraynak rejects the first three reasons. In other words, he rejects the idea that liberal democracy emerged from the nexus of Christian ideas. He affirms that liberal democracy grew from Enlightenment soil (and especially from Kant), which means that points five and six explain why Christians have embraced a system foreign to its thought for so many years.
Kant’s view of the autonomous man whose dignity is grounded in his own determination of his good is obviously at odds with Christian thought. Christians who embrace liberal democracy therefore modify Kant. But Kraynak doubts that tweaking Kant is enough. Though he grants that liberal democracy has done good by resisting tyranny and mitigating religious warfare (among other goods), Kraynak also highlights the dark side of democracy.
Many of his criticisms focus around the importance of "rights" to liberal democracy. Kraynak believes that the rights talk is subversive to legitimate human authorities such as parents, government, and even Scripture. It undermines Christian charity and fosters an entitlement mentality because rather than loving people and giving out of compassion, people in need now receive that which is their right.
Kraynak also believes that democracy achieves equality by brining people down to the lowest common denominator. He says, "The whole tradition of liberal arts education . . . seem[s] too aristocratic or too ‘high brow,’ too judgmental and demanding, for most people in a democratic society. Not only do the masses of people feel justified in ignoring them, but the educated elites themselves lose confidence in their enduring values and treat them with irony and contempt, becoming corrupt elites with a mission to subvert or deconstruct high culture. The strongest pressures in a democratic age are always downward from high culture toward popular entertainment, which originally meant replacing aristocratic and religious culture with middle-class and working-class culture but now means sinking to the lowest common denominator of the rebellious avant-garde and raucous youth culture, often of the crudest kind. When, for example, Mozart is replaced by the Beatles as the standard for music, or when Gregorian chant and Bach are replaced by folk music and guitars in Christian liturgy, a dramatic cultural revolution has occurred"(27).
Finally, while liberal democracy does protect religious freedom, it does so at the expense of embracing pluralism. Kraynak grants that one can always ‘tolerate’ error as a matter of prudence, based on the recognition that error and sin are intractable problems of the fallen world. But from the perspective of ultimate truth, diversity is not a right" (179).
Kraynak’s preferred government is a constitutional monarchy that operates within the constraints of Augustine’s Two Cities paradigm. He grants however that in the present age a democracy based on moral law rather than on Kantian liberalism may be the best kind of government presently achievable.
Kraynak’s work suffers from several weaknesses. His categorical rejection of rights language rests on a less than persuasive view of the imago Dei, which he believes is "man’s original immortality" (57). Wolterstorff’s discussion of the imago Dei in Justice: Rights and Wrongs is exegetically more persuasive than Kraynak’s. Also, Kraynak’s Catholicism intrudes when he bases parts of his argument on the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church. Finally, much of Kraynak’s argument depends on the hierarchy of being. While Scripture does indicate some hierarchy exists if only in humanity’s role as image bearers of God over the rest of creation, the medieval hierarchy of being seems to have a number of serious defects. Not only did it over-analyze the hierarchy on slim biblical evidence (note the ascending chain of angels, archangels, virtues, powers, principalities, dominions, thrones, cherubim, seraphim), but it seems to devalue the material world by placing pure spirits above embodied spirits. It also seems to engender a false idea of how a being draws near to God.
Despite these weaknesses, Kraynak has produced a book well worth reading. Christians who today embrace democracy as the best form of government do well to ask themselves why Christians in earlier generations were suspicious of republican and democratic forms of government. Kraynak is wise to critique democracy for its leveling tendencies. When democracy reduces all cultural evaluations to mere personal preference, it impoverishes society. When democratic tendencies undermine the legitimate authority of parents, pastors, teachers, and rulers, it harms society. When religious freedom undermines the exclusive and universal claims of Christianity, at that point it has ceased to be a good.
Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Incorporated Books, 1868.
Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.
Michael Horton writes on a variety of levels. This book is pitched as a meaty popular level book. It seems to be the final book in an informal trilogy begun with Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life. Perhaps most helpful in this volume is the discussion of how the Reformation marks of the church (preaching, sacraments/ordinances, discipline) relate to discipleship. Also helpful were trenchant critiques of the emergent church, of a certain kind of missional conception of the church, and of the discipleship models of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Horton also addresses church and culture, Christianity and culture issues. He adopts the exegetically problematic Klinean two-kingdoms view, but his application of this view does not seem as radical as VanDrunen’s.
Stitzinger, James F. "The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation," Master’s Seminary Journal 13, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 149-171
Stitzinger seeks to demonstrate some historical precedent for a pre-tribulational rapture prior to Darby. He weakens his case by trying too hard to find it implied in the writings of the early fathers. His citations from Ephraem of Nisibis (306–373) and The History of Brother Dolcino (1316) are more convincing. In the post-Reformation period he cites primarily those who teach the imminent return of Christ, but it is not clear that they actually held to a pre-tribulation rapture. In some cases, those he cites held to a pre-Armageddon rapture. His citation of Morgan Edwards (1722-1795) is the most persuasive citation form this period.
Woudstra, Martin H. "Israel and the Church: A Case for Continuity." In Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments. Edited by John S. Feinberg. Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988.
Gumerlock, Francis. “A Rapture Citation in the Fourteenth Century,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 635 (July 2002): 349-362.
Gumerlock argues that attempts to discredit the pre-tribulation rapture by linking it to Margaret Macdonald are historically irresponsible. He notes several pre-nineteenth century pretribulationalists, and he focuses on one reference in The History of Brother Dolcino (1316). Brother Dolcino was the leader of a group that broke away from the Roman Church between 1300-1307. A crusade launched against them destroyed the group in 1307. Dolcino and his group believed that they would be preserved from the persecution of the Antichrist by being translated to heaven before the last three and a half years of the Antichrist’s reign. Revelation 11 (especially a figurative understanding of 11:12) as correlated with 1 Thessalonians 4:17 forms the exegetical basis for this belief. Gumerlock notes that more work needs to be done to understand the context in which this thought arose (he does cite Joachim of Fiore as an influence) and to see the extent of its influence. Pre-tribulationalists should be careful in their appeal to this work since Joachim of Fiore held to some heretical ideas (e.g., the end of the church in 1260). A fourteenth-century breakaway group influenced by Joachim is likely to hold doctrines, even eschatological doctrines, with which pre-tribulationalists will not wish to identify. Gumerlock, who is not pre-tribulational, was not seeking to make a historical argument in favor of the pre-tribulational position in this article. His goal was to demonstrate that the doctrine did not originate in the nineteenth century and that more historical work is needed to trace the history of this idea.
Peter Lombard. The Sentences, Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs. Translated by Giulio Silano. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010. Pp. vii-lxxv + 1-38.
Peter Lombard’s Sentences is one of the most influential theology textbooks in church history. It was the text that all medieval theology students studied and wrote commentaries on (see Rosemann’s excellent The Story of a Great Medieval Book: Peter Lombard’s ‘Sentences’). It has finally been translated into English. This month I read Silano’s helpful summary of book 4 and Lombard’s distinctions on baptism. Though Lombard teaches that faith and contrition without baptism brings justification, remission of sins, and removal of eternal punishment, baptism is expected of all who have the opportunity to be baptized (bk. 4, dist. 4, chs. 4-5; cf. ch. 6, n. 1; ch. 7, n. 1-2).What benefit does baptism bring if those with faith and contrition are justified, forgiven, and no longer in danger of eternal punishment? Lombard says that baptism cleanses a person from any sins committed since conversion, absolves from external satisfaction, increases virtue, and reduces temptation (bk. 4, dist. 4, ch. 5; cf. ch. 6, n. 1; ch. 7, n. 1-2). Earlier he stated that baptism removes original sin from infants, and original sin and all subsequent sins (prior to baptism) from adults (bk. 4, dist. 4, ch. 1, n. 2).