Category : Books

([London] Times) Hugo Rifkind reviews Richard Dawkins Latest book ‘outgrowing God’

Here, alas, probably because religion makes him so very cross, he often sounds more like Owl hectoring Winnie-the-Pooh. “This really is the sort of thing theologians spend their time thinking about,” he’ll tell us peevishly, or “the Roman Catholic Church was very silly” to have authenticated a supposed miracle in Portugal. Throughout a long, excruciating passage about Noah’s Ark he refers to “Mr and Mrs Wombat” and “Mr and Mrs Kangaroo”.

From the get-go we’re into his favourite argument, made many times before, which is that there’s no more reason to believe in the Christian god than any other. “Like you I expect, I don’t believe in Jupiter or Poseidon or Thor or Venus or Cupid or Snotra or Mars or Odin or Apollo,” he writes. “I don’t believe in Anyanwu, Mawu, Ngai . . .” Yes, we get it. Please stop.

A rolling, extensive list of everything else he doesn’t believe dominates part one. Quite a lot of it is about how bits of the Bible are contradicted by other bits, or inspired by previous works, or just not very nice. He’s very angry, for example, about the story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. “Is it possible to imagine a worse trick to play on someone?” he thunders. Likewise, about God’s instructions in the Old Testament about what ought to be done with the Canaanites. “Nowadays,” he writes, “we’d call it ethnic cleansing and child abuse.”

Is it wrong to find all this a bit low-rent? Only very occasionally do you get an insight that stands out, such as the one about Hell needing to be so horrid precisely because the idea of going there is so implausible; otherwise it would be harder to inspire the necessary dread. Also, sometimes, thank God (or whoever) the attempts at wit actually land. “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s husband,” he suggests as an antidote to the sexism embedded in the Ten Commandments. “Nor her Jaguar. Nor her doctoral degree.”

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Atheism, Books, England / UK, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Reading Scores on National Exam Decline in Half the States

This year, eighth-grade reading scores in 31 states dropped two to seven points — which the federal government deemed significant — compared with their performances in 2017. Indiana, New Hampshire and Virginia had the largest declines. Fourth-grade reading scores dropped in 17 states, with New Jersey’s six-point drop the largest. Only one state, Mississippi, improved, the data showed.

James F. Lane, the superintendent of public instruction in Virginia, said that while grade-level proficiency was a goal, the school system “must also recognize that Virginia’s schools are enrolling increasing numbers of students whose learning is impacted by poverty and trauma.” He said the school system needed to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and equip them to meet the needs of a “changing student population.”

Average math scores fared considerably better, particularly among fourth graders. Nine states had significant increases in fourth-grade math, compared with 2017. Again, Mississippi led the pack. The eighth-grade score in three states improved, while those in six states declined.

American students have made large gains in math and small gains in reading since 1990. But those improvements began to level out around 2009. There is no consensus on why that happened.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Books, Children, Education

(Sightings) A Recalcitrant Influence–Matthew Creighton writes about the legacy of Harold Bloom

Last week the literary world bade adieu to Professor Harold Bloom, the most prodigious and well-known literary critic of the second half of the twentieth century. Looking back over approximately fifty years of writing, we conclude that one of the recursive and unifying features of his extensive output is the insistence upon regarding sacred works as rhetorical products, along with the attunement to the theological dimensions of imaginative fiction. In creating a model of how to construe the relationship between religion and literature as modes of cultural activity, Bloom fused the insights of two formidable precursors. From the minister-cum-scholar Northrop Frye, he began to view the totality of literary creation as an organic and interconnected whole, a “great code” founded on and decipherable with the aid of Scripture. From M.H. Abrams, his undergraduate adviser at Cornell, he learned not just that poets too were preoccupied with spiritual concerns, but that every instance of poetic communication necessarily involves four components: author, text, world, and audience.

Nevertheless, we can also speak of three discrete stages of Bloom’s criticism. The first is crystallized in the oft-misunderstood book The Anxiety of Influence (1973), in which he used Freudian psychoanalysis as a method for understanding the dynamics of artistic creation. In essence, he argued that one could trace a common process whereby young poets rebel against the literary forbearers that simultaneously and paradoxically shape and nourish their artistic sensibilities, in order to carve out a space for their own originality and yearning for greatness.

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Posted in Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Poetry & Literature

Ole Hallesby on the Painstaking and Rewarding Work of Prayer

“The work of the Spirit can be compared to mining. The Spirit’s work is to blast to pieces the sinner’s hardness of heart and his frivolous opposition to God. The period of the awakening can be likened to the time when the blasts are fired. The time between the awakenings corresponds, on the other hand, to the time when the deep holes are being bored with great effort into the hard rock.

To bore these holes is hard and difficult and a task which tries one’s patience. To light the fuse and fire the shot is not only easy but also very interesting work. One sees “results” from such work. It creates interest, too; shots resound, and pieces fly in every direction! It takes trained workmen to do the boring. Anybody can light a fuse.

…the Spirit calls us to do the quiet, difficult, trying work of boring holy explosive materials into the souls of people by daily and unceasing prayer. This is the real preparatory work for the next awakening. The reason why such a long period of time elapses between awakenings is simply that the Spirit cannot find believers who are willing to do the heavy part of the mining work. Everybody desires awakenings; but we prefer to let other do the boring into the hard rock.”

–Ole Hallesby, Prayer (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortess, 1994 printing of the 1931 original), [Book Three] pp.77-78

Posted in Books, Church History, Norway, Spirituality/Prayer

Still More from Ole Kristian Hallesby on Prayer

‘If prayer is, as we have seen, the central function of the new life of faith, the very heart-beat of our life in God, it is obvious that our prayer life must become the target against which Satan directs his best and most numerous darts’

–Ole Hallesby Prayer (Augsburg, 1931), Book Four

Posted in Books, Church History, Norway, Spirituality/Prayer, Theology

Ole Kristian Hallesby–The heart of Prayer is Owned Helplessness

Prayer is an attitude of our hearts, an attitude of mind. Prayer is a definite attitude of our hearts toward God, an attitude which He in heaven immediately recognizes as prayer, as an appeal to His heart. Whether it takes the form of words or not, does not mean anything to God, only to ourselves.

What is this spiritual condition? What is that attitude of heart which God recognizes as prayer? I would mention two things.

1. In the first place, helplessness.

This is unquestionably the first and the surest indication of a praying heart. As far as I can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless. It is the last resort of the helpless. Indeed, the very last way out. We try everything before we finally resort to prayer. This is not only true of us before our conversion. Prayer is our last resort also throughout our whole Christian life. I know very well that we offer many and beautiful prayers, both privately and publicly, without helplessness as the impelling power. But I am not at all positive that this is prayer.

Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only he who is helpless can truly pray.

Listen to this, you who are often so helpless that you do not know what to do. At times you do not even know how to pray. Your mind seems full of sin and impurity. Your mind is preoccupied with what the Bible calls the world. God and eternal and holy things seem so distant and foreign to you that you feel that you add sin to sin by desiring to approach God in such a state of mind.

Now and then you must ask yourself the question, “Do I really desire to be set free from the luke-warmness of my heart and my worldly life? Is not my Christian life always lukewarm and half-hearted for the simple reason that deep down in my heart I desire it that way?”

Thus an honest soul struggles against the dishonesty of his own being. He feels himself so helplessly lost that his prayers freeze on his very lips.

Listen, my friend! Your helplessness is your best prayer. It calls from your heart to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas. He hears it from the very moment that you are seized with helplessness, and He becomes actively engaged at once in hearing and answering the prayer of your helplessness. He hears today as He heard the helpless and wordless prayer of the man sick with the palsy.

–Ole Hallesby Prayer (Augsburg, 1931), Book One, read by yours truly in preparation for last weekend’s Saint Philip’s parish retreat on prayer

Posted in Books, Church History, Norway, Spirituality/Prayer

(CC) Jonathan Tran–Hope, oppression, and Ta-Nehisi Coates: Can Christian hope survive the onslaught against black life?

In her endorsement of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Toni Morrison in­voked one of America’s most astute cultural observers: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Bald­win died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

Between the World of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Christianity collects powerful and often quite personal essays on Between the World and Me. Most of the contributions circle around two questions: What does one do with Coates’s dismissal of Christianity? And how should one take the book’s seeming hopelessness? Almost all of the authors agree that the two questions are related, and they work hard to think through one of the central moral issues that arises for Christians today: Can Christian hope survive the onslaught against black life?

The second is Prince Jones Jr., who was Coates’s classmate at Howard Uni­ver­sity. Prince was also killed by a cop, his exemplary character and accomplishments unable to save him from a fate that befalls so many African Ameri­can men. At Prince’s funeral, Coates puzzles over the way Mabel Jones, Prince’s mother, clings to Christian hope even in the face of obvious reasons for despair.

How might a Christian respond to Coates’s stance toward Christianity without (as Jennifer Harvey puts it) trying to persuade Coates “to embrace religion or god,” or “hold him responsible for making visible a more complicated understanding of religious thought and practice”? This question takes on added weight if, as Harvey observes, “the religion Coates rejects is a particular type . . . one that emerges from traditions best described as escapist,” where “god is conceived as solution to unending crisis, a ‘go to’ as an explanation of the incomprehensible.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Books, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology

Friday food for Thought from Thomas Merton

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

(UnHerd in 2018) Losing their religion: the priests who turned from God

Over the course of less than two decades, [Richard] Holloway moved from doubts over the uses to which religion can be put to a complete rejection of its divine origins. That path is one that many others have made and many more doubtless fear making. But what makes Holloway different is not merely that he made this journey whilst himself being a member of the clergy or that he wrote about it whilst doing so. What is different and significant about Holloway is that while he became disenchanted with traditional religion and while he became surer of its man-made nature he nevertheless saw that there remained something in religion, and the Christian story in particular, that deserved and needed to be saved.

In his 2012 memoir, Leaving Alexandria, he described with frankness not only the fundamentalism that had pushed him away from the church, but those few hopes he had still had left for it. His religion is now, he says, “pared away to almost nothing” 7, and he asks what he is left believing. ‘Was religion a lie? Not necessarily, but it was a mistake. Lies are just lies, but mistakes can be corrected and lessons can be learned from them. “The mistake’” he says,”‘was to think religion was more than human.”

Though he concludes that religion was a work of the human imagination he reiterates that that itself is not nothing. If it could be appreciated as other works of the human imagination are appreciated – so long as people did not fall over again into thinking it was more than that – if it could be appreciated like Shakespeare, and Proust, Elgar, Tolstoy, Gaugin or Nietzsche (to use Holloway’s list) and seen to have no more authority than them, then the uses of religion might still be for the good.

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Posted in Atheism, Books, England / UK, Ministry of the Ordained, Religion & Culture, Scottish Episcopal Church

(ES) Jonathan Haidt: ‘Many people will soon find themselves mired in perpetual conflict over words’

“When the article came out we were braced for an enormous pushback. It was an explosive time, and things were beginning to get very strange politically in ways we’re only beginning to understand,” he says. “But the climate changed in early 2016, when the number of shutdowns and disinvitations grew, and everything got worse. Things were changing in ways that are really bad for what we do, so Greg and I decided we had to turn it into a book.”

Between the article and the book, which came out last year, Haidt’s research revealed a strong connection between Gen Z’s soaring rates of anxiety and depression (especially among girls), their emotional fragility and their upbringing . “Originally, we didn’t see how it all linked to childhood trends, such as fearful parenting and the decline of play. We also didn’t know, until research was published last year, that there was a sudden radicalisation among white progressives in 2014 about different types of inequality: feminism, racism, misogyny, white privilege, or any other term from the woke vocabulary.

“Another big shift came from changes in social media after 2012, through Twitter and Instagram. This new configuration has been much more effective at spreading outrage, because almost anything can be taken as an example of how awful the other side is if you strip it of context and put it out there.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Language, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology, Young Adults

(Church Times) ‘The 20th century was Augustinian’–James K. A. Smith tells Madeleine Davies why the Early Church theologian still matters

“My hunch is that if people know anything about St Augustine, their picture is probably overwhelmingly negative,” Professor James K. A. Smith says, occupying a booth in the foyer of a South Kensington hotel. He suspects that they think of the fourth-century Bishop of Hippo as “the inventor of the doctrine of Original Sin . . . the champion of celibacy, and the generator of a particularly narrow doctrine of sexual ethics”.

If there is one misconception that he hopes that his new book will correct, it is the idea of an angry dogmatist: “When you really spend time with Augustine he is remarkably vulnerable, humble, and very much imagines himself as a co-pilgrim with people, rather than sitting up on this dais, sort of announcing and denouncing.”

Augustine is, he writes, less a judge than an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.

With a titular nod to Kerouac, On the Road with Saint Augustine offers the reader “an invitation to journey with an ancient African who will surprise you by the extent to which he knows you”.

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Posted in Africa, Books, Church History, Theology

(CC) James K A Smith–How Augustine responded to the problem of evil without solving it

As Augustine put it in a sermon in 404, “he took flesh from the lump of our mortality, yes, and he too took to himself the death which was the penalty for sin, but didn’t take the sin; instead with the merciful intention of delivering us from sin, he handed over that flesh of his to death.” God doesn’t abstractly solve a problem; God condescends to inhabit and absorb the mess we’ve made of the world. God “has not abandoned humanity in its mortal condition.”

This, Augustine encourages his listeners, should serve as a source of hope in the face of fears and sorrows: “So he handed over this flesh to be slain, so that you wouldn’t be afraid of anything that could happen to your flesh. He showed you, in his resurrection after three days, what you ought to be hoping for at the end of this age. So he is leading you along, because he has become your hope.”

The appeal here is not to the greater good, the free choice of the will, or the constitutive nothingness of creation that corrodes the good. Augustine the pastor and preacher avoids such abstractions. Instead, he appeals to the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith: a humble God who endured evil in order to overcome it. The point isn’t that God has a plan; the point is that God wins. We shall overcome because of what the Son has undergone in our stead.

This isn’t an answer to evil; it is a response. Hope is found not in intellectual mastery but in divine solidarity.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Theodicy, Theology

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Richard Swinburne’s new book ‘Are We Bodies or Souls?’

Richard Swinburne is a leading philosopher of religion who has played a major role in making a case for Christian belief. As well as writing academic books on the existence of God, the coherence theism, the atonement and the nature of faith and many other topics he has also written a number of more accessible popular books such Is There a God?, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, and Was Jesus God? A practising member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, he deserves to be hailed as one of the greatest living apologists for Christianity.

The soul has long been of interest to Swinburne. The Evolution of the Soul appeared in 1986 and recently he has written Mind, Brain and Free Will. This new book represents an attempt by Swinburne to present his views on the soul in a more accessible way. It is not always easy going but it is worth the careful attention it demands. Swinburne is a strong advocate of substance dualism, arguing that the soul can exist without the body but the body cannot exist without the soul, and he claims this point of view can appeal to atheists as well as to religious believers.

Discussing religious beliefs, he agrees that it is logically possible a soul could become attached to a new body as in re-incarnation but argues the evidence for this is not strong enough. He alludes to Christian and Islamic belief that souls continue after death and are joined to new or revived bodies but declines to discuss this.

What Swinburne does provide is a robust and slightly modified version of Descartes’ argument and a refutation of the idea that mental events are no more than events in the brain….

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Apologetics, Books, Theology

(CT Pastors) Screens Are Changing the Way We Read Scripture

In an article aptly titled “Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren’t the Same Thing,” PRI reports that the habit of superficial comprehension developed in digital reading transfers to all reading such that “the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards ‘non-linear’ reading—a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.” In reporting on another study published in 2017, Inside Higher Ed notes that “readers may not comprehend complex or lengthy material as well when they view it digitally as when they read it on paper.”

So what does this mean for Christians who are, increasingly, reading the Word on screens instead of on paper?

More than half of Bible users include some form of digital reading, searching, or listening in their Bible usage. A survey reported in a 2015 Journal of Religion article titled “E-Reading and the Christian Bible” finds that a majority of respondents (58%) cited ease and convenience as a major advantage of digital Bibles. Pastors must consider whether this characteristic is one they should tap into or disciple people away from. Many churches already provide physical Bibles during services, but a gentle nudge to use them instead of a Bible app, a page number to help them flip to the correct spot, and a few extra seconds before reading the passage aloud may be worth the slight inconvenience.

Many survey respondents complained that digital text tends to isolate verses apart from their immediate context as well as the Bible as a whole. These respondents noted that the physical layout of the biblical text is important for comprehension, memory, and “correct interpretation.”

Furthermore, despite findings that digital Bibles result in increased Bible reading by many users, challenges to memory and comprehension “persisted even when the frequency of reading actually increased.” As one survey participant reported, “I probably read the Bible more (more often) but possibly less deeply.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology: Scripture

(TGC) David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism

These passages suggest the need and appropriateness of evaluating eschatological teachings in terms of their practical effects. And it’s exceedingly hard to see how the biblical call to self-denial, godly living, and toilsome evangelism can flourish on the basis of a universalist theology. Who would need to work at being alert or prepared if final salvation for all were already known in advance? Earlier Christian universalists—including Origen himself—acknowledged the problem and suggested that universalism should be kept secret from the masses and disseminated among only a few mature believers. Hart doesn’t seem to admit there is any problem.

So even if universalism were biblically supported (as it is not), and even if sound theological or philosophical arguments made it believable (as they do not), then universalism could still not become the official, public teaching of the Christian church without undermining the church’s own moral, spiritual, and missional foundation. The one clear-cut historical case we have of a large-scale embrace of this doctrine—the Universalist Church, that was once the sixth-largest denomination in the United States—illustrates the point. This denomination declined in size and theologically devolved into a unitarian denial of Jesus’s divinity, and then merged with another declining religious body to become the UU—the Unitarian-Universalist Association, which eventually removed the word “God” from its doctrinal basis, so as not to offend the sincere agnostics who might want to belong. Those proposing universalist doctrine for the church today should be forewarned by this history. Imagine a farmer who seeks to rid his field of pests, and so sprays a chemical—reputedly a powerful and effective pesticide. Within weeks, the crops themselves are shriveling up. That’s universalism: in the name of updating and improving the church’s teaching, it kills the church itself along with its teaching.

Belief in universal salvation will, in all likelihood, remain in the future, as in the past, a private conviction nurtured among a deracinated intellectual elite, situated more on the fringes than in the center of the church’s life. The faithful en masse will not embrace this teaching. Jesus’s sheep know his voice, and a stranger’s voice they will not follow (John 10:5, 27). Universalism in the future, as in the past, will show itself as the self-negating, faith-undermining, church-neutering doctrine that it is. This theological species is heading toward extinction.

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Posted in Books, Eschatology

(Church Times) Christopher Irvine reviews Tom Clammer’s new book ‘Fight Valiantly: Evil and the devil in liturgy’

The book’s subtitle indicates more specifically the terrain that is being explored here: Evil and the devil in liturgy. But this is far from a book for liturgy geeks: its thorough analysis and conclusions would repay the attention of all engaged in preparing candidates for baptism and confirmation, and in ministry to the sick and to those who are overwhelmed with a sense of gnawing negativity.

Tom Clammer is to be congratulated on recasting thesis into a book that maintains scholarly rigour and yet is both readable and engaging. There are eight chapters divided into three parts. The first part lays the groundwork and methodology; the second deals with the scriptural and liturgical texts authorised by the Church of England for Christian initiation, healing, and wholeness, and deliverance. The third sets out extensive conclusions that marshal the deficiencies and inconsistencies in the way in which the Church of England presents its understanding of sin and evil in its historic formularies, and authorised worship texts and lectionary provision.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Theodicy

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Taking a New Look at the Book of Deuteronomy

Hence the program of Deuteronomy, which is fundamentally about the creation of a good society based on collective responsibility, or, as the opening phrase of the Preamble to the United States Constitution puts it, forming a group of “We, the people” under the sovereignty of God. The good society is the essential precondition of spiritual individuals, “since man, as is well known, is by nature social.”

Such a society is to be based on justice and tzedaka, meaning more than merely procedural justice, but in addition what we would call equity or fairness. Nor is that society to be based on abstract principles alone. Instead it is grounded in collective memory and active recall, in particular through celebrations at the Temple at various points of the year.

Underlying this thesis — that the life of faith requires a society dedicated to goodness as a whole — is the poignant story of Noah in the book of Genesis. Noah is the only person to be called righteous in the entire Hebrew Bible, but in the end Noah saved only his family, not his generation. He kept his own moral standards intact but failed to be an inspiration to others. Individual righteousness is not enough.

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Posted in Books, Judaism, Theology: Scripture

(CT) Oren Cass’s New Book–‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work

In The Once and Future Worker, Cass turns high ideals into concrete proposals to actually heal the fractures splintering the American workforce.

The most compelling is the “wage subsidy.” Rather than luring large corporations to town with big tax breaks (like the Amazon HQ2 hysteria of 2017) or levying payroll taxes on low-income workers and then redistributing the money through entitlements, why not “pay for jobs” directly? What if a worker saw a “Federal Work Bonus” on her next paycheck, adding three extra dollars for every hour she had worked?

Cass also advocates building an educational system better suited to the four-fifths of students who do not complete the high-school-to-college-to-career path. Around two-thirds of Americans don’t have a four-year college degree. To better ensure that more of them can get good jobs and contribute to their communities, Cass proposes reinvesting in vocational training and shifting toward a more “tracked” form of schooling—similar to systems found in Europe—where students are grouped according to educational ability rather than lumped together in the same classroom.

Yet there’s one area that government policy can’t do much about: our cultural views about the value of lower-wage workers.

“Waiters, truck drivers, retail clerks, plumbers, secretaries, and others all spend their days helping the people around them and fulfilling roles crucial to the community,” writes Cass. “They do hard, unglamorous work for limited pay to support themselves and their families.” Why shouldn’t we admire those who do harder jobs for lower wages on a broad scale? We’re capable of doing this with police officers, teachers, and firefighters. Why shouldn’t the work done by trash collectors, housekeepers, and janitors deserve the same degree of respect?

For that, we need not just policy reform but a different story about work altogether.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Local Paper) Charleston-area churches, bookstores could feel Trump tariffs and so-called ‘Bible tax’

Christian book publishers and some Charleston-area faith leaders fear that a proposed tariff on Chinese imports could lead to a shortage of Bibles in the United States.

Millions of Bibles are produced in China annually and a 25 percent tariff recently proposed by President Donald Trump would make it more expensive to print the religious text, according to Mark Schoenwald, CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. That cost increase likely would be passed on to consumers, who would pay more for the world’s best-selling book.

If the 25 percent increase is reflected in the sticker price, a Bible that costs $15 today would cost $18.50 after the tariff takes effect.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, America/U.S.A., Books, China, Economy, Foreign Relations, Politics in General

(Eerdmans Blog) 5 Questions with Ryan Stokes, author of ‘The Satan: How God’s Executioner Became the Enemy’

2. What do you hope readers take away from The Satan?

I hope that readers will gain an appreciation for the complexity of who Satan is in biblical and ancient literature. Satan is typically believed to be the Enemy. While this idea is certainly found in some ancient texts, there is far more to the story than this. In some writings, Satan is God’s enemy.

In others, Satan works for God. In some texts, Satan punishes sinners by harming them physically. In others, he tempts, tests, or otherwise attacks the righteous. While the Satan does not offer a biblical theology of Satan, I hope that it will both complicate and be of assistance to the work of theologians and other readers who want to know what the Bible says about Satan and about God’s relationship with superhuman evil.

3. What Challenges did you face in writing The Satan?

I am often asked this question by friends at church, who wonder whether I encountered any evil spiritual opposition while I was working on this book. I cannot say that I did. One unforeseen challenge, however, was identifying a person to whom to dedicate the book. Few people in my circle of acquaintances are eager to have a book on the Prince of Darkness dedicated to them.

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Posted in Books, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Prospect Magazine) The world’s top 50 thinkers 2019

Make up your own list and then read it all.

Posted in Books, Globalization

(Guardian) John Marsden on the ‘toxic’ parenting pandemic: ‘I’ve never seen this level of anxiety’

[John] Marsden says that this contemporary crop of teenagers is outperforming generations past in terms of academic achievement, political engagement and so on – but he is fearful about their emotional health, borne out by statistics on the prevalence of mental health issues among the young.

“The scale of the problem is massive. The issue of emotional damage is pandemic,” he tells the Guardian. “The level of anxiety is something I’ve never seen before, and I don’t know how it can be improved.”

Marsden says that much of the anxiety among parents and children springs from concern that the world is a dangerous place, with traditional “safe” authority figures no longer to be trusted. That, coupled with an infantilisation of children as pure, helpless creatures, leads parents to cosset and fret over their offspring, and demand much of the same from educational institutions.

“Part of that is a fear, in particular, of physical injury,” he says. “Of course, all reasonable parents are concerned about physical injury to a child, but if that overrides everything else then what you have instead is a kind of slow death by emotional damage which is so awful to witness.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Australia / NZ, Books, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology

(FT) An interview with Karen Armstrong: ‘We’re just not good at religion’

“I always say,” Karen Armstrong admits with a conspiratorial grin, “that God bought me that place.” She is referring to the north London house she paid for with the proceeds of her series of bestsellers on religion — and Islam in particular.

If there was one specific book that underpinned the foundations of her Islington home, it was her short history of Islam. Published in 2000, this was perfectly timed for the west’s agonising over religion and the potential for a clash of civilisations sparked by the September 11 attacks the following year.

“I never saw the inside of a library” after that, she tells me as we are steered to our table. Instead, she was on the radio nonstop, “talking about Islam ” — as indeed she has been virtually ever since. She sees it as a civic duty to defend the religion — against both the misconceptions of non-Muslims and against what she sees as the corrupting influence of certain strains of Islamic theology, notably Saudi Wahhabism.

It is, Armstrong says of the latter, “as if a tiny sect in the [American] Bible belt had petrodollars and international approval to export their form of Christianity over the rest of the world.”

Read it all(subscription).

Posted in Books, Globalization, Islam, Religion & Culture

(CHE) A Scholar of Proverbs Built a Vast Collection of Books. Then Opportunity Knocked.

Good artists copy; great artists steal. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin knew as much, because when he wrote his famous Poor Richard’s Almanack, he did not cite sources for the proverbs that peppered its pages.

To many, quippy sayings like “Time is money” are synonymous with the Founding Father. People think Franklin thought them up. But Wolfgang Mieder, one of the world’s leading proverb scholars, knows better.

Mieder and a colleague traced the saying to a short, anonymous text published in a London-based newspaper, Free Thinker, in 1719. In fact, many of the sayings commonly attributed to Franklin actually come from English proverb collections, said Mieder, a professor of German and folklore at the University of Vermont.

Tracking down the origins of proverbs is “detective work,” he says. “You kind of feel like you’re discovering things.” He has researched and written about cultural wisdoms for nearly five decades and, in the process, amassed a one-of-a-kind scholarly library. It includes about 9,000 books (including 252 that Mieder has written, co-authored, or edited) and 6,500 photocopied articles and dissertations, all about proverbs. He doubts anything like it exists, anywhere.

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Posted in Books, Education, History, Language

(CT) Celibate Gay Christians: Neither Shockingly Conservative nor Worryingly Liberal

Researchers Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaporozhets step bravely (foolishly?) into this battleground with their comprehensive study of people like me: Costly Obedience: What We Can Learn from the Celibate Gay Christian Community. It’s an important book with an academic feel that grows more pastoral as you read on. Yarhouse has written multiple volumes on LGBTQ experience based on careful research from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University in Virginia, where both of the authors teach. I wouldn’t agree with everything he’s ever written, but I thank God for the gracious tenor of his contributions.

This newest book is essentially a listening exercise, based on an in-depth survey of celibate gay Christians. You hear their stories of milestone events and experiences in church life and ministry—as well as research that maps their mental health outcomes and relational challenges. But they are not the only voices recorded: There’s also input from friends, along with some fascinating insights into the perspectives of some evangelical pastors. The authors helpfully add their own measured reflections.

Certain conversation topics could prove controversial. We hear differing thoughts, for instance, on such questions as the origins of same-sex attraction, the correct labels to use (is it “gay,” “same-sex attracted,” or something else?), the possibility of same-sex desires that aren’t wholly sinful, and the prospect of changing one’s sexual orientation. But one of the authors’ strongest points is the need to discuss these issues more carefully. They write, “Some church leaders and some celibate gay Christians seem to us, at times, to be describing two different things, rather than disagreeing on precisely the same thing.”

This appeal for a better conversation within evangelicalism couldn’t be timelier.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology

(NPR) Girls Captured By Boko Haram Brought Into Focus In ‘Beneath The Tamarind Tree’

The British Sierra Leonean journalist Isha Sesay led CNN’s Africa reporting for more than decade — covering stories ranging from the Arab Spring to the death of Nelson Mandela.

But now, in her first book, titled Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Sesay has a chance to explore, in depth, the story most important to her career and closest to her heart: the ISIS-affiliated terrorist group Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok.

Sesay broke the story and followed it for years, despite government obfuscation and waning international interest after a wave of social media activism (remember #BringBackOurGirls?). For two years, 219 of the girls remained in captivity and 112 are still imprisoned.

In Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Sesay combines the released Chibok girls’ stories with her own journalistic experiences to powerful effect.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Nigeria, Teens / Youth, Terrorism, Violence, Women

A Statement from InterVarsity Press on Counterfeiting Books

You may have seen the recent article in Christianity Today describing two of our books, Liturgy of the Ordinary and Delighting in the Trinity, which have been sold in counterfeit editions by re-sellers on Amazon.

As the article stated, in response to InterVarsity Press’s proactively filing a formal complaint through Amazon’s standard protocols and after Christianity Today had made contact with its media relations team, Amazon removed the re-sellers of the counterfeit editions from its store. We are grateful for Amazon’s response to our complaint and its expressed openness to hear directly from us if we encounter counterfeit editions in the future. We consider Amazon a valued trade partner and recognize the extraordinary place it occupies in the global supply chain for books.

We have recently invested in a new service which allows us to more closely monitor our data distribution and to routinely pull a report of who is controlling the Amazon buy button on each of our books.

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology

(CT) Amazon Sold $240K of ‘Liturgy of the Ordinary’ Fakes, Publisher Says

IVP estimates that at least 15,000 counterfeit copies of Liturgy of the Ordinary were sold on the site over the past nine months, their retail value totaling $240,000. That nearly cuts sales of Warren’s book in half; IVP reported 23,000 legitimate copies were sold over the past year. IVP also found evidence of counterfeiting on a smaller scale for one other title, Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity, which came out in 2002.

“I’ve been constantly thinking of the verse about, ‘Do not store up treasures where moths and rust can destroy, and where thieves can steal, but store up your treasures where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot steal’ (Matt. 6:19–20), and it’s really hard to process,” Warren told CT last week, a day after she learned about the scope of the fraud when IVP officials called her at her home in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a huge loss of money for my family. Percentagewise of what I make as a writer, it’s an enormous amount of that.”

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Books, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues

(CT) Bekah McNeel reviews Karen Gonzalez ‘s new book ‘The God Who Sees’

González herself is an immigrant, from Guatemala, and she calls on that personal testimony to give a firsthand account of the fears, insecurities, and elations of the immigration process. She recalls finding dead bodies on the walk home from school, feeling lost as a non-English speaker in her first US church, and the difficult decision to leave her family home to attend college after the death of her mother.

The biographical portions of González’s story are broken up into thematic chapters following the sacraments of the Catholic church, a faith expression to which she feels some affinity, though she herself is Protestant and her parents were only nominally Catholic at most. The approach is reminiscent of Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath, which does the same with Jewish traditions, pointing out their enduring relevance for Winner’s Christian faith.

Alongside her own story, González examines the lives of other “foreigners” in the Bible: Ruth, Abraham, Hagar, Joseph, the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24–30), and the Holy Family. She draws parallels between these vulnerable people and the asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants US residents encounter in their communities. In looking at these figures in light of their displaced situation, González reminds the reader that upheaval and vulnerability are common to the people of God, and they offer opportunities for God to demonstrate his nature, his concern for them.

It is Hagar, the despised servant of Sarai and mother of Ishmael, who calls Yahweh “El Roi,” or, “the God who sees.” Again and again in the book, we realize that being misunderstood and unknown is at the core of the immigrant experience, giving immigrants a special appreciation for what it means to be seen and known.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Immigration, Theology, Theology: Scripture

President Abraham Lincoln’s Bible Is Now On Display To The Public

‘The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library has a new addition: a Bible that was first gifted to the president back in 1864. Sandra Wolcott Willingham, whose relative was given the Bible after Lincoln’s funeral, decided it was time to share the treasure with the rest of America.’ Watch it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Office of the President, Theology: Scripture