Category : Books

(Guardian) Nathan Filer–Why what we think we know about schizophrenia is wrong

A mere nine years after I’d first sat in front of my computer to stare hopelessly at a blank page, my novel, The Shock of the Fall, was – by some miracle – finished. In that time, I’d left frontline nursing to work in mental health research at the University of Bristol. I’d also had a baby daughter, got married, and was wondering whether I should maybe try to write another book one day. Then the emails arrived.

They were from people I’d never met but who had read my fictional account of a young man living with “schizophrenia” and had taken the time to share their own stories. Many were upsetting, others hopeful. Rarely did they have the kind of neatly conceived beginning, middle and end that as a novelist I had the luxury to craft. A truth about the strange phenomenon we call mental illness is that it’s messy and chaotic; it can be extremely difficult to make sense of, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There’s a fragility to the mental health of everyone. It serves us all to be part of the conversation.

I realised I needed to think more about such concepts as stigma (and why anti-stigma campaigns may be missing the point); psychiatric diagnosis (and why the science behind this is deeply flawed); the causes of “mental illness” (and how sometimes what needs “fixing” mightn’t reside within the individual at all); delusions and hallucinations (and how these are a part of all of our lives, all of the time); and psychiatric medication (including cracks in the evidence behind current prescribing practices).

On my first day of work in a psychiatric hospital, I spent most of my time sitting in a dreary smoking room drinking tea with the “service users”. Someone took a long drag of their cigarette and told me that before they came on to the ward they hadn’t known such places really existed. I didn’t know what to say, which by chance meant I probably did the best thing. I listened. It’s not always possible to find the right words but we can walk with people for a bit, sit with them, hear them.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Health & Medicine, Psychology

(CT) An interview with James E. Beitler on his new book ‘Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church’

Few of us can escape the torrent of heated opinion and commentary on the world’s issues—in the news, on our social feeds, in our conversational circles. What do you see as an effective response from people of faith and the church at large?

One of the most important responses is opening up spaces for active listening. That’s something that I found C.S. Lewis did particularly well. Lewis had this posture of goodwill toward those around him—toward friends and students, but also toward people he didn’t agree with, including non-believers.

Also, we have too few spaces right now where dialogue across differing viewpoints can happen. Figures like Marilynne Robinson are incredibly useful in addressing this. Her stories are realistic about the difficulties of belonging, as they’re inhabited by people with very different beliefs. Yet she makes a welcoming space for readers. There’s an important moment in her novel Home when two characters, a father and son (Robert and Jack Boughton) who have a very tense relationship, are watching the news. Jack sees the violence happening in the South, and he exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” And his dad, who was a minister, reacts instead to Jack’s taking the Lord’s name in vain. On one hand, you have this figure who is very much concerned with social justice. On the other, you have someone very much concerned with truth and holiness.

It’s so valuable when the church has places where commitments both to truth and justice are radically affirmed. Robinson’s book points to an ideal of restoration, of harmony—what the biblical writers would call shalom.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Language, Religion & Culture

(CC) What book gives you a powerful glimpse of the Christian life? 10 writers respond.

We asked pastors and writers to tell us about a book that has helped them envision what it means to live the Christian life.

As a thought exercise see how many of the ten you can guess and then read it all.

Posted in Books, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Theology

(NYT BR) Joseph Ellis reviews Rick Atkinson’s new book on the American Revolution

My old mentor, Edmund Morgan, used to say that everything after 1800 is current events. According to Morgan’s Law, Rick Atkinson has been doing first-rate journalism, enjoying critical and commercial success for three masterly books on World War II, all thoroughly researched and splendidly written. To say that Atkinson can tell a story is like saying Sinatra can sing.

Now Atkinson has decided to move back in time past the Morgan Line, into that distant world where there are no witnesses to interview, no films of battles or photographs of the dead and dying. Visually, all we have are those paintings by John Trumbull, Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart, all of which are designed to memorialize iconic figures in patriotic scenes, where even dying men seem to be posing for posterity.

Undaunted, Atkinson makes his debut as a historian, determined to paint his own pictures with words. “The British Are Coming” is the first volume in a planned trilogy on the American Revolution that will match his Liberation Trilogy on World War II. It covers all the major battles and skirmishes from the spring of 1775 to the winter of 1776-77. There are 564 pages of text, 135 pages of endnotes, a 42-page bibliography and 24 full-page maps. Lurking behind all the assembled evidence, which Atkinson has somehow managed to read and digest in a remarkably short period of time, is a novelistic imagination that verges on the cinematic. Historians of the American Revolution take note. Atkinson is coming.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, England / UK, History, Military / Armed Forces

(1st Things) Chris Arnade–Back Row America

first walked into the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx because I had been told not to. I had been told it was too dangerous and too poor, and that I was too white. I had been told that “nobody goes there for anything but drugs and prostitutes.” The people telling me this were my colleagues (other bankers), my neighbors (other wealthy Brooklynites), and my friends (other academics). All, like me, successful, well-educated people who had opinions on the Bronx but had never been there.

It was 2011, and I was in my eighteenth year as a Wall Street bond trader. I spent my work days sitting behind a wall of computers, gambling on flashing numbers, on a downtown Manhattan trading floor filled with hundreds of other people who did exactly the same thing. My home life was spent in a large Brooklyn apartment, in a neighborhood filled with other successful people.

I wasn’t in the mood to listen to anyone, especially other bankers, other academics, and the educated experts who were my neighbors. I hadn’t been for a few years. In 2008, the financial crisis had consumed the country and my life, sending Citibank, the company I worked for, into a tailspin stopped only by a government bailout. I had just seen where hubris—my own included—had taken us, and what it had cost the country. Not that it had actually cost us bankers, or my neighbors, much of anything.

I was in the habit of taking walks, sometimes as long as fifteen miles, to explore and reduce stress, but now my walks began to evolve. Rather than setting out with some plan to walk the entire length of Broadway, or along the length of a subway line, I started walking the less-seen parts of New York City. Along the way, I talked to anyone who talked to me. I used my camera to take portraits of people I met.

What I started seeing and learning was just how cloistered and privileged my world was—and how narrow and selfish I was. Like most successful and well-educated people, especially in New York City, I considered myself open-minded, considerate, and reflective about my privilege. I read three ­papers daily, I watched documentaries on our social problems, and I voted for and supported policies that I felt recognized and addressed my privilege. I gave money and time to charities that focused on ­poverty and injustice. I understood that I was ­selfish, but I rationalized. Aren’t we all selfish? ­Besides, I am far less selfish than others. Look at how I vote (­progressive), what I believe in (equality), and who my colleagues are (people of all races from all ­places).

When I first came to Hunts Point, I was determined to be respectful. I knew that HBO had done an early and salacious documentary called Hookers at the Point. Other documentaries had likewise focused on the drugs and the sex work, not on the lived realities of the majority of the residents. So I spent most of my time talking to and photographing the bike clubs, the pigeon keepers, the graffiti artists, and the workers from the nonprofits. My focus changed during a rare, quiet moment in the industrial part of Hunts Point on a Sunday afternoon. The truck traffic was light and most of the shops were closed. Takeesha was standing alone by a trickling fire hydrant, washing her face. She was working, wearing thigh-high faux-leather red boots and leopard-print tights, waving at every car or truck that passed by. She yelled to me, “Hey, take my picture!” When I asked why, she said, “Because I am a sexy, ­beautiful ­prostitute.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Poverty, Religion & Culture

Gregory Soderberg reviews John Tyson’s new book “The Great Athanasius: An Introduction to His Life and Work”

Why read Athanasius? Besides his importance for our understanding of the Christian faith, his life reads like a thriller at times, full of intrigue, last-minute escapes, and determination to follow the truth, no matter the cost. Furthermore, Athanasius (who was called the “black dwarf”) reminds us of the eminent role Africa has played in Christian history. In How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, the late Thomas Oden argued that we need to rediscover the early African church, for our sake, and for Africa’s sake. In a time of increasing racial and national tension, we need to remember the foundational contributions of early African Christians like Athanasius.

Beyond the reasons offered here, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful introduction to an earlier edition of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, which has become a classic essay in itself. In the essay, C.S. Lewis defends the “reading of old books” in a masterful way, the old book in this case being Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. We often forget that masters of writing like Lewis and Tolkien were themselves inspired by the great spiritual masters of the past, like the “Great Athanasius.” The church today desperately needs to remember its past, so that we may not lose our way in the future.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Church History

(WSJ) Philip Delves Broughton–‘Late Bloomers’ Review: Please Don’t Rush Me

Mr. [Rich] Karlgaard, a former publisher of Forbes magazine, has plenty of vivid anecdotes to make his case for late bloomers. Janet Evanovich discovered writing in her 30s, then spent the next 10 years piling up rejection slips. In her 40s, she spent two years drinking beer with “law enforcement types, learning to shoot, and practicing cussing.” The result was her best-selling series of Stephanie Plum novels. Raymond Chandler published his first book, “The Big Sleep,” when he was 51.

Bill Walsh, the great coach of the San Francisco 49ers, got his first NFL head coaching job when he was 46 and won his first Super Bowl at 50. He was famously twitchy, self-deprecating and eager to learn, and had this to say about confidence: “In my whole career I’ve been passing men with greater bravado and confidence. Confidence gets you off to a fast start. Confidence gets you that first job and maybe the next two promotions. But confidence stops you from learning. Confidence becomes a caricature after a while. I can’t tell you how many confident blowhards I’ve seen in my coaching career who never got better after the age of forty.”

Late bloomers, Mr. Karlgaard argues, are not just people of great talent who develop later in their lives. They also possess qualities that can only be acquired through time and experience. They tend to be more curious, compassionate, resilient and wise than younger people of equal talent. This may be true, Mr. Karlgaard notes, of older people generally, who are being flushed out of the workforce much too early.

But Mr. Karlgaard is up against some intimidating statistics….

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Middle Age

Samuel Zwemer–‘If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything –the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery’

“But Christian messengers of the good news cannot be silent about the cross. Here is the testimony of the American missionary Samuel M. Zwemer (1867–1952), who laboured in Arabia, edited The Muslim World for forty years, and is sometimes called ‘The Apostle to Islam’: The missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling- block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on this mystery of redemption, and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission…. If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything –the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery. One comes to realize that literally all the wealth and glory of the gospel centres here. The Cross is the pivot as well as the centre of New Testament thought. It is the exclusive mark of the Christian faith, the symbol of Christianity and its cynosure. The more unbelievers deny its crucial character, the more do believers find in it the key to the mysteries of sin and suffering. We rediscover the apostolic emphasis on the Cross when we read the gospel with Moslems. We find that, although the offence of the Cross remains, its magnetic power is irresistible.”

–John R W Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downer’s Grove, InterVaristy Press, 2006), page 41

Posted in Atonement, Books, Christology, Evangelicals, Holy Week

(NPR) Little-Remembered Religious Preachers Get Their Due In Adam Morris’ new book ‘American Messiahs’

There was the preacher who told his followers he could teach them to defy gravity. And another who insisted the sun is actually at the center of the earth. Then there was the Quaker who became delirious, died, and then was said to have come back to life as the reincarnated Jesus Christ.

It is little wonder that the succession of messianic prophets who emerged over the first two centuries of U.S. history have not been taken seriously. Jim Jones gained notoriety only by overseeing the massacre of 900 of his followers. The Shakers are famous mostly for their furniture. Who knows of George Baker, Cyrus Teed, or Jemima Wilkinson? The characters that come to life in American Messiahs, as author Adam Morris writes, have appeared “irrelevant to American historians, aberrant to contemporary evangelicals, and abhorrent to the average consumerist.”

Morris is wise to give these forgotten messiahs the attention they deserve. Bizarre as they were, many were stunningly successful, leading movements that flourished over many years, due in good part to their success at identifying sources of social distress in the country and offering responses that actually made sense to people.

The evolution of American politics and American religion is “a single intertwined history,” as Morris writes. Protestantism in particular, from the Puritans to the evangelicals, emphasized individual responsibility and celebrated financial success, providing thereby a moral foundation for capitalism. Those Americans who felt marginalized and powerless, meanwhile, were drawn to more eccentric religious teachings, ones that spoke to their alienation and sense of vulnerability.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) Peter Hitchens–Reefer Sadness

The smoking of marijuana, with its careful preparation of the elements and the solemn passing around of the shared joint, was the unholy communion of the counterculture in the late 1960s, when our present elite formed its opinions. Many of them allowed their children to follow their bad examples, and resent that this exposes their young to a (tiny) risk of persecution and career damage. As a result, those who still disapprove of marijuana are much disliked. The book I wrote on the subject six years ago, The War We Never Fought, received a chilly reception and remains so obscure that I don’t think Alex ­Berenson, whose book has received much friendlier coverage, even knows it exists. As a writer who naturally covets readers and sales, I find this mildly infuriating.

But let me say through clenched teeth that it is of course very good news that a fashionable young metropolitan person such as Mr. ­Berenson is at last prepared to say openly that marijuana is a dangerous drug whose use should be severely discouraged. For, as ­Berenson candidly admits, he was until recently one of the great complacent mass of bourgeois bohemians who are pretty relaxed about it. He confesses in the most important passage in the book that he once believed what most of such people believed. He encapsulates this near-universal fantasy thus:

Marijuana is safe. Way safer than alcohol. Barack Obama smoked it. Bill Clinton smoked it too, even if he didn’t inhale. Might as well say it causes presidencies. I’ve smoked it myself, I liked it fine. Maybe I got a little paranoid, but it didn’t last. Nobody ever died from smoking too much pot.

These words are a more or less perfect summary of the lazy, ignorant, self-serving beliefs of highly educated, rather stupid middle-class metropolitans all over the Western world in such places as, let’s just say for example, the editorial offices of the New York Times. Thirty years from now (when it’s too late), they will look as crass and irresponsible as those magazine advertisements from the 1950s in which pink-faced doctors wearing white coats recommended certain brands of cigarettes. But just now, we are in that foggy zone of consciousness where the truth is known to almost nobody except those with a certain kind of direct experience, and can be ignored by everyone else.

One of the experienced ones, thank heaven, is Alex ­Berenson’s wife Jacqueline. She is a psychiatrist who specializes in evaluating mentally ill criminals. One evening, the Berensons were discussing one of her cases, a patient who had committed a terrible, violent act. Casually, Jacqueline remarked, “Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life.” Alex doubtfully interjected, “Of course?,” and she replied, “Yeah, they all smoke.” (She didn’t mean tobacco.) And she is right. They all do. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to know this. You just have to be able to do simple Internet searches.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Books, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine

(WSJ) Blaire French–Putting ‘Soul’ Back in the Hebrew Bible

Berkeley scholar Robert Alter, in his new translation of the Hebrew Bible, has made a decisive statement against soul. Nowhere in the text does he render nefesh as soul—because he believes it would import Christian beliefs into the Hebrew text. Mr. Alter’s Psalmist declares, “The Lord is my shepherd. . . . My life He brings back.”

In the attempt to de-Christianize the nefesh, however, Mr. Alter and others create a metaphysical gulf between the Hebrew Bible and traditional English translations. Nefesh has a range of meanings—many of which indicate that it is indeed intrinsic to corporeal existence. Animals and humans, at the moment of their creation, are called a “living nefesh” in the book of Genesis. In Numbers, a “dead nefesh” is a corpse. The word is also found in Sheol, the shadowy underworld populated by the deceased described in Psalms 49 and 88. This raises the specter of a nefesh unbound by flesh.

Then there is the prophet Elijah. When calling on God to bring a child back to life, he requests the return of the boy’s nefesh. It re-enters the child and he revives (1 Kings 17:21-22). However the verse is parsed, the nefesh exists apart from the body.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Language, Theology: Scripture

(Sightings) Martin Marty–Who’s Running the Show?

Mark Wild, a historian at California State University, Los Angeles, impressively chronicles and ponders features of the most recently displaced of these in his book Renewal: Liberal Protestants and The American City After World War II. Wild does not focus on, for instance, non-liberal Protestants beyond the cities (e.g., Evangelicals), yet his approach reflects the aura and energies of “public religion” in his chosen period.

Ever since Wild’s “liberal Protestants” began to be seen as less wise and less hopeful than before—in the 1960s and 1970s—there have been debates as to who is now running the show. Though “Mainline Protestantism” had previously won out, its grip on American culture increasingly weakened. One chapter in Wild’s book signals “Boom and Bust” for it, and the signs of this are manifold in the dwindling statistics of its denominations and their perennial controversies. For example, the flagship mainline Protestant denomination, United Methodism, is fracturing before our eyes to such a degree that no one could realistically expect it to any longer “run the show.” My own book-length attempt at measuring these trends, written during the period Wild treats, concentrated on the moment when “Religion in General” prospered and held sway in the shadow of Robert Bellah’s “Civil Religion.” Since then, the label “mainline Protestantism” has gained dominance for describing this group of showrunners. Meanwhile, Whitehead’s “wise men” had their boom in post-war Catholicism, especially following the Second Vatican Council, but now they are also experiencing something of a bust, or at least a semi-bust, due in no small part to the sexual abuse scandal among its priests. Next came the new “Evangelicals,” who aspired to run the show but now suffer from scandals of their own making (e.g., their boom-seeking fiscal aspirations, their all-too-familiar celebrity-seeking overreach, and their own recurring financial and sexual scandals).

Mark Wild’s noteworthy Renewal deserves attention on its own, especially as it throws light on how liberal Protestantism held sway over the “climate of opinion” and then lost it. It serves as a case study in the rise, dominance, and fall of America’s “showrunners.” Renewal is a disciplined, well-researched essay, with footnotes that offer information, inspiration, and calls for further research and study (e.g., Wild urges us to think about the implications of his study beyond “The American City” after World War II). I can think of few better reckonings with the liberal Protestant efforts to invent new ministries and even new theologies to help “wise” leaders not only cope with the challenges of the times but perhaps even to thrive. Read Wild if you are ready to review and ponder the standard narrative of mainline Protestantism and the postwar “Religious Revival.” He also gifts us with a bonus chapter on advances and experiments in African American churches, though he perhaps devotes too few pages to the role of women in “Renewalist” ministries. Expect criticism of such limiting elements, but also know that Wild-like efforts will follow that devote more space to women leaders who were pioneers in the past and who continue to set some of the cultural terms today and in the years to come.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Church History, Religion & Culture

Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945): I

This is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without contrition. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

Saturday Food for Thought from Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison

It was [Samuel] Coleridge who acutely observed: “Socinianism is as inevitable a deduction from [Jeremy] Taylor’s scheme as Deism and Atheism are from Socinianism.” This remark not only exposes the fatal flaw in Taylor’s own theology but also sums up the trend from orthodoxy in the early Caroline period to a moralism and deism in the eighteenth century and on to the secularism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

–C. FitzSimons Allison, The rise of moralism: the proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (New York: Seabury Press, 1966)

Posted in Books, Church History, Soteriology

(CT) Has Academic Theology Lost Its Way?

Something is rotten in the state of academic theology.

That, at least, is the bold claim that Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun advance in their compelling new book, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference. Volf and Croasmun fear that academic theology has lost its way, in part by positioning itself in opposition or even hostility to the church and its ordinary believers. Rigorous research and scholarly writing may not lead inevitably toward an unhealthy detachment, but the reality of that detachment both from church life and the most fundamental questions of human existence is all too common. As a result, regular churchgoers have grown skeptical of academic theology, and non-Christians simply dismiss it as a relic of the past with no legitimate space in the public square. Theology, the authors argue, used to be about the “Big Questions,” but now it contents itself pursuing in-house debates about obscure historical figures and formulations, all while neglecting to make connections with contemporary audiences.

While Volf and Croasmun are certainly not the first to worry that the discipline of theology has moved much closer to the margins over the last century, they describe the situation with new urgency. Academic theology, they argue, has been too willing to seek legitimacy by operating within the “great edifice of science,” which entails submitting to a foreign set of expectations and methodologies. Because of this surrender, they fear it will lose the very thing that makes it unique and meaningful: its capacity to point to the living triune God and articulate the kind of life we should live in response to his revelation.

The authors argue that theology, rather than playing by a set of imposed rules from the outside, should instead stand on its own two feet, confident that it has answers to life’s most pressing questions. The purpose of theology, they argue, is “to discern, articulate, and commend visions and paths to flourishing life in light of the self-revelation of God in the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and coming in glory of Jesus Christ, with this entire story, its lows and its highs, bearing witness to a truly flourishing life.” There is plenty of talk about human “flourishing” these days, but Volf and Croasmun offer something better than generic self-help schemes, pointing instead toward a distinctly Christ-centered vision.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Theology

(History) Why the King James Bible of 1604 Remains the Most Popular Translation in History

In 1604, England’s King James I authorized a new translation of the Bible aimed at settling some thorny religious differences in his kingdom—and solidifying his own power.

But in seeking to prove his own supremacy, King James ended up democratizing the Bible instead. Thanks to emerging printing technology, the new translation brought the Bible out of the church’s sole control and directly into the hands of more people than ever before, including the Protestant reformers who settled England’s North American colonies in the 17th century.

Emerging at a high point in the English Renaissance, the King James Bible held its own among some of the most celebrated literary works in the English language (think William Shakespeare). Its majestic cadences would inspire generations of artists, poets, musicians and political leaders, while many of its specific phrases worked their way into the fabric of the language itself.

Even now, more than four centuries after its publication, the King James Bible (a.k.a. the King James Version, or simply the Authorized Version) remains the most famous Bible translation in history—and one of the most printed books ever.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Religion & Culture

Food for Thought from Frederick Buechner

The grace of God means something like this. Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

–Frederick Buechner–Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), p. 39


Posted in Books, Theology

(NPR) For Priest Turned Professor Barbara Brown Taylor, ‘Holy Envy’ Is Key To Appreciating World Religions

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Religion & Culture

Alistair Roberts–A Transcript from a podcast Review of Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott, ‘The Theology of Jonathan Edwards’

Next to Augustine and a figure like Von Balthasar, Edwards is one of the Christian theologians who has given the closest attention to the subject of beauty within theology. And for this reason alone, he merits deep engagement. And I think people will find this particular aspect of the work very thought-provoking in a number of areas. I will be taking some of Edwards’ insights about beauty and thinking, and reflecting upon them, and seeking to integrate them into my own thinking.

His understanding of typology is also closely related to this. Reality is typological. It is something about the very nature of reality: I will maybe make a few comments about that later on. That gives him a very typological reading of Scripture, but also of the wider world. His theology is very God-centred, but not just in a narrow way that is focused upon divine sovereignty. It is focused upon God’s beauty, upon God’s ordering of his creation, upon God’s presence—all these sorts of themes—not just narrowly upon divine sovereignty, which it can be within certain Reformed contexts.

His understanding of God is also very important, his focus upon the fact that God is Trinity; his understanding of the Trinity is one that might unsettle people in various ways. At certain points, it would seem to raise questions about its orthodoxy relative to the tradition. It is argued that he challenges things like divine simplicity: ‘[He] departed from the Western Trinitarian tradition by rejecting its emphasis on divine simplicity, which was one of the ways in which Augustine and his successors guarded the faith against recurring Arianism [197].’

He takes the psychological analogy for the Trinity, but then holds it alongside a social analogy, to which he gives slightly more weight. He also believes that we can reason through the Trinity, which is a striking and quite controversial statement.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Church History, History, Theology

Food for Thought from Lewis Smedes in Lent

What we are is a set of walking contradictions: our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where our dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places. . . . We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins.

–Lewis Smedes, Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve (New York: HarperOne, 2009 ed. of 1993 original), p. 116

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Lent, Theology

(Eerdword) Meet This Book: Brian S. Powers’ Full Darkness

The combat trauma that damages veterans today in both profound and subtle ways is complex and multi-faceted, encompassing both physiological and psychological elements.

What researchers are discovering is that while what is commonly termed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is predominantly physiological, the moral or psychological component of trauma can be far more insidious and damaging to one’s capacity to live a life of promise or hope.

“Moral Injury” is the term now associated with this psychological condition, often exhibited as feelings of moral ambiguity, guilt, or shame upon return from conflict. It is thankfully being examined with an interdisciplinary focus by a myriad of different medical researchers and scholars.

What is apparent to me, however, as a veteran, a theologian, and an ordained Presbyterian minister, is that while our scientific analyses of this problem are spectacularly helpful, they also struggle to speak a language of “guilt” and “shame,” and seem to stumble when addressing the core questions of what to do about moral pain and anguish.

Full Darkness is an attempt to talk about the problem of moral injury theologically, as the vocabulary of Christianity and the church is rich with images of sin and redemption, of moral failure and the resulting precariousness of the human condition.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Military / Armed Forces, Psychology, Theology

(WSJ) John Miller–Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Daily Treasure’

But Lincoln certainly read the Bible and read it well. Lots of eyewitness accounts say so. More important, his rhetoric often drew from it in both obvious and subtle ways. One of his best-known lines—“a house divided against itself cannot stand”—is a plain reference to Mark 3:25 and Matthew 12:25. The famous opening words of the Gettysburg Address—“Four score and seven years ago”—echo Psalm 90:10. To explain the connection between the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the framework of the Constitution, Lincoln turned to Proverbs 25:11: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” He meant that the purpose of the Constitution is to preserve the ideas in the Declaration.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address bursts with biblical quotes and allusions. “It sounded more like a sermon than a state paper,” wrote Frederick Douglass, who attended the 1865 speech. One of its lines, from the Gospel of Matthew, also shows up in “The Believer’s Daily Treasure” as the entry for May 13: “Let us judge not that we not be judged.”

Every biography involves acts of judgment, and Lincoln scholars have taken various stances on Lincoln’s faith, from claims that he was a lifelong skeptic who hid his unbelief to the more conventional view that his Christian convictions grew over time. Whatever the truth, there’s a good chance that Lincoln once read what a little devotional book offered for April 14, a simple admonition from John 5:39: “Search the Scriptures.”

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Posted in Books, History, Office of the President, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

(CC) Peter Boumgarden–Christian humanism in a technocratic world: Alan Jacobs’s biography of T.S. Eliot, Simone Weil, W.H. Auden, Jacques Maritain, and C.S. Lewis

What unites these thinkers is a burning desire to build an alternative to the demonic powers made manifest within the war and to house that vision within the university. The protagonists of 1943 worried that a technocratic ideology fails to see individuals as moral persons whose vocation extends far beyond that of a citizen or worker. In his Terry Lectures, Maritain offered one of the most direct explanations of the alternative model, arguing that “the prime goal of education is the conquest of internal and spiritual freedom to be achieved by the individual person, or, in other words, his liberation through knowledge and wisdom, goodwill, and love.”

For these individuals, even the secular humanist project had its problems. Though also suspicious of technocracy, secular humanism too easily elevated the human to an almost cult-like status. A Christian humanism must decenter this anthropocentric model with an equally deep understanding of human evil.

Jacobs’s narrative is not one of social change. However ambitious, each of these reformers moved away from institutional reform. Lewis, after a time, migrated into fiction. Auden and Eliot renewed their focus on poetry. Only Maritain ended the war in something close to a political posture, working to build his personalist views into laws and institutions. Jacobs concludes:

Their diagnostic powers were great indeed: they saw with uncanny clarity and exposed with incisive intelligence the means by which technocracy has arisen and the damage it had inflicted and would continue to inflict, on human persons. Few subsequent critiques of “the technological society” rival theirs in imagination or moral seriousness. But their prescriptions were never implemented, and could never have been: they came perhaps a century too late, after the reign of technocracy had become so complete that none can force the end of it while this world lasts.

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Posted in Books, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

A TLC article on Jane Williams’s latest book, The Merciful Humility of God–God and the Lived Reality of Humility

“One of my big obsessions is that we shape our characters and our lives day by day in our regular choices and decisions. … I am who I am because of the life I’ve lived, the decisions we’ve made, some of which are not under our control but some of which are. The questions: What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of world to you want to live in? They’re not questions we can just sit around and hope something can happen.”

She pointed to two particular moments in her life when she felt presented with a clear choice to act on the basis of her faith. “In my early teens, I was mildly anorexic. It was a sort of real encounter with the incarnation that made a significant difference. God likes bodies. God does not think that bodies are unreal, unimportant; and there’s no way of encountering God outside of our bodies, our embodied selves. So with that sense of alienation from my bodily self, which I think is a part of anorexia, doctrine was an actual turning point.”

Williams alluded as well to the decision to lead a life of understanding amid the difficulties of the Anglican Communion: “At a point of life where my husband was undergoing some trials, I remember feeling a choice. There were one or two people in groups who were making our lives harder — that’s not what they were trying to do — and I remember in a prayer session feeling that I was almost offered this choice: You can go down the route of hating and obsessing about what they’re doing wrong, and that will affect you, that will shape you; or you can choose to try and see what they feel they’re defending. … And that will also shape you. And the simple question is: Who do you want to be? It’s very uncomfortable. It’s not nice and it spills out into other things that are not part of the same problem. I thought: I’m going to try to choose to see these people as God sees them. … It was a choice that was entirely in my hands. I think a lot of us have those choices.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

(Irish Times) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff: Data disaster

In two important and deeply personal books, Harvard Business School emeritus professor Shoshana Zuboff and Russian-born American journalist Yasha Levine reveal that such surveillance, by the corporate world and the state, is not a dirty exception but the rule; not a malfunction or mistake, but the norm. These surveillers are intrinsically and historically linked.

Zuboff’s massive The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (at 700-plus pages) will surely become a pivotal work in defining, understanding and exposing this surreptitious exploitation of our data and, increasingly, our free will.

Even “data”, as a term, erases the fact that it comprises the very essence of us – our likes and dislikes, our physical and emotional attributes, our social connections, our physical environment, the patterns of our daily lives. It is us, packaged and sold on for further exploitation.

“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data”, which then is utilised to produce “surveillance revenue”, Zuboff writes.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Science & Technology

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews The Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology edited by Paul Avis

Over against the argument of such people as Michael Ramsey that Anglicans have no special beliefs of their own but simply adhere to the faith of the universal church without some of the additions made by Roman Catholics, [Paul] Avis sides with Stephen Sykes in arguing that there is such a thing as Anglicanism and he makes a good case for this in his contribution to this volume.

Another Anglican ecclesiologist who figures in this book is Rowan Williams. Williams is a unique figure, one of the greatest theologians of his generation who has also held the highest office in the Church of England. Mike Higton, who has written an excellent study of Williams’ theology, gives an insightful overview of Williams’ ecclesiology. He discusses the criticism that Williams put unity before truth in his time as Archbishop and quotes him arguing that ‘unity is what enables us to discover truth within the body of Christ, not simply truth according to my own preferences, my own intelligence, my own resources, but in the richness of understanding that is shared in the body’.

A wide range of topics is covered and it is impossible to do justice to every contribution. Asian and African ecclesiologies are discussed as well as liberation ecclesiologies in Latin America and feminist critiques. The views of a range of theologians are considered. One of the most important is Yves Congar, a major influence on Vatican II. Gabriel Flynn contributes excellent chapters on him and on Henri du Lubac.

Congar is one of those theologians whose reputation has continued to grow since his death. He is probably more appreciated in the Catholic Church of Pope Francis than he was under the two previous Popes. In particular his principles for true reform in the church are receiving renewed attention. An English translation finally appeared in 2011.

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Posted in Books, Ecclesiology

(CT) Christopher Benson reviews Rowan Williams’ “Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons:” What Humans Have That Machines Don’t

In Being Human, the Anglican theologian Rowan Williams awakens us to the dead metaphor of the human machine, which has become so familiar that we seldom recognize it as a metaphor, let alone one that truncates the mystery and complexity of our existence. His book is the latest contribution in “a sort of unintended trilogy” that includes Being Christian (2014) and Being Disciples (2016). Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks clearly and calmly into the “contemporary confusion” about our humanity because he follows the perfect model of being fully human: Jesus Christ. Consisting of addresses given between 2009 and 2015, the first three chapters concern human nature as it relates to consciousness, personhood, and mind-body relations, while the last two chapters concern human flourishing as it relates to faith and silence.

Like C. S. Lewis before him, Williams understands that human beings are set apart from animals because of personhood—a nature shared with our three-personal God. Machines, however sophisticated, lack this nature; therefore, we should resist comparing humans to them. If personhood depended upon “a set of facts,” we might tick various boxes to judge whether a human being deserves respect, thus endangering “those not yet born, those severely disabled, those dying, those in various ways marginal and forgotten.” Williams persuasively argues that we ascribe dignity to humans—regardless of “how many boxes are ticked”—because every person stands “in the middle of a network of relations” that confers meaning and worth. God himself belongs to a network of relations that Christians name the Trinity.

Not only does the community of the Godhead precede the community of humans, but the latter is coupled to the former, making atomized existence a delusion. As the metaphysical poet John Donne famously penned, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” What else could this continent be other than God? God, we could say, reclaims the oceans that man invents to separate himself from his Creator and neighbor. “Before anything or anyone is in relation with anything or anyone else,” Williams writes, “it’s in relation to God … the deeper I go into the attempt to understand myself, who and what I am, the more I find that I am already grasped, addressed, engaged with. I can’t dig deep enough in myself to find an abstract self that’s completely divorced from relationship. So, for St. Augustine and the Christian tradition, before anything else happens I am in relation to a non-worldly, non-historical everlasting attention and love, which is God.”

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Posted in Apologetics, Books, Theology

(Sightings) Martin Marty–Religion in the Years Ahead

A virtual throwaway line in a recent book review in the New York Review of Books caught my attention and prompted some early-in-the-year reflections on “the times.” Stephen Holmes, in a review of two sage and sane accounts by veterans Francis Fukuyama (Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment) and Kwame Anthony Appiah (The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity: Creed, Country, Class, Culture), comments that Fukuyama “explains why liberal democracy has ceased to impress much of the world as the ideal form of political and social organization.” More Holmes: “What [Fukuyama] could not have foreseen [when he wrote an earlier book in 1992] was that the high tide of liberal democracy would last a mere fifteen years. ‘Beginning in the mid-2000s, the momentum toward an increasingly open liberal world order began to falter, then went into reverse.’” Fukuyama concludes in his new book that identity politics has supplanted it. Appiah, meanwhile, wants us to understand religious, national, and cultural identities as “labels.” In his view, they are not accurate representations but rather “coordinating devices or ‘ways of grouping people’” for a variety of purposes, and also “for good or ill.” It strikes me that our bookshelves are stacked with references to “coordinating devices” which were intended to help readers navigate their way in unsettled and unsettling times.

Familiar with the work of both authors, and moved by discernments in the Holmes review, I have spent these first days of the new year reflecting on what it means, or might mean, that the liberal world order vanished within fifteen years of Fukuyama’s depiction of liberal democracy “as the default form of government for much of the world” in his 1992 book. To review some ways in which it appeared to scholars in my field—religious history, sociology, and practical theology—I pulled down and reread two books from the lost world of 1969. We’ll open them in a moment. But first: crucial for all fair and honest appraisals or bad guesses about future cultural climates is a famed word by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, written as he reflected back on America’s founding. Whitehead argued that the founders’ thinking, acting, and writing were characteristic of an era in which “wise men hoped, and that as yet no circumstances had arisen to throw doubt upon the grounds of such hope.” The Civil War was a decisive moment in American history in this regard, but it was only one of many “circumstances” which re-set the stage for American dreaming. While values and virtues from the founding period would live on, the changes after that period were profound.

Sightings columns don’t typically allow for the kind of elaboration that many of us as scholars prefer, so please forgive me for the way I’m perhaps teasing this subject instead of offering a comprehensive treatment of it. But it strikes me that in 1969, a high year in the “old world order,” two Chicagoans published books on the subject of religion in the future. One was Andrew M. Greeley’s Religion in the Year 2000, and the other was the young scholar Martin E. Marty’s The Search for a Usable Future. Both authors were ordained clergy, both University of Chicago PhDs, both lived for some time in the same high-rise condo building, both born in 1928. I was technically twenty minutes older than Father Greeley, but I was admittedly less productive than the famed priest, in no small part because he had priestly celibacy while I was preoccupied with family life. My book pondering a “usable future”—honestly, less usable for this column’s purposes—was devoted to life amid paradoxical claims, less predictive about specific futures and more about “how to live” in the face of a variety of options for the future. I cited Martin Luther’s putative observation that “God rides the lame horse; he carves rotten wood.” The “Usable” in the title is of the “no matter what unfolds” sort.

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Posted in Books, Religion & Culture

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Melani McAlister’s new book: ‘The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals’

According to The Christian Century this study of how American evangelicals have engaged with the wider world was OUP’s best-selling religious book in the US in 2018. There have been numerous studies of evangelicalism within America but this is the first I know to look at how evangelicals have engaged with other cultures. It has important lessons for anyone interested in the mission of the church.

Melani McAlister describes herself as ‘secular’ but although she makes some sharp criticisms she does try to understand the people she writes about and present them fairly. Her story begins with racism in America in the 1950s and 1960s and ends with a group of InterVarsity students spending five weeks in Cairo trying to help Sudanese refugees. The evangelical community McAlister describes is diverse. Many evangelicals voted for Trump but others are struggling with issues of race, cultural imperialism and global poverty.

McAlister devotes chapters to important developments in evangelical engagement with the world: post-colonial turmoil in the Congo, relations with communism, pre-millennialism and support for Israel, the debates at Lausanne, apartheid, war in the Sudan, the growth of evangelical NGOs, the response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, short-term missionaries, relations with Islam and the war in Iraq are all discussed. The importance of people from outside the US such as John Stott and Michael Cassidy is recognised and there are interesting comments on the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

Read it all (may require subscription).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Evangelicals, Globalization, Religion & Culture

(NPR) ‘Muhammad: Forty Introductions’ Isn’t Setting Out To Satisfy

Michael Muhammad Knight’s Muhammad: Forty Introductions asks two questions at the same time — or asks the same two questions 40 times.

One is explicit: How should we think about the prophet Muhammad? The other is implicit, but barely. How, Knight asks in each chapter, should I write an introduction? Or how do I decide where to start? How do I decide who to be?

That question is key to Knight’s work. A convert to Islam, he has long written from — and for — the social and scholarly margins. His literary debut, a self-published punk novel called The Taqwacores, has become a cult classic. He’s now a scholar and professor, and has written nonfiction about the Five-Percent Nation, Salafism, and meeting Muhammad’s daughter while tripping on ayahuasca.

In Muhammad, Knight draws from his massive variety of experiences. He listens to canonical voices and marginalized ones, studies traditions from across Islam, cites both Deleuze and Star Wars. Muhammad is as intellectually diverse as a book can get….

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Islam, Religion & Culture