Received a Dozen Review Books from WJK

The kindly folk at Westminster John Knox fulfilled a review request of mine by giving me review copies (eBook editions) of the following twelve books:

Most of these books are pretty short (~200 pages), so they shouldn’t take a great deal of time to get through.

Book Review: Christ and Analogy – The Christocentric Metaphysics of Hans Urs von Balthasar

christanalogybalthasarTitle: Christ and Analogy: The Christocentric Metaphysics of Hans Urs von Balthasar

Author: Junius Johnson

Bibliographic info: 224 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This work is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation, completed at Yale with Mirosalv Volf as his Doktorvater, and when I say “revised” I mean revised – there is an additional 40,000 words added to the initial dissertation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar is the Catholic theologian with whom I have recently been reading some primary and secondary literature on. I first came upon him due to his ecumenical relationship with Karl Barth and then I was further intrigued by him when I read his book Dare We Hope that All Men Be Saved. While he is the Catholic theologian with whom I am the most familiar, von Balthasar is also simultaneously quite foreign to me due to his large corpus of writing that I have barely begun to scratch. Junius Johnson attempts to help solve the quandary I am in by providing an index of interpretation to von Balthasar. This project of Johnson’s is to explore the metaphysics of von Balthasar through the theological concept of analogy: “[von Balthasar’s] doctrine of analogy is the key concept that unlocks the rest of his system. … [his] Christology turns upon the doctrine of analogy.” Johnson refuses to regard von Balthasar’s conception of this God-world relation in terms of either identity or pure difference.

The contents are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Exemplarity and Expression: Rejection of the Pure Difference Thesis
  3. The Positivity of the Other: Rejection of the Identity Thesis
  4. Analogy: A Theological and Philosophical via Media
  5. Personhood and von Balthasar’s Two Metaphysics
  6. Analogy of Being in Trinitarian and Christological Keys
  7. Participation, Love, and Kenosis
  8. Epilogue

The importance of this volume is that in order to more fully appreciate von Balthasar’s theology, one must first grasp his metaphysics. What is meant by metaphysics?

Metaphysics is the philosophy of first principles. It includes under itself ontology and epistemology. Therefore, all ontological and epistemological questions are de facto also metaphysical questions. … Before creation, there is no metaphysics at all, just God and the all-sufficiency of the divine essence. … Metaphysics, therefore, while the height of philosophy, stops short of theology. In other words, philosophy takes creation for its object, theology takes God for its object. The incarnation is therefore the most significant event in the life of the relationship of these two disciplines, and on that analogy philosophy is not destroyed by theology, but perfected by it (gratia non destruit, sed perficit naturam).

Throughout this volume the author interacts primarily with von Balthasar’s Triptych, which is the fifteen volumes comprising The Glory of the Lord, Theodrama, and Theologica (as well as the concluding volume, the Epilogue). There is also repeated reference to three other works: The Theology of Karl Barth, A Theology of History, and Cosmic Liturgy. The sources which Johnson considers to be the most important when dealing with von Balthasar’s metaphysics are Plato, Aquinas, Hegel, Heidegger, and Bonaventure, with the latter being considered the most decisive in his thought:

Aquinas is constantly playing second fiddle to Bonaventure in the Triptych. In some ways, it is because Aquinas is not enough of a Platonist. But ultimately, it all comes down to the disagreement between Aquinas and Bonaventure over the choice of the formal object of theology: for Aquinas, it is God, while for Bonaventure, it is Christ.

Balthasar is the most interesting Catholic theologian I have had the pleasure of reading. One of the features of his writings–its scope and breadth–has been at the same time, one of its biggest draws but also the biggest setback. Johnson presents an informative study on von Balthasar’s Christocentric metaphysics, providing a particularly useful navigation of his triptych. This volume to be very useful as a guide to the metaphysics underpinning Balthasar’s thought and even if you’re not the biggest fan of von Balthasar, this volume will still be useful if you’re interested in the relationship between theology and metaphysics.

The author will apparently be coming out with another volume on von Balthasar sometime in the future which is focused more specifically on elucidating his theology. Johnson says it is his “ultimate desire to interpret von Balthasar theologically in light of the most central and pressing claims of Christian theology: the Trinity, Christology, and grace”, but these topics–“the ultimate theological horizon”–have been deferred until the future study, and I am truly looking forward to its release.

Book Review: The Entangled Trinity – Quantum Physics and Theology

entangledtrinityTitle: The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology

Author: Ernest Simmons

Bibliographic info: 160 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

I enjoy reading the occasional book on quantum physics and I love to read books on theology. This short book combines the two by seeking to explore the question of what our current scientific understanding of the quantum world can contribute to our understanding of the Trinity in relation to creation. The author’s thesis is that “perichoresis evolves within the Trinitarian life of God an entangled superposition, relating Creator and creation in mutual interaction, supporting a panentheistic model of God.”

The table of contents is as follows:

I. Foundational Concepts
1. Faith
2. Knowledge
3. Theology

II. Trinitarian Development
4. Bible to Nicaea
5. Constantinople to the Reformation
6. Contemporary Trinitarian Development

III. Science and the Trinity
7. Theology, Science, and Quantum Theory
8. Perichoretic Trinitarian Panentheism
9. The Entangled Trinity

As the table of contents may indicate, most of the book is more of an introductory look at the doctrine of the Trinity, with only the last three chapters (particularly ch. 9) really discussing how quantum theory can be used to elucidate our understanding of God and creation. The historical treatment discusses figures such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, the Cappadocians (and their notion of perichoresis), Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Luther, and so forth. In the final chapters Simmons argues that perichoresis (a theological term) and entanglement (a quantum physics term) can function as “parallel metaphors”, with the latter providing us with an opportunity to more fully explicate a panentheistic understanding of God’s relationship to the world. Furthermore, he contends that the immanent Trinity exists in simultaneous superposition with the economic Trinity, or in his own words: “Christ kenotically emptied himself of the immanent perichoresis of the Trinity in order to enter into the economic perichoresis of the creation.”

All in all, any book that discusses Trinitarian theology in conjunction with Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is bound to be interesting, if not a bit mystifying and–no doubt to some–perhaps a tad bit perturbing with the panentheistic model of God that the author puts forth.

Book Review: Ressourcement – A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology

resroucementTitle: Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology

Editors: Gabriel Flynn and Paul D. Murray

Bibliographic info: 264 pp.

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This volume, published on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II, contains thirty-one studies (thirty-three if you include the introduction and epilogue) on the Ressourcement Movement in Catholic theology. The table of contents, along with the authors of each chapter, can be found here. This volume also contains a 50-page bibliography which will no doubt be very useful for further studies.

While I am not a Catholic, my main area of interest is twentieth-century theology, whether it be Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, or any one of the other streams of Christian theology. And one of the most important events to occur in modern Catholic theology was the Ressourcement Movement, also known as la Nouvelle Théologie (French for “New Theology”). The word “Ressourcement” is French and means a renewal through a return to sources. This movement originated in early twentieth-century France and was essentially a theological and spiritual renewal of the Catholic Church based on a return to the original sources of Catholic theology: scripture, patristics, and liturgy. “Nouvelle Théologie“, also French, originated as a disparaging label (apparently by Pietro Parente) for those who were attempting to overturn the manualist theological system of neo-Scholasticism by returning to the original sources noted above. This approach eventually became the fully-fledged Ressourcement Movement.

The purpose of this volume is seen in the following quote from the introduction (by Gabriel Flynn): “to articulate the history of the Ressourcement movement, its antecedents and leading exponents and to assess the relevance of their prodigious theological output for the contemporary churches and modern society.”

The book is divided into four parts. Part One consists of twelve studies on the history and context of the movement, including such topics as Tridentine theology, modernism, Jansenism, Humani Generis, epistemology, and a few figures such as Maurice Blondel and Teilhard de Chardin. Part Two is seven studies on central figures of the Ressourcement Movement: Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Henri du Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Henri Bouillard, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Louis Boyer. Part Three contains three chapters who discuss the Ressourcement Movement in relation to biblical studies, liturgy, and patristics. Part Four contains nine studies looking at the influence of the Ressourcement Movement on the Modern World, with a couple of the chapters being on Protestantism and the Orthodox Church. The other chapters in this section include such topics as Vatican II, Eucharistic ecclesiology, Benedict XVI, Yves Congar, and Karl Rahner as an alternative to Ressourcement. Particularly interesting are the two chapters on the influence of the Ressourcement Movement on the agenda on Vatican II, which is especially seen in the conciliar documents Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, Lumen Gentium, and Ad Gentes.

This 600-page volume is the most exhaustive treatment (in English at least) on the Ressourcement Movement and ably demonstrates how and why the Ressourcement Movement aroused a veritable renaissance in modern Catholic theology. This isn’t a book that you just read through once and are done with. It is a volume that requires a good time to study to fully reap the fruits therein and I will no doubt be studying these essays for a long time to come as I grapple with modern Catholic theology.

Three More Review Books on Moltmann

About a month ago I received a review copy of Nicholas Ansell’s The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jurgen Moltmann (Wipf and Stock, 2013). Today I received three more review copies (ebook versions) of books on Moltmann. This time from Ashgate:

These three books cost $84 and $96 for the Kindle editions(!), so I am glad I managed to swing review copies.

Received a Few Review Books from Brill

Brill graciously provided me with gratis copies of the following books. Can’t wait to dig into them this winter.

Violence in Early Christianity: Victims and Perpetrators, Albert Geljon and Riemer Roukema (eds)

Ancient Christianity had an ambivalent stance toward violence. Jesus had instructed his disciples to love their enemies, and in the first centuries Christians were proud of this lofty teaching and tried to apply it to their persecutors and to competing religious groups. Yet at the same time they testify to their virulent verbal criticism of Jews, heretics and pagans, who could not accept the Christian exclusiveness. After emperor Constantine had turned to Christianity, Christians acquired the opportunity to use violence toward competing groups and pagans, even though they were instructed to love them personally and Jewish-Christian relationships flourished at grass root level. General analyses and case studies demonstrate that the fashionable distinction between intolerant monotheism and tolerant polytheism must be qualified.

The Language Environment of First Century Judaea: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels Volume 2, Randall Buth and R. Steven Notley (eds)

The articles in this collection demonstrate that a change is taking place in New Testament studies. Throughout the twentieth century, New Testament scholarship primarily worked under the assumption that only two languages, Aramaic and Greek, were in common use in the land of Israel in the first century. The current contributors investigate various areas where increasing linguistic data and changing perspectives have moved Hebrew out of a restricted, marginal status within first-century language use and the impact on New Testament studies. Five articles relate to the general sociolinguistic situation in the land of Israel during the first century, while three articles present literary studies that interact with the language background. The final three contributions demonstrate the impact this new understanding has on the reading of Gospel texts.

Texts in Transit: Manuscript to Proof and Print in the Fifteenth Century, Lotte Hellinga

After Gutenberg’s Bible had appeared in print in 1455, other early printers found different ways to solve problems set by the new technique. Survival of printer’s copy or proofs permits rare views of compositors and printers manipulating a text before it emerged in its new form. Versions were corrected to be fit for purpose, and might be adapted for a much enlarged readership, especially if the language was vernacular. The printing press itself required careful measuring and fitting of texts. In twelve case-studies Lotte Hellinga explores what is revealed in printer’s copy and proofs used in diverse printing houses, covering the period from 1459 to the 1490s, and ranging from Rome and Venice to Mainz and Westminster.

Some Overrated Theology Books

Here are a few of the most overrated theological books I have had the pleasure (?) of reading. Keep in mind that when I say “overrated” I am not saying that these books are not important and have not been influential. All I mean by saying “overrated” is that while these books have had nothing but praise lavished upon them, I myself have found them to be not particularly helpful at illuminating the good news of Christ (the decisive criterion for determining a theology book’s usefulness). These are a few overrated books that immediately spring to mind:

  • The City of God, Augustine of Hippo
  • Römerbrief, Karl Barth
  • Pensées, Blaise Pascal

At the popular lay level, the most overrated theology book is:

  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

I know that this book has been beneficial for millions of Christians (my teen-self included), but considering how it is often hailed as one of the most brilliant theological book written in the twentieth century, I have to say that it is waaaaay overrated, especially considering the level of argumentation put forth (e.g. Lewis’ trilemma apologetic of “Lord, liar, or lunatic”). Someone once correctly said that C.S. Lewis was a first-rate literary theorist, a second-rate fantasy writer, and a third-rate theologian.

If I was to use other criteria for determining overrated theology books, such as whether the praise a book has received is commensurate with its actual influence, then I would have to put these books on the list (both of which I loved):

  • The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann
  • Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Moltmann’s The Crucified God–with its patripassianist and theopaschite theology–seems to be more highly rated than his Theology of Hope, yet it was the latter that had more of an immediate and lasting impact (and, in my opinion, is much more interesting). In regards to Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, I suspect it is like Barth’s Römerbrief in that while everyone lavishes praise upon it, few actually read (and understand) it. Also, I think that both Discipleship (and Römerbrief) occupy that hazy realm where it’s considered famous simply for being famous.

In fact, maybe that is a better way to measure how overrated a book is: whether the amount of applause a book receives measures up to how many people actually read it. In that case, wouldn’t Barth’s Church Dogmatics have to be the most overrated theology book of all time? No, wait, I think that honor would have to go to the Bible itself! (I know what you’re thinking… He said the Bible is the most overrated theology book? Wow, he is so avant-garde!)

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