Some More Review Books

Over the past week I’ve received eBook review copies of the following books:

Quick Book Review: The Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15

pauladamchristTitle: The Figure of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15: The New Creation and Its Ethical and Social Reconfigurations

Author: Felipe de Jesus Legarreta-Castillo

Bibliographic info: 160 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This volume is the published version of the author’s doctoral dissertation completed at Loyola University, Chicago, under the supervision of Thomas Tobin, S.J.

Anyone familiar with the Apostle Paul’s epistles will no doubt know about how he makes some comparisons between Adam and Christ in Romans and 1 Corinthians (specifically Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-59). The author examines patterns of exegesis of Genesis 1–3 in Second Temple Judaism, revealing along the way how Jewish interpreters teased out ethical implications from the story of Adam (a figure who appears numerous times in Jewish literature between 200 BCE and 100 CE). Thus, he reveals how Paul’s usage of Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians has antecedents in the broader Jewish exegetical traditions. Specifically, he shows how Paul employs Adam in order to draw out social and ethical consequences, “[setting] the future resurrection of the believers in tension with their ethical commitment to the present.” Elsewhere the author says: “With the Adam typology Paul challenges the believer to participate in the present in the resurrection of Christ through a new lifestyle, that of Christ. Although to rise with Christ is a future event, it can be anticipated in the present through ethical behavior.”

Between the introductory and concluding chapters, the subject matter is divided into three chapters. The first chapter provides a survey on the status quaestionis on Adam Typology in Pauline scholarship. The second chapter explores how the figure of Adam was interpreted in Second Temple Jewish sources, first by focusing on the literary function of Adam in the larger context of each passage and then by seeing what, if any, ethical and social implications the author may have been attempting to convey by utilizing the figure of Adam. Texts discussed in this chapter include Sirach, Wisdom, Philo’s De Opificio Mundi, Jubilees, Josephus’ Antiquities, Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, the Sibylline Oracles, the Life of Adam and Eve, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch. The third chapter then tackles the figure of Adam in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22; 45-29, and Romans 5:12–21, specifically paying attention to the literary context in which Paul introduces the contrasts between Adam and Christ.

All in all, this slim volume is a nice read and shows how Paul’s uses the figures of Adam and Christ to bring together his theological and ethical concerns, with his interpretation of the figure of Adam being a good example of a creative biblical interpretation that aspires to transform humans after the last Adam, Jesus Christ.

Quick Book Review: Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

storiesancientcanaansecondeditionTitle: Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition

Authors: Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith

Bibliographic info: 194 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2012.

Buy the book at Amazon.

This short book is an updated edition of what was originally published over three decades ago on 1978. It provides an accessible presentation of the key Canaanite literature (written in Ugaritic) that were recovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the Syrian coast, during excavations starting in 1928. The discovery of the clay tablets containing these Ugaritic stories provide us with good insights into the Ancient Near East and illumination of the Hebrew Bible.

This updated edition is needed due to the advances in understanding of ancient Ugaritic literature that have developed over the past few decades, and the translations of the Ugaritic texts used in this updated edition will no doubt be the best (at least in terms of accuracy) that one can find (in English at least). Two additional texts are discussed in this updated edition: The Lovely Gods and El’s Drinking Party. The other stories discussed are Aqhat, the Rephaim, Kirta, and the Baal cycle.

The eBook version I received for review is, unfortunately, quite subpar. The formatting is very poor. An even more annoying problem is that none of the illustrations are in the eBook! Bad formatting is a recurring problem with the Wesminster John Knox eBooks I have received, but it may have something to do with the fact that I get mine through the Edelweiss program, so I am not sure if the Kindle editions from Amazon have the same problems or not.

This small volume is accessible to the nonacademic and I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the Canaanite religion or for background information on the Hebrew Bible. Though I must add the caveat that this recommendation would only be for the print edition and not the electronic edition.

Book Review: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

americachristiannationfeaTitle: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Author: John Fea

Bibliographic info: 332 pp.

Publisher: Westminster John Knox, 2011.

Buy the book at Amazon.

Was America founded as a Christian nation? Ask anyone who identifies with the Religious Right and they will probably respond strongly in the affirmative and accuse anyone who says “no” of historical revisionism. But ask someone on the other side of the political spectrum and you may very well get a resounding “no”, along with the claim that all the founding fathers were deists and that America was founded solely on Enlightenment principles. (I personally think the term “Christian nation” is borderline oxymoronic).

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part Fea begins by discussing the question of whether America was founded as a Christian nation and why this question is so important to many people. He provides us with a historical survey on the United States being a “Christian nation”, which is divided up into four periods: 1789-1865, 1865-1925, 1925-1980, and ending with the contemporary defenders of Christian America.

In the second part Fea examines the Revolution and whether it can be understood as an attempt to create a Christian nation. Here he provides us with a history lesson covering the times of the original British Colonies through to important events such as the Stamp Act, the first Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution. One interesting observation I gleaned from here is that the First Amendment of the US Constitution is perhaps best understood as prohibiting the federal government from imposing a national religion/denomination upon the country, with the idea being that this power should be left to the individual states who could do so if desired (and some states did do this in various ways). Here is a quote from Fea on the Declaration of Independence:

This kind of historical revisionism continues today among those who uphold the belief that the Declaration of Independence was a Christian document. While the Declaration clearly affirms, for example, that human rights come from “the Creator,” the original intent of the founders was not to write a theological document, a system of government, a treatise on American values, or even declare that human rights came from God. The “original intent” of the Declaration of Independence was something much more practical. It was written to announce the birth of the United States to the rest of the world.

In the third and final part of the book, Fea discusses the religious beliefs of some of the founding figures of this nation: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Witherspoon, John Jay, and Samuel Adams. Due to the lack of evidence that can be utilized to reveal the religious beliefs of these figures, Fea is reduced to speculation at times (e.g. speculating as to why Washington didn’t go to Communion). Fea considers only Witherspoon, Jay, and Samuel Adams to be able to be rightly labeled as “orthodox” Christian (i.e. believing in key historical-orthodox tenets of Christianity such as the Trinity and the resurrection of Christ). John Adams is simply a Unitarian. Jefferson liked Jesus’ moral teachings but separated them from anything supernatural (though Fea points out that neither could Jefferson be considered an “orthodox” Deist). Franklin was an “ambitious moralist.” And Washington was a latitudinarian Anglican who seemed to only really care for the social utility that religion provides. On Washington Fea says, “the available evidence points to a man who did not seem particularly interested in the divinity of Jesus Christ or his salvific death for humankind. He tried to live by the Golden Rule and did a pretty good job of it, despite some rather blatant shortcomings. … we must show due prudence in celebrating him as a Christian. His religious life was just too ambiguous.”

My overall take from reading this book: while there is definitely a vocal stream of people in early American history (and throughout) who saw the hand of Divine Providence at play, even going say far to say that God was forming a “new Israel”, when one looks at the more important internal evidence such as the founding figures and founding documents, there doesn’t seem to much substantive support for the notion of America being founded as a Christian nation. Another thing I learned from this book is that those who did support America being a Christian nation provided some terrible biblical and theological rationale!

All in all, I quite enjoyed this book and think the author (himself an evangelical) provides a useful and informative historical presentation on the question of whether American was founded as a Christian nation. He does not give us a secular revisionist history of America, but neither does he give us an evangelical modification of it. In fact, Fea does not provide a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question and he pretty much leaves the answer of the question up to the reader. Though, with the way he presents the information, it seems hard to leave this book without the impression that while the founders and the general populace of early America was indeed influenced by the Christian faith (Protestantism), it is not as critical to the actual founding of this nation as the modern Religious Right would have us believe. Fea’s own opinion, however, seems to be of an affirmative nature, though not without equivocation:

I have suggested that those who believe that the United States is a Christian nation have a good chunk of American history on their side. … [Yet] it would be difficult to suggest, based upon the formal responses to British taxation between 1765 and 1774, that the leaders of the American Revolution were driven by overtly Christian values. … But when it comes to the individual states, today’s defenders of Christian America have a compelling case. Nearly all of the state constitutions recognized God and Christianity, and many required officeholders to affirm Christian theology.

I will finish this review with the final words of the book:

If there was one universal idea that all the founders believed about the relationship between religion and the new nation, it was that religion was necessary in order to sustain an ordered and virtuous republic.

In a sound-bite culture where public figures appeal to the past to score political points or advance a particular cultural agenda, it is my hope that his book might help Americans to think deeply about the role that Christianity played in the American founding. We owe it to ourselves to be informed citizens who can speak intelligently and thoughtfully about our nation’s past.

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.

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