Book Review: Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, by Brent Waters

Just CapitalismIn Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, Brent Waters argues in favor of a transition from nation-states to market-states as our current best economic option from his perspective as a Christian moral theologian. Several problems quickly arise in this text. I provide the following examples:

 

Problems with Waters’ Method:

1) Beginning with the introduction and extending throughout the book, statistical data is manipulated to support the author’s argument.

2) The author’s arguments are overly simplistic, as he acknowledges throughout, but urges the reader to be patient because he will eventually bring it all together in a fuller and more convincing manner. He eventually does not.

3) Examples of others’ arguments are most often on extreme ends of spectra, would likely not be used by critical thinkers today, and do not adequately address concerns of nuance lacking in the author’s own arguments. All too often it is stated that there is not enough time or space to work out much-needed nuance and the reader is simply referred to a number of other texts via footnotes.

 

Problems with Waters’ “Christian Moral Theologian” Perspective:

1) “Human flourishing” is defined by a particular “Christian” economic and political view that is more “of this world” in favor of the “haves” obtaining more to potentially aid the “have nots” than it is about following Jesus in the kingdom of God as it is now. It is argued that all should be able to meet their desired needs and wants, that this is impossible within any nation or community anywhere in the world, and thus global trade is necessary for “human flourishing” as defined by the author. This is simply ignorant of how many places in the world function and assumes everyone’s “wants” are going to be “good.” This also makes unnecessary the provision of God over and above our own efforts, something for which God has often chastised his people.

2) It is rightly argued that affluence is not usury (obviously, by definition) and can, given the right circumstances, be a good. However, any Christian theologian should know and take into consideration that not all are set on the same path, that we are not all called to have “more than enough” in this life, and that living according to the Way is primarily seen by taking up one’s cross, living humbly, and following Jesus’ example of sacrifice, all while relying on God and not oneself for provision. This should not be taken to mean that we do nothing, but the arguments in this book have little to do with the potential workings of God and, subsequently, a “Christian” moral theology.

3) The reader is expected to take the author’s argument that the Spirit can work through capitalism and globalization as evidence for their being the best way forward. This argument, however, has been and is used for many programs and methods Christians desire to perpetuate and need to stamp with approval—a tactic of “the end justifies the means” that ignores the fact that God can and does work in the darkest places that we cannot even imagine without justifying that darkness as “the best way forward.”

 

Problems with Waters’ Idealism Conveyed as Pragmatism:

1) For the author’s argument to work, all of the world’s kingdoms and nations would need to move to market-states simultaneously and be concerned with one’s neighbor in the same manner (as argued, that would necessarily entail one taking care of oneself and making sure oneself has more than enough before aiding one’s neighbor). It is accepted that not everyone will act as a Christian and that people will be hurt and oppressed in this system, even by Christians, but that it will be a smaller percentage than any other conceived way forward.

2) Any system argued against can be (and often has been) in similar fashion to the author’s idealism and come out as “the best way forward.” If everyone cared for one’s neighbor as Christian’s ought, then Socialism and Communism could both potentially work quite well (remember, we cannot deny the Holy Spirit can work through [insert preferred system], right?)—arguably even better than capitalism given its bent toward greed rather than love of one’s neighbor. That is not to mean that all capitalists are selfish, greedy individuals, but it certainly opens the door to that possibility at least as much (probably more) than to loving one’s neighbor.

3) Given the author’s concerns for the neighbor, there are several non-capitalist and non-free-market exceptions that are found to be necessary goods for the overall system to work (e.g., a socialist education system and unspecified government intervention with trade, the environment, and community are included), which should prove obvious to any reader that the ideal system does not work if it cannot work.

4) The author admits in his final chapter that if he is wrong about the environment and the overabundance of natural resources believed to exist to provide for our ever-increasing selfish desires for more and more energy/power, his entire argument falls apart. I don’t think we need to wait to see the failure.

 

My wife is an economist; I’m a theologian. Though I have certainly gained insight into economic theory, systems, and jargon through my wife’s teaching and working through some of that with her in light of scripture, the lens through which I read this book is primarily that of a Christian theologian and what I believe to be honest, rational thinking. I concur with Waters that globalization can be a good and that giving people the freedom of choice and open borders (borders that are often militarily—or at least by the threat of violence—established) is a good thing. However, I believe this because God has given us all the freedom of choice and that violence is contrary to the way of Jesus (Waters comes from a more Reformed theological perspective, so we likely disagree on exactly what “choice” implies, and his pro-military stance is something I obviously believe to be contrary to proper Christian moral theology). I also don’t think this is something we can force upon others via one system or another. Entering the kingdom of God is voluntary (again, Reformed folks will disagree here); likewise, the way Christians live should demonstrate the same method of volunteerism.

 

Regardless of the system(s) in which we live, we (Christians) are first citizens of the kingdom of God who should love our neighbor no matter the degree to which we “flourish.” The ideal human flourishing described by Waters and many others awaits us in the gift of eternal life when there will be no more fighting, separation, heartache, or tears of any kind. Given the words of Jesus, I do not believe this can or ever will happen prior to his return.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: Portrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World for Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles, by Julia L. Kay

Portrait RevolutionPortrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World for Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles by Julia L. Kay is a beautiful and inspiring journey into the what, why, and how of portrait making through the mind’s eye of artists around the world. Wonderfully organized according to media, style, and theme, most of the book presents portrait samples of the same person as rendered by different artists. Every portrait includes subject, artist, medium, and size (when applicable), but many include notes by the artist—a brief explanation of the image or insight into method. The book concludes with featured artists and a helpful collage of quotes by included artists on portrait making.

While many may stumble upon this up at a bookstore, flip through its pages to see what he or she does and does not like, and then put it down—let’s be honest, not all of the included portraits are going to be aesthetically pleasing to all—Kay has included text for a reason. Read it! While I did not enjoy a great many of the portraits, I did enjoy hearing from the artists themselves, which caused me to think more deeply about how I might interpret a portrait in different ways. I learned.

Kudos to Kay and all contributors. I’ve been inspired to do more portraits and, perhaps, even look into finding interest from other artists in my area who may want to start up our own “portrait party.”

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorshach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing, by Damion Searls

The InkblotsDamion Searls’ The Inkblots: Hermann Rorshach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing is a beautiful work of narrative non-fiction about which the title makes quite clear. This is Searls’ first book of this type and it is fabulous. Well-researched and well-written, I found it both intellectually and artistically engaging.

The first half of the book is primarily biographical, through which we discover the development and true intent of Rorshach’s famous (or infamous, as some may perceive it) inkblots test. The latter half chronicles further development and use (or misuse) of the test from the Swiss doctor’s death in 1922 to present day, a fantastic journey of controversy that had me questioning, evaluating, and empathizing with both testers and test-takers throughout. The reader will eventually discover that the real take away from this book is, again, right there in the title: the power of seeing. We all perceive differently, and Rorshach, being both an artist and doctor, tapped into the possibilities of what we may discover about others and ourselves based on perceptions of just ten cards of symmetrical inkblots. One can only speculate what Rorshach could and would have further done with it had he not tragically died at such an early age.

Aesthetically, two sections of glossy pages that include photos of Rorashach, family, and artwork are welcomed and helpful additions. Kudos to Elena Giavaldi for the striking dust jacket that will surely catch both eye and hand of many potential readers.

 

I highly recommend this book, especially for those the least bit interested in art and/or psychology. It will not disappoint.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Jesus Bible, by Zondervan

The Jesus BibleMarketed as a Louie Giglio/Passion product, Zondervan’s The Jesus Bible claims “sixty-six books. one story. all about one name.” (As printed on the cover page.) I usually find gimmick and niche Bibles forced, unhelpful, and a rehashing of material (sometimes not even relevant to the gimmick) from previously published books. This one is better than many of those in one sense: there is a LOT of material trying to connect passages throughout the Bible to Jesus, and it took me quite a while to read every bit of it (I think I’ve reviewed five other books since I started this one). There are about thirty contributing writers in one fashion or another, but only the major essays note the authors. Those essays aren’t very helpful, but the authors’ names will likely help sales. General additional content is typically from a Reformed and Evangelical perspective, although I did find one contribution in Revelation that does not agree with the rest of the incomplete “faith only” comments through the text and rightly stated, “Believers today can take note: faith and works should go hand in hand. The relationship between faith and works is natural, and neither one should be overemphasized at the expense of the other” (p.1973). All additions in the Old Testament imply a conditional immortality stance on the afterlife, whereas additions in the New Testament hint at what many call the “traditional” view of hell. There are also hints of dispensationalism multiple eschatologies. So, there are inconsistencies that are often found with many contributors. Of course, the biggest problem is that every book in the Bible is not “about” Jesus, as is the central claim of this specialty Bible. Much “points to” Jesus, but little is “about” him. Some of the commentary is spot on, but much is a stretch, forced connection, or outright incorrect. So, overall, it’s better than many of these types of specialty Bibles, but I’d still recommend getting a proper study Bible if one wants commentary and the Bible in one collection.

 

Aesthetically, I will say that the gray cotton hardcover looks and feels great, and the black and white lettering accent well. However, the cotton dirties quite easily and the cover printing is paint that appears to be easily scratched off and will chip in time. The formatting of content within the text was done well, including side bars and pertinent timeline placement.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, by Matthew W. Bates

Salvation by Allegiance AloneIt’s no secret in scholarship that the English language does not have words that carry the same meaning and connotation of the Greek word pistis and its various forms and conjugations; however, that doesn’t stop most from using “faith” in its place wherever found. The driving force of Matthew W Bates’ Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King is the reevaluation of pistis as “allegiance” rather than “faith” in its greater context. I do not doubt that many will find Bates convincing in this regard, especially those already aware of the political context of Scripture; however, there are several major points I find in need of revision in this thought-provoking work.

First, Bates argues that the oft used arguments for “salvation by faith alone” have not only been theologically wanting but also damaging to the way in which hearers may then perceive and read Scripture and live (or not) as citizens of the kingdom of God. Studying in both Presbyterian and Catholic contexts, Bates feels he is uniquely positioned to speak in a bridging manner for Protestants and Catholics, particularly regarding the place of “works” or “living out one’s faith,” as some describe it, in conjunction with faith—or, as he argues, one’s allegiance to Jesus as Lord. His arguments are sound and point out philosophical, theological, and practical flaws on both sides of the traditional arguments that overemphasize faith or works in such a way that diminishes the other. However, after so doing, he comes back to “allegiance alone” (hence the title), perceivably unable to escape his traditional Evangelical roots, even after arguing for a much deeper understanding of an holistic life actively aligned with the king in mind, heart, and action. Perhaps this new phrase is intended to imply this holistic life, but his arguments against “faith alone” can be used against the reevaluated pistis phrase since “allegiance” may be easily misinterpreted and misused in time, as he has demonstrated the case to be with “faith.” I would encourage an holistic understanding and teaching of pistis, as does Bates, but without the wholesale removal of “faith” terminology, arduous as the task may be.

Second, Bates attempts to define the “gospel message” in its entirety according to eight foundational statements found in the Apostles’ Creed:

“Jesus the King
1. preexisted with the Father,
2. took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David,
3. died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
4. was buried,
5. was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
6. appeared to many,
7. is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
8. will come again as judge.” (p# unavailable, emphasis original)

There’s no doubt that these statements are either explicitly or implicitly made by Jesus and/or the apostles; however, I find his argument utterly unconvincing, stemming more from creedal theology rather than an holistic approach to the New Testament’s use of euangelion and its varied forms—basileia (kingdom) isn’t even included in Bates’ gospel message, that which is most associated with “gospel” in the New Testament.

Third, Bates argues that we are “idols of God” solely based on characteristic similarities between “image” and “idol” and the nature of idols in ancient Egypt as articulated by John Walton. No linguistic evidence is provided—contrary to the positive evidence for the pistis/allegiance argument—for a shift from “image” to “idol” in his desire to “restore the idol of God” (humans who properly reflect God, Jesus noted as being the prime and only perfect example this side of the new heavens and earth), but that does not stop him from making the switch and henceforth referring to those aligned with Jesus as idols. Not only is it unconvincing, I find no positive or helpful reason for its inclusion in the book. It simply appears to be an attempt to cram into the book a second linguistic wrench of controversy for the academy and ends up detracting from the greater message.

Finally, pairing “allegiance” and his “gospel” creed, Bates encourages Christians to use and recite the current form of the Apostle’s Creed as the true and proper “Pledge of Allegiance” with ever-increasing frequency in order to proclaim, teach, and remind people of the gospel (as defined by Bates) and with whom they are aligned. Certainly reciting and affirming creeds is not my dispute. They may proclaim truth and serve a purpose, and it’s the purpose and degree of complete truth claimed by the authors and perpetuators that I question. Bates is not the first to put forth an alternative pledge that counters those nationalistic in nature (Shane Claiborne being one of the most recent), and it sounds like a good idea. Jesus is lord; Caesar is not. We (well, some of us) get that. My reservations for using at least this pledge in particular (or really anything as the pledge) should be apparent in my questioning of Bates’ presentation of the holistic gospel message above.

Given the aforementioned observations and reservations, I find the overarching thesis to be an important one in need of further discussion within the academy and local churches alike. A proper understanding of the political context within and with which Scripture is written can only help us more fully understand whose we are, for whom we live, and what a life lived with that perspective may and ought to look like.

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Baker Academic via NetGalley.

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