Tag Archives: theology

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: 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.

Book Review: Money and Possessions, by Walter Brueggemann

Money and PossessionsWalter Brueggemann’s Money and Possessions is the most recent addition to WJK’s Interpretation series, and a most welcomed addition it is! An exhaustive analysis and articulation of what the Bible has to say about money and possessions is much too daunting a task, thus Brueggemann has by necessity been rather selective in the passages he addresses, though he does span the entirety of the canon. His “Introduction” serves well as a summary and conclusion (he does not include the latter), and would be an excellent primer for study and discussion. The rest of the chapters follow the Bible through its canonical order.

Brueggemann follows the theme of God’s economy over and against the world’s economy. There are certainly passages dealing specifically with “money and possessions,” but there is a great deal of Scripture that addresses life in regards to how we live in relation to these things even if not explicitly mentioned. The latter is where the real meat of this study lies, and it may prove difficult to digest by those who appeal to individualism and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. Brueggemann’s insight into the pervasiveness of covetousness throughout Scripture will likely be the beneficial driving force of perspectival shift for many who study and apply this text.

Along with finding it in the libraries of Bible students and teachers alike, I foresee Money and Possessions being added to syllabi for business, finance, economics, and socio-political courses in Christian universities. Highly recommended.

 

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

Book Review: Four Views on Hell, Second Edition, by Preston Sprinkle, general editor

Four Views on HellZondervan updated its Counterpoints series with a second edition of Four Views on Hell with new contributors. All contributors approach their doctrine of hell from a Protestant (non-Catholic and (non-Eastern Orthodox) and evangelical (definitions may vary), believing that hell is an actual place but differing on what they believe happens therein. The book follows the common form of the Counterpoints series: an introduction by the general editors, a major essay on one view followed by relatively shorter essay responses by all other contributors, subsequent essays and responses in the same manner, and a conclusion, again by the editor. Contributions and respective authors include the following:

  • Introduction: Preston Sprinkle
  • Eternal Conscious Torment (often referred to as the “traditionalist view”): Denny Burk
  • Terminal Punishment (the contributor’s preferred terminology for the more commonly known “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality”): John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
  • A Universalist View (a universalist view in that the contributor believes all are saved through Jesus, as opposed to the more widely used and understood definition of “all roads lead to heaven/God”): Robin A. Parry
  • Hell and Purgatory (not in the Roman Catholic sense, and is questionably included given its focus on an in between state of earth and heaven with no focus on hell, which assumes and is in agreement with the perspective of eternal conscious torment above): Jerry L. Walls
  • Conclusion: Preston Sprinkle

Atypical to what I have generally found from editors in the Counterpoints series, Sprinkle offers a fair and generous introduction and critique of each of the contributor’s essays and the book as a whole rather than simply saying something akin to, “Here they are, and they contributed,” nor does he offer his personal thoughts in hopes to sway the reader one way or the other, encouraging the reader to study, reason, and wrestle on his or her own. Though I do not agree that “each provided solid scriptural and theological arguments for his view” (204; Sprinkle is more generous than I), each of the contributions are indicative of a typical representation of each view given the space and time allowed, and in as much contribute to this book’s helpfulness as a helpful survey resource. With that recommendation and Sprinkle’s already helpful responses included in the text, I find it unnecessary for me to respond to each contribution and instead encourage one to read the book if at all interested in a survey of prevailing views on the subject hell.

 

For those interested, my own studies have convinced me of annihilationism and conditional immortality, for which a thorough and convincing argument has already been articulated in The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition by Edward William Fudge.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Zondervan via NetGalley.

Book Review: A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy, by Paul Copan

A Little Book for New PhilosophersNot far into Paul Copan’s A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy I thought to myself, “This may become required reading for all introductory courses in Bible and theology programs.” The first two chapters are absolutely fantastic and rightly demonstrate a place for philosophy within Christianity. However, Copan thereafter takes a sharp dive into axioms and poorly articulated arguments that leave the reader wondering how this was ever intended to be a primer on philosophy for Christians. It feels as if Copan assumes a priori knowledge of the very reasoning espoused so that it need not be articulated, which is contrary to the book’s purpose. Unfortunately, rather than introducing the reader to philosophy’s place in Christianity, this fits better as an exercise in dogma. (Concerning much of what is actually articulated, Copan relies heavily on Alvin Plantinga, which speaks to his tradition and philosophical presuppositions.)

Concerning the positive note, the following are included in the first two chapters:

“Philosophy is mind-sharpening.” (20)

“Philosophy helps us to see that ideas have consequences.” (21)

“Philosophy expands our horizons.” (21)

“Philosophy can help isolate bad or sloppy thinking.” (22)

“Philosophy can strengthen our theology.” (24)

“Everyone takes a philosophical view of things—a worldview, some call it—even if their philosophical assumptions are subconscious and unexplored. Like it or not, whatever your outlook or training, you are a philosopher!” (31)

“Another way of looking at philosophy is as a kind of tool. In this sense it is a way of thinking, not the result of your thinking.” (33, emphasis original.)

 

I expected more from IVP Academic with this one, but it does fit a theological trend in what I’m seeing from them recently. However, despite my overall opinions of the text, I would still recommend students read through chapter 2 of this book.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from IVP Academic via NetGalley.