According to N. T. Wright, our tendency to dwell upon evil as a philosophical problem can too often obscure a more important question. In these postmo...moreAccording to N. T. Wright, our tendency to dwell upon evil as a philosophical problem can too often obscure a more important question. In these postmodern times right and wrong may be considered passé, but evil is back in style. The failure of Hegelian belief in the inevitability of progress combined with the horrors of modern warfare, terrorism, and overwhelming natural disasters such as the recent Indian Ocean tsunami, all have led to a reinstatement of the term “evil” as acceptable speech. The problem is that everyone is talking about evil, but no one knows what to do about it. Postmodernism, says Wright, has not been any better at providing an answer than any of the attempts of post-Enlightenment modernity. “You can’t escape evil with postmodernity, but you can’t find anyone to take the blame either.”
Wright challenges Christians to step into this vacuum. He warns against either a triumphalistic “we have all the answers approach” or an equally unhelpful retreat from the problem. Turning to what God can do about evil, Wright first surveys the Old Testament, finding not the simplistic “God solves it all” answer one might expect, but rather “a narrativ of God’s project of justice within a world of injustice,” a project that is no less in its extent than to “set the existing ceation to rights.” Above all the Old Testament is a story of that part of God’s “project” that leads inexorably to its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the cross we have Christus Victor, the defeat of the powers of evil. This victory begins with the gospel vanquishing of the power of sin in the life of every believer, plus their hope in the eschatological victory to come which God is already working backwards into their own time. Returning to the “problem of evil,” we see here one of Wright’s key insights in this book: the real problem of evil is not in its cosmic, philosophical dimensions, but rather the problem is in me. The forgiveness enabled by Christ’s work on the cross is the key to one’s moving from being part of the problem to part of the solution.
In the next section of the book, Wright begins to outline what it might look like for a forgiven people to begin to apply the power of forgiveness throughout their societies. Through prayer, holiness, and action, we are to live in the reality of the cross and resurrection while bringing in to play imaginations inspired by the world to come. Above all, Wright believes that it is the power of a forgiven people bringing forgiveness that provides the most radical and effective answer to evil.
While some may come away disappointed that Wright refuses to apply his great mind to the classic philosophical and theological battles over the origin and nature of evil, those more concerned with dealing with evil as we find it in our world will find much here to challenge how they think, pray, and act. As always, Wright’s writing is engaging and vivid, full of lively word pictures, and with a pastor’s concern for helping people where they really live and struggle.
Several years ago I lived near a medium-sized city that was scheduled to get a new shopping mall. The area already had two or three of the typical 198...moreSeveral years ago I lived near a medium-sized city that was scheduled to get a new shopping mall. The area already had two or three of the typical 1980s shoe box malls, but the new one was supposed to be as high above them as they were over the older strip malls. Finally the grand opening day for the new marketplace came, and like thousands of others we made the journey up to the city to see what all the fuss was about. As the multi-story mall rose into view around a bend in the highway, I knew that I had seen its form before. It took only a moment for the recognition to kick in. It was a cathedral.
In Greed and Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Biblical Metaphor, Brian Rosner wants to uncover what’s so bad about the kind of greed that drives modern men to build temples to money and consumption. More specifically, he seeks to unpack one of the strangest metaphors in the New Testament: Paul’s statement that greed is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5). Why would Paul equate these two things that seem to us to have little direct connection?
In our time greed has become a “respectable sin” (to use the title of Jerry Bridge’s newest book), even among Christians. Believers and non-believers alike have a sense that greed is bad, but they would be hard pressed to explain exactly why. In any event, most probably don’t see it as high on the scale of “badness” as more flamboyant sins such as sexual immorality, abortion, or murder. After all, greed doesn’t really hurt anyone, except perhaps the greedy person himself, right? On the other side of the equation, idolatry seems to us to be a quaint but queer practice of pre-scientific cultures. Not our problem.
To unlock Paul’s curious equation, Brian Rosner employs all the tools of biblical theology combined with historical research. After surveying the various ways in which the phrase “greed is idolatry” has been interpreted by theologians down the centuries, Rosner turns to an intensive tracing of both the subject and predicate of that phrase in Jewish and early Christian writings, both biblical and non-canonical. He then surveys the surrounding territory of both terms, revealing the fulness of what they meant to first century readers and hearers. Finally, he links all this together to propose that Paul’s statement was an intentionally brash metaphor meant to shock his audience into understanding that greed is far more terrible a sin than they may have thought. It is nothing less than a direct affront to the One True God who alone deserves to be loved, served, and trusted.
Rosner’s book serves as a model of biblical theology done well in service to the church. By uncovering the impact of an odd phrase on its first century audience, he also reveals why we ought to take greed much more seriously in our day. While one might wish that he spent some time spelling out possible implications of his findings for Christian involvement in economics, social justice, and even personal finance, perhaps it is best for us to work those out on our own. Rosner has laid bare the sin; each of us must determine where that sin has subtly overtaken us.
As an aside, anyone who has found insight and help in the teachings of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) associated with Westminster Theological Seminary should pay attention to this book and its implications for CCEF’s core teaching that idolatry is at the heart of many of our miseries. Greed as Idolatry points the way to how biblical theology can serve such insights by providing their theological foundation. Brian Rosner starts this book with a quote from John Calvin concerning the greedy person as idolater: “Indeed, this matter is well worth dealing with at greater length.” This reviewer is very glad that Dr. Rosner decided to take up Calvin’s challenge.(less)
A quirky sad/funny, mystery/comedy/tragedy that disturbs one moment, tickles the next, and left me uncomfortable more than I wanted to admit. At times...moreA quirky sad/funny, mystery/comedy/tragedy that disturbs one moment, tickles the next, and left me uncomfortable more than I wanted to admit. At times it read like "Holes" for adults.
On one level, this book is a satire on the literary world and its pretensions. The author even makes a cameo appearance as a writer the main character/narrator makes fun of. Along the way there is a mystery to be solved, but the mystery is never so deep as to get in the way of the deeper mysteries the novel wants to explore: why do we hurt the ones we love the most, and is truth really the balm for wounds we'd like to think it is?
Having just finished a seminary course on biblical wisdom literature, I was struck by parallels in this book. The narrator seems on a quest for wisdom. Like Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes, he finds that most of the conventional wisdom on wisdom doesn't really hold up. We even meet Job's friends, in the form of a group of convicted bond analysts who advise the narrator "just tell the truth, Dude. It will make you feel better," a notion the narrator finds not always true, to his great pain.
In the end, the novel turns out to be about sacrifice for the sake of love, and the acceptance that while human love often stinks and hurts, it's better than the alternatives.(less)
If I believed in reincarnation, I would be convinced that Patrick O'Brian must have been a 19th century British naval officer in a former life. His Au...moreIf I believed in reincarnation, I would be convinced that Patrick O'Brian must have been a 19th century British naval officer in a former life. His Aubrey & Maturin novels recreate that world with almost eerie accuracy. In the end, though, it is the marvelous characters that drive this series. The curious friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey and physician Stephen Maturin is surely one of the most intriguing in all of literature.
In fact, the level of detail and accuracy regarding early 19th century naval warfare and the vessels that conducted it may put off many readers from seeing the brilliance of the characterizations. O'Brian writes precisely as if he were setting down a contemporary account and to an audience familiar with the subject. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if I were to find out that he wrote them with a quill pen. Unlike even Melville, he rarely condescends to explain things nautical to his readers.
At first, I kept a naval glossary by my side, but soon abandoned looking up terms as exhausting. Once I came to accept that it was not necessary to know what "she had the wind abaft the beam with nary a studdingsail unfurled" meant, I could concentrate on the real riches of the novel. In my opinion, the best thing to do when reading O'Brian is to just let all the nautical jargon flow over you, creating a warm shower of authenticity. Then set your taste buds to detect the wonderful flavors of the rich characters therein.
In Aubrey and Maturin, O'Brian brings us into the wonders and calamities that occur when opposites attract. On first meeting the two almost end up in a duel. Over what? Maturin's whispered insults to Jack regarding his boorish foot-tapping at a concert where they ended up sitting next to each other. Music quickly turns, though, from their point of contention to their main point of contact. Both are creditable amateur string players, and sawing out duets in Jack's cabin late into the evening becomes their chief stress reliever and bonding action.
There is more than their approach to music, though, to create dramatic tension between the two. Both have high intelligence levels, but displayed in very different ways. While Maturin is book-learned, thoughtful, scientific; Aubrey is more the man of quick wit and instinctive action. They further contrast in temperament: Jack can be hot-headed and given to saying whatever pops into his head; Stephen hides his emotions and keeps his thoughts to himself. Moreover, while Jack Aubrey is an open book, there are strong hints in this first novel that Maturin is a man of intrigue. There is much more about him than we know. He has some secret past that he is not yet revealing, even to Jack, and the reader senses that this will be a major factor in the upcoming stories.
For anyone who loves historical fiction--and especially 18th-19th century naval warfare--as I do, the Aubrey & Maturin series may be the next best thing to being there we will ever experience. Though generally serious in tone, O'Brian injects the right amount of both humor and social commentary into his novels to keep them enjoyable and thought-provoking.(less)
This book should be read by anyone who needs (or wants) to communicate. The authors have teased out six attributes that are common to "sticky" message...moreThis book should be read by anyone who needs (or wants) to communicate. The authors have teased out six attributes that are common to "sticky" messages; messages that people remember and act upon.(less)
What can you say about one of the recognized great classics that hasn't been said. I've read this five times so far. I'm a sucker for wooden ships and...moreWhat can you say about one of the recognized great classics that hasn't been said. I've read this five times so far. I'm a sucker for wooden ships and metaphors of a wrathful god ;-)(less)
Fascinating insights into a world that has disappeared.
Derek Lundy signed on to a modern-day yacht trip around perilous Cape Horn to retrace part of t...moreFascinating insights into a world that has disappeared.
Derek Lundy signed on to a modern-day yacht trip around perilous Cape Horn to retrace part of the journey his forebear Benjamin took a century before. As Derek traveled in the relative safety of a contemporary vessel, he became fascinated with how different, and how much more dangerous, Benjamin's immigration trip must have been.
In the end, Derek decided to tell Benjamin's story in a unique way. Way of a Ship alternates chapters of factual information about the lives of 19th century square-rigged sailors with a semi-imagined, fictional novelization of Benjamin Lundy's time "before the mast."
As someone who has had a lifetime love affair with the era of tall ships--and who will read any novel or book about those times--I can say that I have never read anything that informed me better about square-rigged ships and the men that sailed them. While the novels of Patrick O'Brian and Herman Melville certainly are rich in such detail, they also assume a lot without much explanation. Derek Lundy, on the other hand, patiently and lovingly helps those who wouldn't know a back stay from a yardarm to get a deep working knowledge of those glorious vessels. Part of his genius is to show us how sailing ships necessitated and bred a symbiotic relationship between man and machine that has rarely been seen before or since.
The Way of a Ship is not only a novel about turn of the 19th-to-20th century sailing, it is also a beautiful elegy for the passing of a time never to return. Benjamin Lundy made his passage 'round the Horn during the dying days of sail. The big square riggers were already being replaced by the faster, more efficient steam ships. Benjamin's ancestor Derek captures for us a thought-provoking picture of one of the hidden costs of progress: the loss of a way of life, the way of a ship.(less)
If you're a scholar (or just live with one, as I do) you will appreciate this dry, droll, but very human poke at the world of academia. Prof. Dr. Dr....moreIf you're a scholar (or just live with one, as I do) you will appreciate this dry, droll, but very human poke at the world of academia. Prof. Dr. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld means well, but the world seems so against him. All he wants is the proper recognition that is due to the author of the groundbreaking treatise Portuguese Irregular Verbs (200 copies sold). When his publisher informs him that the best offer they can get for the remaining 700 copies in their warehouse is from an interior decorating firm that wants to use them to "look good" on clients' bookshelves, von Iglefeld goes on a personal campaign for his due fame.
Smith's talent comes forth best in how lovable he makes von Iglefeld. Instead of painting him as the sort of detestable beast we would consider someone so ego-obsessed to be, Smith reminds us that there is von Iglefeld in all of us.(less)
**spoiler alert** This second book in the massive Aubrey/Maturin series is a lot more character-driven and a little less action-driven than the exciti...more**spoiler alert** This second book in the massive Aubrey/Maturin series is a lot more character-driven and a little less action-driven than the exciting debut, Master & Commander. I have a feeling O'Brian was setting up the balance between suspenseful historical warfare narrative and intriguing relationship dynamics.
In Post Captain, O'Brian channels Jane Austen, setting up a love quadrangle that almost brings our two inseparable friends to twenty paces with matched pistols. (Question: what happened to that duel? It just seemed to disappear.) We also learn much more about Stephen Maturin's secret life, something only hinted at in book one.
More than anything else, Post Captain confirmed for me that I want to read this series all the way through.
As other reviewers have noted, don't read Wodehouse for plot or character development. Read him for the richness of language and his keen satire of th...moreAs other reviewers have noted, don't read Wodehouse for plot or character development. Read him for the richness of language and his keen satire of the vacuousness of the monied class.(less)
I loved The Jesus Way because it takes seriously that to be "in Jesus" is "a way." It is a walk, a journey on a path.
For a book about the way of Jesu...moreI loved The Jesus Way because it takes seriously that to be "in Jesus" is "a way." It is a walk, a journey on a path.
For a book about the way of Jesus, Peterson takes an unusual path. Most of the book is about several Old Testament characters, each as an (imperfect) example of a certain way to walk in God, all of them pointing toward Jesus, who would be the perfect model of the way in which we should walk. He finishes with six negative examples (Herod, the Zealots, Josephus, etc.) who show the way to walk after the world and why walking in Jesus can never be about power or wealth or religious purity.
Worth the price of the book alone is the introductory chapter which takes on the ways we have read the story of Jesus with rose-colored glasses. Particularly not to be missed is the section on the power of metaphor in the Bible.(less)