This may be my new favorite Lewis book, in competition with The Great Divorce. It is the most domestic of the three Space Trilogy books, but perhaps bThis may be my new favorite Lewis book, in competition with The Great Divorce. It is the most domestic of the three Space Trilogy books, but perhaps because of that the closest to home....more
Oh, I love this book. I think it was the first history of the KJV I read that really stood outside the Fundamentalist Bible translation controversies.Oh, I love this book. I think it was the first history of the KJV I read that really stood outside the Fundamentalist Bible translation controversies. As real history (and not mere polemical abuse of history), it was a breath of fresh air!...more
This is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. It consists of a series of clinical tales about neurological disorders, whether excesses orThis is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. It consists of a series of clinical tales about neurological disorders, whether excesses or deficits. Sacks gets us in touch with the real life of the patient and establishes a more humane sympathy with what it is like to live life with these disorders....more
Bridges the gap between head and heart in the study of early Christian heresies and the development of orthodox creeds. It moved me past believing ortBridges the gap between head and heart in the study of early Christian heresies and the development of orthodox creeds. It moved me past believing orthodoxy to be true to desiring it to be true....more
Friesen plunges headlong into the fray of opinions regarding the intellectual origins of the Anabaptist(This review was submitted as a class project.)
Friesen plunges headlong into the fray of opinions regarding the intellectual origins of the Anabaptists, confidently asserting that the greatest influence on this movement came from the Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus. He challenges the prevailing polygenesis theory, arguing that the breadth of agreement among the main streams of Anabaptists (particularly those originating from the followers of Zwingli at Zurich and those attached to Menno Simons) should force the historian to seek a common intellectual origin. He observes that the various Anabaptist movements tended to emerge in full maturity, as though drawing from a common source. That source, he contends, was Desiderius Erasmus.
Friesen faults Bender for excluding the rational Anabaptists. As a consequence, Bender fails to give due consideration to the possibility of humanist influence. Friesen sets Bender in historiographical context, caught in the middle of the modernist/orthodox division of the contemporary Mennonite church. This, according to Friesen, accounts for Bender’s unwillingness to expound the doctrines of the Anabaptists.
In the early chapters, Friesen demonstrates the reliance of the humanists on Neo-Platonism. This philosophy displaced the prevailing Aristotelianism of the Scholastics. For Erasmus, the ideal form of spiritual truth was found in Christ and the ideal form of the church was found in the Acts of the Apostles. His interpretation of the Scriptures led him to many conclusions about the beliefs and practice of the early churches that conflicted with the practice of the modern church. His views on Baptism, Christian pacifism, Christian discipleship, egalitarianism, the taking of oaths, the lack of emphasis on creeds, and the reform of the church all derived from his study of Scripture. But Neo-Platonism allowed Erasmus to hold these views in tension while preserving the practices of the traditional church. This ideal form merely became a template by which the practices of the church were to be understood.
The Anabaptists, permitting only the authority of Scripture, were exposed (partly through Zwingli) to Erasmus’ more directly Scriptural writings: his editions of the New Testament, his Annotations on the New Testament text, and his paraphrases of Matthew and Acts. From these, the Anabaptists adopted Erasmus’ interpretation of the Great Commission without the context of Erasmus’ Neo-Platonic worldview. Without that philosophical framework, they could not hold the early church in tension with the medieval church; rather, they regarded the early church as a model to which the modern church must conform.
In the closing chapters, Friesen exposes the great gulf between the Erasmian/Anabaptist and the Catholic/Reformed understandings of the Great Commission. He describes the reaction of both Catholics and the magisterial reformers to the Anabaptists movement, and their criticisms of Erasmus. Finally, he gives an account of the political factors that prevented the Reformers from adopting the Erasmian/Anabaptist vision.
Friesen is a skilled writer and tremendous researcher. His book is essential reading for the student of Anabaptist origins. It would also be a great delight to all students of Erasmus and the intellectual history of the Reformation. His discussion of the shifting theological contexts of the church’s discussion of baptism is particularly fascinating.
His research is evident from his 43 pages of footnotes, often just as informative as the text. He admits his own Mennonite loyalties, but his competence as a scholar prevents provincialism. The scope of the book is broad, but he handles himself well throughout. At one instance he clearly steps beyond his expertise, but he gives the reader fair warning that he is about to do so.
A few things still trouble the mind. First, though aggressively committed to his thesis, at times he fails to deliver a fully convincing argument. While his conclusions are often presented as certain, his data often seems more suggestive than conclusive. Second, his devotion to his thesis and his satisfaction with its sufficiency in accounting for Anabaptist intellectual origins leaves the reader suspecting that he may be blinded to any other possible influences. His contention against the prevailing theories of Anabaptist origins is that they do not give sufficient credit to Erasmian influence; but in in fleshing out his own argument, he seems to be making a case that once Erasmus is accepted, no other influences are necessary.
Of more serious concern is his claim that, like Zwingli’s early lectures in Zurich, Erasmus’ paraphrase of Matthew’s Gospel (1522) was followed immediately by a paraphrase of the Acts of the Apostles (1523). He contends that this connection, divergent from the more commonly recognized Luke-Acts connection, resulted from Erasmus’ view of the Acts of the Apostles as a description of how the early churched worked out Christ’s last will and testament. While Friesen’s understanding of Erasmus’ approach to the Great Commission is well founded, Friesen is unaccountable mistaken in his description of Erasmus’ paraphrases. Matthew was published in 1522, but Acts was not published until 1524; in the intervening year, Erasmus published paraphrases on each of the other Gospels (John and Luke in 1523; Mark was completed in 1523, but not published until 1524—still before the publication of Acts). This is readily discovered by anyone willing to consult a list of the published works of Erasmus. Friesen builds a memorable argument on this point, but the facts are against him. Whether he is guilty of special pleading or simply a lapse in scholarship, it is disconcerting. Not a scholar in the field of Renaissance and Reformation studies, this reviewer is at the mercy of the author to deliver an accurate account; this misstep casts an uneasy shadow over the work.
But these doubts must be suspended until further investigation. While Friesen may over-press his case, he has nevertheless presented a well-reasoned argument for the probability of Erasmian influence on the early Anabaptists. It may not be as convincing as the author hoped in taking the reader as far as he wanted to go, but it certainly made a stimulating case for reevaluating the Erasmian connection for those who might be inclined to deny it. ...more
This is one of the best books by one of my favorite authors. It's about so many things, it might be hard to say what it is about. But in the end, theThis is one of the best books by one of my favorite authors. It's about so many things, it might be hard to say what it is about. But in the end, the essays in this book really do orbit Lewis' "The Abolition of Man"--easily one of Lewis' most important works....more
This is a modern Ecclesiastes, intent on causing us to despair of our own ability to infuse this life with meaning, or to fix what is broken. "The LasThis is a modern Ecclesiastes, intent on causing us to despair of our own ability to infuse this life with meaning, or to fix what is broken. "The Last Self-Help Book" is a cleverly appropriate title, and the author succeeds in his purpose admirably....more
Good book. Highly recommended for any Christians who engage popular level criticisms of Conservative Orthodox Evangelicalism. Good response to men likGood book. Highly recommended for any Christians who engage popular level criticisms of Conservative Orthodox Evangelicalism. Good response to men like Bart Ehrman....more
McGrath plunges into the formidable mass of Luther scholarship to reach his own conclusions regarding t(This review was submitted as a class project.)
McGrath plunges into the formidable mass of Luther scholarship to reach his own conclusions regarding the nature and date of Luther’s theological breakthrough and the relation of that breakthrough to his distinctive theology: the theologia crucis. He concludes that the precise point on which Luther broke past the late medieval theological systems was in his discovery of the new meaning of iustitia Dei. McGrath takes upon himself two tasks in this regard. First, he seeks to demonstrate that all of Luther’s thought up to this breakthrough fits within the existing paradigms of late medieval theology. Second, he contends that the later theologia crucis was the natural result of working out the implications of his breakthrough. McGrath dates the breakthrough at 1515, and the terminus of his investigation between 1518 and 1519 with the development of the theologia crucis.
McGrath details three great influences on Luther’s early thought. The first was the studia humanitatis. This is significant because of its rejection of scholasticism and the insistence on returning to original sources, including Scripture. Also, through their efforts, there was a revival of the study of biblical languages and the publication of critical editions of ancient sources. The second great influence was the via moderna. McGrath demonstrates that Luther’s three great teachers at Erfurt and Wittenberg—Nathin, Arnoldi, and Staupitz—were adherents to this school. Their distinctive contribution to Theology was the concept of the two wills of God, the potentia absoluta and the potentia ordinate. From this distinction came the idea that God could impose limitations on himself, particularly important in the establishment of a soteriological pactum with man. This concept of a divine-human pactum framed Luther’s early thought. It meant that God was willing to ascribe merit to human deeds which would otherwise have no merit outside of the pactum. Salvation, then, begins with God who establishes the pactum; then, so long a man does quod in se est, God is obligated to save him. Luther’s existential Andfechtung arises from the inability to know if one has ever truly done quod in se est. Finally, Luther is influenced by the Augustinian Order and the late medieval tendency within that Order to shift back toward the teachings of Augustine himself, such as the depravity of man and the necessity of grace.
Following this, Luther’s Dictata super Psalterium is examines with the goal of establishing when it was that Luther actually broke with medieval theology. McGrath places that break near the end of Luther’s lectures on Psalms or at the beginning of his lectures on Romans. His breakthrough comes when he realizes that the mercy of God is evident in the iustitia Dei precisely because its condemnation causes man to cry out to God for mercy, but this can only be perceived by humilitas fidei. Luther comes to see the humilitas fidei as a work of God and not something the sinner can produce. From this, Luther extracts the principle that God reveals his works abscondita sub contrariis. This thought, abstracted from his breakthrough regarding the iustitia Dei, leads Luther to his theologia crucis, where God is most completely revealed in the one event we would be least likely to look for him. Aufechtung must be viewed as ultimately originating from God, and it finds resolution at the cross.
Luther’s Theology of the Cross is a valuable addition to contemporary Luther scholarship. McGrath brings together a vast body of specialized literature along with his own understanding of the primary sources in dealing with a very focused and important piece of the theology of Martin Luther, and of the Reformation as a whole. It may be argued that he makes no significant new contribution to the field of Luther scholarship, other than his unique reconciliation of the data that has led to division of opinion as to the dating of his theological breakthrough, but it cannot be denied that his work is a valuable introduction and evaluation of current Luther scholarship.
McGrath’s approach is instructive. It is common to take Luther’s later theology and seek to trace it as early into his career as possible. However, the results of this approach can be misleading, since similarities of expression can arise from widely divergent perspectives. McGrath contends that Luther should be studied, not in reference to his mature theology, but in reference to late medieval theology. The burden of the Luther scholar is then to demonstrate at what point Luther broke from that complex matrix.
In this endeavor, McGrath shows himself more than capable, and provides valuable insight into the actual state of late medieval theology. Romanticized pictures of Luther’s break with Rome are shown to be based on too great an overgeneralization of catholic thought and at times are simply falsified. Here, also, McGrath demonstrates his own breadth of knowledge, stepping far beyond the suggested scope of his study as he stretches back into earlier eras of the church. Particularly noteworthy here is his development of the impact of Ciceronian thought and Roman Law on the development of ideas related to iustitia and the difficulty arising from imposing those ideas on the iustitia Dei.
McGrath’s writing can be highly technical, though he does often and quite helpfully summarize what he has argued. His summaries and recalls are arguably redundant, but nevertheless well-placed and intentional. He is sparse but effective in his use of illustrations and his development of aspects of Luther’s story are helpful as well. In all, he is both a skilled historian and a gifted writer.
One point of criticism: while dating Luther’s theological breakthrough to the period toward the end of Luther’s lectures on the Psalter and the beginning of his lectures on Romans, McGrath never introduces the possibility that Luther’s breakthrough at that point could be related to the change in content from one book to the other. It would make sense that his emphasis would be on humilitas fidei in the Psalms, bridging into his theological breakthrough regarding iustitia Dei as he entered the book of Romans. Not only does McGrath not take up this thesis, he, uncharacteristically, doesn’t even address it.
It is interesting to this reviewer that McGrath never breaks away from his role as historian and himself becomes a theologian. While keeping with the intention of his book, the theological substance of the material covered must have provided a great temptation in this regard. As a theologian, this reviewer would have liked to see McGrath indulge himself.
Since the rise of interest in Luther’s theologia crucis after the First World War, Luther studies have continued to multiply. McGrath may be thanked from bringing a new generation of English-speaking theologians and Church historians up to speed with much of the last century’s work. ...more