Book Review: Restoring All Things (Smith and Stonestreet)

“Christians are called to live for the good of the world. This requires understanding and action. We must think clearly about the world and engage deeply when and where we can.”

Restoring All ThingsIn his essay “On the Reading of Old Books”, C.S. Lewis once admonished his readers to engage numerous old books for every new book that they read. The prevailing attitude of Lewis’s day (and, indeed, that of our own) often emphasizes the new. In opposition to this “cult of innovation” we are often encouraged to return to the foundational classics of civilization and culture, and rightly so. Yet along with the wealth of the past, we must also read new books—this very website contains my reflections on a new book almost every week. Many of these new books I fully expect to make only limited lasting contributions to the shape of our world (if they make any substantial contribution at all). There are exceptions of course—though I shall not delve into a catalogue of what I perceive to be the most influential contemporary books in this particular review—and these writings are to be engaged with great eagerness. Certain other books are highly descriptive in nature, accurately taking the pulse of our world from a particular moment and perspective. The best of these are works which not only offer a catalog of contemporary culture but also connect that description with principled analysis. Though I have read many a writing claiming this dual role of description and analysis, none in recent years hold a candle to the work which is the topic of today’s review. Continue reading

Book Review: Varieties of Religious Experience (James)

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William JamesIn The Varieties of Religious Experience, a work based on his delivery of the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, William James sought to examine from the perspective of psychology the subject of religious experiences, seeking to understand man and his consciousness concerning religion.[1] Varieties has become a classic work in a number of fields, but especially so in the study of religious experiences and psychology of religion, a fact to which The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church attests.[2] In this work, James examines an enormous amount of data concerning religious experiences and concludes that religious experience constitutes a positive saving experience that appears to be literal and objective insofar as he can determine.[3] In this paper, we will review and examine James’ book, paying particular attention to facets that may need rethinking or revision in the current 21st Century religious and academic contexts. It should be noted that James provides in this work an astounding amount of evidence and that the scope and depth of his work remains such that we cannot consider every nuance of his presentation. Thus only major points, both for James and for our current consideration, will be examined. Upon reviewing this work, we will find that James has a great deal of insight and evidence to offer concerning religious experiences, but that his perspective needs revision and expansion before it can be considered normative for argumentation today. Continue reading