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: God’s Problem (Ehrman)

God's ProblemIn God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Questions—Why We Suffer (Harper One: New York, 2008), Bart D. Ehrman examines the various explanations for suffering presented in the text of the Christian Bible. Ehrman, a New Testament Textual Scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a number of books concerning the text of the Christian Bible, and here presents an exegetical treatment of a contemporary question for the general public. God’s Problem is a New York Times Best Seller, indicating Ehrman’s popularity and the ever-increasing interest that the general public has in answers for life’s questions. In this book, Ehrman gives consideration to various Biblical perspectives and presents the positions in sections dealing with the Classical view of suffering, the Consequential view of suffering, the answer of Redemptive suffering, the Question of Questionable and Meaningless suffering, and the Apocalyptic view of suffering. This review will examine Ehrman’s general perspective on these various positions and additionally his position as presented as the book as a whole. Continue reading

Reflections on Suffering (Part I)

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

BubblesWhy do we suffer? This is a question which, unfortunately, we all must ask at some point in our lives. The 2011-2012 academic year was a year in which this question took on a special relevance in my own life, first in a theology class devoted to wrestling with this question and then in my own life with the illness and death of my Grandfather. Life is painful when the lessons of the classroom become the lessons of reality.

Over the next two weeks, I want to offer some reflections on suffering and then propose a potential “answer” (the scare quotes are very intentional here) to the question of suffering. Today, I offer some basic insights into some of the proposed answers to the theological problem of evil and suffering. Proposed answers to this most hideous and painful of all questions have been labeled such things as the “retributive justice” or Classical view, the Consequences view, Meaningless suffering, the Apocalyptic perspective, and the Free Will argument for suffering. Continue reading

Reflections on Harry Potter

“I cannot get a cup of tea large enough nor a book long enough” –C. S. Lewis

HarryPotterLogoMuch like C.S. Lewis, since I acquired the ability to read, I have always greatly enjoyed the reading of books. Lots of them. In fact, during elementary school I once read so many of the books in our classroom that I resorted to reading the World Book Encyclopedia in order to prevent myself from re-reading too many things. The more books I have read, the more I have come to realize two critical facts: First, there will always be more books to read. By this I mean that no matter how many books I read, there will always be more ideas and narratives to engage (this I see as a great thing, in case you were wondering). And second, there are such things as good books and bad books. That is, the content and worth of all books is not inherently equal. Some great works of literature are clearly more valuable for understanding the human condition than others. To see this, one only need to compare something by Shakespeare with any modern paperback Harlequin romance novel (or perhaps the Twlight series, but I won’t go any further into that hornet’s nest). Of course, there are less drastic comparisons and rankings, but that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to delve into a discussion of some (relatively recent) works of literature that have elicited a variety of judgment calls, especially among American Christians: the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Continue reading

Reflections on an MA

“A man who has been many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” –C.S. Lewis
WFU Graduation

WFU Graduation

Monday marked the official completion of my Master of Art’s degree from Wake Forest University. It has been a long and interesting two years here in Winston-Salem (NC), two years of learning and joy mixed with heartbreak, pain, and uncertainty. Hayley and I have developed many good friendships while here in the South, grown together in our marriage, and learned much about balancing life, work, and education. While challenging at times, my time in the Wake Forest Religion Department was highly informative, and my work in the WFU Classics Department learning Greek and Latin was a blast (despite the long hours and frequent lack of sleep). Engagement with the perspectives of my colleagues and professors has been a formative experience that (I hope) has improved me as a person and as a scholar. Hayley and I have enjoyed having the time and freedom to enjoy each other’s company, to take long walks together, and to share the ‘Church Search’ experience with each other. We’ve been very blessed in doing life together here in North Carolina.

That said, we’ve also had some experiences which were not nearly as pleasant: the pain of church leadership devoted to their own agenda’s, the physical and mental anguish of an unknown health problem, and the uncertainty of what future schooling might involve. Nearly two years ago when planning the move to Winston-Salem, we purposed to make these years a challenge of sorts, seeking to experience life (married life, specifically) ‘on our own.’ There have been times when we felt this choice was a mistake. Our newly-married naiveté played into the church situation, though the developments in our own lives as a result of our Church Search have provided something of a silver lining to that pain. Hayley’s ongoing healthcare battle continues to weigh upon us both, though through a dear friend God has provided a doctor who is both professional and proficient. And despite months of uncertainty regarding where we were headed after Wake Forest and what we would be doing, we did finally receive guidance to our next stop in St. Louis. Continue reading