The Divine Quest, East and West (Part III)

This post concludes a brief series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.

The Divine Quest East and West (Ford)The Divine Quest: East and West provides an engaging, insightful, and balanced approach to considering the Ultimate in three (or four) major religious traditions. From the perspective of one most familiar with Christianity, I especially appreciated the way in which this book uses that tradition as something of a starting point for engagement with two traditions I am less familiar with, those of “Hinduism” and Buddhism. Throughout, I have been impressed by Ford’s consideration of context, conceptual development, and attention to methodological concerns involving reflexivity and the use of appropriate definitions and categories. The commitment to nuanced language and constant reminders of contextual contingency and the purposefully limited claims of this work have been both thought-provoking and helpful guides for my own work. While it would have been interesting to devote a bit more time to Judaism and/or Islam, I believe The Divine Quest will serve as a useful guide for exploring conceptions of ultimacy and the process of tracing the development of various religious imaginations. Continue reading

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The Divine Quest, East and West (Part II)

This post continues a series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.

As part of The Divine Quest, East and West’s turn toward the East in Acts 4 and 5, this reflection deals with the Classical and Colonial periods of Hindu theology. In reviewing the schools of classical Hindu theology, Ford usefully highlights the central theme found in each major school: the attempt to reconcile the one with the many, demonstrating the importance that conceptions of the ultimate Brahman played in the development of the Hindu traditions (125). Effectively, only two major options existed: the Brahman was either impersonal and absolute or personal and theistic (128). The perspectives of Shankara (hierarchical monism) and Ramanuja (quasi-dualistic theism) mirror our earlier interaction with Taylor, again underscoring the similar ways in which even vastly different traditions conceive of the ultimate. I do not wish to argue that the Hindu traditions (or all other major religious perspectives) remains trapped within the dichotomy of monism and dualism, only to note that classical Hinduism appears to revisit some of the same concerns with which the monotheistic traditions have wrestled. Continue reading

Book Review: Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)

Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)Every so often a book comes along and truly rewrites the paradigms of a field. Some twenty-five years ago, David Noebel penned such a book, titled Understanding the Times. In this 900-page tome Noebel outlined the clash between competing worldviews – ways of viewing and interpreting the world – which were occurring throughout in the late 20th century. The original edition of UTT was one of the most popular and influential books ever on culture and worldviews from a Christian perspective, transforming how many people understand the battle of ideas taking place in our times. But the contours of major worldviews have changed since 1991 and the world has changed along with them. To address this new worldviews context, Jeff Myers, in conjunction with David Noebel, undertook a substantial revision of Noebel’s classic work, now called Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries and Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 510pp.). Continue reading

Book Review: A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (Goddard)

A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (Goddard)Islam and its relationship with Christianity remains a subject very much on the minds of many in today’s world. Indeed, for much of the past fifteen years the Western world and its media has routinely faced the question, “What is Islam and how does it affect us?” What few people seem to understand, however, is that Christian interactions with Islam are far from a new phenomenon. Indeed, almost as far back as the beginnings of Islam itself (or, before Muhammad’s revelations, if you believe the legends), Christians have been wrestling with the claims—and often armies—of Islam. Therefore, many people need an introduction to this long and often forgotten history of Muslim-Christian interactions, an introduction that Hugh Goddard offers in A History of Muslim Christian Relations (Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000). Although now fifteen years old, Goddard’s monograph has much to offer for those seeking to understand the shared influences and historical interactions between the world’s two largest religions. Continue reading

Book Review: Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (Khan)

Perceptions of Islam (Kahn)History is contested. Though far from a novel statement, we often need to be reminded that the past is not as clean and easy as our history textbooks make it out to be. This is especially true in matters of religious history and conflict, where seemingly everyone wants to contribute their two cents to hot button issues. Occasionally, however, someone will produce a historical narrative that—while outside the mainstream—remains valuable enough to warrant consideration. Nasir Khan’s Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms may be one such book. Continue reading

Book Review: Did God Really Command Genocide? (Copan and Flannagan)

Did God Really Command GenocideAny contemporary reader who picks up the Bible will be struck by the seeming divide between the God of Jesus Christ and the God who commands the destruction of whole nations and the obliteration of Canaanites during Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. And while many Christians simply don’t think about the possible difficulties of a loving God commanding genocide, that has not stopped critics of Christianity—especially the New Atheists—from using portions of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges as ammunition for their assaults on Christian faith. Truth be told, this seeming contradiction between a God of Love and God of Wrath is not something new, for as early as the mid-second century a follower of Jesus names Marcion argued that the god’s of the Old and New Testaments were different entities. Clearly, there is much at stake in the answer to the question: did God really command genocide in the Old Testament? Continue reading

Book Review: Fields of Blood (Armstrong)

Fields of BloodFor many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” Continue reading

Reflections on Vatican II

Vatican II (Calnewman.org)The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) stands apart as one of the single most important events of modern Church history, not only because of the number of Christians that the Church at Rome influences, but also because of the magnitude and depth of the canons of the council. While a thorough examination remains outside the parameters of our course, here we examine three of the most interesting and impactful sections of the Vatican II documents, those decrees on Indulgences, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Non-Christian Religions. Through our examination of these sections we will note the interesting connection of the Vatican II statements to the history of the Catholic Church. Continue reading

Second Treatise of Great Seth

Nag Hammadi CodicesThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.[1] Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery,[2] though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4.[3] In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it.[4] In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing.[5] Continue reading