The book is what the title says, a guide to reading the Psalms. The book is broken into three parts – The Psalms Then and Now (chapters 1-5), The Art of the Psalms (6-8), and a Melody of Psalms (9-11). The chapters are The Genres of the Psalms; The Origin, Development and Use of the Psalms, The Psalms: The Heart of the Old Testament; A Christian Reading of the Psalms; The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul; Old Testament Poetry; Understanding Parallelism; Imagery in the Psalms; Psalm 98; Psalm 69; Psalm 30. Part three (the last three chapters) is essentially a mini commentary on these three Psalms, in which Longman shows the aspects of the Psalms that he has covered in this book. There is also an intro and epilog, as well as an answer key to the exercises and a guide to commentaries, which is quite helpful.
The Psalms is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and Longman is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars/authors, so this is a pretty straight forward must read for me. The book is short and cheap to begin with, but it is over 30 years old now, so you can find copies for a few dollars. Buy the ones with a harp playing shepard on the front, it is the older one. They have since repackaged the book with a weird eyeball on the front.
The best part of the book is probably Part 2, where he goes through Old Testament poetry. This disconnect between ancient Hebrew poetry and the modern western conception of poetry is probably what keeps most people from diving into the Psalms as much as they should. It is not only one of the longest books in the Bible, but it is the most quoted in the New Testament. All kinds of prayer and reading plans for centuries have called for an immersion in Psalms. It is an important book, and I think a large subset of Christians (low church/baptist/non-denom people like me) really miss the value of the Psalms.
Longman spend Part 1 of the book arguing for the value of the Psalms, especially how they have been used historically. I would have liked him to go a little deeper into the genres chapter, but the Psalms are notoriously hard to categorize (and some fit many or all categories). His short exegesis of the three selected Psalms is also helpful in understanding the different genres and poetic structures.
Overall, if you want to start reading the Psalms regularly or already are, but are struggling to understand parts, this is a great, short book that will give you a broad overview into some of the confusing aspects. The book itself is actually short the Psalms, so well worth it. His commentary guide at the end is also helpful (though slightly dated) in diving even deeper; but if are wanting to get into a better understanding of how to read the Psalms, this book is a must read.
Modeled on the old school (though not as old as I thought) ‘food pyramid’, McCracken seeks to give us guidelines for what to consume to gain wisdom. The book is broken into two parts. First, keeping with the food metaphor (eating too much, too fast, and unbalance) is the ‘source of our sickness’ which has three chapters: Information Gluttony, Perpetual Novelty, and ‘Look Within’ Autonomy. Part two lays out the pyramid in these chapters: Part Two Intro, The Bible, The Church, Nature, Books, Beauty, The Internet and Social Media, and What Wisdom Looks Like (which is part summary and part conclusion for the whole book). There is also an introduction (An Unwise Age) that does well to diagnoses many of our current issues.
The first part of the book was unexpected. I thought the focus would be just the pyramid, but McCraken does a great and concise job of diagnosing the problem. That made the book stronger and I appreciate his continued use of the food metaphor. Overall, I agreed with most of his food groups, but not all. In his defense, he points out that the metaphor breaks down a bit, but the overall focus was balance. Starting with the Bible is a good choice, obviously you can’t really read it more than all other books combined, and his point isn’t that you should read other books.
The next two levels, the church and nature, were really well done. Considering these are all short chapters, everyone should read this the book, but these two chapters were probably the best. He does a great job of pointing to the communal aspect of church, and reading this now (hopefully with the end in sight) in the pandemic, is an important reminder of what we are missing. I was skeptical of nature at first. I enjoy the outdoors (fishing, hiking, camping, etc.), but I’m usually wary of Christians how push it as necessary (conflating the outdoor life with ‘manliness’), but that is not at all what he did. He writes of the value of nature for our brains, touching on neuroscience, and the enjoyment of God’s creations. He reaches back to Augustine and Calvin and the ‘two-book’ theory of general revelation. It is probably one of the best handlings of nature by a Christian author that I have read.
Books, of course, was great. He is a big book guy, I’m a big book guy. I remain skeptical that if you are not an avid reader, that you would agree with him. Most people aren’t going to read 30-50 books a year, but maybe he could have set a goal for people on the lower end, or people who don’t challenge themselves to read, preferring, instead, to live a life of functional illiteracy. I must point out, because it is so often incorrectly quoted, that C.S. Lewis said read ONE old book for every three NEW books. People often flip the quote.
The weakest chapter for me was beauty. I understand he was likely being vague so that it could encompass various arts, but I wonder if the point would be clearer/stronger, if he dove into one think (i.e. Music). Or at least encourage people to actively participate. This may not be what he actually believes, that we must create, but I find that to be a little closer to the truth. The final chapter is on social media/internet. He makes a compelling argument to not abandon them completely and offers strong guidance on how to cultivate use. I am not a heavy social media uses, so much of what he offered seemed simple, but I know it is more difficult for others.
I thought one thing that was missing, or maybe just not pointed out clearly enough, was TV. I could see how quality TV/Movies (he is a professional movie critic) could fit into beauty, but also (he points to bingeing on Netflix) social media/internet. Maybe I’m just old for thinking of TV as a separate category (don’t worry, I do stream shows, no cable at the MMT household), but on the other hand, I don’t know many things that waste as much of peoples time in mindless consumption as TV. Sure, you may mindlessly scroll for 30 minutes on Facebook, but people will eat dinner in front of the TV, then watch for another four hours, before going to bed.
The only other issue I had, and to stick with his food metaphor, was this was really just a sampling. Again in his defense, I believe this was by design. I will likely pull more books from his end notes than I typically do. I’ve read most of the tech ones (his big omission was Irresistible, about the way tech has been made to be ‘addictive’. I had not read many of the books from the nature chapter, that seem like they integrate theology and nature well or on a psychology and nature level.
Overall, I think everyone needs to read this book. It is relatively short and can give you great guidance on your consumption. Extra points to him and the publishers for adding discussion questions. I already know a guy who is doing this book with his men’s group. This book would be a great discussion starter on how you are spending time and ways you can reorder your intake, especially on tech and books. It isn’t perfect, and many people will disagree with the levels (outside of the top and the bottom, hopefully), but it is a compelling starting point and a must read.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Alexander traces the concept of ‘City’ throughout the Bible, starting with Genesis (specifically Tower of Babylon) through the rest of the OT (specifically Jerusalem as the temple city) to the end of the New Testament (with the coming of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation).
The book is broken into eight chapters, The Godless City, The Temple-City, The Holy Mountain City, The Royal City, Envisaging a Transformed City, and Hope for Jerusalem beyond Divine Judgement, Seeking the City That Is To Come, and Anticipating New Jerusalem. There is also an introduction (plus the series introduction), a ‘further reading’, as well as general and scriptural indices.
If you are expecting the title to be drawn from Augustine’s book of the same name, you’ll be a little disappointed. This is where it is important to closely read the book description. That is not the fault of the book, but I was expecting something else. I’m sure the Augustinian influence was part of the title choice, but if you are looking for a well known book from the past to play off of, I would have gone with ‘Tale of Two Cities’. The bulk of the book, the first six chapters, deal with the Old Testament dichotomy of Babylon vs. Jerusalem. Chapter 7, deals with Christ/Us as the new temple/new city, while only the final chapters discusses the future New Jerusalem in the New Earth.
As a professional city planner, any discussion of cities is interesting to me. Alexander does an excellent job in his exegesis of the various Biblical Passages that deal with the two cities. I would have liked to have more about the New Jerusalem, but I suppose as part of the ‘not yet’, we don’t know a good deal about it, nor do we have much to say. As far as the physical attributes of the New Jerusalem, his understanding and interpretation is one of the best I’ve read.
Overall, this was a good book, particularly for anyone specifically interested in the Biblical treatment of cities. However, I wonder how broadly interesting it may be. Again, this is not the fault of the book. When I finished it, I went back to review the series intro. Each book is narrowly construed, by design. I don’t know if the long term plan is to bind them all in one massive take on a Systematic, with each book being a section, but that is ultimately how they read. I’ve read Work and Our Labor in the Lord, it is also pretty good, and I see a few others I’d like to read. However, popularily, I think most will enjoy this book, but it is probably best for those looking for something specifically about cities.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Level: Easy narrative, short (just over 200 pages).
This book consist of three short stories: A River Runs Through It; Logging and Pimping and “Your Pal, Jim”; and USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky. All are quite short at 104, 20, and 90, respectively. The first is his most famous story, and the one that was made into a movie. The movie actually does a pretty good job, but of course misses some things, yet often quote directly, which is always a nice touch. It is a somewhat meandering story of his life in relation to his brother, as well as his brother in law (which the movie downplays). There are many funny stories and anecdotes of his early adult life, underpinning the story is that of needing help, and helping ‘brothers’ (of which he includes his BiL, in contrast).
The second story is about his summers spent in a logging camp, and his competition with ‘Jim’. He showcases his own pride, but it is also one of the best portrayals of love/hate relationships between men, in such a short story. It is also quite funny. The final story is about a summer working for the US Forest Service. Again, themes of pride, respect for his boss, and dislike for ‘the cook’, but this story has an point/ending you may not be suspecting, in that they attempt to rob a casino. Not quite, but that makes it sound more dramatic, more of being cardsharks in a poker room, that they know will end in fights and them running away with money.
While the other two aren’t quite as good as his more famous first story, try to buy a copy that has all three instead of just A River Runs Through It. It is the same price or cheaper, and if you ever want to read an author because of a story that was recommended, buying the anthology book is a good way to decide if you want to read more. In Maclean’s, these three are his only writings for general audiences (apparently he also wrote a field manual for the Navy and a textbook while teach at Chicago). That is my general tip for buying books.
Maclean is a fascinating person. Famous to me for fly fishing and the movie made from this book. He also worked for the Forest Service and spent summers working in logging camps. He spent most of his life as an English professor at the University of Chicago; the publisher of this book. Interestingly, this is the only fiction the press has ever published. Again, fascinatingly, he refers to it as fiction in the sense that they are stories that he believes to be true, somewhere between historical fiction and autobiography. This book was a huge success and then he died, which is truly tragic. He was old, so, not tragic in that way, but if he had more stories in him, I’d read every one of them. His uniqueness also stems from his time and place in life. He was born over 100 years ago, but overlapped with my life. However, in some instances his life seems even longer before the modern are due to living out in the intermountain west. The jobs and aspects of his daily life as a teenager/young adult seem so foreign now as I write this.
I’m not a big highlighter, I don’t like my books marked up, but I intend to read back through this a note a few things. There are at least 10 worth note in A River, and maybe three to five in the other stories. Half the quotes from the latter made it into the movie, fortunately. One of my favorite quotes, and the movie fails a bit at this, as I said above, though there is still a focus on the brotherly relationship, is his bit about once brothers reach a certain age, the question of who can beat who, if not settled, must be put down and left alone. This maybe stuck out more to me than others. My brother and I are unusually close in age (7 months), so the question of the better fighter (me) still looms in our 30s, and now I also have twin sons.
The second two stores are just great short stories of summer work and life in manual labor a century ago. Though perhaps logging camps today aren’t as different, certainly the pride/personality differences he highlights remain. I think anyone interested that time or life, would find these stores interesting. I worked for a summer in Montana when I was 19, which got me into fly fishing, which naturally led to this book (I spent time on the river the movie was filmed, but not his actual river), so the notion of summer work or migrant (by choice) work is familiar, in some ways, to me (though, I moved on and did not continue the life).
However, A River, stands on its own a great American work of literature. You will not find as much about marriage/family, brothers (in all senses), the existential issues of family and needing help, fishing, fighting, drinking, the Westminster Standards, or outdoor life, all packed into 100 pages in any other book. Sometimes when I read a book, I can become almost frustrated, because I read it and think, if I ever could write well, this is how I would want to write. Maclean had me putting this book down in multiple points to stop and thing, this is exactly how I feel and the perfect way to write this. This is easily one of my favorite books of all time, probably top three in fiction (broadly defined), and if you are interesting in anything mentioned, this book is a must read.
Level: Moderately difficult (four of the five are academics and some of the terms/phrases used reflect this), medium length (300+)
I’m finding this harder to summarize than you may think. If you grew up in the conservative Christian world, as I did, you’ve doubtless heard the word ‘inerrancy’ without much clear meaning, making this book incredibly compelling. You might not know that the inerrancy as you know it came from a relatively recent development and statement called the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy‘ from the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. This book is more a debate on the statement, specifically its use, than inerrancy writ large, though that is discussed. If you haven’t read the statement, go read it before reading this book. Due to this, and the multitude of discussions that can come from the topic, this book is different than others. So in this series have clear delineations – the world is thousands vs. billions of years old, the millennium is pre/post rapture, etc. – yet, even in those, often, the writers speak past each other and don’t always remain in topic. This is the most dramatic of those instances, except, the essays are so far apart, that it actually works, for the most part.
This is one where you need to read the introduction, they explain that they sent these authors the assignment or reacting to the Statement, then sending back three problematic verses that challenge the statement. The editors then editors then selected three of the verses and each author was to respond. The authors were chosen to be on different spectrum of evangelism, and in different disciplines with Frank/Vanhoozer being theologians, Bird (who wrote one of the best systematics out there)/Enss as Biblical Scholars, and Mohler being a historical theologian (if you listen to his podcast, you know that he changes his title often, but in reality, at this point, he is a political pundit).
In the intro, the editors point out how different the essays ended up being, and so grouped them differently than planned, so they broke the book into three parts – Perspectives on Inerrancy and the Past (with Mohler writing what he calls the ‘classical view’ and Enns writing that inerrancy isn’t what the Bible does), then a break into the International View from Bird who writes that inerrancy isn’t necessary, and finally, Renewing and Recasting Inerrancy (Vanhoozer writing for an ‘Augustinian View’ and Franke writing the Racasting essay). As is typical in this series, after each essay were responses from the other authors. Unlike others, there was no rejoinder, probably due to length (and possible the jumbled way the essays mixed), which was a good decision overall. While this likely had the best Intro, it probably had the worst Conclusion of any in the series, but it still made some good points.
I understand why the editors set it up they way they did, I’m sure it was a long and agonizing debates, trying the suffel these essays around in a coherent flow. As I wrote, I came up with other ways to rearrange, but as I finished, all but one were clearly inferior. However, I do think there is a better way (I doubt my idea is unique, and it was surely discussed and discarded for reasons, likely behind the scenes, of which I am unaware), that would also flow better in the typical ‘views’ sense – I’d keep Mohler first, as the cheerleader view, then group Bird/Vanhoozer together as generally supporting inerrancy in concept (maybe they disagree) but not supporting the Statement/ICBI or how it has been used, and then finishing the book with Enns/Franke as supporting neither the Statement/ICBI, how it has been used, nor the concept itself. This layout also accomplishes having a theologian/scholar in each section.
That being said, I was excited to read this book, it has been on my list for about five years before I finally got around to it, which is too bad, I wish I had read it years ago. I don’t want to sound fanboy, but just having Enns, Bird, and Vanhoozer in one book is worth the cost. I had never heard of Franke before, and after reading his essay, I see that is probably due to him being outside of my perspective, so that is a nice addition. Overall, the book lives up to the hype and is the best of the Counterpoint Series, and contro a comment from Bird in the book, the place I would recommend someone start if they want to dive into theological topics. I will attempt some brief thoughts on each essay and then an additional recommendation on how I think the book could have been improved.
Few Christian authors today have the rhetorical flourishes and persuasive writing abilities of Mohler. I read his essay and came away think, ‘how is this a debate, all Christians should affirm the Statement as written’, even if I was a little skeptical of his historical claims. Then you read the responses, which were universal (in a way unlike any other essay) in pointing out that he didn’t actually say anything. Again with universal agreement, the responses criticized both his use of classical and history, as well him more advocating his interpretation as inerrant that the Biblical text. In this sense, his essay very aptly pointed out all that is wrong with the statement and how it has been used, that the remainder of the book will point to. But man, is his writing good. I think now (almost 10 years after writing the book) that he has solved CRT, he can move on to a life fully in politics.
I think I have read all of Enns’ book so far (if you haven’t, this is probably a good intro to Enns), so I mostly new what he was going to say. His essay was twofold in pointing to our modern view of ‘inerrancy’ and reading the Bible as if it were written by journalist is a completely different way the Bible would have been read for thousands of years, which is why there are clear contradictions (but only insofar as we have overly literalized our reading of the text) and that we are making a category mistake in the way we approach the Bible. The second part criticizes the Statement/ICBI itself as being a small subset of evangelicals from the beginning, being a political statement, and essentially arguing a hermeneutic more than a view of scripture. While the Statement saw the Bible has truth in what it affirms, but then states that science cannot overturn the Bible. Whether you want to admit it or not, this latter statement necessarily implies a literalist interpretation. Enns calls the statement an intellectual disaster for evangelicals.
Bird’s essay is probably the best of the book for me, as I tend to agree with most of his scholarly and theological points. He is also an outsider from the American evangelical world (which is why he doesn’t know that the Canada has its own football, distinct from American, or that only yankees say ‘iced-tea’, Southerns says sweet tea or simple, tea), which separates him from the Moral Majority/Political right playbook interpretation of scripture that Mohler is beholden to. Bird is also funny, you get funny visions like ‘Kim Kardashian attending a Jihadist for Jesus fundraiser’ and bad puns like ‘not for all the iced(sic)-tea in Kentucky (presumably pointed at Mohler?). Bird affirms what he calls infallibility, which is an actual historical use and term. He agrees with most(all?) of the points of the Statement, but mostly criticized for its narrow view of interpretation and the fact that the ICBI is about as ‘international’ as the winner of the ‘World’ Series (see, that’s funny). He rightly points to it being used as a bully pulpit of hermeneutics in that if you don’t agree, you are rejecting scripture and therefore God, and that there are over a billion Christians around the world who do not insist on inerrancy nor does the Westminster or London Confessions use the word.
Vanhoozer’s essay similarly affirms infallibility and most of the words of the Statement, while criticizing its use and interpretation, but from the (American evangelical) inside. He differs slightly from Bird in that while Bird seems to say drop it or rewrite it entirely (this time actually internationally), vanhoozer would like it to be revised. The crux of his argument is an interpretation based on Augustine’s view of scripture, which took a high view, stating that if something seemed wrong it was either the translation (though he was referring to the poor latin copies in existence in that day, during the decline of Kiona Greek) or in his understanding. Yet, it seems Augustine would reject the Statement, as he doesn’t think it has to do with science (he did not believe in a six day creation, though not due to ‘science’ as it was in his day). Vanhoozer also points to the ‘affirm’ piece of inerrancy (which is somewhat contradicted elsewhere in the statement) in that the Bible is not a textbook for geology/biology (also, an actual historical view as Calvin said ask an astrologer). Vanhoozer is a long writer and uses pretty high end academic terms, so get ready.
With all due respect to Franke and his position, I don’t have much to respond to. While I really enjoyed all of his responses (probably the best responder behind Bird), his essay was, well, odd. He clearly rejects inerrancy as a concept, but not in the concrete way that Enns does. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what he believes. He refers to an understanding of the Bible as a ‘missional community’, and at times sounds like a charismatic/pentecostal while at others sounds more like a ‘classical’ liberal protestant. He refers to himself as post-liberal, post-modern, and post-foundationalist. As with the others, he had many criticisms of how the statement is used and I found myself in agreement or learning for these, but not much from his positive articulation. He simarlily uses high academic language, including concept I had to go look up, such as foundationalsim.
He did bring up one interesting critique of this volume itself, that it is five white guys talking about inerrancy. While that is a little too reductionistic, as I think it diminishes Bird’s view as a non-American (though maybe he deserves it for disparaging football), just for the problem of being white.That being said, various surveys put black Christians as making up about 1/4 to 1/6 of the US Christian population, depending on how you define things. Let’s meet in the middle can call it 1/5 and there are five authors of this book. I would have been very interested to hear a black church (either a historically black denomination or a SBC pastor who serves in a black community) theologian/scholar talk about the view on inerrancy in the black community. I think this would have been more valuable than Franke’s essay (I’m an American in the South, so my apologies to the international readers, as this clearly would benefit them less).
A few other concluding thoughts, the attempt to interpret the three scriptures was a mixed bag, but perfectly illustrates the issues of true ‘inerrancy’. I don’t know if this is an academic thing, or just because it is a ‘Christian’ publication, but I liked that everyone praised each other before disagreeing with them, I think that attitude of humility is sorely needed right now. While it was disjointed at times, I think the diversity of perspective or even essay topic helpful and interesting. I think for anyone interested in inerrancy, Biblical interpretation, Biblical studies, theology, American evangelicalism, or even study the Bible, this book is a must read.
I set the bar pretty low this year with my 2020 Reading Challenge, so, luckily, I was able to clear it. Some people were able to read more during the pandemic, but that was not the case for me. Two of the books were not on my list originally and were quite short (under 100 pages), but they were free on Kindle, so I tried them out.
I had originally planned to read two Keller books – Songs of Jesus and Meaning of Marriage – but I dropped both of those. I was about nine months through the former when our church started a read through the entire Bible plan and I only read the intro chapter to the latter because it was part of a study my community group was doing that started in March. I planned to pick both of those back up in August/September of 21. Coincidentally, I added two Keller books, I reread Prayer and read Reason for God, somewhat on a whim.
I had also planned to try to get through Greek for the Rest of Us and to read Foundations of the Christian Faith (Boice) with Mrs. MMT, neither of which worked. Other than those, I hit the rest of those on my list plus a few more. Some came because of some prep work for church, and others came on a whim where I just felt like ordering something else to read.
Here are the books in no particular order:
A River Runs Through It and Other Stories – a great collection of stories by an incredible writer, I bought this book along with a few others to avoid watching the news and give me something else to do.
Blood Meridian – another one I bought to avoid life. McCarthy might be one of the most overrated writers today.
Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles – Technically, also a Keller book, but Kathy. This was free on Kindle and is part of a three part series. Somewhat ironically, this was the only one that was free.
How to Read the Psalms – I’m working a long term study of Psalms, had hoped to have it out earlier.
The Language of God – My Review, bought this as part of prep of a panel discussion on evolution/age of the earth (watch it here).
Anna Karenina – Been on the list awhile, Mrs. MMT stole it from me, read it first and then has complained I have finished. Netflix has the miniseries, so we’ll probably watch that when football is over.
The Reason for God – My Review. Fairly famous book that I had not read. I was talking to a coworker who mentioned reading it. He was not someone I would have expected to read something like this, so I felt compelled to get to it.
Four Views on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design – My review, again prep for this series.
Prayer – My review. I was just struggle in the midst of the pandemic and had hoped to ramp up my prayer life, so I went back to this book, probably the best on prayer there is.
The Old Man and the Sea – My review. Good short book.
Speaking Truth in Love – This had been on my list for awhile. Not as great as I had hoped.
Seaworthy – My review. This might have been one of the wildest things I’ve ever read. Took it from my dad back this summer.
Coronavirus and Christ – My review. Free book from Piper.
Welcoming the Future Church – My review. I think this is the last ARC book I’ve received.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Someone at work lent this to me. It helped her, but isn’t something I need too much help with. I may still review it, but ultimately it is a blog post turned into a book, where the guy seems to forget his shtick, and has to add nurmours f*cks on some pages.
Reflections at 90 – My review. Been on the list awhile
The Great Divorce – Reread it as part of my community group.
Dune – I could have sworn I reviewed this. I guess I need to get on it before the movie comes out. A genre defining book that lives up to hype.
Jesus Skeptic – My review, another ARC book, one of the better ones. Good for basic knowledge/apologetics.
An old fisherman who has not caught anything in days so farther out than usual to catch a fish. He catches a large one that drags him for days even farther out to sea.
Spoiler (for a 70 year old book), while the fish doesn’t get away, he was unable to get it back to shore as sharks pick off all the meat before he gets home.
This is a classic book, that many people probably had to read in middle school and probably didn’t pay much attention to. The book is at its best when it is the old man and his inner dialogue of not wanting to quite and being stubborn. End the end, it doesn’t work, the incident is a perfect example of sunk cost fallacy. The old man believes himself to be resilient and tough, but he is actually a fool who loses almost every thing and gains nothing. Though as I get old (and continue to be an unsuccessful fisherman), I do gain more empathy for him.
Spoiler again – I knew this was a classically tragic story, but for whatever reason, I didn’t even think of sharks. I just assumed the line would break before he could get him to shore.
I detest the lack of chapters or page breaks. I find it annoying and think books or authors that employ this ‘style’ are often overrated for doing something different.
However, overall it is a pretty good book. A somewhat unique twist on an old story. There are cool historical notes about how poor fisherman actually worked back then, which was surprisingly interesting to me and probably a few dozen other people. If you are looking for a short book or an American classic, it is good one for the job.
Level: Medium length, around 250 pages; moderate read, some parts are a little philosophical or scientific.
The title is fairly clear. This is an apologetic work for why Keller thinks there is a reason for God’s existence, specifically the God of the Bible. The book is broken into two parts – The Leap of Doubt, and The Reasons for Faith. The former deals with criticisms or issues that skeptics may have for God, while the later gives proofs. There is also a introduction and an epilogue.
Each of the parts are broken into seven chapters: There Can’t be Just One Religion, How Could a Good God Allow Suffering, Christianity is a Straightjacket, Science has Disproved Christianity, and You Can’t Take the Bible Literally for part one. Part two includes: The Clues of God, The Knowledge of God, The Problem of Sin, Religion and the Gospel, The (True) Story of the Cross, The Reality of the Resurrection, and The Dance of God.
So, my first thought is that since this book is a little old, and highly influential, not much may seem new to you. Obviously, Keller didn’t invent arguments for God, he is using what is out there, but the way he so intelligently and succinctly puts everything together really stands out and has permeated the reformed/evangelical world over the past decade plus.
Even with that, I think this is a must read for most Christians, as it is more or less an Apologetics 101 in a relatively short book. Again, I think some of the arguments may seem well known, especially the the response to the ‘critique’ that all religions are the same. In some ways this critique is so intellectually lazy, that it should be ignored, but it really can’t be. For one, most Christians don’t take the Bible seriously enough to care whether it is true, but more importantly, on a philosophical level, the idea that the divergent thoughts of some many religions could all ‘be the same’ really needs to be shut down quickly. Now, that doesn’t get you to a ‘god’ and certainly doesn’t get you to the God of the Bible, but this line of thinking is internet atheist level ignorance.
Overall, I think the defense (part 1) section of the book is valuable in teaching people the critiques that are out there, even if some are weak. That isn’t to diminish some of the questions, most of these are thinks Christians have wrestled with for centuries. I think this section is especially valuable for new Christians or high schoolers (or parents of high schoolers), because that is about the time when people will go off and find their first criticisms of religion, especially as the go on and live their beliefs on their own.
I have mixed thoughts on the second part, not because isn’t good (it is great, actually), but because of my own views on the ‘self-evident’ type arguments. On one hand, I believe the proof chapters are the most important, but on the other, I find some to be less compelling. I’m skeptical of arguments for clues of God or knowledge of God. Now, Romans tells us that the ‘law’ is written on the hearts of all people, and there is some clear acknowledgment of this. For instance, read Sapiens or many high level works on Physics, and you’ll get to some ‘universal constant’ or ‘unifying theory of all’, but I wonder how compelling this is to non-believers. For the angry/internet atheist, they already believe in God, they are just angry at him. For the agnostic, they know there is something out there, their question is more on the comprehensibility (even if the couch it in ‘knowability’). Keller admits, even if someone acknowledges some level of ‘higher power’, we still don’t necessarily have the Trinitarian God of orthodox Christianity.
Which is why I think the latter part of section two is so important. Modern evangelism is over run with ‘the feels’, an everlasting by-product of Charles Finney (and the impact of Schleiermacher and the Enlightenment), in which we describe what we ‘know’ about God/Christ by how it has impacted out life. We explain Christ in what he has done for us. This is a non-Biblical practice. We don’t know Christ is Lord because he is ‘in our hearts’, we know because the resurrection is fact.
The most skeptical thing you can say is that the earliest believers accepted the resurrection as fact. I think this is truly the starting point for anyone interest in apologetics or skepticism. People died for this belief, people only decades after Christ died. There has to be a reason, and it also lends credence to truth and reliability of the Bible. Far too many Christians are unaware of this, either through lack of care or critical thinking or challenge or knowledge of history. Again, this is a great, important section for new believers and high schoolers, especially those headed to college, because these are the base facts of our beliefs.
Paul himself says that if the resurrection doesn’t exist, we (that is Christians) are the most of all to be pitied. Yet far too many of us can’t easily explain why we believe what we believe as a truth (often, if we can, it is only as a ‘feels’). This book is a must read for all Christians either as your first run, teaching you the basics of reason and understanding, or the older Christian as a reminder on the basics of the truths to which we believe.
Level – Medium length, moderately to highly (especially the last chapter) scientific/technical language (from three of the authors)
The format is the now standard Counterpoint Series – Essay/Argument, responses from the other three authors, then a rejoinder. Also, intro and conclusion from an editor (this time, from one that is affiliated with one of the other authors, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, however, he does acknowledge this up front).
The four views are Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth/Progressive Creationism (also often known as Day-age Creation), Evolutionary Creationism (also known as Theistic Evolution, but she explains why they is a weak and broader term than her view, which I found compelling), and Intelligent Design.
I was torn on how to rate this. Three of the authors made this a five star, must read, but the first author was just a disaster. I would give him a zero if possible. I’ve read probably 10 of the Counterpoint books and his essay was the weakest one I’ve ever read. He weakens not just this book, but the entire series.
Ham has no education or training in either science or theology and it shows. He doesn’t seem to understand how science works, and is unrelenting in his belief that his theological interpretation is the only valid one. His understanding of church history (claims that his view is the historical one, which is demonstrably false) and Hebrew is also lacking. His responses boiled down to ‘na-uh’, putting things in ‘scare quotes’ the he didn’t agree with, and questioning the salvation of the other authors.
The editor even pointed out in the conclusion that he refused to shorten his essay, due to be the only one to support Biblical authority (the editor also expressed dismay over the lack of charity). Obviously, this is incorrect as there are multiple conservative (SBC, PCA, etc.) pastors, theologians, commentaries authors, Hebrew scholars, and seminary professors that do not share his view. I assume when he said he wouldn’t meet the standards everyone agree to, that he threaten to leave the project, and it is a shame that the editor and publisher didn’t just allow this to happen and move on without him. The book would have been far superior with his absence.
Now back to the good part. Ross was likely my favorite writer of the group. He made compelling arguments for the ‘Day-age’ view of creation. So, he uses the more general ‘framework theory’ of Genesis 1, not that they are literal days. He agrees with geology and physics that the world is Billions of years old, but not with biology that we evolved (explicitly reject the ‘common descent’ evolution). He sees God involving himself in the changes to species throughout time, creating new ones in history. He also had a fascinating argument that one reason there have been no new species since humans came on to the scene is because God rested from creation. Not sure if I believe it, but compelling and interesting nonetheless. He take the order of creation to be literal, so expects that science will prove that at some point. I generally agreed with his interpretive view, but I wonder about picking some science and not others.
Haarsma took the Evolutionary Creation view, making the point that creation is the point and evolution modifies it, not the other way around, as with Theistic Evolution. Also, ‘theistic’ is no necessarily the God of the Bible. She accepts science on both age of the earth and evolution. She also takes the ‘framework view’ which is common among Evangelical scholars. She doesn’t take the creation order as literal and supports common ancestry. Her organization (Biologos) seems to be focused on evangelism to those in the scientific field, so she starts with accepting science, and then moving to God and Christ.
This is a different approach from Meyer. His group, The Discovery Institute, isn’t focused on evangelism or apologetics, but instead focuses on the issues within the science, and the argument that the science itself calls for a creator. In that way, his group does not have faith statements for the God of the Bible or Christ and has other religious and non-religious people within his organization; though he himself is a committed orthodox Christian. His focus was entirely on the science of biological evolution, and did not make much of a theological argument (which is fine, that is how his organization works). He accepts all science on age of the earth and biology in regards to evolution, his point is to argue that is was directed by God (which is not really different than Haarsma essay). His article was maybe the most interesting, but certainly the most technical, so get ready, it might take awhile.
Three of the authors have PhD’s in science, and then there is Ham. Due to this, there are some technical aspects of the writing in all chapters. There is also the academic argumentation that occurs in, well, academic/scientific research, but for some reason it seems odd in this book. Maybe that was an editorial decision. It is also likely, unavoidable, though, were I the editor, I don’t think I would allow arguments that use scientists who point out issues with evolution, yet still fully support it. That is just how science and research work, and the fact that these issues don’t sway those scientist somewhat undermines the argument.
Most of the authors cited widely, with the exception of Ham, who only cited himself (which is fine if you are published) or his organization (or their printing arm). He also labeled others who disagreed that were cited elsewhere as ‘atheistic’ regardless of what they actually believed, I assume in an attempt to scare people. Again, I would just cut him out entirely, so I’ll ignore the other issues with him.
Another editorial change would be to lock down some definitions. There seemed to be at least four working definitions for evolution alone, which sometimes lead to people talking past each other. I would have liked to see some more discussion of ‘special creation’ for those who support evolution, but I guess Haarsma mentions a few things that makes her views clear, while Meyer stuck to science and no theological arguments.
I’m actually still torn on the inclusion of Meyer. His arguments were inline with the others, with huge agreement with Haarsma. It is just that his tactic is different. Ultimately, I think he brought a lot of value, but due to his nature, it didn’t leave much for the others to interact with. Haarsma and Ross, agreed with him and his critiques of science, respectively. As I mentioned above, he article was maybe the best, but as he isn’t really arguing a different ‘view’, it left the chapter feeling a little disconcordant.
If you have interest on the science (mostly settled) and theology (all over place) of creation, this is a book to put on your list. As for age of the earth, if you are a committed young earth, this book will help you understand the old age arguments and show how it doesn’t have to end your faith. If you are trying to understand young earth, you should probably look elsewhere, as Ham is a street corner preacher that yells at people as the pass bye. Certainly there are better sources out there. The strength of the book is evolution science (though Ross and Haarsma have PhD’s/academic careers in the astro-physics realm, which does come up and is quite good), so if that is what you are interested in (while still maintaining a Christian belief, or if you don’t want to see the Christian belief that discusses evolution seriously) then this book is a must read. If you interest is the theology of evolution, this is still good, but the Four Views on the Historical Adam (my review) is better. If you are trying to read everything you can about all these, put it on your list.
I’m not doing to normal format today, just a quick review of a short book. You can get it free (digitally, at least) from Desiring God. There are multiple formats. I read it on my Kindle, but look at the PDF, ignoring all the notes and copyright/table of contents, you are looking at about 90 pages. Piper breaks the books in to two parts after an intro about what is happening and where we are (or were, the book was written mid March) – The God Who Reigns Over Coronavirus and What is God Doing Through the Coronavirus.
The first part is five short chapters, all on some aspect of God’s sovereignty. This shouldn’t be too surprising coming from Piper. As always, that sovereignty is both comforting and a little scary. We know that God is in control, but often we wish it was us instead. Likewise, there is a strong line of Christ’s Supremacy, and how He should be out focus. This part is saturated with Scripture, especially Paul.
The second part is what he calls ‘paths’, but I find that a little confusing, because they are not exclusive. Either way, the part heading is a little clearer in that these are things that God is/may be doing with Coronavirus. I don’t agree with all them, necessarily, and Piper even points out that people might; however he lays out what he things God is doing, and then explains why. The six ideas are – Picturing Moral Horror, Sending Specific Divine Judgement, Awakening Us for the Second Coming, Realigning Us with the Infinite Worth of Christ, Creating Good Works in Danger, and Loosening the Roots to Reach the Nations.
I found the first and third chapters to be interesting, but not sure it was the strongest case. I had the most disagreement with the second chapter. The second half were the strongest three, especially the calls to action he gives in the final two chapters. Those are good reminders of our call in life as Christians and how we should be/act different(ly) than society as a whole. Our call to serve and reach people for Christ should be our highest priorities, even in the midst of tragedy.
He ends the book with a short prayer regarding Covid-19. In some ways the book could be a long sermon, especially the way he lays out the foundations of God’s reign over the world, followed by six ways God is acting. It is strongly Biblical and theologically sound. It is free and short, so if it is worth it for most people to read, even if you are one of those people (like me) who are trapped inside with a bunch of kids, while still trying to work remotely. As I mentioned, I don’t necessarily agree completely with all his points (in part two), but all are worth reading and pondering; the reminder of Who reigns (part one) over all is always a good thing to read and remember, especially in a time of great uncertainty, fear, and crisis.