Book Review: Reordering the Trinity
Author: Rodrick K. Durst
Publisher: Kregel Academic
Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament
Reordering the Trinity is a very interesting book that can inspire great conversation with Rodrick Durst’s observations and thesis ideas concerning the nature and movement of the Trinity as revealed in the New Testament Scriptures.
While I’m not personally convinced of Durst’s defense of his thesis, being unsure that we can reduce the ordering of the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to a formulaic purpose of intent regarding their placement of order, I do find the argument very interesting.
In a very brief synopsis, Durst presents his case to support the idea that on the basis of the specific order of the persons of the Trinitarian mentions found in the New Testament, we are able to understand purposeful mission of God. In Part Two of his work, Durst lays out his explanation through the following “Trinitarian Matrix”:
- The Sending Triad – (Father-Son-Spirit) – Missional Order
- The Saving Triad – (Son-Spirit-Father) – Regenerative Order
- The Indwelling Triad – (Son-Father-Spirit) – Christological Witness
- The Standing Triad – (Spirit-Father-Son) – The Sanctifying Order
- The Shaping Triad – (Father-Spirit-Son) – Spiritual Formation Order
- The Uniting Triad – (Spirit-Son-Father) – The Ecclesial Order
As I have mentioned previously, the conversation in this book is very intriguing. The author has done a commendable job of presenting his thesis. There is a wealth of information presented in a very conversational tone. It has been my experience that deep conversations about the work of the Trinity are rare in the travels of my fellow Christian learners. I think Durst’s book can be a valuable tool to ignite these conversations and he has been thoughtful to include discussion starter questions at the end of each chapter.
Finally, I add this thought; the appendices, bibliography, and index reference are worth the investment of the book. Durst has included a number of tables and charts, a glossary of terms, and a host of additional tools helpful with experiential exercises. As mentioned, the bibliography is one of the more extensive I’ve encountered in my Trinitarian studies and I found it fairly represented across a broad steam of traditions and doctrinal representations. I will reiterate my lack of conviction concerning Durst’s proposition, but I am highly impressed with his study and will value his work as a very respectable resource for my continuing studies.
Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God
Author: Thomas Jay Oord
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830840847
I like Tom Oord. I like that he is a thinker. I like that even when he postulates an idea, he’s not always resolute in its absoluteness. He seems to always be exploring, processing, and attempting to understand. I remember the first time I was exposed to the “open view” of God, sometime around twelve or thirteen years ago, and I immediately rejected the idea as something that could ever be considered within the paradigm of my theology. I could not escape the gnaw of this open view though, and when it appeared on my radar again around eight years ago, I started to do some investigation and deeper reading. Tom Oord and others have been instrumental in the continuing evolution of my thought, perception, and growing relationship with God through their writing and lectures on a more open and expansive understanding of God’s relationship and His engagement in the lives of men and women. While I’m not an open theist, I know for certain my understanding of God and relationship I live with Him is far more healthier now than it has ever been in my life, in large part because of my willingness to engage this dynamic of the uncontrolling love of God. I share this preface for those who may be highly resistant to ideas previously foreign to your thinking about God. I was that guy. I am no longer that guy. This is a worthy book to read.
Oord begins this work with questions regarding the goodness of God and the tragic events that can call that goodness into question; these are the “why questions” and the reasoning behind the chapter title Tragedy Needs Explanation.
The case for God’s uncontrolling love builds with chapter two as Oord further develops his thesis, drawing distinctions between God’s sovereign control over every detail of existence and the possibility of randomness as a factor in the circumstances and happenings of life. It will be necessary for each reader to draw their own conclusion, but one thing I particularly enjoyed from this chapter was the brilliant synthesis of philosophy, science-physics, and theology. I think, in general terms, we are often want to speak and quantify our beliefs in binary terms… If I am reading Oord’s ideas correctly in this section, he promotes a mixed view of causation and randomness in all the events and circumstances of life, he concludes this chapter with these words; “Both randomness and regularity persist in the universe.” I have likely way oversimplified his wonderful presentation, but this is my simple review and my very, very brief synopsis.
The elements of free will and determination are explored in chapter three, which was a very insightful and interesting read. There are far too many excellent points in this chapter to do justice in this short review, but I can share a teaser with the following quote:
The two words, free and will, capture what most people mean when they talk about the freedom to choose in any particular moment. But philosophers use various terms to talk about free will. The philosophical label libertarian free will describes what I believe is the most plausible view of freedom. Libertarian free will says genuine freedom is irreconcilable with being fully determined to act in a particular way. Libertarian-free-will supporters are incompatiblists because they believe we cannot be simultaneously free and entirely determined by other forces. In other words, free will and complete determinism are incompatible. We choose among alternatives, and other agents and factors do not completely control us. (p. 59)
I think, one of the big takeaways for me from this chapter, is the affirmation of my own conclusion regarding my conversion from Calvinism (many years ago). In my opinion, as echoed in the above quote, theistic determinism is incompatible with free will. Now, granted this statement leaves much unanswered, but those unanswered questions are much of what Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, explores (and a great reason to purchase and read it).
As I have alluded previously, I appreciate the approach of Oord to not bifurcate the discussion of theodicy with “either/or” statements about God and instead embrace more of a “both/and” approach to understanding this complex conversation. Again, this is my interpretation and I hope I am not oversimplifying or misrepresenting the nature and discussion in this book. You’ll need to read it and judge for yourself. A great case for my observation can be found in the presentation of Models of God’s Providence (beginning pg. 83, chapter four). Once more, in my opinion, this might be one of the more important chapters in the book. I think it can serve for some very deep and healthy discussion (albeit possibly fired with much passion), and would be an excellent reason for introducing this book in a study group. The ways we think about God and His actions among us have serious repercussions and ramifications. A conversation concerning the models of God’s providence is a great introduction to explore ways we think about God.
Tom Oord has written and lectured extensively on the open and relational view of God. It is in chapter five that he begins to fully engage this position deeply with relation to tragedy, free will, determination, and love within the scope of the God and humanity relationship. For the sake of ease and the benefit of my friends who will read this review and likely be unfamiliar with the open view of God, I will include Oord’s major defining points for this position. He writes in the opening statements of chapter five.
Open and relational theology embraces the reality of randomness and regularity, freedom and necessity, good and evil. It asserts that God exists and that God acts objectively and responsively in the world. This theology usually embraces at least these three ideas:
- God and creatures relate to one another. God makes a real difference to creation, and creation makes a real difference to God. God is relational.
- The future is not set because it has not yet been determined. Neither God nor creatures know with certainty all that will actually occur. The future is open.
- Love is God’s chief attribute. Love is the primary lens through which we best understand God’s relation with creatures and the relations creatures should have with God and others. Love matters most.
Advocates of open and relational theology may describe their views a little differently from the way I have here. Some add other beliefs. Among the open and relational theology books of importance and in addition to those cited, but most advocates embrace at least these three statements. (pg. 107)
Please note as quoted above that Oord describes this as his defining points of the Open and Relational View of God, while others will add other defining points to the position.
While this chapter represents a big-picture view of the open and relational dynamic of God, it is not just a high-level fly by. There is much depth to the presentation and Oord has done a remarkable job of annotating sources from a diverse group of thinkers and theologians. Additionally, with such depth of thinking, one can often get lost in the academic structure of the discussion; this is not so with Oord’s presentation. He has also performed admirably to bring the conversation to an every-day-man level of understanding. I believe this chapter could easily be a standalone work expressing this particular view of God.
Chapter six is a chapter I will have to return to and read more closely. I admit that it is a portion of the book that I skimmed more than I digested, unlike the slower more deliberate approach I took with previous chapters. In it, Oord dialogues quite extensively with John Sanford’s work in his book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Oord expresses the importance of this chapter as a preface to his summary conclusion.
Similar to my statements from chapter six, I extend my thoughts to the concluding chapters of seven and eight where Oord offers the brunt of reason behind his position and his concluding statements. It is with complete transparency that I offer my inconclusiveness. The jury is still out for me with regard to theodicy and the working of God within the parameters of His sovereignty and humanity’s unrestricted free will. I admit I don’t understand all the myriad ways of God’s working within the scope of humanity and free will. At this juncture, I’m willing to live in the divine tension of God’s mystery. I say this while fully engaged in asking questions of God and pondering with deepest contemplation (love) all the knowledge that God will impart regarding these deep and soulful questions about our existence and the ways of life in the midst of brokenness and people still separated from God by the distorted image of God within them. Even while I make these admissions about myself, there are several points that Oord makes in his Kenosis chapter (seven) that put me on edge…and for the very reasons that he gives his voice under his subheading Essential Kenosis and Evil, also found in chapter seven. I have learned that this type of discomfort I describe is when I need to pay attention very closely; I need to proceed slowly and allow God the Holy Spirit to guide my understanding. That is not to say that I will eventually be swayed to another view, but that I will remain objective in my search for truth and be wary of my personal biases as well as positions anchored in personal conviction. I think I’ll end my review on that note.
This is an excellent and very thought-worthy book. I think it will make a fabulous group study. In my opinion, there’s no way a person can read The Uncontrolling Love of God and not find subjects worthy of engagement. There’s a lot here and some deep thinking, but not too difficult to approach even for high school students. I think it also serves as a compilation and expository summary of many of Oord’s earlier works, which can be helpful if you’ve read much of his writing or if you’ve read none. The book is well annotated with extensive footnotes. I’m reading a proof copy, so I’m not sure if this is the final version of the book or not. I do not know if there will be additional appendices or if there will be a bibliography included, but in either event, this is a very worthy read. Thanks Tom for stretching my theology and giving me pause to evaluate my positions.
The book is currently available for preorder at Amazon and is scheduled for release Dec. 06, 2015
Book Review: Living the Questions
Author: David M. Felten and
Publisher: Harper One ISBN: 9780062109361
Although I cannot agree with many of the conclusions and theological positions detailed in Living the Questions, I found the book well worth my reading time. Authors David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy tackle a large number of very complex doctrinal positions from Christianity and present a “progressive” perspective on them. This was very educational for me and helped me to understand how many of these progressive views are formed and from where and whom they have been influenced.
“Religion has always been about honoring mystery. [But] we have created people who’ve been afraid of ambiguity, mystery.” -Richard Rohr (p.220)
As I have already pointed out in my opening statement, I find disagreement with many of the interpretations in this book; however, my disagreements do not overshadow the brilliance that I also found during my reading. Generally speaking, I have an overall appreciation for the simple openness with which “progressives” approach Scripture, recognizing the incomparable nature and mystery of God. This approach leaves many positions in flux and lacking definitive interpretation, meaning there are possibilities for multiple interpretations since we are not given enough information to form absolute understanding. I think most of the questions posed within these pages attempt to be answered with an openness toward God and that means they are not definitive, but possible…and worthy of consideration and useful in examining my own doctrines.
The format of Living the Questions is in three sections of seven chapters each for a total of twenty-one “questions” or chapters. The first two sections deal with doctrinal details that most fundamentalists and literalists would approach as sacred inarguable truths. Some of these questions discussed are the creation story, the historical Jesus, atonement theories, the resurrection, and rapture theories. I have no doubt that some people will find the content in these chapters offensive, but I found the conversation stimulating, pushing the understanding and my ability to defend my personal positions.
My favorite section was part three, Transformation, which included chapters related more to the ideas of praxis or living out the Christian faith daily. Examples of this section are found in chapters about the Kingdom of God (who belongs and where are its borders), social justice, incarnational living, and likely my favorite chapter of all, prayer.
The appendices provide the inquisitive reader with a number of resources for further study and opportunities to wrestle with content from the book. There is a reader’s guide, an excellent resource for group study. There is also a well-documented notes section, index, and bibliography.
As I have mentioned, I lean more toward traditional interpretations of Scripture, siding with church fathers. I found this book challenging and stimulating; it has given me much to consider and prompted me to study some of my positions as well as help me to remain open to the ideas of others.
Book Review: Against Calvinism
Author: Roger E. Olson
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310324676
This has been a very helpful read for me. More than helping to shape my own theology, Against Calvinism has helped me articulate and provide resources for me in conversations that involve talking points for and against various perspectives in the Wesleyan-Arminian and Calvin debates.
I have been reading various articles, essays, and books from Roger Olson for quite some time now as a frequent visitor to his blog site and owner of several of his published works. I find his scholarship brilliant and his generosity with his knowledge is beyond compare.
I don’t really have any criticism of the material in the book, but I wish the language in the title wasn’t so strong. The title is a very unqualified, Against Calvinism, but Olson is quick to point out his “no” to Calvinism is directed most specifically to the extreme version being promoted by leaders of the young, restless, Reformed generation. Needless to say, as I’ve had the book in my possession in public, its title has caused a few head turns and conversations. Title aside, I think the content is very solid and I believe fair to the doctrinal view of Calvinism in general… the YRR crowd notwithstanding.
Olson provides a thorough explanation differentiating between Reformed Theology and Calvinism in chapter two and details the tenants of the extreme Calvinism by enumerating the five points of TULIP in chapter three (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). Also in chapter three, Olson describes some of the more prominent variations of the TULIP system and a few of the more radical reformed views. This was a very interesting and enlightening chapter for me.
The next four chapters (four through seven), Olson meticulously details where he might agree with Calvin’s tenants, but definitively says “NO” to the extreme version of it. Here follow the chapter titles to provide examples of what I describe: Four—Yes to God’s Sovereignty; No to Divine Determinism, Five—Yes to Election; No to Double Predestination, Six—Yes to Atonement; No to Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption, Seven—Yes to Grace; No to Irresistible Grace/Monergism. I have read and studied from Calvin’s Institutes and I’ve never been able to reconcile what some in the YRR and hyper-Calvinism camp promoted, so this was fascinating reading in these four chapters and was helpful to my understanding.
Chapter eight serves as Olson’s wrap-up and conclusion. Here he lays out what he describes as Calvinism’s conundrums, paradoxes, and contradictions. This too was a helpful chapter, but I gleaned even more benefit from the appendices where he includes additional talking points and (Arminian) responses to Calvinist claims. This is very helpful information in sorting through the disagreements between the two camps. While I haven’t read it (I intend to read it at some date in the future) a companion book has been written by Michael Horton titled For Calvinism. I think this book might be necessary reading to help me not have too stilted of a perspective without being fairly informed.
As I said earlier in my review, I admire the scholarship of Roger Olson and appreciate the work he has done in the area of Arminian Theology. I absolutely recommend this title, Against Calvinism, and also highly recommend his books Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and his most recent book The Journey of Modern Theology.
You can check out the introduction to Against Calvinism here
Book Review: Evangelical Theology
Author: Michael Bird
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310494416
A few weeks ago, I was one of a privileged group selected for the Zondervan sponsored Koinonia Blog Evangelical Theology blog tour. Bloggers were provided a copy of Michael Bird’s book in exchange for a review of one of the book’s eight sections. My assigned section was Part Six, The Promise and Power of the Gospel: The Holy Spirit.
This book is big, over nine-hundred pages big and big in terms of subject matter. The very word “evangelical” is tough to pin down and has various and diverse meaning based on whom you ask. Evangelical can be applied to very different Christian doctrines such as Calvinism, Wesleyan-Arminianism, and points in between. This considered, it is a fairly substantial undertaking to produce a unifying work of systematic theology that can speak for all things evangelical. I’m not sure the Michael Bird has accomplished this task, but what I’ve read up to the point of this writing is very encouraging. Bird holds specific doctrinal views that I do not, so we are certainly in disagreement on some issues; however, I appreciate the spirit of openness and respect with which he has presented this evangelical theology and will recommend it as a teaching text to my peers.
First, I think it is important to read the short introduction piece, Why an Evangelical Theology (pp.19-26). In this section, Bird explains his definition of evangelicalism. He refers to this definition with consideration of six key factors: (1) Outcomes of the Protestant Reformation (2) The convergence of Puritanism and Pietism in North America and the British colonies (3) Missionary movements of the last two centuries (4) Liberal versus fundamentalist controversies of the early twentieth century over core Christian doctrines (5) The separation of “evangelicals” from the fundamentalist movement in the mid-twentieth century (6) The globalization of Evangelicalism as evidenced in through the representation of the World Evangelical Alliance and Lausanne Covenant. Bird goes into greater detail and differentiation of his definition of “evangelical” that, I believe, is crucial to understanding his work in this systematic theology. Additionally, he shares his “ecclesial and theological cards” when he details his influences, educational, and experiential background (pp. 23-24).
Mine was one of the shorter assignments for review at just under fifty pages. The Promise and Power of the Gospel: The Holy Spirit was covered in three main points: Section 6.1—God’s Spirit: The Breath of the Gospel, Section 6.2—Person of the Holy Spirit, and Section 6.3—Work of the Holy Spirit.
I was a bit curious over the brevity given to this subject, the Holy Spirit, but I was not taken by surprise. The Person, work, and ministry of the Holy Spirit is a contentious subject amongst evangelicals—many Calvinists evangelicals are cessationists minimizing the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit and many Pentecostal evangelicals hold a very different view, often accused of over-emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit. This would be one reason for the minimal treatment of this subject (in my opinion). This is not to say that Bird deliberately withheld instruction and explanation about the evangelical positions of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, he readily admits, “the Holy Spirit is largely neglected by many evangelicals.” Perhaps it is the lack of robust theology across the broad spectrum of evangelicalism that this section was a proverbial hiccup in this big book of Evangelical Theology.
My criticism over the length of this section aside, I appreciate the treatment and the balance that Bird presented in his teaching on the Holy Spirit. Bird anchors back to the Nicene Creed and the writings of the early church fathers (Clement of Rome and Basil of Caesarea) to set the evangelical foundations of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. He also uses these Pre-Reformation doctrinal positions to further other evangelical distinctions such as Christocentric focus; this evidenced in one of the other unique features of this book, the “gray-shaded call-outs.” Bird uses a feature to deal with or address specific topics and controversies within the various sections of the book. These “call-outs” are convenient and very well-written…easy to understand, well-documented, and highly informative. They add to the subject matter of the chapters without bogging them down or causing distraction.
The third and final section on the Holy Spirit chapter, The Work of the Holy Spirit, was the most extensive. Although brief, Bird addresses some difficult topics in this section—The Holy Spirit and Gender (this is featured in one of the aforementioned call-outs), Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit (another call-out), Sanctifying (p.631), Baptism and Filling with the Spirit (pp. 633-637), and more.
Each of these sections is well annotated with footnotes and references; also, Bird includes a very helpful list of further reading recommendations at the end of each section. He includes a summary and a handful of study questions for individuals and groups at the end of the chapter helpful to facilitate understanding and additional conversation.
This is a good book and a commendable effort under the circumstances previously mentioned. It is not perfect, but I do not think it is intended to be perfect… the subtitle states, “A Biblical and Systematic Introduction.” This is what this book is, an introduction, and it is a very good introductory presentation of Evangelical Theology. This book will serve as a great compliment and balancer to some of the other systematic theology books I have. In these respects, I believe it is a much needed addition to my resource shelf.
I look forward to reading more and intend to update my blog with thoughts shared from my future reading. Thank you Michael Bird and thank you, Zondervan, for another fine Christian theology resource.
Book Review: Classical Christian Doctrine
Author: Ronald E. Heine
Publisher: Baker Academic ISBN: 9780801048739
I really liked this book and for more than just a couple reasons. Written by Ronald E. Heine, Classical Christian Doctrine, solidly succeeds in living up to the goal of its subtitle: Introducing the Essentials of the Ancient Faith. In this work, Heine consolidates several very important core components of the Christian doctrine to form his introduction. First, he assumes the basis of all Christian doctrine is Scripture; next, he chooses to utilize a common statement of faith that bridges the divide of most of the contemporary Christian traditions. For this statement, he selected the Nicene Creed (first drafted in 325AD and refined through 381AD). In working with Scripture and the development of this creed, Heine introduces the reader to many of the great thinkers and the classic Christian writings behind the working out of these early church doctrines.
While this might not be some of the most exciting reading for some people, I consider that it should be required reading for anyone new to the Christian faith. I realize that might sound like it is asking a bit much for new believers, but in the circles of Christian believers that I have most often traveled, many people have very little knowledge about what they believe or why they believe it. Subsequently, a hodge-podge approach to their personal theology tends to be how they add to their “doctrinal beliefs” and quite a few integrate beliefs that were rejected as heresies by the church hundreds of years ago. I have witnessed integrations of Marcionism, Arianism, and Gnosticism amongst a host of other errant teachings incorporated into the confessions of my church family. This, I believe, is due to a lack of foundational doctrines being taught to them…although there remains individual responsibility as well. Nonetheless, this is why I believe this book is a wonderful addition to any believer’s library. It will introduce the reader to classic Christian writings (early church fathers), some of the greatest Christian thinkers of the early church, and the foundational doctrines common to almost every Christian tradition in existence today.
The book would serve very well for individual studies, but I think it really shines as a core teaching tool for group studies and/or primary discipleship training. Ronald Heine patiently walks the reader step-by-step through the major statements of the Nicene Creed that form the core foundations of the Christian doctrine. He devotes a chapter to each of these statements of faith including and identifying the major “voices” and personalities that contributed to the working out of these statements and accompanying beliefs. He does not shy away from discussing the formation of these ideas and the heresies that were competing for voice in the minds of believers. Heine also includes discussions points and questions at the end of every chapter as well as resources for further reading and bibliography of sources he has noted.
This book could have been a lot longer, but I believe it is a testament to the scholarship of Ronald Heine that he was able to be as thorough and inclusive with this book in the succinct form that has been delivered. I do not think this book is beyond the scope of understanding for anyone high school age or older. I also believe that this might be a great refresher for those who consider themselves “seasoned theologians.” I applaud the efforts of both author and publisher and I’m grateful for another wonderful tool for personal development and for helping others come to a better understanding of their faith.
I am encouraged, challenged, and humbled by these thoughts from St. Augustine regarding the holy Scriptures.
The sermons of Ambrose convinced me that all those deceptive knots others had tied around the Scriptures could be untied. As I listened to him, I was ashamed that I had been barking all those years, not against the Church but against imaginary doctrines. I had impulsively spoken against things I should first have learned more about. The Church never taught the things I accused her of teaching. It was refreshing to hear Ambrose repeat so often to his congregation, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
He drew aside the veil of mystery and made clear the spiritual meaning of things which could not be accepted literally. I disagreed with nothing he said, but there were some things I still could not understand. I resisted because I wanted to be as sure of spiritual things as that seven and three equal ten.
Lord, with a gentle and merciful touch you worked on my heart. I thought of the many things I believed which I had not seen, or which happened when I was not present—so much history, so many facts about places I had never visited, so many things mentioned by others. Daily living requires belief in these things. Most of all, I was impressed with the fact that I believed I was the child of particular parents on no other authority than that I had been told it. What is so different about accepting the authority of the Bible? Since we are not able to discover the truth by reasoning, we need the Scriptures. The Bible speaks to all in clear language, and yet it also demands the close attention of scholarly minds.
I thought about these things and you were near me. I sighed and you listened. I wandered along the broad road of the world, but you did not forsake me. -Augustine (354-430AD); Confessions
One says, “Moses meant what I say.” Another disagrees, “No, he meant what I say.”
It seems to me that it is nearer to the truth to ask, “Why can’t he have meant both? And if someone would see a third or a fourth or any number of meanings in the same language, why can’t we believe that Moses meant them all?” God has adapted the Bible to many interpretations.
Without a doubt—and I do not hesitate to speak from my heart—if I had to write with such great authority I would attempt to write in a way that my words would communicate as much truth as possible to each reader. I would not write down one true meaning so obvious that it would prohibit any other meaning, even though there was nothing offensive in the alternate interpretations. -Augustine (354-430AD); Confessions
Book Review: Delighting in the Trinity
Author: Michael Reeves
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830839834
I started this book almost four months ago. I thought; from the cover title, that it was going to be a primer on Trinitarian theology and maybe a bit more. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. I did not connect with this book much at all. This is unusual in the sense that the book is published by one of my favorite Christian publishing houses and the fact the book is the recipient of overwhelmingly positive reviews (at least this is true on the Amazon.com website). Mine is not one of those exuberantly positive experiences.
Before I move into the reasons why I didn’t care so much for the book, I would like to list technical specifics and my positive endorsements. First, the author, Michael Reeves, has superior credentials and qualifications to write a book of this nature. My scholarship is nowhere near the level of Reeves, so my opinion and my review might seem a little unqualified; although, I believe my questions and concerns are valid even though I have not read a single review that mentions them outside my own.
The book is a short read at just over one hundred thirty pages. Despite the author’s academic background, I thought the book was very understandable and did not contain language that was “over-the-head” of most readers. The book is five chapters not including a brief introduction piece and a summary conclusion. There are quite a few side-bar conversations, which provide good information; however, I found these interjections quite distracting when reading through the main content.
The flow of the information follows these chapter titles:
- What Was God Doing Before Creation?
- Creation: The Father’s Love Overflows
- Salvation: The Son Shares What Is His
- The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies
- “Who Among the Gods Is Like You, O LORD?”
I think the book has much good information and is properly annotated, complete with bibliography and Scripture references. I believe, on this basis alone, the book has value that may compel a reader to further studies and to ask questions of some of Reeves’ claims that could lead to deeper understanding.
I do not disagree with many of the ultimate claims of Reeves, but I did not appreciate the presentation of his arguments. I felt that many of the foundational premises were weak and misguided. I am not sure if these positional statements were denominationally/doctrinally biased or not, but I felt they were posited in such a way that they were very leading. This caused me to have a great amount of skepticism and distrust as I made my way through the arguments of the book.
There are numerous examples of this style of presentation throughout the book, but I will only provide a couple. My first example begins in chapter one. Reeves begins making his case for a Trinitarian portrayal of God by dismissing longstanding, and Biblically sound, views. For instance, he paints in a negative light the view of God as Creator, saying; “if I start there, with that as my basic view of God, I will find every inch of my Christianity covered and wasted by the nastiest toxic fallout” (pp. 19-20). He uses a rather one-dimensional quote from Karl Barth to support his statements:
Perhaps you recall how, when Hitler used to speak about God, he called Him “the Almighty”. But it is not “the Almighty” who is God; we cannot understand from the standpoint of a supreme concept of power, who God is. And the man who calls “the Almighty” God misses God in the most terrible way. For “the Almighty” is bad, as “power in itself” is bad. The “Almighty” means Chaos, Evil, the Devil. We could not better describe and define the Devil than by trying to think this idea of a self-based, free, sovereign ability. -Karl Barth; Dogmatics in Outline
Reeves qualifies his point of this quote by saying that Barth was not denying that God is Almighty; but was insisting that mere might is not who God is. This qualifier might be a sufficient apologetic were it not for the fact that Reeves continues to overstate his arguments to lead the reader. He follows this statement with more hyperbole and rhetoric to pave the way of furthering the line of thinking he intends to take the reader. He says; “I can never really love the God who is essentially just The Ruler. And that, ironically, means I can never keep the greatest command: to love the Lord my God” (p.20). I get what he is saying and I get what he is doing; however, I don’t care for the style of argument. My mind is drawn to the first portrayal of God as Creator and Ruler over all things from the earliest words in the Genesis account; and further, in the first chapter of the Letter to the Romans. The apostle Paul states that all men are held to account of the knowledge of God simply on the basis of Him being Creator…not their knowledge of Him in any other capacity (Romans 1:18:20). Again, I get where Reeves is taking his reader, but I think the presentation has some flaws from my perspective.
Personally, I did not care for Reeves’ exercise of humor. Levity can be a useful tool in conversation, but it can be risky. One has to assume that their humor delivered is shared by the recipient. What one person finds “funny” another person might find confusing or offensive. There were several attempts at humor by Reeves that I did not find any appreciation for; this was especially true in his efforts to debunk historical metaphorical views toward explaining the Trinity (pp.32-38). An interesting thought I had while reading these “debunks” was that the Trinity is a mystery, an unexplainable mystery of God that we accept by faith. While there are traces, shadows, and echoes of the Trinity throughout our Holy Scriptures, there is no definitive explanation of God as Trinity. It took three hundred plus years of councils, conversations, and debates before the idea of Trinity was even formalized as a doctrine of the Church. One wonders, based on some of the statements of Reeves, how the Christians survived in their faith before the doctrine of Trinity was formalized.
Another example of hyperbole and rhetoric comes in this statement (found on page 57):
“If God is not triune, it gets even worse: for if God is not triune, it becomes very difficult, not only to account for the goodness of creation (as we have seen), but also to account for the existence of evil within it. If God is the supreme being, then evil cannot be some rival force, eternally existing beside God. Yet if God is solitary in his supremacy, then surely evil must originate in God himself. Above and before all things, he is the source of all things, both good and evil. Clearly, it is not good for God to be alone.”
I don’t understand why Reeves arrives at such absolutes in this statement. Is there any accounting for God’s allowance of free will? What is the definition he uses for “eternally existing beside God”?
I found other questionable statements that are intended to lead the reader to inarguable conclusions, but I didn’t always track with the logic of Reeve’s absolutist commentary. Another example follows:
“It is not just the grief our sin might cause him; the Spirit’s personal presence in us means we are brought to enjoy the Spirit’s own intimate communion with the Father and the Son. If the Spirit were not God, he could not do that. It is all because God is three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—that we can have such communion. If God was in heaven and his Spirit a mere force, he would be more distant than the moon.” (p.90)
I say; “why?” What makes this statement true? Let me reiterate again, I think, ultimately, I agree with where Reeves is going, but I disagree with his means of getting there. I don’t think the narrow presumptive reasoning he employs is necessary or fair. I think his perspective is rather exclusionary and makes certain doctrinal assumptions that limits the ability of sharing a beautiful message with a broader audience.
As I look at the reviews from Amazon.com, I may have missed the point of this book entirely. It is abundantly clear that my impressions stand in a minority. If I have completely missed the mark with my review, I extend my apologies to the author, Michael Reeves. None of this; however, changes the reality of my initial impressions…and I assure my audience that mine was not a cursory read. I’ve been carrying, reading, and rereading this little book for over twelve weeks.
I’m still studying and reading books on the Trinity and other reviews will be forthcoming. I doubt that this one will be on my recommended reading list, although it will be nice for me to have as a reference against others that I can compare it to.
Book Review: Relational Theology
Edited By: Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, Karen Winslow
Publisher: Point Loma Press || Wipf and Stock
A few weeks back I received a request to read and review this book, Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction, I am so glad that I accepted the invitation. Let me tell you why.
First, at its core, the subject of relational theology is a common language and means of exploring and discussing with others the relational nature and activities of God. This is important; and I do not mean to sound obtuse, but before reading this collection of short essays, I would not have understood the need for this book…much less the need for creating or sub-categorizing another field of theology. It would have seemed redundant to me and prone to creating more confusion and division. I think the Bible and much of the theology we have developed from it already support the belief that God is relational, but that begs the question; “What does relational mean from one person to the other?” This brings me to a second point.
In his introduction to the book, Thomas Oord writes that, “Relational theology is like a big umbrella idea under which various theological alternatives reside.” The collection of short essays, and there are over thirty included in this contemporary introduction, have been incredibly helpful to my own understanding of this vast and diverse field of study. My eyes have been opened to new possibilities and my curiosity stoked; I’m hungry for knowledge and eager for lively conversations, all for the purpose of knowing more about the incredible relational nature of the great Creator God.
About the book
As I have mentioned, the book is a collection of thirty-one essays written by almost as many men and women. Each essay or chapter introduces a specific topic under the heading of relational attributes of God and the outworking of those attributes in the Bible, Community, and Christian Mission. Generally speaking, the chapter essays are very concise and high-level views of their respective topics. There are pros and cons to this approach of introducing information and ideas to an audience, and I’ll share more on that in a moment, but on the whole I thought the essays were more than sufficient to present the main point(s) of the chapter subject matter and to stimulate the reader’s thinking.
The chapters are grouped into four main sections, which follow: Doctrine of Theology in Relational Perspective, Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective, The Christian Life in Relational Perspective, and Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective. Each of these chapter-essays was fascinating to me in their own rights, but I especially enjoyed the chapters on Biblical Witness and Christian Life.
I stated there were pros and cons to the format of this introductory piece and I think the pros are numerous. In this case, a number of extraordinary thinkers have been introduced to an audience they may not have been previously exposed to; this is certainly the case for me and I am thankful for this exposure. Similarly, a great amount of information, both deeply rich and broadly diverse, has been sown. These, I believe, are the great strengths of these short essays. Where the brevity of this style falls short, at least in this case, is the fact that there is no bibliography or recommended resources list. Here I have been introduced to language, ideas, concepts, and challenges to my own thinking that are new to me. My curiosity has been piqued, but the questions raised in my own mind aren’t answered in these short chapters. Where do I go for more information? It seems it would have been of great benefit to include a reading list and an end notes section to assist the hungry reader with direction for deeper study. That one nit aside, I’m grateful for the future conversations this book has sparked in me and look forward to digging deeper into the realms of relational theology. Overall, I think the book is a success in that it introduces a huge scope of study within the confines of one hundred fifteen pages. It utilizes the talents and personality of many men and women to introduce ideas minimizing “one-sidedness” and does so without bogging the reader down with too many details. In my estimation this is a perfect springboard for many deep studies.
Book Review: Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day
Author: Daryl Aaron
Publisher: Bethany House ISBN: 9780764210129
This is a great book in the “Understanding in 15 Minutes a Day…” series from Bethany House Publishers. I had the opportunity to review the book on Understanding Religion not too long ago and I find this book, Understanding Theology just as compelling, if not even more so.
While the great doctrines of the Bible and basic theology can get pretty “heady” in a hurry, Daryl Aaron has done a masterful job of keeping this subject reachable for the masses. True to its title, most of the chapters (forty in all) are five pages or less, keeping each chapter reading under fifteen minutes for most readers. Aaron’s is literally, a systematic approach to teaching theology. He follows the major disciplines of theology (bibliology, theology proper, angelology, anthropology, hamartiology, christology, pneumatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology) as he engages so of the more popular discussion questions in each of those fields. As an example, a few of the chapter titles follow: “How Can I know God?” “What are Angels and Demons?” “What is Sin?” “Can Christians Lose their Salvation?” “What Will Heaven Be Like?” These are just a few of the very interesting topics awaiting the reader of Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day.
I appreciated this book very much, finding it extremely valuable as a teaching tool for beginning theology. I think the content and the writing style is perfect for many learning levels and provides all the adequate material and information needed for core curriculum. I am currently teaching a Bible reading class and intend to use Understanding Theology as part of my recommended reading list.
On the whole, I believe Daryl Aaron has done a great job in keeping the facts and figures fairly unbiased and neutral. It is difficult to engage a work such as this and not interject your own feelings and positions, but Aaron is to be commended for keeping this guide balanced. There were a couple of chapters where I noted some strong feelings, but I still think the presentations (even in those chapters) were fairly represented.
This is a good book. I think it deserves to be on the shelves of most libraries, personal or otherwise. The material is succinct and readable. Aaron stays on point and keeps the reader engaged. The positions are represented fairly and without bias. If I would have any criticism, it would be for want of a comprehensive notes and bibliography section for further study and resource. Overall, this is a fine read and I recommend it highly.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”