Book Review: ‘The Word Became Flesh: A Rapprochement of Christian Natural Law and Radical Christological Ethics’, by David Griffin

The Word Became Flesh: A Rapprochement of Christian Natural Law and Radical Christological Ethics‘, by David Griffin, Wipf and Stock, 290 pp.  $35.00

In this volume, David Griffin attempts to bring traditional natural law ethics and radical christological ethics together to form a super-ethic: one that has the universal normative force of classical natural law while also retaining the focus on Jesus Christ that more radical ethics has sought to bring to the fore. There is a large range of conversation partners here: Cicero, Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Torrance, Bonhoeffer, Chalcedon and confessional Anabaptism all make appearances here in Griffin’s attempt to synthesize the best of all these voices together. The book is divided into three sections: part one deals with classical natural law ethics, part two with radical ethics (drawing principally from confessional Anabaptism), and part three attempts to reconfigure both of these under Chalcedon. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Protestant Metaphysics after Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger’, by Timothy Stanley

Protestant Metaphysics after Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger‘, by Timothy Stanley, Cascade Books, $35.00 296 pp.

I must confess that of all possible reactions that seemed likely for me to have towards this book, being very impressed with it was not one I anticipated. After reading it and spending some time reflecting on it, however, I think it’s safe to say that this is a very important work. There is a lot of ground covered in these pages, at times in a fairly dense manner, but it is worth working through in a slow and steady manner. Interestingly enough, this book may be more of an exercise in Luther interpretation than of Heidegger-ian/Barth-ian metaphysics: the trajectory of both Heidegger and Barth is shown to turn on their respective interpretations of the German Reformer. This, to me anyway, shows that the interpretation of Luther is of primary importance for the question of Protestant metaphysics. Put differently, the question of Protestant metaphysics appears to be a question of Luther interpretation.

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A Life Lived for Us: The Righteousness of God and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ in Wright, Torrance and the Reformation

Deep within his Big Paul Book, N.T. Wright (foot)notes his disagreement with the classic Reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ. More precisely: it’s not so much that he disagrees with the fact that Christ was both actively and passively obedient – this is to my mind beyond dispute – but rather that he disagrees with Christ’s active obedience as something which merits righteousness which is then reckoned, credited or imputed to believers. Actually, even more precision is called for here, because Wright doesn’t especially really disagree with the idea that believers are reckoned to be righteous (this is, again, not really disputable). What he disagrees with is how that conclusion is reached, which, for the classic Reformed, is the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.

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Book Review: ‘Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature’, by Daniel J. Cameron

Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature‘, by Daniel J. Cameron, Wipf and Stock, 116 pp. $17.00

There is something of a resurgence of interest in the theology of Thomas F. Torrance happening in contemporary theology. A number of books and articles have been written on various aspects of his thought, from his eucharistic theology to his use of the patristic tradition to his influence within the context of ecumenical dialogue to his understanding of Christ’s assumption of a fallen human nature. This last point is probably the most controversial aspect of Torrance’s theology which he defended quite seriously, and is the subject of the present book under review. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment’, edited by Olli-Pekka Vainio

Engaging Luther: A (New) Theological Assessment‘, edited by Olli-Pekka Vainio, Cascade Books, 272 pp. $32.00

This was a very enjoyable collection of essays, centered around a broad engagement with Martin Luther. Each of the 12 essays in this volume survey Luther’s thought on a given theological topic, and each can be read on its own – this isn’t a systematic presentation or harmonization. What unifies the essays is the perspective of Finnish Lutheranism, which is the topic of the introductory article by Risto Saarinen. This essay serves as a primer on Finnish Lutheranism, which, as Saarinen puts it, ‘sets out to prove that, first, Luther’s theology is ontologically richer and contains an effective view of justification as the presence of things hoped for, and, second, that the subjectivist picture of Luther to a great extent stems from the anti-Catholic prejudices of modern Protestantism’ (p. 15). This serves as the unifying theme of all the various engagements with Luther here. Since there are 12 essays I won’t summarize each here, but instead I’ll note the ones I found to be exceptional. Continue reading

The Only Enchantment Left to Us: Karl Barth and The Unweaving of a Sacramental Tapestry

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‘…the objectively clarified preaching of the Word is the only sacrament left to us.’ – Barth

‘…he [Barth] is the most relentlessly Chalcedonian of all theologians…’ -Nicholas Wolterstorff

It is no secret that Barth was and is a controversial theologian, and within a North American context, it is typically his doctrine of the Word of God that secures his controversial-ness (a close second would be his doctrine of God, which is the subject of The Barth Wars). However, in my estimation, Barth’s most controversial moment is found in his sacramental theology – or, perhaps more properly, his lack thereof. Indeed, it is more than a simple lack of sacramental theology: Barth actively tears the tapestry of sacramental theology and (to be a bit more fashionable) sacramental ontology asunder: Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Karl Barth’s Christological Ecclesiology’, by Kimlyn J. Bender

Karl Barth’s Christological Ecclesiology‘, by Kimlyn J. Bender, Cascade Books, 324 pp. $30.40

There are two big takeaways to this study. First, Barth’s entire way of theological thinking was profoundly christological and Chalcedonian – it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the bulk of this book serves to draw out that central theme in Barth’s thinking. Second, while Barth at first glance appears to neglect the Holy Spirit in his dogmatic thinking, this is an illusion readily dispelled by paying close attention to his ecclesiology. This is a dense, closely-argued and well-documented investigation, but close reading will repay dividends. Continue reading