A Few Short Book Reviews

IMG_20150411_083155 (1)The World of the New Testament has proven to be an outstanding resource for study of the historical and cultural background of the New Testament. There are essays on every imaginable subject, from monotheism to the social status of women and children to Jewish dietary laws to zealots to weights and measurements to exile to slavery to geographical and archaeological studies of the New Testament lands, all with extensive bibliographies for those wishing to pursue more specialized studies. Highly recommended for those looking to get a good ‘lay of the land’ perspective on the New Testament from a historical, cultural and social standpoint.

Later Medieval Metaphysics is a collection of specialized and generally technical essays around the subjects of language, ontology and language. Topics include Duns Scotus on the subject matter of metaphysics, Buridan and Aquinas on the existence/essence distinction, Avicenna on types and tokens and the power of medieval logic. These are, as noted above, technical essays – this is clearly not an introductory volume as it assumes at the minimum a working knowledge of the three main subjects. The discussions on essence/existence and logic are especially technical and quite dense. Despite its advanced reading level, the essays are well-written and are a good place for the student of medieval philosophy to really get deeper into the subject.

Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma is a book that I was very excited about – I had it pre-ordered several months in advance and it has not disappointed. The basic idea that the author, Kevin Diller, has is to tie Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga together into one unified epistemological front, and it’s quite interesting to watch this project unfold. This book could serve as a good introductory text to the thought of both Barth and Plantinga – there’s no new ground broken here, as Diller simply sets out the overall ideas that Barth/Plantinga are known for. Properly basic beliefs, warrant, Barth’s theology of revelation, foundationalism and much more are laid out thoroughly (though not in an overly technical manner) and then synthesized – and that’s where the new ground is broken. Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in philosophy of religion and religious epistemology.

How God Became JesusΒ is a multi-author reply to Bart Ehrman’s latest book ‘How Jesus Became God’. I haven’t read all of Erhman’s book, but as a state-of-the-field report of early christology, and early Christian devotion to Jesus, ‘How God Became Jesus’ has been a solid read. Essays from Michael Bird, Chris Tilling, Simon Gathercole, Craig Evans and Charles Hill cover various aspects of Erhman’s claims, ranging from Jesus’ self-understanding, how the early Christians thought of Jesus, and Paul’s divine christology, which is Chris Tilling’s field of study (and on which he has recently published a very well-received book). Interactions with classic and contemporary work in the field (ranging from Hengel, Hurtado, Bauckham and others) make this an excellent guide for those looking to learn more about earl Christology.

Dominus Mortis is another book I was very excited about receiving – it’s actually become one of my favourite specialized studies. Medieval christology, theological metaphysics, modern theology, Luther and his theology and more are all discussed clearly, and though this is a specialized study it’s not so technical as to be inaccessible. In fact, given the dense subject matter (the hypostatic union, the impassibility of God, etc), I was pleasantly surprised by just how easy it was to read. What I absolutely love about this volume, though, is the brief summary and conclusions at the end of each chapter – the argumentation can often be dense and it’s very helpful to have a recap at the conclusion of every chapter. The overall thesis of the book, that Luther was not a passibilist in his doctrine of God, is a very provocative idea that one doesn’t hear often, and the exegetical and theological arguments deployed are quite interesting. This is definitely an essential book for Luther studies and for anyone who wants to learn more about theological metaphysics, medieval christology ( I learned a completely new concept, that of ‘suppositional carrying) and Luther’s doctrine of God.

Jesus is Lord, Caeser is Not is another multi-author volume, this time on the topic of the anti-imperial rhetoric in the New Testament. This particular volume serves as an excellent introduction (though critical) to the field, with two essays focusing on the development of the anti-imperial trend in NT scholarship and the rest of the essays critiquing specific theses. Topics range from anti-imperial themes in Romans, Acts, John, and Phillipians, the emperor-cult of Rome, the place of the state in relation to the church. This book is a good overview of anti-imperial studies in the New Testament that covers a large amount of ground with plenty of bibliography for those interested in further study in just how subversive the New Testament really is in terms of power and politics.

Mind, Matter and Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind has a number of strengths. It’s a comprehensive survey of contemporary philosophy of mind, laying out, interacting with and critiquing all the major positions (matieralism, eliminativism, functionalism, dualism, emergentism, etc) in a very fair and even-handed way. While it presents the viewpoints fairly and thoroughly, it’s not especially technical and could function as an introduction to the field (indeed, the author states that the book assumes no prior knowledge of philosophy of mind). Following the interactions with the contemporary positions is a very good exposition of Aristotliean philosophy of nature, getting into things like form, matter, change, and hylomoprhic dualism. Following this exposition is the real purpose of the book, which is a Thomistic philosophy of mind, taking an Aristotliean line on subjects like sensation, form, intellect, mental states and the soul. Overall, this is a well-argued and even-handed contribution to philosophy of mind.

A New Heaven and a New Earth is one of the very few books on eschatology I’ve read (and I haven’t completely finished it yet), and it follows more or less themes that have become popular through the work of N.T. Wright in ‘Surprised by Hope’ – vocation, the goodness of creation, the vocation of man as an image-bearer, how man builds for the Kingdom, etc. What I’ve enjoyed so far, apart from the ‘damn greek philosophy’ charge in the first section of the book, is how the topics like judgement and power aren’t sugar-coated. Judgement here is seen as something from God that will destroy the wicked for the benefit of the righteous, and power is seen as a natural kind of thing and not itself inherently an evil. The chapters on man’s vocation do a bang-up job of laying out things like temple imagery and man’s vocation as reflecting God’s glory into creation – so far, this is a great book, full of sound exegesis and biblical exposition as well as a good amount of interaction with non-biblical material (especially concerning judgement) and other scholars in the field.

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3 thoughts on “A Few Short Book Reviews

  1. Kevin Davis April 12, 2015 / 8:51 pm

    I just finished Diller’s book last night. I agree with your comments. An impressive amount of work went into it. The Barth material was presented well, though very familiar to students of Barth’s theology. The Plantinga material was new to me for the most part. I had a vague idea about his concept of basic belief, which Diller helped to clarify.

    However, as I look back on the book, I am not sure that anyone who opposes Barth’s doctrine of revelation would be convinced of it after reading the book. (Of course, that would be asking a lot from just one book!) Diller is probably successful at proving the congruence of Plantinga and Barth (the main thesis of the book), but whether they are in fact right will remain an open question, except for those of us who already agreed before going into the book. The toughest questions (which are, as I see it, having to do with Barth’s understanding of the veiling of God in history and God’s revelation not transferring to history/creation) are touched upon by Diller, but they remain highly contested aspects of Barth’s theology, requiring far greater attention than given in this book. But since that’s not the thesis of the book, it would be unfair to criticize it on this score. Nonetheless, it was something that I was hoping to see, with some new ground broken.

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    • whitefrozen April 12, 2015 / 9:06 pm

      Yeah, there definitely are aspects that need to be unpacked further – Diller quotes one of Barth’s excurses dealing with the form/content of revelation (Diller is answering Wolterstorffs critique) and basically leaves it at that – I would have loved to have seen Diller Plantinga-ize how Barth thinks of the humanity of Christ not itself being revelation but the medium for revelation – which is in I.1, page 323

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      • Kevin Davis April 12, 2015 / 9:32 pm

        Yes, that’s a good example. He quotes all the right places in I.1 and even some good stuff from II.1, my favorite part-volume, but he doesn’t do more than state Barth’s position, with a heavy dose of Barthian talking points. That’s fine, given his task in the book, but it’s of limited value to those who disagree with Barth.

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