Book Reviews

Review of Singleness and the Church: A New Theology of the Single Life by Jana Marguerite Bennett

Bennett, Jana Marguerite. Singleness and the Church: A New Theology of the Single Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. 272, $29.95, hardback. In this fresh reflection on singleness, theological ethicist, Jana M. Bennett, provides both a strong critique and hopeful corrective of American relationship culture. She writes as a Catholic scholar yet engages the American Protestant context just as insightfully—identifying the ways the church has often mirrored negative cultural narratives about singleness. The overall goal of this book is to magnify relational experiences often overlooked by the modern Christian community, specifically those in impermanent single states, and to acknowledge the ways these persons may uniquely witness to Christ and the church. Simultaneously, she encourages ways the church can be more of a witness to this community. To begin, she proposes that one of the main problems facing current conceptions of singleness is the tacit assumption that to be single is to be lonely. She calls upon the Christian tradition which affirms both marriage and singleness for what it means to be the church, and that being lonely is neither specific nor necessary to singleness. Here, she also sets up the structure of the remainder of the book, which will…

Review of Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation by Scott A. Davison

Davison, Scott A. Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 189, $75.00, hardback. Scott Davison is Professor of Philosophy at Morehead State University. His other writings on petitionary prayer appear in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, and The European Journal for Philosophy of Religion. This monograph is his first full-length treatment of the subject. Petitionary prayer is a practice which is central to Christian piety, yet, few Christians stop to ask, does prayer make a difference to God? One almost assumes that it does, or else prayer seems to be redundant. Scott Davison, in Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation, poses this type of question as follows: “Assuming that the God of traditional theism exists, is it reasonable to think that God answers specific petitionary prayers? Or are those prayers pointless in the sense that they do not influence God’s action?” (p. 8). In attempting to answer this question, Davison refrains from interjecting his own religious beliefs and seeks instead to “write as a philosopher trying to be responsible for what we know from reason about metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory” (p. 4). He explains that he will defend…

Review of Evolution and the Fall edited by William T. Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith

Cavanaugh, William T. and James K. A. Smith, eds. Evolution and the Fall. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017, pp. 261, $26, paperback. A wide spectrum of twentieth century theology was marked by a revision of the doctrine of the origins of sin. In most cases, concern about evolutionary science, and especially the science of human origins, was a powerful motivation. The origins of sin were recast in various forms—either as mythopoetic, metaphysically inevitable, or the consequence of a certain sort of freedom—in a way that led the doctrine away from the problems posed by evolution, but also led it away from important traditional claims, for example, that all humans became sinners by the voluntary act of the first two human beings. Because of these novelties, or because of their perceived consequences, many evangelicals and other traditionally-minded theologians declined to follow many of the great twentieth century thinkers down this path. Yet the problems that prompted the revision of the doctrine have, if anything, grown in recent decades. There is thus a renewed urgency, but also a renewed spirit of openness from traditionally-minded thinkers for reconsidering if, and if so, how, to think of the Fall in light of evolution. As…

Review of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care by C. John Collins

Collins, C. John. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, pp. 192, $16.99, paperback. John Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri. In Did Adam and Eve Really Exist, Collins uses his skills in Hebrew linguistics and biblical theology to discuss an issue that finds itself at the intersection of science and faith. Collins has also published Faith and Science and a commentary discussing his linguistic and theological analysis of Genesis 1–4. The traditional view of Adam and Eve throughout most of church history has been that they were actual people through whom all other human beings descended and through whom sin entered into the human experience. Modern scientific claims, however, have caused much skepticism concerning this traditional view and have led many Western Christians to abandon belief in a historical Adam and Eve. In Did Adam and Eve Really Exist, Collins argues that the traditional view (or some variation of it) does the best job accounting for the biblical materials and our everyday experiences as human beings. In doing so, his goal is to establish what he refers to as “mere historical-Adam-and-Eve-ism” (alluding…

Review of Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Testament Laws for the New Covenant Community by James M. Todd III

Todd III, James M. Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community. IVP: Downers Grove, IL, 2017. The relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and specifically the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant, remains a perennial question in biblical and theological studies. James Todd has written Sinai and the Saints to bring clarity to this question. While he successfully describes the positions in the debate, his own position fails to convince. Todd writes Sinai and the Saints because it is difficult to understand the Bible without understanding how the laws fit in (p. 8). He limits his discussion to the laws of Sinai (pp. 21–22). He notes that law and covenant exist together both in the Bible and in the surrounding culture (p. 15). After setting the stage, Todd reviews the different approaches to the relationship between the laws of Sinai and the New Covenant, acknowledging that there is much common ground between the positions (p. 31). He lists three different positions: 1) moral law Christians affirm the authority of some Old Covenant laws, 2) Ten Commandments Christians affirm the continuing validity of the Ten Commandments, and 3) No-Old-Law Christians deny any continuing validity…

Review of God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Meister and Dew

Meister, Chad and James K. Dew Jr, eds. God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017, pp. 196, $25.00. The Spectrum Multiview book series by InterVaristy Press considers a topic, and allows experts on the topic to present their views and interact with one another. In this volume, the question of the nature and existence of God is debated in light of the existence and nature of evil. Each author is given the chance to set out their own view. Then at the end of the book, each author has an opportunity to engage, criticize, and develop their thoughts on the views of the other authors. Personally, I find this format very useful for going deeper into theological and philosophical issues. Chad Meister and James Dew have done an excellent job at finding authors that have well-developed views that are quite distinct from one another. Further, they have selected authors who have made interesting, and significant contributions to this issue. Readers who are fairly new to the problem of evil will be well-served by starting with this volume, and then following up by reading other works by each contributor. The experts in this volume are…

Review of Introduction to Christian Liturgy by Frank C. Senn

Senn, Frank C. Introduction to Christian Liturgy. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012, pp. 244, $29, paperback. One of the foremost contemporary liturgical theologians, Frank Senn is a retired Lutheran pastor, who continues his vocation as a scholar and author. A past president of both the Liturgical Conference and the North American Academy of Liturgy, Senn earned a PhD in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame and has taught in various capacities at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, the University of Chicago, and Trinity Theological College in Singapore, among others. His works include Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (1997), a comparative and ecumenical study of Christian liturgy with a special focus on the Reformation; Christian Worship and Its Cultural Setting (2004), an anthropological analysis of Christian worship; and The People’s Work: A Social History of the Liturgy (2006). The title of the current work, Introduction to Christian Liturgy, is perhaps too basic to reveal its true contents. For a book intended as an introduction, Senn manages to be remarkably comprehensive in a few pages, covering the historical development of Christian liturgy—its pastoral aspects, history, and culture; the order of worship, calendrical cycle, lectionary use, and sacramental practice;…

Review of Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction by Craig G. Bartholomew

Bartholomew, Craig G. Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2017, pp. 363, $40.00, hardback. In the United States, theologically conservative Christianity seems to stand at the edge of a major shift in political theology. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus for public theology and ethics have eroded. Around the world, the epistemological foundations that have generally been assumed are frequently challenged. Especially in the United States, the culture is rebalancing toward a totalizing view of economics and politics. Since the vast majority of the Christian tradition of writing on cultural engagement occurred in situations of relative dominance of Christian consensus, there are too few examples of effective engagement in a pluralistic context. Among the limited list of positive examples Lesslie Newbigin, Francis Schaeffer, and Abraham Kuyper are near the top. Unfortunately, until recently, only a limited amount of material in the early Kuyperian tradition has been available in English. That is quickly changing, which makes Craig Bartholomew’s recent book, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition, a timely and valuable volume. Bartholomew sets the table for the book in his introduction, where he outlines the basic Kuyperian program, which entails seeking the welfare of the city. The…

Review of The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide by John A. Bloom

Bloom, John A. The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015, 127 pages, $11.99, paperback. John A. Bloom (PhD, Cornell University) is a professor of physics; chair of the chemistry, physics, and engineering department; and academic director for the M.A. in science and religion program at Biola University in California. His educational credentials make him uniquely qualified to address the relationship between science and religion as he holds not only a doctorate in physics and ancient near eastern studies, but also a masters in divinity.  Bloom has contributed to several books including Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question (ed. John Warwick Montgomery), and published multiple articles on early creation myths, intelligent design, and human origins.  This book is part of a series entitled “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition,” which is dedicated to providing an examination of academic topics from a distinctly Christian perspective. The purpose of this volume is to introduce students to the natural sciences, and equip the reader with evidence that the Christian worldview provides the best grounds for scientific investigation.  Bloom’s passion, which sets the tone for the entire book, is best demonstrated by his statement that “reflecting on God’s handiwork in the world…

Review of Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller

Keller, Tim. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. New York: Viking, 2016. 254 pages. $17.70. Tim Keller has served as the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan for nearly thirty years and has spent much of his ministry engaging skeptics of Christianity with both winsome humility and intellectual dexterity. Making Sense of God, which serves as an apologetic prequel to his previous book, The Reason for God, exudes the same charitable tone and rhetorical skill that those familiar with Keller’s work and ministry have come to expect. The book is a prequel in that Keller aims to present Christianity as desirable first, whereas in The Reason for God, he aims to present Christianity as rational. His basic supposition is that before a person will consider seriously whether Christianity is true, she must first want it to be true. Keller essentially argues for two broad theses. He argues in the first section of the book that “every person embraces his or her worldview for a variety of rational, emotional, cultural, and social factors” (pp. 4-5). And, he argues in the final two sections of the book that Christianity makes the most emotional, cultural, and rational sense…