Book Reviews

Review of New Models of Religious Understanding edited by Fiona Ellis
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / July 9, 2018

Ellis, Fiona, ed. New Models of Religious Understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 256, £55, hardback. Emerging out of research conducted by the Centre for the Philosophy of Religion in Heythrop College, London, New Models of Religious Understanding (ed. Fiona Ellis) offers reflections on a refreshing new approach to the philosophy of religion. Attempting to build bridges between the analytic and continental traditions, the contributors to this volume present a method of doing philosophy of religion which moves away from ontological and metaphysical questions about the existence and nature of God. This new approach is concerned with religious practice more than belief, the kinds of knowledge and understanding that are valuable in religious discourse, and the ways in which religious or spiritual realities might become accessible only to those who enquire after them in the right way. Religious understanding is not a matter of what we know, but of what we do, how we do it, and how what we do opens up new facets or aspects of reality to us. Despite containing contributions from eleven different authors, the book has a remarkable consistency of approach throughout; Fiona Ellis identifies two key themes in her introduction. First, the contributors…

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 Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God by William Hasker
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / May 24, 2018

William Hasker, Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 269, £25.00, paperback. In this impressive study William Hasker, the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Huntington University, takes on the task of analysing the trinitarian three-in-one problem. That is, how we should understand the theological statement that “God is three persons in one being.” Hasker seeks to establish, first, the foundations of the doctrine of the Trinity and, second, articulate and defend social trinitarianism (ST). Previous philosophical interactions with central Christian doctrines have often been accused of lacking historical and contextual awareness. It is Hasker’s goal to show that this picture is mistaken, and to demonstrate how the emerging field of analytic theology is not only philosophically rigorous, but that it carefully considers the witness of Scripture and the importance of Church history. The book is structured into three sections. The first section outlines the presuppositions for Hasker’s analytical endeavour. As Hasker remarks, it is difficult to attribute the label “social trinitarianism” to any ancient thinker, given that the ontological model for ST grew out of modern categories – especially with regards to philosophy, psychology, and sociology (p. 24). Nevertheless, Hasker—equipped with Plantinga’s definition of Persons as…

Review of All that is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism by James E. Dolezal
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / February 8, 2018

James E. Dolezal, All That Is In God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017, pp162, $18. James E. Dolezal is an assistant professor at Cairn University’s school of divinity. He has previously published on the doctrine of divine simplicity. In his new book, All That Is In God (ATIIG), Dolezal offers a concise defense of classical theism. On classical Christian theism, the triune God is a necessarily existent being who is simple, immutable, impassible, and timeless. ATIIG contains seven chapters that take the reader through these classical attributes and the doctrine of the Trinity. ATIIG also offers a critique of contemporary evangelical attempts to modify or reject the classical understanding of God. Various contemporary evangelical theologians and philosophers have rejected this understanding of God in favor of a God who enters into a genuine give-and-take relationship with creation. Dolezal labels such thinkers “theistic mutualists.” Dolezal notes that theistic mutualism comes in a variety of forms such as process theism and open theism, but his main target in ATIIG tends to be Calvinists and social trinitarians. It is worth noting that the term “theistic mutualism” is a neologism of Dolezal’s own making….

Review of Rethinking the Concept of a Personal God: Personal Theism, and Alternative Concepts of God edited by Schärtl and Wegener
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / December 26, 2017

Thomas Schärtl, Christian Tapp, and Veronika Wegener, eds. Rethinking the Concept of a Personal God: Classical Theism, Personal Theism, and Alternative Concepts of God. Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2016, pp. 249, $76.00. In this collection of essays, a set of German and English speaking theologians and philosophers come together to discuss competing conceptions of God. To be honest, this collection of essays was a bit of a struggle for me. There are several reasons for this that are worth noting. In several of the essays, it was not clear that the authors were using demarcations that I would use to distinguish between competing conceptions of God. To be sure, this is not necessarily a strike against the book. It just shows a particular disconnect that I felt with the authors. For example, in Oliver Wiertz’s essay, “Classical Theism,” Wiertz takes the reader through a carefully nuanced account of perfect being theology for the purposes of defending classical theism. This is a well-written and rigorously argued paper. However, Wiertz makes it clear that the classical theism that he is defending is the God of open theism. On open theism, God is temporal, passible, mutable in certain respects, and lacks exhaustive foreknowledge of…

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 The Soul of Theological Anthropology: A Cartesian Exploration by Joshua R. Farris
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / August 31, 2017

Joshua R. Farris. The Soul of Theological Anthropology: A Cartesian Exploration. London, UK: Routledge, 2017. pp. 198. $119.96, hardback. $38.47, ebook. Joshua R. Farris (Ph.D., University of Bristol) is Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, School of Humanities, The Academy and The Honors College, in Houston, TX. He is also a member of the Department of Theology and is Director over Trinity School of Theology. Nearly 30 years ago, John W. Cooper wrote and published his widely read theological defense of substance dualism and the doctrine of the intermediate state: Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. To this day, when one researches Christian accounts of the afterlife and attendant accounts of the human person, Cooper’s work is ubiquitous. Indeed, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting has been something of the “gold standard” by which all defenses of the doctrine of the intermediate state and a theological defense of substance dualism have been measured. By my lights, that reign ends with the publication of Joshua Farris’s book, The Soul of Theological Anthropology. Farris is clear that his theological account of the human person “is motivated and influenced by John Cooper’s . . . work” and that he intends to “take some…

Review of Contemporary Philosophical Theology by Taliaferro and Meister
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / August 29, 2017

Taliaferro, Charles and Chad Meister. Contemporary Philosophical Theology. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016, pp. 242, $44.95, paperback. The authors are both well-established experts in the fields of philosophy and philosophical theology. Charles Taliaferro, Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf College, is the author, co-author or editor of over twenty books. Recent books include The Golden Cord: A Short Book on the Sacred and the Secular (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012) and The Image in Mind (Bloomsbury, 2013, co-authored with Jil Evans). He is the co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Theism (Routledge, 2012, with Victoria S. Harrison and Stewart Goetz) and The Ashgate Companion to Theological Anthropology (Ashgate, 2016, with Joshua R. Farris). Chad Meister is Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Bethel College. He, too, is the author, co-author or editor of over twenty books. Recent books include Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction, second edition (Routledge, 2016, with J. B. Stump) and Introducing Philosophy of Religion (Routledge, 2019). He is co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil (Cambridge University Press, 2017, with Paul Moser) and God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views (IVP Academic, 2017, with James K. Dew, Jr.). Together, in Contemporary Philosophical…

Review of How I Changed my Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science edited by Applegate and Stump
Book Reviews , Philosophy / August 24, 2017

Applegate, Kathryn and J. B. Stump, eds. How I Changed my Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016, pp. 196, $10, paperback. Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump are the Resources Editor and Senior Editor, respectively, at BioLogos—a Christian organization whose mission is to advocate a view of “harmony between science and biblical faith” rooted in “an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation” (http://biologos.org/about-us). Applegate holds a PhD in computational cell biology from The Scripps Research Institute. Stump, who recently authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016), holds a PhD in philosophy from Boston University. How I Changed my Mind about Evolution is a collection of autobiographical essays from evangelical Christians who believe the theory of evolution is compatible with the truth and authority of the Bible. Among its twenty-five contributing authors are pastors, Bible scholars, theologians, philosophers, and scientists. Some are distinguished scholars with doctoral degrees from Oxford, Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, or MIT. Eight have doctorates in the biological sciences, and two of these biologists—Denis Lamoureux and Jeff Hardin—have additional graduate degrees in theology. Two other contributors hold prestigious positions in the scientific community: Jennifer Wiseman is a…