Book Reviews

Review of The Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology edited by Farris and Taliaferro
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / July 25, 2017

The Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology. Edited by Joshua R. Farris and Charles Taliaferro. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing, 2015. xx + 404 pp. $149.95. Anthropology is among the more complex disciplines in Christian theology. Part of what makes this discipline so complex has more to do with how one conceives of the questions—both in terms of starting points and assumptions—than it does with where one finds the answers to them. Remarkably serviceable to advanced graduate students and scholars alike, The Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology is certainly the place to start for those who want to come to terms with both the questions and answers that concern human constitution, evolutionary biology, the image of God, cognitive neuroscience, human freedom (and much more) as it relates to Christian theology. Boasting a total of twenty-seven chapters, plus the introduction, the Companion is divided up into seven main sections: 1) Methodology in Theological Anthropology; 2) Theological Anthropology, The Brain, The Body, and the Sciences; 3) Models for Theological Anthropology; 4) Theological Models of the Imago Dei; 5) Human Nature, Freedom and Salvation; 6) Human Beings in Sin and Salvation; 7) Christological Theological Anthropology. A fairly balanced ratio of chapters to sections…

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 Creatures of Possibility: The Theological Basis of Human Freedom by Ingolf Dalferth
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / July 11, 2017

Dalferth, Ingolf U. Creatures of Possibility: The Theological Basis of Human Freedom. Trans. Jo Bennett. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016. pp. xxiii+217. $29.99. Ingold U. Dalferth is a German theologian whose work is increasingly translated into English, with the result that many more readers benefit from his profound insight into the relationship between theology and philosophy. In this volume, Dalferth offers a deeply thoughtful theological anthropology that is informed by a rich, versatile reading of key sources and figures, especially Martin Luther and (somewhat between the lines) Immanuel Kant. His reflections draw upon an array of insights into particular categories of thought and doctrinal claims. His writing bears witness to a theological reading of human nature for a somewhat diverse readership. Having said this, Dalferth’s level of abstraction and his occasional oversights concerning traditions other than his own signal that there are limits to the extent to which his thought will score an impact. There are several key propositions that Dalferth makes. These seem to be the key ones: Contrary to an Augustinian doctrine of original sin, humans are creatures of possibility, not creatures who possess some deficiency or other. Contrary to certain neo-classical anthropologies of the imago dei,…

Review of Reading Kierkegaard I: Fear and Trembling by Paul Martens
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / June 22, 2017

Martens, Paul. Reading Kierkegaard I: Fear and Trembling. Cascade Companions. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017, pp. 103, $18, paperback. Paul Martens is associate professor in the department of religion at Baylor University, which, along with Martens, also employs C. Stephen Evans (department of philosophy) and Jan Evans (department of Spanish), making Baylor home to Kierkegaard scholars in three different departments and a recent hub of Kierkegaard scholarship, especially as Kierkegaards pertains to Christian Ethics. Martens has two other introductory books on Kierkegaard forthcoming, one on Works of Love in the same Cascade Companions series as Reading Kierkegaard I (hereafter, RKI), and another, presumably more general introduction to Kierkegaard in Eerdmans’ Intervention series. RKI, as its subtitle suggests, and as per the mission statement of the Cascade Companions series within which it is found, is an introduction to the writing of Kierkegaard for the non-specialist. It differs from other books in the series, however, by working as an introduction to one non-biblical book as opposed to the corpus of a Christian thinker. As such, it works like a short commentary on Fear and Trembling (hereafter F/T) with a brief introduction and conclusion that offer some ideas as to how understanding F/T…

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…

Review of Idealism and Christianity, 2 volumes, edited by Farris, Hamilton, Cowan, and Spiegel
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / April 11, 2017

Joshua R. Farris and S. Mark Hamilton (eds.). Idealism and Christian Theology. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, pp. 256, $100, hardback. Steven Cowan and James Spiegel (eds.). Idealism and Christian Philosophy. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, pp. 224, $100, hardback. What does idealism have to do with Christianity? In Bloomsbury’s two-volume series, editors Joshua Farris, Mark Hamilton, Steven Cowan, and James Spiegel set out to answer this question. Reflection upon Edwardsean and Berkeleyan idealism has lead them to advocate for a reevaluation of idealism’s compatibility with Christian theology. Together they have assembled a wide array of scholars whose personal commitment to idealism varies, but nevertheless each endorses a particular virtue of idealism. Since space forbids a detailed interaction with each chapter of this series, I have instead opted for a thematic summary and a meta-criticism concerning the enterprise of Christian idealism. The summary might also serve as a recommended reading plan of the two volumes, reorganized according to what I take to be the major contribution from each author. Many of these chapters do a refreshingly excellent job of writing historically informed analytic theology or philosophy, which was a chief aim of the editors of volume one. Consequently, my classification of prolegomena,…

Review of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism by Anderson and Dryness

Anderson, Jonathan A., and William A. Dyrness. Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016, pp. 374, $24, paperback. An Associate Professor of Art at Biola University, Jonathan A. Anderson is himself an artist and art critic. He has also afforded his artistic sensibilities to theological conversations, having coauthored the book Renewing Christian Theology: Systematics for a Global Christianity (Baylor University Press, 2014). William A. Dyrness is a respected scholar in the field of theology and the arts and has authored several books, including Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Baker Academic, 2001), Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life (Eerdmans, 2011). Additionally, he is Fuller Theological Seminary’s Professor of Theology and Culture. In Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, Anderson and Dyrness have combined their expertise to provide a treatment of modern art that is historically accurate, aesthetically conscientious, and theologically grounded. Anderson and Dyrness wrote Modern Art and the Life of a Culture as a response to Hans Rookmaaker’s influential book Modern Art and…

Review of The Myth of the Moral Brain: The Limits of Moral Enhancement by Harris Wiseman
Book Reviews , Philosophy / February 21, 2017

Wiseman, Harris. The Myth of the Moral Brain: The Limits of Moral Enhancement. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016, pp. 337, $38, hardback. Are the choices that human beings make and the lives they live determined merely by the chemistry of their brains?  For the modern man, has “the Devil made me do it” given way to “my brain made me do it”? Is the solution for the problem of evil found in neuroscience, in the anatomy and chemistry of “the Moral Brain” (p. 4)? In responding to these kinds of questions, Harris Wiseman, PhD from the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Education in the University College London, seeks to balance legitimate biological accounts of moral functioning with considerations gleaned from philosophy, science, theology, and the field of mental health (pp. 16-19). Wiseman contends for a “practical-realities first approach” (p. 13). The target of his measured criticism is neither technology itself nor the contention that human biochemistry and neuroanatomy profoundly influence moral judgment and behavior (p. 110). The problems are found in the dehumanizing and deterministic claims being made about biomedical moral enhancement, the radical ambiguity of current empirical studies,…

Review of Freewill and Theism: Connections, Contingencies, and Concerns edited by Timpe and Speak
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / January 24, 2017

Timpe, Kevin and Daniel Speak, eds. Free Will and Theism: Connections, Contingencies, and Concerns. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 316, $85. In this collection of essays, readers will encounter an interesting array of topics related to free will and philosophical theology. For example, essays cover issues related to divine providence, the doctrine of hell, the problem of evil, the doctrine of divine conservation or divine sustaining of the universe, and the compatibility of God’s freedom with His essential perfection. Even though these essays cover different topics, there is one major question that runs throughout the entire book: does something about theism entail libertarian or compatibilist accounts of freedom? One of the most impressive features of this volume for me is the editing of the essays. The contributors are not directly debating one another. It is not the case that one contributor writes an essay, and then another contributor responds to the original essay. However, the reader will often feel like she is reading a debate between dialogue partners. The editors have selected the contributors carefully in this regard. In many of the essays, a contributor has written up a nice summary of arguments that he or she has…

Review of A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John Frame
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / November 8, 2016

Frame, John. A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2015, pp.xi + 875, $59.99, hardback. John Frame holds the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology is just one book among many that he has authored—books that span a wide range of subjects, including theology, apologetics, ethics, worship, and philosophy. A History of Western Philosophy and Theology is a culmination of sorts of Frame’s labor in expounding upon Reformed Christianity’s doctrines and applications. Frame’s latest work is a helpful account of not only the history of Western philosophy, but also of the sometimes contentious, sometimes harmonious, relationship between theology and philosophy. Frame seeks to tell a “philosophical” story in his History—one in which he attempts to “analyze and evaluate” the history of Western philosophy “from a Christian point of view” (p. xxvi). In a day when histories of philosophy have ignored theology’s contribution to philosophical thought (or, at the very least, relegated such contribution as irrelevant to the scope of philosophy), Frame sees little difference between the two disciplines (p. xxv). More importantly, the Bible speaks to…