Book Reviews

Review of The Extravagance of Music by David Brown and Gavin Hopps
Book Reviews , Christianity & Culture , Theology / February 10, 2020

Brown, David and Gavin Hopps. The Extravagance of Music. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018, 352 pages, $89.99, Hardcover. David Brown is an Anglican Priest, Emeritus Professor of Theology, Aesthetics and Culture, and Wardlaw Professor at the University of St Andrews. His work explores the relationship between theology and philosophy, and most recently, the interactions between theology and the arts. Gavin Hopps is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Theology, and Director for the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) at the University of St Andrews. His research focuses on theology and the arts, with particular interests in Romantic literature and contemporary popular music. The Extravagance of Music presents an optimistic and generous understanding of music’s potential to allow for divine encounter. At the heart of the book is the notion that music is inherently “extravagant”—a term that Brown and Hopps root in its medieval origins, extrā vagārī, meaning to stray outside boundaries or to go beyond limits. This “generous excess” that music provides can potentially mediate our experiences of a similarly generous, extravagant God. The study challenges previous well-chartered but significantly more constrained conceptions of the theological possibilities of music. These have tended to focus on certain styles, or…

Review of The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith by Fairbairn and Reeves
Theology / February 7, 2020

Fairbairn, Donald and Ryan M. Reeves. The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019. xi+396pp. Pb $34.99. The creeds and confessions of the Christian Church remain fundamental benchmarks of the faith that have survived the test of time and will continue to guide theological developments in the future. As this book reminds us, there is a lot of history behind the formation of these key texts, and not all of it has been pleasant. Controversies have flared up and sometimes led to unfortunate consequences that still defy resolution. However, the ecumenical spirit of our age has allowed us to re-examine this past more objectively than was once the case and to recognize that differences that once led to division may have been due to misunderstandings and/or extraneous factors that are no longer relevant. In weaving their way through these complexities, the authors of this book have done a magnificent job of condensing their material in a way that makes it digestible for the beginning student without cutting corners or being unfair to positions with which they might disagree. Every Christian, of whatever background, will be able to use this…

Review of Atonement by Eleonore Stump
Book Reviews , Theology / February 5, 2020

Stump, Eleonore. Atonement. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 560, $80.00, hardback. Eleonore Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University and an Honorary Professor at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology. Stump has authored or edited a number of works on Medieval philosophy and theology. Her Gifford Lectures, titled, “Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering” was published by Oxford University Press. In Atonement, Stump sets out to put forth a new account of the doctrine of atonement. To get to her account of atonement, Stump wanders through the darkness (or light?) of a number of theories of atonement, psychological literature on shame and guilt, medieval accounts of the will, and contemporary neuroscience. Eventually she dubs her account, “the Marian interpretation” of atonement, after any of the number of Marys in the Bible (p. 378). What exactly is this “Marian account” of atonement? First, I should mention that her understanding of “atonement” avoids “narrow” understandings of atonement that equate atonement with removing guilt by means of Christ’s crucifixion and death. Instead, Stump opts for a broader understanding of atonement, one that takes seriously the etymology of the word—”at-one-ment”—and uses the…

Review of Divine Scripture in Human Understanding: A Systematic Theology of The Christian Bible by Joseph K. Gordon
Book Reviews , Theology / January 31, 2020

Gordon, Joseph K. Divine Scripture in Human Understanding: A Systematic Theology of the Christian Bible. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2019, 458, $65.00, hardcover. Joseph Gordon is associate professor of theology at Johnson University in Kissimmee, Florida. Divine Scripture in Human Understanding is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation at Marquette University under Robert Doran who specializes in the theology of Bernard Lonergan. Gordon’s work proceeds in six chapters. He begins by introducing the overall framework and thesis. His goal is to provide “a constructive systematic account of the nature and purpose of Christian Scripture that articulates the intelligibility of Scripture and locates it within the work of the Triune God in history and within human cultural history” (p. 8). Chapter 2 works from the premise that the varied perspectives of the scriptural books and their “pervasive interpretive plurality” requires Scripture alone to be an insufficient tool for comprehensively understanding the Christian faith (p. 34). In other words, it is not that Scripture itself is lacking but that humans require multiple “horizons” of interpretive action to obtain the meaning of the text. They cannot glean all that the Bible means by reading the Bible in isolation. Recognizing…

Review of Trinity without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology Edited by Bird and Harrower
Book Reviews , Theology / January 29, 2020

Bird, Michael F., and Scott Harrower, eds. Trinity without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2019, pp. 344 $25.99, paperback.  The sixteen essays of Trinity without Hierarchy (subsequently, TwH) together argue that conceptualizing the Trinity in terms of eternal relations of authority and submission (hereafter, ERAS) conflicts with the “the apostolic and evangelical faith” (p. 21). TwH’s editors Michael F. Bird and Scott Harrower lecture at Ridley College in Melbourne. Bird has defended ERAS previously, but he now argues that this approach (popularized by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware) is “analogical to a semi-Arian subordinationism” (pp. 9-12, 10). Harrower published Trinitarian Self and Salvation in 2012 and God of All Comfort (2019), both exploring Trinitarian theology. TwH largely responds to the 2015 monograph edited by Ware and John Starke, One God in Three Persons. TwH presents ERAS as implicitly subordinating the Son’s glory in teaching that he eternally submits and that this grounds creational hierarchies (pp. 10-11). TwH provides biblical, historical, and systematic analysis to counter ERAS’s hermeneutics and theological conclusions. According to TwH, ERAS errantly interprets Scripture’s Trinitarian economy. Amy Peeler (pp. 57-83) exemplifies the book’s hermeneutical case with her biblically focused argument: “Hebrews does not demand [the ERAS] interpretation” (p. 68). Both John Owen, according to…

Review of The Hiddenness of God by Michael C. Rea
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / January 6, 2020

Rea, Michael C. The Hiddenness of God. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, 198pp., $30.00, hardcover. Michael C. Rea is Rev. John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion. In this book, Rea deals with two problems induced by divine hiddenness. They are [1] the argument against the existence of God, most notably by J. L. Schellenberg; and [2] the challenge of the idea of God’s love. Rea’s approach to the issues involves two steps to respond to these two problems respectively. The first step involves two arguments to show that the hiddenness problems are based on an unfounded assumption about divine love. The first argument, in Chapter 2, is that Schellenberg’s problem is based on a concept of God which is different from and fails to target specifically Christian belief in God. For Rea, the problem of divine hiddenness is fundamentally “a problem of violated expectations” (p. 25). In Chapter 3, Rea argues that the concept of God in biblical portrayals emphasizes two key attributes, personality and transcendence, which are woven together while they are also in tension with each other. In short, we cannot understand divine love without the light of divine…

Review of God & the Gothic: Religion, Romance, and Reality in the English Literary Tradition by Alison Milbank
Book Reviews , Christianity & Culture , Theology / December 17, 2019

Milbank, Alison. God & the Gothic: Religion, Romance, and Reality in the English Literary Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2018, pp. 354, hardback. $44.35. Although traditionally seen as a marginal form within the wider world of English literature, the Gothic novel has become increasingly popular with both academic researchers and students since at least the 1970s. Lending itself to a diversity of theoretical and critical approaches, from the psychoanalytic to the Marxist, the Gothic novel has spawned a host of academic monographs and a thriving field of Gothic studies. That said, a surprisingly small amount of attention has been given to the theological and religious elements within this kind of writing—an oversight which stems from both literary studies lack of comfort with the theological and the reticence of theology to take seriously the heterodox and heretical Gothic. Happily, this lacuna has started to be corrected, with increased scholarly attention being given to the intersection of theology and Gothic writing. Into this area, Alison Milbank, associate professor of theology and literature at the University of Nottingham, has produced what will be the landmark text for years to come and an indispensable guide for both students of the Gothic and researchers of…

Review of The Greatest Possible Being by Jeff Speaks
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / October 22, 2019

Speaks, Jeff. The Greatest Possible Being. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, 175pp, $45. In The Greatest Possible Being, Jeff Speaks takes aim at critically analyzing the method of perfect being theology. Perfect being theology is a philosophical method for developing a specific doctrine of God. In particular, the method claims to guide one’s thoughts towards deriving the divine attributes. Speaks is skeptical about the ability of this method to accomplish this task. Over the course of eight chapters, Speaks offers an analysis of metaphysical, epistemological, semantic, and theological issues related to the task of perfect being theology. Speaks starts out by offering an introduction to the general idea of perfect being theology. According to Speaks, perfect being theology involves two basic steps in order to derive a specific conception of God through reason alone. The method is meant to help one identify which attributes are divine attributes. In step 1, a perfect being theologian selects a modal principle about God’s greatness. In step 2, a perfect being theologian selects a greatness condition that fits with the preferred modal principle. In these two easy steps, one should have a recipe for identifying which attributes are God’s. With regards to step 1,…

Review of Called to Attraction: An Introduction to the Theology of Beauty by Brendan Thomas Sammon
Book Reviews , Theology / October 11, 2019

Sammon, Brendan Thomas. Called to Attraction: An Introduction to the Theology of Beauty. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017, pp. 160, $22, Paperback. Brendan Sammon is an Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He teaches courses on both The Beauty of God and Beauty and Consciousness at the Movies. In his first book, The God Who is Beauty: Beauty as a Divine Name in Thomas Aquinas and Dionysius the Areopagite (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), Sammon examines the Medieval thoughts binding theology and beauty together. In Called to Attraction: An Introduction to the Theology of Beauty, he  broadly explores how beauty and theology have interacted from ancient origins to the twentieth century. Sammon moves through time periods for each of the seven chapters of his book. A helpful introduction sets up the book with three introductory arguments to set  the boundaries for what he intends to accomplish in his short volume. First, he argues his theology of beauty is derived from a divine name approach. Consequently, all of his conclusions flow from the idea that beauty is an attribute of God. He writes, “These divine names could be called God’s public identity, or the appearance…

Review of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Violent Old Testament Portraits of God in Light of the Cross by Gregory Boyd
Book Reviews , Old Testament , Theology / August 23, 2019

Boyd, Gregory A. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Violent Old Testament Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017, pp. 1,492, $59.00, paperback. Christians are largely united in the affirmation that Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God’s character given to humans, whose person and works fulfill the highest aspirations of the Old Testament (OT). Christ reveals a God who teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves and shows us how to love by dying an undeserved criminal’s death not only for those who return his love but also for his enemies. However, this picture of a perfectly loving God appears to be incompatible with the brutally violent images of Yahweh found in the OT. Among other things, the OT command to kill every man, woman, and child in a given region plainly seems to contradict Jesus’ teaching to love all persons, even one’s enemies, as oneself. The 1,500 page tome, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Violent Old Testament Portraits in Light of the Cross, from pastor-theologian Gregory Boyd aims to reconcile, or at least refocus, these opposing visions of God. In short, the proposal is that,…