Book Reviews

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,…

Review of Engaging the Doctrine of Creation: Cosmos, Creatures, and the Wise and Good Creator by Matthew Levering
Book Reviews , Old Testament , Theology / February 15, 2019

Levering, Matthew. Engaging the Doctrine of Creation: Cosmos, Creatures, and the Wise and Good Creator. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, 372, $44.99, hardcover. Matthew Levering is one of the most prominent contemporary Roman Catholic systematic theologians, the author or editor of many books on topics ranging from Mary to predestination. Readers of this journal will appreciate his ecumenical posture with evangelicals: he is a member of Evangelicals and Catholics Together and is noted for his constructive engagement with evangelical thought. He currently holds an endowed chair at Mundelein Seminary. This book is the third in Levering’s series on topics in systematic theology (following books on revelation and the Holy Spirit). Levering starts by considering God as the creator with chapters on the divine ideas and on divine simplicity; more on those later. Levering then considers creation itself, arguing that the unnecessary diversity of creation—such as vast numbers of extinct species and regions of empty space—are not evidence against God’s goodness. These are followed by chapters defending a substantivist view of the imago dei, the command to be fruitful and multiply in light of contemporary environmental concerns, a historic Fall, and a broadly retributive atonement theory. In each chapter Levering…

Review of The Prince of this World by Adam Kotsko

Kotsko, Adam. The Prince of This World. Stanford: California, Stanford University Press, 2017, pp. 240, $22.95, paperback. In this engaging study of the Devil, Adam Kotsko, assistant professor of humanities at Shimer College, offers a rigorous piece of political theology. Whilst making a trenchant contribution to critiques of contemporary modernity, this book will appeal to both specialists and a general audience alike. The introduction recalls the testimony of police officer Darren Wilson, who claimed to be frightened of Michael Brown, the young, unarmed black man he shot and killed. Brown was “no angel”—Wilson euphemistically positioned his victim as not just criminal, but as actively demonic. Yet, if anyone is the demon in this situation it must be the personification of racist structural violence. From somewhere has sprung “a profound theological reversal,” (p. 4) where the demonic, once the theological tool of the oppressed seeking to explain their sufferings, becomes a weapon of those who oppress. With this context, Kotsko argues that this theological discourse on the devil, the demonic and of evil emerges from a long and under-acknowledged heritage and sets himself the task of tracing the story of how this reversal has taken hold. Chapter one explores the confrontation…

Review of The Christian Idea of God: A Philosophical Foundation for Faith by Keith Ward
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / December 27, 2018

Ward, Keith. The Christian Idea of God: A Philosophical Foundation for Faith. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp. 229, $32.99, paperback. Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity (Oxford University) and Professor of Philosophy of Religion (University of London), launches in this book a thorough case for what he calls personal idealism. While this book builds successively on previous publications (particularly More than Matter? and Christ and the Cosmos), it explores in further depth the fruitfulness of framing the Christian faith within an idealist framework. Ward is a stern critic of materialism and in The Christian Idea of God he gives further reasons for maintaining that mind is prior to matter. The first part, “The Nature of Mind”, explores the distinctiveness of personal idealism, the epistemic priority of experience, and the objectivity of value (chapters 1-7). On this version of idealism, there is no strict separation between the universe and God; rather they form a unity, “though one in which the mental or spiritual aspect has ontological and causal priority” (p. 11). Indeed, the universe should be understood as a developing and progressing self-expression of God. But, why should we take idealism to be true and what can be said…

Review of Flawed Perfection: What it Means to Be Human; Why it Matters for Culture, Politics, and Law by Jeffrey A. Brauch
Book Reviews , Ethics , Philosophy , Theology / November 2, 2018

Jeffrey A. Brauch. Flawed Perfection: What it Means To Be Human; Why it Matters for Culture, Politics, and Law .(Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017). 344 pages. $15.99. Theological anthropology is a thriving area of study. Part of the reason for this growth is due to the growing studies from the brain sciences and psychology, which have and continue to raise interesting and thought-provoking implications for what it means to be human. Another reason for the growing interest in theological anthropology has to do with the growing tensions within the broader cultural conversation on what it means to be human. Jeffrey Brauch enters these discussions as a fresh voice. He argues that, at the heart of this conversation, to be human means that we are created with dignity, value, personal responsibility, but we are also marked the Fall—in other words, Flawed Perfection. Flawed Perfection is not your typical book on theological anthropology, however. It is unusual, but I mean that positively. Brauch is not integrating classical theological anthropology with one of the sciences or re-branding it with a particular philosophy. Brauch, also, is not writing, primarily, with the academic in mind. He writes with a broad audience in view. As a legal expert…

Review of Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World by Douglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo

Moo, Douglas J., and Jonathan A. Moo. 2018. Creation Care : A Biblical Theology of the Natural World. Biblical Theology for Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan., pp. 250, $18.46, paperback. Douglas J. Moo holds a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews and teaches New Testament at Wheaton College. He is a respected New Testament scholar with over a dozen commentaries and works, mostly in the epistles.  Jonathan Moo holds his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, teaches New Testament and environmental studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, holds a graduate degree in wildlife ecology, and has published extensively on Christianity’s understanding of nature. The book is aptly titled as it pursues a theology of creation that considers humankind’s relationship and duty to it. This is the fifth installment in the reputable Biblical Theology for Life series. This volume is divided into three major sections: “Queuing the Questions,” “Arriving At Answers,” and “Reflecting on Relevance.” Chapters 1-2 begin by positing the question, “What role does non-human creation play in God’s plan?” (p. 23). The authors set out to prove that creation plays a significant role in God’s eternal plans. They thus eschew the labels “nature” and “environmentalism” in favor of…

Review of Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture by John S. Feinberg
Book Reviews , Theology / October 16, 2018

Feinberg, John S. Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018, pp. 799, $50, hardback. In Light in a Dark Place, John S. Feinberg (professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) offers a comprehensive, evangelical treatment of the doctrine of Scripture. Feinberg was one of the original signatories of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978. He is the general editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series, to which the present volume is the most recent contribution. The book consists of four parts and twenty chapters. The title of each chapter (apart from the introduction) refers to Feinberg’s chosen metaphor of “light”. This recurring motif reflects the author’s conviction that the Bible is inscripturated divine “revelation light” for the sake of a dark world (p. 24). Part One on “Creating Scripture” treats the doctrines of revelation (general and special) and inspiration. Part Two on “Characteristics of Scripture” covers inerrancy and authority. Part Three (“Setting the Boundaries”) is about canon. Part Four on “The Usefulness of Scripture” has chapters on illumination, perspicuity, animation, sufficiency and preservation. A concluding chapter takes the form of the author’s testimony. Feinberg’s aim is that his…

Review of A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards, Continuous Creation and Christology by S. Mark Hamilton
Book Reviews , Church History , Theology / October 4, 2018

Hamilton, S. Mark. A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards: Continuous Creation and Christology, A Series of Treatises on Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1. N.P.: JESociety Press, 2017, pp. 101, $17.99, paperback. The work under consideration is the first in a series devoted entirely to the publication of “assessable and in-depth treatments of Edwards-specific subject matter” (unpaginated series introduction). As the title suggests, this volume is a philosophical and theological examination of a nexus of metaphysical positions found across Jonathan Edwards’s oeuvre. In engaging Edwards’s philosophical theology, the author—S. Mark Hamilton—follows a trajectory set by his previous essays (e.g., S. Mark Hamilton, “Jonathan Edwards, Hypostasis, Impeccability, and Immaterialism,” Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 58:2 [June 2016]: 1-23). The main agenda of this brief treatise, therefore, is to philosophically clarify Edwards’s overarching commitments to idealism, continuous creation, and occasional causation (chs. 1-3), and then apply these clarifications to Edwards’s Christology (chs. 4-5). Along the way, Hamilton dissents from and revises several prominent interpretations of Edwards’s philosophical theology, most notably from the individual writing the foreword to the book—Oliver Crisp. The first half of the treatise charts out Hamilton’s revisionary account of Edwards’s philosophical theology; for Hamilton, these revisions are not only the…