Book Reviews

Review of Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology
Book Reviews , Featured , Philosophy , Theology / August 1, 2022

Gallaher, Brandon. Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp.318, £98, hardback. Brandon Gallaher is senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, specializing in twentieth century Orthodox theology and modern theology more broadly. The breadth of Gallaher’s interests are on display in this fine monograph. Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology dialogues with three generative modern theologians each representing a distinct tradition: Sergei Bulgakov, Karl Barth, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The book is organized round a set of questions related to the form of modality applicable to God’s immanent and transitive acts, but these particular issues offer an entryway into some of the most pressing debates in contemporary theology related to divine aseity, divine freedom, the reliability of our knowledge of God, and the relation between God in Godself and God’s acts in the world. Gallaher begins outlining three sorts of freedom and three corresponding forms of necessity. These versions of freedom and necessity provide an interpretive grid according to which his three dialogue partners are interpreted and then critically assessed and evaluated. In view of space constraints, I will move directly to summarize the dogmatic conclusions for which Gallaher advocates throughout the…

Review of Being Saved: Explorations in Human Salvation edited by Marc Cortez, Joshua R. Farris, and S. Mark Hamilton

Cortez, Marc, Joshua R. Farris, and S. Mark Hamilton, eds. Being Saved: Explorations in Human Salvation. London: SCM, 2018, pp. 361, $56, paperback. Being Saved is a collection of essays circling around the twin topics of “theological anthropology and soteriology” (p. xiii). The essays explore classic systematic theological categories while also engaging with other disciplines of enquiry about the human condition. The editors acknowledge that this creates a wide variety in the essays, but they seek to avoid “a homogenous approach to this multi-levelled discussion” (p. xv). This approach makes clear several different modes of theological enquiry for Christian theology. By juxtaposing them in one volume, it serves as a sourcebook for contemporary questions about soteriology and about the interaction between soteriology and philosophy. Although a four-part division provides structure to the book, some essays fall more neatly into the given categories than others. The first section, “Sin, Evil and Salvation,” centers on cosmic issues, or those outside the individual person. After initial forays into God and time (“Identity through Time,” R. T. Mullins) and idealism (“Divine Hiddenness,” Trickett and Taber), there are three essays on sin and atonement. Jonathan Rutledge rejects “Retributivism”, defined as the claim that “the punishment…

Review of Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age by Felicia Wu Song

Song, Felicia Wu. Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. pp. 216. How do we understand personal identity in a time where we do not simply go online, but we live online? Song’s work in Restless Devices examines the question of personal identity in a digital age through the lens of an unapologetic Christian theological anthropology. It takes a supple voice and keen mind to navigate the complexities of digital media to an overwhelmingly uninformed audience about the ethical issues behind technology used every day. The expertise and tenure of Song’s work here shine in the landscape of the contents of Restless Devices. Anyone studying the ethics of technology understands the complexity of the relationship between the device as a mere instrument and the device as an implement of power. For example, Part 1 (“Being at Altitude; The Terms of Agreement; and The Industrialization of You and Me”) examines how “smart” technologies shape the user through the values laden by the producers of said technology (cf. Jürgen Habermas’ economic thesis). Tech companies use and exploit behavioral psychology and insights from neuroscience to make addictive products without much concern for the ethical…

Review of A Companion to the Theology of John Webster edited by Allen and Nelson
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / March 2, 2022

Allen, Michael, and R. David Nelson, eds. A Companion to the Theology of John Webster. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021, 366 pages, $50.00, hardcover. John Webster (d. 2016) is celebrated as one of the greatest English-speaking systematic theologians of his generation. This Companion, introduced by the publisher as “[a]n overview and analysis of John Webster’s  seminal contributions to Christian theology” (dust jacket) is both a handbook for readers of Webster himself, and a set of gently critical interactions with Webster’s theology which lay down paths for potential future theological work in Webster’s  wake. The editors (who, between them, also contribute a preface, four chapters, and an epilogue) have assembled a highly qualified group of contributors made up largely of Webster’s former academic colleagues and students. The Companion consists of seventeen chapters, plus a foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and an epilogue by R. David Nelson. There is also a useful bibliography of published works by Webster, which brings up to date the list that previously appeared in Webster’s 2015 Festschrift, Theological Theology. (This list is still incomplete, lacking the important chapter by Webster, “The Service of the Word: Theological Reflections” in the 1997 co-authored booklet, What Happened to Morning Prayer?,…

Review of Christian Platonism: A History edited by Hamilton and Kenney
Book Reviews , Philosophy / February 9, 2022

Hampton, Alexander J. B. and John Peter Kenney, eds. Christian Platonism: A History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021, 512, $130.00, hardcover. Christian Platonism: A History is edited by University of Toronto Assistant Professor Alexander J. B. Hampton and Saint Michael’s College Professor Emeritus John Peter Kenney. The individual chapter authors range from various universities around the world from Cambridge to Notre Dame to Toronto to Oxford. It is hard to imagine that the editors could have assembled a more well-educated group for the topic. And at over 500 pages, it is a dense, well-researched, tour de force on the topic. The book is divided into three parts: Concepts, history, and engagements. Before the main three sections the editors provide an overall introduction to Christianity and Platonism. The editors argue that the term “Christian Platonism,” for the purposes of this book, is elastic given the complex relationship between Christianity and Platonism and the significant variances across history (p. 3). However, they do suggest that there is one constant thread throughout history: transcendence, or a commitment to a higher level of reality beyond the material world (p. 4). The first section on the major concepts of Christian Platonism begins with a chapter…

Review of Minding Creation: Theological Panpsychism and the Doctrine of Creation by Joanna Leidenhag
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / December 14, 2021

Leidenhag, Joanna. Minding Creation: Theological Panpsychism and the Doctrine of Creation. London: T&T Clark, 2021. 224 pages. $120.00. Minding Creation is the first full-length treatment of panpsychism for contemporary theological construction. Similar treatments from different perspectives have been published and come to mind that provide similar fruitful discussions. Just consider two recent representative examples: J. T. Turner On the Resurrection of the Dead and my The Soul of Theological Anthropology. All three provide interesting constructive theological treatments of a particular doctrine by drawing from a particular position within the philosophy of mind. Turner advances a theological construction using a version of hylomorphism and I advance a constructive, and in some ways exploratory, defense of Cartesianism. These represent some of the more recent analytic theological literature that moves beyond philosophy of religion to contemporary constructive theology. Leidenhag approaches the doctrine of God’s relationship to creation through a consideration of panpsychism. Panpsychism is the view that mentality is fundamental to the natural world such that it permeates the whole world. She is clear that panpsychism, which serves as a broad category for a host of nuanced positions about the mind, is compatible with distinct comprehensive ontological theories instead of entailing just one (e.g., process…

Review of God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering: Theodicy without a Fall by Bethany N. Sollereder

Sollereder, Bethany N. God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering: Theodicy without a Fall. New York, NY: Routledge, 2019, pp. 202, $48.95, paperback. Bethany Sollereder (PhD, Exeter) is a systematic theologian and postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford.  She writes on theodicy, animals, interpretations of Genesis, and science and religion. Sollereder’s outstanding book asks how “a good and loving God [can] create through an evolutionary process involving such suffering, death, extinction, and violence” (p. 4).   It is not a defense of Christian theism in light of the violence of evolutionary history, but an exploration of ways to understand the God-world relation in light of what is so baffling about evolution. Taking a line from Christopher Southgate, she explains her project “arise[s] out of protest and end[s] in mystery” (p. 4). Blending an account of love borrowed from Aquinas and an Open Theist take on divine action, Sollereder tells a creative, complex, and at turns, mystifying story. She argues the disvalue of evolutionary suffering is a necessary byproduct of God’s generous gift of being to creatures and refusal to ‘micromanage’ (p. 183) the trajectory of any individual or species’ growth and development.  Furthermore, no disvalue is beyond the…

Review of An Introduction to Theological Anthropology: Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine by Joshua R. Farris
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / October 12, 2021

Farris, Joshua R. An Introduction to Theological Anthropology: Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020, 336, $29.99, softcover. Joshua R. Farris (PhD, University of Bristol) is Executive Director of Alpine Christian School and former assistant professor of theology at Houston Baptist University. Farris has edited and written numerous works on anthropology, making him ideally suited to pen an introduction to theological anthropology. While questions of anthropology continue to dominate contemporary discussions within and without the church, the academic resources providing both introductions and specialized focus lag. This makes Farris’s Introduction to Theological Anthropology a welcome source. Farris covers all the major areas in theological anthropology, expanding beyond what is typically found in overtly theological material or overtly philosophical material. He writes as a sort of bridge between theology and philosophy, engaging the questions, topics, and ideas from both disciplines in a single volume. There are chapters on human identity and ontology (e.g. materialism vs. substance dualism vs. hylemorphism, etc.), human origins, the imago dei, free will, original sin, Christological anthropology, culture (e.g. race, disability, and work), gender and sexuality, the afterlife, and the telos of humanity. Each chapter attempts to provide a high-level summary, explaining the various…

Review of Divine Humility: God Morally Perfect Being by Matthew A. Wilcoxen
Book Reviews , Philosophy , Theology / June 28, 2021

Wilcoxen, Matthew A. Divine Humility: God Morally Perfect Being. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2019, pp. 227, $39.95, hardback. Matthew A. Wilcoxen is an Associate Rector at Church of the Resurrection in Washington DC. He earned his PhD in Systematic Theology from Charles Sturt University, Australia. In Divine Humility, Matthew A. Wilcoxen asks why humility has not always firmly been considered one of God’s eternal attributes in the Christian tradition. Honouring their theological achievements, this book visits the work of St. Augustine, Karl Barth and Katherine Sonderegger and puts them to work answering some of the tradition’s oldest and newest questions. Chapter 1 introduces the task at hand through the question of how (or if) the metaphysical attributes of the divine being can relate to his divine subjective moral attributes. It begins with a concise critique of Heidegger’s Onto-theology and his influence in certain strains of contemporary theology. Wilcoxen highlights existentialism’s dependence on the very enlightenment principles it tried to rebel against while preparing for itself a “conflict of traditions” (p. 10), which additionally estranged it in part from its “rival tradition of inquiry, Christian Theology” (p. 11). Instead, Wilcoxen takes an analytic approach to be more conducive for returning to…

Review of The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins by Peter Enns
Book Reviews , Old Testament , Philosophy / June 28, 2021

Enns, Peter. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012. xx+172 pp. $14.99. Is there a conflict between evolutionary theory and the Christian reading of Genesis 1–11? Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University), Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies Eastern University, writes The Evolution of Adam to answer this very question. Enns’ premise in the book not that Adam evolved but that Christian thinking about the historical Adam should evolve because of two key ideas: “(1) scientific evidence supporting evolution and (2) literary evidence from the world of the Bible that helps clarify the kind of literature the Bible is––that is, what it means to read it as it was meant to read” (xiii). The argument for Enns’ perspective of the historical Adam is laid out in two parts. The first part of Enns’ book in “Genesis: An Ancient Story of Israelite Self-Definition” (chapters 1–4) address the story of the history of Israel, and the section part “Understanding Paul’s Adam” (chapters 5–7) examines Paul’s perspective of the historical Adam. Enns’ concludes with “nine theses” pp. (137–148). Chapters 1–4 approach the historical Adam’s issue through a historical-critical perspective, which…