My Reading: July 2012-2013

14 07 2013

It’s that time of the year again when I display my geeky side and cast my mind over the books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Each year I try to justify my nerdish tendencies. This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each year, so that I can ensure I’m getting a balanced diet; reading the kinds of books I might otherwise be tempted to avoid, and making sure I’m not just overdosing on one genre.

To be honest, this year I’ve not followed my plans as much as in previous years. Most of my reading has been dictated by necessity rather than choice. But with the M.A.’s completion fast approaching, I live with the hope that I may regain some sense of choice over my reading plans!

That said… a couple of observations.

  • For the first year ever I’ve reached (and exceeded) my goal of one book a week – 55 completed.
  • I’ve no idea how many books I started this year, since I’ve read copious poems, articles and chapters of books for various essays, and didn’t bother noting down the books I had neither inclination nor intention to finish.
  • A literature class bumped my fiction quota up considerably!
  • I soon realised I wasn’t going to read any drama this year, but needed to read a fair chunk of literary criticism for a class I was taking, so I switched the category title.
  • The Christian/Secular divide wasn’t easy to discern this year (how do you categorise the collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot for example?) so is a little arbitrary in places. It’s a division I don’t much like anyway! But it’s loosely helpful to make sure my head’s not stuck in religious literature the whole time.
  • I didn’t read any books on leadership (I find them rather boring, truth be told!) though I’ve read loads more articles and listened to podcasts on the subject this year.
  • I also didn’t complete any books on marriage, though I restarted Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. But again, I’ve read a number of articles and listened to podcasts – and spent time with my wife! And I resisted the urge to put all the books on divorce and remarriage into the ‘Marriage’ category! Skewing the stats to make the numbers look like I was a great husband, would only have provided a temporary ego boost, before you glanced down the list of books!

So here’s a rough breakdown of my how my reading faired this year, and also the list of books I read. I always intend to review books and never get round to it – but if you want my opinion on any, just ask:

Reading Breakdown

Category Aim (%) Achieved (%) Variance
Spiritual 16 10.30 -5.70
Theology 42 41.21 -0.79
Ethics/Politics/Apologetics 16 10.91 -5.09
Drama 1 8.48 7.48
Skill-Development 8 5.45 -2.55
Fiction 8 23.03 15.03
Marriage 3 0.00 -3.00
Biography 3 0.61 -2.39
Leadership 3 0.00 -3.00
Christian 75 63.64 -11.36
Secular 25 36.36 11.36

Reading List

  • Alldritt, Keith – Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Beck (ed.), James – Two Views on Women in Ministry
  • Bell, Rob – What we Talk About When we Talk About God
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph – Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism
  • Burke, Trevor – Adopted into God’s Family
  • Camp, Claudia – Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs
  • Chandler, Matt – The Explicit Gospel
  • Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
  • Cornes, Andrew – Divorce and Remarriage
  • Crenshaw, James L. – Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction
  • Delillo, Don – White Noise
  • Delillo,  Don – The Angel Esmeralda
  • Dell, Katharine  – Get Wisdom, Get Insight
  • Donovan, Jeremey – How to Deliver a TED Talk
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
  • Duvall, J.Scott and Hays, J. Daniel – Grasping God’s Word
  • Eliot, T.S. – The Four Quartets
  • Erswine, Zach – Preaching to a Post-Everything World
  • Fee, Gordon and Stuart, Douglas – How to Read the Bible for all its Worth
  • Foster Wallace, David – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Gish, Nancy – Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter
  • Hybels, Bill – Just Walk Across the Room
  • Instone-Brewer, David – Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context
  • John of the Cross, St – Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • John of the Cross, St – The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Johnson, Adam  – The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Keener, Craig – …And Marries Another
  • Kramer, Kenneth – Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Kreeft, Peter – Christianity for Modern Pagans
  • Manley Hopkins, Gerard – Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Medearis, Carl – Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism
  • Miller, Donald – Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
  • Murray, John – Divorce
  • Partridge, Alan  – I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
  • Peers, E. Allison – St John of the Cross
  • Phillips, Caroline – The Religious Quest in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Rajan (ed), Balachandra – T.S. Eliot: A Study of his Writings by Several Hands
  • Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
  • Sinnot, Alice – The Personification of Wisdom
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Sproul,  R.C. – Can I Have Joy in my Life?
  • Spufford, Francis – Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can make surprising emotional sense
  • Stibbe, Mark – I Am Your Father
  • Stott, John – The Cross of Christ
  • Thomas, Gary – Sacred Pathways
  • von Rad, Gerhard – Wisdom in Israel
  • Vonnegut, Kurt – God Bless You, Dr Kevorkian
  • Warren, Rick – God’s Power to Change your Life
  • Wenham/Heth/Keener – Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views
  • Westermann, Claus – Roots of Wisdom
  • Witherington, Ben – Jesus the Sage
  • Zacharias, Ravi – Jesus Among Other Gods 

Note: there’s one book missing from my list because it’s not actually been published yet. But rest assured, it will be released soon and then I won’t stop recommending it!!





Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.

All this has helped me to set goals for 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder





Reading Analysis: 2010-2011

19 07 2011

A balanced diet is good for your health, because what you put into you matters. Too much of one food group and you will end up fat, lethargic, or with vitamin deficiencies. I would propose that the same is true of our reading…

What you put into you matters; it shapes what you become. And so for the past couple of years I’ve tried to get a balanced diet of reading, ensuring that I am:

  1. Reading widely
  2. Not simply reading in the categories I enjoy, but broadening my horizons to read things I wouldn’t naturally choose
  3. Reading books that will help me develop the skills I will require for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky, I know, but I’ve found it incredibly useful not only to chart what I’m reading, but then to set goals for the next year. I haven’t followed my goals slavishly… reading is an art (and a joy!) not a science, but it has helped me to identify areas I rarely read in, and to readdress the balance accordingly. With a limited amount of time to read, it’s too important for me to leave to chance…

If you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July 2010-2011:

  • In 2010-2011 I started 55 books, of which I completed 47.
  • I completed one more book this year, and started fewer, which is great! I no longer have quite an enormous pile of half-read books languishing on my bedside table. Of course, there are plenty of other books I’ve dipped into for the odd chapter or fact… I haven’t bothered listing those here, only the books I started with a genuine intent to finish!
  • 77% of books were Christian, 23% secular
  • The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements*

  • From this I can see that I’ve read more ‘spiritual’ books than I had imagined or intended, but that’s no bad thing. Part of that has been necessity (researching for talks on prayer for example) and some of it was a healthy redressing of the balance from last year.
  • I’ve read far fewer books on ethics, apologetics and politics this year than I had intended. That is a weakness, and I would like to change that in this next year. I’ve already lined up a couple of apologetics books that I could do with reading to strengthen my thinking in that area.
  • I’ve spent little time reading books about marriage, though I’ve listened to plenty of talks on it this year, so hopefully I’ve still invested in it my marriage in other ways!!
  • My reading of drama has decreased this year. I’m happy with that. As I’ve thought long and hard about what I am likely to do with my life, I see less of a role for drama and the theatre, other than being a hobby. So I’ve felt less inclined to give time to it in my reading.
  • My ‘skill development’ figure is low and my ‘fiction’ figure high. This is due to the fact that I really want to develop in writing, and yet as I have read books on writing, I’ve realised that I can learn immeasurably more from just reading well-written books! Books on writing can be pretty turgid, self-indulgent, opinionated, and not overly helpful… So I’ve read a number of novels by skilled writers instead, and have enjoyed them immensely. I’m not usually one for reading fiction, but I’ve gone on recommendations from my wife, and she’s hit the nail on the head every time!
  • Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2011-2012. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of books I’ve completed this year:

As I’ve said previously, I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise, which has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read. Socrates wrote:

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.”

Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them. And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!

__________

* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.





Slaves and Masters

16 07 2011

‘Slaves submit to your masters…’ (Ephesians 6:5)

This verse is a challenging one to preach on. The temptation is to just focus on the subject of work and the relationship between a worker and his boss (which really is what it’s about!) But in so doing, we can end up ignoring the elephant in the room, the big question: “So… does the Bible endorse slavery?”

In the West Wing episode In God We Trust, President Bartlett and Senator Vinick discuss issues of faith, and this very question comes up:

Bartlett tries to dodge the question through some questionable theology (and bad hygiene… using the same spoon on multiple tubs of ice cream!?) but it has some force. Does the Bible condone slavery?

Consider these statistics:

  • There are currently around 27,000,000 slaves in the world today
  • Many of them have been kidnapped, sold by family members, or tricked into slavery against their will
  • They are threatened with violence, and often forced into drug dependence
  • A huge number of those slaves are sold to brothels and used for sex
  • The average price of a slave is around £55
  • The BBC reported just a couple of weeks ago that children are being trafficked and sold on the streets of London for £16,000.

I can fully understand why Ephesians 6:5 might cause such a problem for Arnold Vinick, and for many modern readers of the Bible. Surely God cannot endorse that!

The Bible speaks a good deal about slavery. The New Testament uses the Greek word doulos 124 times. It means slave or servant, and in most English translations is rendered ‘servant’ with a footnote saying ‘or bond servant, or slave’ presumably to avoid the negative connotations ‘slave’ conjurs uo.

Although the Bible never condemns nor condones slavery outright, it has plenty to say on the way in which slaves are to be treated. And if we are to understand Paul’s commands, here as well as in his other letters (most notably 1 Corinthians 7; Colossians 3 and Philemon), we need to appreciate the differences between slavery in the First Century and that of the modern world.

Here are just four of the many points of difference, followed by a number of recommended resources for further reading and reflection:

  1. Race

    Modern slavery is typically racist; strong or economically wealthy nations subject those of others nations to slavery. The American Founding Fathers, for example, believed that the black people they imported were only 60% human, and thus only deserved 60% of normal human rights.This is not a typical feature of first century slavery. Romans owned Jewish slaves, and Greek slaves. Jews owned Greek slaves and Jewish slaves. It was not a case of one powerful nation subjecting a weaker nation (or people of a particular pigmentation) to slavery.We cannot, therefore, read ‘slaves obey your masters’ as an indication of God endorsing racism. Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God made one man and woman in His image, and out of them came every nation. Every human; black or white, slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile is made in the image of God and all have dignity as a result.

  2. Status

    First century slavery was not based on social status. Slavery was a widespread practice, and it is estimated that around one third of the population of Greece and Italy was enslaved. Slaves were sometimes more educated than free people, and they very often had greater levels of responsibility, including managing people and resources.Additionally, slaves could also take other employment as time would allow. They could also own other slaves. So it is not the case that in the food-chain of society, slaves were the lowest of the low. They could be reputable, of high standing, with a good education and leadership responsibilities.Just imagine the challenges this would have presented for the church where both a slave and his master would worship side by side as believers, since ‘In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free’ (Galatians 3:26; 28). Imagine a slave having a position of leadership within the church, which his master attended! These were all likely problems that the early church faced, and which are unthinkable under modern forms of slavery which are entirely demeaning, reducing slaves to the lowest positions of society, and removing from them all sense of human dignity.

  3. Finance

    In modern slavery, people are often tricked or coerced into slavery in order to pay a debt, and then they are kept in a state of poverty, never able to pay their way out. Additionally, they are never able to make money to sustain life beyond slavery, so there is no hope of a better future, since they would be unable to support themselves.In the first century, whilst some people may have got into slavery in order to pay off debts, others saw it as a good way of making money, a genuine source of income like any other job.The table below compares the financial situations of slaves and free workers. Whilst a slave would be paid considerably less than a Roman free worker, all of his accommodation, food and clothing would be paid for by his master. So at the end of a year, a slave would end up with 60 denarii in savings, whereas a Roman free worker would only have 33 denarii.

    Roman Free Worker

    Slave

    Income

    313 denarii

    60 denarii

    Expenditure

    280

    0

    Difference

    33

    60

    These savings gave first century slaves the option to buy their way out of slavery early, or to have a means of sustaining life once they were released.

  4. Length

    Modern slavery is often lifelong; people are promised a release that never comes, because they are unable to pay back the spiralling debts (often exacerbated by forced drug addiction) or they die in the jobs as a result of violence, infection, or crushing workloads.By contrast, in the first century you could earn enough in a few years to buy your freedom, or you could earn favour with your master and be set free. Most slaves were released within 10-15 years, and the majority were free by age 30.In fact, it was often in the master’s interest to release slaves, because it was cheaper to hire them back as free workers!

Summary

Of course, there were always exceptions, and particular people who abused the system. Slavery was certainly not a pleasant thing; there was still a sense of indignity about it, and certain writers were particularly demeaning towards slaves. Aristotle, for example, wrote ‘A slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave’ and he argued that it was wrong to talk of friendship or injustice between a master and his slave, since ‘there is no friendship nor justice towards lifeless things.’

Whilst the Bible never condemns slavery outright, neither does it condone it. In fact, I would say that the Biblical principles of being made in the image of God and granted liberty through the gospel hint that God disapproves of slavery, even in its first century form… perhaps a topic for another day.

On the whole, however, many of the elements we think of when we hear the word ‘slave’ are simply not part of Paul’s original meaning. Modern slavery is highly racist. It is thoroughly demeaning. Most of it is driven by kidnapping, or deception. It is often linked to sex and abuse. It is life-long, with no hope of freedom, and may in fact cost people their lives. It is lucrative, feeding the rich, and abusing the poor. It keeps the poor poor, with no hope of restoration. What is fascinating is that when the Bible does restrict or critique particular practices related to slavery, many of the things it condemns are practices which characterise modern slavery.

Just one example: Exodus 21:26-27 lays out principles for masters treating their slaves well, and just a few verses before it says ‘Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death’ (v16). The Bible has an enormous problem with the practices of the modern slave trade, speaking in strong terms and threatening death for those who would dare to kidnap, buy and sell human life.

Christians have historically been on the forefront of fighting slavery, and still must today. But it would be a mistake to read Ephesians 6:5 and other passages, and think that God somehow condones the barbaric practices of the modern slave trade.

Resources

The resources that have helped me most as I have thought about the subject of slavery (ancient and modern) include the following:

Slaves of Christ – Murray J. Harris.
This is a brilliant book, looking at the theme of slavery in the Bible and the surrounding world. It draws from a wide range of sources, and is incredibly helpful. It looks not only at the Biblical view of literal slavery, but also at the metaphorical use of slavery in scripture, the way the language is used to describe Jesus’ own descent into human existence (Philippians 2), how he has rescued us through the gospel, and what it now means to be a slave of Christ.

William Wilberforce – William Hague
Hague’s biography of Wilberforce is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. Brilliantly written and easy to read, focussing on the facts that matter rather than just trying to cram in every stat and figure imaginable. It is an amazing story of an amazing man.

From Every People and Nation – J. Daniel Hays
A slightly broader book, looking at the subject of race in Scripture. I’ve reviewed this in more detail here but it’s well worth a read on this related themes of race and racism.

Free The Slaves (www.freetheslaves.net)
This has been a great source of information, though I have to say, I’ve not looked much into their work beyond the information they provide.

Stop the Traffik (www.stopthetraffik.org)
Stop the Traffik is an international movement who aim to raise the awareness of human trafficking as well as campaigning for an end to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org)
IJM is a human rights agency working to rescue people from sexual oppression and slavery. They work all round the world, but are based in Washington D.C. and do an amazing job!





Francis Chan: Hail the conquering her…oh!

7 07 2011

I like Francis Chan. He’s very cool, yet doesn’t try to be. He’s typically orthodox, yet still packs a punch. He’s humble, but preaches with authority.

When I heard about his new book Erasing Hell, I thought:

Great – here’s an evangelical guy who is compelling, who won’t just come armed with a thousand verses and an axe to grind, but with a winsome attitude. A guy who doesn’t come across as stuffy and stuck-in-his-ivory-tower-of-academia. A calvinist, like me, but not one of the angry types. A guy who ‘emergents’ may take time to listen to. Surely he will bring us a good antidote to Bell’s quasi-universalism.’

And many others seem to have thought the same.

The blog world is full of people championing Chan’s book, (let us be clear, most of them haven’t read it yet, since it’s only just been released) looking forward to hearing his defence of the standard evangelical view of conscious torment. At least, that’s what they assumed they were going to get…

But read this quote from an interview between Chan and Mark Galli:

Galli: In your book you seem agnostic as to whether hell is a conscious eternal torment or annihilation.

Chan: That was one of the things I was a little surprised by: the language. I would definitely have to say that if I leaned a certain direction I would lean toward the conscious torment that’s eternal. But I couldn’t say I’m sure of that, because there are some passages that really seem to emphasize a destruction. And then I look in history and find that’s not really a strange view. There are some good, godly men—and maybe even the majority—that seem to take the annihilation view. I was surprised because all I was brought up with was conscious torment. And I see that. I see that in Scripture and I would lean more that way but, I’m not ready to say okay I know it’s this one. So say here “Here are a couple of views.” I don’t even remember if I wrote that I lean towards that, but maybe it comes across. I’m still open. And I hope that’s because of my study and not because I’d rather have the annihilation view. I don’t know what was harder, researching or keeping a check on my heart and making sure there are no weird, ungodly motives in everything I wrote.

Galli: I hadn’t thought about it that much, but I probably leaned toward annihilationism and probably still do. But I read Randy Alcorn’s book on heaven again and he made such a strong case for eternal conscious punishment I had to revise one chapter to give that view stronger resonance. In the end, I’m with you: I’m agnostic. I probably lean toward annihilationism, but I’m open to hearing a good argument from either side.

Both men are agnostic on the subject. Galli leans towards annihilationism (the view that people are destroyed rather than consciously punished) and Chan towards conscious torment. And Chan can’t even remember if he said in the book which way he leaned, but he hoped it comes across.

I don’t want to knock Chan for this position; I appreciate the honesty with which he’s arrived there. I don’t think he’s trying to stir up controversy, and he’s certainly never one to put himself on the pedestal in a personality war… He would be horrified at such a thing! What interests me are the questions this raises, and I suspect the answers say more about us than they do about him:

  1. Why did we assume that Chan was going to end up at a firm ‘conscious torment’ position?
    Why did we not just wait to hear his views before assuming he was the answer we had been waiting for? I fear it may be because we may care more about who wades into the fight than we do about the substance of the battle. Bell-fans leapt to defend Bell and assume the best about him because they like him, and because typically they agree with him on everything else, and so assume they will on this too… before they’ve read his work. Has the evangelical world just done the same with Chan? We should always be wary of putting people on pedestals, even people we have good cause to admire. As Rob Bell said, ‘I believe it is best to only discuss books you’ve actually read.’ I do think there’s some value in preempting and prejudging books, but not in trumpeting the author as a knight in shining armour before you actually know what side he’s planning to fight in the battle. “Hail the conquering her…oh!”
  2. Is annihilationism really a more acceptable alternative to universalism?
    By which I mean, before this whole debate kicked off earlier this year, if you had asked evangelicals to assess various views on hell, wouldn’t they have been likely to put annihilation and universalism in the same sort of ballpark: evil, misguided, unbiblical etc… If so…
  3. Why is there not more uproar about Chan’s position?
    People don’t seem to be throwing around the ‘H’ word quite as much with Chan as they did with Bell. (That’s no bad thing… the more people get labelled ‘heretics’ the more I think we may be in danger of redefining the word ‘anyone who sees things slightly differently to me.’) But why not?
  4. Why is it ok for Chan to hedge his bets, but not Bell?
    What struck me about the responses to Bell was the claim that the Bible is clear on this subject, and that offering alternatives and saying ‘I lean towards this one’ (or not even saying clearly which one you do ‘lean towards’; a feature common of both authors!) is unhelpful and unacceptable. Chan, like Bell, has offered us alternatives, and said ‘we can’t really know.’ Obviously, he’s not arguing for annihilationism, and he’s said in the interview that he actually leans the other way; but he’s open to it, and I don’t see the ‘there’s only one plain, clear reading of Scripture’ people jumping up and down on his head. Why are people not lambasting him for raising questions he doesn’t answer, and opening people up to the idea of an un-orthodox view?
  5. Will the evangelical world drop Chan as their ‘poster-guy’once they’ve read his book?
    I suspect not. Sadly, I suspect fewer people will read his book, in part due to the fact that they assume it simply enforces what they already think. And I suspect the pastors who were so worried about their people reading Bell will be far more comfortable with them reading Chan, not because the possibility of annihilationism is more palatable, but for the simple reason that Chan is not Bell. It really might just come down to the fact that we’re looking for a ‘good guy’ in a battle of personalities.
Related Posts:




Regalement from Literature is dead?

8 06 2011

In a few weeks’ time I’m going to see one of my favourite plays, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard in a new production by Trevor Nunn. Sadly, Tim Curry, who was meant to be in it, has had to withdraw due to ill health… but still, I’m very much looking forward to seeing this play, even in the absence of his creepy eyebrows!

If you don’t know the play, it’s an absurd tragicomedy set ‘in the wings’ of Hamlet, following two of the minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It’s fantastically funny, a little depressing, and very clever. Though I’ve never seen a production, I’ve read it many times, and can’t imagine it will be anything less than brilliant!

In preparation for our theatre trip, I decided I’d like to re-read Hamlet, so I can get the most out of it… But then I stumbled across this from the First Things blog, ‘When the algorithm read Hamlet.’ Who needs to read the play now? I can take along some charts, and feel fully informed.

This is a slightly peculiar and counter-intuitive way of assessing art, but then again, I recall feeling much the same when I first read N.T. Wright’s assessment of how stories work in The New Testament and the People of God, but after much mulling and pondering, have benefitted a good deal from this somewhat rigorous approach.

So, is this the future of literary criticism? If so, is it a new lease of life, or a sign of the death of the discipline? Or to put it in more Shakespearean terms, is it a case of:

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

or

‘Alas, poor artform, I knew him well…’

__________

p.s. Before the pedants begin commenting, I know that there is no ‘well’ in the original Yorick quote. Wipe that superior little smirk off your faces!





Resources on Suffering

13 11 2010

This Sunday I have the privilege (and immense challenge) of speaking on the subject of God and Suffering. It’s always daunting entering into a talk in the knowledge that you will barely scratch the surface of what needs to be said. There will, no doubt, be plenty of opportunity for questions, and I will recommend a few resources for people who want to go further. There are dozens of articles, books and talks I’ve devoured on this subject, but here are the five I will recommend this Sunday:

Tim Keller – The Reason for God

I find your lack of faith – disturbing.” The moment you open a book on apologetics and find the initial quote to be from none other than Darth Vader, you know you’re in for something a little different… As many have said, The Reason for God, is one of the most significant books on apologetics to have emerged in decades. Far from providing us with a pocket-guide to apologetics, crammed with pre-packaged, cold and heartless answers, Keller presents a well-thought out, well-articulated case for Christianity that goes far beyond an exercise in persuasive rhetoric. It is an engaging read full of examples and quotes from many areas of popular culture. Never have I read a book that can so seamlessly quote Foucault, C.S. Lewis and Neitzsche alongside Bono, hobbits and Darth Vader. But Keller does it. His wide repertoire of illustrations provides an incredibly fresh and modern way of looking at age-old questions. His chapter on suffering is just one great chapter amongst many.

D.A. Carson – How Long, O Lord?

Carson’s book on suffering is one the best ‘full-book’ treatments I’ve come across. In places it says some things that are so obvious, yet I’d never really considered them – The sections on poverty and the suffering people of God for example. At times it feels a little cold (any book that describes the ‘epistemic dilemma’ using a logic model that goes S = Set of beliefs. R = Rider. S + R = SΘ… etc puts up an immediate barrier for the suffering reader. Who wants to see their emotional pain depicted in cold, hard equations!?) but the further into the book you get, the more profound some of the pastoral insights get. There are, as always with Carson, some moments where I think he has strayed into being a little pedantic, and a couple of sideswipes that I don’t think add much to the book (like his rant at Wimber for example), but those aside, I think this is a robust treatment of the subject.

If you were going to buy one book on suffering, and wanted something quite meaty, I would highly recommend this.

Pete Greig – God on Mute

I just read this book last week. It’s a great book on prayer, and in particular prayer that seems to be unanswered. Peppered with real life examples – modern, ancient, and personal – Pete Greig lays out some helpful guidelines for identifying why prayer may not be answered, or whether it might in fact be answered in unexpected ways. It’s a very pastoral, helpful book. He takes as his model, Jesus’ own experience of Gethsemane and the cross. But lest that sound too lofty – for who really can understand going through the same level of suffering as Jesus did? – he grounds it in his own story of learning to live with a wife who suffered from fits and epilepsy. If you are not after a philosophical book, but are in the midst of suffering yourself, I would recommend this book over Carson.

N.T. Wright – Evil and the Justice of God

I very much like Tom Wright, and his books occupy a large portion of my shelves. This little book is slightly deceptive in appearance. It is small, but note, he still names himself N.T. rather than Tom – a sure sign that it will be on the meatier end of his authorial spectrum!

In this book, Wright addresses the problem of evil, and in particular, the question of what God is doing, and will do about it. He focusses on what it means for God to be ‘just’ and how that will play out as God brings his justice to bear over all creation. He majors on the Christus Victor model of the atonement, showing how Jesus is victorious over evil at the cross. He doesn’t deny the penal elements of the atonement, but some will perhaps find his portrayal of the cross a little jarring if they are not familiar with his other writings. All in all, a great little book, well worth a read. And as he says, “Evil may still be a four letter word. But so, thank God, is Love.”

Liam Thatcher – How Could a God of Love Allow Earthquakes?

Shameless self promotion. This is a talk I gave at Newday this year, focussing in on the area of natural disasters, taking Haiti as a model. This is, to my mind, the most difficult angle on suffering to answer, and one Christians are tempted to duck. Knowing that in the talk this Sunday I won’t have anywhere near enough time to deal with all aspects of suffering, it’s helpful to have this talk online to direct people to.

I shall say no more…