Category Archives: Books

Book Note: Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies

In the last several decades, theological anthropology has witnessed a Christocentric turn. Whether it was Ray Anderson’s claim that “only the humanity of Christ… discloses the radical form of true humanity” (1982), John Zizioulas’s understanding that “the mystery of man reveals itself fully only in the light of Christ” (1975), or Millard Erickson’s belief that “Jesus reveals what human nature is intended to be” (1998) it seems as though the Christocentric turn in theological anthropology has made for a truly Christological anthropology. But what does it mean to say that one is doing Christological anthropology? Does it simply mean that Jesus sheds some light on our anthropology, maybe on our concept of imago dei or ethics? Or does it mean something more robust?

In Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, a book which is now almost ten years old, Marc Cortez begins to give shape to the project of constructing a more robust Christological anthropology which moves beyond issues of the imago dei and ethics. A few years later, in 2016 Cortez went on to claim that a robust Christological Anthropology is one in which “Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data.” (2016) However, in Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, Cortez doesn’t yet have that definition fully developed yet. Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies is something like a case study in which the method of doing Christological anthropology begins to get fleshed out.

So how does Cortez go about developing his robust Christological anthropology? He turns to the theology of Karl Barth. Cortez spends the first few chapters of Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies explaining why Barth believed that human nature must be explained in reference to Jesus. Cortez concludes that for Barth, Christ’s significance for anthropology is primarily grounded in (1) the election of Jesus Christ in which other humans are included and (2) the covenantal faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Building on these insights Cortez draws out eight features that he takes to be Barth’s anthropological commitments. At minimum, any Barthian Christological anthropology must include the following eight features:

  1. A strong concept of selfhood emphasizing humans as subjects constituted by particular relationships
  2. An inner life comprised of self-conscious experiences
  3. An understating of continuous personal identity that involves the body and the soul but is ultimately dependent on divine faithfulness
  4. An appreciation of humans as capable of initiating intentional actions
  5. Some view of mentality that allows a causal relationship with extra-mental realities
  6. An awareness of humanity’s determination and freedom
  7. A strong appreciation for the role of the body in every facet of human experience
  8. A recognition that all aspects of human life and nature are contingent realities

With these eight features in place, Cortez turns his attention toward the mind-body debate in contemporary philosophy. Cortez suggests that Barth’s eight Christological criteria for theological anthropology might help to evaluate contemporary proposals about the mind’s relation to the body. In chapter five he evaluates several physicalist options about human constitution. He concludes that for Barth, given his eight criteria, reductive physicalism is off the table. However, non-reductive physicalisms may have some promise if they can account for mental causation, consciousness, and the continuity of personal identity through death and resurrection. In chapter six Cortez turns to several dualist accounts of human constitution. He concludes, that a strong Cartesian dualism is a non-starter for Barth. However, some forms of what Cortez calls Holistic Dualism, might be promising if they can account for mental causation, personal embodiment, and the utter dependence of the soul on God for its existence.

Cortez’s evaluation of recent proposals regarding the mind-body relationship are quite helpful for several reasons. First, chapters five and six provide excellent summaries of various physicalisms and dualisms. These chapters help those not at home in these debates get a grasp on the issues being discussed. Second, and more importantly, Cortez makes a convincing case that given the eight minimalist Christological criteria some forms of physicalism or dualism might be legitimate options for Christians. This is something that people on both sides of the mind-body debate need to hear. In recent years I have encountered numerous theologians who claim that any form of dualism is sub-Christian because it doesn’t take seriously our embodiment. This might be true of some dualisms, but Cortez shows that this is not necessarily true of all dualisms. For example, emergent dualism gives a very robust role to the body; after all the mind “emerges” from a properly organized physical system, i.e. the body. Perhaps these theologians are simply unaware of the variety of dualist options and hastily assume that any talk of “dualism” must mean a form of strong Cartesian dualism.

Besides providing us with the conclusion that Christology can give us minimalist criteria for reflecting upon the relationship between the mind and body, Cortez makes several other important contributions to the field of theological anthropology. First he shows us that Christology’s contribution to theological anthropology need not be limited to ethics or discussions about the imago dei; it can be applied to other aspects of human existence. Second, he shows us that applying Christological insights to our anthropological understanding is no easy task. In all honesty, I wish he would have devoted more attention to the challenge of deriving anthropology from Christology. However, I can’t blame him for not doing this. I understand that this book was something of a first pass at a more robust Christological anthropology. Even still, I hope he addresses these challenges in his forthcoming book on Christological anthropology.

(Note: This was originally posted on Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.)

Calvinism and Democracy

In 2012 a group of scholars gathered at Princeton Theological Seminary for a conference titled, “Calvinism and Democracy.” The purpose of this conference was to reflect upon the neo-Calvinist legacy, to explore its theological roots, and to assess in what ways this tradition might provide resources for democratic criticism and renewal. The Kuyper Center Review (Volume Four): Calvinism and Democracy represents the published proceedings of this conference.

Although this collection of essays covers a wide range of topics there are two themes that tie all eleven essays together: 1) The notion that democracy today is facing a crisis and 2) The fact that neo-Calvinism has always had a complicated relationship with democracy. Despite these unifying themes this variegated collection of essays lacks coherence. Since there does not seem to be a strong organizing principle behind the arrangement of these essays, for the sake of the review I will divide these essays into three categories: historical essays on Abraham Kuyper, prescriptive essays based upon Kuyper’s theology, and essays examining other theologians.

The historical essays include contributions by seasoned Kuyper scholars George Harinck and Harry Van Dyke, as well as an essay by Clifford Anderson. Harinck contributes the first essay in this collection by exploring the reasons behind neo-Calvinism’s complicated relationship with democracy. Anderson makes perceptive observations regarding the logic behind liberalism and democracy. He argues that the Kuyperian notion of divine sovereignty rather than popular sovereignty allows us to hold these two ideologies together. Finally, Van Dyke makes two contributions; the first is a translation of correspondence between Willem Groen van Prinster and Kuyper regarding Kuyper’s election to parliament. The second is an essay addressing the nature of Kuyper’s democracy and his role as an emancipator of the kleine luyden in the Netherlands.

However, this collection does not limit itself to looking back at neo-Calvinism’s historical and theological roots; in the group of prescriptive essays Jeffrey Stout, Michael Bräutigam, and Michael DeMoor look to Kuyper as a resource for democratic criticism and renewal. Stout turns to Kuyper’s The Social Problem and the Christian Religion in order to prescribe a course of action for addressing the problems of poverty, domination, and exploitation. Bräutigam makes the case that Kuyper’s distinction between the church as an institution and as an organism “provides a significant motif for Christian political involvement” (p. 67). Finally, DeMoor calls upon other political theologians to develop a specifically neo-Calvinist conception of deliberative democracy rooted in the God’s sovereignty.

The final group of essays are focused on theologians other than Kuyper. David Little argues that Calvinist theology has made “a significant, if sometimes very ambivalent contribution” to the rise of modern constitutionalism (p. 24). He makes this argument by turning to the political theology of John Calvin, John Cotton, and Roger Williams. In “Distinctively Common,” Clay Cooke utilizes the thought of Herman Bavinck to develop ways to hold on to Christian peculiarity and the common good in the public square. James Eglinton also looks to Bavinck’s theology and shows how Bavinck could support the democratic development of the Netherlands while insisting that churches ought to be organized around principles that differ from democracy. Finally, Brant Himes shows how Kuyper’s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christology and doctrines of creation enable them live our their convictions that Christianity demands “public discipleship.”

Calvinism and Democracy is a superb collection of essays that will serve to stimulate further theological and political reflection upon its subject matter. Many of these essays provide avenues for further scholarly research. For instance Clay Cooke’s essay suggests that Bavinck sees cruciformity as a political virtue. One might want to further investigate what it looks like in practice to engage in politics in a cruciform manner. Michael Bräutigam’s essay “The Christian as Homo Politicus” explains how Kuyper used new forms of media to stimulate political action among the kleine luyden. It would certainly be a worthwhile project to see how new forms of social media, including twitter and blogs, could be used to continue Kuyper’s legacy of stimulating political action within the church. In addition to stimulating further research, this collection will also serve ministers who are attempting to form their own theology of political action within the church. Clay Cooke’s and Michael Bräutigam’s essays will be especially helpful. Both essays move beyond mere theory and develop practical courses of action for the church.

Despite possessing these strengths, this collection certainly has its flaws. One weakness of the collection as a whole is its lack of organization. There is no apparent logic as to how the individual essays were organized within the collection. Several essays also have major flaws. For instance, DeMoor’s essay does not make any significant contribution to neo-Calvinist scholarship, here merely calls for someone else to develop a neo-Calvinist model of deliberative democracy. The essay would have been stronger if he had developed it a model himself. Little’s essay also has a serious flaw; although he addresses John Cotton’s and Roger Williams’s political theories he never specifically addresses their distinctive Calvinist theology. This certainly undermines his thesis. Despite these drawbacks Calvinism and Democracy is a valuable collection that will stimulate further scholarly work and encourage ministers to develop their own theology of political action.

Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement (Review)

It is well known that some of Edward’s followers, sometimes known as the New Divinity, advocated for a view of atonement known as the “governmental theory” or according to Oliver Crisp, penal non-substitution.  This view (in its orthodox form) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius. He suggested that Christ acted as a penal example, demonstrating God’s aversion to sin and paying respect to God’s law. One Edwardsean, Amasa Park picked up this governmental theory and ran full speed with it, even outlining the theory in nine propositions.

Even though its commonly accepted that the New Divinity saw themselves as developing jonathanedwardsontheatonement__76739-1490203753-315-315their governmental theory in light of Edwards’s doctrine, academic debates rage as to whether Edwards’s followers were actually following Edwards’s trajectory in this area or whether they significantly departed from his thought.  For example, B.B. Warfield argued that the Edwardseans forsook Edwards’s teachings. John Gerstner argued that they though they followed Edwards but had no justification in saying so. Finally, and more recently, Oliver Crisp has argued that Edwards knew and approved of these Edwardsean ideas. Brandon Crawford, author of Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, enters into this debate by offering an in depth account of Edwards’s theory of atonement. His hope is that by focusing on Edwards we will be in a better position to evaluate how his legacy was received.

In order to carry out his aims Crawford begins by setting the historical context of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He does this by surveying early and medieval accounts (ch. 1), Reformation and Puritan accounts (ch. 2), and alternative perspectives in the Reformation and Puritan eras (ch. 3). A few questions arose in my mind as I read this section. Did he try to survey too many perspectives? Probably. What makes “alternative perspectives” to be “alternative?” I’m not sure. I also had a few critiques of these sections. One major one is that I think he reads penal substitution too heavily into his early sources. Yes, PSA is there in some form, but not in the full blown sense Crawford wants it to be. I think his overemphasis on the presence of PSA is an important move for Crawford. He needs PSA to be the standard atonement theory in order to say that in downplaying or ignoring PSA the Edwardseans were being unfaithful to orthodoxy.

After three chapters of historical context Crawford finally gets to the heart of the matter: Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He begins with a chapter addressing Edwards’s theology of God’s glory. Although it is an accurate overview of the topic he hardly engages with any scholarship on the topic, he also doesn’t do a great job of connecting the topic of this chapter to the main topic of the book: atonement. The connection is there but it is not very explicit. The next two chapters present Edwards’s account of salvation history and his definition of sin (ch.5) and the Penal Substitutionary nature of Edwards’s doctrine (Ch. 6). This latter chapter was the most interesting. Here he shows that Edwards conceived of atonement mainly as 1) Penal Substitution and 2) Penal Example. Crawford says, “Edwards believed that Christ’s death also served as a penal example, publicly vindicating God’s honor and law, which God also required before sin’s penalty could be fully satisfied.” (119) Crawford concludes:

Edwards’s doctrine of atonement, then, included two prominent concepts: Christ as penal substitute and Christ as penal example. As the two concepts are placed side by side it becomes apparent that these ideas were not contradictory in Edwards’s mind, but complementary.

Crawford follows up on this chapter with a chapter addressing other themes in Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. However, chapter 6 sticks out as the most significant, at least in my mind, for addressing the debate about Edwards’s legacy.

Crawford’s conclusion about Edwards’s legacy is that Edwards was classically Reformed and that his followers deviated from Edwards’s reformed orthodoxy. According to Crawford, Edwards bears some responsibility for this, as he “may not have sufficiently guarded against the separation of the substitution and governmental components of his system… Yet Edwards does not bear all of the responsibility. He is not responsible for how his words may have been misunderstood by his successors after they took possessions of his manuscripts.” (140). This is a fair and even-keeled conclusion, which I think is argued for persuasively in chapter 6. However, I think it could have been argued for in a journal article rather than in a whole book.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

(Review) Beyond the Modern Age

In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. 513vpc01u1l-_sx322_bo1204203200_With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.

So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:

  1. It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
  2. It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
  3. It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
  4. It will have a preferential option for the poor.
  5. It will take spiritual formation seriously.
  6. It will attempt to “live the solution.”

Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:

Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)

They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.

 

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

 

(Review) The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

My wife and I have a beautiful 16 month old daughter. She loves to play around and she really loves to read. Given my profession, the fact that she loves books brings joy to my heart! Although she loves books, probably more than any other form of entertainment, Mothers Dayher mother and I still have the difficult task of figuring out how much technology we want to let her have access to at this early stage of her life. Should she have access to our phones? Should she be able to look at photos on them? Play games on them? Use the camera? Or what about the computer, she gravitates towards it! She hits the keys like she’s typing up something really important. And then, there is the ever important question, how much TV is too much TV? These are all questions that we as young parents are trying to figure out. Thankfully, Andy Crouch, author of some of my favorite books including Culture Making and Strong and Weak, has written a new book titled The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

One of the most helpful features of this book are his 10 commandments:

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than let recoreded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

As a parent I found commandment #2 and the chapter about it especially interesting. He stresses that children are driven to create – if we nudge them in that direction. However too often, cheap technology squelches that drive to create. “For a child’s creative development, the inexpenseive, deep, organic thing is far better than the expensive, broad, electronic thing. And yet we are constantly tempted to give them toys that work on their own – that buzz and beep and light up without developing any skill.” (80) Chapter 6 – which treats the topic of boredom was also especially helpful. Apparently the English word for boredom does not appear until the 1850’s and its root word “bore” appears only a century earlier. Crouch argues that the technology that promises to free 41vj8hqrnkl-_sx355_bo1204203200_us from boredom actually makes it worse, it makes us more prone to seek distraction. Its even worse for kids! Crouch concludes that “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.” (141) That is powerful stuff! A short-term solution can actually become a long term problem. In this chapter he takes aim at the practice of sitting kids in front of videos in order to entertain them, or keep them busy while mom and dad try to get some work done around the house. Talk about convicting!  Videos he says, are designed to fill a screen with a level of vividness and velocity that does not exist in the real world – or only very rarely. Some entertainment is created to never require too much concentration or contemplation, it grabs our attention and constantly stimulates our desire and delight with novelty. It desensitizes us. In light of all of this it gets harder and harder to stay entertained. The ordinary, in turn, becomes boring. Dirt, grass, trees, fields, birds, all the things that require attention, the things that you see more of when you slow down and look closer, become boring. I certainly don’t want that for my daughter! I want her to delight in the magic that is God’s creation! I don’t want to stifle her creativity with quick solutions, and I don’t want her to lose her awe of the ordinary. This book serves as a fine warning to me, which will keep me from ignorantly falling into practices which counteract my desires for her.

As you can probably tell, this book has made a significant impact on the way I think about technology and parenting. If you are a parent, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are not, this book might help you bring some discipline into your technology filled life.

Note: I received this book in exchange for an impartial review.

(Review) Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature

Christ has a fallen human nature. That is the claim that Daniel Cameron, adjunct instructor at Trinity Christian College wants to defend in his short book titled: Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature.

According to many Christians, that statement is not only wrong, but it seems to be heretical. Why is that? Well, supposedly, affirming the fallen nature of Christ would sacrifice the sinlessness of Jesus, and thus undermine the gospel itself. However Cameron is not unique in making this claim, far from it! He takes his cue from T.F. Torrance himself. The logic that undergirds Torrance’s position is the non-assumptus principle, i.e. the unassumed is unhealed. According to Torrance, if Christ does not assume our fallen human nature, then Christ cannot heal and sanctify it. This position is obviously contentious. In fact in recent years Kevin Chiarot, Oliver Crisp, and Luke Stamps have attempted to show that it is impossible to say that Christ did in fact assumePrint a human nature and maintain the integrity of the gospel. Its in the midst of these discussions that Daniel Cameron attempts to articulate a defense of the Fallen Nature view, the result of which is five really short chapters on the topic.

Chapter one is a brief introduction to the topic. The second chapter looks into what exactly it means to say that the Divine Son assumed a fallen human nature. Chapter three looks at the pros of the unfallen human nature view, drawing from the work of Oliver Crisp, Kevin Chiarot, and Luke Stamps. Chapter four proposes a way to retain what is helpful from the fallen and unfallen views while avoiding the potentially harmful consequences of the fallen view. Chapter five closes by noting what role the Holy Spirit may play in the fallen nature view.

Cameron’s conclusion is that there is in fact a way to affirm the fallen nature view while avoiding the harmful consequences of it. He believes that we can affirm the fact that Christ had a fallen human nature and that Christ was both impeccable and not corrupt and not loathsome in the sight of God. Thus according to Cameron, we can say that Christ had a fallen human nature, and that Christ “truly and really atoned for our sins as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (71)

Despite Cameron’s interesting and well thought out defense I remain unconvinced of his position. There are several reasons why. 1) The Fallenness view is a hard deviation from the tradition of the church. While this may not in and of itself be a problem, I believe it represents a rather large obstacle. The church tradition might be wrong…. but a lot more needs to be shown why we should abandon tradition. 2) As Luke Stamps has put it, the fallenness seems “to ignore the fact that we can affirm what might be called the fallen experience of Jesus without positing a fallen nature to him.” (You Asked, Gospel Coalition) I still remain unconvinced by Cameron that this is not the case. 3) Cameron works with an anemic view of sin. Cameron says that Christ can have a fallen nature and not be loathsome in the sight of God, but I remain unconvinced. I think Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is right when he says that “only the revisionist modernist view of sin makes it possible to attribute a sinful and fallen human nature to Christ and at the same time consider him sinless because of lack of sinful acts.” (Christ and Reconciliation, 174) Our sinful state, is an ontological reality prior to, but inseparable from our sinful acts. Our fallen nature, and not just our sinful acts, makes us “loathsome” to God and in need of reconciliation. If this is actually the case, which I believe it is, then the fallen nature view suffers from a major problem of making Christ “loathsome” to God.

Despite these three issues I have with the fallen nature view, I can certainly say that this is a fantastic introduction to the Torranceian idea of Christ having a fallen nature. If you want to get a clear picture of what Torrance’s view is, and what some of the major objections are to his view, as well as a cogent defense of this view, then this is the place to start. If you want a summary of Torrance’s view and a critique of the view then I would recommend Kevin Chiarot’s The Unassumed is the Unhealed. Nevertheless, Flesh and Blood is a fine place to start.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

(Review) Embodied Hope by Kelly Kapic

The problem of evil has been solved. Well, at least the logical problem of evil has been, which for the lived experience of most human beings is radically insufficient. Pain and suffering present a radically real problem for many people. People die, get sick, and deal with chronic pain. For some, these realities pose a major stumbling block to seeing God as good. Kelly Kapic, the author of Embodied Hope has experienced these realities first hand. His wife has dealt with the ravages and emotional toll of physical suffering. In light of this he has chosen to write a book which is both theological and pastoral, exploring the truths about God and ourselves which have bearing upon this problem of pain and 51a5lkxgr8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_suffering.

Naturally, the problem of evil is a really large topic, thus Kapic chooses to limit himself in two ways: First, he chooses to address Christians who suffer. Thus this book isn’t meant as a global defense against the existential problem of evil, or evil in general. It is aimed ad Christians who experience suffering. Second, he chooses to deal with suffering associated specifically with serious illness or physical pain.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. Part one deals with the limitations of easy answers often given to the problem of suffering and he deals with the nature of biblical lament. Here he also explores what it means to be embodied creatures. Part two turns to Christology in order to address some of these issues. Kapic believes that “Only by looking to this man [Christ] can we reorient our experience of suffering in a way that is truly Christian.” (15) In part three Kapic relates ecclesiology to the problem of suffering. He says that in the body of Christ we “discover a pattern for Christian discipleship that allows for genuine struggle, communal support, and transformative affection.” (15)

As someone who would consider myself to be a “pastor-theologian” I can really appreciate the nature of this work. Kapic works hard to make sure that our theological reflections are not separated from our pastoral practice. I found Kapic’s chapter on the Incarnation to be especially strong in maintaining this bond. Here he examines the theology of Athanasius and Warfield and concludes that,

The physicality of the Messiah takes us to the heart of the gospel and God’s promise, not just of sympathy but of rescue. God has come, come near, come to be God with us and God for us!” (75)

This is a powerful truth with major pastoral implications. Much incarnational theology has swung towards saying that the most important part of the incarnation is that Christ now has solidarity with us. This is certainly true, and pastorally significant, but solidarity without rescuing doesn’t offer much hope!

His chapter on confession was also enlightening. I have rarely seen a chapter on confession in a book addressing suffering. If I have, they are often very poorly written, wrongly teaching that our sickness/suffering is always tied to some hidden sin. So what does confession have to do with healing? Confession before others can help us disentangle our pain from the idea of personal punishment, it liberates us from shame and condemnation, it allows us to meet Christ in the other, and allows us to make ourselves truly vulnerable to the healing presence of God. This is truly powerful stuff!

So who should pick up this book? Undoubtedly, pastors! I mentioned above that this is a great example of pastoral theology. Kapic doesn’t present anything “new” here, or anything particularly interesting to academic theologians. However, he does an amazing job of making theology “real” for pastors and laypersons. I often hear that systematic theology is irrelevant or that it’s a nice intellectual pursuit, but here Kapic shows us that is simply untrue. The sort of historical theology  and systematic theology he is engaging in this book is supremely relevant to the life of anyone who calls themselves a Christian.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.