Category Archives: Book Reviews

(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.

Martin Luther in His Own Words

Martin Luther. As the 500th anniversary of the reformation this name will be on the lips 41kmkyfseqlof many people. Yet, most people will know of him little more than the fact that he “started” the Reformation – or better yet he caused the split between Catholics and Protestants. Some won’t even know that! They will just know that he is the guy that started Lutheran churches….. *sigh*

Yet Luther is so much more than just those things! Luther helped to rediscover the doctrine of justification by faith, “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls!” He was also a firm defender of the 5 sola’s: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola Deo Gloria.

This new book, Martin Luther in His Own Words, edited by Jack Kilcrease and Erwin Lutzer attempts to give readers an introduction to the essential writers of this German Reformer. Organized around the 5 Sola’s, the editors have included excerpts from some of Luther’s most important works including:

  • Commentary on Galatians
  • Preface to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans
  • The Bondage of the Will
  • Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer

If you don’t have time to sift through all of Luther’s works but want a good introduction you don’t need to look further than this book. If you are intimidated about picking up theological literature that was written 500 years ago, again look no further! The editors have included concise but extremely helpful introductions to each of the sections.

If you are a pastor who is looking for one place where you can get the best of Luther’s works – look here. If you are a Bible college student who has always been interested in Luther but doesn’t know where to start. Look here! Finally, if you would like to do some sort of small group discussion on the Reformation, this would be a great place to start. So look here!

If any of these categories apply to you, and you would like a free copy of this book, you are in luck! In a few days I will be giving away one copy of this book. So keep your eyes on my blog, I will be explaining the giveaway soon!

Book Giveaway

Review of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective by Mark Cortez

Cortez, Mark. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 272, $27.99, paperback.

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Marc Cortez is currently associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His prior works include Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark, 2008). As the title of these previous monographs indicate, Cortez has an interest in theological anthropology. The recently published Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology represents his third full length contribution to this field.

What makes us human? This is a question upon which much ink has been spilled. Most studies attempting to answer this question have tended focus on one of several topics: 1) human origins, 2) ethics, and 3) the imago dei. What Cortez brings to this already oversaturated field is a rethinking of the methodology upon which so many of these studies are founded. Cortez’s approach to theological anthropology is strictly Christological.

You can read the rest of the review at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

Its actually a plausibility problem…

What the bible teaches about same sex relationships sounds implausible to most people 51mnsxoryhl-_sx331_bo1204203200_nowadays. It sounds totally implausible to ask people to turn their backs on same sex relationships and live a lonely life as a perpetually single person.  Not only does it sound implausible, it sounds unhealthy. Listen to what Melinda Selmys, a Roman Catholic who experiences same sex attraction says:

“Though shall not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness.

She’s right, it in our world the idea that someone should say yes to the single life is absolute madness. And this is exactly where the problem lies, the church has unintentionally perpetuated the implausibility of a same-sex, single, celibate Christian life through a number of misteps. Ed Shaw, a pastor and the author of Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, seeks to address this plausibility problem by making what the Bible clearly commands seem plausible again.

Shaw’s thesis is that,

The reason that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality sounds so unreasonable is because of a whole number of misteps that the church ahs taken over the years; a whole host of ways in which evangelicals have become too shaped by the world around us. (22)

What Shaw does throughout the book is highlight 9 misteps that the church has made, unwittingly making the same sex celibate life implausible. He begins the book with a very personal chapter, describing what life has been like pursuing a life of sexual holiness as a pastor who has same sex attractions. This is an important chapter because the plausibility problem is a deeply personal and emotional issue for him, not only as a pastor but as a same-sex attracted Christian. This chapter really sets the context.

So what are the missteps? Here are the 9 incorrect beliefs that the church has adopted, thus perpetuating the implausibility of a single-celibate same-sex life:

  1. Your identity is your sexuality
  2. A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children
  3. If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
  4. If it makes you happy, it must be right
  5. Sex is where true intimacy is found
  6. Men and women are equal and interchangeable
  7. Godliness is heterosexuality
  8. Celibacy is bad for you
  9. Suffering is to be avoided

Although these 9 topics have certainly influenced how the church processes issues of same sex attraction in the church, they have wide ranging implications. Personally, I have an ax to grind against belief 4 and 9. Even apart from issues of sexuality, the beliefs that “if it makes you happy, it must be right” and “suffering is to be avoided” have done so much to harm the mission of the church. Because the church has imbibed these values (especially the American church) people are slow to sacrifice for the sake of God’s mission. And perhaps even worse, students tend to abandon their faith in college precisely because they have bought into “happiness” as the goal of life, and hence their faith as well. I’ve seen it time and time again, people following Jesus because of the “happiness” and “blessings”

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Ed Shaw is Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol, England.

he has to offer them instead of simply following him because he is the Messiah. It’s a consumeristic view of faith. All this to say, the issues Shaw addresses have major implications even beyond the topic of same-sex attraction.

I highly recommend this book to those in ministry. I wish all my pastor friends would take the time to read it simply because I know that some of them unknowingly are perpetuating these harmful beliefs in their churches (2 and 5 seem to be especially common in the circles I find myself in.) This would also be a helpful book for all sorts of leaders in Christian ministry to read. We would really benefit from being more careful about how we address issues of family life and relationships, as elevating certain topics in sermons or bible studies can unwittingly alienate a large segment of our Christian brothers and sisters.

Even though you may not agree with the details of Shaw’s proposal, this is an invaluable resource for those seeking to disciple their flock in the areas of sexuality and beyond.

NOTE: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

The Vulnerable Pastor

Vulnerable. Not the first word that comes to mind when you think about strong leaders. Yet, this word, “Vulnerable,” is what Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, suggests should characterize strong Christian leaders.

In The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Smith attempts to debunk current leadership wisdom as not only being harmful, but impossible. The image51s4het-oll-_sy344_bo1204203200_ of somebody who is always strong, always has their stuff together, is never wrong, never wavers, and is extremely self-confident is the exact opposite of what Smith suggest Christian leaders should be like. Instead a Christian leader should be marked by vulnerability. Specifically, this vulnerability should recognize and understand our human constraints. Recognizing these constraints makes our ministry more sustainable “and guards us against disillusionment and burnout.”

As the former director of a college ministry in a large church in the LA area I knew I could benefit from reading Smith’s book. I sort of live in the “mega-church” world, which is mostly characterized by the leadership images Smith decries. I constantly struggled, despite pressing on in ministry, with the notion that I didn’t fit the “pastor-mold.” I still struggle with it! Even though its never expressed, it is implicitly there. I’m just not one of those pastors. I’m shy, introverted, intellectual, liturgical. Again, not your typical mega-church type leader. Throughout the book Smith shares her struggles with not fitting the mold. Told mostly in story form, she expresses how difficult it was to be herself as leader, when the world (i.e. CHURCH WORLD) told her that wasn’t enough. It was only when she was bold enough to admit that she didn’t have what the world asked of her, and she didn’t need to have it, that she began to find joy in her ministry.

Here are some helpful quotes from her book:

When we’re at our desks preparing our sermons and something snags our hearts, can we set aside our work long enough to be worked upon? Can we trust that the teaching of our congregations is not primarily our work but God’s work, which he wants to being with us? (92)

What if we began with our human limitations and shaped a ministry from that? Like a child pouring pennies on a candy store counter, asking, “How much candy can I get with that?” we can look at the time, gifts, energy, and ideas we have and ask, “How much church can we get with that?” (105)

If it’s right for me to be here (and I beliee it its) and it’s alright for me to be limited (and I believe it its), I have to trust that there’s a way to do this job without it destroying me. If he gave the church to humans, he must have a way for humans to do church. (105) 

One way I equip my leaders is to remind them it’s their job to equip others. We’re not soloists; we’re choirmasters. Its not our job to do the work but to give the direction: to pick the note, choose when to start and wait for the community to shape the fullness of the song. (108)

All in all, I found this book quite helpful. There were so many positive messages in it that I needed to hear once again. Being a pastor, or any kind of Christian leader, is not about being enough…. Its about being willing to revel in our own weakness and in God’s strength.


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

Reviews of Calvin’s Ladder

A varied cast of characters has taken interest in Julie Canlis’s Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension. This book has caught the attention, in the form of reviews, of church historians, philosophers, and pastors. Those writing from the perspective of these vocations have all noticed strengths and weaknesses in Canlis’s book which are unique to their perspective. In this brief “review of reviews” I would like to highlight some of the features which make up these reviews and provide some comments on the merits of these assessments.

The first set of reviews consists of reviews by church historians. I began by 51nsdxz0m4l-_sy344_bo1204203200_examining a booknote by Tony Lane, professor of Historical Theology at the London School, in a 2012 edition of Evangelical Quarterly (EQ 84.3, 280-1). He begins by noting that this book was birthed out of Canlis’ doctoral studies at St. Andrew’s and that it received the 2007 Templeton Award for Theological Promise. He lavishes praise upon the book when he says “it is easy to understand why” it won this award. His review of this book is relatively short. He notes that ascent of the soul is a concept generally greeted with suspicion in the Reformed tradition, but that Calvin has essentially “reformed” it from its Platonic and Neo-Platonic tendencies. He also mentions her comparison between Calvin’s doctrine and Irenaeus’s doctrine. He commends her for restraint in not citing direct influence, but wonders whether tracing out Irenaeus’s influence on Calvin would be an interesting topic for future study. In terms of critique, Lane rightly notes that “there is occasionally a tendency in her exposition of participation to swallow up other categories of Calvin’s thought.” This is a critique which appears in several other reviews as well. However, one might wonder, “If participation is the central theological theme of Calvin wouldn’t it make sense for all other categories to fall under this one category?” In order for this sort of defense to stick, however, one would have to prove that participation is Calvin’s central theme. The other review I examined was written by Sujin Pak, who is now the Assistant Research Professor of the History of Christianity at Duke Divinity school. Her review of Calvin’s Ladder can be found in Modern Theology (MT 27.4, 717-20). She begins by noting the trend in Calvin studies to focus on Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ and participation in Christ and says that Canlis now adds an important and eloquent contribution to this topic. Like Lane she notes how Canlis persuasively shows that Calvin reforms the traditional theologies of Ascent. Despite being persuaded regarding ascent, Pak displays some hesitancy regarding Canlis’s understanding of Calvin’s theology of participation. She notes that it might not be as important as Canlis has made it out to be. She cites the fact that Calvin does not clearly make the connection between participation and election as evidence that it may not be as central as Canlis makes it out to be. She also wonders whether Canlis overlooks the forensic nature of participation in Calvin. As a minor point of critique Pak points out that Canlis doesn’t address commentaries on key passages that evoke participator themes, for example Romans 8. Despite these shortcomings she sees Calvin’s Ladder as a generally persuasive and eloquent rereading of Calvin’s understanding of salvation and sanctification. Of these two critiques by church historians one would expect significant attention to be paid to the historical claims Canlis makes, however both of these reviews are lacking in this area. Lane’s review completely lacks this feature, though he might be excused given the length of his review. Pak’s critique from a historical perspective is limited to her suggestion that Canlis should have read other texts. Neither critique is historically significant. One would expect more from church historians.

The second type of review I examined was written by a professor who holds a position at Baylor as assistant professor of Religion and Philosophy. Charles Raith, whose review of Calvin’s Ladder appears in the International Journal of Systematic Theology (IJST 15.2, 233-5), has written various works on Calvin and participation, thus he seems to be an appropriate person to review this book. Like many others Raith notes the similarities to Billings’ work on participation. Raith focuses on Canlis’ account of Calvin’s relational ontology. For Canlis, the soul’s ascent is rooted firmly in a relational ontology, which is rather different from traditional accounts which are rooted in a substantialist ontology. Raith notes that she also makes a case for a relational ontology in the works of Irenaeus.

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Julie Canlis, author of Calvin’s Ladder, is currently a lecturer at Regent College.

Although Raith appreciates Canlis’s work in showing that God desires to draw humanity to himself, Raith questions Canlis’ understanding of Calvin’s teaching on participation. He believes that Canlis has squeezed Calvin into the contemporary ideas within social Trinitarianism of “personhood” and “relational ontology.” He says that one gets the feeling Canlis has “left the sixteenth century building and entered into contemporary debates about person.” In doing so, Canlis has promoted “a major ontological shift in the name of Calvin.” He concludes his review by saying, “Canlis’s imposition of current trends in relational ontology and personhood onto Calvin’s thought, and the claims that result, raise some concerns.” This seems to be an understatement given the rest of his critique of Canlis’ book. It should be said that Raith’s critique has some merit, Canlis certainly uses relational language which may not be as prominent in Calvin’s own work, however Canlis is certainly not squeezing Calvin into social Trinitarian ideas of personhood and relational ontology. The reasons I say this is that Canlis’ account of participation in Christ and union with the divine life of the Trinity is heavily influenced by the theology of T.F Torrance (though she is not very explicit about this.) Torrance is by no means a social Trinitarian. Torrance also never proposes that the ontological category personhood is grounded in relationship (as Zizioulas and other social Trinitarians do). Read in light of Torrancian theology one can make sense of her statements regarding the Trinity and ontology without accusing her of falling into contemporary categories put forth by social Trinitarians.

The third type of review I examined was a review written by pastor Jamin Coggin in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care (4.2, 316-8). Jamin currently serves as the pastor of spiritual formation and retreats at Saddleback Church. He begins by noting Canlis’ vision for the book which is “concerned with a story line that has always been at the heart of Christian mystical theology and spiritual praxis: the ascent of the soul.” He believes that Canlis has done a fine job of articulating a clear theology of participation in the Triune life of God from a distinctly Reformed perspective. She does a fine job of showing how Calvin avoided the ever prevalent Hellenistic schemas of ascent and has placed Christ at the center of the believer’s ascent into the life of God. Taking the perspective of a pastor, Coggin notes that her book offers fodder for reshaping spiritual formation in a more theologically robust way. He commends the book for avoiding the tendency of books on spiritual formation to be overly practice oriented and not sufficiently grounded in theology. He critiques the book for not engaging with Bonaventure’s theology of ascent and not devoting sufficient attention to the topics of prayer and spirituality.  Throughout his critique of Calvin’s Ladder, one can see his pastoral colors emerge. Coggin is concerned about spiritual formation and Christian practices. He reads Canlis’ book in light of how helpful it will be for the work of pastors. He concludes that it will in fact be a very helpful resource for accomplishing the pastoral task.

Having briefly looked at three types of reviews, those written by historians, a philosophical theologian, and a pastor, several common themes emerge. The first is that Canlis has done a service to the church by adequately showing that Calvin’s spirituality can be understood as being rooted in participation in Christ. Historians, theologians, and pastors commend her for showing that a theology of ascent is actually a part of the Reformed Tradition. A common critique of her work is that she failed to address the reviewer’s field of expertise, i.e. she should have engaged x or y work. This is not a substantial criticism. However more substantial than this criticism is the critique that Canlis has molded Calvin in her own image, i.e. a 21st century theologian working in a highly relational/social Trinitarian context. The way Lane articulates this critique is quite tempered, whereas Raith’s articulation of this critique is more forceful. However, I have shown that Raith’s critique may be a bit too strong.

When reviewing a book like Canlis’s, which toes the line between history/theology/praxis, it is helpful to have a multitude of voices and disciplines weigh in. Hopefully this review of reviews has helped to highlight the multifaceted contributions that Calvin’s Ladder can make to various fields of study.