Friday, March 30, 2012

Review - Gunning for God by John Lennox

I recently finished reading Gunning for God - why the new atheists are missing the target by John Lennox. Lennox has already written quite a bit on the scientific arguments against Christianity - notably in God's Undertaker. So in Gunning for God, Lennox tackles the non-scientific arguments - "Is Religion Poisonous?", "Can we be Good Without God?" and so on.

John Lennox spends a lot of time thinking about and working on these questions, and it really comes across. He understands the arguments in detail, how they fit into the wider context of Western history and philosophy and so on. He's got the depth of knowledge and reading that a non-expert just couldn't develop without a lot of work.

I don't necessarily agree with him on everything though. For example, when discussing morality, he points out that atheists do not have a consistent basis for absolute morality, and hence they cannot claim that Christianity is immoral. However, I don't think that's quite true. It is still possible to claim that Christianity is internally inconsistent by judging it by its own morality even if one struggles with the problem of morality oneself. The counter to that argument is partly to demonstrate the internal consistency of the Christian worldview and partly to point out that there isn't any consistent alternative morality proposed, but I don't think the argument is quite as strong as Lennox tries to make it. That aside, it's still a very good handling of a difficult question.

Lennox isn't just reactive though - he spends a while thinking about related questions such as "Is Atheism Poisonous?" and "Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?" I've read quite a few books dealing with the arguments for and against God, and this is one of the best. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to understand the area in more detail, whether they are a committed Christian looking to explain their faith more clearly or a non-Christian wanting to find out the truth.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review - OT Ethics for the People of God by Chris Wright

I used to dream of one day writing a book about how Christians should understand the Old Testament Law. It wouldn't make the mistake of saying the OT Law was a covenant of works rather than grace, nor would it make the mistake of assuming either that we should obey the OT Law or that we could ignore it. Instead, it would see what it meant for the OT Law to be Israel's response to God saving them by grace, and then apply it to us today. Only I'm not going to bother now, because I've discovered that Chris Wright did it years ago and did it much better than I could ever do.

Wright goes beyond the usual bounds of thinking about OT ethics. He stresses the importance of understanding the society and community as a whole (rather than just the rather Western individualism) and of understanding the ethics not just from the statute law but also from the more theological and narrative sections.

The distinctiveness of Old Testament ethics is ... the distinctiveness of a whole community's ethical response to unique historical events in which they saw the hand of their God.

Wright is superb on so many topics - the politics and economics of OT Israel, the role of family life, the implications for fellowship in the Church, attitudes to slavery, etc.

If I were to criticise the book, I would say that it is too short at (only!) 500-odd pages. He doesn't have space to think about how the New Testament handles the OT Law, or to go into much detail in areas like sexual ethics, feminist critiques of Israel, the implications of the OT village elders for church eldership, ... Having established his principles, he only has the space to pick a few examples and apply them. But given all that, this is a magnificent place to start to think on a deeper level about the ethical implications of the Old Testament for the church, and to engage with more academic scholarship on the issue.

The most fun (and encouragement, and challenge, and encounter with God) I've had reading an academic book for years!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pablo Martinez - Praying with the Grain

I've read quite a few books on prayer, and this is one of the most unusual. It has five chapters and a Q&A section, and maybe it's best to comment on them individually.

Chapter 1 - Different Prayers for Different People. Martinez looks at basic Jungian typology - thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition, and then applies it to what styles and types of prayer suit each. He takes care to say that we should work on the areas we aren't so good on as well as enjoying the areas that we are more comfortable with. Pretty good.

Chapter 2 - Overcoming Difficulties. He goes through a list of common reasons people find it difficult to pray - "God feels so distant" and so on, and deals with them with a lot of pastoral wisdom coming from his decades as a counsellor and psychiatrist. Stunningly good.

Chapter 3 - The Therapeutic Value of Prayer. The focus here is on how prayer can be key for dealing with various psychiatric difficulties (guilt, depression, etc) and for good mental health. Very good.

Q&A on Prayer - Some questions he's obviously been asked - answers are good and psychologically insightful.

Chapter 4 - Prayer: Psychological Illusion? This is the best treatment I've read of the apologetics question as to whether prayer is a psychological illusion. The answer is no...

Chapter 5 - Are All Prayers Alike? Martinez discusses the question of the relationship between Christian prayer, Christian meditation, Eastern meditation, Platonic ecstasy and magic. Helpful.

I guess the unifying theme between all these chapters is something like "Things Dr Martinez has learnt about prayer in many years of being a Christian, a counsellor and a psychiatrist." An odd collection, but one well worth reading, if only for chapter 2. Definitely worth keeping on the shelf to refer to in the future.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Abortion v Infanticide

An interesting article here.

My conclusion: Ethics fail.

Their logical conclusion "killing babies no different from abortion" is quite possibly valid, but not new - Peter Singer has been arguing it for years, and it was basically the Roman position thousands of years ago. However, their ethical implications are deeply skewed.

Having demonstrated that abortion and infanticide are morally equivalent, they have three options:

  • They could try asserting that ethics are societally defined and conclude "isn't that interesting?" but maintain that one can be wrong and the other right.
  • They could use the widespread revulsion against infanticide to say that abortion is therefore not just an issue of women's rights and is (at least in most cases) wrong.
  • They could use the widespread acceptance of abortion as a product of women's rights to say that infanticide must be correct too.

Of course, I'd take the second option. We think infanticide is wrong because it is - that's what our consciences tell us. I strongly suspect that the reason that the proponents of abortion are so shrill and so irrational in their defence of it is that deep down they know it to be wrong as well.