Review: Political Augustinianism, by Michael S. Bruno

Michael J. S. Bruno, Political Augustinianism: Modern Interpretations of Augustine’s Political Thought (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 347 pages.

Amazon | Fortress

Political Augustinianism

In recent years, Christians have increasingly turned to Augustine’s social and political thought as a source to re-envision our now familiar debates on the modern public square. With such a growing literature on “Augustinian political theology,” “dual citizenship” cultural paradigms, and “two cities” models of church and society, a person wanting to become familiar with these ideas can easily become lost in the noise. Seeking to remedy this problem, Michael Bruno’s Political Augustinianism tries to orient readers to ways that Augustine’s thought has been interpreted in the last century and to suggest a path forward in Augustinian retrieval for current Christian thinking. Continue reading

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Review of “Apologetics Beyond Reason”

Sire_Apologetics beyond reason cover

Moving away from rationally-based arguments to a more experiential (indeed, partly autobiographical) argument for God, James W. Sire’s latest book, Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing (IVP, 2014) argues that “There is everything. Therefore there is a God. Either you see this or you don’t”; everything in this world points to God. Delving heavily into literature and art, Sire argues that intuition, or sudden glimpses into God’s presence, abound in the world. This is not contrary to logic; Sire simply emphasizes that these signs of transcendence which people experience and grasp are important pointers to the biblical God.

It is clear from the outset that the book has a more eclectic approach and personal tone than is typical for an apologetics book, which in my opinion works in Sire’s favor. If you’ve read many apologetics books, you may have found the arguments solid, but their tone quite detached and perhaps overly academic. Not so with Apologetics Beyond Reason, which critiques the notion of autonomous human reason, and re-defines apologetics: it is not an argument, but a call to grasp the truth of Christ and commit to him. After laying out his own background and definition of apologetics (preface, chapter 1), Sire explores Christian and non-Christian literature and art which he argues all point to God’s existence.

In chapter 2, Sire points out that people can learn to be aware of their presuppositions and examine whether or not they are sound and the best explanation of reality. However, he repeatedly affirms that human reason alone is insufficient to determine truth (29); as finite, and fallen, creatures, humans can only know the truth if the infinite God reveals himself and his truth to human beings (35, 39). All arguments must begin somewhere, Sire urges his readers to commit: begin with faith in God’s self-revelation, in the witness of the Spirit.

Chapter 3 moves to the “argument from God,” as the author terms it, which notes that Christians can have confidence in human reason (within limits) because of God, who is the source of truth and all creation, and indeed has created human rational abilities to lead to truth and knowledge of him (44-46). Here Sire prioritizes ontology (what exists) before epistemology (how one can know): it is God’s existence and establishing of reality that comes first, making human knowing secondary. Sire refers to this approach as arguing “from God” not “to God” (48).

The fourth chapter argues from literary theory. In literature, a world is created, and the reader can inhabit this creation, in some way experiencing what the world would be like if the creation’s worldview described reality as we know it. Sire views the world humans inhabit as reality, and a person’s lens or filter on reality is their worldview. Literature enables humans to ‘see’ a worldview embodied, and compare it to their own worldview and understanding of reality.

Chapter 5 examines the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Virginia Woolf, exploring the ways in which both, in different ways, point to God. With Hopkins, the gestures to God are deliberate, whereas with Woolf, decidedly a non-Christian, the ‘signs of transcendence’ are more implicit. For example, Sire concludes that literature conveys the message that humans are significant, and it also makes moral judgments. Surely moral judgments indicate the existence of another realm from which such values derive (97-98).

Seguing into the works of Goya in chapter 6, Apologetics Beyond Reason describes how the arts can push a person into searching for God, in the questions they provoke and in the fact that artistic works point to the existence of immaterial reality (100, 120).

The book concludes with what Sire describes as the ‘best argument’ of all: the argument from Jesus, God’s self-revelation who answers the deep enigmas of human existence, such as evil, suffering, salvation, reason, and body and soul (124, 131-35).

In short, this book offers a wonderful glimpse into how imagination, manifested in the arts, support a Christian worldview. Instead of explicitly or implicitly presupposing autonomous human reason as the basis for his arguments, the author supports a “chastened reason,” a view of human reason as dependable within limits. Also somewhat unusually in this time, he prioritizes metaphysics over epistemology. This book is an enjoyable and provocative read, and would be helpful to those who desire to expand their view of apologetics. It will not replace the standard texts used to introduce students to traditional Western arguments; instead, it offers a different approach and more personal touch which can bring fresh air to a sometimes stale topic. The book is available in paperback or e-book.

Thanks to IVP for the review copy!

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Congratulations to Mike Kibbe!

kibbe-mike-fprof Congratulations belongs to another PhD student who has successfully defended his dissertation and graduated with his doctoral degree from Wheaton. On March 21st of this year, Michael Kibbe defended his dissertation entitled “Godly Fear or Ungodly Failure? Hebrews 12:18-29 and the Sinai Narratives.” Mike’s work focuses on the book of Hebrews, examining its critique of Israel’s request at Sinai for Moses to be a mediator, a request that receives divine approval in the OT accounts of the story (Exod 20:18–21; Deut 5:23–29) and yet is heavily criticized by the writer of Hebrews. As Mike argues, the solution to this dilemma lies in Hebrews’ summons to Zion and the establishment of the New Covenant through the person and work of Christ.

Mike was guided in his doctoral work by his advisor, Dr. Douglas J. Moo. His second reader was Dr. Daniel I. Block and his external reader was Dr. Kenneth Schenck.

Mike adds his PhD in KibbesBiblical Theology—New Testament to an M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and a B.A. in pre-seminary Bible from Cedarville University. He and his wife, Annie, have two children, Sean and Eliana. Mike is currently serving in the role of Visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament here at Wheaton College.

Congratulations Mike! We have been privileged to study alongside you here at Wheaton!

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Forthcoming: The Collected Works of Eberhard Jüngel, Special 80th Birthday Edition

9780567447302_GI was browsing Amazon the other day to see what was forthcoming from T&T Clark. I noticed a forthcoming edition of God’s Being is in Becoming and, upon further inspection, discovered that T&T Clark is republishing his works this December for his 80th birthday. Many of Jüngel’s translated works can be difficult to find (or expensive) and so many should be grateful for this republication. Here’s a list of what will be published:

God as the Mystery of the World

God’s Being is in Becoming

Christ, Justice and Peace


Theological Essays

Theological Essays II

The Collected Works

I also noticed a festschrift with a great collection of essays. Here is the description:9780567153593

This volume is a collection of essays in honour of Tübingen theologian Eberhard Jüngel, and is presented to him on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Jüngel is widely held to be one of the most important Christian theologians of the past half-century. The essays honour Professor Jüngel both by offering critical interlocutions with his theology and by presenting constructive proposals on themes in contemporary dogmatics that are prominent in his writings. The Festschrift introduces a new generation of theologians to Eberhard Jüngel and his theology. The volume also includes an exhaustive bibliography of Jüngel’s writings and of secondary sources that deal extensively with his thought.

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Book Review: Kingdom through Covenant by Gentry and Wellum

Peter J .Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 848 pages


“The idea of covenant is fundamental to the Bible’s story” (p. 21)—with this statement Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum (GW) open up their extensive work on the metanarrative of Scripture. Integrating exegetical, biblical-theological, and systematic-theological insights, the authors seek to reconsider the nature of and the relationship between the different biblical covenants. On the basis of the assumption that both dominant theological strands—i.e., Covenant theology and Dispensationalism—ground their conclusions on inadequate convictions about the covenant(s), the co-authors set out to present an alternative reading, mediating between these two traditions. This “via media” proposal, labeled as “progressive covenantalism”, stresses “the unity of God’s plan” by tracing “God’s redemptive work through the biblical covenants” (p. 24). God’s kingdom is established through the covenants, which are climaxing in Christ. In this overarching divine plot both the prophetic nature of typology and the culminating role of Christ’s new covenant work as the fulfillment and telos of all the preceding covenant promises are central to understanding the development and function of the new covenant realities. Continue reading

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Review of Clarke, “Pentecostal Theology in Africa”

00_PICKWICK_TemplateIt is widely acknowledged that Pentecostal and charismatic influences are a powerful force in African Christianity. The late Ogbu Kalu accomplished much in describing Pentecostal origins and history on the continent. In Pentecostal Theology in Africa, editor Clifton Clarke aims to continue and expand the study of Pentecostalism in Africa through theological analysis. The volume includes contributions from African and Western scholars, and is divided into two parts: the first analyzes theological currents, the second addresses pragmatic concerns and implications.

The book as a whole is more descriptive than prescriptive, which can be frustrating as contributors rarely disclose their own judgments of the trends they explore. The various contributors examine various ways in which Pentecostalism has been contextualized in Africa, as well as how and why this branch of Christianity gives greater agency to African churches and why Pentecostalism is appealing in an African context. For example, several authors note that the holistic view of Pentecostalism coheres well with traditional African worldviews, such as its acknowledgement and address of spiritual forces at work in the world. The authors offer varying views on how Pentecostals have dealt with African traditional religion. Pentecostal Theology in Africa is more theological than historical in focus, and tends to focus on West Africa without adequately representing other parts of the continent.

Standout essays in the book include Clifton R. Clarke’s tribute to Ogbu Kalu and Clarke’s methodological proposal, John Gallegos’s “African Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” David Ngong’s “African Pentecostal Pneumatology,” David Ogungbile’s assessment of the prosperity gospel in Pentecostalism, and Maria Frahm-Arp’s contribution on how biblical texts form Pentecostal evangelical charismatic views of gender. Unfortunately, Frahm-Arp’s essay provides one of the only instances in the book of engagement with biblical bases for Pentecostal positions.

This book is most suited to graduate students, or readers with some familiarity with Pentecostalism in Africa and African theology. The volume’s strength is the wide range of topics it examines; a weakness is that the majority of the contributors are still Western or located in the West. Was there no way to include more voices from Pentecostals on the ground?

Overall, the volume is a helpful contribution to the field, deepening understanding of the theology underlying African Pentecostalism, deserving 3.5 out of 5 stars. Thank you to Pickwick for the review copy.

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Book Review: Matthew, Texts @ Contexts

Matthew Texts and ContextsFortress / Amazon

Duran, Nicole Wilkinson, and James P. Grimshaw, eds. Matthew. Texts @ Contexts. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013. Xxii + 351 pp. $49.

Among the myriad of commentaries on the book of Matthew, Fortress has just put out one with a significantly different angle, or perhaps we might say it has several different angles. As part of their new Texts @ Contexts commentary series, this commentary on Matthew edited by Nicole Wilkinson Duran and James P. Grimshaw is a gathering of sixteen essays from scholars of a variety of diverse contexts who have been brought together in order to shed new light on the book of Matthew. These contexts include differing ethnic cultures, religious traditions, and social environments, covering “work conditions, disabilities, ecological trauma, nonviolent resistance movements, post-Communism and globalization, single mothers and preacher’s kids, womanism, and masculinity studies” (1). Although each author represents a differing reading context, the commitment remains for them to be in dialogue with traditional scholarship and faithful to the biblical text in its ancient world context. As the editors state, the goal of the work is to “have a conversation that takes seriously both the ancient text and its many contemporary contexts” (1).

Continue reading

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