ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Doody. Augustine and the Environment. 2016

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 02•17

Doody, John, Kim Paffenroth, and Mark Smillie. Augustine and the Environment. Lexington Books, 2016. pages. 217. ISBN: 9781498541909.

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9781498541909Lynn White Jr. (‘The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis’) and many others have argued that Christian world-view is responsible for the present environmental crisis. Certainly, Augustine of Hippo has played a crucial role in shaping the Christian worldview and theology. So, it is important to hear what Augustine has to say about the care for our environment. That is what this book achieves—exploring what we can learn from the theology of Augustine about the care for nature. It is true that Augustine lived in a world were environmental crisis was not the main concern. Does that mean Augustine’s thinking has no relevance for discussions on the environmental and ecological issues that we face now? This collection of essays is divided into three parts as (1) Introductory and General Discussions, (2) Humans in the Environment, and (3) The Nonhuman Universe.
Part I (Introductory and General Discussions) has two essays. Chapter 1: ‘“But enough about Me” What Does Augustine’s Confessions Have To Do with Facebook’ (Sallie McFague.) deals with personal narratives in Facebook and other genre. She looks at the overall purpose of spiritual autobiographies, especially like that of ‘Augustinian.’ In chapter 2: ‘Augustine and ecology. St. Augustine’s Reflections on Genesis and Human Care for Nature’, Rosemary Radford Ruether summarises five books by Augustine. She concludes that his writings do not show any ecological critique or concern for the care of nature. However, the author’s who follow her doesn’t seem to give up on Augustine! The third article (first in part II. Humans in the Environment) by Marie I. George compares ‘The Moral Teachings of St. Augustine and the Roman Catholic Church Regarding Environment.’ She particularly focusses on the theme of creation in the Roman Catholic teachings and that of Augustine. Her conclusion is that ‘Augustine and the Catholic Church explicitly agree on many aspects of environmental morality….’
In a similar vein, the fourth article by Joseph Kelley (‘Anthropocene and Empire. An Augustinian Anthropology for “Keeping the Wild.”’), draws a brighter picture of the relevance of Augustine for ecological discussions. It is true that there is no explicit critique of environmental concern in Augustine’s writings. However, some main themes of his writings—critique of the empire, humility conversion and confession—have relevance for discussions on environmental concerns.
The article by Cyrus P. Olsen III (‘Interdependent and Vulnerable. Sustainability and Augustinian Theological Anthropology’) tries to establish the place of anthropological interdependence and vulnerability in our call to the holistic care of our environment. He draws from the writings of Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John II as well many modern scholars in his presentation.
Part III titled ‘The non-human Universe. Animals, Nature and God’ has six articles. The first of these by David Vincent Meconi is titled ‘Saint Augustine on “Saving Both Men and Beasts.”’ After guiding us through Augustinian protology and theology, the author concludes that all non-human beings have a place in God’s plan and even God’s plan of salvation.
‘Toward an Augustinian Eco-theology’ by John J. O’Keefe is an examination of the relevance of the concept of the ‘Worldly Augustinianism’ as proposed by Charles Mathews for our environmental commitments.
James R. Peters has titled his article ‘Saint Augustine. Patron Saint of the Environment?’ His argument in his own words is that ‘Augustine deserves to be recognised as one of the history’s most noteworthy and culturally relevant patron saints of the environment.’
‘Augustine’s Trinitarian Sacramental Sensibilities, Influence, and Significance for Our Imperiled Planet’ by James Schaefer is the first essay in the third part that deals with the non-human universe. First of all, he redefines the concept of sacraments as experiencing the presence of God in the visible universe. Augustine used his five senses to experience the Trinity in the sensible world. In the second part of the essay, he tells us how Augustine’s understanding of the sacramentality of God’s creation influenced the medieval theologians who followed him.
Daniel R. Smith in his article (‘Saint Augustine and the Goodness of Creation’) explores Augustinian anthropology, his understanding of sin and corruption. He finds that Augustine believed in the integrity of creation, and considers the created order as good and worthy of human care and compassion.
Mark Wiebe concludes the volume with his essay titled, ‘A Green Augustine. What Augustinian Theology Can Contribute to Eco-Theology.’ He helps us to understand the distinction that Augustine makes between two important concepts called ‘uti’ (use) and ‘fruti’ (enjoyment). This concluding essay is also a thorough investigation of the modern critics of Augustine. He concludes the collection saying, ‘Augustine’s theology actually offers a helpful way of avoiding what would be a truly instrumentalist attitude by which one’s own tastes, desires, even needs dictate both the value of the other and one’s engagement with it.’ This not only serves as a conclusion to Wiebe’s article but can also be taken as the conclusion of the entire collection.
Augustine’s world did not see ecological challenges of the proportion that we see. The generation that Augustine addressed was not so much concerned about their environment to the degree that we are. However, going through his writings and getting into his thought world, we tend to gather what Augustine would do if he lived in our times. This is a WWAD (What Would Agustine Do) book. This is indeed a book of great value and has it has a due place in any classroom where environmental concerns are discussed. It presents the relevance of an ancient voice for modern Christians.

O’Murchu, ADULT FAITH, 2010

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 02•14

Murchu Adult FaithO’Murchu, Diarmuid. Adult Faith: Growing in Wisdom and Understanding. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2010.

The book begins with the personal note sketching the author’s own intellectual and spiritual growth. Brought up in Catholic Ireland, he questioned the imperial mindset imposed by the culture that one grows in. In his case, three factors influenced this growth—Television, which brought in the visual experience of a wider world, writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and exposure to other cultures.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one is a deconstruction of all that inhibits ‘adult appropriation of faith.’ The second part is an attempt to reconstruct. In this part the author tries to define or redefine what it means to be an adult and then how to appropriate religious faith as an ‘adult.’ He tries to explain how evolutionary factors impact the new understanding of being human.

The presentation of his thoughts are clear and very well structured. Each chapter ends with three summaries. First the ‘Conventional wisdom’ which keep people trapped in the old mind set. Secondly, what he calls ‘embedded codependency’ or the factors that keep people subjugated. Thirdly, ‘adult empowerment’ the new awareness of the responsible adult, or what is expected of an adult as defined.

The book argues that adult is not someone who plays by the rules of the game dictated by a patriarchal structure. But the working definition of adult used in this book is largely based on the concept of ‘protean self’ popularized by Robert J. Lifton. A protean adult is not just mature biologically as often considered but one who grows and adapts according to the ever changing world and even value systems.

However, such evolution is often hampered by codependency that is imposed by the patriarchal mindset which enslaves people. ‘Codependency’ is a term coined by Melody Beattie in 1987 to explain behaviour where one person ‘let another person’s behaviour affect him or her.’ Codependent people is unable to challenge the person who controls their life and even go to an extent of justifying or protecting their behaviour which has negative impact on their life. Thus the codependent people remain subjugated by the person/system that they ought to disagree with.

The possibility of being a ‘protean adult’ and the reality of ‘codependency’ seems to be the warp and woof used to weave the thoughts in the book.

The book re-examines almost everything that many of us accept unquestioning. The author points out to new possibilities of being responsible adults in relation to religious beliefs, rituals, nature, learning and a whole lot more. The book that begins with ‘being’ an adult ends with thoughts on how the protean adult signs off from this world. The last chapter is titled: ‘When Adults Die Gracefully.’

This book is a great synthesis of scholarly reflections from many disciplines: biology, theology, ecology, pedagogy, behavioural science and so on. It questions existing systems and ‘liberates’ human mind. However, many readers will remain suspicious and cautious with the questions it raises and the liberation it offers.

Hamilton Jr. What Is Biblical Theology? (2014)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 18•13

Hamilton Jr., James M. What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

9781433537714Hamilton proposes a new method of doing biblical theology. In his opinion most of the biblical theologies that are written enforces a modern, rationalist world-view on the bible which mutes the biblical authors. The conservative scholars, those who stand for the unity and coherence of the Bible also used the tools and methods use by those whom they oppose. Both are wrong because they failed to see the world-view of the biblical authors.

In his opinion, biblical theology is done by sharing the world-view of the biblical authors and by trying to understand the scripture in that perspective.

The author’s convictions are deeply rooted in the divine inspiration of the Bible. This leads him to argue that the biblical authors share the same world-view. In other words, there is only one world-view that is shared by all the authors, though they lived in different places, different times and addressed different issues. That is the bible’s one story.

His treatment of biblical theology follows a three-fold pattern. To quote, “The rest of it falls into three parts: the first sets out the Bible’s story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols to summarize and interpret that story, and the third considers the part the church plays in that story. So the three parts of the books can be put in to three words: story, symbol, and church.

This book is innovative in its approach to biblical theology. Its attempt to navigate a third way between the “liberal” and the so called “conservative” biblical theologians let in a lot of fresh air. However, the assumption that all the biblical authors share one world-view ignores the multiple voices (sometime even contradictory but certainly complementary) that we find in the Bible. Moreover, though this method very well can accommodate the narrative sections, the poetry of the Bible and especially the wisdom tradition seems to fall out of its scope.

Jensen. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 2013.

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 04•13

Jensen. God, DesireJensen, David Hadley. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

Jensen’s work on human sexuality falls in to seven chapters as:
(1) Scripture and Sex: Narratives of Desire
(2) God and Sex: Holy Desire
(3) Christ and Sex: the resurrection of the body
(4) Eschatology and Sex: Making all Things New  (5) Lord’s Supper and Sex: A Sumptuous Banquet
(6) Vocation and sex: living in light of desire
(7 )Ethics and sex: flourishing desire
It is complete with index and bibliograpy. However, a book such as this which covers so much of biblical material should have a scripture index as well.
The author invites us to join him in his journey of exploring the the theme of human sexuality through the Bible and Christian traditions by the rather ‘puzzling’ opening statement: ‘Sex is an expression of Christian faith.’ Throughout the book we see an attempt to liberate the notion of sex from its traditional understanding and also to critique its distortions and misrepresentations in modern consumer culture. It is thus a double-edged sword wielded against the conservative Christian view of sex as well as against the distorted views of sex that the contemporary secular society promotes.
Certainly sex for the author is not just the act of making love but it is broader than that. It is this broader view of sex which has to do with desire, intimacy, etc. that allows him to see the theme of sex in the various aspects of Christian faith. He takes the Bible as a narrative of desire and maps the theme of desire throughout the Bible. In his exploration he disagrees with many popularly held Christian notions. For example, the author doesn’t agree with the popularly held notion that in the risen body the sexual attraction disappears though there will be sexual difference. He affirms that, ‘Sex in its ambiguity, is neither left behind in the resurrection nor consummated as the chief activity of heaven; rather it is redeemed in the risen body of Christ who gives us new life.’
He critiques the modern north-American consumer culture that promotes sex as being about possessiveness, that involves violence and deprived of real joy. He also takes in to account modern realities of life in shaping his views on sex. For example, his views on sex before marriage. The average age of marriage is now around thirty which is much higher than the medieval times where age of marriage and puberty was very close. The Christian doctrine of sex within marriage is framed against the background of this social reality. His new broader view of sexuality allows him to advocate sex before marriage, but consider sex outside marriage as dangerous because sex has to be celebrated within a framework of covenant.
Even though many may find it diffcult to accept all the views of the author, any reader will be highly impressed by the thorough research that has gone behind this work. This book on a  topic that is a taboo for many Christians is well articulated and engages anyone’s mind. The author’s engagements with ancient authorities on the topic is highly impressive.

Harper. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality…. (2013)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 27•13

Harper, Kyle. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pages: 304. ISBN: 9780674072770.

Harper. From Shame to Sin

There are works that have studied the sexual morality of the Greco-Roman world. This book is different to the best of the reviewer’s knowledge, the only book that tells us how the sexual morality of the Roman empire was transformed by Christians and Christianity. It is also a good treatment on the development of the Christian theology of human sexuality and how it became the norm for the Western cultures.

The book is divided into four chapters: ‘1. The Moralities of Sex in the Roman Empire’, ‘2. The Will and the World in Early Christian Sexuality’, ‘3. Church, Society, and Sex in the Age of Triumph,’ ‘4. Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World.’ In the concluding section the author sketches briefly the view on sex in the periods that follows.

The main argument is that Christianity transformed what was considered as just shameful act in the Roman world to be considered as sin. Sex thus has to do with righteousness, God’s order in the world, and individuals free will.

The book is based on meticulous research on the classical sources, especially classical literature both Christian and non-Christian. The book argues that the ‘Christianization of sexual morality’ began later than the second century contra to previously held by many scholars. It surveys the period from the second century to the period of emperor Justinian. Though many books have focussed on the same-sex eros, this is the one book that moves its focus from that theme to focus on prostitution or ‘porneia.’ The author also argues that the Christian ‘invention’ of the free will is the factor that decided the sexual morality of the ancient world by fourth-fifth century.

In chapter 1, the author portrays the sexual life in the Roman empire in the second century by analysing the classical literature of the period. This the author does by analysing the Greek romantic novel of the period structured around a heroine by the name Leucippe. The second chapter follows a similar methodology to see how early Christian thinkers were re-interpreting and critiquing the sexuality of the secular society following a Pauline line of thought. The source that is under scrutiny is the the work by Methodius titled ‘Christian Symposium’. The third chapter looks at how the Church after the conversion of Constantine attempts to control the sexual morality of not only of its adherents but also of non-adherents. This process thus leads to legalization of Christian sexual morality as the morality for the empire. In establishing this argument, the author takes us through the thought world of Saint Paul, John Chrysostom and the like. Chapter 4, ‘Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World’ reviews some classical romances where the Christian values of sexuality and chastity are upheld. Through this the Christian ideas of human sexuality, especially virginity were trying to transform the culture of the ancient Roman world.

Here is a wonderful contribution to the study of the history of human sexuality. This diachronic treatment of human sexuality is well researched and a must-have title!

Helseth. FOUR VIEWS ON DIVINE PROVIDENCE (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 17•12

Helseth, Paul Kjoss, William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield, and Gregory A. Boyd. Four views on divine providence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011.

Four Views on Divine Providence has appeared in the ‘Counterpoints. Bible and Theology’ series of Zondervan edited by Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers. Four leading theologians of our day have contributed the four dominant views on Providence prevalent now.

Paul Kjoss Helseth has written on the view that ‘God is Causes all Things’ (Reformed tradition) and William Lane Craig on “God Directs all Things” (Molonism), Ron Highfield “God controls everything” (Resotorationist) and Gregory A. Boyd on “God Limits His Control” (Open Theism).

This is not just presentation of four views by four scholars but interact with each other. The view of one scholar is critiqued by the three others so that the readers get a fairly good view of the issues involved as the other titles in COUNTERPOINTS series try to do.

Dennis W. Jowers, General Editor has contributed the Introduction and the Conclusion. In the introduction he elaborates on the scriptural foundations for the doctrine of providence before he moves on to give us historical view on this doctrine. This is where the novice is introduced to the debates, disputes and all that happened in the past. He divides the historical presentation into six periods as: (1) The anti-Nicene period (AD 70-325), (2) Post-Nicene period  (AD 325-787), (3) The medieval period (AD 787-16th century), (4) Early modern period that is from Reformation to the seventeenth century, (5) The Enlightenment Period, (6) the Post Enlightenment period (from nineteenth century to the present.)

The volume ends with an essay by the General Editor (Dennis W. Jowers) where he summarizes the positions of the contributors. This is a very useful section as he brings out the areas of agreement and areas of disagreement between the four contributors.

The volume is where anyone who want a comprehensive view of this doctrine should begin. This is comprehensive, interactive and leaves the readers to make up their minds on the issue.