Books and Culture Reviews

A potpourri of interesting reviews in Books & Culture :

1) Gerald McDermott reviews several recent evangelical books on Christianity’s relation to non-Christian religions. He is critical of attempts (Paul Heim, e.g.) to root a pluralist or inclusivist view of other religions in the doctrine of the Trinity, and also criticizes the tendency to shift from sin/alientation to knowledge as the crucial problem of humanity. McDermott is also aware, however, that the church’s confrontation in mission with non-Christian cultures is always a process of expansion and growth for the church as well.

2) Bruce Ellis Benson reviews Stanislas Breton’s The Word and the Cross . Breton is among a number of French phenomenologists who have turned toward theological and religious concerns in their philosophical work (Jean-Luc Marion is the best known of these). Breton’s book explores the connections of word, folly, and power in Christian faith, starting from Paul’s statements on the folly of the cross in 1 Cor. As Benson puts it, Paul’s words show that the “logic of the cross transcends BOTH Jerusalem and Athens, both the demand of a sign and the demand of giving reasons.” Pushing a rather radical kenotic Christology, Brenton claims that Christ has emptied Himself in a way that is never reversed, so that “Christ’s very identity” is “nothing.” That is to say, Christ is “nothing” with respect to the “empire of being” of this world; the “idol of power” is thus destroyed. As Benson points out, this is difficult to square with a strong doctrine of resurrection (though Benson suggests some ways Breton might work in an exaltation). And, I would add, I have my doubts that “kenosis” in Phil 2 is specifically about the incarnation anyway.

3) Paul Gutjahr reviews a recent collection of essays on Charles Hodge, emphasizing Hodge’s lifetime concern with the connections of theology and science.

4) Irving Hexham reviews a book on modern paganism by Ronald Hutton, which debunks myths of a witch-burning craze in medieval or early modern history, shows that the church frequently protected accused witches against, and shows that modern paganism is just that, modern. “Hutton shows, neopaganism is far more deeply rooted in MODERN culture than most people realize. According to his research, modern paganism began its complex development with the reaction of German romantics to the spiritually barren rationalism of the Enlightenment. From Germany the Romantic vision quickly spread to England, where numerous writers embraced it by idealizing either ancient Greece or the Middle ages in poetry and fiction.” In short, it all starts with Goethe.

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