Friday, January 28, 2011

Join the Debate

I stumbled upon an amazing site while searching iTunes for some good theology/philosophy/apologetics podcasts. It's and it's got an amazing amount of material for those who love to listen to debates and discussions on the major topics in the philosophy of religion. They claim to have over 500 debates available and, so far, I don't think they're foolin'. Go there, find something that interests you and indulge, for free.

But this recommendation comes with 2 cautions. First, in case you are easily offended, the site is not administered and moderated by a Christian. He's an agnostic and he's not afraid to use expletives. I learned this after I posted a comment on a debate that I had listened to and was responded to in a manner not suitable for all audiences. The comment was not personally directed at me but it was an introduction to what can be found on the site. Reader beware.

The second caution is in regard to "interaction addiction" to the site. I listened to a podcast of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath. I wanted to make a comment in the forum that they create for some debates. You have to be a member to participate. I became a member and posted my comment. The moderator responded immediately and in a manner that enticed me to respond again. I started to receive emails every time something new was posted on the site (yes, that function can be turned off). A topic appeared that is extremely interesting to me. I spent an hour just a bit ago posting in the forum. And, on top of all that, they give you "activity points" every time you participate, which flips a little switch in your brain and makes you want to "play." As you can see, it can be addicting and I'm hooked. If you are prone to addiction, beware.

And now for the shameless plugging. Here are links to the forums that I've posted in, in case you are interested:

My comments on the Hitchens/McGrath debate

My posts in the Science & Faith forum

Join if you dare, read if you want, but, by all means, listen until your ears bleed. Nothing gets the the wheels turning like a good debate.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Christmas/New Year's Book Bonanza

Our Christmas/New Year's traditions have developed into a cool East-West hybrid that spreads the celebrating out for much longer than we're used to in the States. Let me explain.

Our local Church, Light of the Gospel, has services and youth performances on and around the 25th of December and, as a family, we do stockings and one family gift on that day. Most of the people around us don't acknowledge that date as anything special, so we keep it low-key and focus on the family and faith aspects of it.

The big day for Ukrainian gift giving is January 1. Of course, everyone is up late celebrating the New Year and boy, do I mean late. Not-quite-professional-but-highly-impressive fireworks get going at midnight all over the city and go strong until about 1:00AM. Then, after decreasing in frequency just a bit, they continue until 4:00 or 5:00AM. This year featured a bunch of youngsters misfiring a sky rocket that flew a few feet off the ground (horizontally instead of vertically) and exploded into the side of a car about 150 feet from us. I was torn between anger over such irresponsibility and curiosity over what would have happened if it exploded under the car, all the while thanking the Good Lord that we weren't any closer to the incident than we were. Mishaps and lateness notwithstanding, fireworks everywhere you turn is a great way to bring in the New Year.

So, the drawback to combining gift giving with New Year's is the sleep deprivation that accompanies all activities on January 1. But the pluses outweigh the minuses. First, all of the materialism that accompanies the gift giving is clearly shifted away from the celebration of the Incarnation. Second, nothing happens on January 1 so you have all day to lounge around and put together all of the stuff that a 4-year-old receives at this time of year. Third, no matter how hard they try, my parents' Christmas box never arrives before the 25th. This year it arrived on Thursday, which would have been late if we were counting on it for Christmas. But since we do presents on New Year's — blammo — presents on time!

You'd think that it's all over and done with, right? Well, given that this is an Orthodox country and thus follows the Orthodox calendar, Christmas is officially celebrated after New Year's on January 7. So, instead of being out of school from December 27-31, Dietrich will be out of school from January 3-7. Thus, more rest and recreation is ahead of us a family. Also, more celebrating is ahead of us as our Church takes advantage of the holiday to focus on Jesus' birth with a more evangelistic thrust the second time around, hoping to present the Gospel compellingly to any nominal Church-goers who may be simply trying to do their "religious duty" on that day.

The above, apart from explaining how we celebrate the holiday season, is mostly just a set up for why I'm bragging about my gifts on New Year's and not on Christmas. I always ask for books at the holidays — I take 'em any way I can get 'em — but this year I really scored. 10 books total and I want to read all of them right now! Realistically, I should make it through 4, maybe 5 of them in the next year so, if you want to know what I think, check back next year at this time. Here they are, in no particular order. If you've read any of them and have any thoughts, please comment.

Michael F. Bird & James Crossley, How Did Christianity Begin? A Believer and Non-believer Examine the Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008).

This book was advertised in First Things and caught my attention. I'm already about 20 pages into it. The fact that the "non-believer," Crossley, believes a lot things that non-believers are not supposed to believe should make the debate a lot more interesting.

John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem: In Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009).

John Mark Reynolds is a dynamic and deep thinker and delivers a great lecture. It's probably safe to say that he delivers too many a great lecture given the time it took him to complete this book (I remember talking to him about it at least 10 years ago). In any case, this book should bring clarity to the often misunderstood relationship between Christianity and ancient thought. If I teach philosophy again in the fall, this book is definitely on my summer reading list.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 8 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010).

Obviously, Bonhoeffer is respected in this house, but I've always been embarrassed that I've never read this key collection of his final thoughts. By the time I knew that I should read it, the English translation of his complete works was already in process and I wanted to wait for it in that series. Now that it's out and I have it, I will consume it forthwith.

Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven but Never Dreamed of Asking (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1990).

I'm teaching a course in March/April that includes eschatology and I don't have a lot of books on Heaven (mostly because there aren't a lot of specifically theological books on the topic) for preparation. Kreeft is an excellent writer and has another book on the existential case for Heaven that is awesome so, I assume this one will be too.

Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? NAC Studies in Bible and Theology, Vol. 9 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2010).

The NAC Studies in Bible & Theology series is awesome! I read Jason Meyers' The End of the Law, also from that series, and am still adjusting my worldview in light of it. I'm collecting all of the books from the series so, there isn't a specific reason why I asked for Rydelnik's book other than that I didn't have it yet. But I'm always glad to be forced to spend serious time with the Old Testament, which this book will do. And how can it not be beneficial to wrestle with Its promises of a Messiah that are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus?

Keith Ward, The Big Questions in Science & Religion (Conshohocken, PA: Templetom Press, 2008).

If I have an academic hobby (as opposed to a specialization), it's digging deep into the science-religion debate. While poking around on a few years ago, I came across this book and it promises to be a fresh look at some of the major questions that come up in that debate. Who knows when I'll get to this but I can't wait 'til I do. (The page for this book at Templeton Press says that the book is in Russian. If so, I may be reading it sooner than later. That's exciting.)

Thomas Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account, Cornell Studies in Science & Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).

Molinism is the major view of divine providence in Talbot School of Theology's Philosophy of Religion and Ethics program and I need to know more about it than I do. William Lane Craig has a good introductory text on the view; Flint's seems to be the more scholarly and philosophical counterpart to Craig's book. Explaining how God can be sovereign while man can be free is not an easy task. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Molinist account compares to the standard Calvinist and Arminian/Wesleyan accounts.

D.A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002).

One of the major contenders for a Calvinist explanation of the divine sovereignty/human freedom problem is compatiblism, which Carson contends for in this book. Carson is an amazingly sharp thinker and I expect to read a very well-argued and very biblical case for the view when I get around to tackling this book. I'll try my best to read Flint and Carson back to back, if I can.

Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004).

This book is also to prep for my upcoming eschatology class. The bummer is that it is the second time I've had to buy the book. I don't have a good system for keeping track of books that I lend out (call it irresponsibility or communalism). So, at some point in the last few years, I let someone borrow the book and never got it back. I've asked everyone I can think of if they have it and, with no positive results, my poor wife had to buy me a book that we'd already spent money on in the past. The good thing is that its a great collection of powerful essays that argue for a biblically faithful view of hell so, if the person who has it reads it, they'll be really well informed about where not to go when you die.

Bruce A. Ware, ed., Perspectives in the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2008).

I love the multiview book series by all 3 major publishers (B&H's Perspectives series, IVP's Spectrum Multiview series and Zondervan's Counterpoint series and here and here). This format forces the authors to succinctly state their view and to interact with others who share a view different, often radically different, from their own. This particular book would be good to read before I read Flint and Carson, as it would give the Arminian and Open Theist perspectives on the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom, as well. Maybe the summer of 2012 will be dedicated to that research project.

I hope you had a merry Christmas and as happy a New Year's as I did.