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Three Paradigms of Reality: From Homer to Einstein
Three Paradigms of Reality: From Homer to Einstein
by Ron Dudum
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.31
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cooperation of Faith and Reason, February 4, 2010
In his new book Three Paradigms of Reality: From Homer to Einstein, Ron Dudum takes on the challenging task of organizing the history of human thought into three broad categories. These three views- the ancient Greek paradigm, the early Christian paradigm, and the modern paradigm of self- offer radically different views of reality and often form an interpretive framework upon which individuals judge all evidence and experience.

Each paradigm has a different place for three modes of knowing, which Dudum identifies as;

1.) Sensory Perception (empiricism)
2.) Rational Reflection (reason)
3.) Faith in Mystery (religion)

While explicating the three paradigms and their respective emphasis on the modes of knowing, Dudum explores a great swath of history from Ancient Greece, through the early Christian Church and the Renaissance, and all the way to the modern day. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is the historical context it reveals, including a fascinating discussion of the development of the Early Church.

Perhaps the most significant overriding theme of the book; the importance of humility, is well-noted. It is the value placed upon humility that held the early Christian paradigm together. Moreover, the disregard for humility has led to the prominence of the modern paradigm, where man has convinced himself that he can answer all the questions of life and become the master of his own universe.

Three Paradigms of Reality offers a great overview of the history of thought and the place of the Christian paradigm in that ecosystem. Dudum offers a compelling vision for the cooperation of faith and reason.

Disclaimer: Barbary Consulting was kind enough to send me a free copy of this book for my consideration and review. Thanks!

God & Time: Four Views
God & Time: Four Views
by Gregory E. Ganssle
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.29
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Discussion of a Fascinating Topic, November 17, 2008
This review is from: God & Time: Four Views (Paperback)
One of the most perplexing philosophical issues for a Christian is God's relationship to time. Classical Christian thinking on this issue has commonly held that God is timeless, but many Christian theologians and philosophers have come to question this traditional view. In "God and Time: Four Views", four excellent Christian philosophers debate the nature of God and his relationship to time.

Paul Helm defends the traditional view of God as existing absolutely timelessly. His primary argument for this classical view is based on the idea of divine fullness. According to Helm, temporal existence would compromise God's fullness, because there would be segments of His life that are already over. If God is timeless, however, then He experiences all of His life at once- He does not live in the fleeting present.

Although the idea that God exists outside time or timelessly may sound intuitively plausible and attractive, it actually entails some rather strange conclusions upon reflection. For, if God is absolutely timeless, then He cannot know what time `now' is. Moreover, He cannot act in time. All of God's actions in the world would have to be `pre-loaded' in some sense. Thus, though it may appear that God is having a conversation with Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, God's `responses' are really all preloaded into the world. God doesn't in any way intervene or interact in time. This view seems to make God impotent and ignorant- unable to act in time and unable to even know what time it is!

Unlike many other defenders of timelessness, Helm attempts to defend a B-theory of time to avoid these difficulties. According to this view, there is no such thing as an objective `now' and all events- past, present, and future- are equally real. If the B-theory of time is correct, then there is no problem of divine action or divine knowledge.

Alan Padgett defends the view of "relative timelessness." According to this view, God is the Creator of space-time, which He transcends. God still exists in time, but it is very different from our physical, measured time. God's time is infinite, but it is also immeasurable.

Padgett defends his view first by refuting the B-theory of time. This, he contends, demonstrates that God is not timeless. But, says Padgett, it would be theologically inadequate to say that God is simply everlasting. On such a view, God does not transcend time in any way. Padgett thinks that his own view offers a theologically acceptable account of God's relationship to time without necessitating an absurd view of the nature of physical time.

William Lane Craig argues that God exists in time since the creation of the universe but timelessly without the universe. He rejects strict timelessness because such a view cannot account either for God's actions in a temporal world or for His knowledge of tensed facts (such as, "It is now 8:00 P.M."). He rejects strict temporality (and relative timelessness) because it leads inevitably to the question, "Why didn't God create the world sooner?" Craig argues that the most plausible response is to deny that God exists in time without the universe.

Nicholas Wolterstorff defends unqualified divine temporality. In addition to offering arguments against a B-theory and for an A-theory of time, Wolterstorff contends that a basic reading of the Bible gives the unmistakable impression that God exists in time and has a history. He sees the Incarnation as a definitive example of God acting in time and relating to the created world. Wolterstorff, however, refuses to side with either Craig or Padgett on God's nature without the universe. Thus, in as sense, Wolterstorff's position is entirely compatible with both Craig's and Padgett's point of view (as well as the view of someone who believes that God exists everlastingly), and the two coauthors simply make further metaphysical commitments about God's nature `before' the creation of the universe.

"God and Time: Four Views" is an excellent survey of some options regarding God's relationship to time. The book had a terrific format- allowing each author and respondent sufficient room to develop their points. I also liked the fact that each author was given an opportunity to respond to criticisms. Although you had better be ready for some technical reading, I would recommend God and Time for anybody interested in surveying the different possibilities concerning this fascinating issue.

Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time
Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time
by William Lane Craig
Edition: Paperback
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Overview of The Doctrine of God's Relationship to Time, November 17, 2008
In this fascinating treatment of God's relationship to time, William Lane Craig argues that God, though timeless without the universe, is in time since the creation of the universe. This detailed study encompasses a wide variety of issues, including the biblical conception of God, the nature of time, relativity theory, the linguistic account of tensed facts, and a slew of other topics.

Near the beginning of the book, Craig considers arguments in favor of God's timelessness. He first considers arguments that God's immutability or simplicity necessitate a timeless nature. Craig points out that these doctrines, however, are more controversial than the doctrine of divine timelessness itself, and therefore cannot be used to support timelessness. Moreover, both of these doctrines have conceptual difficulties and lack a clear scriptural basis (verses discussing God's immutability only entail that God's character does not change).

The next argument leads into some exciting territory. Defenders of divine timelessness sometimes argue that Einstein's relativity theory supports their view. Since the special theory of relativity implies that there is no absolute "now" but rather a plethora of inertial frames, we must reject the idea that God is in time. For if God is in time, then He is either in a specific inertial frame (according to which He is ignorant of real facts concerning all the other reference frames) or He is in multiple inertial frames (which leads to a radical splitting of God's consciousness). Since both of these alternatives are untenable, we are forced to reject God's temporality.

Here, Craig argues that Einstein's interpretation of relativity theory is not the only valid interpretation, and, in fact, the physicist Hendrick Lorentz (a contemporary of Einstein) offers a better interpretation which upholds absolute time and space. According to Lorentz, measuring devices shrink or contract in the direction of motion, and it is impossible to experimentally determine one's absolute location and time, even though in reality there is an objective fact about the matter. Craig contends that Einstein's interpretation of relativity was heavily influenced by a verificationist epistemology and that Lorentz's interpretation is actually superior, since it upholds the commonsense notion of absolute time and actually accords better with some scientific findings.

Finally, Craig considers the argument offered by some advocates of divine timelessness which contends that temporal existence is not adequate for God, as the most perfect being. Due to the inherent limitations of temporal existence, God must exist timelessly. Craig argues that, while the argument has some plausibility, it is inconclusive. God's omniscience entails that He always knows what is coming in the future and He never forgets what happened in the past, and, moreover, there is some evidence that consciousness of time's flow can be an enriching experience.

In chapter 3, Craig offers two powerful arguments in favor of God's temporality. The first concerns God's actions in the temporal world. Given that God is creatively active in the temporal world, God is really related to the world, and is therefore Himself temporal. The second argument concerns God's knowledge of facts. Since some facts are tensed (and thus are past, present, or future), God's knowledge of such facts must change. For example, in order for God to know what time it is now, He must constantly change His belief about the current time. Craig argues that it is impossible for a timeless God to know tensed facts such as "It is now 3:00 P.M."

After discussing arguments for and against divine timelessness and divine temporality, Craig embarks on a fascinating discussion of the very nature of time. There are actually two main theories of time seriously discussed by philosophers today- dubbed the "A-Theory" and the "B-Theory" of time (or the tensed theory and tenseless theory of time, respectively). Essentially, the A-Theory is the theory of time of the man on the street. According to this view, there really is an objective `now' and things really come into and go out of existence. The B-Theory holds that `now' is just a subjective feature of consciousness and that things do not really come into or go out of existence. Past, present, and future events are all equally real.

Craig argues at length that our experience of tense and the ineliminability of tense in language provides powerful justification for adopting the A-Theory. The B-Theory of time is primarily justified on the basis of a Minkowskian interpretation of the special theory of relativity, according to which reality should be understood as a four-dimensional structure called "space-time." On this view, the universe just exists as a four-dimensional block and there is no room for tensed facts or temporal becoming. Craig argues that, once again, a Lorentzian interpretation of relativity can plausibly account for all the same facts and is metaphysically superior to the Minkowskian interpretation.

Having considered the arguments for and against divine temporality and divine timelessness and surveyed the arguments for the competing models of time, Craig concludes the book by arguing that God is in time. However, as can be recalled from a summary of the arguments for divine temporality, Craig's case that God is in time is based on the existence of a temporal universe. Without that universe, there is no reason to think that God is in time, and, Craig argues, this view leads to incoherencies. If God has existed for an infinite amount of time prior to the creation of the universe, then why did He wait so long to create? Craig therefore concludes that God, though in time since the creation of the universe, is timeless without the universe.

Anyone interested in God's relationship to time should read Craig's illuminating study in "Time and Eternity." Whether or not you accept his conclusion, this book will help clarify your thinking on this complicated subject, as well as enhance your knowledge of a number of intriguing issues being discussed in philosophy and theology.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2011 10:39 PM PDT

Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics
Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics
by Paul Copan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.79
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6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Articles, But No Clear Focus, November 17, 2008
"Passionate Conviction" is a compilation of essays given at the annual apologetics conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. These conferences aim to instruct laypersons about evangelical scholarship, and they feature the brightest minds of the evangelical scholarly community- authors such as N.T. Wright, J.P. Moreland, and Michael Murray.

The book is separated into the following 6 main categories;

-Why Apologetics?
-Comparative Religions
-Postmodernism and Relativism
-Practical Application

Although many of the essays were well-written, Passionate Conviction lacked many important topics. For example, there is no consideration of the Problem of Evil, even though this is generally considered to be the most powerful argument against Christianity. The other problem with the book is that many of the essays seemed to be surface level treatments. I was excited to see some essays concerning eastern religions like Buddhism, but I was disappointed with the depth of the content.

The main problem with the book is its lack of coherency. It feels like a hodge-podge of essays just gathered together. Although there is some value in "Passionate Conviction," I think there are much better books out there if you are looking for an introduction to Christianity and apologetics.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 27, 2011 12:41 PM PDT

Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
by James Porter Moreland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $32.49
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Overview of Important Philosophical Topics, November 17, 2008
J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig are perhaps two of the best Christian philosophers and apologists writing today, and they make a great team in their book "Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview." Moreland has done terrific work in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, while Craig has great works in natural theology, philosophy of space and time, and Christian doctrine. Discussing these topics and more, Philosophical Foundations provides a broad overview of the many issues of interest to the Christian philosopher.

The book is broken down into six major sections. The first section is an introduction to philosophy, including a discussion of logic and fallacies. This section also explains the relevance of philosophy to the Christian.

The second section covers epistemology. Here, Moreland and Craig address and refute the problem of skepticism. Skepticism, in this context, refers to the view that we know either very little or absolutely nothing. This type of skepticism is incompatible with the Christian worldview, which holds that we have justified true beliefs about all sorts of truths- not the least of which is the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This section also contains a discussion of theories of justification, which seek to explain how we become justified in our beliefs. Other than skepticism, which holds that we aren't justified in our beliefs, there are two main views on this issue in the philosophical community. The first is called foundationalism, and it holds that some beliefs are basic and are justified apart from any evidence in their favor (for example, belief in the reality of the external world). The second is called coherentism, and it holds that beliefs are justified if they are consistent with other beliefs held by the individual. This second view leads to problems such as the plurality objection, which observes that there can be two or more equally coherent sets of beliefs that are logically incompatible with each other. Craig and Moreland defend the foundationalist view in this section against its major criticisms. This section also defends the correspondence theory of truth against postmodern, relativistic ideas. Near the end of the section is a discussion about religious knowledge, which contains a refutation of verificationism. Verificationism is the view that a sentence must be capable of being empirically verified or it is meaningless. The authors show that this view is not only too restrictive to be useful, it is also self-refuting and therefore necessarily false.

The third section is a discussion of metaphysics. In addition to a general discussion about ontology, this section also takes a detailed look at the philosophy of mind. The two main theories of mind are dualism and physicalism. Substance dualism holds that there is an immaterial mind or soul that is separate from the body, while physicalism rejects the soul and defends the view that humans are entirely physical entities. Although there are some Christian physicalists, substance dualism is in better accord with the historic Christian view. Moreland and Craig offer critiques of the major physicalist theories of mind and present a number of arguments in favor of substance dualism. This discussion leads to the topic of the nature of free will, where the authors discuss determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism. Determinism is the view that all human actions are determined by prior conditions and therefore free will is an illusion. Libertarianism is on the opposite end of the spectrum, and it defends the idea that humans at least occasionally make choices that are entirely free. Compatibilism is the view that, though it is true that all actions are determined, humans still have free will when their actions are determined in the correct way. Finally, the authors look at the issue of personal identity and life after death. What is it that makes a person, and is it possible for a person to survive death? The authors defend the absolute view of personal identity, which basically holds that a person remains the same through change because the immaterial soul is truly the person. Therefore life after death is possible, because the soul is immaterial and can survive the death of the body.

Section four concerns the philosophy of science. Here, Moreland and Craig discuss whether scientific theories should be construed in a realist or an antirealist way. They also refute the view of scientism, which holds that science is the very paradigm of truth and rationality. Science cannot even function without certain philosophical background beliefs, and therefore scientism cannot stand on its own feet. This section also contains a fascinating discussion of time and space, where the authors argue that time and space are absolute and that the A-theory of time is true (see Time and Eternity for a further discussion).

Section five covers ethics. In this section, Moreland and Craig refute relativistic theories of ethics and attempt to demonstrate that there are at least some moral absolutes that exist independently of human opinion. Section five also contains a discussion of major ethical theories- utilitarianism, deontological ethics, and virtue theory. Utilitarianism is the view that the morality of an action depends solely on the consequences of that action. According to utilitarianism, the moral action is the one that provides for the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The authors reject this theory in favor of a combination of deontological ethics and virtue theory. Deontological ethics contends that some actions are right or wrong irrespective of their consequences in particular cases. Virtue theory contends that actions are morally correct if they are the actions that would be done by a fully virtuous person. On this theory, ethics is not about external rules, rather, it is about developing moral character. Moreland and Craig contend that virtue theory and deontological ethics both have some valuable things to say about the true nature of ethics.

The sixth section covers philosophical theology and philosophy of religion. This section starts off with a defense of some arguments for the existence of God, including the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument (or, design argument), the Axiological Argument (or, the moral argument), and the Ontological Argument. Then, the authors provide a defense of the coherence of theism, contending that there is nothing logically suspect about the concept of God. This section also contains a refutation of the problem of evil and a defense of the possibility of miracles. Finally, the authors consider three difficult Christian doctrines and they offer philosophical defenses of these core doctrines. First, they discuss the Trinity and defend the possibility that there is one God in three persons. Next, they look at the Incarnation, arguing that there is nothing incoherent about Jesus Christ being fully God and fully man. Finally, they look at Christian Particularism- the doctrine that Christ is the only way to salvation.

"Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview" provides an excellent overview of philosophy from a Christian perspective. Given the importance of philosophy for developing and defending the Christian worldview, this book is a valuable resource and is highly recommended.

Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life
Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life
by James Porter Moreland
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.87
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Happiness, November 17, 2008
In "The Lost Virtue of Happiness", J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler attempt to address the growing epidemic of depression that is sweeping the Western world. In a day and age where life is filled with luxuries- air conditioned homes, televisions, and fast food at every corner- people are becoming more and more miserable. What could possibly be wrong?

Moreland and Issler contend that the problem is the redefinition of `happiness' that has occurred in the modern period. Whereas happiness used to be defined as a life full of virtue and character, it is now being conceived as merely a sense of pleasurable satisfaction. Since pleasurable feelings come and go, people are doomed to live an unstable life of ups and downs, while the consumerist culture mindset serves to convince them that they don't have enough.

The cure is to return to a more stable definition of happiness that is based on a life of love and service to God. Only in relation to the kingdom of God can we truly live the life humans were meant to. And, by giving up the relentless pursuit for the next thrill, we can find a sense of meaning and satisfaction to our lives that will last.

Throughout the book, Moreland and Issler provide discussions of how we can use the spiritual disciplines to gain a sense of purpose and grow closer to God. Combining personal experience, clear thinking, and Biblical principles, the authors are able to provide good discussions and some useful suggestions for how we can use these disciplines to improve our lives. For example, the authors recommend offering a brief prayer to God many times during the day. I have found this very helpful for keeping God on my mind and refreshing my prayer life. Although not all of the suggestions may be useful to everyone, the practical applications provided in The Lost Virtue of Happiness add to its value. Moreover, the book is simple and should be very accessible for almost everyone.

As Christians, we have all the resources necessary to live a meaningful and happy life. We simply need to lay aside our own narrow self-interest and pursue a much greater purpose. As Jesus said, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." [Matthew 6:33] We can only enjoy the smaller pleasures of life to the fullest degree when we give up the pursuit of self-interest and live for God and His kingdom. This message, expressed so well in this book, is one that every person needs to hear.

Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe
Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe
by Martin J. Rees
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Analysis, November 10, 2008
In "Just Six Numbers", Martin Rees provides a tour of the universe and the delicately tuned values that govern it. Rees argues that, were some values of the universe (the strength of gravity, for example) slightly different, intelligent life would not be possible. As Rees demonstrates, the odds that all six of the crucial numbers he mentions should have values that are life-permitting is extraordinarily small, and therefore this remarkable find cries out for some sort of explanation.

The cosmological evidence roughly outlined by Rees has led to a renewed interest in the argument from design for the existence of God. If God purposely created the universe to support life, then we can understand why the values governing it are conducive to life. However, Rees offers a different interpretation. Rees argues that there might be a large (perhaps infinite) number of other universes that exist separate from our own. What we call the `universe' is really just a small portion of the entire cosmos. This so-called `Multiverse' model eliminates the mystery of why the universe seems so fortuitously life-permitting. Only in the small subset of actual universes that are compatible with life can life arise. Of course, we inhabit a life-permitting universe- because we must!

So, why should we accept the multiverse hypothesis rather than the design hypothesis? Unfortunately, on this point Rees is almost entirely silent. He never once argues that the multiverse model is superior or the design hypothesis deficient. Therefore, the evidence provided throughout the book is at least compatible with either interpretation.

Moreover, Rees does not provide much of a defense of the multiverse hypothesis, which has been critiqued in many ways. For example, the hypothesis that an infinite number of universes exist completely separate from our own seems to be an ad hoc and complicated hypothesis which we should therefore be hesitant to accept. Another problem is that multiverse models don't necessarily eliminate the need for a designer anyways, because the models often require extensive fine-tuning to work in the first place.

The only objection that Rees tries to counteract is the claim that the multiverse model is unscientific. He claims that there are at least potential ways that the model could be confirmed or disconfirmed in the future. I think Rees is correct about this, but this does not give us any positive reason to accept the multiverse interpretation.

Most of "Just Six Numbers" deals with cosmology, and this discussion is very interesting. However, I found the author's writing style to be a bit dry. For a more entertaining and engaging discussion, I would recommend Cosmic Jackpot by Paul Davies. If Rees spent more time defending his multiverse interpretation, this book might be worth a read. As it stands, however, there are much better books out there on this subject.

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus
Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus
by James Porter Moreland
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.98
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Effective Response to the Jesus Seminar, November 10, 2008
Edited by J.P. Moreland and Michael Wilkins, with contributions from eight conservative authors, "Jesus Under Fire" functions as a response to the liberal interpretation of the life and work of Jesus Christ offered by the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar is a controversial and relatively well advertised group of approximately 200 scholars who have argued that the historical Jesus did not do or say the majority of things recorded of him in the New Testament. By casting individual votes, the Seminar has attempted to determine the probability of a recorded teaching or deed of Christ being authentic. In Jesus Under Fire, a group of conservative scholars responds to the claims of the Jesus Seminar and tries to establish that the Orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus is not only the most fulfilling, but the most historically accurate.

The Jesus Seminar makes use of a number of gratuitous and unlikely presuppositions, by which it judges the historical trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Many of these presuppositions are not only in need of justification, but many of them reflect a clear anti-supernaturalistic bias. This book exposes those biases for what they are, and demonstrates that when we take them away, the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are on very fragile ground indeed.

In addition to combating the claims of the Jesus Seminar, this book will also clue readers in to a more realistic conception of the nature of the Bible. In chapter 3, Darrell Bock discusses the words recorded of Jesus, and asks whether they were live, jive, or memorex. The Jesus Seminar takes the jive approach, concluding that the majority of things recorded in the New Testament were not actually spoken by Jesus but were in fact invented by the Church and the original writers. They assume that the authors of the Gospels had no qualms about inventing sayings of Jesus Christ for use in their communities. This perspective is shown to be unjustified and to utilize overly restrictive applications of criterion of authenticity. But opposed to this liberal perspective, the common Christian's perspective seems to be that the words were memorex, and therefore perfectly recorded. If it's colored red in the Bible, then it is the exact word that Jesus spoke two thousand years ago. Usefully, Bock also dispels us of this simplistic notion, showing that this is not how ancient history was recorded and it was not how the Gospels were written. Nevertheless, we need not despair and fall into irrelevant liberalism, for the words of Jesus are recorded in the `live' fashion, according to Bock. Thus, they faithfully represent the words and the teachings of the historical Jesus. Christians who have adopted an overly wooden and unrealistic view of the way the Gospels were written will benefit immensely from this discussion.

Another highlight is the essay by Gary Habermas concerning the miracles of Jesus. The Seminar, along with other liberal interpreters, tend to give credence only to those miracles that can be `explained away' as essentially non-supernatural. Habermas exposes that there is no objective basis for this distinction, and that such a false distinction can only be maintained if a previous bias against the miraculous is imposed upon the text. The book also contains a characteristically excellent discussion of the evidence for the resurrection by William Lane Craig, which will be especially useful for those who have never been exposed to such material.

In general, I found Jesus Under Fire to be a successful critique of the approach and the findings of the Jesus Seminar. For those people who have been drawn in by their controversial findings and media exposure, this book should provide a useful critique. At times the essays seemed a bit wordy and difficult to read, but in general the chapters were well-written. Moreover, the breadth of topics and issues discussed was impressive. "Jesus Under Fire" is therefore highly recommended.

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
by Roger E. Olson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.28
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Reading for Those Interested in this Debate, November 10, 2008
This book discusses ten myths that are commonly held about Arminians, especially by its critics but oftentimes even by its advocates. Olson, though not systematically arguing for or defending the Arminian viewpoint, simply purposes to reveal the fundamental nature of the theology over and against the prevalent myths.

The `Arminianism versus Calvinism' debate can be very passionate, and the risks for misrepresentation of the opposing view are high, even amongst academics. Arminian theology receives many harsh criticisms, often stemming from mistaken notions about what that theology entails. For example, it is often labeled as `man-centered,' moreover, it is sometimes claimed to diminish God's sovereignty, eliminate justification by faith, minimize or eliminate the role of grace in salvation, and to deny the Biblical teaching of predestination. As a result, the theology is absolutely lambasted in some circles, considered outside the scope of evangelical Christianity, deemed `barely Christian,' and even denounced as heretical.

Thankfully, Olson's clear analysis reveals these to be total misunderstandings, often betraying and almost total ignorance of contemporary or classical Arminian theology. Olson clearly acknowledges that some within the Arminian tradition have often slipped into dangerous theological territory. Nevertheless, the theology of Arminius himself was free from these errors, and a majority of major Arminian thinkers (including John Wesley) have kept true to Arminius's heritage. As he points out, the fact that some individuals within the tradition have strayed away from evangelical thinking does not mean that the tradition itself should be jettisoned, just like hyper-Calvinists who take Calvinism too far should not discredit the theology of Calvinism altogether. Olson substantiates his arguments thoroughly, providing extensive quotations from Arminius and his followers to demonstrate that their theologies are certainly orthodox, within the evangelical tradition, and not fair targets for the types of criticisms mentioned above.

Perhaps the best part of the book was its emphasis on the character of God being the primary motivation for Arminian theology. Many critics see the theology as motivated by a desire to keep "sacred" the human free will, but Olson wisely points out that this is not the main point of affirming the reality of human free will. The primary motivation is to protect the character of God. Since God is not the author of evil, Arminians seek to place the blame for sin (including the Fall of Adam), evil, and unbelief in the hands of free human creatures. In fact, this reflects my intuitions as well. When I read Calvinistic theology, I find myself deeply troubled by the character of God implied by such a system, not repulsed at the idea that I might not have `free will' in the way I think I do. In fact, I would have no problem with Calvin's theology if everybody were in fact saved or if there were no horrendous moral evil in the world, but given the presence of these undesirable features of the universe, I find the temptation to endorse Arminian theology strong.

Olson's book did suffer from one major flaw when it came to discussing the nature of God's foreknowledge. The problem is this- how can God foreknow the future free actions of human agents if they are really free? It is difficult to see how He could possibly know these free decisions. Moreover, if He did know them, it would obliterate free will.

There are two major lines of thought to address this question. The first idea is Molinism, the view of Luis de Molina who argued that God knows, before He creates the world, what any possible free creature would freely choose to do in any possible circumstance (See, for an exposition and defense of this view, The Only Wise God). I find this solution to be very compelling because it also explains how God can exercise His providential control despite deciding to create free creatures. However, Olson brushes off this possibility rather quickly, offering a few brief criticisms that (in my opinion) are rather weak. He also dismisses the idea that Arminius embraced this model, which I find dubious.

The other line of thought is commonly termed open theism. According to this view, it is impossible to know the decisions of free creatures in the future because there are no such facts to be known. Since they haven't decided yet, there simply is no fact of the matter! Thus, God does not have complete foreknowledge of everything that will occur in the future. Olson does not adopt this model but seems much more sympathetic to it than he does to the Molinist account.

While I agree with Olson (against many others) that open theism is a genuine evangelical option, I am surprised that Olson is prepared to give it more credibility than the Molinist account. Open theism, by denying God full foreknowledge of the future, is a very radical position that is regarded by many as not only outside the realm of evangelical thinking- but outside the realm of classical (and perhaps even orthodox) Christianity! Given Olson's attempt to remain within classical evangelical thought, I am surprised by his soft treatment of this view. In my opinion, it presents at least as many problems as the Molinist account and may require a radical revision of our conception of God. Indeed, many critics of Arminianism blast the theology by contending that it ultimately leads to dangerous views like open theism!

Other than this regrettable flaw, Olson's book succeeds in its goal admirably. By overcoming myths and refuting unjust criticisms of Arminianism, Olson opens the door for irenic discussion of this often controversial topic. This book is therefore appropriate for individuals on both sides of the fence. "Arminian Theology" does not provide a systematic defense of Arminianism or a critique of Calvinism, but it should help to further the debate in the spirit of Christian charity.

The Evidential Argument from Evil (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion)
The Evidential Argument from Evil (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion)
by Frances Howard-Snyder
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.70
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Collection of Essays, But Weak in Some Areas, November 10, 2008
"The Evidential Argument from Evil" is a collection of scholarly articles written by the top philosophers currently writing in the field. It includes both defenders and critics of the evidential argument from evil. Many of the contributions are excellent and greatly enhance the discussion.

For the most part, the theistic critics of the Problem of Evil tend not to focus directly on the issue of theodicy- providing reasons why God may permit evil in the world. Richard Swinburne is the only contributor who attempts to offer a full-fledged theodicy, though Eleanore Stump offers a discussion on the book of Job that approaches a theodicy as well. The main emphasis is on defenses- merely logically possible accounts- and an appeal to our cognitive limitations. Basically, most of the theistic writers try to demonstrate that we are simply not in a cognitive position to judge with any certainty whether or not God has a sufficient reason for the evils that exist in the world. Since we have no idea whether or not God has a reason, it is a bit hasty to conclude from the existence of unexplained evil in the world that God probably does not exist.

This is one aspect of the Problem of Evil that I do not tend to emphasize in my own analysis of this issue. I tend to think that a bare appeal to our cognitive limitations is inadequate. While it is legitimate to point out that we should not expect to understand God's reasons for any particular evil, it is not legitimate to avoid offering any sorts of plausible reasons why evil and suffering in general exists in the world.

Nevertheless, the theistic critics make a good case that we should not truly be surprised if we are unable to think of the reasons why God allows so much evil and suffering in the world. Thus, when the defender of the Problem of Evil jumps from the premise that we don't know why so much evil exists, to the premise that God does not have a sufficient reason for permitting the evil that exists, they improperly assume that we are in the type of cognitive situation where we should expect to find reasons even if they existed.

The atheist defenders of the problem offer several different formulations of the argument throughout the volume. As Bruce Russell notes, there are several different formulations of the evidential argument from evil, so theistic critics must be careful not to jump the gun and assume that a critique of one type constitutes a critique of all types. Of particular note is the type of argument developed by Paul Draper. Draper does not challenge the theist to explain apparently gratuitous evil, he offers a hypothesis competing with theism that he believes explains the evidence concerning the distribution of pain and pleasure in the world better than theism. This is a powerful argument that must be addressed, and it cannot simply be lumped together with all other types of arguments from evil.

Ultimately, I would have liked more authors to attempt the development of substantial theodicies like the soul-making theory or the free will defense. These seem to be critical aspects of the problem of evil that were not really addressed. Nevertheless, this book contains a number of excellent essays that advance the discussion of the problem of evil. Many of the essays are quite technical and challenging, but for the reader who is prepared for such an advanced discussion, this book will prove useful. However, for a comprehensive overview of the problem of evil, the reader may have to look elsewhere.
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