We're sorry. Functionality for this page is not supported in Internet Explorer 8 or older. Please upgrade the latest version of Internet Explorer, Chrome, or FireFox.
I am a Master's student at Duke University, studying the development of orthodoxy and heresy in early Christianity, with special attention to the regions of Syria and Egypt.
This is really a superb introduction to atheism. What gets my attention is that it includes a number of essays that contextualize atheism in its particular historical instances.
The first chapter, "Atheism in Antiquity," details how naturalism and similar concepts central to atheism were advocated long ago. Due to the prevailing influences of Christianity and other voices and powers in the ancient world, however, they didn't "catch on" like other metaphysical notions did.
The next chapter, "Atheism in Modern History," is a superb supplement, and is worth the price of the entire volume in my estimation. In it, Gavin Hyman argues persuasively that modern atheism is a reactionary phenomenon to a modern conception of God, which was different from more ancient conceptions. Hyman says that the advent of modernity made the rise of atheism inevitable. Modernity and atheism are inexorably entwined. What might atheism do, then, in our postmodern context?
Much later in the book, the Derridean scholar, John Caputo, shows how the matrix of postmodernity alters the strength of atheism. His conclusion: postmodernity is just as unfavorable to theism as it is to atheism, and there is the paradoxical attempt to move beyond the binary oppositions of the Western tradition (in this case, between theism and atheism) into a new and unforeseen option. It is difficult to say exactly how this tertium quid should be described. A kind of Levinasian mysticism of sorts, tempered by a learned ignorance? What we can say is that there is a reluctance to affirm naturalism or a supernaturalism too strongly. While a "weak" conception of God predominates, the language of theology remains in use.
Phil Zuckerman and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi give sociological and psychological profiles of atheism. Zuckerman's sociological chapter is quite dry, with little more than statistics. What else should I expect, though, I suppose. Beit-Hallahmi's psychological profiling is much more interesting, and makes the case that atheists are generally male, married, well-read and committed in various ways to the academic world, less dogmatic (which seems ironic in some cases, no?), less prejudiced, more tolerant, compassionated and conscientious, but oftentimes distanced and unhappy.
Steven G. Gey's essay ("Atheism and the Freedom of Religion") gives some historical depth to exactly how atheists have been treated by recent Western governments. Despite their being "good to have as neighbors" (Beit-Hallahmi's conclusion), Gey details how the modern atheists experience with the socio-politico powers that be has not been too friendly -- from outright silencing of centuries past (or just a century ago, in most cases!) to the present socio-politico discourse that, in various ways, gives a distinct advantage to those of a religious persuasion. (No wonder atheists don't tend to be happy!) While in many ways the United States of America paved the way for religious toleration and freedom, it is shown to be presently lagging behind when compared with other nations (e.g. those of eastern Europe especially). The U.S., in many ways, is much the same as it was two centuries ago.
The Analytic tradition gets a sizeable representation here, which is what would be expected. Daniel Dennett, too, gets a chapter to argue for the Darwinian variable that supports atheistic non-belief. I wanted to be convinced of it more than I was. Other contributions include the relationship of atheism to feminism (the author argues that all consistent feminists should be atheists), religious freedom, and anthropology. William Lane Craig is allowed one chapter to give the other side a voice (theism). Some of his arguments are laughable -- literally. Others are more convincing, until one reads the subsequent rebuttals. It must be said, though, that anyone could refute such a summary as W. L. Craig's (it amounts to something like 14 pages in all). It is simply too short to argue convincingly for anything. That being said, it is only an introductory text. It's quite nice that a contrary position was included at all, actually.
While some essays are certainly better than others (an inevitability, of course), all are at least a B/B+ status, and a few are quite exceptional indeed (A/A+).
I like Richard Dawkins quite a bit, and would recommend his _God Delusion_ and Sam Harris's _The End of Faith_. However, as a balanced, scholarly work, you would be hard-pressed to find something better, I think. Moreover, this is an excellent "spring-board" source. Only the best of the best are included here, and those whom they cite are well worth taking note of.
Taking Dr. Smith's graduate seminar on the theology of the Cappadocians first alerted me to his skill as a pedagogue. After perusing a few chapters of his book, I now know that this dexterity extends from the classroom to his ability as an author. Dr. Smith makes Gregory of Nyssa, a pedantic Neoplatonic aristocrat and bishop of fourth-century Cappadocia, actually understandable. The chapters of his book are well-defined, articulate, and unambiguous. Furthermore, an appendix for discussion makes this book a candidate for study-groups, whether under the auspices of the church, or for personal use.
I highly recommend this book as an introduction to Nyssen's theological anthropology. Don't be fooled by the title, though. The book, faithful to it subject matter, covers much more than just theological anthropology. This topic bleeds into many others, and thus it serves as an oblique introduction to many other aspects of Nyssen's thought, and late antique Christian Neoplatonism in general.
John Hick is one of the leading advocates of religious pluralism today, and identifies himself as a Christian. In the above work, he sets out to criticize the following tenets of traditional Christianity, expressed above all in the Chalcedonian ecumenical council, established in 451 CE, which is for most the sine qua non expression of Christian Christology. He is a very honest writer, and lets the reader know from the outset his agenda. For one to uphold the doctrines of Christian pluralism as he does, one cannot simultaneously hold to the traditional understanding of Christ. He explains: "If he was indeed God incarnate, [then] Christianity is the only religion founded by God in person, and must as such be uniquely superior to all other religions" (ix). As one who does not believe Christianity is superior to all other religions, Hick must justify his pluralism by a reconsideration of the doctrine of the incarnation. In a nutshell, for him it is not a metaphysical reality, but a metaphor which depicts the God-centered life of Christ. In this book Hick criticizes 6 sets of ideas common to Christianity, traditionally understood, and puts forward an alternative for a Christianity of a pluralistic age. He avers that:
(1) Jesus himself did not teach what was to become the orthodox Christian understanding of him;
(2) that the dogma of Jesus' two natures, one human and one divine, has proved be incapable of being explicated in any satisfactory way;
(3) that historically the traditional dogma has been used to justify great human evils;
(4) that the idea of divine incarnation is better understood as metaphorical rather than as literal;
(5) that we can rightly take Jesus, so understood, as our Lord, the one who has made God real to us and whose life and teachings challenge us to live in God's presence; and
(6) that a non-traditional Christianity based upon this understanding of Jesus can see itself as one among a number of different human responses to the ultimate transcendent Reality that we call God, and can better serve the development of world community and world peace than a Christianity which continues to see itself as the locus of final revelation and purveyor of the only salvation possible for all human beings (ix).
Before I began reading this book, I had already a background in historical Jesus studies and early Christianity, as well as proclivities toward Christian pluralism. What this book did for me was to nourish a pluralism that, quite frankly, had already been born in my mind. For me, therefore, it was confirmation of an already existing belief, and a helpful articulation of why I had begun to lean in this direction. For some (and for me about 5 years ago), this book would seem to stink of liberal scholarship, and of the inspiration of Satan himself. Thus, it will not be persuasive in the least to some. I don't believe those who believe this are foolish. However, I would still encourage this book as a fine example of irenic scholarship which puts forward a different persepective, if for nothing else than to understand and foster dialogue. The author is respectful and painfully honest, while making gentle criticism and proposing a new direction in a spirit desperately needed in this intolerable age. One can only hope for an honest reading, and a sympathetic disposition.
If you're interested in Late Antique religion of the Roman Empire and Syria, early Christianity, or Manichaeism, you must hunt this book down. It is not only the best introduction to Manichaeism available to date, but every page drips with the astounding erudition and expertise of the author. Thus, it is inspiring academically as well as an invaluable historical reference work. I paid $100 for this book, and, after having read it, I think every penny was well spent....Read more
There are 5 things in particular that I admire about this work:
(1) It has a superb introduction, which details historical, mythological, and various contextual aspects of Mani and his followers (it is nearly 50 pages).
(2) It is splendidly organized. Just check out the table of contents yourself.
(3) This book has a nice format. While the second point pertains to topical organization, this regards the aesthetic aspects of the work. In other words, it's a joy to read because...well, it's easy on the eyes.
(4) It's comprehensive. Not necessarily in length, although that is true, too. What I mean here is that it covers a lot without getting into pedantic concerns.
(5) There is a very helpful dictionary of mythico-theological terms near the bibliography, which I referred to repeatedly in my reading (and still do). If you keep getting confused over who the Maiden of Light is, the Five Sons of the Living Spirit, or the Third Ambassador, don't fret.
In conclusion, two renowned Manichaean scholars in the world today have provided an invaluable compass to steer one's way through the maze of Manichaean literature and scholarship. Recommended to be read with Lieu's 'Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China' (another invaluable work).
This book was not as good as I had hoped. A few statements:
1. Future readers should be aware that a fairly good grasp on Greek, Latin, and some French and German is necessary to digest the book in its fullness. Oftentimes the author quotes Greek and Latin texts at length (paragraphs at a time), while referring to certain French and German authors, quoting them in their original language.
2. This brings me to another point: the author assumes a general familiarlity with Harnack's work. It would be good to read that first, if you can find it.
3. Which brings me to yet another comment: many times the book seems like an extended journal review of many opinions regarding Marcion. This is not bad in itself, but sometimes makes for dry (and irrelevant) reading. In many places it seems like an extended revision of Harnack's work in particular. In fact, in a few places he skips some rather important discussions of Marcion's life and thought and simply refers the reader to Harnack.
4. I found myself frequently hesitant to accept some of his conclusions/observations because he seems to employ an unsettling combination of a critical method with an 'orthodox' bias. Some might not care about that. I am personally more concerned with historical issues, not an author's opinion of Marcion's 'untenable' theological positions.
I'm not sad I spent the time reading this book; it simply didn't reap the historical/intellectual harvest I had hoped. It should be read if for no other reason than that there are virtually no other thorough treatments of Marcion's life and thought available (not that Blackman's is what I would call 'thorough').
If I were currently teaching a course on the very complex religious phenomenon of gnosticism in the ancient world to an audience unfamiliar with the subject, this would undoubtedly be on the required reading list. There are at least six reasons for my enthusiasm about this book.
First, the book is simply organized. This perhaps may not be such a feat in and of itself, but with a topic as difficult to pin down as gnosticism, this is done very well. Anyone can follow the author's layout.
Second, Roukema's parlance is not for the scholar, but for the beginner. His syntax is not characterized by multiple subordinate clauses and the fifty-cent words of academia, but is simple and straight-forward. I imagine a high schooler could read this book with as much ease as anyone.
Third, the author simplifies the subject, but does not over simplify -- at least, not too much. When he does, however, he lets you know.
Fourth, although he finally disagrees with the gnostic perspective, his evaluation of it is practically undetectable until the end. That is, it reads very impartially. He is even sympathetic with the gnostic ideology at times.
Fifth, the reader comes away with some interaction with primary sources. While there are no lengthy quotations here (after all, it's just an introductory book), Roukema offers commentary on specific texts he feels are representative of certain communities.
Sixth, there are recommendations for further reading, which puts the icing on this lovely cupcake of a book.
If you're looking for an exhaustive treatment of critical scholarship issues, this book is not for you. Its intended audience is the layperson or young college student.
Professor Dunn's book deals with four issues which provide a response to the television series, Jesus: The Evidence, which first aired in the mid-eighties, and, according to Dunn, misrepresented the scholarly consensus in early Christian studies. Rather than provide a balanced overview of scholarship, this show favored the eccentric views of a minority of scholars, and thus misled many viewers. This book is a brief reply, and deals with four salient issues:
1. The Reliability of the Synoptic Gospels
2. Finding the Historical Jesus in the Gospel of John
3. Beliefs of the Resurrection in the Early Church
4. The Early Church -- Christianity or Christianities?
Brief, lucid, and a fine example of deftly blending scholarship with a concern for the contemporary church, this book is a must for every layperson not yet exposed to critical scholarship....Read more
Ehrman condenses the insights of critical scholarship in a very readable and lively book. I won't here repeat what others have said in their reviews, but will say this much.
For those with a more conservative background, Ehrman may have a reputation of being antagonistic towards the faith. Ehrman certainly may not have the conception of the early church that many conservatives do, but the charge of a liberally biased scholarship should not be laid at this scholar's door.
There are a number of times where Ehrman has the opportunity to adopt a radically liberal position, but chooses not to on the basis of evidence, etc. There is the impression that he simply wants the reader to understand the diversity and sloppiness of the history of early Christianity, not undercut a person's faith.
One of the things I like especially about this book, and Ehrman's methodology in general, is his willingness to ask the "What if...?" questions. "What if the history of the early church was eventually dominated by the Ebionites, Gnostics, etc.?" These are important questions to ask, simply because they usually turn up answers (or even other questions) that assist one thinking outside the box.
Simply put: Evangelicals and other conservatives need not fear the contents of this book, but would benefit greatly (as everyone else) by being challenged with evidence of the enormous diversity of the early Christian movement(s). I find no evidence whatsoever of a "liberal" agenda. Rather, judicious and penetrating scholarship lies behind this very readable and introductory text, which will help only to underscore the necessary element of faith in one's existential encounter of Christ, instead of the uncertainties of historical evidence.
The book does not presume to be an exhaustive study, but hopes to relate a simplified (not simplistic) account of NT Christology. There are four reasons why Father Brown has achieved his purpose:
First, he is clear. The book does not leave the reader wondering what Christological options are among contemporary and outdated scholarship nor where he himself falls in that spectrum. Throughout the book he italizes the point he intends to communicate, and closes each chapter and section with the salient features communicated therein. Furthermore, Brown does not burden the reader with overly technical language, but writes with simplicity for the layperson. If he does use the language of scholarship, he always explains its meaning and import.
Second, he is thoroughly organized, which provides the Christological neophyte with logical categories by which the information may be easily assimilated. There are points and subpoints, but never does he lose the reader in the minutae or become opaque.
Third, he is brief. However, he is so without doing injustice to an admittedly complex and highly technical subject. He continually keeps in mind his introductory ambition, and consequently allows the recommended reading list at the close of the book to elucidate the subject.
Fourth, R. Brown takes a moderately conservative approach, which allows him to moderate the subject to fundamentalists and liberals alike. Each will be challenged by his perspective.
He accomplishes majestically his purpose, thereby offering a substantial work for the beginner....Read more