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For Calvinism
For Calvinism
by Michael S. Horton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful explanation of contemporary Calvinism, 4 Aug. 2012
This review is from: For Calvinism (Paperback)
This is one volume of a pair of books exploring two poles of contemporary American evangelicalism. Its sister volume, Against Calvinism by Roger Olsen, argues the case for an Arminian approach. Here Michael Horton offers a passionate and eirenical defence of the Calvinist pole.

His opening chapter outlines the essence of Calvinism in terms of the various `sola's of the Reformation: `Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is the source and norm of Christian faith and practice, and this Word proclaims a salvation that is by God's grace alone (sola gratia), in Christ alone (solo Christo), through faith alone (sola fide). Consequently, all of the glory goes to God alone (soli Deo gloria)' (p. 27). Thus salvation is entirely and exclusively the work of God (monergism). This is contrasted with Arminianism, which proclaims the free gift of grace to all humankind coupled with an element of synergism (a degree of human cooperation in the work of salvation).

The bulk of the book is given over to an exposition of the so called five points of Calvinism (a.k.a. the doctrines of grace). In the first of these chapters, Horton makes the point that `Reformed theology never starts with the fall, but with God's good creation' (p. 35) and with the notion that humans are made in the image of God. Thus the first of the five points, total depravity, refers to a distortion of that original goodness. He also reminds us that the `total' in this phrase is extensive rather than intensive; it implies that the distortion applies to every aspect of our being rather than that we are in some particular respect totally depraved.

Moving on to the doctrine of election, Horton insists that the Calvinist insistence on its unconditionality does not imply that it is somehow arbitrary. Rather, the point is that it is entirely a matter of God's love for us and has nothing to do with our capacity for faith. Some Christians complain that this is not fair and Horton agrees: if God's response to human sin were rooted exclusively in divine justice, we would all be justly condemned. Election is a matter of divine mercy rather than justice. This is an attractive presentation, but I'm not sure it really answers the most serious criticism of Calvinism, namely that it is inescapably and unacceptably deterministic.

The next chapter explores the doctrine of atonement. Horton summarizes six theories that have been proposed over the centuries to make sense of Christ's atoning work. He points out that no one theory adequately accounts for the reality. However, in his view, two aspects are essential for any theory to reflect adequately the New Testament witness: redemption must be particular and objective. While no evangelical would dispute the second of these, it is questionable whether the New Testament really does imply that Christ died only for the sins of the elect. Horton marshals the most persuasive Calvinist arguments in favour of this view, but I confess I remain unconvinced.

Finally he combines effectual calling (his preferred term for irresistible grace) and perseverance into a single chapter. These he maintains are implications of the monergism that is fundamental to Calvinist theology.

Having given an outline of the intellectual dimension of Calvinism, Horton turns to its implications for Christian life and practice. Calvinism is variously criticized as either antinomian or legalistic. By contrast, Horton presents a Reformed spirituality in which we work out our sanctification in fear and trembling knowing that it is all by the grace of God. It is a spirituality rooted firmly in the means of grace and virtually opposite in direction to that of much contemporary Christianity. Much contemporary Christianity concentrates on the seeker after God and is directed Godwards; Calvinism is a spirituality for those who have been (perhaps unexpectedly) found by God - it is directed from God to humankind.

Another common criticism of Calvinism is that is has been or is indifferent or antipathetic to Christian mission. Horton admits that there have been hyper-Calvinistic distortions of which this would be true. However, he denies that this was ever true of mainstream Calvinist thinking and demonstrates his point by outlining the Calvinist contribution to Christian missionary activity.

In summary, this is a clearly written and carefully argued defence of Calvinism. It makes an excellent introduction to a major theological and spiritual root of contemporary evangelicalism.

(Perhaps I should add that I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their blogger review programme.)


The Bone House (Bright Empires)
The Bone House (Bright Empires)
by Stephen R. Lawhead
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 7 Dec. 2011
This is the sequel to The Skin Map, which disappointed me when I read it a few months ago. Nevertheless, I decided to give Stephen Lawhead a second chance because of the pleasure his earlier books have given.

Sadly there was no sign of improvement. The dialogue and characterization remain as wooden as before. As for the storyline, if anything, that has degenerated even further into a series of short scenes located at different times in very different geographical locations strung together in a (deliberately?) confusing manner. Even worse, he has begun to indulge in a bad habit of the second-rate novelist: using arbitrary scene breaks to create a false sense of tension. On top of that, he indulges in some rather unsubtle infodumping more than once.

I also have my doubts about the extent and reliability of the historical research he has done. To take just one example, he has Douglas Flinders-Petrie seek out Roger Bacon in Oxford in 1260 when according to modern scholars he was in Paris. Granted this is a parallel universe rather than our own past, but little things like that make it harder for me to suspend my disbelief.

Also irritating was the evidence of poor editing. Glaring typos like `Canus Major' for `Canis Major', `died' for `dyed', and `bier' for `byre' are really not excusable!

Much as I wanted to enjoy this novel, I must again register my disappointment. I won't be reading any more of the series.

NB I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


The Urban Fantasy Anthology
The Urban Fantasy Anthology
by Peter S. Beagle
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A masterly overview of the genre, 25 Sept. 2011
It's raw, it's vibrant, it's undeniably popular, but just what is urban fantasy? The editors of this new anthology from Tachyon attempt to define the genre by offering us twenty short stories they regard as typical. These stories have been subdivided into three categories: mythic fiction, paranormal romance and noir fantasy. By way of introduction, Peter Beagle offers a useful critical overview of the book as a whole, while Charles De Lint, Paula Guran and Joe Lansdale do the same for each of the three subdivisions.

Mythic fiction is the oldest and best established of the three types of urban fantasy. However, as Charles De Lint points out, the term was originally chosen by him and Terri Windling precisely to avoid describing what they were writing as `urban fantasy'. It is probably the most easily definable of the three categories. Essentially, mythic fiction refers to any story that takes traditional fantasy tropes and/or mythic elements and places them in a (sometimes loosely) contemporary setting. In this collection, the category is illustrated by stories from Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Ford and Peter Beagle. All the stories chosen to represent mythic fiction are excellent reads, but the Jeffrey Ford offering (`On the Road to New Egypt') seems rather out of place in this company: there is a surrealism about it that to my mind makes it more akin to the category described here as `noir fantasy'.

The term `paranormal romance' immediately put me in mind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Twilight saga and Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake novels. Paula Guran's take on the category certainly overlaps with those works, but she puts more emphasis on `kickassitude' and detective-style plots than on any element of romance. The stories chosen to represent this category are by Charles de Lint (again), Kelley Armstrong, Norman Partridge, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia Briggs, Bruce McAllister, Suzy McKee Charnas and Francesca Lia Block. Again it is a strong selection of stories. My particular favourite was Patricia Briggs's `Seeing Eye', perhaps because I have a soft spot for paranormal detective stories.

Finally, Joe Lansdale introduces what in their wisdom the editors have decided to call noir fantasy. I think this is a misnomer because, to my mind, it suggests a connection with film noir and hardboiled crime fiction; it leads me to expect a cynical take on the world, a morally ambiguous (possibly darkly humorous) central character and possibly a erotic dimension that is not constrained by (or at least is in tension with) conventional attitudes. In fact, the term `noir fantasy' leads me to expect precisely what Paula Guran highlighted about `paranormal romance'. However, for Joe Lansdale it clearly means (urban) fantasy with a strong component of horror and/or surrealism. The stories presented here as `noir fantasy' are a disparate collection by Thomas Disch, Susan Palwick, Holly Black, Steven Boyett, Joe Lansdale, Tim Powers and Al Sarrantonio. They are all twisted, dark and surreal . . . but noir? Of these, I found Susan Pawlick's `Gestella' (a werewolf betrayed by her human lover) and Steven Boyett's `Talking Back to the Moon' (ex-werewolf and centaur on a road journey in a post-apocalyptic California) particularly memorable.

The sheer diversity of stories anthologized here does a good job of highlighting the breadth of contemporary urban fantasy. I am less convinced by the editors' attempts to classify the stories. But more important is the fact that they have brought together an excellent collection of stories that showcases the best of urban fantasy writing (however you define it). Definitely a must read!


Interpreting the Universe as Creation: A Dialogue of Science and Religion (Studies in Philosophical Theology)
Interpreting the Universe as Creation: A Dialogue of Science and Religion (Studies in Philosophical Theology)
by Vincent Brummer
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A study in diversity of opinion, 18 Sept. 2011
As the title suggests, this volume of essays is the outcome of an international consultation on science and religion. No fewer than four of the papers are from the pens of British authors already well-known for their contributions to aspects of the dialogue.

The structure of the collection is quite simple. After two introductory chapters of a theological nature subsequent chapters are paired so that we are given a scientific and a theological contribution in the areas of cosmology, evolutionary biology, and human nature. The one departure from this pattern is the concluding chapter which explores the theological implications of the ecological crisis.

The theological introduction is provided by Vincent Brümmer who defends Wittgenstein's concept of religion as a language-game against the charge of fideism. This is developed in the following chapter by Luco van den Brom. He relates it to George Lindbeck's cultural linguistic view of doctrine. This suggests that the doctrine of creation is part of religious map for the journey of life. Van den Brom maintains the possibility that it makes claims about the nature of reality. However, he effectively marginalizes the doctrine by treating it as a `footnote' to salvation history which is retained primarily because we have no way of deriving ethical norms from scientific facts.

Personally I found the two chapters on cosmology the most interesting in the book. The first, by Chris Isham, discusses recent quantum creation theories. It stresses the highly speculative nature of these attempts to explain the origin of the universe. In its companion paper, Willem Drees explores some of the potential tensions between cosmology and theology. In particular, he focuses on cosmology's spatialization of time and its platonizing tendencies. However, while recognizing that these are hard to reconcile with traditional Protestant theologies, he suggests that theology need not be unduly worried that we can evade such tensions by reverting to some form of Christian Platonism in which eternity is interpreted as timelessness and the universe is a mere reflection of mathematical entities existing in the mind of God.

By contrast, I found the chapters on biological themes rather disappointing. Taken as a whole they provide a useful introduction to the dialogue between science and religion in the areas of evolution, human nature and ecology. However, they simply go over ground that is already extremely well trod: we cannot answer the question `What is life?'; evolution is not incompatible with creation and this has implications for our understanding of God (predictably, little attention is given to whether the view of God revealed in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures has implications for our understanding of evolution); human beings cannot be distinguished from animals by any biological or psychological criteria but only on theological grounds; and, finally, we are told that this distinction is one of the roots of our ecological crisis.

No attempt has been made to integrate these papers into a consistent overview of the subject. The result is a degree of disjointedness which may irritate some readers. However, it does serve to highlight the degree of theological divergence within the debate.


Christianity and Ecology (World Religions & Ecology)
Christianity and Ecology (World Religions & Ecology)
by Elizabeth Breuilly
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A peculiar mixture of the very good and the very bad, 18 Sept. 2011
This volume forms part of a series sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature with the overall aim of exploring how different world religions have viewed the natural environment and the relevance of religious beliefs for our handling of the current ecological crisis. If this volume is typical of the series as a whole, it is designed as a semi-popular presentation for the benefit of parish discussion groups and, perhaps, for use in schools.

The editors have divided the contents into four main sections tackling respectively the ecological crisis, the roots of Christian attitudes to the environment, historical case studies and practical contemporary Christian responses.

The first section consists of a single paper by Freda Rajotte (a former member of the WCC Church and Society Unit). She moves rapidly and uncritically from a summary account of the ecological crisis itself to a statement of Christian culpability which reflects the secular environmentalist consensus rather than the views of informed Christian theologians. One is left with the distinct impression that the Church, as she sees it, is a conservative institution hell-bent on maintaining the status quo over a wide variety of issues (she even implies that Christianity resisted the movement to abolish slavery!).

By contrast with the shrill and tendentious opening section, the three papers on the roots of Christian attitudes are balanced and helpful pieces of work. `The Bible and the Natural World' and `The Influence of the Bible on Christian Belief about the Natural World' are by Dr Ruth Page. She presents a positive view of biblical teaching in relation to the environment and also offers a counter to Rajotte's suggestion that Western Christianity must bear much of the blame for the present crisis. The third paper is a précis of lectures given by John Zizioulas at King's College London. Serious students of the theology of nature will want to read the original version (published in King's Theological Review) but the editors are to be thanked for making this important material more widely available.

Turning to the historical case studies, we encounter first an excellent study of Benedictine monasticism by Sister Joan Chittister. She summarises the Benedictine ideal in terms of hard work, respect for the land, simplicity, care and stewardship and examines its implications for environmental ethics. This is followed by a study of St Francis by Father Peter Hooper of the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury. Hooper presents an interesting but, I suspect, anachronistic picture of Francis. He admits, but fails to explain, the consistent failure of Franciscans to live up to the ecological ideal he portrays. Could it be that there were other facets in Francis, warring with his love of nature? That was certainly true of St Bonaventure, the first great theologian of the Franciscan Order. The concluding contribution in this section claims to tackle the Protestant tradition. However, its author Martin Palmer seems to be more interested in launching a tendentious attack on Calvinism than in giving a fair account of what is, after all, an extremely diverse family of Christian traditions. He accepts Max Weber's correlation between Calvinism and capitalism uncritically, apparently unaware of the serious questions which have been raised regarding Weber's thesis. Calvin himself is presented as a religious fanatic who did not believe that God cared for his creation (apart from the elect)! Now it is certainly true that Calvin shares the Augustinian ambivalence towards the natural world which runs throughout Western Christianity. But Palmer's suggestion that Calvinism was `a major contributor to the growth of an exploitative attitude to nature' (p. ix) is errant nonsense. On the contrary, Calvin was the first Reformer explicitly to assert our duty of responsible stewardship with respect to the natural world.

The concluding section, like the opening, is by Freda Rajotte. In it she offers a variety of suggestions for individual Christians and churches seeking to make some kind of genuine response to the ecological crisis.
People seeking to use this book as a resource for parish or classroom discussion will be much helped by the questions which are interpolated into the text at frequent intervals. However it has two serious weaknesses: the lack of bibliography and the tendentious nature of the contributions by Rajotte and Palmer. A book which presumes to be a teaching resource should enable readers to look elsewhere for complementary (or contradictory) perspectives. And it should eschew the temptation to perpetuate ill-informed prejudices.


Creation and Double-Chaos: Science and Theology In Discussion (Theology and the Sciences Series) (Theology & the Sciences)
Creation and Double-Chaos: Science and Theology In Discussion (Theology and the Sciences Series) (Theology & the Sciences)
Price: £16.14

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but idiosyncratic approach to creation, 18 Sept. 2011
At first glance, this is yet another general dialogue between Christian theology and the natural sciences. What sets it apart is the author's take on theology, arising from his rejection of a central feature of the Christian doctrine of creation, namely, creation from nothing. Instead, he opts for creation from primordial chaos, of which more later.

In his introductory chapter, Bonting sets out his methodology for bringing science and theology into dialogue. He sees both as 'God-given worldviews of a single reality' (p. 16), so that in principle there should be no conflict between them. Dialogue is possible because both disciplines seek a rational explanation of basic data: natural phenomena in the case of science and biblical data in the case of theology. Further, such dialogue can be direct without any mediating role for metaphysics, which he regards as essentially non-theistic and therefore unsuited for such a role. Interestingly, the role of religious experience is quietly marginalized to such an extent that the famous Lambeth Quadrilateral is reduced to a tripod (p. 106) of Bible, tradition and reason (in that order).

After his methodological introduction, he moves on to give a brief overview of cosmic and biological evolution (the two aspects of the scientific world-view which he thinks most pertinent to the dialogue between science and theology). Inevitably, specialists in the various disciplines invoked in the course of this chapter will quibble with details but setting that aside Bonting has achieved a remarkably lucid non-specialist introduction.

He then turns his attention to the doctrine of the creation. Chapter 3 surveys a variety of creation stories from around the world (rather oddly, in light of his earlier insistence that the 'data for the dialogue with science must be the canonical texts delivered to us' (p. 6)), before outlining what the Bible has to say about creation. He sees no evidence for arguing that the Bible offers any support for a doctrine of creation out of nothing. In chapter 4 he explores the origins of creation from nothing and concludes that the doctrine emerged from the Church's conflict with Platonism and Gnosticism. While it may have had a certain apologetic value for the early Church, in Bonting's view its introduction presented Christian theology with a number of serious problems, not least the problem of evil. He concludes his examination of the doctrine of creation from nothing with a brief survey of contemporary approaches. However, this is far too brief (13 theologians in fewer than 20 pages) to be helpful to the reader or fair to the theologians surveyed.

Over against the doctrine of creation from nothing, Bonting asserts in chapter 6 that God created from primordial chaos. God's continuing action in the universe may, therefore, be seen as a matter of overcoming the remaining vestiges of chaos until complete order is achieved in the eschaton. While he denies that chaos as he envisages it bears any relation to gnostic evil matter, he suggests that evil may be seen as arising from the elements of chaos still present in the universe. In chapter 7, he explores how God acts in such a universe, concluding that he does so by influencing chaotic events in an undetectable manner.

The remaining seven chapters are devoted to various applications of Bonting's chaos theology. He begins by addressing the problem of evil, which he has effectively dissolved by denying that God created the chaos from which evil arises and asserting that he is acting against evil continuously by reducing remaining chaos to order. Chapter 9 goes into greater detail concerning God's action in the world, while chapter 10 focuses specifically on the cosmic Christ. He is critical of traditional doctrines of reconciliation, accusing them of portraying God as entrapped in divine justice when they assert that God cannot act in a manner contrary to God's own nature. Apparently chaos theology offers an alternative, but he fails to explain how crucifixion and resurrection play a decisive role in overcoming residual chaos. Chapter 11, on genetic modification and cloning, really adds nothing to either his dialogue between science and chaos theology or current debates on biotechnology. Likewise chapters 12 (on disease) and 13 (on extra-terrestrial life) seem to add little to the dialogue.

Finally he turns to the future, contrasting the pessimism of scientific forecasts with the glorious promise of the Bible. Judgement there will be, but he re-presents this as self-judgement. Having said that, his doctrine of the last things seems to be more informed by the biblical vision than by his own chaos theology. Little is said about the implications of the final state being one of complete order and zero chaos.

Creation and Double Chaos is well written and offers a refreshingly unconventional perspective on the doctrine of creation and the dialogue between science and theology. I must confess, however, that I remain unconvinced by his approach. In particular, I think the lack of serious engagement with contemporary creation theologies needs to be addressed if his thesis is to be taken seriously on the theology side of the dialogue.


Evolution: The Great Debate
Evolution: The Great Debate
by Vernon Blackmore
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A historical introduction to evolutionary theory, 18 Sept. 2011
Evolution has been given the Lion treatment. This very attractive large format paperback is typical of the sort of publication for which Lion is justly renowned. It is well illustrated, clearly written and additional information is set apart from the main text in coloured boxes. All in all it could have been designed to compete in the secular coffee table book market.

But that very fact immediately raises a question in my mind. Given that this is the product of a Christian publisher, what is its purpose? The title suggests that it is yet another contribution to the long-running creation-evolution debate. However, that suggestion is firmly denied by the authors (p. 7). Instead they offer to take us on a guided tour of the history of the idea of evolution.

With that in mind, let us turn to the content of the book. Three introductory chapters set the scene for Darwin, tracing the history of evolutionary speculation and associated ideas from classical Greek times to the beginning of Darwin's career as a natural historian. Chapters 4 and 5 examine first the historical development of Darwin's theory and then its central feature: natural selection as the driving mechanism for evolution. Chapters 6 to 8 continue the history of evolution with an account of the post-Darwinian debates (both religious and biological) to the present day. The final chapter is more philosophical in tone, examining some of the speculation which has been associated with the espousal of Darwinism.

I have little to say about the book's account of evolution as a biological theory. The authors' material is straightforwardly written, readable and accurate. In fact it would make a good A level textbook on the subject.

However, Christian readers will expect more than that from a book published by Lion. The authors deny that the book is about the rights and wrongs of creationism and evolution. Nevertheless there is far more about the religious implications of evolution than one would expect in a secular book on the same theme.
Thus one might expect to find an objective report of the development of Christian responses to evolutionary thought. However, this is not in fact the case. The bulk of the religious material has to do with the development of creationism. Far from presenting it objectively, the authors are clearly critical of this particular response to the theory of evolution. On the other hand, recognising that their brief was not to take sides, the authors refrain from making out a convincing case for theistic evolution. That the latter is their preferred option is clear from their sympathetic account of it on p. 186f. Unfortunately they refer readers to the work of Arthur Peacocke for further information about this option. Peacocke is a highly respected writer on science and religion, but his mixture of liberal Anglicanism and process theology is unlikely to commend theistic evolution to evangelical Christians.

For a book that contains so much about the religious implications of evolution it is remarkably thin on theology. The authors tend to ask questions rather than make theological suggestions. This could be good teaching technique or it could mask a reluctance to tackle the theological issues.

The historical nature of the book also tends to obscure the theological side of the debate.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a historical account of evolution with rather more than usual about the religious dimensions of the theory this might be the book to begin with. For theology, you will have to look elsewhere.


Moltmann: Messianic Theology in the Making
Moltmann: Messianic Theology in the Making
by Richard Bauckham
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lucid introduction to an important thinker, 4 Sept. 2011
In recent years Moltmann has emerged as probably the most widely read German theologian in the Anglo-Saxon world. However, until the publication of this book there was no easily accessible introduction to his work. This omission may be due in part to the strong reactions which his writings engender in his readers. One gets the impression that they tend to be either enthusiasts or antipathetic. In such a situation, the balance necessary for a good introduction is hard to come by.

For the purposes of this introduction, Dr Bauckham has restricted his attention to that part of Moltmann's career delimited by Theology of Hope (1964), The Crucified God (1972), and The Church in the Power of the Spirit (1975). This has the dual advantage of reducing the work to manageable proportions, and creating a natural framework on which to hang this study. Thus there are chapters on each of the volumes of his trilogy. An introductory chapter on the origins and context of the theology of hope, and one which traces Moltmann's trinitarian thinking as it developed through this period complete the introduction.

The introductory chapter shows very briefly how Moltmann's interest in eschatology and mission can be traced back to his days as a student in Gottingen. Bauckham then turns to his dialogue with Ernst Bloch: he draws out a number of parallels between the theology of hope and the work of Bloch to show how Moltmann has been able to use categories from the Marxist philosopher to articulate his own approach to Christian eschatology. However he is at pains to point out that this was no uncritical assimilation of Marxist thought; that Bloch's philosophy was an apt vehicle for expressing the revolutionary potential of the gospel and no more.

Having thus set the scene, chapter 2 deals with Theology of Hope itself. Each of the chapters dealing with the elements of the trilogy follows the same pattern: they begin by examining the structure and method of the works in question, this is followed by a more detailed examination of the major themes of each book. Here Bauckham singles out for closer examination, Moltmann's understanding of revelation as promise, his insistence on the reality and significance of the resurrection, and his suggestion that history be understood as mission. In the case of chapter 2, there are also brief sections which trace Moltmann's development in the years immediately following the publication of Theology of Hope.

The longest chapter in the book is understandably devoted to Moltmann's most influential work, The Crucified God. In discussing its methodology, Bauckham points out the way in which Moltmann's greater stress on the cross has radicalized rather than changed his earlier approach. He suggests that this theology of the cross may be regarded as a Christian parallel to the Frankfurt School's critical theory. Bauckham develops this suggestion as he examines in turn the dialectic of the cross; the iconoclasm of the cross; Moltmann's response to protest atheism; and the problem of suffering.

Chapter 4, `The Trinitarian History of God', of necessity follows quite a different pattern from its neighbours. It takes the form of a synoptic view of the developments in Moltmann's concept of God between 1964 and 1979.

The final chapter is a useful exposition of Moltmann's ecclesiology: an aspect of his work which has been somewhat overshadowed by the debates surrounding the earlier volumes of the trilogy. While not straying beyond the self-imposed limits of Bauckham's task, this chapter does provide a useful background for examining Moltmann's more recent work on the doctrine of the Trinity. (My one regret is that considerations of space seem to have ruled out a similar synoptic view of the development of his understanding of creation.)

Although Bauckham numbers himself among the enthusiasts for Moltmann, he has achieved a very fair account of this period in Moltmann's career. It is primarily concerned to present an overview rather than a critique of Moltmann's work, but Bauckham does not shrink from reporting and commenting on some of the more serious criticisms. As an overview, and a lucidly written one at that, it will prove indispensable for students who are grappling with Moltmann's thought for the first time. But I believe it will also be of value to people who are already familiar with Moltmann's theology as an aid to achieving an overall picture of his work free from the false emphases of particular enthusiasms and criticisms. Indeed it appears that even those whose knowledge of Moltmann's work is most intimate can benefit: let Moltmann himself have the last word, `there are also mirrors in which one recognizes oneself better than one had known oneself before. From these mirrors one learns something new about oneself and one's theological career, and one is glad of this revelation of the hidden motives and methods in one's thought. Richard Bauckham's work has been this kind of mirror for me.'


Ethics in an Age of Technology
Ethics in an Age of Technology
by Technology
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oversimplified but very clear overview, 4 Sept. 2011
This eagerly awaited sequel to Religion in an Age of Science possesses all the characteristics that one has come to expect of Ian Barbour's writing. It is a lucid, comprehensive and balanced account of ethical issues as they relate to the world of modern technology.

The book is divided into three main sections: Conflicting Values, Critical Technologies and Technology and the Future.

Under the heading of Conflicting Values, Barbour explores contemporary attitudes to technology, human values (both individual and social) and environmental values. He examines the scientific, philosophical and religious arguments used to justify the competing value systems he describes. In the course of this examination, he sketches in what he takes to be a Christian perspective. Three themes emerge as particularly important for contemporary policy decisions involving technology: justice, participation and sustainability.

Turning to Critical Technologies, he offers as case studies agriculture, energy and computers. The ethical dimension of agricultural technology allows him to explore the impact of technology on traditional human communities as well as environmental questions. Energy raises questions of global justice, environmental quality and sustainability. His chapter on computers looks at their impact on working practices as well as on their effect on access to information.

In the concluding section, he addresses the unprecedented powers afforded to a few by recent technological developments. Specifically he examines the threat posed by further environmental depredations, genetic engineering and the continuing proliferation of nuclear weapons. He argues that international action is necessary to deal responsibly with each of these issues. In the penultimate chapter, he maintains that democratic control of technology is still feasible in spite of the difficulties of assessment and regulation. Finally he makes suggestions about possible new directions, assessing the appropriate technology movement and exploring the possibilities of more efficient technologies and simpler lifestyles.

There is an inevitable weakness in seeking to be comprehensive. Every one of the issues raised is worthy of an entire book in itself. It is impossible to avoid oversimplification when the attempt is made to cram such a broad subject into three hundred pages and, moreover, do it without recourse to the kind of technical jargon which would render it impenetrable to the intelligent lay person.

Then there is the question of balance. I couldn't help feeling that he was too balanced at times. In part, this is a result of oversimplification. For example, he divides the world up into technological optimists, pessimists, and those who maintain a critical via media. But in his haste to expound the virtues of the via media, he fails to do justice to some of those he criticizes. Thus technological pessimism is caricatured in a way that completely fails to register the real point of many of the pessimists' complaints: they are not opposed to the artefacts of technology so much as to the mindset which has produced our society; their complaint is not against technology as such but rather against the dominance of technical reason (or functional rationality) over other forms of reason.

However, his defence of a via media is not just a matter of oversimplification. In the concluding chapters, Barbour offers us a catalogue of antidemocratic tendencies within contemporary technocracy - a catalogue worthy of any technological pessimist! But he does not seem unduly worried by his own assessment. Instead he reasserts his faith in the capacity of Western democracy to overcome these tendencies. It might have been helpful to the more pessimistic and cynical of his readers if he had presented a more developed case for his faith in democracy!

Another quibble I have about the book is the way his entire lecture series was structured. Volume 1: religion and science; Volume 2: ethics and technology. It is neat but hardly does justice to the complexity of the relationships between these four subject areas. Does it perhaps also reflect the traditional Western tendency to elevate theoria above praxis?

Finally there is the question of the relationship of the Christian tradition to ethics and what, if anything, Christians might have to contribute to these debates. Barbour allows Christianity to be one of the players in the development of an appropriate ethic. However, it should be noted that his preferred form of Christianity is much attenuated.

But these are only quibbles. The book does not pretend to be the definitive statement on technological ethics. Rather, it is an extremely valuable introduction to the subject. I suspect that like several of its predecessors from the same pen, it is destined to become a standard undergraduate textbook.


Religion in an Age of Science: The Gifford Lectures, 1989-91: v. 1
Religion in an Age of Science: The Gifford Lectures, 1989-91: v. 1
by Ian G. Barbour
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clear but tendentious overview of the subject, 4 Sept. 2011
One's expectations of this volume may well be coloured by the knowledge that the author's earlier work, Issues in Science and Religion, became the standard introduction to the subject for an entire generation. Are we to see his Gifford Lectures as a successor or a supplement to that earlier essay?

There are clear structural similarities between this volume and the earlier one. Gone is the introductory overview of the history of the relationship between science and religion. But the remaining sections parallel those of the previous book (to the point of re using two of the section titles). However, closer examination reveals that this is far from being just a revision of the earlier volume.

Part 1 deals with `Religion and the Methods of Science'. Barbour examines various ways of relating science and religion; the role of models and paradigms; and certainly similarities and differences between science and religion. One peculiarity of this section is his redefinition of theology of nature to mean little more than a broad natural theology. He completely ignores the post-Barthian developments in Reformed theology which have consistently used this term precisely to distinguish their approach from that of natural theology. Also striking, given the contemporary resurgence of orthodox Christianity is the fact that he mentions revelation only in passing.

In Part 2, `Religion and the theories of Science', he concentrates on the developments which have occurred since the publication of his earlier work. His clear intention to provide another broad overview of the subject places severe constraints on how much he is able to say on individual topics. The result is an inevitable sketchiness (e.g. less than two pages on the anthropic principle in spite of its significant implications for religion). At times this verges on the dismissive (e.g. his cursory treatment of many world theories in quantum physics).

This sketchiness also tends to throw his personal biases into sharp relief. For example, his treatment of the Christian doctrine of creation is strikingly one sided. He promotes the alternative reading of Genesis 1:2, omitting to mention that this is a minority view among Old Testament scholars. This allows him to speak of creation as a continuous ordering process rather than a historical beginning. Similarly creatio ex nihilo is treated as an extension of the doctrine of redemption to the natural order, and eschatology is reduced to a mythological extrapolation from redemption. Both creation and eschatology are reduced to symbolic expressions of our trust in God. This is a tendentious reading of biblical and theological scholarship which serves to bolster his preference for process thought.

Again, in the chapter on `Evolution and Continuing Creation', he reads the evidence in such a way as to support process thought. He offers useful summaries of the neo-Darwinian synthesis and current debates in evolutionary theory. Then he interprets the entire tree of life in terms of a hierarchy of levels with novel forms of organization emerging at each new level of complexity. Such ideas are commonplace today, but Barbour departs from the commonplace with his account of sentience and purposiveness. He suggests `that unified entities at all levels should be considered as experiencing subjects, with at least rudimentary sentience, memory, and purposiveness' (p. 173).

The final section of the book is devoted to `Philosophical and Theological Implications', with chapters discussing human nature, process philosophy, and the relationship between God and nature. As regards the relationship between mind and body, he advocates the view that minds emerge from the rudimentary experience of all entities against the alternatives of dualism, materialism, and two language theories. Turning specifically to the place of religion, he dismisses purely naturalistic explanations of its evolution. This is followed by a summary of the biblical view of human nature. Barbour looks to Geoffrey Lampe for a satisfactory explanation of the role of Christ. But the resultant spirit Christology dissolves any meaningful Trinitarianism and implies a subjective approach to atonement. This has the superficial attraction of allowing its adherents to affirm the truths of other religions but it does so at the cost of eviscerating Christianity. In place of the good news that Jesus Christ has acted decisively to transform our human situation we are left with the ambivalent message that we learn from Jesus (and other great religious teachers) how we may work to become co-creators with God. It becomes clear in the remaining chapters that this attenuated Christology meets with Barbour's approval because it coheres with process thought. He presents a simple and attractive picture of process philosophy and then moves on to outline its theological implications. After the manner of Charles Hartshorne he defends process theology by showing how much superior it is to a caricature of classical theism. Significantly he maintains throughout the book a stony silence with respect to contemporary Trinitarian thought. The latter avoids the criticisms of process thought, can maintain a positive attitude to the scientific endeavour, and yet remains true to biblical insights in a way that is not possible for the process school.

Given Barbour's undiminished clarity of style this book is likely to follow its predecessor in becoming a standard textbook. The volume is certainly to be commended as a concise and readable overview of the science and religion dialogue of the past 20 years. However, readers seeking a neutral report of this dialogue should beware of his persistent bias in favour of process thought.


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