February 7, 2013 by Jason Hood
Karl Popper vs. Hegel, “Christian Marxists,” “Great Man” approaches to history and liberal Protestant use of the great myth of Progress and Democracy as Eschatology. All of these approaches, and all of our other efforts at producing an account of humanity in history, only result in assorted histories “of power politics”:
The theory that God reveals Himself and His judgment in history is indistinguishable from the theory that worldly success is the ultimate judge and justification of our actions; it comes to the same thing as the doctrine that history will judge, that is to say, that future might is right . . .
To maintain that God reveals Himself in what is usually called ‘history’ . . . is indeed blasphemy; for what really happens within the realm of human lives is hardly ever touched upon by this cruel and at the same time childish affair.
The life of the forgotten, of the unknown individual man; his sorrows and his joys, his suffering and death, this is the real content of human experience down the ages.
If that could be told by history, then I should certainly not say that it is blasphemy to see the finger of God in it. But such a history does not and cannot exist; and all the history which exists, our history of the Great and the Powerful, is at best a shallow comedy.
I think it’d be better to take the both/and, as what he says in context pushes God away from sovereignty over “great men” and dictators. But given his historical context, I really appreciate the protest.
If (Redemptive) History doesn’t impact, contemplate, direct, and ultimately transform the mundane, it’s not a Christian account; and if it doesn’t encompass a judgment outside of history, it’s not a Christian account; and if every deed isn’t judged and every sorrow and complaint addressed and every question answered, it’s not a Christian account.
I post this on my wife’s birthday. She’s a spectacular person, but “history” will probably never see a glimpse of it–unless something goes badly wrong with me or our children! And in God’s story, she matters.0 Comments
December 3, 2012 by Jason Hood
It’s that time of year when pastors and theologians fill out Amazon wish lists and buy presents for people who don’t want to read commentaries or theological treatises. So for an end-of-the-year reflection, I thought I’d mention a few books I’ve enjoyed of late.
Since I only rarely remember when I read a given book, I thought I’d mention books I’ve read recently rather than books read in 2012.
Under the category of “readable” historical non-fiction: I thoroughly enjoyed James Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer and 1776 by David McCullough. Both books are very readable treatments of familiar eras. For longer treatments of familiar events and persons, John Toland offers both a 2 vol history of Japan’s empire before and during WW2 (Rising Sun) and a masterful, massive biography of Adolf Hitler.
I made several forays into less familiar eras and events that have profoundly shaped the modern world. There’s the “wide-angle lens” take in Charles Mann’s 1493. I couldn’t put this book down. It hits history, ecology, and the influence of the “Columbian exchange” on cultural, economic and political developments; it’s an enjoyable, thoughtful voyage through time that explores the roots of the modern world. (Here’s an outtake from his previous book, 1491, published in The Atlantic. This earlier book seems interesting but judging by the excerpt it is far less engaging than 1493.) For more intense study, Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, does a great job setting the stage for WW1 and the chaotic, senseless, bloody birth of the modern era. For a shorter book on the same topic, Norman Stone’s World War One: A Short History was accessible and compelling.
Fiction has been sparse of late, both in quantity and in character. Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is fantastic, every bit as dark as advertised; few books match the terrian in which they are set like this dry, sparse, honest novel. It’s possible that I liked this book only because I was born in West Texas and I knew some of the characters. But The Road was fantastic as well, if at times dark beyond belief.
Try Matterhorn for a war novel, or David Benioff’s excellent City of Thieves.
Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson, if only because I wish more people wrote books like this one. Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is well worth all the positive press.
Theology and biblical studies are mostly left off this list, although if you’re looking for something different, I’ll mention Fikkert and Corbett’s gem, When Helping Hurts, now available in a 2nd edition; Courtney Anderson’s excellent To the Golden Shore: the Life of Adoniram Judson; and Harry Stout’s anti-hero interpretation of George Whitefield, The Divine Dramatist.
(PS: If anyone has book recs for Mrs Hood for Christmas, let me know…but not in comments so we can make it a surprise.)0 Comments
September 4, 2012 by Jason Hood
I regularly hear laity, theologians, and sketpics alike employ a bizarre tool: the denial of biblical or theological points on the basis of the reductive nature of their own imagination. We might call it the “I-can’t-imagine” strategy.
Some people can’t imagine healthy complentarianism; others can’t imagine that egalitarians might be partners in gospel work. Many can’t imagine a God who has the right to judge his creatures. Not a few can’t imagine racial equality or the intensely fallible nature of their favorite political party.
What’s particularly naive about this approach is that it overlooks the depravity of our minds in general, and our imaginations in particular. And as one symptom of the Fall, it feeds gross selectivity in historical and biblical analysis. David Koyzis at First Things highlights a great paragraph from Jamie Smith, who comments on “the New Universalism” in light of a Lauren Winner review of Rob Bell’s Hell book for the NYT Review of Books:
The “I-can’t-imagine” strategy is fundamentally Feuerbachian: it is a hermeneutic of projection which begins from what I can conceive and then projects “upwards,” as it were, to a conception of God. While this “imagining” might have absorbed some biblical themes of love and mercy, this absorption seems selective.
More importantly, the “I-can’t-imagine” argument seems inattentive to how much my imagination is shaped and limited by all kinds of cultural factors and sensibilities–including how I “imagine” the nature of love, etc.
The “I-can’t-imagine” argument makes man the measure of God, or at least seems to let the limits and constraints of “my” imagination trump the authority of Scripture and interpretation. I take it that discipleship means submitting even my imagination to the discipline of Scripture.
As Tom Wright sometimes says to exegetes, you need to expand your imagination a little. Or to riff on Richard Hays: your imagination needs to be converted, baptized with Scripture.
Read all of Smith’s post–it’s a Winner. (So sorry for that pun.)4 Comments
April 30, 2012 by Jason Hood
There were no good guys on WWII’s Eastern European front. In a war between Communism and Fascism, Hitler and Stalin (who split Poland between them), no one was remotely close to fighting on the side of righteousness and truth. Hitler butchered Jews, among others; Stalin butchered everyone.
But Russia earned Anglo-American sympathies because of two principles: (1) “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” ; (2) Hitler was the aggressor, and everyone sympathizes with someone defending their mother, even if that mother is a whorish hammer and sickle.
In a recent piece there’s an illustration of a third principle that turned the war Russia’s way:“Kiev,” Stahel concurs, “was uniquely Hitler’s triumph.” His strategy had been bitterly opposed by his senior generals before the event. But he had been aided and abetted by the intransigence of Stalin, whose dismissal of his own senior generals and insistence on defense [of Kiev] at all costs made a major contribution to the German victory [thought at the time to be a near-guarantee of German success in the war against Russia].The two dictators drew opposite conclusions from the outcome of the battle. Stalin belatedly recognized that it would in the future be wiser to leave matters largely to his generals. Hitler saw his triumph as a vindication of his own strategic genius, brushing his generals aside with ever-growing, ever more thinly veiled contempt. Yet as Stahel notes, the victory was Pyrrhic, the triumph illusory.Here’s the principle: sometimes success is not a reward, but God’s way of making us more in love with ourselves, so that we possess an even greater commitment to our own folly for our destruction. God’s justice is profound: it leads him to shatter the proud with the wrecking ball of their erstwhile glory.0 Comments
April 26, 2012 by Jason Hood
At least, these four seem to be relatively overlooked. The full-blown movement today–described by Collin Hansen (book and article) and feted by Time in 2009 as one of the ten big ideas changing the world–manifests itself in large conferences and bestselling books. But other, earlier factors played a part in the reformation resurrection; we’ll look at two today, and two tomorrow.
(1) Caedmon’s Call. Years before Lecrae’s reformed rap hit the market, Calvinist theology reached young college students through the music of Caedmon’s Call. Thriving without massive Christian radio play, the acoustic-driven band infused its albums with themes like election, lack of merit, and inability to choose. Before 2000 rolled around we were hearing that
We’re all stillborn and dead in our transgressions
We’re shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
I can’t refuse, I cannot add a thing.
(2) Ad Fontes. And it’s not just Calvin, Luther, and Edwards. (I discovered my affinity for Calvin in an undergraduate course on philosophical theology; my Bible-hating prof providing a mocking portrait of Calvin). The Calvinist origins behind the modern missionary movement (including William Carey in Britain and the first American overseas missionaries, led by Adoniram Judson) undercut the criticism that Calvinism was anti-evangelism and anti-mission. The Calvinist founders of the Southern Baptist Convention provided credibility for Dortian Baptists. And beyond the soteriological side of Calvinism, there’s the worldview side of things. Richard Mouw, Francis Schaeffer, Al Wolters (see his Creation Regained) and even Chuck Colson mediated Abraham Kuyper and other older Reformed thinkers who provided a pathway to engagement with the world.1 Comment