Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Review: Tactics, by Gregory Koukl

"Tactics: A Game plan for discussing your Christian convictions", by Gregory Koukl

Just a short review:

I'd had a desire to read this book since I first heard of its release. Even someone as overeducated as myself feels the need to get up to speed on apologetics, and practical tips for conversation in particular. This book did not disappoint. Over 14 chapters, Gregory really gives simple, practical techniques and strategies for conversing about Christian faith that anybody could apply. He begins with a succinct but forceful defense of the importance of reasoned argumentation, before presenting one or two tactics per chapter. Most of these are simple variations of questions designed to advance conversation - to encourage someone to present the substance of their assertions, their reasoning, and hold out the flaws or contradictions in their position.

This isn't rocket science, but it is an art, and part of Gregory's skill is in reminding that the art of reasoning and conversation is one that needs practice, reflection, and it's not "all or nothing, now or never". As I read this, I felt both like I could put some of these things into practice immediately, and that I had an honest desire to see other Christians read a practical and helpful book like this themselves.

No hesitations in recommending this book at all. 4.5/5.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: Journeys of Faith

"Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism", ed. Robert L. Plummer

I picked this book up because I read a few interesting excerpts on the web and some reviews, and because as someone interested in Patristics I have more than the usual encounters with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Also, I was genuinely interested in reading personal accounts of denominational-conversion.

The book falls into 4 sections, each with 3 chapters, the first a personal narration of the author's journey from Evangelicalism to EO, RC, Ang, and in one case from RC to Evangelicalism. This is followed by a rejoinder from the denominational tradition left, and a final rejoineder from the original author.

I particularly enjoyed reading the account of the conversion to EO. This is probably the journey that holds the most personal 'appeal'; all four accounts give a good sense of the 'why' for each person, though when you come to the theological hurdles, one feels less convinced.

I was particularly interested to see how the key issue in the first three journeys often involved the question of authority, and interpretation. Those journeying away from evangelicalism often felt the need for an authority that settled the canon, determined the creeds, and set the bounds of intepreting Scripture. The rejoinder to the RC -> Evang conversion provided a very robust and forceful attack on the doctrine of sola scriptura. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that Scripture itself cannot be the final authority. The whole doctrine of Church and Tradition must ultimately arise from Scripture, and so while the Evangelical's 'task' in holding to the authority of Scripture while recognising the 'problem' of manifold interpretation seems sticky, it is in fact no more rationally difficult than the RC or EO circular appeal to Tradition/Church as the ultimate authority, since it too is circular and open to interpretation.

All in all a solid read, and of value for both evangelicals and others to gain a greater understanding of why Christians move between different traditions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why my research matters, theologically and ecclesiologically

This past week I've been reading the recent book, "Journeys of Faith", about conversions from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism, and from Roman Catholicism to Evangelicalism. One of the issues that resonates through quite a few of the narratives is the issue of authority, and particularly authority relating to post-NT theological solidification. ie, how does the NT canon get settled, and what authority can Conciliar creeds of the Early Church carry? There is a truth in the fact that such articles of faith are, by definition, extra biblical. The solution of those journeying away from sola scriptura is that the Church institutional must therefore by the authoritative decider of such matters. Such a reasoning is, in fact, as circular as the Evangelical's appeal to the Scriptures' authority, and indeed any appeal to ultimate authority must be circular, otherwise the claim of ultimate authority is undermined.

Nevertheless, the whole overriding issue of investigation in both my Masters, and now Doctoral, research is how Nicaea got resolved into Constantinople. I believe that a careful examination of the evidence will reveal that at its heart the debate, and its resolution, is about theological method, and particularly hermeneutical method. It is, I suggest, the issue of how to read the Bible that is at stake, and it is this question that in turn resolves the Christological and Theological dilemmas of the 4th century. Secondarily, but not unimportantly, to reject Patristic exegesis in toto while embracing the creeds creates an ecclesial instability that will eventually out - if you embrace the creeds but reject the Fathers' biblical basis for the creeds, you must abandon sola scriptura and give up Protestantism, or you must give up the creeds (the creed of the anti-creedalists). Part of what I hope to show is that one shouldn't give up either of them, that a careful appropriation of patristic exegesis teaches us to be better Bible readers, i.e. more discerning Bible readers, it expands (properly) our sense of Christocentric exegesis and theological reasoning, and it lets us hold fast and firm to the creeds without an epistemological disconnect.