"Whosoever Will" - Allen & Lemke

My ethics professor last semester, Dr. Steve Lemke, and a colleague of his, David Allen, released a text in May on a biblical critique of five-point Calvinism.  I was interested in reading more on the subject, one to get a better understanding of the many intelligent, well thought out arguments against Calvinism, but also because comments Dr. Lemke made throughout the semester peaked my interest.

At the start of the summer, it was one of the many books I wanted to read by the end of the summer and, while I did, I didn't read it as quickly as I would have liked due to several reasons, mostly a busy life.  The topic of Calvinism came up more over the summer months than I think it ever has in my entire life.  In pretty much every circle of friends that I have, the topic came up at some point in some way, at least once over the summer (but generally much more frequently), without my ever bringing it up.  It was so incredibly ridiculous - I couldn't escape it for nothing.  People over-emphasizing the sovereignty of God, completely ignoring the fact of human free will, while also entirely disregarding the logical conclusions their points would lead to.

With one person in particular, as an example, during a debate I took his point to it's logical conclusion: God ordains sin.  I carefully laid it out and made sure he followed me step by step, so at this last point, he had either to affirm that God in fact ordains sin, or affirm that, at the very least, his argument had some flaws in it which needed to be looked into further.  Needless to say, I would have been fine with the latter; however, to my dismay, as well as others in the room, he affirmed the logical conclusion: God ordains sin!  All I can say is, wow.  At the end of the discussion, he stated something to the effect of, we can disagree on a lot of things but as long as we have all the foundational elements in place, that is all that matters.  While I do agree with that sentiment, debates over the nature of God cannot be any more foundational.  I cannot and will not ever believe in a God that ordains sin and then sends His one and only Son to die on the cross for those sins that God caused.  To me, that is immensely foundational.

Anyhow, I've gone way off track with this "book review" haha.  I felt as though Allen & Lemke's book did an alright job covering the issues.  The book was more scholarly in nature, not really intended for the average layperson.  In addition, most of the authors pulled quotes originally from Calvin himself, or his followers, to show that, for example, most of them did not affirm limited atonement.  Either way, the text was difficult to get through readability-wise.  Several sections became bogged down in definitions or lengthy quotes, followed by short explanations of said quotes.  Additionally, the book was written by Southern Baptists for Southern Baptists and therefore, the authors seemed to always be carefully choosing their words, so as not to cause divisions within churches or amongst their colleagues.  Other authors might be much more poignant about the language they use, which I would like to see.  Tell me how it is and how passionately you feel about the issue, not trying to dress up your arguments against Calvinism in their Sunday best so as not to offend any Calvinists.  Additionally, the authors come into the discussion completely rejecting the notion of any possibility of openness to God (also known as open theism, Molinism, middle knowledge, etc.), which many scholars affirm, or at least see as a plausibility.  This is seen throughout the text, where they make sure their arguments aren't misconstrued as flirting the line with what they see as such heresy.  It is important to keep a holistic view of Scripture in mind, however, especially when critiquing Calvinists for ignoring certain passages of Scripture because it doesn't fit into their methodology.  That is a whole 'nother discussion for a whole 'nother day though.

Overall, if you'd like to better understand some of the arguments against Calvinism, I'd suggest you find another book.  If you are wanting to read every text you can possibly find on the issue, well, by all means, go right ahead.  Enjoy, but don't expect it to be your favorite reading so far.  The text had a great deal of potential, but missed the mark in it's application.


"Letters from a Skeptic" - Greg Boyd

I heard a great deal of good things about this book and eventually bought it so I could read it for myself.  Basically, Greg Boyd realized he had been achieved a very strong theological education, was teaching at a seminary and using his knowledge to write books and such in the hopes of leading people to Christ; all the while, his father was an atheist and they hadn't ever truly discussed all the reasons he doubted the existence of God.  So Greg decided to start a letter correspondence (pre-email) with his father, allowing his father to ask or raise ANY and EVERY objection he had to the faith, with Greg being able to respond.  His dad took him up on the offer and definitely did not hold back any punches.  The book is simply a compilation of their correspondence back and forth, but provides a great dialogue over most of the key theological issues facing Christianity/atheists today.  They decided to keep the original wording of the letters in tact, so as not to dilute the passion or bitterness his father had toward many of the Bible's teachings.  On a few occasions, his father cusses or uses strong language to help illustrate his point, but overall, his father is an extremely deep thinker and raised a gauntlet of questions for Greg to answer.  Greg did his best to do so and, well, you can read the book to see what happened as a result of their correspondence.  Most reviews and such give it away, but even still, the correspondence is certainly worth the read.

I will add a disclaimer since my audience, yet extremely small, is certainly diverse theologically.  Greg Boyd has been known for holding a few "controversial" stances theologically with respect to certain issues (most notably, open theism).  Whether you agree with Boyd on this point or not I don't think is crucial to your enjoying this book, or any of his other writings, or not.  It only comes up once in this book, so it certainly is not a huge component.  In addition, whenever Boyd does go into a discussion of one of his more "controversial" views, he always provides the more contemporary views, held more widely by most Christians throughout history.  At the end, he always states, "if you don't agree with me that's fine, I don't think it's something to get too hot and bothered by," or something to that effect.  Essentially, as long as we agree on the fundamentals of the faith, whether you affirm open theism (for example) or not, that's fine.  Boyd isn't trying to convince you, the reader, or his father of holding every small theological point he holds, but to convince you of the reality of Jesus Christ and why he matters in this world and in your life.

Let's keep the main thing the main thing.

I've loaned the book out to 4 people now haha and the list is growing.  They've all really enjoyed it, so I can say, with 5 opinions in mind, it's definitely worth reading.  Of all the books I've reviewed on here so far, it is by far the first I would recommend to anyone.

Happy Reading.

Love, Trent.


spiritual vitality

so, oddly enough, I'm writing a book review on the Bible.. not so much because I'm wanting to critique it or anything like that (we can debate specific issues in more detail at another time), but because on Aug. 31st, I finished reading through the Bible in a year. the seminary had a Bible reading plan in place for the entire seminary body as a whole - students, faculty, staff, maintenance staff and all extension center employees. professors found ways to incorporate readings from the previous night into their lessons, or simply used them as a small devotional at the start of class. if you've ever been interested in reading through the Bible in a year, click here to find a copy of the seminary's plan. it's all dated based on last year; however, it's still just as fitting.
when I returned from Ecuador last year, my parents gifted me with an Apologetics Study Bible for my birthday & also to help with my start at seminary. it was a translation I hadn't read before (HCSB), so I figured this would be a good opportunity to: 1) read through the Bible in a year, but 2) to read through a new translation. as a whole, I like the HCSB, although it wouldn't likely by my #1 favorite translation. it is more scholarly, like the ESV or NASB, rather than just simple to read (NIV/NLT)

my freshman year at LSU I tried to read through the Bible in a year, but it became much more of a duty & obligation than something I desired to do. I made it through, but I honestly couldn't tell you much more about the Bible then than I had known before. "getting through it" was simply that - skimming pages and checking a box off a list. obviously not the right approach.

so when this opportunity came, I was excited about actually reading through it legitimately and passionately, while having the accountability of other seminary students, faculty, etc. to help keep my motives in check. I'm really glad I did read through the Bible in a year, but I don't encourage anyone to partake in this journey unless they are truly committed to it or unless their intentions are pure (i.e., not just wanting to check a box off a list). when there is a low commitment or lack of conviction (as I had 6 years ago), the difficult passages & books can leave one bored and in many ways turned off to the Bible.. that's never a position anyone needs to be in.

2 Chronicles was probably the hardest book to get through. not only is it difficult reading (dimensions of Solomon's temple & brief snippets of dozens and dozens of kings), but its preceded by difficult reading (genealogies of 1 Chron., lengthy stories in 1&2 Kgs., etc.).

if you decide to embark on this journey, let me know. I'll definitely be praying for you. the key issue I'm facing now is how to continue developing in spiritual vitality/scriptural expertise now that this plan is over. I need to take the habit of reading/studying daily and continue to develop that into a lifelong passion, unrestricted by temporal plans.

love, trent.