Recent Reads: Natural Theology, Religion, The Modern World,and More

I suppose reading is like exercise: the more you do, the better you get. It also helps to barely watch TV. All that to say, I feel like I’ve already read a lot of books this year. Here are a few, with links to my Goodreads reviews:

Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World by Alan Segal. The big idea from this one is that it is more accurate to think of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism as sister religions birthed out of the same first century world. This goes against the common assumption that Christianity is a daughter of Judaism. Instead, both religions are rooted in, and move away from, the Judaism we see in the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish world.

History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology by NT Wright. Wright’s big argument here is that there ought not be a separation between Jesus and Natural Theology, for Jesus, as a human, is part of the natural world. Wright pushes against the modern worldview which says we can only know things from science and observation. This modern view that there is a big ugly ditch separating natural from supernatural is actually, Wright argues, an ancient view found in the Epicureans and Lucretius. There is no reason to favor this view over the ancient view of the Jewish scriptures which teach that heaven and earth overlap. When we formulate a theology rooted in the revelation of Jesus, we are given a vocation for how we ought to live in our world. There is a lot more here, this is definitely a good one.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. I picked this one up, inspired from Wright to learn more about Lucretius. Greenblatt tells the story of the discovery of Lucretius’ poem On the Nature of Things. It is a good story, if you like history, but I was hoping for more insight into what the actual poem says.

The Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray. This book is fascinating, as Gray attacks both Christianity and most atheism. His argument is that most atheists replace faith in God with faith in science or humanity. But there is no reason, for example, to think humanity is progressing. Gray ends up preferring a form of atheism that is rather similar to apophatic theology. That said, the biggest thing missing (unless I missed it) is what Gray would say to the person who asks, “how ought we live?” Wright argues for an answer rooted in the revelation of Jesus (and Gray could read some Wright, for his grasp of early Christianity is pretty bad). As much as I liked this book, it reminds me that once God is absent, there really is no ought or should. There is no meaning or rooting for morality. Perhaps this just means enjoy life till you die or despair. At any rate, Gray bursts the bubble of the atheist’s faith in humanity.

How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg. I read this one to gain insights on faith development of children (since I have kids and am the director of children’s ministry at my church), college students (since I work with them) and adults (since I am one).

Liberty in the Things of God by Robert Wilken. As John Gray reminds us that the Enlightenment was not as wonderful as we think (Kant, Hume and others had some pretty racist sentiments) and NT Wright argues the modern worldview is quite ancient, so Wilken’s book demonstrates that freedom of religion, often thought to be a modern, Enlightenment idea, is actually rooted in Christian theology of the early church.

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