Secularism | Book Review

There are many ways to understand secularism. In Secularism, Andrew Copson notes that secularism can be understood as a catchall term for “non-religious philosophies, morals, and personal world views” and is thus akin to atheism or humanism (1). It can also be understood as a “political settlement” (xvii) or “approach to the ordering of communities, nations, and states” (1). Though Copson himself is a secularist in the first sense, his book is about secularism in the second sense.

In chapter 1, Copson derives a working definition of secularism from the French scholar Jean Baubérot, who identifies three components:

  • separation of religious institutions from the institutions of the state and no domination of the political sphere by religious institutions;
  • freedom of thought, conscience, and religion for all, with everyone free to change their beliefs and manifest their beliefs within the limits of public order and the rights or others;
  • no state discrimination against anyone on grounds of their religion or non-religious world view, with everyone receiving equal treatment on these grounds (2).

Chapters 2 and 3 provide a thumbnail sketch of the history of secularism in Western and non-Western societies (Turkey and India), respectively.

Chapters 4 and 5 outline the cases for and against secularism, respectively. The case for focuses on secularism as “the best religion-state arrangement to provide freedom, equality, peace, and democracy in a modern society” (47).

The case against notes Christian, Islamist, Hindu, and Communist pushback against the secularist political settlement. If the first three are examples of theocracy, loosely defined, the latter is perhaps an example of a-theocracy. The common types of argument advanced against secularism are (1) “romantic conservatism,” whereby “each person is rooted in a particular society and tradition and is bound to their fellow members of that society by culture” (70); (2) “the myth of neutrality,” which points out that secularism “explicitly favors non-religious ways of reasoning, living, and thinking over religious ones” (73); and (3) “a community of communities,” according to which “it is the group rather than the individual member of society that needs to be treated impartially by the state” (76).

Chapter 6 goes beyond Baubérot’s working definition to limn the conceptual boundaries of secularism by contrasting, among other things, “two types of Western secularism”: (1) “laicism,” which is inherently anticlerical and exemplified by France; and (2) “Judeo-Christian secularism,” which draws on both Christianity and the Enlightenment and is exemplified by the United States (80–81).

And chapter 7 identifies “hard questions” and “conflicts”: the relationship between secularism and democracy, education, blasphemy laws, religious expression (in terms of religious garb and symbols, as well as of conscience), religious diversity, and the challenge of political religion (e.g., Islamism and Hindutva, among others).

An Afterword looks at the future of secularism, concluding that it is “the best way of organizing our common life in a way that is fair to all in the context of diversity” (125).

As a Christian in America, which has no living memory of an established church, I resonated with Copson’s working definition of secularism. What he later calls “Judeo-Christian secularism” is simply the way we have done things for over two centuries. By the same token, I can understand the criticisms of secularism he outlines in chapter 5, insofar as many secularists—including Copson?—seem to argue that secularism as a political settlement ultimately depends on secularism as an ideology. I disagree with that argument because I think it’s false, because I doubt it’s neutral, and because in effect it tends to accord more and more power to the state to the detriment of other forms of power in society.

Regardless, however, Copson’s Secularism is a brief and helpful overview of the subject and well worth reading by the nonreligious and religious alike.

Book Reviewed
Andrew Copson, Secularism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

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An Introduction to the Theology of Religions | Book Review

The world into which Christianity was born was a religiously plural one, and the world in which Christians now live continues to be so. Although various religions exhibit similarities to one degree or another, they also embody deep differences about the authoritative sources of knowledge and the nature and means of salvation. How should Christian theologians make sense of these similarities and differences?

Answering that question is the task of the theology of religions, which Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen defines in this way:

Theology of religions is that discipline of theological studies which attempts to account theologically for the meaning and value of other religions. Christian theology of religions attempts to think theologically about what it means for Christians to live with people of other faiths and about the relationship of Christianity to other religions (20).

While Kärkkäinen notes that “in principle,” non-Christian religions could develop a theology of religions specific to their own beliefs and practices, as of 2003, little work had been done in this field by those religions. Instead, he writes, “Christian theology of religions is by far the most developed type of theology of religions” (21).

An Introduction to the Theology of Religions thus surveys Christian assessments of other religions in the Bible and across two millennia of church history. It focuses its attention most on the assessments of churches and individual theologians in the twentieth century. Kärkkäinen’s survey unfolds in four parts: (1) biblical perspectives, (2) historical developments, (3) current ecclesiastical approaches, and (4) current interpretations by individual theologians.

The book has three virtues: scope, depth, and typology.

Scope: The book sketches how Christian churches and individual theologians have evaluated the plurality of religions from the biblical period to the present day. This results in a typology, discussed below, that shows how theological arguments and themes recur throughout the centuries.

Depth: The bulk of the book focuses on ecclesiastical statements and individual theologians in the twentieth century, especially the latter. Part Three goes into detail about official documents from the Roman Catholic Church, the worldwide Anglican communion, mainline Protestantism, the Free Churches and the evangelical movement (between which there is a large degree of overlap), and the ecumenical movement, devoting a chapter to each. Part Four considers the writings of 21 individual theologians, again devoting a chapter to each. All the theologians are male, and most are white and Western.

Typology: Kärkkäinen develops a fourfold typology that he hopes to replace the conventional one. The conventional typology characterizes theologies of religions as exclusivist, inclusivist, or pluralist. It was developed by an advocate of pluralism, and advocates of exclusivism especially feel that it is tendentious and denigratory of their position. In its place, Kärkkäinen typifies theologies of religions as ecclesiocentric, Christocentric, theocentric, and realitycentric. He then correlates this fourfold typology with the conventional one, defining each type:

  1. Ecclesiocentrism. This is the exclusive attitude, according to which religions are not salvific or even necessarily conducive to the search for God, and salvation can be found only in the Christian church, the locus of faith in Christ.
  2. Christocentrism. This is the inclusive approach, according to which Christ is the Savior but the benefits of his saving work may be found outside the Christian church and Christian religion. However, whoever is saved is only saved through the work of Christ.
  3. Theocentrism. This is the pluralistic paradigm, according to which Christ is one savior among other savior figures and not an exclusive one. In this view, God alone stands at the center. The various religions, Christianity included, represent many ways leading to God.
  4. Realitycentrism. This is yet another step from theocentrism, the route taken recently by [John] Hick, among others, according to which the center of religions is not a God or gods but an ultimate reality (however that is named). Some extreme pluralists seem to shift to this orientation, but at this moment the shape and content of this option are still quite vague and undefined (25).

Following the survey of historical developments in Part Two, Kärkkäinen concludes that exclusivism and inclusivism best typify Christian responses throughout history. He writes:

To set the record straight: there have not been (at least to my knowledge) any self-pronounced “pluralists” among Christian theologians before the time of the Enlightenment—even universalists such as Origen attributed the salvation of all to the purposes of the Christian God, the only God. But neither is it the case that a more inclusivist attitude has not existed all through the history (107).

Later, he notes that these positions are prevalent among very different audiences:

Interestingly, numerically there are two giants among ecclesiastical opinions: the Roman Catholic Church’s inclusivism and the quite exclusivistic stance held by evangelical, Pentecostal/Charismatic and (other) independent churches. Pluralism governs the academy, but in the pews these two other views predominate (160).

Notice in these quotations that Kärkkäinen reverts to the conventional typology. This happens throughout the book. Although his fourfold “-centrism” typology has many strengths, it seems that that the conventional typology remains the standard way of describing the various theological positions, both at the time of the book’s publication and today, 17 years later.

Nevertheless, An Introduction to the Theology of Religions is to my knowledge the best overall introduction to this topic, so I recommend it to interested readers.

Book Reviewed
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, An Introduction to the Theology of Religions: Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

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Encountering Religious Pluralism | Book Review

Christianity was borne into a religiously plural cultural environment. It emerged from the womb of Judaism (that itself had multiple forms) into the world of polytheism, imperial cults, and mystery religions. This required Christians to make sense of their faith vis-à-vis these others faiths. This obligation still rests on Christians, for globalization has put us in constant contact with religious (and nonreligious) “others,” whose beliefs, behaviors, and forms of belonging often differ significantly from our own.

Over the last few decades, three basic theologies of religion have emerged among Christians. Exclusivism is roughly the position that Jesus Christ is ultimate in terms of both revelation and salvation. One must have faith in him to be saved. Outside of him, no one is saved. Inclusivism agrees on Christ’s ultimacy, but it also affirms that truth can be found in other religions and that some who have not heard the gospel through no fault of their own may experience salvation because of their positive response to what natural revelation they had. On this view, no one is saved apart from Christ, but some may be saved apart from explicit faith in Christ.

Pluralism is roughly the idea that all religions are revelatory and salvific to basically the same degree. Just as all roads lead to Rome, so all religions lead to Heaven. Today, pluralism is the ethos of globalized societies as well as an ideology that relativizes the exclusive (and inclusive) claims of any particular religion. Among self-identified Christian theologians, the most comprehensive presentation of pluralism is John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion of Religion, whose subtitle, “human responses to the transcendent,” epitomizes his argument.

Encountering Religious Pluralism by Harold Netland is a critique of religious pluralism generally, and Hick’s version specifically, as well as an explanation of why pluralism has become so widespread, not merely in the academy but also in popular culture. Part One offers the explanation, while Part Two outlines the critique. The book is well worth reading. If not the definitive refutation of Hick’s pluralism, it certainly constitutes one of the most thorough rebuttals.

Netland summarizes Hick this way:

At the heart of his model are three claims: (1) that there is an ultimate reality to which the different religions are legitimate responses, (2) that the various religions are historically and culturally conditioned interpretations of this reality, and (3) that soteriological transformation is occurring roughly to the same extent within the major religions. Therefore, the various religions are to be affirmed as equally legitimate religious alternatives, with preferences among them largely being functions of individual characteristics and social and cultural factors (221).

Netland later summarizes his critique of Hick this way:

Given that his proposal is a second-order theory intended to account for the first-order data from the religions, the adequacy of his theory depends largely upon two factors: (1) the accuracy with which his theory reflects, and the ease with which it can accommodate, the data from various religious traditions, and (2) the internal consistency of the theory itself. I will argue that Hick’s model is fatally flawed on both accounts (232).

The central problem with Hick’s model is that it is, ironically, insufficiently pluralistic. It is reductionist and reinterpretive. As Netland states the matter, “although it purports to be an explanatory model that accounts for the data from the various religious traditions, it does so by reinterpreting the actual beliefs and practices of the religions in ways unacceptable to orthodox practitioners of the religions themselves” (232).

Sumner Twiss has defended Hick against the charge of reductionism by distinguishing “descriptive” and “explanatory” reductionism. He argues that Hick has not engaged in the former kind of reductionism—i.e., Hick does not incorrectly describe others’ religious beliefs and practices. According to Twiss, Hick does engage in explanatory reductionism, but this is not particularly controversial, since all explanations are reductive to one degree or another.

Netland identifies the flaw in this defense, however, by comparing pluralism with “religion-specific explanations” (RSEs, 233). All religions attempt to explain the existence of other religions, and then critique them. Netland summarizes the problem with Hick’s explanatory reductionism this way:

… the adequacy of an RSE as a general explanation of other religions will depend upon the justification one has for accepting the religious worldview from which the RSE emerges. This must be established on other, independent grounds apart from the RSE itself. But we do not have an analogous case with Hick’s model. One does not first establish the justification for his proposal and then from within the theory provide an explanation for other religions—Hick’s proposal is that explanation. As such, the adequacy of his model is in large measure a function of its internal consistency as a theory and its capacity to account for the first-order data of the major religions without distorting them in the process (234–235).

Seen in this light, Hick’s model only works because it radically reinterprets basic tenets of other religions in order to fit the model, rather than changing the model to fit the basic tenets of other religions. So, for example, Netland argues that “each tradition ascribes ultimacy to its own particular conception of the religious ultimate,” but Hick’s model reduces each claim to ultimacy to “merely a penultimate manifestation of what is truly ultimate—the Real” (235). For example, the Christian claim that the Holy Trinity is ultimate must be reduced to a human response to the divine on an equal footing with other religious claims to ultimacy, even though practitioners of the religion due not agree with Hick’s reinterpretation of their ultimacy claim.

The other basic shortcoming of Hick’s model of religious pluralism is its internal consistency. Two issues arise here, specifically. First, Hick correctly notes that some religions have a personal ultimate (e.g., Christianity) and others an impersonal ultimate (e.g., certain strains of Hinduism and Buddhism). According to Hick, both what he calls “personae” and “impersonae” characterize the Real. This creates a problem of consistency, according to Netland, “due to the undeniable differences among such images of the religious ultimate” (238–239). Netland asks: “Can one seriously maintain that the ontological implications of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the divine as Yahweh, the ontologically independent personal Creator and righteous Judge are compatible with the monistic implications of the Hindu notion of nirguna Brahman or with the ontologically ultimate image of sunyata (emptiness) in Zen?” (239). Not without setting logic to the side, it seems.

No wonder, then, that over the course of his writings, Hick placed “increasingly greater emphasis on the theme of ineffability, so that the Real is said to be utterly beyond the range of human conceptual and linguistic categories,” writes Netland (243). There are at least two problems with Hick’s version of ineffability: First, it is self-referentially absurd. “If this were the case, Netland writes, “then at the very least ‘the property of being totally beyond conceptual and linguistic categories would apply to the Real, thereby refuting the original claim” (243).

Second, and worse, the final basic claim of Hick’s model, about “soteriological transformation,” runs afoul of ineffability too: “If indeed the Real in itself is beyond moral categories, so that it is neither good nor evil, how can Hick use a moralcriterion in this manner?”—that is, in evaluating why Muhammad is a genuine prophet but, say, Jim Jones is not (245). In other words, Hick has to take sides, which means that pluralism doesn’t adequately and consistently explain diverse religious phenomenon.

After reading Netland, it seems to me that we can know “the Real” to a significant enough degree or we can’t. If we can, then we must find the religion that most closely aligns with it. But this involves judgment, choosing both for and against religious claims. Hick’s model claims to avoid this problem, but in the end, it’s just one model among many religion specific explanations, thus failing to oblige any religious believer to choose it rather than his or her own faith.

Encountering Religious Pluralism is a much broader book than I have portrayed in this long review, which is essentially a recapitulation of Chapter 7, “The Problems of Pluralism.” I have done this because Netland’s critique of Hick cuts to the heart of problems both with Hick’s model of religious pluralism, and others’. But the entire book is worth reading, and the final chapter sketches the outline of a Christian theology of religions.

Book Reviewed
Harold Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

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Only One Way? | Book Review

Gavin D’ Costa, Paul Knitter, and Daniel Strange compare and contrast three models of how Christianity relates to other world religions in their book Only One Way? D’ Costa is a Catholic theologian and outlines the formal position of the Catholic church, which is inclusivism. Knitter also is a Catholic theologian teaching at a mainline Protestant seminary and presents a model common among liberal theologians, whether Catholic or Protestant: pluralism. Daniel Strange is a Reformed theologian with a Dutch Calvinist bent a model typically called exclusivism, though he rejects that label as denigratory.

D’ Costa summarizes the inclusivist theology of the Catholic church this way:

God through Christ is the cause of all salvation and the Church is Christ’s body on earth, the means by which all grace is mediated. How this grace might be meditated to those outside the Church is an area that is not defined or resolved, but that this grace is mediated to those outside the Church is a certainty. Catholics can be confident that non-Christians might be saved which is the solemn dogmatic teaching on this matter (22).

Knitter does not provide as concise a summary of his model of pluralism, but he outlines three assumptions that shape his thinking, all of which together lead to a denial of the uniqueness of Christianity vis-à-vis other religions. Essentially, then, he argues that different religions can be both revelatory and salvific.

Knitter’s three assumptions concern “how theology works,” “the role of language in theology,” and “two of the most challenging issues that confront Christian faith and life today” (47). For him, theology is “a mutually clarifying and a mutually criticizing conversation between Christian experience and beliefs on the one side and ongoing human experience and understanding of self and the world on the other side” (47–48). Regarding religious language, he believes that “all ‘God talk’ is symbolic” (49); consequently, “if all our words are symbols, then, in general, they should not be taken literally” (50). Finally, he identifies the need for interreligious cooperation and the alleviation of poverty, together with environmental protection, as the most challenging. He says these issues shape “the two criteria by which I will evaluate whether a Christian theology is both meaningful for our contemporary world and faithful to the message of Jesus: is it liberative [poverty/environmentalism] and is it dialogical [interreligious cooperation]?” (51).

Reflecting especially the influence of Dutch Calvinist theologians J. H. Bavinck, Cornelius Van Til, Strange offers this definition of his model:

… from the presuppositions of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation (itself presupposed on the self-contained ontological triune God who speaks authoritatively), I will argue that non-Christian religions are essentially an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation, which are antithetical and yet parasitic on Christian truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is the ‘subversive fulfillment’ (93).

Strange goes on to advocate as “a holistic, transformative or integral approach to mission that recognizes, on the one hand, the spiritual and social dimensions of sin and idolatry and, on the other,, the scope of the gospel and its entailments to transform individuals, communities and cultures, spiritually, socially, economically, politically, and so on” (132).

Regarding evangelism specifically, he writes: “Given that eternal life is only to be found in the gospel of Christ, and that normatively this comes through the human messenger in this life, in terms of missionary activity, we must speak about the ultimacy of evangelism, that is, the verbal proclamation of the gospel message with the call for faith and repentance in Christ” (134).

Only One Way? unfolds in three parts: In Part 1, each author presents a “position paper” that outlines how his model treats the standard theological loci: “philosophical presuppositions, theological presuppositions, creation, fall, God, Christ, Trinity, salvation, eschaton, dialogue, social justice, and mission” (v). In Part 2, each author responses to the other two authors’ position paper. Finally, in Part 3, each author evaluates the other two authors’ responses. This format allows readers to see how the three models are similar and dissimilar, as well as to evaluate how each model holds up under criticism.

Interestingly, though the Catholic D’ Costa and the Calvinist Strange disagree (sometimes strongly) on various issues, they seem to hold more in common with one another than either holds with Knitter, even though both D’ Costa and Knitter are Catholic. Knitter himself recognizes this, writing: “if we line the three of us up on the spectrum that represents the Christian churches nowadays – with the liberal one on the left, the conservative Dan on the right, and the mainline Gavin in the middle – then it seems to me that the ‘middle’ is much closer to the right than to the left” (199).

The overall benefit of this book is that it shows how different Christian theologies of religion arise from different theological methods and philosophical assumptions. Tradition plays a significant role for D ‘Costa, human experience for Knitter, and biblical revelation for Strange, though to some degree, each author incorporates tradition, experience, and revelation into their argument. The fact that Knitter recognizes his distance from D’ Costa and Strange may point to the conclusion that in reality there are just two positions in a Christian theology of religions, one that recognizes the ultimacy of Christ, and one that does not.

The question on my mind as I turned the last page of this book was whether, in the end, the denial of Christ’s ultimacy even qualifies as a Christian theology. At the very least, it seemed to me to be a theology on the way out the door of the Christian house.

Book Reviewed
Gavin D’ Costa, Paul Knitter, and Daniel Strange, Only One Way? Three Christian Responses on the Uniqueness of Christ in a Religiously Plural World (London: SCM Press, 2011).

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The Uniqueness of Christ | Book Review

Chris Wright opens The Uniqueness of Christ by noting that “the supermarket mentality dominates popular thinking about religion” (12). This reduces religion to a “commodity” and a religionist to a “consumer” (13). Under this mentality, then, religion becomes a consumer product, and as the Latin aphorism puts it, De gustibus non disputandum est.

This mentality creates problems for those religions, such as Christianity, that makes absolute truth claims or require exclusive loyalty. With that in mind, Wright states the guiding question of the book: “So how then can we think clearly about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in the midst of the religious supermarket in which we live?” (13).

Chapter 1 outlines different aspects of the meaning of religious pluralism, among other things drawing a distinction between “plurality,” the undeniable sociological fact of diverse religions, and “pluralism,” a controversial interpretation of this fact that relativizes all religions.

Chapters 2–4 survey “three main positions that have been adopted by Christian theologians toward other religions” (35). The first is exclusivism, the view that “if Jesus Christ be uniquely the truth, and the only way of salvation for mankind, then that excludes the possibility of other faiths being true in the same way, or being ways of salvation” (38). The second is inclusivism, the view that “ultimately all truth is God’s truth, wherever it is found. So Christ, who is the Truth, must therefore include all that is true in other faiths” (58). As different as these two positions are, Wright notes, “The one, central, and all-important point that exclusivism and inclusivism have in common is their commitment to the centrality of Jesus Christ” (57).

This commonality sets them apart from pluralism, the third position, which holds that “all religions, including Christianity, are related in some way to this ‘God at the centre’, but none of those religions and none of the ‘gods’ they name and claim, is actually the central place” (73). Wright goes on, “It is the basic assumption of pluralism that no single religious tradition can claim to have or to be ‘the truth’. In fact, there is no absolute truth available to us through any religion. There are only partial understandings which are historically and culturally relative. So a theology of religious pluralism goes along with a philosophy of relativism — i.e., the denial of any absolute truth” (74).

Wright believes that pluralism is contrary to orthodox Christianity. “The shift to pluralism … requires either a complete surrender of the uniqueness of Christ, or such a radical redefinition of it that it loses all value” (72). He ends the chapter on pluralism (chapter 4) with this warning: “At best, ‘Christ’ becomes so universal as to be of no real value except as a symbol. At worst, he is exposed as an idol for those who worship him, and as dispensable for those who don’t” (85).

Chapters 5–6 turn to the Bible to help readers “think more clearly about the question of the uniqueness of Jesus” (87). (Wright is a British evangelical, and The Uniqueness of Christ was written with evangelical readers in mind.)

Chapter 5 explores what the Bible in toto says about the Jesus. It argues “first, that the Bible presents us with a radical and comprehensive understanding of the sinful predicament of the human race. It thus prepares us to appreciate what salvation has to be and that only God can save us. In the face of such depth, to talk of Jesus as merely one among any number of ‘saving points of contact with God’ seems an altogether trivial account of his significance” (104). Wright goes on to summarize the biblical data this way: “In Jesus, then, the uniqueness of Israel and the uniqueness of Yahweh flow together for he embodied the one and he incarnated the other. So he shares and fulfils the identity and the mission of both” (105). On this reading of the Bible, pluralism is a nonstarter.

Chapter 6 surveys the biblical narrative to determine what the Bible says about human religions. Wright concludes: “Religion like all things human, has good and bad dimensions, but is never portrayed in the Bible as the means of salvation. The Bible is concerned about people and God, and about the need for the nations to recognise who the true and saving God really is — revealed as Yahweh in the Old Testament and in Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It shows us that God can and does speak to people within the framework of religious understanding that they already have. But this is not in order to endorse that prior religion, but to lead beyond it to the fullness of revelation and salvation in Christ” (139).

Wright concludes The Uniqueness of Christ by exhorting evangelical Christians to do three things: “to clarify our thinkingabout the truth … . We need to strengthen our contending for the truth. And we need to renew our living of the truth” (143). If religion is a matter of truth rather than merely of consumer choice, something like Wright’s position is the only available option for evangelical Christians.

If Christ is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), then Christians should be able to demonstrate and defend this, with this caveat: “There is little point proclaiming how the gospel is true if people cannot see that it works. The fact of our contemporary western world is that for many people Christianity is not so much regarded as untrue (in the sense that they have considered its claims and rejected them for rational reasons), as simply implausible” (149). For that reason, “the church should be the ‘plausibility structure’ for the truth of the gospel” (idem).

If contemporary Westerners reject the truth of Christianity, in other words, it may because too few Christians live out the truth in their own lives.

Book Reviewed
Chris Wright, The Uniqueness of Christ (London: Monarch Books, 2001).

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The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Here are ten religious posts that caught my eye today:

Lee Strobel discusses how Easter killed his faith in atheism. If you’re interested in the topic, check out N. T. Wright’s exhaustive study, The Resurrection of the Son of God, which—at 740 pages is not merely exhaustive but exhausting…to hold, anyway. Or read Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, which is 22 pages shorter.

President Obama hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House, and a reporter can’t help but note a political angle (in the penultimate paragraph). Personally, I cheer the president’s statement of faith. Raspberries on his politics, though.

Did the Last Supper occur on Thursday or Wednesday? I wouldn’t mind a few New Testament scholars weighing in with their evaluations…

Walter Russell Mead on how Christian faith matters in a world where the pace and intensity of change is so unsettling.

If capital punishment is a sin, is God a sinner (Genesis 9:6)?

Edward O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists are having a fight about the origin of altruism, specifically, whether group selection or kin selection best explains its origin. Interestingly, forty years ago, Wilson promoted kin selection as the best explanation. For me, this argument demonstrates how difficult it is to overturn scholarly consensus.

The Barna Group reports on what Americans believe about universalism and pluralism.

Historian John Fea is halfway through a four part series on “the Civil War as a battle between two ‘Christian’ nations”: Part 1 is “One Nation, Under God, Indivisible.” Part 2 is “God’s Judgment Upon the South.” Fea is author of Was American Founded as a Christian Nation? Mark Noll has an excellent book on the Civil War you might want to read if you like Fea’s series: The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.

Ben Witherington posting a chapter-by-chapter critique of Bart Ehrman’s book, Forged: Writings in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are: Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter2 , Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapters 7 and 8.  I’m reading the book too and hope to have a (much shorter) review up in the next few weeks.

James Hannam argues that science and Christianity can get on better than you think. I always thought they can get along just fine, but evidently there are some atheists who think otherwise. Hannam is author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, which I’m also reading and hoping to review in the near future.

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