Tolkien, J. R. R. The Annotated Hobbit. Revised Edition. Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Anderson fills the margins of The Hobbit with commentary and notes detailing revisions to the text. The most interesting revision is the reworking of the "Riddles in the Dark Passage." The book is also filled with artwork by Tolkien himself as well as by artists for the various editions of the book both in English and in translation.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities.
Athenagoras. Embassy for the Christians, The Resurrection of the Dead. Ancient Christian Writers. Translated and edited by Joseph Hugh Crehan. Westminster, MD: Newman, 1956.
In the Embassy Athenagoras address Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus to refute common accusations against Christians: that they were atheists, cannibals, and licentious. In the Resurrection Athenagoras defends the resurrection from the dead. He first answers objections to the idea. He notes that if one believes that God created all things, he should have no difficulty believing that God can resurrect people. He notes the objection that humans who decay are eaten by creatures and therefore cannot be reconstituted. He notes that not all that is eaten becomes part of the creature; some passes through. And even what is eaten does become part of another creature it does not become so permanently. Finally, he argues that it is not unjust for bodies to be raised. It is unclear why he thinks some consider resurrection unjust. Athenagoras then moves to positive arguments for resurrection. First, God’s motive for creating man argues for the resurrection. Athenagoras denies that God made man for his own needs, for he has no needs, nor did he make man for the needs of other creatures, for man stands at the pinnacle of creation. Rather God made man so His goodness and wisdom would :be manifest upon the face of all His handiwork." This purpose argues for an eternal existence for God’s image bearers. Second, man’s nature argues for the resurrection. Man is comprised of both an immortal soul and a body. Since God created man with these two parts, the body must be raised, for it would be inappropriate to man’s nature for the soul to exist alone for eternity. Third, Athenagoras notes that justice is clearly not meted out in this life. Thus, for the whole man, body and soul, to receive justice either in reward or judgment the body must be raised.
Chesterton, G. K. The Everlasting Man. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011.
This is a witty apologetic that advocates original monotheism, as opposed to an evolutionary account of religion, and the supernatural origins and distinct status of Christianity, as opposed to a higher critical and comparative religions approach. The book is not academic or annotated, and Chesterton grants this weakness. But Chesterton’s mind is sharp and he is quick to point out fallacies and inconsistencies in unbelieving thought. Though Chesterton writes as a committed Roman Catholic,* his critiques of modern thought are incisive and worth reading.
A few examples:
The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. And a particular point of it is that the popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts. Their criticism has taken on a curious tone, as of a random and illiterate heckling. Thus they make current and anticlerical cant as a sort of small talk. They will complain of parsons dressing like parsons, as if we should be any more free if all the police who shadowed or collared us were plainclothes detectives. Or they will complain that a sermon cannot be interrupted, and call a pulpit a coward’s castle, though they do not call an editor’s office a coward’s castle. It would be unjust both to journalists and priests, but it would be much truer of journalists. The clergyman appears in person and could easily be kicked as he came out of church; the journalist conceals even his name so that nobody can kick him. . . . They will suddenly turn round and revile the Church for not having prevented the War, which they themselves did not want to prevent and which nobody had ever professed to be able to prevent, except some of that very school of progressive and cosmopolitan skeptics who are the chief enemies of the Church. It was the anticlerical and agnostic world that was always prophesying the advent of universal peace; it is that world that was, or should have been, abashed and confounded by the advent of universal war. As for the general view that the Church was discredited by the War—they might as well say that the Ark was discredited by the Flood. When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right.
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The more we look at man as an animal, the less he will look like one. . . . What for him would be the simplest lesson of that strange stone story book [that is, the cave man’s cave]? After all, it would come back to this: that he had dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But he would dig a good deal deeper before he found a place where a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man. That sounds like a truism, but in this connection it is really a very tremendous truth.
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The freethinker frequently says that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of his time, even if he was in advance of his time; and that we cannot accept his ethics as final for humanity. The freethinker then goes on to criticize his ethics, saying plausibly enough that men cannot turn the other cheek, or that they must take thought for the morrow, or that the self-denial is too ascetic or the monogamy too severe. But the Zealots and the Legionaries did not turn the other cheek any more than we do, if so much. The Jewish traders and Roman tax gatherers took thought for the morrow as much as we, if not more. We cannot pretend to be abandoning the morality of the past for one more suited to the present. It is certainly not the morality of another age, but it might be of another world.
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Christ said, ‘Seek first the kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ Buddha said, ‘Seek first the kingdom, and then you will need none of these things.’
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"They are always telling us that priests and ceremonies are not religion and that religious organization can be a hollow sham, but they hardly realize how true it is. It is so true that three or four times at least in the history of Christendom the whole soul seemed to have gone out of Christianity; and almost every man in his heart expected its end. This fact is only masked in medieval and other times by that very official religion which such critics pride themselves on seeing through. Christianity remained the official religion of a Renaissance prince or the official religion of an eighteenth-century bishop, just as an ancient mythology remained the official religion of Julius Caesar or the Arian creed long remained the official religion of Julian the Apostate. But there was a difference between the cases of Julius and of Julian, because the Church had begun its strange career. There was no reason why men like Julius should not worship gods like Jupiter forever in public and laugh at them forever in private. But when Julian treated Christianity as dead, he found it had come to life again. He also found, incidentally, that there was not the faintest sign of Jupiter ever coming to life again. This case of Julian and the episode of Arianism is but the first of a series of examples that can only be roughly indicated here. . . . Now if we were to dip below the surface of history, as it is not in the scope of this argument to do, I suspect that we should find several occasions when Christendom was thus to all appearance hollowed out from within by doubt and indifference, so that only the old Christian shell stood as the pagan shell had stood so long. But the difference is that in every such case, the sons were fanatical for the faith where the fathers had been slack about it. . . . The Faith is not a survival. It is not as if the Druids had managed somehow to survive somewhere for two thousand years. That is what might have happened in Asia or ancient Europe, in that indifference or tolerance in which mythologies and philosophies could live forever side by side. It has not survived; it has returned again and again in this Western world of rapid change and institutions perpetually perishing. . . . At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and Albigensian, with the Humanist skeptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.
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An old don with D.D. after his name may have become the typical figure of a bore; but that was because he was himself bored with his theology, not because he was excited about it. It was precisely because he was admittedly more interested in the Latin of Plautus than in the Latin of Augustine, in the Greek of Xenophon than in the Greek of Chrysostom. It was precisely because he was more interested in a dead tradition than in a decidedly living tradition. In short, it was precisely because he was himself a type of the time in which Christian faith was weak. It was not because men would not hail, if they could, the wonderful and almost wild vision of a Doctor of Divinity.
*It is probably worth addressing why Chesterton as a Roman Catholic can be so helpful to Christians combatting modernism, since Christians standing in opposition to abortion or contraception mandates (that include abortifacients) or so-called same-sex marriage often find the writing and works of contemporary Roman Catholics helpful. The reason for this is undoubtedly that that Roman Catholics retain a great deal of Christian truth in their thinking. Thus a doctrinally conservative Roman Catholic and an orthodox Protestant both agree against the Unitarian in defense of the Trinity or in favor of the deity of Jesus against the critics. They also agree on a number of moral issues. But it is important to remember that the Reformers were never unaware of the great deal of truth held in common between themselves and the Romanists. The common truths do not negate the differences nor minimize the seriousness of those differences. The differences between Rome and the Reformation center on the gospel, and it would be much better to lose the debate in the public square over same-sex "marriage" than to win that debate and lose the gospel.
Trueman, Carl R. The Creedal Imperative. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
The title of this book reveals its thesis. Healthy churches must have creeds. Trueman realizes that this thesis flies in the face of a culture that has its gaze firmly fixed to the future and back set against the past (a stance strengthened by scientism, consumerism, and technological change). Furthermore, contemporary culture doubts that the capacity of words to stably bear meaning. On top of it all, once it is noted that creeds are enforced by church authorities to exclude some people, the conclusion must be drawn creeds are truly swimming upstream against powerful cultural currents.
Trueman, however, remains undaunted: Creeds remain imperative for healthy churches. He argues that words are adequate to communicate doctrine. Indeed, to concede this point would not only be to concede the value of creeds but would also be to concede the authority of the Bible. He further argues, against the sense of continual cultural transformation, that our shared human nature means that Scripture and creeds alike can speak across time and place. And though our culture rejects authorities, the Scripture establishes a church with authority structures. God charges those who lead churches to hold fast to sound doctrine. To do this, churches must explain what they believe the Bible does and does not teach. Thus creeds. The creed is always subject to Scriptural authority, and thus may be revised. But within a church it bears an authority under Scripture, because it is a statement of what the church believes the Bible to teach.
Trueman takes two chapters to survey creeds and confessions from the early church and from the Reformation era. He makes the important point that creeds develop as doctrinal controversies develop. He also argues that the division between the Lutherans and the Reformed over the Lord’s Supper was not entirely negative. While Christian unity might be preferred, Trueman argues against a unity that minimizes the importance of a right understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
Trueman concludes the work by highlighting the practical benefits of creeds and confessions. He notes in the first place that creeds are not dry and dusty technical documents. They are documents that ought to provoke God’s people to worship and praise God. Also, creeds and confessions succinctly summarize the Christian faith. Creeds actually place a check on arbitrary exercises of authority in a church by outlining ahead of time what beliefs are significant for the assembly.
House, H. Wayne, ed. Israel: Land and the People. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998.
Books that cover Israel as a theological topic are difficult to find. This volume covers issues such as the land of Israel, Israel in Romans 9-11, Israel’s purpose and mission, Israel and the church, and Israel and the nations. The best essays in this volume are Hoehner’s treatment of Israel in Romans 9-11, Jelinek’s treatment of Israel’s dispersion and restoration, and Robert L. Thomas’s essay on the mission of Israel in God’s plan.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002.
The virtue of Brueggemann’s work is that he takes land seriously as a biblical theme. Unlike W. D. Davies, who wrote the other major theology of land, Brueggemann affirms the remaining relevance of the land theme in the New Testament. Unfortunately, he often adopts ideological readings or counter reads the text. For instance, in this book Brueggemann consistently pits the themes of land and monarchy against each other contrary to the way Scripture develops the messianic theme in connection with the land theme.
Haas, Guenther. "The Kingdom and Slavery: A Test Case for Social Ethics." Calvin Theological Journal 28 (1993): 74-89.
Haas applies Al Wolters’s concepts of structure/direction and reformation not revolution to the issue of slavery in the New Testament. His dismisses approaches similar to William Webb’s later proposal of a redemptive movement hermeneutic (labeled here as "progressive moral norms"). Haas note that to hold to this position implies biblical toleration of that which is "inherently evil." Second, it leads to the supposition that biblical principles are authoritative for believers but that applications of those principles within the New Testament are not authoritative. Third, Haas, notes a "tendency toward relativism."
Haas sees a way forward in the concepts laid out by Al Wolters in Creation Regained. In this approach, one recognizes that every social structure reflects some elements of good creational norms (structure) and that every structure also has been corrupted and stands in need of redemption (direction). From these facts emerges the idea that reformation is needed but not revolution. More concretely, every social structure has at least some element of God’s good creational norms in it that is worth preserving. Second, redemption must happen internally and not by mere external force. As applied to slavery there is the recognition of legitimate authority structures in work relationships. Due to sin this legitimate authority structure has been perverted. The New Testament reforms this relationship by defining the worth of all people in terms of their relation to God (image-bearers) and relation to Christ (Christian slaves and masters are brothers in Christ). If a master treats his slave with this recognition, then he undermines the Roman view of the relation of slave and master. He in effect treats his slave as one with the rights of a free man. Nevertheless, the New Testament affirms the good authority structure of the work relationship.
Peter Lombard. The Sentences, Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs. Translated by Giulio Silano. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010. Pp. 69-135.
Lombard’s Sentences is one of the most influential theology textbooks in church history. It was the text that all medieval theology students studied and wrote commentaries on. The section read this month covered the sacrament of penance. In medieval Catholic theology, the sacrament of baptism cleansed from sin. But sins subsequent to baptism needed further cleansing by the sacrament of penance (Book 4, dist. XIV, c1, n. 1 (4:69)). Unlike baptism penance may be repeated (Book 4, dist. XIV, cc4-5 (4:74-77)). In this way penance seems to be a relaxing of a rigorous view that developed in patristic times that caused many people to delay baptism until just before they died lest they commit sins that later could not be purged. Penance involves three things: heartfelt remorse, verbal confession to a priest, and actions that make satisfaction for the wrong done (Book 4, dist. XVI, c1, n1 (4:88)). Lombard is clear that good works are necessary to escape punishment, and that accruing merits is involved (Book 4, dist. XV, c2 (4:78); Book 4, dist. XV, c7, n2 (4:85)). He addresses why the deeds of satisfaction are necessary beyond mere contrition and confession: the sin may be "blotted out" in contrition, but the punishment must still be born. Confession is necessary so the priest knows what judgment to prescribe (Peter Lombard, Book 4, dist. XVII, c5 (4:85)). Lombard also discusses the power of the keys (cf. Book 4, dist. XVIII, c5-66 (4:110-112)) and purgatory (cf. Book 4, dist. XX, c2 (4:122-23); Book 4, dist. XXI (4:126-32)).
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Edited by Timothy McDermott. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1989. [II-I.1-48]
Questions 1-5 deal with man’s last end, which Aquinas takes to be happiness in God (understanding happiness in its full philosophical sense). This section was reminiscent of the first part of Edwards’s The End for Which God Created the World. Questions 6-1 deal with the will. Questions 22-48 deal with affections and passions. The discussions here were thoughtful and thus helpful, but I was left wishing for Aquinas to do what Edwards did in following the philosophical section with a rich section of exegesis to establish his philosophical meditations.