My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Review: The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary

The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary The Nicene Creed: A Scriptural, Historical, and Theological Commentary by Jared Ortiz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most of Christianity is considered to be a creedal religion, that is, governed by a specific statement of faith that members of a particular church must assent to (from the Latin credo meaning ‘I believe’). While not emphasized much, the Protestant tradition in which I grew up held to the 7th century Apostle’s Creed. Once I was confirmed into the Catholic faith, I became more aware of the Nicene Creed as well (Catholics pretty much recent one creed or another at the drop of a hat) … and I learned a lot about how these creeds came to be (predominately in response to various heresies that the early Church was struggling with), so I was extremely interest in this book to see if it confirmed what I already knew and if it presented anything new [to learn]. I am happy to report it delivered in spades.

The book is organized into six (6) chapters, each taking part of the Nicene Creed to examine (in broad strokes or themes). Each chapter begins with a general introduction of the over all theme or topic before it is further divided into sections that go into details on a phrase or statement within the chapter theme (such as what it means to say ‘I believe’ or say ‘one God’ et al). Included with the section header are references to the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Catholic Catechism (so obviously this is a very Catholic centric book). In addition, we get this section of the creed in three (3) languages (English, Latin and Greek). Each section generally has four (4) parts: A Theological Exposition to talk about the theology behind this part of the creed, A Witness to the Tradition that references early Church thinking about an element of this theology with source citations (this can repeated for different elements and/or viewpoints), Contemporary Issues that talk about current thinking and/or struggles with this element of the creed, and finally a part called Living the Mystery which talks about how the faithful should live out this part of the creed. There are a generally number of callouts/sidebars under the headed of Lex Orandi that review how a particular element is reflected within the liturgy as well. Finally at the end we get a straight up side buy side comparison of the different creeds, including the latin and greek versions plus a glossary of terms that is simply fantastic on its own … making this book incredibly well researched and organized; I highly recommended it.

The chapters and sections in this work are


1. Belief
2. God the Father
3. God the Son Divine
4. God the Son Incarnate
5. God the Holy Spirit
6. Life in the Trinity

Appendix 1: Three Creeds Compared
Appendix 2: The Nicene Creed in Latin and Greek

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Faced with these considerable deviations in teaching, the Church needed to find a way to communicate and confess effectively the true faith received from the apostles. One response was the development of what we call “the †rule of faith” (or “the rule of truth”)

In the early Church, the primary form of the creed used in catechesis and especially in baptism was interrogatory—that is, it was delivered through question and answer: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty?

Creeds used in preaching, teaching, and worship were typically declaratory in form—that is, they confessed the faith through a declaration of the truth: I believe in God, the Father almighty, and so on.

The Creed serves as a fixed rule of faith, a measuring stick of what we as Christians believe. It helps us to interpret the Scriptures we just heard, to confirm the orthodoxy of the sermon just preached, and to unite our minds and hearts in confession of what we believe.

The important thing was “orthopraxy.” It did not matter that Polycarp was not truly devoted to the pagan gods; it did not matter that his heart was not really in his action; what mattered was the action. Roman religion was civic religion, and participating was required for everyone.

In the first category were groups such as pagan polytheists, †Marcionite dualists, and Gnostic emanationists. In the second category were modalists, like Noetus and Sabellius, and subordinationists, like the Arians who inspired the Council of Nicaea.

Paternal imagery was common when treating the ruler of the city and the divine ruler of the cosmos. In the ancient world, fatherly rule was the primary model for rightly ordered monarchy, so it was natural to think of the chief god as father over the world. Zeus was considered the father of the gods and humans.

In Christian theological terminology, to be “father” means “to pass on a nature” (this definition fits human as well as divine begetting). The Father is God; therefore, the Son is God (“God from God”). The Son is the same nature as the Father, which he receives not in time (that would make him a creation) but eternally.

This opening line, “for us men and for our salvation,” communicates three things: (1) the recipients of the Son’s work (those for whom he came); (2) the purpose of the Son’s work (why he came); and (3) the opening act of that work (how he came).

More generally, the Spirit leads the early Christians in mission (8:29; 11:28; 13:2; 16:6–7) and guides them as they seek to resolve difficult issues in the Christian community (15:28).

The Spirit not only distributes a multitude of gifts to the members of the Christian community (1 Cor. 12:3–13), but even reveals to us the mind of God (2:10–14). The Spirit is the one who dwells within us and sanctifies us in both body and soul (3:16).

Now it is a property of love to move and impel the will of the lover towards the object loved.”164 Because the Scriptures identify the Spirit particularly with the love of God (see Rom. 5:5), Aquinas concludes that it is fitting that we call this †procession of love by the name “Spirit.”

But in addition to this, if the Spirit is truly Lord, then we have an obligation to follow the Spirit and be utterly docile to him. Just as we follow and obey Jesus as Lord and follow him wherever he leads (Rev. 14:4), so too we should follow the Spirit, who is also our Lord.

The unique quality of the Spirit’s “speaking” is that the Spirit always makes use of a human being (and a human voice or pen) to speak. We never hear the Spirit’s words coming down the wind or out of the blue—the “Spirit speaks,” but he always speaks through the words of a human being.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheNiceneCreed #NetGalley

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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Review: Battleborn Omnibus: Books 1-3: A Military SciFi Adventure!

Battleborn Omnibus: Books 1-3: A Military SciFi Adventure! Battleborn Omnibus: Books 1-3: A Military SciFi Adventure! by Andrew Beery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: *****

More Silly Fun in Space

In the Boneyard Dog trilogy, the original Ryker was sent off into the Black to ensure the survival of the human species … eventually establishing three (3) human colonies, each with their own unique struggle to survive. Each book is pretty much dedicated to one of the three colonies … with the prequels detailing the founding of the colony covered in that book and the main event dealing with some form of galactic level [alien] extinction threat that must be stopped here if anybody is to survive. This trilogy takes place several centuries after that when another Ryker seeks to reconnect and save those lost colonies … starting with his own - Azul … where powerful and corrupt corporations maneuver against a benevolent and enlightened monarchy to keep the bulk of humanity enslaved. In fact, Ryker is a Battleborn which are actually permanently indentured soldiers (because debt has and servitude is inheritable) … sort of like the Janissaries of the early Ottoman Empire … and he is not happy about it. Because he is the spitting image of his amazingly near perfect great grand pappy several generations back (complete with the same sense of humor), Ryker soon find himself in a position to do something about it … which of course leads to a ship and then a fleet (how else does a drunken reprobate get promoted to Admiral).

As I said … this is basically the same story as the previous trilogy with a few new interesting details … so the rating here reflects my thorough enjoyment of the previous adventure with only a minor mark down for redundant plot (it still works, so why change it I guess). The main characters are still pretty much Mary Sues, but they are generally easy to like and the snarky comments nearly always draw a smile (if not an out right chuckle). The tech is almost deus ex machina level … but the science was good enough that it didn’t feel ridiculous (which is always a risk when an author goes into this much detail about this stuff … but I am a geek at heart, so I found it interesting). The military tropes were descent… just a tad better than a typical Trek episode (which I am usually am with). The prose is pretty basic without much nuance … so a fair amount of time it was just mindless listening for the fun of it. Over all the series is Much Better

Prequel 1: Chp 0-4 (0:46)
Book 1: Battleborn (4:34)
Prequel 2: Chp 29-36 (1:23)
Book 2: Battleborn 2 - Paradise (4:46)
Prequel 3: Chp 61-68 (1:15)
Book 3: Battleborn 3 - (5:26)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#BattlebornOmnibus #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Review: How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence

How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence How Did Christianity Begin? Hallucinations? Fabrications? Myths? Resurrection? A Look at the Evidence by Christopher Hearn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book as an interesting premise; however, it is by no means an academic or scholarly work. The entire focus is on proving the Resurrection of Jesus, and while it marshals an impressive amount of circumstantial evidence, there is little to no direct evidence (as might be expected), so it is unlikely to convince skeptics; although it might comfort believers. No where does it cover anything about the origins of Christianity outside of the resurrection narrative, so if that is what you are looking for, this is not the book for you. The book is divided into three (3) parts, with each part organized differently. Part One proposes that the resurrection has been denied with the claim that all witnesses were experiencing some form of mass hallucination … and makes the unsupported point that this is the principle means by which the resurrection story is denied. I count myself as fairly knowledgeable in christian apologetics, and I have never found this to be true, not have I encountered this anecdotally; however, there is still some good information here (such as a convenient table of all the biblical post resurrection sightings of Jesus) as well as provides a few basic reasons for the early resistance to the message of christianity … and then it undermines its own credibility with poor scholarship such as the insistence of inserting a creedal statement into 1 Corinthians that was adopted no more than 9 years after the crucifixion with no supporting citations. That is not to say anything in this part is complete wrong, just that what is there is not really a strong supporting argument if you are trying to convince a non-believer, so the best use here would be as a supplement to private or personal reflections by believers.

Part Two focuses on the Empty Tomb … with the basic claim that resurrection deniers attempt to explain how the early believers could have found the tomb of Jesus empty. There are 10 more specific claims here, each with a response. And while I don’t have the credentials needed to verify how accurate this information is, it seems reasonable in many cases and does have some supporting citations (from people that I have not previously encountered in my own studies). For example, there is an interesting connection on why Joseph of Arimathea was the one who had to claim the body of Jesus that was connected to his belonging to the Sanhedrin that was pretty investing and not something that I had heard before (will still need to do some follow-on research to verify though). Additional there was an interesting discussion about why the tomb had to be new in order not to run afoul of custom and law; however, the discussion of why we are so certain of the tomb’s location doesn’t appear to follow any consensus and fails to mention any of the competing claims, giving the a impression of certainty here. Additionally he talks about the James ossuary as if it has been determined to be authentic, while that is actually still contested. This might be inferred by the fact that Oded Golan was eventually acquitted of personally forging the ossuary, but the courts made no ruling on the items actual authenticity.

Part Three attempts to defend the New Testament as a whole; doing so with a combination of strawman arguments and historical inferences (the later being a list of extra biblical documents that mention Jesus by name). An immediate problem here is the inclusion of Thallus, who, while a favorite of Christian apologists because of its early date (52AD), really only confirms that solar eclipse around the time of the crucifixion and it was Africanus writing nearly 200 years after the fact that made the connection to Jesus. So the best external reference we have is actually Josephus as part of his histories, who mentions Jesus primarily in passing as the founder of a Jewish sect that was [believed to have been] executed on a cross by the sect members. In short, all of these arguments have potential, but they are all circumstantial and fairly weak on their own.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part One - Hallucination Theory (1 claim w/ 8 responses)
Part Two - Empty Tomb (1 main claim w/ 10 subclaims and responses)
Part Three - The New Testament (1 main claim and response with 4 counter arguments and responses)

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Jesus made thirteen recorded appearances, at different times and locations, over the span of forty days.

When we look at what happened to people who gathered followers in Israel both before and after Jesus' life, we find that all of the movements failed and were finished off. Done. Yet only Christianity survived the death of its leader and did so in a spectacular way.

This brings us to the second hurdle. Jewish custom at the time stated that if a Jewish person was crucified, being a criminal, his or her body could only be retrieved by a member of the Sanhedrin. Family members or friends were not allowed. This explains why Mary, Jesus’ mother, or any of His siblings or even His disciples did not ask for Jesus’ body for burial.

According to the rules and customs of that time, Jesus' body should have been buried in a tomb for criminals. But Joseph asks for Jesus' body and places it in his own, brand-new tomb which had never been used. This works because as a new tomb, it is neither a place of honor or dishonor.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#HowDidChristianityBegin #LibraryThing

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Review: Natural Theology: Five Views

Natural Theology: Five Views Natural Theology: Five Views by John McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This books aims to capture five (5) current, and competing, viewpoints of natural theology, each championed by a different author. Almost immediately it becomes obvious that even defining what natural theology is always becomes part of the debate and it can seem like each proponent is spending at least some effort talking at cross purposes. In simple terms, it is basically the study of the creator by the study of the creations. The five views stake out positions that run from a maximal view that focuses on “proving” the existence of God and presuming an ultimate good through extension of man’s goodness to a complete rejection of any applicability for natural theology at all (quite a surprise actually). Each chapter begins with a basic premise statement describing the specific viewpoint, followed by a response by each of the other contributors critiquing that statements and ending with a final reply by the original author providing a follow up counterpoint to the critiques. 

Amazingly enough, the exchange was actually very constructive and respectful, without what I have come to expect between scholars on opposing sides of an issue … which I appreciated greatly. In fact, I found it exceptionally helpful in understanding the specific strengths and weakness of each position … having a lot more familiarity with the classical and contemporary positions than the deflationary and Barthian position, it should probably not come as a surprise that I still favor the catholic viewpoint where natural theology augmented by grace can be used to know God, but there were strong arguments from the deflationary viewpoint that emphasized revaluation and experience that connected with some of my charismatic roots … and while I can understand the more calvinist viewpoint from Barth, I found the apparent rejection of natural theology there problematic and overly concerned with an error of naturalism/idolatry with an over reliance on scriptural revelation that for me, borders on fideism. That is not to say that I gained nothing from each point of view, because all of them had some excellent points that highlight the tension and struggle that is perhaps necessary for a healthy faith.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

1. A Contemporary View
2. A Catholic View
3. A Classical View
4. A Deflationary View
5. A Barthian View

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

For some, natural theology is an enterprise that provides wonderful apologetic resources for those defending the faith. But for others, natural theology is a failed experiment that is filled with theological compromise, weak philosophical arguments, and poor scientific data.

As Alister McGrath notes, it was Augustine’s view that “laid the foundation for the assertion that whatever was good, true or beautiful could be used in the service of the gospel. It was this approach which would prove dominant in the western church, providing a theological foundation for the critical appropriation by Christian writers of philosophical ideas and literary genres whose origins lay outside the church.”

Unlike revealed theology, which may presuppose the truth or reliability of the Christian Bible, natural theology develops a philosophy of God based on observations about the cosmos, pursuing questions about the nature of the cosmos, its origin, and its continuation.

An immediate issue concerns what kind of “goodness” figures in this claim about the explanatory power of theism. Goodness comes in different kinds, such as moral, prudential, and aesthetic goodness; inquirers will need to know which kinds are relevant to the alleged explanatory power of theism. Otherwise, they will be unclear about how, if at all, the alleged goodness of the cosmos fits with the goodness of God.

“The mood of apologetics is assertive, rather than interrogative. The apologist sets out to teach rather than to learn, to prove or refute rather than to enquire, to give rather than to receive. Academic theology, on the other hand, as I understand it, is—or should be—fundamentally interrogative in character. . . . The theologian’s . . . responsibilities are critical, interpretive or clarificatory rather than declaratory.”

God is beyond such categories—beyond, in fact, any and every category.69 Yet, under the broad theological modification that began to occur in the seventeenth century, “God” instead becomes the maximum of being: the apex of being in metaphysics functioning from univocal ontological assumptions and differing from everything only “in degree rather than in kind.”

In other words, Aquinas holds that some theological truths, including the existence and unicity of God, can be known through natural reason alone, but the truth of the existence of the Trinity, and by implication many other teachings of revelation, surpass unaided reason. After Aquinas, these two ways of theological reasoning came gradually to be described respectively as natural theology, and what is variously called theology, without qualification, or revealed theology, or supernatural theology.

Alasdair MacIntyre argues that writers of the Enlightenment believed it was possible to engage the natural world in an empirical, presuppositionless way, so that a natural theology could be constructed independently of “social and cultural particularities.” This project failed, partly because it adopted “an ideal of rational justification which it has proved impossible to attain.”

First, the “god” disclosed by such a natural theology was essentially a creator who had no necessary connection with the ongoing governance of the world (a theological idea traditionally expressed in terms of divine providence) or with the redemption of humanity.

As I noted previously, Newman here warns that the study of the sun, moon, stars, and laws of the universe, while showing the handiwork of God, cannot enable us to know the purposes or the will of God, let alone bridge the unthinkable gap between God and ourselves.

After production, the artifact comes to have a presence of its own, and the imprint is as much a sign of absence as presence. That is certainly not what an apophatic theology means by divine mystery: it is not the darkness of absence abated only by moments of enlightening presence but is instead an indication of the sheer excess of divine plenitude in the thoroughness of God’s presence that can be received only as a darkness of overwhelming light.

Therefore, he explains, “Because white theologians [in particular] are well fed and speak for a people who control the means of production, the problem of hunger is not a theological problem for them. That is why they spend more time debating the relation between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith than probing the depths of Jesus’ command to feed the poor.”

Many Christian philosophers cannot shake the idea that natural theology plays a role in increasing the probability of theism. They hold that the reality of apparent design in nature, of a first cause, or of human moral agency increases the probability of theism, even if it does not confirm the existence of a God worthy of worship.

When the Scriptures refer to the hiddenness of God, or God as hiding his face, the issue is not about the loss of belief in God’s existence but, rather, a breaking or suspension or apparent suspension of enjoyment of the covenant with God. In other words, one knows that God exists, but one’s relationship with God has been destroyed or suspended.

What argument does, at its best, is hold a claim up to public accountability—that is, to its responsibility to test that it is not the product of misdirecting desires. Moreover, it is a communicative act that does something other than simply assert, “It’s my experience, so trust it and me,” and therefore holds off, as well as it can, the potential for ideological false consciousness.

Yet, again, there is simply no common mind on how “experienced” Christians should deal with, and make judgments on, any moral matter—from the generation and distribution of capital, to whether war is ever justified and if so what kind of conflict is theo-ethically legitimate, to how immigrants should be treated, to how to live within a global environment requiring maintenance for future generations, to what role women should play in public society and ecclesial communities, to how to reason about and address issues of poverty, and so on.

I have not claimed that some “Christian texts” are “normative” in themselves. Instead, I hold that some texts earn their evidential value for some people by their unsurpassed explanatory worth relative to the overall experience of those people. Abduction (inference to best available explanation) plays a crucial role here, as it does in justification in general.

This love, in Paul’s thinking, is evidence of God’s reality and presence. It is the self-manifestation of God’s unique character of righteous love. That self-manifestation is not a belief or a theology, let alone an axiomatic belief or theology; it is, as understood by Paul, a feature of a religious experience, and it can serve as evidential support for theological commitment.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#NaturalTheology #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.