Category Archives: Book reviews

God as deus ex machina

(This was first posted in October of last year on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog. I’m reposting it here as I try to consolidate most of my writing in one place)

Reading the first chapter of Peter Rollins’ new book, Insurrection – which comes out this week; read the first chapter here – and his exploration of the way the church often uses the idea of God as nothing more than a deus ex machina, I was reminded of news I heard recently about the current pastor of the church I grew up in.

This church, in its heyday, was one of the biggest churches in the fundamentalist Baptist world. There’s a university associated with it, past its prime, like the church, and in recent years the pastor of the church and the president of the school have been one and the same. When it came to the attention of the school’s board of directors earlier this year that a chapter of his master’s thesis, a book some students were required to buy for their classes, had ben plagiarized – his excuse that he thought the pastor whose book he “borrowed” from was dead or the book was out of print and so it was okay to use it without giving credit, did not, funnily enough, prove to be a satisfactory explanation to everyone, even after he published an updated version – he resigned from his position at the university, claiming it was something he had already planned on doing. God wanted him to focus on his work as the pastor of the church, he said, and he’d decided it was too much responsibility to do both.

A couple of months after this pastor’s big announcement, God changed his mind (you know how fickle he can be). Continue reading

Jeremiah Wright and Bad Religion

In “The Fate of Ideas: Moses,” an essay collected in Marilynne Robinson’s new book from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, When I Was a Child I Read Books, she critiques a number of popular writers on religion, particularly the work of Bishop John Shelby Spong. Citing one argument he makes regarding the reasons behind the writing of the New Testament letters, she writes, “Not surprisingly, his hypothesis-which is all in the world it is or can be-makes his interpretation of these texts seem downright inevitable. To offer hypothesis as fact is not fair to the nonspecialist readership for which his book is clearly intended. In doing so he is typical rather than exceptional among popular writers.”

Those lines kept coming to mind as I read different reviews and excerpts of the new book from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. I first heard about the book via a column from Douthat summarizing his thesis and sketching out his arguments, where a couple of things caught my eye. Anyone familiar with the history of American religion will raise an eyebrow at several of the claims and reductions Douthat relies on for his arguments, but there’s one in particular that I want to focus on.

Continue reading

Some thoughts on Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers

I admit it: I’m tired. Tired of the perennial discussions about the things women aren’t allowed to do, or what a “real man” or “real woman” looks like, discussions that often invoke the descriptor “Biblical” as a way of trying to sanctify the speaker’s opinion. Listening to claims from John Piper’s Desiring God Pastor’s Conference that God gave Christianity “a masculine feel,” or that the music in a church should be led almost exclusively by a male – echoing concerns I heard raised several years ago by members of the PCA denomination after Keith and Kristyn Getty led the music for their annual meeting, and were criticized by some for the fact that a woman was allowed to hold a microphone and lead men in singing – I quickly realize that I no longer have any energy to debate those who hold to that position. Let them argue until the end of time. I have no doubt they will, convinced as they are that they represent God.

These conversations, of course, are not new. Most of the rhetoric I hear today is indistinguishable from the way my great grandfather, the Fundamentalist evangelist and author John R. Rice, talked about these issues. His book Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives and Women Preachers, written in 1941 and perhaps his best-known title, carried this subtitle: Significant questions for honest Christian women settled by the Word of God – making it clear that anyone who disagreed with him wasn’t honest and certainly didn’t care about the Bible, allegations that are very much a part of the rhetoric today.

“The pulpit is a place for the strongest men that we have,” he wrote, building his argument. “The preacher in the pulpit should speak with an authority that is absolutely forbidden a woman to exercise.” In a sermon Rice preached on the 7th of December, 1964, he claimed that “man is in God’s image in a sense that women are not,” and so, “a man is nearer like God than a woman.” Continue reading

lit

marykarr_litWhen asked my favorite book of 2010, I’m tempted to say, the first 10 pages of Mary Karr’s Lit. The introduction. Nothing more. That’s all I’d read, until a few nights ago.

In the beginning of December, after I’d driven through the snow-covered mountains of North Carolina to attend a concert – a tribute to the 70‘s Memphis band Big Star, for which I’d done the music prep and a bit of orchestrating – I was waiting to meet my cousin, a Seminary student, for lunch one afternoon at a greasy pizza place when I wandered into the nearby Barnes and Noble. I noticed Lit prominently displayed near the front of the store, and, remembering my friend Jeffrey Overstreet’s enthusiastic endorsement, picked it up to find out what all the fuss was about. Continue reading