Economix // Michael Goodwin (Illustrated by Dan E. Burr).

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I’m not sure how and what sparked my interest in economics, perhaps it was Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace or the fact that I’m disillusioned by both capitalism and communism or the fact that I am in near constant financial crisis (aka, the normal graduate student life and post-American-college-with-their-stupid-student-debt). Nevertheless, I am glad I read this.

Economix came up as one of the most recommended introductions to the history of economics — according to Reddit. I appreciate how Michael Goodwin opens the book: he confesses that modern economists are, at times, beyond confusing and inconsistent and that primary sources are the way to go. When he went back to the original sources, the sources all the modern economists were quoting, he found that (1) primary sources were more often than not taken out of context and (2) primary sources had some faulty assumptions and ideals [like the Supple and Demand chart assumes an ideal economy with stagnant desires, resources, political climate, etc. In this sense, the Supple and Demand chart is a very flat, 2-dimensional model]. For example, laissez-faire (“let it be”) might have worked in a pre-industrialized, pre-technologically-advanced, pre-globalized country–but the success was short lived. Most 20th century communism models picked and choose what they liked from Marx (to his great frustration, assumingly). Reagonomics, tickle-down economics, and tax cutting the rich and major corporations pretty much ruined everything. So, along with Reddit, I cannot recommend this enough. Plus, the comic book form is amazing. The book, though, is not without faults, but as an introduction it is very informative.

Economics is much more than just money — it is political, psychological, sociological, philosophical, and, agreeing with Tanner, theological. So, as much as I did not want to learn a lick of economics, as someone who wants to be a theologian, I must learn more economics: it is both exciting and dreadful.

From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology // Sang Hyun Lee.

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Originally known for his impressive scholarship on the philosophical theology of Jonathan Edwards, Sang Hyun Lee takes a more autobiographical note and pens this short appetite-whetter: From a Liminal Place.

For Sang Hyun Lee, liminality has a narrow definition drawn from anthropologist Victor Turner: “A transitional time in which persons are freed from social-structure hierarchy and role playing and, therefore, may be more open to what is new, experience a close communion with other persons (communitas), and become capable of prophetic critique of the existing social order” (Preface). What makes liminality different from marginality is the creative potential of the former (I believe Sang Hyun Lee is making this distinction to clarify what he saw as a confusion of Jung Young Lee’s Marginality. For Jung, “marginality” describes both the negative and positive sides of being on the peripherals of power centers). This creative potential of liminality is ultimately, I believe, for communitas. Communitas seems to be akin to Martin Buber’s Ich Und Du (“I and Thou”) encounter. At the root of it all, Sang Hyun Lee cements his liminality-communitas construal on his understanding of what the Triune God does in history according to Edwardian philosophical theology. In short, the Triune God “repeats” his infinite, inner-trinitarian in creation’s time and space. The result will be the Triune communitas established in creation.

I find Sang Hyun Lee’s proposal intriguing but wanting. However, 150 pages is not nearly enough space to fully develop his thoughts–a problem he is very much aware of.

An Introduction to the Old Testament // John Goldingay.

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What a superb primer into oft-forgotten-and-misunderstood Old Testament texts! John Goldingay, David Allen Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, renders an accessible work that summarizes texts, offers approaches, and covers issues with such brevity and clarity. The format, though not in depth per se, is a fresh welcome for those who are easily discouraged by academic jargon and layout: Goldingay tries to limit himself to two pages for each topic. For those just genuinely curious about the Old Testament, this is a great place to start.

Asian American Christian Ethics // edited by Grace Y. Kao and Ilsup Ahn.

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It is both unfortunate and fortunate, lamentable and celebratory, that Asian American Christian Ethics is a first of its kind. Both timely and awkwardly delayed, this collection is truly ground-breaking. I cannot recommend this book enough–it is much needed and, as you’ll find, much wanted not just for Asian Americans.

If ethics are attempts to answer the questions of “now what?,” then Christian ethics might offer unique perspectives and, even, new questions. However, unqualified Christian ethics betray the norm: Euro-American (mostly male) perspectives, questions, and resources. Thus, (Euro-American) Christian ethics answer some but not nearly all Asian American questions. Additionally, (Euro-American) Christian ethical answers are not wholly satisfactory for Asian American contexts (not because Asian Americans are “stubbornly sinful against good advises,” but because some answers are not appropriate in certain contexts). Therefore, the book not only offers one possible (for the diversity within Asian American is much more vast than the categorical label assumes) Asian American Christian ethics (AACE) to common and unique questions (such as family and cosmetic surgery) but also a methodology to continue the work of formulating both sharper and more fitting response. The format of each chapter generally follows suit: introduction, previous Christian responses (mostly Euro-American males), just one possible AACE model or methodology, and conclusion.

Below are the topics with author–nearly every chapter is a wonder.

Gender and Sexuality // Hoon Choi
Marriage, Family, and Parenting // Sharon M. Tai
Virtue Ethics // Ilsup Ahn
Peace and War // Keun-Joo Christine Pae
Wealth and Prosperity // Christina A. Astorga
Racial Identity and Solidarity // Ki Joo (KC) Choi
Health Care // SueJeanne Koh
Immigration // Hak Joon Lee
The Environment // Hannah Ka
Education and Labor // Irene Oh
Cosmetic Surgery // Jonathan Tran (one of the best and personal favorite).

The Problem of Pain // C.S. Lewis.

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In this, one of C.S. Lewis’ earliest works after his conversion, Lewis tries his hand on the troublesome problem of pain. Taking a much more classical Christian philosophical approach, Lewis begins with Divine omnipotence and goodness–the two most challenged (and oft pitted against each other) divine attributes when dealing with the problem of pain/evil. He continues onto sin and the evils that come forth from it (oddly, Lewis is silent on natural disasters). When discussing human pain, Lewis cannot help but mention how scripture spins pain as real moments ripped with opportunity.

My best comments and critiques actually follows the older Lewis in A Grief Observed. The problem with The Problem of Pain is its lack of catharsis and limited use. The Problem of Pain might be beneficial for those wrestling with the question of pain but not with the reality of pain, to that I could not recommend A Grief Observed more.

Last note: in the preface and sprinkled throughout the book Lewis is very clear that he is an amateur when it comes to philosophy or theology (though an expert in all things English literary). I highlight this not only to show his modesty but also to confirm to serious readers that Lewis is a door into the discussion, not the house itself filled with wonders of various sorts.

God and Creation in Christian Theology // Kathryn Tanner.

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In this, her first book (actually dissertation-turned-book), Kathryn Tanner tackles one of the most head-throbbing debates of the Christian Tradition: Divine sovereignty vs free will. Are these really mutually exclusive positions? For many modern theologians (and laymen) it is absolutely the one or the other–any middle ground is incoherent. Ironically, though, Tanner calls the dichotomous divine sovereignty vs free will incoherent. (Very briefly) Below is how Tanner makes her meta-case.

First, the Christian Tradition has maintained coherence between God’s sovereign power and human will with a nuanced understanding of God’s (utter) transcendence based on God’s wholly otherness. Tanner draws on creatio ex nihilo and stakes two rules for coherent Christian discourse: (1) God is utterly transcendence and, therefore, (2) God is immediately related to creation. (Confused? So was I for a couple weeks and I barely understand it now. Here’s my best take: Since God is Creator and wholly other from creation, God is utterly transcendent. In other words, God and creation are not on the same playing field: they have a “noncompetitive relationship.” What follows is that God is immediately related to creation: because God is utterly transcendent, there is no need for a medium or middle ground for God to relate to creation. Thereby, God is both utterly transcendent and immediately immanent.)

Second, taking the two rules for discourse, Tanner shows how the divine sovereignty vs free will debate is fictitious because it betrays a competitive mindset. In that debate, God is brought down or humanity is brought up to equalize the playing field: what one does takes away from what the other is able to do. For free-will-ists, God and humanity are equal, so God must limit himself to make room for humanity’s free will. For divine-sovereign-ists, humanity’s free will is emptied to make room for God’s governance. Tanner closes by saying that both sides, sadly, works with a Pelagian mindset (Pelagius was one of the earliest and most infamous heretics who claimed that people can work their way into heaven or into receiving grace from God). Free-will-ists affirm what Pelagianism fights for, whereas divine-sovereign-ists reject the Pelagian man–not the Pelagianism mindset. Of course, not all those who side on either/or falls into incoherence–Tanner admits that. But this debate is popular in our modern time, therefore Tanner offers her critiques and recommendations–which should be carefully taken.

This book, more than her other ones, is much more technical. Caution is given to tread slowly: be prepared to be confused. But continue on, because the reward is refreshing. Theologians: Let us be vigorous meticulous with our language because they do matter.

The Sympathizer // Viet Thanh Nguyen.

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Possibly one of the most powerful works of fiction I have ever read. It’s absolutely amazing this debut novel is a Pulitzer winner–and a worthy one, indeed.

There is just so much this novel does and speak on. The Vietnamese American experience as war refugees–which can easily expand to other Asian American experiences. The Vietnam War (or the American War, as so called from the Vietnamese’s perspective) as a horrible and destructive enterprise–the war rape of Vietnam. Also, the media (Hollywood) rape of Vietnam (and other war-torn countries). The crisis of representation. The terrible microaggressions. The anger. Yes, the brooding anger against it all. It’s all so beautiful and painful. It hurts and feels good.

I cannot recommend this enough. Go and read.