The Screwtape Letters // C.S. Lewis.

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C.S. Lewis is one of those few authors who get better on the third and fourth read. Personally, this is a timely read. Though I have read this particular Lewis work before, it was recommended to me this time because of the insurmountable worries, anxiety, doubts, and fears I tend to face in this season. Lewis is, oddly enough, encouraging by means of an unorthodox voice: the veteran devil named Screwtape.

Sure, Screwtape is a senior in the British field during a very different era. Yet, he is still illuminating. Hearing from Screwtape this time around impressed on me the power of small maneuvers. Small sins and distractions are preferred over extravagant and gaudy ones. Precisely, small sins and distractions at the opportune time. For example, it is not just thinking about food at any time but right when one crawls toward a deeper personal issue: thinking about food becomes a tangent that prevents possibly much-needed introspection. Another, it is not just judging some mannerisms a nuisance at any time, but when one is not around the person of annoyance. In other words, while one is with the person of annoyance all is glee, but as soon as one leaves that person’s presence judgments pour forth. What these timed judgments cause is the fiction that all is well with the relationship: no need to deepen it; actually, it is best kept at arm’s length.

This time around, I think, was my first time reading “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” What a delightful read at the end! What a punchy piece towards the current state of affairs regarding education.

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Compendium of Theology // St. Thomas Aquinas (trans. by Richard J. Regan).

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Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Angelicus, is most known for his magisterial magnum opus: Summa Theologiae (ST). But what about Compendium of Theology (CT)? Rarely mentioned. CT is arguably the least known and least studied of Aquinas texts, which is, really, unfortunate. Sure, CT is an incomplete work, abruptly ending mid-sentence, but its condensed content and simplicity are just praiseworthy. CT was planned to be a three-part work (modeled after faith, hope, and charity) as a manual for non-academics. But Aquinas’ unforeseen death quickly halted CT’s progress: he barely started on part II, Hope, and did not even get to part III, Charity. Thus, an overwhelming percentage of CT is on faith, the contents of Christian doctrine. Part I can be broken down into two unequal halves: (1) Doctrine of God, §3-184, and (2) Christology, §185-246. Each can be further divided into subcategories.

It is undeniable that the Doctor Angelicus lived and breathed during a very different cultural and intellectual environment than, say, California 2017. Aquinas’ High Scholasticism might be perceived as a sore and a bore. For example, ST’s prompt, initial answers, elaboration, possible objections, and counterarguments format could easily dissuade today’s readers to read any further. Might I then offer CT as the ideal place to start? CT is one of Aquinas latest works, therefore one of his most mature. Plus, CT does not have ST’s format.

Caveat Lector: This is the only Aquinas text I have actually finished in its entirety. I have read here and there from ST, and it is one of my theological dreams to finish it, but that thing is seriously massive.

Atonement, Law, and Justice // Adonis Vidu.

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Atonement, Law, and Justice is both an ambitious attempt and a bit of a quandary: Did Adonis Vidu write two books in one? Here’s what I mean.

The first five chapters brief over two thousand years to postulate that it is possible that atonement theories are formed in dialectical engagement with philosophies of law and justice. Greco-Roman philosophers with patristic fathers, the medieval wedding of natural and divine law, the reformation reaction to the medieval wedding, the modern reaction to the reformation’s reaction, and the postmodern reaction to all things prior. Though not exhaustive, Vidu makes a compelling case that certain atonement theories of certain periods tend to agree with the general sentiments about law and justice in said periods. These chapters alone are worth reading for an interesting historical reconstruction of Western atonement, law, and justice.

The last chapter, however, seems to take a dramatic turn. It is here Vidu proposes something more “constructive” (though, really, it is “defensive”). Vidu argues that a robust Doctrine of Simplicity can assuage harsh criticisms against penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). In short, the Doctrine of Simplicity claims that God is ontologically basic. God’s essence is his existing; his essence is to will and act one thing. The divine attributes are not collapsed into one conglomerate but unified distinctly and simply in God. For example, God is, at once, fully loving and just; there is not a moment where God is “more loving” and then the next moment “more just.” God is, at all times, fully both because he is Love and is Justice.

Confused? Well, perhaps reading Vidu’s take will help. Or not.

So, if God is simple, as Vidu strongly claims, then God is not “more wrathful and less loving” at the cross then, say, at the resurrection and Pentecost. Additionally, God the Father cannot be punishing God the Son, because that would assume God is comprised of, at least, two parts (Father and Son).

Surely, Vidu’s last chapter is a strong defensive proposal for PSA, but I cannot seem to make its connection with the previous five chapters. Is Vidu arguing that the Doctrine of Simplicity should be in the driver seat for atonement theories rather than philosophies of law and justice? Perhaps that would be the more “just” reading.

My Name is Asher Lev // Chaim Potak.

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“Draw me something pretty…make the world pretty, my Asher.” // Rivkeh Lev.

“My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev…the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion” // Asher Lev.

My Name is Asher Lev is horrifyingly beautiful. It is both, at once, an agonizing inhale and a relieving exhale. Asher Lev, the son of the revered Aryeh Lev, the grandson of his namesake, was born with a gift, the gift to create and destroy: painting. But Hasidic Jews like Asher Lev do not paint. Hasidic Jews like Asher Lev observe Shabbos, sing zemiros, learn Torah, attend Synagogue, and avoid anything goy (Gentile) or from the sitra achra (the Other Side). Hasidic Jews do not hurt other Jews. Hasidic Jews especially, though not explicitly told so for obvious reasons, do not paint crucifixions. But Asher Lev did.

Rereading this around has impressed me with two things: a new level of understanding the word “painstaking” and the undeniable link between pain and life. And the two are related.

Chaim Potok “painstakingly” created three “painstaking” characters: Asher Lev, Aryeh Lev, and Rivkeh Lev; the son, the father, and the mother. Through tortured and “painstaking” years, these three arduously work to love each other. For years there were avoidance and brooding anger, and, other times, the coldness was lifted at the coming of acceptance’s warmth. And pain is at the heart of these relations. The pain of disappointment, the pain of being misunderstood, the pain of mis- or non-communication, the pain of loss, the pain of being alone, the pain of incomplete work, the pain of a divided home, the pain of being the bridge, the pain of fear, and the pain of causing pain. It is, therefore, undeniable: there is no life without pain. But the reverse is also wondrously true: there is no pain without life. Life pierces and is pierced (stakes and is staked) by pain. And to see that is not to ignore the mother’s plea, but precisely the opposite: it is to “make the world pretty.”

Cur Deus Homo // St. Anselm.

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Cur Deus Homo, without a doubt, is a magisterial and seminal work on atonement. Sadly, though, St. Anselm has in recent decades garnered a bad, even heinous, reputation amongst some theological circles. Being “the father of satisfaction atonement” is not an honorific title, especially since satisfaction atonement is usually paired with stereotypes of violence-approving/supporting abuse for an egotistic, honor-crazed God. The Doctor Magnificus, however, cannot be further from those stereotypes. Rather, it is poor or negligent interpretations of Cur Deus Homo and Anselm that are rightly blameworthy of bearing these stereotypes. Reading Cur Deus Homo — the text itself and not just later interpreters — will pierce with bright illuminance and not these dark stereotypes.

Anselm of Canterbury was also integral to the inception of medieval scholasticism, another term imposed with less-than-favorable impressions. Scholasticism is criticized as being too rational and subsuming theology to philosophy. However, understanding Anselm’s fides quaerens intellectum and its outworkings in Cur Deus Homo would, again, dismantle overreaching stereotypes. Anselm never sought to prove the Christian faith by rational; instead, his Christian faith pressed him to seek understanding and nuance by probing deeper in humble reverence. The two driving questions for Anselm through his self-made interlocutor, Boso, are: Why the God-man and why the cross?

After what might seem (but is not) pure logical deductions in a relatively short form, Anselm through Boso confesses:

The world can hear of nothing more reasonable, nothing more kind, nothing more desirable. Indeed, I receive so much confidence from this thought that right now I cannot say with how much joy my heart exults. For it seems to me that God rejects no human being who approaches Him under this name. (II.19)

All this is for worship. Not just to know better and more firmly the shocking coherence of the Christian faith, but also to marvel and rejoice at the beauty of his great saving work–which God freely willed to do on our behalf.

An Introduction to Christian Theology // Richard J. Plantinga, Thomas R. Thompson, and Matthew D. Lundberg.

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An Introduction to Christian Theology, to be sure, is quite a pedagogical feat. More specifically, condensing 2000 years of (mostly Western) Christian Theology into moderately accessible 600 pages of reading. However, it is its versatility that I find is its most praiseworthy feature. Though more systematic in its approach, the historical chapters are crucial to its argumentation. Although it is an introduction/reference — therefore, not limited to be read linearly — I wish its historical chapters (Part III) were either prior or sparsed through its systematic chapters (Part II). Its prolegomena (Part I) is also helpful and well worth the read.

Not everything Plantinga, Thompson, and Lundberg wrote I agree with, and I do not have to. Some chapters really show their cards and impress their biases (e.g., social trinitarianism, sanctioning mutability for the doctrine of God, and kenotic Christology), and other chapters are more distant (perhaps, much less is at stake for them).

$35 might seem a steep price for a book, but it is actually cheap for a theological reference/introduction.

Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross // Hans Boersma.

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Inspired by Miroslav Volf’s ground-breaking Exclusion and Embrace (1996), Hans Boersma sets on a bold endeavor to face and redefine the meaning of violence at the cross-event through a divine hospitality lens.

God is, for Boersma, divine–absolute–hospitality. God wants–nay, wills–all to be welcomed into the Godhead. Yet, post-fall, all of creation is sin-stricken. Therefore, some degree of violence, “conditional violence,” is required to welcome (as much as possible) creation into the Godhead. Thus, Levinas and Derrida’s call for “absolute hospitality” here and now, for human society and by human means, is impossible and undesirable (because with “absolute hospitality” here and now, save the eschaton, even the devil can be invited). Instead, conditional hospitality is wanted: not all, certainly not evil, are equally welcomed. Some amount of conditional violence is needed to fence out said evils.

Boersma is bred within the Reformed tradition. So, it is noteworthy that Boersma begins with critiquing “high calvinism” and some of its violence-approving interpretations. These, he finds, are unsatisfactory. Better to start with Irenaeus’ recapitulation because, according to Boersma, recapitulation is able to subsume the three atonement model: Aberlardian (moral influence), Anselmian (satisfaction), and Christus Victor. He backs this up by relating these three models with Calvin’s doctrine of threefold offices of Christ: Prophetic with moral influence, priesthood with satisfaction, and kingship with Christus Victor. In this way, Boersma reappropriates the Reformed tradition along conditional hospitality lines.

I said above that Boersma undertook a bold endeavor. Well, was he successful? Perhaps. This is a relatively short book that covers a vast amount of complicated issues: violence, atonement, reformed tradition, ethics, etc. There are many sections that are wantings; others that are tangential. In the end, Boersma is worth the read, but I am not confident enough to say you’ll find the answers to the questions he raises and the ones you might have.