Thursday, November 05, 2009

Book Notes Today

I haven't posted in a while, so I thought I would say a few words about what I've read recently. First, I read a book on ancient classical history - the period from the formation of the earliest Greek cultures through the Roman period.

This is a fascinating period in history for me because it defines the context for so much of the NT. Jesus lived and taught and Paul traveled in this Hellenistic world, though of course they were shaped in huge ways by Hebrew culture. Robin Lane Fox' book called The Classical World is a quick overview of a huge period of history. Fox tells the story well, though I must admit that I skimmed through some of his longer discussions about wars between different people groups during this time. What I was really looking for was information about what it would have been like to live during this period - and Fox delivers on this front. Of course, he admits that large parts of his description of ancient life are speculations built upon our study of ancient artifacts and history written later about that time period. However, what he describes is not some mystical, wonderful, enlightened world that was lost during the Dark Ages by the influence of the church (the narrative we all learned in school), but a period that was full of war and famine and incredible immorality. The cultural elites of the ancient world were all men (women were not valued or accepted, but used for reproduction) and were involved in pedophilia (using young boys for sexual gratification). Not only that, but the period was full of war (like every period of history) between people groups and strife between cultures. Fox' vivid description of the development of Greek culture (including art, philosophy, and science) reminded this reader how depraved humans are in every period. It was into this world that Christianity's message of love, charity, care for the poor, sexual purity, and gospel grace came flooding through.

As I was reading this book on ancient culture, I was handed another book by a friend to read called Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. Hart's work is an academic response to the popular attacks made by New Atheism against Christianity. Hart writes at a high level and engages academic and popular positions throughout the book. His main argument is that Western culture has failed to understand the dramatic impact that the Christian gospel has had upon every facet of society. He argues persuasively that the popular atheist writes of today are standing on a Christian foundation to make their attacks against the Christian religion. Hart is a wordsmith, and his writing is devastatingly articulate in tearing down the false premises of the new class of atheist apologists. Hart rightly points to the development of care for the needy, the rights of women and slaves, and the philosophical underpinnings of an ordered world as distinctive contributions of the Christian worldview. His most provocative sections are about what happens to our worldview and treatment of others when the Christian revolution is undermined. To answer this question, he looks at the world before the Christian revolution and says that we could easily be headed back in that direction - see my notes above for why that is so scary.

Fun reading - I love history anyway, and these books are helping to fill out my reading of the Bible and the radical nature of the message of the gospel.

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