A couple months back as I was browsing the Wipf & Stock website, looking through Princeton Theological Monograph Series titles, this book caught my eye. Written by Melanie Dobson, a Methodist pastor with a Th.D in theology from Duke, Health as a Virtue: Thomas Aquinas and The Practice of Habits of Health is a book that uses wisdom from the past for practical theology in the present. I’m finding myself more and more interested in habit formation, and since I teach a health class (read: P.E.) at school, this seemed worth the read.

As I got into it, I discovered Dobson writes as someone who struggles with a chronic illness (ix). During her doctoral work, she was struck by Aquinas making frequent references to “health” in a section of his writings on Habit. Her basic argument is that Aquinas understands health as part of the moral life (ix). In the book, she not only fleshes this out, but she provides evidence of field research she completed involved a Clergy Health Initiative program in the UMC, as well as an evangelical organization called Word Made Flesh. She conducted interviews with participants in both of these programs to see if Aquinas’ insights actually worked. As she concludes her preface,

I offer to you, my readers, not a quick-fix diet book or exercise plan for greater physical health. To practice health as a virtue in accordance with Aquinas’s thinking engages all of our being. However, flourishing with God is worth the moral effort. May you be well. (x)

From here, after brief acknowledgements, she launches into the first part of the book. The opening chapter briefly recounts her personal journey, setting the stage for groundwork in Aristotle in chapter 2. With this foundation laid, she moves to Aquinas’ account of habit in general (chapter 3), and his writing on health in particular (chapter 4). In this latter chapter she correlates the seven aspects of habit with Aquinas’ thought on health. For Aquinas, habits

  • Have a lasting quality
  • Orient to action
  • Bear repeating
  • Increase, decrease, and are corruptible
  • Constitute virtue
  • Can be infused by God
  • Have a telos

She notes in conclusion:

Aquinas adopts, adapts, and elaborates upon Aristotelian philosophy of habit and health to develop his own moral strategy. Aquinas offers dual meanings of health that allow both for health to be a status, and a habit. Health as a status retains no moral component, and fluctuates dependent upon a person’s heredity, immune system, and constitution. At the same time health can comprise part of a virtuous life as a person cultivates lasting habits in order to care for her wellbeing (38).

She goes on to clarify by way of summary that health for Aquinas is not synonymous with the WHO definition, salvation, the summum bonum, or an idol. From here, Dobson moves to a section of four chapters that take this notion of habit and health and apply it into several areas. She starts with the interface of body and soul (chapter 5), before exploring our passions/desires and their relationship to our health (chapter 6). Then, she examines the actions of habits of health (chapter 7) before finishing out the first part of the book looking at the end or telos of habits of health. The final section of the book details her two case studies mentioned above before a brief concluding chapter.

Though I’ve done some reading on healthy living and practical theology, I think this is the first book that is rigorously theological in its approach to health. There is much wisdom to be found in Aquinas on habit formation, so this makes for a helpful read to orient you to health in theological perspective. Because Dobson lives with a chronic illness herself, she doesn’t present the insights as if they will guarantee you won’t get sick or struggle with a disease. Rather, she present health as a habit of the body and soul that one lives out in spite of sickness and disease. Not everyone who gets sick is living an unhealthy lifestyle and not everyone who seems healthy on the outside actually is. Dobson’s work will help provide a theological framework for thinking about this topic, as well as open avenues for further exploration.

Melanie L. Dobson, Health as a Virtue: Thomas Aquinas and The Practice of Habits of Health (Princeton Theological Monograph Series). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, June 2014. 170 pp. Paperback,$20.00.

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If you remember yesterday’s review, Lincoln Harvey ended his book on sports with suggested further avenues for exploration. Although Marcia W. Mount Shoop didn’t take Harvey’s advice to heart before writing, she is definitely tracking down one of his avenues and then some. In her recent book, Touchdowns For Jesus And Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports, Shoop takes on just about every controversial issue related to sports. As a brief overview, here’s her own video previewing the book:

This book is risky indeed. But, it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of football, particularly the collegiate variety. Shoop’s opening chapter is similar to the above video. The following chapter unpacks more what the idea is behind a true apocalypse. If you knew that the last book of the Bible could be called “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ” as well as “Revelations,” then you already know the connection. As she explains, “Apocalypse literally means lifting the veil. Apocalypse means seeing the truth about who we are, and seeing the truth about the nature of redemption” (10). The redemption is necessary because there are demonic distortions in the world of big time sports (who knew?) and in successive chapters, Shoop looks at how that plays out in fanaticism (chapter 3), gender inequalities (chapter 4), race (chapter 5), higher education (chapter 6), and religion (chapter 7). The final chapter offers some insights for the way forward.

I found the middle chapters (4-6), which are kind of the meat of the book, the most interesting and instructive from my perspective. As male, I’m not often aware of gender inequalities in sports since I always participated as a guy. As a Caucasian, race is not on the forefront of my mind either when it comes to sports. It is in this chapter as well that Shoop offers insightful (and incisive) commentary on the NCAA sanctions against UNC’s football program that went down a couple years back. She writes with an inside perspective since her husband was on the coaching staff at that time. Much of the critiques runs over into the following chapter on the interface of higher education and big time sports. For the unfamiliar reader, it can be quite the apocalyptic unveiling of the way the NCAA functions.

In general, this book to achieve the task of unveiling very well. Part of this was the choice of subject matter, which helped me think more deeply about certain aspects of my love for sports. The other part was that it is written from a perspective significantly different than mine. Shoop writes as the wife of a football coach, who is also an ordained minister and has a Ph.D in religious studies. This combination (theologian married to football coach) is not something you come across everyday (as she herself notes). And while we’re probably not on the same page theologically for some issues, I appreciated her thoughtful analysis in many places. For readers interested in exploring the ethical dimensions further of big time sports, particularly college football, this book should be on your to-read list.

Marcia W. Mount Shoop, Touchdowns For Jesus And Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time SportsEugene, OR: Cascade Books, July 2014. 134 pp. Paperback, $16.00.

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Lincoln Harvey is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at St. Mellitus College, London. Earlier this year he published A Brief Theology of Sport. Peter Leithart already reviewed it, and Harvey offered a response. I’m going to comment on it here briefly, and then hopefully you’ll get a copy for yourself and read it and enjoy.

Although this book could easily be a Saturday afternoon read, it is not particularly light reading. It’s a slim volume that offers both Historical (Part 1) and Analytical (Part 2) soundings. In the historical section, Harvey runs from ancient to modern conceptions of sport in just over 50 pages. His opening chapter on the ancient conception argues that both sport and religion are universal and that inevitably they are intertwined. The following chapter details Greco-Roman understandings before turning to the early church’s response in chapter 3. As you might imagine, if sport and religion are intertwined, and early Christians were critical of the Greco-Roman religious activities, then they were also not big sports fans to say the least. Similar attitudes can be found in the medieval church (chapter 4), as well as the infamous Puritans (chapter 5), although noticeable shifts in the attitude toward sport did occur in both periods.

With the historical soundings in place, Harvey takes another 50 or so pages to complete his analytical task. In the opening chapter, Harvey moves toward a working definition of “sport,” noting that it is a sub-species of “play.” The latter is “a radically contingent, self-contained and utterly absorbing, unnecessary-yet-meaningful activity” (69). “Sport” is part of the sub-species of “games,” though is not identical to them. Games are a rule bound type of play (70), and sport is one genre of games. With all this in mind, Harvey turns in the following chapter toward the development a Christian theology of sport. Here, he draws a connection between play as “unnecessary-yet-meaningful” activities and our own existence as “unnecessary-yet-meaningful” creatures (84). The next chapter elaborates on this and so begins explicating a theology of sport proper. He ultimately suggests sport as a kind of liturgy of our most basic identity as “unnecessary-yet-meaningful” creatures (93). He likewise makes a sharp distinction between worship and sport, and that is a point that Leithart criticizes and to which Harvey responds.

The final two chapters, still part of Part 2, offer seven avenues for further explorations and some concluding comments. Harvey suggests taking the proposal that “sport is a liturgy of the creature’s contingnecy” (101), and applying its explanatory power to the following areas of study:

  • Rules (“By mapping sport onto contingency in the way we have, we get a clear idea of the value of rules in sport.” 101)
  • Competition (“Is competition really compatible with the Christian life?” 101)
  • Idolatry (“Sport will always be a perfect arena for idolatrous self-worship. It easily slips into the pagan (self-) worship of nature.” 103)
  • Sport and war (“[O]n a properly Christian reading of creation, war would be much better understood as a fallen state of sport rather than sport being seen as a domesticated form of war.” 104)
  • Professional sport (“Our theological analysis shows that sport should not be professionalized, any more than worship should be professionalized.” 104)
  • Gender and sport (“The corrupted nature of sport is again evidenced in the undervaluing – and denigration – of women’s sports historically.” 105)
  • Good and bad sport (“By linking sport to our  created being in the context of a fallen world, we have created some space for judging between sports.” 106)

As Harvey says in his concluding chapter, “Thinking through the question of sport has helped me appreciate why I love football so much. It has helped me see football for what it is. It is a chance for me to bounce up against my meaningful non-necessity” (111). Hopefully, if you are interested in sports yourself, and football in the American sense, this will be the effect of reading Harvey’s work for you as well. His book is not the final word on the topic, but it is excellently researched and probes the topic from angles that many have not. The endnotes following each chapter provide many avenues for additional reading, since this book will probably whet your appetite for further study.

But, like sport, Harvey’s book can be read as an end in itself. That is, it can be read as a way to give you a general orientation to sports in Christian theological perspective. It can be a way for you to enjoy playing and watching sports to the glory of God, knowing that it is an unnecessary, yet meaningful activity for you as a creature to partake in. But, if you really like sports, you’ll want to explore further and Harvey’s book will help set you along the right track.

Lincoln Harvey, A Brief Theology of Sport. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, April 2014. 152 pp. Paperback, $17.00.

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It’s been a while since Monday has been metal, so here you go. Haken is London-based progressive metal group. This track is the first off their recently released Restoration EP.

Though I wouldn’t buy Derrida’s deconstruction wholesale, he does kind of have a point, right?


So, here I am keeping up my trend of reviewing slightly older books. Like Predestination & Free WillChristian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification was published in the 80’s. Unlike the former book, I think this one has much light to shed in the present. If for instance you’ve kept up with the conversations about holiness in evangelical circles, you might remember a back and forth with Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian. In addition to publishing books on the topic, they’ve engaged in dialogue in the blog world and the discussion is far from settled.

In reading a book like this, you can see why. One thing I immediately noticed is that Tullian Tchividjian’s position is almost identical to Gerhard Forde’s. Even though Tchividjian is a PCA pastor, he is arguing for what is labeled in this multi-view book as the Lutheran position. It is the position that we are sanctified by grace through faith alone, or you could say, sanctification is “the art getting used to your justification” as Forde phrases it (13).

In contrast, Sinclair Ferguson argues for the traditional Reformed view, which is more less what DeYoung also argues. The primary distinction is that the Reformed view stresses the believer’s responsible participation. This is also a distinction that is shared by E. Glenn Hinson’s view which is labelled the Contemplative view, which is kind of Baptist view mixed with elements of medieval spirituality. The main distinction of the other two views, Wesleyan (Laurence Wood) and Pentecostal (Russell Spittler), is that they stress the unique role of the Holy Spirit.

On the whole, Ferguson’s view is the strongest argument, perhaps followed by Wood and then Hinson. Spittler, the Pentecostal contribution, was hardly an argument and easily the weakest of the book. The book as a whole would have been stronger with either a better Pentecostal scholar or with only four views total. Forde’s and Hinson’s view have helpful elements to them (the primacy of grace and importance of meditation respectively), but are not as biblically rich as Ferguson’s view.

What I found most insightful was reading the interchange between Forde and Ferguson. It was like a preview of Tchividjian and DeYoung 20 years early. If I haven’t commented on that here recently, I think Tchividjian’s position is bordering on antinomianism, at least as presented in Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Though I originally gave it a favorable review, I’ve adjusted my opinion of it since. It is simply not helpful to argue that sanctification is “the art of getting used to your justification,” if for no other reason than that biblical logic doesn’t work that way. Your sanctification isn’t grounded in your justification, but is rather grounded and grows from the fact that you are united to Christ by the Spirit.

This isn’t to say Tchividjian isn’t insightful or even helpful in discussing sanctification. However, I think Deyoung, and in this book Ferguson, is arguing from better biblical foundations. I’ll be interested to read Carl Trueman’s book on Luther on The Christian Life in the spring to see if the Lutheran view as argued by Forde and now advanced by Tchividjian goes all the way back to Luther himself. Trueman has been critical of Tchividjian’s position, so even though he is a fan of Luther, I doubt he’ll hesitate to criticize similar thinking in Luther.

Given all this, you might find this volume helpful if this question is something you want to explore further. As a whole, it doesn’t necessarily give the best view of the current landscape, a downside that Predestination & Free Will also had. However, because of Forde and Ferguson’s back and forth, it’s worth checking out. I didn’t mention much about Hinson or Wood’s views, but there is some insight to be gleaned from them as well, making all but Spittler worth your time to check out. Were an updated version to be made, it would be interesting to a similarly broad spectrum, but with strong pastor/scholars across the board.

Donald L. Alexander ed., Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 1988. 204 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

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This may well be the oldest book I’ve reviewed, to date at least. But, I wondered if IVP Academic would send me for review the volumes I lacked in the Spectrum Multiview series and they graciously did!

Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom is edited by David and Randall Basinger and covers a topic that directly bears on how Christians respond to many issues in life (8). Although most Christians will affirm both divine sovereignty and human freedom, in real life situations, we tend to emphasize one to the exclusion of the other (8). In fact, we can even swing back and forth between the two depending on the issue in question (9). What often happens is that there is a discrepancy between the theoretical and practical levels of our belief (10).

In order to hash all this out, the Basingers marshal four scholars representing four views on the subject. The first two, John Feinberg and Norman Geisler, affirm God’s specific sovereignty, with Feinberg arguing a moderate Calvinist position and Geisler trying to bridge the gap with Arminian thought. The second two contributors, Bruce Reichenbach and Clark Pinnock affirm general sovereignty and then say either that God limits his power (Reichenbach) or his knowledge (Pinnock) in order to make more space for human freedom.

I was curious to check this book out because the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a question that comes up often in Bible class. It has often been asked to me whether I believe in predestination or free will, illustrating that the general concern is soteriology. It also shows that some of the more polarizing positions have given the impression that it is an either/or belief. Either you affirm predestination or your affirm free will. Instead, everybody, if dealing with all the biblical data, has to opt for some kind of harmonization that invariably leaves some bit of tension.

Although I have my own view on the subject, I wondered if this book might be useful for explaining the different options available. After reading through it, I doubt I will make much use of it. The reason for that might be due to the selection of contributors, but it could also likely be because of how the discussion has advanced since this book was published. Though theologically speaking, 30 years isn’t quite that long (it’s my lifetime after all), alert readers will probably remember Clark Pinnock as the one of the main advocates/architects of the open theism position on God’s omniscience.

If you’re not familiar, this was the hot theological topic of the of the 90’s into the early 2000’s. While it was slightly before my time, it was still on the radar of theology classes when I was in seminary. While there are some legitimate concerns brought up by open theist’s exegesis of some passages, the solution they proposed was ultimately not helpful. For more background on this, you can read a recent article over at TGC.

From that vantage point, is interesting to read Pinnock’s position in this book. Pinnock’s language is rather caustic towards the traditional view of sovereignty he has grown to despise. In reading his position, it is hard to avoid the general impression that is a denial of sovereignty in favor of making God’s love the ultimate controlling attribute for all interpretations of other revelation in Scripture. Likewise, Reichenbach’s view seems like an anomaly at this point in time and I don’t know of any major theologian who holds to it (thought my own knowledge may be a bit limited).

Personally, I’m not a fan of Norman Geisler’s Thomistic theology or his attempts to blend Calvinism and Arminianism. Attempts to bridge the gap, I think, are ill-fated, and Geisler’s position outlined in this book generally upholds that opinion. Feinberg is probably the best argued case in the book, but it would have been better to have a confessionally Reformed scholar argue for a traditional Calvinistic perspective on the issue.

All of this is to say that an updated version of this book would be welcome. It would be ideal to have a strong Reformed point of view contrasted with a kind of Arminian Baptist view and someone like Greg Boyd who more winsomely argues for the open theist position. I realize he is one of the contributors to the Divine Foreknowledge book in this series, and as a whole, it looks like a more promising contribution to the discussion.

In the end, because the landscape has changed since this book was published, and the contributors could have been better selected, I don’t particularly recommend this book. It is not completely without merit, but I didn’t find any of positions outlined viable. If you are wanting to do a thorough study of the topic, this book might be worth consulting. But, if you’re hoping for a teaching resource to use in the classroom, a better discussion can be found elsewhere.

David Basinger & Randall Basinger eds., Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 1986. 180 pp. $18.00.

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When I first started seminary, I had to take a class on research methods. It was only a credit hour, and in addition to the Turabian style manual, one of our textbooks was Nancy Vyhmeister’s  Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology. There may have been a second edition available at that point, but my original copy is the first edition. I barely remember reading it, but judging from the internal highlights, I pretty clearly did.

Now, roughly 7 years later, there is a 3rd edition of the book that is about 60 pages longer. The basic material is more or less the same, though the structure is updated. In the newest edition, the opening chapter lays out a definition of research and is then followed by the first formal part of the book which is comprised of 9 chapters on 9 different kinds of theological research:

  • Biblical exegesis and interpretation
  • Literary research
  • Descriptive research
  • Program development
  • Case studies
  • Action research
  • Writing for publication
  • Academic theses and dissertations
  • The D.Min project

New to this edition are the chapters on literary research and writing for publication, the latter of which I found particularly helpful. Also, compared to the first edition that I read in seminary, it is much more helpful to have the different kinds of research laid out and explained at the beginning of the book rather than the end like the original edition (which also did not separate the material of the book out into separate parts).

Having gone through some basics to differentiate these different kinds of research, the following section, which is the heart of the book, is about actually carrying out the research. Here, readers are guided through the entire process, beginning with developing research thinking and choosing a topic, through gathering and evaluating resources, and eventually to organizing and writing the actual paper. New to this edition is a very needed chapter on evaluating on using internet sources. The final section of the book focuses on formatting and explains briefly the ends and outs of presenting the final product of the research project.

Though not an exhaustive word on the topic, this book is fairly standard for seminary preparation. I had to read it at Dallas starting the Th.M program and it is also part of the opening Ph.D seminary on research methods at Southern. If you are considering seminary or are already planning on attending in the near future, you could get a jump start by reading this book now.

That being said, the book is not the final word and so shouldn’t be treated as definitive. At Southern for instance, several other resources on research methods are required reading (books like How To Write A Lot, They Say / I Say:  The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through The Information Fog, and Stylish Academic Writing). While Vyhmeister provides a good general overview of the process, other more detailed works should be consulted to round out your research abilities.


Nancy Jean Vyhmeister &Terry Dwain Robertson, Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and TheologyGrand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2014. 304 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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One of my favorite instrumental bands is actually just one guy (probably why I like him) who writes and records under the name Cloudkicker. This is the first track of a 3 song EP, which you can probably stream either on YouTube or the bandcamp site I just linked to. If you like it, consider actually buying it even though you can continue to stream for free as long as you like.

Be sure and check out the most recent album, Little Histories, that was released today!

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