Saturday, July 18, 2009

Briefly Noted: My Summer Reading List

Well, actually, I read some of these books before summer, and I am not likely to finish them all before winter (I wish I could read books like my friend Wayne who devours one almost a day!) I may offer full reviews of some of these books, but it occurred to me that some of my readers may be looking for a summer read recommendation, so ...

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright (HarperCollins Publishers, February 2008)

Many Christian universally accept the resurrection of Jesus as the pivotal event in human history. Most, however, fail to understand the full significance of resurrection. Wright (the Anglican Bishop of Durham, and one of Christianity’ s leading thinkers) offers a refreshing look at resurrection, its present and future implications. Evangelical Christians often emphasize “personal salvation” at the expense of the larger matters of God’s Kingdom purposes. Wright gently reminds us that it is not all about me! Those who think that they will “go to heaven” when they die should think again; Wright suggests otherwise. Those whose premillennial mindset gives them the perceived “right” to trample upon earth’s ecology should think again; those who think the earth is destined for the eternal ash heap should think again; Wright suggests otherwise. Those awaiting the “rapture” followed by seven years of tribulation should think again; Wright suggests otherwise. My emphasis here at OutsideTheBox has been upon how we got to this present moment; Wright’s sense of where we are and where we are headed fits in beautifully with where our cosmic and biological history tells us we have been.

The Deep Structure of Biology: Is Convergence Sufficiently Ubiquitous to Give a Directional Signal, Simon Conway Morris (Editor) (Templeton Press, May 2008)

Conway Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge, happens to a Christian. Whether his faith biases him toward certain outcomes in his research, or whether it properly guides him down the correct path, will, of course, depend upon one’s presuppositions. But I find his work fascinating! This anthology about evolutionary convergence asks the larger question: Does biology offer evidence of ultimate purpose? Conway Morris and the writers joining him do not accept Special Creationism or Intelligent Design. They approach evolutionary science from a naturalistic standpoint. Nevertheless, they see hidden in the course of random evolution strong hints of teleology, a purpose behind it all. Convergence suggests that evolutionary outcomes are largely predictable without the interventions or superintendence of a Creator.

Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, Simon Conway Morris (Cambridge University Press, August 2004)

This earlier Conway Morris title arrived at my house from Amazon two days ago. I have only browsed the chapter titles so far. But the subtitle provides an overview. Conway Morris presents ample evidence that, given a planet like ours, and 3.8 billion years of random evolutionary wanderings, intelligent biped hominids (that’s us!) were bound to emerge. We are the inevitable result of the unguided, random processes of evolution. This is Conway Morris’s seminal presentation of convergence and its implications for intelligent, sentient life.

There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Antony Flew (HarperCollins Publishers,

November 2008)

The title says it all. Antony Flew is a British philosopher who long led an atheistic charge against belief, insisting that we should properly presuppose no God until we have proof of his existence. He argued that the problem of evil was not solved by theists, and therefore stood as a powerful argument against the monotheistic faiths. In 2004, he did a remarkable turnabout. His deistic beliefs are not Christian; in fact, they suggest a rational basis for belief in God outside of religious faith. I’ve wanted to read Flew’s account of his “conversion”, and look forward to doing so.

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press, April 2009)

[NOTE: I have now written a full review of this book which can be found here.]

Hart (who also wrote The Doors of the Sea which I reviewed here) is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher who is currently a professor at Providence College. Those who read into the subtitle a slightly dismissive tone (“its fashionable enemies”) do so correctly. Hart sets out to dismantle the underpinnings of today’s “new atheist” authors, (Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris) showing how their works rest less upon rigorous scholarship, and more upon the ethos of our age. When you serve up just what a culture is hungering for, you can make blanket proclamations devoid of logic or evidence; ill-informed masses will nod in agreement. The mere force of such atheistic declarations, coupled with the presumed scholarship of their sources, establishes the argument. Such assertions become easy fodder for Hart’s powerful refutation. Hart is nothing short of masterful. This book also showed up on my doorstep last week, and I am currently devouring it. I will offer a full review later.

So, if you’re still looking for that title to fill out your summer reading opportunities, you might find it in one of these five books.

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