Twice Disappointed

Book Reviews

The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth by Dallas Willard and Gary Black, Jr.

Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians: Pushing Back Against Cultural and Religious Critics by Mark Coppenger.

These books have but one thing in common: I had high hopes for them but I was disappointed, and I have better books to suggest instead.

The Divine Conspiracy Continued

I was sent a review copy of The Divine Conspiracy Continued, but I probably would have bought it otherwise on the strength of its names: Dallas Willard, and The Divine Conspiracy, the original work of which this was intended to be a continuation. The Divine Conspiracy is one of just a few Christian books of our generation that I am sure will remain a classic for generations. (J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is another.)

It was, as they say, a hard act to follow. Dallas Willard passed away while it was still in progress, leaving his friend and colleague Gary Black Jr. to finish the work. The best way I can think of to express my experience with it is that with every page I turned, I kept thinking about The Divine Conspiracy, and thinking I’d like to be reading it instead. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with  Continued. It’s that the original volume is so outstanding.

Finally I went to my bookshelves and did just that: I started reading The Divine Conspiracy. I can still recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm.

As for The Divine Conspiracy Continued, I can recommend it, too, just not as enthusiastically. It’s a good working-out of what it means to be a leader involved in pursuing the Kingdom of God. Just don’t expect it to match the quality of Willard’s best work.

Moral Apologetics

I don’t recall where I came across Mark Coppenger’s Moral Apologetics. All I remember is I bought it immediately, again with high hopes. For the past few years I’ve been calling on my fellow apologists to consider Christianity’s moral apologetic problem, which is the bad ethical reputation Christianity has lately acquired. Coppenger’s book addresses this straight-on, which I appreciate. His approach is to set forth multiple worldviews’ moral beliefs, and their practical outworkings, in comparison with Christianity’s beliefs and their effect in the world.

There’s a lot there—too much. He covers so much ground, he does very little of it real justice. Though he does not shy away at all from embarrassing moments in Christian history, still I think a skeptic would very likely think he had cooked the books to make other worldviews look bad and Christianity look good.

That’s not actually what’s going on in this book. The book is honestly written, and based on my study of the various worldviews covered in this book, its ethical comparisons are all valid and supportable. The problem isn’t that Coppenger’s conclusions are wrong, it’s that in these pages, they’re lacking that support; yet they’re offered with finality, as if a brief and incomplete explanation were all that was needed.

Though there are exceptions—the chapter on Islam is one—to meet it felt like virtually every topic was brought to an initial jumping-off point, and then dropped for the next one. I do think that with its citations it could be valuable as a quick-reference handbook—he calls it a “sampler” in the introduction—but it’s not a persuasive work on its own.

There is a problem with Christianity’s moral reputation. The best apologetic against that is still to be found in you and me living our lives in Christ with true self-sacrificial love. If you want a book to go with that, this isn’t the one; start with Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization instead.

Comments

  1. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    I grabbed a copy of Mangalwadi’s book from the library after your last recommendation. Finished the first 3 parts and so far it reads as “after it, therefore because of it”. Things happening in a Christian society don’t have to happen because it’s a Christian society and so far I haven’t seen any evidence of a strict connection. Will see how the next chapter unfolds.

    Cheers
    Shane

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    Tom Gilson

    What about these indications?

    1. Where Christianity is much more prevalent, the effect he is writing of is also more prevalent.
    2. The effect is newly induced in societies where Christianity is newly introduced.
    3. The Christianity of which he is speaking is biblically-based Christianity.

  5. Shane Fletcher

    Well … No. This is essentially the problem of quantification I raised originally. How can you know that Christianity is responsible.

    For example, divorce rates in the U.S. have rapidly increased since the introduction of the “No Fault Divorce” in 1973. I am sure you would agree that the nation and the government at the time were a Christian majority. Does that mean Christianity should be credited that nearly 1 in 2 marriages now end in divorce?

    Sincerely
    Shane

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    Tom Gilson

    Have you ever heard of Koch’s Postulates? They’re used to determine whether a certain set of effects can be attributed to a certain cause. I adapted that set of three questions from them. I understand the Postulates aren’t perfect and the analogy isn’t complete, but still there’s some substance to it.

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  8. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    I had not hear of Koch or his Postulates. Thanks for the link. I always like to learn something new.

    Reading the link tells me he was a Doctor working at the dawn of germ theory, explaining how to describe a one to one, cause and affect, between the microbe found in the blood supply and the symptoms of the patient. These postulates were used to prove that disease was in fact a living organism, the microbe itself. That is a far cry from trying to show a causal link between two independent things like Christianity and the invention/uptake of the horse shoe by Europeans.

    Cheers
    Shane

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