EFAC Australia

Book Reviews

Book Review: Inventing the Universe: Why we can't stop talking about science, faith and God
Alister McGrath
Hodder and Stoughton, 2015

The “war” between science and religion has moved on, and this book is an attempt to move it further on, into a discussion that can be mutually respectful and enriching. McGrath traces his own transition from a fully assured teenage atheist to a convinced Christian. Part of this testimony involves a recurring and unflattering comparison between the Anti-theist group and his teenage over-simplified atheism. McGrath engages respectfully with a number of dialogue partners on various sides of the debate, including Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Mary Midgley and Roger Scruton. One of his aims is to correct outdated perceptions of the conflict between science and religion (it is a recently invented myth), although his chief opponent is the New Atheism which he claims is not traditional atheism, but actually Anti-theism.

The main idea is that science has limitations, as does religion. There are clear boundaries beyond which their claim to knowledge is false. The newscientism, really an ideology, wants to pretend that science can tell us about meaning (or the impossibility of meaning) and guide us in ethical and moral areas. McGrath ventures into psychology (do we have souls?), ethics, uncertainty in science, and the nature of knowledge, to clarify these issues. He also discusses briefly the problems of religion wanting to answer questions of science as in Creation Science, and has a very helpful discussion on Darwinism and evolution (both biological and social).

In all of this he proposes an old idea that religion, especially Christianity, and science are able to engage in a “narrative of enrichment” that allows both parties to contribute what they do best to a broad understanding of the universe we are part of. “This is not about inventing a make-believe universe, but about discerning the deeper levels of meaning and beauty that are already present within our universe yet which are too easily missed if we limit ourselves to one tradition of inquiry or to one map of reality.” (203)

The book seems repetitive at times, but the repetition mostly concerns McGrath's changes of mind over time. This, for me, was quite interesting so the repetition didn't become too tedious. The book ranges over a lot of different science, much of it up to date. Its main strength is to make clear that the Anti-theist agenda is based on an outmoded Enlightenment understanding of rationality, that the debates have moved on, that the later writings of Richard Dawkins and others are less and less reasonable and scientific, and that there is a lot to be gained by recognizing that science and Christianity have significant areas of understanding to contribute to each other.

Dale Appleby, WA

Book Review: Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture
Mark Yarhouse
IVP Academic, 2015.

Gender dysphoria (GD) and transgender issues are currently a hot topic in the media and everyday discourse, thanks in no small part to the topic being thrust into the limelight by celebrity events. However, the current media focus on the topic doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the issue.  From a psychological perspective, Gender Dysphoria [302.85]—or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as it was known—has been described in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM)—the psychological diagnostic handbook—since version III (1980) under different categories. My own interest in the topic originated with two friends announcing their identification as ‘trans’ and ‘gender identity dissonant’  around fourteen years ago. In particular, there has been a lack of helpful, well thought through analysis from a Christian perspective.

Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse, is a relatively slim book given his previous work on modern psychopathologies and books on therapy. As with his previous work he writes from a distinctly Christian perspective, although firmly embedded within the psychological discipline as a well-rounded practitioner. As such this book walks the fine line between disciplinary specificity and appealing to a broader audience. The introduction describes this tension well:

‘This book invites Christians to reflect on several issues related to these findings [sexual identity research], a broader research literature…and other anecdotal accounts. …I note that as we wade into this particular pool, we are going to quickly be in the deep end, as the topic is complex.’  (p11)
It is this tension that makes this book both appealing and somewhat unsatisfying. From my own background I will be reviewing it from both a psychological and a theological perspective, with all the conflict and overlap that this presents.

Yarhouse  starts from a point that is relatively accessible to his audience. However, this accessible starting point is not without its costs, as the first few pages present a steep learning curve. By the second page of the first content chapter Yarhouse is deep within identity theory, chromosomal difference, and introducing a spectrum of gender identification. Although this book may be written for a lay audience it expects a strong degree of education, reflection and analysis. Drawing from his psychological background Yarhouse helpfully differentiates between biological/chromosomal sex, gender identity, and gender role/acts. It is this degree of nuance that is useful in defining aspects of the discussion up front.

From the first chapter that seeks to appreciate the complexity surrounding gender dysphoria, the second chapter attempts to assemble a useful Christian perspective on the topic. The opening anecdote sets the tone for the chapter by highlighting a limited and closed-minded approach. Throughout this model building Yarhouse draws upon a biblical theology of humanity. From this he proposes three preliminary models for engaging with gender dysphoria: the integrity framework, the disability framework and the diversity framework. While these three frameworks represent usable approaches it is worth noting that none of them will please everyone. Conservative Christians will likely follow after the integrity framework, while abhorring the diversity framework. Similarly staunch supporters of Gender Dysphoria (in the DSM-5 sense) will likely support the diversity model while decrying the integrity framework. Nevertheless these three frameworks are a useful heuristic for approaching the issue. Yarhouse attempts to blend these three frameworks in presenting an integrated model that acknowledges ‘integrity of sex differences,’ drives for ‘compassionate management of gender dysphoria,’ and validates ‘meaning making, identity and community.’ From a theological perspective the anthropology feels quite shallow and I wish it wrestled further with the imago dei and Christian identity. Nevertheless this section is a good introduction to the topic, and will be useful even to those with no faith convictions whatsoever, due to the paucity of helpful literature on the topic. The majority of literature at a lay-level provides brief glosses at best, while more in-depth literature tends towards ‘clinicalisation’ and diagnostic issues.

From this chapter, the book moves on to an investigation of the Phenomenology and Prevalence (Ch4) and Prevention and Treatment (Ch5) of Gender Dysphoria. These chapters are presented from the perspective of the DSM-5 with some minor comparisons with the previous DSM-IV. Here Yarhouse’s clinical practice is set centre stage, with regular anecdotal excursuses supporting and highlighting facets of the clinical definitions. Personally from my background in socio-cognitive psychology, I would wish for more in these chapters on the DSM-5 update to the DSM-IV given the change from Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria. This change in the DSM-5 acknowledges the increasing ‘medicalisation’ of the diagnostic criteria, but seemingly sidelines many of the identity issues in favour of focusing on the ‘distress’ involved in the diagnosis. (Koh, 2012) This aspect of identity and gender is the primary area that my inner socio-cognitive psych wants to see addressed and engaged with further from a Christian perspective, especially concerning issues of cognitive dissonance in this sphere.

The final section of the book envisages a Christian response from both individuals and the broader community (or institution). These chapters seek to cement the theory and specialist praxis within the sphere of Christian community. Ultimately these chapters are likely to be the most useful to the intended audience and have the most impact; my psychological and theological wishes aside. These chapters paint a picture of a church that seeks to love and engage with those who have gender identity concerns. Furthermore, the picture that Yarhouse paints is certainly not the whitewashing of the issue that is commonly presented, nor is it the seemingly random spatters of paint that resemble a church that has not wrestled with these issues. The practical application here will greatly benefit churches and individuals alike.

Ultimately this book provides an invaluable foray into the issues surrounding Gender Dysphoria/Gender Identity Disorder. It seeks to present a strong case for understanding gender dysphoria from a biblical, theological, pastoral and psychological standpoint. The argument presented will certainly not please everyone, with many conservatives seeing it as capitulating and many progressives seeing it as not radical enough. Personally there are times I wish that certain issues were investigated further, or extricated from the holistic model to be examined individually. However, despite these issues the book makes an important contribution to a sorely neglected issue within the church, and our society, today. All readers, even those who have no faith affiliation, are likely to find this book useful in addressing the basis of their exploration in understanding gender dysphoria.

Chris Porter, Vic.

Big Sky Publishing, 2015

Reviewed by Principal Chaplain Geoff Webb

In 1942 the Reverend Hugh Cunningham was serving as a chaplain with the elements of the Australian Army captured with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. He went into captivity with the rest of that unhappy band finding his way to imprisonment on the notorious Burma Railway. There he was treated extremely badly by the guards until one of them gained an inkling into his special status among the men and gave him an arm band with green Japanese characters on it. It was only after the war that Hugh Cunningham found out that they said, “Captain of the souls of men”. With this anecdote Dr Gladwin begins his history of Australian Army Chaplaincy which he entitles in the light of this story “Captains of the Soul”. He sums up the story of Hugh Cunningham this way, “As I will attempt to show, Cunningham personified a model of practical service and religious and moral leadership that had been forged by the Australian Army Chaplains’ Department during the Great War, and by the generation of chaplains before them in South Africa”. So he summarises in his typically clear, winsome and succinct style his aim in writing a history of the Royal Australian Army Chaplains’ Department. The book was commissioned and published to coincide with the formal centenary of the RAAChD on the 1st of December 2013. As such it is part of the Army History Unit’s goal of having an official history of every corps in the Army. “Captains of the Soul” goes well beyond simply an official history to be a very accessible account of the courage and commitment of Australian clergy who left their parishes to bring the presence of God to men and women who had taken up the challenge of serving their country and as a result often faced, death, injury, privation, disease and all the other horrors attendant on armed conflict.

EdwardsandChurchJonathan Edwards and the Church
By Rhys Bezzant

Oxford University Press, 2013

Reviewed by Chris Porter

Although Jonathan Edwards wrote and preached on an exceedingly wide variety of theological subjects, many scholars declare that he did not have any independent ecclesiology. Rather that his ecclesiological impulses were driven by social and broader theological focuses. In Jonathan Edwards and the Church Rhys Bezzant demonstrates that Edwards actually held a robust ecclesiology that took into account both social and theological drivers. Bezzant sets out to expound Edwardsean on his oft-repeated model of the church as a ‘focused domain where God’s promises, presence and purpose are to be discovered.’ (ix) In doing so he opines that Edwards’s ecclesiology was ultimately ‘a revivalist ecclesiology within a traditional ecclesiology of nurture and institutional order.’ (xi)

In order to investigate Edwards’s ecclesiology Bezzant follows a diachronic model, describing the various aspects of Edwards’s ministry, writings and church engagement throughout his life. In chapter one Bezzant paints a rich picture of the church world of the New England colonies before Edwards’s ministry, highlighting a vast array of ecclesiological and social pressures upon the Puritan endeavour. Chapters two, three, and four trace Edwards’s ecclesiological development through the three primary stages of his life— delineated by two works A Faithful Narrative in 1735 and A Humble Attempt in 1747. Bezzant traces Edwards’s reflections from his less-conventional conversion narrative through his early life, developing theology and burgeoning ministry—the period heavily influenced by the Great Awakening—and then into his mature ecclesial ministry and global focus. These chapters mine the depths of Edwards’s own writings—recently published as a letterpress edition by Yale University Press—as well as the copious secondary literature on the variety of topics. Within the investigation of Edwards’s writings these chapters are shaped by the contours of the New England history and are firmly set within their broader context.

GIVING GENEROUSLYGiving generously
By Rod Irvine

Barton Books, 2015

Reviewed by Chris Johnson
Rector, North Pine Anglican

This book is as much about a personal journey as it is about raising money. It tells the story of Rod Irvine and how he grew in his understanding of this important area of ministry during his tenure as Rector of Figtree Anglican Church in Wollongong. He talks about overcoming his fears and the breakthroughs that happened both personally and corporately as he applied the principles he writes about.

Of course there is much theory and great practical advice set out in the book which any leader in the church can take hold of and use in their own ministry context. Rod is widely read in this area and draws on much academic research as well as the insights of other church leaders. The book is well grounded in the latest literature on the raising of church finances. What makes it so readable is the way Rod sets this theory in the midst of his struggles and wrestling with both God and his people through the ups and downs of parish ministry.

This is the work of a pastor rather than prophet. Rod is concerned with resourcing the ministry of a local church to enable it to preach the gospel and win others to Christ. He understands the need for gathering people around a vision and being the leader who enables that vision to happen. He is not an Amos haranguing people about their hedonistic materialism and calling on them to repent in dust and ashes. He is a pastor seeking to woo his people to the higher ground of greater generosity.