Book Note: Bryan Van Norden’s “Taking Back Philosophy”

Bryan Van Norden, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto (New York: CUP, 2017) (Amazon; Bookshop)

While this book wasn’t completely what I expected it was excellent nonetheless and I think I prefer what it is in actuality to what I imagined it would be. When I bought it, I was under the impression that the entire book would be a defense of the basic thesis: a thesis Bryan Van Norden and Jay Garfield put forth first in a May 11th, 2016 entry to “The Stone column of the New York Times blog” titled “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is” (p. xxiii). Van Norden and Garfield argued that philosophy departments should “rename themselves ‘departments of Anglo-European philosophy'” if they weren’t willing to expand their departments to include the study of philosophy from non-“western” perspectives (p. xxiii). As you can imagine, this provocative claim provoked many responses and those responses led to Van Norden writing Taking Back Philosophy.

The first couple chapters of the book are what I expected and I found them entirely convincing. In chapter 1, “A Manifesto for Multicultural Philosophy” he “names names” and “brings the receipts” as the kids say, showing how the assumption that philosophy is only a “western” thing is ethnocentric and structurally racist, even when unintended. He makes the case that if philosophy is to survive and not kill itself off, it needs to adapt to and embrace a diversifying and pluralistic world. But this isn’t just an attempt to be PC or cosmopolitan: it’s because Van Norden is right in that Indian and Chinese thought, to name two branches, are deeply philosophical! For example, I’ve been (slowly) reading Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics and as I encounter his monism I keep thinking, “Didn’t India reach these conclusions centuries, millennia prior to Spinoza?!” Now, they framed it differently but that doesn’t make it less philosophical.

Now, I’m prone to agree with Van Norden. As far back as the early 2010’s when I read Yoram Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, I’ve been convinced that Jewish and Christian sacred texts can be read as rational, philosophical works just as easily as the Pre-Socratics or Plato. I teach them with an eye to their philosophical claims. For example, in past versions of my class “The Hebrew Scriptures” (when I covered a lot more ground pre-pandemic), I would juxtapose the political philosophy and ethical paradigms of the Book of Daniel over against the Book of Esther. I’m supervising independent research by a student right now who is investigating these matters and soon we’ll discuss topics like trauma in the Book of Lamentations and theodicy in the Book of Job. (For a great discussion on how this can work, listen to Dru Johnson’s interview with Van Norden on Johnson’s podcast.)

Chapter 2, “Traditions in Dialogue” was another chapter I expected. In this part of the book, Van Norden does what I imagined he’d do throughout: he juxtaposes Chinese philosophy (his expertise) with “western” counterparts (e.g. the metaphysics of Descartes and Nāgasena; the political philosophy of Hobbes and Kongzi and Mengzi). Anyone with an open mind should recognize not only that China has had philosophy (unless we assume some oddly misplaced concreteness that claims “philosophy” because of its etymological roots in Greek must be “European” or “western” only) but that Chinese philosophy stands its ground quite well!

Chapter 3, “Trump’s Philosophers” looks at the move by personalities like Donald J. Trump and Xi Jinping to build “walls” (metaphorical and literal) that divide. In a sense, this chapter serves as a mirror for those who want to keep philosophy ethnocentric and “western”. Van Norten doesn’t fall into the trap of denegrating “western” philosophy, culture, and traditions but instead advocates something like a “more is more” approach: let’s celebrate the thought that has come from places like Germany, France, England, and the United States but in doing so let’s not close ourselves off to what we can learn from China, India, Japan or from broader groupings like African and Indigenous forms of philosophy.

In chapter 4, “Welders and Philosophers,” Van Norten challenges people like Marco Rubio who use rhetoric that (being generous here) may intend to dignify the working class (“We need more welders and less philosophers.”) at the expense of the academic “elites” but instead is disparaging toward both the welder who could and should want to read philosophy, the philosophy major who can actually do quite well for themselves with their humanities degree, and all citizens of a democracy who have the right to be informed and develop their thinking as members of society. This chapter defends the value of the humanities and the usefulness of a college education. My only complaint is that while showing how an undergraduate degree can raise someone’s earning power, Van Norten doesn’t deal with higher ed’s cost inflation that essentially saddles college graduates with a “tax” (student loan repayment) for getting that education.

Finally, in chapter 5, “The Way of Confucius and Socrates,” Van Norten reminds us of why philosophy is valuable, for everyone. His definition of philosophy is similar to the one I’ve shared with my students and members of our school’s “Philosophy Club” (p. 151): “philosophy is a dialogue about problems that we agree are important, but don’t agree about the method of solving, where ‘importance’ ultimately gets its sense from the question of the way one should live.” The target isn’t just Rubio or others like Ted Cruz, who while allowing themselves to receive a liberal arts education speak to others as if its a waste of their time, but also to members of the cult of scientism, like Neil deGrasse Tyson or the late Stephen Hawking, who think that philosophy is outdated just because certain branches of the sciences have developed a method that helps them solve or begin to solve important questions. Van Norten reminds readers that prior to a field’s emergence, it must be created by philosophy. Once a field has a generally shared methodology, it “grows up” and can go out on its own as “astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics,” to name a few examples (p. 143). Hawking and deGrasse Tyson wouldn’t have their fields of study if it weren’t for the “natural philosophers” who preceded them!

The broader defense of philosophy wasn’t what I expected when I bought to book but it didn’t detract from the book at all. It made it better. It reminded philosophers that what they’re doing is important but that it philosophy can be improved by expanding the conversation to include the many voices that are often ignored.

Book Note: Danté Stewart’s “Shoutin’ in the Fire”

Danté Stewart, Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle (New York: Convergent, 2021). (Amazon; Bookshop)

Danté Stewart’s Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle is a beautiful and troubling book. It’s beautiful because it’s a testimony to Black-strength, Black-resilience, and Black-pride. It’s troubling because I’m a white reader who was confronted with the meaning of whiteness. But the synthesis of this beauty and this trouble is that it’s essential if you want to hear a contemporary voice speak aloud about what it means to be Black and Christian and American (p. 6).

The title comes from the story in the Book of Daniel where the three Hebrews are thrown in the fiery furnace by the order of the King of Babylon. The title is unpacked through chapter-after-chapter of testimony as to how the Black Church is a witness to this spirit—the spirit of fidelity in the midst of a life-and-death trial. This book is written with the recent murders of Black Americans from Treyvon Martin to George Floyd being always present but also with white silence, especially white, Christian American silence, blaring in our ears.

I was raised as a Oneness Pentecostal who left that tradition for the broader, more mainstream white Evangelical Church. Stewart was raised as an Apostolic Pentecostal who left his tradition for the broader, more mainstream white Evangelical Church. Eventually, Stewart leaves white Evangelicalism and in the process is able to rediscover some of the life-giving treasures of his Apostolic Pentecostal roots. I have left Evangelicalism as well but I couldn’t look back to my Oneness Pentecostal roots with the same fondness. It was easy for me to see that the major difference is that Stewart’s Apostolic Pentecostal community was held together by more than its doctrine but also by the shared experience of being Black Americans, a shared experience I didn’t have with my fellow white Oneness Pentecostals. In other words, my white Oneness Pentecostalism didn’t contribute to my struggle for freedom or the for the recognition of my humanity like Stewart’s Apostolic Pentecostalism did for him. As I read, I could see that Stewart had experienced something in his formative years that I couldn’t and that while our Christianities shared creedal similarities, that’s where the parallels mostly end (though running, shouting, tongue-taking, etc., are shared experiences).

White Evangelicalism didn’t try to rip my identity from me. But white Evangelicalism did try to rip Stewart’s identity from him. And his departure from white Evangelicalism was when he realized he had a role to play in the struggle for Black-liberation in this country. That’s when he was empowered to read Martin Luther King Jr., James Cone, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, et al. And that’s when Stewart was given words that informed his voice as a writer. When you read this book, you’ll be glad that Stewart found his way out of white Evangelicalism because we need his voice: it’s prophetic, it’s poetic, it’s powerful.

The two chapters that will live in my brain forever are “Rage.” and “Back Roads.” It’s in “Rage.” that Stewart explains how he recognized the power and life-giving strength of Black-rage against white supremacy and its impact. But this is also the chapter where he talks about his journies in white Evangelicalism, how he wanted to be accepted in those circles, how he found himself being numbed to the Black experience in this country, and how he escaped.

Stewart writes of how he initially responded to a question asked across social media, “What radicalized you?” with the tweet “JESUS & JAMES BALDWIN” but how he then came to realized that as important as Jesus and James Baldwin were to him, “It wasn’t Jesus or James Baldwin who radicalized me. It was white people. Apathetic white people.” (pp. 78-79) Stewart tells stories about how his Evangelical Church tried the whole “racial reconciliation” approach, which for those in the know, is often code in many Evangelical Churches for “Black Christians are welcome to join our white Church and embrace our traditions, music, hermeneutics, etc., as long as you don’t make us feel bad about the state of race relations in this country”. But as Black people were murdered by the police, Stewart realized he was not in a place that seemed to care. Their approach to racial reconciliation was to do a small group study around a book written by John Piper (p. 80). Yes, John Piper.

As I read this, I remembered my time in white Evangelicalism. While my experience was nothing like Stewart’s because I’m white, I can say that his criticism of white Evangelicalism’s approach to racial reconciliation is every bit as problematic as that chapter describes, and their sense that their theology is normalized “theology,” traditional “theology,” even orthodox “theology,” rather than a specifically situated expression of white theology is what makes it all so very troubling.

It was “Back Roads.” that made me stop several times to digest Stewart’s words. I want to share three extended quotes from that chapter, then I’ll shut up, step aside, and encourage you to buy and read this book:

“Any conception of God, Baldwin wrote, must deal honestly with the ways Black people are unloved in American society and in the American church and give us all something that helps us to work for a world in which all bodies experience what God desires.”

Shoutin’ in the Fire, p. 111

This reminds me of the words spoken by Irving Greenberg, who wrote in Cloud of Smoke; Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity After the Holocaust (p. 506), that, “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.” Likewise, no Christian theology can be done in America that isn’t credible in the presence of Black Americans who have seen white American Christians hide behind their theology while continuing their acts of oppression. (As James Cone taught us as Adam Clark recently reminded us.)

“If the white folk I worshipped and went to school with and had dinner with had the imagination to see C.S. Lewis’ Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as Jesus, then I knew there should have been no problem when Black folk said Jesus was Black and Jesus loved Black people and Jesus wanted to see Black people free. Just as they found meaning in the symbol of Aslan’s representation of love, I found meaning in the symbol of Jesus’ solidarity with Blackness. But, sadly, I found out that many could see the symbol of divine goodness and love in an animal before they could ever see the symbol of divine goodness and love in Blackness.

Shoutin’ in the Fire, p. 115

These words remind me of the embarrassing and shameful response I heard from many white Americans to the statement, “Black Lives Matter”. Many of the same people who could listen to the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those persecuted,” and recognize that Jesus was being derogatory toward the rest of humanity but instead was highlighting the special value of those often overlooked and trampled on by society, somehow couldn’t stand the idea that Black Americans were saying, like Jesus, “In a country that says we don’t matter, we declare we matter.” Instead, many white Americans just reinforced the point by trying to silence Black voices.

“I saw why they insisted on saying Jesus was Black. Of course they were not talking about his skin color, though he definitely wasn’t white; they were talking about his experience, about his solidarity with the oppressed, about his universal love, about his commitment to God’s just future, about his healing of wounds, and his good news that Black life does not end in this moment but will forever be beautiful, worthy, and loved. They knew Jesus knew what it meant to live in an occupied territory, knew what it meant to be from an oppressed people, and in a place that does not care about your religion—at least not the way they practice it—but does care to remind you of its idea about your place in society. The threat you pose to their lies. They knew Jesus knew what it was like for people who looked like him to care more about being in proximity to power, and he knew that those in power did not care about people that looked like him.”

Shoutin’ in the Fire, p. 117

When I first read James Cone critique of whiteness, I was taken back; I was upset. I didn’t get it. I thought he was talking about me, the individual. This meant I needed to hear what he was saying because I was identifying with whiteness—not pigmentation but the cultural perks and privileges that come with being recognized as “white” in America. If I wanted to follow in the ways of Jesus, I’d have to abandon my pride in my privilege, in my whiteness, like the “rich young ruler” was asked to abandon his pride in his privilege, in his wealth. When I read the last quote from Stewart, I was reminded of this ongoing challenge for white Christians like myself that want to do better. We must recognize that if we’re going to learn to be Christians, we must learn from the people with whom Jesus would surround himself, with whom he’d identify, with whom he’d be in solidarity.

Go read Shoutin’ in the Fire.

Notes on some recently read books

The school year has begun, so of course this blog has gone dormant. Sorry!

I do want to mention/recommend a few books I read as summer break was ending:

Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?
(Amazon; Bookshop)

I’m sure there are a million reviews of this book available already, so all I’m going to say is this: as a high school teacher who has a front row seat to the Hunger Games that is college admissions, I wish each of my students and their families would read this book. Sandel exposes the flaws of the meritocratic worldview: not only that it’s not real (the hardest workers don’t receive the best rewards) but also that it harms even the “winners”.

Jason Ananda Josephson Storm, Metamodernism: The Future of Theory (Amazon; Bookshop)

Storm is brave. He attempts to do something constructive in an era that is dominated by deconstruction. The main focus of the book is this (to oversimplify): how does the humanities move past postmodernism without denying postmodernity’s critiques and returning to modernistic thinking. This book could be a game changer when it comes to epistemology and it offers a new constructive approach to several topics that are desperately needed in the humanities since we’ve poisoned ourselves for a generation by telling everyone why our fields of study are flawed and not really real. For example, modernity sought a concrete definition of religion. Postmodernity helped us realize this is quixotic and that there’s no “form” of religion (to draw Plato and then Wittgenstein into the discussion). But something important still needs to be said about things like “religion,” even if it lacks concreteness. Storm offers a way forward.

Christine M. Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals (Amazon; Bookshop)

On Ash Sunday 2020, I became a vegetarian. I’ve been looking for a philosopher to give me words to help me think about this change because it’s not dietary as much as ethical as relates to how we treat animals and the environmental impact of animal consumption. Korsgaard’s attempt to ground animal ethics in a Kantian framework has a lot to offer. Her writing has begun to reshape my understanding of “the good,” how humans relate to other animals in our differences and similarities to other creatures; and why we humans shouldn’t think of ourselves as superior to other creatures. Yet, Korsgaard notes that what makes us different also makes us responsible and while she concludes things like vegetarianism is ethically ideal and that factory farming is deeply immoral, so also draws the readers into ongoing conversations about topics like breeding animals away from being predatory; whether we should have pets; whether we should leave all animals to be wild, among other topics. It’s the type of book I plan on reading again in the future.

Interesting Books about Texas

I’m pondering the possibility of offering a summer school class titled “Religion in San Antonio” next year. So, I’ve decided that I want to learn a bit about my, eh, adopted (?) state. Here’s a list of books I want to read soon-ish.

Potentially, I might add Lone Star: A History of Texas And The Texans by T.R. Fehrenbach.

Recently read: Smith-Christopher’s ‘A Biblical Theology of Exile’

Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (OBT; Fortress Press, 2002).

‘Biblical Theology’ is a quirky discipline. I’ve seen it abused by E/evangelical theologians who try to bend parts of the Bible to fit nicely with others parts of the Bible when the fit is clearly forced. But when an author engages the Bible’s internal ‘conversation’ while doing ‘Biblical Theology’, that’s something I can support. In fact, I teach my classes ‘The Hebrew Scriptures’ and ‘The Christian Scriptures’ from this approach. And it’s something I’ve seen a related book, David M. Carr’s Holy Resilience, do quite nicely.

Let me begin with where the book was tricky for me. The advocacy of ‘diasporic theology’, or a ‘theology of exile’, is a worthy discipline. My problem is with the voices that have been front-and-center. And they’re voices I admire: Stanley Hauerwas and Walter Brueggemann are the two primary examples. These two stand out in the first chapter, ‘Biblical Theology: On Matters of Methodology’, and the last chapter, ‘Toward a Diaspora Christian Theology: The Theology of Tobit and Daniel Revisited’. I’m not saying that Smith-Christopher centers them. I’m just saying they stand out to me. And I acknowledge that this book is almost twenty years old so I’m saying this from the perspective of the reader. The greatest evidence of the role of time is the positive presentation of John Howard Yoder. Yoder’s legacy has been damaged over the past several years as we’ve learned more about his treatment of women. So, I say all that to say this: as I read this book it had me asking myself what theologians and scholars of color, theologians and scholars from womanist, and feminist, and LGBTQI perspectives, do I need to be reading, if I really want to ponder a diasporic theology, a ‘theology of exile’.

Smith-Christopher recognized this danger when he wrote the book. He quotes Caren Kaplan in warning of ‘a temporarily faddish “tourist” theology’ (p. 196). A theology where we try on diaspora and exile as a philosophical concept while ignoring the real, terrestrial diasporic and exilic experiences of people all over the world. In the age of increasing populations of people who are refugees, this seems to me to be very important.

Also, I wondered about the sort of post-politics approach advocated here. Even my local Mennonite friends seem to be more politically active, in the commonly held sense (voter registration; fighting for policy change) than this book supports. I need to see what the author says now that we are living through the ‘age of Tr*mp’.

But on to the positives, because this was a great book. Let me tell you where my thinking was challenged most rather than giving an overview of a book that’s been available for a while:

  1. How I depict the Persians: I’ve tended to play the Persians off against the Assyrians and Babylonians as the ‘more tolerant’ of the empires, and this is generally true, but chapter 2, ‘Violence and Exegesis: The History of Exile’, especially pp. 34-44 where the Persians are discussed in relation to Ezra and Nehemiah, made me realize that ‘more tolerant’ shouldn’t soften the criticism of the imperialist ideology of the Persians.
  2. How Ezekiel and Jeremiah experienced trauma: The above book by Carr opened my eyes to the role of traumatic experiences in shaping the Bible we have today. Smith-Christopher expanded my thinking on this matter as he discussed how the Books of Lamentations and Ezekiel display the trauma of exile. When we think of the Bible, we need to be careful not to read it through the lens of Christian triumphalism. What has dawned on me over the years is that ‘reading from belo w’ usually leads a person to reading the Bible more clearly.
  3. Jonah’s ‘universalizing’ message: Almost a decade ago, I wondered aloud on an old blog why the Apostle Paul’s letters never reference the Book of Jonah. I’m glad to see that my understanding of Jonah, which is what led me to ponder how perfectly it could fit with Paul’s Gospel, isn’t mine alone. Smith-Christopher sees the Book of Jonah as this author’s attempt at depicting ‘Isaiah’s “light to the nations”‘ in narrative form (see pp. 132-133).
  4. Ezra may not have been less a bigot and more an advocate for his minority culture within an empire: When I read the Book of Ezra, I’m bothered by his command for the Jewish men to divorce their non-Jewish women. It sounds bigoted and sectarian. But Smith-Christopher proposes we might want to at least consider Ezra from a different angle. He writes (p. 198), ‘If one speaks, for example, to Native Americans in the United States about adoption of Native children by non-Native families, one quickly finds oneself in the presence of Ezra-like concerns that allow us to appreciate what it means to worry about the very existence and viability of cultural survival.’

There’s so much more I could say but I think this suffices. If you’re interested in how the Babylonian Exile and Jewish Diaspora impacted the shape of the Bible and it’s message, this is an excellent book. Several weeks ago, Erica Mongé-Greer (see my interviews with her on ‘Creation Mythologies’ and ‘Flood Mythologies’) recommended this book to me. So, thank you, Erica! It was a great read.

Recently read: Carr’s ‘Holy Resilience’

David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).

This isn’t hyperbole: David M. Carr’s Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins may be the best book written about the Bible that I’ve ever read. In one sense, it does what the ‘Biblical Theology’ movement has attempted to do: provide an overarching canonology that accounts for the unification of this collection (or these collections). In another sense, it does what critical scholarship on the Bible often fails to do: show how the Bible can remain relevant, even life-giving, without resorting to a conservative Bibliology.

There are two threads that tied this book together for me and in turn that tie the Bible together for me: (1) the impact of collective and individual trauma on the creation of the Bible (Carr is a Christian so by ‘Bible’ he’s including the Jewish and Christian Bibles) and (2) the various waves of adaptation, adoption, or even supersessionism that make up the Bible.

Let me begin with the first thread. Carr emphasizes how collective traumas such as the Assyrian invasion, the Babylonian Exile (including the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple), the waves of returning exiles, the emergence of the Greeks and the counter-emergence of the Hasmoneans, the execution of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Romans, and broad Roman disdain for the ‘atheistic’ Jews and Christians shaped these collections but also the movements that inspired them and in turn have been inspired by them.

This means re-reading popular Bible stories through the lens of trauma, such as Genesis’ Abraham (living in Babylonia, leaving, and having descendants in spite of the odds against it) or Exodus’ Moses (the Exodus itself, Passover, and the reminder of enslavement that comes with these stories). These stories were told as a means of addressing the experience of exiles.

As to the second thread: In Chapter 2, ‘The Birth of Monotheism’, Carr read the Book of Hosea as an important shift toward monotheism wherein the prophet doesn’t blame the Assyrians for the demise of Israel, but blames Israel, and in an effort to regain some sense of control, argues that Yahweh willed it all. Monotheism’s problem, ‘Theodicy’, is essential to monotheism because monotheism emerged as a way of addressing the chaos of life. Carr has a wonderful line on p. 248 for people that might be repulsed by these origins: ‘Those inclined to ridicule the idea of a powerful, violent God—whether Jewish or Christian—might well defer their disdain until they encounter someone for whom that idea is the only thing giving him or her a sense of control over an otherwise overwhelming chaos.’ That line stopped me and made me think of people I know, have known, and even stages of my own life and theology.

What Carr observes regarding supersessionism is this: Judah embraced Hosea’s ideas even though Hosea was a prophet from Israel. And then over time, Judah began to refer to themselves as ‘Israel’ once Israel was gone. And therefore, in some sense, it’s no surprise that partially by way of Paul, and partially by way of Rome’s treatment of Jews and Christians, the gentile Christians came to see themselves, in some way, as the heirs of ‘Israel’s’ story just as Judah once did. Additionally, we could add Islam to this discussion, which Carr does only in passing. But the trend is there, from Judah becoming the true Israel, to ‘the Church’ becoming the true Israel, to Islam becoming the truest version of both, supersessionism abounds.

As a final word, let me say if the Bible is meaningful to you, read this book. And let me share this paragraph from p. 250 that really summarizes the beauty of seeing the Bible through the lens offered by Carr:

‘I’m profoundly impressed with how the Bible is saturated with trauma and survival of it. If the Bible were a person, it would be a person bearing the scars, plated broken bones, muscle tears, and other wounds of prolonged suffering. It would be a person whose identity, perhaps average at one time, was now profoundly shaped by trauma. This person would certainly have known joys and everyday life, but she or he also would bear, in body and heart, the wisdom of centuries of trauma. He or she would know the truth of trauma and the survival of it. Just like the suffering servant of Isaiah or the crucified Christ, that person would not be pretty to look at. We might be tempted to avert our eyes. But for most of us, there will be a time when we need that person’s wisdom.’

Recently read: Hart’s ‘That All Shall Be Saved’

David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019).

David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved is a direct, unwavering rejection of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, but also the ‘softer’ versions like annihilationism. Oddly, for many Christians (those Hart calls ‘infernalists’) there are few doctrines as precious as the belief in an eternal hell. Many Fundamentalists hate this book: do a quick Google search! On the other hand, I found it to be less a rejection and more of an embrace—an embrace of a God who is ‘the Good’ in this God’s very nature; an embrace of a God who won’t let even one evil or misfortune go without resolve as all things are reconciled back to this God.

In ‘Part 1: The Question of an Eternal Hell’, Hart spends two chapters dismantling (in my opinion) defenses of the compatibility between an eternal hell and a good God. In some sense, his abrasive rhetoric shows little interest in convincing the ‘infernalists’. Instead, he’s preaching to the (admittedly, very small) choir of Christians who either affirm the doctrine of universal salvation/reconciliation or who are seriously considering it but need to hear a voice that’s as filled with righteous indignation as often is heard from defenders of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

In ‘Part 2: Apokatastasis: Four Meditations’, Hart works through these four meditations: (1) Who is God?; (2) What is Judgment?; (3) What is a Person?; (4) What is Freedom?. Those who come to this book prepared to reject his arguments will do so. Those who come to this book prepared to consider his arguments, or like myself come ready to fully embrace them, will encounter a presentation of God that aligns with the Christian tradition while also being incredibly beautiful and hope-inspiring.

Some of the more important observations that Hart makes have to do with his meditation on personhood. Hart’s ideas echoed concepts on personhood in Buddhism that teach that we are all interconnected. As someone who teaches comparative religion, this resonated with me. In short, Hart argues that if even one person were to rot in hell forever, no one could be fully saved because there’s no me without you. His example would be a parent whose child was damned forever. If God wiped away that parent’s memory of the child, then the parent would enter eternity having lost something of their personhood. If God allowed them into the heavenly state as indifferent toward the suffering of their child, then we might ask how they are redeemed in any meaningful way. If like some theologians have suggested the parent rejoices in God’s justice and in their own salvation, well, this is just disturbing. Ultimately, our salvation is tied into the salvation of others. While there’s much more to say about this book, my advice is read it, especially if you’re a Christian who wants to embrace your religious tradition but fears that you can’t because of the doctrine of hell as it has been presented to you.