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  • Writer's pictureCole Feix

The Book Stack: AI, Sermons, Political Memoirs, and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford where John Webster preached the sermons in this volume | Photo: Diliff, Wikimedia Commons

Christ Our Salvation – John Webster, edited by Daniel Bush, Lexham Press, 2020.

It’s not often I’ll read straight through a book of sermons. Even Spurgeon is tedious to wade through sequentially. Eugene Peterson’s posthumous collection, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, may be the only book the rivals John Webster’s Christ Our Salvation. These sermons served as my guide to Lent this year. I picked the book up to read a sermon on a particular passage and found I could not put it down.

That Webster’s preaching is so gripping comes as a surprise, only because Webster is such a well-known theologian. Often, theologians don’t make great preachers. (Sadly, the reverse is also often true). It’s rare that someone can do both. Now, the sermons in this volume are short, dense, and without illustrations. Don’t read these expecting a flood of personal stories that serve as practical applications. These sermons are not flowery, personal, or grandiose, but they are immensely spiritual. Webster knows how to get to the very heart of a passage and tease out the meaning in light of the work of Christ. Reading these sermons is like stepping into a fuller reality, where the work of the cross and the presence of Christ are heavy and tangible. With great pastoral care, Webster draws us up into ultimate reality and sends us on our way drenched in the powerful cleansing blood of Christ.

I don’t know how John Lennox has written such an exhaustive book with so few words. In under 250 small pages, Lennox has given us the perfect starting point for conversations about AI. More than that, as a mathematician and a philosopher, he has grasped the essence of the conversations about AI. Like a good scientist, Lennox has sorted through the data. The bibliography and footnotes would be worth the price of the book; all the major players get their 15 minutes of fame. Like a good philosopher, Lennox knows where to spend his time.

After defining the fields of AI and transhumanism, Lennox explores the beliefs underpinning these technological advances. Then, laying the technocratic and transhumanist manifestos down next to the Genesis accounts, he shows the disparity between the worldviews and builds a Christian case both for engagement with technology and for the moral responsibility that comes with advancement.

What characterizes this book is exactly what is missing from so much of the dialogue about AI today, wisdom. Lennox has done his homework; he’s read the books and articles. He has thought deeply about the pertinent issues. He is neither reactive nor dismissive; he is principled, and that makes it such an important book.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography – John J. Collins, Princeton University Press, 2019.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the crowning archaeological find of the 20th century. In a series of caves just northwest of the Dead Sea, a couple of Bedouin shepherds originally found what would become Cave 1 of the Qumran treasure trove. These scrolls had been stashed in clay pots around the time of the Jewish rebellion and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. After a hilarious series of horse trades in the 1940s and 1950s, scholars in Britain and Europe became aware of what had been found.

The impact of the scrolls has been monumental in three areas; textual, cultural, and historical. The texts of the Old Testament books provide manuscripts one thousand years older than were known at the time. On top of that, they provide very significant confirmation to other texts, showing incredible similarities between the ancient manuscript traditions. Culturally, they provide insight into one group of first-century scholars. The commentaries on biblical books, community documents, and apocalyptic works all contribute to our knowledge of the cultural and religious setting shortly after the time of Christ. Historically, these documents and the surrounding ruins shed light on the fallout of the Jewish rebellion and the various separatist groups opposing Roman rule.

And yet, there are questions the scrolls have made more difficult. Who were the people in Qumran? What was their relationship to Judaism? Originally, this community was thought to be a part of the “Essenes” one of the more radical sects of Jews in the first century. In fact, just a few years ago the exhibit at Qumran in Israel taught that the community was a group of Essenes and that John the Baptist may have been a member. Now the exhibit reflects the view that the community was not lived in full-time, but served as a retreat center for disparate groups to come for ceremonial retreats and washings. Collins does not settle this debate, but he surveys the different proposals and chronicles the ascendent views through the last few decades.

Another interesting question Collins poses is whether the ruins in Qumran are attached to the caves at all. The location of some of the caves makes it nearly impossible to believe that there was not some knowledge and correlation between the two. However, the dozen or so known caves stretch miles north along the basin above the Dead Sea. It’s possible that some of these caves were not connected with the settlement in Qumran.

Collins’ work is the best introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls that I know of. Though Collins is no evangelical, he gives a very balanced picture of the DSS and their relationship with the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, and the history of the ancient world.

The Lives of Religious Books series by Princeton Press is a novel and interesting way of appreciating some of the great books of history. I’ve also read The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography by Alan Jacobs and The Jefferson Bible: A Biography by Peter Manseau and found them to be similarly great reads.

Only the Strong – Tom Cotton, Twelve Books, 2022.

Justice Corrupted – Ted Cruz, Regnery Publishing, 2022.

Never Give an Inch – Mike Pompeo, Broadside Books, 2023.

Every couple of years, I wade into the popular political memoirs of the moment. Coming out of the Trump years, I was most eager for Bill Barr’s book One Damn Thing After Another; I was not disappointed. I’ll admit I was surprised by how intriguing Jared Kushner’s Breaking History was.

Now the moment is shifting toward the presidential elections of 2024. Three prominent Republicans released books about the same time, and together they create a mosaic of politics on the right. While it’s likely that none of these three are going to run in 2024, each of these three books, Only the Strong by Sen. Tom Cotton, Justice Corrupted by Sen. Ted Cruz, and Never Give and Inch by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provide insight into the political landscape. Briefly put, Cotton focuses on the foreign policy failures of democratic administrations over the last 50 years, Cruz zeroes in on the corruption and weaponization of the justice department, and Pompeo presents a memoir of his years in office.

Of the three, I was disappointed in Cotton’s book. It reads like a rant, but he also stops short of ever providing any understandable rationale for the points of view he critiques. The reader may agree that the democratic presidents after FDR have failed to achieve and protect America’s global interests, but I don’t think it was because they all hate America and love our enemies. What they did makes sense to them. The book would have been much better if Cotton would have taken the time to flesh out these ideologies and show the ways they lead to bad foreign policy.

Justice Corrupted is classic Ted Cruz. The arguments, rhetoric, and ego are all there. The last of these sometimes borders on Gilderoy Lockhart levels of name-dropping and me-monstering, but if you listen to Cruz very often, this is par for the course. One thing you’ll always get from Cruz, whether it be in his books or his podcast, is calculated logic combined with rhetorical force. His blitz through the weaponization of the Obama and Biden Justice Departments is a tour de force.

I’ll save my comments on Never Give an Inch for a longer review, but for now, I’ll say it is the best of the three and explains the impressive effectiveness with which Pompeo ran the CIA and the State Department. This book will leave you wishing for another Republican cabinet for Pompeo to serve in.

In the stack... The Common Rule and Habits of the Household - Justin Whitmel Earley Dominion - Tom Holland Pierced by Love - Hans Boersma A God Named Josh - Jared Brock Signals of Transcendence - Os Guinness Created to Draw Near - Ed Welch Chip War - Chris Miller Political Meritocracy in Renaissance Italy - James Hankins Seven Types of Atheism - John Gray

Dr. Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.


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