Book Review: Enduring Divine Absence

Over the last few years, I’ve been encountering more and more people who, even though they find the case for God’s existence and Christ’s resurrection compelling, can’t seem to shake the sense that it’s all a lie. It all feels implausible to them even though they can’t exactly put their finger on why. Lingering doubts despite being intellectually and aesthetically persuaded or at least compelled pose a different problem than the rational challenges I studied to combat in my theological education.

Joseph Minich, Reformed Theological Seminary graduate and Ph.D. candidate in humanities at the University of North Texas, addresses this newer challenge to Christian faith in his little book Enduring Divine Absence: The Challenge of Modern Atheism. As he puts it, the book “attempts to address the problem of the temptation to atheism.” It’s not meant to refute atheism but to explore “why those who are not atheists can still nevertheless understand why it is that atheism might be plausible to someone.” In other words, Minich seeks to explain why those of us who are intellectually convinced of God’s existence still struggle with doubts rooted in a sense that God is not real.

Because God’s being and activity isn’t immediately obvious to us moderns, faith takes great effort to maintain and often seems to be slipping away. Many of us have wondered, “If we’re supposed to believe in God, then why doesn’t he just show up and prove he exists?” Minich aims to address why we experience faith in Christ this way and to offer a way forward. The book is short but dense, complex but simple in it’s basic but important insight. Hopefully that my readers can benefit from Minich’s work without having to wade through the book, I’ll offer a brief overview and then summarize the diagnosis and counsel offered. That said, I highly recommend it to those willing and able to follow his engagement with thinkers such as Aristotle, Dawkins, and Cartwright.

A Brief Outline

The book has 5 brief chapters. The introduction describes the nature of modern belief, suggesting that the plausibility of theism is contested resulting in a faith that is merely one option among many, several of which pull on us.

In chapter 2, Minich dives deeper into the main problem the book seeks to address: God’s absence is felt to be a problem and atheism appeals to us because it feels noble to accept the meaningless of the cosmos while affirming life and wondering in awe at the vastness, beauty, and complexity of nature. He outlines a few common but, in his estimation, wrong explanations for this phenomenon—that atheism is true or that this experience is due to a distorted will or bad thinking—in order to set up the next chapter in which he provides his own.

In chapter 3, we get another explanation for why a person can find atheism philosophically and intellectually incoherent while still feeling it to be compelling. In what is clearly the most challenging chapter intellectually, Minich gives a brief argument for the existence of God and then proceeds to explain why this doesn’t solve the problem of divine absence. He then outlines how people have shifted in the last 400 years in our understanding of causality, comparing Aristotle’s classic fourfold notion to modern science’s outlook featuring sequence, observation, predictability, and verifiability. These perspectives are not actually at odds with one another, but over the course of the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and the material boom of the 1960’s, our control over nature has increased so rapidly that Aristotle’s notion of causality has been reduced if not ignored. That may seem technical and abstract, but it sets up his conclusion which sits is at the very heart of his diagnosis of the original question of the book, which I’ll outline below.

What then can we do? He answers in chapter 4, proposing doctrines and practices to which we must cling to live faithfully and with confidence.

The conclusion of this short book provides a second answer to the question of God’s absence which doesn’t solve the problem but helps us understand it better: dependent creatures made to grow into wise and mature bearers of God’s image are structured to experience absence and presence in order to develop. Just as children develop through the presence and absence of their parents, with both reinforcing the way the other affects us, God’s absence and presence play the same role. We were made to grow into maturity in the Garden of Eden where God would walk with humanity and then leave for a time. In other words, humanity was created in history to grow into the people he created us to be. So while divine absence feels like a problem, it shouldn’t surprise us and it makes sense considering who God is and how he made us.

The Main Insights

The strength of this book rests in its diagnosis of our feeling of doubt and its counsel regarding how to address this feeling.

So why do we who think Christianity is true still feel like it might not be?

Minich argues that the technology that shapes our experience in the modern world forms us in a posture of control over nature and an orientation of pragmatism regarding what is real.

The modern technological order tacitly communicates to us, day in and day out, that reality,(the sort that actually concerns us), belongs to the order of the manipulable, that it is subject, in principle, to human agency…we have been shaped to relate to the cosmos practically and therefore to imagine and be concerned with the cosmos only in its visible dimensions, or with that dimension with which human agency can, in principle, interfere. As such, any aspect of reality which does not manifest itself as “visible,” as part of the realm of the manipulable, is perceived to be non-existent…To put it bluntly, the world is a “world for me.” I do not find myself in a big, mysterious world suffused with agencies to which I am subject and around which I must learn to navigate. I find myself in a world almost entirely tool-i-fied, a world of my own subjective agency before an increasingly silent cosmos. And a silent cosmos echoes no ultimate Speaker. (57-59)

That’s the heart of his explanation. We experience the world in a fundamentally different way than pre-modern people. Our sensibilities have been trained to feel that only that which we can attempt to shape and control by applying scientific and technological knowledge is real.

So what can we do about this technological formation?

Returning to the question raised in the introduction, “Why doesn’t God make Himself obvious and erase all atheism?,” Minich answers: “Because God is only interested in His revelation being clear enough for the purposes He has in revealing Himself. That is to say, God’s revelation is about God’s rather than man’s goals.” Because our modern experience is suffused with the illusion of control that causes us to forget our dependence on the God who is there, this answer doesn’t feel right to us. So Minich argues we must train, exercise, and discipline ourselves in a willful remembering. He offers three practices and three doctrines to do just that.

Practices:

  1. We must go over our reasoning for why Christianity is true again and again so we do not remain vulnerable to the modern experience which makes atheism such a draw.
  2. We must embed our lives in the community of the local church.
  3. We must take up the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, fasting, etc.

Doctrines:

  1. The Doctrine of God: God is pure act.
  2. The Doctrine of Christ: God is for me, in Christ.
  3. The Doctrine of Sin: Human beings, made in God’s image, are guilty of sin before God.

Minich has helpful things to say about the practices he recommends, but you really have to read chapter 4 to get the full weight of significance to the doctrine he calls us to willfully remember.

Recommendation

Despite the challenge of this material, I highly recommend this book. While reading it won’t remove our feelings of doubt, it can provide resources for a more grounded faith by making sense of our experience and directing us toward needed practices and doctrines.

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Book Review: The Character Gap

Turn on the news, survey social media, or glance at the comments section of any major Internet article and you’ll probably notice we live in an extremely polarized time. It’d be easy to conclude that the world can neatly be divided into good and bad people. If we stop to think about it, we’ll probably realize we tend to think this way, grouping ourselves and our friends and family in the good people category.

Dr. Christian Miller’s The Character Gap: How Good Are We? complicates this simplistic character gapdivision of the world, arguing very few of us possess good or bad character. Most of us are more or less in the middle: not as good as we’d like to think but not morally wretched either. Miller is a philosophy professor at Wake Forest University and Project Leader of the Character Project, an interdisciplinary academic exploration of character by scholars in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and theology.

Despite the academic context from which this book developed, it’s clearly written and easy to follow. You don’t have to have training in the disciplines above in order to appreciate the book. The simple structure and conversational writing style make the arguments easy to follow. Miller is warm, inviting, and self-effacing, and though he makes a clear case in the book, he’s charitable to opposing viewpoints or potential arguments and ideas against him. It’s an interesting book filled with great stories and examples that will keep your attention.

Purpose and Survey

The reason for the book, and indeed the Character Project as a whole, seems to be to encourage readers to pursue growth in good character. The Character Gap has three parts aimed at answering several questions to that end.

Part 1 has two chapters. The first explains what Miller means by good character. He argues that a person has good character when possessing virtue, which “when acquired becomes a relatively stable feature of our character and leads to relevant motivation and behavior over an extended period of time” (p. 13-14). In other words, a virtuous person performs good action in a variety of situations for the right reasons as a pattern of behavior over a sustained period of time.

The second chapter highlights the gap between good character and our actual character and then gives reasons why we should try to develop virtue: 1) it’s inspiring, 2) it makes the world a better place, 3) there seems to be wide agreement among different religions that God wants you to, and 4) good character can be rewarding.

Part 2 seeks to establish the main proposal of the book—that most of us are not virtuous or wretched—by drawing conclusions from research on our character with a focus on four particular behaviors: helping, harming, lying, and cheating. Chapters 3-6 look at research on each of these behaviors. For instance, in chapter 4 on harming, Miller makes some fascinating observations about how fear of consequences restrains aggressive behavior and about the role legitimate authority plays in our decisions to harm another person. The studies he cites suggest that the more responsibility a person feels, the less willing they are to inflict pain on another. He concludes most people do not have proper restraint on their aggression, but that most people aren’t cruel either (p. 99). Each of these chapters surveys the research, examines how differing motivating factors affect behavior, and ends with the same conclusion: most of us aren’t good or bad. Miller does a great job in these chapters interacting in engaging and thought-provoking ways with studies that might otherwise be dry and unstimulating to most people. Chapter 7 concludes part 2 by collecting 7 lessons from the previous chapters to tell the story of our character (p. 143-160).

Part 3 tackles the problem of the character gap by proposing what we can do to grow in virtue. Chapter 8 charitably critiques less promising strategies of character growth, noting some of the good these approaches can make. Miller offers three strategies in chapter 9 that show better promise. He notes we need to utilize multiple strategies to be effective but admits none of them will truly work unless we are properly motivated to want to grow. This leads to the final chapter where Miller makes a gracious invitation to irreligious people to consider the role and resources of religion in character development (p. 219-220). In particular, he suggests Christianity offers at least three things that facilitate virtue: 1) Christian rituals and practices like prayer, confession, scripture reading, giving, fasting, and worship, 2) Christian community, and 3) divine assistance by the Holy Spirit. Miller doesn’t take for granted his readers will be readily open to this approach. So while he acknowledges practicing Christianity cannot be proven to cause virtuous behavior, he argues studies do suggest a correlation between them (p. 239). The book closes with a short expression of hope that more research and work will be done in the field.

Evaluation

The Character Gap has much to offer any willing reader open to challenge and change. By even writing the book, Miller encourages and even resources readers toward good character. He offers inspiration, information, and strategies to grow. He dispels false notions of our own virtue and encourages humility and compassion towards those we might assume lack virtue, which is especially important in these polarized times. The book is well researched, and as I mentioned above, Miller presents his research in engaging ways. Especially in part 2, the book contains many fascinating observations about human behavior. I was particularly interested in several of the lessons he drew in chapter 7.

  • Most people behave admirably in some situations and then deplorably in others (p. 146ff).
  • Our changing moral behavior is extremely sensitive to features of the environment, and often we do not even realize what those features are (p. 148ff).
  • Most of us act with mixed motives (p. 152).
  • Sometimes we are not aware of an unconscious motive behind action, and we might be completely wrong in our understanding of our own motives (p. 153).

Finally, it was surprising and refreshing to find an academic integrating his own faith into his work on such a subject in a humble and gracious way. Not everyone will agree with this part of his book, but objections with this part of his book shouldn’t take away from the rest of it.

Though it has much to offer, The Character Gap left me scratching my head on a few accounts.   First, there is little to no argument made as to what qualifies as good behavior and why. Early in the book, Miller explains he will focus on uncontroversial examples of virtue (p. 7). While it’s helpful to see there has been widespread historical agreement on what behavior is considered good, Miller appears to beg the question. As another reviewer pointed out, “the booked does little to highlight the need for an underlying philosophical foundation for morality.” Many have argued, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, that differing accounts of morality are the result of diverse metanarratives, yet Miller seems to assume all readers are operating out of the same grand story. Given pluralism, this seems a problematic assumption.

Second, Miller suggests that virtue is not motivated by self-interest (p. 13). However, when explaining why we should be good, several of the reasons he offers are grounded, at bottom I’d argue, in self-interest. For instance, why should we pursue being good just because God wants us to unless we are interested in pleasing God? Also, isn’t the desire to make the world a better place grounded in our desire to enjoy a better world or, at least, to have the satisfaction of knowing we made the world a better place? Or finally and most obviously, isn’t pursuing good character because it can be rewarding clearly self-interested (p. 43)? Now Miller seems to try to avoid this conclusion by distinguishing between the goal of good behavior, which should be others-oriented, and the by-product of good behavior, individual reward (p. 47). However, I’m not so sure this distinction lets him off the hook. Later on, Miller returns to the question of motives, and he asserts that egoism—the idea that we are always motivated by self-interest—is clearly false, asserting that we can also be motivated by duty, altruism, and a number of different motives all at once (p. 150-153). Miller, no doubt, did not have time in this book to dive into a huge debate in the philosophy of ethics about motivation, so I can’t fault him. But further work on character will probably require deeper treatment of this issue.

Third, I wonder if there’s a flaw in the method of obtaining support for the main proposal that most of us are not good or bad. This thesis is supported by the studies explored in part 2. However, at the very beginning when Miller explains what character is, he makes the point that “mere behavior, no matter how consistent it might be, is never enough by itself to indicate good character…It’s hard to tell whether someone is truly virtuous” (p12). As far as I can tell, he makes this claim for two reasons. First, we cannot always discern the motivation behind an act. Second, one act, by itself, does not give us enough information about a person to establish a pattern. It seems, then, the studies Miller explores throughout the book cannot reliably tell us about the character status of the persons involved. Most of the studies cited involve single acts where no motive can be certainly discerned. I’m not sure the empirical methodology can do the work Miller asks, but this concern may only reflect my own limitations in understanding research methodology.

Conclusion

My questions aside, I happily commend this book. We could all use some encouragement to pursue virtuous character, and there are some good tools in this book to help us move in that direction. Furthermore, the topic is one we sorely need to discuss more as a society preoccupied with technique, efficiency, consuming, and entertainment. I’m grateful for Miller’s work, and if you take the time to get a copy and read it, I suspect you will be too.

[Disclaimer: I should note that I majored in philosophy at Wake Forest University before the author started teaching there. However, I do know the author personally, and I received a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.]

Recent Reading Recs – 2018/04/21

It’s been awhile, but here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Jesus Creed, “The Death of the Church, Part 1” & “Part 2” Guest writer Todd Dildine explains how the American church is responding to its decline in all the wrong ways because we have failed to see it as part of a larger decline of community and social life in general. His solution revolves around building community by committing to live near one another.
  • TGC, “How the Baptism of Jesus Echoed the Future” – Trevor Laurence
  • TGC, “It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power” – After the public fall of yet more famous celebrity pastors, Andy Crouch calls for change in how evangelicals relate to famous ministry figures.
  • TGC,Why We Play” – Erik Thoennes argues for the goodness of play.
  • Paul Tripp, “Toward a More Balanced Gospel” – Paul Tripp confesses his failure to see how the gospel applies to the issue of racial injustice and his failure to speak and act accordingly.
  • The Art of Manliness, “How to Whistle with Your Fingers” – Brett McKay illustrates this useful skill.

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • Research Digest, “Another Nail in the Coffin for Learning Styles” – Christian Jarrett reports on new studies confirming once again that people do not learn any better when taught via their preferred learning style.
  • The Atlantic, “The Myth of the Learning Style” – Olga Khazan tells the story of how we all came to buy the “learning styles” myth despite all the evidence against it.
  • The Atlantic, “The Last Temptation– Michael Gerson talks evangelicals and Donald Trump.
  • Comment,The Creational Goodness of Sports” – Mike Goheen argues that competition is good and that Christians should embrace it with godliness.
  • NYT, “The Boys Are Not All Right” – Comedian Michael Ian Black argues that part of the reason we’re seeing mass violence is because America’s boys have been left behind and are broken.
  • NYT, “American Women Are Having Fewer Children Than They’d Like” – Lyman Stone looks at the declining fertility rates and the increasing gap between those rates and the number of children women say they want to have.

Podcast Episodes & Other Media

  • Quartz, “200 Universities Just Launched 600 Free Online Courses” – Dhawal Shah lists a bunch of free resources.
  • The Uncharted Life, “Faith and FOMO with Derek Radney” – I was invited by my friend Jacob Lyles to be a guest on his podcast to talk about faith in a secular age.
  • Revolutions – Mike Duncan tells numerous multi-part stories of various revolutions ranging from the English Civil wars of the mid 17th century to the revolutions across Europe around 1848.
  • WorkLife with Adam Grant, “How to Love Criticism” and “The Problem with All-Stars” –Psychologist, author, and professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Adam Grant hosts an excellent podcast with some fascinating episodes on leadership, management, and teamwork.
  • This American Life, “To Be Real” – Host Ira Glass explores how often we show the world a very superficial version of ourselves.

Books

  • A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester – a book looking at the meals of Jesus through the Gospel of Luke
  • Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderan – a simple book exploring how grace operates in a family and the dangers of control, legalism, and performance

Recent Reading Recs – 2018/02/27

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Christ and Pop Culture, “Male and Female He Created Them” – Ellen Mandeville reflects on sex and gender and the complementarity of the sexes who share a primary unity as image bearers of God.
  • Psychology Today, “American Narcissism and Mass Shooters” – Jean Kim, M.D. suggests American narcissism and its toxic fulfillment in the form of a mass shooter is a big reason why, unlike other countries, we’re facing the common occurrence of mass shootings.
  • Desiring God, “A Movie So Good It Ruins You” – Tony Reinke discusses David Foster Wallace’s famous critique of American entertainment culture in Infinite Jest.
  • TGC, “Sex in Zero Gravity” – Alistair Roberts reviews a controversial new book by sociologist Mark Regnerus on sex and the changing landscape of relationships in the modern world .

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • WSJ, “How to Raise More Grateful Children” – In this Saturday essay, Jennifer Breheny Wallace addresses the problem of entitlement allegedly stemming from the self-esteem movement and argues that it’s possible to cultivate gratitude with practices aimed at helping children think gratefully.
  • NY Magazine, “The Poison We Pick” – Andrew Sullivan surveys this deindustrializing American life and the hellish opioid crisis which has developed to escape it.
  • NYT Opinion, “You’re Wrong! I’m Right!” – Nicholas Kristof urges us to consider how our ideologies are making us dumber and less able to have civil dialogue.
  • LA Times Review of Books, “The Rise of Network Christianity” – James K.A. Smith reviews the new book by sociologists Brad Christerson and Richard Flory profiling the populist and fast growing movement of post-Pentecostals / Neo-Charismatic Christianity exploding through the internet and without any central authority or responsible governance.
  • CT, “What ‘Black Panther’ Means for Christians” – New Testament Professor Esau McCaulley and frequent writer on the black experience reflects on the significance of the new Marvel movie which invites the viewer to consider various approaches to the question of black suffering.

Podcast Episodes & Other Media

Recent Reading Recs – 2018/01/09

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Atlantic, “Low-Income Communities Are Struggling to Support Churches” – Patton Dodd profiles a pastor in a low-income community in San Antonio to demonstrate a steep decline of churches in distressed communities due to the economics of funding.
  • World Magazine, “Guilt Offerings” – Sophia Lee explores the Buddhist practice of guilt offerings by Japanese parents of stillborn, aborted, or miscarried children and profiles an American missionary in Nagoya offering true healing and hope.
  • Comment Magazine, “Choosing Church” – Marilyn McEntyre acknowledges there are lots of reasons to avoid church, but offers several reasons to look again.

Podcast Episodes

  • Scene on Radio, “Seeing White: Parts 1-14” – Host and producer John Biewen takes a deep dive into questions about whiteness, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017.
  • Waking Up with Sam Harris, “The Intellectual Dark Web” – Host Sam Harris speaks with Eric Weinstein and Ben Shapiro about the breakdown of shared values, the problem with identity politics, religion, free will, the primacy of reason, and many other topics.

Books

  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – often considered the greatest novel ever written, the classic Russian novel about three brothers explores the biggest theological and philosophical questions of life with penetrating psychological insight
  • How (Not) to Be Secular by James K.A. Smith – a summary and application of philosopher Charles Taylor’s tome A Secular Age
  • Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith – a groundbreaking book from 2000 exploring Evangelicalism and the problem of race in America

Recent Reading Recs – 2017/12/27

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

  • Andy Crouch.com, “Sex Without Bodies” – In an article for Christianity Today in 2013, Andy Crouch discussed the church’s response to the LGBT (now LGBTQ) movement.
  • Mere Orthodoxy, “Faithful Extension and the Question of Human Origins” Chris Krycho writes a review of Evolution and the Fall, edited by William T. Cavanaugh and Jamie K.A. Smith.
  • The Point Magazine, “True Story” – Tish Harrison Warren offers an explanation to secular readers about why she belongs in the church and how it is making and shaping her.

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Wall Street Journal, “Do You Know How Others See You?” – Elizabeth Bernstein explains that most of us are not as self-aware as we think we are and points to researching suggesting that people who have a high level of self-awareness make smarter decisions and have healthier relationships.
  • The Atlantic, “ADHD, or Childhood Narcissism?” – Enrico Gnaulati examines the increase in ADHA diagnoses since the 1980s and explores a richer social explanation for the problems children are facing.

Podcast Episodes

  • Harry Potter Book Club, “HPBC Episode 12: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 13” – The group of friends respond to email questions and comments and explore chapter 12 of Rowling’s first book in the Harry Potter series.
  • Trinity Church Podcast, “S1 Ep6 – The Witness of the Church” – We discuss the problems with reducing the witness of the church to truth telling and suggest the church must proclaim the truth, exemplify goodness, and display the beauty of God.
  • Heavyweight, “Jeremy” – Host Jonathan Goldstein opens up and talks about his own experience with Judaism and his subsequent turning away from religion.

Books

  • A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry – a novel about Berry’s fictional town and the membership that lives, works, and loves in Port William, exploring change, absence, grief, and place
  • Evolution and the Fall edited by William T. Cavanaugh and Jamie K.A. Smith – an anthology by theologians and scientists reading the early chapters of Genesis assuming there are no conflicts with the discoveries of modern science

Recent Reading Recs – 2017/11/22

Here’s a collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have recently found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume,” so I hope I can point  you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • The Atlantic, “Bill Clinton: A Reckoning” – Caitlin Flanagan recalls how Feminist leaders rallied behind Bill Clinton when he was accused of sexual harassment and assault in the 1990s and argues that the Democratic party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected him and his pattern of behavior.
  • Vox, “Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned” – In light of the wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations taking down prominent figures in Hollywood, government, and media, Matthew Yglesias reflects on the Bill Clinton scandal with Monica Lewinski while he was President.
  • NYT, “A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule” – Katelyn Beaty makes her case that the Pence Rule (also the Billy Graham Rule) isn’t actually Christian at all.

Podcast Episodes

Books

  • Is the Bible Good for Women by Wendy Alsup – a book explaining why those wishing to embrace the inherent dignity of women and of womanhood can and should cherish the Bible which examines many difficult texts in both the Old and New Testaments