Book Review: The Slavery of Death by Richard Beck

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At some point during Richard Beck’s The Slavery of Death, I found my reading transformed into worship. Beck, a regular blogger at Experimental Theology, is a skilled thinker who has mastered the art of integrating theology and psychology. This gift is nowhere more manifest than in this book, self-described as an attempt to “bring modern psychological science into conversation with Orthodox theology to illuminate what the writer of Hebrews describes as ‘slavery to the fear of death.’” (xiii) Beck’s thesis is that the fear of death, observed and analyzed by modern psychology, has demonically enslaved humanity and ensures that we will live selfish and violent lives. Salvation is thus found when death is defeated through Christ’s resurrection and his people, no longer afraid, are free to love sacrificially.

Beck’s work, a relatively short read, is divided into three parts. Part 1 (“The Last Enemy”) lays out the theological foundation for his thesis and explores the Orthodox understanding of sin and atonement. He highlights the Orthodox tradition of emphasizing death as the ultimate enemy of mankind. It is our mortality, inherited at birth, which produces in us the desire to grasp onto our lives and leads us into sin. Part 2 (“Held in Slavery by Their Fear of Death”) is Beck’s description of this slavery to the fear of death and its role in producing the devil’s works from a psychological perspective. He artfully expounds on the distinction between basic and neurotic anxiety as he illustrates the power which death holds over humanity. Beck draws frequently from the work Arthur McGill and Ernest Becker as he explores this specific interaction between psychology and the Scriptures. Part 3 (“There is No Fear in Love”) is Beck’s conclusion that it is love which leads to an emancipation fromthe fear of death. Further, Beck helpfully flushes out examples of how that liberation might be accomplished. He states, “To be set free from the slavery to the fear of death is to be liberated from self-interest in the act of genuine love. Thus the sign of Christ’s victory in our lives over sin, death, and the devil is the experience and expression of love. This is resurrection and life.” (24)

This book is both illuminating and provocative. It is a very brief read, which makes it all the more accessible. I highly recommend it, particularly to anyone interested in:

  • the relevance of Eastern Orthodox theology (including the Christus Victor theory of atonement)
  • the relevance of psychology to Christian theology
  • a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of Hebrews 2:14-15
  • a pastorally practical and theologically rich guide to living a life of resurrection

I received this book from Wipf & Stock (Cascade Books) in exchange for a fair review. 

Book Review: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology by Andrew Louth

Andrew Louth’s latest book, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (from IVP Academic), is a rewarding exploration of the faith of our Fathers. I pastor a Protestant church, yet have always found that the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition contains an almost endless amount of fresh insights into the Christian faith. Andrew Louth, a professor at Durham University and an Orthodox priest, is the perfect guide to these treasures of thought as he writes from the perspective of one caught up in admiration and respect for his tradition.

The book serves as an excellent introduction to the faith of the Eastern Orthodox. Those unfamiliar with the unique perspectives of this stream of the Christian faith will find Louth’s writing to be both accessible and thought-provoking. Personally, I read the book already familiar with the rich theology of the Eastern Orthodox church and still came away with a new depth of knowledge and appreciation. A reader with little or no theological foundation may find some passages or references challenging, but will be rewarded with the small amount of effort it might take to follow the discussion.

Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology is divided into an exposition of 9 theological topics (including an excellent introduction on the label “Eastern Orthodox”). Many unique aspects of Orthodox theology are nicely demonstrated. For instance, chapter 5 (“Sin, death and repentance”) wonderfully highlights the Eastern emphasis on death as the primary problem of creation: “the resurrection is seen as the conquest of Christ over death, and so it is death, rather than sin, that is central to the Orthodox understanding of the consequences of Adam’s disobedience.” [70] Likewise, chapter 7 (“Sacraments and icons: the place of matter in the divine economy”) artfully unpacks the place of matter in the theology of the Orthodox, concluding: “It is to that reality – the reality of the tender care of God for human kind, made palpable in the Incarnation, and effective through the prayers and intercessions of the saints, above all the Mother of God herself – that the icons of the Orthodox Church bear witness.” [121]

Three features stand out throughout the book. First, Louth continually references and quotes prayers from the Orthodox liturgy. Not only do these serve as outstanding illustrations of his points, they also serve to emphasize the importance of the liturgy for the Eastern Orthodox faith. Theirs is a lived faith and their corporate confessions function as the ultimate source of doctrine. Second, “mystery” is often given an impressive place in Louth’s discussions of paradoxical theological issues. This is no anti-intellectualism, but a rightful reminder of the necessary apophatic nature that characterizes the faith. Third, Louth helpfully references church fathers (such as Gregory Palamas, Basil the Great, Maximos the Confessor, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and many more) throughout the book. This has the effect of rooting the theology of the Eastern Orthodox with the Fathers which all Christians share in common.

This shared heritage is the ultimate reason why all Christians, including Protestants and Catholics, will find it beneficial to further familiarize themselves with the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Louth’s book serves as an excellent introduction to this theology and would be useful for personal reading, small-group settings, and introductory theology courses.

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I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Thanks @IVPAcademic – Books to Review

Check out what came in the mail today! Can’t wait to read them – reviews to come.
A big thanks to Adrianna Wright and IVP Academic for the following books:

Theology of Mission- A Believers Church Perspective


Theology of Mission: A Believers Church Perspective 
– John Howard Yoder (Edited by Gayle Gerber Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker) [available here]

 


AND

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Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology
– Andrew Louth [available here]