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An Exceptionally Kind Review of Earthen Vessels

October 27th, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I am honored and humbled by Nathan Gilmour’s review, which gets going in a hurry and doesn’t slow down:

The preface to Matthew Anderson’s book is subtitled, “In Which I Clear my Throat.”  How could I but love this book?  Oh, and in one of the concluding chapters, he takes an “emergent” Christian author to task for putting the Western preference bodily presence at the feet of Descartes.  Yes, those of you who have read some Enlightenment philosophy, he said that Descartes regards the body too highly.  And Matt Anderson takes him to school in a blistering and funny endnote.  What chance does someone like me stand?

What’s really remarkable about this book, though, beyond the erudite sense of humor, is the strong balance between self-criticism and an insistence that some ideas are better than others.  Some books are so self-critical that it’s hard to understand why the author wanted to write a book in the first place, and others (the majority of bad books) become so convinced of their main ideas that they treat any who differ as idiotic, morally deficient, and otherwise unpleasant as human beings.  Anderson, instead of these extremes, starts out each of his first few chapters reciting common pronunciations and then qualifying them.  Do people say that evangelicals shade into Platonism as they hate the body?  Behold, Anderson insists, the evangelical delight in weddings and our language of being bodily present with God in the resurrection.  And while you’re at it, read some Plato beyond the Phaedo (54).  Does modern Christianity shade into Gnosticism in its preference for disembodied bliss as a picture of the afterlife?  Go read some actual Gnostic texts, Anderson suggests, and stop using “Gnostic” as a catch-all pejorative (37).

Honestly, this is the sort of review that makes writing worth it.  Not because it’s complimentary, though I certainly appreciate that.  But because he read the footnotes.  

And because he’s on to my Augustinianism and pulls it to the surface.  It’s the sort of review that will help you understand the book better, and hopefully make you appreciate it more, even if you end up disagreeing with it.

And for that, I am intensely grateful.

I highly commend Nathan’s blog to you.  They’re doing what we have sometimes wanted to do over here at Mere-O, but have never quite gotten around to (in part because, well, they were already doing it).  You can get a really sturdy education in how some great literature might inform our world just by listening to their podcast.  I’ve caught a few episodes, and they’re great at what they do.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.