BESIDE STILL WATERS, SEARCHING FOR MEANING IN AN AGE OF DOUBT by Gregg Easterbrook. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, 1998. 318 pages, index, footnotes. Hardcover; $25.00.
Over two millennia ago, the philosopher Epicurus asked humanity's foremost question, "Is deity willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Than he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? If so, then whence comes evil?" On the basis of this single question, many have decided that the most reasonable way out of the question is to posit no deity at all.
There are answers within Christianity to the Epicurus question. Few people I know, even those who espouse those answers, find them quite satisfying. Gregg Easterbrook proposes a unique answer, perhaps not new, but one I do not see addressed in current literature. Perhaps God is not omnipotent! Perhaps God is evolving! In an highly readable, well documented, surely controversial book which demands recognition, if not acceptance, Easterbrook, a contributing editor for the Atlantic Monthly and a distinguished fellow of the Fulbright Foundation addresses some of the most fundamental spiritual issues of our times. His central thesis is that the Bible never actually asserts an all-powerful God and that "omnipotence" is a man-made doctrine. How this works out is a well balanced exposition of both scripture and science in this remarkable book. It is not "normative" Christianity, to be sure, but it does suggest a clear set of answers to such questions as "Why does God allow natural disasters?" and "Why is there such a difference between the God portrayed in the two testaments." Some of the reasoning appears (to me) somewhat strained; most of it, however, appears worth consideration, even without acceptance of the author's admittedly unconventional views.
This is a recommended read for all ASA members, as well as others within our religious fellowships who "think they think." I am always excited when a book takes me beyond my current thinking, and this one does that well.
Stephen Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Submitted to PERSPECTIVES, the ASA quarterly journal, May 5, 1999
Published in Volume 51, #4, December 1999
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