Christopher Knight has produced an approachable volume that addresses challenges faced by Christians, particularly Orthodox Christians attempting to reconcile the scientific consensus with the biblical narrative. He also sketches the beginnings of a new theory of God’s action in nature. This book offers something edifying to every believer. To an Eastern Christian, this book presents a useful harmonization of the Orthodox tradition with contemporary science. To a Western Christian, Catholic or Protestant, this book provides the bedrock of a thoughtful critique of Western theology and extends an invitation to explore the Byzantine patrimony. For myself, having been raised in a sect that deliberately sought to jettison systematic theology in order to restore Christianity to the supposedly primitive spirit of the early Church, I found this book to be a tantalizing glimpse into theology, directing me to resources which promise a more direct encounter with the heritage of the apostolic churches.
I can think of only one instance where Knight’s rhetoric fails. As he introduces “scientism,” Knight deploys two familiar idioms that prejudice the reader to be skeptical of the position before addressing it. First, he claims advocates of scientism “often make enough noise to make them seem the majority (though they are probably not).” Second, he claims that they “have managed to convince themselves . . .” These idioms are instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the panem et circenses of American politics, in which one’s opposing party represents a noisy minority caught up in self-induced delusion. Such allusion primes the reader to view adherents of “scientism” as philosophically unsophisticated, unreasonable, or myopic. While it might be appropriate to characterize “scientismists” in this way, and while Knight makes a robust case for assigning this characterization, I find it mentally unhygienic to deploy negative, value-laden phrases about a belief or idea before a rigorous evaluation.
However, this minor rhetorical criticism should not be understood to condemn what is, on the whole, a very helpful work. Anyone who is perplexed about reconciling science and the Christian faith would be wise to select Knight as a guide.
—James Paul Rogers
by sergius bulgakov
translated by roberto j. de la noval and mark roosien
angelico, 238 pages, $19.95
To start anywhere with Sergius Bulgakov is to be plunged into a sea of antinomies, where little can be grasped in isolation from the profound currents of his whole theology. Nevertheless, those who trudge with pen in hand through Bulgakov’s difficult corpus are rewarded with moments in which his pious vision breaks through in ecstatic beauty. The Spiritual Diary offers a different access to the man. Bulgakov’s speculative genius fades, and his earnest Orthodox spirituality comes into focus. We see him in his fifties as a pastor intimately concerned for his flock, an exile tormented by the loss of his Russian motherland, and a soul struggling to embrace the thorny will of God. We witness the prayers of a priest reminding himself that “there is nothing accidental in relationships between people; people were created for each other,” that “every moment of time and every present day contains eternal life,” that “everything is headed to joy, to great, limitless, all-transfiguring joy.”
The translators provide us with two introductions as well as selections from the memoirs of Sr. Joanna Reitlinger, Bulgakov’s spiritual daughter. For many readers, their value will be almost equal to that of the Diary proper, for they fill out a fascinating and at times surprising picture of “Father Sergius.” Rowan Williams’s brief foreword, for its part, rightly highlights the theme of the “friend” in Bulgakov’s work. For Bulgakov, true friendship is sacred, an ideal he clung to through all the griefs and disappointments of his life. Some critics will be as impatient with Bulgakov’s affective vicissitudes as they are with his intricate and perplexing theology. But others among us will find in Bulgakov’s exposed, gentle heart nothing less than a friend.