Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town #2), Ray Bradbury. New York: Bantam Books, 1963 (Link is to a currently in print edition).

Summary: A carnival comes to Green Town out of season and two boys, Jim and Will fight to escape the clutches of the sinister carnival master Mr. Dark.

An odd lightning rod salesman cues us that this will be a dark story. It is October 23, but the storm he predicted never came and the lightning rod atop Jim Nightshade’s house wasn’t needed. Or was it. Something darker came to town that night–a mysterious carnival with proprietors Cooger and Dark. It’s an odd time of year for a carnival. The boys, Jim and and his friend Will Halloway, spy it out as it arrives at 3 am, taking shape out of the dark clouds of the night. Will’s father, a janitor at the library, who revels in spending his life among its books, senses something dark as well. Carnivals don’t come in October. Or do they?

They come back the next morning, spot Mrs. Foley, their teacher who emerges from a mirror maze not quite right. That’s all that’s not right. The carousel seems to be out of order. They explore only to be dragged off by Mr. Dark. Hiding, they see Mr. Cooger ride the carousel backward and become a boy, who wheedles his way into Mrs. Foley’s house, pretending to be her nephew.

The boys follow. Mrs. Foley is nowhere to be seen but as Cooger rides to return to his age, the boys jam the controls aging him past a hundred. And they are now on Mr. Dark’s radar. Dark lures people with their desires–and feeds upon them. A parade comes the next day through town while a little girl, the former Mrs. Foley, weeps in the bushes. Dark and his Witch search everywhere for Jim and Will but encounter only Will’s father, who becomes their enemy by laughing at them. All this sets up the climactic confrontation as Dark captures the boys and Halloway must confront the evil that has invaded Green Town.

Bradbury gives us a truly gripping and insightful portrayal of evil. It is more than transgressions. It is the darkness, the nothingness that consumes, that plays on and distorts human desire, shriveling lives. The story depicts the webs of illusion that hold those who give way to it. Yet Charles Halloway discovers that this dark nothingness may be defeated, that all its pretensions may be punctured by a little act, if only he can endure evil’s onslaught.

I missed this Bradbury as a kid, or don’t remember it. I may not have understood or liked it at the time. It is the darkest of his books, starkly in contrast to the first Green Town book, Dandelion Wine. Having seen more of the power of evil, its lures and the way it distorts and destroys, I appreciate Bradbury’s imaginative portrayal. We need those like Charles Halloway, who can discern evil, resist it, and recognize how it may be defeated.

Review: Evil and Creation

Evil & Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian Dogmatics, Edited by David J. Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020.

Summary: An essay collection considering the doctrine of creation and how theologians and others have grappled with the emergence of evil.

The doctrine of creation is foundational for so many other elements of Christian theology. That includes our understanding of evil. Often this is posed as a problem. If God is good and all-powerful, and God’s creation is very good, whence evil? This collection of essays considers first early Christian explorations, and then recent thinking from theology, literature and other fields. These are the essays included;

Introduction; Evil in Christian Theology, David Luy and Matthew Levering. Two of the editors frame the discussion, noting the trend in modern theology to modify either the classic understanding of God or the destiny of the unrepentant evil.

Evil in Early Christian Sources

Judgment of Evil as the Renewal of Creation, Constantine R. Campbell. Considering the testimony of Paul, Genesis, Isaiah, Peter, and Revelation, argues that evil is intertwined with creation both in its corruption of creation and the obliteration of evil in the new creation.

Qoheleth and His Patristic Sympathizers on Evil and Vanity in Creation, Paul M. Blowers. Outlines the patristic understanding of this book as simultaneous flourishing and languishing, wisdom and vanity pointing toward Christ as the true Ecclesiast.

Problem of Evil: Ancient Answers and Modern Discontents, Paul L. Gavrilyuk. A survey of approaches to the problem of evil from ancient to modern times noting six major shifts.

Augustine and the Limits of Evil: From Creation to Christ in the Enchiridion, Han-luen Kantzer Komline. Considers how the Enchiridion holds together creation, fall, and Christology in addressing evil.

Augustine on Animal Death, Gavin Ortlund. Augustine, it turns out, had no problem with animal suffering and death before, or after, the fall, seeing it “as a beauty to be admired–a cause for praising God more than blaming him. Ortlund assesses both the helpful and unhelpful aspects of this stance.

Contemporary Explorations

The Evil We Bury, the Dead We Carry, Michel René Barnes. Proposes that evil is an experience, is ineluctable for human beings, and the first evil, which we cannot escape, is the immediate evil of our personal experience.

Creation and the Problem of Evil after the Apocalyptic Turn, R. David Nelson. With the contemporary focus on the apocalyptic–the death, resurrection, and in-breaking kingdom-Nelson considers the shift in thinking about evil in light of the creation.

Creation without Covenant, Providence without Wisdom: The Example of Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, Kenneth Oakes. A reflection on the Cormac McCarthy work, and the response of God to evil in the absence of his covenantal relationship with his people culminating in the incarnation, and a providence that is mere inscrutable purpose apart from wisdom.

The Appearance of Reckless Divine Cruelty’: Animal Pain and the Problem of Other Minds, Marc Cortez. Another essay on animal pain, considering the mental experience of suffering through the lens of the philosophical problem of other minds that finds the “no animal suffering view” untenable.

Recent Evolutionary Theory and the Possibility of the Fall, Daniel W. Houck. Reviews the traditional “disease” view of the fall in light of evolutionary theory, proposing a Thomist view of the fall as the loss of original justice.

Intellectual Disability and the Sabbath Structure of the Human Person, Jared Ortiz. Seeks to retrieve the distinction of person and nature in disability discussions and argues that the powerful impact the disabled often have on others reflects the “sabbath structure” inherent in all of us.

As is evident, this is a wide ranging collection of articles loosely tied together by the doctrine of creation and the existence of evil. Perhaps one other thread that connects a number of the articles is the movement from creation to Christ in our attempts to come to terms with evil. In some sense, we never quite find the emergence of evil explicable; it is only the hope of a new creation in Christ that can give meaning to the suffering that often attends evil. The essays on animal suffering and death are important in relating Christian hope to a world where animals are often afforded increasing dignity, as is the moving essay that concludes this volume on disability. Finally, the thread of how we hold ancient understandings in the light of modernity as reflected in philosophy, critical theories, evolutionary science, and literature recurs throughout this collection. Contrary to the tendency warned of in the preliminary essay, these writers do not jettison the scriptures, the councils, and the creeds, even as they grapple with modernity.

This is another valuable addition to the Lexham Press’s series of Studies in Historical and Systematic Theology.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Guest Review: Finding Ourselves After Darwin

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

Finding Ourselves After DarwinStanley P. Rosenberg ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018.

Summary: This book presents and discusses multiple approaches to thinking about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of biological evolution.

This collection of essays is one result of a research project at Oxford University which “assembled scholarship presenting different approaches and methods and insights, introducing a variety of models that may be considered . . .” (p. 8). The individual authors are primarily theologians and biblical scholars, some with a science background.

As the title implies, biological evolution is presupposed, and the issue is how to think about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in the light of biological evolution. The book is divided into three parts, one for each topic. Each part includes a brief introduction, a discussion of the questions, challenges, and concerns for the topic, several essays offering different approaches, and a conclusion and further reading list.

Part 1 deals with why the image of God is important in the theology-evolutionary science dialogue. It begins with a discussion of what constitutes human distinctiveness. After four essays offering different views of the image of God in the light of recent developments in evolutionary science, Michael Burdett concludes by suggesting that “it is entirely possible that each of these models could be combined in interesting ways such that hybrid models could be constructed that rely on aspects from each one outlined here.” (p. 109)

Part 2 deals with original sin. The opening essay by Gijsbert van den Brink suggests that biological evolution does not require a radical abandonment of the doctrine of original sin, but rather a recontextualization within an evolutionary framework. After essays on Augustinian, Irenaean, federal headship, and cultural approaches, Christopher M. Hays presents a compelling account of the ways in which evolutionary theory aids our understanding of the universality of sin without appealing to an Adamic fall. In his conclusion, Benno van den Toren suggests that “Insights from different theories might well be combined for a new theological synthesis to arise out of this fermentation process. (p. 206)

Part 3 deals with the problem of evil by presenting a variety of approaches. Essayists discuss Augustinian, Irenaeasn, fall-of-the-angels, free process, only way, and non-identity theodicy and how they relate to evolution. The concluding essay by Michael Lloyd suggests that, despite their differences, the contributors to this part seem to believe the following: (1) the current state of evolutionary biology and modern genetics leaves plenty of room in which to do theodicy, (2) the seriousness of the problem of evil in relation to the evolutionary processes, (3) this volume falls far short of a full theodical narrative, and (4) their positions still have challenges to face and work to do.

The three Further Reading lists, the 26-page Bibliography, and the numerous informative footnotes provide a wealth of opportunities to pursue specific topics of personal interest.

It would help to have some familiarity with the issues before tackling this book, but it does succeed in bringing together multiple approaches to dealing with the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of evolution. I can recommend it to anyone interested in this topic. Three other helpful essay collections on the same topic are “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”, “Theology After Darwin,” and “Darwin, Creation and the Fall.”


This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.

Review: Bedeviled


BedeviledColin Duriez. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Summary: An exploration of the conflict of good and evil in the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and how two World Wars influenced their thinking.

This is the second of two books that look at the intersection of war experience and the works of Lewis and Tolkien. The difference, I would say, between Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War (reviewed here) and this book is that in Loconte’s book, war is foregrounded to a greater degree; in Duriez’s book, the nature of evil, the evil powers, and the conflict with the good running through their works.

The book opens at the beginning of World War II as Lewis puzzles over the attraction of Hitler. Duriez writes:

“As planned, they tuned in and listened on the radio to a speech by Hitler. The BBC provided a simultaneous translation. A possible answer to a puzzle occurred to Lewis as he listened—how was the German leader so convincing to so many? Though Lewis rarely read the daily newspapers, he of course knew Hitler’s claims were grossly untrue. Making what he blatantly called his ‘final appeal to common sense,’ Hitler boasted, ‘It never has been my intention to wage war, but rather to build up a State with a new social order and the finest possible standard of culture.’

Hitler’s emotive speech may have still tugged at Lewis’s mind in the quietness of his church that Sunday. England faced the very real danger of invasion by Hitler’s forces, driven and maintained like a machine….During the church liturgy and bad hymns (as Lewis regarded them) he found his thoughts turning to the master of evil, Satan. Somehow, the arrogant dictator resembled him—not least in the size of his ego and self-centeredness. In the jumble of thoughts jostling with words of a great tradition, it struck Lewis that a war-orientated bureaucracy was a more appropriate image of hell for people ignorant of the past than a traditional one. Here was Hitler bent on taking over and ruling European countries, including England. There was the devil, who had designs to exert his will systematically over all parts of human life, his ultimate aim being dehumanization—the “abolition of man,” as Lewis later called it.” (pp. 21-22).

Duriez proceeds to show how the “war-oriented bureaucracy” that aim to dehumanize was at the heart of Lewis’s portrayal of hell and the work of the tempters in The Screwtape Letters. Chapter 3 then shows how much of the work of Lewis and Tolkien during the Second World War focused around devilry, from the decision of Tolkien to begin writing The Lord of the Rings (a new Hobbit book) to Lewis’s publication of The Problem of PainThe Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, and the Space Trilogy. In addition, there were the BBC broadcasts that formed the core of Mere Christianity, in which Lewis argues for our sense of right and wrong as basic to our search for meaning, and from this to a Christian understanding of God and his work in Christ. In fiction, he explores the same themes in the Space Trilogy as Ransom understands the nature of our fallen planet in Out of the Silent Planet, fights evil in the character of Weston in Edenic Perelandra, and faces the banal but de-humanizing character of evil, so present in Hitlers prison camps, in That Hideous Strength, where technology is de-coupled from human values.

This last idea is one both Loconte and Duriez explore, how a tendency of evil is to pour one’s power into objects which are then used to dominate, such as the Ring (or Voldemort’s horcruxes in Harry Potter lore). When technology is severed from transcendent values seeking human flourishing, it may then be used to dominate the very humans it was meant to serve. [I sometimes wonder about our smartphones, and the connected world they represent, and how much power we have poured into these devices, and how in turn, they shape, and even dominate our engagement with the world. Is this our culture’s “one Ring to rule them all?”]

While the first part of the book explores the problem of evil, particularly laid bare by war, the latter part of the book focuses more on the intersection of good and evil, exploring progress and regress in Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, the divide between good and evil in Tolkien’s “Leaf, by Niggle” and Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the power for change, whether good or ill, portrayed throughout the Chronicles of Narnia, and the experiences we have of pain and love in A Grief Observed, The Four Loves, and Till We Have Faces (this last exploring the evil of loving inordinately and possessively, and the hope even here, for redemption).

The final two chapters consider how we become free of the tyranny of self to become who we are truly, and the images of future hope in both Lewis’s and Tolkien’s writing. The book then concludes with two appendices which return to themes explored throughout the book: “War in Heaven” being concerned with devilry, and “The Spirit of the Age” with subjectivism, the detaching of morality from any transcendent sense of meaning, anticipating both scientism and our post-modern turn.

I found Duriez’s exploration of the forms evil can take in modern society chilling–the machine, the soulless bureaucracy, the big lie that they state can make us safe, secure, and usher in a new order of greatness. Against this is the challenge of goodness, that makes no dramatic or inordinate claims, that recognizes that the small choices matter the most and may lead us “imperceptibly toward good or evil, heaven or hell” (p. 145). We see in Lewis and Tolkien, the heroism of the ordinary person, with no pretensions, acting in faith and trusting obedience in the face of threatening evil, and the final victory of the good. They wrote to encourage those facing the great conflict of World War II, and in their words, we might also find the kind of bracing comfort we need to face the challenges of our own day.

Brilliant and Bad

In two different books I’m currently reading, I came across the perplexing challenge of the intellectual brilliance of Nazi era Germany combined with its unspeakable moral badness. How does it happen that a nation has both some of the most renown universities, and concentration camps? How can an Eichmann be both so cultured and so complicit in the death of thousands upon thousands of Jews? How can a country known for the excellence of its science turn to diabolical research on human subjects and scientific efficiency in exterminating a people?

I work in the world of higher education where the spoken or unspoken assumption is that education will make us better, more morally discriminating people. There is an assumption that knowledge invariably leads to progress, meaning improvements that enhance our lives and our societies.  I have friends who are working on cures for cancer, designing more reliable jet engines, safer automobiles, and pursuing more just social relationships. There is an element of truth in these assumptions that is undeniable.

Yet I think a danger in all of this is the denial of something yet more basic: that each and every one of us are capable of unspeakable evil.  We want to believe we are basically good. The danger is when individuals and groups become so convinced of the moral rectitude of their causes that they become blind to the evil of their actions. This can happen in all kinds of settings ranging from families to churches, to universities and even governments. More dangerous yet is when a broad swath of “enlightened” society is so convinced of its cause that it turns a blind eye to evil, perhaps accompanied by clever euphemisms where terms like “removal” are substituted for “extermination” or “purification” for “genocide”.

On the one hand, universities can be highly ethical places because of their research ideals. Institutional Review Boards carefully screen research for the consequences to humans or other live subjects, peer review scrutinizes the quality and repeatability of research, and various university regulations prevent invidious forms of discrimination and harassment. Yet I also am concerned that the very moral rectitude in these processes can blind universities to the potential of participating in unspeakable evil in other ways:

  • in the ethical scrutiny of research a blind eye may be cast toward the known potential uses of such research.
  • in the assumption that there is a technological fix for every technological problem, we turn a blind eye to the fact that this could likely create new problems requiring further fixes.
  • rhetoric may be used to divert attention from the true nature of a discussion. For example an expression of moral conviction may be labeled “bigotry” or “narrow-minded” or “puritanical” if it does not conform to prevailing norms. Categorical ad hominem attacks are made on the character of individuals apart from any considered discussion of their moral contention.
  • equally, the incitement of outrage is used to suppress unpopular views apart from any consideration of the cogency of those views. Examples of this include various commencement and other speakers who are “disinvited” because some view they’ve expressed or position they’ve taken was displeasing to some group within the university.

Most thoughtful people looking at the Holocaust respond by saying, “never again”. Yet I believe that the kind of moral rectitude that is blind to the potential toward evil  in some of these examples suggests that evils like the Holocaust could happen here. Whenever rhetoric and outrage clothed in ethical justification is used as a form of powerful suppression of an “other” with whom we disagree, we practice the same kinds of tactics of power used in Nazi Germany. When we assume that we will always use our science benignly we risk becoming sorcerers apprentices who may come to regret what we have unleashed upon the world.

I can hear some of my church friends saying “yeah baby” at this point. I would say to them (and myself) that we are equally in danger of cloaking in moral rectitude political power and political alliances that abuse others. What is striking to me about Nazi Germany is that most of the churches, along with most in universities went along with Hitler. What I wonder is whether the complicity with Hitler arose from the fact that on a smaller scale, both had basically been playing similar power games that Hitler perfected into a brutal art.

What can save us from being brilliant and bad? I wonder if a beginning is acknowledging that this is in fact the human condition. I’m given to understand that the checks and balances in our system of government arose from this assumption, to protect from any one entity so accumulating power to suppress the other, recognizing the basic human propensity to do so. What checks and balances do we need in our life, whether in the church or the university? One might be that of always being answerable to others. Another might be to refuse turning someone who opposes your ideas into a morally inferior demon to be disposed of in one way or another. Yet a third might be to question whether more technology and an increasingly technologized world can always answer the problems of our finiteness and capacity to do ill. Perhaps above all, we need the grace of God, if we believe a gracious God exists.

Do you think that the danger of being brilliant and bad is a real one for individuals and institutions? What do you think can save us from this danger?