Tuesday, August 31, 2010

100 books to read!

In 2000 Christianity Today surveyed their editors and contributors about the 100 books published in the 20th Century that were of greatest significance to Christians. The list is worth looking over and considering what you should read next.

A model Christian academic

This morning I read this fascinating obituary from the Times of Professor Donald Wiseman (1918-2010). I read it because one of his students, David Baker (Ashland Seminary) is coming to Brisbane to teach an MA subject on the Joseph Narrative at Queensland Theological College.

I wish I was somewhere else

Actually, I don't.

But, to me this is the message I get from observing peoples obsession with (addiction to?) their mobile phones and texting. I actually don't have one. I think they do have there role. But, why not talk to the people you are actually with or focus on enjoying your current surroundings and engaging with them.

'Hello Mum... The Doc wants to know if I have difficulty making decisions. What do you think?'

Monday, August 30, 2010

Polkinghorne on emergence in science and theology

At the end of the month I am speaking at a conference Quantum Theory and the Nature of Reality in honour of the 80th birthday of Sir John Polkinghorne, who has done so much to promote a meaningful and scholarly dialogue between science and theology.

As well as giving the talk I have been asked to prepare a white paper (due this friday), Is emergence the nature of physical reality? Consequently, I am wrestling with a chapter The Nature of Physical Reality, from Polkinhorne's 1991 book, Reason and Reality: The Relationship between Science and Theology, which was reprinted in the journal Zygon. Here are a few extracts I am trying to digest.

Abstract. This account of the dynamical theory of chaos leads to a metaphysical picture of a world with an open future, in which the laws of physics are emergent-downward approximations to a more subtle and supple reality and in which there is downward causation through information input as well as upward causation through energy input. Such a metaphysical picture can accommodate both human and divine agency.
Subatomic particles are not only not “more real” than a bacterial cell, they also have no greater privileged share in determining the nature of reality.
.... If apparently open behavior is associated with underlying apparently deterministic equations, which is to be taken to have the greater ontological seriousness—the behavior or the equations? Which is the approximation and which is the reality?
....epistemology and ontology are intimately connected. One can see how natural this view is for a scientist by considering the early history of quantum theory. Heisenberg’s famous discussion of thought experiments, such as the gamma-ray microscope, dealt with what can be measured. It was an epistemological analysis. Yet for the majority of physicists it led to ontological conclusions. They interpret the uncertainty principle as not being merely a principle of ignorance (as Bohm, for example, would interpret it) but as a principle of genuine indeterminacy. In an analogous way, it seems to me to be a coherent possibility to interpret the undoubted unpredictability of so much of physical process as indicating that process to be ontologically open.....
d’Espagnat [who discussed the philosophical implications of quantum theory] does not go all the way with Kant. He insists that independent reality is veiled rather than inaccessible; it is elusive rather than absolutely unknowable.
I am driven to greater metaphysical boldness .... I believe that his cautious invocation of veiledness is, at the least, not inconsistent with the kind of openness about the nature of reality that I am trying to explore.
.... such a world of intertwined order and novelty is just that which might be expected as the creation of a God both faithful and loving, who will endow God’s world with the twin gifts of reliability and freedom....
The correct lower-level description can only provide an envelope of possibility within which top-down causation will find its scope for realization. 
..... God’s interaction with God’s own world can be expected to respect its freedom (including our own). God’s acts will be veiled within the unpredictability of complex process. They may be discernible by faith, but they will not be demonstrable by experiment.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A poetic life

Last night we had dinner with some friends from Zimbabwe and they mentioned the fascinating life story of Arthur Shearly Cripps (1869-1952). He was an English Anglican clergyman who spent many years in Southern Rhodesia and had a significant passion for social justice issues in Africa. He was also a gifted poet who was able to support himself from royalties from his published poems. His life inspired his great-great nephew, Owen Sheers to write The Dust Diaries, which in 2005 was the Welsh Book of the Year.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What is the object of our study?

Last week I had a nice discussion with Ben Seligmann about my paper on Emergence and Theology. One helpful question he asked is "Why is the concept of emergence helpful for theology?" Perhaps the paper does not answer this clearly enough. When one has an emergent perspective in science the focus is on the object and phenomena under study (e.g. turbulence in fluids). What is its nature? What principles and concepts describe its behaviour? One avoids getting distracted by a reductionist approach which looks for some "deeper" and more "fundamental" phenomena (e.g., the molecular nature of fluids).

So the focus of theology should be on the Tri-une God revealed in Jesus Christ. One needs to be careful about being distracted by genealogies, hermeneutical issues, sociology, church government, .....

As Barth, said:

“If theology allows itself to be called .... a “science”, in so doing it declares:

1. that like all other so-called sciences it is a human concern with a definite object of knowledge,

2. that like all others it treads a definite and self-consistent path of knowledge, and

3. that like all others it must give an account of this path to itself and to all others who are capable of concern for this object and therefore of treading this path….

to the discharge of its own task it must absolutely subordinate and if necessary sacrifice all concern for what is called science elsewhere. The existence of other sciences, and the praiseworthy fidelity with which many of them at least pursue their own axioms and methods, can and must remind it that it must pursue its own task in due order and with the same fidelity”

Church Dogmatics 1.1, The Doctrine of the Word of God, p.7-8.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A violent reality, from beginning to end

Who are the four men of the apocalypse in Revelation 6? When will they come? These are natural questions to ask when puzzling through Revelation?
But, maybe they have already come! Perhaps Revelation is actually describing the way the world is today. Consider this passage:
1Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, "Come!" 2And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.

3When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 4And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

The world is a very violent place. Surely this is an undeniable reality. But, we seem to be often surprised and shocked by this. This should bring us back to Genesis 4, where Cain murders Abel and Lamech describes his bloodthirsty lust for vengeance:

23Lamech said to his wives:

"Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold."

Cain and Abel, by Titian c. 1570

Lamech is alluding to God's promise to protect Cain and take sevenfold vengeance on anyone who attacked Cain. Lamech has twisted God's gracious offer of protection to Cain and justify his own violence.

It is striking to me how in Genesis 4:13-15, God's judgement on Cain was limited.

The "chronology" and "historicity" of both Genesis and Revelation are confusing and debatable. But, they are very clear on certain realities: man's violent injustice and God's merciful and perfect justice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Another paradox in Revelation

In the sermon at church on sunday it was pointed out that the following verses contain a significant paradox:
These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:14
How can you making something white by washing it in blood? This highlights the paradox that through imperfect humans are made perfect in God's sight through the death of Jesus.
Other paradoxes in Revelation concern the Lamb who speaks, the Lamb becomes a shepherd,..

Blogging as theological discourse

Ben Myers writes a widely read blog, Faith and Theology. Last year he gave a nice talk about blogging and theology at the AACC. The paper he developed out of that is now available.

Monday, August 23, 2010

War is hell 3

Last night my wife and I watched episode 2: The White Feather of Foyle's War. I thought it was particularly good because it gave us a much greater appreciation of the heroism of the Dunkirk evacuation and the moral complexities of life in Britain at the beginning of the war. It also deals well with the tragedy and apparent senselessness as soldiers are maimed for life and families lose children...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reading Revelation III

Previous posts have discussed how the book of Revelation should be read as apocalyptic literature with substantial illusions to the Old Testament. There is much that is not clear, but the overall message is very clear: God saves sinners by the blood of Jesus (the Lamb) and their salvation is sealed regardless of the tribulations they face in this life. Those who reject this wonderful salvation face a terrible and just judgement when Jesus returns.

In contrast, a rigid reading of Revelation presents all sorts of problems. Consider the passage below from chapter 7. Note the vivid imagery and the "contradiction" about the number of the God's people (highlighted in bold) and what nation that they are from.
1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads." 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,........

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
The same thing is considered from two different angles. The common idea is that God's people are "sealed" (i.e. preserved for eternity). It does not matter how much they suffer in this life at the hands of the powerful and rich opposed to the Kingdom of God.

Note also the focus: the Lamb and God who rules from the throne.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ethical shopping

If I saw my clothes were being made in a "sweat shop" underneath the house next door, would I buy them, particularly if I saw the workers everyday? I hope not. Yet if the clothes were made in the same conditions in Indonesia but I was blissfully ignorant would I buy them? Well, I do!
In attempt to be better informed about what we buy and where it comes from my wife obtained a copy of The Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping which lists a whole range of supermarket products and brands (ranging from breakfast cereal to soap) and rates their merits/demerits using a range of social, environmental, and justice criteria. It is helpful. We will see how we go at actually acting on our knowledge...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Augustine on Genesis

Ernan McMullin is a distinguished philosopher of science. He gave a talk "Darwin and the other Christian Tradition" at a conference last year. Here is the abstract.

The leading theologian of the early Christian church, Augustine of Hippo, argued against taking the Six-Day account of the creation literally (in our sense of that term) and proposed instead that the Creator implanted the seeds of all the living kinds in the original creation, each to mature when conditions were right. Aquinas later regarded this as a viable interpretation. Perhaps it was the turn to biblical literalism in the sixteenth century and the reliance on the literal Six-Day account in the natural theology of the seventeenth century that sent this alternative reading of Genesis into decline. In any event, it seems to have been almost forgotten, only to be recalled soon after the appearance of The Origin of Species, when its obvious consonance with the Darwinian account was noted by several Catholic writers, among them St. George Mivart. In the years that followed it was emphasized by a sequence of Catholic writers reflecting on the significance of the theory of evolution for the Christian view of creation. It was rarely noted outside the Catholic tradition and, quite surprisingly, has played hardly any role in the evolution/creation debates of recent years.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who will I vote for? (Part II)

Here are a few newspaper articles about the Australian election that I have found helpful in the past week:

Labor deserves some credit, not death at the ballot box, by Ross Gittins, Economics Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald.
[USA readers may find this interesting because of the comparisons made between the two countries.]

Gillard leans to the left, by Paul Kelly, Editor at large, of The Australian.
He suggests she has "a new feminine philosophy of politics".

A space-time anomaly

This is not about black holes or the big bang!

In the sermon at church it was pointed out that the life of most Western Christians in the the twenty-first century is an anomaly, both in history and in geography. There were more martyrs in the twentieth century than there were in all centuries before. The norm for Christians is not health, wealth, and freedom to worship. Rather, it is suffering and persecution.

This is very much the world of The Revelation of John. Reading it with this background in mind is very helpful. Graeme Goldsworthy says:
At a time when many Christians were possibly quite literally running them for their lives he does not detain them with a closely argued theological treatise. Rather he draws from the familiar and fertile imagery of Jewish apocalyptic in order to paint vivid word pictures of the reality of the Kingdom of God. They are images that will stick in the mind and aid the recall of the basic truths of the Gospel.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just generosity

I read an interesting article in The Week about an initiative of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get fellow billionaires to give away their wealth. It points out that potential gifts of the order of $6bn per year need to be compared to the $303bn in total annual private donations from US citizens. Through the article I became aware of a provocative opinion piece, The rich want a better world? Try paying fair wages and tax by Peter Wilby, originally published in The Guardian. Here are the last two paragraphs:

I repeat: we should welcome the Gates-Buffett initiative and applaud those who have joined it. Generous, public-spirited billionaires are preferable to mean ones. But remember that two-thirds of US corporations contrive to pay no federal income tax at all and that transfer pricing alone – a legal device, used, for instance, by Ellison's Oracle Corp, that converts sales in one country to profits in another where tax liabilities are low – deprives the US treasury of $60bn annually. Such sums, which pile more taxes on the poor and reduce funds for government projects that advance the public good, dwarf what the 40 billionaires propose to give away.

If the rich really wish to create a better world, they can sign another pledge: to pay their taxes on time and in full; to stop lobbying against taxation and regulation; to avoid creating monopolies; to give their employees better wages, pensions, job protection and working conditions; to make goods and use production methods that don't kill or maim or damage the environment or make people ill. When they put their names to that, there will be occasion not just for applause but for street parties.

This all reminded me of the passage in Luke 21:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Would Jesus own an iPhone?

I was recently asked:
In what ways is a technology good or bad from a Christian perspective?
How should we approach the development of technology?
The pace and scope of new technological developments presents many ethical issues. Sometimes it is claimed that technologies such as internet, stem cells, drugs, in vitro fertilisation, nanotechnology, ... are so far from the culture and world of Biblical writers that we are in a moral vacuum. I agree we are in a "different world" in some sense but we are in the "same world" of human sin, aspirations to bless, greed, desire to heal, idolatry, love, ego, .....
Hence, I strongly disagree that the Bible is not adequate to address these issues.

I have found a helpful way to see this is to view money as technology. The Bible says a lot about money. It is intrinsically neither good nor evil. It can be used to bless others. It can facilitate an orderly and prosperous society. But,
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6:10
I am hard pressed to think of a technology which is intrinsically good or intrinsically evil. The key issue is one of attitude. What is the ultimate purpose of it? Do people worship it? Can they not live without? Does it lead to greed and injustice? Is it used to heal and or bless?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recommended TV series

Now that my family has finished watching all the seasons of The West Wing, we have been looking for alternative entertainment and stimulation. Two series we have started looking at are Home Improvement and Foyles War. The first is very funny and harmless. I used to watch it every week twenty years ago.
We are watching the second for the first time and is much more intense.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The paradox of Revelation

I read Graeme Goldsworthy's first chapter in The Gospel and Revelation. He explains the nature of Jewish apocalyptic literature. Common features include writing the secrets of a revelation (apocalpyse) from God onto a scroll which is sealed until the time for it to be revealed. He then points out how this plays out in Revelation 7 (see below): it is expected the mighty Lion of Judah will open the seal. But, instead the slain Lamb does! This illustrates the central paradox of the Gospel: the victory of God was not won by power but by the humiliation of his own Son.
2And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

6And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying,

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

The painting is Saint John of Pathmos by the Limburg brothers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who will I vote for?

In less than two weeks Australia has a Federal Election. I have to confess that I usually decide who to vote for at the last minute. From a Christian point of view I always find something to strongly disagree with most parties and candidates. There has been some good discussion on Christian blogs about this election. This excellent post by Nathan Campbell links to relevant ones. [I particularly liked Simone Richardson's one about Christian values]. He also has a good post on why he is not voting for Family First, despite being a Christian.
To US readers this really highlights some significant cultural differences with Australia.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Reading Revelation II

I am back in Brisbane and at church we are working through the book of Revelation and so I am re-reading Graeme Goldsworthy's book The Gospel in Revelation: Gospel in Apocalypse. My previous post recommending this book generated some great discussion. Here I just list a few of the theses that Goldsworthy ends his chapters with:

The Lion-Lamb tension shows that the Gospel is the only key to the understanding of the book of Revelation.
The theme of the Lion and the Lamb points to the paradox of the normal suffering of Christians and the Victory of Christ
The doctrine of justification is basic to Revelation and woven throughout the book.

The Old Testament perspective of the day of the Lord, which is contained in God's apocalyptic visions, is modified by the Gospel. The linear succession of the ages becomes the overlap of the ages between the first and second comings of Christ.

I find the first two theses particularly helpful. The last one I am still to get my brain around.

The painting is Michelangelo's The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Shadow of reality

Yesterday I went to the play Shadowlands, based on the story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. In it Lewis grapples with the "why of suffering" as he sees his beloved Joy die of cancer:
Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.
The play was beautifully performed by Crossbow productions. Dressing the actors in black and using a largely black set and costumes helped bring out the idea that this life is but a "shadow" of a reality that is to come, where there will be no more death and suffering and pain.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Plane movies 2

I just flew SFO to Auckland. Again on 13 hour flights it is amazing what kind of movies one thinks is good.

I found Wild Target hilarious. But, to some it may be a rather off-beat comedy.

The Bounty Hunter is quite funny and entertaining. It contains a hot relationship and marriage tip: just admit you were wrong and take responsibility.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Redeeming the time

In his Doctrine of Creation, Karl Barth has an interesting discussion of the significance of time in creation. As is often the case, he has a Christological interpretation. Here is an excerpt:
In the death of Jesus Christ the old has passed, but only in such a way that He Himself and His death and the whole witness of the Old Testament concerning Himself and His death are not just past but are still present and future. And in the resurrection of the same Jesus Christ something new has appeared, but in such a way that He Himself and His resurrection and the whole witness of the New Testament concerning Himself as the Resurrected are not only future but are also present and past.
He does not extinguish time; He is "the first and the last and (so) he that liveth" ( Rev. 117). He normalises time. He heals its wounds. He fulfils and makes it real. And so He returns it to us in order that we might have it again as "our time," the time of the grace addressed to us, even when we had lost it as "our" time, the time of the sin committed by us. He thus invites us in faith in Him to become contemporaries of genuine time, so that in Him and by Him we, too, have real time. Really to have time is to live in Him and with Him, in virtue of His death and resurrection in the present which is the turning point in which the sin and servitude and condemnation and death of man (and with it also "our" lost time) lie behind us as the past...

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1 Doctrine of Creation, p. 74
Such a perspective should affect how we read the "days" in Genesis and the "thousand years" in Revelation. Real time (i.e. the time of greatest significance) is not defined by atomic clocks, fashion fads, or the passing of governments, but rather by the Resurrection and Return of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Happy to be wrong

I am rather dubious about governments bailing out ailing industries. Some of the problem I have with this is the inconsistency of business leaders and conservatives who are constantly calling for less government regulations and a "free market" but won't miss a heart beat when they demand/beg/ask the government rescue them after they have mismanaged their company (and paid themselves huge bonuses....)
When the US government agreed to bailout Chrysler and GM I thought this was like pouring water down the drain.... Hence, I was surprised to see they have recovered. I am happy I was wrong. There is a good op-ed piece:
The auto industry lives. Can we admit that government intervention worked?
by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A message from The Message

This morning I went to church at Christ the King in Anacortes, Washington, my wife's hometown. Some of Robin's friends are on the staff. The talk was mostly on Psalm 23, but made some use of Psalm 18 from The Message. It is interesting to contrast the ESV direct translation:

4 The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I cried for help.
From his
temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

to the embellished paraphrase of The Message:

4-5 The hangman's noose was tight at my throat;
devil waters rushed over me.
Hell's ropes cinched me tight;
death traps barred every exit.

6 A hostile world! I call to God,
I cry to God to help me.
From his palace he hears my call;
my cry brings me right into his presence—
a private audience!

I am not a big fan of The Message (my wife is). But, I think it is sometimes good to be jolted out of familiarity with the text.

The beginning and the end of time

Genesis and Revelation are the book ends of the library of the Bible. They can also be the most problematic in interpretation. Yet they can be used to understand each other. Several years ago I gave a sermon at church on Genesis 2 and I found it helpful to connect it to Revelation.

It is interesting to read Karl Barth's exegesis of Genesis 1:16-19:

16And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

It is not about astronomy or photons or twenty-four hour days or atomic clocks. Rather it is about the theological significance of time, history, and judgement. After discussing Job cursing the day of his birth, Barth concludes:

Job's wish that the day of his birth might never have been is equivalent to the wish that the light of the heavenly bodies might never have shone upon it. It is when there is no light of the heavenly bodies that there is no day, time or history. This then is the actual content of the threat of judgment but also of the corresponding promise of Is. 60 and Rev. 20-21. The wisdom and patience of God which has founded human history has a definite goal, and the finite time granted to man in relation to this history has actually an end.
As the death of Jesus is the goal of that history, it is also the end of time. As all prophecies point to Him, they necessarily speak of the last time this side of His resurrection and return, of the end of time this side of the dawn of the new creation. And they do so by uttering their terrifying warnings but also their friendly promises, not about the end and dissolution of the constellations, but about the end and dissolution of their shining and therefore of their ministry. This ministry of theirs reaches its boundary with the personal entry of God on behalf of His creation, with His own shining as the eternal light, with the resurrection and return of Jesus. Thus the meaning of the work of the fourth day, the meaning of the fact that God found it good (v. 18b), emerges clearly ..... For here again, but this time subjectively, we have to do with the material point at issue- the creation of day, time and history.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1, Doctrine of Creation, p. 167-8.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I am not my brothers keeper

Since I am in the USA I got to read a hard copy of today's New York Times. It has a short piece on Peter Hitchens and his new book, The Rage Against God: Why Faith is the Foundation of Civilisation.

The story of Peter's gradual adult conversion from atheism to Christian is fascinating.
He is the younger brother of atheist, Christopher Hitchens, author of the best-seller God is not Great. A generally sympathetic review in The Guardian by Rupert Shortt, states that Peter Hitchens goal is to:
expose what he holds to be three major fallacies underlying God Is Not Great:

that conflict fought in the name of religion is really always about faith;

that "it is ultimately possible to know with confidence what is right and what is wrong without acknowledging the existence of God"; and

that atheist states are not actually atheist.
The review does criticise Peter Hitchens (a social conservative) for glossing over the fact that Jesus is a radical, ending:
Authentic Christianity is as subversive of social convention as of the God-as-celestial-headmaster caricature on which so much atheist polemic is based. A fuller account of the creed would make more of love than of law or judgment, and have plenty more to say about the figure of Christ. Hitchens's picture is lopsided in important ways.