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Patrick Downey: Desperately Wicked

While it may seem that the book is written for philosophers, the book would appeal to an audience interested in knowing ourselves and understanding human behavior. Downey writes in simple language even as he introduces readers to a collage of western classical philosophical writers including Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, along with some renaissance to modern philosophical investigations by Blaise Pascal, F. Nietzsche, S. Kierkegaard, F. Dostoevsky and others. Readers need not be intimidated by the list: These philosophers’ ideas are presented in illustrative boxes, and hence, readers do not have to be distracted by the many philosophical writings he introduces in the book. While it is difficult to write about human psychology in plain language, particularly while drawing from philosophical sources, Downey does this well. Beneath the shadow of these philosophers is an authentic Christian presentation of The Philosophy of Sin, a title written in 1949 by a Christian devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, who was popularly remembered for his My Utmost for His Highest. If Chambers presents a Christian discourse drawn from the sources of Scripture, reason, and experience (including the experience of Christian tradition on mortification of the sinful nature), some of which appeared in My Utmost for His Highest, Downey presents a compelling case that the Christian doctrine of human depravity has its roots even further back in the classical philosophy of antiquity.

Readers interested in philosophy, politics, and the Christian faith would also find Downey’s presentation fascinating. While he did not aim at rewriting political theology per se, it is no less true that Downey has creatively set forth a political theology from the perspective of the reality of a desperately wicked humanity. The fall of humankind, while it did not lead into sin (so he argued), has brought to the surface the unsearchable reality of the political nature of humanity, which often manifests itself politically in human relations and in social institutions. One may say that if we allow Downey’s thesis to run its full course, the rehabilitation of humanity through Christ leads to the renewal of politics after the in-breaking of Jesus-politics in Christianity. The micro-level treatment of Downey’s political theology by way of human anthropology then is complemented at the macro-level with J. Budziszewski’s The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man (1999), which is also a philosophical-theology on political theology and theological anthropology. If Downey focuses on human heart and its political implications, Budziszewski focuses on political ideologies of morality, virtues, government, communitarianism, liberalism, conservatism, and etc., read through a theological grid of the doctrine of the fall. Some readers may find also interesting here that Budziszewski writes in repudiating nihilism. Downey’s positive vision of Christian conversion finds an affinity with Gordon T. Smith’s Transforming Conversion. Conversion is not just a personal affair, but it is also a communal and social transformation.

Without hesitation I recommend Desperately Wicked. If you want to know yourself and relate to others better, you need to read this book. Critics may argue with Downey about his doctrine of depravity, but the book paints a sober picture of who we really are and what Christ has done. While it is written with the western context in mind, I would envision that the material would also be popular in non-western context, since there is a measure of truth in this book that cuts across all cultures.

Reviewed by Timothy Lim Teck Ngern

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Editor’s note: A Review in Brief from this essay appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Pneuma Review.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2011

About the Author: Timothy Teck Ngern Lim, M.Div. (BGST, Singapore), Ph.D. (Regent University), is a Visiting Lecturer for London School of Theology and Research Tutor for King's Evangelical Divinity School (London). He is on the advisory board of One in Christ (Turvey) and area book review editor for Evangelical Review of Society & Politics. He is an evangelical theologian ordained as a Teaching Elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has published in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, and interdisciplinarity. A recent monograph published entitled Ecclesial Recognition with Hegelian Philosophy, Social Psychology, and Continental Political Theory: An Interdisciplinary Proposal (Brill, 2017).

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