Review: The Theology of Jeremiah

The Theology of Jeremiah, John Goldingay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A survey of the life of Jeremiah, the composition of the book, and the theological themes running through it.

The book of Jeremiah is a formidable book to study. It is a long book, one John Goldingay likens to a series of blog posts stitched together into a scroll, the contexts of which are not always apparent. It covers over forty years. Its author was reviled by many, ending up carried off to Egypt while many of his people were relocated to Babylon and those who remained in Judea struggled to eke out an existence.

This book is not a commentary to unpack the tough textual questions (the author has written one of these as well). Rather, what John Goldingay does is help us see the forest instead of just the trees, as well as the rivers, fields and hills. He looks at Jeremiah’s life and literally overviews the book forward and back. Then he considers the major theological themes running through the book.

He begins with Jeremiah’s life and the kings during whose reigns he prophesied largely unheeded (apart from Josiah). Goldingay stresses how he both embodies the faithfulness to which Israel was called, and in the treatment of Israel, he reflects how they are in fact treating God. He considers the composition of “Jeremiah,” originally a scroll of messages read to and burned by Jehoiakim, subsequently a scroll Goldingay believes his followers compiled of his messages in the years following his exile and after his death. He takes a retrospective view of Jeremiah’s life that he believes reflects the retrospective vision of the scroll of Jeremiah. He then traces the themes of the various sections of the two parts, chapters 1-25 and 26-52. He walks through various divisions that he singles out with “Begins with: Think About…” and then walks through the section concluding with a section outline. For example Jeremiah 2-6 is “Begins with: Think About the Exodus” the subject of chapter 2 followed a call to turn back to God in chapter 3, warnings of devastation in chapter 4, condemnation of their unfaithfulness and injustice to the poor in chapter 5, and warnings of devastation from the north because they have been judged and found wanting in chapter 6.

The second part of the book centers around biblical theology, considering five theological ideas and how they are unpacked in Jeremiah. They are:

  1. God
  2. The People of God
  3. Wrongdoing
  4. Being a Prophet
  5. The Future

The chapter on the people of God is rich with reflection on all God wanted (and wants) for his people. a possession belonging to God, a household, a community, a country and domain, a city and also a sabbath resting place. God wants for them well-being and good leadership. The chapter on “wrongdoing” delineates the ways God’s people turn from him. The chapter on being a prophet includes a striking list of the qualities of prophets evident in Jeremiah the man and the book: do they say the opposite of what we think? do they get attacked by the people of God and especially their leaders? do they love the people of God? and do they intercede? to name a few. Each of the chapters reflects on the implications of these themes in a Christian context.

This book is both concise (140 pages plus a page of commentary recommendations and scripture index) and rich. Leaving exegesis to the commentaries, Goldingay helps us make sense of the whole scroll, the collection of messages (blog posts) over 40 years, the section themes, and the larger theological themes. This is invaluable for anyone studying, teaching, or preaching this book who has to make sense both to oneself and others the message of the sections of the book and the recurring themes of the whole. This helps us move from the information of exegesis to the formation we long for in our lives and those with whom we share this rich and complicated text called Jeremiah.

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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.

Review: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff. New York: Public Affairs, 2019.

Summary: An extended treatise on the idea of surveillance capitalism, in which we are the “raw materials” for others economic gain and the object of instrumentarian control.

I heard about this book from an interview with the author. I wish I had been forewarned that the soundbite argument of a radio interview was a bloated treatise laden with abstraction, jargon, and a determination to “show all one’s work.” A much shorter work may have been more effective in making its point.

There are two major ideas in this book. One is that a new form of capitalism has arisen as companies like Google and Facebook have figured out how to monetize their platforms through the information that users willingly and sometimes unwittingly surrender that are used to generate the advertising revenues that really fund their enterprises. We are not the customer, we are the raw material, and these platforms have become increasingly skilled at “scraping” data from every aspect of our lives that may be monetized. Our posts, our likes, our searches, and via our smartphones, our locations, and all our app use are sources. So are the devices wired into our cars and our homes, and eventually, even into our clothes. All of this data is “behavioral surplus” about us enabling various entities to market to us and, less benignly, manipulate our perceptions and behavior.

This leads to the second and perhaps more sinister idea that the entities controlling these platforms are seeking to establish instrumentarian, not totalitarian control of society, working toward the idea of a “frictionless” hive mind, controlled by “Big Other.” The aim is total certainty in the control exercised and guaranteed outcomes to marketing efforts. Platforms own the means of behavioral modification, the use of which is concealed. Zuboff’s description of these efforts reminded me of Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle (review), a world in whose ideal is that nothing be hidden, nothing secret, and all transparent. For Zuboff, the greatest problem these platforms face is “friction,” in which individuals do not surrender privacy or information.

One idea introduced toward the end of the book is that of “equivalence.” Anything that produces more traffic, more engagement, and information is good. It struck me that this was the flaw in the supposed dream of a “hive mind.” This was amply on display in recent elections and efforts at social disruption. Platforms do have the ability to control these but tend to refrain, even though these promote conflicting rather than harmonious interests. My hunch is that capitalism is of greater interest than control and that these platforms are relatively indifferent to content as long as it is profitable.

The bigger problem I have is that this book is long on assertion and short on data or practical recommendations. The most she can offer is “be the friction.” I do believe she offers legitimate warnings about how unwittingly we yield up all kinds of information about ourselves. She doesn’t explore the networking of platforms, and how everything from what we buy at the grocery store to our credit records to our health records, the layout of our homes and our travel histories can be compiled. I’m not convinced that “Big Other” is the greater danger than “Big Brother.” What I do believe is that Zuboff raises a necessary warning that our democratic freedoms, including some measure of self-determination, may be lost. It may even be that they are not taken from us so much as willingly surrendered.

Review: Hurting Yet Whole

Hurting Yet Whole, Liuan Huska. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: When a vibrant young writer descends into a season of chronic pain, she discovers the disembodied character of much Christian theology, that she could be whole as a person yet hurting, and that pain and physical vulnerability can be a place where we are met by God.

It started as a pain in her left ankle. Soon she could not walk more than a few blocks before the pain became too great. Visits to orthopedists and an array of other specialist brought no relief. Unremitting and spreading pain and unanswered prayers to be made whole once again brought her to a crisis of faith:

“I struggled to patch my faith into the growing hole of despair in my core. There were no easy answers. I wanted to be healed. I wanted to be whole. Wholeness is a unity of parts, a fitting together of pieces into a seamless, coherent entity. I was anything but whole. I was falling apart on so many levels.”

Liuan Huska, p. 8

As Huska confronts her despair, she discovers that much of Christian theology is split at the core between body and soul, influenced by ancient (and perhaps contemporary?) Gnosticism to see the soul as under assault by the fallen body. And when our bodies suffer from vulnerabilities of illness and pain, there is an urgency to restore bodily wholeness because this means spiritual wholeness. And if healing eludes us, there must be something spiritually wrong.

Huska discovered that while healing does sometimes comes, wholeness can come amid acceptance of our body’s brokenness. God may not spare us from pain, but God may give us something more–God’s own presence in which true wholeness is found.

Before unfolding more fully what this journey was like for her, she describes the myth of medical mastery as she worked her way through a variety of specialists, and found herself no better. She also talks about the particular vulnerabilities women face and the ways women’s experience of pain is often dismissed by the medical establishment. (This is one reason why this book should be read by men as well as women!)

Huska helps us see that all of us have vulnerable bodies. It just takes some of us longer to find out! Vulnerability can take us from independence to interdependence in which accepting the care of others while respecting their needs allows both them and us to flourish. Facing our limits becomes a place where we discover God is able to work his abundance through our broken bodies.

One area I’m surprised Huska didn’t address was the use of pain-relievers. Opioids have brought both blessed relief and the added burden of addiction. This does not appear to have been part of Huska’s pain treatments but have been prescribed (and sometimes over-prescribed) for others. This is also a part of bodily brokenness and one to be handled with sensitivity and without shaming.

Huska offers help in how we care for others in pain. Mostly listening. Open-ended questions. No nostrums. No fixes. Meals. Hugs. If welcome, accompaniment on doctor appointments. Her own story of helpful friends, a mostly supportive husband (caregivers get tired!), and her journey into a theology of embodiment, suffering, and wholeness is helpful whether we are suffering pain or care for someone who is. Perhaps the most significant message is simply that we don’t have to be healed to be whole.

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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.

Review: Torah Old and New

Torah Old and New, Ben Witherington III. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018.

Summary: A study of the texts from the Pentateuch quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and how they were understood both in their original context and as used in the New Testament context.

Ben Witherington has previously written Isaiah Old and New and Psalms Old and New. Following this same pattern of studying texts used in the New Testament both as they were understood in their original context and in the New Testament, Witherington takes on the ambitious project of doing the same with Torah, the first five books of scripture, also known as the Pentateuch.

This is an ambitious project as is apparent in Appendix 1, where we find listed all of the passages in Genesis through Deuteronomy cited, alluded to or echoed in the New Testament, and where these occurred. A study of this Appendix explains the layout of the book and demonstrates why the chapters on Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy are so much longer than those on Leviticus and Numbers. The three former books were cited much more. Witherington covers all of these instances in the pages of his text, first consider the passage in the Pentateuch, and then the various New Testament references.

One observation, that Witherington notes, is that much more of the material is “law” material than narrative material. The big exception is some of the the songs, particularly the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. The narrative is important, however, especially the narratives of Abraham and his faith, who in the new covenant is father by faith for all of humanity, not only the descendants of Jacob, or Israel.

The use of Torah in the New Testament is centered around the significance of Jesus, who extends the application of some parts of Torah while dismissing others such as laws around sabbath and cleanliness. Paul was the first to grasp the significance of this, allowing Jewish believers to remain Torah observant while Gentiles would observe the aspects of the law re-affirmed and deepened by Jesus.

What all this has in common is that the laws of Torah and the new covenant are both framed by the saving work of God. The laws, contrary to later conceptions focus on what it means to “stay in rather than how to get in.” Both assume already being “in.”

The book sparkles with insights throughout whether or not you find yourself in agreement with Witherington at every point. One insight I found helpful is that many commentators debate whether a New Testament citation is drawn from the Greek (Septuagint) or the Hebrew (Masoretic) text. Witherington proposes that in many cases, they may not have had either text at hand and quoted from memory. That seems like just good common sense!

In addition to the Appendix 1 mentioned above, quite useful for study are two others, on a review of Adam and the Genome by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight and a second discussing the enigmatic references to Enoch in 1 Peter 3:18-22. The review is fascinating, particularly to see Witherington’s defense of a historic Adam, but doesn’t quite seem germane to this work, other than it references material in Genesis.

My experience over the years is that there is far more preaching from the New Testament than Old in most Christian churches. What Witherington shows is that we cannot go far in the New Testament without some Old Testament allusion or outright citation. What Witherington helps us recognize is both what these texts meant in their context and how they are being used in the New Testament, and have been in the life of the church which reads all scripture in light of Jesus. Witherington’s book is a valuable reference for those preachers, written by one whose preacherly background shows through on nearly every page.

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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.

Review: Where the Eye Alights

Where the Eye Alights, Marilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021.

Summary: A collection of forty Lenten meditations drawn from words or phrases from scripture and poetry, inviting us to pause and attend.

“Lent is a time of permission. Many of us find it hard to give ourselves permission to pause, to sit still, to reflect or to meditate or pray in the midst of daily occupations–most of them very likely worthy in themselves–that fill our waking minds and propel us out of bed and on to the next thing. We need the explicit invitation the liturgical year provides to change pace, to curtail our busyness a bit, to make our times with self and God a little more spacious, a little more leisurely, and see what comes. The reflections I offer here come from a very simple practice of daily meditation on whatever has come to mind in the quiet of early morning.”

Marilyn McEntyre, p. v.

These opening words, in McEntyre’s Preface to the forty meditations in this book, gave me permission to pause and sit with her as she reflected upon the things on which her eyes alighted. For McEntyre, who loves words and their careful use, it is words and phrases upon which her eyes alight and which she invites us to join her in considering. Most come from scripture, some from poetry. Her reflections sometimes help us see the strange in the familiar. Isn’t it strange, for example that Isaiah 30:15 pairs “repentance and rest”? For most of us, repentance does not seem very restful. McEntyre observes:

“And repentance, to return to Isaiah, allows you to rest. I think of the many times I’ve heard–and said–some version of ‘I’m wrestling with…” “I’m struggling with…” “I’m working on…” changing a habit, coming to terms with self defeating patterns, releasing resentments or guilt or old confusions. Repentance allows us to rest in forgiveness, regroup, and rather than wrestling, float for a while, upheld while we learn to swim in the current, or walk unburdened, or do a dance of deliverance, day by day releasing the past and entering fully, with an open heart, into the present where an open heart is waiting to receive us.”

Marilyn McEntyre, p. 11.

Another reflection draws upon a Christian Wiman poem title “Every Riven Thing.” She reflects on the rivenness of our lives amid our own griefs and fraught politics: “We live among–and are–what is riven, cracked, and split, having to revise our understanding of ‘healing’ and ‘wholeness’ as we age into inevitable learning that those words don’t mean a fairy-tale ending, or closure, or even a denouement at the end of the last act.”

Thus she draws us into the reflections of Lent when we remember we are dust (another reflection). We consider what it means to be a people prepared, the loving listening of obedience, and the moments of epiphany that come as each of us wait and watch. She invites us to consider prayer as a place and in the movements of prayer open ourselves to the Spirit’s coming upon us. The reading for Good Friday guides us through the Stations of the Cross, providing guided prayers for each station and may be used at any time one prays the stations.

Each of the reflections are two to four pages long. Since the Sundays of Lent are not included in the forty days of Lent, there are no reflections for Sundays (although I’m sure some of us would use Sunday as a makeup day!). A marginal note indicates the week and day of each reflection. An attached ribbon is included in the book for marking one’s place.

I’ve come to love the combination of elegant attention to words and perceptive attention to life I find in each of McEntyre’s books. I recognize this review comes after Lent. While most appropriate for Lent, this book may be used for devotional reading at any time, or taken for reflection if you are accustomed to take personal retreats. If nothing else, if you purchase it now, you will not have to cast about wondering what you might read next year. Just keep it some place “where the eye alights.”

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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.

Review: Breaking Bread with the Dead

Breaking Bread with the Dead, Alan Jacobs. New York: Penguin Press, 2020.

Summary: A case for reading old books as a means of increasing our “personal density” to expand our temporal bandwidth.

Alan Jacobs teaches students to read old books and contends, contrary to many critics, that this reading is essential in a day when we are bombarded by an avalanche of information, and all matter of questions about the future. Drawing upon Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow, he argues that old books increase our “personal density” through expanding our temporal bandwidth.

What does this mean? Jacobs is not arguing for learning from the lessons of the past or that old books help us recognize universal truths. Rather, he suggests that the great works of the past startle us with their difference. They help us see the choices of our own age in light of those of the past. They are the “other,” the “generative oddkin.” Jacobs believes that understanding how people of other ages met the challenges of life equip us to better face challenges of the future than if we draw only upon the resources of the present.

The greatest challenge to Jacobs’ proposal is the invidious aspects of many of these works–racist, chauvinist, colonialist, and more. Jacobs does not deny any of that. What he observes is that those in the past often enunciated ideas, the implications they failed to fully grasp in their own lives. He points to the American founders who laid the groundwork for our own ideals of equality, yet held slaves and failed until 100 years ago to enfranchise women. Reading them forces us to ask how future generations will evaluate us. Drawing upon Ursula LeGuin’s novel Lavinia, an adaptation of the Aeneid, giving voice to the woman Aeneas loved, Jacobs argues both that we read with double vision, recognizing both the work and the flawed character of work, and that our reading from our time can bring new insight that perhaps even an author like Virgil had not grasped.

Jacobs develops these themes through nine essays in which we consider works like The Iliad, The Doll’s House, and Jane Eyre, and authors from Virgil to Italo Calvino. He contends that the presence and tranquility of mind enabling us to meet the challenges of the day comes from a perspective that goes beyond “the latest thing.” If we read only sources from the present, as diverse as they may be, we may still be caught in “echo chambers.” Sometimes, the voices of the past will give voice and words that make sense of our own reality. At other times they will startle and challenge us. Rather than lulling us to sleep with placid verities, they challenge and shake us up, nurturing the kind of resistance fostering “unfragile” and resilient thought.

Jacobs does all this in elegant prose evoking the voices he would have us give more careful attention–an engaging read and a warm invitation.

Review: J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought

J. I. Packer: His Life and Thought, Alister McGrath. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: An account of the theologian’s faith, life, and theological engagement.

J. I. Packer was one of my personal theological heroes. His impact on my life came primarily through the book Knowing God, which I read during my student days. As a young Christian, I discovered that the chief end of our lives as well as the work of theology is that we know, love, and glorify God, and not just know about him. The first time through, I read a few pages at a time, stopped, reflected, and prayed in wonder at the greatness, majesty, holiness, and love of God. It is one of those books I’ve re-read several times. I only heard Packer speak once, giving a series of lectures on revival in Ann Arbor, contrasting Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney, along with an exposition of Psalm 85 as a prayer for revival. The talks were marked by precision of thought and warmth of devotion.

Reading this account of the life and thought of Packer by Alister McGrath, I came to understand that the qualities I appreciated in his lectures and his books reflected his central passion for theological education and catechesis for the good of the church. McGrath traces this thread through his books and thought and his career first in Bristol, then Oxford, then briefly again at Bristol, and finally at Regent in Canada. In fact, McGrath alternates chapters on his life with ones on aspects of his theological work.

He recounts Packer’s early life, his spiritual awakening and early embrace of the theology of the fathers and their ancient wisdom. He describes the relationship with D. Martyn Lloyd Jones and the development of the Puritan Studies Conferences, and their later falling out. At Tyndale Hall in Bristol, Packer comes into his own as a “theological educationalist.” This period marked Packer’s early efforts in publishing, centered around the editorial work on the first edition of The New Bible Dictionary and his first book on Fundamentalism and the Word of God. McGrath includes marvelous material here on how Packer’s devotional life fed both his pastoral and theological work.

Packer’s return to Oxford in the 1960’s as Warden of Latimer House came at a time of ferment within Anglican evangelicalism. McGrath features Packer’s marvelous reply to Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God, the crisis in 1966 with Lloyd Jones leading to the cooling of their relationship and the Keele conference of 1967 defining an evangelical presence within Anglicanism. A key focus in Packer’s thought is theology for the life of the church. After this conference, Packer became convinced that it was time to move on from Latimer. He returned to take up the leadership of Tyndale Hall in a time of crisis leading to a merger creating Trinity College, with him no longer as principal. Time for writing led to a series of articles that became Knowing God.

One of the personal highlights of McGrath’s account was reading about James Sire’s visit with Packer and offer to acquire the U.S. rights of the book for InterVarsity Press, through which the book came into the hands of this young college student and many others becoming one of IVP’s all-time best selling works. By the 1977 Nottingham Conference, however, it became apparent that Packer was increasingly out of step with the younger evangelicals in England. This opened the door to Canada, and Regent College, and the opportunities for Packer to more fully pursue his ideas of theological education for the church, which he did as faculty and in retirement until his death in 2020.

One of the fascinating aspects developed by McGrath is Packer’s conservatism with an irenic streak. Packer was committed to the idea “test everything; hold onto the good.” He believe the good traditions of the past could deliver us from the idiosyncrasies of the present, all under the authority of the Bible. Hence his emphasis on the Reformers and Puritan studies. This put him at variance with others, particularly at two points: the ministry of women and his views of eternal punishment. Yet he also join the Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative, finding the places of common ground while delineating theological difference with clarity. It strikes me you needed someone like Packer to do this to avoid making a theological hash of the whole affair.

McGrath has given us a wonderful summary of the life and thought of Packer. Indeed, we see how what Packer thought shaped how he lived. Packer believed in theological education as not merely an academic exercise but as existing for the strengthening of the church in the knowledge of God. McGrath helps us see how the whole trajectory of Packer’s life was shaped by these commitments. It also leaves me two questions to ponder. One is, amid a changing world, what must be conserved? The second is, amid the powerful and competing influences of our culture, how might we carry forward Packer’s commitment to catechesis, the formation of Christians in thought, word, and deed?

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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.

Review: Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Book One)

Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Book One), Dean Koontz. New York: Bantam Books, 2009.

Summary: A serial murderer is loose in New Orleans, and something far worse that two detectives begin to unravel, helped by a mysterious, tattooed figure by the name of Deucalion.

A serial murderer is on the loose in New Orleans. A number of women have turned up dead–missing one part of their bodies–feet, hands, ears, lips surgically removed–you get the idea. A few men have also died, with internal organs surgically removed. Detective partners Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison are leading the investigation. She is intense, hard-driving both inside a car and out. Maddison is her complement–utterly loyal as a partner, always able to deprecate both himself and Carson in a way that keeps it real. Carson also has charge of her autistic younger brother Arnie, building a castle fortress in his room.

The fortress is an image, a warning that there is indeed danger afoot, far worse than just a serial killer. Carson’s first hint is a mysterious visitor, Deucalion. He has come to New Orleans from a monastery abroad, ostensibly the inheritor of a theater. He moves with lightning quickness, practicing an unusual sleight of hand, and tattooed on one side of his face, concealing extensive scars. He claims to be more than two centuries old, assembled from body parts, brought to life in a lightning strike–by Victor Frankenstein. He claims Frankenstein is still alive in New Orleans, also known as Victor Helios, who presents as a city benefactor. He also develops a special bond with Arnie, who is also in danger.

The real truth is far more insidious. Helios has perfected his abilities to create human life, apparently soulless but enhanced creatures, a perfect race being infiltrated throughout society until the day Helios realizes his dream of replacing the human race. Yet something is going wrong. Created without aspirations other than to serve Helios and subservient to his wishes, some are beginning to think, and act, and even kill on their own. It turns out that you cannot create humans and ensure they will remain automatons. They long for meaning, for joy, or even just to escape their bondage to Helios–longings far more human than Helios will permit.

A fellow blogger recommended this book, to amend the lack of “thrillers” in my reading. I can see why Koontz is so popular. It is not because of the depth of his characters. Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison seem pretty stereotypic characters at this point (there are four more books in this series). It is because of the swift movements and turns of the plot that keep you turning the pages. It’s the ability to keep drawing you deeper into the maelstrom (if you thought this was bad, wait until you see this). Then there is the exploration of the nature of beings made by other human beings. Is there something truly human within? Someday, if it hasn’t already occurred, we will probably find a way to clone human beings. Will we do this with the will to power of Helios? Will we try to de-humanize them as we have with slaves and the trafficked? And what will we do when they cease to buy it?

All I know is that I will start looking for book two, City of Night. Thanks, James.

Review: From Research to Teaching

From Research to Teaching: A Guide to Beginning Your Classroom Career, Michael Kibbe. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A practical guide for those transitioning from graduate research to teaching, focusing on what teachers must do and must know.

One of the basic premises about going to graduate school is that you learn a lot about a little. This is especially so with the Ph.D. in which one delves deeply into a mere sliver of knowledge no one has really studied before. It is absolutely intriguing–the ultimate detective story. It is also utterly humbling, because you realize the limits of human knowledge. Every sliver is like this. One of the things you likely will not learn a lot about is teaching. Universities often have special departments designed just to help faculty learn how to teach. For most faculty, that is a big part of what they do.

Michael Kibbe has given us a very practical guide to making the transition from graduate researcher to teacher. And I mean practical. This is one of the clearest and most concise books I’ve seen on this subject. This is the simplicity on the other side of complexity. One recognizes that there is a lot of thought, theory, and practice packed into these pages on a very simple framework.

First, Kibbe addresses what teachers must do. He begins with their preparation before setting foot in the classroom. You wouldn’t think this comes first, but he urges people to “finish the job” and publish the dissertation while it is fresh. He urges the reading of books on pedagogy, applying one’s research skills to this new world. He stresses the importance of mentors who know how to train teachers and will push you. Finally, there is the work of class prep. He suggests each term to expand a session or group of sessions into a whole course.

Then there is the work in the classroom. He suggests thinking of sessions in terms of parts of a story you are telling. You also have to plan a good ending, or as he calls it, “land the plane.” He thinks that every great teacher has a signature–something that makes them memorable. My high school math teacher’s signature was Harvey, the invisible rabbit who he would engage during lectures. You see, I still remember forty-five years later! Another way of emphasizing story is to know the center, and keep moving toward it. The work isn’t done when the class is though. The work is done with reflection after the class in which one writes down immediately one’s observations, particularly what didn’t go well and follows up on it and then takes sabbaths, because you are not God.

The second part of the book addresses what teachers must know. They have to know their mission, the center, and how they will get there, or method. He unpacks what this looks like for him. Good teachers know their students–their names, the places they eat and live, and what we learn about them, written down after meetings so we remember. Without getting weird, he urges pursuing them, especially if they are not getting taught, challenging them, and helping them set realistic expectations. In the same chapter, he urges knowing our families, and offers very wise counsel for relating with one’s spouse. We must also know our limitations and have peers, people not in our discipline, and others who won’t let us dominate the room. We also must know our power, that the most effective teachers can also do the greatest damage. He warns about the dangers of social media: slander, the gullibility even of the educated for clickbait, and self-promotion.

Besides what you know and what you do, he includes appendices for how to use you dissertation in the classroom (one class, where you help people see how deep the rabbit hole can go), for graduate schools to incorporate training in pedagogy, and finally one on great teaching resources our students need us to read, our admins need us to read, and ourselves need us to read.

In lively, even imperative terms, Kibbe lays out the work in which teachers must be engaged for a lifetime. He suggests that aside from publishing the dissertation, we are never done with the other things (and woe to us if we think we are or become indifferent to them). Contrary to the subtitle, this is not just for beginning one’s classroom career. Rather, Kibbe offers us core practices for a lifetime that will enrich both us and our students. This book is a little gem!

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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.

Review: Resurrecting Justice

Resurrecting Justice: Reading Romans for the Life of the World, Douglas Harink. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: An invitation to read Romans as a treatise on justice in our relationship with God, in the church, and in society.

Douglas Harink contends that in Christian discussions of justice, we have overlooked Romans, turning instead to the law, the prophets, and the gospels. A key reason for this is how we typically translate dikaiosynē. Usually, in Romans, it is rendered as “righteous” or “righteousness. The same word also may be translated as “justice” and Harink offers a reading of Romans using this translation. In doing so, he moves Christian discussions of justice from culture-shaped discussions with a veneer of Christianity to a distinctive, God-shaped justice profoundly shaped by the suffering, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Son.

One feature of this reading is not only to substitute justice for instances of righteousness, but to translate reveal as “apocalypse” and instead of speaking of Christ, to use “Messiah” and to refer to followers as “messianics.” He also elaborates the cultural understanding of words often used in Romans such as “lord,” “son of God,” “gospel,” “coming,” “savior” and other terms. One particularly significant one is faith, translating pistis. Like other contemporary commentators, he uses terms like loyalty, allegiance and faithfulness. This poses a challenge because the unfamiliar or redefined terminology involves a kind of “code-switching,” being mindful of Harink’s definitions throughout. There is a glossary at the back of the book to help with this purpose.

Against the backdrop in which the “gospel” is the glorious rule of Rome, he shows how Paul’s thesis is that the gospel is God’s saving power revealed (apocalypsed) for all who believe, both Jews and Greek through the crucified one, that the just will live by faith. Harink goes on to show how both Gentile nations have been under captivity to idolatrous political and philosophic systems and Jews to the law. The justice of God is revealed not in conflict between Jew and Gentile, but through the love of God revealed in the death of the son who liberates both from captivity to the power of sin, but reveals his power to work in those who trust in him through the resurrection. This is a justice that crucifies human control for the power of the Spirit, that begins to undo the bondage of creation, and that will triumph through all adversity, inseparable from the love of God in Christ. This will ultimately be justice for all Israel, now divided.

The conclusion of Romans deals with how the people of the Messiah live as a result of the justice revealed. One of the distinctive aspects of this reading is its understand of Romans 13:1-10. Harink calls for what he calls “messianic anarchy.” By this he does not mean lawlessness, but the recognition that the archys, the powers that be are ‘over’ us and we are ‘under’ and submitting to those powers is not upholding the state but simply not resisting the “overs” but recognizing that we are ‘under.’ We are not for or against them. They exist, they may sometimes do good things, but they are not the justice of God.

He also shows how the table instructions of Romans 14 reflect the justice of God, the solidarity between Jew and Gentile. Even the concluding greetings reflect the solidarity Paul has with Jew and Gentile, women and men.

Harink’s work presses out how the saving justice of God in the work of Christ transforms personal, church, and political relationships. Along the way in his reading, he offers questions for reflection. He shows that the work of Christ not only “justices” us with God but transforms human relationships as we live in “messianic time,” the already-not yet time” where we live in love of God and neighbor. Harink writes:

“We live in an age–probably not really unlike others–in which our gaze is constantly drawn to the ruling powers; not only the political ones but also all those powers–technology, the economy, the media, the crowd–that would grab our attention and call us to celebrate their glory and greatness. It is hard not to believe that they, rather than the lowly, have inherited the earth. It seems obvious. But the whole of the letter to the Romans draws our gaze elsewhere–to the justice of God in the crucified and risen Messiah Jesus and the power of life in the Spirit.”

Harink, p. 188.

The main question I have as I read this book is to understand how Christ’s saving work is accomplished. He speaks of the obedience of Christ, human and divine as conquering the Adamic sovereignty that is at the heart of sin, revealing the justice of God. It seem that this is an act that saves by divine fiat rather than the just one standing in our place, the obedient dying for the rebellious. As compelling as this reading is, and I do believe there is much to commend it in its understanding of the justice of God revealed in Christ and how we live under this, like many contemporary works, it seems this evades the idea of substitution. I do not believe this reading must dispense with substitution, which magnifies the obedience of the Son, and the justice and love of the Father. Perhaps this reading is just reframing. The alternate language certainly offers a fresh look at Romans. But new readings deserve careful reading, and with new insights, we must be certain that we have sacrificed old truths.

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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.