Review: The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark

rhetoric of jesus mark

The Rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, David M. Young and Michael Strickland. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.

Summary: A study of the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark analyzing them in the context of first century Greco-Roman rhetoric.

When form criticism was used in biblical studies, the biblical text was divided into the textual fragments that represented to the critics the fundamental units out of which the text was built from various sources. With the advent of rhetorical criticism, the concern is less with identifying discrete textual units than considering the work of the writer or narrator in the text as we have it.

In this work the writers apply the study of rhetoric to the four major discourses in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 3:22–30, 4:1–34, 6:53–7:23, 11:27–13:37). The writers assert that the teaching of rhetoric, or at least familiarity with examples of well-crafted rhetoric was widespread in the world of both Jesus and Mark, and their hearers or readers would recognize rhetorical strategies and appreciate them. This work utilizes a methodology developed by George Kennedy that begins with establishing the rhetorical unit and situation, then engages in detailed, line by line, study of the text, noting rhetorical elements and devices such as parable and chiasmus, and then overviews the rhetoric of the discourse, whether it succeeds, and the implications for speaker and audience.

The writers then employ this methodology with the four discourses, as indicated above. Space precludes a summary of the analyses of each passage, but the writers reached several salient conclusions. One is that at both the primary level of Jesus the speaker, and the secondary level of the narrative, these discourses are well-crafted rhetoric, that are effective as persuasive works. In particular, each establishes the authority of Jesus against the challenges of the teachers of the law.  The writers particularly note the terse, economical character of Jesus’ speech and his effective use of parables, enthymemes, and other rhetorical devices his listeners would readily have recognized. Finally, they note the consistent pattern of movement from public discourse to private explanation with the disciples.

The work includes a glossary of terms in the end matter, and the reader not well-versed in rhetorical studies would do well to bookmark this as they study the text. The writers also offer an appendix on a brief history of Greco-Roman rhetoric. Some readers without this background might find reading this first to be helpful. Familiarity with Greek is helpful, and the analyses do go into fine detail on rhetorical structures in the text. The reward for this rigorous work is an appreciation of the rhetoric of Jesus and the rhetorical art in Mark. We see in finer detail how each element in these discourses persuade us of the authority of Jesus. This work is helpful both for the teacher of this material, and other scholars of Mark studying the discourses.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Called by Triune Grace

called by triune grace

Called by Triune Grace (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Jonathan Hoglund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: A monograph exploring the doctrine of effectual calling and how it is that God’s speech brings about our regeneration and conversion.

Jonathan Hoglund considers the Reformed doctrine of “effectual calling” one that has not received the kind of attention it is due in our understanding of God’s saving work in Christ. Hoglund offers this definition of effectual calling:

“The effectual call is an act of triune rhetoric in which God the Father appropriates human witness to Christ the Son in order to convince and transform a particular person by ministering, through the presence of God the Spirit, understanding and love of Christ” (p.8).

There are several important ideas in his definition that Hoglund elaborates in this work. First is the idea of focusing on calling, and the idea that just as through the Triune God’s word, creation came into existence, likewise through what Hoglund calls triune rhetoric, converting change or regeneration is brought about in the lives of individuals. One of the striking ideas this involves is that as people speak of Christ and proclaim the gospel, God’s voice is heard affirming that “Jesus is your saving Lord.”

Second is the idea that this is triune rhetoric. Using rhetorical theory, Hoglund proposes that God the Father is the ethos of this saving call that comes in the context of God’s covenantal saving purposes. God the Son is the content or logos of this saving call, and the Holy Spirit is the pathos of this effectual call in illumining and persuading effecting faith in the hearer of this call.

Third, Hoglund considers how persons are transformed. What is the converting change or regeneration that occurs in the individual whom God effectually calls? Hoglund considers how this call eventuates in faith in Christ and how one is united to Christ. Looking at New Testament testimony, one also sees an eschatological or epochal change in those who are a “new creation” and enter into the blessings of this “age to come.” The idea of “spiritual resurrection” is explored and the transformation of one’s affections and dispositions.

Along the way, after laying out the ground work in his initial chapter and the contribution of the Canons of Dort in elaborating the relationship of calling and regeneration, he proceeds to consider calling in Paul, various Reformed ideas of the content of the call before making his own proposal and a couple chapters on illumination and calling. Two chapters follow on new birth and resurrection. Then, key to his thesis, he elaborates his ideas of triune rhetoric and converting change. A concluding chapter on God’s call and the church also serves to summarize his argument.

This work builds on the scholarship of Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Treier around speech-act theory and rhetoric as well as connecting back to other Reformed thinkers. One of the distinctive contributions this work makes in an age of subjective experience is to affirm the truth of conversion being rooted not in our experience but in God’s persuasive communication, mediated through human witnesses. It reminds us of the tremendous privilege those of us who speak God’s message have, of the Triune God speaking in and through our words. It encourages our hearts that our awakened faith in the promises of God and our awakened love toward God are the evidence of God’s persuasive intent to call us to be his own, and not simply subjective impressions.

This is a theological monograph and calls for close reading, especially in the sections on speech act theory and rhetoric where the author is working out his ideas on effectual calling as triune rhetoric. Whether you embrace a Reformed perspective or not, I believe a close reading will reward one with a richer perspective on the work of God in conversion as people come to faith, and the privileged role human witnesses may play. It left me praising God, in the language of the book’s title, for God’s grace-filled calling of me to Himself through Christ by His Spirit and all this has meant and will mean.

Review: Further Up and Further In

further up and further in

Further Up and Further InEdith M. Humphrey. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017.

Summary: A survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus considering the theological themes developed in these works in interaction with Eastern Orthodox theologians.

Edith M. Humphrey is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who teaches in a Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh. She also has loved the work of C. S. Lewis since childhood, writing to him early in 1964, not knowing he had died not long before, asking if he would write more stories like The Chronicles of Narnia. In this work, she brings a lifelong love of Lewis and her own theological perspective to bear on a survey of much of Lewis’s literary corpus.

The work is divided into three parts. The first, titled “Mapping the Terrain.” She explores the way reading and writing, myth and reality found in story, may open our eyes to larger realities. In the Narnia accounts of creation, we consider our roles as “subcreators”, listening to Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann, We marvel at Grand Miracle of the Incarnation, as considered in Lewis’s Miracles.

Part Two is titled “Travelling in Arduous Places.” She considers Lewis’s challenges of the subjectivism of the day (and anticipatory of the advent of post-modernism) in The Abolition of Man and Pilgrim’s Regress. This forces us how then we are to think and live and the deeper journey of ascesis in Lewis’s retelling of the tale of Psyche and Orual in Till We Have Faces. This brings us to the doctrine of the atonement and Athanasius’s “great exchange.”

The final part is titled “Plumbing the Depths and Climbing the Heights.” In both Jonathan Edwards and That Hideous Strength we explore the nature of human depravity and the power of the demonic. More intriguingly, she explores the doctrines of heaven and hell, reflecting on Lewis’s The Great Divorce. She touches on the “hopeful universalism” of Eastern Orthodoxy that finds echoes in this work but also suggests biblical and theological boundaries that I found quite helpful in discussing these matters, helpful enough that I quote them at length:

  • We cannot say that God’s will may ultimately be thwarted.
  • We cannot deny that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).
  • We cannot view the salvation accomplished by Christ as automatic in such a way that it violates human integrity or choice, or that it does not require a human response.
  • We cannot say that salvation depends upon us in a foundational sense.
  • We cannot say that human acceptance of God’s loving offer is unnecessary.
  • We cannot claim to know that someone is damned.
  • We cannot say that the effect of Christ’s righteousness on humanity is less powerful than Adam’s sin.
  • We cannot say that the doctrine of hell is only “heuristic” — that it is only a warning. (pp. 239-240)

I thought this quite a helpful summary both of what we know, and where as yet, we still see dimly. Her final chapter in this section includes a similar list of boundaries on matters of gender, reminding us both of the “reversals” that may warn us about established fixed gender roles, and yet being cautious of eliminating the distinction of male and female, given how embedded in reality maleness and femaleness are. Her caution is one against the unthinking embrace of one side or the other in the culture wars around gender.

Edith M. Humphrey offers a feast for any lover of Lewis or the Inklings. We listen to a fellow lover as she shares what she has seen and loved in Lewis. We listen to a careful biblical and theological scholar who brings us into conversation with Orthodox theologians. We consider the nature of our world, our role as sub-creators, how both contemporary thought and our fallen natures color our thought and lives, and the grand purposes revealed in the Grand Miracle, the Great Exchange, and our future hope. The title is fitting. The whole book invites us to join Lewis in pressing, “further up and further in.”

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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 Ice Bucket Challenge

the ice bucket challenge

The Ice Bucket ChallengeCasey Sherman & Dave Wedge. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017.

Summary: The story behind the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and Pete Frates, who has lived five years with ALS and has led a determined fight to raise funding needed for research to end this disease.

Did you do the “Ice Bucket Challenge” back in the summer of 2014? I did, and for fun, you can see this video, posted on my Facebook page, as I doused myself with ice water. According to The Ice Bucket Challenge, we were part of the biggest thing to ever happen on Facebook and my video was one of 17 million. We were joined by celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to George W. Bush to Bill Gates, who did one of the most elaborate challenges. I probably made a donation to ALS research at the time, but I don’t think I fully understood the story behind all those challenges until I read this book.

The book is the story of Pete Frates, an athlete who played three sports in college and loved baseball. Number 3 for the Boston College Eagles, his fierce competitiveness led to a league championship victory in Fenway Park. After college he met the love of his life, Julie and continued to play city league ball until that fateful night when he was hit by a pitch on his left wrist. He’d shaken other things like this off, but his wrist and left arm continued to bother him. He noticed he was having difficulty buttoning shirts and both hands and arms wouldn’t respond, and he tired easily. Internet searches of his symptoms raised suspicions of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also know as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the famed Yankee player who died from it). A battery of tests led to a meeting where his doctor broke the news that he indeed had this disease, for which there was no cure, and which killed most patients within two to five years. This was in 2012, when Frates was 26.

The book recounts the night of the diagnosis as the Frates family had gathered for dinner, silent as if Pete had already died:

“Pete Frates the captain, Pete Frates the leader, had to step up to the plate. ‘There will be no wallowing, people,’ he announced. ‘We are not looking back. We’re moving forward.

Pete’s voice was forceful. He spoke with authority. His parents and siblings all sat straight up in their chairs. A bolt of lightning had just illuminated the room.

‘What an amazing opportunity we know have to change the world,’ Pete continued. ‘I’m going to change the face of this unacceptable situation of ALS. We’re going to move the needle and raise money to fight.’ Pete explained that he was going to get out in front of this disease like no one had done before. ‘I’m going to convince philanthropists like Bill Gates to get involved.”

Team Frate Train was born. Pete had learned that ALS researchers struggled to get sufficient funding for their efforts. Only a small number (roughly 30,000), are diagnosed with ALS each year, and most are silenced within a few years due to deterioration of nerves and muscles, and dead within five years. The rest of the book is how Pete’s family mobilized, built contacts and a social media platform, and made the cause of ALS research funding their own, even as Pete’s body rapidly deteriorated. It is a story of Julie, known from childhood for her fearlessness, standing beside the man she had come to love as they married and had a child.

And it is the story of the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” the tipping point event that led to accomplishing Pete’s vision. Interestingly, another ALS patient did the first challenge, tagged a friend of Pete’s on Facebook, who in turn tagged Pete. When Pete saw the videos, he realized that this was the means he’d been looking for. Leveraging his social media platform, he convinced numerous friends to do the challenge. The challenge went viral. Eventually, this effort would raise $220 million for ALS research.

It’s a hard book to read at the same time. The authors describe the ravages of the disease and how it has destroyed the body, though not the spirit, of this athletic young man. We learn of the physical indignities, the costs of care, the hard family conversations and frayed tempers and the ever present dangers of infection or pneumonia, that will probably claim Frates life someday if a cure is not found. One such pneumonia scare resulted in rumors of his death in July of 2017. We also glimpse the lighter moments, as Pete goes to a Boston Bruins game in his custom van, Andrew his brother driving, blaring heavy metal and sweet moments as his infant daughter nestles with him in his bed when he can do little more than be with her.

At the time of the writing of this review, he is still alive (with tweets from @PeteFrates during the current week) and he not only continues the fight for ALS funding but persists in the hope that he will live to see his daughter grow up. The book notes that we spent 4 trillion dollars in our war in Afghanistan, but only $300 million in government funding for all medical research each year. The hope of this book is not only that people will find personal inspiration from Pete’s life, but join him in “moving the needle” in the fight against ALS.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes Trilogy Book 2)Sharon Kay Penman. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. [Note: Publisher link to this edition unavailable; link is to another edition.]

Summary: A historical fiction account of the tense relationship and eventual conflict between incompetent Henry III (and his son Edward I) and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and husband of Henry’s sister, as well as the struggle of Llewellyn, eventual Prince of Wales and grandson of Llewellyn the Great to hold and unite Wales against the English.

In recent years I’ve discovered the historical fiction of Sharon Kay Penman (I reviewed Here Be Dragons, the first volume of this series on Llewellyn the Great in July 2015) and have loved her introduction to the world of the thirteenth century and the conflicts between England and Wales. This is definitely “backlist” and you probably can find inexpensive used copies of the whole series, which I would definitely recommend.

This volume is actually focused less on Welsh princes than on Simon de Montfort and the increasing tensions between him and his brother-in-law, King Henry III that eventually led to all-out war. Penman in an Author’s Note, informs us that she originally had planned to split focus between Llewellyn and Simon but found she could not do justice to both in the same book and so devoted this one to Simon.

Who was this Simon and why did he pose such a threat to Henry? Born in France, he accompanied his father in battle as a boy and learned courage, the leadership of others, and strategic thinking. An ambitious young man, he seeks to claim the family lands in England and persuades the Earl of Chester, a childless old man to yield them to him. He persuades Eleanor (Nell), sister of Henry to marry him, forsaking a vow of chastity she’d sworn after the death of her first husband. He effectively served the king in suppressing unrest in Gascony, only to be called to account by the King who listened more to the rebels than to him, sowing seeds of discord.

Meanwhile, his sons Bran and Harry, and Henry’s son Edward become fast friends and hell-raisers. Henry, however, in contrast to Simon, is ineffective in battle and without sense in his administration, spending lavishly in excess of his means. Eventually, Henry is forced by Parliament, with Simon in the lead to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which held the king accountable to his people. No king wished his power to be constrained by his subjects and this earned Simon his hatred, and sowed the seeds of war. Edward, deceiving Harry, rallies some of the Barons to the king’s cause, Simon suffers numerous setbacks and even flees to France at one point. Eventually he gains a decisive victory over the King, in part due to a battlefield error of Edward, at the Battle of Lewes in 1264. Simon attempts to rule in the King’s name implementing the Provisions, but quickly the situation degenerates as Edward escapes, the Barons rally to him, Simon and his son Bran are separated, and Bran decisively defeated by a lightning attack. Although helped by Llewellyn, Simon is undermanned and unaware of what has befallen his son, and is cornered by Edward at the fateful battle of Evesham in 1265.

In the backdrop of this primary narrative, is the uneasy relationship between Llewellyn and his younger brother Davydd over the leadership of Wales. As is the case in so much of royal history, it is the story of marriages between rival houses, and the conflicts of love and loyalty in consequence. Penman also exposes the plight of the Jews in England, hindered from all commerce but money lending, and hated for it, within often fatal consequences. We see the low status of the towns, expected to contribute to the king’s coffers, but enjoying no power, that Simon tried to elevate.

Simon de Montfort is remembered today as an early advocate of representative government. This work portrays him as a courageous man of integrity whose very convictions led to the tragedy of his end. He was too good for his King in many ways, earning the King’s undying hatred. In the end, men willingly followed him to death and pilgrims claimed healings at his grave. Unlike the religious martyrs under Henry VIII, Simon, portrayed by Penman as a God-fearing man of faith and friend of clergy, was a martyr to the idea that Kings should not be answerable to God alone, but also to those they rule. Penman not only tells a great story but does us a great service in bringing to life the greatness of Simon de Montfort, sixth Earl of Leicester.

Review: Creation and New Creation

creation and new creation

Creation and New Creation, Sean M. McDonough. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017.

Summary: A work on the doctrine of creation with particular attention to the connection between the creation and the new creation in Christ, but also focusing on other aspects of creation including issues of time, space, Platonic ideas and their influence on the doctrine, in each case tracing relevant scripture, and the theological contributions of theologians from the fathers to the present day.

“Creation” over the past couple centuries has been treated more as a point of contention than as one of the significant doctrines of the church, explored for what it may reveal about God and God’s relation to his world, and humanity, our relationship to the rest of creation and why it, and we, exist. Yet, in recent years, theologians have been writing more and more about the connections between creation and the new creation in Christ.

Sean McDonough contends that this is, in fact, not a new development. He writes:

“The burden of the present volume is that this emphasis on creation and the new creation has been a feature of the doctrine since the beginning, whether it be in the eschatological reading of Genesis 1 that predominated at least until modern times, or the intertwining of the narratives of creation and redemption in thinkers from Irenaeus to Barth” (p. vii).

As promised, this volume, first a part of the Christian Doctrine in Historical Perspective series, and now published on its own, elaborates the connection between creation and the new creation in its first chapter, beginning with the New Testament connections back to creation from John 1 throughout the epistles and Revelation. McDonough then introduces us to the theologians from the fathers to the present who made this connection, and explores how the end will be like, and unlike, the beginning.

Building on this base, and having established the methodology of this volume, McDonough proceeds in subsequent chapters to explore often neglected matters such as who the God is who creates, why the creation, matters of time and space, Platonic ideas and how they relate to both process and structure of creation, the place of humanity in that creation, and finally beauty and the creation. McDonough reflects both upon biblical testimony and the wrestlings of theologians to articulate these aspects of the doctrine of creation.

We join these theologians in wrestling with some of the big questions of the ages. How do we understand the work of each person of the Trinity in creation in a way consonant with our Trinitarian theology? What does it mean that God created the world in freedom and did God create for redemption or did God redeem for his creation? How do we understand the when of creation with a God who is eternal and outside time. Similarly, where are we as creatures inhabiting space in relation to an infinite God who transcends that space? And where did the stuff of creation come from?

Platonism has had a big influence on the life of the church (for which I thought McDonough made a convincing case) and this is certainly the case as we discuss how ideas in the mind of God and the structure of creation correspond. Also, rather than creation being a once and for all event, we find revealed a process of continuous creation, “de-creation” and new creation in Christ. How does this process unfold in the material fabric of the universe? What is the role of human beings in all this, beginning with Adam (and what are we to think about a historic Adam)? What is our destiny as creatures in the image of God redeemed in Christ? Just how far are we warranted to take talk of “deification”? Finally, what does God the creator have to do with beauty? What does beauty have to do with the presence of ugliness in the world, and what can we learn from Christ’s redemptive work?

Part of the delight of this work is seeing contemporary theologians like C. S. Lewis, Karl Barth, and Colin Gunton in conversation with Athanasius and Irenaeus, Origin and Augustine, and down through the ages with Aquinas, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. We often wrestle with holding truths of Christ’s true humanity and full divinity in tension, or God’s sovereignty and free will. What this volume helped me see is how such things are rooted in creation, where the eternal God creates in time, where the God who is spirit speaks matter into existence, where God creates humans in God’s image, imparting a freedom that goes with that image while remaining sovereign creator. I realized afresh that as one human with a very puny brain, I am in the presence of things too wonderful for me, and yet to wrestle with such things, to listen to the conversation of others, is to think great thoughts of God, to stand in wonder afresh of God’s creative work, and to marvel that such a God would set his love and include in his purposes the likes of me! That is the value of reading good works of theology. That is what I found here.

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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: An Introduction to Christian Worldview

an introduction to christian worldview

An Introduction to Christian WorldviewTawa J. Anderson, W. Michael Clark, and David K. Naugle. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: A work designed for classroom or personal study, defining the idea of worldview and its importance, delineating the Christian worldview and responding to critical objections, and outlining and critiquing other major worldviews according to criteria established in the first part of the book.

I was first introduced to the idea of worldview in the summer of 1974 during my collegiate years. I heard an early presentation of the ideas that would form the core of James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door (now in its fifth edition). These gave me a critical tool as a student studying in a public university. Sire’s seven basic worldview questions helped me read critically the different texts of my courses and discern the different ways of seeing and engaging the world reflected in those texts. Not only that, I found I could apply these ideas as I watched films, or advertising, or engaged with different-believing friends. Worldview helped me understand why people would talk past each other on issues like abortion or sexual ethics. As you can see, “thinking worldviewishly” was, and still is, a powerful tool in my “intellectual workshop.”

This new work, designed to serve as a textbook for a college-level course on Christian worldview, builds on the work of Sire and others. It is organized in three parts. The first introduces the whole subject of worldview, dealing with definitions and what the authors consider the four major worldview questions that are important to answer:

  1. What is our nature?
  2. What is our world?
  3. What is our problem?
  4. What is our end?

The authors go on to discuss how worldview operates in our lives. They discuss confirmation bias, experiential accommodation, and how worldview shapes our pool of live options. They note circumstances under which we adjust our worldview or even convert, noting that this is more likely when our worldview assumptions are unexamined, which leads to a discussion of the benefits and pitfalls of worldview study. The final chapter in this part focuses on the critical work of worldview analysis–how worldviews hold up under scrutiny. Three criteria are developed:

  1. Internal consistency: logical coherence.
  2. External consistency: evidential correspondence.
  3. Existential consistency: pragmatic satisfaction.

These criteria are then applied to analysis of both the Christian worldview and the other major worldviews discussed in the book.

Part two focuses on the Christian worldview. First it is considered narratively around the story of creation, fall, redemption, and glorification, with a preliminary discussion of revelation. Then, using the four worldview discussion questions noted above, Christianity is discussed propositionally. One thing I noted, which may be a defect of the four question schema, is that significant space under “what is our nature?” is devoted to God’s nature. Certainly this is necessary to understand our nature, but it suggests that a prior question, like Sire’s “What is prime reality–the really real?” may be an important one to ask. I found this so with the other worldviews as well. The third chapter in this part then uses the three criteria of worldview analysis to critique Christian belief. Numerous possible objections are considered, particularly that of the problem of evil, and responses are given.

Part three then considers western and global alternatives in two chapters with a propositional description of each worldview using the four worldview questions followed by use of the three analytic criteria on each worldview. The western worldviews considered are deism, naturalism, and postmodernism, and the global alternatives are Hinduism and Islam. It was striking to me that 125 pages are devoted to the Christian worldview, and less than 100 to the other five considered in this book. Far more space was spent both in outlining the Christian faith, and responding to possible critiques. It might have been interesting to have a response from proponents of these other worldviews to the critiques of those worldviews, as was the case in the objections raised to the Christian worldview. That would “keep it real.” Space limitations may have come into play and the authors may have deemed it more important that Christians be able to understand and defend their own worldview.

The conclusion challenges people to embrace a consistently Christian worldview, rejecting various “worldlyviews”:  scientism, hedonism, consumerism, blameism, apatheism, dogmatism, universalism, functional atheism, and conformism. This list acknowledges the growing realization that worldviews, as they discuss in the beginning, are not mere matters of propositions but also the orientation (conscious or not) of the heart.

This work incorporates several elements that make it particularly useful as a text. Sections conclude with reflection questions on what one has read. The end of each chapter includes as “mastering the material” section identifying key learning objectives for the chapter, a glossary of terms possible term paper topics from the chapter, and a core bibliography for the chapter. The text includes occasional sidebars illustrating concepts from film or contemporary culture.

This work is clearly designed as a text for a “worldview academy” or Christian college course on worldview. I think it could also be used individually or in a collegiate ministry or adult education context. It is a valuable work in helping students identify the “unexamined,” both in terms of Christian faith, and other worldview assumptions and heart orientations intermixed with these. While I would add a question on prime reality, the four questions and three analytic criteria are clear and memorable. For those who would teach or lead courses, I hope either written materials or live representatives of other worldviews might engage the critiques of those worldviews in this book. This happens all the time in graduate student education, and the Christian student will be better prepared for this eventuality if they are exposed to it as undergraduates.

Consciously examining one’s worldview, learning to think critically about worldviews, and think Christianly, and bringing Christian assumptions to all of life have been a powerful influence in my own life. A resource like this, far more systematic than my initial exposure to these ideas (a talk drawing on a seminar Sire had given before his book was first published) can’t help but equip students to think rigorously about these matters. Hopefully this will bear much fruit in discerning reading, viewing, and acting, and in engaging the views of others.

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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: Partners in Christ

partners in Christ

Partners in Christ, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.

Summary: A case by a convert to egalitarianism for why both complementarians and egalitarians find scriptural foundations for their views with a proposal for what can make the best sense of the diverse testimony of scripture.

There may be some of you who read this review who may wonder, “what’s the big deal–of course women should be able to do anything men do in the home and the church–and perhaps more because they are also able to bear and nurse children.” But in certain circles within evangelicalism, this is a live issue and subject of both popular and theological writing. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., who once held a “complementarian” position (one that recognizes role distinctions between men and women in marriage and limits the roles women may exercise in leading and teaching in the church), describes his own movement to an “egalitarian” position (that there are no fixed role distinctions for men and women in marriage, nor limits as to the role of women in leadership and teaching in the church) and the theological method that led to his conclusions, amid the diverse biblical texts and conflicting interpretations:

“We should not wait to come to a theological conclusion for the happy day in which we have perfectly arranged all of the relevant texts. Instead, we should look at all of the texts as open-mindedly as possible, and see whether among the various competing interpretations there is one that makes the most sense of the most texts and especially the most important ones. We should look, in basic epistemological terms, for the preponderance of warrants or grounds to believe p instead of q. If no such preponderance is evident, of course, then we should suspend making a decision. But if we do conclude that a preponderance is discernible, then we should acknowledge it–indeed be grateful for it–and proceed to act on that basis” (p. 31).

Stackhouse recognizes a preponderance in what would be considered “control texts” for an egalitarian view–from Genesis 1 to Galatians 3:28. He would understand the rise of gender role distinctions and patriarchy as a consequence, not of creation, but the Fall of humanity. Yet he also recognizes a certain “doubleness” in scriptures, sometimes within the same passage (as in Ephesians 5:21-33, where verse 21 commends mutual submission, and then the following  verses commend distinctive role behaviors for husbands and wives) that serves as foundation for the concerns of complementarians. Is there a way to understand this “doubleness” that does not involve scripture contradicting scripture and that addresses the concerns of both egalitarians and complementarians for biblical integrity? Stackhouse thinks there is.

He finds this in the recognition of the church’s missional priorities of proclaiming the gospel within Roman culture, and their expectation of the imminent return of the Lord. This is a culture with clearly defined role distinctions for men and women along patriarchal lines, as well as for masters and slaves. Stackhouse writes,

“So it would make sense—given gospel priorities, holy pragmatism and eschatological expectations — for the apostles to teach a policy of cultural conservatism (“Get along as best you can with the political powers and social structures that be”) in the interest of accomplishing the one crucial task: spreading the gospel as far and as fast as possible. And they do”  (p, 56).

He would contend that, while we find in Paul and others the seeds of egalitarian relationships in marriage, and roles for women in teaching and leading, even in his own missionary teams, the presence of scriptures that recognize role distinctions reflect a kind of holy pragmatism that realizes that the advance of the gotspel is of higher priority than leading a revolution in gender roles, or upending slavery. However this also brings him to the conclusion that in a society that upholds egalitarianism, the opportunity is to practice the full liberty found in germ form in the testimony of scripture. Perpetuating gender role distinctions now may hinder the gospel, even as promoting egalitarianism would have New Testament times.

Stackhouse deals thoughtfully with counterarguments that may be posed from theology, church history, and contemporary experience and practice. He addresses fears about inclusive language in translations, and boundaries in terms of language used of God. One of his most thoughtful chapters is on why women do not lead. He concludes with a plea for women to continue to speak into his life about his “enduring sexism” while still assuming personal responsibility for it.

I suspect Stackhouse’s book satisfies neither committed egalitarians nor complementarians. Egalitarians may feel the book opens the door to those who would advocate patient waiting, even in our present day. Complementarians may still be unconvinced that gender role distinctions are a consequence of the fall. The book is silent on implications for parallel discussions within Catholic and Orthodox circles. Yet for others, who consider the impasse between the two sides in this evangelical discussion a scandal, Stackhouse’s irenic and biblically grounded approach offers at least a meeting ground for those no longer interested in battling over gender roles. His tone of humility, both in matters of interpretation, and in coming to terms with the implications of his understanding of scripture for how he partners with women in ministry, is an example other men may wish to heed.

There may be some who wish to argue with the author in comments on this review. First of all, please realize that this is my summary of the author’s argument, which I hope is an adequate reflection in much abbreviated form. Second, if you really care about this, I urge you to read his book and engage with him directly. Above all, I hope that wherever we come down in this discussion, we will practice the humility and openness to change modeled by this author.

Review: Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

Jesus of Nazareth the Infancy Narratives

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy NarrativesPope Benedict XVI (translated by Philip J. Whitmore). New York: Image, 2012.

Summary: A study of the gospel accounts of the annunciations, the infancy, and boyhood of Jesus of Nazareth.

I read this over the Christmas holiday and found this a wonderful study on the narratives surrounding the birth of Christ. The work, by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) combines careful scholarship with devotional reflectiveness that evidences deep reflections on the details of these gospel texts in Matthew, Luke, and John. What follows are some of the details I had either not noticed or thought about in the ways Benedict describes.

The work is the final volume in the Pope’s Jesus of Nazareth series. He begins with the question of the identity of this infant, posed in John 19:9 by Pilate. He notes the differing geneologies of Matthew and Luke and their purposes emphasizing the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic promise, and Luke’s which emphasizes the one who represents all of humanity. One lovely detail was the focus on the four women in Matthew’s geneology, none of whom were Jewish and all considered “sinners” yet through them came this child,

The second part covers the annunciation narratives, comparing and contrasting them. I had not thought before of John’s descent from a priestly line, the forerunner of a new priesthood inaugurated in Jesus. I also appreciated the focus on Mary’s response of seeking understanding, holding the word in her heart, and her “yes” to God. Benedict suggests that in one sense, she conceived this child through her ear, taking in Gabriel’s (and the Lord’s) word. Benedict also affirms the historicity of the virgin birth and links this to the resurrection as the two great miracles of Christianity.

Benedict then turns to the actual birth of Jesus and his presentation in the temple. Again, his attention to small, yet meaningful details struck me: the manger for the one who would be our bread, our food, the birth of the son of David among shepherds, and the angelic announcement. Benedict translates “men of good will” as “those with whom God is pleased,” which he connects to the Father’s statement about his beloved Son, with whom he is “well pleased.”

The last portion focuses on the visit of the Magi and the flight to Egypt. He discusses their identity and the star. He then makes the observation that the star (or confluence of heavenly bodies) brought the Magi to Jerusalem but they needed the scriptures, God’s revelation, to help them find the child in Bethlehem.

This short work ends with an epilogue discussing Jesus remaining behind in the temple as a twelve year old. Benedict observes the reply to Mary’s “your father and I were looking for you.” Jesus says, “didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house.” Even here is a hint of his divine-human awareness, that it is God and not Joseph who is his father. Benedict goes on to discuss the idea that Jesus must be there–a sense of his mission, and a foreshadowing of the other “musts” that would take him to the cross.

While Benedict shows his awareness of the biblical scholarship and discussions around these texts, he does not allow scholarship to overtake theological reflection on the finer details of the text. One has the sense of being invited to stop and take a closer look with him, a look that leads to wonder and joy, which Benedict would observe is a good translation of the word for “Hail!” As I write, the season of Christmas has not yet passed. And even if you cannot read it this year, then have it on hand for next Christmas.

 

Review: A Book for Hearts & Minds

a book for hearts and minds

A Book for Hearts and MindsNed Bustard (ed.). Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2017.

Summary: A collection of essays on different academic disciplines and topics, honoring the work of Hearts and Minds Bookstore on over three decades of connecting thoughtful readers with serious books.

What better way to honor perhaps the best Christian bookstore in the country for over thirty years of service to the Christian community than a festschrift of essays featuring the likes of N. T. Wright, Gregory Wolfe, David Gushee, Calvin Seerveld, Mike Schutt, and others writing on topics and disciplines with which they are intimately acquainted and sharing their own recommendations of the books they think are best or were most formative for them on that topic. That’s just what Byron and Beth Borger, the proprietors of Hearts and Minds Bookstore have been doing, even before there was a bookstore.

The opening essay gives Byron’s own account of the store’s beginnings:

“My wife and I started a bookstore. We’re still trying to figure out how to keep it afloat, but overall it’s been a long and fun journey.

In the late seventies, I worked in campus ministry and part of what it emphasized was working with students. I worked with students at a small branch campus of Penn State, mostly engineering majors. I would invite them to think Christianly, as we say, and talk about the relationship of their faith to their sense of calling. I was always passing out books—you’re a Christian nurse, here’s something on healthcare, you’re going to be a scientist analyzing evolution, here’s a Christian philosophy on this or that—and students would say
to me, you should have a bookstore! Finally I realized they were right. Part of my passion was connecting people with resources they might use in their own spiritual development, but particularly as that related to living out their faith in the work world.”

Following this opening essay are eighteen others organized in alphabetical order from Art (Ned Bustard) to Vocation (Steve Garber). Each of the essays combine personal narrative with thoughtful insights on thinking Christianly about the topic at hand and conclude with recommendations by the authors of some of the books they think the best on the topic or most formative for them. It was really fun seeing what books N. T. Wright would recommend and almost every essay had at least one book recommendation of something I’d not read and would like to pick up. So many good books and so little time!

A few essays stood out for me. One you might not expect to find in this collection but which sparkled was Andi Ashworth’s on “Cooking” and her thoughts on food and feasting together, as well as some interesting cookbook recommendations (something to file away for gifts for my wife who has an extensive collection of cookbooks!). Working in ministry in higher education, I found G. Tyler Fischer’s essay on “Education” of interest in asking the question, “what is education?” and his proposal that “[e]ducation is the process of imparting the knowledge and skills needed to live as a full and loving member of a community.” I’m friends with Mike Schutt and have heard him mention Harold Berman’s works, but his recommendations convinced me that Berman has probably thought more deeply about the nature of law and its relationship to religion than anyone. I found myself identifying deeply with Karen Swallow Prior’s love for stories and was intrigued by the idea she gained from Milton about reading promiscuously (an interesting twist on the work promiscuous!). I appreciated the clear thinking of Michael Kucks on what it is that scientists do and how he thinks Christianly about scientific work.

I could go on, but I hope this enough to encourage you to get this book, and hopefully to buy it at Hearts and Minds Bookstore. Like at least one of the essay authors, I have never visited the store, nestled in a small town in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania. However I’ve met Byron presiding over truly impressive tables at a couple of conferences and witnessed first hand his ability to listen to someone and then recommend what he thinks are the best books that person could read related to his or her interests or questions. I’ve also ordered books from him, which always come carefully packaged, and speedily shipped. Many of you have discovered this blog on his Hearts and Minds Facebook page where he graciously permits me to post reviews. We share a love of connecting people with resources they might use to think and grow “Christianly.” I also look forward to reading his blog, BookNotes, which puts me onto worthy books I’ve missed. I ordered Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, after reading about it on BookNotes, and it was one of the finest books I’ve read in years!

This is the closest I get to contributing an essay in tribute to the important work Byron and Beth have pursued so faithfully for over thirty years. I salute Ned Bustard and Square Halo Books for putting together this delightful festschrift. And as you think about the books you would like to add to your “to be read” pile, I hope you will do what I have so often urged, and “buy them from Byron.” That would be fitting tribute, indeed!

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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.