The Month in Reviews: August 2016

Silence and Beauty

I often take advantage of a lighter schedule in summer to read quite a bit. This month was an illustration of that rhythm. I read a couple of books surveying the Bible for what it says about money (quite a bit), and one on what can happen in our lives spiritually when we don’t have it. I read about Jefferson’s explorers whose coming signaled a threat to the way of life of Native Americans, and some fiction by Sherman Alexie on the realities of reservation life. I began the month with Makoto Fujimura’s reading of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, and ended with Richard Mouw’s reflections on the scholarly life with a fictional exploration of the inner life of Dmitri Shostakovich and a history of the innovatively prolific Bell Labs and much more in between.

Silence and Beauty

Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (foreward by Philip Yancey). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.  A “layered” reflection on Shusaku Endo’s Silence by a Japanese-American artist that explores the Christian experience of persecution in Japan, and the connections between silence, suffering, and beauty, that may draw contemporary Japanese to faith. (Review)

Covenant Economics

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All, Richard A. Horsley. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. A biblical study of how God’s covenant with Israel, including the New Testament appropriation of that covenant was intended to shape economic life and justice for Israel and “assemblies” in the New Testament era, with application to modern economic life and the “covenant” our government has with its people. (Review)

Jeffeerson's America

Jefferson’s AmericaJulie M. Fenster. New York: Crown, 2016. An account of how Jefferson used the efforts of four teams of men comprising less than a hundred total to establish America’s hold on the lands west of the Mississippi River. (Review)

Unparalleled

Unparalleled, Jared C. Wilson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A book that makes the case for Christianity by proposing that the unique elements in Christian faith’s account of God, humanity, Jesus, salvation, history, and the end make it  both worthy and credible. (Review)

Bad Religion - No Religion

The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion, Martin Thielen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. Discusses the characteristics of “bad religion”, contending that the answer is not to reject religion altogether but to embrace “good religion”, the marks of which are discussed. (Review)

the lost world of genesis one

The Lost World of Genesis OneJohn H. Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Walton argues from our knowledge of the ancient cultures in Israel’s context that Genesis 1 is a functional account of how the cosmos is being set up as God’s temple rather than an account of material origins. (Review)

The noise of time

The Noise of TimeJulian Barnes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. A work of fiction, exploring the inner world of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, as he seeks both to survive and maintain artistic integrity in the totalitarian milieu of Soviet Russia under Stalin and Khrushchev. (Review)

Embracing the Body

Embracing the BodyTara M. Owens. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. An invitation to move beyond guilt and shame around our embodied selves to discover the goodness of our bodies and how God made us, meets us, and works through our bodied lives. (Review)

Lone Ranger and Tonto

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie. New York: Grove Press, 2013 (20th Anniversary edition, first published 1993).  A collection of short stories all relating to growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. (Review)

Broke

Broke, Caryn Rivadeneira. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. The author reflects on the experience of losing nearly all financially, and what she learned by being broke and broken about the provision and abundance of God. (Review)

Called to community

Called to CommunityCharles E. Moore (ed.). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2016. A collection of readings on Christian community centered around the Bruderhof Community but also including theologians and writers from throughout church history. (Review)

The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012. An account of the history of Bell Labs, the inventions and innovations they produced, and the confluence of people, resources, and the growth of the telecommunications revolution that drove it all. (Review)

Money-and-Possessions

Money and Possessions (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church), Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. A survey of the teaching of canonical scripture on the subject of money and possessions focusing on these as gift of God, meant for the mutual benefit of neighbors, and marred by extractive economics creating disparities of rich and poor, privileged and oppressed. (Review)

Called to the life of the Mind

Called to the Life of the Mind, Richard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014. A collection of reflective essays by one of the deans of evangelical scholarship on the calling and importance of the Christian scholarly task. (Review)

Best of the Month: As is often the case this is a tough one. Julian Barnes The Noise of Time was an intriguing exploration of the inner tensions Shostakovich may have wrestled with holding artistic integrity and survival in tension. But I have to give the nod to Makoto Fujimura’s Beauty and Silence for its thoughtful exploration of Japanese culture, Endo’s novel Silence, and the troubled history of Christianity in Japan.

Quote of the Month: This eloquently articulated statement summed up for me the central message of Caryn Rivendeira’s Broke and suggested to me that this is a Christian writer we may want to watch:

“We survived. I kept breathing. I kept stepping. And somewhere in the cracks, along the ragged edges of my marriage, in the desperate gasps of sudden poverty and all the questions that came with it, there was God. Big and glittering, soft and warm, smiling and beckoning. Somehow in the shimmers of all that, I began to taste and see, and feel and know, and hear and smell that God is good, and he was there in the broke bits. That he was using our time near the poverty line, treading in debt, to draw me near, to make me over, to answer a prayer bigger than my material needs. In this season of spiritual and financial brokenness, in this time of longing to know what God was up to and to experience his goodness and presence, God worked me over by showing me where and how I could find him. Which is all over the place. In every last thing, He satisfied my wonderlust–my unquenchable desire to feel his presence and to experience his glory. And I found him. And I found him good.”

Coming Soon: I just finished reading a book that will be my “go to” resource with graduating students, After College by Erica Young Reitz. Look for a review of it in the next day or so. I’ve also picked up a compendium of articles titled Eschatology, on this endlessly fascinating question of our future hope and how this may unfold. I’m nearly finished with Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor, his engaging account of the beginnings of Grameen Bank, a pioneering effort in micro-lending. I’ve just begun Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, one of her earliest publications about the oceans that occupy so much of our planet’s surface. And I will be reviewing a book soon I’ve already mentioned in a recent post, No Place for Abuse, on the epidemic of physical and sexual violence and what at least churches can do to address the instances of this scourge in our midst. I also have two fun books I hope to read soon from my son and his wife: a baseball book by Michael Shapiro, Bottom of the Ninth and an intriguingly titled book by Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed on how social media has taken public shaming to a new level.

Oh, and I could add so many more. But I think I will end here and wish you at least a few hours happy reading over the upcoming Labor Day holiday (for those living in the U. S.).

 

 

Review: Money and Possessions

Money-and-Possessions

Money and Possessions (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church), Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016 (forthcoming September 2, 2016)

Summary: A survey of the teaching of canonical scripture on the subject of money and possessions focusing on these as gift of God, meant for the mutual benefit of neighbors, and marred by extractive economics creating disparities of rich and poor, privileged and oppressed.

I’ve often remarked that the Bible has more to say about money than heaven or hell or a host of other topics. What we often treat as “nobody’s business” the scriptures treat as a matter of deep concern to God. And that is clearly evident in this new book by venerable Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.

Brueggeman proposes six theses that he believes summarize the teaching of the biblical texts:

  1. Money and possessions are gifts of God.
  2. Money and possessions are received as rewards for obedience.
  3. Money and possessions belong to God and are held in trust by human persons in community.
  4. Money and possessions are sources of social injustice.
  5. Money and possessions are to be shared in a neighborly way.
  6. Money and possessions are seductions that lead to idolatry.

The rest of the book considers the different parts of the canon and how these illustrate and develop these theses. He begins with the Pentateuch and the tenth commandment’s prohibition of coveting, emblematic of the breakdown of neighborly sharing of resources. He explores the development of the kingdom of Israel, the hopes of justice and the ways kings become involved in “extractive” practices (one of Brueggemann’s favorite words for social injustices around money). The psalms focus on both Torah and Temple and source money and possessions in the gifts of God, the worship of God, and the trust reposed in kings. Turning to the prophets, we see their message against idolatrous wealth, the loss of exile, and restoration and another chance at neighborliness. The five festal scrolls include the tale of Ruth, a marvelous illustration of loss and redemption with economic implications.

Turning to the New Testament, we see how much money and possessions play a role in the teaching of Jesus who proposes an alternative economy for an alternative kingdom. In Acts we witness the extension of neighborly community against the backdrop of the ultimate extractive empire of imperial Rome. Paul’s works speak of divine generosity (“grace”) to be mirrored in human generosity epitomized in Paul’s collections for Jerusalem. The Pastorals and James warn of the dangers of riches and partiality to the rich and the requirements of true religion. Revelation speaks of the ultimate alternative to Rome (Brueggemann takes a preterist reading believing all or most of Revelation was primarily relevant to the time in which it was written).

This is not a highly technical work which makes it useful for lay adult education efforts. Brueggemann is not bashful when it comes to drawing contemporary parallels to the biblical text and a group using this book might take issue with his social justice positions. Where it is most useful is in identifying the many biblical texts that deal with the subject of money and possessions and providing helpful commentary and context for discussing these passages. If indeed this is used as a resource for the study of and use of scripture in the church as is the intent of this series, it can be quite helpful in summarizing what we find in scripture, and proposing a basic rubric of biblical theology of money and possessions around his six theses.

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

 

When Shrewd is Good

To be called “shrewd” is often a back-handed compliment. Images of used car dealers in plaid jackets or oily snake oil salesmen run through my mind. One definition I came across said “given to wily and artful ways or dealing.” One often gets the idea that shrewdness involves something a bit shady, but clever.

© Nennanenna | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Nennanenna | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

This past Sunday, Rich preached on the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16:1-15. He finds out that he’s going to lose his job because he wasted the master’s possessions. So, to have some place to go after he gets fired, he calls the master’s debtors in and reduces their debts from 20 to 50 percent. When the master finds out, he commends him as a shrewd operator. Jesus in turn says worldly guys like this are shrewder than the people of light when it comes to using money (verse 8).

So is Jesus saying its OK to cut corners to make a little extra? No, the point is that this guy in his own way used money to make friends. Rich talked about the idea that for Christians, are we as good at faithfully using money for the blessing of others as the shrewd manager was in using money to make friends. The truth is we can only use money to serve God or be mastered by money where it becomes our god (verse 13).

So often, we avoid talking about money in church because such talk is either a prelude to a guilt trip or to an appeal to put more in the offering plate. In the midst of all that, it seems we miss the incredible opportunity for joy in the use of whatever money we have.

Rich talked about the creative people who figure out not only how to pay their bills but delight in finding ways to use their money to care for others. What is interesting to me is that these are the happiest people I know. They don’t always have a pile of money. But they love having an extra person at the table, or surprising someone with a gift they really need. They always seem to have enough to give. This is when shrewd is good.

I’ve known some people who have real gifts, or just plain opportunity to make a pile of money. They are entrepreneurs. One of the coolest things I’ve seen are some people I’ve known like this who get really excited by figuring out ways to use this money, or even multiply this money through the investment of others in advancing the kingdom of Jesus. This is when shrewd is good.

One friend has created a business with the help of investors that employs ex-prisoners in janitorial jobs in office buildings, giving them skills, a work record, and, if they are receptive, the gospel. Others have invested in micro-lending that enables people to expand businesses, and is a key to helping women escape the threats of violence and trafficking. Another believing friend uses investment skills and Christian principles to help wealthy clients develop family “mission statements” about the use of their wealth and plans for how wealth will be intelligently passed along from one generation to the next without spoiling the children rotten. This is when shrewd is good.

Rich asked us several questions at the end including the challenge to ask someone else to tell us, “how concerned with money do you think I am?” One that I might add is “how do you think about money?” Are you thinking about how much of it you have and how you can get more, or are you thinking about ways that you can use what you have so that someone else can experience the goodness of God’s kingdom? I’m not sure we can get away from thinking about money in this life. It seems to me that the real question is whether we are thinking of money as on trust to us from God and looking for ways to use it for the good of people and the glory of God. This is when shrewd is good.