Category Archives: Books

In the Mail: “From Crisis to Christ: A Contextual Introduction to the New Testament” @AbingdonPress

Thanks to Dr. Anderson and Abingdon for this review copy:

New, valuable understandings of the historical and religious contexts of New Testament writings continue to emerge. This accessibly written introduction examines over two dozen such crises and how the biblical text addresses, reflects, and embodies them. From the ministry of Jesus, to the rise and propagation of the Christian movement, to the epistles of Paul and other leaders, to a vision of God’s final cosmic victory, the New Testament books are succinctly introduced in literary, historical, and theological perspective.

Designed for optimal classroom use, each chapter offers four primary features: (a) definition and exploration of relevant contextual crises; (b) connections with the biblical writings; (c) primary features of the biblical narrative; and (d) an application section that engages the student directly and invites thoughtful response.

Book Announcement: de Lubac’s “Vatican Council Notebooks” @ignatiuspress

Even for Protestants, Vatican II is important. Indeed, I’d say it is one of the most important things in the West in the last 100 years (ecumenically speaking, of course).

“Surprising news!” With these words, Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J., whose orthodoxy had been so vigorously attacked, responded to the announcement of his selection to participate in the Second Vatican Council. His participation as a theologian and expert would make a lasting impact on the Council, and his insights and comments are recorded in this long-awaited volume, Vatican Council Notebooks: Volume One.

These Notebooks trace the two years of preparation, the four conciliar sessions, and the three periods between sessions. They give us the opportunity to assist at the discussion of the schemas (initial drafts of conciliar texts), but also, during the meetings of the theological commission and the sub-commissions, at the elaboration and correction of the texts submitted to the Council fathers. The eminent theologian de Lubac is a sure guide for the reader, introducing us to the theological ferment of the Council and helping us to grasp what was at stake in the often animated debates.

De Lubac does not hesitate to express clearly what he thinks of the theologians around him, of the new concepts appearing because of the Council, or of the problems he judges to be most serious for the Christian faith. These Notebooks invite us to a greater historical and theological understanding of the Council.

Besides information about the numerous aspects of the conciliar assembly, what makes the testimony of these notebooks so captivating is the strongly rendered presence of men and their psychology. De Lubac excels in sketching the portrait of the participants with only a few words. Among the many interesting encounters, he tells of deepening his acquaintance with Josef Ratzinger, whom he describes as a “theologian as peaceable and kindly as he is competent”. In the same way, during the long discussion over the drafting of the constitution Gaudium et Spes, he observed the assertiveness of Karol Wojtyła, whose interventions struck him because of the seriousness, the rigor, and the solidity of his faith, which created in him a lively sense of spiritual friendship, which was reciprocated.

In the preface to the Vatican Council Notebooks, Jacques Prevotat, Professor of Modern History at the University of Lille-III, writes, “These Notebooks bear witness to the difficulties Fr. de Lubac experienced in the years following the publication of Surnaturel (Supernatural, 1946), very much in evidence within the Theological Commission, in the preparatory period during which the theologian, just recently named to the commission by John XXIII, was confronted with future conciliar schemas prepared by his adversaries. Nevertheless, it was his theology that prevailed in Lumen Gentium and also in Dei Verbum.”

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Editor of Ignatius Press, says, “Fr. de Lubac has a historian’s keen eye as well as a theologian’s familiarity with the issues. As a participant at the Council, he described what really happened in the corridors and trattorie at Vatican II.”

About the Author:
Henri Cardinal de Lubac was a French Jesuit priest, theologian and expert at Vatican II. He wrote numerous theological and spiritual works including Splendor of the Church, Catholicism, Motherhood of the Church, and The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

in the mail: @OUPAcademic’s “”A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism”

Thanks to Oxford University Press for this free review copy

A New Gospel for Women tells the story of Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946), author of God’s Word to Women, one of the most innovative and comprehensive feminist theologies ever written. An internationally-known social reformer and women’s rights activist, Bushnell rose to prominence through her highly publicized campaigns against prostitution and the trafficking of women in America, in colonial India, and throughout East Asia. In each of these cases, the intrepid reformer struggled to come to terms with the fact that it was Christian men who were guilty of committing acts of appalling cruelty against women. Ultimately, Bushnell concluded that Christianity itself – or rather, the patriarchal distortion of true Christianity – must be to blame.

A work of history, biography, and historical theology, Kristin Kobes DuMez’s book provides a vivid account of Bushnell’s life. It maps a concise introduction to her fascinating theology, revealing, for example, Bushnell’s belief that gender bias tainted both the King James and the Revised Versions of the English Bible. As Du Mez demonstrates, Bushnell insisted that God created women to be strong and independent, that Adam, not Eve, bore responsibility for the Fall, and that it was through Christ, “the great emancipator of women,” that women would achieve spiritual and social redemption.

A New Gospel for Women restores Bushnell to her rightful place in history. It illuminates the dynamic and often thorny relationship between faith and feminism in modern America by mapping Bushnell’s story and her subsequent disappearance from the historical record. Most pointedly, the book reveals the challenges confronting Christian feminists today who wish to construct a sexual ethic that is both Christian and feminist, one rooted not in the Victorian era, but rather one suited to the modern world.

in the mail: “Reading John”

I’ve flipped through it and read the introduction. Thus far, it looks like a great tool to have for those teaching John:

The Gospel of John is often found at the center of discussions about the Bible and its relation to Christian theology. It is difficult to quantify the impact John’s Gospel has had on both the historical development of Christian doctrine and the various expressions of Christian devotion. All too often, however, readers have failed to understand the Gospel as an autonomous text with its own unique story to tell. More often than not, the Gospel of John is swept into a reading approach that either conflates or attempts to harmonize with other accounts of Jesus’ life. This book emphasizes the uniqueness of John’s story of Jesus and attempts to provide readers with a road map for appreciating the historical context and literary features of the text. The aim of this book is to help others become better, more perceptive readers of the Gospel of John, with an ability to trace the rhetoric of the narrative from beginning to end.

Review of @ivpress’s “Problems of Christian Leadership”

“…Discouragement: The greatest occupational hazard of the believer…”

As I began to read this book for the first time, preparing for my review, I had to stop in the phrase above in total awe of the truthfulness of it! Anyone who is honest about their feelings, especially those in the ministry, will have to admit that an aspect of being a Christian minister that is as connected to the ministry as the calling to minister itself, is the fact that ministers will often be discouraged and unfortunately many, for lack of resources, committed fellowships, etc. will allow the discouragement to become such a heavy burden that they will no longer be able to function as ministers and worst, as Christians!

Thankfully there is this book, written brilliantly and in a way that ministers, specifically, but also the folk in the pew, will understand the reasons for discouragement and hopefully deal with them.

Chapters are subtitled “How to…” which turns the book into an useful “how to” manual. It is always refreshing when an author not merely points to problems but also prescribe valuable and applicable solutions to such problems. Stott does that very well in this book.

Français : Photographie du révérant John RW Stott
Français : Photographie du révérant John RW Stott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THE TARGET AUDIENCE

As I mentioned above, every Christian can find useable information in this book as to how to deal with discouragement. But ministers, those who minister to congregations of any size, bound to a denominational creed, or the self-proclaimed independents will benefit from the “how to” prescriptions offered in this book. If you are not a minister — but have experienced bouts with discouragement, or the euphemistically called “spiritual burn-out,” — do not shy away from reading and applying the “how to” principles of this book. These concepts are easily adaptable to you whether you are a Sunday School teacher, a choir director, a music director, or in any activity in which one may be overcome by this “occupational hazard” called discouragement.

THE BOOK

It is not a large book, so in reviewing it I was often tempted to review chapter by chapter, and perhaps allow my feelings and experiences as someone who have been honored by God to exercise the function of a minister in two different countries — as one who could not escape seeing my own personal story written in the pages of this book! Had I done so, however, I would never have finished this review and it would not be as easy for those who are considering reading this book to make a decision about reading it; the review would be perhaps larger than the book!

So, my method here will be to comment on some outstanding portions of the book. Here are them classified not specifically in any order of importance:

  1. A Personal Ministry to you: When Stott mentions the “Problem of Discouragement – How to Persevere Under Pressure,” he inserts the teaching of the Apostle Paul as a direct mention of discouragement: In “Do not lose heart…” — as if Stott is preaching directly to you — he writes, “I’d like us to turn to 2 Corinthians 4 and I hope you don’t mind if I give you a little Greek lesson” – this type of personal ministry to the reader will make this “how to manual” be a very intimate conversation with the author, whose credentials to provide advice, and “give us a little lesson in Greek” is indisputable. He then proceeds in a brilliant exposition of the text — crowning his arguments by stating to us why we should not “lose heart.” Readers will be glad they are not reading some broad concepts of a haughty author dispensing his erudite knowledge of a particular text, but he is actually ministering to you! That’s the way I felt; as if I were in his office and he was talking to me! Discouraged people, or people struggling with discouragement, need this personal ministry and Stott provides it  throughout the book!
  2. It is a book of personal discipline: Most of us, people in the ministry often struggle to be disciplined and orderly. The book lines up three kinds of discipline that are especially beneficial for those compulsive workers that frequently, in times of stress, are open to discouragement — the need for time off, even an afternoon siesta (God is good after all…) taking the example he learned in Latin America; along with the repentance of the vice of punctuality; the need for hobbies; and, time with family and friends, meaning, friendships. He, as a biblical preacher, applies a text of Paul in 2 Timothy to support to his thesis by mentioning that Paul who was a great Christian was not afraid to admit that he needed friends. Oh, that hurts, I would say, because most of us ministers know very well that we are not supposed to have “close friendships” with no one since that may impair our ability to minister to them, but here Stott says, YES, we need friendships as Paul also needed.
  3. Time for Devotion: Ministers have to study so much to teach that they deplete themselves of that they need to learn for themselves. I learned that one when I was still in ministry school. This is one of the areas of Self Discipline within the remedies to combat discouragement. In fact, this book is a book in and of itself of Self-Discipline in my opinion! Anyone who needs a “list” of Self-Discipline applicable suggestions will find it in this entire book!
  4. A book about Respect and trust in Relationships: Throughout the book Stott uses “live” first-hand experiences in his life to teach us some principles. When laying out principles of trust in relationships he tells a humorous one about one of his missionary recruits who responded to “how he was getting along in his new country.” Worth reading and laughing at the response. However, better yet to check it out and honestly conclude that perhaps all of us would have given the same answers and still would not have identified such answers as a problem. I feel tempted in transcribing the story here — but, read the book, read the chapter. Find how important it is to learn how to trust and respect committed relationships, whether they be with your peers or with the people whom you are entrusted by God to work. Furthermore in the aspect of relationships, Stott deals with very simple principles, or mistakes, that we all commit, such as the inability to recognize redemptive worth on people, the incapacity to listen, and all the other aspects that many of us take for granted and consider them to be an “aside” (and why, even an inconvenience) in our ministerial life!

IN SUMMARY, I said that I did not want to make this review larger than the book. Let me just tell you that if you are in ministry you should do what the writer of the Foreword (Ajith Fernando, Teaching Director of Youth for Christ) says: “…I read this book slowly, as part of my devotions…” Yes, this is a devotional book! I loved it, I recommend this to anyone.

Remember, often it is not “if” you will get discouraged, but “when!” Discouragement may not be something that is inherent to your activity as a minister, but rather, I remind you, it is an “…occupational hazard…” This book will, at a minimum, if you are one of the lucky ones whose dangers of discouragement have not yet assailed you, prepare you “when” it comes!