Category Archives: Books

Review, @IgnatiusPress’s “The Didache Bible”

There are study bibles, devotional bibles, and special edition niche bibles — then, there is a bible that brings to life what a bible should be. This, frankly, is it. While there is the Reformation Study Bible, the Wesleyan Study Bible, and the Orthodox Study Bible, none of them rises to the level of doctrinal and apologetic material found in The Didache Bible. I seriously doubt that there will be one to top it.

Using the Second Edition of the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version as the translation, the editors (James Socias and Jeffrey Cole) have decided to put to rest all notions that the Catholic Faith and Tradition is not biblical. I write this review as an Anglo-Catholic, with heavy leanings to the Catholic side of that hyphen. Even then, I am amazed at the depth of Catholic doctrine’s connection to Holy Scripture. This is not an apologetic bible, refusing to “prove” anything. It simply states the Catholic position, showing you how the doctrine is derived from and connected to Scripture. Equally so, The Didache Bible is the most theological bible I have yet to put my hands on and I doubt I will ever see another one match it. 

Unlike other study bibles, The Didache Bible is built around doctrine via the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The editors draw this inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI’s opening to the “Year of Faith,” where he said urged Catholics to reach to a “systematic knowledge of the context of the faith” which is found in the Catechism. I know more than a few Catholics, (practicing, lapsed, and separated) who know very little of the richness of the Catholic life. Perhaps it is because they have failed to pay heed to the Pope’s suggestion. Because if they had — if you and I and the other separated Christians — would give just another glance to the Catechism, we would see the intensity of what Catholics believe. This is why to have Holy Scripture merged so seamlessly with Catechism (surely, something representative of Holy Tradition) is a great benefit to us all. Simply, because such a union births well an understanding of the Scriptural foundation for the Catechism, and thus Catholic doctrine.

logo-ignatius-press

Features

Beyond having this union present, The Didache Bible includes an Introduction explaining Scripture in the Catholic Church. Growing up post-Protestant (i.e., fundamentalist and anti-Catholic), I was convinced Catholics had little to no regard for Scripture. Yet, if you take seriously the Introduction, you will see that those in communion with the Bishop of Rome are called to have a high view of Scripture. Further, Scripture is not merely an individual enterprise where one sifts randomly through its pages to find something pertinent. Rather, Scripture is the inspired word of God, with its principal author (God) moving through human witnesses to insure the message is delivered rightly. Further, Scripture is a Revelation in and of itself (along with Holy Tradition). Proper understanding is restricted, of course, to insure an orderly transfer of that message. Imagine, if you will, if everyone was allowed an interpretation and in that interpretation, regardless of how unfounded and wild it is, one finds equality. Finally, the Introduction gives a brief synopsis of the proper way to find meaning in Scripture (i.e., Allegorical, Moral, and Anagogical). Following this is a section on how to read the bible (and thusly named).

What may be surprising to some are the Documents of the Magisterium included in this bible. These are referred to at various times throughout the notes (because of their use in the Catechism). Also included is a Brief Summary of Sacred Scripture, a Chronology of both the Old and the New Testaments, and Scriptural passages for personal meditation. These passages will include notable Catholic views, such as Passages About the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Throughout the Canon are small (on page) apologetic treatises designed to give a better account of particular Catholic doctrines. You can find a listing of this in the back of the bible (1784—95). These include such topics as “Catholics’ Belief in the Bible,” “The Deposit of Faith,” “Just War,” Mary, the Mother of God,” and “Speaking in Tongues.” Each of these begin with a passage from Scripture, followed by a brief exegetical explanation drawn from both Scripture and Tradition, ending with a reference to the Catechism. They are not arranged according to Scripture, or any order I can see, only inserted periodically. In all, they provide for nearly any question one has about particular Catholic doctrines.

Each book has an introduction. This includes author, date, audience, and main themes. A brief survey of the author section includes a union between Tradition and Scholarship. For instance, in reading the Pastorals, The Didache Bible notes what Tradition has said as well as the challenges by scholars. In reading the Catholic epistles (James, 1-2 Peter, etc…), the editors give great care in walking the line between the Church and the Academy. For example, they rightly note that 2 Peter has long been suspect, not simply from the 19th century. The same goes for the dating and the audience. The Didache Bible does not hide Scripture from historical criticism, but simply presents both answers — Church and Academy.

The notes, the primary feature, of the bible are found on nearly every page of Holy Writ. While some are not summaries of the Catechism, more are. For instance, the first note on the “Wisdom of Solomon” is in regards to authorship and theme. The second note summarizes 1.1–16. However, the note to Wisdom 1.4 is based on ¶365 of the Catechism while the note to Wisdom 1.7 comes from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.  The goal throughout is to connect Catholic teaching found primarily in the Catechism to Scripture and vice versa. The notes are not merely a commentary, but the way Catholics read Scripture, form doctrine, and shape their moral lives.

Finally, The Didache Bible includes a glossary, maps, and an index of subjects. Unlike the glossary, this index includes scriptural passages supportive of various subjects. For instance, if someone is interested in Penance and Reconciliation in Scripture, they can turn to a various of passages such as Matthew 16.19, Matthew 3.8, or Luke 3.8. Or, if they want to see what verses relate to “Saint” they will get the usual verses where we are all saints (Romans 1.7) but also the passages used to support the intercession of saints (Mark 8.38; Luke 9.26 and 24.5). Each section, to be sure, had different topics within it.

Summary

I have numerous study bibles, but none so important as The Didache Bible.  This is not merely a Catholic bible, but a Christian bible. While Protestants may protest still, they can find something deep in this – something that simply states that Catholicism is a biblical Christianity (if not the biblical Christianity). I am more than impressed — impressed beyond words — at the manner in which this bible has been put together. This provides answers to the question of whether or not Catholicism is biblical — are intercessory prayers biblical? The Trinity? Mary? The Pope? Not only are we given a proper way to read Scripture, but we are given eyes to see the great union between Scripture and Tradition. I am unsure if The Didache Bible could ever be surpassed.

in the mail from @ignatiuspress – The Didache Bible

Thanks to Ignatius Press for this review copy. My first thoughts are simple:

Wow. Just wow.

The Didache Bible presents extensive commentaries, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for each of the books of the Holy Bible. It also includes numerous apologetical inserts to assist the reader in understanding the Church’s teachings on current issues.

It uses the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition translation of the complete text of Sacred Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. This Bible version is considered by many Catholic leaders and authors, including Peter Kreeft and Scott Hahn, as the most beautiful English translation of the Bible today.

The Didache Bible is a valuable resource for students and those participating in Scripture studies. Ideal for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith and intended to be accessible by all Catholics in its level of scriptural scholarship.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Twenty-seven full-color biblical maps, including the journeys of Jesus Christ.

  • More than 100 apologetical explanations that help to answer common questions about the faith

  • Comprehensive, forty-three page glossary and a topical index.

  • Large 6″ x 9″ size

  • The font size for the text of Scripture is 9.5 points which is comparable to the font size used in most business letters.

  • The font size for the text of commentary is 8.5 points.

  • Sewn binding

Book Notes: The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons

Note, Book Notes is an abbreviated Book Review.

Christian education, liberal arts, and the humanities are all considered, usually, a dead field. Indeed, the concept of a whole person, much less a holy person, does not fit into the spectrum of higher education any longer, finding a whole person replaced with a better cog. Yes, there are some higher education institutions practicing certain ideological viewpoints, such as the Reformed (as the editor and several contributors point out), but what about the Pietist view? Does the Pietist theological tradition, underpinning whole denominations and contributing significantly to many of the Wesleyan ones, have such a vision and if so, what is it? This is the aim of Christopher Gehrz’s anthology, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education.

Gehrz easily separates the Pietist from the Reformed vision as one separates the mind (correct doctrine, i.e., Reformed) from the heart (transformation, i.e., Pietist) (p12). Perhaps this may rankle some Reformed Christians, but this separation is not new to Gehrz, and is quite familiar to Wesleyans (of which I am a part). This is the point of the book, to take the heart and mind and from there create a holy whole person. A historian who is a Christian. A Christian who is a scientist. The pietist view focuses on intellectualism, but does not forget the transformation of the heart.

Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705) known as the ...
Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705) known as the “Father of Pietism”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to focus on one essay, “Pietism and the Practice of Civil Discourse,” (123–33) written by Christian T. Collins Winn (PhD, Drew University). After recounting what has now become a familiar modern parable of the Civility Project, Winn addresses the interconnection between Pietism and civility. He begins with Philipp Jakob Spener who, in 1675, called for civility in the answering of others, namely Christians. This immediately won him the scorn of friends and foes alike. It is not that the argument, or conflict, that is to be avoided, only that one has a commitment to real dialogue, focusing on the topic rather than on the person. This means a practice of listening in good faith. One listens to listen, not to simply counter. Spener also included humility and love in discerning what civility looked like as well as a hopeful commitment to God’s peace. How does higher education fit into this? Because higher education should require “formal and informal interaction via a variety of actors” with those things that challenge us. Winn then presents several workable solutions as to how Christian institutions of higher learning can aid in forming the whole person to discourse civility.

If you separate Christian institutions of higher learning into four different streams, you get a pretty good idea of why the Pietist is often thought not to have a particular viewpoint. When one thinks of a Reformed college, or a Catholic school, or even a pentecostal university, immediately images spring to mind. But what about a liberal arts college founded by Pietists (or Wesleyans)? What usually springs to mind is a school remaining Christian in history only. But, these contributors aim to change that and to show why a Pietist vision of Christian higher education goes further than secular preparation, but has in its goal a personal transformation serving but the Church and the world. Overall, a book deserved to be read by deans and professors, secular and sectarian.

In the Mail, “The Church in Exile Living in Hope After Christendom” @ivpacademic

The people of God throughout history have been a people of exile and diaspora. Whether under the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks or Romans, the people chosen by God have had to learn how to be a holy people in alien lands and under foreign rule.

For much of its history, however, the Christian church lived with the sense of being at home in the world, with considerable influence and power. That age of Christendom is now over, and as Lee Beach demonstrates, this is something for which the church should be grateful. The “peace” of Christendom was a false one, and there is no comfortable normalcy to which we can or should return.

Drawing on a close engagement with Old Testament and New Testament texts, The Church in Exile offers a biblical and practical theology for the church in a post-Christian age. Beach helps the people of God today to develop a hopeful and prophetic imagination, a theology responsive to its context, and an exilic identity marked by faithfulness to God’s mission in the world.

Read more here.

Book Recommendation: Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures @PeterLangUSA

The description:

This anthology – the first of its kind in eight years – collects some of the best and most current research and reflection on the complex interactions between religion and computer-mediated communication (CMC). The contributions cohere around the central question: how will core religious understandings of identity, community and authority shape and be (re)shaped by the communicative possibilities of Web 2.0? The authors gathered here address these questions in three distinct ways: through contemporary empirical research on how diverse traditions across the globe seek to take up the technologies and affordances of contemporary CMC; through investigations that place these contemporary developments in larger historical and theological contexts; and through careful reflection on the theoretical dimensions of research on religion and CMC. In their introductory and concluding essays, the editors uncover and articulate the larger intersections and patterns suggested by individual chapters, including trajectories for future research.

There are two online reviews, here and here.

I am currently finishing my review for a journal, so I cannot post it here. However, for those considering online sacraments, online communities, or even resources directed towards a church website, consider this book.

If I have time, I will dialogue with one particular essay. Yes, there is a need for theologians to be online – and the absence of sound theology has given rise to some really bad brands. Like progressive UMers and fundamentalists.

Review of @bakeracademic’s “Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts”

Adonis Vidu has no need to argue in his work, Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, which atonement model is the most accurate. Rather, his purpose is to trace a path of model development next to evolving systems of justice, from the ancient world to the modern. Vidu matter of factly states, “the history of atonement thinking could be read as an ongoing conversation with the history of thinking about justice and the law.” (xiv) His book does not simply fill a gap, but may in fact help us understand atonement modeling as a contextual paradigm, perhaps loosening our tight grip on particular expressions.

Atonement, Law, and Justice has 6 chapters, with the first 4 examining the development of atonement and justice since before the Christian-era. Chapter 5 examines the atonement via various modern lens with the final chapter acting the the author’s view. Chapter 1 examines the development of justice and law in Patristic thought, although Vidu is smart in bringing in Homer, Plato, and other familiar pre-Christian influencers first. Nothing develops in a vacuum, not even Christian theology. As such, we encounter philosophy, before we are led to Augustinian theology (which is based on philosophy!). To be quite clear, our usual notions of the atonement as retributive justice are called into question — as well as they should,  if we are to be consistent with the cognitive environment of the New Testament writers. For the ancients, justice is order, but not necessarily equity. Thus, the gods were unrestrained in achieving that order, with little or no expectation between the deities and humans. Law was second, if not third. For the modern (American) reader, the notion of an executive pardon (refusing to punish a law-breaker) may be the best image here. It wasn’t until the Romans borrowed Stoicism that justice existed outside of social order, becoming an internal virtue.

atonement
Say what?

This move from justice-as-order to justice-as-equity fed directly into early Christian thought. After all, once justice becomes a virtue, then one can assign it to God. This then separates justice from non-justice, good from evil, and law from disorder, leading us into the rollercoaster of atonement models and justification theology. Where once the divine could contain deceit, evil, etc… the doctrine of divine simplicity started to take hold, giving way to a higher refrain of justice only complete in God. Because of this, we move from the ransom theories to a satisfaction model. Before I go too far into summarizing this chapter, allow me to simply suggest that this chapter is a hallmark in not only the study of Augustinian theology, but in early Christendom. In the end, Augustine’s move towards anchoring the sacrifice of Christ to a divine justice sets the stage for medieval atonement models.

Is God tied to or bound by law? That seems to be the discussion between Anselm and Abelard in the late medieval ages. More than that, however, is the shift (Vidu calls it a revolution) from law-as-specific to context, to a universal notion of law and legal remedies. Because of this universality in viewpoint, Anselm is able to offer his satisfaction theory, which precludes free grace. In other words, a wrong required a penalty. Abelard, on the other hand, moves away from original sin, but into a realm of what is desirable. Vidu shows that these two men and the third, Aquinas, are very much products of their time. Here especially, Vidu slows down and gives us a great depth of understanding as to how changing notions of law, justice, and universality shape the various atonement models during this time. Likewise, we are introduced to John Duns Scotus (p79 — 87) and left to wonder if the notion of atonement, as developed as it was by European developments in law and justice, did not contribute to the development of our Western society, ending with the separation of Church and State. I suspect that this portion of Vidu’s thesis is at least a remarkably important read in understanding Western Christianity, Christian civilization, and how our doctrines have shaped our current political realities. I cannot stress this enough — I desire more from Vidu on this subject, and would have sacrifice more time and pages to read more from our author on Don Scotus.

We are now ready to be reformed, which is the subject of chapter 3. Here, Vidu takes us through Luther and Calvin, who existed in Duns Scotus’ now secular shadow — where law was autonomous. If anyone has read anything from the New Perspective on Paul theologians (E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, or N.T. Wright), you will become immediately familiar with Vidu’s take here. Because the notion of the Law and what authority it has has been transformed in European society of the time, the same thing shapes Protestant theology. Luther and Calvin cannot be divorced from their time, but like several others before them, are shaped by it.

It is here that I question if the usual modern refrain of the Church shaping the World or the World shaping the Church. While Vidu’s book does not tackle this issue, I cannot help but see that when we had no Christendom, or no firmly established Christendom, Christians and their doctrine shaped the world. After a millenia of Christendom, the world shaped us. The one real stand-out during this time is Duns Scotus. While Aquinas gave to the Church Universal Natural Law as tied to Divine Law, Duns Scotus broke that a part, preparing a way not only for the separation of Church and State, but so too the separation of the Body of Christ in the West. 

Up until recently, legality and morality were thought to be the same. In our current world, we know better. Which is, perhaps, why so many Christians challenge the very idea of atonement. Secular law is decided by the State whereas, for the most part, moral law is still divine (or at least above the State). Names like Kant and Schleiermacher come to the forefront. Ritschl as well. And each, leading the way in the liberal Protestant tradition and thought, removes the exchange in atonement, making it subjective (according to Vidu). This is the sum of chapter 4.

Chapter 5 turns to post-modern thought, tackling the changing of terms and ideas from historic Christian lexicons to psychologist-influenced trends. His first engagement with a modern theology is with Andrew Sung Park, a seminary professor of mine at United Theological Seminary. Park incorporates Han into the equation, something Vidu takes to task. I should not like to decide who is correct here. From here, Vidu tackles feminist and postcolonial views on sin and atonement. Theologians and thought leaders such as  Foucault, Derrida, and Girard are given special treatment by Vidu. He treats each one well, giving them their voice — and then attempts to demolish their arguments. It is up to the readers to decide if he succeeds. Their arguments are met from the positive angle in chapter 6, where Vidu begins to shape his view on atonement, law, and justice.

There are few deficits in Vidu’s work. He does not take into account Jewish thoughts on justice and law. I would like to have seen how the rabbis fit into these paradigms. Further, there are no counters to the hegemonic West. Augustine is left without Cassian and Aquinas has no Gregory Palamas. I realize he is not writing an encyclopedia or multi-volume set; however, in getting into the cultural contexts, which themselves stand as comparisons one to another, a bit of the East should have been mentioned.

There are two important takeaways for me, personally. One, it shows a somewhat well-ordered path in developing the penal substitutionary atonement model. Note, never once does he argue for this view as the only view. This is interesting because of the development of other doctrines. Secondly, I think it shows the sad state of liberal Protestantism. Where we once had great thinkers, digesting 1900 years of theological and philosophical thought, we are now left with loud-mouth bloggers with little or no intellectual training. What thinkers we do have are often times shredded in engagements, retreating to catch-phrases like oppression, privilege, and bully.

I started this book with a distaste in my mouth. I do not believe in penal substitutionary atonement — although the atonement takes center stage in my theology. However, while I am not convinced that PSA is correct, I am convinced Vidu has provided the Church a rather important book in discerning the doctrine of atonement and allowing that it has developed. Also, I think he has called us to be mindful of our context and the way we approach issues of Christian thought. Finally, especially in chapter 5, Vidu gives us reason to suspect the liberal Protestant tradition along with post-modern thought may in fact be bankrupt when it comes to their stances on the atonement. It is expertly researched, meticulously crafted, and properly presented.

the portions in italics do not appear on Amazon. 

Prop 8 – @ivpacademic’s “Lost World of Adam and Eve”

On facebook, I stated my concern regarding Walton’s stance on the historical Adam and Eve. I am troubled he makes these statements without support, whereas nearly every other statement he makes is supported by well-reasoned logic. There is a fallacious danger in not reading ahead as one does “read throughs,” so I have at least skipped ahead to see if Walton does give his reasons. He does, in Proposition 11. Yet, I am on Proposition 8, with only the point-of-fact statements “Adam was a real person” made in the midst of “don’t take anything else as ‘literal’.”1 He tries to separate when Genesis 2–3 speaks about a historical figure and when it speaks about an archetypal representative; however, the lines are not clear enough in my mind. If Adam is representative of humanity (or Israel as a King would be) in 8 out of 10 cases, then why are the other two revealing he is a real person? Could it be a stylistic choice or an interpolation?

Wo ist Wellhausen!?

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...
Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on the concept of just war (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indeed, this troubling statement is surrounding by an acutely canonical awareness of “formed” (as well as “rib” and “dust”) and how it plays into the story. While Walton does not mention it, his own parsing of the Hebrew reveals a Platonic caveat of soulmates (i.e., Symposium) I did not realize was there. Yet, through all of this, we are still told by the author of his belief in a historical Adam. Or perhaps, an assumption. If the forming of the two are archetypal and not related to material origins but rather symbolic of human relationships, then why are we still discussing Adam as if he is a historical person? Likewise, the author goes to great lengths to bring in St. Paul and his use of Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians. This latter issue I find exciting and troubling.

Exciting because of the use of the entire Christian canon to work out theology. But, likewise it is troubling because if I am examining the ancient literature for what it is, I want to examine it devoid of reception during the apocalyptic discontinuity. Admittedly, however, I cannot focus too much on the troubling (to me) aspect because if Walton is doing what he did in Lost World of Genesis One, then he needs to tackle the usual Protestant Christian teaching regarding Original Sin and the Fall (even if one is because St. Augustine did not read Greek all that well).

There is a lot in this singular proposition, some of which I will detail in a follow-up post. As usual, Walton is pushing the boundaries, not of the Text itself, but of our theological facets.

  1. Joel’s paraphrase.