Category Archives: Books

Review, “Transformation, The Heart of Paul’s Gospel” @logos @lexhampress

Have we missed St. Paul’s message… the proverbial forest for the trees?

During the debate between New Perspective, Old Perspective, and everything else about Paul’s intellectual origin, what may get lost is Paul’s goal of the Gospel. In a new book, the first in a series edited by renowned Pauline Third-Way scholar, Michael F. Bird, David A. deSilva proposes that at the center of Paul’s message is one simple concept: transformation.

The goal of Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel is simple: “to propose a way of thinking about Paul’s gospel — a vision for what God is seeking to bring about through the death and resurrection of his Son, the indwelling of his Spirit, and his future intervention in cosmic affairs.” (pg 5) While deSilva writes with an evangelical perspective in mind, his reach extends to others as well, especially with the centerpiece of his tripodic proposal. Indeed, the indwelling of the Spirit is what makes up the idea of transformation.

The book is divided into four chapters. The first chapter is deSilva’s case for a “broader understanding of Paul’s Gospel of Transformation.” He is hesitant about assigning too wide a gulf between justification and sanctification. He points to several Christian traditions that highlight one over the other. He posits that Paul would be troubled at the separation and a creation of “an order of salvation.” Indeed, I think we should be too. He argues five points against such a false separation (pg 10), all of which sound Wesleyan (if I may be so biased). Indeed, deSilva suggests an ongoing justification, from the initial acquittal to the “final justification.” For Wesleyans, we see this act as the journey of grace, albeit with three stages of grace (prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying). Regardless of my bias, the thesis is simple: There is no momentary act of salvation, but an ongoing changing of the person into the new creation, and thus, transformation. For the rest of chapter 1, deSilva lays out well the reasons why his five points are sound, calling on Scripture and Reason (scholarship) to aid him. He explores the “why” of transformation (i.e., God shows no partiality) and delves into the debate of what justification actually means.

Paul-iconChapter 2 turns to explore what transformation means to the individual and to the individual’s freedom within Christ. He begins, again, but setting the initial act of justification within the framework of the entire Christian journey. Paul simply does not spend a lot of time detailing this theological point, but rather spends a majority of his time instructing the Church what this means and how this looks (how transformation looks) in the body (and the body made up of individuals).

In chapter 3, deSilva explores the community’s transformation as individuals who are opposed to one another in life become conformed to a unified body. Yes, reconciliation is a part of the transformation which is the heart of Paul’s message (at least according to deSilva). So is ecumenicalism, it seems. I dare say, this chapter is important to the overall concept of Christian unity. This chapter speaks to me as one who believes heavily in John 17 as a mission for today’s Christian. The final chapter is deSilva’s answer to contemporary eschatological enterprises and, I think, empire criticism. It is a rewarding chapter, but one that is best not explained in a review.

I was apprehensive about this book. When I begin an introduction of a book on Paul’s message by exploring the Roman Road(s), I am easily turned off of the subject matter. However, I am glad my first, brief, and uninformed opinions were wrong. There is no hero worship of Paul, NT Wright, or Luther, only a straightforward and enticing examination of the heart of Paul’s message. The more I read, the more I enjoyed it. The more I read, the more I learned. The more I read, the more my opinion of Paul and post-Reformation views on Justification were…well, transformed.

I cannot help but to read books on justification and sanctification as a Wesleyan — and as one attempting to, occasionally, write a dissertation on the atonement mechanism in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. I see a lot of my views of Wesley’s views in this book, and not least because deSilva quotes the 39 Articles and refers to Wesley several times. I think I see a connection between Wesley and this book because of what I perceive as the ongoing work of Grace in the life of the Christian, which deSilva assures us is the heart of Paul’s message. I would encourage all Wesleyans (and Arminians) to pick up a copy of this book as a way to build their own personal theology. I would equally suggest all others read this book to understand better what other Christians feel about the journey of grace, but grounded only in Paul’s writings. Finally, those of us interested in Christian unity should at the very least read chapter 1 and chapter 4, first to understand the heart of Paul’s mission and second to understand how this applies to us today as we try to build Christian unity.

This book is available in several different formats from Amazon, Logos, and Lexham Press.

Review, “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir” @ivpacademic

This is a guest post by Evan W. Rohrs-Dodge, a UMC pastor in New Jersey and a founding member of Via Media Methodists. I briefly read Thomas Oden’s memoir before I passed it on to Evan for review. In these pages can be found a great hope for the people called Methodists. While Oden is best known for his role in the Confessing Movement and in paleo-orthodoxy, what will be known after reading this book is his great love for the United Methodist Church, even if it disappoints him. Like so many of us who struggle with our membership, Oden has been there before. And he shows us a way forward.

I was eager to read Thomas Oden’s memoir, Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir, as soon as I heard of its publication. My interest in Dr. Oden is not just because I am a graduate of Drew Theological School (although I was not a student during Oden’s tenure). He has been influential in my personal and professional development; I have benefited greatly from much of Oden’s scholarship, including his magnificent four-volume work on John Wesley and his three-volume systematic theology. And, I heard numerous second and third-hand stories about Oden during my studies, both of his keen intellect and his strong will. I have a had a keen interest in hearing, as it were, the other side of the story.

Change of Heart did not disappoint. Each chapter is divided up into decades (1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, and so on), and, as such, chronologically highlights his academic training and teaching, his scholarship, his theological journey, and his personal life. Perhaps most central to this book, as indicated in the title, is Oden’s move from radical thought and activism to Christian orthodoxy. Oden devotes much time to describing his interactions and friendships with a variety of notable theologians, such as Wolfhart Pannenberg, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). On Oden’s theological change, however, no relationship was more important than the Jewish scholar and fellow Drew professor, Will Herberg. Open notes in the book that Herberg was encouraged to study Judaism by the H. Richard Niebuhr, and the Jewish scholar Herberg is the very one who encouraged Oden to more deeply study the roots of his Christian heritage.

Oden’s love and defense of Christian orthodoxy is abundantly clear in this book, and is wonderfully refreshing. Despite his repeated encounters with theological radicalism within both academia and the church, he often found his students hungry for robust, historical theology. They rejected the hubris of modernity/postmodernity, and desired to drink deeply from the wells of orthodoxy. As such, Oden fondly termed them “young fogeys,” and to him, they represent hope for the future of the faith, in both the academy and the church.

If you want to learn about a passionate academic, a devoted husband and parent, and a humble child of God who writes in an accessible, engaging manner, read Thomas Oden’s memoir.

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.

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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.