Category Archives: Books

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.

In the Mail from @ivpacademic, “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir”

This is going to be awesome. Oden is one of the premier Wesleyan intellectuals and theologians today. I believe his work on paleo-orthodoxy and the confessions is essential in moving the UMC forward.

How did one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated liberals have such a dramatic change of heart? After growing up in the heart of rural Methodism in Oklahoma, Thomas Oden found Marx, Nietzsche and Freud storming into his imagination. He joined the post-World War II pacifist movement and became enamored with every aspect of the 1950s’ ecumenical Student Christian Movement. Ten years before America’s entry into the Vietnam war he admired Ho Chi Min as an agrarian patriot. For Oden, every turn was a left turn. At Yale he earned his PhD under H. Richard Niebuhr and later met with some of the most formidable minds of the era—enjoying conversations with Gadamer, Bultmann and Pannenberg as well as a lengthy discussion with Karl Barth at a makeshift office in his hospital room. While traveling with his family through Turkey, Syria and Israel, he attended Vatican II as an observer and got his first taste of ancient Christianity. And slowly, he stopped making left turns. Oden’s enthusiasms for pacifism, ecumenism and the interface between theology and psychotherapy were ambushed by varied shapes of reality. Yet it was a challenge from a Jewish scholar, his friend and mentor Will Herberg, that precipitated his most dramatic turn—back to the great minds of ancient Christianity. Later a meeting with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) planted the seeds for what became Oden’s highly influential Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. This fascinating memoir walks us through not only his personal history but some of the most memorable chapters in twentieth-century theology.