Review of @fortresspress’s “Reading Theologically (Foundations for Learning)”

After spending a considerable amount of time reading theology and thinking through some of the more serious matters in biblical scholarship, I went to seminary. I was joined by more than a few fellow students who had read little more than Scripture itself and considered it the total of theological evaluation. This reality disheartened me about the future clergy and how they are going to respond to the increasing barrage of questions from parishioners and others. To serve the Church in any way, you have to know how to read and think theologically. There are scarcely any tools focused solely on that missing element in our ministerial training.

The editor’s introduction to Reading Theologically does not state this fact in as dark of terms as I but instead focuses on the positive. Eric D. Barreto writes, “reading theologically is about the formation and cultivation of a particular posture toward texts…(r)eading theologically is not just about building your academic skills, but about your formation as a ministerial leader.” (11). To do this, Barreto has assembled “eight exemplary scholars” who are likewise teachers and theologians. Their essayed voices bring to light different goals and methods for reading while in seminary — goals that should be the intended result of each seminarian. I am more than pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of a variety of voices in this volume.

Educational Comic:  "Developing Understan...

Educational Comic: “Developing Understanding when Reading” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

The eight chapters cover everything one needs to read academically. Seminary is not a Jesus/summer camp (a fellow student believed this). It is an academic institution of higher learning, requiring reading that goes beyond understanding the words on the page. As Melissa Browning says in the first essay, reading is an enterprise whereby one engages with the person writing. She offers several helpful (even out of seminary) strategies to engaging the material — even the material the is uninteresting, or worse, challenging. Of interesting note is Jacob D. Myers’s chapter, “Reading Critically,” which begins with an acknowledgement that authors have ideologies. How often do we see books castoff because the author is “X?” Myers suggests otherwise – admit this, admit we have our own ideology, and then because to read the text. This stance is his ideological criticism (77) and it works well. He writes to encourage us to look at the author, understand their place and our own, and then read the book. The final essay I will call attention to is “Reading Spiritually,” by Shanell T. Smith. After all of the ways to read, after all of the things to read — after all of the confirmation and challenges — there is a need to read for spiritual formation. This method does not exclude the previous ones, but is “intentionally reflective” and “deepens your connection with God as you read.” (126). Her model, S.o. W.h.a.t?, is a very helpful paradigm for the seminary reader who may find they no longer know how to read for a connection with God. This capstone shows the editorial intent of providing a whole reader.

I’ll be blunter than the editor or the essayists. Americans are the poorest readers in the world. Maybe that is a bit much, so don’t read too much into it. However, we take things at face value and apply an “all/or nothing” approach what we intellectually digest. There is little to no engagement across the broad-swath of the reading public. It gets worse in seminary, I believe, because each person becomes protected to challenges, first, by the capitalistic system for paying for the degree and, second, due to the “call of God.” Because God called them into the ministry, and because the denominational requires seminary, they do not need to be challenged. The seminarian never becomes a student, but is always the customer. I believe this is detrimental to our Church(es) and is part of the reason we see a decrease in Christianity in the West today. It comes down to reading. Do you read to learn or to read simply?

If I could, I would commend and command to every seminarian this single-volume and a class on it. I would implore them to take it apart and to eat it up as John was commanded by the Angel in Revelation. The words on these pages should become the theological sojourner’s nutrients. This book, without exaggeration, is a godsend to seminarian students.

 

in the mail from @hendricksonpub, “UBS5 Greek New Testament with Dictionary”

From Hendrickson (click through, as there is a sample chapter on the publisher’s site):

While the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece is designed for scholarly research, the Greek New Testament, 5th Revised Edition is designed for translators and students. Like NA28, this is the leading edition of the original text of the New Testament. It contains the same Greek text as NA28, differing only in some details of punctuation and paragraphing.

The critical apparatus includes exegetically significant variants (fewer than NA28) but adds extensive manuscript evidence (more than NA28) for each variant, thereby offering in-depth instruction for students on how variants and the evidence for them work together. An introduction in English is included and an optional Concise Greek- English Dictionary of the New Testament by Barclay Newman is available.

This user-friendly volume comes in three editions:
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) hardcover
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) with Greek-English Dictionary, hardcover
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) with Greek-English Dictionary, Flexisoft Black Leather

Review of @KregelAcademic’s “Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook”

If I were to survey the current state of hermeneutical exegesis, I would get the strong sense of a blathering mess of chaotic interpretation fostered upon Holy Writ by people who simple have no idea what they are doing. Perhaps I would then seek to find ways of helping them to bring order to chaos and engineer something of a return to sound dogmatic portrayals of Scripture. To assist me, I would need to turn to easy-to-understand books appealing to both the trained and untrained. I believe Herbert W. Bateman’s book, Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, is easily one of the volumes I would use.

Un/fortunately, there is little in the way of telling the reader why this book should be used so I’ll fill in the gaps. There is a constant urge among us proudly post-modern members of our species to interpret everything according to our own experiences. This has led to an increase in biblical illiteracy and a terrible mess of practical theology. Thus, we need books that will train us to think biblically — in the sense that our interpretative strategies should be rooted in what lays before us rather than what we see. Further, unlike other books that give a broad stroke approach to biblical exegesis, this book (and this series) breaks down the various components of the New Testament and focuses on them. Thus, you will get a focused approach, and extended examples, to interpreting Scripture according to standard practices.

Interpreting the General Letters is divided into 8 chapters. Let me further offer a division of these chapters. The first three chapters provides the basic setting of the letters, including genre (ch 1), context (2), and theology (3). Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the working out of interpretation. It is a pleasant surprise to see that step one (in chapter 4) is actually creating a translation and attempts to help the reader avoid common pitfalls. Only then can the reader move into English translations. The final portion of the book, chapters 6 and 7, deal more with extending what you have done in chapter 5 to a general audience, such as preaching. Communication (ch 6) and Exposition (ch 7) not only carry your work off the page, but puts it into a realm where it will be challenged, and hopefully, where it will challenge others. Finally, chapter 8 serves almost like a substantial appendix where the author gives sources for everything discussed in the book — sources that will propel the reader, and exegete, to better exegesis. A very helpful chart is given on commentary selection, although the use of “liberal” in describing some of them (Hermeneia) seems a bit pejorative.

When I went to seminary, one of the books we were required to purchase was one on general biblical exegesis. You probably know it. It was helpful in many ways, but having a book like Bateman’s helps to really focus the skills we are trying build. While Bateman may easily reveal his hermeneutic tendencies (hint, read the Preface), I do not see any such restrictions placed upon his readers.In fact, I believe his work will give great freedom, within proper boundaries, to those earnestly attempting to read and communicate the Sacred Text.

Book Notes on “For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block”

Note, this is a Book Notes (a possible new feature), not a full review which may follow later. The goal of this feature is to give you a brief summary.

There is not a more important book to understanding Paul’s theology than Deuteronomy. Likewise, we may suspect that there is no important book to the Gospels’, especially John, understanding of Jesus than the final book of Moses. Finally, there seems to be no better book in understanding, if not the entire Jewish canon, than a sizable portion along with several literary strains of Second Temple Judaism, than the capstone to the Torah. Given Daniel I. Block’s work in Deuteronomy, it is not surprising then that his “colleagues, friends, and former students” would choose to honor him via this massive volume. I note with welcome the inclusion of a variety of voices found among his friends and contributors. The book is divided into 3 sections. The first examines the message of Deuteronomy, focused solely on the book itself while the second focuses on Deuteronomy’s reception both in the Jewish canon as well as the Christian canon. Pay attention the first part to Peter T. Vogt’s essay suggesting a pre-monarchy dating to the book while in the second, look especially to Grant R. Osborn’s “Testing God’s Son: Deuteronomy and Luke 4.1–13.” The third part is more practical, with the contributors giving essays on immigration (M. Daniel Carroll R.), human trafficking (Myrto Theocharous), and even a way to preach (Daniel L. Akin) — all based on Deuteronomy. While many of the essays are notable, there are outstanding ones, such as Douglas Moo’s essay on Paul’s use of Deuteronomy and Jason Gile’s essay on the theology of exile in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel. This volume is made complete with Thomas H. McClendon Jr.’s essay on Block’s (Christian) theology of Deuteronomy. In total, this volume is much more than a contribute Block; it is a lauding of the current multi-discipline work on the book of Deuteronomy itself. To that end, the essays explore the work via critical appraisals of Deuteronomy’s importance in the ecumenical canons and how it can impact our discussions of justice and grace today.

Book Notes, “The Ethical Vision of the Bible: Learning Good from Knowing God” @ivpacademic

Note, this is a Book Notes (a possible new feature), not a full review which may follow later. The goal of this feature is to give you a brief summary. 

Peter W. Gosnell, associate professor of religion at Muskingum University, attempts to examine ethics via the lens of “biblical theology,” where the entirety of the text (the individual books) inside the whole Holy Writ are examined as a final product rather than individual verses or statements (p16; note, the author does not identify his approach as “biblical theology,” but it is clearly recognizable). Further, Scripture is not a monotone voice of a distant narrator, but contains different voices relevant to both time and space. This allows the author to counter what are clearly unethical stances (such as rape victims forced to marry their attackers) with the overarching theme of the progressive revelation of God. The title may throw some people off, especially ethicists who will rightly maintain a lack of ethical vision of Scripture. Gosnell agrees, but does not agree this means ethical teachings can’t be drawn from Scripture. To briefly sum up Gosnell’s approach, “people’s ethics flow from their relationship with God.” (18) His approach, like other biblical theologians, is a teleological approach. Thus, the end redefines the whole. The Ethical Vision of the Bible is divided into 10 chapters focused on the Torah, Proverbs, the Prophets, the Gospels, and Paul. After an introduction to the discussion of ethics, Gosnell begins to discuss various ways of drawing out ethics from the above mentioned areas. For example, his three chapters on the Torah are divided between discussing Order (ch 1), Mercy (ch 2), and Holiness (ch 3) all within a covenant framework. In discussing Paul, he examines Pauline ethics as transformation in practice (ch 9) and results (ch 10). With all of this, his goal is simply, to use Scripture to begin to think ethically. For those interested in the ethics of Scripture (v. Scriptural ethics), this is an ideal book.

 

Review of @ivpacademic’s “Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering”

There is something to be said about a person who continues to be an active part of a denomination in which they are at odds, especially when the topic is interpretation of Scripture. It must present something of an identity crisis, where you identify as one thing, but your denomination identifies as other and in doing so,identifies you as another. Your goals are not always the same and it will present problems. It will cause you to sometimes drift away from your stated purpose as part of that denomination and perhaps engage in snipe hunts that, while charitable, is not always profitable. Such is the case with Ronald E. Osborn and his latest, Death Before the Fall, Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.

Osborn identifies with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a denomination largely rooted in Young Earth Creationism and other forms of biblical literalism, and yet he does not hold to many of the views considered orthodox by the SDA. Because of this, the book takes a meandering path to his ultimate goal, arguing for animal ethics and how this may play into our vision of both the Fall and subsequent theological drama. Often times, Osborn argues more against biblical literalism than for any position. He accepts, it seems Augustinian approaches to original sin, but at the same time follows the Waltonian response to the six-days creation account. It is confusing and perhaps betraying something of an identity crisis of the author.

Osborn Caribou

Osborn Caribou (Photo credit: IslesPunkFan)

This is not to say the book is not worth reading. Indeed, it is a book directed towards biblical literalists argued the way a biblical literalist would make their case. He even favors the King James Version. Except, the author shows just how theological inconsistent literalism really is — not only with the Holy Text itself, but so too with Tradition and God’s other book, science. It is important to note that while Osborn does employ some modern scholarship (it cannot be missed that John Walton wrote the foreword), he makes his case in easy to follow analogies and examples with an appeal, always, to faith.  And, he is not afraid to mix it up and call out the modern day gnostics and deists that make up too much of the biblical literalism community (even if they are unaware of their identification with those ancient heresies).

I cannot fully describe this book as gracious (something Joel Green has in his endorsement). Osborne, by his existence, is polemical. (Any ex-fundamentalist/biblical literalist will understand this). However, he does take some time to try to write measurably and without personal attacks. He is not always successful; however, I could and will argue that sometimes, it is necessary to rough it up a bit.

The book is divided into 14 chapters, between two unequal parts. The first part (9 chapters) deals with biblical literalism while the second (5 chapters) attempts to turn to animal suffering. Each chapter is a nicely contained essay — almost as if each chapter was written as a stand alone portion with a brief segway paragraph added at the end (as an afterthought). In the first part, he takes to task biblical literalists and their own self-imposed, and extra-biblical, hermeneutics. In one important chapter, however, Osborn really lays out the argument against biblical literalism. Chapter 7, “The Gnostic Syndrome, When Literalism Becomes a Heresy” is perhaps one of the most important chapters written in this book, if not the entirety of the apologetic enterprise. My only quibble here is that it is not long enough. It would not take a gigantic editorial imagination to see Osborn taking this chapter and turning it into a rather welcomed work.

The book does suffer from something of an identity crisis, but perhaps so does the author. He is writing more against himself than he is for others, something he has admitted. While this is the definitive weakness of this work (his reasoning, his insights, this theology — they are not lacking in this volume), it does not seriously undermine the thesis of the book. Biblical literalism is a problem. It creates heresies, anxious believers, and mutes the faith of the sincere. Further, literalism does nothing to help us in understanding how we are to treat creation (something, unfortunately, given little attention to in the book and thus sliding in at the end of my review). However, if we take the Scriptures seriously, which is Osborn’s ultimate goal, we can begin to see Creation for what it is.

Review of “Esther and Her Elusive God: How a Secular Story Functions as Scripture”

How do you bring to bear a cross-disciplinary approach to a generally discarded book of Scripture, suddenly transforming it from a canonical oddity to a pearl? You do it the way John Anthony Dunne has — with careful attention to detail, a wonderful writing style, and an innovative, but sacred, way of looking for the story beneath the headlines. Rarely have I read a more enjoyable and engaging book dismantling previous notions while asserting new ones — with arrogance and any slight against previous notions. Dunne does not get bogged down in a superficial need for footnotes, but simply lays out his argument in an narrow, but supported, manner.

How do we properly treat the book of Esther? As Dunne shows, Christians have treated it in a variety of manners, but always between the two poles of outright ignoring it or twisting it that it doesn’t even look like the story. He also shows just how little difference there is in what modern exegetes do and what the deuterocanonical additions did. They work at adding God into the story.

Esther and her Elusive God is divided between two parts — with the first part having three of the five chapters, an appendix, a bibliography, and indices of sources used along with a subject index. In the first part, Dunne examines the (lack of) evidence for Esther as a sectarian document, concluding that it is a rather secular story. If you are a critical reader, you will not be surprised at the accounts of how Esther pleased her king and thus earned her crown, or the suggestion of how Esther and Mordecai came to be named. In three chapters, Dunne dismantles the usual patina around the story — that of a faithful and docile Jewish girl from the country, a story of love-at-first sight, and of a caretaking God — to bring forth a tell the story of an exiled and accommodating people whose good fortune is based solely on luck.

Not only does Dunne present critical scholarship around the book, but he likewise presents modern (Christian) accounts of the snipe hunt theologians and others go on to find a Christian theme in the book. Quoting from a variety of sources, he is able to deconstruct the usual sentiments around the book to show that what is thought to be exegesis is more often than not an attempt by the reader to force upon the book their own need. Simply, no matter what you do with this story it is not a wonderful book about a faithful God preserving a faithful people. His conclusions are meritorious. They are valid. More than anything, they are interesting and truthful to the text.

Nederlands: Jan Lievens, Feest van Esther, 162...

Nederlands: Jan Lievens, Feest van Esther, 1625, North Carolina Museum of Art, oil on canvas, 134.6 x 165.1 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am unsure if I can say enough about Dunne’s work. My largest complaint in working in Christian education at the Church level is the continued need to gloss over tough passages, and books, in Scripture. Esther gets such a treatment. We ignore the sexual congress it took to win the crown, the injustice to the previous queen, and the absent God. None of that needs critical scholarship to pinpoint. In ignoring this, we force upon the story our canonical perspectives of having to have God in every story of the bible. This had to some rather silly interpretations along the way — including novels and movies, something Dunne uses constantly as reference points. However, if we listen close enough to the story, via Dunne’s aid, we will see something much more breathtaking in Esther. The story revealed is one, even with all of the adult behavior enshrined therein, that we must tell ourselves and our children.

After all, as Wesley said, “There are no coincidences.”

Book Notice: Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter @bakeracademic

How did I miss this? 

The letter to the Galatians is a key source for Pauline theology as it presents Paul’s understanding of justification, the gospel, and many topics of keen contemporary interest. In this volume, some of the world’s top Christian scholars offer cutting-edge scholarship on how Galatians relates to theology and ethics.

The stellar list of contributors includes John Barclay, Beverly Gaventa, Richard Hays, Bruce McCormack, and Oliver O’Donovan. As they emphasize the contribution of Galatians to Christian theology and ethics, the contributors explore how exegesis and theology meet, critique, and inform each other.

Contents

Part 1: Justification
1. Messiahship in Galatians? N. T. Wright
2. Paul’s Former Occupation in Ioudaismos Matthew V. Novenson
3. Galatians in the Early Church: Five Case Studies Karla Pollmann and Mark W. Elliott
4. Justification and Participation: Ecumenical Dimensions of Galatians Thomas Söding
5. Arguing with Scripture in Galatia: Galatians 3:10-14 as a Series of Ad Hoc Arguments Timothy G. Gombis
6. Martin Luther on Galatians 3:6-14: Justification by Curses and Blessings Timothy Wengert
7. Yaein: Yes and No to Luther’s Reading of Galatians 3:6-14 Scott Hafemann
8. “Not an Idle Quality or an Empty Husk in the Heart”: A Critique of Tuomo Mannermaa on Luther and Galatians Javier A. Garcia
9. Judaism, Reformation Theology, and Justification Mark W. Elliott
10. Can We Still Speak of “Justification by Faith”? An In-House Debate with Apocalyptic Readings of Paul Bruce McCormack

Part 2: Gospel
11. The Singularity of the Gospel Revisited Beverly Roberts Gaventa
12. Apocalyptic Poiēsis in Galatians: Paternity, Passion, and Participation Richard B. Hays
13. “Now and Above; Then and Now” (Gal. 4:21-31): Platonizing and Apocalyptic Polarities in Paul’s Eschatology Michael B. Cover
14. Christ in Paul’s Narrative: Salvation History, Apocalyptic Invasion, and Supralapsarian TheologyEdwin Chr. van Driel
15. “In the Fullness of Time” (Gal. 4:4): Chronology and Theology in Galatians Todd D. Still
16. Karl Barth and “The Fullness of Time”: Eternity and Divine Intent in the Epistle to the GalatiansDarren O. Sumner
17. “Heirs through God”: Galatians 4:4-7 and the Doctrine of the Trinity Scott R. Swain

Part 3: Ethics
18. Flesh and Spirit Oliver O’Donovan
19. “Indicative and Imperative” as the Substructure of Paul’s Theology-and-Ethics in Galatians?: A Discussion of Divine and Human Agency in Paul Volker Rabens
20. Grace and the Countercultural Reckoning of Worth: Community Construction in Galatians 5-6John M. G. Barclay
21. Paul’s Exhortations in Galatians 5:16-25: From the Apostle’s Techniques to His Theology Jean-Noël Aletti
22. The Drama of Agency: Affective Augustinianism and Galatians Simeon Zahl
23. Life in the Spirit and Life in Wisdom: Reading Galatians and James as a Dialogue Mariam J. Kamell
Indexes

Review of “TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age”

I once came close to actually meeting Andrew “Andy” Byers in the flesh during a presentation on John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. It was at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Baltimore. Before that, we had communicated over various forms of social media — blog, Facebook, Twitter, and email — about a variety of topics. We’ve even spoken via Skype. So, I guess that while I have never “met” Andy in any traditional sense, I have come to know him via online interactions, across the new media if you will, and maybe that is better. If in nothing else, better in the sense that it gives me a unique perspective on the subject matter presented in TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age.

Andy — er, Byers — writes not to simply add to the confusion about how to accept and use the so-called new media, but to give a voice of calm, blessed, assurance than the fear and trepidation caused by the onslaught of new media is likewise very similar to the earthquakes felt by our predecessors as they grappled with the new ways of communication. Further, we aren’t the only ones using media — God used and uses all sorts of media to communication himself. At once, this is an introduction to theological communication, a theology of communication, and a reimagining of sorts that pits God’s self-disclosure in either the verbal or written form against what we think is happening today. This is not simply a series of resurrected sermons or blog posts, but a well-thought out program aimed at getting the (afraid of the) modern (-era) reader to step back and redigest the narrative of Christian tradition via “media.”

The book is divided into five parts, with part 5 serving as the conclusion to the book. Part 1 sets the philosophical and theological tone of the book, allowing Byers to present new terms (theomedia, theomedium) to the reader. He also, importantly, highlights some of the current discussions around the new social media and how it is shaping our society. He tackles a variety of issues, such as communicable mediation, sex, book v. pixel, and the theology of media.

Part 2 presents the God of Scripture as one who communicates via media. This is an often repeated refrain in this book, but one necessary. If you speak to those who matured before social media, they may not get the value of Facebook and Twitter, especially Christianity communicate via such things — and yet, we find God finding images and other media to communicate to Israel. We find the authors of Scripture finding ways to communicate about God via media. And yes, he does include St. John of Damascus and his own unique defense of theomedia. (Well, I mean before we knew what theomedia was.)

The third part examines speech acts in the Old Testament as a form of media. Rather than images and other tropes as the sole avenue of God’s expression, there is likewise the verbal — written and oral. In this series of chapters, Byers argues for the elevation of the written over the, I’d call it, abstract media. For those anxious over such things, he even speaks to you (chapter 7).

In Part 4, Byers turns to the New Testament to speak of God’s greatest communication act — the Incarnation. He speaks of the canon, the Eucharist (glad to see this word embraced by other Protestants), and baptism — all symbols of God’s communication to us. He closes in Part 5 with an admonition to linger in the theomedia so that these new ways of communicating with the world can be effectively employed to speak well of God.

I can think of no better person to have written such book. Byers presents several stories — from his time as a youth pastor; his role as father, husband, and friend — that really give color and shape to his commentary. He shows a remarkable knowledge of ancient controversies as well as concerns from our own time. Finally, he speaks not as one who has mastered every aspect of the new media, but as one who stands in the Great Tradition of using that which God gives to speak more about God than previously allowed. Yes, there are those that will remain unconvinced by Byer’s grand view, but if you really take his words to heart, the new media, and the newer media from tomorrow, will not worry you, only give you pause long enough to decide how to best use it for the Church.

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The UBS5 is delayed until August

Sorry to be the (co-)bearer of bad news. on the other hand, it looks awesome:

UBS5 Greek New Testament

German Bible Society
Editors: Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster

Features

• The newest edition of a German Bible Society bestseller • Designed for translators and students

While the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece is designed for scholarly research, the Greek New Testament, 5th Revised Edition is designed for translators and students.
Like NA28, this is the leading edition of the original text of the New Testament. It contains the same Greek text as NA28, differing only in some details of punctuation and paragraphing.

The critical apparatus includes exegetically significant variants (fewer than NA28) but adds extensive manuscript evidence (more than NA28) for each variant, thereby offering in-depth instruction for students on how variants and the evidence for them work together.

An introduction in English is included and an optional Concise Greek- English Dictionary of the New Testament by Barclay Newman is avail- able.

This user-friendly volume comes in three editions:
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) hardcover
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) with Greek-English Dictionary, hardcover
• The Greek New Testament (UBS5) with Greek-English Dictionary, Flexisoft Black Leather

Review of @ivpacademic’s “Christian Political Witness”

With the plethora of Christians involved in politics at various levels, with the amount of conversations currently ongoing on social media about the level of political involvement by the Christian, and with the constant need to speak to how we as Christians should be involved, I am convinced we need more dialogue, more conservations amongst ourselves, and angles to examine. In Christian Political Witness, George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee assemble a who’s who list of authors and essayists who have, from time to time, tackled many of the issues plaguing this conversation.

The issue of Christians and politics is as varied as the people talking. It may begin with “Should we become involved?” but given the long history of Christendom, it doesn’t end there. Rather, there are issues of what involvement looks like, of what past involvement has done both to society and to the Church as a whole, and even how to define violence. Perhaps this is why we need a book of various essays by various authors based on a mutli-day conference at one of American Evangelicalism premier schools.

American Christians

American Christians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beginning with Stanley Hauerwas, we are introduced to just how much…patience, skill, and nuance is needed to converse about such an important topic. Hauerwas, as he is apt to do, rails about Enlightenment religious capitalism, or the privatization of religion from the public sphere. Here, I struggle immensely. I am an American, born in the Deep South, raised to believe in American Exceptionalism and public prayer, and yet a convert to political liberalism and a firm believer in the separation of Church and State. Hauerwas challenges us to use Barth and to explore the grounding of God in humanity through the Incarnation. Because of this, we must be involved and because of the end of Christian dominance in the West, we are more free to do so. Yet, he doesn’t really give us shape as to what this means.

While nearly all of the essays present something to ponder, there are truly standout essays. Timothy Gombis argues for the political witness in Paul’s letters. I note Gombis’ essay follows Scot McKnight, editor of Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (IVP, 2013). Mentally, this made Gombis’ much more impactful. There is also Jennifer M. McBride‘s essay, “Repentance as Political Witness.” Again, I return to my Deep South roots while I explore this essay. Growing up, we bore an unapologetic witness to slavery and the bloodshed of the War Between the States. We still waved the Confederate flag. To apologize, to repent of past actions, was to debase and emasculate ourselves, our families, and our great illustrious forebearers (said in the longest Southern drawl). Yet, McBride challenges me to what real political repentance looks like and how it fits neatly into Christian atonement theology. Combined with Gombis’ essay, I cannot escape the notion that if our Church was more active in public repentance, we may actually be able to challenge our political system.

The conclusion of this book is simply an unworked beginning, as Hauerwas and Jana Marguerite Bennett remind us in their respective essays. While we are given insight and considerations to ponder, we are likewise given roadblocks and treacherous paths to follow. We are reminded that our Christendom is gone but this is sometimes freedom. We are told, albeit ever so roughly, that God and violence are often a misunderstood contradiction we must likewise attempt to figure out. The essays are set well, giving the reader a nice path to follow, but to what end? I know more than I did before reading this book, but now I have so many more questions!

But, isn’t that the mark of a truly great book?

 

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