Thanks to Dr. Anderson and Abingdon for this review copy:
New, valuable understandings of the historical and religious contexts of New Testament writings continue to emerge. This accessibly written introduction examines over two dozen such crises and how the biblical text addresses, reflects, and embodies them. From the ministry of Jesus, to the rise and propagation of the Christian movement, to the epistles of Paul and other leaders, to a vision of God’s final cosmic victory, the New Testament books are succinctly introduced in literary, historical, and theological perspective.
Designed for optimal classroom use, each chapter offers four primary features: (a) definition and exploration of relevant contextual crises; (b) connections with the biblical writings; (c) primary features of the biblical narrative; and (d) an application section that engages the student directly and invites thoughtful response.
I am using the Kindle version, so page numbers may be off a little:
Beginning the class with a book which begins with Aristotle makes me look forward to the rest of the semester. (p16)
Dr. Lovin’s statement, on page 7, is one which struck me,
“Ethics is about how we try to become good people and shape for ourselves a life that is worth living.”
Initially, I have no issue with that definition, because after having read the book, his focus on community and covenant (53) sheds more light on what otherwise looks to be an individualistic statement. Like theology, I cannot imagine that it would be good to ‘do’ ethics without a community. As a matter of fact, neither should be tried unless there is a community present. He follows this statement up with several, anti-individualistic statements (p11), and although he later goes on to speak about the Jeremy Bentham (p23) and the U.S. Constitution as a covenant (see 50 for an what I believing is instantly quotable in regards to community, covenant, and rules) as well as 51, “but covenant rules go beyond this minimum…), he never approaches the key phrase in the Declaration of Independence which I believe needs to be better understood today, “the pursuit of happiness.” But, I digress, and before I move to the talk about civic good (p31) verses market/commercial/individual good, I’ll move on. I do appreciate his focus, though, the inability, at times, to accurately judge for ourselves what reward (p11) we give ourselves. And of course, any reward, I might argue, will come from someone else, at their expense.
In Lovin, I denote a connection, although never mentioned, to Kingdom Theology, of the Wrightian type. This, of course, may be my subjectiveness getting in the way, but when I read statements like, “Love for God is lived out in a world that is suited to human purposes,” I get all tingly thinking about how this relates to Wright’s meta-narratives, or rather, perhaps, the biblical meta-narratives as spelled out by the good Bishop. I am also reminded on the Temple theme in Genesis 1 and how this world is suited, as a Temple to God and humanity it’s priests, to our purposes. Further, this idea of theme and narrative (61), is drawn out by Loving, especially in such statements as found on page 15 (And the sum of all our choices…). Indeed!
In chapter 2, he gets into what are basic goods, and is right when he says that they are “not simply material necessities.” I disagree with him, however, that “freedom to make our own choices and to hold to our own beliefs is also a basic good.” Could Dr. Lovin say this about War-Time Communists? Or the North Korean leadership? Or the host of cults which seemingly spring up when the calendar looks dark? Further, he goes on to note that we, and I assume he means Westerners, have our needs met. (p28) He speaks about the hours not being so long and the labor not so physically intense. That “physical or mental challenges” no longer lead to marginalization. I am unconvinced that Dr. Lovin knows enough about the coal miners, or Appalachian-Americans, the fishermen, the farmers and other still life-threatening occupations to make such bold statements. Sure, in comparison, we have become better, but to whom are we comparing ourselves too?
I like Aristotle, but I do not care much for the way in which he brings in Augustine. (p27) I note the role in which Lovin gives to Augustine, in securing Christians in political roles, and I find it distasteful.
In chapter 3, Lovin gets into the discussion of natural law, and makes bold, timely statements. For one, he notes use of the Old Testament in modern American law. (41). Further, his take on the fact that for natural law, the oppressor decides what that actually is, is refreshing. (48) “Power alone determines whose views will prevail.” (49)
His slow and steady progress to bringing in Christianity to the discussion of ethics is sometimes painful, but I can understand it more. Finally, he gets there (54, 77) and begins to show how they, Christian and Greek, get together. I still detect a trace or two of Augustine (p75, but counters it on 77), however, when everything is dependent upon what God gives us, in the way of gifts. I have no issue with salvation being a gift, but I do recoil at the thought that we cannot increase our own ethics. However, bringing in Thomas Aquinas to the discussion is always welcomed (p75).
I enjoy the limitations placed on achieving virtue for the Christian, in that we realize that we have something which stands between us and achieving perfect virtue. Sin. I further like Lovin’s argument on 2502 (in the conclusion, Kindle goes to location) which begins, “It is supposed that those who have faith in God…” This, I think allows us to understand more fully the limitations of our own arrogance in assuming that in doing such and such, perfectly, we will somehow be rewarded while others won’t be.
And finally, his closing statement, “So the moral life, instead of being a way to defend ourselves, becomes a way to love our neighbors and a way to love God as well” is something I completely agree with. Coming from a legalistic background, I fully resonated with several of his points, and further, as I move close to studying Aristotle and exploring a communal covenant, Lovin and I agreed more and more. While the discussion sometimes lagged, I found that Lovin presented what I believe are correct points, except for the one noted above. One thing which was lacking in the reading, was teaching ethics. I guess I’ll have to read chapters 5 and 6 at a later date.
It is easy to say that there must be some standards that apply to all human cultures, and difficult to say exactly what those standards are. When people confuse their own experience with human experience in general, an appeal to natural law may make it easier for them to vilify those who are different from themselves, branding their actions or their culture s “unnatural,” and justifying persecution of those who fail to comply with the requirements of nature as the dominant group understands them. In the hands of an authority that claims exclusive knowledge of what is and is not”natural,” natural law easily becomes an instrument of abuse of oppression. (p48)
I am not opposed to saying that one culture’s morals and ethics are superior to another, but I think that the the urge to be oppressive is a very human one, and even if their is no urge, there is the passive stance to make it so. What do you think?
And, do you get what the author is saying about declaring one person ‘natural’ and the other not?
In this third volume in the Library of Biblical Theology series, James D.G. Dunn ranges widely across the literature of the New Testament to describe the essential elements of the early church’s belief and practice. Eschatology, grace, law and gospel, discipleship, Israel and the church, faith and works, and most especially incarnation, atonement, and resurrection; Dunn places these and other themes in conversation with the contemporary church’s work of understanding its faith and life in relation to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
I am currently reading Dunn’s work (hope to post a review on Monday), so when I came across this video, I thought it was interesting. Thanks to Euangelion for the tip.
Publisher’s Description: In this third volume in the Library of Biblical Theology series, James D.G. Dunn ranges widely across the literature of the New Testament to describe the essential elements of the early church’s belief and practice. Eschatology, grace, law and gospel, discipleship, Israel and the church, faith and works, and most especially incarnation, atonement, and resurrection; Dunn places these and other themes in conversation with the contemporary church’s work of understanding its faith and life in relation to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.