Review of John Stott’s “Balanced Christianity”

Introduction

When books on the issue used by Stott to name this book were on demand many of them were written and all proposed to bring back to balance polarized issues within Christian Evangelical thinking. The approach was often the explanation that “balance” is not in the “happy middle” but that balance was in placing two volumes of the same weight on both sides of the old fashion scale so the fulcrum would be in the center indicating balance. Unfortunately most of these books would do exactly what they said they wouldn’t do. Depending upon the theological tendencies of its writer, what they called balance was nothing more that “don’t ask, don’t say it”, that is, “don’t bring up your polarized issues and I won’t bring mine and let’s call this balance.” The avoidance of that which was apparently irresolvable was then, named “balance”. In the end, the very thing these authors called “not real balance”, that is, “happy medium” was exactly what they were intentionally trying to lead their readers to accept as balance. He starts by bringing up the old adage “In essentials Unity, in non-essentials Liberty; in all things Charity”. Again, many other writers use this, what is now, aphorism to suggest that we should find a point of agreement and be mum about any other that would be a disagreement.

In this book Stott makes a great case for genuine balance using unique approach to the issue of Balanced Christianity. There is no overt advice in avoiding issues, there is no suggestion that one should be intellectually lazy simply by abandoning difficult issues, and he positively offers an outlook of how we can balance our views within our Christian faith without compromising our convictions.

As a translator, I seek terms that can be deemed emotional to identify how strongly an author feels about the issue with which he is dealing. Stott uses terms such as “greatest weakness,” “devil’s pastime” and “devil’s hobby” to indicate clearly what he feels about imbalanced Christianity. Keeping these two emotions (my assessment) in mind a reader can greatly benefit from this book and kindly forgive the author for points of disagreement.

Theme

For full disclosure, I am a Calvinist. Perhaps because I learned that if “A” is diametrically contrary to “B,” then “A” cannot “B” and cannot be reconciled with “B.” As such I tend to look upon “balance” as an elevation for the word compromise. As the author lays out his plan to explain it is theme readers can ponder on terms that are easily observable in Christian gatherings and not some far-fetched concept. Terms such as “emotion” and “intellect” are not after all such a lofty concept that no one needs heavy thinking exercises to know what they are about and how evident they are in Christian circles today. As Mark Labberton hints at, “although this book has been written for a different time, his words are still poignant and provocative.”

On the very first topic of his theme, Stott presents what he calls the “first polarization,” namely Intellect and emotions. Here is an excellent topic and perhaps the most visible of all if one has traveled across the denominational spectrum. Stott points to the appellative aspect of some evangelistic efforts and also the tendency of elevating emotional experiences to an “emperor” which people enthrone. It is remarkable how Stott perfectly makes the point that “rationality is part of our divine image in which God has created us; that he made us rational beings and gave us a rational revelation” (15) and to deny rationality is to deny our humanity. This is a very key point in Stott’s approach to the issue; by a little examination we can find that idea underlining his entire approach.

The chapter “Intellect and Emotions” is very rich indeed! Some of the sentences in it could be reason for debate, for consideration in our pulpits, but above all for us to “internalize” them and made them part of our Christian thinking. An example of that is when Stott affirms the non-existent conflict between faith and reason when he authoritatively asserts: “Scripture never sets faith and reason over against each other as incompatible!” You can say that again Brother Stott! Obviously being such a Biblical scholar, Stott provides ample biblical evidence to support his point and quotes John Wesley. This chapter, if read by a Bible student and a Christian History student, will lead one to remember the famous phrase attributed in an “out of context sort of way” to Martin Luther: “Reason is the devil’s whore.” Stott makes a case for being reasonable and using our minds (reasoning) to reach and increase faith. If he would stop this book here, in the middle of page 16, we would have learned a great deal and would have material to ponder for a long time. The issue of “emotion” as worldliness is also courageously dealt with in this chapter!

“Conservative and Radicals” is the chapter where Stott uses to contrast the extremes of those who want to preserve the status quo (as they see it) and the “rebellious people” who want to change everything that is inherited and inherent to the past. Often you can see Stott’s emotion again against certain radicals who “reverence no sacred cows.” As a reviewer, I had the impression that he prefers the conservative mode, which is indicated by his notion that although Christ was himself sometimes conservative and sometimes radical, in theology the “conservative” side prevails when it comes to Christ and the preservation of sound doctrine. This chapter is remarkably current! Contrary to other problems mentioned in the book, this is a real issue today and probably more serious than it was yesterday or even is olden days! Today we notice schisms not only in the theological field, but also how we should conduct our services, how the “singing” should be, what kind of musical instruments should be allowed and even the layout of the church building itself. This chapter is tremendously useful for one to see how these extremes, conservatism and radicalism, are harmful to the Church today and how they can be valuable in the fulfillment of the Church’s calling if we are able to balance them. This chapter is the one that more identifies, in my view, the idea of “Balanced Christianity”.

The chapter on Evangelism and Social Action does bring interesting points about the beliefs of the “Jesus People.” Things more related to the problems of the identity of certain Christian groups more akin to the 1970’s perhaps will raise the historian’s interest but probably will bore the reader who seeks answers on balanced Christianity as it solves the current problems facing the Church today, a day where the issue of Evangelism and Social Action has been simply defined by the sharp turn to the political left some churches have turned and their separation from the so called “evangelical Churches.” I did not find any clue that could help to reunite both sides in this chapter. It will, however, be of great benefit to the reader to pay close attention to his comments on the World Council of Churches “Salvation Today” document, which in its preparatory stages, defined salvation as “almost entirely social economical and in political terms.” I am not reviewing the aforementioned document, but I am reviewing how Stott proposes that Christianity should balance the issue between Evangelism and Social Action. I think most of what he says falls short of a proposition of balancing those two extremes by making reference to how the World of Council of Churches sees the problem. I think the book is richer in options and propositions in the previous chapters.

The book concludes with an interview with Stott that is presented as a “special” feature of the book. There are questions on the issue of poverty, implications with the role of the Church in social action, but nothing absolutely extraordinary in my view.

Conclusion

It is worth reading. It is a short book; it can be read in a commute, in one cozy evening and it is a pleasant reading. Consider that some of the specific problems may not be the same as today but generically the book is valuable in dealing with imbalances regardless of the day. Notwithstanding if one is reading this book as a “user manual” (which the book is not, but can be made into) to balance Christianity in his own Church or denomination, they have a great resource here and I hope that they will be able to see that in its pages.

Who can benefit to reading this book?

Pastors of all sizes of congregations, but specifically those that have a diverse economical and intellectual membership; Bible students and Church Historians can use this book as a reference of actual situations that occurred during the 70’s in various locations of the non-Roman Catholic Christian Churches.

Not exactly a review of @IVPress’s Read Up, vol 1

#readup #yolo

I have begged, pleaded, and stalked members of IVP staff to create study/discussion group materials for some of their books. Finally, after years of worry, and a few judicial restrangement orders, some blue thing I got from her, they have brought to substance my ethereal hope.

In this volume, they have included recently published favorites (such as In Search of Deep Faith) and favorites from a few years ago (such as The Language of Science and Faith). In total, they have included over 30 books to discuss! I have lead small group discussions before and having this resource will come in handy for developing a good conversation.

In reading the discussion questions, I am reminded of how readers should be taught to digest that which is before them. These are not simple “feeling” questions, but questions aimed at making use of the material presented in the chapters. Further, these questions are not aimed at insuring you can simply regurgitate the material, but they attempt to help you apply and to think critically through the material. In the picture below, notice question 3.

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Question 3 is not asking you to repeat the answer the authors give, but asking you to think about the subject matter. What is your answer? And that, I believe, is the goal of these discussions groups  — how to take the material presents and think through it.

This book is important to you if,

  • you are a small group leader using one of these books,
  • thinking about starting a small group study on one of these books; or,
  • have read one of these books and what to have a great internal dialogue

A fantastic and timely resource!

(Mini) Review: Open Hearts in Bethlehem: A Christmas Drama @ivpress

Some years ago, I walked into the First Presbyterian Church of Logan, West Virginia as a near-rabid fundamentalist. Everything was black and white and King James 1611. I was there to meet with the pastor to secure his help in a worker’s rights campaign. When I left, I had his signature on the petition, but in a rather unusual manner, I also had a book recommendation that has remained with me ever since. The pastor knew Kenneth Bailey and recommended to me his book on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Eventually I would get the book and my eyes would be opened to the world under the words on the page.

Included in that book, The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern (2005, IVP-Academic), was a short skit that really brought the academic statements Bailey had made in the book to a demonstrable light. This book, Open Hearts in Bethlehem: A Christmas Drama, rather a play with a longer introduction, reintroduces me to the artistic side of the academic Kenneth Bailey.

The book is rather small, but includes an introduction, notes on the cast and music, and of course, the play itself. It is a wonderful, short, drama about the birth of Jesus. Why another play? As the book description implies, there are often mistranslations and poor understandings that make it into our traditions. I am not saying this a bad thing, but to see a new understanding of the Christian story is to see it almost afresh. It helps to pinpoint those areas we simply miss because of our patina of tradition. Simply, it is a beautiful play from a wonderful academic, preserving the magic and majesty of Christianity while helping to clear away the cobwebs of previous plays.

I highly recommend this and hope you warmly receive it.

Review of @ivpress’s In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity @jimbelcher

Jim Belcher’s, In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, is a book richly needed in the American Church as it attempts to navigate the dangerous waters of the impending paradigm shift. Belcher does not regale us with morality plays, but introduces to a grand narrative of Christians who have met change and met God successfully.

This book is one part travel guide, one part theological history, one part devotional. We are invited to travel along with the Belcher family on a whirlwind trip of some of the more theological-centric sites in Europe. Along the way, we encounter not just looming figures in recent and ancient pasts, but hear the ongoing narrative between Belcher and these figures. We are coached into seeing how the stories from these characters present to us modern readers and believers a challenge to not give up, even when we are at our weakest. This is Belcher’s season of renewal and so too ours.

The book is divided into three parts, eleven chapters among them. In Part One, Belcher takes us along to visit theological England, centered in Oxford. There we meet ancient bishops murdered for the cause of Christ, listen to a love story spanning the eternal, and relive the amazing grace that is William Wilberforce. The second part moves us into continental Europe (I dare not mention theological France as the location here). Finally, we are swept away with musical mountains as we encounter the von Trapps and even Bonhoeffer. Unless you are well versed in all things Christian history, many of these stories will be new — if you are familiar, they will be fresh. After all, Maria von Trapp was more than just a frolicking nun played by Julie Andrews. Her real strength is not found in music, but in the shaping of her soul and life by the Spirit of God.

How does one review such a personal story? The writing is better than most, giving it a very literary quality to it. Belcher is a preacher by craft and thus we should expect it to be delivered in a narrative style understood by most. We get that. (Absent is the lyrical style of Rob Bell, for which I am eternally grateful.) My only real complaint is the citation method. While Belcher includes endnotes, they are not numbered, but only give page numbers and hints as to what he is citing. Pictures and maps are included as well. There is something more, however.

What is included is a deep appreciation for Christians as Christians, not as Evangelicals, Catholics, or otherwise. When Belcher meets the Catholic Maria or the Lutheran Dietrich he does not judge them based on modern American Evangelical theology, but simply allows them to testify to their call in Christ sans label. There are no qualifiers attached. This is a welcome breath of fresh air because even with recent books (by other authors) this is not usually the case.

Throughout this book, the author rests in a sense of reverence for the stories, even his own, he is telling. He is seeking out renewal as a pastor and very much as a Christian. He is drained, tired, and near finished — yet, his season of renewal is beneficial. It uplifts him and calls him to remember those who have gone on before. By the end of the book, Jim Belcher and his family are better Christians for the sites they have seen and the stories they heard. They are better and so are we.

Review of @IVPress’s Coffee with Jesus

I have followed the Radio Free Babylon page on Facebook for a while now while watching the Coffee with Jesus comics float by, often several times watching numerous friends share and share alike. They are usually four frame doses of reality needed by Christians. Often edgy, never preachy, but always spot on, creator David Wilkie highlights the often hypocritical and uninformed, but well meaning plight of the American Christian.

Wilkie has assembled the best strips, presenting them in 6 chapters along with an appendix of special events, such as Resolutions. They are the comedic outtakes of what we’d expect Jesus to say.  I like my Jesus with some sass. Maybe they are a bit snarky, but there is much truth hidden behind the few words we often take as sarcasm. Presented are everyday complaints from Christians we all know. Jesus answers them succinctly and satisfyingly well. What emerges are four-act sermons much more fulfilling than the Jack Chick tracts you find on truck stop bathroom walls. Included as well are character profiles and a conversation starter (a series of questions that may make you feel funny).

American Christians, as a whole, take themselves too seriously. We believe our issues are those Jesus would march for or protest against. We believe our plight is dangerous and we are persecuted. We think we are the sum total of the Christian faith. American Christianity as a whole needs to be hit one good time in the ole kisser and thrown back on our heels. Coffee with Jesus doesn’t quite do that, but it is a start. We know it is coming. Wilkie is a cartoonist, a satirist, a Christian, and a revealer (because prophet sounds cheesy) of our very public flaws. You cannot read this book without laughing and crying at the same time. These characters are us.

A blurb insists the book is the best thing for evangelisation since “Mere Christianity.” I disagree. Coffee with Jesus is the best thing for internal organizing since Saul Alinsky. This book is needed for the insider Christianity, the Kevins, Lisas, and Anns of the Church.

Review of The IVP Concise Atlas of Bible History @ivpacademic

We live in a rather visual culture. We like shiny objects helping to render the words on the page as tidy images. We are all truly children who like to have picture books in front of us. This is nothing to be ashamed about, but something to understand and use. We like images because they help us learn and understand! Colorfully detailed images, after all, are but an evolution of the images used as letters.

When reading Scripture either for ourselves or for others, it is nice to have images before us in order to focus our minds on the text. I remember sitting in worship when I was much, much younger and always flipping to the maps at the back of the bible. At one point I realized some bibles even had images of the canon, church history, and the Temple. To be completely honest, it was those images that always fascinated me. Sure, I love the maps, but the diagrams and other drawings of ancient temples and other objects related to stories in Scripture drew my attention to the words on the page more than a loud, fiery sermon. It helped me to visualized what Moses was planning in Leviticus and where Jesus stood in Matthew.

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This is why I am drawn to the IVP Concise Atlas of Bible History. It is an absolute gem in visualizing the geographical narrative of Scripture. The Atlas presents, as edited by Richard Johnson, in full-color an abbreviated version of the older and larger Atlas. However, the user of this work gets a portable volume geared to the graduate student as well as small groups in an inexpensive and concise book. It includes a hundred maps, chronological charts, and panoramic reconstructions. However, it is not merely a picture book.

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Without following a literalist reading, the IVP Concise Atlas of Bible History follows the narrative of Scripture, beginning in Genesis ending with the spread of Christianity (c. 337 CE).  An interesting find is the inclusion of the history of the Jewish Revolt as well as including a discussion on Jews in Egypt. Thus, the narrative of Scripture grows naturally to include narratives about those who first narrated Scripture. The only thing lacking is a serious use of the Deuterocanonical books (or, Apocrypha) although 1 and 2 Maccabees are employed to showcase some history. As far as history goes, the Atlas likewise brings together some of the latest archaeological finds. Over all, the history is sufficient, although the editors stretch it when examining the archaeological evidence of the Patriarchs (24–5).

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The Atlas begins with a brief introduction detailing the scheme of the book. They intend to present the narrative of Scripture in a historical, geographical, and theological detail while allowing “that some details are difficult to understand” given the divide between then and now. It then moves into discussing the nature of the Bible, as well as early narratives (Creation and the Flood) and other pertinent subjects (Egypt, Joseph, and Moses) before we get into Scripture proper beginning with the events of Exodus. The history of Israel is presented from the days of the united Kingdom until Exile and the return. Efforts are made to keep the story following the scriptural narrative with verse citations. The sections on the New Testament break down the years of the ministry of Jesus as well as Paul’s missionary journeys. This is not an attempt at critical history but simply follows the narrative of Scripture.

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This is a fantastic resource for seminary and graduate students as well as small groups. Indeed, every church library should have one!

reading right

 

Review of @ivpacademic’s Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals

There is a deep need among many Evangelicals today to absolve themselves of a less-substantive religion and investigate something more profound. There is a longing for something more spiritual, mystical and overpowering. We see this manifested as more and more Evangelicals leave the fold for Rome, the East, or elsewhere. In a new book edited by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel we find something of a start in attempting to provide something filling for the spiritually hungry Evangelical.

The editors have assembled an impressive list of contributors, with themselves taking the opportunity to write only the introduction. Contributors include Fred Sanders (The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything); James R. Payton, Jr. (Getting the Reformation Wrong); and Timothy George (Dean of Beeson Divinity School; Theology of the Reformers). The impressive intellectual might assembled herein to argue for the value of ancient Christian classics is enough to convince even hardened skeptics.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1, Approaching the Spiritual Classics, begins with a theological argument put forth by Steve L. Porter for the allowance to read something other than Scripture. As one who has ingested the spiritual classics for several years, much of this argument was surprising to me, but nevertheless it was an argument will founded in Scripture and provide insight I had not previously considered. Closing out this three chapter section is Betsy Barber who writes on the value of the classics in soul care,  a common theme in the book. She argues for the use of the classics in spiritual formation and discipleship, but only in a graduated sense. Barber provides as powerful a theological argument for the Evangelical use of the classics as Porter.

Part 2 provides a general overview of the tradition of the classics, focusing on the different schools of thought (do not confuse the Carmelites with the Benedictines!), their theology, and how to engage them. I find it odd John Wesley is listed throughout the book (noticeably on p77) with Catholic and Orthodox schools as if he was somehow not a part of Protestantism, although he would consider himself an Evangelical. But, this should be a warning to those who read the book — names, opinions, and points of view of others change over time.

Change is what Greg Peters seems to assign as the origin of spirituality. He opens his essay with a short history of the genesis of the movement, citing the conversion of Constantine as a marked change in how Christians approached spirituality. Why? Because after Constantine’s conversion (which is hardly a conversion), the Church “began emerging from an extended period of persecution.” According to Peters, this nixed the many opportunities of martyrdom Christians could avail themselves (80). Thus, they had to find a new way to be Christian. This is, at least, Peters’ thesis and one which I heartily disagree with. Spirituality is not the new martyrdom, but something long found in Christianity (and other religions of the time) with little or nothing to do with the lack of opportunities of martyrdom. I do not mean to imply his essay is one that shouldn’t be read, because it does encapsulates the beauty of the Christian spiritual classics and their use in pedagogy.

Part 3 concerns itself with reading the classics as Evangelicals. James Payton provides us with an exceptionally beautiful account of Orthodox Spirituality. He, in a few words, takes his experience and knowledge of the Greek Church and with a certain aesthetic profundity delivers a warm invitation to explore the East. Payton draws us into Orthodox spirituality noting it takes more than a casual glance to understand and grasp the fullness of the East. Oddly enough  — and if nothing else, this is extremely important — Payton’s remarks about the East’s view on orthodoxy v. -praxy is something we must first understand before we can assess the East. We in the West know our doctrines, Payton tells us, while those in the East live their doctrines. This is why Payton can write of Orthodox spirituality without the warnings accompanying Catholic spirituality Demarest felt we needed in the previous chapter. Instead, he explains some basic precepts of Orthodoxy and why it as an ecumenical body holds to such tenants. He is able to then invest some credit in recommending Orthodox spirituality.

The final chapter provides a more of a what-to-read framework for each of the areas of Church History. Each author provides basic details of the time, a hermeneutical framework, short biographies of the major writers, and how such writings can be useful for the Church today.

Will this book provide a panacea for the lack of deep spirituality among Evangelicals? Hardly, but it does write the prescription. The editors and contributors provide a sustained regime for reading the spiritual classics in order to develop our soul. Except for one essay, I believe these contributors have made a concerted effort to be fair and accommodating to differences in doctrines without sacrificing the heart of modern Evangelicalism. Not only should this appeal to Protestants, but it must appeal to Catholics who have forgotten the richness of spiritual formation found in their ancient tradition. We are not simply talking about discipleship (or church care, usually summed up as: witness, tithe, attend) but about spiritual formation. This is about reaching the inner person to bring them closer to God and building from the inside out a Christian. By taking to heart and head what these essayists write, the modern Evangelical will find a new world awaiting them, a world with a deeper connection to God than they have known before.

Review of @IVPress’s Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture


It is no secret that I enjoy reading Bonhoeffer. I first stumbled across Bonhoeffer during my first year of seminary. We had to read Discipleship as part of our Church History class. I was hooked from page one. I have read several other of Bonhoeffer’s books, including Act and Being, Creation and Fall, Life Together, and Prayerbook of the Bible. I also have several volumes of the English edition of Bonhoeffer’s Works. All that said, I am by no means a Bonhoeffer scholar.

The theme for the 2012 Wheaton Theology Conference was “Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture.” I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get to go, but was excited to see this book was put together. All the contributors to this books were presenters at the Conference that year.

I’m just going to jump in and say that I loved this book as a whole. For the most part, I found the book easy to read and yet well researched. The vast majority of the chapters were enjoyable to read and I even learned more than a few things. The authors themselves come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some of these authors have previously written on Bonhoeffer (Lori Brandt Hale, for example, is the secretary for the International Bonhoeffer Society).

There were a few chapters that stood out to me, most notably Chapter 3, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Christ” by Reggie L. Williams. I will admit, the fact that I enjoyed this chapter as much as I did came as a shock to me. On first glance, I honestly thought this would be one of those chapters that didn’t stand out in one way or another. I’m glad to admit that I was wrong. This was the chapter that I read and reread in the same night because I thought I might have missed something in my first read through. Williams talks about how Bonhoeffer’s exposure to the Harlem Renaissance affected his witness later in Nazi Germany. I found the whole chapter to be fascinating.

The one chapter that I had any real issue with was Chapter 2, “The Evangelical Reception of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Timothy Larsen. My biggest complaint with the chapter is not so much the Evangelical reception of Bonhoeffer itself. My biggest complaint is Larsen seems to shake off the charge that Bonhoeffer has been hijacked or co-opted by Evangelicals. The whole discussion of Evangelical co-opting of Bonhoeffer usually involves a book written by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Larsen cites a review by Clifford Green as just one example of those that charge that Bonhoeffer is being hijacked. What Larsen doesn’t tell you is Clifford Green is the “[f]ounding president of the International Bonhoeffer Society, English Language Section” and that he currently “serves as Executive Director of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Translations Project.” He has also edited several volumes of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series. Victoria J. Barnett, another editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series, has also reviewed Metaxas’ book and comes to the conclusion that the Bonhoeffer Metaxas presents is not the real Bonhoeffer. There are other reviews out there that state something similar.

I also find it very disingenuous when Larsen writes, “Evangelicals have been able to provide valuable correctives that present a more accurate picture of a complex man and theological legacy. Rather than thinking in terms of co-opting, I would argue that the evangelical attitude towards Dietrich Bonhoeffer is analogous to the evangelical attitude of Augustine of Hippo. Evangelicals like and admire Augustine’s life, thought and writings, but they do not pretend that he was an evangelical in the contemporary American sense of the term.” (51) In what ways have Evangelicals provided “valuable correctives?” Sadly Larsen does not give any examples.

Again, overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’m sure it is one that I will be referring to over and over again.

Forthcoming Books From @IVPress

Yesterday I received the New Title Announcement mailing from InterVarsity Press. I have to say, there are a lot of books coming out over the next few months that look like they would be an excellent read. Here’s my list:

   

I’m really looking forward to reading these books!

The Encyclopedia is a “Wish List” item…more for my reference library…

Just Arrived

Thanks to Adrianna Wright for sending along a review copy of Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture.  I will be reviewing the book here in the next few weeks. Looking forward to reading this one!

Review of @ivpacademic’s Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem

There is an unfortunate but constant refrain from both inside and outside Christianity. From the inside, we wrestle with what we perceive to be a barbaric God, complete with genocide and other murderous mayhem. From the outside, we are roundly attacked, ridiculed, and mocked by those who take a rather strict reading of Joshua and Judges to portray not just Christianity, but Judaism, as a religion of evil. There are still others who would seek to use tales of divinely sanctioned war — because if it is in Scripture, then it must be divinely sanctioned — to justify a military devoid of the Just War Doctrine. To each of these I commend this book.

The book is an anthology of essays by some of Evangelical Christianity’s sharpest minds including Paul Copan, Matthew Flannagan, David Lamb, and a personal favorite, Timothy Gombis. While they include an international set (Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders), there is not a single female voice among them. I have to wonder here how this might have shaped the book, or what this tells us about the overall theological bent of the book.

The book has six parts, focused on varying areas including the Old and New Testament; theological (including Biblical Theology); and ethical and philosophical perspectives. After an introduction by Geth Allison and Reid Powell to the problem to be answered by the volume, Douglas S. Earl (who has two chapters in this work) breaks new ground on the history of contextualizing the religious propaganda surrounding the Crusades. By far, this is one of the most eye-opening chapters of the book. Earl, surprisingly but with substantial evidences maintains the Book of Joshua was not used to justify the Crusades. What then? Did our ancestors of the faith have a better understanding of Holy War than we?

This is followed by a chapter directed towards the holy war concept as found in the Old Testament. The author maintains it is a theological concept rather than a historical fact, something many will find troubling giving concurrent issues with biblical literalism. With this in mind, the author proposes some new terminology, and while I could agree with much of it, I was hoping to see something more akin to YWHW Victor (thus connecting it to a particular trend in Christian theology). This chapter is followed by one focusing directly on the Old Testament Writings wherein Heath Thomas (also an editor of the book) posits the holy war concept as one of justice. This is meant to give way to a (Reformed) Christian understanding of justice through Christ.

As the Old Testament as now given way to the New Testament perspective, Timothy Gombis and Alan S. Bandy examine Ephesians and Revelation respectively. Gombis carries on with the theme from his previous book on Ephesians whereby he positions the divine war not as one opposed to temporal powers, but to those things in the spiritual ether. Bandy relies on theodicy to give Revelation’s violence some meaning. Here, he sees God as the divine warrior rescuing the persecuted. I am not Reformed, so as much as I enjoyed Gombis’ entry into New Testament perspectives, I found Bandy’s view of Revelation rather outside my level of acceptance.

David Lamb writes chapter seven to argue for a more encompassing view of the wrath of God. He sees it as a last measure of God to maintain his will in the world. Thus, divine war becomes the last resort of a God seeking to salvage his will. This chapter is well placed given Earl’s return by discussing the ban. This is a very heated concept, with many finding or losing their faith here. How could God order the completely genocide of a people? Earl follows Origen in reading the historical nugget as an allegory, filled with rhetoric and imagery not meant to be taken literal. Over all, the model is in line with Christian tradition, even if it is still difficult to digest.

David Heimbach argues Israel, unlike her other ANE neighbors, had the moral authority to go to war. But does that mean we have the same authority today? Instead of relying on Just War history and tradition, Heimbach gives new criteria to test whether or not war is justifiable. Following this is Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan’s chapter where they argue that war may allow for the murder of innocents (meeting certain conditions of course). They also argue (as Flannagan has done in countless internet-based discussions with Thom Stark) that much of the language in the Old Testament relating to war, bans, and murder was not divinely sanctioned because the language is too hyperbolic to figure out. For those to whom this may be somewhat unsettling, Glen Stassen replies with his chapter on peacemaking. He argues war is a sign of judgment against those involved; thus, peace should be achieved if possible. Robert Stewart, in his ethical chapter, attempts to argue against the New Atheists.

In part six, Murray Rae begins by arguing for Christian pacifism. His arguments almost seem out of place in a book such as this, but more than others, this is the essay most needed. Rae is followed by Stephen Williams who argues against the irrationality of the New Atheists and in favor the required rationality of Christianity arguments. Like Stewart before him, Williams gets caught up in a web of polemical attacks not easy defended.

Without a doubt, this book is to going to ruffle feathers, hurt feelings, and raise blood pressure. Many, from different sides, will attack it but I hope those attackers will read the book first. In the United States, we are engaged in several fronts and live with a constant fear at home of terror attacks. Even now, Congress is considering action in Egypt with Syria not yet past. War, it seems is in our nature — and we trumpet ourselves as a Christian nation. Do we have the right to way a holy war? Will God defend us? Against what? While you might not fully agree with the points raised in the book, they are food for thought and you will see them again.