Two new books on the Gospel of Mark (@fortresspress and @ivpacademic)

both look interesting…

Scholars of the Gospel of Mark usually discuss the merits of patristic references to the Gospel’s origin and Mark’s identity as the “interpreter” of Peter. But while the question of the Gospel’s historical origins draws attention, no one has asked why, despite virtually unanimous patristic association of the Gospel with Peter, one of the most prestigious apostolic founding figures in Christian memory, Mark’s Gospel was mostly neglected by those same writers. Not only is the text of Mark the least represented of the canonical Gospels in patristic citations, commentaries, and manuscripts, but the explicit comments about the Evangelist reveal ambivalence about Mark’s literary or theological value. Michael J. Kok surveys the second-century reception of Mark, from Papias of Hierapolis to Clement of Alexandria, and finds that the patristic writers were hesitant to embrace Mark because they perceived it to be too easily adapted to rival Christian factions. Kok describes the story of Mark’s Petrine origins as a second-century move to assert ownership of the Gospel on the part of the emerging Orthodox Church.

The Gospels contain many hard sayings of Jesus, but perhaps none have puzzled and intrigued readers as much as Jesus’ discourse on the coming of the Son of Man in Mark 13. Is Jesus speaking entirely of an event in the near future, a coming destruction of the temple? Or is he referring to a distant, end-of-the-world event? Or might he even be speaking of both near and distant events? But in that case, which words apply to which event, and how can we be sure?

Seasoned Gospels scholar Robert Stein follows up his major commentary on Mark with this even closer reading of Mark 13. In this macro-lens commentary he walks us step by step through the text and its questions, leading us to a compelling interpretive solution.

Review, @ivpacademic’s “Suffering and the Search for Meaning: Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Pain”

Richard Rice has written a marvelous little book on the problem of suffering, or rather, the mystery of suffering. He has written it in gentle, direct language, without the need of an interpreter. He has done so through parables, stories, and letting authors speak for themselves. Rice provides, in this short little book, a multitude of views on theodicy, their respective high and low points, and a way forward respective of these wide ranging views and Christian tradition. Indeed, I can think of no better introduction to the philosophical problem of suffering as grasped in the Christian Tradition and how to form our own theology than this book.

Rice divides the book into 9 chapters, with 7 chapters to explain the various theodicies and 1 to explain why we need to examine this. The final chapter is his personal view. He knows full well, and uses noted apologist Alvin Plantinga as his support, that the one challenge atheists have best over theists is the problem of evil. He begins in chapter 2 with the easiest — the easiest to grasp at the very least. As he does with all other theodicies, Rice gives an overview, usually accompanied by a personal anecdote. Our author then gives the philosophical backdrop as to how these viewpoints came to take shape. Following this, he gives questions about the theodicy in view. In chapter 2, he examines the perfect plan wherein the holder sees God’s perfect will behind every action, good or bad. He raises the right questions, as he does in each and every viewpoint. He is not biased towards any one over the other.

There are only a few issues I have with this book. One, he relates what I would consider personal stories falling under the restricted structures of teacher-student, or otherwise, considerations. He may have reached out to those students, but this was not related to us. Perhaps it is not a problem with many, but I bristled at it, recalling some of the private conversations I had with teachers. Further, I would liked to have seen a stronger approach to the actual problem of the philosophy of evil. Why do we need to define evil and then use it as a litmus test for God? Overall, given the limitations of the nature of the book, these issues are perhaps more personal and should be taken into consideration if you are exactly as I am. Finally, in examining the non-theist view of theodicy, he takes an apologetic track. This was not as oft-putting as when others did it, but I’m not completely satisfied with the answers he gave.

I’ve chosen to include the best of this book last, forgoing my usual book review structure. In the last chapter of the book, Rice gives us a practical way forward. He admits that the previous views, even the view of the non-believer (he calls this “protest theodicy” in chapter 8), all hold something for him, but do not answer the question completely. He lays out four tenets of how he maintains the separation between God and evil (the most basic definition of theodicy). Without giving them away, they reside on the things Christians believe and hope for, falling into the realms of the doctrines of creation and salvation. It is in Rice’s practical theodicy we find a real path forward, consistent with the Christian tradition of mystery and confession over theories and facts. While you and I will have our own views of God and suffering, Rice’s understanding should be one we can give an ear to and learn from.

In all, this book does not answer the question of suffering — why good things happen to bad people; rather, it admits that, admits we do not know, and calls us to live in that place where a great deal of Christianity remains…the great mystery of Godliness.

Book Notes, @ivpacademic’s “The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas”

Periodically, Christians will awaken to the fact we no longer live in a pure, unadulterated Christendom. Since 1776, the West has been rocked by the notion that pluralism can happen and if it does happen, previously secure groups will begin to lose adherents. Such is the fate of the Christian Church in the West. In Europe and in the United States, we have seen a marked decrease in church attendance and identification as Christians. We have also seen Christianity challenged by various movements. There are reactions, not necessarily good ones either. There is a general consensus, however, that Christians need to understand the times in which we live (the end of a Christian-dominated West) and how this will shape our message. Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak attempt to deliver a plan by using Paul’s time and context to show how it shaped his preaching so that we may learn how to use the pluralism today to shape ours. Think of postmodernism, relativism, and a heavy reliance on science and how this is shaping reactions to Christianity and Christian reactions to the world at large. They divide the book into 10 chapters, with each chapter adding something to the conversation about social context. We are introduced to ancient, pluralistic Athens before Christianity. It is a time that was dangerous to new messages. Yet, Paul succeeded. How so? He used rhetoric, persuasion, and followed God. They used the language of the time and place to teach about Christ, using the hallmarks of the time to point to him. I’m not sure I would call this apologetic, Copan’s usual fare, but is it evangelical (without the capital ‘E’). The book gets a bit repetitive at times, but this may be helpful in driving home what Paul was up against. This is a needed book as we face the graveyard of American Christianity.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber to be an example of a charismatic religious leader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

From IVP-Academic,

This introduction to the world of biblical ethics walks readers through the ethical teachings of key people and texts within the Bible. Instead of focusing on what the Bible says about various ethical issues, it emphasizes how the different parts of the Bible encourage its readers to think ethically about every issue.

Ethics is not my strong suite.

Ha. I’m kidding. I’ve never done anything wrong ever.

BTW, if you click through to the IVP site, you will see the table of contents and some other details. Good stuff.

Review of @ivpacademic’s “Theology Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith in Plain Language”

All but one of the twelve contributors is a member of the faculty of Wheaton College, easily the most identifiable institution of higher learning associated with modern American evangelicalism. When you see this, it will either worry you or fill you with security. Allow it to do neither. What the contributors have accomplished is not something that pushes one theological agenda, but attempts to answer the tougher questions posed by students, insiders, and outsiders — but with often times tougher answers than expected. Indeed, what is proved here is not just the worth of Wheaton, but the value of the intellectual tradition within American evangelicalism.

The twelve (symbolism?) topics selected for this book include,

  • What is Christianity? (answered by Timothy Larson)
  • How Does God Relate to the World? (answered by Gregory W. Lee)
  • What is Salvation? (answered by Keith L. Johnson)
  • How Should I Live? (answered by Vincent Bacote)
  • What is the Christian Hope? (answered by Beth Felker Jones)

I have selected these five, because I feel they give the best overview of the agenda of the book.

In Timothy Larson’s response, he aims to answer the simple question of what is Christianity. He suggests Christianity is not asking about the minimum requirements necessary, but “a commitment to orthodoxy.” (18) He recommends denying “unbelief” but turning to God to “become more truly Christian.” For him, it seems, the commitment to orthodoxy does not allow for reconsiderations and considerations within the Christian community. I find this troubling given the times segments of Christian has changed what it means to be orthodox. But, these are his most distressing viewpoints, his most strict limits. The rest of his chapter takes on the myths of secularization, science v. religion, and what it means to be an evangelical (I am not one, but he is). Larson’s chapter does not condemn openly those who oppose him, but sets out how to act and operate under a commitment to (evangelical) orthodoxy. I would like to suggest he is somehow wrong, but in the end, Christianity is not a religionless faith, but one with orthodox principles, doctrines, and even dogmas that should be adhered to because they inform us of who and what we are as Christians.

Gregory W. Lee suggests that science and faith are not opposed to one another (something of a hidden theme in the book). Sure, I disagree with him and other theologians, about ex nihilio, but by no means should we take him as a Young Earther. Rather, he is simply asserting God created the cosmos and as such, created reason and the laws reason has discovered. By this standard, Lee moves to side with Augustine and others in allowing that strictly wooden interpretations of Scripture are simply dogmatic assumptions that hinder faith more than preserve it. In fact, Lee argues for the allowance of evolution, citing the great minds of Fundamentalism and does so within a solid Evangelical framework. After this he moves into the free will v. determinism debate. Instead of delivering a soft, one-sided after, speaks to and upholds as important the tension between these two sides!

“Salvation is a trinitarian event,” Keith L. Johnson declares (120). I can hear this ringing in my ears, I believe, finding something of the author’s hidden shout still languishing on the pages. It is as loud as the day Johnson first wrote it down and I suspect will continue to echo through the run of this work. I do not intend any hint of hyperbolism or sarcasm. Indeed, Johnson’s article correctly summarizes the Christian salvic experience as one that incorporates all of the persons of the Trinity, even if I find his substitutionary atonement model rather limited.

Chapter 11, “How Should I Live?”, begins by defining what is “the world” and how a proper creation theology can have an impact on living here. Some readers will find Bacote’s understanding here a little stretched but if you read his chapter to the end, it becomes more clear. Even reading his section on politics should help the reader to understand there are different views about the world and our involvement, sometimes arising from the immediate contexts. His solution seems to be to become involved to the point of Scripture. He tackles several topics (military service, political party affiliation) and ends with the same answer, justice. While his take may seem distinctly American, it is better conceived as an examination of the life of a Christian under a democratic state where political participation is a prescribed part of the duty of the citizen.

Finally, Beth Felker Jones speaks to the hope of the Christian. Kingdom now, hell, and the such. This chapter, as you must expect, is filled with several questions and thus seems a bit choppy. However, Jones doesn’t need a lot of space to answer the questions. Some questions, well intentioned, deserves a simple “No.” Others, such as ones on hell get fuller treatment. Indeed, in her treatment of hell and the final judgment, she makes room for the minority voices, suggesting that while she believes with the majority, she is careful to listen to those of us who do not. Plus, she is careful to couch her theology in “Western Christianity,” knowing, I suspect, Eastern Orthodoxy differs from her.

As I said, the answers are rarely simple and soft. More than likely, you will find yourself with more questions, but I do believe that is the hallmark of good theology and good theological professors. While some contributors do gave a matter-of-fact answer, others give answers for your choosing with whispered instructions to tolle lege. And why not? Do we need set-in-stone answers or do we need to teach and to be taught how to think about these tough questions? I’d go with the thinking game that should be theology. Personally, this has raised my level of respect for Wheaton and many of these professors. Overall, a fantastic book for Evangelicals and Mainliners alike, for Americans and even the wayward Canadian.

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In the Mail: @ivpacademic’s Christian Political Witness

Thanks to IVP-Academic for sending this along:

“My kingdom is not of this world.” Followers of Jesus have been struggling to understand these words ever since he first uttered them—often in sharply contradictory ways. Today the inescapably political nature of Christian witness is widely recognized. But what is the shape of this witness? What should Christian political engagement look like today? The twelve essays in this volume, originally presented at the 2013 Wheaton Theology Conference, present biblical, historical and theological proposals for thinking responsibly about the intersection of church and state in the contemporary cultural situation. Prophetic and pastoral, this book offers a fresh look at a crucial and contested dimension of the Christian life.

Contributors include:
Stanley Hauerwas
Mark Noll
Scot McKnight
Timothy G. Gombis
George Kalantzis
Jana Marguerite Bennett
William T. Cavanaugh
Peter J. Leithart
Daniel M. Bell Jr.
Jennifer M. McBride
David P. Gushee
Bishop David Gitari

Check out some of the features on the publisher’s website.

Review of @ivpacademic’s The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

Often times, Christians are told their canon is a development based on politics and developed theology. The canon, we are told, has something to do with Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps, rather, the canon is a product of the Church. These are all external forces creating the canon. Michael J. Kruger wishes to counter this and rather argue for an intrinsic force, springing up from within the texts. He proposes that the canon is not an accident or outside creation, but one carrying the foresight and authority of the New Testament writers.

The book is made up of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters tackle the definition, origin, writing, authors, and the date of the canon (in that order) to offer an counter to the somewhat established extrinsic model (p23–4). Each chapter is aimed at proving a positive statement. Kruger’s first chapter attempts to show that the definition between canon and scripture are the same. Yet, while he gives definitions for canon, I could not find a definition for Scripture. Given ongoing discussion about the nature of Scripture (inspired? inerrant? infallible?), it would have been most helpful to have Scripture defined from the start. Rather, it seems Kruger is dialoguing with an unknown, or perhaps expectantly passive, partner. This is not the only time he does this.

In chapter 2, “The Origins of Canon”, Kruger attempts to show that Early Christianity itself, rather than a later Christianity neatly situated in a post-Constantinian world, had the necessary seeds from which to grow the canon. While David Duncan’s book, Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament, is mentioned twice in the entire book, neither of which in chapter 2, it seems to be Kruger’s dialogue partner for a sizeable portion (along with Lee McDonald’s body of work). So, in chapter 2, Kruger aims at showing that if anything Constantine and later ecclesial authorities merely accepted that which was already established (against the silent dialogue partner). In this chapter he against draws heavily from an evangelical view of Church history, a history where we have well established, and authoritative, apostles.

The next chapter attempts to answer the question of whether or not a written document would have been welcomed by the early Church. He answers this with remarkable skill, such remarkable skill, that if one has issues with other parts of this book, this chapter should save the volume. While I do not agree with Kruger that Christianity “was quite a ‘bookish’ religion from the start” I cannot understand how we can ignore the use of written documents in giving a ground to the early Church. His work here needs to be revisited and enjoyed.

The fourth chapter focused on the authors of the canon. Here, Kruger’s conservativism becomes somewhat distracting. He bases his conclusions on a view of an established monolithic movement and a particular view of Christian authority. He concludes, “the New Testament writings… were intended to be documents with an authority equivalent to that of Scripture.” (154) This is quite impossible to prove. After all, there was no single source of Scripture (I assume this means what we call today the Old Testament) for the early Church. Further, his very next sentence threatens to derail his first chapter. One must simply assume that the authors of the New Testament books believed they were writing something not yet categorized until the 2nd century. One must also dismiss much of historical criticism regarding the authors of these books. If anything, Kruger’s argument in this chapter is upheld only by those who wrote in the names of the Apostles (the Pastorals, 2 Peter), but falls if we assume each author wrote each book assigned to him.

His fifth and final chapter speaks to the date of the formation of the canon. Here, his not-so-silent guide, St. Irenaeus, provides almost his (positive) sole evidence. Clement of Alexandria, who barely gets a mention in this present book, would provide enough counter evidence (as suggested by Francis Watson in his recent book, Gospel Writing) that the canon was not closed but still very much open, even when it came to the Gospels. This chapter, by in large, is the most unconvincing.

Even if one does not accept Kruger’s evidences for his conclusions, he provides solid conclusions based on his provided evidence. His goal is to offer a counter to the current extrinsic model for the canon. He does just that. Although I feel he presents a dichotomy that may not stand the rigors of academic exploration, Kruger establishes a well-crafted attempt at reframing the canon debate. He succeeds, if not in convincing me of his point, then in convincing me that the extrinsic model is wrong.

Review of @ivpacademic’s Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology

There is a growing trend among Protestants to explore, for whatever reason, higher church communions. The group known collectively as the Orthodox Church is one of those benefitting from the longing among former Evangelicals. But, what does it offer? Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church (in realities, many different Churches connected by theology, but lacking a uniting structure) is not widely known in the West. After all, a split occurred officially at the beginning of the second millenium after Christ, leaving the Western world under the monotheological sphere of Rome, at least until the Protestant Reformation. The Orthodox Church was left under to wonder on their on, as is the case of the Russian Orthodox Church, or under the realm of Islamic caliphates, like the Greek Orthodox Church.

Because of this isolation Westerners do not know what the Orthodox Church is, believes, or hopes for. Westerners, and this becomes clearer the more I investigate Orthodoxy, are at a loss for how theology is “done” in other branches of Christianity. While we share, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity, the approach to it from the West and the East differ in several meaningful ways. Orthodoxy is still hidden behind ancient bigotry and intellectual illiteracy.

Andrew Louth, himself a priest of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate), aims to change that with his Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. He writes not to convert or otherwise proselytize, although at times I felt a pull on my Tiber-drenched Wesleyan heart. Rather as the title suggests, he writes to introduce to us a rather unknown stream of Christianity. While I knew something about Orthodoxy before engaging this book, I was able to learn more, much more than I expected.

Louth has divided this introduction into 9 theological areas. There does not seem to be an area that is lacking, unless you believe justification and individual sin are the main areas of Christian witness. Indeed, these topics are either not addressed, or simply not addressed in any meaningful way. Throughout Louth’s exploration of these areas, one gets a real sense that Orthodox theology places more emphasis on Christ, his nature, and his reign than it does on exacting theological formulations or any avoidance of a Lake of Fire. I say this tongue-in-cheek because, simply, that is what Louth (and other Orthodox authors) maintain is the real theology of the Church. Topics include the Trinity, Tradition, Sin, Creation, the Sacraments, Liturgy, and what happens next. Some of the tenants of the beliefs may surprise Christians simply not familiar with the East.

What Louth reveals is not a Church that is simply the Catholic Church without the Pope, but an ancient communion filled with wonder, mystery, and a deep and abiding spirituality with Christ at its center and our heart as the goal. Without any argumentation, or swipes at differing viewpoints and traditions, Louth is able to present small and neatly contained units of theological dogma to a wide audience by drawing upon shared beliefs. It is a masterful attempt at using what we know to inform us about what we do not know. Further, and thankfully, Louth has included a suggested reading list as an appendix.

The only issue I have with the book is the lack of a glossary. I know what Protestants call things and, for the most part, I know how a Roman Catholic is going to write about certain theological elements. However, there are some words in this book what will require at least an internet search to understand. While the book can be read without knowledge of what an anaphora or troparion is, these words and what they mean are themselves a part of the unknown aspect of Orthodoxy.

I would highly recommend this book to small groups but so too to the individual who desires to see what the Orthodox Church is about. This does not argue for the supremacy of Orthodoxy, but shows the whats and the whys of the ancient communion. If nothing else, what is revealed is an ancient and beautiful tradition of worshiping Christ.