Archive for

Book Review: “Voices and Views on Paul” by Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” broke like a storm across some segments of Christian scholarship. With Voices and Views on Paul, Ben Witherington III and Jason A. Myers step back and offer an analysis and summary of some contemporary perspectives on Paul.

The first chapter offers a broad view of the New Perspective on Paul, giving definitions as well as showing the primary thrust of those studying in that field. Then, individual scholars’ works are covered in detail, including entire chapters devoted to E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James D. G. Dunn, respectively. After those weighty chapters, two more chapters cover additional modern perspectives of Paul. The final chapter looks at what we can conclude from this study as well as explores some avenues for additional Pauline research.

So what is the “new perspective on Paul”? As the authors point out in the retrospective at the beginning, it’s no longer a new perspective, having first been coined as a phrase in 1983 and also not being a perspective so much as several different perspectives with some often sharp divisions and disagreements (1). So the authors offer a broad background for how this divergent stream of thought got started, and note that it tends to focus on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (3). This question–that of how Paul viewed the relationship between Jew and Gentile and how his own theology grew out from Judaism–is central to scholars working within the so-called “New Perspective.”

The chapters on individual scholars offer lengthy outlines of their own perspectives, along with some points of possible contact and division between them. E. P. Sanders, for example, shows a remarkable and necessary focus upon Judaism in the New Testament, which included both the need to show how scholars had constructed a negative portrait and the need for a portrait of Judaism in the New Testament that shows how Second Temple Judaism was perceived and interacted with New Testament works, particularly Paul’s (19). Sanders offered a “Copernican revolution” in NT scholarship by using his concept of “covenantal nomism” which balanced both the legalism that some perceived in the notion of law/covenant with Judaism and the notion of God’s mercy and atonement with those who have broken the law (25). Sanders’s work is monumental and well-argued, but also doesn’t fully account for the origins of Paul’s notion of sin, nor its importance within Paul’s own works (35ff).

The chapter on N. T. Wright (whom, admittedly, this reader has some bias towards) is equally fascinating. It notes the massive swathe of Wright’s writings upon Paul and how they almost all tie together to make the point at the center of Wright’s thesis: that Paul pushes back against the Imperial cult in his works and centers the Kingdom as covenant as his focus. Wright also focuses upon Israel and the story of the coming Messiah–which leads to significant questions about how the law fits into this (73ff). Wright’s vulnerability lies in perhaps over-reading texts to make them fit into this notion of the imperial cult and hyperbole against it. Even so, Wright’s massive project offers needed correctives to understanding how Paul’s writings worked and, crucially, Wright offers a more global perspective, pulling in scholarship that others did not to support his point.

Dunn’s focus upon the law offers much rich insight for readers to delve into, while also offering a stronger look at Paul’s own conversion and his ethics than some of the other authors. The Apocalyptic Paul is a perspective offered by several scholars, focusing upon the genre of apocalyptic texts (itself a somewhat nebulous concept–see p. 139-141). One problem with apocalyptic readings of Paul is that when they focus so heavily upon the apocalyptic, they tend to have a break between Paul and contemporary Judaism which is much stronger than Paul’s writings themselves seem to suggest (149). Other apocalyptic readings of Paul have tended towards demytholigizing of Paul which doesn’t seem to be fully present in Paul’s own works (157ff). What these works on an apocalyptic Paul do do, however, is provide us with reason to take more seriously Paul’s own apocalyptic imagery and some language related to the apocalyptic which is sometimes missed. Several works on Paul also have focused upon correctives to Reformation readings of Paul, which were sometimes focused primarily on separation from Catholicism rather than upon providing a strong reading of Paul himself (see, for example, 209-211 regarding Calvin and rewards in heaven/God’s love of humanity).

Voices and Views on Paul is an absolutely invaluable work for those interested in any way in Pauline scholarship. It provides significant introductions to some of the most recent thinkers as well as some of the most influential works in the field. It also provides no small amount of critique and potential avenues for further exploration. It’s a great read that is recommended highly.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates links

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Apologetics Has Issues

A picture of a goldfinch I took. All rights reserved.

I recently had an experience that forcefully reminded me of the deficiencies with apologetics, or, perhaps more accurately, apologists. For background, I have a degree in Apologetics myself, and have studied it for over a decade. I’m not a leading apologist–I don’t show up in lists on the internet of most popular apologists or anything of the sort. But I do have expertise. I’ve put in my time, got the degree, talked to the people.

About two years ago, I wrote a post called “What’s Wrong with Apologetics?” There, I highlighted some of the main problems I’ve observed with apologetics and apologists myself. These included things like “We believe we are experts when we’re not.” The words I wrote 2 years ago feel even more true and relevant today.

The interaction that reminded me so strongly of that post was centered around a statement a Christian made which was controversial. When I challenged some of the most outspoken people to post evidence for their claims, they posted a link to a video of a Christian with no relevant expertise and no published peer-reviewed work in the field. Once this was pointed out, the response was that because this person in the video had allegedly studied the field for a decade, it meant they were an expert, and that what mattered were the arguments, not the person.

Honestly, this is what led me to the somewhat disturbing conclusion I’ve been circling for years. We apologists are just not very good at holding ourselves to the same standard to which we hold others. In other words, I think perhaps the biggest issue in Christian apologetics is that we have a double standard.

1. We have a double standard when it comes to who we trust. People in general tend to trust sources which agree with positions they already hold. Apologists seem to think we’re immune to this, but we’re not. The example I mentioned above is a good one. The video shared happened to put forth a position that those sharing it agreed with. Thus, it didn’t matter that the person involved had no relevant credentials. They were just right, and their credentials were either artificially inflated in order to make them more relevant (“They have studied this topic for decades!”) or simply dismissed as irrelevant (“It’s the arguments that matter, not who’s making them.”)

Fellow apologists, there is absolutely no way we would accept this from someone with whom we were reasoning. For example, Richard Dawkins has written about religious-based topics for decades. He has no relevant degree in theology whatsoever, but he has certainly written entire works dedicated to telling people Christianity and religion in general is just obviously silly and wrong. Now, imagine if an atheist came along and said that because Dawkins had “studied the topic for decades,” he was an appropriate expert when it came to telling us what Christianity is or how to define it. That would be absurd. Yet that’s exactly the kind of thing we very frequently when it comes to discussing things on our side.

2. We have a double standard when it comes to objectivity. We are all too quick to believe that we have an objective position. That is, we think that we are capable of rising above our own subjective consciousness and have a position which is capable of judging all others. That’s just not possible. The notion of “neutral ground” when it comes to big questions is impossible, and to criticize others for pointing that out is, frankly, absurd. We have to acknowledge that we have biases, and certainly attempt to be as neutral as possible when it comes to analyzing facts. But we also must be aware of the fact that we cannot be truly, totally, entirely impartial.

3. We don’t take emotions seriously. This is another serious problem for apologists. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen apologists decrying emotions. Whether it’s saying that an opponent doesn’t need to get emotional or whether it’s downplaying the emotional attachment we get to the questions at hand, we have to be honest and take emotions seriously. Frankly, to think otherwise is to make ourselves inhuman. If you don’t feel a deep, abiding love for Jesus Christ–something intimately connected with your emotions–and you’re doing apologetics, you should probably rethink what you’re doing. Our love of Christ and worship of God deeply involve our emotions, and we cannot just remove them from the equation when we’re reasoning with others. Moreover, the Bible itself offers direct refutation of this strange distance from emotions so many apologists attempt to accomplish. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” Weeping is an intense emotional experience. Surely if our Lord and Savior expresses his emotions, we shouldn’t sneer at the emotions of others.

Conclusion

There continues to be so many things wrong with apologetics. But it’s still something that I think can be useful. I hope these points will help fellow apologists think about what we’re doing and how we’re presenting ourselves as we make a case for Christ.

Links

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I raise a number of pitfalls apologists ought to avoid.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Reading While Black: African American Interpretation as an Exercise of Hope” by Esau McCaulley

Engaging with scripture is an important part of all Christian living. In Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, Esau McCaulley introduces readers to the interpretive movement of black churches. Though obviously not monolithic, McCaulley draws from numerous strands of the tradition to put together, as the title states, a hopeful exercise of interpreting the Bible.

After an introductory chapter that talks about “making space for Black ecclesial interpretation,” each chapter focuses on a question or stance that Black interpreters have asked or taken regarding the text. That first chapter is worth reflecting upon, though. In a modern American church in which a loud, visible number of white male pastors are decrying any recognition of race and attempting to totally abolish it as a concept for questions in the church, is there actual space for Black ecclesial interpretation? Some have argued that Galatians 3:28 means that talking about race is prohibited in church, but of course many of those same people who try to abolish discussions of race based upon that passage are happy to affirm hierarchal relationships regarding men and women. Galatians 3:28 seems to be much more about breaking down barriers society has erected–not about abolishing any recognition that people can be different. Turning to what McCaulley himself writes, he notes that Progressives often go to the opposite extreme, with a set goal going towards the text of deconstruction (7). Evangelicals and mainline Protestants have essentially dominated the theological landscape of the United States, and McCaulley calls upon Progressives to make space for Black reconstruction of the text (8-9) while also noting the subtle and even unsubtle disdain for Black culture and comments about Black churches being unsound theologically (10-12). McCaulley, in other words, calls out the whole spectrum of white churches in America for downplaying or even discrediting Black voices.

The second chapter turns to the New Testament and Black interpretations that apply it to theology of policing. I have to frankly admit I was a bit skeptical going in, but McCaulley draws out how the passages and stories in the New Testament can be applied to questions of policing today. In other words, McCaulley quickly taught me that I haven’t been open enough to thinking more broadly about learning from the text and applying it to our lives. McCaulley’s careful reading of the text notes that we have to see the analogies and disanalogies between Rome, soldiers, and police before we go applying passages like Romans 13 directly to our everyday lives (34-38).

The book just ramps up from there, showing how the New Testament can apply to the political witness of the church–how have moderates and others actually slowed the movement of the Spirit in the Kingdom? The pursuit of justice is a clearly powerful theme throughout the entirety of Scripture, and modern opposition to anything related to speaking of justice in the church is about as unbiblical as one can get. McCaulley warns of several problems with writing of Black interpretations. He writes, “Some… suggest that the starting point for African American biblical exegesis is a predetermined definition that serves as a filter through which we examine biblical texts to see if they meet our standard. The problem with this approach is that it assumes the inspiration and in effect infallibility of our current sociopolitical consensus and the inability of the biblical text to correct us” (73, emphasis his). Making us the arbiters of God’s Word is clearly mistaken, and McCaulley notes that “The Black Christian” [instead] “brings his or her questions to the text and the text poses its own questions to us” (ibid). The important takeaway is that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have a message of salvation, liberation, and reconciliation that itself shapes the African American Christian’s vision of the present and the future” (ibid) but this is immediately followed by: “But things are not so simple… We are not blank slates upon which the Scriptures can write anything” (ibid). The rest of the chapter provides numerous examples of seeing justice present in the Bible (eg. in the Magnificat) and how that resonates with Black theological hope.

Multiethnicity and black identity find resonance in Scripture. Anger is a theme found in scripture as well, and Black suffering can find both an outlet and a way to reconcile experience with reality. Israel’s own “personal and corporate rage” about exile and Babylon find resonance in Black experience. McCaulley walks readers through a detailed look at Paul’s words related to Onesimus and Philemon, noting that the cultural conventions of the time were being subverted, so application must be careful related to today’s challenges (see, for example 154-155).

Even this survey of some of the contents of this pithy book cannot capture the immense range and scope of McCaulley’s work here. It will challenge readers at essentially any part of the political or theological spectrum. Endorsed by readers as diverse as Lecrae and N.T. Wright, Reading While Black is a fascinating read that will challenge and inform readers at many levels. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, Chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker, 1931-1946”

The years 1931-1946 were world-shattering and life-altering. Alan Don was the chaplain to the King, the Archbishop, and the Speaker of Commons in England during this period. In Faithful Witness: The Confidential Diaries of Alan Don, we are treated to an open look at his reflections on this time.

The introduction to the diaries provides significant context, background material about Alan Don, and insight into how Don lived and his importance. These diaries were confidential, but Don himself gave them to be read later in his life. It’s difficult to say how remarkable this is, because it gives a firsthand account of many major events in the United Kingdom for those wanting to learn more about this time period. The editor opted not to leave out any material that could be considered especially personal, again because Don provided them intact. Thus, these diaries offer a surprising mix of personal reflections, insights, and revelations into life during this period.

The diary entries themselves range from mundane reporting of moving from place to place to theological reflections, questions of church minutiae, and everyday life. Reading the diaries straight through is revealing over time, as everyday life changes in regard to some of the events happening around the world. Readers could also choose to pick individual topics. A robust index makes this fairly simple to do. For example, if one wants to see what Don says about Germany, one can go to the index, pick Germany (or a sub-topic related thereto), and find numerous entries throughout these years that ultimately yield an evolving understanding of the situation. This is especially interesting due to Don’s interaction with so many major figures of the time, as he gives personal insight and reflection on some of these meetings.

But this isn’t to leave aside those everyday moments or the minutiae of the church, either. It’s refreshing to see that Alan Don worries about such things as whether an ornate Bible is too heavy for someone to carry, what kind of meal he will have at a private gathering, or any other number of personal insights. It reveals a truly human person on the pages, even while giving so many major insights.

Don also writes on the end of each year a brief aside. Comparing the end of 1941 to the end of 1942 is of interest, for example. At the end of 1941, Don writes “Thus ends a year of dramatic events during which the tide of war seems to have turned definitely in our favour – thanks mainly to the Russian army and the British Navy” (384, he goes on to report more specifically). At the end of 1942, though, Don writes, “1942 started badly and we have surmounted many disappointments and disasters in our struggle with the aggressors. But the tide is on the turn and 1943 may see us nearing our immediate goal” (404). He goes on, “Anti Christ is abroad and compromise is unthinkable” (ibid). The evolution of his understanding of events is a truly fantastic thing to read, and to have it intermixed with theological insights makes it a wonderful read.

Faithful Witness is a rare look at the private life and thoughts of a figure with connections to nearly every major player in the United Kingdom during World War 2. It’s a valuable read for that reason, but Don’s tone and constant reflection make it a fascinating study in everyday life and theological reflection during this period as well. Readers interested in this period of history should see it as a must-read. It’s even moreso a required reading for those interested in the intersection of World War 2 and how people viewed it theologically. It’s a tremendous resource and a wonderful read.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,649 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason