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Book Review: “Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship” by Derek W. Taylor

Derek W. Taylor’s Reading Scripture as the Church: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutic of Discipleship explores Bonhoeffer’s rich theology to answer questions about ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and missions.

Taylor first uses the introduction to present a central thesis: that hermeneutics is an ecclesial practice. We read texts in and for community. Bonhoeffer dedicated much of his theological energy and output to this notion, and Taylor brings it front and center throughout the book. For example, Taylor starts with discussion of Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being that reads it as part of the task of reading the church as under, in, and of Christ. Contrary to some, who shoehorn Bonhoeffer wholly into the role of a follower or disciple of Barth, Taylor notes that with Act and Being, Bonhoeffer identified as problematical Barth’s tendency towards anti-ecclesiology (35). Taylor brings Hans Urs von Balthasar into the conversation as well, noting that Bonhoeffer’s hermeneutic avoids passivity while also showing the word as a way to encounter Christ (33-36).

The church, however, must be wary of seeing itself merely as caretaker or ultimate interpreter of scripture. Instead, it is important to read scripture against ourselves. If we lose that ability, “Bonhoeffer warns, we end up remaking a God in the imago hominis” (49). It’s all too easy for the church or the individual to become comfortable with the text instead of letting it speak to and even, again, against us. Our desire to contemporize the text becomes dangerous as we tend to “echo interpretive interests brought to the text” instead of allowing the text to speak to us (50-51).

Reading scripture leads us to Christ, but Christ is present now. Bonhoeffer was powerfully aligned with seeing Christ as truly present among us in the church. This, moreover, leads to discussion of Christology, one which sees Christ as truly fully human and fully divine (73-75)–able to be with us now, truly present in sacrament (114-115). As an aside, Taylor’s discussion of meeting the risen Christ at the eucharistic table is powerful, but he seems reluctant to fully embrace the meaning of that presence–ending on the note that objective presence is ambiguous (though I may be misreading him here). One wonders how, if that present is ambiguous in an objective sense, the foregoing discussion of Christ being truly Christ today and in history and present makes sense. For Bonhoeffer, throughout his theology, remained a committed Lutheran, and would absolutely have affirmed the real presence of Christ in the Supper. Moreover, the point made earlier (73) about Christ being fully human and divine seems to obviate any supposed problems with that Lutheran doctrine.

Later, Taylor’s discussion of Bonhoeffer’s “religion come of age” is especially insightful. Instead of being a fully humanist or non-religious standpoint, Bonhoeffer seemed to see some of the “trappings” that others have enlisted his concepts in getting rid of as absolutely essential. Things like the Eucharist and Baptism remained central to Bonhoeffer’s theology (129ff). However, what Bonhoeffer was warning against was two problems: the first, a total retreat of the church to hide from the problems of the world; the second, a transformation of the church into one constantly chasing “relevance” and an apologetic agenda (128). These are what Bonhoeffer hoped to strip away in the church come of age. Some traditions of the church “lose their social credibility” but nevertheless, some “must be retained and sheltered against profanation” (130). We must “at all times ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today?'” while recognizing our cultural context may dominate and change–for the worse–our answers to that question (131). Only a well-formed church community can help guard against these difficulties. The reductionist tendency to see Bonhoeffer’s theology as reducing Christ to the church is badly mistaken; instead, Taylor argues “Bonhoeffer’s imagination remains dexterous… [he] refuses to settle for an answer [to the question of “Where is the risen one now?”] that would restrict Christ’s movement. While some theologians proffer the ascension as a means of securing Christ’s location, Bonhoeffer recognizes that even though he has ascended, Jesus has not vanished into the heavenly realms. He continues to stride through history, fulfilling his promise to be with his disciples until the end of the age… So, where is Jesus? He is leading the church toward the kingdom. Bonhoeffer would answer, in other words, by pointing to the church while simultaneously pointing ahead of it” (132).

Bonhoeffer is not frequently considered as a theologian of missions, but Taylor argues that his hermeneutics must presuppose ecclesiology and that we have to seriously take the claim by some that “mission is the mother of theology” (200). Here, Taylor sees Bonhoeffer’s warnings against two kidns of churches as especially powerful. The dangers presented are a church that turns itself in and sets itself as a unique culture (the “culturalist option”) contrasted with the church that downplays its distinctiveness from the world for the sake of mission (the “secularist option”) (201ff). Bonhoeffer himself saw the church in the United States of his time as being guilty of the secularist option, but then saw it in his own church in Germany, something he worked against for the rest of his life (213ff).

Scriptural hermeneutics is difficult, anyone who tells you different is selling you something. (Forgive the reference to a great movie.) Bonhoeffer’s theological work constantly shows this as a difficulty. Poignantly, Bonhoeffer himself noted that even the things that seem easiest–like the command to love your neighbor–quickly become quite complex when it comes to asking what exactly is meant by that (must we change our neighbor? do we care for them bodily? etc.). A command to “love your neighbor,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, “does not say to us unequivocally: You should do this” (quoted on p. 257). This is, in part, why Christ has gifted us the church: as a community existing in and for Christ, we can work to understand the word of God. Then, we become disciples.

Reading Scripture as the Church is an insightful journey into Bonhoeffer’s theology that both readers new to Bonhoeffer and those who have studied his works for years will glean much of interest from. A careful, close reading of the text will yield much worth pursuing for any reader. 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.

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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: “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.

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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!

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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.

Book Review: “Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience” by Carl F Ellis, Jr.

Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience by Carl F. Ellis, Jr. is an exploration of African Americans’ interactions with Christianity in the united states with an emphasis on evaluating it by means of the Gospel. The hugeness of the project Ellis, Jr. puts forward and my own unfamiliarity with anything but the broadest strokes of the same means that my evaluation will largely be based upon its content rather than my own confirmation of its analysis.

Ellis, Jr. interweaves the book with historical narrative and analysis of how racism and other negative outcomes occur in our society. African American experience in the United States started almost entirely with being enslaved. Ellis Jr. notes how this Christianity of the land of the United States became rejected by black thinkers like Frederick Douglass. Douglass wrote of a distinction between the Christianity of Christ and that of the land (of the US) in that the latter was based upon enslavement and cruelty while the former is “pure, peaceable, and impartial” (20). Ellis Jr. notes how perspective is incredibly important in understanding the experience of others.

The question of the truth of Christianity and the Gospel are central to Free at Last? Ellis, Jr. notes that “Scripture describes at least two types of unrighteousness: ungodliness and oppression…” The distinction is important because one can lead into another, even unconsciously: “For example, if a person has a racist attitude, he or she is guilty of ungodliness. If, however, that person imposes his racism on others, forcing he to live in substandard conditions, then he is guilty of oppression” (28). Grace can serve as a solution to these sinful attitudes, actions, and dispositions.

A majority of the rest of the book traces African American experience from the earliest times of the United States into the 1990s, with a particular focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. However, these are also interspersed with broader historical insights, analysis of streams of thought, and more. A fascinating section has Ellis, Jr. arguing that the movement towards Islam in African American experience cannot provide the same universality that Christianity does. In part, this is because orthodox Muslim teaching is that the Qur’an “is in Arabic only” (152). More importantly, the attempted de-Christianization of black culture through Islam can only either turn black culture into Muslim/Arabic culture or result in unorthodox Islam (121ff). Christianity, argues Ellis, Jr., provides a way forward for black Americans to experience universal hope (158ff).

This does not mean that Christianity has no pitfalls, however, for African Americans and indeed for people generally. Ellis, Jr. notes several “Anti-God Christianity-isms” that corrupt Christianity’s message but are all too common. These include Christianity that is anti-intellectual, Christianity that attempts to make God obligated to humans, Christianity that makes God into a kind of religious tyrant, and Christianity that puts God in a box (167-168). The last chapter of the book offers Ellis, Jr.’s vision for a renewal of Christianity and black experience.

Free at Last? is a compelling account of African American experience in regards to Christianity. Originally published in the late 1990s, this updated version offers a strong challenge to the modern cries out against allegedly anti-Christian ideas and philosophies from within the church while also arguing strongly for a robust Christian vision going forward. It’s a fascinating read, and I recommend it.

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: “Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets” by David G. Firth

What does the Bible have to say about the “stranger” or the “foreigner”? It’s an expansive question, but one that should inform Christians as they explore modern issues of immigration or refugees. David G. Firth, in Including the Stranger: Foreigners in the Former Prophets, examines texts related to these questions as found in the Former Prophets–Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings.

Firth’s brief introduction argues that we can use narrative texts for normative values. Reading the text as such requires being attentive to the ways the narrator speaks of the events being narrated, as well as being aware of the ANE context in which the texts were written that comes with different expectations about how to read a text. The reader must also be aware of the assumptions they are bringing to the text and work to see how their own preconceptions can shape the way they interpret the text (3).

The next four chapters go over each of the former prophets in turn, giving an orientation to the reader for the text and then diving into the major questions of foreigners in the text. Joshua is a fascinating place to start here, because most would expect the book’s view of the foreigner to be universally negative, given the conquest narratives therein. However, Firth points out the fact that even upon entering the land, the first kindness was shown by a stranger (Rahab). Going from there, other texts invite larger examination of the notion of the “foreigner” in Joshua, as, for example, a threefold view of foreigner/stranger is found in the text: strangers as neutral/threat/positive. This means, argues Firth, that “Ethnicity itself is not the issue. Rather, the concern is with the possible religious impact of these peoples…” (38). The setting up of cities of refuge helps reinforce this impression. 

Judges is one of this reader’s own favorite books of the Bible, and Firth highlighted some aspects of great interest. For example, Shamgar (Judges 3:31) appears to be little more than a sidenote in Judges, and is not, in fact, even listed as having judged! But Firth notes there is more to Shamgar’s story than a single verse may seem to convey. First is the fact that Shamgar’s name is not an Israelite name, being composed of four root letters rather than three. Second, it seems clear Shamgar was not a Yahwist, for the denotation as “Son of Anath” suggests Shamgar followed the Canaanite goddess of the same name. And this, then, could explain why Shamgar is not given the title of “judge,” for the book’s concern with enforcing Yahwist worship leads the author not to give that title to Shamgar. And, moreover, this highlights the significance of Shamgar’s inclusion, for it shows that God has “no problem in using a foreigner to deliver Israel… but he does not grant them positions of leadership” (72). Along with other examples, Shamgar highlights a theme in Judges that God uses foreigners for God’s will as well, and that the Israelites’ own divisions among themselves (Judges 17-21) raises questions of “how Israel can function as the people of God” (92). 

Samuel’s central theme related to foreigners, argues Firth, is seeing them as means for assessing Israel. For example, in Samuel, David’s legitimacy as ruler is mediated through an Amalekite rather than an Israelite (113-114). Time and again, foreigners are used as examples to highlight the actions of Israelites, often as a contrast–a foreigner being more true to God/word than an Israelite. The book also shows how encounters with foreigners can lead to integration rather than devastation. Kings deals more with foreigners beyond the borders of Israel, and shows once more that the central value was not about ethnicity or nation, but rather about worship of Yahweh (172). 

Firth’s closing words, in a summary and concluding chapter about including the stranger, are words that call readers to action. “In a world that builds walls between communities, or makes the environment hostile for foreigners, this was an example of what the people of God can be: a community that does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, because we serve a God who does not do so. This is an ethic that is easily talked down in political discourse, but therefore one that is more important for the church, as the people of God, to live out and show a different way of life” (185-186).

David G. Firth’s exploration of the place of the “stranger” or “foreigner” in Including the Stranger will provide readers with a wealth of resources for learning about the biblical view of those from elsewhere. 

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: “Reading Buechner” by Jeffrey Munroe

Reading Buechner is a call to engage with the writings and thought of Frederick Buechner. I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical of the project. I’d heard Buechner’s name occasionally, but nothing from or about him had ever stuck. Munroe’s introduction, however, grabbed me from the beginning, and his impassioned call to engage with this Christian thinker has me going to the library to find at least one book to read.

What was it that Munroe managed to do in this book? Simply put, he offered a genuine, enthusiastic look at the breadth and depth of work of Frederick Buechner. Four parts divide the book into looking at Buechner as a memoirist, a novelist, a popular theologian, and preacher. Each section has its own intriguing way of introducing Buechner’s thought to readers, along with a guide for suggested reading from Munroe. It’s a simply fantastic way to introduce an author with such a broad array of works while also letting readers in on his own love of the subject and his personal reflections on the works. It’s nearly impossible to not pick up on at least some of Munroe’s enthusiasm.

Reading Buechner was a surprising read for me. Something about the way Munroe called to me as a reader, and it is hard to completely ignore his enthusiasm for his subject. I recommend it.

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: “A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman” by Holly Beers

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman by Holly Beers is a part-historical fiction, part-nonfiction fusion that explores what the life of a Greco-Roman woman who was encountering Christianity may have looked like. It’s part of the “A Week in the Life of…” series from InterVarsity Press (See reviews of other entries in this series here–scroll down for more), and it’s another success. Each of these books is a standalone, providing unique historical background and individual narratives.

Beers writes the fictional portions about Anthia, a young woman and wife who encounters in just one week many of the struggles of people in the ancient world. Beers’s narrative is deeper than one might expect for a kind of slice-of-life narrative. Anthia’s story immediately drew me in as a reader due to the compelling, sympathetic way she is portrayed. She’s not simply a foil for background information; no, she reads as someone who lives and breathes in the ancient world, and who experienced everyday tragedy. Fears of childbirth and its dangers, navigating the strictures of society, and the simple pleasures of warm water are just some of the insightful character-building Beers weaves throughout the narrative.

The historical information included throughout is just as fascinating as in other entries in the series. These are usually presented in boxes throughout the text, which highlight numerous aspects of ancient society and life. One of the most fascinating of these for this reader was the look at associations in the Greco-Roman world and how that was also integrated into the plot. The text box on p. 23 shows the importance of associations and how membership was usually gained. Other information about “urban sanitation” (read: toilets), living in apartments, and perfume were also highlights. 

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman is a deep look at what the lives of women would have been like in ancient Rome. It provides readers with a compelling main character to go along with a number of important insights into the day-to-day lives of people of the time that will enrich readers who are interested in the history of Christianity or of the ancient world. 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.

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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: “A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity” by Vince L. Bantu

Christianity has always been a global religion, but awareness of those global roots and the impact across the world is not high. Vince L. Bantu, in A Multitude of All Peoples, demonstrates the eclectic, beautiful, global vision of Christianity across the world.

After an introduction looking at Christianity as a global religion, Bantu examines the “roots of Western Christianity Identity Politics. Here, Bantu argues that Christianity as a Hellenistic Latin/Greek religion has its origins in the 3rd/4th century with the rise of Constantine and the sometimes rewriting of church history. With the enshrinement of Christianity as state religion, it became all too easy to see the faith indelibly tied to the state, and specifically the construct of the “West.” This view didn’t entirely come from “Western” sources, either. Bantu shows that Persian Christians, for example, saw the ties of Christianity and Rome and viewed it with some suspicion, seeing the ties of church and state as making Christians loyal to the nation rather than God (21-22). The Hellenization of theology occurred in this period too, despite some of the most important Christian thinking happening outside of the global West. The Council of Chalcedon, long seen as a standard of Orthodoxy, itself used Hellenistic terminology and ended up causing division in the church. Such divisions were exacerbated by political schisms as borders changed (31-33). Bantu traces the history of these through more serious schisms and Christianity’s earliest encounters with Islam.

The next chapter gives an overview of Christianity’s roots in Africa. Egypt was a major part of the growth of Christianity and Christians there trace their lineage through St. Mark. The religious roots of Egypt itself shaped Christianity there, as Bantu argues Cyril explicitly developed Christian theology as a counter to worship of Isis and Horus. Nubia is another major area of growth in Africa, and the conflict between Christianity and Islam there ultimately led to a peace that lasted for centuries. Due to this peace, Nubian Christianity was able to thrive and encounter other cultures that it integrated into Nubian identity (90-93). Ethiopia was noher place of significant growth and development of early Christianity. King Ezana helped integrate Christianity into the area of his domain, and he continued some of his pre-Christian religion as well, forming a kind of syncretism that in some ways lasted for centuries afterwards (100-102). Ethiopian Christianity would go on to influence global Christianity to the extent that seeing Christianity as solely “white man’s religion” instead of a part of African culture is an untenable description (103). North African Christianity also made contributions to global faith and practice, which Bantu traces through Carthage and many other places.

The Middle East also experienced massive growth of Christianity and cannot be ignored when it comes to historical Christianity or the history of the church. Syria was a huge part of this global growth as Antioch became a center of Christianity. Syriac theology and poetry has been formative for Christianity since the outset, though that influence was downplayed throughout long periods of time. Thankfully, a recovery of Syrian Christian traditions and theology is continuing into today (124ff). Lebanon, Arabia, and Armenia also had massive surges of Christanity as it spread across the globe. In Armenia, Christianity confronted Zoroastrianism in complex ways (148ff). The Armenian church continues into today as one of the ancient traditions of Christianity. In Georgia, we find another ancient Christian tradition that reaches back into the fourth century CE. Georgian Christianity continues into today with an identity that is at least “synonymous with the Georgian identity that began in Late Antiquity” (164).

The Silk Road provided a fertile missions field for early Christians as well, and Bantu traces the spread of Christianity through Asia. Persia’s first Christians were largely identified with the Jewish community that had lived there since the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century BCE. Persian Christians, however, had to encounter a kind of ancient identity politics that demanded they become servants of Caesar in order to be truly Christian. Bantu draws some parallels to today’s own challenges for non-white/non-Western people and Christianity from this (169-170). The origins of Christianity in India have been commonly attributed to the work of the Apostle Judas Thomas, and some interesting historical (and ahistorical) debate over the apocryphal Acts of Thomas and stories therein do not take away from the broader fact that Christianity came to India at a fairly early time (180ff). Christianity also spread across central Asia. Some of this spread was through areas controled by the Mongolian civilization which was generally tolerant for Christianity. China encountered Christianity during the Tang dynasty (618-907CE) and the opening of trade that accompanied it. Contextualization was central to the Christian faith in China, and various symbols were adopted (204ff). Christianity flourised under a tolerant rule of the Mongolians in china but later declined due to persecution and direct anti-Christian campaigns in China and elsewhere (215-217).

A Multitude of Peoples is a necessary read for anyone interested in global Christianity, and, in particular, interested in Christianity beyond what has been called the “West.” It’s an exciting book that makes readers think about the ancient roots of Christian faith even while tracing the successes and failures of the same. Bantu demonstrates unquestionably that Christianity, from its earliest periods, reached across the globe and shaped–and was shaped by–cultures across the world. May it ever be so.

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.

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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: “Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” by Laura M. Fabrycky

The intersection of the scholarly and the intimate is a rare gift. At first, some readers may think that scholarly works simply cannot be intimate. How can someone be so closely associated with a topic while also writing in a serious, academic way? Laura M. Fabrycky’s work, Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer shows how that can be done related to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By integrating her personal experiences of leading tours at the Bonhoeffer Haus and in Germany with insights into the background of Bonhoeffer’s life, Fabrycky manages to create a unique read in the field of Bonhoeffer scholarship.

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is a kind of memoir, exploring Fabrycky’s own interaction with Bonhoeffer through her time in Germany. Because of this, it offers a deeply personal look at many aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life. But alongside that, Fabrycky also offers scholarly details to go along with her reflections such that a compelling narrative-driven exploration of Bonhoeffer. But the book provides more than that–it is much more a kind of look at Bonhoeffer’s place and how that impacted his life and decisions. Seeing how locations in Germany were set up helped to understand certain points in Bonhoeffer’s life more thoroughly. 

Fabrycky’s style is excellent. The chapter on learning to ride bikes and finding locations related to Bonhoeffer’s life while navigating the strange world (to Americans) of European rules regarding bikes was an absolutely fascinating read. Time and again, Fabrycky’s style drew this reader in to the extent that it truly felt like riding along the streets with her while exploring the interior of Bonhoeffer’s life through buildings and places. Another example of this was her note of the roadside crucifixions, which, contextually, were used by the Nazis to bolster anti-Semitism in portraying the Jews as those to fully blame for killing Christ. 

But a strong sense of place and personal reflection are not all that is offered in this fascinating work. Fabrycky continually draws readers’ eyes and imaginations to reading alongside and experiencing alongside Bonhoeffer, examining concepts of friendship, how Bonhoeffer read Scripture, and concepts of loyalty and nationalism. Because these are integrated into a broader, personal narrative, it once again presents readers with a feeling of sitting next to Fabrycky and exploring and experiencing these things oneself. One example is related to Bonhoeffer’s use of Moravian watchwords, called Die Losungen (see Kindle locations 1718ff). Fabrycky writes, “These were, and are, daily Scripture meditations published every year by the Moravian Brethern, a Protestant group that traces its religious heritage to a pre-Reformation movement of pietists who were committed to Scripture, prayer, an evangelism… Bonhoeffer and many others used their so-called watchwords… as a daily devotional practice, and it was one he commended to others as well” (ibid). After reading this, this reviewer looked it up, and it turns out one can subscribe to these to this day via email, and it has been edifying practicing a religious discipline Bonhoeffer himself commended. After reading this from Fabrycky, moreover, this reviewer was reading in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works and noticed several times these very watchwords were mentioned in letters and elsewhere. It was a fascinating insight that let this reader focus more on aspects of Bonhoeffer’s works that had been missed before. These kind of insights are found in abundance throughout Keys… and make it an invaluable look at Bonhoeffer’s thought life.

One critique I have is of the portrayal of church and state in Lutheran theology. Fabrycky writes, for example, that Bonhoeffer’s pacifism challenged Lutheran ideals in German society. She also writes that “Being a good Lutheran and a good German meant inhabiting two worlds at the same time… the spiritual… and the secular…but these worlds were fully compartmentalized from one another” (Kindle Location 3922). Much debate has gone into Bonhoeffer scholarship regarding Two Kingdoms theology, and Fabrycky here aligns herself with those who read as Lutheran what others read as distortions of Luther. This may be semantics, but many (such as Trey Palmisano in Peace and Violence in the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, review here) have argued that Bonhoeffer’s stance on church and state is the genuine Lutheran position. Further, several have argued that Bonhoeffer’s position is both consistent and draws directly from Luther to offer a corrective to the notion of Volk that turned the Two Kingdoms doctrine into a justification of essentially any state action (see Michael P. DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Reception of Luther, review here). I also favor an approach that sees Bonhoeffer’s theology of church and state–the Two Kingdoms doctrine–both as genuinely Lutheran and consistent, such that his view of pacifism would have challenged those Lutherans who had effectively ceded the Two Kingdoms doctrine to a carte blanche for the state. 

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is an enthralling, captivating read. It reads as though one is exploring Bonhoeffer’s world through the mind of one who has been deeply impacted by close connection with his physical world, even decades removed. It will give readers insights into Bonhoeffer that this reader, at least, hasn’t found elsewhere. It’s the kind of unique work that even the most thorough reader of Bonhoeffer’s life and related works will likely find fresh and insightful. 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.

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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: “Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters” by Carmen Joy Imes

The question of what to do with the Old Testament and what to do with the Law specifically is one that has loomed large throughout all Christian history, from questions about the Judaizers of Acts 15 all the way to the present. Carmen Joy Imes works to provide an answer to several questions about Christianity and its relation to the covenant at Sinai specifically in Bearing God’s Image.

Central to Imes’s argument is the notion that “taking the Lord’s name in vain” is a misunderstood commandment. Instead, we ought to see it in the context of being God’s name-bearers, those who carry God’s word throughout the world.

The first part of the book focuses on becoming the people who are God’s name-bearers. Perhaps the central feature of the book is found in this part as Imes notes several major points related to Christian living. First, the question of the Ten Commandments–Imes notes that people assume the Ten Commandments apply in every way to everyone to this day, but in reality they were part of the cultural mandate going along with the covenant with God at Sinai. Additionally, the second commandment about taking the Lord’s name in vain makes it seem as though God’s name is a swear word, which is almost the exact opposite of what it should be seen as. The commandment, according to Imes, truly is about bearing God’s name falsely–that is, it is a commandment not to claim to be of God while not acting as though one is of God. As she puts it, it ought to “change… everything about how we live” (51, emphasis hers).

Going along with this notion of being God’s name bearers, Imes draws on several sources to highlight the way they practiced religion in the Ancient Near East and how that would play out in context of the commandment. For example, the way covenantal priesthood dressed was itself one aspect of this (72-74).

Part two focuses on how we ought to live as God’s people who bear God’s name. This begins with asking what Moses and Joshua themselves made of this way of living. Next, Imes surveys more of the Old Testament to draw out living in God’s name throughout the Bible. Jesus is another way to live out God’s name, as Jesus is the name above all other names (151ff). She draws this same strand through some of the epistles as well.

Bearing God’s Image is written at an introductory level and could serve as a study group book fairly easily. It would help readers get exposed to many ideas related to the Christian use of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s a solid introduction to a complex topic. 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.

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