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theology

This tag is associated with 317 posts

Holy Week- A reflection inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God consents to be pushed out of the world and onto the cross; God is weak and powerless in the world and in precisely this way, and only so, is at our side and helps us. Matthew 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us not by virtue of his omnipotence but rather by virtue of his weakness and suffering! This is the crucial distinction between Christianity and all religions. Human religiosity directs people in need to the power of God in the world, God as deus ex machina. The Bible directs people toward the powerlessness and the suffering of God; only the suffering God can help. – DBWE 8, p. 479

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote much related to the cross, and I have constantly found his reflections to be enlightening for devotional and reflective reading, particularly during seasons like Lent. The words presented here are from a passage he wrote while imprisoned by the Nazis, and it is in the middle of his own musics on a “worldly” or “religionless” Christianity, a theme that one may find throughout his career, despite some limiting it only to the latter part of his life.

Here, we see Bonhoeffer pointing to the cross in the midst of a discussion in which he says God comes to us when we are without God, and that God comes against us to be for us. What do all of these confusing things mean?

In the midst of Holy Week, as I watched Notre Dame burn and its spire collapse, I could not help but think about the suffering God in Christ. Then, I opened the works of Bonhoeffer during a devotional time and came upon the passage above. “Only the suffering God can help,” says Bonhoeffer, writing from prison in the midst of a horrific, terrifying war. These words spoke to me in the midst of my own recent sorrows as I dealt with a few fellow Christians condemning me for disagreeing with their beliefs.

Bonhoeffer here points us towards the cross. It is on the cross that God suffered and enters into the world most fully. God does not wave a hand and end suffering; instead, God takes suffering upon Christ, enduring the cross for our sake.

When we endure suffering due to our beliefs.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we seek to end the injustice in the world.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we come to God in times of sorrow.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we see the world in all of its horror, wishing for beauty.

Only the suffering God can help.

When we realize that it was our own sin that condemned us; our own grievous faults.

Only the suffering God can help.

Amen.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer– browse all of my writings on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and related works (keep scrolling through for more links).

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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Book Review: “Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness” by John Lennox

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness addresses one of my all-time favorite Bible stories. I may be a bit biased, as my name is Joseph, but I’ve always loved this narrative. I also had it assigned as a narrative to translate from Hebrew in college, which only deepened my love for this story. Lennox’s title says it: this story has it all. But what of this book? I was excited to dive in to find out what John C. Lennox, a rather famous man in some Christian circles, would have to say about this narrative.

Lennox is a somewhat strange choice for a book on Joseph on the face of things. A search of “John Lennox” with terms like “Joseph” and “Bible” brings up a number of videos of Lennox discussing this narrative, however, showing something of a longstanding interest in the topic. Lennox’s training is in mathematics, though he has written extensively in the fields of apologetics in particular as well as science-faith topics. Where this becomes relevant is when Lennox delves more deeply into the background of texts. He leans heavily on other thinkers for this, and seems particularly reliant upon Kenneth A. Kitchen. These include citations from a text from 1966, along with the more recent On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006). Kitchen is an excellent scholar with impeccable credentials, but again, the heavy reliance on other scholars by Lennox makes any background here seem superficial.

Nevertheless, Lennox does provide quite a bit of background for readers. He begins not with the start of the Joseph narrative, but with an overview of the structure of Genesis, including a re-reading of many of the Genesis accounts. Though this may seem somewhat unnecessary, Lennox does this to give a real sense of place, time, and setting for the Joseph narrative, making it feel even more alive and fresh than it might otherwise. Lennox is keen throughout the book to show that God’s judgement, mercy, and sovereignty are in play throughout the narrative.

Lennox gives plenty of context for readers, but mostly follows an totally expository path, deviating little from the content of the story itself. Where he does deviate, it sometimes goes into strange territory. For example, when discussing “Joseph’s rise to power,” Lennox goes on a tangent about confidence, which leads to a discussion about Christianity in “the West.” In the midst of this discussion, Lennox cites others noting that “there has been a collapse of Western self-confidence…” He then goes on to link this loss of confidence to a rise in trust in science as over and against Christianity. Following previously cited authors, Lennox argues that “confidence in God and in the Lord and the Gospel is being shaken as never before” (154). Then, Lennox just brings Joseph back in. Joseph was just “a single individual, with no other human group supporting him, yet such was his conviction of the truth of the message he had… that he influenced the future of an entire nation. That is the sort of confidence in God… that is necessary in order to stand up and reverse the trend of weakness and lack of conviction and authenticity that characterize far too much of that which calls itself Christian” (155). Frankly, I am baffled by this rabbit trail. Apart from the strangeness of demanding that Christianity be characterized by strength and authenticity rather than being humble (Ephesians 4:2, for example), it also seems very much like a grasp by Lennox to make an application in a section that he has thus far done little to make practical theology happen.

The story of Joseph, of course, features prominently at least one woman: Potiphar’s wife. Lennox goes over the story of Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Joseph in detail. Once more, Lennox is keen to make applications to today from the story, including arguing that sexual activity “including pornography” is encouraged in “our contemporary world.” In contrast, Lennox argues, this leads to bitterness and anti-social behavior. To combat this, we ought “to make God the center and focal point of our morality, not our desires, or feeling that it is so right” (128). Later, when discussing Potiphar’s attempt to frame Joseph, Lennox appeals not to the Bible but to the common proverb “a woman scorned” to make his point (129), attempting an appeal to what he seems to think is a shared agreement–women, right? This movement from an individual woman–Potiphar’s wife–to all women: “a woman scorned,” is surely overdone and not a little insulting. Lennox’s implication seems to be that Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to frame Joseph is just what we ought to expect from a woman who was trying to seduce a man like Joseph. But this is the very kind of generalizing from abusive behavior to excuses that has led to so many problems in the world and church around the topic of abuse. I was surprised to see this, but then Lennox follows it with another disappointing statement, saying that Potiphar’s wife “denounced Joseph to the other servants, playing the race card” (129). This “race card” was that Potiphar’s wife blamed Joseph due to his being a Hebrew (Genesis 39:13-15). But the use of “race card” in this way is clearly pejorative. Lennox doesn’t give any further context for this statement, but this kind of terminology is often used to denounce those who point to real, current abuses happening due to people’s race. What makes it particularly odd is that Lennox puts this apparent condemnation of lumping whole groups together right next to his own action doing the same (“race card” means calling Joseph Hebrew to denounce him is bad, but in the very same paragraph Lennox uses “a woman scorned” to reference the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” proverb that implies all women act in this manner). It’s an alarming and disappointing series of discussions from Lennox in this section.

Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness is a competent look at a beautiful story. Lennox gives much by way of background, but derives most of the details from other sources. When he makes contemporary applications, they are quite uneven. The theological leanings of the reader will most likely be the determining factor in one’s enjoyment.

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: “Mad or God?” by Pablo Martinez and Andrew Sims

C.S. Lewis’s famous trilemma is central to Martinez and Sims’s investigation in Mad or God? That trilemma states:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the devil of hell…” (cited on page xi)

The trilemma, then, is that Jesus is, as many have put it, mad, bad, or God (or Liar, Lord, or Lunatic). In Mad or God?, Martinez and Sims examine the claim in light of whether Jesus can be read as a madman. What’s interesting is that, unlike many works on the trilemma (or ones which reference it), this one is written by two who have expertise in the topic. According to the author blurbs, Pablo Martinez is a psychiatrist and Andrew Sims is a “world-renowned authority on the study of the symptoms of the mind (psychopathology).”

The book is centered around chapters which examine Jesus’s words in the Gospels and looking at whether, from a psychiatric standpoint, they qualify as various forms of psychopathy. These chapters examine, then, whether Jesus was mentally disturbed, psychotic, suffered from mental impairment, had a questionable character, lived a consistent life, sustained healthy relationships, was tested by adversity, had a positive influence, and made claims that might be sustained.

Each chapter is fairly short and gets straight to the heart of the claim. While acknowledging the difficulty with psychoanalysis of people who are long-dead, the authors work with the information on hand–the words and acts of Jesus in the Gospels. For example, in the chapter on psychosis, the authors outline the symptoms of psychopathy and look at the accusation of the same for Jesus. Of particular interest is the reaction of Jesus’s family, which the authors argue is understandable given the claims Jesus was making. Then, the authors go through individual symptoms of psychosis and argue that Jesus does not cohere with these symptoms. This is essentially the model for each chapter of the book, making it an easy reference for those interested in the trilemma argument. If someone says that Jesus was mentally impaired, flip to that chapter and see why we may trust he was not. If they wish for positive evidence of soundness of mind, a perusal of the chapters on relationships and consistency will serve.

An objection that might immediately come up to this work is that if the Gospels are not trustworthy historical accounts of Jesus’s words, then the whole argument falls apart. Sims and Martinez essentially leave this argument to others, and indeed there are many, many works which seek to answer this objection. Essentially, this book’s aim is to show that if we take the words and actions of Jesus as having been reported in a trustworthy manner, then it is clear that Jesus is not a lunatic.

Mad or God? is a unique and pithy look at one of the most popular arguments for the deity of Christ. With its short length, it does not comprehensively deal with every issue that may come up, but as a quick reference for those wishing to make this argument, it is excellent.

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: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality” by André Dumas

André Dumas’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a deep look at the theology and philosophy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offering the thesis that Bonhoeffer’s primary aim was to show that God is reality and really interacts with the world. Though this may seem a rather mundane claim, Dumas’s point is that “reality” is rather strictly defined for Bonhoeffer, and, as he argues, this leads to some intriguing insights into Christian theology and philosophy.

One side note before reviewing the work: this book was originally published in French in 1968 and in English in 1971. Dumas is, in part, responding to the “death of God” movement that turned Bonhoeffer into a kind of secular saint Nevertheless, this work is highly relevant to today’s theological and philosophical inquiry as well, particularly due to the keen interest in Bonhoeffer’s life and work.

Central to Bonhoeffer’s thought, argues Dumas, is the struggle between objective revelation and existential interpretation. Alongside this is the question of reality, which, for Bonhoeffer, was this-worldly. Christianity is not to be reduced to a religion, in this case meant to denote a faith that points to the other-world or beyond this world to a different and disconnected reality. Instead, it is about this world, the very one we are in. Dumas notes that “Bonhoeffer was… drawn to the Old Testament, because the living God within it becomes known only in the here-and-now of human life. The absence in the Bible of any speculation about the beyond, about the abode of the dead, about inner feelings, or about the world of the soul, strongly differentiates the faith and anthropology of Israel from the various religions that surround it. For Israel [and Bonhoeffer], God can only be encountered in the reality of this world. To withdraw from it is to find oneself beyond his reach” (144). Alongside this is the need to avoid either total subjectivism about the word of God while also not falling into the danger of objectification.

In order to combat these difficulties, Dumas argues that Bonhoeffer sees Christ as the structure of the world, God entering reality to structure it around himself. Thus, for Bonhoeffer, Christ is “the one who structures the world by representing its true reality before God until the end” (32). This is important, because this means that Bonhoeffer is not encouraging a Christianity that sees the ultimate goal as “salvation” from the world. “When biblical words like ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’… are used today, they imply that God saves us by extricating us from reality, blissfully removing us from any contact with it. This is both gnostic and anti-biblical” (ibid). Christ is the true center of all things, and the structure which upholds the true reality, one with Christ at the center.

These central aspects of Bonhoeffer’s thought are then the main force of Dumas’s arguments when it comes to “religionless Christianity” and the questions of realism and idealism. Regarding the latter, Nietzsche remains a major force in philosophy as one who also argued for a kind of realism. But Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, though having similar influences, came to utterly different conclusions and interpretations of that “realism.” Nietzsche “cannot get beyond the terrible ambiguity of loneliness in the world, against which Bonhoeffer rightly affirms the reality of co-humanity, willed by God in his structuring of the world, and embodied by Christ in his life and death for others” (161). Thus, “Bonhoeffer… agrees with Nietzsche on the primacy of reality… But Bonhoeffer disagrees with Nietzsche about the nature of that reality” (ibid). And Bonhoeffer’s vision of reality is concrete as well, but one which avoids the stunning loneliness and hopelessness of Nietzsche.

The non-religious church is a major question in Bonhoeffer’s later thought, but one which must be viewed holistically with the rest of Bonhoeffer’s ideas, as Dumas argues. Thus, the non-religious church is not an atheistic one or a “secular Christian” one. Instead, it is one which “will then rediscover a langauge in speaking of God [that] will not release one from the earth… The resurrection will not re-establish the distance between God and man that was overcome by the cross… Instead, [the community of the church] will be nourished by its participation here on earth in the task of restructuring everyday life, just as Jesus Christ did earlier on its behalf” (209). This cannot be interpreted as a call to go against faith in Christ but rather as a radical call to make Christ the center once again. This is the linchpin of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics as well, for it calls to make Christ the center, a re-structuring and ordering of the world which will change everything, and an order which Bonhoeffer died following.

Dumas is an able interpreter of Bonhoeffer, and one who avoids entirely the danger of separating Bonhoeffer’s work into distinct eras or prioritizing some works over others. Dumas argues instead that Bonhoeffer’s thought is unified, though of course it does develop over time. Therefore, Dumas finds Sanctorum Communio just as important as Letters and Papers from Prison for understanding Bonhoeffer’s thought. His book demonstrates the ability of Bonhoeffer not simply as theologian or martyr but also as philosopher, drawing from Hegel and others to create a systematic view of the world with Christ as the center, as the structure of reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a fascinating work that ought to be read by any looking to understand the works of Bonhoeffer.

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.

I’m a Christian and I (still) Read Books by Men

Tim Challies, author of the post this one parodies. Image Source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/bg3-blog/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/18092519/TimChallies.jpg

[Note: this post is a close parody of Tim Challies’s article, “I’m a Complementarian and I Read Books By Women.” Challies’s self-congratulatory attitude towards himself for deigning to read books by 50% of the human species touched a nerve, and that kind of nonsense needs to be called out.]

I wonder if you have ever noticed that heresies in Christianity have tended to be authored by men and spread by men, while very few historical heresies are named after women. Heresies tend to be invented by men, while women have tended to be the first preachers of the Gospel (like Mary). In general, heresies have tended to be from the voices and pens of men, while women’s voices have tended to be silenced by those men.

I am Christian. I believe God created the world and made man and woman in the image of God, like the Bible says. I also believe that the historical heresies have been rightly condemned, and these are almost entirely the inventions of men. Yet I gladly read books written by men. This is true whether the books are written specifically for Christians, or whether they are for a general audience. In every case, I am glad to read the and to learn from them.

For some Christians, this is obvious and unremarkable. Yet it probably should come as something of a shock. After all, historically, so many heresies have come from men, while women’s voices were silenced or ignored. Someone, looking in from the outside, might say it may be worth just telling men to stop writing about doctrine for a while. To the contrary, I believe we can and must encourage men to write non-heretical books and that all Christians can gladly and confidently read them for the benefit of their own souls.

As far as I can tell, there are few heresies exclusively reserved for men or women. Though it is true that men throughout the history of Christianity have worked to silence women, despite the biblical call for sons and daughters to prophesy (Acts 2:17), the appearance of women in roles of leadership (eg. Junia in Romans 16:7), and the clear biblical teaching that in the body of Christ there is “no male and female” (Galatians 3:28), men still can have good things to say.

Men and women are equal in gifts and equal in ability. They are also equal in wisdom. Both men and women are able to learn, to understand, to interpret, to apply. Both men and women can know the facts of the Christian faith, both can have a deep knowledge of Scripture, both can have insight that allows them to apply this knowledge to life’s circumstances. Women can be theologians in the same sense that men can be theologians—they can have a deep knowledge of God, his Word, his will, his ways. In fact, when the book of Proverbs personifies wisdom it does so in the character of Lady Wisdom, not Sir Wisdom. [Block quoted- direct quote from Challies’s article.]

Men have taught, capably spread, and filled others’ minds with heresy. Despite this, God is able to overcome these heresies with the Truth of Christ. God gifts women to teach, makes them capable, and fills them with wisdom. Though this is all true, we should not reject reading books by men entirely, because God has called both men and women to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is no indication that God goes against God’s own words about men and women prophesying together, or that writers in the Bible thought God was wrong when God made both men and women in God’s image, or when God revealed that there is no male and female in Christ.

So I encourage Christian men to write and to do so with confidence that this is an affirmation, not a denial, of Christianity, so long as they avoid the heresies made by men. I encourage Christian men and their publishers not to restrict themselves to men’s versions of books on important subjects. They can write to all of us. We don’t need to let historic fear of heresy silence  voices of men in the church.

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This post is a parody of Tim Challies’s original, subtly misogynist, self-congratulatory post about how he actually reads books by women which I have linked here. I parody it under fair use.

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: “Conformed to the Image of His Son” by Haley Goranson Jacob

Haley Goranson Jacob’s Conformed to the Image of His Son is a deep, detailed look at the meaning of “conformity with Christ,” specifically in Romans 8:29. Her primary thesis is that this “conformity” is the participation on Christ’s rule over creation as renewed humanity (266).

First, Haley Goranson Jacob outlines the many positions authors have taken on the meaning of Romans 8:29 (“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” [NIV].) These positions are no attempt to explain the meaning, a combination of other meanings, physical conformity to Christ (having the same physical form), spiritual or moral conformity, conformity to the Sons’ eschatological glory (here glory means something like radiance), and a sacrificial conformity in which the believer suffers like Christ (3). After brief engagement with these views–and a longer rebuttal to several of them later in the book–she dives into an analysis of Jewish meanings of glory and glorification. Then, she looks broadly at Romans and what glory and glorification means therein.

Participation in Christ’s glory in several passages is analyzed next, alongside images of who the Son is. The purposing of conformity rounds out the discussion on Romans 8:29 specifically.

From my own perspective, Garonson Jacob’s position seems to be quite correct. There is a kind of unity between her arguments about the conformity to Christ and the meaning of being the image of God in Genesis. If we take that image to mean, as John Walton argues, a kind of surrogate for God in creation, then it makes sense that post-fall, part of God’s plan would be to restore that image through conformity. I must admit to being no expert on this topic, and I found it honestly a little surprising to see how controversial this reading apparently is. Goranson Jacob’s analysis of rival views was particularly helpful here, and it helped me see how some of these other positions would be tied into, as mine is, wider theological commitments.

I recommend Conformed to the Image of His Son to those looking for an in-depth treatment of the meaning of being one with Christ. The study is applicable to a broader view of what it means to be Christian and who Christ is.

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.

“Ordained Proclaimers or Quiet Learners? Women in Worship in Light of 1 Timothy 2” by Charles A. Gieschen in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“Ordained Proclaimers or Quiet Listeners? Women in Worship in Light of 1 Timothy 2” by Charles A. Gieschen

Gieschen starts by noting that 1 Timothy 2 is a “battleground” text, often taken into account even so far as on issues of whether we should let women serve as lectors (people who read the texts) or vote in meetings (69). This chapter purports to settle the issue regarding exegesis of the text.

Before delving into exegesis, though, the question arises of how the text ought to be translated. The author translates the text himself, specifically 1 Timothy 2:12, as follows: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but [I want her] to keep quiet” (69, brackets are from Gieschen). Needless to say, this translation is highly controversial to begin with, particularly since the author decides to add in his own preferred way to read “keep quiet” by bracketing in his presumed meaning. Indeed, Gieschen’s translation differs markedly from the translation offered by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North in their own chapter on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Their translation, instead of stating that “I want her” to keep quiet, as Gieschen suggests, has this clause as a continuation, simply saying “she must be silent” (52). Such a difference may not seem like much initially, but when one is going to go so far as to ask whether women ought to be kept from reading the Bible in worship based on this text, the importance of what is being said here multiplies dramatically. Moreover, given that Gieschen is providing his own translation, one might expect some defense of the meaning of authentein as “exercise authority.” As Marg Mowczko shows from a brief survey, however, the word’s meaning as simply “exercise authority” is highly contested, even from other Greek sources. Nevertheless, Gieschen offers no defense of this translation, and simply uses this translation for his exegesis. If one finds questions in his translation of the meaning of authentein, then much of what follows is also thrown into question.

Gieschen then goes into three alleged reasons why people are “overrun[ning]” this “biblical command” (69-70). First, he alleges that it is because “biblical authority has eroded… to the point where the demands of biblical texts simply are not heeded.” Second, some argue the command is “culturally conditioned.” Third, “feminism had a profound impact on the Western world.” These three allegations amount to poisoning the well from the start, a technique that, unfortunately, has been repeated throughout the book. It is simply assumed that if a reader does not come to the same conclusions as the authors, they must “not heed” biblical texts, they must dismiss them, or they have given into some bogeyman, whether Gnosticism (in the next chapter, this is the argument), some form of feminism their readers ought, apparently, to fear, or some kind of historical heresy. This does nothing to advance the argument and indeed seems to show just how little regard the authors have for those with whom they disagree.

Background is important, and Gieschen provides his own basic assumptions about 1 Timothy before delving into more exegesis. First, he holds that Paul did write this letter. Second, he argues it is the word of God. Third, he argues the “implied reader” of the text is churches across Asia Minor (73). Next, Gieschen goes into the context of 1 Timothy 2, stating that the context is “after addressing false teaching and before discussing congregational offices” (74-75). Oddly, when offering a translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, his translation of 2:12 is actually different from that offered at the beginning of the chapter. Here, it is “I [also] neither permit a woman to teach, nor [do I permit a woman] to exercise authority over a man, but [I want her] to keep quiet” (75). Again, this is a different translation by the author than he offered just pages before. This translation has additional brackets putting words into the text, presumably for clarity. These brackets, though, offer miles of intepretation inserted into the text, particularly when one looks at the brackets he inserts into verse 15, which he adds “[God-ordained role of]” in front of childbearing (itself a somewhat atypical translation). These brackets are, in fact, adding the author’s interpretative framework into the text, moving it in the directions the author prefers, and allowing him to state that women are to occupy certain roles, simply by adding it to the text of Scripture through brackets. The number of bracketed words added into the text here is alarming, but what many of them tend to do is shift the meaning towards a patriarchal understanding that is stronger than what seems to be in the text itself. It is alarming to see the author, who just a few paragraphs before was attacking his opponents for not taking Scripture seriously enough, seriously just add entire clauses with meaning (like “God-ordained role of”) into that very Word of God.

Finally, Gieschen moves into the exegesis of the text. Immediately, however, we encounter the problem we’ve encountered several times before: Gieschen prefers a reading of the text that selectively makes words literal or not based upon his preferred meaning. For example, he asserts that the quietness or silence of women is not to be understood as women having to be completely silent in worship. The text says quiet/silence, but it doesn’t mean that; what it means, according to Gieschen, is that women “are not to be in a verbal teaching mode during the service but to be in a ‘quiet’ learning mode” (78, emphasis his). So now, we have the author being selectively literal with this text, and then moving beyond selecting which parts to take literally into saying that what the text actually means to say is this longer text, that women are not to be in a “verbal teaching mode.” Well, one may wonder, why doesn’t Paul just say that, then?

Regarding public teaching, Gieschen goes on to argue that what is meant is that “I do not permit a woman to engage in the authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures to men” (80). Again, one wonders why Paul didn’t simply state this rather clear exortation, relying instead upon his exegetes to do so for him. But smuggled in alongside this argument is the shift in meaning from “teach” to “authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures.” This lengthy meaning derived from a single Greek word is simply placed into the text, once more moving the meaning of the text into Gieschen’s reading without argument. And, of course, because this lengthy reading of didaskein is taken to mean “authoritative and public transmission of tradition about Christ and the Scriptures,” Gieschen then feels comfortable to state that it “clearly prohibits woman [sic] from holding the pastoral office…” (81). Of course it does, when one imports a lengthy prohibition into a single word!

Here, though, we finally see Gieschen address the meaning of “exercise authority.” But rather than delving into the rather lengthy modern discussions of the meaning of this phrase in Greek, Gieschen cites a single article in his favor in order to state that it means exercise authority. Remarkably, however, Gieschen goes on to acknowledge the word’s meaning is generally “in the sense of ruling, controlling, or dominating without inherently possessing the authority to do so” (81). But this is exactly what many egalitarians have argued–that the word is a usurped authority or one wielded in such a way as to harm others. And if that is the proper translation, then the meaning of the text shifts: “I do not permit a woman to… (domineer/harm/hold authority wrongly over) a man.” And this is a reading that hardly undermines the egalitarian case. Indeed, if we agree with Gieschen here that the authority is exercised in a way of controlling/dominating, then we have moved into an egalitarian reading of the text–one that Gieschen himself apparently endorses partially only to undermine it by, apparently, holding that women inherently are unequal in authority (despite his earlier insistence that women are equal “before God” (71).

Next, Gieschen surveys various responses to his argument, some of which we’ve dealt with already in this series. But of interest is his argument against those who note that women did indeed teach men or apparently hold various offices. He shifts the goal posts. He simply states that these women cannot be proved to have held the “pastoral office” (83), however he chooses to define it (he doesn’t). Yet when we have looked at others in the same volume who have defined pastoral roles, we’ve seen they can’t even show that anyone held such an office in the NT. So Gieschen’s saying that it is “very difficult to defend” that women held the “pastoral office,” it should not be surprising. (See discussion of ordination and its definition in this book here.)

Order of creation is a major buzz-theme for complementarians, and we see Gieschen wield it here. He argues that there is a “created order” that grounds his interpretation of this passage. What is that created order? He simply appeals to verse 13 in which Paul says Adam was created first, then Eve. But, as many, many have pointed out, this bald-faced appeal is extremely inconsistent, because any number of creatures, dirt, skies, and clouds were all created before Adam. So if “created order” is simply the order in which things were created, this argument turns into an absurdity. Now, many complementarians will insist this misrepresents their argument, but Gieschen, like so many others, fails to go beyond this simple reading of “first Adam, then Eve” as if it solves everything for them. One might as easily say “first cats, then Adam.” Gieschen is concerned, though, with proving that this “order of creation” (however defined) is not “nullified” or undone. Rather than acknowledging that Galatains 3:28 presents a massive problem with his reading, however, Gieschen enlists that text by saying that “differences in genders and roles do not imply that women are inferior to men…” How not? Just because Galatians 3:28 says so? But Galatians 3:28 actually says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (ESV). Once again, Gieschen is using a text that seemingly says the opposite of what he wants it to–“there is no male and female”–in order to say what he does want it to: male and female genders have different roles which are put into creation order for all time and are in no way contradicted by saying “no male and female.” But this the height of eisegesis rather than exegesis–Gieschen is reading into Galatians 3:28 that which is not there. Indeed, Gieschen’s ultimate defense of his position is to punt it to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s theological statements, rather than defending his readings from the text. The quote he offers doesn’t cite Scripture to back up its twisted reading of orders of creation and redemption; it simply asserts their position.

Finally, Gieschen looks at the “saved through child-bearing” in verse 15 briefly, arguing that it must mean some kind of role for women. Why? It seems because it most closely matches Gieschen’s own reading of the context.

This chapter on 1 Timothy 2 is problematic in several ways, as we’ve seen. There’s no need to rehearse all the errors Gieschen makes in his translation or exegesis. What is important is to note that Gieschen’s own understanding of one of the key clauses in the text–the meaning of “authority” is one that egalitarians can–and do–argue for themselves. Ultimately, it seems that it is Gieschen’s theological presuppositions that guide his reading of the text, locking in words to specific meanings, selectively being literal when needed, adding words where needed, and expanding words to mean entire sentences. Once again we see that the complementarian reading of the text is far from a plain-sense reading of Scripture as is so often argued.

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!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

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.

“‘As In All the Churches of the Saints’: A Text-Critical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35” by David W. Bryce in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“‘As In All the Churches of the Saints’: A Text-Critical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35” by David W. Bryce

The first thing to note in this chapter is that it directly contradicts the previous chapter. In the previous chapter, Kriewaldt and North made the claim that the textual integrity of this passage, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is “certain.” That word is a very strong claim. Yet at the very beginning of this chapter by David W. Bryce, we find that there are textual critical issues that indicate it does not have “certainty” when it comes to textual integrity. Indeed, the entire chapter is dedicated to just that issue. Of course, Bryce ultimately concludes that the text is not an interpolation, which could hardly be anything but a foregone conclusion given his theological commitments, but the very fact that there is enough material to even question whether the text is an interpolation must surely indicate it is not “certain.”

Bryce begins by noting an argument for the text here being an interpolation. Though no ancient manuscripts omit the verses, the placement is unclear because some manuscripts have it placed after verse 40, while others have it where it generally appears in modern English translations after verse 33. Bryce surveys the manuscripts and argues that the placement of the verses after verse 40 stems from a single, no longer extant Western manuscript (61).

Interestingly, Bryce then turns to a section in which he tries to discern who the alleged scribe is who may have tried to take 1 Cor. 14:34-35 out of the text. One of the aspects of the profile of this alleged single scribe is that “He opposed the exclusion of women from the ordained ministry and sought to reverse the traditional ecclesiastical practice of his day” (63). But what is this based upon? Nothing more than a conclusion that a non-extant single manuscript led to the verses being seen as a possible interpolation in the Western text type. Of course, those who have read a lot of textual criticism know conclusions based on extrapolated manuscripts aren’t uncommon; but to go from that extrapolation to theological conclusions about the alleged single (and male) scribe who may have taken the verses out of their context seems to be an exercise in mythmaking.

Yet Bryce is not content to merely leave it at some unnamed scribe of allegedly questionable theological motivations. Instead, he goes on to argue that the scribe is none other than the heretic Marcion! Just in case readers are confused by this jump, I want to outline the argument here. Bryce argues first that the evidence for 14:34-35 coming after verse 40 (and therefore possibly being an interpolation due to it being a “floating text” is only found in the Western tradition. Because it is only in a few manuscripts, he posits that the evidence comes originally from a single, earlier manuscript that no longer exists. Because it being an interpolation would aid those who believe women may be pastors [never mind any other possible motivations], he argues that it must be from a scribe who stood against his own tradition’s practice of not ordaining women. Now, he argues that this scribe was Marcion because Paul was “Marcion’s hero” and Marcion practiced exegesis by cutting out verses he didn’t like wholesale (64). Marcion used the Western text type, Bryce argues, and he would have had the motivation to take out these verses from the original text. From there, Bryce concludes that “Marcion had motive, opportunity, and an established modus operandi to excise this offensive passage and reclaim, what was for him, the pure text of St. Paul” (65).

Simply reading through this maze of reasoning ought to be enough to lead readers to question it, but there are any number of problems with his hypotheses. First, he has presented no actual reason to even think that the omission or movement of the text was intentional other than that it is a convenient text for his own position (and therefore someone would want to remove it). Second, Marcion’s creation of his own texts seems to have been rather notorious even in his own time, as Bryce notes in his own argument. If that’s the case, then why would a man who went from basically cutting out the Old Testament from the Bible go to such effort to try to remove a single verse? Why not simply publish an entirely new New Testament with all of his excisions therein instead of trying to plant a single manuscript somewhere to deceive later generations? Third, Bryce’s argument assumes quite a bit about how manuscripts can be transmitted intentionally by reading intention behind such a transmission of an alleged non-interpolation. After all, to read intent rather than error into the “mistake” is an evaluation of purpose of the scribe, one clearly not warranted when by Bryce’s own admission we don’t even have the alleged single original source manuscript. Fourth, Bryce’s own analysis of the text does not warrant his conclusion that the verses in question must have been original to the text (see next paragraph). Fifth, Bryce’s attempt to place a notorious heretic as the one to blame for evidence for an interpolation looks unfortunately like an attempt to poison the well against his opponents. Sixth, Bryce’s analysis of the textual critical data is mistaken (see below).

Philip B. Payne has argued forcefully for the text being an interpolation. In his work, Man and Woman: One in Christ he lays out the case, and while Bryce downplays or doesn’t include elements such as scribal distigme notating potential interpolations in the text. Moreover, directly in contradiction to Bryce’s conclusion, Payne notes that:

Codex Vaticanus’s evidence that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation is especially important for several reasons. Its distigme (mark of a textual variant) at the end of v. 33 with no corresponding distigme at the end of v. 40 is evidence of a textual variant that was not the Western displacement was written prior to Codex Vaticanus.

So Bryce’s conclusion that the textual evidence can or should be traced back to a single Western manuscript is incorrect. Codex Vaticanus’s textual evidence reveals that the textual variant goes beyond the Western text type. This single piece of counter-evidence guts much of Bryce’s theorizing both regarding how pervasive the variant is and, certainly, all of his hypotheses about Marcion being responsible. Payne’s article also notes several issues with Bryce’s analysis of MS. 88, as interested readers can peruse.

Bryce’s essay, then, is mistaken on several counts. First, his theorizing about the source of the textual variant (again, which simple existence contradicts the previous chapter in this very book) is based upon tenuous evidence at best. Second, his analysis of the textual critical evidence misses key points regarding the Western tradition and beyond. It seems that those who argue that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 indeed an interpolation may be on to something, and that Bryce’s argument, though requiring an answer, doesn’t overcome the evidence of the text being just such an interpolation. Surely Bryce, with his commitment to ensuring we only follow those texts that are original to the Bible, would therefore agree that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 must not be followed in “all the churches of the saints.”

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!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

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: “Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views” edited by Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker

I love multiview books. I find them generally enlightening, filling in details about views I don’t hold (and sometimes didn’t even know existed) while also showing how my own view (or one like it) stacks up against others. Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views presents a multiview book on doing theology as an evangelical.* I found it to be highly informative, though I was somewhat perplexed by some aspects of the book.

The views presented here as different theological methods for evangelicals are “Bible Doctrines/Conservative Theology” presented by Sung Wook Chung, “Missional Theology” presented by John R. Franke, “Interdisciplinary Theology” presented by Telford C. Work, “Contextual Theology” presented by Victor Ifeanyi Ezigbo, and “Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology” presented by Paul Louis Metzger.

The Bible Doctrines view is essentially grounded in the notion that we use the Bible as a source to draw information from and then outline what the Bible teaches. The Bible is the data, theology is presenting and systematizing that data. Chung appeals to the historical grammatical view in support of this, arguing that while history and textual criticism may provide some correctives, the core is to ask “what does the Bible teach” and end the discussion there. The missional view does theology with a focus on the church lived/living its mission to make disciples of all nations. Thus, it is an inherently practical theology, looking to apply what the Bible teaches to the mission of Christ’s church. Interdisciplinary theology is an approach that utilizes any field of study, making theology the “queen of the sciences” while integrating insight from biology, psychology, literary studies, and more. Interestingly, Work does a case study based on homosexuality and Christianity, arguing that the question is not “Is homosexuality wrong” but rather what kind of people we ought to try to be to conform to the image of Christ. Contextual theology seeks to make the Gospel of Christ understandable and appealing to all people not by applying a one-size-fits all doctrinal mold or practice but rather by utilizing insights from cultures that exist to show the truth of Christ. The Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology chapter was the most difficult in the book, utilizing themes from Barth (along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer an Colin Gunton) to draw out a dogmatic theology for Christianity.

There is some clear overlap between a few of these views, particularly the missional/contextual view and the “Bible Doctrines”/Trinitarian views. The responses at the end of the book didn’t allow individual authors to respond back to the responses, something I did miss. It would have been nice to see, for example, I’d be curious to see how Ezigbo might respond to Chung on the challenge he offered to contextual theology and the possibility of syncretism or the authority of Scripture.

Ezigbo’s essay struck me as particularly insightful, and his responses were perhaps the best in the book. His challenge to Metzger, for example, is on point: “Clearly Metzger exhibits the characteristics of theologians whose theological reflections focus primarily on peer-driven questions… One could only wonder what Metzger’s study of Barth would like like if his aim were to discern Barth’s relevance to the contemporary christological questions that Christians with no formal theological education are asking today” (181-182). Ezigbo notes that he isn’t saying that peer-driven questions are irrelevant, “but if theologians expect their theological reflections to benefit all Christians… they should seek to develop skills and the patience required to exegete the… contexts that shape the life of Christians and their communities” (182). I found this a clear challenge for myself as well, as one who is very interested in the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How do we ensure as people doing and discussing theology that our discussions actually have relevance? Of course, one could argue more abstractly that if Barth’s dogmatics are true, then in the broadest sense they are relevant for all people, no matter how obscure, in that truth impacts reality. But that seems cold comfort when the challenge is much more personal: why should Barth’s insights matter to me? It’s food for thought, I think.

One thing that was only addressed in passing by a few of the authors was the strangeness of seeing theological method as an either/or. As a good Lutheran, I love me some ‘both-and.’ It seems to me, as a reader, that these methods could each benefit from one another, and that trying to practice one exclusively would be detrimental. Dogmatics need context. Interdisciplinary studies need some mission. The Bible Doctrines approach could probably stand to acknowledge some of the inherent concerns there (eg. a tendency to assume that one’s own presuppositions of the text or “plain sense” reading is, in fact, correct, despite possible evidence to the contrary).

I found Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views to be a very interesting book, and one which raises many avenues for further research. Those interested in systematic theology, especially, ought to pick it up to read through it. The authors provide some challenges for each of the approaches in the book, and it is important that we do not become too simplistic in our working out of theology.

*I am a Lutheran (specifically of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and although my denomination has “evangelical” in the name, Lutherans are generally different from what is considered broadly evangelical views, particularly in regard to the sacraments. Though, to be fair, Lutherans were the first to identify “evangelical” as a term to call themselves. I give this caveat to show my own outlook on the book.

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: “The Battle for Bonhoeffer” by Stephen R. Haynes

The Battle for Bonhoeffer by Stephen R. Haynes highlights the ways that people across theological, social, and political spectrums have played tug-of-war with Bonhoeffer’s thought, words, and legacy. As Charles Marsh puts it in his Foreword, “It is understandable… that readers with different theological and ideological perspectives would desire to claim Bonhoeffer as their own. ‘Excerpting Bonhoeffer’ has become a familiar exercise in each team’s effort to win…” (ix). Yet Bonhoeffer’s legacy is far more complex than a simple Google quote mine would allow. In my own reading of Bonhoeffer’s works, it is clear that it would be simple to find conflicting messages even within the same sermons at times. Like Martin Luther, for example, reading Bonhoeffer and interpreting him is like peeling away the layers of an onion, trying to get to the core. It takes care, precision, and thought. Unfortunately, as Haynes notes throughout this book, few people are concerned with doing so.

Though the subtitle is “Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump,” there is far more to the book than dealing with the recent Trump phenomenon. Haynes notes how people on both the right and left have distorted or ignored aspects of Bonhoeffer’s legacy to turn in him into a supporter of their own positions. Marsh sets the table well, asking: “Have you heard progressive Christians cite the passage in Ethics calling abortion ‘nothing but murder’? Or recall Bonhoeffer’s preference for monarchy over democracy?” (xii). Haynes notes how Bonhoeffer was cited on one hand by Vietnam draft resisters, peace activists, liberation theologians, death-of-God thinkers on the left, and on the right by people who oppose abortion or same-sex marriage (and, regarding the latter, Haynes notes insights from both Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory and Diane Reynolds The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [which I reviewed here] for reasons this may be quite inaccurate]). The baffling array of topics Bonhoeffer is alleged to have endorsed or condemned suggests that the quote mining being done through his legacy belies an inner complexity that is far deeper.

Haynes surveys the history of interpretation of Bonhoeffer, particularly in America, through the next several chapters. He places a special emphasis on seeing how evangelicals have viewed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What is interesting in this latter topic is that, initially at least, Bonhoeffer was viewed positively but with some “warning flags” by American evangelicals who interacted with his works. Several appreciated his resistance to Nazi ideals, but were put off by his apparent lack of concern for things like “a high view of Scripture/inerrancy” and his being influenced by liberal German theologians. This portrait by the early evangelicals of Bonhoeffer is far more accurate than the one that has been passed into our own time, in part because it allowed for a multifaceted Bonhoeffer who was complex enough to resist being easily integrated into any one position.

Fairly early on, however, the complexities of Bonhoeffer’s thought and life began to be ignored in favor of seeing him as a figurehead for resistance to one’s own preferred ideas. Haynes demonstrates how Bonhoeffer was used to resist George W. Bush and the “war on terror,” and then ironically turned around to resist the “culture of death” under Barack Obama. The raising of the “Bonhoeffer flag” behind such opposed viewpoints should have served as a warning sign, but it unfortunately did not.

Enter Eric Metaxas. Metaxas’s biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy was an extreme departure from Bonhoeffer scholarship generally. For one thing, Metaxas himself admitted to virtually ignoring or explicitly shunning the conclusions of 70 years of Bonhoeffer scholarship both at home and abroad. The cover flap for the book features a spurious quote from Bonhoeffer “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself…” that has since been passed all over the world and even “quoted” multiple times in Congress on record. To say that using an invented quote from Bonhoeffer on the cover of a biography of the man is a bad sign is an understatement. Haynes notes many, many problems with the biography, from a lack of engagement with Bonhoeffer’s actual works (and ignoring, for example, his Letters and Papers from Prison, which is one of the most important works for understanding his developed thought) to a recasting of Bonhoeffer into an American Evangelical. Yet it is Metaxas’s biography that has become the torch-bearer for the populist Bonhoeffer, making an image of the man that is incredibly distorted. For my own part, when I read Metaxas’s work, I was struck by how entirely de-Lutheranized Metaxas had made Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who explicitly stated that, for example, without the Lord’s Supper there is no Christianity and who certainly supported infant baptism and regeneration, but Metaxas excised such details from his own dim look at Bonhoeffer’s theology, preferring to pull out those things which were more amenable to the typical American evangelical.

It was the populist view of Bonhoeffer which lead to notions of a “Bonhoeffer Moment” at various times before, during, and after the 2016 election cycle. Haynes spends some time noting how it was frequently said during the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that American Christians were facing a “Bonhoeffer Moment” in which they would need to resist the government’s tyranny. Haynes notes how many evangelicals made comparisons to previous Supreme Court rulings, conveniently ignoring those unjust rulings they supported or the just ones they opposed. More decisively, Haynes notes that after Obergefell, evangelicals rallied around a woman who was part of an anti-Trinitarian sect to be their martyr for the cause. In the time since, though, very little has been done by evangelicals in their supposed “Bonhoeffer Moment.” This kind of co-option of the man’s legacy is a disservice to all involved.

Haynes doesn’t limit his analysis of the “battle for Bonhoeffer” to just the positives of Bonhoeffer’s life. Metaxas and others have argued Bonhoeffer is a “Righteous Gentile” (Metaxas even made “righteous gentile” part of his additional subtitle to his biography). But Bonhoeffer has explicitly been turned down for that technical categorization for a few reasons: 1) he wrote or supported some things that were seemingly anti-Semitic; and 2) though he did become a martyr, it wasn’t specifically due to his efforts to help the Jews during the Holocaust, which is a criterion for being deemed a “Righteous Gentile.” Bonhoeffer certainly opposed the Nazi treatment of the Jews and did help some Jews escape Germany (though at arm’s length for the most part–simply helping get proper papers from afar); but that was not his project or his main reason for opposing Nazi Germany. And that’s okay. It is important not to lionize Bonhoeffer for things he didn’t actually do, and Haynes is careful to help readers realize that.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer isn’t very long, but its length shouldn’t be taken for a lack of depth. It’s a thoughtful, critical, and sometimes convicting read. As one who is deeply indebted to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my own theology and thought, I found ways in which I had been distorting him in this book as well. Haynes’ book provides an invaluable correction to distortions on the man’s life, times, and thought. I very highly 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.

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