Neighborly Theology: A Review of Amy Laura Hall’s “Writing Home, With Love”

On the day that I read Professor Amy Laura Hall’s Writing Home, With Love, I was sent home three hours early from work. In Greenville, South Carolina, things start shutting down not when the snow starts to fall, but when people are adequately convinced that the snow might actually fall. This is also, more or less, true of Durham, North Carolina. I remember sitting in the Divinity Library one evening and receiving an e-mail informing the Duke community that classes were cancelled for the night and until 10AM the next morning. I looked out the window and, to my surprise, the snow had not yet started. In my hometown of Huntington, Indiana, school was only cancelled if the roads were basically impassable.

Hall’s new collection of essays is an important effort to remind those of us doing the work of theology that we must resist the desire to make our theology somehow universal — one size fits all, if you will. “Blizzard,” “white out,” and “treacherous conditions” do not mean the same thing to people in Greenville and Durham as they do to people in Huntington and Chicago. Likewise, our theology should be localized. If “local” is too much of a buzzword, perhaps I should say our theology should be “neighborly.” And, throughout this collection of essays, written for Durham’s local newspaper The Herald-Sun over the course of two years, Hall tries “to weave the gospel through all of the essays…in ways that will be useful politically and personally for my neighbors of faith and my neighbors who think faith itself is the primary problem” (p. 4). Continue reading

Lessons in Reading Scripture from the Stories of Sherlock Holmes

In anticipation of the release of new BBC Sherlock Holmes episodes, Jessie and I read a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories. The collection includes the first twelve of Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, originally published in Strand Magazine. While reading these stories, I began to recall an essay by David C. Steinmetz titled “Uncovering a Second Narrative” (in The Art of Reading Scripture edited by E. Davis & R. Hays). In that essay, Steinmetz uses detective novels to explain what he calls the “second narrative” at work beneath the story of Scripture. The second narrative, he says, can only be explained at the revelation of a detail previously unknown to the reader. Upon discovering that detail, the reader is able to fill in the blanks in the narrative, culminating finally in solving the mystery. For Steinmetz, Christ is the detail that helped to reveal the second narrative that underlies the entire biblical drama. What I found in Sherlock was perhaps less profound but no less helpful in our quest for learning to read the Scriptures well. So, let us ask, What may we learn from Sherlock Holmes about reading the Bible? Continue reading

Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship: A Review

Jessie and I have, once again, settled into a new city! This time around it is Greenville, South Carolina. We are here until at least February while I continue looking for jobs. In the meantime, some folks at a local bike shop have been kind enough to put me to work building and fixing bicycles. So now, I arrive to work early enough to do some reading in the cool morning air.

Cover image for Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship has been my morning read this week. (Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing it for review!) The author, David I. Starling, is a New Testament lecturer at Morling College in Australia. He was, before reading this book, unknown to me. I must say that I am now most excited to get my hands on more of his work.

The book attempts to broaden the meaning of Scriptura Scripturae interpres, Scripture interprets Scripture. The common understanding of Scripture interprets Scripture is that if something in the Scriptures is confusing, you can use the helpful cross-reference in the margin and simply find out what the passage might mean by reading another passage. In other words, the Scriptures can be read plainly and, if you read them all, then you will understand them all. Starling gives us a helpful quotation from another biblical theologian, Kevin VanHoozer: “The Reformers indicated that obscure passages should be read in the light of clearer ones” (p. 10). Starling is not at all saying that this method is wrong; rather, he thinks it goes much further than this. Continue reading

Who is the Christian Theologian: Part 3

In the first two posts of this series, I have tried to think about who can do theology and the importance, for a Christian theologian, of knowing God through the faith community. In this post, I argue that a Christian theologian is “called” to the task of doing theology.

A picture of several theologians with the text "Who is the Christian Theologian?" Continue reading

Who is the Christian Theologian: Part 2

In yesterday’s post, the first of this series, I suggested that anybody — whether holy or horrible — can say a theologically true statement. All theology done by humankind (or Balaam’s donkey) is “secondhand” because it is only ever responsive to the “firsthand” theology that is done by God. We do our “secondhand” theology thanks to God’s self-revelation.

This post begins to describe the Christian theologian as a specific kind of person. Yes, anyone can say a theologically true statement; but only a certain kind of person is a Christian theologian. What makes them different? Why should they be different? Read on and weigh in with your own opinions in the comments.


A picture of several theologians with the text "Who is the Christian Theologian?" Continue reading

Who is the Christian Theologian: Part 1

Summer tiiiime and the livins easy. We are on the other side of July now, but summer (in Nashville) is still alive and well: the Olympics are just starting up and iced coffee is just as refreshing as it was back on July 4th! I have had the gift of taking the summer off — save my “house hubby” duties — from work. A great deal of my time has been committed to reading, and applying for jobs. But, I haven’t eked out the quantity of writing that I would have liked. That being said, I have decided to revisit a paper I wrote for a class during my time at Duke. The paper attempts to describe “the Christian theologian.” It was a bit longer than the average blog post ought to be and, in any case, I am unsatisfied with some of my own conclusions. So, in an effort to continue thinking, I will be posting it, bit by bit, and revising it along the way. Please do feel welcome to disagree and help me to clarify my thoughts. I take myself to be a Christian theologian, so if I go astray here, then I am mistaken in who I think I ought to be!


A picture of several theologians with the text "Who is the Christian Theologian?" Continue reading

The Fourfold Gospel: A Review

The chaos of violence continues to swell, like a wave, thrashing upon our collective attention. Violence is nothing new, but it never loses its edge. I want to let those who have lost loved ones, and their sense of stability, to senseless violence know that I weep with you. For those in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, Orlando, Iraq, Turkey, and the world over, your tears and your weeping are heard and shared. Before diving into the review, it seems right to begin by praying a prayer from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn. Amen.

Let us now turn our attention to Francis Watson’s new book, The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus. Watson is one of the world’s leading New Testament theologians. I was introduced to his work by a Duke professor who said, “If you want to read New Testament theology, then read Watson, read it again and again.” I took my professor’s advice seriously and, when Baker Academic agreed to send me a review copy, I was stoked.

Watson’s goal in this book is to offer an approach to answering the question, “What good is there in having four different Gospels?” Continue reading