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

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

Review of “A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live?”

Ah, the summer heat. Recently, Jessie and I made the move from Durham, NC to Nashville, TN. If you get on Interstate 40 in Durham heading west, then eight hours later you will find yourself in Nashville. They’re nearly equidistant from the equator, which means the heat in Nashville bears striking resemblance to the heat in Durham — but we wait all winter for this, right? I won’t complain! Between planting some veggies in buckets and working with my buddy Jon, I took respite from the heat and read Robert Jenson’s recently published A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? (kindly forwarded to me for review by Oxford University Press).

Throughout my theological education, I had the opportunity to read a few essays by Jenson. His essay in The Art of Reading Scripture is still one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever read. But relative to the amount of writing he has done and his stature as one of America’s most significant Christian theologians, those few essays seemed inadequate. I wanted to learn more from him. The sheer volume of his work, however, made it difficult to find a good point of entry into his thinking. A Theology in Outline made the dive much easier. Continue reading

On Earth as It Is in Heaven: A Review

Hallelujah! After two years — full of reading and writing and reading and thinking and writing some more — I am officially a graduate of Duke University Divinity School. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to study with many great folks and to have fallen in love with the city of Durham. Jessie and I have some serious thinking and praying to do concerning whether or not a PhD is in the cards; for now, we plan to travel. To fill the time between wrapping things up here in Durham and beginning our season of travel (in Nashville, TN!), I requested a few books to review for the blog.

W.m. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. was kind enough to send along On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Contemporary Theology of Creation, edited by David Vincent Meconi,
SJ. This book is a collection of essays written by prominent Catholic Meconi_On Earth as it is in Heaven_wrk01.inddscholars and guided by a shared concern to theologically “resist the contemporary dangers of mindless acquisition and the consequent squandering of the earth’s rich resources” (p. 1). Each essay resists these contemporary dangers in a slightly different way. Some of the writing is quite dense, requiring a high level of attention and, for readers not trained in theology, perhaps a theological dictionary. The writers are masters of the theological craft. Agrarian writers, however, such as Wendell Berry, encourage interdisciplinary work, even at the risk of getting things wrong the first time around. I do not mention this to say that the writers of these essays have gotten things wrong. Rather, I mention it to note that many of these theologians are purposefully pushing themselves to think in new and exciting ways and that their thinking will only be refined as they become more comfortable writing at the intersection of Catholic theology and environmental matters. Continue reading

Book Review: From Nature to Creation

After a long holiday season, I am delighted once again to be immersed in reading and thinking. In four short months, Lord willing, I will be graduating from Duke Divinity School. In order to graduate, however, I must complete a thesis project. I have the great privilege to craft my thesis under the guidance of professor Norman Wirzba. Professor Wirzba is well known for his work in the field of theology, ecology, and agrarian studies. From Nature to Creation (Baker, 2015) is his latest addition to that field of writing.

The cover of From Nature to Creation by Norm Wirzba.In From Nature to Creation, Wirzba invites the reader to develop “an imagination for the world as created, sustained, and daily loved by God” (3). Few Christians would argue that we ought not to have such an imagination — nearly all Christians confess such a belief. So, the problem is, then, living as if that is true. In each chapter, Wirzba reviews certain characteristics of modern culture that make it difficult for Christians in the west to live as if God created, sustains, and daily loves the world and all in it. Once Wirzba has described the characteristics and their theoretical underpinnings, he presents a Christian theological response to the problem. These responses are founded upon biblical exegesis, theological traditions, and Christian disciplines. In all, Wirzba confronts five problematic characteristics of modernity.

First, Wirzba draws attention to Nietzsche’s now famous assertion that “God is dead.” What God’s death implies is not that God actually ceased to exist, but that God has been replaced by or, perhaps, misplaced into other things. Modernity is characterized by an infatuation with “scientific reductionism, the autonomous self, instrumental reasoning, unencumbered individualism, technophilia, and the dis-embedding of communities” (8). Such infatuation reduces things that were once meaningful, because God gave them meaning, into amoral, material elements. We no longer have reason to see nature as creation or people as creatures and thus intimately related to God. All things are, then, the result of meaningless, random events. In turn, it becomes difficult to see that we have certain innate, moral responsibilities related to creation and other creatures. Christian grammar, however, provides a powerful alternative to this description of the world. Instead of being random, meaningless, and amoral, Christian grammar teaches us that all that exists is created by God and imbued with God’s self-offering love. Drawing from Scripture (namely the Christ hymn in Colossians 1) and early Christian theologians, Wirzba concludes that Christians must name the world and all in it as Creation. Doing so will enable us to recognize that Christ’s participation in creating and redeeming the world gives all things inestimable value. Nothing is amoral and nothing is random; all is God’s beloved creation. Continue reading

Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (A Review)

Guest Blogger: Zen Hess

Following the recent release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Lauato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, EvangelicalEcoTheologyvarious republican presidential candidates shared their opinions on the matter. Rick Santorum, for example, said that Pope Francis should “leave science to the scientists.” Many of us may resonate with such a statement — most of our pastors and spiritual leaders probably know very little about science. However, Pope Francis is a trained chemist and, more importantly, confesses that God created all things. Should Christians, and their leaders, who confess God as Creator not have great concern regarding the well being of all the things God created? This is the conviction of Brunner, Butler and Swoboda, who crafted Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker 2015).

The book is a thorough and readable resource for any learner — “whether in undergraduate, graduate, seminary or church settings” (p. 12) — who wants to understand why and how the ecological crisis relates to Christianity.

First, they name some of the problems the book is addressing, such as: “acute ecocrisis” caused by humans, the “church’s own internal strife,” the politicization of the ecocrisis, as well as a number of theological problems (p. 16-18). The authors hypothesize that each of these problems, either directly or indirectly, have hindered the Church from joining the ecological discussion; in addressing these problems, the authors clear the way for further ecclesiological dialogue on ecological matters.

Second, the authors provide an abundance of proofs for why Christians need to be concerned about the ecological crisis. Drawing from Scripture, theological doctrines, church history, sociological and scientific data, the authors make an exceptionally convincing case. At this point, however, one must remember that this is an introduction to ecotheology. I found myself, at times, wanting them to spell their arguments out in more detail. Yet, their goal is to introduce readers to why ecotheology makes sense within evangelical Christian theology — and that they have faithfully done.

Finally, the authors give a great deal of practical advice. Said differently, they tell us what to do with our theological knowledge. Continue reading

Lament as Compassionate Protest

Christians don’t lament well. I am more convinced of this all the time. We know how to complain Printbut not so much how to lament. We lack the training in it for certain, but even when we try we can’t muster any energy for it without guilt. Guilt because we think we should have a cheerier disposition as evidence of our faith. Everything will be okay because God’s “in control”, right? We suspect that lament shows a lack of faith.

Guilt is not our only hang-up. I once spoke to a group of university students about Christian responses to evil, and I suggested that our first response is silence, followed by lament. I couldn’t read everyone’s response, the evening crowd had swelled beyond the capacity of the recital hall, but follow-up conversations showed another hindrance to lament: the perception of inactivity. Lament seemed too inactive, too passive for my advocacy-minded students. Where is the courage in lament? Where is the resistance? Where is the protest?

Todd Billings’ new book Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ  (Brazos: 2015) is a desperately-needed primer on the language of lament as a feature of Christian life. It arose from Todd’s journey through his diagnosis and treatment of incurable cancer, and it has much to say to any of us painfully aware that things in our world are not as they should be. If its not cancer, then it is surely something else; none of us are immune from pain. How do we lament without guilt and without passivity?

Other reviewers in this blog tour have overviewed the book (read those here). I will focus more narrowly on Todd’s portrayal of lament as “compassionate protest”.

Lament names the world as it stands: broken, yet in the process of renewal as the kingdom of God expands within it. New Testament lament is found on the lips of Jesus, “May your kingdom come.” It is not a throw-away line. Praying “may your kingdom come” identifies – without flinching or hesitation – how things really are. There are dark, incomplete places in our midst in which your kingdom does not seem present; so we cry for the kingdom and in doing so lament its apparent absence. Children are sold into sex-slavery – “may your Kingdom come.” Totalitarian governments slaughter their own people – “may your kingdom come.” The earth groans under the weight of our misuse of it – “may your kingdom come.” Cancer ravages our bodies – “may your kingdom come.”

Passivity and inactivity could not be farther from such kingdom-oriented lament. It names our broken world in the same breath that it cries out for renewal and liberation. Such lament calls for action, and not only for God’s action but for mine. It calls for leaping into the wake of new creation as participants in Christ’s kingdom drama! “As our lips say, “Thy kingdom come,” Todd explains, “we pray―we act―as revolutionaries who protest against the darkness in this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Lament of this sort propels us into the fray even as it calls on God to remain faithful to his promises.

Our restless prayers of lament go hand in hand with compassionate protest until Christ’s kingdom has fully come…Until then, we protest against God’s enemies―death, sin, and the devil―as we bear witness to the present and future King, our God―Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We need to learn this language of lament. We need to learn it for the sake of our wrestles with pain, and for the sake of our companionship with others in pain. We have to learn the ways of unflinchingly naming our brokenness, our groaning, even as we unflinchingly call God to account. “God, remain faithful to your promise of renewal; may your Kingdom come!”

Todd would be the first to say that his language for lament isn’t his own. He learned it in the same place that we can, even if our journey doesn’t include cancer. In the Psalms we find the pattern for lamenting as our true selves. There we find the deep pattern of Jesus’ own prayers. He writes,

In lament we are confused, angry, and grieving people. But we are not just that. We have been given the script of the Psalms for playing our part in the drama: we are confused, angry, and grieving people who have been given the privilege of crying out to the Lord as his covenant people. Indeed, we are actors who have been clothed with Christ by the Spirit in the theater of God’s drama. Because of this, we can openly admit our confusion, anger, and grief without worrying that it will be the last word about who we are.”

Thank you Todd for reminding us, with the vision of this book and the testimony of your life, that lament isn’t cause for guilt, nor is it passive. Your book is a gift to the church. May we, like you, fall in step with the Psalmist: “Pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8).