Incarnational Ministry: A Review

In the seasonally-awkward month of September, it is difficult to know what to wear on any given morning. Fellow midwesterners know the trouble. Will what you’ve put on keep you sufficiently warm for the morning commute? Will it become excessive insulation by midafternoon? The question lingers: has the time come to swap out summer for fall? Seasonal transitions can be full of uncertainty.

It so happens that Samuel Wells’ new book Incarnational Ministry (kindly sent for review by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) arrived in my hands during a season-of-life transition. With a month of pastoral care to challenge everything I thought I knew, this lyrically-written book provided a theological reflection on ministry that, like choosing just the right sweater on a fall day, helped me to feel a little more comfortable in the life of ministry.  Continue reading

Advertisements

King James is Alive and Well

This morning Christian Century published my review of The Bible in American Life (ed. Goff, Farnsley, and Thuesen), an impressive historical, sociological, and analytical review of the Bible in America. Here’s the introduction to the review:

King James is alive and well. The King James Version of the Bible, that is. In fact, it’s the most widely read translation in America. Although Zon­der­van’s NIV far surpassed the KJV in sales some time ago, 55 percent of people who’ve read the Bible outside of a worship service in the past year still prefer to read from the KJV, according to the studies analyzed in the introduction to a new book coedited by Philip Goff, Arthur E. Farnsley II, and Peter J. Thuesen.

In this impressive collection, 30 scholars contribute to an immense sociological review of who reads the Bible, how they read it, and how their reading has shaped American culture. The book begins with a summary of two national surveys (the 2012 General Social Survey and the National Congregation Study III), a thread that is referred to throughout the subsequent essays. The second section, “Past,” consists of 15 essays that explore the Bible’s use throughout American history, from the first Bible published in America (“the Indian Bible of 1663”) to the Bible’s influence on soul and pop music to the “commercial concerns” of the Bible industry. The reflections in these essays on how Americans have used the Bible serve as a stepping- stone to understanding why Americans use the Bible the way they do today…


Read more at the Christian Century website or, if you’re a subscriber, in the September 13 print edition!

The Lord’s Prayer: A Review

When I think of the phrase “pastor theologian,” I think of Warren Smith. You could chalk it up to his habit of wearing a clerical collar while teaching in the classroom. But it is more than just his collar. He is a pastor theologian because he delivers lectures and writes books like sermons. And this is true of the book reviewed here.

In The Lord’s Prayer (Wipf & Stock, 2015: kindly provided by Wipf & Stock for review), Smith reflects upon the unique prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Smith begins with two brief chapters that situate the prayer in its narrative context. These introductory chapters are followed by ten magnificent chapters that address either the particular phrases of the prayer or elements directly related to the prayer. He concludes with an epilogue in which he calls the reader to a life of doxology. “However ecstatic our love for God may be in times of worship,” Smith writes, “the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer is never so otherworldly as to be separate from our life in the here and now” (p. 130).

The sentence I’ve just quoted is indicative of the book as a whole, throughout which Smith masterfully weaves interpretation and exhortation into delightful prose. There is no clear separation between Smith’s explanation of a word or phrase apart from how it meets the church community. Interpretation and exhortation hang together, as they should. My assumption is that Smith learned this from his long and abiding friendship with the church mothers and fathers. Though quoted conservatively, the medieval theologians’ influence on Smith is pervasive. Continue reading

Don’t Say Nothing: Preaching and Racism

In the summer of 2015, I was a chaplain at a camp in North Carolina. I preached to hundreds of campers and mentored approximately fifty counselors. In the summer of 2015, about four and a half hours from my camp, Dylann Roof walked into a church and murdered nine black people who were praying. In my preaching and teaching at camp, I said nothing. I knew what happened and I chose to say nothing. Honestly, I cannot say whether I stayed silent out of fear or out of foolishness or, perhaps, because of my own inherent racism. None of those reasons are acceptable. Lord, forgive me for the things I’ve said and the things I’ve left unsaid.

In the summer of 2017, I’ve been gifted with another opportunity to preach. This time, the community is a wild group of all kinds of people called Anchor Community Church. And though Anchor is more diverse than many churches in Fort Wayne, racism is still alive in our neighborhood. Confederate flags fly from two different houses near to the church building. As I walk to my church’s building, those flags remind me that we need to keep preaching to confront racism. The question is how do we preach to confront racism?

Continue reading

Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: A Review

One of my favorite classes at Duke was “Old Testament in the New Testament” with J. Ross Wagner. The question “How should Christians read the Old Testament?” has always intrigued me. We cannot simply seek the “original” meaning because Jesus seems to recast the original meaning. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recasts the original meanings of several laws, saying “you have heard it said…but I tell you…” But then again, I recognized the importance of upholding the Jewish tradition that give the stories, poems, and laws their context. The class gave me an opportunity to reflect on the many ways New Testament writers engage with the Old Testament.

9780801098253Gary A. Anderson’s new book, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in Service of Biblical Exegesis (kindly provided for review by the folks at Baker Academic), is asking a related, but slightly different, question. How can Christian doctrine, Anderson’s question could be formulated, “play a key role in uncovering a text’s meaning” (p. xi)? Having this question as a starting point is dangerous for the modern “biblical scholar,” as Anderson readily admits. The divisions between “theologian” and “biblical scholar,” and even “Old Testament scholar” and “New Testament scholar” are deep in the academic study of the Christian religion and its relevant texts. Anderson, following the lead of folks like Brevard Childs, makes a concerted effort to raise the valleys, if you will, between these fields of study. And I must say that he has offered the church an incredible example of how the worlds of biblical exegesis, theology, and historical theology work better when they are married than when they are divorced. 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

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