The Bible’s Ideal Reader

The literary theorist Umberto Eco has a theory about readers. Every text calls for an ideal reader. The ideal reader of any given text is the person receptive of its content and formed to follow its patterns (see, The Role of the Reader, 1979). In other words, the person who is willing to “see” as the text sees (this is how the world is) and then live accordingly is the ideal reader.

Consider the following picture:


That guy is NOT the ideal reader of Nazi propaganda. He refuses to buy into the Nazi’s picture of the world – choosing not to “see” as they see. And he won’t live accordingly by offering his salute to Hitler and all that his regime stands for, despite the very obvious social pressure. “Nope,” you can hear him saying to himself.

Today, in a class that surveys the entire Bible in one semester (crazy, I know), I challenged my students: “Be that guy.” Refuse to become the ideal reader of Nazi propaganda, and if you find that easy enough then go ahead and refuse to become ideal readers of all the other counterfeit stories on offer today: consumerism’s story (you are what you buy), nationalism’s story (our nation is the best nation), humanism’s story (you have all that you need to become your true self), naturalism’s story (all that matters is matter). Instead, become the Bible’s ideal reader. Read this book and accept its invitation to see as it sees, and then live accordingly. Sure, its a strange world we find in the Bible (to borrow Barth’s phrase). Who can deny that? But in light of Jesus we Christians believe it tells the true story about God, us, and the world.

“Be that guy,” I challenged. With your arms resolutely crossed, say “Nope” to all the counterfeit stories, and read the Bible as an invitation to see the world truthfully and to live accordingly.



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

Weekender: July 29, 2017

This is a vacation edition of Weekender. I’ve got a lot going on this week — some of it is a whole lot of nothing! — so this one is short and sweet. Take a load off and read someone from a different era over on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. I recommend Gregory Nazianzen, but you can take your pick.

Do you have something to share? Why not tell us about it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Enter to Win: Another Giveaway!

I’m not complaining about these giveaways, but when did this become a thing!?

If you weren’t lucky enough to win Theology Curator’s mega-giveaway of Greg Boyd and N.T. Wright’s books, then you get a second chance. Homebrewed Christianity is having (another) giveaway. Click here and enter to win a copy of Greg Boyd’s two-volume Crucifixion of the Warrior God and ten copies of the condensed version, which is supposed to be a nice small group book.

Best of luck!


Weekender: July 22, 2017

Weekender: 07/22/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “God is not some great basket we can fill with any warm, fuzzy thought we choose; some amorphous something that is the mystery left over after we have explained everything else in life by other means. God has a face, a name, a way of action: the Trinity.” By Will Willimon and Stan Hauerwas in Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life.

Blog Post to Read: From our friends at Faith and Theology, here is a beautifully written (and short) reflection on the theological significance of bare feet. “In scripture,” Steve Wright suggests, “the highest theological idea is revealed in the lowest human extremity.”

New Books to Read:
There’s some fantastic books being released in the next few months. Here is my (Zen) list of upcoming reads. Tell us about your reading list in the comments!

  1. Practices of Love by Kyle David Bennet (Baker)
  2. Incarnational Ministry by Sam Wells (Eerdmans)
  3. Jesus and the Last Supper by Brant Pitre (Eerdmans)
  4. A Palestinian Theology of Liberation by Naim Stifan Ateek (Orbis)

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

Weekender: July 15, 2017

Weekender: 07/15/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “It is precisely the man whose first concern is not culture but the kingdom of God that has the necessary distance from cultural aims and the necessary perspective to serve them in freedom, and to grasp that order which prevents the various sections of civilization from monopolizing the totality of life. Only from beyond civilization can its order and harmony come.” By Emil Brunner in his final Gifford Lecture, “The Christian Idea of Civilization and Culture.”

Blog Post to Read: Jason Byassee, guest contributor at Christian Century, writes, in his usual winsome style, about one Catholic parish’s attempt to rediscover Catholic discipleship in a surprising place: Protestantism. You can read the essay by clicking here. “Mallon started dreaming about a parish where encountering the gospel would be unavoidable. He took this idea to his first parish—and quickly smashed into a brick wall. ‘My congregation was like a zombie convention,’ he said.”

Video to Watch: I’ve heard from Kent and others that the first volume of Kate Sonderegger’s systematic theology is a must read. You can get a taste for her method and style in the video below in which Sonderegger ruminates on the Trinity for a lecture at Biola University.

In Case You Missed It:
Homebrewed Christianity is giving away TEN books by the renowned Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. You can enter that giveaway here.

Recently Posted on Theology Forum:

  1. Nothing and Everything: Sacrifice, God, and Worship
  2. Biblical Preaching: For the Love
  3. Another “Not-To-Do” List: For Pastors and Theologians

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

Nothing and Everything: Sacrifice, God, and Worship

In a long list detailing who gets what following the Israelites’ conquest throughout Canaan, there is an unexpected piece of information. “Only to the tribe of Levi he did not give an inheritance; the offerings by fire to the LORD, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as He spoke to him” (Joshua 13:14). It would be hard, for me, to not feel like I got the short end of the stick. Did you hear all of the lands Judah received? The Simeonites received a part of Judah’s territory “for the share of the sons of Judah was too large for them” (19:19). But the Levites get nothing except the task of preparing burnt offerings on behalf of all the other Israelites.

Or maybe they’ve received everything. The sacrificial system is so unknown to most of us that we might not quite grasp the gravity of what it means for the Levites to receive “the offerings by fire to the LORD.” Thankfully, the author of Joshua clarifies the point a few paragraphs later: “But to the tribe of Levi, Moses did not give an inheritance; the LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as He had promised to them” (Joshua 13:33). The call to make burnt offerings is not simply an inherited career; somehow, the call to make burnt offerings is God’s way of offering Godself to the Levites. In a way, the sentence is antithetical. Did God give them nothing for an inheritance? Or did God give them the ground of all being? Continue reading