Render Unto Caesar: The Struggle Over Christ and Culture in the New Testament

John Dominic Crossan’s latest volume:

Leading Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan, the author of the pioneering work The Historical Jesus, provides new insight into the Christian culture wars which began in the New Testament and persist strongly today.

For decades, Americans have been divided on how Christians should relate to government and lawmakers, a dispute that has impacted every area of society and grown more rancorous over the past forty years. But as Crossan makes clear, this debate isn’t new; it can be found in the New Testament itself, most notably in the tensions between Luke-Acts and Revelation.

In the texts of Luke-Acts, Rome is considered favorably. In the book of Revelation, Rome is seen as the embodiment of evil in the world. Yet there is an alternative to these two extremes, Crossan explains. The historical Jesus and Paul, the earliest Christian teachers, were both strongly opposed to Rome, yet neither demonized the Empire.

Crossan sees in Jesus and Paul’s approach a model for Christians today that can be used to cut through the acrimony and polarization roiling our society and dividing us.

A companion video to this volume offers readers a nice thematic overview of the aims and intentions of the work:

More particularly, the current volume consists of three major divisions, the first two of which examine the Book of Revelation in the first instance and Luke-Acts in the second in pursuit of an understanding of how some early Christians approached the intersection of Christ and Society. Revelation offers a repudiation of culture, demonizing it. Luke accepts culture, and canonizes it.

Crossan thinks both of these approaches are inadequate. So he offers a third way. Accordingly, the third division of the book, Culture Confronted and Criticized, gives readers a middle way between the outright demonization of culture and its outright acceptance.

Crossan advances the notion that nonviolent resistance is the path modern Christianity should take in its dealings with culture.

Three appendices offer readers further insight into Crossan’s understanding of Christian response to social upheaval.

As is always the case when Dom writes a book, readers are provided the opportunity of seeing things in a different light. Crossan is the sort of author gifted with the ability to take what most perceive to be well known biblical material and reading it and interpreting it in a very new way. He is like a skilled jeweler who can hold a gem up to the light and by slightly adjusting the viewing angle, expose colors and brilliance the regular observer would never have noticed on his or her own. That is certainly what he does here.

From something so mundane as the story of a coin, Crossan is able to relate heretofore unobserved facts which shed immense light on the Gospels. That is his greatest talent. That is, his ability to relate new things about well known old texts.

As thoroughly immersed as Crossan is in the material, he is never dull or boring in his presentation of it. Nor does he take for granted that his readers know what he knows. Instead, he writes in a manner as clear as the river flowing down the center of the street in the New Jerusalem. It’s a manner that is neither condescending nor assuming and that in itself is an incredibly rare thing among Biblical Scholars, who are either far too often talking down to their readers or assuming they know facts that they do not know.

Dom Crossan has been writing books for decades. He’s been, in equal measure, enthralling (to those well acquainted with historical-critical biblical scholarship) and annoying (to those of a fundamentalist outlook). Some of those books have been very good. All of them have been worthy of a reading. All of them have been educational. But this is the best of them all. This is the most instructive of them all. It shows wit and wisdom in equal measure and invites readers to see the present relevance of the biblical texts and their theology in relationship with their own lives and interests.

An exceptional volume such as this deserves attention. I hope it gets it. I hope you’ll read it.

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