Category Archives: Book Review

Buch der Reformation: Quellen und Zeugnisse zum frühen Reformationsgeschehen im deutschen Sprachraum

Das Buch mit knapp 200 Quellen aus der Vorgeschichte und Frühzeit der Reformation stellt eine völlige Neubearbeitung des 1917 von Karl Kaulfuß-Diesch herausgegebenen Werkes: “Das Buch der Reformation” sowie weiterer Neuauflagen dar. Die frühere Quellenauswahl wurde einer kritischen Revision unterzogen, ergänzt und teilweise erweitert. Alle Texte werden durch einen knappen Einleitungstext erläutert und mit weiterführenden Literaturangaben versehen. Es entsteht ein Kaleidoskop verschiedenster Zugänge zu den kirchlichen und politischen Reformforderungen des ausgehenden Mittelalters und deren konzentrierter Zuspitzung in den programmatischen Äußerungen der deutschsprachigen, vor allem lutherischen Reformation. Zugleich berücksichtigt der Band durch die Aufnahme älterer Quellenbearbeitungen einen vorläufigen Überblick zur nachhaltigen Wirkungsgeschichte der Zeugnisse reformatorischer Initiativen und des durch sie provozierten Widerspruchs.

A review copy arrived today. More soon.

Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Letters and Revelation

Written by scholars with extensive experience teaching in colleges and universities, the Exploring the Bible series has for decades equipped students to study Scripture for themselves.  Exploring the New Testament, Volume Two provides an accessible introduction to the Letters and Revelation. It’s filled with classroom-friendly features such as discussion questions, charts, theological summary sidebars, essay questions, and further reading lists.

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News

Whenever we reach for our phones or scan a newspaper to get “caught up,” we are being not merely informed but also formed. News consumption can shape our sense of belonging, how we judge the value of our lives, and even how our brains function. Christians mustn’t let the news replace prayer as Hegel envisioned, but neither should we simply discard the daily feed. We need a better understanding of what the news is for and how to read it well.

Jeffrey Bilbro invites readers to take a step back and gain some theological and historical perspective on the nature and very purpose of news. In Reading the Times he reflects on how we pay attention, how we discern the nature of time and history, and how we form communities through what we read and discuss. Drawing on writers from Thoreau and Dante to Merton and Berry, along with activist-journalists such as Frederick Douglass and Dorothy Day, Bilbro offers an alternative vision of the rhythms of life, one in which we understand our times in light of what is timeless. Throughout, he suggests practices to counteract common maladies tied to media consumption in order to cultivate healthier ways of reading and being.

When the news sets itself up as the light of the world, it usurps the role of the living Word. But when it helps us attend together to the work of Christ—down through history and within our daily contexts—it can play a vital part in enabling us to love our neighbors. Reading the Times is a refreshing and humane call to put the news in its place.

A review copy arrived today. I’ll post my review in the not too distant future.

Verdammt und vernichtet: Kulturzerstörungen Vom Alten Orient bis zur Gegenwart

This will be of interest to persons following the destruction of antiquities across the Near East-

Fassungslos blickte 2015 die Weltöffentlichkeit nach Palmyra – die antike Ruinenstadt war der Terrororganisation IS in die Hände gefallen. Der uralte Baaltempel, das heilige Zentrum zahlloser Kulturen, wurde gesprengt. Doch ist Kulturzerstörung keine Erfindung der Gegenwart. Sie zieht sich wie ein blutiges Band durch die Jahrtausende. Hermann Parzinger schreitet die Horizonte der Barbarei ab, erzählt die Geschichte vernichteter Kulturschätze und hält ein fulminantes Plädoyer für den Schutz des Menschheitserbes und der künstlerischen Freiheit.

Seine Tour d´Horizont führt ihn von der Tilgung der Erinnerung im Alten Ägypten und den Großreichen Mesopotamiens über die Zerstörung des Tempels von Jerusalem durch die Römer im Jahr 70 n. Chr. weiter durch die Bilderstürme der Reformation und der französischen Revolution bis hin zu den Verheerungen des europäischen Kolonialismus, dem Zivilisationsbruch des Nationalsozialismus und darüber hinaus bis in unsere Tage. Immer wieder wird deutlich, dass gezielte Verwüstungen und Plünderungen von traditions- und identitätsstiftenden Kulturgütern auch Ausdruck eines neuen Deutungs- und Herrschaftsanspruchs waren. Doch waren jenseits machtpolitischer, ideologischer oder religiöser Beweggründe Bilderstürme häufig auch von handfesten finanziellen Interessen geleitet: Raub und Enteignungen erweisen sich bei näherem Hinsehen geradezu als systematische Vermögensumverteilung. So erwartet Leserinnen und Leser ein Buch von schmerzlicher Aktualität, das uns zugleich die Kostbarkeit der kulturellen Zeugnisse auf allen Kontinenten vor Augen führt.

A review copy arrived today.  More soon.

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present

From its earliest days, Christians in the movement known as evangelicalism have had “a particular regard for the Bible,” to borrow a phrase from David Bebbington, the historian who framed its most influential definition. But this “biblicism” has taken many different forms from the 1730s to the 2020s. How has the eternal Word of God been received across various races, age groups, genders, nations, and eras?

This collection of historical studies focuses on evangelicals’ defining uses—and abuses—of Scripture, from Great Britain to the Global South, from the high pulpit to the Sunday School classroom, from private devotions to public causes.

What an utterly wonderful and wide ranging book this is.   It consists of

Part One: The Eighteenth Century
1. British Exodus, American Empire: Evangelical Preachers and the Biblicisms of Revolution, Kristina Benham
2. Lectio Evangelica: Figural Interpretation and Early Evangelical Bible Reading, Bruce Hindmarsh
3. Faith, Free Will, and Biblical Reasoning in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards and John Erskine, Jonathan Yeager

Part Two: The Nineteenth Century
4. “Young People Are Actually Becoming Accurate Bible Theologians”: Children’s Bible Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century America, K. Elise Leal
5. Missouri, Denmark Vesey, Biblical Proslavery, and a Crisis for Sola Scriptura Mark A. Noll
6. Josephine Butler’s Mystic Vision and her Love for the Jesus of the Gospels, Mary Riso

Part Three: The Twentieth Century
7. The Bible Crisis of British Evangelicalism in the 1920s, David Bebbington
8. Liberal Evangelicals and the Bible, Timothy Larsen
9. “The Only Way to Stop a Mob”: Francis Grimké’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance, Malcolm Foley
10. “As at the beginning”: Charismatic Renewal and the Reanimation of Scripture in Britain and New Zealand in the “long” 1960s, John Maiden

Part Four: Into the Twenty-First Century
11. The American Patriot’s Bible: Evangelicals, the Bible, and American Nationalism, Catherine A. Brekus
12. The Evangelical Christian Mind in History and Global Context, Brian Stanley

Anyone wishing to engage the history of ‘evangelicalism’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean now, it used to mean something substantial in days gone by) will most definitely want to pick up a copy of this or get it from their library.

Following a chronological order, the essays here offered give readers a wonderful view of portions and segments of Christians in America and their handling and mishandling of the Bible.  There were excellent scholars among them and absolute dilettantes and everything in between.  There were mystics and academics and lunatics and racists and freedom lovers and they all used the very same book to make very, very different points.

But these essays are not only of interest historically, several of them are incredibly relevant.  Noll’s on slavery and the Bible is simply masterful.  And Brekus’ on the ‘Patriot’s Bible’ is perhaps the most important historical essay (for American history) that I have read in a very long time.

Thomas Larsen has done what can only be described as a masterful job of assembling a group of contributors who ‘know their stuff’ and can present it brilliantly.

The volume lacks but one thing- a bibliography.  Had it that, it would be as near to perfect as a historical treatment can be.

You should most assuredly read it.  Soon.

Theoretical and Empirical Investigations of Divination and Magic

In Theoretical and Empirical Investigations of Divination and Magic ten leading scholars of religion provide up-to-date investigations into the classic domains of divination and magic. Spanning historical, anthropological, cognitive, philosophical and theoretical chapters, the volume’s authors invite the reader to explore how divinatory practices and magical rituals, both apart and in interaction, can be reconceptualized in line with 21st century scholarship.

Following an introduction addressing the ever-pertinent discussion of the status and epistemological value of the categories inherited from our scholarly predecessors, the volume includes analyses of divinatory and magic practices in particular historical areas, as well as comparative, theoretical and philosophical discussions, making this an indispensable volume for anyone interested in broader comparative approaches to magic and divination.

Contributors are Lars Albinus, Edward Bever, Gideon Bohak, Corby Kelly, Lars Madsen, Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Jörg Rüpke, Jesper Frøkjær Sørensen, Jørgen Podemann Sørensen, Dimitris Xygalatas.

A review copy has arrived. More soon.

Christian History in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic

Since the ascension of Jesus and the birth of the church at Pentecost, the followers of Christ have experienced persecution and martyrdom, established orthodoxy and orthopraxy, endured internal division and social upheaval, and sought to proclaim the good news “to the end of the earth.” How can we possibly begin to grasp the complexity of the church’s story?

In this brief volume, historian Jennifer Woodruff Tait provides a primer using seven sentences to introduce readers to the sweeping scope of church history.

How do you summarize the history of Christianity in a book of around 140 pages?  How do you choose which pivotal events to highlight?  What madness would lead a person to even attempt it?   Indeed, even the subtitle of the book, ‘a small introduction to a vast topic’ indicates that the volume is smaller than it should be or even really ever could be.

And yet…

JWT has here provided readers with a 35,000 mile above head birds eye view of a topic that has generated books whose pages number in the millions, with books still coming and which will come till history itself ends that is both readable and sensible and cogent and helpful.

Does she cover everything I or others would?  No.  Does she include materials that I and others would not?  Yes.  And that is precisely why this book, in spite of its brevity, is useful.  She sees things in a way that others will not (as indicated by her choice of the edict of Milan and the Rule of Benedict for inclusion).  And that allows readers a fresh perspective.

The book ‘works’ because JWT tells the story of Christianity through lenses not usually utilized as well as those which are (like Luther’s theses and the Second Vatican Council).  

The volume is comprised of the following:

Introduction
1 The Edict of Milan (313)
2 The Nicene Creed (325)
The Rule of St. Benedict (c. 530)
4 The Excommunication of Patriarch Kerularios by Pope Leo IX via Cardinal Humbert (1054)
5 Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (1517)
6 The Edinburgh Conference (1910)
7 The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)
Conclusion

Each chapter concludes with a nice little listing of recommended readings.  It makes use of endnotes (unfortunately) and it has a quite full general index which, if used, makes the volume far more useful and expansive than the slim table of contents might indicate.

There are the occasional nuggets.  For instance, on page 109 she writes

Two hundred years before, John Calvin had sent missionaries to Latin America.

A fun fact indeed, and one which may not be as widely known as the fact that Calvin wrote the Institutes or that he is eternally associated with ‘predestination’.

JWT’s little book is a big contribution to general knowledge of the history of the Church.  Lay folk will enjoy it a lot, and they will learn a lot from it.  Experts will find it enjoyable even if not educational.  But it wasn’t written for experts anyway.  It suits its intended audience.  Give it a read.  And then give it to someone else to read.

Collective Memory and Collective Identity: Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History in their Context

“Collective memory” has attracted the attention and discussion of scholars internationally across academic disciplines over the past 40−50 years in particular. It and “collective identity” have become important issues within Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies; the role collective memory plays in shaping collective identity links the two organically. Research to date on memory within biblical studies broadly falls under four approaches: 1) lexical studies; 2) discussions of biblical historiography in which memory is considered a contributing element; 3) topical explorations for which memory is an organizing concept; and 4) memory and transmission studies.

The sixteen contributors to this volume provide detailed investigations of the contours of collective memory and collective identity that have crystallized in Martin Noth’s “Deuteronomistic History” (Deut-2 Kgs). Together, they yield diverse profiles of collective memory and collective identity that draw comparatively on biblical, ancient Near eastern, and classical Greek material, employing one of more of the four common approaches. This is the first volume devoted to applying memory studies to the “Deuteronomistic History.”

A copy for review arrived today.

Voices from the Ruins: Theodicy and the Fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible

This sounds incredibly interesting.  Thankfully the publisher has sent along a review copy.

Where was God in the sixth-century destruction of Jerusalem?

The Hebrew Bible compositions written during and around the sixth century BCE provide an illuminating glimpse into how ancient Judeans reconciled the major qualities of God—as Lord, fierce warrior, and often harsh rather than compassionate judge—with the suffering they were experiencing at the hands of the Neo-Babylonian empire, which had brutally destroyed Judah and deported its people. Voices from the Ruins examines the biblical texts “explicitly and directly contextualized by those catastrophic events”—Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and selected Psalms—to trace the rich, diverse, and often-polemicized discourse over theodicy unfolding therein. Dalit Rom-Shiloni shows how the “voices from the ruins” in these texts variously justified God in the face of the rampant destruction, expressed doubt, and protested God’s action (and inaction).

Rather than trying to paper over the stark theological differences between the writings of these sixth-century historiographers, prophets, and poets, Rom-Shiloni emphasizes the dynamic of theological pluralism as a genuine characteristic of the Hebrew Bible. Through these avenues, and with her careful, discerning textual analysis, she provides readers with insight into how the sufferers of an ancient national catastrophe wrestled with the difficult question that has accompanied tragedies throughout history: Where was God?

The TOC is available at the link above.  More anon.

Synagogues in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods: Archaeological Finds, New Methods, New Theories

The study of ancient Judaism has enjoyed a steep rise in interest and publications in recent decades, although the focus has often been on the ideas and beliefs represented in ancient Jewish texts rather than on the daily lives and the material culture of Jews/Judaeans and their communities. The nascent institution of the synagogue formed an increasingly important venue for communal gathering and daily or weekly practice. This collection of essays brings together a broad spectrum of new archaeological and textual data with various emergent theories and interpretative methods in order to address the need to understand the place of the synagogue in the daily and weekly procedures, community frameworks, and theological structures in which Judaeans, Galileans, and Jewish people in the Diaspora lived and gathered. The interdisciplinary studies will be of great significance for anyone studying ancient Jewish belief, practice, and community formation.

There is simply no doubt that the topic studied in the present volume is an important one, archaeologically.   The presence of synagogues as free standing, dedicated to the purpose of worship and study, buildings in which Jews (and early on in the history of the movement, Christians) met, all across the Greek and Roman world means that we have solid material to deal with, evaluate, and examine.

The present volume is an extremely important contribution to the furtherance of our knowledge on the topic.  Here, advances in the study of synagogues, how material remains should be interpreted, filling in the gaps of our knowledge about practices in ancient synagogues, and the societal contexts of those structures and the gatherings which occupied them are explored.  Topics such as dress codes, torah reading practices, the practice of worship itself, and the ubiquity of synagogues across the Mediterranean world open up new vistas on old problems.

The essays include, as well, discussions of various particular synagogues, including  one in the Golan, the one at Delos, the one at Magdala, and of course Dura Europos.

And not to be overlooked, contributors also address issues that have significant bearing on the history of Christianity, including Ryan’s study titled ‘The Contributions of Historical and Archaeological Study of Early Synagogues to Historical Jesus Research’.   For the full table of contents, see the link above.

The volume originated in a conference, as papers there delivered.  Conference volumes are very popular these days and there’s an important reason why: they allow those of us who cannot attend various gatherings to ‘sit in’ on the proceedings by virtue of the preservation of and dissemination of those papers.  Though the conference took place in 2017, the essays here given remain cutting edge.

I found this collection particularly stimulating because when I was a student in grad school all those decades ago the conventional wisdom was that there were no ‘free standing’ synagogues until the third century.  That is to say, we were under the supposition that Jews, and Christians, scattered across the Roman world met in homes.  ‘The House Church’ and the ‘House Synagogue’ were the place of meeting until the third century, we were informed, when buildings devoted specifically to Church and Synagogue began to appear.   After all, we were reminded, even in Capernaum, the home town of Peter and the operational hub of Jesus’ ministry, they had a synagogue that only dated to the fourth century!

Along the years we’ve learned better.  This book continues the tradition of correcting old errors.  And for that reason alone, it is worth your time.

Obadiah, Jonah and Micah: An Introduction and Commentary

Obadiah’s oracle against Edom. Jonah’s mission to the city of Nineveh. Micah’s message to Samaria and Jerusalem. These books are short yet surprisingly rich in theological and practical terms. In this Tyndale commentary on these minor but important prophets, Daniel Timmer considers each book’s historical setting, genre, structure, and unity. He explores their key themes with an eye to their fulfilment in the New Testament and their significance for today.

The Tyndale Commentaries are designed to help the reader of the Bible understand what the text says and what it means. The Introduction to each book gives a concise but thorough treatment of its authorship, date, original setting, and purpose. Following a structural Analysis, the Commentary takes the book section by section, drawing out its main themes, and also comments on individual verses and problems of interpretation. Additional Notes provide fuller discussion of particular difficulties.

In the new Old Testament volumes, the commentary on each section of the text is structured under three headings: ContextComment, and Meaning. The goal is to explain the true meaning of the Bible and make its message plain.

The Tyndale OT Commentaries series is a solid, stable, reliable, middle of the road conservative, useful, trustworthy contribution to the field of Old Testament studies.

The present volume by Timmer is all of those things as well.  Along with being a careful exegete, he is also a gifted one.  He has the ability to plainly, calmly, and sensibly explain the text at hand with a manner which both scholars and laypeople can appreciate, and learn from.

Will all scholars agree with him?  No.  But most of them will not bother to write their own commentaries on these three books of the Bible.  Because they aren’t up to the task.  So they will take potshots at a work that they find wanting, but which they cannot do better than.

Lay readers will not agree with everything that Timmer writes either, but they will not be able to explain why and they will not be able to do better than he has done in explaining texts.

But Lay readers and scholars who have the gift of honest open-mindedness will admit, after reading the volume, that they benefited from it and learned from it.  It is, if I may go ahead and say so, far better than its predecessor in the series (by Waltke, et al).  A volume, frankly, far too proximate to fundamentalism for my tastes.

The layout of the work follows the standard commentary format: introduction to books, date, authorship, outline, genre, all the usual stuff.  Each pericope is then explained in proper order.  There are no indices, but there are a table of abbreviations and a select bibliography for each biblical book at the outset of the volume.  Those bibliographies are a balanced blend of both conservative and moderate scholarship, though, shockingly, Timmer fails to reference my own commentary on the Prophets.  Alas.

This, seriously, is a really enjoyable, readable, helpful volume.  It is better than most and could never be as bad as the worst commentary I’ve ever read, that of Block on Ruth.

I would recommend that Timmer’s work be added to your syllabi on any course on the Prophets you may teach; on your list of recommended readings; and it should also be added to your personal library.  You’ll wish to make use of it more than once.

NRSV Pew Bible with Apocrypha

Hendrickson sent a copy of this pew bible for review. 

For churches who prefer the beauty and accuracy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, inexpensive but high-quality editions have been difficult to find. Until now. Hendrickson’s new NRSV Pew Bible combines thoughtfully designed features with a surprisingly affordable price. Boasting better-grade paper, clear and readable type, three pages of updated color maps, and a presentation page, this is a beautifully crafted Bible as well as the most affordable one on the market.

The best judge of any translation is its level of fidelity to the underlying source text.  One can attempt this sort of fidelity by being wooden and rendering word for word but this generally results in a version that is stuttering and unwieldy.  Wooden, as it were.  Which makes for a generally unpleasant reading experience and doesn’t really bring the reader closer to the original, since it at least has the benefit of being sensible and appealing.

Another method of translation is the sense for sense method.  This was the approach of Jerome when he rendered the Hebrew and Greek texts into Latin.  And his version, based on fairly faulty manuscripts, was as good as it could possibly be under the circumstances.

The second best judge of any translation is its ability to break free of the constraints of previous translations.  Some versions turn out to be little more than rephrasings of previous ones.  Think, for example, of the New King James Version and its relation to the 1769 edition which was itself a revision of the 1611 edition.  ‘There’s nothing new here’.  Just the same reading with modernization.

When Jerome translated his edition of the Vulgate it was so different in appreciable ways from the preceding editions (and there were several), there were riots in the street.  By the second measure, then, Jerome’s edition was a smashing success because it so differed from its predecessors that it angered the mobs.

The Revised Standard Version, appearing in the early 50’s, similarly caused uprisings of discontent.  It’s rendition of Isaiah 7:14 led many to find as many copies as they could and burn them in the streets as heretical (merely because the translators followed the actual meaning of the Hebrew word ‘almah’ with ‘maiden’ instead of the very incorrect ‘virgin’ which would have required the Hebrew ‘bethulah’.  Things any first year Hebrew student would know).  In that regard, it too was a departure from its predecessors and for that reason it was a very worthwhile edition.  It, as well, was a faithful rendering of the underlying texts, so that too spoke in its favor.

The New Revised Standard keeps many of the advantages of the RSV and improves them (even if slightly) and is, consequently, a very good edition to use as a pew bible.  The edition under review here also contains the Apocrypha, so that is an added benefit.

The Hendrickson pew bible is printed on nice paper (and not that terrible onion paper too many bibles use), and the font is legible, though not large.  There are a minimum of footnotes and these are variant readings when they are of some importance.  There are no maps, no indices, no frills, no fluff.  This is a bible designed specifically for sitting on a pew and providing worshippers a version they can follow along with when the Scriptures are read.   It is not a study bible.

The binding is firm.  The layout is dual column.  The margins are minimal.  The edition is super.

If your church is looking for a sturdy pew bible, containing a good, reliable, and faithful translation, then this may be exactly what you are looking for.

Or, if you simply want to give a bare bones Bible to a friend or new convert or seeker or young person then this is an affordable and efficient edition.

If, though, you want the best translation of the biblical text, the Revised English Bible remains the king of the English editions.  No translation surpasses it.

The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive Speech

Jesus’s parables used familiar situations to convey deep spiritual truths in ways that are provocative and subversive of the status quo. Prayerfulness was pictured by a persistent widow. The joy of salvation in the homecoming of a lost son. Love of neighbor by a marginalized Samaritan. If we’re not careful, we can easily miss details in the parables that reveal their subtle meanings as well as their contemporary relevance.

Drawing on scholarship on the parables as well as theological, pastoral, and practical insights, Douglas Webster guides the reader through each of Jesus’s parables, pointing out the important nuances that allow us to understand them and be transformed by them. Reflection questions at the end of each chapter can be used for personal or group study, and an appendix for pastors provides guidance for preaching the parables. Pastors, Bible teachers, and serious students of Scripture will find this tour through Jesus’s parabolic teaching to be a feast for both the mind and the soul.

Potential readers of the work can get a sense of its author’s intention by visiting the link above and clicking on the ‘read excerpt’ tab.  There, the front matter, table of contents, and first several pages of the volume are available.

There have been a lot of books written on the parables of Jesus.  The present is more accurately described as a series of sermons on the parables than an academic investigation of their intricacies.  Each parable treated is sermonized.  Accordingly, pastors and seminary students will find the book very useful for sermon prep (though to be sure the material found in the pages of this book should not be clipped and preached!  That would be both wrong and lazy).  The meaning of the parables is described and application to modern Christian believers made.

The subtitle of the book is a bit unnecessary.  Indeed, I get the impression that it was included in order to appeal to the folk enthralled by the idea of a historical Jesus who is a subversive.  But the book itself certainly does not paint Jesus with the colors of the subversive trouble maker.  Instead, the Jesus here encountered is the Jesus familiar to evangelicals from their years of attendance in Sunday School and church services.

Even the sources which Webster cites are the sort one finds read by and admired among evangelicals.  Calvin, Luther, Snodgrass, Thielicke, and Capon appear frequently but there’s nary a hint of Bultmann or Dibelius or even Jeremias.

There’s nothing new here.  There isn’t new light shed on the parables.  There isn’t a remarkable, revolutionary, epoch making, paradigm shifting insight provided.  It’s standard fare on the parables.

And that’s not a bad thing.  Some things are just simple to describe and the more people try to make them complicated, the more senseless they become.  That’s the way things are with the parables.  We know what they mean.  There’s no new light to be shed upon them (barring some amazing discovery).  They are what they are.  And they say what they say.  So trying to say something about them that ‘hasn’t been said before’ is a complete waste of time.

And that’s ok.  Anyone who wants to write a book on the parables, and is academically qualified to do so, should feel free to do so.  Perhaps someone new to Christianity will pick it up and learn something.  But the stream of such books that have already appeared are enough, for me.  Another one, whether pastoral sounding or academically focused, simply does nothing for me.  ‘I’ve heard it all before’.  And I suspect you have too.

I wish that instead of new books about old and already discussed enough topics like the parables or Paul, scholars and pastors would turn their attention to things that haven’t been treated so much that they’re like manna after day 340 of manna.

Manna sustains, but after a while, it’s just boring.  It may keep the pilgrims alive, but sooner or later the demand for quail will win out.

Give us quail.  We’ve grown weary of manna.

Römerbrief und Tageszeitung! Politik in der Theologie Karl Barths

Die Theologie Karl Barths hat aufgrund ihrer politischen und gesellschaftskritischen Ausrichtung eine besondere Bedeutung. Ihre politische Dimension gewann sie gerade dadurch, dass Barth sich auf seine genuin theologische Arbeit konzentrierte. Als ein kritischer Zeitgenosse las er neben der Bibel aber immer auch die Tageszeitung und diese Lektüre liess er in seine theologische Arbeit einfliessen.

Inwieweit lässt sich Barths politisches Denken auf gesellschaftliche Herausforderungen der Gegenwart anwenden? Dieser Band versammelt Beiträge des akademischen Nachwuchses und von Expertinnen und Experten der Barthforschung zu theologischen Grundsatzfragen und aktuellen Themen aus den Bereichen Umwelt-, Friedens- und Sozialethik im europäischen und amerikanischen Kontext.

Mit Beiträgen von Kai-Ole Eberhardt, Margit Ernst-Habib, Marco Hofheinz, Markus Höfner, André Jeromin, Christine Lieberknecht, W. Travis McMaken, Raphaela J. Meyer zu Hörste-Bührer, Björn Schütz und Jan-Philip Tegtmeier.

A collection of symposium papers from discussions about Barth and society and politics is nothing to be sneezed at and the present volume is no exception.   Persons interested in the symposium in question can visit its website here.

Comprised of two major divisions and one minor one, this work, following the editorial introduction, examines the topics of God’s Lordship (even in the realm of politics) with two essays and the topic of the human witness to that Lordship as it is concretely lived out ethically, with seven (including one by, surprise of surprises, an American- W. Travis McMaken.

Contributors address such varied themes as how the coronavirus as Anfechtung might be understood in the light of  Barth’s theology of God’s rule, Barth’s christological anthropology, the future of Barth (or perhaps better, Barthianism),  Barth’s concept of poverty in dialogue, Barth’s theology for a Europe in crisis, and, by McMaken, on Barth and American politics (translated for inclusion in the collection by Marco Hofheinz).

A final contribution ties everything together and leads readers to consider the intersection of theological existence and political existence.

All in all, this is a super collection.  Politics is on everyone’s mind these days, even when they aren’t very politically involved.  Christians, in particular, have had to wrestle with the implications of faith for politics and as recent events have proven beyond any doubt, Christians can be profoundly politically dangerous when authentic faith is divorced from a sound theological foundation and a lived Christian ethic.

McMaken’s essay in particular demonstrates an excellent grasp of the political situation in the United States and Travis does an extremely good job of interjecting Barth’s theology into the mix.  He also does a good job of indicating just how critical it is that ‘freedom’ is best lived out when it’s freedom ‘for’ the other rather than ‘from’ the other.

The best essay, though, in the collection, in my estimation, is that of Jeromin, on coronavirus and Barth’s understanding of God’s lordship.  Summa Summarum– As in all things, for Barth, God rules.

That’s not to assert that the other essays here are not extremely engaging, because they are.  Rather, it’s simply to say that this one was the most interesting, to me.  Others will find others to be their preference.

As in all things Barth, there is an awful lot of interest here.  Barth, regardless of my personal feelings for him as a husband and a father and a man, remains a Himalaya and anyone wishing to do theological work has to climb the summit in order to see the whole picture.  These essays help us engage Barth on the field of politics and for that we must all be grateful, given the importance of politics at the moment.

There are a few photos of Barth included; the binding is lovely; the font is pleasant.  There are no indices, but none are needed as each essay is well titled and documented.

I urge you to read it- whether your chief interest is politics or theology.  Either way, you will learn a great deal indeed.

Grundinformation Neues Testament: Eine bibelkundlich-theologische Einführung

Das Arbeitsbuch stellt die Schriften des Neuen Testaments allgemeinverständlich in der Reihenfolge des Kanons dar. Der Zugang erfolgt über eine bibelkundliche Erschließung. Exegetische Hinweise dienen der Einordnung der behandelten Schrift und der Erhellung ihrer Entstehung. Anschließend werden theologische Schwerpunkte dargestellt und Hinweise zu Wirkungsgeschichte und gegenwärtiger Bedeutung gegeben – im Kirchenjahr, in der Kunst oder auch im »säkularen« Alltag. Durch vorangestellte Thesen, eingefügte Übersichten sowie zusätzliche Informationen in einer Randspalte wird der Text didaktisch erschlossen. Mit einem Verzeichnis der wichtigsten Studienliteratur, Glossar und biblischem Personenverzeichnis.

Given that this is the fifth edition of a well known standard textbook my observations will be fairly limited.  To wit, I want to talk for a minute about why this book is in many respects more useful than the plethora of ‘introductions to the New Testament’ that are out there.

First of all, it’s quite up to date.  The bibliographic entries are fresh and thorough.  The details provided by the various authors are cutting edge New Testament scholarship.  And the writing is bold, vivid, and crisp.

Unlike many introductions, this one has not one author but many.  Experts in Pauline studies address pauline texts.  Experts in the early history of Christianity address that era.  Experts in the synoptics share their expertise with readers.  Indeed, expertise abounds in this book, and for that, in these dilettantish days, we can all be grateful.

Texts are treated not only as historical documents, but as theological as well.  Thus, this isn’t simply an intro to the New Testament, it is, as its title suggests, a volume that provides readers with all the basic information concerning the collection of documents that we call the New Testament that one needs in order to comprehend that collection.

Each section features a bibliography, naturally, as well as little sidebars which indicate the main topic of the subsection.  There are also the usual indices and a very useful glossary so that students and lay-readers who are not familiar with the jargon of scholars can find terms defined.

In a world filled with introductions to the New Testament, this one stands out both because of its thoroughness but also because of its clarity.  Multiple contributors make this volume even more useful, as readers are getting not simply one person’s viewpoint, but many.

Do read it.

Geschichte Israels und Judas im Altertum

This new volume will be of interest to many-

The authors develop a new viewpoint on the ancient history of Israel and Judah by examining social and economic conditions, contemporary inscriptions, and archeological and iconographic sources as a basis for biblical exegesis and theology. In this way, the authors uncover the backdrop for the great biblical narrative, created as a collective memory since Persian period in Jerusalem, Babylonia, and the sanctuary on Mount Gerizim.

Ernst Axel Knauf, University of Bern, Switzerland and Hermann Michael Niemann, University of Rostock, Germany.

Most histories of Israel end up being nothing more than a paraphrase of the biblical text.  This is certainly the case of the histories written by the Albright/ Bright school of historical studies.  It was not until the history of Mario Liverani that a distinction was made between the history of Israel as paraphrase of scripture and the history of Israel as historical discipline that the two were clearly separated (although the so called minimalists had been trending in that direction for several decades).

Truth be told, what we know about the history of ancient Israel and Judah is slim to none.  Like the historical Jesus, there simply are not a lot of resources for reconstruction aside from the Bible, which naturally means that there’s very little, historically, that we can say.

The present book tries to integrate what can be known from extra-biblical history with biblical materials as supplemental.  To say that another way, for the present authors, the biblical text is a secondary source and the archaeological and textual evidence from outside the bible set the agenda.

The volume, accordingly, begins with a clear description of the authors’ methodology.  The pre-history of Israel is next up, and that pre-history begins not with Abraham or Moses or those folk but with the states of Israel and Judah.  The history of Israel, historically, begins not with the patriarchs, but with the States.

Next treated is the Egyptian province of Canaan and the end of the bronze age.  Chapter three examines the tribal system of ancient Israel and its appearance in the land.  Chapter four looks into the beginnings of the State under Saul and David with an Excursus on Solomon.   Chapter five looks more closely at the Omride State and the dynasties of the Northern Kingdom.  Chapter six naturally next considers the history of Judah.

In chapter seven, Judah’s existence under Babylonian control is investigated and in chapter eight we read further details about both Babylonia and Persia.

Chapter nine brings us to the return to Palestine of the ‘exiles’ and the rise of Torah as guiding light for Judean culture.  In chapter ten, the era called by many the intertestamental period is next taken up and in chapter eleven the Hellenistic era is the topic.  Finally, in chapter twelve, we come to the period of time in which Rome controlled Palestine and we end with the rebellion of Bar Kochba.

This very thorough look at the history of the people called Israelites, Judahites, Judeans, and Jews is the ideal blending of extra-biblical and scriptural details allowing for what can fairly be called a good and accurate depiction of that people’s story.

Six appendices on various historical details like the lists of kings and the dates of the exile and return among others round out the volume and it concludes with indices of scripture, names and persons, and places.  The text also includes sidebars and maps. There are also lots of bibliographic details included in each chapter.

This is a tremendous resource and does what so far most have failed to do: i.e., not privilege the biblical text in its historical reconstruction.  Until one of our Minimalist friends writes a thorough history of Israel, this will be the next best thing.  I enjoyed reading it, and you will too.

Cultural Shifts and Ritual Transformations in Reformation Europe

This volume honors the work of a scholar who has been active in the field of early modern history for over four decades. In that time, Susan Karant-Nunn’s work challenged established orthodoxies, pushed the envelope of historical genres, and opened up new avenues of research and understanding, which came to define the contours of the field itself. Like this rich career, the chapters in this volume cover a broad range of historical genres from social, cultural and art history, to the history of gender, masculinity, and emotion, and range geographically from the Holy Roman Empire, France, and the Netherlands, to Geneva and Austria. Based on a vast array of archival and secondary sources, the contributions open up new horizons of research and commentary on all aspects of early modern life.

Contributors: James Blakeley, Robert J. Christman, Victoria Christman, Amy Nelson Burnett, Pia Cuneo, Ute Lotz-Heumann, Amy Newhouse, Marjorie Elizabeth Plummer, Helmut Puff, Lyndal Roper, Karen E. Spierling, James D. Tracy, Mara R. Wade, David Whitford, and Charles Zika.

Festschriften (I just can’t drag myself to say ‘Festschrifts’) tend to be quite technically oriented.  They are written by colleagues of the honoree and reflect, generally, the interests of said honoree.  Given that they are by scholars for scholars, it is utterly unsurprising that they are not ‘popular’ and are not intended for a general reading public.

This volume is no different in that respect.  It aims to please its recipient, and, given her glowing appreciation expressed at a recent conference I think that it well achieved it’s aim.

Naturally this suggests that while she may have found it extremely good, other readers may not have the same reaction, since the essays are not written in appreciation of them, but of her.  Yet that suggestion would be wrong, because this is a collection that will be of great interest to all scholars of the Reformation.  These essays are astonishingly engaging, even when their titles may hint at a bit of dust.

  • Luther and Gender
  • High Noon on the Road to Damascus: A Reformation Showdown and the Role of Horses in Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Conversion of Paul (1549)
  • How to Make a Holy Well: Local Practices and Official Responses in Early Modern Germany
  • Advice from a Lutheran Politique: Ambassador David Ungnad’s Circular Letter to the Austrian Estates, 1576
  • Above the Skin: Cloth and the Body’s Boundary in Early Modern Nuremberg
  • Masculinities in Sixteenth-Century Imagery: A Contribution to Early Modern Gender History

These and the other essays in this book may have somewhat unconventional sounding titles (for Reformation studies) and they may seem to be super-specific (and they are), but potential readers ought not let that ‘scare them off’.  These contributions are festooned with incredibly interesting historical facts.  And, as the foreword reminds us

Despite the fact that the editors of this volume have divided its articles neatly into sections that reflect the progression of Karant-Nunn’s intellectual journey, the perceptive reader will quickly recognize the influence and inspiration of the entire spectrum of her oeuvre across each of the sections. That that influence reflects many of the broader trends in the study of the Reformation should come as no surprise: to a significant degree, such developments have Karant-Nunn to thank.

A book organized according to the intellectual journey of its honoree is not only a very good way to do things, but a very good way to allow others to investigate topics of interest to themselves and interact with the views of the honoree.  But the volume also includes, aside from brilliant text, a fairly extensive number of color and black and white illustrations that are sharp, crisp, and detailed.  These add immensely to the usefulness of the volume.

A sample worth sharing is from, in my opinion, the best of the essays in the volume- that of Amy Nelson Burnett, who writes in her Streitkultur Meets the Culture of Persuasion: The Flensburg Disputation of 1529

In April 1529 a public disputation was held in Flensburg, located in the duchy of Schleswig near the Danish border, that pitted the furrier and lay preacher Melchior Hoffman against the Lutheran clergy of the region. Because of Hoffman’s later career as an Anabaptist leader, it might be thought that the disputation concerned the issue of infant baptism, but in fact the disputation centered on the substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Held six months before the more famous Marburg colloquy between Martin Luther and the Swiss reformers, the Flensburg disputation was the first public disputation devoted specifically to the Lord’s Supper. Susan Karant-Nunn was one of the first historians to consider the Protestant Lord’s Supper from the perspective of social and cultural history rather than theology.

Reformation scholars, persons interested in gender studies, and those inclined to the investigation of the minutest details of early modern European history will all enjoy making their way through this collection.  I think you will enjoy it.  And so I recommend it to you.

Einführung in das Neue Testament: Bibelkunde des Neuen Testaments- Geschichte und Religion des Urchristentums

A reprint edition of this classic has been published.  

Normally reprint’s aren’t considered grist for the review mill but sometimes a glance back at a real classic is beneficial for a new generation of biblical scholars.  Many may not be familiar at first hand with Lietzmann’s work and they would benefit, greatly, by being introduced to it.

First published in 1933 by Knopf, and thoroughly revised and reworked by Lietzmann, the fifth edition appeared in 1949.  Thus, the work first appeared on the cusp of the Second World War and went through four editions until reaching its final incarnation in 1949, just a few years after the war ended.  Incredibly, given those historical facts, the presence of an absolutely astonishingly fair representation of Judaism in the NT era is noteworthy on its own.  Add to that the remarkable thoroughness and the abiding relevance of many of the details, and this book is seen to be what it truly is: a wonder.

The book begins with a relatively brief overview of the language of the New Testament.  Next follows a very thorough examination of the textual witnesses available for study of the New Testament, including a survey of text critical methods, a description of the most ancient texts, the earliest witnesses in translation, the citations available in the Church Fathers, and the history of the printed text.  Finally, there is discussion of the contemporary (at the time) textual theories of Westcott and Hort.

Immediately following the text critical orientation of the volume, the early Christian literature is described.  Paul’s letters, the deutero-paulines, the letters of the Apostolic Fathers (!), the gospels, the apocryphal gospels (!), Acts, the Apocalypse, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 2 Clement, and the Apologists all receive analysis.

The canon of the New Testament is next investigated.  Following this, the New Testament era is treated as a discreet topic, and this includes an examination of the Judaism of the New Testament period.  Hellenistic culture is next up to bat.

The sixth part of the volume is devoted to the beginnings of Christianity and guides readers into a clearer understanding of Jesus and his preaching, the apostolic age, Paul and his mission to the Gentiles, and developments from Jesus to Paul.

Next up is a look at the church from around 70 AD till 150 AD.

As easily seen, this is a very complete work in terms of its focus on introducing readers to the texts, literature, and world of the early Church.    All of it is based on one simple premise as brilliantly stated by the author:

Der Theolog steht in der Nachfolge der Apostel und ist Erbe ihres Amtes, Gottes Dolmetsch zu sein.

Never has a finer brief definition of the expositional task been written.

This book may be nearly 100 years old, but it is well worth reading right now.  It has much that is valuable in it.  It teaches much.  It is a genuinely important book.

Who Created Christianity?: Fresh Approaches to the Relationship between Paul and Jesus

Who Created Christianity? is a collection of essays by top international Christian scholars who desire to reinforce the relationship that Paul had with Jesus and Christianity.

There is a general sense today among Christians in certain circles that Paul’s teachings to the early Christian church are thought to be “rogue,” even clashing at times with Jesus’ words. Yet these essays set out to prove that the tradition that Paul passes on is one received from Jesus, not separate from it.

The essays in this volume come from a diverse and international group of scholars. They offer up-to-date studies of the teachings of Paul and how the specific teachings directly relate to the earlier teachings of Jesus. This volume explores with even greater focus than ever before the tradition from which Paul emerges and the specific teachings that are part of this tradition. This collection of essays proposes a complementary work to the work of David Wenham and his thesis that Paul was indeed not the founder of Christianity or the creator of Christian dogma; instead, he was a faithful disciple and a conveyer of a prior Christian tradition.

The essayists who contributed to this volume bring a collective several centuries of scholarship to bear and the fruits of that experience glisten on every page.  Stanley Porter, Graham Twelftree, Rainer Riesner, Joan Taylor, Alister McGrath, Craig Evans, Sarah Harris, Mike Bird, Steve Walton, Greg Beale, and Holly Beers among other lesser known and nonetheless finely gifted academics have seen to it that critical issues facing New Testament scholarship are brilliantly addressed.

Jesus and Paul are the two most important persons in the history of Christianity.  How significant is well known but WHY is a question seldom enough asked.  This collection asks, and answers.

The volume is comprised of six parts (personally I would have gone for seven) and in those parts the discussion is framed, Gospel origins are looked into, the oral tradition and its connection to Jesus and Paul is examined, the main themes of research concerning Jesus and Paul are discussed, women according to Jesus and Paul are investigated, Paul’s relationship to the Gospels and Jesus in the letters of Paul are also grist for the academic mill.

The best essays, in my view, are those by Twelftree, Riesner, Taylor, Bird, and Walton.  They are incredibly informative and have the merit of not repeating what are well known details.

The honoree of this Festschrift, David Wenham, is both deserving of the honor and honored by the high quality of scholarship on display in this work.  And while there are more than enough books on Paul out and about these days and plenty on the historical Jesus, few bring the two together and none do it as brilliantly as is done here.

In his foreword Wenham concludes

My hope is that this book, for which I am very grateful. will encourage ongoing sane and fruitful study of the Paul and Jesus question.

From his lips to God’s ears, as we say down here.  With the abundance of insane monographs ranging from the lunacy of the Jesus mythicists to the virtual worshipers of Paul, it is refreshing to read a volume that actually takes us forward in quest of answers to serious issues.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this work.  If you only have time to read a few of the contributions, do read the five I note above.  But if you can make time for the whole work, you will not regret it.  Indeed, you will ‘redeem the time’ and it will be a far better use of your limited lifespan than hopping on the game machine to play the fortnite (or whatever time wasting frolic is popular these days).

Tolle, lege!

An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Historical, Global, and Interreligious Perspectives

This volume arrived some weeks ago for review.

Ecclesiology—the doctrine of the church—has risen to the center of theological interest in recent decades. In this text, theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen provides a wide-ranging survey of the rich field of ecclesiology in the midst of rapid developments and new horizons. Drawing on Kärkkäinen’s international experience and comprehensive research on the church, this revised and expanded edition is thoroughly updated to incorporate recent literature and trends. This unique primer not only orients readers to biblical, historical, and contemporary ecclesiologies but also highlights contextual and global perspectives and includes an entirely new section on interfaith comparative theology. An Introduction to Ecclesiology surveys

  • major theological traditions, including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Pentecostal
  • ecclesiological insights from Latin American, Africa, and Asia
  • distinct perspectives from women, African Americans, and recent trends in the United States
  • key elements of the church such as mission, governance, worship, and sacraments
  • interreligious comparison with Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist communities

As the church today encounters challenges and opportunities related to rapid growth in the Majority World, new congregational forms, ecumenical movements, interfaith relations, and more, Christians need a robust ecclesiology that makes room for both unity and diversity. In An Introduction to Ecclesiology students, pastors, and laypeople will find an essential resource for understanding how the church can live out its calling as Christ’s community on earth.

This extremely important contribution to ecclesiology is the very best book published on the topic since Emil Brunner’s ‘The Misunderstanding of the Church’.

The grotesque lack of understanding of ecclesiology so common among American Christians, pastors, and academics calls for correction, and V-MK’s work achieves precisely that.

He begins by outlining the chief ecclesiological traditions of Christianity, including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Free Church, and Pentecostal/Charismatic.  Completing the task of highlighting those forms of being Church, he next moves to a very fine description of Ecclesiology as found in Africa, South America, and Asia and he includes treatments of the church as envisioned by women, and in America.

The next portion of the volume focuses on the mission of the Church: it’s tasks, governance, liturgy, ordinances, and interdependency with other denominations.

The volume concludes with what is unique among ecclesiologies:  a look at the Church in relationship with the Synagogue, the Islamic Ummah, Hiduism, and Buddhism.

This, as a quick glance at its themes demonstrates, is a full and fulsome volume whose task of informing readers of a proper ecclesiology is magisterially achieved.

In an epilogue, V-MK looks towards the future, asking where Ecclesiology is headed in the 3rd Millennium.  An author index and a subject index round out the volume.

Readers may be familiar with the earlier edition of this work.  It first appeared in 2002.  If so, the work in hand is a different book altogether.  It was rewritten, expanded, restructured, and thoroughly updated.  There are footnotes, but not so many as to be bothersome.

This important work needs to be read.  By everyone involved in thinking about the Church and its mission.  The author has done all the hard work by cultivating the ground, planting the seed, and harvesting the growth.  Now you have the opportunity of enjoying the feast.  Take, eat… this has to do with Christ’s body.  And that matters, or at least should matter, to every Christian.