Category Archives: Book Review

Die Briefe des Petrus und des Judas: Die Botschaft des Neuen Testaments

Kein anderer biblischer Text ist im Vergleich zu seiner Länge so häufig und ausführlich unter den offiziellen Predigttexten vertreten, wie der erste Petrusbrief. Trotzdem gehört der erste Petrusbrief eher zu den unbekannten Größen des Neuen Testamentes.

Kein anderer Text des NT blieb derart unverstanden wie der Judasbrief. Gleichzeitig sind nur wenige biblische Schriften auch nur annähernd so gehaltvoll, wie die wenigen Verse des Judasbriefes.

Wohl kein anderer Autor des NT wurde ähnlich verkannt, wie der des zweiten Petrusbriefes. Würde der zweite Petrusbrief unter den biblischen Texten fehlen, nur wenige würden ihn vermissen. Doch gerade der Autor des zweiten Petrusbriefes kann heute als Vorbild für einen aufgeklärten Umgang mit der Botschaft des NT fungieren.

Der neue Kommentar ist bestrebt, sowohl den drei Schriften in ihrer jeweiligen Eigenart als auch ihren Autoren Gerechtigkeit widerfahren zu lassen. Er möchte Verständnis erwecken und für die Beschäftigung mit ihnen begeistern.

A review copy arrived today.

Die Botschaft des Neuen Testaments: Eine kurz gefasste neutestamentliche Theologie

Diese “kurzgefasste neutestamentliche Theologie” beginnt mit der Entstehung des Kanons und ihren theologischen Aspekten und beschreibt dann die Grundlagen der Botschaft im Erbe Israels und im Wirken und in der Verkündigung Jesu. Es folgt die Darstellung der Botschaft der einzelnen Evangelien und Briefe und jeweils ein Überblick über die gemeinsame Botschaft der Evangelien, des Paulus und seiner Schule und der katholischen Briefe. Im Schlussteil wird dann das Neue Testament als Ganzes in Blick genommen.

Inhaltlich zeigt sich bei den verschiedenen Themen eine große Vielfalt, aber auch eine weitreichende Übereinstimmung in den Grundfragen von Glauben und Leben: Gott hat in Jesus Christus Heil für eine Welt geschaffen, die sonst verloren wäre. Weil dieses Heil aber in der erneuerten Gemeinschaft mit Gott besteht, werden die Menschen nach ihrer Antwort auf Gottes Zusage gefragt. Ziel ist ein Leben in der Liebe zu Gott und zum Nächsten.

Diese Botschaft passt nicht in allem zu den Erwartungen, die wir an ein Wort für unsere Zeit haben. Und doch bleibt sie höchst aktuell auch für uns.

A review copy arrived today.

I Don’t Write Book Reviews For Lazy People Who Don’t Read Books But Who Want to Pretend Like They Do

That’s why I don’t meticulously summarize every chapter and every section.  Individual readers are charged with the task of coming up with their own reactions to the things they read.  Reviewers ought not do their work for them.

That’s why I offer my general impressions of a book and specific details that I think will invite readers to read worthy volumes and avoid garbage volumes that aren’t worthy of their time.

But mostly, I don’t write book reviews for lazy people who don’t read books but who want to pretend like they have.  Those people are the same as the citers of Strong’s Concordance: pretending to know the biblical languages but mere parrots blathering they know not what nor why.

I won’t enable laziness.  There’s already too much of that in modern scholarship as it is.  Laziness, speculation, and senselessness have replaced hard work.  And I don’t like it one bit.

A Companion to the Reformation in Geneva

A Companion to the Reformation in Geneva describes the course of the Protestant Reformation in the city of Geneva from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It seeks to explore the beginnings of reform in the city, the struggles the reformers encountered when seeking to teach, minister to, educate, and discipline the inhabitants of Geneva, and the methods employed to overcome these obstacles. It examines Geneva’s relations with nearby cities and how Geneva handled the influx of immigrants from France. The volume focuses on the most significant aspects of life in the city, examines major theological and liturgical subjects associated with the Genevan Reformation, and describes the political, social, and cultural consequences of the Reformation for Geneva. 

Contributors include Jon Balserak, Sara Beam, Erik de Boer, Michael Bruening, Mathieu Caesar, Jill Fehlieson, Emanuele Fiume, Hervé Genton, Anja Silvia Goeing, Christian Grosse, Scott Manetsch, Elsie McKee, Graeme Murdock, William G. Naphy, Peter Opitz, Jennifer Powell McNutt, Jameson Tucker, Theodore G. Van Raalte, and Jeffrey R. Watt. 

Any volume edited by Jon Balsarek is a volume worth reading.

Readers will wish to consult the table of contents at the link above to see in brief what the volume at hand is about.  In his editorial introduction, Balsarek writes

One thing apparent from even a cursory examination of the Genevan Reformation is the amount of violence associated with it.  from Geneva’s use of torture to the riots that broke out in church during baptisms to the draconian measures for enforcing moral norms by the Consistory and Petit Conseil to the near- perpetual presence of conflicts within and around Geneva and her neighbors, not to mention the Escalade.

You had me at violence!  And though I write that semi-tongue in cheek I do think that the opening line nicely cues readers to what’s coming: an unconventional investigation of the city made famous by Calvin’s efforts.  What was it like to be a citizen or resident of that town?  Who were ones fellows?  How did people interact?  How much control did Calvin exert?  What were the outcomes?  The implications?  The blowback?  The essays here assembled allow us to wonder aloud about those and many other issues.

B. notes

Note well that this volume is devoted to the Reformation in Geneva, rather than the work and theology of John Calvin or one of the other stars that orbit within the Calvinian solar system.

Lest any have false expectations of the work’s purpose.  And then further

The volume enters and attempts to make sense (from Geneva’s perspective) of a world in which the relatively small city of Geneva had to grapple with relations with other cities and towns like Bern, Lausanne, Zurich, and Neuchâtel, exploring frequent tensions existing between them.

Contributors to the volume, listed above, do a remarkably fine job of exploring corners known and unknown; familiar and unfamiliar, of the city of Calvin.

B. notes, at the conclusion of his introductory essay in which he also summarizes the essays herein,

The aim of this volume is to make better known to readers of English the most recent research on the varied and complex developments that characterized the Genevan Reformation from its inception until the 19th century.

Naturally after looking through the introduction I was drawn to the index where I discovered to my excitement that the researchers here were faithful historians and rightly include, in appropriate places, the Father of the Swiss Reformation- Huldrych Zwingli.

Zwingli, Ulrich (including Zwinglian) 2– 4, 10– 11, 14– 15, 19
against the Roman Catholic Church 142– 143, 155– 157
church and state relations 127
on church reform 141– 142
on the sacrament 126– 127

Moving forward my next step was to read through the book, which exercise I found to be both enjoyable and informative.  Geneva was radically affected by Calvin’s presence and the fact that it remains a city intertwined with his name speaks volumes of his towering presence.

Essays that I found to be particularly enjoyable were written by Jon Balserak, Erik de Boer, Jill Fehlieson, Elsie McKee, Graeme Murdock, Peter Opitz, and Jennifer Powell McNutt.  Their contributions are simply brilliant.

I commend this exceptional tome to your attention.  If the Reformation is a field which interests you, then you will need to read it so as to be on the cutting edge of the discussions in the field.  If your interests lie in more uninteresting areas like math or science or the ever boring sports, then I urge you to ‘up your game’ and read something that will enlighten your mind and expand your understanding.

Wherever your interests lead you, let them lead you here, to this book.  Even if it’s a bit of a detour, it is a worthy use of your time.  Far more worthy, to be honest, than facebook or twitter or whatever it is that you’re doing right now that doesn’t include reading this book.

Unless you’re reading the Bible.  That’s ok.  But if you aren’t, then stop what you’re doing and read this work.

Seriously.  Read this book.

Dreams, Visions, Imaginations: Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Views of the World to Come

The contributions in this volume are focused on the historical origins, religious provenance, and social function of ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, including so-called ‘Gnostic’ writings. Although it is disputed whether there was a genre of ‘apocalyptic literature,’ it is obvious that numerous texts from ancient Judaism, early Christianity, and other religious milieus share a specific view of history and the world to come.

Many of these writings are presented in form of a heavenly (divine) revelation, mediated through an otherworldly figure (like an angel) to an elected human being who discloses this revelation to his recipients in written form. In different strands of early Judaism, ancient Christianity as well as in Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Islam, apocalyptic writings played an important role from early on and were produced also in later centuries. One of the most characteristic features of these texts is their specific interpretation of history, based on the knowledge about the upper, divine realm and the world to come.

Against this background the volume deals with a wide range of apocalyptic texts from different periods and various religious backgrounds.

A review copy has arrived.  More later.

Prophets, Priests, and Promises: Essays on the Deuteronomistic History, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah

This collection of essays has now been published-

Shortly before his untimely death Gary Knoppers prepared a number of articles on the historical books in the Hebrew Bible for this volume. Many had not previously been published and the others were heavily revised. They combine a fine attention to historical method with sensitivity for literary-critical analysis, constructive use of classical as well as other sources for comparative evidence, and wide-ranging attention to economic, social, religious, and political circumstances relating in particular to the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Knoppers advances many new suggestions about significant themes in these texts, about how they relate one to another, and about the light they shed on the various communities’ self-consciousness at a time when new religious identities were being forged.

A review copy has arrived.  More anon.

Why I Refuse to Review Books That Don’t Come in Hard Copy Or PDF

Writing book reviews for volumes only available on Netgalley or other ephemeral platforms is like doing many days work and being told that what you get in return is a photograph of money, but not real money.

If you don’t have a permanent copy like a pdf, or a hard copy of a book, you’ve done all the work of reading and writing a review for literally nothing. and it’s just not worth it.

Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts

IVPAcademic have sent for review a copy of this volume.

Exploring the New Testament, Volume One provides an accessible introduction to the Gospels and Acts. It’s filled with classroom-friendly features such as discussion questions, charts, theological summary sidebars, essay questions, and further reading lists. This volume introduces students to

  • Jewish and Greco-Roman background
  • literary genres and forms
  • issues of authorship, date, and setting
  • the content and major themes of each book
  • various approaches to the study of the Gospels and Acts
  • the intersection of New Testament criticism with contemporary faith and culture

Now in its third edition, this popular textbook has been updated and revised to take account of the latest advances in scholarly findings and research methods, including new sections on

  • the impact of social memory theory on Gospel studies
  • the relationship of John’s Gospel to the Synoptics
  • recent work on characterization in narrative studies of the Gospels
  • the way the Hebrew Scriptures are read by the New Testament authors
  • the contribution of archaeology to New Testament studies
  • updated bibliographies highlighting the most important and influential works published in the last decade

Especially suited as a textbook for courses on Jesus, the Gospels, or Acts, this book is a valuable guide for anyone seeking a solid foundation for studying the New Testament.

So the publisher.  We shall see.  More in due time.

The Woman in the Pith Helmet

I got a copy of this today for review.

Edited by Jennie Ebeling and Philippe Guillaume: This volume celebrates the career of Norma Franklin, an archaeologist who has made important contributions to our understanding of the three key cities of Samaria, Megiddo, and Jezreel in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the Iron Age. The sixteen essays offered herein by Franklin’s colleagues in archaeology and biblical studies are a fitting tribute to the woman in the pith helmet: an indomitable field archaeologist who describes herself as “happiest with complex stratigraphy” and dedicated to “killing sacred cows.”

This is so very well deserved!  And the editors!  Wow.  Top notch both!   I’ll dive in and offer my impressions in due course.

Das Reformationsjubiläum 2017: Umstrittenes Erinnern

Als die Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland 2008 eine Lutherdekade als Vorbereitung auf das große Reformationsjubiläum des Jahres 2017 ausrief, hatte Hartmut Lehmann sich bereits viele Jahre mit den Lutherjubiläen der vergangenen Jahrhunderte beschäftigt. So lag es nahe, dass er auch die von der EKD im Hinblick auf 2017 unternommenen Aktivitäten beobachtete und sich dazu an verschiedenen Stellen äußerte. Außerdem wurde er in den Jahren zwischen 2008 und 2017 immer wieder zu Vorträgen über das bevorstehende Jubiläum gebeten.

So entstanden eine Reihe von kritischen Kommentaren zum Reformationsfest 2017, von denen hier eine Auswahl vorliegt. Die Bilanz, die Hartmut Lehmann zieht, ist durchaus kritisch. Auf der einen Seite würdigt er zwar die Restaurationsarbeiten an den originalen Luthergedenkstätten, die großen nationalen Ausstellungen, die 2017 gezeigt wurden sowie einige neuere wissenschaftliche Arbeiten zu Luther und der Reformation.

Auf der anderen Seite ist ihm aber aufgefallen, dass die EKD die nichtdeutschen protestantischen Kirchen nicht angemessen in die Vorbereitungen einbezogen hat – deshalb entstand in den Niederlanden Refo500; dass es der EKD und der Katholischen Kirche erst in der letzten Phase der Lutherdekade gelang, sich gemeinsam zu Fortschritten in der Ökumene zu bekennen; dass der Plan der EKD, die Lutherdekade als „Dekade der Freiheit“ zu feiern, auf viel Widerstand stieß; dass die EKD sich erst viel zu spät dezidiert von den fatalen Judenschriften Luthers distanzierte und dass für das große Jubiläumsfest im Jahre 2017 kein überzeugendes, über das Jahr hinaus strahlendes Motto gefunden wurde.

Die Texte dieses Bandes entstanden zwischen 2008 und 2018. Sie machen deutlich, wie umstritten die Erinnerungsbemühungen an Martin Luther aus Anlass der 500jährigen Wiederkehr des Beginns der Reformation waren.

A review copy came in the mail today.  More soon.

Theodore Beza at 500

Theodore Beza (1519–1605) was a talented humanist, Protestant theologian, political agitator, and prominent minister of the reformed church in Geneva during the second-half of the 16th century. During his long career, Beza exercised strategic leadership in his efforts to preserve reformed Christianity in Geneva and his native France, as well as to defend the theological legacy of John Calvin throughout Europe. Beza’s diverse literary corpus of more than seventy works demonstrates that he was well-versed in classical literature, skilled in biblical exegesis, and adroit in theological controversy.

More than an ivory-tower theologian, Beza maintained contact with the leading political and religious figures of his day, including Henry IV of France and Elizabeth I of England, as well as John Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger, and Philipp Melanchthon. He also participated in some of the most important colloquies and controversies of his generation, such as the Colloquy of Poissy (1561), the National Synod of La Rochelle (1571), and the Colloquy of Montbéliard (1586). This roll call of eminent people and important events indicates the central role that Beza played in the explosive political and religious controversies that roiled Western Europe during this troubled century.

This edited volume explores neglected aspects of the history, theology, and literary contribution of Beza. The thirteen contributors to this volume are an accomplished group of scholars who specialize in the religious and social history of early modern Protestantism. Theodore Beza at 500 celebrates the 500th anniversary of the reformer’s birth by providing an original, insightful, and multifaceted study of one of the most important leaders of reformed Protestantism after John Calvin.

A review copy arrived today.  More anon.

Paulus und die christliche Gemeinde in Korinth: Historisch-kulturelle und theologische Aspekte

Die Beiträge im vorliegenden Band befassen sich mit dem kulturellen Kontext der christlichen Gemeinde in Korinth im 1. Jh. n. Chr. und mit der Reaktion des Paulus auf kontextuell bedingte Spannungen.

Benjamin Schliesser macht eine Fülle neuerer Untersuchungen über das antike Korinth fruchtbar für die Frage nach der soziokulturellen Situation der Gemeinde.

Harald Seubert macht plausibel, dass sich eine Reihe von polemischen Aussagen des Paulus in den Korintherbriefen auf Phänomene beziehen, welche enge Parallelen mit der Zweiten Sophistik aufweisen.

Jacob Thiessen legt dar, dass die von Paulus in 1. Korinther 14 kritisierte Art und Weise, wie die Korinther das „Zungenreden“ praktizieren, auffällige Parallelen zum Dionysoskult aufzeigt.

Christian Stettler zeigt auf, dass Paulus sich mit seiner Rede von der „Ohnmacht“ und “Torheit” Gottes gegen in Korinth gängige kulturelle Massstäbe wendet und diese mit der wahren Macht und Weisheit konterkariert.

Jörg Frey analysiert die Strategie, mit der Paulus in den Argumentationsgängen des 1. Korintherbriefs um die Einheit der korinthischen Gemeinde ringt, und leitet daraus Empfehlungen für analoge heutige Situationen in der Kirche ab.

North American folk can acquire the volume from V&R’s excellent distributor ISD.  The publisher has supplied a review copy.

Pauline studies have been ramping up for a few decades (when the fascination with the quest of the historical Jesus cooled) and they show no sign of slowing down.  The issue for historical Jesus studies, of course, was the absolute paucity of actual evidence which resulted in all manner of wild speculations eventually resulting in the insanity of the ‘Jesus Mythicists’, a cadre of persons (not scholars) who denied the very existence of Jesus himself.

The same, I fear, will be the case with Paul and pauline studies if scholars don’t come to a point where they reject all the wild speculation presently festooning the field and instead stick to the facts.

The contributions in the present volume seek to affirm and enunciate historical details about the Corinthian community.  So the essayists examine the identity of the Christians in Paul’s community, the Sophist’s philosophical school (since it played such a significant role in the Corinthian community), the cult of Dionysius and the ‘phenomenon of speaking in tongues’ in that city and among those Christians, God’s ‘powerlessness’ in the light of Auschwitz and the role of God’s powerlessness in Paul’s theology, and finally the Pauline community and the unity of the Corinthian church.  Five authors presenting five chapters on issues central to any authentic understanding of the Corinthian church and the letters they received from Paul.

To be sure, this is not a collection of essays centered on Paul the man.  These essays are centered on the city of Corinth and its inhabitants.  In particular, its Christian inhabitants.  The papers here gathered stemmed from a conference on the topic held in Basel in 2018 (on the 28th of April that year to be exact).

The forward of the collection summarizes each of the contributions, giving readers a sense of where each essay is headed and how it gets there.  Each essay is meticulously constructed with the as usual for the Germans and Swiss attention to detail and evidence for facts presented.  Readers may wish to discover speculative guesses concerning this or that notion, but such speculations are absent.  Facts, and facts alone, are followed.  Each contribution also includes a useful bibliography.

There are no indices.  There is, however, a list of contributors with a brief bio for each.  And as each chapter is thoroughly outlined in the table of contents, an index of scripture or subject really isn’t necessary at all.

Each essay is instructive, but for myself, the outstanding contribution is that of Jacob Thiessen.  He investigates the cult of Dionysius and those speaking in tongues in Corinth and his is a model of scholarly presentation.  Not only is the essay informative, it is utterly engaging.  I won’t ruin the surprise for potential readers of this volume, but Thiessen’s work is the best on the subject of ‘speaking in tongues’ in the Corinthian context I have yet seen.

My hope is that the trajectory modeled so well by this collection will be followed and adopted by continuing pauline studies.  Speculation is good for no one.  Especially for the pursuit of truth.  Facts, on the other hand, enlighten us all.

This is one enlightening book.

Worshiping with the Reformers

Worship of the triune God has always stood at the center of the Christian life. That was certainly the case during the sixteenth-century Reformation as well. Yet in the midst of tremendous social and theological upheaval, the church had to renew its understanding of what it means to worship God.

In this volume, which serves as a companion to IVP Academic’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture series, Reformation scholar Karin Maag takes readers inside the worshiping life of the church during this era. Drawing from sources across theological traditions, she explores several aspects of the church’s worship, including what it was like to attend church, reforms in preaching, the function of prayer, how Christians experienced the sacraments, and the roles of both visual art and music in worship.

With Maag as your guide, you can go to church—with the Reformers.

Karin is a super scholar.  I’m appreciative of the review copy that IVP have sent.  Along with what follows, folk may want to take a look at this video, where Karin discusses her work with colleagues:

As I made my way through Karin’s work a number of things became immediately apparent:

First, she has an incredible familiarity with the primary sources.  Second, she is able to relate those sources to modern readers in a very clear way.  And third, her inclusion of many vignettes or anecdotes from those primary sources is a great gift to us all.

She presents the argument of her work in a sensible fashion, following the various aspects of those things which make up worship, or of which worship consists, in a topical fashion.  So she examines church attendance in general first, and then the parts of worship including prayer, communion, music, and the other elements.

She doesn’t, though, simply talk about each element, she illustrates them.  Each chapter begins with a quotation relevant to it and ends with a bibliography for further reading on that particular topic.  These bibliographies are generally quite good but, I have to say, when she offers the bibliography for the chapter on music and the visual arts, that I was more than a little surprised that it did not include Charles Garside’s incredibly important ‘Zwingli and the Arts’.

There are a few illustrations included in the book (black and white) and there is a scripture index and a subject index along with an index of names as well.

For myself, the most engaging chapters were the first three.  Going to church, and at church.  And preaching.  These three chapters are well worth the ‘price of admission’.  Here one enjoys delightful stories about the boredom and disinterest of attendees at worship which are very reminiscent of the way worshippers are today.  There really is nothing new under the sun- not even the fairly widespread disinclination among Christians to heartily enter into the act of worship.

It’s more than a little comforting to realize that ‘it isn’t just me’ when sermons are ignored or vaguely tolerated.

Read this book.  It’s tremendous.

The Community Rules from Qumran: A Commentary

Veröffentlicht auf Englisch. In diesem Band bietet Charlotte Hempel den ersten englischsprachigen Kommentar zu allen antiken Handschriften der Gemeinderegel. Diese Werke skizzieren die Organisation und die Werte, die der mit den Schriftrollen vom Toten Meer verbundenen Bewegung zugeschrieben werden.

Mohr have kindly provided a review copy.  More anon.

Conspicuous in His Absence: Studies in the Song of Songs and Esther

In the biblical canon, two books lack any explicit reference to the name of God: Song of Songs and Esther. God’s peculiar absence in these texts is unsettling, both for theological discourse and for believers considering implications for their own lived experience.

Chloe T. Sun takes on the challenges of God’s absence by exploring the often overlooked theological connections between these two Old Testament books. In Conspicuous in His Absence, Sun examines and reflects on the Song of Songs and Esther using theological interpretation. She addresses three main questions: What is the nature of God as revealed in texts that don’t use his name? How do we think of God when he is perceived to be absent? What should we do when God is silent or hidden?

The publisher has sent a review copy.

Martin Kählers biblische Theologie: Grundzüge seines theologischen Werkes

Die vorliegende Studie versteht sich im Anschluss an die ältere und jüngere Kählerforschung und greift die offene Frage nach einem Verständnis des Lehrganzen (Johannes Wirsching) der Theologie Martin Kählers auf. Hierfür lehnt sie sich an Gerhard Sauters Rede von der Dogmatik als einem lebendigen “Sprachkörper” an, deren eigentümlicher Charakter sich in einer “ständig wiederkehrende(n) Struktur von Wörtern und Objekten” (Zugänge zur Dogmatik) niederschlägt. Diesen Sprachkörper versucht die Studie durch die Analyse der späten Kreuzesschrift (1911) von Martin Kähler in einem ersten Arbeitsschritt zu erschließen.

Das Resultat, nämlich die Grundbegriffe Bild, Wort, Geist und Geschichte werden dann im Folgenden gleichsam als Suchbegriffe auf repräsentative Schriften des sich über fünf Jahrzehnte erstreckenden Gesamtwerkes Kählers angewendet. Dabei wird u.a. deutlich, dass die wohl bekannteste Kählersche Schrift “Der sog. historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus” mit ihrem starken Bezug auf den Bild- und Geschichtsbegriff nicht nur ein Einzelstück des theologischen Denkens Martin Kählers darstellt, sondern inhaltlich eingebettet ist in das Gesamte seines theologischen Denkens.

Vor dem Hintergrund der persönlich-biographischen Prägungen sowie der theologischen Prägungen verdichtet sich im Durchgang durch das theologische Werk Kählers das Bild von einer im Großen und Ganzen inhaltlich einheitlichen Theologie, die konsequent an Text und Sprache der Heiligen Schrift orientiert ist.

This monograph is a gem.   It was in its original incarnation a doctoral dissertation and has been revised for publication.

After a brief forward the work develops in six major divisions, the first of which is an introduction to the theology of MK.  The stage set, part two develops quite fully the biographical features of MK’s life and his beginnings in theological studies.  Part three, incredibly interesting, focuses the reader’s attention on the theologians who contributed to MK’s intellectual formation.  These include Roth, Tholuck, Beck, and others.

The fourth part of the work is the longest and most specific: concerning itself with various of MK’s works, essays, and lectures.  The wide ranging expertise of MK as demonstrated by the profoundly impressive array of topics he wrote concerning are here the central focus.

Part five summarizes MK’s theology and part six provides an overview of the character of MK’s theology.  Though these two chapters may seem at first glance to be about the same thing, they are quite specific in their orientation and quite precise in their development of their individual themes.

The seventh part is a triple bibliography, covering works by MK, about MK, and then wider secondary literature.

Finally, section 8, a lecture of MK’s on the notion of inspiration, brings the volume to a close.

Zimmermann is an exceptionally organized scholar and his work shows that fact quite clearly.  From the structure of the volume to the structure of individual sentences and paragraphs, everything is interlocked in a water-tight waterproof hermetically sealed way.  Were one segment left aside, the whole would be weakened.  In other words, this is the most tightly written dissertation I believe I’ve ever seen.  There is no wandering from the purpose and there are no unnecessary words.

Footnotes are present but not overabundant and appear only when absolutely necessary.

The most important aspect of this work, however, is its function of introducing the theology of MK to a new generation of researchers who may imagine that he can be relegated to the ash heap of history and scholarship.  Here MK is shown to be a vibrant contributor to the theological enterprise and one who surely deserves a reading audience today.

If this book provokes readers of it to search out Kähler’s various theological works, it will have achieved something important.

Jesus and the Manuscripts: What We Can Learn from the Oldest Texts

Jesus and the Manuscripts, by popular author and Bible scholar Craig A. Evans, introduces readers to the diversity and complexity of the ancient literature that records the words and deeds of Jesus. This diverse literature includes the familiar Gospels of the New Testament, the much less familiar literature of the Rabbis and of the Qur’ān, and the extracanonical narratives and brief snippets of material found in fragments and inscriptions.

This book critically analyzes important texts and quotations in their original languages and engages the current scholarly discussion. Evans argues that the Gospel of Thomas is not early or independent of the New Testament Gospels but that it should be dated to the late second century. He also argues that Secret Mark, like the recently published Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, is probably a modern forgery.

Of special interest is the question of how long the autographs of New Testament writings remained in circulation. Evans argues that the evidence suggests that most of these autographs remained available for copying and study for more than one hundred years and thus stabilized the text.

Ad Fontes!  That was the Reformers cry and that was the cry taken up by biblical scholars for the centuries afterward.  That is, until recently.  Recently, too many pastors and biblical scholars have turned from primary sources and adopted the absurd notion that reading biblical texts in translation is sufficient for preaching and teaching.

This has resulted in incredible damage being done to both theology and scripture studies and that damage has manifested itself in the wider society such that many who have zero ability or understanding of the Bible have been viewed by people as persons to be trusted and heeded.

And things will only get worse until the biblical languages regain their rightful place as the ONLY sufficient foundation for bible study.

Enter Evans’ book.  Comprised of 12 chapters, the present volume seeks to introduce readers to primary texts related to the Gospels and Acts and their importance for the most basic of all biblical studies tasks: textual criticism.  The chapters are

  1. How Old and How Many? The Oldest Witnesses to Jesus
  2. The Autographic Jesus: How Long Were Antique Books in Use?
  3. Jesus in the Jewish Gospels
  4. Jesus and Doubting Thomas: On the Genesis and Age of a Syrian Gospel (Part 1)
  5. Jesus and Doubting Thomas: On the Genesis and Age of a Syrian Gospel (Part 2)
  6. Cross Purposes: From Matthew to the Gospel of Peter
  7. Jesus and Judas: Making Sense of the Gospel of Judas
  8. The Sexual Jesus: Straight, Gay, or Married?
  9. Panther, Prophet, or Problem Child?
  10. Jesus in Small Texts
  11. Jesus and the Beginnings of the Christian Canon of Scripture
  12. Jesus in Print: Erasmus and the Beginnings of Textual Fundamentalism

There are also a bibliography, and indices of modern authors and ancient sources as well as a list of figures.

In his foreword to the volume, J.K. Elliott makes it abundantly clear that he has little patience for the latest fads of New Testament textual criticism.  He is particularly unimpressed by the ‘most recent fad to greet us’, the Coherence Based Genealogical Method.  And that’s just one of the several delights readers encounter as the book opens.

Many of the chapters have been published in different formats but here are thoroughly revised and rendered into a coherent whole.  The purpose of the work, as described by the author, is threefold: to introduce readers to ancient literature, to survey scholarship on those texts, and to asses the use and misuse of those texts.

The volume is dense and demanding.  It is littered with footnotes and readers without Greek will not be able to fully access what Evans writes.  There are no cheats, no transliterations.  Readers are expected to be able to read Greek (as all who work in textual criticism and New Testament studies should be).

Hebrew also appears, and it too is not transliterated.  Scholars of the material are demanded to be able to read the sources which they use in their work.  The really absurd thing about much modern scholarship is that such a notion has to be stated and simply can no longer be assumed as understood and known and embraced.

Evans has produced an incredibly impressive work and he deserves our appreciation for doing so.

Textual criticism matters.  Sources matter.  Reading sources matters.  When those things no longer matter, then New Testament scholarship dies.  Evans is trying to keep the foundation of New Testament studies alive.

He’s fighting a massive tide of laziness and academic indifference; but he will be victorious.  Along with all those wise enough to see the importance of such disciplines for wider academic pursuits and even for the well being of Church and society.

Rudolf Bultmann / Hans Jonas Briefwechsel 1928–1976

Hans Jonas’ thinking cannot be understood without regard to the special intellectual and biographical formation he underwent in Marburg during the 1920s. Besides Martin Heidegger, the Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann is particularly worthy of mention in this context. The correspondence between Jonas and Bultmann is the principal source of insight into their personal and intellectual relationship. Apart from a few intervals, their communication spanned almost half a century, from 1928 until 1976. It is an exceptionally impressive record of a scholarly friendship and at the same time testimony to a momentous philosophical-theological dialogue: about questions of gnosis, about myth and »demythologizing«, and – last but not least – about Heidegger and his relation to theology.

Hans Jonas’ work on gnosticism, though now of course quite dated, was remarkably influential in his day and he was no mean scholar and no man of small importance.  And of course Bultmann’s significance needn’t be discussed since all who know anything about New Testament and Early Christianity know of him.

This book offers readers a window on their interactions.  The volume is comprised firstly of a foreword, where the editors speak directly to readers about the work.  This is followed by a more in depth introduction to the work by those same editors.

The body of the volume is comprised of the correspondence between Hans Jonas and Rudolf Bultmann.  The first letter dates to 21.4.1928 and was sent by Jonas to Bultmann.  In it he briefly describes his present situation and his upcoming travel plans and scholarly activities.  It’s a paragraph in length.

The second letter, dated 13.7.1929 from Jonas to Bultmann, is extraordinarily long and is far more an essay than a piece of correspondence.

I mention these first two letters to give readers a sense of the comprehensive nature of the correspondence between these two scholars and do so in order to stress the importance of this correspondence.  These letters invite us into the world shared by two very important thinkers.  They lay bare the inner workings of their minds and the outer circumstances of their lives.  They allow us in, in a way that academic works, essays, lectures, and monographs never can.  They make these scholars ‘real’ friends and companions on the journey of life.

The first letter in the collection from Bultmann to Jonas is dated 15 January, 1953.  Either materials have been lost (which seems likely, since Bultmann was very keen to respond to letters when he received them) of for some reason never sent (which, again, seems very unlikely given Bultmann’s very German personality).

The last two letters date from late 1975 to early 1976.  The last from Jonas included the funeral oration delivered at Hannah Arendt’s funeral in New York on December 8, 1975 which Jonas delivered, in English.  The last from Bultmann, dated 12 February, 1976, and Bultmann laments that he has not heard from Jonas since he sent the funeral oration.  He also mentions his advanced age and the death of his beloved wife and the joy that has been his with the company of his daughter.  5 Months later, on July 30, 1976, Bultmann would himself die.

There are really lovely photographs interspersed between these letters and there are also 9 appendices featuring materials like Bultmann’s foreword to Jonas’ Studies in Gnosticism and Jonas’ memorial lecture at Marburg after Bultmann had died among other things.

Finally, the work concludes with a bibliography, a list of image sources, and indices of places, persons, and subjects.

I cannot stress, again, how incredibly important this volume, and volumes like it, where correspondence between important scholars is made available, are.  We are allowed and indeed invited to sit down and read over the shoulders of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand.  Seeing their private (oftentimes) thoughts and watching at first hand the development of ideas we will find later more fully developed in their books and lectures.

This book is more than commendable.  In a very serious way, it is indispensable if we wish to comprehend the work of Jonas and the work of Bultmann.

Tolle, lege!

The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic, and Theological Approaches

For Christians, the Old Testament often presents a conundrum. We revere it as God’s Word, but we don’t always comprehend it. It has great truths beautifully expressed, but it also has lengthy lists of names that we cannot pronounce, detailed rules for religious rites that we never observe, and grim stories that we never tell our children. Theologians and laypeople throughout church history have struggled to define it, interpret it, and reconcile it with the New Testament.

In The Problem of the Old Testament, Duane A. Garrett takes on this conundrum and lays a foundation for constructive study of the Old Testament. He surveys three primary methods Christians have used to handle the Old Testament, from the church fathers to today: hermeneutical, schematic, and conceptual. Garrett also explores major interpretive topics such as the nature of the law, the function of election and covenants, and how prophecy works, boldly offering a way forward that is faithful to the text and to the Christian faith.

As much as I am loathe to say something negative about a book (given my natural inclination to peacemaking and encouraging), I really, really disliked this one.  I mean I really disliked it.  I disliked it almost as much as I disliked A Discourse Analysis of Ruth.  Almost.  Though to be fair that book on Ruth still ranks as the worst book I have ever read.  This is the second worst.

Given my disdain for the volume it’s only fair that I offer my reasons why.  After all, just saying a book is horrible isn’t very helpful, is it.  Even if it’s the truth and one feels as though one is spending time that could be better spent on doing something else that would be more productive than ever thinking about the horrible thing again.  But here we are.

First, and most importantly, this book doesn’t see the Hebrew Bible for what it is: a pre-Christian text that has meaning and significance apart from any attachment to the New Testament.  It only sees it as a forerunner for the New Testament.

The opening sentence says as much:

In this book, I argue that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and that it is authoritative and edifying for Christians.

Id est, the Old Testament is ‘filled’ with meaning only if interpreted Christocentrically.   To be sure, there is no doubt that many and even most Christians do see the Old Testament as nothing more than the forerunner to the New.  But is that what the Hebrew Bible really is?  Just a trunk that needs legs and arms and a head in order to be meaningful.  Hardly.  Indeed, the proper and only honest evaluation of the Hebrew Bible that should be taught to Christians is that the Hebrew Bible is self-sufficient and it is in fact the New Testament that is the appendage.

Luther’s falsehood, that ‘the Old Testament is the cradle in which the Christ child lay’ was wrong when he said it and it has been wrong ever since.  Only sloppy exegesis can make such a claim.  Sloppy, careless, and erroneous.

Which leads to my second reason for being filled with the same sort of disdain for this book as I am when I eat food that’s been in the fridge too long:  the exegesis is dreadful and sour and has the taste of just formed bacteria.

Readers of pp 234 ff where Garrett attempts to discuss what he calls ‘the four functions of the law’ lay bare the eisegetical nature of Garrett’s work.  And esiegetical is the kindest thing that can be said of it.  It is worse than mere eisegesis.  It is rubbish.

He writes

The laws of Torah come to their full realization in Jesus.

To this eisegetical nugget he attaches several sentences citing not texts from the Hebrew Bible but from the New Testament.

On page after page Garrett is trying to convince readers that without the New Testament, the Old is meaningless, truncated, inadequate.  This is not a book that cares about the Hebrew Bible.  It is a book that wants you to believe that the Hebrew Bible just doesn’t measure up until you plop Jesus onto its every page and then, and only then, does it have any real meaning.  That’s why the title of the book is ‘The Problem of the Old Testament’.  For Garrett the problem is that Jesus wasn’t in it so he must be forced in, no matter what.  And that, in his view, solves the ‘problem’.

The truth, though, is that Garrett’s reading of the Hebrew Bible is the real problem.

There are countless examples of poor exegesis throughout the volume but Garrett puts pen to paper and makes his intention clearest is his little treatment of Isaiah 7:14.  He starts out sounding as though he actually wants to comprehend what Isaiah says, but what he really wants to do is get readers away from Isaiah so he can mention Jesus, again.  Here’s how he ends the book:

Matthew did not give us an exhaustive treatment of Isaiah 7:14, but his claim that it was ‘fulfilled’ in the virginal birth of Jesus is legitimate.

Matthew did indeed cite Isaiah; but his understanding of the passage is far more nuanced that Garrett seems to realize.

And that brings us to the final reason why I dislike this book as much as I disliked Netflix’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ (a trash film if ever there were one):  Garrett lacks the one thing that interpreters of the Hebrew Bible require (aside of course from a very thorough grasp of Hebrew and Aramaic)- a sense of how ancient texts work and the nuances of which they are capable.

Garrett is a flat reader.  He has decided to see Jesus under every rock and behind every tree and so he does.  Even when Jesus isn’t there (and he isn’t there, in the Hebrew Bible, anywhere).  And that makes for extremely poor scholarship and a book that is both useless and frustrating.

May I be clear?  Take a pass if someone offers you the opportunity to read this book.  Go read something else instead.  Anything else really (except for A Discourse Analysis of Ruth, that book is worse).  You will regret very much taking this book in hand.  Even in pandemic isolation.

Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context

More Christians now live in the Majority World than in Europe and North America. Yet most theological literature does not reflect the rising tide of Christian reflection coming from these regions. If we take seriously the Spirit’s movement around the world, we must consider how the rich textures of Christianity in the Majority World can enliven, inform, and challenge all who are invested in the ongoing work of theology.

Majority World Theology offers an unprecedented opportunity to enter conversations on the core Christian doctrines with leading scholars from around the globe. Seeking to bring together the strongest theological resources from past and present, East and West, the volume editors have assembled a diverse team of contributors to develop insights informed by questions from particular geographic and cultural contexts.

For as long as I have been studying scripture and theology, and that has been since my college days in the early 80’s, and for centuries before that, those subject fields have been dominated by the viewpoint of Europeans and their descendants in North America (including one Canadian).  This Eurocentricism has been counteracted in recent recent years as Majority World theology comes to wider appreciation and dissemination and the current volume is an excellent addition to that blossoming discipline.

This extensive volume is over 700 pages long and includes treatments of most of the major heads of Christian Doctrine, though it lacks a discussion of the Doctrine of Scripture.  This is due in part to the aim of the volume which is to introduce the major dogmas of the faith from the point of view of the inhabitants of the Majority World and it is due in part to the progress of the various international meetings where the issues of this volume were discussed and promulgated first.

Its contents are

Part One: The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World
Introduction to Part One: Trinity 101: Kaleidoscopic Views of God in the Majority World, K. K. Yeo
1. One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, Gerald Bray
2. Beyond Homoiousios and Homoousios: Exploring North American Indigenous Concepts of the Shalom Community of God, Randy S. Woodley
3. The Trinity in Africa: Trends and Trajectories, Samuel Waje Kunhiyop
4. The Trinity as Gospel, Antonio González
5. Learning to See Jesus with the Eyes of the Spirit: The Unlikely Prophets of God’s Reign, C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell
6. Asian Reformulations of the Trinity: An Evaluation, Natee Tanchanpongs
7. Motherliness of God: A Search for Maternal Aspects in Paul’s Theology, Atsuhiro Asano
8. How to Understand a Biblical God in Chinese: Toward a Crosscultural Biblical Hermeneutics, Zi Wang

Part Two: Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World
Introduction to Part Two: An Invitation to Discuss Christology with the Global Church, Stephen T. Pardue
9. Christology in the West: Conversations in Europe and North America, Kevin J. Vanhoozer
10. Jesus as God’s Communicative and Hermeneutical Act: African Christians on the Person and Significance of Jesus Christ, Victor I. Ezigbo
11. Christologies in Asia: Trends and Reflections, Timoteo D. Gener
12. ¿Quién Vive? ¡Cristo! Christology in Latin American Perspectives, Jules A. Martínez-Olivieri
13. Reading the Gospel of John through Palestinian Eyes, Yohanna Katanacho
14. From Artemis to Mary: Misplaced Veneration Versus True Worship of Jesus in the Latino/a Context, Aída Besançon Spencer
15. Christology and Cultus in 1 Peter: An African (Kenyan) Appraisal, Andrew M. Mbuvi
16. Biblical Christologies of the Global Church: Beyond Chalcedon? Toward a Fully Christian and Fully Cultural Theology, K. K. Yeo

Part Three: The Spirit over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World
Introduction to Part Three: Pneumatology in the Majority World, Gene L. Green
17. I Believe in the Holy Spirit: From the Ends of the Earth to the Ends of Time, Amos Yong
18. The Spirit Blows Where It Wills: The Holy Spirit’s Personhood in Indian Christian Thought, Ivan Satyavrata
19. Redefining Relationships: The Role of the Spirit in Romans and Its Significance in the Multiethnic Context of India, Zakali Shohe
20. Pauline Pneumatology and the Chinese Rites: Spirit and Culture in the Holy See’s Missionary Strategy, Wei Hua
21. Pneumatology: Its Implications for the African Context, Samuel M. Ngewa
22. Who Is the Holy Spirit in Contemporary African Christianity?, David Tonghou Ngong
23. In Search of Indigenous Pneumatologies in the Americas, Oscar García-Johnson
24. The Holy Spirit: Power for Life and Hope, C. René Padilla

Part Four: So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World
Introduction to Part Four: Soteriology in the Majority World, K. K. Yeo
25. The New Covenant and New Creation: Western Soteriologies and the Fullness of the Gospel, Daniel J. Treier
26. Telling Our Stories: Salvation in the African Context, Emily J. Choge Kerama
27. Luke 4:18-19 and Salvation: Marginalization of Women in the Pentecostal Church in Botswana, Rosinah Mmannana Gabaitse
28. Con Las Venas Abiertas: The Hope of Life and Salvation in Latin American Theologies, Jules A. Martínez-Olivieri
29. From What Do We Need to Be Saved? Reflections on God’s Justice and Material Salvation, Milton Acosta
30. An Indigenous Reinterpretation of Repentance: A Step on the Journey to Reconciliation, Ray Aldred
31. Salvation as Reconciliation: Toward a Theology of Reconciliation in the Division of the Korean Peninsula, Sung Wook Chung
32. Qohelet’s Gospel in Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; 7:15-22; and 11:1-6, Elaine W. F. Goh

Part Five: The Church from Every Tribe and Tongue: Ecclesiology in the Majority World
Introduction to Part Five: God’s Community in Majority World Theology, Gene L. Green
33. Ecclesiology and the Church in Christian Tradition and Western Theology, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
34. Church, Power, and Transformation in Latin America: A Different Citizenship Is Possible, Ruth Padilla DeBorst
35. Two Tales of Emerging Ecclesiology in Asia: An Inquiry into Theological Shaping, Wonsuk Ma
36. Ecclesiology in Africa: Apprentices on a Mission, Stephanie A. Lowery
37. Ecclesiology in Latin America: A Biblical Perspective, Carlos Sosa Siliezar
38. The Community as Union with Christ in the Midst of Conflict: An Ecclesiology of the Pauline Letters from a Chinese Perspective, Xiaxia E. Xue
39. The Church as an Assembly on Mount Zion: An Ecclesiology from Hebrews for African Christianity, Peter Nyende
40. Ecclesiology and the Theology of the Land: A Palestinian Christian Perspective, Munther Isaac

Part Six: All Things New: Eschatology in the Majority World
Introduction to Part Six: Eschatology in the Majority World, Stephen T. Pardue
41. Eschatology, Apocalyptic, Ethics, and Political Theology, D. Stephen Long
42. The Past, the Present, and the Future of African Christianity: An Eschatological Vision for African Christianity, James Henry Owino Kombo
43. Revelation 21:1-4 from an African Perspective, John D. K. Ekem
44. From Dispensationalism to Theology of Hope: Latin American Perspectives on Eschatology, Alberto F. Roldán
45. The Kingdom of God: Latin American Biblical Reflections on Eschatology, Nelson R. Morales Fredes
46. Asia and God’s Cruciform Eschatological Reign, Aldrin Peñamora
47. From Judeophilia to Ta-Tung in Taiwanese Eschatology, Shirley S. Ho

The editors and contributors of the volume met and discussed issues for six years and each year focused on one of the six loci herein described.  Then came the fruit of those labors in each of the essays written for that major loci.  The representations from the various parts of the Majority World are what make this work so exciting and so useful.  There are Latin-x, African, Asian and even a few European and American contributors. The only Continent not represented is Antarctica.  For obvious reasons (i.e., penguins can’t write very well and aren’t well acquainted with theology).

This encyclopedic work is excellent throughout, but there are particular essays which deserve special attention, and praise.  These are

8. How to Understand a Biblical God in Chinese: Toward a Crosscultural Biblical Hermeneutics, Zi Wang

16. Biblical Christologies of the Global Church: Beyond Chalcedon? Toward a Fully Christian and Fully Cultural Theology, K. K. Yeo

32. Qohelet’s Gospel in Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; 7:15-22; and 11:1-6, Elaine W. F. Goh

38. The Community as Union with Christ in the Midst of Conflict: An Ecclesiology of the Pauline Letters from a Chinese Perspective, Xiaxia E. Xue

43. Revelation 21:1-4 from an African Perspective, John D. K. Ekem

And of those 5 especially engaging contributions, that of Xue on the Community as Union with Christ in the Midst of Conflict is one of the most amazing, insightful, and useful theological treatments I have read in a good while.  In that essay, Xue describes the situation in Hong Kong and how Christians of very different viewpoints are navigating the at times tense circumstances.  It’s an extraordinary piece of work.

Each chapter also offers a list of bibliographic materials which will further one’s learning.  I was pleased, as a matter of fact, to see that my colleague at Ming Hua Theological College, Dr. Philip Wickeri, has several works cited in the bibliography.

The subtitle of this book is ‘Christian Doctrine in Global Context’ and it delivers splendidly just that.

In a day of rising nationalism and sectarianism; when people are more and more narrowly defining community and even Church and Christianity, a volume like the present one, which so helpfully opens numerous windows on how other believers view the core tenets of the Christian faith is not only useful, it is indispensable and even necessary.

If you are genuinely interested in Christian Theology, you should broaden your horizons and read this book.  It will take some time, but you will not only benefit by it, you will benefit those you teach or preach to as well.

Many of you will be receiving a stimulus check from the Government shortly.  Might I recommend that you use a small portion of it to obtain this book.  It will be the best investment you make with that stimulus money.  I promise you.