Ulrich Zwingli: Prophet, Ketzer, Pionier des Protestantismus

9783290178284Peter Opitz’s new book was sent along by TVZ some time back.  First of all, concerning the author, it isn’t necessary to say this but I will nonetheless just in case some readers are unfamiliar with the work of Opitz: there are very few scholars in the field of Reformation History who have his grasp of primary sources and secondary materials related to Calvin, Zwingli, and Bullinger.  Put more plainly, he knows the subject of this volume.

Second, concerning the volume, Opitz guides readers through four major aspects of Zwingli’s life and thought: his beginning as a Reformer;  Zwingli and the Reformation of Zurich; Zwingli and the Reformation of the Confederation; and Zwingli as a Protestant Pioneer.

Following the chronology of Zwingli’s life, Opitz, in around 120 pages, instructs readers as to the contributions of Zwingli to the Church and to the Reformation of Switzerland and further afield.  Opitz provides ample citations from Zwingli himself, thereby bolstering his argument and the publisher illustrates the volume with really lovely contemporary (and nearly contemporary) artwork.  For instance, here are a few of the illustrations that are included in the volume:

The most valuable, and necessary, part of the volume is Opitz’s treatment of the question of Zwingli and the re-baptizers. Here Opitz undermines the various myths and legends associated with Zwingli’s attitude towards and treatment of the members of this movement. I describe it as the most valuable and necessary because this is one of the areas where there’s so much misinformation constantly repeated that a correction is indispensable.

The fact that Opitz rightly grasps Zwingli’s significance is made most apparent when he writes

Es gibt keinen theologischen Gedanken Calvins, der nicht zuvor schon in der Zwinglischen Reformation diskutiert worden wäre. Sowohl historisch als theologisch ist Zwingli, nicht Calvin, der Urvater des reformierten Protestantismus (p. 110).

And again

Präsent ist Zwinglis Denken nicht nur im Presbyterianismus und in der Mennonitischen Theologie, sondern auch im Anklikanismus und im Methodismus (p. 111).

Zwingli is the unrecognized and unacknowledged and thus unappreciated fount of the theology of many Christian strands of thought to the very present. Opitz reminds us of that fact if we have forgotten it and teaches it to us if we have never learned it.

In terms of style, Opitz is a very fine communicator who writes with fluidity and congruency. Thought flows to thought with hardly any disruptions or intrusions of non-essential rabbit chasings.

Finally, the volume has one further very positive aspect: it debunks the nonsense spewed by Karl Barth about Zwingli in his lectures on the great man. Persons familiar with those lectures will find here in Opitz’s little book the perfect antidote to Barthian misprision. Barth may have found Zwingli an insurmountable Himalaya, but Opitz knows better and spaces Zwingli in the proper context of his time and place.

This is a magnificent book. I enjoyed it from the first page through the brief bibliography at its conclusion. I can only recommend it but were it possible, I would command it to be read. Especially by the Barthians and the misinformed Lutherans who, rather than bothering with Zwingli himself, instead bow the knee to the Baal of Barth and Luther and parrot their partisan viewpoints.

When it comes to Zwingli, Opitz is better informed than Barth and Luther, combined.

Tolle, lege.

John Calvin: A Companion to His Life and Theology, By Donald K. McKim

This one is good and it belongs on the shelf of every student of historical theology, Church History, Reformation studies, Calvinism, and Calvin studies.  In equal measures of clarity and brevity McKim guides readers through the life of Calvin (in part one) and the thought of Calvin (in part two).

The details of Calvin’s life are ably presented and the first part of the volume is certainly a welcome piece of scholarship, but the true value of the volume lies within the second part where McKim analyzes Calvin’s Institutes, book by book, chapter by chapter, section by section and allows readers who may not have read the entire thing for themselves an entrance into its many profundities.  Indeed, the second half of McKim’s work could have been published as a stand alone work and titled ‘A Primer in the Theology of John Calvin’.

The best thing about the segment is the ease with which McKim boils Calvin’s ideas down to their most basic and distilled form without losing any of the substance.  It’s easy enough to summarize anyone’s notions, but to do so in order that the authentic core is retained is a skill few possess.

McKim doesn’t simply summarize, though.  He also quotes Calvin extensively so that readers are drawn in to a direct encounter with Calvin himself.  The true genius of the volume is that when readers complete it they will want more.

To that end, McKim provides a very good up to date modern bibliography and he also makes this book group friendly by providing study questions.  McKim, in this short but useful work, proves once again that bigger is not necessarily better and in fact the small packages often contain the greatest gifts.

calvThis unique book is an introductory guide to the life and theology of John Calvin (1509-64). Calvin’s theology has been highly significant as a major expression of Protestant theology. Reformed churches throughout the world appropriate Calvin’s theological understandings and find his work provides important insights into Scripture and communicates a vibrant Christian faith. The first part of this book describes events in Calvin’s life that helped shape his major work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. The second part follows the flow of the Institutes and provides a narrative exposition of this major work, with numerous quotations of Calvin’s own words. This enables readers to hear Calvin’s voice as his views are explained. This close reading of Calvin opens the door to further, more thorough Calvin studies.

I commend this treasure to your attention.  Especially if you are unfamiliar with the particulars of Calvin’s life or unsure about some aspect of Calvin’s thought.  Once you are finished with it, follow the trail McKim marks out to further knowledge through the bibliography.  You will certainly not regret the journey.

“The Progress of Prophecy” – The Very Briefest of Reviews

Several months back a friend, or rather now a former friend, gave me a book by Ben Witherington titled ‘The Progress of Prophecy’.  I’ve read it.  I’ve thought about it, and I’ve thought about what I would say about it.

I could think of nothing at all, until I was reading St. Jerome today and hit on this remark (in its context, a review of sorts of some ideas he’d been sent):

“The ship, as the saying goes, is wrecked in harbour.”

And that epitomizes the work.

God’s Story: The Bible Epic from Abraham to Exile

roncaceMark Roncace sent me a copy of his new book before SBL, and during times not fettered with busyness I really enjoyed it.

The Bible features an amazing epic narrative. But hardly anyone knows it’s in there, much less how riveting the story is. You have no idea what you’re missing—the greatest story never told! That’s because the Bible can be difficult to read, the plot hard to follow. Until now. God’s Story is a reader-friendly version of the core Old Testament narrative that is faithful to the original and highly enjoyable and entertaining. Neither a paraphrase nor a fictionalized account “based on the Bible,” Roncace presents the real Bible story as an actual story. He does so by removing distractions such as chapter and verse numbers, genealogies, laws, confusing names, and the like, and then gently elaborating the remainder in order to knit together a coherent plot and animate the characters. This unique approach enables the central storyline to emerge with power and conviction. From the faith of one man, Abraham, to the tragic fall of David’s kingdom, readers will experience—many for the first time—this incredible epic in its entirety, including a variety of little-known scenes for adults only. God’s Story is the Old Testament told anew, God’s Word for today’s world.

The premise of the book is simple and a few illustrations drawn from it will make the point.  Roncace writes that he here retells the story of the Bible….

…. From Genesis 12 to 2 Kings 25 in an appealing and highly accessible format by removing chapter and verse numbers, laborious genealogies, long lists of laws, poetry, confusing names, frustrating repetition of information, and other extraneous parts that make the central storyline difficult to follow.

In short, he wants to liven things up a bit.  Not because he thinks the not so stirring bits unimportant but because his aim is to get to the heart of the text.  So in various retellings he writes again the tales so familiar to many of us and so unfamiliar to many more.  Of the story of Lot and his randy daughters he has them say

“We had sex,” the older sister said to the younger the next morning. “Tonight is your turn. We can do the same thing this evening.” And so they did.

Not the way you’ll remember it from Sunday school- which is just the point.  Further on, of David –

On another occasion, the Moabites attacked, and David defeated them. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of rope. Every two lengths of them he put to death, and the third length he spared. The survivors became his servants and brought him tribute.

Portraying David not as mere hero but violent and vicious tyrant.  David’s dark side is described again in the tale of the death of his child by Bathsheba –

For six days, David pleaded with God to save the boy. The haggard king ate nothing and lay on the ground in anguish day and night. No one could console him, and he could not even bare to be in the presence of his tiny, sickly son. On the seventh day, the baby died. He had not been named or circumcised.

Roncace’s retelling is lively, speculative (we are treated to inner thoughts and emotions which the text of the Bible never indicates), and gripping.  We have here not Scripture but, in the tradition of the Book of Jubilees, scripture retold.  This isn’t a Bible but a reformulated tradition.  Taken as such, and read as such, it is quite useful.  However, if readers take it to be an accurate retelling of the biblical story they will be quite disappointed.  If they mistake or misunderstand its purpose, they will misread.

I think it a spectacular (in the most basic sense of the word ‘spectacle’) work.  Entertainment in its finest form.

From the Devil to Pannenberg: Two New Research Volumes

Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht have published two new books that I think will be of interest to many:

Teufel, Tod und Trauer: Der Satan im Johannesevangelium und seine Vorgeschichte


Introduction to Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology (which is not technically new but newish, but given the publication of Pannenberg’s systematic theology in a new edition, certainly worth mentioning).

Coming Soon: An Interview with Konrad Schmid on his new Volume

OEMJOBSJOThe title of the volume is Job’s Journey.

This book is not an attempt to cover every angle and answer every question that we have about the book of Job. Instead, Konrad Schmid, in the introductory chapter, provides us with an analysis of the structure of the book that helps us to see the book as a whole. And Manfred Oeming, in the chapters that follow, provides clear snapshots of various elements of the book, including a summary of the dialogues, Job’s monologue, Elihu’s speech (“the Anti-Monologue”), Job’s encounter with God, and the destination (of Job’s journey). Between them, the two authors provide an accessible scholarly and theological approach to the book that is richly satisfying.

When the interview is completed it will be posted here.  Stay tune.