The Apostle and the Empire: Paul’s Implicit and Explicit Criticism of Rome

A book forthcoming by the excellent Christoph Heilig:

Was Paul silent on the injustices of the Roman Empire? Or have his letters just been misread? 

The existence of anti-imperial rhetoric in the writing of the apostle Paul has come under greater scrutiny in recent years. Pressing questions about just how much Paul actually addressed Rome in his letters and how publicly critical he could have afforded to be have led to high-profile debates—most notably between N. T. Wright and John M. G. Barclay.

After having entered the conversation in 2015 with his book Hidden Criticism?, Christoph Heilig contributes further insight and new research in The Apostle and the Empire to argue that the case for Paul hiding his criticism of Rome in the subtext of his letters has more merit than previously claimed by scholars like Barclay. Moreover, he argues that there are also passages that contain more open denouncements of the Roman Empire that scholars have previously overlooked—for instance, in the mention of a “triumphal procession” in 2 Corinthians, which Heilig discusses in great detail by drawing on a variety of archaeological data.

Heilig’s groundbreaking work constitutes a must-read for Pauline scholars but also for anyone interested in the intersection of Christianity and empire and how one of the Christian tradition’s most important teachers communicated his unease with the global superpower of his day. Furthermore, Heilig takes on larger issues of theory and methodology in biblical studies, raising significant questions about how interpreters can move beyond outdated methods of reading the New Testament toward more robust understandings of the ways ancient texts convey meaning.

The Bible in the Early Church

What is the Bible? To answer this question we must understand the Bible’s origins in the early church. In this book, celebrated church historian Justo González introduces the reader to some important features of the earliest Bibles—for instance, the Bible’s original languages, its division into chapters and verses, and even its physical appearance in its first forms. González also explores the use of the Bible in the early church (such as in worship or in private reading) and the interpretation of the Bible throughout the ensuing centuries, giving readers a holistic sense of the Bible’s emergence as the keystone of Christian life, from its beginnings to present times.

Ancient Wisdom: An Introduction to Sayings Collections

This book surveys and analyzes twenty-seven major collections of wisdom sayings from antiquity, including texts from ancient Egypt, the ancient Near East, ancient Israel and early Judaism, early Christianity, and the Greco-Roman world. Through the diversity of these selections, readers are exposed to wisdom literature from a wide array of historical, cultural, and linguistic settings, which unfolds into a larger understanding of how different ancient peoples articulated a gnomic understanding of life.

Throughout this useful guide, Walter Wilson keeps a constant eye on the relation of the wisdom texts to the worlds from which they emerged—paying close attention to each text’s distinctive thematic profile and how its moral agenda was mapped onto the reader’s social landscape. Where appropriate, he discusses affinities between the different collections and draws conclusions about ancient wisdom literature as a genre.

For further study, each entry includes a short bibliography directing the reader to an up-to-date translation of the collection in question and other relevant secondary texts, making this an ideal starting point for anyone studying wisdom literature of the ancient world.

The Pharisees

For centuries, Pharisees have been well known but little understood—due at least in part to their outsized role in the Christian imagination arising from select negative stereotypes based in part on the Gospels. Yet historians see Pharisees as respected teachers and forward-thinking innovators who helped make the Jewish tradition more adaptable to changing circumstances and more egalitarian in practice. Seeking to bridge this gap, the contributors to this volume provide a multidisciplinary appraisal of who the Pharisees actually were, what they believed and taught, and how they have been depicted throughout history.

The table of contents is amazing.  As are the contents themselves.

Beginning with a definition, and then moving to the sect itself and its various manifestations in early Judaism and its portrayal within the texts of the New Testament, and then on to the ‘reception history’ of the Pharisees in the early church and the medieval and reformation eras and in art, in plays, in films, and in textbooks before finally completing the journey with a glimpse into the future of ‘pharisees study’, our authors help us to reorient ourselves to the actual Pharisees of history before showing us the Pharisees of texts and times.

These 25 helpfully written essays break new ground in research to what can only fairly be called a wildly demonized and misrepresented early Jewish community of believers.  It, to borrow a common phrase, ‘sets the record straight’.

‘The topics have been organized with a more-or-less chronological focus’

declare the editors in the Preface.  And those who have read the table of contents will see immediately what is meant.  The Preface then goes on to summarize the contents of each essay.  There are a number of illustrations and tables included which help readers visualize the material discussed.  The volume also comes with a list of contributors, an index of modern authors, an index of subjects, an index of Scripture and ancient sources, a preface, acknowledgements, and a list of abbreviations.

Outstanding for the material they present are the essays by Steve Mason, Paula Fredriksen, Harold Attridge, Jens Schroeter, Randall Zachman (who evidently simply decided to ignore Zwingli while discussing Luther and Calvin), and Adele Reinhartz (whose work on the Pharisees in film is absolutely superb).

Also very well done are the essays by Noam, Collins, Skeb, and Levine.  Less engaging (at least for me, probably due to my own interests more than anything else) were the bits by Stemberger and Skorka.  I feel fairly confident that other readers will find their own pearls and pebbles.

I am profoundly grateful to the editors of this volume for taking on the task of putting it together and bringing it to us.  As well, I appreciate Eerdmans for once again publishing books that will never be made into movies and yet which exceed in importance any and all books that have ever been made into a film.  It is a volume thoroughly immersed in the academic tradition of excellent research combined with clarity of presentation and precision of methodology.

The delightful essay by Reinhartz, mentioned above, begins ‘Filming a Jesus movie is tricky business’.  Indeed!  And producing a book about what is probably the most despised group named in the New Testament is tricky business too.  And yet Levine and Sievers and their merry band of intrepid academics have done it spectacularly.  This book should become the standard reference monograph on the topic of the Pharisees in short order.

Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek and Latin

Pastors, students, and scholars not in the midst of language coursework often find it difficult to maintain their knowledge of biblical languages like Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. For those looking to do so in a meaningful but manageable way, this devotional offers 365 short daily readings, pairing an Old Testament passage in Hebrew and Greek with a corresponding New Testament passage in Greek and Latin. Lexical notes in English are included as a way of facilitating a comfortable reading experience that will build one’s confidence and ability in reading the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the Greek New Testament, and the Latin Vulgate.

Cerone and Fisher provide here a series of 365 readings from Hebrew, Greek and Latin, organized by topic and beginning with ‘creation’ and running through a sort of chronological arrangement from Genesis to Revelation, concluding with ‘God’s reign’.

Not only are readings organized ‘chronologically’ through scripture, by topic, each is also assigned a date.  Beginning with January 1 and ending on December 31.  They exclude February 29th (I assume because they don’t care about leap year).

The readings themselves are brief. Just a line or two most of the time, with the Hebrew text lightly represented and the bulk being Greek.  There are readings not only from the Masoretic text but from the LXX, and the Greek New Testament and the Vulgate.  So half of the text is in Greek with a fourth in Hebrew and a fourth in Latin.

A nifty little ribbon bookmark is included, as are indices of the texts utilized.  Words that may not be all that familiar are annotated, but the notes are not located at the bottom of the page, but rather on the sides in the margin.  A bibliography of just over a page in length is also on offer.

Cerone and Fisher each wrote a preface.  Cerone’s is over 3 pages and Fisher’s not quite a page and a half.

The introduction is quite a useful thing and readers should resist the temptation to skip over it like 8 year old girl’s skip over cracks in the sidewalk so as not to break their mothers’ backs.  In said introduction our good editors describe their purpose, explain their pedagogical notes, describe the editions of the biblical texts they use, and go into a good bit of detail concerning their choices for organization and textual selection.  They also help readers understand their choice of words to gloss and give a table of abbreviations for the little grammatical notes that are included in the glosses.

I think this is a fine little book.  I would hope that people serious about keeping up their language skills would read more in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek New Testament, and the Latin Vulgate than just a line or two a day, but a little is better than nothing.  And every little bit helps people hold on to what they’ve learned.  Because languages, like muscles, must be used or lost.

The selection of texts is broad enough that readers aren’t stuck with bits from Paul or the Psalms, as if those were the only texts worthy of attention.  The fonts are really lovely and the page layout is neither cumbersome nor annoying.  The paper isn’t so thin that there’s bleed-through, and the binding is sturdy and well achieved.

I appreciate the editors’ hard work and the publisher’s willingness to take this project on and bring it to the public.  If you make the time to read a little selection each day, you will appreciate it too.

The Mind in Another Place: My Life as a Scholar- Luke Timothy Johnson

Luke Timothy Johnson is one of the best-known and most influential New Testament scholars of recent decades. In this memoir, he draws on his rich experience to invite readers into the scholar’s life—its aims, commitments, and habits.

In addition to sharing his own story, from childhood to retirement, Johnson reflects on the nature of scholarship more generally, showing how this vocation has changed over the past half-century and where it might be going in the future. He is as candid and unsparing about negative trends in academia as he is hopeful about the possibilities of steadfast, disciplined scholarship. In two closing chapters, he discusses the essential intellectual and moral virtues of scholarly excellence, including curiosity, imagination, courage, discipline, persistence, detachment, and contentment.

Johnson’s robust defense of the scholarly life—portrayed throughout this book as a generative process of discovery and disclosure—will inspire both new and seasoned scholars, as well as anyone who reads and values good scholarship. But The Mind in Another Place ultimately resonates beyond the walls of the academy and speaks to matters more universally human: the love of knowledge and the lifelong pursuit of truth.

Aramaic: A History of the First World Language

In this volume—the first complete history of Aramaic from its origins to the present day—Holger Gzella provides an accessible overview of the language perhaps most well known for being spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Gzella, one of the world’s foremost Aramaicists, begins with the earliest evidence of Aramaic in inscriptions from the beginning of the first millennium BCE, then traces its emergence as the first world language when it became the administrative tongue of the great ancient Near Eastern empires. He also pays due diligence to the sacred role of Aramaic within Judaism, its place in the Islamic world, and its contact with other regional languages, before concluding with a glimpse into modern uses of Aramaic.

Although Aramaic never had a unified political or cultural context in which to gain traction, it nevertheless flourished in the Middle East for an extensive period, allowing for widespread cultural exchange between diverse groups of people. In tracing the historical thread of the Aramaic language, readers can also gain a stronger understanding of the rise and fall of civilizations, religions, and cultures in that region over the course of three millennia.

Aramaic: A History of the First World Language is visually supplemented by maps, charts, and other images for an immersive reading experience, providing scholars and casual readers alike with an engaging overview of one of the most consequential world languages in history.

The volume here under consideration is comprised of the following:

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Oldest Aramaic and Its Cultural Context
3. Aramaic as a World Language
4. Aramaic in the Bible and Early Judaism
5. Aramaic between the Classical and Parthian Worlds
6. Syriac and the End of Paganism
7. The Second Sacred Language: Aramaic in Rabbinic Judaism
8. Not Just Jews and Christians: Samaritans, Mandeans, and Others
9. Aramaic in Arabia and the Islamic World
10. Modern Aramaic from a Historical Perspective

This book first appeared in Dutch in 2017.  Thankfully, it has now been translated and thus made available to a much wider audience.

Those of us of a certain age learned the importance of Aramaic by reading the (now dated) works of Joachim Jeremias, one of the most significant scholars of the New Testament of his or any day.  At Jeremias’ feet we discovered the amazing world of Jesus’ own mother tongue and the language in which he taught and prayed.  Yet there was then no academic treatment of Aramaic AS a language.

Gzella has remedied that situation with his present study.  Here he leads us to a deeper understanding of this critically important language, not only for reading various texts in the Old Testament, but for reading the New Testament in the proper light and the history of the earliest Church in its own words.  First, he does so by describing the importance of Aramaic and the history of its study.  He next turns to a description of the oldest Aramaic and its context in Syria-Palestine and its rise to international language in Babylon and Persia (as well as that slice of land we call Palestine).

Next, the Old Testament and the New and the influence of Aramaic therein are treated.  We are then taken down the path where we discover in more detail the language among the Parthians, and then the rise of Syriac and its importance for early Christianity.

Aramaic in Rabbinic Judaism and the varieties in which it occurs in Judaism are the subject of examination next and Aramaic bibles come to the fore.  The spread of Aramaic among Christians and Jews as well as Mandeans and Samaritans also comes up for detailed analysis.

In the final chapters G. illustrates the abiding significance of Aramaic and shows how it remains a minority language in parts of the world.  For 3000 years Aramaic has existed, and there’s no reason to believe that it will cease to be any time soon.

The volume concludes with an ‘Essential Bibliography’, a glossary of linguistic terms, and an index.

This fascinating work is a detailed historical study of a language.  I mention that again because readers should be alerted to expect lots of linguistic discussions.  It is not merely a book about Aramaic and the Bible.  It is far more than that, though of course it is that too.  Readers interested in the particular field of biblical studies could benefit from a reading of chapter 4 even if the time to read the other chapters escaped them.  And for persons interested primarily in Church history, chapters 6 and 8 would do the trick.

But if you are interested in the history of a language from beginning to present, then naturally the entire volume needs to be read, digested, and engaged.

Curiously enough, our friend Jeremias makes nary an appearance except in a footnote where his name is the title of a volume.  His work is ignored, eclipsed, as it were, by more thorough and accurate undertakings.  Gustav Dalman too is absent.

Scholarship rolls forward in time, crushing those in its path who cannot keep up (even though unable to because of their untimely departure from this life).  In time, Gzella’s work too will be eclipsed and his name will not appear in so much as a footnote.  But it will be a very long time until that happens, because scholarship can’t supersede one’s work until it catches up to it.  And no one is near to catching up to Gzella’s work on Aramaic.

This is a book worth reading for linguists, biblical scholars, and historians of Christianity.  If you are a member of those sacred throngs, this book should be read by you.

#ICYMI- An Interview with James R. Edwards- Author of ‘Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Execution, and Disappearance of Ernst Lohmeyer’

Originally posted July 16, 2019-

Q. Your book is a fantastic example of the biographical genre. What is it about biographies, in your estimation that are so engaging?

A. Yes, biographies have a special power! I think they are engaging because peoples’ lives are generally more interesting than are ideas alone. But for me personally there is something more. I almost never act on something, even if I believe it is true and right, unless I see someone else act on it. That’s the advantage and power of a biography—we see the virtue in action, and that changes lives.

Q. There are several instances in your book where you mention biographical details from your own life. What led you to make the decision to do this?

A. Very perceptive question. Ernst Lohmeyer was a German who died seventy-five years ago, and he spoke no English and never came to America. That separates him from an American reading audience big time. I nevertheless believe that his life is worthy of being remembered, and that his witness has special relevance for us today, even in America. I tried to share some of my own story, especially as it intersected with the quest to solve the mystery of his disappearance and death, to provide a bridge for readers into Lohmeyer’s story.

Q. Your autobiographical remarks are extremely interesting. Do you have plans to write an autobiography?

A. Well, I have not thought of my life as having autobiographical significance. I would have to think more about that.

Q. We have a connection with Professor Eduard Schweizer in common, who lectured in our New Testament Seminar at Southeastern Seminary. I found him amazingly engaging. He made a remark that has stayed with me all these years: American scholars are afraid, oftentimes, to offer original ideas. Instead they feel obliged to argue on the basis of what is already known. But this hardly moves scholarship forward, which is why cutting-edge Biblical scholarship is European. Would you agree with that sentiment?

A. Great to hear of your contact with Eduard Schweizer. He is indeed engaging—a first-class New Testament scholar and theologian, committed to the church, and genuinely interpersonal and affable. I have two responses about his comment that American scholars are afraid to offer original ideas, choosing rather to stay on more beaten academic paths. First, American scholars have certainly pioneered the social context of the Bible, and especially the New Testament, and this is a significant contribution (although much of this contribution has taken place since Schweizer wrote). But there is some truth to his comment. It must be remembered that Germans had a two-century head-start in Biblical studies over American scholars, so it is not surprising that Americans have been playing “catch-up” for much of the 20th century. But there is another and more serious reason why his comment is important. American scholars have not been trained as rigorously in ancient languages—Hebrew, Greek, Latin—as have German scholars. Even today in Germany, scholars in the humanities hand out Latin texts untranslated, assuming students’ proficiency in reading the original. When I studied in Zürich and later in Tübingen, students in both Old and New Testament courses would open their Biblia Hebraica or Nestle-Aland New Testament (and this was before Readers Editions that define infrequently occurring words at the bottom of the page!) and cite-read from the original Hebrew and Greek in class. It is rare to find comparable proficiency in ancient languages in American theology students, even in doctoral students. Weakness in ancient language proficiency keeps one a step removed from ancient texts, and that distance from original texts reduces the ability to be ground-breaking. The same distance almost inevitably increases one’s dependence on secondary literature, and preoccupation with secondary literature is more likely to be redundant than original.

Q. Schweizer wrote a series of commentaries on the Gospels. How would you rate his treatment of Mark compared to Lohmeyer’s?

A. Good question. Very briefly, Lohmeyer was more independent in his scholarship, insisting on seeing Gospels as “wholes” rather than dismembered into fragments as form and redaction critics saw them. Schweizer was a student of Bultmann, and he was influenced by Bultmann’s form criticism and historical skepticism. Some of Schweizer’s comments about the text can strike American students as dismissive. Nevertheless, Schweizer regularly makes comments that are both simple and brilliant, stimulating readers, and especially preachers and teachers, with marvelous insights into the text.

Q. Prof. Lohmeyer is known in America, I think, only among a generation of older New Testament specialists. What provoked you to seek to make him known to a far wider public?

A. Yes, Lohmeyer is known only to a shrinking circle of American New Testament scholars. I doubt my book will rekindle the reading of his books, at least in America—for with only two exceptions all Lohmeyer’s books remain in German—but I hope it will awaken an interest in the significance of his life and thought. Lohmeyer’s work, especially in the Gospels, has weathered far better than that of most of his contemporaries, including Bultmann. The reason for this is that Lohmeyer gave preference to original texts over secondary literature, and this gave his work freshness and insight that has endured. Another scholar of the era who did the same was Adolf Schlatter, and his works, too, continue today to be read with profit. Regarding the significance of Lohmeyer’s life, his personal integrity in resisting Nazism and Soviet communism, and paying for the latter with his life, makes him more than a great scholar. It makes him a modern martyr, in my mind, whose example and witness is increasingly relevant in the world today.

Q. Tell us about Lohmeyer’s marriage to his wife Melie.

A. Lohmeyer and Melie met, and they prospered in marriage, because of the strong meeting of their minds. They loved the medium of words in their relationship. They wrote literally thousands of letters to each other in the course of their lifetimes. They even wrote letters when they weren’t apart. They were almost like the two lobes, right and left, of one brain. This description of marriage is quite foreign today for those of us who think of marriage primarily in terms of emotions and feelings rather than thoughts and words. The challenge for us moderns is in cultivating marriages of substance and character; the challenge for Lohmeyer and Melie was not to allow their love to grow cold.

Q. As far as I know, there is only one German biography of Lohmeyer. What do you think is the reasons for this?

A. Yes, there has been only one major biography before mine. And there is a reason for this. When the Soviets arrested and executed Ernst Lohmeyer, they put a blackout on his name, his works, and his memory in communist East Germany. The Soviet Union did not fall until 1990, which means that the blackout on Ernst Lohmeyer lasted nearly a whole generation, from 1946-1990. In 1979 I mentioned Lohmeyer’s name in a public meeting in Greifswald, East Germany, the city where he was arrested and executed, and my doing so sparked something of a minor crisis. Lohmeyer was executed as “enemy of the state,” and anyone who tried to find out about him became an “enemy of the state” as well. That quashed the possibility of a genuine biography until the 1990. By then people may have thought that it would be impossible to resuscitate him from such long obscurity.

Q. I couldn’t help but think of contemporary issues as I read through your narrative. The rise of nationalism, xenophobia, hate speech, etc. all have very current parallels. Do you see parallels between German in the 1930s and America today?

A. Yes, unfortunately. The world we have known is changing greatly. Think of it: the EU and NATO that have brought seventy-years of peace and prosperity to Europe never seen before are being dismantled in favor of nationalism and isolation. We see an upsurge of fear of immigrants, promotion of self over the common good, rise of meanness and malice, loss of charity and compassion, sacrifice of personal virtue for the goals of wealth and power, and the favoring of autocracy over democracy. When I went to Germany in the fall of 2016 to write my biography of Lohmeyer, I thought I was producing a work of history. But as I pondered the above changes it stuck me that Lohmeyer’s story was not just historical. It is prophetic!

Q. Lohmeyer suffered horrible mistreatment by both Nazis and communists. Why do you think the Russians, especially, were bent on destroying him?

A. Totalitarianisms are cruel, and both Nazism and Soviet communism vented their cruelty on Lohmeyer. Totalitarianism depends on one thing above all else: fear. If tyrants can make people fear them, they can control them. Most people are vulnerable to fear, and that contributes to the success of totalitarianisms. Lohmeyer was also vulnerable to fear, of course, but he chose not to succumb to fear, and hence he was unable to be controlled by communist threats. He was a person of moral conviction and courage, intellectual independence, and indomitable faith. When the Soviets saw that he was unintimidated by their terror and might, they had no choice but to arrest him on false charges, convict him on false charges, and execute him. He lived a hard life. But it is important to remember the most important thing about his life: the future always lies with virtue, not with vice. Virtue empowers life; vice warps life. Today, there are streets and squares in Germany named for those resisted Nazi and communist oppressions, streets named for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sophie and Hans Scholl, Martin Niemoeller, and yes, Ernst Lohmeyer. There are no streets named for Adolf Hitler or Heinrich Himmler. People won’t even name their dogs Adolf.

Q. What are you currently working on?

A. I am currently writing a book on how the Jesus movement in the Gospels became what we know as the Christian church. It’s entitled, From Christ to Christianity. How the Jesus Movement Became the Christian Church in One Lifetime (Baker). When we read the Gospels, we see a Jesus movement that was Palestinian, rural, Jewish, Hebrew- and Aramaic-speaking, associated with synagogues, worshipped on sabbath, staffed with apostles, and so forth. Only seventy-five years later, Ignatius of Antioch witnesses to a vastly different Christian movement that was pulsating throughout the Roman Empire, urban, Gentile, Greek-speaking, worshiping in churches on Sunday rather than Saturday, overseen by bishops and elders, and so on. In the space of one lifetime the forms of the Jesus movement changed more than they have in the 2,000 years since the death of Jesus. And yet, the DNA of the movement, its essence in the salvation brought in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ remains unchanged. Pretty exciting! That’s worth a book.

JW– I look forward to reading it! Thank you, Professor, for your time. And thank you most especially for a book that I think is one of the most interesting written in recent years.

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

This work is incredible.

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.  Please take a look at it before proceeding.

Many years ago whilst but a lowly MDiv student one of our Hebrew Bible courses covered the topic of theodicy.  That is, the question of the justice or righteousness of God.  We were assigned a variety of biblical texts to read (and translate, including portions of Job) along with secondary literature.  We read von Rad and Eichrodt (which dates me, doesn’t it) among many others.  And we also read James Crenshaw’s work.

Crenshaw amazed me and I valued what he had to say for many decades, holding his work as the most useful in the field and the most helpful on the topic.

Rom-Shiloni has supplanted Crenshaw as the most valuable contribution to the question of the justice of God that I have yet read.  More than just a theological monograph, this is a theological monograph that is thoroughly based in Scripture itself.  Or to say it differently, this is an exegetical masterpiece.

Beginning with the topic of theodicy itself, and bypassing the usual Christian and Jewish routes on the way to an answer of the question, is God just?, R-S leads readers through the myriad of voices and experiences found within the Hebrew Bible that struggle with the issue of the Just God and injustice.

God is examined and the God who is called King, and Warrior, and the one who fights for his people, and who is also the summoner of the enemy and even at times the enemy himself.  But God is also the divine judge and the punisher of the evildoers along with their children.

The final chapter treats the mercy of God and a summary chapter pulls it all together and offers readers important insights into God and justification, doubt, and protest.

There is a fulsome bibliography, an index of modern authors, an index of subjects, and an index of Scripture and ancient texts.

That’s a short overview.  More specifically, then, what R-S does in this volume is look at texts and the implications of those texts for our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of God.  Who is this God?  What is he like?  Is he just?  Is he enemy?  Is he merciful?  Is he vindictive?  Or is he all of those things and more?

And R-S doesn’t just look at the typical texts connected with theodicy (like Job).  No indeed.  Instead, she looks everywhere that there is material relevant to the subject.  Accordingly, Jeremiah, Psalms, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and even Kings are brought to the witness stand and their testimony thoroughly cross-examined.

This book, she says, explores theological deliberations during one of the most critical periods in the history of Judah.

Her work is a tour-de-force in Hebrew Bible methodology as well as theological enquiry.  It demonstrates beyond all doubt that not only is the Hebrew Bible comprised of a number of differing theologies, it is also comprised of a number of differing theodicies.  The old notion that there is something called ‘Die Mitte der Schrift‘ must be thoroughly jettisoned.  There is no ‘center’ for the Hebrew Bible, there are only a multitude of voices, all speaking and all deserving of serious attention.

This wonderful volume should be on your desk and then in your hands and then on your shelf.  You will be returning to it.  A lot.

Teach Us to Pray: The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church and Today

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the oldest and most widely used short summaries not only of how Christians pray but of what they believe about God, the world, and humankind. Justo González, whose textbooks have taught Christian doctrine and history to thousands of pastors, draws on scripture, the Church Fathers, and his own life experience to make this vital prayer from the Christian past comprehensible for readers who want to understand—and live—Christianity in the present. Teach Us to Pray is for all who are learning or practicing Christian discipleship and ministry, from college students and motivated laypeople to veteran pastors and teachers.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. Uses in the Ancient Church
  • 2. Our
  • 3. Father
  • 4. Who Art in Heaven
  • 5. Hallowed Be Thy Name
  • 6. Thy Kingdom Come
  • 7. Thy Will Be Done On Earth as It Is in Heaven
  • 8. Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
  • 9. And Forgive Us Our Debts, as We Forgive Our Debtors
  • 10. Lead Us Not into Temptation
  • 11. But Deliver Us from Evil
  • 12. For Thine Is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory Forever
  • For Reflection and Discussion

Phrase by phrase, and sometimes word by word, Gonzalez leads readers through the meaning and theology of the Lord’s Prayer.  Beginning with the Prayer in the life of the Church and the Christian, G. moves to a very profoundly engaging exposition of what is probably the most important prayer every conceived.  Beginning with the little word ‘Our’, and making use of a personal experience (binding the reader to the writer), G. draws us in to a deeper appreciation for the concept under discussion.

Then, drawing on the early Fathers and discussing their understanding of the word we are taken next to a consideration of the significance of intercessory prayer for the Christian life.  G. recognizes the significance of the Biblical context and background of ‘Our’ and he discusses that in turn.  It is only then that he addresses the key issue present in the little word ‘our’- the priesthood of all believers.

Each chapter follows the same careful outline; i.e., G. explores the materials relevant to each concept contained in the Prayer.  Thus, in the second bit, ‘Father’, he discusses the radical nature of this astonishing claim and the ‘gender’ issue is not skirted either.

And so throughout, with great care and insight into both the biblical text’s own context and the life of the Church writ large, G. takes us far more deeply into the meaning and relevance of the Lord’s Prayer than most books, which tend to focus on one bit or another or which only concern themselves with historical matters without bothering to look into the Prayer’s theology or, vice versa, volumes which concern themselves with the theological content of the prayer without ever setting it in its historical context.

There are, at the end of the book, a brief collection of ‘discussion questions’ drawn from each chapter and a small index of authors and of subjects.

This is, in sum, historical theology at its best.  I heartily recommend it.  I not only think that you will enjoy it, but you will be challenged by it.  Especially ‘Deliver us From Evil’.

Teach Us to Pray: The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church and Today

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the oldest and most widely used short summaries not only of how Christians pray but of what they believe about God, the world, and humankind. Justo González, whose textbooks have taught Christian doctrine and history to thousands of pastors, draws on scripture, the Church Fathers, and his own life experience to make this vital prayer from the Christian past comprehensible for readers who want to understand—and live—Christianity in the present. Teach Us to Pray is for all who are learning or practicing Christian discipleship and ministry, from college students and motivated laypeople to veteran pastors and teachers.

Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God’s Love

The eschatological heart of Paul’s gospel in his world and its implications for today

Drawing upon thirty years of intense study and reflection on Paul, Douglas Campbell offers a distinctive overview of the apostle’s thinking that builds on Albert Schweitzer’s classic emphasis on the importance for Paul of the resurrection. But Campbell—learning here from Karl Barth—traces through the implications of Christ for Paul’s thinking about every other theological topic, from revelation and the resurrection through the nature of the church and mission. As he does so, the conversation broadens to include Stanley Hauerwas in relation to Christian formation, and thinkers like Willie Jennings to engage post-colonial concerns.

But the result of this extensive conversation is a work that, in addition to providing a description of Paul’s theology, also equips readers with what amounts to a Pauline manual for church planting. Good Pauline theology is good practical theology, ecclesiology, and missiology, which is to say, Paul’s theology belongs to the church and, properly understood, causes the church to flourish. In these conversations Campbell pushes through interdisciplinary boundaries to explicate different aspects of Pauline community with notions like network theory and restorative justice.

The book concludes by moving to applications of Paul in the modern period to painful questions concerning gender, sexual activity, and Jewish inclusion, offering Pauline navigations that are orthodox, inclusive, and highly constructive.

Beginning with the God revealed in Jesus, and in a sense with ourselves, Campbell progresses through Pauline ethics and eschatology, concluding that the challenge for the church is not only to learn about Paul but to follow Jesus as he did.

Table of Contents
Part 1: Resurrection

1. Jesus
2. Vigilance
3. A God of Love
4. A God of Story
5. Resurrection & Death
6. Resurrection & Sin
7. Defending Resurrection
8. Election

Part 2: Formation

9. A Learning Community
10. Leaders
11. Love is All You Need
12. Loving as Giving
13. Loving as Faithfulness
14. Loving as Peacemaking
15. Loving as Enjoying

Part 3: Mission

16. An Apostolic Foundation
17. Defining the Other
18. The Triumph of Love
19. Mission as Friendship

Part 4: Navigation

20. Missional Diversity
21. Evaluating Paganism
22. Transforming Paganism
23. Request Ethics
24. Rethinking Creation
25. Navigating Sex and Marriage
26. Navigating Gender
27. Beyond Colonialism
28. Beyond Supersessionism
29. The Pastor’s Wisdom

A review copy arrived some time back, for which I thank the publisher.  Eerdman’s also published Campbell’s previous big volume, ‘The Deliverance of God’, which I did not at all like.  I happen, in fact, to agree with Bruce Clark’s take as published in the Tyndale Bulletin.  Of that earlier work, Clark wrote

Campbell launches a sustained attack against traditional theological conceptions of justification and aims to free Romans 1-4 (on which these conceptions seemingly rest) from a widespread rationalistic, contractual, individualistic (mis)reading, which gains its plausibility only by the modernistic theological superstructure forced upon it. Campbell then presents an in-depth re-reading of Romans 1-4 (as well as parts of chs. 9-11, Gal. 2-3, Phil. 3), in which Paul engages in a highly complex, ‘subtle’ polemic, creatively employing ‘speech-in-character’ as a means of subverting a Jewish Christian ‘Teacher’ whose visit to Rome threatens to undermine the Roman Christians’ assurance of salvation. Campbell argues that justification is participatory and liberative: Christ’s death and resurrection constitute the ‘righteousness/deliverance of God’, by which he justifies, or delivers, an enslaved humanity from the power of sin. This article concentrates primarily on Campbell’s own exegesis, concluding that, while important aspects of Campbell’s critique of both “justification theory” and traditional readings of Romans 1-4 must be carefully considered, his own exegesis is not only ingenious, asking too much of Paul and the letter’s auditors, but altogether untenable at key points.

Untenable is the right word.  It was, then, with no slight ‘fear and trembling’ that I made my way into Campbell’s nearly as big book this time.  Would it’s argument, too, be essentially untenable?  Would it suffer from the same sorts of eisegetical mis-steps?  And would its massive size (over 700 pages) be off-putting?

The answer to those questions cannot be either yes or no.  Instead, the answers to those questions and others is that the volume at hand is ‘complicated’.  On one hand, Campbell is a very good writer; and on the other, he tends to verbosity.  What could be said more briefly, without losing profundity, is instead said at sometimes numbing length.

In the movie ‘Amadeus’ there’s a scene where the Emperor encourages Mozart to cut the score of his opera down a bit, the Emperor exasperatingly remarking, ‘There are too many notes’.  Mozart reacts with a bit of dislike, ‘There are just as many notes as required, Majesty’.  And I suspect that Prof. Campbell would have the same reaction if he were to hear that his book has too many words.  But there are only so many words the mind can process before it grows overwhelmed.

Fortunately, the present work is on better footing than the previous ‘Deliverance’.  Though there are still places where Campbell’s exegesis is more like eisegesis.  In, for example, the chapter titled ‘Navigating Sex and Marriage’, Campbell seems to be trying much too hard to make ancient texts modern.  Campbell notes, e.g., on page 598, that Paul thinks in a ‘binary’ way.  How else would Paul have thought?  How else would anyone in all of the history of Christianity have thought about such issues except in binary terms before the last decade?

Furthermore, in the ‘Theses’ section of the chapter Campbell does his best to move readers beyond a traditional sexual ethic in order to encourage them to embrace a wider perspective on love and marriage.  This, of course, has nothing to do with Paul and everything to do with setting Paul aside and moving beyond him to a modern sexual ethic.  Paul is no longer the object of the study, but rather is merely the launching pad for a progressive Christian theological perspective.  Note Campbell’s wording in the final thesis:

‘The churches need to be concretely supportive and restorative here (as they should also be for any others burdened by these structures and their function)’ (p. 620).

In sum, traditional ethics are a burden placed on teens and when said teens wish to explore other avenues of sexual expression, churches should help to unburden them.

What we have, then, in short, is a treatment of Pauline theology that is really a description of Campbell’s own theology.  In much the same way that Karl Barth’s treatment of ‘Romans’ was more Barth than Paul, Campbell’s ‘Pauline Dogmatics’ is more Campbell than Pauline.

Which brings me to the next observation concerning Campbell’s book:  he is too dependent on Barth and not dependent enough on exposition of texts.  There is scarcely a segment of the book that doesn’t call on Barth’s testimony in an effort to make the case but there is very little exposition throughout.  This, though, in its own way fits nicely into Campbell’s appreciation of Barth, since Barth, too, had little interest in the text of Scripture aside from using it as a spring-board for his own intentions.

Another oddity in terms of the book’s contents is what is NOT included.  The title of the book is ‘Pauline Dogmatics’, which leads one to suspect that the chief theological concerns of Paul will appear at some point.  Yet, strikingly absent, is a chapter or even a section on ‘Justification’.  Indeed, the word does not even appear in the subject index.  Once.

Even casual readers of Paul are familiar with his interest in justification.  One merely needs to read Romans 1-6 and that becomes abundantly clear.  Yet a volume titled ‘Pauline Dogmatics’ has deemed it less important a topic than ‘Colonialism’, which Paul would have known nothing about (in terms of the modern notion of colonialism), which nonetheless has a chapter all its own.

Mind you, I enjoyed reading this great big volume.  I liked the fact that Campbell gives readers short subsections to break up the massive thing.  I like the fact that Campbell offers ‘theses’ at the end of each chapter which nicely summarize the argument of each.  I like the ‘key scriptural references’ section at the end of each chapter too, although these are a tad cherry picked and don’t necessarily include texts showing different perspectives (Paul, after all, was the kind of guy who contradicted himself).

Each chapter also has a short ‘key reading, further reading, and bibliography.  And, unsurprisingly, Barth appears – constantly.

Before you go away thinking I disapprove of this book, I don’t.  I like it.  I just wish it had a different title.  I would call it ‘Campbell’s Dogmatics’.  And leave Paul out of it.  Since, as far as I can tell, Paul isn’t in it anyway.

God’s Spies

This interesting volume arrived some weeks back and I have enjoyed reading it very much.  The publisher’s notice says

East Germany only existed for a short forty years, but in that time, the country’s secret police, the Stasi, developed a highly successful “church department” that—using persuasion rather than threats—managed to recruit an extraordinary stable of clergy spies. Pastors, professors, seminary students, and even bishops spied on colleagues, other Christians, and anyone else they could report about to their handlers in the Stasi.

Thanks to its pastor spies, the Church Department (official name: Department XX/4) knew exactly what was happening and being planned in the country’s predominantly Lutheran churches. Yet ultimately it failed in its mission: despite knowing virtually everything about East German Christians, the Stasi couldn’t prevent the church-led protests that erupted in 1989 and brought down the Berlin Wall.

The work reads more like a spy thriller than a work of non-fiction and it tells the genuinely appalling story of the ease with which Pastors were persuaded to inform on others to the East German government.  It tells the story of the willingness of pastors and university theologians to cast their lot in with the State against the Church.  It shows, in stunning detail, the means by which the State co-opted willing Pastors and by doing so undermined the Gospel’s very proclamation.

The biggest mistake the Church ever made was to baptize Constantine.  The second biggest mistake it ever made was to follow Luther’s doctrine of the ‘two kingdoms’.  And the third biggest mistake it has made is a combination of those two things: the submersion of truth and faith to political interests.  The story here told makes that painfully clear.

Braw begins her tale of woe with personal remembrances of her family in Sweden and her grandfather’s interaction with East German Pastors who, it turned out, were working for the government.  She then tells of her interviews with leaders of the East German government’s Church division as well as details she gleaned from talking to Pastors who both collaborated with the government and who stood in opposition to the State.

The most amazing thing about this story is its contemporary relevance to the American church; for it too is being pressured to submit to State power and manipulation.  And there are many clerics and high profile Evangelical leaders like Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, and Jerry Falwell Jr who are doing their best to meld the Church and the State in the same way that the Church and State were melded in the East German spies whose ultimate goal was to advance an ideology (Communism) at the expense of the Gospel.

There really is nothing new under the sun. The temptation for the Church has always been to clutch on to worldly power.  And we are seeing that again in our time just as the East German church officials saw it in theirs.  Just as Constantine saw it in his.

Constantinianism, then, is the threat posed by the East German government and the American Right.  And Constantinianism will always be a threat until the Church as a whole realizes that man cannot serve God and something, anything else.

In sum, this volume is a reminder of what happens to a State when its Christians become its agents instead of the agents of the Gospel.  It is an important warning and one that needs to be heeded.  I commend it to you.