Archives For Empire

 

Men of Their Times and Places
 
A Feature Review of
 

Empire Baptized:
How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected
Wes Howard-Brook

Paperback: Orbis, 2016.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

 
 
Reviewed by Alden Bass
 
 
In his 1988 Louis H. Jordan Lectures, later published as Drudgery Divine, Jonathan Z. Smith argued that studies of early Christianity were hopelessly mired in confessional apologetics. Narrowing in on the study of Hellenistic Mystery Religions, he observed that Protestants were eager to critique the pagan rites, believing the “pure” religion of Paul to have been corrupted by Romish pomp and ritual. Likewise, Unitarian and Rationalist scholars, in an attempt to get at the Protestants, fingered Paul for introducing “Hellenism” into the rustic parables of Jesus. The Catholics defended all of it.

To Smith’s account we could add “radical” Christian treatments of early Christianity which have multiplied in recent years. Alistair Sykes, Andy Alexis-Baker, Alan Kreider, Everett Ferguson (to name a few) have described an early Christianity which looks an awfully lot like ana/baptist communities: nonviolent ethic, gathered-church ecclesiology, believers’ baptism, and (for Ferguson) acapella congregational singing. These scholars are not inventing things, but they are calling attention to areas neglected by earlier scholars, in the process revising the story of the earliest Christians to embrace their own traditions.

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Here are a few new book releases from this week that are worth checking out:

(Where possible, we have also tried to include a review/interview related to the book…)

See a book here that you’d like to review for us?
Contact us, and we’ll talk about the possibility of a review.

> > > >
Next Book

Claire of the Sea Light: A Novel
By Edwidge Danticat

Listen to an NPR interview with the author

*** Other Books by Edwidge Danticat

 

Critiquing Nationalism

A Feature Review of

Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspectives,

Peter Leithart

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2012.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

 

Reviewed by Branson Parler

 

For some, the adjective “evil” is necessarily entailed in the concept of “empire.” Not so, argues Peter Leithart, who is compelling, provocative, and insightful as always. Why do we need a more complex account of empire? In part, Leithart argues, the historical reality is that all empires are living and therefore not static and not all identical. We also need a nuanced account of empire because the Bible does not treat historical empires with a one-size fits all lens. Furthermore, Leithart contends, “imperial ambitions and concepts were ‘reinscribed’—or better, always already inscribed—at the heart of Jesus’ teaching” (37). In other words, if we purge the concept of empire from the Bible, we would purge the core of Jesus’ life and message: the imperium of God is at hand. Leithart contrasts God’s Abrahamic empire with both Babels—empires that attempt to impose uniformity on other nations—and beasts—empires that devour the saints and drink their blood.

 

The book is divided into three sections. In part 1, Leithart uses three metaphors for Scripture’s analysis of various empires—rod (Isa 10), refuge for God’s people (Dan 2), and beast (Dan 7). Leithart’s concise overview would serve as a great introduction to the theopolitical nature of the biblical text. Leithart’s attentiveness to the craft and art of biblical and theological exegesis is a delight.

 

CLICK HERE to continue reading on Page 2

 

Daniel Headrick - Power Over PeoplesWhen Technologies Take on a Life of Their Own.

A Featured Review of

Power over Peoples:  Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present

Daniel Headrick.

Paperback: Princeton UP, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Myles Werntz.

In an age of iPads, digital uploads, drone surveillance, and debates over the limits of the Internet, the question of whether or not “technology” is an unlimited good remains an open question. Proponents of the most recent iteration of the technology revolution will decry the naysayers as “Luddites”, while the inheritors of  Wendell Berry and Jacques Ellul will continue to remain suspicious of technology’s pervasive effects within society, and (more perniciously) over against society. As Wendell Berry has argued, technology may be an aid to communal life, or it can destroy it; the latter use of technological advances–the use of arrows in Genghis Kahn’s conquest of Asia, or the use of gunpowder to colonize Africa–remains the dark side of technological advances.

This last point–the relationship between technology and the subjugation of people is the subject of Daniel Headrick’s Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present, in which we are presented with an account of western imperialism, and its relationship to technology. Headrick notes that the common assumption is that imperialist cultures flourish because they are able to make use of superior technology. Such a narrative is too facile, Headrick argues, for it assumes that superior manipulation of natural elements (technology) always results in a successful conquest.

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“Trial and Error

A Yoderian Rejoinder to
Leithart’s DEFENDING CONSTANTINE.


By John  C. Nugent.

Defending Constantine.
Peter Leithart.

Paperback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

[ Peter Leithart’s response has been posted here… ]

Constantine on Trial

Those looking for another excuse to dismiss John Howard Yoder are sure to find it in Peter J. Leithart’s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. Though Leithart takes Yoder quite seriously, those less familiar with Yoder’s work may be left with the unfortunate impression that he was a sloppy thinker, blinded by the pacifism of a naïve tradition, and ignorant of the complexities of history. I am sure this is not Leithart’s intention. Leithart, however, does intend to start a “fight” (10) and his admittedly polemical tone sometimes borders on patronizing his primary foe along with his Anabaptist heritage. This should not detract readers from hanging in there with this rather long work. Some of its most stimulating suggestions come near the end. Leithart’s well-crafted and articulate case deserves more than a series of brief reviews; it requires substantive rejoinders both to his historical portrait of Constantine and his theological critique of Yoder. Though no one can speak for Yoder, least of all me, I will nonetheless enter the fray by presenting Leithart’s basic case and evaluating its polemic against Yoder and those who share similar convictions about faith, history and social ethics.

Polemics aside for the moment, Leithart’s task is ambitious: to write a life of Constantine, to rebut popular caricatures, to demonstrate that Yoder’s work on Constantine is wrong both historically and theologically, and to make a case for Constantine as a viable model for Christian political practice (10-11). This task is complicated by the nature of the extant resources. Leithart’s preferred source is Eusebius, a contemporary of Constantine who adoringly portrays him as God’s providential instrument in ushering in the millennium. Leithart grants that Eusebius’ work is replete with exaggerations, contains accounts of questionable historicity, and intentionally omits incriminating material (228). Nonetheless, it remains the earliest and most comprehensive account available, so Leithart makes extensive use of it. He makes less use of the account of Zosimus, a late fifth century pagan who portrays Constantine as a violent ruler who was politically motivated in the worst sense of that term. Beyond this, Leithart had access to an oration of Constantine, published legal decrees, coinage, letters, and miscellaneous excerpts preserved among Eusebius’ writings. This situation is hardly an ideal one for a historian or a theologian.

The title of Leithart’s book gives a sense of his strategy for dealing with this difficult historical material. Consistent with his aims, Leithart plays the part of a defense attorney in a court setting. The last several decades of historians and theologians (e.g., Jacob Burkhardt, James Carroll, Stanley Hauerwas and, of course, Yoder) play the role of prosecuting attorneys who have been overly critical of Constantine and unfairly suspicious of favorable testimonies in the primary sources. It seems, to Leithart, as if they have sought only to find fault. As defense attorney, Leithart tasks himself with finding innocence or at least explaining fourth century details to make his clients’ actions more defensible. Making extensive use of Eusebius, he brings forward as many positive testimonies as possible. Evidence that does not support his case is either ignored, chalked up to exaggeration (126), or creatively re-interpreted with the help of more sympathetic secondary sources (227-230). Though this kind of reading is sure to encourage constructive historical work insofar as careful historians are spurred on to revisit the primary sources neither to prosecute nor to defend Constantine, Leithart’s book is not that kind of work.

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“On Being the People of God
in the Midst of Empire

A review of
Two New Books on Scripture and Empire.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Out of Babylon.
Walter Brueggemann.
Paperback: Abingdon, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Come Out, My People:
God’s Call Out of Empire
in the Bible and Beyond
.
Wes Howard-Brook.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
In light of recent works that defend the role of Christianity within Empire, it has been refreshing to find two excellent new books that utilize the biblical narrative as a whole to call the people of god out of Empire and the ways of the Empire, specifically Walter Brueggemann’s newest book Out of Babylon and Wes Howard-Brook’s Come Out, My People: God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond. Brueggemann’s book is a relatively brief and very readable account of the image of Babylon in scripture (particularly the Old Testament) and the implications of this biblical image for God’s people in the midst of the American empire today. Howard-Brook’s work offers a longer, more detailed account that explores the whole biblical story through the lens of the contrast between the “religion of creation” (i.e., what God intends for creation) and the “religion of empire.”

Continue Reading…

 

In keeping with the theme of this week’s issue, empire, here’s an excerpt from the essential book:

Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire.
Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat.
Paperback:  IVP Books, 2004.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

 

The ERB will take a break for summer vacation next week and will return with our next issue on Friday August 13…


We  have recently made a slight change to our format and the reviews, excerpts, poems, etc. of our Midweek update will be posted to “pages” on the ERB website, and announced via social media.  If you’re a “first-to-know” sort of person, you can get these updates when they first come out in one of two ways:


In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors. Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest. Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition. You get great books for a great price, CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD.

This week’s Bargains:

25800X: More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Women More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Women

By Joan M. Martin / Westminster John Knox Press

$2.99 – Save 90%!!!

Martin explores the experiences of enslaved women and the realities of their social world to uncover the inter-relationships, in the context of that environment , among moral agency, work, and human meaning. She then reflects ethically on the implications such a distinct perspective on labor might have for women in contemporary African-American communities and for broader discussions about the meaning of work in American society.

636317: Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit

By Richard A. Horsley / Augsburg Fortress

$1.29 – Save 87%!!!

How has the interaction between religion, rhetoric, and politics shaped people’s lives over the centuries? Examining the relationship between religious discourse and empire-building, Horsley describes how religion is constructed by the power elite; the role it plays in resistance movements among subjugated people; and how it is used to legitimize empire. 151 pages, softcover from Fortress.

431191: Anxious About Empire: Theological Essays on the New Global Realities Anxious About Empire: Theological Essays on the New Global Realities

By Edited by Wes Avram / Baker

$1.99 – Save 90%!!!

In response to the 2002 foreign policy directive that changed America’s national security strategy, a denominationally diverse group (Mennonite, Catholic, Congregational, Catholic) of theologians, theorists, scholars, and pastors addresses the transnational nature of the church, loving neighbors in a globalized world, the use of Scripture in imperial rhetoric, and more. 218 pages, softcover from Brazos.

227694: The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea

By David Dark / Westminster John Knox Press

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Under a broad pop-culture umbrella, using icons from music, literature, film, the media, and politics, David Dark hopes to provide fodder for lively conversation about what it means to be Christian and American in this “weird moment” in which we live. It is a moment when we are increasingly polarized along political and religious lines, a moment when we are too busy forming our response to listen to the one who is speaking. And yet we claim more than ever to be one nation, under God. What does this mean? The end result, he hopes, will be a better understanding that “there is a reality more important, more lasting, and more infinite than the cultures to which we belong,” the reality of the kingdom of God.”This well-read interpreter of popular culture probes the spiritual resonances of American culture from Hawthorne and Melville to Bob Dylan and David Lynch. Nearly every page has something to make readers pause, laugh, think, or pray,”—Publishers Weekly

745296: Red-Letter Christians: A Citizen"s Guide to Faith & Politics Red-Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith & Politics

By Tony Campolo / Regal Books

$4.99 – Save 75%!!!

A new kind of politically concerned evangelical is emerging, somewhere between hard-right Republicans and far-left Democrats. “Red-Letter Christians” seek to live out Jesus’ words—the ones printed in red in many New Testaments. Examining the hot-button issues facing believers today, Campolo calls us to transcend partisan squabbles—and bring Christ’s radical message to our civic commitments. 224 pages, hardcover from Regal.

 

“The Decline and Fall of Empire”

A Review of
The Rule of Empires:
Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them,
and Why They Always Fall
.
By Timothy Parsons
.

Reviewed by Margaret D’Anieri.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]


The Rule of Empires:
Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them,
and Why They Always Fall
.
Timothy Parsons
.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE RULE OF EMPIRES - Timothy ParsonsAs I walked into a coffee shop recently, I noticed that the entryway was adorned with pithy sayings in the form of faux shaving cream on the clear doors and windows. One of those sayings was “build communities, not empires.” A new book, The Rule of Empires by Timothy Parsons, argues that empire builders often believed they could do both: expand the reach of political and economic control while building a communal identity that would better the empire’s subjects. Whether naïve belief or cynical rationalization, Parsons suggests that this construct is an empty one:

By their very nature, empires can never be – and never were – humane, liberal, or tolerant. Would-be Caesars throughout history sought glory, land, and, most important, plunder. This true nature of empire was more obvious in pre-modern times when it was unnecessary to disguise such base motives. In recent centuries, however, imperial conquerors have tried to hide their naked self-interest by promising to rule for the good of their subjects. This was and always will be a cynical and hypocritical canard. Empire has never been more than naked self-interest masquerading as virtue.

Continue Reading…

 

Read an excerpt from

The Rule of Empires:
Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall
.
Timothy Parsons.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Read our feature review of this title