Archives For New Testament

 

Reframing our
Theology and Evangelism

 
A Review of

Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King.
Matthew Bates

Hardback: Baker Academic, 2017.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Danny Yencich
 
 
Matthew Bates’s recent Salvation by Allegiance Alone is a welcome book. It is useful—vital, even—for Christians of any traditional or denominational stripe grappling with the Gospel.

The book, which is clearly aimed at a mixed audience of laity and students, forwards a simple but important thesis: contemporary Christianity has, for the most part, gotten it wrong when it comes to “belief, faith, works, salvation, heaven, and the gospel” itself (2). Bates’s argument hinges on a fresh take on the first item in that list— “belief” (pistis). Whenever the Greek term pistis appears in the New Testament with reference to eternal salvation, Bates suggests that allegiance, not “belief,” “is the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation” (5). Thus, “it is by grace you have been saved through allegiance” to Jesus the Christ (Eph 2:8, Bates’s translation, 4). This is a marked departure from the standard rendering of this and most other NT instances of the term pistis, which is to say: Bates has picked a fight with a lot of people. His argument, however, is robust and demands a close reading from anyone who would immediately dismiss the thesis out of hand.

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On Reading a “Big Book”

A Review of

Paul and the Faithfulness of God

N.T. Wright

Paperback (2 vol.): Fortress Press, 2013
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

 

Reviewed by Daniel M. Yencich

 
N.T. Wright’s long-awaited treatise on the theology of Paul is a big book. Indeed: although it is one work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (PFG hereafter) is split into two volumes and spans a mammoth 1660 pages. There is a joke about an author attaining true historical significance when the volume of writings about him surpasses the number of things he actually wrote, but Wright’s five-pound book renders it rather obvious. Beyond physical measurements, however, PFG must still be described as a “big book,” in the sense of the impact it has had and will have in New Testament scholarship, theological reflection, and Christian ministry for years to come. Wright is not always persuasive in his arguments in PFG, but his perspective is certainly interesting and, especially in evangelical circles, his voice certainly commands attention. PFG is an important work, if a bit physically unwieldy, and will challenge scholars, pastors, and interested non-specialists alike with its comprehensive vision of Christianity’s most famous apostle and the theological thought he bequeathed to history.

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522571: Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time

A Review of

Paul Among the People:
The Apostle Reinterpreted
and Reimagined in His Own Time

By Sarah Ruden
Now Available in Paperback: Image, 2011.
Buy now:
[ ChristianBook.com ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

Reviewed by David Anderson.

Paul is one of those writers—and personalities, as we catch glimpses of his own in the epistles and in Acts—that people either love or dislike without much middle ground. But he was a man of his time, just as the Old Testament prophets were men of their time. To understand “where they were coming from,” a reader needs to own at least a basic familiarity with the culture they lived in.

Sarah Ruden’s earlier books are translations of some of the classics of ancient literature: the Aeneid, Lysistrata, and Satyricon. In this short study (a little under 200 pages not counting backmatter) she looks at Paul’s writings on various topics in the light of how these compare to accounts by Greek and Roman authors. For a slightly similar, albeit more scholarly, effort that places more emphasis on contemporaneous historical events (the emperor Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews from Rome, Nero’s early actions as emperor), Neil Elliott’s Arrogance of Nations (Fortress, 2010 reprint ed.) can be highly recommended.

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875670: The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary   Message of the Lord"s Prayer

A Brief Review of

The Greatest Prayer:
Rediscovering the Revolutionary
Message of the Lord’s Prayer

By John Dominic Crossan
Hardback: HarperOn, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Bob Cornwall.


[ A longer version of this review is available on the author’s blog ]

The Lord’s Prayer is one of the best known and most beloved prayers in the World. Christians may disagree about a lot of things, but they all seem to find deep and abiding meaning, strength and spiritual sustenance in this prayer. But, even though we may recite this prayer weekly or even daily, often from memory, do we truly understand what it is we’re saying as we offer this prayer? That is, is there more to this prayer than meets the eye and could this prayer be in its original form a revolutionary manifesto? That is the contention made by John Dominic Crossan, one of the leading and best known Jesus scholars of our day, as he takes up this prayer. In the course of eight chapters, together with a prologue and an epilogue, Crossan invites us to join him in wrestling with the theological, political, social and cultural implications of this prayer, and the result is an extremely helpful book, even if at points it appears as if the prayer itself fades into the background of a broader discussion of the biblical story.
As I offer my review of Crossan’s book, I need to acknowledge that I have just published my own book on the Lord’s Prayer, a book that carries a title that might suggest that I read the prayer in ways similar to Crossan [Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer (Energion Publications, 2010)]. I will leave that possibility to the discernment of those who choose to read both books.
The prologue and the Epilogue offer clues to the trajectory that this book follows. The prologue carries the title, “The Strangest Prayer,” and in this prologue Crossan makes the point that while this prayer is offered up by Christians of every imaginable perspective, the prayer itself doesn’t address many of the issues that different Christian groups hold dear – whether inerrancy of Scripture, substitutionary atonement or even the resurrection, and yet it is prayed people who tend to ignore what it does say. This is not a Christian prayer per se, but is, the author contends “a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world.” It is, in Crossan’s view “a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth” (2). This insistence that the prayer is deeply rooted in Judaism, leads the author to explore in some depth the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible underpinnings of each phrase in the prayer.

 

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 ]

 

“That Most Reluctant of Critical Theorists

A review of
Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision.
Douglas Harink, editor.


Reviewed by Matthew Kaul.


Paul, Philosophy, and the Theopolitical Vision.
Douglas Harink, editor.

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Wipf and Stock ]

Paul, Philosophy and the Theopolitical Vision - Harink, ed.As with the last volume I reviewed on this subject, Saint Paul among the Philosophers, this volume is a compilation of essays originally given as talks at a conference. As with any compilation of conference papers, the challenge the editor of this volume faces lies in covering the greatest possible breadth of material from the conference while at the same time maintaining some sort of coherent, logical organization, some sense of the book as a coherent whole rather than a series of only tangentially related chapters.

Unfortunately, too frequently the price of coherence is repetition: essays cover the same ground in setting up and making their arguments, seemingly unaware that other chapters have already done their work for them. This volume does not entirely escape that difficulty; at the end of the book, the reader will have read enough paraphrases of Agamben and Badiou to make her feel right at home in an English department grad student lounge or an emerging church pub-and-theology night. Nevertheless, the volume is in many ways a great success, particular in opening up suggestive new insights into how theology and philosophy might more fruitfully interact regarding that most reluctant of critical theorists, the apostle Paul.

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Two New Books on Early Christianity

What’s With Paul and Women?
Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2
.
Paperback: Ekklesia Press, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Commentary on the Gospel of John
(Ancient Christian Texts Series)

Theodore of Mopsuestia
Hardback: IVP Academic, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Jon Zens’ newest book with the Seinfeld-esque name What’s With Paul and Women? offers a brief, but pointed critique of the literal and superficial reading of I Timothy 2 that understands that passage as saying that women should categorically never be able to teach men in churches.  Zens, who is editor of the engaging and long-thriving periodical Searching Together, does a wonderful job here of confirming my intuitions (and I suspect those of others as well) that Paul’s instruction was contextual – for the church in Ephesus in that time – and not universal.  Many objections that might be raised are identified and delicately dismantled.  This clear and thorough treatment of this passage is essential reading for anyone who has questions about the place of women teachers in the church, or for anyone in dialogue with those who doubt that women should teach.

The newest volume in IVP’s Ancient Christian Texts Series is Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.  Before I picked up this volume, Theodore was not a figure with whom I was familiar, and there is good reason why Theodore’s name is not a familiar one: in the mid-sixth century, more than a hundred years after his death, his writings were condemned as Nestorian and thus heretical and were in large part destroyed.  However, as described in the book’s introduction, the latest scholarship (and specifically variant versions of this text that have survived the centuries) calls into question Theodore’s condemnation as a Nestorian.  Since the Nestorian controversy centered on the nature of Christ’s person, this commentary on John’s Gospel gives us a excellent vantage point for exploring Theodore’s position, and for broadening our own perspectives on Church History, reminding us of the reality that historical situations – even within the Church – are almost always more complex than what we learn in our basic historical introductions.

 

37 Page Excerpt from
A THEOLOGY OF JOHN’S GOSPEL AND LETTERS.
by
Andreas Koestenberger.
Hardback: Doubleday, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

 

A Brief Review of
Ambassadors of Reconciliation:
New Testament Reflections on Restorative Justice
and Peacemaking, Volume I
,
Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. 

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by R. Dean Hudgens.

Ched Myers’ new book, written with his wife Elaine Enns, is a two volume work on a Christian discipleship of restorative justice and peacemaking.  Volume one, reviewed briefly here, describes the New Testament basis for this work.  Volume two, due in  November 2009, will present testimonies from a variety of practitioners (i.e. disciples of Jesus) and outline the broader conceptual framework.  In the first volume Myers and Enns provide a robust and provocative reading of four important passages from the New Testament that get beyond the typical prooftexts on this topic, and demonstrate the central place of restorative justice and peacemaking in the biblical view of discipleship.  These passages are well chosen (in order of treatment they are 1 Cor 5:16-6:13, Mark 1-3, Matthew 18, and the entire book of Ephesians!) and the exegesis is typical of Myers’ previous works in being illuminating, provocative and compelling.  Myers wants to show that Jesus and the apostles were “visionary peacemakers” and “peace disturbers”.  He utilizes the history of the civil rights movement as embodied in the words and work of Dr. Martin Luther King to makes this aspect of the New Testament “come alive.”  This will be perhaps a controversal tack for some, and yet Myers clearly indicates that he is not saying that Jesus was merely doing the same thing as Dr. King, nor that Dr. King was a reincarnate Messiah.  However, utilizing our familiarity with King can help North Americans grasp a central aspect of Jesus’s ministry that often goes unnoticed by both liberals and conservatives. Namely, Myers wants to explicate nonviolent direct action (NVDA) as a central part of the gospel message.  The value in this volume is found in the biblical argumentation for this thesis (especially valuable in Myers’ work on the epistles), the clear presentation of the biblical foundations and theological rationale underlying the civil rights movement, and the persuasive argument for a discipleship that all of us should take more seriously.

 

A Brief Review of
Jesus, Interrupted:
Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible
.
Bart Ehrman.

Hardcover: HarperOne, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Bart Ehrman’s most recent book JESUS, INTERRUPTED is one of the most popular  books today on Scripture and theology.  Ehrman, who by his own admission grew up conservative, and eventually as a result of his scholarly work was led away from the Christian faith and into agnosticism.  In this book, Ehrman details the “hidden” contradictions in the Bible that have been uncovered by historical-critical scholarship.  Although Ehrman’s tone overall is not overly combative (he repeatedly insists that one scriptural scholarship does not necessarily dictate a rejection of the Christian faith), one of his primary objectives is to debunk naive misconceptions about the Bible and its origins.  Indeed, JESUS, INTERRUPTED could be taken as a popular survey of the present state of scriptural studies.  There are, as Ehrman emphasizes, significant challenges to the idea of biblical inerrancy and the popular modernist notion that scripture is true according to Western scientific/philosophical standards of consistency, etc.

 

    However, Ehrman makes a grave error in basing his arguments on the false dichotomy between “devotional” readings of scripture (rooted in individual practice) and “scholarly” readings (rooted in the academy).  A hermeneutic practice that is rooted in the discernment of the church community and draws at times upon both devotional and scholarly readings is apparently unknown to Ehrman.  Such a practice of reading scripture together was common among the early Anabaptists (see Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, W. Swartley, editor) and is likewise relevant in our postmodern age when modern squabbles about texts, their origins and meaning have taken a back seat to a holistic view of scripture as the broad historical story about the One who is the Truth (see Fowl and Jones READING IN COMMUNION or Scot McKnight’s THE BLUE PARAKEET).

 

    JESUS, INTERRUPTED is a fine book expositing as it does the challenges that historical-criticism poses to some modernist – and dare I say, idolatrous – views of scripture.  However, in the end, its value to the Church is limited because despite the broad cultural relevance that the Bible has found in modern, Western culture, it is primarily a book for the Church, the people of God.  Indeed, the Church is the stumbling block which topples Ehrman.  No wonder he has found frustration and ultimately rejection of the Christian faith, for it is only in the obedient, covenanted relationship to the church community – a relationship that is lacking in both the devotional and scholarly readings of scripture – that the Holy Spirit begins to reveal the meaning of scripture.