Page 2: Ben Witherington – The Rest of Life
*** [easyazon-link keywords=”Ben Witherington” locale=”us”]Books by Ben Witherington[/easyazon-link]
Sadly, as someone of Southern Baptist heritage, I know all too well the temptations of the potluck. And Witherington, after turning his attention to a Duke Divinity study revealing a similar health crisis among ministers of his own denomination, does well to offer a corrective concerning our eating practices, and how they might be undertaken differently in light of the Kingdom. More than any other chapter, Witherington examines the Bible, seeking wisdom on feasting and fasting, helping us strike the balance between both. Witherington rightly envisions the “normal Christian life” as inclusive of eating practices, ethical responsibility, and good stewardship of the body.
Witherington’s work on the discipline of study is instructive. He wastes no time diagnosing the issue: many Christians view “lifelong learning,” or discipleship, as optional. Even among his seminary students, inspiring passion for Bible study is difficult, and Witherington is at times discouraged by the lack of biblical knowledge his students bring to the classroom from the church. A focused reading of Psalm 119 reveals the intensity Witherington believes should be brought to the study of Scripture, and the benefits that can be had by the willing disciple. Witherington is convinced that it is through the pages of Scripture that we come to discover the person and character of God. He writes, “The function of studying God’s Word is not merely to understand it but, as the psalmist says, to delight in it, to rejoice in it, and finally to walk in it. Study is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, the end being both obedience to God’s Word and drawing closer to God himself.”
The pastoral burden concerning the life of study that Witherington bears is a shared one; the challenge is inspiring others to “take and read.” While Witherington is correct to note that knowledge of the Bible is vital for maturity in Christ, his tone is a tad harsh, and his anecdotal evidence from the classroom evokes shame when it is inspiration that is needed. Perhaps study of the Bible, coupled with a robust and systematic demonstration of God’s character–the One whom we come to know through this book–might be more effective in drawing people to the text. The key is in telling the story well, so as to draw others in by the warmth of God emanating from the pages of Scripture.
Lastly, Witherington’s work on sex offers strong and challenging words on a number of fronts. For example, Witherington affirms the interpretation of Ephesians 5 found in chapter 6 of Rob Bell’s Sex God, espousing an egalitarian view of gender roles. Challenging the complementarian view, he writes, “It’s time we renounced the non-Christian nonsense about unilateral submission of women to men in the church, in marriage, in ministry and in general.” Witherington faces another divisive topic when explaining with clarity his position that heterosexual unions are prescribed and normative for the practice of marriage. Having personally surveyed a large sampling of material on sexuality and Christian faith, I found Witherington’s position on this topic stated frankly, honestly, generously, and intelligently, leaving room for disagreement.
Ben Witherington’s The Rest of Life is an excellently written work of theology that focuses the mind on what may be subsidiary concerns for doctrinal neatniks. For the rest of us, it is the stuff of everyday life. A well-developed Kingdom imagination – shaped to consider rest, play, eating, studying, and sex as part of life with God – enables us to further place all of life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com