Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Featured: THE DRAMA OF EPHESIANS – Timothy Gombis [Vol. 3, #45]

“Discerning the Cruciform Wisdom of Christ… Together”

A review of

The Drama of Ephesians:
Participating in the Triumph of God
.
By Timothy Gombis.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The Drama of Ephesians:
Participating in the Triumph of God
.
Timothy Gombis.

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

[ Read an excerpt from this book here… ]

Of all the books of the Bible, the one that has been most formative for us as a congregation here at Englewood Christian Church has undoubtedly been Ephesians. Early on in our Sunday night conversation, we spent several years pushing forward verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase through the text, and never did make it all the way through.  Recently, we have again returned to Ephesians 3, and spent several weeks re-examining that text as part of a larger exploration of the scriptural account of God’s mission in the world.  With that recent revisiting of the Ephesians text, it was particularly timely that I picked up Timothy Gombis’s delightful new book on this New Testament epistle, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.  Gombis emphasizes at the outset of the book that it is neither commentary nor an assortment of reflections, but rather “a cultural and theological engagement with the text of Ephesians” (10).  This approach, resonates with our own explorations of the text, engaging it as we do, trying to discern as a community what God is doing in the world and therefore what we should be about as a people who are seeking to follow God in the way of Christ.  Discernment is a key word in Gombis’s reading of Ephesians, as a defining characteristic of the Church in the age between the death/resurrection of Christ and the return of Christ, when all things will be consummated.  Early on in the book, he says:

We must be the people who discern, who seek to know what the will of the Lord is.  Living in this world, in the time of the crossover of the ages, requires discernment because our engagement with reality involves paradox and contradiction.  It is not a straightforward or easy thing to live during this age … Not everything is as it seems; reality is not what it appears to be, and we must pray and reflect on how we can have an imagination that is shaped by Ephesians and not by the world (31).

The basic narrative that Gombis highlights in the Ephesians text is that in the death and resurrection of Christ, God has defeated the fallen powers who have “hijacked God’s world.”  The Church’s response therefore is to faithfully reenact this drama in a way that “magnifies the triumph of God in Christ.”  This reenactment has the effect of slowly and gradually transforming us into the mature people of God in the world, particularly defined by the characteristics of being cruciform and subversive.  Gombis spends a good deal of the book describing the nature of the powers, which play a key role in the drama that unfolds in the text of Ephesians.  His work basically parallels and reinforces the account of recent theological explorations of the powers, especially that of Marva Dawn in her superb book Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God.  His account intentionally dodges questions about the identity of the powers – noting that they are defined scripturally as dwelling in the heavens – and challenges churches to be more concerned with the oppressive effects of the powers in the world.

This is a rich book that resonates with our reading of the book of Ephesians, and our experiences in trying to embody the drama that plays out in its pages, here at Englewood Christian Church.  I am excited to share this book with others in our church community, and likewise am eager to see others reading and discussing it in their church communities, as well as discerning together what God is calling them to be and do through this part of scripture.  May our churches begin and continue to grow in the Pauline vision of maturity in Christ that is summarized eloquently by Gombis in the final pages of the book:

[C]hurches must be communities of wisdom and discernment.  We must always analyze the cultural forces around us, coming to grips with how the world works to shape our characters, our practices and our relational patterns.  We must also be creative communities, cultivating alternative and redemptive community dynamics that draw on, stir up and radiate God’s resurrection power.  Such patterns of community life will inevitably be cruciform – cross-shaped (183).

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

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