The Vocation of Letter Writing: Christopher Seitz’s Commentary on Colossians

colossiansIn his commentary on Colossians, Christopher Seitz, an Old Testament scholar by trade, makes use of a wide array of ancient and modern Christian interpreters to give an irenic, theologically rich, and textually sensitive reading of Paul’s letter. Seitz’s book is part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, which takes as its premise the idea that “the Nicene tradition, in all its diversity and controversy, provides the proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian scripture” and that “dogma clarifies rather than obscures” (p.11).

One of the more unique facets of Seitz’s commentary is his canonical approach. He seeks to interpret Colossians in light of both the larger Pauline corpus of which it is a part, as well as the rest of the Old and New Testaments. He acknowledges from the outset that “canonical readings” have come under fire in the past for being “either a genre mistake or a piety masking illegitimate (‘unhistorical’ in our present parlance) interpretation” (p.50). Consequently, Seitz takes time to respond to these criticisms by giving a more in-depth description of what he thinks the term entails: Continue reading

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Into the Wild: Wilderness in Scripture

carolina mountains*A version of this essay previously appeared at Theologues.com (RIP)

John Muir, a pioneer conservationist whose efforts helped lead to the creation of America’s national park system, spent decades exploring the lands of the western United States, filling up notebooks with his observations. In one of his more reflective passages, he wrote:

Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods… Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains (Muir, 1979, p. 235).

From its early days, the environmental movement in the United States has placed high value on the preservation of wilderness. However, within some parts of the Christian world, environmental concerns can be hot button issues. Talk about them too much and you can find yourself potentially being labelled a liberal ‘tree hugger.’ Nevertheless, I want to spend a little time exploring how wilderness is viewed in scripture. Is it always portrayed as desolate, full of danger and without use? Is it ever described in ways more like the reverent language used by John Muir? Continue reading

Meal, Word, and Prayer: A Review of Andrew B. McGowan’s “Ancient Christian Worship”

ancient christian worship

First, a slightly provocative—and hopefully not completely unsubstantiated—claim: It seems to me that Andrew McGowan’s Ancient Christian Worship explicitly tells a story and implicitly makes an argument. In each of his colorful and well-written chapters, McGowan takes people on a trek through the different ways in which ancient Christians worshiped. He introduces readers to influential theologians like Augustine, Origen, and John Chrysostom, sharing ample examples from their writings on worship. McGowan also incorporates archeological research and makes use of fascinating early Christian documents like the Didache and the Apostolic Tradition, which give glimpses of how these ancient communities lived out (or sought to live out) their worship practices.

In other words, McGowan intentionally brings together multiple streams of academic research on early Christian worship in order to tell a coherent introductory narrative of how these worship practices originated and developed, while avoiding the tempting pitfalls of over-simplification and excessive generalization. He’s realistic about what is known, unknown, and unfortunately lost to history regarding how these early believers lived. Continue reading