When I'm not at work, I'm an avid reader of theology, especially related to historical Jesus studies, Pauline thought, Church history, and social justice. I hope to produce clear, concise, and interesting book reviews that spark enjoyable conversations about interesting ideas in theology. My wife is also a pretty awesome theology student herself.
Is faith mainly intellectual assent or heartfelt trust? Does the presence of doubt signify unbelief, or is it a sign of honest, mature reflection? Will certainty always remain elusive? In Doubt, Faith, and Certainty, Anthony C. Thiselton takes up a host of questions like these for the sake of developing more nuanced and healthy ways of understanding these closely related theological concepts.
Of course, crafting better definitions sounds like a rather dry exercise, and Thiselton does stray into the weeds at times, but for him it’s done out of a practical desire to provide some help and solace for those grappling with these concerns in real life. Though Thiselton seeks to address all kinds of readers in this book, some will most likely struggle with his writing style. At times it can be quite dense and technical, so nonspecialist readers shouldn’t be surprised if they happen to find themselves turning to a dictionary of philosophical terms every once in a while. The book’s structure is fairly straightforward, though, and his overarching thesis isn’t too hard to grasp:
This book carries a simple message. On doubt, it argues that while some degree of doubt in some circumstances may perhaps be bad, in different situations doubts may stimulate us to fresh thought and questioning. In fact, the message remains the same for doubt, faith, and certainty: none of these terms has a uniform meaning, or has a uniform function in life. They have a variety of meanings. (p.vii)
Summer is once again almost upon us. For students and professors, this means a collective sigh of relief—a short but nevertheless real break from grappling with papers and stressing over deadlines. While I may not currently be in school, I still love summer reading lists. There’s something refreshing about the ambition, hope, and unabashed bookishness that goes into making them. Therefore, just as I’ve done for the last few years (here are the 2016 and 2015 lists), I’ve put together a stack of titles to work through before autumn sets in. My eyes are usually too big for my literary stomach, but I figure there’s no shame in failure if that means the summer was still full of great books and interesting conversations. So, without further ado, let’s look at this year’s list:
Three Subjects and a Favorite Voice
1. Wesleyan Studies.
The Cambridge Companion to John Wesleyis an edited collection of essays that gives readers a solid, wide-ranging survey of John Wesley’s life, work, and theological legacy. It also puts Wesley and the rise of Methodism in some historical context by introducing readers to different perspectives on relevant topics like the state of the Church of England in the 18th century, the nature of the British Enlightenment, and examining early Methodism as a movement within the Anglican Church. For those who are curious about the Wesleyan tradition but don’t have much background knowledge, this volume seems like a useful starting point. Continue reading →
*This review was originally published over at The Englewood Review of Books. If you have a few minutes, please go check out some of their other reviews.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in his famous speech “A Time to Break Silence” that, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” I think these words, challenging as they are, express the conviction that undergirds the efforts of Liz Theoharis in her timely new book, Always with Us?: What Jesus Really Said about the Poor.Her contention is that Matthew 26:11, one of the most influential passages on poverty in Scripture, has often been twisted out of context in order to give red-lettered justification for viewing poverty as inevitable and pitting Jesus in opposition to the poor (13, 97). In her eyes, these conclusions have obviously damaging consequences.
Therefore, she seeks to show that, far from giving Christians reason to ignore calls for economic justice, this passage actually makes “one of the strongest statements of the biblical mandate to end poverty” (15). Reading Matthew 26:11 in this way may strike some as strange or odd. In part, this might be due to the unfortunate fact that Christian conversations about poverty in the Bible all-too-frequently fail to adequately include the voices of those actually experiencing poverty. Thankfully, Theoharis avoids this pitfall. She should be commended for intentionally giving space for the thoughts and ideas of poor people and grassroots antipoverty organizers to be heard (often in their own words), allowing their perspectives to help shape her development of an approach to reading Matthew 26:11 that allows the text to once again challenge, encourage, and inspire those working in their communities to end to poverty, rather than casting a shadow of indifference on their efforts (31-32). Continue reading →
Reading the Old Testament with contextual sensitivity and theological depth can be difficult. It’s all too easy for people to assume they already know what the text is saying or to treat the Old Testament as a mere backdrop for the New Testament. University of Notre Dame professor Gary A. Anderson is well aware of these dangers, but he doesn’t let them dissuade him from reading the Old Testament with doctrinal reflection in mind.
On the first page of Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament, he reveals the admittedly ambitious aim of the book: to demonstrate that “theological doctrines need not be a hindrance to exegesis but, when properly deployed, play a key role in uncovering a text’s meaning” (p.xi). In the world of biblical studies, this can be seen as a pretty provocative claim. Some scholars worry this type of approach inevitably overlooks the continued place of these scriptures in the Jewish canon and leads to the error of triumphalistic supersessionism. Anderson himself acknowledges the importance of these concerns, and he reassures readers that his Old Testament studies “take the Jewish character and integrity of the text with utmost seriousness” (p.xii). Continue reading →
*This post is by guest writer Chris Wermeskerch. Chris is currently a M.Div. student at Northern Seminary. He loves memes, theology, Star Wars, and God. Not always in that order.
Collecting essays from an eclectic range of scholars and theologians, David Firth and Lindsay Wilson have created a unique package in Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature. The title is, in a way, a bit of a misnomer. More than a straightforward commentary on the four traditional wisdom books, this collection discusses a wide range of scholarship on the canon as a whole, really. This is part of the book’s overall strength, but unfortunately, it stands as a weakness toward the end of the book.
The book starts with an overview of the study of Old Testament Wisdom literature today. As a seminarian, I felt like this would be too much of a review for me. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see which avenues were explored in this section. Questions were raised related to the genre of the books, the definition of wisdom, and a history of the study of the wisdom books. I found this part to be interesting, being both well-paced and well-researched. Continue reading →
When followers of Jesus gather in worship to perform a baptism or celebrate the Eucharist, these occasions can become moments when believers are immersed in sacramental means of grace that make the Christian faith tangible and help them “feel the truth of the resurrection,” to borrow a phrase from Ellen F. Davis (2016, p.282). It seems to me that there is something formational about these practices. In both of them, the whole self participates in the worship of God.
Presbyterian scholar Ronald P. Byars echoes this sentiment near the beginning of The Sacraments in Biblical Perspectivewhen he observes that the sacraments “testify to the conviction that the knowledge of God involves the mind, indeed—but not only the mind” (p.4). Byars’s wide-ranging and conversational exploration of the relevant biblical texts grows out a lifetime spent teaching liturgical theology and being a lectionary preacher. In light of these experiences, he finds it only natural for Christians to eventually reflect on their participation in the sacramental life of the Church and ask themselves, “What does this all mean? What do these words and actions say about God’s redemption of creation in Christ?” These are deep questions, and developing well-rounded answers takes some time and patience. For those taking this journey, though, Byars makes for a helpful traveling companion. Continue reading →
The book of Jonah is short, but its brevity does nothing to reduce the significance of the theological questions it raises. In Phillip Cary’s 2008 commentary on Jonah, he shows that those who have the courage and humility to let Jonah’s story confront them will be challenged to deepen their understanding of God’s mercy and wrestle once again with the meaning of the proclamation in Exodus 34:7 that the LORD is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (NRSV).
Cary approaches Jonah with both literary and theological sensitivity, pointing out relevant storytelling and rhetorical features, bringing the rest of the Christian canon into conversation with the text, and reflecting on how the book of Jonah might have challenged those who first encountered it. He also explores ways in which Jonah can continue to challenge Christian readers today.
Unfortunately, some studies of Jonah get tangled up in questions of historicity to the degree that the heart of the story—the expansive depth of God’s patience and mercy—can be missed. While some read Jonah as a historical narrative, there are a number of reasons for thinking that this is a misunderstanding of Jonah’s genre. Regardless of one’s position on the historicity of Jonah, though, most readers can hopefully agree that the main focus of the story is on the nature of God’s forgiveness and mercy. Continue reading →