BA Books & Authors on the Web – October 9, 2015

Cover ArtAt Reformedish, Derek Rishmawy discussed the virtue of charitable reading in light of George Hunsinger’s Reading Barth with Charity.

“Principles of moral interpretation such as that of charity have become all the more pressing to adopt and practice as our internet age has pressed even more of our communication to be textually-mediated. We are constantly reading, interpreting, and engaging with the texts of other authors, other citizens of language like ourselves. If we fail to practice charity in interpretation, one of our most socially and morally formative practices, it can’t help but bleed out into other areas of our thought and life.”

The Pastor as Public Theologian, by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, was reviewed at AJ Cerda.

Ian Panth, at Pop Christ, continued his review of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.

James K.A. Smith – author of numerous books, including Imagining the Kingdom, Who’s Afraid of Relativism? , and the forthcoming You are What You Love from Brazos Press – will be speaking at the Desiring the Kingdom conference and the Center for Pastor Theologians.

Charles Farhadian – “Why I Wrote Introducing World Religions

Why I Wrote Introducing World Religions: A Christian Engagement.”
Charles E. Farhadian

Far too few Christian colleges, universities, seminaries, and divinity schools offer courses in world religions, at a time when religions are resurging throughout the world. Most Christian college and seminary curricula are focused on Western approaches and the common three-part foci of theology, biblical studies, and history. But how will Christian educational institutions, the church, and NGOs prepare Christians for a future of work and witness if there is little or no teaching about the very religions that profoundly influence billions of people worldwide? This book needed to be written for several important reasons.

Cover ArtFirst, this is the right time for this book to have been written. Like good music or an important conversation, timing is key. The predictions about the demise of religion by scholars in the past century were absolutely wrong. (Well, actually, religion resurged and shifted along with secularism, giving rise to what Charles Taylor and Jürgen Habermas have called a “post-secular” condition, which affirms the burgeoning of both religion and secularism.) Recent history has witnessed the revitalization of nearly all major religions and spirituality, including in their most virulent fundamentalist forms. Religion has become a major player in social and political movements worldwide.

Moreover, the concomitant rise in secular fundamentalism that resists the role of religion in public life represents unique challenges to religious people of all persuasions. Travelers journeying outside of North America and Western Europe have seen the public display of religion in processions, marches, and other celebrations, where religious festivals provide meaning and build community throughout the year. But religion is not just “out there” beyond the West in the public square and in village life. Religion continues to shape our personal and corporate lives here in the West as well, for instance undergirding public discussions of ethical and moral debates about justice, abortion, human sexuality, and even taxes. This is the time we need an engaged perspective on world religions.

Second, my approach is to resist either extreme of exclusivism or relativism and instead pursue a dialogic encounter between Christianity and other religions, confident that in the act of creation the Triune God has left seeds of the truth in the world’s major religions and philosophies that can be fulfilled by the gospel. My hope is that Christians can approach the world of culture and religion with anticipation for what can be learned, without the fear of having to sacrifice Christian affirmations.

Third, the book is written from a particular perspective that avoids apology and instead exhibits an openness of Christianity to other religious traditions for the purpose of interrogating what’s familiar within Christianity as well as learning about other religions. I am not feigning objectivity. Knowledge of any kind is never purely objective. And it is a common pedagogical strategy that professors tell their students that they teach world religions objectively. My appeal is to Christian tradition for the resources of learning and living well with one another.

So this book provides a rejoinder to two false notions. The first is of an objective rationality that is often communicated by teachers of world religions in an attempt to remain impartial before their students. The second is a so-called postmodern approach that seeks to eliminate the grand, sacred narrative of our lives, when in reality most often a switch and bait of narratives occurs that substitutes a secular narrative for a Christian one as though the Christian story is worn out and outgrown by newer insights. That said, I intentionally write from a particular perspective, which aims to be broadly Christian, rather than needing to convince readers that I can be entirely neutral and detached. My view is that we can only talk and act from particular places and spaces rather than from a vantage point that claims to be above all history and culture, no matter how tempting that perspective may be today.

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Charles E. FarhadianCharles E. Farhadian (PhD, Boston University) is professor of world religions and Christian mission at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the editor of Introducing World Christianity and Christian Worship Worldwide and coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. He has done fieldwork in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where he has investigated themes of worship, social history, and nation making.

For more information on Introducing World Religions, click here.

 

Paul Heintzman – “Have Leisure and Know that I am God”

“Have leisure and know that I am God.”
Paul Heintzman

“Have leisure and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10 Septuagint)

Does this verse surprise you? Have you ever thought about what a biblical understanding of leisure might be? As we approach summer when many Canadians often take their holidays, it is helpful to pause and reflect upon a Christian understanding of leisure. Since most readers of this blog are Americans, I need to point out that Canadians receive a minimum of two weeks of annual paid vacation leave; the US is the only industrialized country without a minimum annual vacation law; 137 nations, including all developed nations except the US, have paid vacation leave; last year only 57% of Americans took a vacation of a week or longer and only 14% took two weeks or more; and the average American works 160 hours (one month) more today than in 1976 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 No wonder the First Annual Vacation Commitment Day was held this past March 31 and a Vacation Commitment Summit is being held in New York City on June 15, 2015.

Cover ArtIf you were asked to define leisure, what would your answer be? Leisure has been defined as free time, a function of social class, recreational activity, a state of mind (a psychological state), a state of being (an attitude to life), and holistically where leisure is not distinguished from work. While there is not a fully developed theology of leisure in the Bible, there are numerous biblical elements, including the principle of Sabbath and the concept of rest, that may guide us in our understanding of leisure.

The Sabbath taught that Israel’s life possessed the element of time free from work. The implication of this biblical understanding of leisure is that some rhythm or cycle of leisure (in a quantitative sense) and work is necessary for well-being and wholeness. This rhythmic pattern to life suggested by the Sabbath may constantly serve as a model for us in shaping and scheduling life. The benefit of a sabbatical structure to life is to provide special time on a regular basis for physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional renewal, which leads to better health for the individual and society.

Second, the Sabbath suggests that leisure may be defined in more than a quantitative sense, for the Sabbath is more than a time period, more than one day in seven. In the Old Testament the Sabbath, as a day of abstaining from work, is not entirely for the purpose of restoring one’s lost strength and enhancing the efficiency of one’s future work. Rather than simply an interlude between periods of work, it is the climax of living. Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel described the Sabbath as “not a date but an atmosphere—a taste of eternity—to come.” The Sabbath suggests the attitude of humanity’s basic posture in relation to God. The appeal to creation theology in the Exodus account of the Sabbath commandment suggests that the Sabbath is an invitation to the Israelites, in the act of Sabbath rest, to experience their God as a God whose very nature is one of rest and to rejoice in and celebrate God’s gift of creation.

The prophet Isaiah described the Sabbath as a delight. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was a time for bringing healing and wholeness. The Sabbath, and likewise leisure, is more than a time of non-work; it has a qualitative dimension. The biblical Sabbath teaches us that leisure need not be merely an external cessation from work in the rhythm to life but that it may also be an internal spiritual attitude. This qualitative understanding of leisure was clearly articulated by Roman Catholic theologian Josef Pieper, who wrote that leisure is “an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul . . . a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the world of creation.”2

Leisure is frequently equated with the biblical concept of rest. This concept supplies a wide variety of clues that are descriptive of leisure: a pleasant, secure, and blessed life in the land (the Deuteronomic notion of rest); an entering into God’s rest (Ps. 95); a rest of completion, not inactivity, such as the Creator enjoyed when He had completed His works, and a Sabbath rest of peace, joy, well-being, concord, security (Heb. 4:10, 11); and a relief and repose from labors and burdens as well as a peace and contentment of body, soul, and mind in God (Matt. 11:28–30). While these elements of rest available through fellowship with God will be consummated in the heavenly rest, they are at least partially a present reality. They are one way of describing the quality of life that may be seen as fleshing out the qualitative dimension of leisure.

Thus, a review of the biblical concepts of Sabbath and rest suggests that leisure may encompass quantitative and qualitative dimensions: one related to our doing and the other to our being. These concepts teach a rhythm to life of work and non-work as well as a spiritual attitude for a person’s basic posture in relation to God—one of rest, joy, freedom, and celebration in God and the gift of creation. In addition, a variety of biblical elements (e.g., festivals, feasts, dance, hospitality, and friendships) may be viewed as non-work or leisure activities that along with work fit into the rhythm of life and reflect one’s celebration of God and His creation.

Christians down through the ages have applied these biblical notions to their understanding of leisure. Richard Foster described the early Christian notion of holy leisure as “a sense of balance in life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves.”3 Likewise, the medieval monastics advocated a similar balance wherein otium (leisure) was viewed halfway between the two dangers of otiositas (idleness) and negotium (business).

Leisure is crucial for spiritual growth and development. As people who live in a fast paced society we need to remember that a leisure atmosphere—where time and space is allotted for being as well as doing—is crucial for Christian spirituality.

References

1. J. de Graaf, The Case for Paid Vacations, 2015, https://www.takebackyourtime.org/the-case-for-paid-vacation/.
2. J. Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (New York: Random House, 1963), 40–41.
3. R. J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper & Row), 20–21.

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Paul Heintzman (PhD, University of Waterloo) is associate professor of leisure studies at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, and has extensive experience as a recreation practitioner throughout Canada. He previously taught at Brock University and at Acadia University. Heintzman is coeditor of Christianity and Leisure: Issues in a Pluralistic Society and is the author of numerous journal papers and book chapters on the topics of leisure and spirituality, recreation and the environment, and the philosophy and ethics of leisure.

For more information on Leisure and Spirituality, click here.

Francis Moloney – Why I Wrote Reading the New Testament in the Church

Why I Wrote Reading the New Testament in the Church
Francis J. Moloney, SDB

The development of the Catholic Church as a dominant political power among the European Princes in the eleventh century, and the Reform initiated by Martin Luther in the sixteenth, distanced the Roman Catholic Tradition from a use of the Bible in its life and practice. Always regarded as “sacred” and a Word of God, kept alive in the contemplative tradition, it was nevertheless supplanted by a powerful teaching office that came to be known as the Magisterium and the enthusiastic practice of the Church’s sacramental life.

Cover ArtPope Leo XIII recognized that such a situation was unacceptable, betraying authentic Christian Tradition. In 1893, in his Encyclical Providentissimus Deus, he asked for a return to the Scriptures. Fear of heresy and possible abuses, coupled with two World Wars in which Christianity showed its worst face, saw to it that this return never took place. Pius XII came back to this crucial question in an even more radical call to the Catholic Church in 1943 in his Divino Afflante Spiritu, written to commemorate the centenary of Providentissimus Deus.

This appeal to return the Word of God to its rightful place at the heart of the life and practice of the Church has been regularly repeated since then, especially in Vatican II’s document on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the life of the Church in 2008, and the subsequent post-Synodal Exhortation of Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini (2010).

These appeals, however, continue to fall upon deaf ears. Many contemporary Bishops, Pastors, Religious Educators, and Believers find the New Testament too difficult and too foreign. My most recent book, Reading the New Testament in the Church: A Primer for Pastors, Religious Educators, and Believers, attempts to bridge those gaps. After indicating the life-giving value of a critical reading of the New Testament, I show that everything one finds within the covers of the New Testament was produced by the faith of the Church in order to further nourish and encourage the faith of the Church.

This is a book that I hope will challenge all Christians and Christian communities to accept that their Sacred Scriptures make God, and God’s design, known to them. It attempts to overcome the impoverishment of any Christian tradition that results from an ignorance of God’s Word. As St. Jerome (347–420 CE) once said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

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Francis J. Moloney, SDB (DPhil, University of Oxford), is a Senior Professorial Fellow of Australian Catholic University at its Melbourne, Australia, campus. He is the former Provincial Superior of the Salesians of Don Bosco for Australia and the Pacific region and former Katharine Drexel Professor of Religious Studies and dean of the School of Theology at the Catholic University of America. Father Moloney is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, a Member of the Order of Australia, and the author of more than forty books. He is also a member of the editorial board for Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament.

For more information on Reading the New Testament in the Church, click here.

Todd Johnson and Cindy Wu – Introducing Our Global Families

Introducing Our Global Families
Todd M. Johnson and Cindy M. Wu

Anyone who is married will tell you how challenging it can be to get along with the two different extended families of the bride and the groom. While the groom puzzles over the strange behavior of the bride’s relatives, the bride is likely to enlighten him about irregularities in his own family. While we have learned to navigate family dynamics in our own journeys with our spouses, we’ve also been pondering how to navigate the expanding and shifting dynamics in the wider context of our two “global families.”

Cover ArtWe were born into the human race—one of our global families. As only two of more than seven billion individuals, we are increasingly aware of both the joys and the challenges of getting along with this unfathomable mosaic of peoples, languages, ethnicities, religions, and cultures.

We also claim membership in another global family—the global Christian family. The global Christian family is made up of 2.4 billion people—about a third of the global human family—found in every country of the world. This year 45 million babies will be born into our Christian family, 22 million of us will die, 16 million will join us as adult converts, and 12 million will defect, most to agnosticism. As a result, there will be a net gain of 27 million Christians. That’s a lot of new family members to become acquainted with!

Over the past 115 years, the complexion of this global Christian family has changed dramatically. In 1900, Christians were over 80% white, but now they are over 60% nonwhite. Today, Christians belong to 45,000 different denominations and speak over 3,000 different languages. The gospel has spread across Africa, Asia, and Latin America (the Global South) so that the majority of Christians now live on those continents. Meanwhile, the Global North is becoming more secular, yet it is also more religiously diverse due to migration. Overall, the world is becoming more religious and more religiously diverse.

Increasing diversity arouses questions of identity: How do the shifts within the religious landscape impact the way Christians view themselves and one another, both as members of the global Christian family and as members of the global human family? Is our primary Christian identity our local identity or our global identity? How can we be faithful to our own beliefs while being generous and engaging with others, especially when it comes to working for the common good?

Answering these questions requires a new approach to identity—one that emphasizes the universality of Christian community and common humanity. But the world and the church seem to lead people in the direction of emphasizing difference instead of similarity.

We as Christians—especially North American evangelicals—need to be challenged in our loyalties and our boundaries in order to navigate today’s changing world. As Christian diversity increases globally, there is a greater need to emphasize the similarities of our shared faith. We need a broader sense of Christian identity as we attempt to express our faith within the myriad of Christian denominations and traditions worldwide. We also need to be better informed about other religions and to build significant friendships with people of other religions.

So what needs to change or adapt? First, it is a matter of identity as members of the global Christian family. If we identify ourselves first as followers of Christ and second by our nationality, denomination, and other distinctives, we will provide a stronger witness to our common faith with Christians around the world. Second, it is a matter of participation in the global human family. If we identify as global citizens, we will think differently about our role in the world. In both cases, we will recognize and respect difference but be quicker to look for commonality.

One thing is for certain: we can’t be content as Christians if we separate ourselves from either of our global families.

Valuing common identity above that of any specific ethnic, linguistic, national, or social identity is a Christian virtue. And this might very well be a missing dimension in humanity’s attempts to overcome its greatest global challenges. As followers of Christ we can do no less than to faithfully follow Jesus’s example of loving our neighbors enough to get to know them and identify with them. Imitating Christ in our relationships with both global families is one of the great opportunities of the twenty-first century.

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Todd M. Johnson (PhD, William Carey International University) is director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity and associate professor of global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is also visiting research fellow at the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs at Boston University. Johnson is coauthor of The World’s Religions in Figures and the World Christian Encyclopedia, and coeditor of the Atlas of Global Christianity.

Cindy M. Wu (MA, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) has served in church-planting contexts in China, Mexico City, Houston, and Boston. She lives in Houston, Texas.

For more information on Our Global Families, click here.

Andrew Arterbury – Why We Wrote Engaging the Christian Scriptures

Why We Wrote Engaging the Christian Scriptures
Andrew Arterbury

Bill Bellinger, Derek Dodson, and I wrote Engaging the Christian Scriptures to serve as an introductory textbook for students who are engaging in a first informed reading of the Bible within an academic setting. Consequently, our target audiences consist of undergraduate students in a survey of the Bible course, especially at Christian colleges and universities, and seminary students who are just beginning their theological education.

Cover ArtBecause we believe the biblical texts should function as the primary texts in such a setting, we crafted this textbook to function as a supplemental resource. For example, we focused our readers’ attention on the prevailing conversations and leading opinions within the field of Biblical Studies on most subjects. In other words, we did not attempt to provide exhaustive descriptions of every academic conversation about the Bible, but rather we strove to introduce the most important conversations for students who are encountering the field of Biblical Studies for the first time.

In addition, in the textbook we primarily address students, rather than their professors, though we created a bank of possible test questions for professors who desire assistance with assessment. (To request access to the test bank that corresponds to Engaging the Christian Scriptures, professors should click here.

Methodologically, we employed a contextual approach to the Christian Scriptures, giving attention to historical, literary, and theological contexts. Rather than telling students about the Bible, we aimed to help students become educated readers of the Bible. As a result, we journeyed through the major divisions of the biblical canon using that approach. We dealt with historical and literary features of the Pentateuch, the Former and Latter Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels and Acts, Paul and the Pauline Tradition, and the General Letters and Revelation. We concluded each section, however, by describing some of the most prominent theological claims within those texts. For example, before concluding our discussion of the Pentateuch, we paused to reflect upon the importance of Creation and Covenant as major themes in biblical theology.

In the process, we were guided by a handful of motivations. In particular, our overriding concern was and is for our students—past, present, and future. Pedagogically, we wanted to create a manageable and accessible textbook. In essence, we wanted to introduce university or seminary students to the type of thought patterns and questions that are common in the field of Biblical Studies. At the same time, we wanted to maintain a focus on the texts that scholars seek to illumine. In addition, while introducing students to critical perspectives and approaches, we simultaneously attempted to highlight and to underscore the theological claims found within the Christian Scriptures rather than to critique or to deconstruct those claims. While seeking to educate readers about the biblical text, we felt compelled to give attention to the rich theological perspectives within these texts that have functioned and continue to function as inspired Scripture for many over a 2,000- to 3,000-year period—a topic that is frequently missing in academic textbooks on the Bible. Finally, we wanted to partner with Baker Academic to produce an affordable textbook. Asking students to purchase an exorbitantly priced introductory textbook on the Christian Scriptures when an affordable book will do seems contradictory at best.

Ultimately, our title reflects our aim. We hope beginning students will “engage” the Christian Scriptures. Ideally, this textbook will function as the supplemental resource that empowers students to do just that.

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Andrew E. Arterbury (PhD, Baylor University) is associate professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, in Waco, Texas.

W. H. Bellinger Jr. (PhD, University of Cambridge) is the W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Chairholder in Bible, professor of religion, and chair of the Department of Religion at Baylor University.

Derek S. Dodson (PhD, Baylor University) is senior lecturer in religion at Baylor University.

For more information on Engaging the Christian Scriptures, click here.

J. Richard Middleton – “Whatever Happened to the New Earth?”

Whatever Happened to the New Earth?
J. Richard Middleton

My book, A New Heaven and a New Earth, has been a long time coming.

I wrote it over the last few years. But I’ve been working on it most of my life.

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and enjoyed the beautiful Caribbean Sea ever since I was a toddler. But it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I began to go on hiking trips to Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point on the island.

On one such trip, I watched a breathtaking sunrise at seven and a half thousand feet above sea level. After some minutes of silence, my friend Junior commented wistfully, “This is so beautiful; it’s such a shame that it will all be destroyed some day.” I still remember the dawning awareness: I don’t think it will be. It did not make sense to me that the beauty and wonder of earthly life, which I was coming to embrace joyfully as part of my growing Christian faith, could be disconnected from God’s ultimate purposes of salvation.

Cover ArtTracking a Worldview Shift

This basic intuition or theological insight was confirmed by my study of Scripture during my undergraduate studies at Jamaica Theological Seminary.

Most contemporary Christians tend to live with an unresolved tension between a belief in the resurrection of the body and an immaterial heaven as final destiny. Many also have in the back of their minds the idea of the new heaven and new earth (from the book of Revelation), though they aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

I myself started my theological studies with this very confusion. But as I took courses in both Old and New Testaments and tried to understand the nature of God’s salvation as portrayed in the various biblical writings, it became increasingly clear that the God who created the world “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and who became incarnate in Jesus Christ as a real human being, had affirmed by these very acts the value of the material universe and the validity of ordinary, earthly life.

More than that, I came to realize that the Scriptures explicitly teach that God is committed to reclaiming creation (human and nonhuman) in order to bring it to its authentic and glorious destiny, a destiny that human sin had blocked.

It was during my junior year of theological studies that I came to the startling realization that the Bible nowhere claims that “heaven” is the final home of the redeemed. While there are many New Testament texts that Christians often read as if they teach a heavenly destiny, the texts do not actually say this. Rather, the Bible consistently anticipates the redemption of the entire created order, a motif that fits very well with the Christian hope of the resurrection—which Paul calls “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23).

It was after this startling realization that I first challenged an adult Sunday School class I was teaching at Grace Missionary Church (my home church in Jamaica) to find even one passage in the New Testament that clearly said that Christians would live in heaven forever or that heaven was the final home of the righteous.

I even offered a monetary reward if anyone could find such a text. I have been making this offer now for my entire adult life to church and campus ministry study groups and in many of the courses I have taught; I am happy to report that I still have all my money. No one has ever produced such a text, because there simply aren’t any in the Bible.

The Bible’s Best-Kept Secret

After my theological studies in Jamaica I moved to Canada to pursue graduate studies. During this time I coauthored a book with my friend Brian Walsh on developing a Christian worldview entitled The Transforming Vision. This book not only advocated a holistic worldview, without a sacred/secular split, it also explicitly grounded this worldview in the biblical teaching of the redemption of creation, including both the physical cosmos and human culture and society.

After writing The Transforming Vision together, Brian and I teamed up some ten years later to address the implications of this same holistic vision for postmodern culture in Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, which, like the former book, combined biblical studies with cultural analysis.

Since that time the focus of my research has shifted more and more toward biblical studies, particularly Old Testament, the primary academic field in which I teach and write. In all my teaching and writing the consistent background assumption has been the same basic vision of holistic salvation that I have been working with since my undergraduate days in Jamaica—though in recent years I have been able to flesh this out in much more detail.

This holistic vision of God’s intent to renew or redeem creation is perhaps the Bible’s best-kept secret, typically unknown to most church members and even to many clergy, no matter what their theological stripe.

Having had to explain that the Bible envisions a new earth as the final destiny of the redeemed in many different settings and to different audiences, I finally decided to write an article that would marshal the central biblical evidence (as I understood it) for a holistic understanding of salvation, with a focus on eschatology. The article, entitled “A New Heaven and a New Earth,” was published in 2006.

The Time Is Ripe

Soon after its publication Rodney Clapp, who was then senior editor of Brazos Press/Baker Academic, suggested that I turn the article into a book. “The time is ripe,” he said, over a spicy dinner of Thai food, for an accessible and clear book-length statement of holistic eschatology. This book is my attempt to respond to Rodney’s eschatological-sounding challenge.

Whereas earlier centuries have attempted to clarify theological topics such as the incarnation, the Trinity, or justification by faith, the twentieth century has seen more intense focus on eschatology than ever before. Yet much of this eschatological reflection has been confused and inchoate, conflating an unbiblical impetus to transcend earthly life with the biblical affirmation of earthly life. This is true among both professional theologians and church members, and also among Christians of differing theological traditions.

The time is ripe, therefore, for a clearly articulated Christian eschatology rooted in responsible exegesis of Scripture, which is also attuned to the theological claims and ethical implications of the Bible’s vision of salvation. This eschatology will also need to be serviceable for the church, pointing the way toward faithful living in the here and now.

This book is one small contribution toward such an eschatology. Its primary purpose is to clarify how New Testament eschatology, rather than being a speculative add-on to the Bible, actually coheres with, and is the logical outworking of, the consistently holistic theology of the entirety of Scripture. It is the primary purpose of this book to sketch the coherent biblical theology (beginning in the Old Testament) that culminates in the New Testament’s explicit eschatological vision of the redemption of creation.

Along the way the book also explores some of the ethical implications of holistic eschatology for our present life in God’s world. And it investigates what happened to the biblical vision of the redemption of the earth in the history of Christian eschatology, tracing the loss of this vision and its partial recovery in recent times.

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J. Richard Middleton (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, NY. He is the author of The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005), and (with Brian Walsh) The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (IVP, 1984) and Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (IVP, 1995). He has written articles on the music of Bob Marley, creation theology in the Old Testament, the problem of suffering, and the dynamics of human and divine power in biblical narratives. His blog on biblical theology is entitled “Creation to Eschaton” (jrichardmiddleton.wordpress.com), which suggests the range of his interests.

For more information on A New Heaven and a New Earth, click here.

Green Discipleship: What Makes a Christian Live Ecologically?

Green Discipleship: What Makes a Christian Live Ecologically?
A. J. Swoboda

In recent weeks, our book Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology has been published with hopes of helping Evangelicals enter into the ecological dialogue more faithfully. As Evangelicals, we are not interested in mere theological reflection or rhetorical nuance. We are interested in theological action. One of the consistent questions with which we’ve wrestled is: How do we actually get people to do this stuff? What motivates, awakens, and helps Christians begin to act ecologically?

As Jonathan Merritt, author of Green Like God, has written, one must cautiously learn to steward the knowledge that has been received with an appropriate response of mindful action; as knowledge increases, so does responsibility.1 Mindfulness simply isn’t enough. Thus, any form of knowledge that is liberated from the trappings of that pesky little thing called responsible action will lead to nothing more than a good deal of head knowledge. But head knowledge, no matter how brilliant, clever, or novel, does not directly move the sands of time. Action moves the world. For the Christ-follower, the endgame will never lie in the shallow waters of head knowledge. Rather, the endgame will be in foot knowledge. And hand knowledge. Or, we might say, green thumb knowledge.

Cover ArtAs pastors and theologians deeply invested in the good news of Jesus Christ for all of God’s creation, we’ve come to hold unswervingly to the idea that Christian faith is a faith of lived knowledge, not head knowledge. Knowledge minus life isn’t knowledge; it’s conjecture. Knowledge must have legs.

It is in the experience of doing belief that we enter into true belief. As it turns out, this resonates deeply with what environmental philosophers have been suggesting for years. In the emerging field of eco-psychology—a field that has examined the dynamic relationship between human cognitive processes and ecological realities since the mid-1970s—many have gone on to argue that there remains little to no traceable connection between formal Western education and living an environmentally friendly existence.2 In short: environmental knowledge simply isn’t enough. In fact, one might forcibly argue that the least educated—the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised—live the most environmentally friendly lives on our planet today.

Only the rich drive Hummers.

If education and head knowledge are not the main keys to green living, what is? While there certainly remain many, we would like to stress that actual experience and personal interaction with God’s creation is the key to green discipleship. Experiencing creation is tantamount. As John Stackhouse has lucidly expressed in his book Need to Know, it was the Nazi bureaucrat with no experience of real Jewish people who could sit quietly in his office sending the masses to their death with every smooth stroke of the typewriter. It is without the experience of the real person that a sociopath can sit behind a computer screen and write hateful blog posts that do not lovingly take into account the individual at whom they are aimed. It is the lack of lived experience in the real church that leads academics and theologians to do work that has absolutely no bearing on real life.3

And it is those who lack a real experience of creation who will be most likely to destroy it—knowingly or not. When we know creation, we are more likely to love it and tend it.

As a group of writers we’ve come to confess that while theology, Scripture, Christian history, and environmental philosophy have affected us deeply, nothing, save the mercy of Jesus Christ, has caused us to have a deeper love for God’s creation and a passion to care for it than the lived experience of having known it personally. Our desire to serve God’s creation was birthed during hikes, camping trips, fishing adventures, days in the hammock, and awe-inspiring moments on the mountain.

One can offer promises that they will do better to care for God’s creation while doing nothing about it. Another can stay silent and do it bravely. Which is better? In the Parable of the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28–32), we find Jesus’s teaching put in similar terms. Jesus contrasts two sons of a vineyard owner. To one, the owner commands to go to work. The son says no but eventually goes. Then the father says the same thing to the other son. He says yes but never makes it to his place of work. Jesus asks his audience who it is “that did the Father’s will?” Of course, it is the son who did what was asked, not the son who only said he would.

In the words of St. Augustine, love is action. Love isn’t talk. Love isn’t promises. Love isn’t a treaty. Love is action, personal action. While one son over-promises and under-delivers, the other under-promises and over-delivers. In this framework of discipleship, love never stops short of action. It always enters into it. Lesslie Newbigin loved to say that discipleship was the single act of believing and standing up to follow Jesus, to leave nets, boats, families, and homes. Knowledge is knowledge so long as it has caloric implications. The disciples’ knowledge became true knowledge the moment it was metabolized by their actual following.

Discipleship happens as it is being done. And the truth is the same for tending the garden. Green discipleship takes place as we do it. Not in our promises to do it. Not in our commitments. Not in our guilt and shame. Green discipleship happens as we stand up and follow Jesus. It happens as we learn to recycle. It happens as we enter into sabbath. It happens as we begin to pay attention to where our chocolate comes from. It happens when our knowledge and action are wed.

                                                                           

1 Jonathan Merritt, Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (NY: FaithWords, 2010), 113.
2 One such study is found at Anja Kollmuss and Julian Agyman, “Mind the Gap: Why Do People Act Environmentally and What Are the Barriers to pro-Environmental Behavior?,” Environmental Education Research 8, no. 3 (2002): 239–60. They are explicitly clear: environmental knowledge alone does not necessarily lead to ecological living.
3 John G. Stackhouse Jr., Need to Know: Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014), 97.

Bill Arnold and Richard Hess: “Why We Wrote Ancient Israel’s History

Why We Wrote Ancient Israel’s History
by, Bill Arnold and Richard Hess.

Ancient Israel’s History grows out of a need we noticed many years ago when we were students together at Hebrew Union College. We benefitted from handy up-to-date resources incorporating current research on multiple fronts related to the study of ancient Israel. We especially appreciated scholarship that adequately considered the evidence of the biblical text itself. In our days as students, works by Albright, Bright, Hayes and Miller, and others fulfilled this role with varying degrees of success.

More recently the challenge has grown exponentially. Not only have there been huge amounts of information appearing on every front in the related fields of social sciences and literary studies, but the various theories of interpretation have also grown in number and diversity. Recent years have witnessed the publication of some outstanding resources that survey the field at the introductory level. Many dictionaries and some multi-volume reference works have sought to detail the information available to the scholar.

Cover ArtHowever, little has been produced that attempts to dig more deeply into the historical questions relevant to specific areas of Israel’s history, to make full use and evaluation of the relevant evidence, and to do so within a handbook that surveys that entire history.

When we agreed to do this project, we recognized the difficulties, even the impossibility, of one or two scholars writing an entire work that would succeed in this endeavor. We decided to enlist scholars of the highest academic quality; we knew that their expertise included the areas we asked them to address in this book. We believe that this work will accomplish three goals.

First, it will provide a comprehensive survey of the field for the advanced undergraduate student and for the graduate student. Rather than merely retelling the stories of the Bible, our book attempts to survey the major events in and outside the Bible and to introduce and evaluate the variety of sources outside the Bible that become relevant. At the same time, we attempt to provide a review of the major issues that scholarship has identified for each period and to draw reasonable conclusions based on the evidence.

Second, Ancient Israel’s History attempts to provide a useful resource for the scholar who wishes to understand the diverse perspectives in historical questions of this period and related issues of culture. While each writer presents the evidence from their period, we also do not pretend a total objectivity. The book does not try to demand complete uniformity with respect to directions and possible solutions for various problems of interpretation. However, it does begin with the overall premise of a respect for the various witnesses of the biblical text as well as the contemporary written and material remains from each period. Recognizing that complete objectivity is impossible, we attempt to address the subject with integrity and to appreciate the variety of views that we survey in the book.

Third, our book attempts to provide prolegomena, or preliminary steps, to the study of Israel’s history. In the introductory chapter, Rick traces the contributions of others in the field and explains our goal of striking a balance between biblical and extrabiblical sources. In the next chapter, Bill uses the narratives of Genesis to explain that scholars working on historical realities of the ancient world must be willing to discern between conclusions that are proven, those that are probable, others that are plausible, and finally, conclusions that are merely possible. It is in this assumed context that we attempt to make a contribution that steers a via media between, on the one hand, the retelling of the biblical account with some interesting archaeology thrown in for good measure and, on the other hand, a reconstruction of the Holy Land in the second and first millennia BC that avoids or ridicules the biblical source altogether.

We hope Ancient Israel’s History will provide readers with a valuable guide to this most important story of the people, society, and events that shaped the faith, the culture, and the values of their time and that have informed our history and have formed who we are today. In this respect we invite you to undertake the serious study of the history of ancient Israel and to use this text as a guide and resource in your exploration of one of the most fascinating and significant periods in human history. Personally, this is the book we wish we had read as students and in our early days of research and writing. It would have introduced us to the scholars, the questions, and the evidence most necessary to understand and evaluate the field.

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Bill T. Arnold (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author or editor of twelve books, including Encountering the Book of Genesis, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, and a commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel.

Richard S. Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is Earl S. Kalland Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado, and editor of the Denver Journal. He is the author or editor of more than twenty-five books, including Israelite Religions, Song of Songs in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, and the commentary on Joshua in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series.

For more information on Ancient Israel’s History, click here.

Adonis Vidu: “Why I Wrote Atonement, Law, and Justice

Why I Wrote Atonement, Law, and Justice”
by, Adonis Vidu

Cover ArtAny textbook is written from a particular angle and with certain interests in mind. This one is no different. My starting point (in the order of research, so to speak) has been the observation that theologians writing on the atonement have been making certain assumptions about the concept of justice. While justice is not the only concept about which such writers were making assumptions, it is certainly a key presupposition. It would not be a stretch to say that debates about the atonement are, in fact, debates about the relationship between divine love and justice, which brought me to the hypothesis behind the book: What if the disagreement about the interpretation of the cross is partly driven by a disagreement over conceptions of justice?

I thus set out to propose a “critical reading” of atonement history, which traces its cross-fertilization with the history of conceptions and attitudes about law and justice. I suggest that we can better understand major historical positions on this doctrine by investigating their relationship to this dimension of their broader cultural setting.

The interdisciplinary nature of the project should be understood. This is neither a thorough history of atonement doctrine nor a complete exposition of atonement theologians. It is a critical questioning of the relationship between law, justice, and the divine forgiveness and love revealed in the ministry and passion of Jesus Christ. While I believe that this account illuminates both the individual contributions to and the historical progress of this doctrine, the focus is on the interlacing of theological and juridical assumptions.

The first five chapters of the book discuss five periods of the theology of the cross. The first looks at two important patristic theologies of the cross, that of Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine, against the backdrop of current thinking about law (Homer, Aeschylus, Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism, and Roman law). In the second chapter, I situate the thought of Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus in relation to the legal revolution taking place in the Europe of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The third chapter, on the Reformation, discusses the differences between Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrines of the atonement, as well as their political and legal theologies. In the next chapter, I tackle modern theories of the cross, focusing respectively on Kant, Schleiermacher, and Ritschl. The modern separation between law and morality—its relaxation of the retributive demands of justice—is reflected in different ways in these authors. Finally, in the fifth chapter, I assess the influence of the contemporary deconstruction of law (Foucault, Levinas, Derrida) on a variety of recent theologies of the cross (Rene Girard, John Milbank, and postcolonial and feminist writers).

What is the moral of this “critical reading” of atonement history? By far the greatest takeaway for me has been the fact that debates about atonement are primarily disagreements about the nature of God. What each of these theologians is trying to do is intrepret the event of the cross and assign actions to various agents: What is Christ doing? How does he understand his own death? Does God (the Father) play any part in these events? Should the death of Jesus be exclusively ascribed to his Roman executioners? This is very clearly a debate over the agencies involved in the passion of Christ. However, in any court of law, any ascription of responsibility for an action needs to be grounded in an analysis of the character of the agent. To take the central example: Is God the sort of agent that might be capable of this kind of responsibility? Could the Father have demanded the death of his Son as a condition of his forgiveness? Considerations about the character of God (divine attributes) will weigh heavily in our interpretation of Easter events.

The final chapter of the book makes a constructive theological argument to the effect that, as we try to figure out God’s role at the cross, we must bear in mind “the perfection of divine agency.” I argue that the concept of divine simplicity qualifies the way in which we may speak about divine character and agency. Implicitly, simplicity qualifies the way we understand God as acting at the cross. In terms of divine character, God never enacts certain traits more than others in various actions. Thus, the language of propitiation does not describe a change in God (but rather in our relation to him), any more than there can be a “strife of attributes” in Godself. Simplicity also has the following implications for the structure of divine action itself: first, the unity of divine actions prevents us from saying that God has to punish Jesus as a causal condition or to be enabled to forgive us. Second, the idea of a direct punishment of the Son by the Father is implicitly foreclosed by the ancient principle of the inseparable works of the Trinity. Third, God is not “moved” from wrath to mercy. And finally, the crucifixion should not be separated from the resurrection, since these are not separable “parts” of God’s action.

Each of these implications, I believe, makes corrections to the otherwise important doctrine of penal substitution, which highlights a necessary (legal) dimension of the unified and simple Triune action.

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Adonis ViduAdonis Vidu (PhD, University of Nottingham) is associate professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and is the author of several books, including Theology after Neo-Pragmatism. He previously taught at Emmanuel University and at the University of Bucharest in his home country of Romania.

For more information on Atonement, Law, and Justice, click here.