And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Dustin T, Brian R, and Spencer C, who each won a copy of The Gospel according to Heretics, by David Wilhite.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

Beyond the Book – The Gospel and Heresy

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Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month David Wilhite discusses the development of orthodox Christology in light of early heretical movements.

Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book The Gospel according to Heretics. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter below.

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The “Gospel according to…” theme stems back to the earliest collections of Gospel texts. The fact that there were four canonical Gospels, and the fact that readers had to understand that any one “Gospel” had to be clarified as “according to” someone in particular, bothered some ancient Christians.

Around 170 a Christian writer named Tatian called into to question the validity of having multiple Gospels – after all, could not God have given one authorized version? – and in order to solve the problem Tatian created a sort of “Super-Gospel” (called the Diatesseron) which harmonized all four. To be sure, Tatian was not the first or only Christian to see the Gospels as texts that could be reworked, but for now let us acknowledge that, unlike Tatian, most early Christians saw no problem with the “according to” aspect of “the Gospel.” For the majority of Christian tradition, any retelling or recording of “The Gospel” will always be a version “according to” someone. Jesus apparently set up what we call evangelism (notice the borrowed Greek word for “Gospel,” euangelion; i.e. “Gospelization”) so that the Good News would be dispersed in this “according to” strategy (see Acts 1:8). The Gospel would always be according to various witnesses.

Cover ArtThe four canonical Gospels were not the only ones, and beyond Gospel texts there were numerous expressions of the Good News of Jesus Christ, such as oral proclamation, letters, and apocalyptic literature.

But what about the so-called heretics, who may or may not have written a Gospel text, but who nevertheless always had their own particular understanding of the Gospel? My book is an attempt to hear what the heretics preached about Jesus.

 What if the “orthodox” version of the story has misled us? What if people like Arius were misrepresented and maligned? What if the Gnostics were not wolf-like philosophers in sheep’s clothing, but well intended disciples who utilized a different conceptual and imaginative approach to their theology? I could go on and on with such What-ifs.

These questions are not simply intellectual gymnastics, much less are they conspiracy theories in the making. The best historical studies of the last century have found evidence to suggest that our understanding of the “heretics” is so one sided as to need revising. This book is an attempt to take this scholarly reassessment seriously. Such reassessment has been done extensively for each individual heresy, but a study of the various unorthodox alternatives that shaped traditional Christian thinking offers those who wish to understand their own orthodoxy a more complete picture.

If our orthodoxy was forged in the fires of heretical debate, then we had better understand what these heresies taught. On the other hand, some heresies offered untenable versions of the Gospels. Exactly what was their heresy and why was it untenable is something that I try to unpack fully in the body of this study.

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David E. Wilhite (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is the author of Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities and coauthor of The Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. He is the coeditor of Tertullian and Paul and The Apostolic Fathers and Paul in the Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate series.

Beyond the Book – “Three Idiots at the Taj Mahal”

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Charles Farhadian discusses the importance of studying world religions, and reflects on what we can gain by learning to see life from another perspective.

Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book Introducing World Religions. The winners will be announced at the end of the month.

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Breaking all opening box office records at the time of its release in India, the film Three Idiots was a spectacular Bollywood hit worldwide. Three Idiots presents the struggles and antics of three close male classmates as they survive the challenges and humiliations of studying at a prestigious and ruthlessly cutthroat engineering institute in India, mirroring the pressures of student life at the world famous Indian Institutes of Technology.

Cover ArtOne of the “idiots,” first-year student Rancho, captures the attention of the entire student body of engineers when he outsmarts upper-class students and, eventually, even the headmaster. Rancho’s endearing qualities of self-sacrifice, wisdom, and love for the two other “idiots,” amaze his peers, who have no category for someone with such great brilliance, inspiration, sagacity, and love. It is clear. Rancho is a redemptive character. He’s a savior. His role is to restore and guide the other two “idiots.”

Students in my Theology in Film course chose Three Idiots as their favorite film of the many international films we watched over a semester. Students laughed and cried as they watched the three-hour film that featured Bollywood dancing, upbeat songs, and tales of love and loss and a kind of redemption they thought they recognized. Students remarked that Rancho was a Christ-like character, since he saved others and was referred to by the other “idiots” as “His Holiness Guru Rancho.” Everyone seemed to agree – Rancho was like Christ.

Fair enough. But what struck me was that students were bringing their own perceptual grid, intellectual and narrative framework, to their analysis of the film. I teach at a Christian college, and the majority of my students are Christian, so the “Christ-like” interpretation was not surprising. Most of my students have inherited Christian categories. However, when I pointed out that perhaps Rancho was not a Christ-like character, but rather probably a Krishna-like character, I had to unpack that statement for those without knowledge of Hindu tradition. Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, comes to earth to save when truth and wisdom have been lost. Whether or not the Rancho character was intentionally created as a Krishna-like persona, the class discussion reminded me of the importance of trying to see the world through others’ perspectives. At the least, learning about other perspectives adds richness to our lives and opens up the world in new ways.

A few years ago I led students on an educational trip to India, where we visited the famous Taj Mahal. While standing on the footsteps of the Taj Mahal with my students, two muscular Indian guys approached our group. They seemed friendly enough but I wanted to make sure so I struck up a conversation with them. I invited them to be in a photo with some of our group, and they complied without hesitation. Before I captured the photo I thought I’d go out on a limb. I yelled, “Hey, you look like idiots,” thinking I would either be pummeled or we’d all have a good laugh. Thankfully, we all laughed. They got it. We got it. And I took the photo at the height of our laughter.

Learning about other cultures and religions opens us up to the world and each other; it allows us to share in other’s joys and sorrows. That day, on the steps of the Taj Mahal, we enjoyed brief friendship and mutual connectedness. That connection began with viewing a film and learning something about Hindu tradition. We have everything to gain by learning to see life from another perspective. We might be surprised how enjoyable that encounter can be.

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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.

And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Brian L, Aaron R, and Christopher J, who each won a copy of Fieldwork in Theology, by Christian Scharen.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

 

Beyond the Book – “Waking”

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Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Christian Scharen reflects on issues of race and justice, and argues that theology does (and must!) have something to say about the pressing concerns of contemporary society.

Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book Fieldwork in Theology. The winners will be announced at the end of the month.

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Seriously? I knew Minnesota struggles with racial equality in the schools, but I couldn’t believe it.

BtB 1I was sitting in New Creation Church in North Minneapolis with my 17 year-old son, Isaiah. We were attending an evening meeting organized by faith leaders to address racial disparity in school expulsions, the first step in what some call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The Minneapolis schools have roughly equal numbers of Black and white students, but 11 Black children are expelled from school for every 1 white kid. Last year, 3801 African American children were suspended or expelled, compared to only 328 whites. The situation has gotten bad enough that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has cited the school district for the troubling rates students of color experience the most damaging forms of discipline. In dialog with a panel of “school resource officers,” basically Minneapolis police assigned to patrol schools, the community struggled with potential restorative justice options instead of retributive justice now used as standard practice.

Cover ArtI wrote Fieldwork in Theology out of a conviction that Christian leaders today need research tools to see and get involved with God’s work of mercy and justice in the world. Christianity is in a new era of mission. As the dominant churches emerging from European history, like my own Lutheran tradition, are staggering out from under a millennia and a half of Christendom in the West, the rising churches of the global south are vital and increasingly setting the terms of the conversation about mission. Together, old and new traditions in the United States and Europe face cultures in deep need and yet who are increasingly skeptical about how Christian churches matter to them. At the heart of my book, I describe both Pierre Bourdieu’s social science and Rowan William’s theology as resources for gaining a truthful social, moral and theological understanding of real suffering, and through understanding, clarity about potential modes of response. Williams argues such understanding aids us in looking square in the face the “suffering of victims of racism and my own de facto involvement in and responsibility for this” (85).

The hashtag attendees were using at the meeting in North Minneapolis was #StayWoke. It challenged all of us in attendance, Black and white, not to accept the status quo. I heard in it the challenge of Jesus’ admonition to “stay awake” for “you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” (Mark 13:35). I hope Fieldwork in Theology will help the church “wake up” to the realities of the world, and how God is at work there.

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Christian Scharen

Christian Scharen (PhD, Emory University) is vice president of applied research at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He previously taught at Luther Seminary. He has authored a number of books, including One Step Closer and Faith as a Way of Life, and is the book review editor of Ecclesial Practices. An ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Scharen has served congregations in California, Georgia, and Connecticut.

And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Dave Strobolakos, Andrew Selby, and Ian Burgess, who each won a copy of The Story of Monasticism, by Greg Peters.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

 

Beyond the Book – Introducing The Story of Monasticism

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Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Greg Peters will be discussing the history of Christian monasticism, and its continuing importance for the contemporary church.

Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his forthcoming book The Story of Monasticism (to be shipped on its release date). The winners will be announced at the end of the month.

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Why wouldn’t everyone want to be a monk or nun? These days you will get your own room, never have to overthink the daily “What will I wear?” debate, be allotted plenty of time with God and, if you choose wisely, be engaged during your lifetime in a host of satisfying jobs and ministry assignments. All in all, the monastic life has a good number of the elements that many of us look for in life and work. Sure, there’s the whole obedience to a superior thing, and the celibacy thing, and the poverty thing but let’s face it – those are often over-rated to today’s culture anyway. Most of us crave stability and perhaps even predictability.

Cover ArtIt turns out, however, that the monastic life does not often offer either of these. Contrary to much popular and historical thinking, the institution of Christian monasticism is not a monolithic entity – it never has been and, I’m guessing, it never will be. That does not mean, though, that it was an inchoate institution teaching falsehoods and superstitions, as it was (and sometimes still is) often depicted in Reformation-era caricatures. In fact, the history of monasticism is quite the opposite of how it is often portrayed or imagined.

The Story of Monasticism is not only an attempt to present an accurate historical depiction of Christian monasticism but it also strives to show its ongoing relevance for all believers. Contrary to many Protestants, monasticism was not and is not a fringe movement in Christian history. It may have started on the fringes geographically (the deserts of Egypt and Palestine, for example) but it was, from the start, an important element in the life of the church. Though it may have, on occasion, needed reform and, at times, to be reminded that it was not superior to the “normal Christian life,” it was most often a thriving discipline, populated by devout men and women.

There is much to learn from the story of Christian monasticism, and believers today will do well to learn that history, making it their own and adapting it to their own present circumstances. Monks and nuns remind us that we should have a single-minded devotion to God, and they also remind us of the need for the church to be counter-cultural (aspects of monasticism that I will discuss in subsequent blogs in the three weeks ahead). These lessons are biblical, not just monastic, but they are brought home with unique clarity in the history of Christian monasticism.

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Greg PetersGreg Peters (PhD, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto), a Benedictine oblate, spiritual director, and ordained pastor in the Anglican tradition, is associate professor of medieval and spiritual theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He is also visiting professor of monastic studies at St. John’s School of Theology in Minnesota and adjunct assistant professor of church history and ascetical theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin. Peters is the author of Peter of Damascus: Byzantine Monk and Spiritual Theologian and Reforming the Monastery: Protestant Theologies of Religious Life.

And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Chris Baca, Ryan Reed, and Jason Gardner, who each won a copy of Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology, by Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler, and A. J. Swoboda.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

A Beyond the Book Giveaway – Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology

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Beginning on Monday the 8th, this month’s Beyond the Book series will feature A. J. Swoboda discussing the themes of his recent book with Daniel Brunner and Jennifer Butler, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology.

Today, we are kicking off our giveaway – three copies of Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology. The winners will be announced at the end of the month.

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*US Residents Only*

And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Lawrence Aucker, Craig Hurst, and Clark Yazza, who each won a copy of Matthew Schlimm’s This Strange and Sacred Scripture.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

Remember, a new giveaway starts next week!