BA Books & Authors on the Web – August 29, 2014

Cover ArtThe Christian Century recently featured Meeting God at the Movies, an excerpt from Robert Johnston’s forthcoming God’s Wider Presence.

“Few in the church have been encouraged to think theologically about encounters with God that take place outside the church and its scripture. The result is a disconnect between how the church speaks formally of God’s self-revelation and how those who are not Christians speak of that same reality.”

Nijay Gupta shared a brief review of Chris Keith’s Jesus against the Scribal Elite, as did Joshua Paul Smith.

Books at a Glance interviewed Douglas Moo about his recent BECNT volume on Galatians.

At the Helwys Society Forum M. Grady Calhoun reviewed Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie.

Between the Times reflected on The Mystery of God, by Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall

Tim Henderson, at the Earliest Christianity blog, recommended James Thompson’s The Church According to Paul.

At First Things, Karen Swallow Prior wrote about marriage and drew from James K.A. Smith’s work in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom.

As part of his ongoing “Aha Moments” series, Peter Enns, author of Inspiration and Incarnation, interviewed Jeannine Brown, author of Scripture as Communication and Becoming Whole and Holy.

BA Books & Authors on the Web – December 13, 2013

Congratulations to Myron Penner (The End of Apologetics), Scott Sunquist (Understanding Christian Mission), and Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall (The Mystery of God) on being winners in the 2014 Christianity Today Book Awards!

At Englewood Review of Books, Andy Hassler reviewed The Rebirth of the Church, by Eddie Gibbs.

David Johnson reviewed Graham Twelftree’s Paul and the Miraculous, for Renewal Dynamics.

At Freedom in Orthodoxy, Johnny Walker interviewed Chris Keith about his forthcoming work, Jesus Against the Scribal Elite.

Matthew Montonini, at New Testament Perspectives, is looking forward to Rodney Decker’s Reading Koine Greek.

Noah Berlatsky reflected on War and the American Difference, by Stanley Hauerwas.

At The Gospel Coalition, Matt Smethurst lists Thomas Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty as a one of the best books of 2013.

Tim Challies recommended the Song of Songs volume by Richard Hess in the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms.

And Matthew Dowling at Desposyni included With the Grain of the Universe, by Stanley Hauerwas; Christian Theology 3rd edition, by Millard Erickson; and Justification and the Gospel, by R. Michael Allen, in his “Theologian’s Guide to Christmas Gifting”.


eBook Special

Through Thursday, December 19, the eBook of Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross by Mark Baker is available for $3.99 (82% off) at participating retailers, including:

Barnes & Noble

“Why Mystery is Valuable” by Steven Boyer

Why Mystery is Valuable
by Steven D. Boyer

It happened again. I overheard a man saying how great “mystery” is because it keeps us from arrogantly thinking that we have all the answers. He’s right, of course—but I wonder. I can’t help thinking that the real problem here is not exactly the having of answers: it is the kind of answers that are had, the kind of stale, simplistic, cut-and-dried, one-size-fits-all answers that bely the richness and freshness and complexity of human experience. It certainly is not that that we’re looking for, but we are looking for something.

For what? For an approach to things that simplifies but doesn’t oversimplify. For an approach that doesn’t offer pat answers for every question but does have answers of some kind, answers that open up our experience instead of shutting it down, answers that explain rather than explain away, answers that awaken our wonder and empower us to move forward with deeper insight and greater confidence.

If “mystery” is to help us here, it won’t do so by being sheerly negative, a mere statement about how much we don’t know. It will need also to have some positive, constructive, energizing features, so that it can carry us more deeply into reality, not just confess ignorance about reality.

Note that this is “mystery” in a stronger sense, with a little more bite to it. It has to do with what we as human persons are, what the world is, what reality as a whole is. Its final word is not about us in our ignorance but about the world in its fullness—a fullness that turns out to be too much to take in. Mystery in this sense is not negative, not a lack: it is positive, an excess—an excess to be explored, wondered at, tasted, and proclaimed with boldness and power.

Wait a minute—“proclaimed?” Using words? Some people will be troubled by this last step. They will think that any attempt to articulate the mystery, to put it into particular words (especially bold or authoritative words) is bound to fail. Worse than that, the very attempt must inevitably involve a betrayal of the mystery itself. They will think that this is the very place that organized religion, with its doctrines and rituals and trials and heresies, goes wrong.

Those who think this way typically find Chris’s and my new book to be inexplicable and even maddening. To take but one example: an unhappy reviewer on expresses disappointment with the “bold and unsupported statements” that are found in our book; the reviewer complains that “the discussions were almost circular,” sometimes “pompous and narrow-minded.” I do not know this reviewer, but I suspect that the gripe in the review boils down to the fact that mystery as we describe it is not . . . well . . . mysterious enough. Chris and I end up talking as if we really know something about God, as if we have an inside track, as if we had access to some special guidance through the pathless, trackless abyss of glorious divine transcendence.

Well, yes, we do talk that way. We do so because we are Christians, and because we therefore believe that God really has made himself known. This claim may scandalize some people, but it definitely is the historic Christian claim—and a claim that (paradoxically) does not betray the mystery but rather establishes the mystery more fully than ever.

For according to biblical Christianity, the mystery of God is not an absence, but a presence—and more than that, a Presence with a capital P, a Life, a Personality who has made himself known. This incomprehensible Reality has spoken, has acted, so as to draw us forward on a path that would otherwise be impenetrable. How could we even perceive, much less walk, such a path if left to our own devices? Clearly, we couldn’t. But what if we have not been left on our own?

This is really the key (or at least a key) to understanding what our book is about. It is an attempt to take seriously the Christian notion of a revealed mystery, where the revelation does not eliminate the mystery, and the mystery does not obviate the revelation.

Readers who miss this point may well be dissatisfied. The reviewer complains that Chris and I cannot separate “scholarly work” from “the God of their own making.” I don’t think this criticism hits the mark in our case, but it is a very legitimate concern. The one thing none of us must do is to rely on a God of our making. Heaven forbid. This would be to court disaster.

But what if there is a real God out there, not a God of our making, but the God who makes us, the unfathomable Lord of Glory who stands behind our whole world (and every other world besides)? What if that incomprehensible God, without ever asking our permission, has stepped into the world and addressed us? What if that God demands a response?

We might find that “mystery” is not really the relaxed, fuzzy, anything-goes reality we had supposed. There is such a thing as getting more than we bargained for.

Steven D. Boyer (PhD, Boston University) is professor of theology at Eastern University in Saint Davids, Pennsylvania, where he teaches classes on Christian theology, world religions, and the thought of C. S. Lewis.  He has published articles in Religious StudiesPro Ecclesia, and other academic journals. He lives in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, with his wife and four children.

For more information on The Mystery of God, click here.


Baker Academic Library: The Doctrine of the Trinity

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, abridged, p. 230:

For the Christian church. the doctrine of the Trinity was the dogma and hence the mystery par excellence. The essence of Christianity–the absolute self-revleation of God in the person of Christ and the absolute self-communication of God in the Holy Spirit–could only be maintained, the church believed, if it was grounded int he ontological Trinity. To defend Scripture’s teaching, the church found it necessary to use language that went beyond Scripture, a practice condemned by Arians and their post-Reformation and modern counterparts but always defended by Christian theology. Christian theological reflection on Scripture has every right to move freely beyond the exact language of Scripture to draw warranted inferences from it. These two are authoritative. In fact, theological reflection on Scripture is not even possible without the freedom to use extrabiblical terminology. Their use is not designed to introduce new–extrabiblical or antibiblical–dogmas but, on the contrary, to defend the truth of Scripture against all heresy. They exercise a primarily negative function, marking the boundary lines within which Christian thought must proceed in order to preserve the truth of revelation.

Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall, The Mystery of God, p. 121:

God is not just tri-personal; he is expansively, creatively tri-personal. The triunity of God is something taht unfolds and opens out, not something that curves in and closes down on itself. God’s intrinsic relational completeness, the unimaginable eternal intimacy between the Father and the Son in the Spirit, does not exclude other relations; it is instead the ground of other relations. The unquenchable divine joy that makes creation unnecessary also makes creation possible in the first place, for the love of Father, Son, and Spirit is in no way threatened or imperiled by flowing out beyond itself into a created world. […] God is love, and creation itself is a wholly free outpouring of that love, in generous, gratuitous, open-handed bounty, a bounty that is infinitely hospitable not because it needs us but simply because it is itself.

Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pp. 366-67:

Although we cannot fully see how these two contrasting conceptions [oneness of God; threeness of God] relate to each other, theologians are not the only ones who must retain two polarities as they function. In order to account for the phenomena of light, physicists have to hold both that it is waves and taht it is quanta, little bundles of energy as it were, yet logically it cannot be both. As one physicist put it: “On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we think of light as waves; on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, we think of it as particles of energy.” Presumably, on Sundays physicists do not concern themselves with the nature of light. One cannot explain a mystery, but can only acknowledge its presence.

Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, pp. 6-7:

The use of analogies has been pervasive in the history of Christian reflection on the divine Trinity. But, going beyond skirmishes over which analogy is most adequate, one has to question the whole approach in which analogies become the primary location of trinitarian meaning. When the meaning of trinitarian doctrine is located principally in some particular creaturely analogue, it becomes separable from other aspects of the Christian mystery. Instead of trinitarian meaning being embedded in the whole nexus of Christian faith, it tends to be reduced to the features of the analogue itself. One can after all espouse “relationality” or wonder at the mind’s differentiated unity in the acts of knowing and willing without actually confessing and worshiping the Triune god as Father, Son, and Spirit. In that case, one could capture the meaning of trinitarian doctrine without ever subscribing to Christian faith. At the very least, the doctrine of the Trinity is then in danger of becoming simply another item in the list of Christian beliefs. Thus a Christian would be someone who believes that God created the world from nothing, that Jesus arose from the dead, and that God is in some way like a shamrock leaf (or human consciousness, or human relationships). Surely Rahner is right: the meaning of trinitarian doctrine must have a more intrinsic connection to the structure and texture of the whole of Christian life and faith.