The Vital Church: Teaching, Worship, Community, Service, by CLARK M. WILLIAMSON and RONALD J. ALLEN. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1998. 145 pp. $16.99
Creating Something of Beauty: A Theology for Ministry, by GORDON E. JACKSON. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1998. 124 pp. $17.99
The Vital Church and Creating Something of Beauty are two recent pastoral theologies by Chalice Press in the areas of post-liberal and process theology, respectively. The Vital Church represents an ecclesiology designed to revitalize hurting churches whereas Creating Something of Beauty informs the individual ministers about their role in achieving God’s plan for other Christians.
Unlike many recent books based on behavioral sciences, consumerism, and self-help pabulum, Williamson and Allen root the hope of church renewal in theology. The church must know its identity so that faithful witness in words and deeds will be connected to the gospel. Specifically, the authors state, “The church is the community of human beings called into existence by God, through the Holy Spirit, to live from and by the gospel of God” through Jesus Christ (25–26).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news and demands love and justice for all. As the church stands in a “relationship of mutual critical correlation between its witness and its situation” (28), it will proclaim its theological vision while taking into account its present cultural situation. It will develop strategies that will create internal health so that witness will be effective and people mobilized into actual acts of ministry. Throughout, the church will continue the process of growth and change.
As Allen has proposed before in Interpreting the Gospel, the church will be faithful to its proclamation when the message is judged by its appropriateness to the gospel of love and justice. Furthermore, the witness must be intelligible and make sense to a pluralistic and relativistic society. Subsequently, truth is filtered through the ideas of moral plausibility and appropriateness, which at times will delimit the Scriptures.
Although Christians like the romantic idea of belonging to the ideal church, Williamson and Allen provide a reality check with an examination of 1 Corinthians and the Gospel of Mark. The church in exodus or in exile is the dominant metaphor for the church as it functions as light to the world. The church is like a boat in a storm at sea. Mainline churches will continue to decline if they continue to accommodate to the prevailing culture. But a church that reorients and renews its theological and spiritual reasons for existing can and will flourish.
In the following chapters, four key areas for church health are examined in depth as a response to the question “What is the nature and purpose of the church?” The four critical factors to the life of the church are kerygma (preaching and worship), didache (teaching and learning), koinonia (companionship and community), and diakonia (service that meets needs). These factors tend to rise and fall in harmony, depending upon the vitality of a particular congregation.
Williamson and Allen provide a concise and accessible ecclesiology. Although some sections may seem simplistic, such as five steps to becoming a teaching community, the rich insights are clear and informed. Their ability to communicate large amounts of history and doctrine in a usable format is evident in sections that summarize the four traditions of worship. Theological depth also combines with practical application exemplified in sections on seeker services and small groups. Primarily, these four critical factors enable the congregation to revitalize its life in Christ.
The section on service is acutely weaker than the other three. By using this chapter to conclude the book, the authors spend more time demonstrating the interconnectedness of the other categories than exploring service to the same depth as teaching, worship, and community. The chapter includes case studies of healthy churches struggling to sail their boat in the storm. These case studies could easily function as an appropriate and independent concluding chapter.
Creating Something of Beauty is an excellent introduction to process theology, especially for the non-specialist. Jackson has gone beyond summarizing A. Whitehead’s proposals by attempting to make a specific application to individual ministers and their work. They weave other philosophical areas into the discussion with ease. For example, they concisely and clearly summarize M. Heidegger’s conceptions of the creative function of language.
Jackson’s stated vision of ministry is “an aesthetic vision: to work with the creating and recreating God to create something of beauty in each moment of living, both in each individual life and in corporate living” (xiii). He calls the minister to participate with God in order to reach spirituality, harmony, and peace in the lives of self and others. His chapters on importance, intentionality, imagination, and language are integral concepts in the minister’s role in becoming what God artfully is working in us.
The past is real. We enter into the present moment with the past as reality. The future is filled with possibilities of what could be. God’s middle knowledge is aware of the potentialities of these futures. We participate with God in faith and obedience to actualize the future. It is his love that brings about God’s creative and redemptive work in our lives. When we depart from God’s intent for our lives, we live in disobedience. As we live life, we are in the process of becoming. God is participating in the now in that process. Therefore, we do not live in a deterministic world but an open determining world.
The ultimate goal is described as beauty. Spirituality comes from God’s desire graciously to impart peace into our lives. Spirituality is the potential possibility that God creates as he redeems our past in the present moment. We participate with God in our decisions based on what we value as important. What we deem important is based on how we intend our lives and make our commitments. Through our imagination and use of language, we can enter the process of becoming in the present as a person of beauty. Therefore, “Spirituality is the intentionality of each of us to focus on what God wants, to will that, to be ‘oned with God,’ and all the rest of our intentions can then be brought into that focus” (103). As ministers, we work in the present moments of other people’s lives in order to bring them into the peace of God as well.
Jackson also demonstrates his awareness of the behavioral sciences, sociology, developmental psychology, and brain physiology. Here is where the book loses its credibility. By using E. Erickson’s understanding of developmental stages in human development to dominate his understanding of maturing spiritually, Jackson has undermined his own theological proposal. His anthropology relies more heavily upon Maslow, Jung, Sagan, MacLean, James, and others. His occasional references to Scripture, Augustine, Neibuhr, Tillich, and the like appears to be proof-twisting. Regrettably, these turns have polluted many fine theological perspectives on peace, redemption, commitment, imagination, and language.
I find process theology an intriguing alternative to the classic Armenian and Calvinistic debate on the nature of God’s actions in the world. Subsequently, much of Whitehead’s theory and Jackson’s application of it here contradicts historical Christianity’s articulation of the nature of God. However, his views on the middle knowledge of God prevents him from embracing a complete open view of how God works in the world. The book is artfully written, challenging, and insightful but must be read with critical eyes. Those seeking an ecclesiology or a book of practical suggestions for ministry will be disappointed, but those wanting to be stretched concerning how God works in the world and to what end will find Jackson has offered process theology as an alternative.
Abilene Christian University TIM SENSING
The Remaking of Evangelical Theology, by GARY DORRIEN. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. 262 pp. $24.00.
Styling himself “an Anglican social gospeler and dialectical theologian,” Dorrien sets out to chronicle the rise and the diversification of the movement known as evangelicalism. In doing so he provides the modern student of religious history with a clear explanation of what is most often a very confusing picture. But this is not mere history; Dorrien argues that, despite its claims to being the one true form of Christianity, evangelicalism has never been monolithic and that, even though the apocalyptic and antimodern fundamentalist strand has been dominant, the most creative and promising developments in contemporary evangelicalism come from the pietistic traditions. He wants to argue that “the creative ferment presently taking place in evangelicalism is a sign of health and vitality in a postmodern situation.”
Dorrien correctly begins with the knotty problem of defining evangelicalism, with its several strands. He then moves to develop the history of the movement, from B. B. Warfield, through J. Gresham Machen, the founding of Fuller Theological Seminary, Edward John Carnell, Carl F. H. Henry, and Bernard Ramm to the most recent generation, including Clark Pinnock, Donald Bloesch, and Stanley Grenz.
The “remaking” began with a concern to present evangelicalism as worthy of respect, the glory of being alienated and ignored by the culture having lost its charm. Though at one time the object of evangelicalism’s scorn, the theology of Karl Barth was later embraced, since it offered an alternative to the movement’s early rationalistic and foundationalistic epistemology. Premillennialism and dispensationalism were perceived as militating against social reform, and the holiness groups’ emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit offered an alternative to rationalistic apologetics, with its insistence on biblical inerrancy.
Dorrien sees a new postconservative or progressive form of evangelicalism emerging. It is deconstructionistic in that it sees the Word as a channel, a mirror, or a prism, which creates its own reality in each culture, even, as some urge, the cultural context interacts with the Word in interpretation. It is nonrationalistic and antifoundational. Systematic theology gives way to narrativism. In interpretation the text is subordinate to the work of the Holy Spirit. The result is, in the words of Hans Frei, the emergence of “a generous orthodoxy,” as opposed to the polemic and confrontational one often associated with evangelicalism.
Finally, Dorrien is aware of the problems and dangers of this most recent trend. He contends, however, that it serves as a heuristic device for further development in the movement.
University of Nevada, Reno GARY T. CAGE
Old Testament Theology, by PAUL R. HOUSE. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998. 655 pp. $35.00.
Paul R. House has written an OT theology in which he delineates the theology of the individual books in the order of the Hebrew Bible with its threefold division: torah, prophets, and writings. This is an atypical approach in the two-hundred-year history of the discipline, except for a similar effort by William J. Dumbrell (1988). This approach has merit because the theology of the OT is located in the documents themselves, not in any one place systematically. However, without some sense of a thread or threads throughout the whole of the OT, the effect of House’s work is diffused. The book opens with a fifty-page survey of the history of OT theology up to 1993, then ends with a ten-page appendix that continues the discussion through 1997. The citations are in endnotes, which I find cumbersome, along with subject, author, and Scripture indexes.
House sets forth as his assumptions that (1) OT theology is limited to the canon of the OT, (2) the text itself claims to be the word of God, (3) the doctrine of God is monotheistic, (4) God is the center of theological reflection, and (5) the OT must be read for its discrete witness so that its treatment in the NT may be properly accessed. After discussing each larger OT block, House sets forth a section that he labels “Canonical Synthesis” as an effort to build bridges to the NT and beyond.
House’s larger goal is worthy, and I share his presuppositions. The task, however, is formidable. House obviously has examined a number of OT theologies, appropriate commentaries and other studies from various positions on the theological spectrum. Much can be learned from this volume about specific theological items in all the books of the OT. Despite my admiration for some of the accomplishments of this book, however, it is still essentially a work in progress.
To observe that at the heart of the OT is a monotheistic God is not enough. Additional guidelines are imperative. I would argue that the OT provides these in the great credos found in Psalms 105, 106, 136, and Nehemiah 9. These affirmations offer a catalog of the mighty acts of God and provide a continuity for moving from one OT document to another.
Furthermore, the theological aspects need to be highlighted. House first gives a running account of the materials in an OT book, taking a cue from the canonical criticism of Brevard Childs. These accounts are helpful, but the theological nuances tend to get lost in the details. Theological reflection should always focus upon centers and priorities. House divides Genesis into seven parts: God who creates, 1–2; God who judges and protects, 3–6:4; God who punishes and renews, 6:5–11:9; God who calls and promises, 11:10–25:18; God who provides covenantal continuity, 25:19–28:9; God who elects and protects, 28:10–36:43; and God who preserves the covenant community, 37–50. House does not raise the question, however, of whether a theological thread may hold all of these parts together. A major theological theme in Genesis is that what God created was good, but disobedience soon disrupted creation’s beneficial nature, resulting in God’s attempt to retrieve goodness through Abraham and his seed, by whom the nations of the earth will be blessed. The two major parts of Genesis are creation, 1–11, and the promise to the fathers, 12–50. These are held together by God’s intention that his created order exhibit his beneficial gifts. But House does not offer any view about a central theological motif in Genesis. House rightly declares that the reason the various aspects of God’s creation are good is that they are “appropriate for their function” (63), but this crucial point is lost in the sea of details.
House needs to give more attention to the major affirmations in the texts about why God is doing what he is doing. For example, in Exodus 1–18 the seams in the text declare that God is leading his people out of Egypt to make of them a powerful believing nation as he promised the fathers. He revealed his special name, Yahweh, at this time to provide a rallying point for his actions and expectations. Furthermore, the mighty actions of Yahweh were not just for Israel but for the nations. Through these actions, God sought to make his name known among the nations so he could bring a blessing to them (Exod 9:16). House notes this purpose (106), but its significance as a major thread of Exodus 1–18 is, in effect, lost.
House’s numerous sections of “canonical synthesis” provide clues about where in both the OT and NT identical theological points are located. These are helpful, though essentially concordance-like citations. In fact, I find it paradoxical that House argues that a book by book approach is desirable so that theology can be located in the details of a context, yet when he turns to additional instances in the canon, explication of the contexts are almost non-existent.
House’s account of the history of OT theology is dependent upon the interpretation of others rather than his own investigations until he comes to the latter half of the twentieth century. The critiques of these various OT theologies are essentially ad hoc. House should have focused on selected themes in his historical assessment in order to elucidate and establish the merits of his own approach.
South Berwick, Maine THOMAS H. OLBRICHT
Pauline Theology: Looking Back, Pressing On, vol. 4, edited by E. ELIZABETH JOHNSON and DAVID M. HAY. Atlanta: Scholars Press 1997. 222 pp. $24.95.
This is the final volume in the series of essays from the SBL’s Pauline Theology Group, which met annually for a decade to consider whether and how one can understand—or even speak of—Pauline theology. The book manifests the diversity and disagreement that the group found all along—to no one’s surprise. But if the final volume cannot report out consensus regarding Pauline theology (and it certainly does not), it does a real service by clarifying the decisive issues in approaching Paul as this century closes.
The volume has three major sections and a short epilogue. The first two essays (by P. Achtemeier and L. Keck) reflect on the group’s discussion of Romans, the book it considered last in a seriatim analysis of the undisputed letters. Essays three through five (R. Hays, J. D. G. Dunn, Achtemeier) reconsider what has been one of the hottest topics for debate in the last two decades—the “faith of Christ” (pistis cristou). Essays six and seven (Dunn and S. Kraftchick) review the ten years of the group’s work as a whole. D. M. Hay’s epilogue briefly sketches the issues for study for the six disputed Pauline letters (a project now underway in the SBL annual gathering).
The discussion between Achtemeier and Keck about the purpose(s) of Romans focuses upon two concerns. First, was the situation in Rome decisive for how Paul frames his argument about the gospel? Achtemeier says, “No,” but Keck believes the situation was somewhat decisive. Secondly, what is the coherent theme of the letter? For this question, Achtemeier and Keck are in basic agreement. It is the “gospel,” which Achtemeier defines as the “economy of God’s salvation,” that is shown to include Gentiles. Keck accepts this view, but wishes to put more emphasis upon Christ than Achtemeier does.
The three essays on pistis christou are valuable for exposing the spectrum of debate about a phrase currently widely discussed. These essays also indicate what theological importance is involved in the argument. Hays, whose 1983 book evoked the current debate, argues that the phrase refers to the faithfulness of Jesus (to God)—his own fidelity brought God’s covenant promise to fulfillment. Hays defends this view with a focus upon Romans and explains what difference it makes in soteriology and the humanity of Jesus, and presents “narrative v. experiential theology, the cruciform character of Christian obedience and the righteousness of God” (55 f.).
Dunn, in reply, takes Hays to task and argues for the objective genitive interpretation of the phrase, “to have faith in Christ,” by examining each of the seven occurrences of the phrase. Dunn insists that the objective genitive best expresses Paul’s thoughts and his soteriology.
Achtemeier replies to both Hays and Dunn in a very helpful way to clarify the points at issue, the basis of their disagreement, and concludes with some questions that help focus the debate. Dunn characterizes the search for Paul’s theology as a “frustrating experience,” in part because of varied understandings of what we mean by Paul’s theology and in part due to the interactive nature of Paul’s letters, which is our only access to his theology. For this reason, Dunn argues that the group would have done better to have begun with Romans, a “relatively” fixed point, where, he thinks, the situation is less decisive for determining Paul’s message.
Steven Kraftchick’s reply to Dunn moves to a deeper question than an exegetical study of Romans because he questions many assumptions that Dunn brings to the task. He doubts the existence, and/or the importance, of a consensus among scholars on Paul. He denies that one must be interested in theology to understand Paul, and he rejects the “relatively neutral” character of Romans that Dunn holds.
Paul Meyer summarizes the group’s search for a definition of “Pauline theology” and the location of its center. He insists that Paul’s theology developed “on the way” as he faced differing situations. This relocates Paul’s theology to the end of his letter writing, rather than seeing it as behind, below, above, or any other spatial metaphor, what Paul writes. His theology is “outcome” not “presupposition.” In reply, Victor Furnish insists that Paul does have an understanding that he brings to differing situations—the truth of the gospel. That truth is that God is “for us” and specifically that God is seeking to form his people along a certain way of living. He believes that Meyer minimizes the importance of the gospel for Paul and the function of the gospel in Christian formation.
After the brief epilogue, which raises questions for how the search for Pauline theology should be related to the disputed letters, there is a very useful bibliography of modern discussions of Paul’s theology.
It is always hard to evaluate collections of essays, and this one is no exception. What should be said, in conclusion, is that this is a collection of important and useful discussions that help the serious student of Paul explore the cutting edge of the study of his theology and letters.
Abilene Christian University WENDELL WILLIS
God in the Fray: A Tribute to Walter Brueggemann, edited by TOD LINAFELT and TIMOTHY K. BEAL. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998. 365 pp. $33.00.
Following a photograph of Professor Brueggemann, lists of contents and abbreviations, acknowledgments, and an introduction by the two editors, this well-deserved Festschrift contains twenty-two articles divided into five parts, then concludes with an index of Scriptures. Part 1: Engaging Brueggemann’s Theology contains three articles: “Rhetorical, Historical, and Ontological Counterpoints in Doing Old Testament Theology,” by Norman K. Gottwald; “Some Reflections on Brueggemann’s God,” by Terence E. Fretheim; and “Confronting the Character of God: Text and Praxis,” by David R. Blumenthal. Part 2: God in the Torah includes five essays: “Was Everthing That God Created Really Good? A Question in the First Verse of the Bible,” by James Barr; “Genocide’s Lament: Moses, Pharaoh’s Daughter, and the Former Yugoslavia,” by Nancy C. Lee; “The Sojourner Has Come to Play the Judge: Theodicy on Trial,” by James L. Crenshaw; “God’s Commandment,” by Dale Patrick; and “God Is Not a Human That He Should Repent (Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29),” by R. W. L. Moberly.
Part 3: God in the Prophets has six articles: “Colonialism and the Vagaries of Scripture: Te Kooti in Canaan (A Story of Bible and Dispossession in Aotearoa/New Zealand),” by David M. Gunn; “‘Who Is Blind But My Servant?’ (Isaiah 42:19): How Then Shall We Read Isaiah?” by Ronald E. Clements; “The Metaphor of the Rock in Biblical Theology,” by Samuel Terrien; “The Tears of God and Divine Character in Jeremiah 2–9,” by Kathleen M. O’Connor; “Alas for the Day! The ‘Day of the Lord’ in the Book of the Twelve,” by Rolf Rendtorff; and “Divine Incongruities in the Book of Jonah,” by Phyllis Trible.
Part 4: God in the Writings consists of six essays: “Prayer and Divine Action,” by Patrick D. Miller; “The Complaint against God,” by Claus Westermann (translated by Armin Siedlecki); “Quarter Days Gone: Job 24 and the Absence of God,” by David J. A. Clines; “‘What Are Human Beings, That You Make So Much of Them?’ Divine Disclosure from the Whirlwind: ‘Look at Behemoth,’ ” by Samuel E. Balentine; “The Impossibility of Mourning: Lamentations after the Holocaust,” by Tod Linafelt; and “C(ha)osmopolis: Qohelet’s Last Words,” by Timothy K. Beal. Part 5: Continuing the Dialogue has two articles: “Theology of the Old Testament: A Prompt Retrospect,” by Walter Brueggemann; and “Walter Brueggemann: A Selected Bibliography, 1861–98,” by Clayton H. Hulet.
The wide range of subjects in this volume reflects Brueggemann’s own breadth of interest and publications throughout his career. There is something for everyone in this well-done volume.
Abilene Christian University JOHN T. WILLIS
Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, by HECTOR AVALOS. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999. ix + 166 pp. $12.95.
One of the foremost experts on ancient Near Eastern medicine and the author of a major monograph on the subject (Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East [Harvard Semitic Monographs 54; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995]), Avalos extends his research here into early Christianity. Exhibiting the same command of primary sources and skill at deploying relevant theory that his earlier work showed, this short, luminous book allows one to understand Christian healing, in which itinerant, unpaid healers used simple techniques to effect cures, as a comprehensive health care system in competition with other systems in the Roman Empire. Unlike other healers, who often charged exorbitant fees (cf. Mark 5:22-26 and parallels; Galen, On Physicians, 89), Christians followed Jesus’ example of free service for all, an attractive practice in any period. According to Avalos, the ubiquity and cheapness of Christian healing in the first centuries CE attracted many, especially the poor, to the new faith.
The book’s nine chapters (the last a synthesis) in turn: orient the reader to the notion of a health care system, drawing on current medical anthropology; discuss Hebrew Bible backgrounds of NT practices; examine the varieties of Greco-Roman therapeutic practices, practitioners, and loci; and describe how various medical systems, especially the Christian one, sought to overcome barriers of economics, geographical accessibility, and timeliness. With great care and sensitivity to the evidence, Avalos illuminates many NT passages in detail, and situates the whole Christian experience of healing in its larger context. The wealth of evidence cited here, especially impressive since late antiquity is not the author’s period of specialization, provides a splendid example of the value of comparative and contrastive historical evidence in the interpretation of the Bible. Far from existing in a self-referential theological or narratival state, the NT stories of healing here appear as examples of what first-century readers might be expected to credit.
The question, however, is whether Avalos finally makes his case for healing as a major factor in the spread of early Christianity. True, the gospels, apocryphal and canonical, evince great concern with Jesus as a healer, but to what degree did early Christians see Jesus’ praxis as paradigmatic for their own? I am not sure that we know, and Avalos does not tell us. Moreover, his repeated claim that monotheism automatically excludes certain medical practices (hence positioning Christianity or Judaism, for example, as clear-cut alternatives to “pagan” medical systems) needs reexamination: note for comparative purposes the late medieval Christian adoption of Hippocratic medicine, astrology, and other ostensibly pagan learned systems. To what degree Christian healing was distinct remains an unresolved question, though the author has provided many of the resources for solving it. Still, Avalos does prove his claim that, “The healing stories in the NT were more than literary devices meant to promote Jesus’ power and the announcement of the kingdom of God. They evince awareness of the problems of health care that were voiced throughout the Greco-Roman world” (p. 117). His book, brief and suggestive as it is, should stimulate further research. It deserves a wide and appreciative audience.
Abilene Christian University MARK W. HAMILTON
The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy, by JOHN H. WALTON & VICTOR H. MATTHEWS. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997. 288 pp. $19.99.
This distinctive commentary focuses on historical, archaeological, and cultural background to the Pentateuch in the hope of opening a window on the culture and world-view of ancient Israel. Both Walton and Matthews are seasoned teachers and scholars in the areas of Israelite and ANE history and backgrounds. The authors hope that, armed with background information such as they provide, biblical theologians will avoid building theological understandings of the text on personal or contemporary cultural orientations and world-views. The authors are acutely aware that in a work produced for laymen, the lack of specific documentation results only in vague allusions to primary sources. For those desiring to create a “research trail,” the authors refer the reader to the selected bibliography of resources (9–11).
Walton and Matthews employ a comparative approach which highlights cultural items that Israel shared with the surrounding culture, as well as those distinctive to Israel. A brief introduction to each book of the Pentateuch supplies a structural outline of the book and an overview of comparative literature and ideas from the ANE. The commentary is presented under headings which reflect each book’s basic structure. Subheadings treat specific historical, cultural, and archaeological issues for the appropriate blocks of verses. Expanded discussions of background issues such as ANE cosmology, flood accounts, and the date of the Exodus are placed below the appropriate sections of the commentary per se. A glossary, four charts, and four maps complete the volume.
Since the authors do not take a stand on the date of writing or editing of the pentateuchal material, their methodology works only if it is assumed that the Pentateuch was written/edited near in time to the events it relates. Although it appears that the authors are working under this assumption, they frequently cite extra-biblical parallels which are removed in time from the biblical story line by hundreds of years. In addition to the problem of anachronism, such a procedure leaves the impression that ANE culture was monolithic and monochromatic in form and/or function. The lack of specific documentation is a serious flaw, for it allows neither corroboration nor a basis for further investigation. The selected bibliography, with errata, is too brief and suffers from unevenness. Cosmetically, the maps are inconsistent in visual quality, content, and accuracy.
The extraordinary scope and content of this volume reflects the wide learning of its authors. Despite flaws, the volume promises to be an eye-opener to its intended audience for its intended purpose.
Harding University JOHN D. FORTNER
Gregory of Nyssa, by ANTHONY MEREDITH. London: Routledge, 1999. ix+ 166 pp. $25.99.
Popular interest continues to grow in the lives, thought, and spirituality of the Church Fathers, even—perhaps especially—amongst Protestants. But the non-specialist faces two major hurdles in their appropriation of this rich material. First, very few of the early Church Fathers appear to have written anything in English, an oversight on their part perhaps, but one which is slowly being addressed as new translations steadily emerge. Second, the vast amount of material is daunting. Faced with the prospect of wading through the entire corpus of Gregory of Nyssa’s writings in order to map out the contours of his thought and locate nuggets of wisdom on the Holy Spirit or prayer or spiritual growth, the busy ministry student or preacher will likely turn elsewhere for resources. Not all of Gregory is as easy to read and digest as his Life of Moses, which Malherbe and Ferguson’s translation makes engagingly accessible (Gregory of Nyssa. The Life of Moses by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, New York: Paulist, 1978). Scholarly monographs about Nyssa are even more likely to put one off.
For this reason, we applaud the efforts of specialists such as Meredith, who labor to cut giants like Gregory down to size, so to speak, yet in ways that actually help the reader appreciate the Father’s true stature. In his installment to Routledge’s Early Church Fathers series, Meredith provides a useful introduction to Gregory, one that goes much further than the average encyclopedia article, yet is not so ambitious or dense as the usual monograph. Best of all, the bulk of the volume is dedicated to presenting choice selections from Gregory’s writings, accompanied by brief commentary explicating the text.
The series is aimed at serious readers who are non-specialists. Though Meredith’s language tends towards an academic style, for the most part the book hits its target. The introductory section tells the story of Gregory’s life and formative background, also presenting a summary of his major contribution to Christian thought. This is followed by samplings of eight of Gregory’s writings categorized in three areas—doctrinal issues, philosophy, spirituality—addressing subjects which are still of great interest, such as Jesus’ humanity, the role and work of the Holy Spirit, fate, and spiritual growth. Some will find the extensive notes fascinating; others will be glad they are placed at the end of the book so as not to clutter the page with extraneous material. A fairly comprehensive bibliography points one to further reading, and a brief index helps the reader locate topics of interest.
Abilene Christian University JEFF W. CHILDERS
The New Testament Today, eited. by MARK ALLAN POWELL. Louisville, Ken.: Westminster John Knox, 1999. 156pp. $18.00.
“Diversity” characterizes the state of NT studies today, and diversity intentionally serves as the model for this collection of essays. Written by world-class scholars who approach the NT from a variety of perspectives, the various chapters are intended to review and assess the state of research in a particular area of NT investigation. The chapters include “Methods for Studying the New Testament,” by Fernando F. Segovia; “The Life and Sayings of Jesus,” by John S. Kloppenborg Verbin; “The Gospel of Matthew,” by Donald A. Hagner; “The Gospel of Mark,” by Mary A. Tolbert; “Luke-Acts,” by John T. Carroll; “ Johannine Literatue,” by Gail R. O’Day; “The Life and Writings of Paul,” by Marion L. Soards; “Pauline Theology,” by James D. G. Dunn; “The Disputed Letters of Paul,” by Richard P. Carlson; “Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles,” by Pheme Perkins; and “Revelation,” by M. Eugene Boring.
The book is full of bibliographical data which would assist the reader who is interested in further study on a given topic. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the identification of areas that the authors feel warrant further investigation.
With diversity, however, there are significant drawbacks. For one thing, some chapters are written on the level of a university freshman with no footnotes for further reference (e.g., Soards’s article, though it does include a helpful bibliography), while other chapters are written on a more advanced level with technical language and a plethora of footnotes (e.g., Kloppenborg’s article). More problematic, especially for those without advanced training, is when one author writes from a perspective contrary to another, yet not in conversation with one another (e.g., Hagner’s approach and conclusions appear to differ fundamentally with Segovia and Kloppenborg). Such diversity will surely be more confusing than helpful to most readers. Also bewildering is the fact that, while most of the essays deal with the state of investigation regarding the NT documents, Perkins’ essay seems to survey the content of the NT documents themselves, not what scholars have said about them (with a few exceptions).
Although the presuppositions of the authors might be a hindrance to some readers (for instance, none of the writers would espouse the apostolic authorship of the NT documents), The New Testament Today serves as an enlightening preamble for the state of modern NT studies.
Harding University KENNETH V. NELLER
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