Book Review: Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Dr. Greg A. Boyd. Published by Fortress Press.

Renowned pastor-theologian and author Dr. Gregory A. Boyd has finally released his highly acclaimed Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. When I say “finally”, you need to understand exactly how highly anticipated it has been. You know that verse in Romans when Paul talks about creation groaning for the sons of God to be revealed? Well, this book has been at work for so long (10 years) that I started to wonder if that verse was actually a prophecy regarding its release. What started a decade ago as a summer project is now a well-crafted two-volume set just shy of 1500 pages in length and published by Fortress Press. In the world of theological literature, Boyd has made a Kobe Tenderloin buffet from what was supposed to be a ham and cheese lunchable.

Why did his initial plans make such a serendipitous contrasting turn?

… because the subject matter is the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament.

Many are well aware of the tough pill to swallow that is OT violence, and the negative affect it can have on churches. Several authors have attempted to reconcile these issues in the past. These attempts to reconcile these difficult passages end up dismissing them in one form or another. Jesus was an advocate for, and student of, the OT scriptures, and according to Boyd, we cannot settle for this approach to passage that Jesus himself considered inspired. Though these passages seem antithetical to the character of God, there must be something deeper. Boyd shows us that the conundrum goes beyond the ethical explanations into an epistemological realm. He proposes a new framework for a systemic approach of scripture which he calls a Cruciform Hermeneutic—meaning that Christ on the Cross (cruciform) is the lens for interpretation (hermeneutic). His argument, then, is that the violent depictions of God in the OT cover God’s true revelation of Himself through Christ on the cross. Volume One presents the issue and builds a case for the Cruciform Hermeneutic. Volume Two clarifies the hermeneutic’s function and applying it to various OT texts.

This book is foundational and needed for the church today. The length is certainly going to be intimidating to most, but don’t let that deceive you! It is very readable! Boyd’s writing is passionately ambitious, thoroughly researched, and fearlessly unapologetic throughout. Future books dealing with OT violence will need to approach the battlefield of  Boyd’s arguments (pun intended) in both content and price (just under $40). If the praise and price won’t justify you purchasing a book this long, there is good news! An abridged version will be released this August called Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus makes sense of Old Testament Violence.  

The length of this review does not hold a candle to the book’s value. The depth of information it holds demands extensive comment and analysis. As a result I will post a seven part series, one for each of its components. They will be posted every other Wednesday starting May 31st). I am currently doing a four part series for Paul & the Gift (here’s the link to the first post of that series if you’re interested).

Disclaimer: Thank you to Fortress Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This provision did not affect my review  and the thoughts are my own.

 

Paul & the Gift: Book Review and Introduction

If asked to describe John M. G. Barclay’s new book Paul & the Gift, only one word comes to mind—groundbreaking. So groundbreaking in fact, that one may hear the rallying of anti-fracking activists upon reading. All joking aside, this is the next pillar to the foundation of Pauline Scholarship. John M. G. Barclay holds, arguably, the most prestigious chair (Lightfoot Professor of Divinity) of the University of Durham. This hardcover book weighs in at 656 pages in length and is published by WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2015), as well as a paperback version scheduled to be released this September (available for pre-order here if that’s your preference).

I first heard about this book from my New Testament Exegesis professor during our Pauline literature course. He described it as the New New Perspective on Paul, it goes beyond the New Perspective. This description was surprising to say the least; it was the first time I had heard anyone endorse a Pauline perspective that wasn’t the New Perspective since learning about what it was two years ago. Now having read the book, I understand exactly what my professor meant by New New Perspective. For those who are unfamiliar with what I’m referring, below is a summary taken from the prologue describing where research regarding Paul and grace currently resides, as well as the starting point for readers to understand where there is harmony and discord with Barclay’s arguments. Though there are several aspects that cannot be seen from the following excerpt, it is assiduous nonetheless:

“In the Christian tradition, Paul’s theology of grace has often been interpreted as the antithesis of Judaism, as if by Paul’s day Judaism had corrupted its biblical theology of grace with a soteriology of “works-righteousness” and reward. Paul’s language, laden with nuances derived from internal Christian disputes, has been conscripted to differentiate Christianity from Judaism on these terms, and to diminish the latter. On this reading, Paul was the premier theologian of grace who resisted the “legalism” of “late” Judaism, a works-based religion that amounted to auto-salvation. In recent decades this negative image of Judaism has been challenged with a counter-image, presenting Judaism as a “religion of grace.” Students of Judaism have traced grace everywhere in Second Temple literature, as the foundation of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and the frame within which the Torah was observed. Thus, for many, Paul says nothing remarkable about grace, and if his theology departs in any respect from his Jewish tradition, this has little if anything to do with grace.” (p. 2)


Concluding the prologue Barclay gives a three point framework of grace from which the reader consistently encounters throughout the book (p. 6). The first being that “Grace” is a multi-faceted concept best approached through the category of gift. Though this is susceptible to “perfection” (conceptually extended) in a number of different ways, their validity is not contingent on being a unified package. The package Barclay is referring are the six most commonly understood perfections of grace, which he elaborates on in Part 1 of the book (p. 70-76).  Secondly, grace is everywhere in Second Temple Judaism, but not everywhere the same. Paul’s theology of grace does not stand in antithesis to Judaism, but neither is there a common Jewish view with which it wholly coincides. Basically, grace is everywhere in Second Temple Judaism, but not everywhere the same. Lastly, Paul’s theology of grace hinges on his emphasis on the incongruity of the Christ-gift—it is given freely with no regard to a person’s worth. It should be noted that incongruity is very different unconditionality.

Paul & the Gift is a benchmark contribution to ongoing debates in Pauline theology, refocusing the conversation in important ways and offering critical needed analysis that goes beyond perspective, old and new. Barclay has truly provided any student of Paul with a timeless reference that is, dare I say—a remarkable gift; so remarkable, in fact, that this book review simply won’t do. My solution? Over the next few weeks I will post four Paul & the Gift installments, one for each component of the book. This book is loaded with a wealth of research worth pondering that it seemed appropriate, nay, necessary to expound on it further. I will post Part 1 sometime next week.

If you are a fan of making good decisions, than I suggest you click here and purchase a copy of this book.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions regarding the book.

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World—Book Review

In Baylor University Press’s recent publication Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, author Larry W. Hurtado educates readers on the social, cultural, and historical contexts of early Christianity in the ancient Roman world. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity and authored several publications; more specifically, his reputation to the field of early Christianity. Destroyer of the gods is no exception to his preceding work. In this literary gem, Hurtado highlights distinctions of the early Christians showing the reader not only what distinguished the people group then, but also how these distinctions played a role in the widespread presuppositions placed on religion during the modern era.

Starting with the book’s preface and introduction, Hurtado addresses the characteristics of the Jesus-movement. It goes without saying that the growth of early Christianity has had a subsequent influence on the world’s history (especially Western cultures), but one can’t help but ask why? Hurtado prepares the reader for the historical journey he is about to take them on by identifying these distinctions that many are naïve to. The following five chapters of the book, he says, are designed to, “address our cultural amnesia” (p. 1).

Chapter one looks at what the outside observer’s perspective early Christianity. This is reflected in both Jewish and pagan responses to the early Christians insofar as they are referred to as different, odd, and even objectionable at points (p. 15). Hurtado shows this with a number of examples, starting first with the apostle Paul, both an ambassador for the Jesus movement and, prior to his conversion in Acts 9, a zealous Pharisee and opponent to this (p. 16). Additionally historical figures such as Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, as well as literary works like “The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach” and “Ecclesiasticus” (200 BC). Hurtado follows with a brief overview of pagan criticisms including Tacitus (56-120 AD), Pliny “the younger” (61-112 AD), Galen (129-199 AD), Marcus (121-180 AD), and Celsus, known for his unapologetically anti-Christian literary work—The True Word (175-180 AD) was unapologetically anti-Christian. All of whom were critics of the movement, and responded with hostility.

In chapter two, Hurtado discusses the specifics of what generated this hostile attitude towards early Christianity, as well as their distinguished them from other religious movements. First addressing the terminological issue with the word religion; the modern (especially western) understanding of this word creates problems when trying to grasp the Roman era setting. Religion today is very monotheistic in that their framework for a deity is very singular, even for those who do not believe (they deny the existence of A God!). In the Greco-Roman world, however, there was a widespread piety for all the gods (religions) because it was the cultural norm. To the outsiders of the early Christian movement, this was blatant disrespect. Hurtado shows that religious responsibility was a public service that included reverence and respect to the various gods of the empire, the town, and the family. This went to the extent of the Roman people’s sense of piety, virtue, shared meals, prayer, etc; all of which were in direct contrast with the early Christians which, to them, only increased the divide that deemed them outsiders. Some of these characteristics include, but are not limited to:

-Political Acceptance; some gods were involved in the Roman Imperial order (p. 54)

-Imagery and Shrines for all gods; Christianity’s lack thereof made their God seem transcendent above the rest (p. 62)

-“Love” for gods was philia; they expressed gratitude to the kindness shown by each god’s sublimely beautiful qualities associated with them (p. 64-65)

In chapter three—“A Different Identity”—the Greco-Roman understanding of identity is explored.  Hurtado begins the chapter with the analogy of a census taken in Britain. This helped the government better know the nature of the population. Every census always included two questions: What is your race/national background? What is your religious affiliation? (p. 77). The point of this analogy is to demonstrate that religious belief and nationality are incongruous today. This was not the case for the Greco- Roman world. In the Roman world, one’s religious preference was conferred at birth and everyone was presumed to honor the gods as appropriate to their Roman culture and heritage. The Romans enthusiastically embraced the religious cults of other cultures, including Persia and Egypt because they were similar to their own religious beliefs. The problem the Romans had with the early Christians is their rejection of other gods and religious services; to them it was abhorrent and atheistic. Hurtado ended the chapter with a befitting quote from Tertullian, which may have been the first defense towards religious identity in the ancient world (p. 103):

“It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that everyone should worship according to one’s own convictions… It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion… A Christian is enemy to none, least of all to the Emperor of Rome, who he knows to be appointed by God, moreover the Christian must desire, with that of the empire over which he reigns.” –Tertullian’s address to Scapula (Proconsul of Africa, 211-213 AD)

Chapter four investigates what Hurtado calls the “bookish” distinction of early Christianity, referring to their practice of documenting their sacred texts. In his words, “reading, writing, copying, and dissemination of texts has a major place—indeed, a prominence—in early Christianity that, except for ancient Jewish circles, was unusual for religious groups of the Roman era” (p. 105-106). Reading this was kind of shocking to me at first. From my experience, the historical reliability of scripture has been the most frequently criticized characteristic of Christianity’s credibility; the typical arguments consist of eyewitness accounts, textual variants, oral tradition, etc… Ironically, this distinction arguably plays the largest role in ensuring Christianity’s preservation and persistence into the present day. In the first century, the gathering of both early Christianity and traditional Judaism were prolific in their writing and sharing of their sacred texts, which, at that time, consisted mainly of Old Testament. What distinguished the two was early Christian’s initial step of expanding the literary portfolio from which they read for worship gatherings. Hurtado uses the circulatory epistles and gospels accounts as examples. Going deeper with the topic, he highlights the ingrained aspects of the “bookish” distinction such as writing, copying, the physical features of their books, and the amount of work all these aspects require. To me, these observations show the level of dedication one must have in that time (p. 118-132); that aspect alone made this chapter my personal favorite; both testimonial and encouraging to my own ministry, as well as well written and insightful.

The final chapter of the book focuses on the early Christian’s emphasis on the everyday living and its significance to the Christian commitment within a Greco Roman context. Hurtado explains how a modern worldview of religion is stripped down to a list of “do’s and don’ts”, assuming that is equivalent to the religion’s mission entirely; this was not the case for this time or culture (p. 143-145). Hurtado looks at practices like violent contests (gladiators), infant exposures (baby dumps), and sexual escapades to show two things: these were socially accepted practices and a cultural norm, and (2) greatly contrasted with early Christianity’s moral practices. This chapter was by far my favorite of them all. If you don’t have the time to read the entire book, then I would at least recommend reading at least this chapter. It is both concise in length and thorough with cultural analysis.

Destroyer of the gods is a readable and inspiring discussion about early Christianity and what made it distinguishable in a polytheistic Roman culture. The book is organized and written well, making it easy to follow despite prior knowledge of the subject matter. I have found socio-cultural to be my preferred area of research in the field of Biblical studies; I have several books on the subject, but still recommend this book. Hurtado beautifully reveals how these differences have subtly transitioned to be the norm for today’s Christian culture and how those roots were formed and flourished during the first-third centuries. As a whole, the text makes a considerable contribution to the understanding of this ancient Roman era and is worth the price by far. This book is without question my new “go-to” recommendation for this area of Biblical studies. You can pick up a copy of it here. I hope you do because I know you will be blessed by it.

Disclaimer: Baylor Press was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed were not affected by this and are my own.

Book Review: The Spirituality of Paul

Known for his previous release The Spirituality of Jesus, Leslie T. Hardin has provided another character survey titled The Spirituality of Paul. Published by Kregel, this book is an aid for students of the New Testament seeking better understanding of Paul’s spirituality. I have read several introduction books on the apostle Paul, and have grown familiar with how these character surveys are typically laid out; Some have focused on the Biblical Context of Paul’s letters, others have focused on Paul’s offices of ministry (Pastor, Missionary, Apostle, Church Planter, etc…), but most have been introductions to Paul’s theological corpus covering all contexts of study—Historical, Literary, Rhetorical, Cultural, Sociological, Political, Pastoral, etc…

This book, however, is very different in that it focuses exclusively on Spirituality. Obviously there is tons of literature out there about the spirituality of Paul, but this one still stands out in how it is not exclusive to the academy, yet theologically deep. This is fitting to one of the book’s focuses being Paul as a disciple-maker. Observing this in the book will surely help in one’s understanding of disciple-making from the perspective of both the mentor and pupil.

Another thing to highlight about this book is its faithfulness answer questions that are exclusive to spirituality/spiritual formation, and bring them to the contemporary surface for teaching and understanding any and all willing to receive. What were the Apostle’s spiritual practices and disciplines? How did these spiritual disciplines help him? How did Paul view Christ in light of these practices? How does suffering affect Paul’s spirituality? How do we apply these to our lives today?

Each chapter, titled to fit well-known verses, engages these questions in a thorough and concise manner. The chapters are—

  1. “Imitate Me”: Paul and the Practice of the Spirit
  2. “It Is Written”: Paul’s Devotion to Scripture
  3. “For This Reason I Kneel”: Paul at Prayer
  4. “Entrust These Things to Reliable Men”: Disciple-Making
  5. “We Proclaim Christ”: Proclamation of the Gospel
  6. “When You Come Together”: Corporate Worship
  7. “Holy and Blameless in His Sight”: Holiness
  8. “We Were All Given the One Spirit”: Spiritual Gifts
  9. “As a Father Deals with His Children”: Building One Another Up in the Faith
  10. “The Marks of Jesus”: Paul and Suffering
  11. The Shape of Pauline Spirituality

Hardin is not shy with his inclusion of personal anecdotes, nor does he neglect of surveying the backgrounds of the text as is appropriate. On top of that, this is filled with helpful footnotes and thorough bibliography. I found this book to be very enjoyable. For $16.99, it is affordable to the seminarian on a budget and readable to the new believer seeking a deeper understanding of Paul’s spirituality. This would make a great small group or Sunday school lesson book as well. All in all, I give this book a thumbs up and am thankful I took the time to read it! You can purchase this on Kregel’s website here. Special thanks to Kregel and their blogger program for providing me with this review copy of the book!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an honest review. This did not have any influence on my reviews. All of the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

Book Review- Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions

UrbanLegends-headerMore times than not I see many people misapplying scripture to aid them in their present context.  I’ve encountered several instances where a westernized reading of scripture has fogged the context of the Biblical author’s intended understanding of the text which, unfortunately, consistently leads to misapplication. Optimistically speaking, (or as a pessimist would detest- unrealistically speaking) that the progress of technology continues to make tools and resources easily accessible and readily available to prevent future interpretive errors such as this. Be that as it may,  misapplying scripture, whether innocent or intentional, should be addressed with a plethora of grace in all circumstances. Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions is a book seeking to alleviate some of the misunderstanding developed from misinterpretation.

Written by David Croteau (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Professor of NT and Greek in the Seminary and School of Ministry at Columbia International University), this is book is both fun and easy to read! Each common misconception is given a chapter, and each chapter is laid out to consist of no more than 5-8 pages. Some of the misconceptions discussed are

  1. Was Jesus really a carpenter?
  2. Was Paul a Tentmaker? (should ministers/pastors be paid for ministry?)
  3. Did Jesus die at age 33?
  4. Did Jesus really sweat drops of blood?
  5. Is money evil?
  6. Was there really no room for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the inn?

There were a few things that stood out to me about Croteau’s work, the first being the unique emphasis on the subject of hermeneutics. I have never read, let alone seen another book out there like this in that the hermeneutical emphasis is ironically subliminal (if that’s possible). By this I mean that Croteau provides historical and cultural understanding to each misconception without marketing the book as a “How To…” book on hermeneutics. The list of misconceptions aren’t new ideas in the world of evangelical scholarship (you could probably find all of them in any commentary, introduction, or survey book); this, however, looks over misconceptions throughout the New Testament, so it isn’t exclusive to a topic, idea, character, or genre as one might find in a commentary or introduction. Additionally, the book’s format provides the reader with an easy way to navigate the arguments of each misconception. To obtain this from commentaries, even the cheapest and most basic of commentaries, the total cost would still be right around $100, whereas this book is only $14.99 from B&H Publishing’s online store, here is a link.

I also enjoyed the annotated bibliography at the end of each chapter. Dr. Croteau provides further resources pertaining to each passage, and comments on each of them so you know if they’re worth purchasing or not. The annotated bibliography is also what led me to further research for my Lukewarm Blogpost (click here if you’d like to read it). B&H does this in their Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament Series as well, which was even more helpful with those considering they deal with the Greek language exclusively. I hope this is something they start including for all of their academic works because the diversity of resources is incredibly beneficial for further Biblical/Theological study.

Conclusion:

I found Croteau to be very generous and compassionate towards those who have fallen privy to these misconceptions as well as an exemplar of scriptural integrity. This is the most affordable book I’ve reviewed, and would love to see many engage with its principals. Honestly, I would love to have this book be in the Recommendations section of my blog (if I ever install the menu button for it). Whether you are preparing a sermon, writing a devotional blogpost, or just looking for a passive aggressive gift for your pastor, this book is a very fun read I highly recommend. I am certain you will enjoy it!

***Disclaimer- I received a review copy of this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed are my own, and were not influenced by their provisional review copy.

Book Review- Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate

If you couldn’t tell from my update post, the topic of gender and Christianity is something that I am very intrigued by. The last book I reviewed from Baker Academic- Paul and Gender by Cynthia Westfall focused on the Apostle Paul’s theological corpus, and how his references to Gender have been inappropriately applied. A combination of a western worldview and ecclesiological tradition has neglected the context of these gender passages by cherry-picking “proof texts” only to develop an exegetically inaccurate doctrine, both demeaning and hierarchical. You can read my review of that book here if you’d like.

neither-egalitarean-nor-complementarian

This review of Michelle Lee-Barnewall’s new book Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate bravely elevates the conversation to a new level of thinking by offering what she calls “a kingdom corrective” as an alternative to the already established schools of thought. Not only is her corrective argument informative, but also unapologetic, respectful, and simultaneously free of pompous candor or dogmatic assertions. This book is refreshing glass of water for the theologically parched, and a breath of fresh air for the either/or way of thinking that has brought hostile disunity to the church.

My review for this book will be a little different then my recent reviews. I will not expand in summary as I have prior, but not due to any form of laziness. The reason being that the kingdom perspective Lee-Barnewall argues for is what I consider to be an enormous contribution to the ongoing gender debate. Of every book I’ve reviewed, this is my highest recommendation for anyone willing to approach a new framework that goes beyond the egalitarian or complementarian sides of the coin. If you are even the slightest bit familiar with the conversation then this book will be beneficial, which is why I highly encourage all who are reading this to consider purchasing it. All that to say my review will be more reflective rather than informative, hoping that my ambiguity will intrigue you enough to consider reading it. Maybe we can even dialogue about it on here! Either way, I have a copy and would love to let anyone borrow it who is interested, but doesn’t have the funding. Comment on here and I’m sure we can work something out.   Continue reading

Book Review- Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ

Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ is an attempt to shed new light on the Pauline passages concerning gender roles. Authored by respected scholar Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall, this book urges all who have studied the apostle to do so through the theological lens of the Pauline corpus, distinguishing between the assumptions and presuppositions that they use to make sense of the texts (2). The layout for this book is not a systematic approach as one might expect. I’ve found that books dealing with specific Biblical issues tend to be laid out that way, devoting each chapter to a different problem passage. being devoted . With the exception of chapter 9 dealing exclusively with 1 Timothy 2:11-15, each passage is regarded as is fitting to the chapter’s topic, moving the reader toward a canon-based Pauline theology of gender. The chapter layout is as follows— paul-and-gender

  1. Culture
  2. Stereotypes
  3. Creation
  4. The Fall
  5. Eschatology
  6. The Body
  7. Calling
  8. Authority
  9. 1 Timothy 2:11-15

This holistic approach to Paul’s work enables Westfall to address the issues effectively. Her method helps make sense of the apostle’s writings in their context, refreshing the reader with new insights regarding Greco-Roman culture. In turn, viable alternatives are offered for Paul’s infamous passages and they encourage ongoing discussion. Westfall is re-framing the gender issues from what they were at one point, clearly seeking to stimulate critical thinking for a newfound understanding of Paul’s theology of gender.

I have read a few books, articles, and journals dealing with Paul’s view of gender. I have found the majority of them to be similarly thematic in their structure and their argument with Paul, gender, and how they handle the topic’s key texts (1 Cor. 7; 11; 14; 1 Tim. 2)—that Paul is addressing specific problems occurring with a specific people group. What makes Westfall’s book stand out is her method holds social, historical, and cultural context in very high regard, from which she builds her textual case. She does not choose one or the other, rather, demonstrates the equal importance of both. Most books looking to gain deeper understanding of the text would never ignore these aspects because they are an exegetical necessity; however, I am thrilled with her emphasis the text’s context as the hermeneutical foundation she proves it to be. Not everyone knows Greek or Hebrew, but when you study social, historical, and cultural contexts, you don’t need the language prerequisites. This aspect makes the book more enticing to those who are not versed in Biblical languages, and would benefit those just starting with Biblical Greek. I think reading someone else’s assessment has always helped me with exegesis, and I’m sure it would help other’s as well.

Coming back to my love for her focus on context, here are a few examples of things that stood out to me specifically…

In chapter 1 Westfall exposes the Greco-Roman culture and its influence on Paul’s writing. She argues Paul’s language exploits Hellenistic literature, philosophy, symbols, and language to take every thought captive for Christ (8). Specifically, the study analyzes the women head coverings in 1 Cor. 11:10. Most interpret this passage as Paul usurping a husband’s authority over his wife, but this assumption of the veil in 1 Cor. 11:10 is a prime example of presuppositions developed from the influence of western thought. Westfall argues that our culture has influenced traditional reading of the phrase ὀφείλει ή γυνή ἐξουσίαν ἒχειν, to be interpreted as “a woman should have a sign of authority over her head.” Her rendering of it is, “because o this a woman should have authority over her head. Her argument is built on the cultural study and explains the grammar of the phrase for further support as well (35).

Another good example of emphasis on context is her assessment of 1 Timothy 2, the most popular of the passages regarding Paul, gender, and leadership. Westfall sets the stage with her explanation of 1 Timothy being a personal letter authored by Paul and for Timothy. Several scholars believe 1 Timothy was either a general writing or pseudonymous, not to mention skepticism on whether or not Timothy was the intended recipient during his time in Ephesus (282-285). Prefacing the chapter with this inaugurates the overarching focus on context, giveing the reader cultural insight prior to her position on the text’s interpretation. It is here that Westfall reveals this is not the “church-government-gender-standard” passage many have made it out to be; the social setting is not that of a public worship service, nor is it addressing ministries in general. On top of this, the ethical weight given justifying gender discrimination of the female population from ministry leadership is dogmatic, chauvinistic, and an exegetical fallacy. Specifically, she says, “There is nothing in 1 Timothy 2:1-8 that would narrow the context to a ‘public worship service,’ without even considering that worship services took place in the domestic sphere of the home, not in a public location” (287). She follows with a section arguing the letter’s purpose, helping the reader to understand the purpose/placement of 1 Timothy 2:1-15 entirely; Paul seeks to provide Timothy with antidotes correlated to the present false teaching. She presents his antidotes threefold: an antidote for false teaching amongst men (vv. 2:1-8; p. 304), an antidote for economically appropriate attire (vv. 2:9-10; p. 305), and an antidote for false teaching among the women (vv. 2:11-15; p. 305). Summarizing her final thoughts, here is an excerpt from the concluding paragraph of this chapter:

“The controversial passage that addresses women in 2:9-15 does not fit the setting of the church service. It is better understood as a type of household code, whereby the heresies involving women that had invaded the household were to be corrected in each household by the husband, who was in the best position to take responsibility for the spiritual formation of his wife. Rather than prohibiting women from participating as leaders in the church, Paul addresses the lacuna in discipleship that is holding the Ephesian women believers back from maturity and sound teaching” (310-311).

These are just two examples that barely scratch the surface of the book’s informational density, and is far from elementary. If you have read anything regarding Paul and Gender, I urge you to not write this off. I can assure you it is not the regurgitation of problem texts you may be expecting. It is unique, affordable, edifying and life-giving. The gender debate has gone on for centuries and has been influenced by several different traditions. If you have been looking for a thorough overview on the discussion of the apostle’s theology of gender, then Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ will be an excellent tool to dismantle traditional western thought whilst maintaining sound exegetical integrity.

This book is phenomenal, and I recommend it to anyone even remotely curious on the subject. The examples listed above hardly do her arguments the justice each deserves. Westfall’s study incorporates the apostle’s theological corpus in the social, historical, and cultural contexts of each problem passage, deeming it beneficial to all wanting a better understanding of Paul’s theology of gender. This book both erudite and enjoyable, this is a book I will love to recommend, but hesitate to let others borrow.

You can buy this from Baker Academic’s website here. Baker Book House has a few copies currently available in their bargain section if you are in the Grand Rapids area as well. Thank you to Baker Academic for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not affect the review in any way.

Book Review: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel; Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary

Exalting Jesus in 1 &2 Samuel is the newest release for B&H Publishing’s Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series. Written by Heath Thomas (Dean of Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry) and J.D. Greear (Pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh, NC), they have taken on the task of writing a commentary focused on the gospel’s presence throughout all of scripture. There are a few distinctions about this commentary compared to others that I enjoyed. First, though this is an expositional commentary, the authors hold firmly to sound exegesis. I am hardly a Hebrew scholar, so I am not in any position to critique how accurately they do this. However, from what I’ve observed, there are no red flags indicating any exegetical fallacy from their interpretation of the text. Secondly, this is very teacher/pastor focused. Granted, this is not the first commentary to bridge the gap between scholars and small group leaders, but but is still unique nonetheless. Compared to Goldingay’s Old Testament for Everyone series, this commentary is very structured and provides more teaching/preaching examples. The price is roughly the same as those volumes as well ($14.99) which wins the favor of the penny pincher compared to the NIV Application Commentary as well. These observations alone lean my budget towards this series for future purchases. 

Each chapter starts with a main idea for the verses to follow. For example, the main idea for 2 Samuel 7 reads, “The Davidic covenant reveals that Yahweh has blessed David to be a blessing; those who bless him will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed” (192). Following is an outline, where the outline’s points/subpoints are highlighted by illustrations from the author(s) to assist with their comment. The chapter concludes with points of reflection and a few discussion questions, being a useful tool for both the pastor and small group leader.

Many people ignore the Old Testament today, myself included. Unfortunately, this negligence is a huge contributor to why Manu are turned away from the Christian faith entirely. Some will look at the Old Testament as God being the “angry God” and the New Testament is when he finally came comes to his senses (Isa 63-65); as if the cross were the perscription for relentless temper tantrums. Others look at the Old Testament and see it as the first written account where science is ignored (Gen 1-3). How about king David’s justification to steal a man’s wife as long as you take him out of the picture (2 Sam 11)? All of these are examples that have been known to turn people away from reading the Old Testament, all of which I have heard over the years. However, this is all the more reason on why it shouldn’t be ignored, and this commentary series is just one tool that will help anyone struggling with issues like these. Many think because Jesus is not in the Old Testament that it serves no purpose to them today, but this commentary specifically will help snuff out that notion. The Bible tells one story, and this story is one of redemption that points to Jesus Christ. 

All in all I found this book excellent. The OT historical books have always intimidated me. Partly because I feel I have been looking for a good “starter” book on the OT historical books, and haven’t yet found one that was both credible and affordable. I think this is an excellent choice.  You can buy this book on the B&H Website or from Amazon

Disclaimer: I received this review copy of the book from B&H in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed were not influenced by their provision of such

 

 

Book Review: Paul Behaving Badly

paul-behaving-badlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, coauthors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (IVP 2012), dive into the complicated life and teachings of the apostle Paul in their newest release, Paul Behaving Badly. This is now the third “behaving badly” publication from IVP. The other two are God Behaving Badly by David T. Lamb (IVP 2012), and Jesus Behaving Badly by Mark. L. Strauss (IVP 2016). You can read a review of Jesus Behaving Badly here, which was written and reviewed by my Greek and Biblical Studies professor from my undergraduate studies, Dr. Phil Long. All three books explore the difficult portions of scripture many readers find themselves wrestling with. There is no question that understanding the sociological, historical, and cultural contexts of scripture is necessary for interpretation, and the life and teachings of Paul solidify this further. It’s because of such why Paul tends to get a bad rap, and rightly so. Nevertheless, Richards and O’Brien attempt a conversation to alleviate these poor perceptions.

The book’s introduction addresses the problems most people, if not all, would encounter at some point when observing Paul’s persona and teachings. Richards and O’Brien include experiences of their own to relate to the readers with similar qualms. This all points to hermeneutics (interpretation) and how readers are led astray without it. The “problems” that one experiences in reading Paul is exactly why they emphasize the importance of a good hermeneutic. The introduction finishes with an invitation to the reader; an invitation to journey with them through these difficult portions of scripture with an open mind, and prepared to better understand this apostle who comes off as… well, kind of a jerk (21).

Each chapter deals with the common problematic verses of Paul’s teach, and each is unapologetically titled with, what I would consider to be cleverly marketed with their enticing shock value. The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. Paul Was Kind of a Jerk
  2. Paul Was a Killjoy
  3. Paul Was a Racist
  4. Paul Supported Slavery
  5. Paul Was a Chauvinist
  6. Paul Was Homophobic
  7. Paul Was a Hypocrite
  8. Paul Twisted Scripture

You may be thinking, “What passages are you referring to that fits these claims against the apostle?” Richards and O’Brien ask questions and make observations of these problems one sees when reading of Paul. This is done thoroughly in each chapter without restriction. For example, Paul opposes Peter upon his arrival to Antioch and does so “because he [Peter] stood condemned” (Gal 2:11), yet exhorts to other believers, “as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18)? What about Paul’s expulsion of the wicked person in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 5:13), or saying “let them be under God’s curse” (Gal 1:8-9) if one were to disagree with his message? Jesus himself said to turn the other cheek and encourage all who were weary or burdened to come to him (Matt 5:39; 11:28), why on earth would Paul speak on behalf of the gospel, but say something so opposite to Christ’s teachings? Not to mention the verses that make Paul seem racist (Rom 10:21), sexist (1 Tim 2:1-14), homophobic (1 Thes 4:3-6), and a supporter of slavery (1 Cor 7:20-21), giving Paul the benefit of the doubt is difficult to do when read with western eyes (pun intended); even the apostle Peter admits that Paul is “difficult to understand” (2 Pet 3:16). This is a brief synopsis of the several passages conversed throughout the book. All of which include analogous anecdotes from the Richards and O’Brien’s life experiences in addition to their Biblical study, which I found very beneficial.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book was the structure of each chapter. Both sides of the coin are given fair consideration without indecisive “fence-riding” one might expect. When a book’s focus is to bring newfound understanding to the umbrella of civil rights issues one sees in Paul’s writings, it is bound to be rattling some cages; especially considering the consistent increase of social injustices we see from the media.This makes the need for theologically sound interpretation of Scripture all the more significant, and further proves the urgency for literature that will address these “problem” passages. Richards and O’Brien have provided an excellent aid to the church considering, and I hope to see many more like it for the sake of people the church can be salt, light, and love to.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in bringing clarity to the difficult passages attributed to the apostle. Any reputable exegetical, theological, or socio-rhetorical commentary would discuss these same issues (probably at greater length), but shouldn’t turn anyone away from reading this book. Though commentaries might discuss the issues at greater length and interact more with the original languages, Paul Behaving Badly is different from that. Think of this more like a well researched collection of essays by Richards and O’Brien. Each chapter/essay deals with a unique “problem” passage rather specific letters he wrote.  In addition to this, it is layered with testimonials from the authors, which makes the contemporary significance easier lay hold of for the reader. It would make an excellent book for a small group to work through, and an affordable resource for those studying the apostle. If you would like to purchase this book you can buy it on IVP’s website here.

Conclusion: Was Paul a chauvinistic homophobe who supported slavery? Was he a hypocrite who signed God’s name on his own agenda? Did he manipulate the masses by twisting scripture with motives ulterior to the gospel? Was he anti-Semitic and arrogant in his superior-like statements of judgment? Was he really a jerk?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is no, and the authors have done a fantastic job defending this with grace and understanding to both camps. The 21st century lens that readers look through presents a problem that seems to never dismay, and Paul’s letters are not exempt from this irresponsible habit. Paul was a product of his cultural context, and his writings do not fit the guidelines of Western Europeans. Paul Behaving Badly emphasizes the necessity of understanding the context of every portion of scripture, and we must wear glasses fitting to apostle’s first century context if we wish to achieve that.

Disclaimer: Thank you to InterVarsity Press and Krista Clayton for generously providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not effect the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.

Book Review: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary) is notorious for his contributions to The Bible’s historicity. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels was his first publication on the subject, and following were The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, as well as Can we Still Believe the Bible? Soon thereafter, Blomberg authored his two volume introduction to the New Testament titled Jesus and the Gospels, and From Pentecost to Patmos which also has small excerpts regarding historicity issues, however, hardly scratches the surface with historicity issues being minimal. Though the notoriety of these works could stand alone, Blomberg’s most recent work The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H Publishing Group) surpasses them in both length and thoroughness regarding objections to the New Testament’s reliability.

The title alone indicates the book’s separation from Blomberg’s prior works as far as material is concerned. He utilizes 14 chapters arranged into six different sections: Synoptic Gospels, Gospel of John, Acts and Paul, Non-Pauline Letters, Cannonicity/Transmission, and The Problem of Miracles. All of which unapologetically confront objections to the New Testament’s reliability as well as address the “illicit” issues that most western conservative fundamentalists would deem heretical. Even with the amount of material covered in the 816 pages, it still doesn’t cover everything Blomberg believes should be included regarding the subject, and reiterates this at several points throughout the book. Nevertheless, this book is still incredibly dense literally and figuratively, and to some that might be an immediate redflag as you read this review. This is not loaded with PhD-level diction that would lose you after the first page. Let me reassure you that Blomberg elaborates to bring those without prior knowledge up to speed so they engage. The only prior knowledge one would need to read this is a very basic understanding of the New Testament. So put down the copy of Crazy Love, because you don’t have anything to worry about.

The size of the book is by far more intimidating than it actually is. From my experience, I have assumed any book over 400-500 pages to be considered a reference, and have rarely picked up a reference with the intention of reading it cover to cover (Disclaimer: I have read every book assigned to be read for homework in every class as was written in the class schedule). I’ve always associated the amount of pages with how easy of a read a book is:

The number of pages is equivalent to the amount of information, and the more information means it is more useful as a “one stop shop” for research and study, and since it is designed to be a reference then it is likely more expensive, which means that most millenials won’t purchase it because, hey, that’s what google is for, right?! Though my lighthearted speculation is accurate, this book is the straw I’ve needed to paralyze the camel that is this presupposition. To put it bluntly, I read the forward and introduction and didn’t stop, I just kept reading.

That’s a big deal.

I’ll explain to alleviate any confusion. Typically I take a break after reading the forward and introduction, especially when they are over 31 pages combined. This was not the case for this book. I was hooked, and continued for an additional 50 pages before putting it down. The only reason I stopped was because I had time set aside specifically to spend time with my wife. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a married seminary student, it’s that me putting off plans with her to read books is a big no-no during semester. Because of school I’m required to read books more than I sleep for 30 weeks a year, so I can’t say I blame her (not to mention it was Christmas Eve…). Nevertheless, the book’s infringement on previous plans was the last thing I expected to happen, but thankful when it did.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject. If you’re hesitant because of length, trust me when I say this book is not going to do that for you. Remember, I know this because I’ve had the same presuppositions. If you don’t want to buy it because it’s too big to fit in your purse or satchel (#murse) then it is available on kindle as well. Now, those reading may be asking themselves, “Well, do I really need to buy this if he’s got all these other books on the same subject? Or do the other books go into more depth and this is just a cheaper alternative?” I cannot answer each of these questions fully because I haven’t read any of his other works regarding historicity. However, Blomberg tells the reader, “This present work gathers most of the major threads of these works together, in a completely new topical arrangement, but also moves on to numerous additional issues that the scope of my previous works prevented me from addressing at all” (p. xxiv). Based on this, I would say owning this is sufficient enough, but you’ll just have to make the decision yourself. It is only $23.17 on amazon, and you can purchase it here.

Disclaimer: I want to thank B&H Publishing Group for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not effect my review in any way.