Book Reviews and Briefs

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The last of Zondervan’s The 5 Sola Series Christ Alone is written at a time when many celebrate the 500 anniversary of the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.  Here is a basic and rather succinct explanation of Solus Christus through the lens of particular Reformers.  While Christ Alone acknowledges that Reformation Christology is much more complex and therefore lies beyond its scope, it nonetheless focuses on two aspects of Christology that it considers essential “if the church is to proclaim the same Christ as the Reformers” (20), namely: the exclusivity of his identity and the sufficiency of his work.  These two comprehends the first two parts of the book respectively followed by a final section that focuses on “why the Reformers taught Christ alone and how intellectual shifts over the last five hundred years have created a different cultural context for us” (26).  Christ Alone offers five reasons to defend its claim that this Solus Christus “is at the center of the Reformation solas and at the heart of Christian theology”; Christ alone is “linchpin of coherency for Reformation doctrine”; “Scripture places Christ alone at the center of God’s eternal plan for his creation”; Christ alone of the Reformation reflects the self-witnesses of Christ himself”; “the Reformers emphasized the centrality of Christ alone because they accepted the apostolic witness to the person and work of Christ”; and “Christ alone is the linchpin of coherency for all Christian theology” (20-24).

First, Christ Alone considers the exclusive identity of Christ by grounding it in the structure and storyline of Scripture.  Emerging out of a consideration of the Bible’s own structures, categories and intratextual dynamics particularly the biblical covenants, the author builds the case for the Scriptures as both Christocentric and Christotelic.  To this biblical identity of Christ is added the self-witness of Christ.  Christ is God the Son incarnate is implicitly manifested by “his baptism, the kingdom he inaugurated, his life and ministry, his death and resurrection and the worship he received” (59) and explicitly demonstrated by Jesus’s own statements as they relate to “his unique relationship with the Father and connections with his works” (67).   The Apostles also witnessed Christ as God the Son incarnate.  This is defended by the claim that theological studies do not need to erect the dichotomy between ontological and functional Christology for “Scripture holds them together to bear witnesses to both Jesus’ identity and humanity” (84) and then illustrated by the selection and brief explanation of four key texts in the New Testament (Romans 1:3-4; Phillipians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3).  Finally, in this first part the author turns its attention to the work of Christ instead of the person by discussing not only the interrelationship but also the inseparability of Christ’s incarnation and atonement, a piece that centers on unpacking Hebrews 2:5-18 to understand and appreciate the biblical rationale.

Second, Christ Alone focuses on the sufficiency of the work of Christ.  The nature and the necessity of his sacrifice is explained in terms of his threefold office as prophet, priest and king.   This discussion is rooted in covenantal typology and guided by two questions: the basic function of the prophet, priest and king in the biblical storyline and the reasons why they are necessary.  Following this threefold office of Christ discussion, the author turns his attention to the atonement in historical perspective.  Various atonement theologies are described in particular church history eras (patristic, medieval, Reformation, current modern).  Recent and newer views of the atonement suffer the neglect, “dismissal or revision of the Reformation’s central theological insight: God cannot forgive sin without the complete satisfaction of his own holy, righteous, and moral demand” (191).  Central to this historical review is Reformation’s God-centered focus and penal substitution as key to “our understanding of the why and how of the cross” (191).  In the next two chapters (7, 8) that make up for the remainder of this second part the author moves from historical theology into biblical theology to explain and describe “why is penal substitution the best way to capture the central means of the cross?” (193).  The case for penal substitutionary atonement is first made by the biblical facts in regards to the cross as well as by the way the  problem of divine forgiveness in relation to the cross is resolved.  In addition, penal substitutionary atonement is defended as critical for the reasons the cross is necessary in light of the problem of forgiveness by alluding and discussing two texts (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 9:15-28).  “Penal substitution – the Reformation theology of the cross – is the best way of capturing and making sense of all the biblical data … best captures[ing] the Bible’s own explanation for why Christ had to die as our Lord and Savior” (243).

In its third and last part, Christ Alone seeks to describe and explain how the Reformers taught Solus Christus and then delves into some of the intellectual shifts that have taken place in the last five hundred years and its resulting cultural contexts.  Christological orthodoxy (by Chalcedonian definition) is shared by both Protestants and Roman Catholics.  However, the Reformers disagreed with Rome in terms of the sufficiency of Christ particularly for their opposition to sacramental theology.  In the last two chapters, the author laments what he affirms to be a current challenge: the loss of the exclusivity of Christ and invites and exhort the reader to reaffirm Christ alone today.  This is argued to be the result of a “massive shift in plausibility structures,” (277) “the secularization and pluralization of the West” (277) and the ideas and consequences derived from the Enlightenment that have impacted the church’s confession of Christ alone.  The ideas are two-fold: “from a revelational to a rational epistemology” (282) and “from Christian theism to naturalistic theism” (284).  The consequences are the loss of Christ’s exclusivity and the loss of Christ’s exclusive history.  An exhortation to reaffirm Christ alone today is done after explaining the impact that the Enlightenment has had in terms of its epistemology and theology when people’s ability has been impaired to accept the plausibility of Christ alone resulting in subjectivism and non-personalization of God.  The way forward is not to work “within the contemporary views on the nature of knowledge and the relationship between the autonomous individual, the world, and the divine (Christology from below)” (307) but to do a Christology from above i.e. establishing Christ alone by starting with Scripture …” (308) and to “build on sola Scriptura” (309).  The author claims that Scripture alone does not entail ignoring tradition and historical theology but understanding and appreciating these as hermeneutical servants” (309).  “Scripture alone has magisterial authority” (310) and “tradition functions in a ministerial capacity to aid our interpretation and application of Scripture” (310).   Concluding, the author reflects on how the exclusivity and sufficiency of Christ relates and applies to the life of the Christian.  “Doctrinal truth must affect the entirety of who we are” (312).  Growing in the knowledge, love and devotion of Christ demands and requires total allegiance and commitment to the truths re-discovered by the Reformers as the center of the Reformation solas and at the heart of Christian theology, Christ Alone.

Christ Alone is extremely easy to read and therefore accessible to the average reader.  Some things stand out in this text.  First, Christ Alone is saturated by Scripture.  In fact, the author discusses particular Scriptural passages and the meanings of particular concepts from grammatical structures to the diversity of language for the cross that appears in the Bible (obedience, sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, justice, conquest and moral example).  Second, Christ Alone (the author a professor of Christian theology) engages with some of the debates that pertain to key doctrines of the Christian faith such as the atonement.  Third, Christ Alone delves into some of the most formidable challenges that faces the Christian church postmodernity.  Finally, Christ Alone invites the Christian not only to reaffirm his or her faith but also communicates that doctrine is paramount for spiritual formation and growth.

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Introduced by Anglican minister and theologian J.I. Packer “as a fine presentation of the Puritan outlook” (p. xvi) and underscoring the Puritans for the legacy of their literature and the lessons they provide for helping us today “toward the maturity that they knew and that we need,” (p. xvi)  Wheaton College Professor of English (emeritus) Leland Ryken’s Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Zondervan, 1990) embodies “a survey of Puritan ideals … [that] explores Puritan attitudes on a broad range of topics that generally fall within the category of practical Christian living.” (p. xvii)  Ryken’s Worldy Saints aims at correcting the almost universal misunderstanding that exists concerning the Puritans; synthesizing Puritan thinking on selected topics and recovering “the Christian wisdom of the Puritans for today.” (p. xvii)

Ryken’s Worldy Saints consists of 12 chapters.  Chapter 1 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints examines what the original Puritans were like and provides an overview or landscape of the rest of the book.  Ryken presents and examines the charges against the Puritans by underscoring the truth or falseness of these charges.  For example, the charges that the Puritans were against sex and that were opposed to sports and recreation is ridiculous and largely false and the charge that they were hostile to the arts is partly true.  Ryken narrates who were the Puritans since assuming “the form of an organized movement in the 1560s under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.” (p. 7)  Ryken even provides a list of landmark events that describe the puritan movement, one of them being the famous Westminster Assembly (1643-1646).  Leading traits of the Puritans such as their moral consciousness, reformed-oriented identity, and educated clergy to name a few are also mentioned.  Finally, Ryken closes this first chapter by briefly examining several key Puritan doctrines and concepts some of which were grace, personal regeneration, covenant , and Scripture alone and then delves into what Puritans liked and disliked and offers a short portrait of a ‘typical puritan’.

Chapter 2 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints explores the Puritan attitudes toward work.  Ryken succinctly references the division between sacred and secular, “a leading feature of medieval Roman Catholicism” (p. 24) and one that was dismantled by both Luther and Calvin.  Puritans believed the sanctity of common life and work.  “The Puritan goal was to serve God, not simply within one’s work in the world, but through that work.” (p. 26) They argued that “God calls every person to his or her vocation.” (p. 26)  The Puritans viewed work as a response of stewardship to God and valued contentment and loyalty in one’s vocation.  Contrary to the so called ‘Puritan work ethic’ that in American is celebrated as the mere means for accumulating wealth and possessions, the Puritans saw the rewards the work and its resulting prosperity as a sign of godliness and as having spiritual and moral value for “work glorified God and benefited society.” (p. 30)  Finally, Ryken informs us that the Puritans treated the rewards gained from work as the “gift of God’s grace” (p. 32) and advocated “for a sense of moderation in work” (p. 33) while critiquing idleness and praising diligence.

Chapter 3 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints takes on the puritan attitudes towards marriage and sex.  Ryken begins by underscoring the historical context; namely, the Catholic tradition during the Middle Ages that “sexual love itself was evil.” (p. 40)  Puritans rejected this medieval attitude and its broader implications.  They affirmed marriage by expounding on the idea of a companionate marriage.  Women were not viewed as temptation but as the gifts of God.  Puritans endorsed the goodness of sex and emphasized the natural or biological appetite, being much more than a physical act, its necessity in marriage, its private nature and a form of chastity.  Puritans also stressed the purpose of marriage and sex as “procreation, a remedy against sexual sin and mutual society.” (p. 47)  Finally, the Puritans established the ideal of wedded romantic love and exalted women in their roles as wives and mothers.

Chapter 4 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints looks at the puritan attitudes and practices toward money.  Ryken begins by explaining the thesis behind Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930) and its unfortunate results and resulting perversion.  Puritans affirmed the goodness of money for they were gifts from God.  They argued that prosperity is God’s blessing. It was due to God’s grace and not human merit.  Likewise, the Puritans defended private property. However, the Puritans were careful to “elevate materials goods above spiritual values.” (p. 59)   They recognized that God can send both poverty and riches and that there are dangers in wealth by pointing out the “tendency of money to replace God as the object of ultimate devotion” (p. 62) as well as by its other tendencies of instilling “reliance on self instead of on God,” (p. 62) the amount of time and energy that it demands and the unsatisfying appetite that it generates. Puritans called for moderation against its opposites of greed and luxury and for contentment with a moderate lifestyle, setting limits and the putting “wealthy and possessions in perspective.” (p. 66)   Finally, Ryken indicates that money was viewed as a social good as seen through the grid of the stewardship theory of wealth.  

Chapter 5 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints covers the Puritans’ thinking about the family.  Its main purpose “is to glorify God.” (p. 73)  The Puritans believed in the hierarchy of the family emphasizing the “headship of the husband/father” (p. 75) which was “leadership based on love.” (p. 76)  The submission of the wife/mother was one of function not worth.  Spiritually husbands and wives were but not so socially where there is hierarchy of authority.  This did not mean that women were less intelligent or the servants of husbands.  There were different spheres of responsibility.  The idea and the essence of the covenant governed parents’ responsibility towards their children.  Part of this responsibility was the practice of disciplining children. This was rooted in the doctrine of original sin or innate depravity.  Obedience was highly prized and expected for its exercise “in the spheres of church and the state depended on the discipline in the home.” (p. 80)  Puritans valued early training as well as parents teaching by example and a “a balance between restraint and positive support.” (p. 87)  What the Puritans practiced as families was guided by their belief and view of family as a miniature church.

Chapter 6 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints examines puritan preaching.  The puritan pastor was one portrayed as one who was called “to preach, to minister the sacraments, and to pray.” (p. 92)  Puritans were highly enthusiastic about preaching.  Puritan ministers were college-educated clergy.  They favored expository sermons.  Their sermons consisted of three parts, namely: the text, the doctrine or principle and its application.  Puritan sermons not only appeal to the intellect but also the affections.  Plain preaching or simplicity dominated their sermons and content was more important than form.

Chapter 7 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints discusses the Puritans’ definitions of church and worship.  Puritans determined church polity by looking closely at the Bible.  They rejected Catholic and Anglican rituals and practices that did not find biblical warrant.  The church was viewed as a spiritual reality.  Preaching, sacraments and discipline were the core activities practiced by the church.  The Puritans also elevated the role of the layperson in the church.  Their practices rested on the biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers.  Their worship style was one that was simplified.  Puritans encouraged congregational participation, “stood for word-based piety,” (p. 124) valued creativity in worship and “sanctified Sunday for worship.” (p. 134)

Chapter 8 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints explores the Puritans’ views of the Bible.  The Puritans sought to make the Bible available and accessible to everyone by translating it into English.  The Bible constituted “the foundation of the true church of God.” (p. 140)  Puritans’ interpretation of the Bible stressed their plain meaning against allegory; emphasized the clarity of the Scripture; the role of the Holy Spirit for illuminating the meanings of biblical passages; contextual and literary sensitivity and the distinction of the law and the gospel as dominant and paradigmatic biblical themes.

Chapter 9 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints focuses on the Puritan’s thinking regarding education.  Their theory of education saw life as unified and an integrated whole.  This theory joined reason and faith as well as special and natural revelation.  The Puritans “valued an educated mind over material riches.” (p. 160)  The Puritans believed that “the primary goal of education was Christian nurture and growth.” (p. 161)  Therefore, they made the Bible central in the curriculum.  In addition to this, the Puritans embraced the liberal arts ideal in their education.  The Puritans “valued human knowledge within a context of God-centered Christianity.” (p. 165)  In their view, God was the source and end of all truth.

Chapter 10 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints underscore the puritan’s attitudes toward social action.  Puritans were social thinkers and social activists.” (p. 185)  They viewed social involvement as a Christian calling and based their concerns for the health of their society on an ethic of social responsibility.  Puritans’ social action was grounded in the biblical concept of covenant.  It is within this covenantal framework that the Puritans sought to pursue the common good f the community and embraced good works as a sign of gratitude towards God.  Likewise, they also denounced social as well as private evil.  Their social action was more personal and voluntaristic rather than institutional and governmental.  The Puritans sought to promote a spirit of equality and “practiced a theory of rule by the consent of the governed.” (p. 185)

Finally, Chapters 11 and 12 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints describe the negative examples of puritans and the lessons that derived from their genius respectively.  In chapter 11, Ryken remind us that it is essential to take into account the historical situation of the Puritan before embarking on criticism and that it is critical to become aware that historically the Puritans have been maligned by novels such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story The Scarlet Letter.  Ryken states that the Puritans had an inadequate view of recreation, too many rules, too many words, too much pious moralizing, male chauvinism, a partisan spirit, insensitivity to other religious groups and extremism.  Despite these, Ryken calls us to learn from this and rise above these faults.  By the way, in chapter 12, Ryken underscore the principles that made for the genius of puritanism.  Ryken’s Worldy Saints  affirms that the Puritans lived a God-centered life; considered all of life as sacred; saw God working in the ordinary events of life; were keenly aware of the dangerousness of life; lived in a sense of expectancy and excitement persuaded that the new age has arrived; were very practical making a difference “in how people actually live”; emphasize Christianity as a heart religion rather than one based on external rituals; blended the head and the heart in their Christian experience; “chose a simplicity that exalts, not the simplicity that diminishes”; and were people of high confidence having relied in the character of God, the person and work of Christ and the view of themselves as “pilgrims on a journey to God and heaven.” (p. 220)  Ryken’s Worldy Saints is an excellent textbook for it not only reminds us of the roots of the Protestant Reformation and the revival for truth but most importantly because it invites us to live the Christian life in a God-pleasing and glorifying way by imitating and appropriating their zestful approach to life in this world.

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Grounded in the lives, ministries and writings of the Dutch Further Reformation divines, Arie De Reuver’s Sweet Communion, Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation (Baker, 2007) sets out to examine and describe the way these divines lived, experienced and reflected upon the concepts of ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism.’  Titled after Psalm 25:7 (‘sweet communion’ in Dutch ‘hidden fellowship’), this study is about “the interchange between God and humanity that is called ‘hidden’ or ‘sweet’ because it takes place in heart-to-heart intimacy … also called ‘hidden’ because of its mysterious quality that never fully relinquishes its secrets.” (p. 15)  Reuver’s Sweet Communion also reflects the personal and pastoral concerns of the author whose conviction is that “the most serious symptoms of the present crisis in church and culture is the increasing loss of sweet fellowship with God.” (p. 16). Reuver’s Sweet Communion draws on the richness of the seventeenth-century movement the Further Reformation who ‘developed a comprehensive pastoral psychology by which it intended to provide guidance on the manner in which the applied world of the Holy Spirit brought people to certainty of faith … through an intense promotional effort and constant preaching.” (p. 17).  This Further Reformation movement not only was guided by the spirituality and theology of the Reformation but also consulted the Middles Ages particularly its Augustinian theology and spirituality.  In fact, the Further Reformation incorporated many devotional practices or spiritual disciplines such as contemplation, mysticism, solitude and meditation within the Reformed worldview.  Reuver’s Sweet Communion is not a doctrinal study.  Here is an investigation into the quality and roots of the spirituality of the Further Reformation.  More specifically, Reuver’s Sweet Communion seeks to capture and document “the continuity and discontinuity of the Further Reformation’s spirituality with that of the Middle Ages.” (p. 17). To accomplish this purpose, the author selected the following representatives of the Further Reformation: Willem Teelinck, Theodorus à Brakel, Wilhelmus à Brakel, Herman Witsius and Guiljelmus Saldenus.  The spirituality and mysticism expressed by these movement’s divines will be analyzed and described by alluding and drawing on the medieval and pre-Reformation literature of the two greatest pietists and most quoted authors: Barnard de Clairveaux and Thomas à Kempis.  Finally, before proceeding to discuss the Dutch divines the author of Reuver’s Sweet Communion defines and explains the concepts of ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism’ and even ‘Christian spirituality’ in order to underscore that while these terms are obviously and typically catholic and medieval in nature – the Reformers rejected many of the central ideas behind Rome’s medieval mystics – they were nonetheless present and even cultivated among the churches of the Reformation and the Further Reformation.

Reuver’s Sweet Communion initiates in chapters one and two with a biographical sketch of the lives of Bernard of Clairveaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis.  In chapter one Reuver’s Sweet Communion stresses that Bernard’s twelfth century is “the era when medieval spirituality flowered.” (p. 27)  Mystics in the twelfth century were guided and shaped by the legacies of Augustine and Gregory the Great.  Mystics were also oriented from a theological perspective that was articulated in the universities as a form of both scholasticism and monastic theology.  That is to say that mystic wanted not only to experience but also structure love.  In other words, Reuver’s Sweet Communion states that “the fact that experiential love transcended the intellectual idea did not signify a minimizing of the intellect as such.” (p. 28) This was seen in the life of Bernard de Clairveaux.  The influential Bernard was self-taught and began in the monastic life as a result of losing his mother.  His monastic life is described as shaped by a “regimen of reading, praying and singing texts of Holy Scripture.” (p. 31) Bernard was able to combine scholastic and monastic theology, stressed the mutual dependence of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self and emphasized “the experiential, heart-felt nature of faith-knowledge.” (p. 33)  Reuver’s Sweet Communion describes and analyzes Bernard’s theology of spirituality and mysticism by reviewing his work or tract titled ‘On God’s Love’ and by discussing its themes: God’s love, meditation on Christ, bridal mysticism and union with God.  Reuver’s Sweet Communion evaluation of Bernard stresses his “Christological emphasis, his meditative disposition, his yearnings to experience God’s presence, his realistic perspective on human sinfulness, his interweaving of knowledge of God and knowledge of the self, his emotional interpretation of fellowship with God and his deep conviction concerning the transitory nature of earthly existence” (p. 57) all within a monastic frame of reference.  Finally, Reuver’s Sweet Communion underscores that although many can argue that Bernard’s spirituality was based on love while the Reformation on faith this is too limited because ultimately for Bernard merits rests on the fact that “people fix their hope completely on him who saves the whole person … [he] considered God’s grace so surpassingly sweet (dulcissima) because it is entirely free (gratis).” (p. 59).

In chapter two Reuver’s Sweet Communion examines Thomas à Kempis within the spiritual atmosphere of modern devotion.  Reuver’s Sweet Communion briefly documents the contextual factors that led to the birth of modern devotion, one that “aimed at a renewed spirituality that endeavored to dispel the prevailing spirit of religious laxness (p. 67) and that represented a “definite democratizing of spirituality.” (p. 67)  The modern devotion’s communal life was one whose intent was “personal reformation, the reshaping and equipping of one’s life through concentration on the inner life.” (p. 67 ).  The modern devotion embraced the spiritual disciplines or practices of study, meditation, fasting, vigils and periods of silence along with the principles of humility, obedience, purity, self-denying and submissive service.  Its principal task or practice was the “meditative engagement with Scripture.” (p. 68)  Modern devotion can be best described as a movement that was sustained by the three components of feeling, understanding and action.  “Through rumination on what is heard and read, feelings are ignited and the understanding is enlightened with the result that discipleship is practiced in conformity to Christ.” (p. 70)  Reuver’s Sweet Communion then reviews Thomas’ life.  Born in Kempen, Thomas early on pursued an education at a cathedral school that stood for Christian discipleship.  Ordained as a priest, Thomas was known for combining “the contemplative life with the active existence of overseer of novices and of subprior, of a pastor and preacher, of a writer and copyist, and of a musician and hymn-writer.” (p. 72)  In fact, Thomas’ “literary output was seen as a form of spiritual exercise and at the same time as an indirect form of apostolic witness.” (p. 72)

Reuver’s Sweet Communion describes and analyzes Thomas’ most famous work Imitation of Christ.  Just like most of Thomas’ works this work was intended for the instruction of the young.  It is a devotional book.  Approaching the Imitation of Christ is an exercised based on examination and rumination.  Thomas’ primary intention “was to apply sacred Scripture … as the Bible is cited perhaps a thousand times.” (p. 75)  Thomas spirituality can be described by alluding to the following themes: discipleship, cross-bearing, humility, the inner life, loving God and heavenly matters.  Reuver’s Sweet Communion assessment from a reformational perspective takes on five aspects, namely: grace, Christology, justification by faith, love, pneumatology and monastic formation.  Although it appear at times that these seven themes are questionable from a reformed perspective, Reuver’s Sweet Communion acknowledges that these have been cordially received in the movement of Reformed spirituality known as the Further Reformation for they speak of “fundamental spiritual themes that cross confessional boundaries: heartfelt love of God, being humbled in one’s guilt for sin, dependence on grace and longing for the glories of heaven.” (p. 101)   This is to say that while à Kempis cannot be considered a fore-runner of the Reformation, his “conceptual legacy lies embedded in a spirituality that reflects Christian catholicity,” (p. 102) a catholicity guided by an experimental communion with God that appealed and was embraced by leading seventeenth century Reformed pietists.

In chapter three Reuver’s Sweet Communion explores William Teelinck known as the ‘Father of the Further Reformation.’  Williams was influenced early on by English Puritans.  Consequently, his conviction was that spiritual practice “should simply cover all of life.” (p. 110) William writes “to motivate others to this kind of devotion, or at least to make progress toward it.” (p. 111)  While quoting from multiple sources, “as a reformed Christian he [William] accorded true devotion not just to Reformed people, but to the entire Christian tradition.” (p. 113)  William wrote about devotion which was “a conscious surrender of oneself to God whenever a person, living an aimless and uncommitted life, now commits himself totally and completely to the worship of God.” (p. 114)   William also considered prayer and the movement of the spirit an essential trait of the believer and God as “simply the very best.” (p. 126)  Other themes the William underscores as his spirituality were: love for Jesus, sin and grace, faith and love self-denial, cross-bearing, humility, longer for Jesus and hunger for eternity.  William stood behind the affirmations of the reformation, bore ecumenical traits and his “piety certainly bears mystical features.” (p. 160)

In chapter four Reuver’s Sweet Communion describes Theodorus à Brakel as “one of the earliest representatives of those pietists born in the immediately following century” (p. 164) and one who focused since an early age on “how can a person acquire peace with God?” (p. 164)  Influenced from early age by the spiritual and devotional life of his grandmother in his mother’s side, Theodorus was decidedly shaped by three events in his life: the proclamation of the Word; his engagement with 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 and an experience when “his heart was ‘lifted up’ to union with God.” (p. 165)

Theodorus’ lifestyle was heavily characterized by godliness.  His work De Trappen presents his basis for spirituality.  Here Theodorus “presents an account of the steps, that is to say the levels, along which interaction with God develops.  There are three.  They do not reflect the three fold division of the Heidelberg Catechism, but the triad of childhood, youth and fatherhood.” (p. 169).  Theodorus’ main emphasis is fellowship with God in Christ.  He takes 1 John 2 and instead of the apostle speaking of children, fathers and young people, Theodorus affirms that this does not reflect years and age but “the increase of grace in the born-again person.” (p. 170)  Theodorus’ spirituality could be described by referring to his conceptualizations if childhood in Christ, youth in Christ and fatherhood in Christ.  The key aspects of his spirituality is that he pays attention more attention to the form rather than the stage of the spiritual life; the frequency of mystical pleasures increases but the intensity or quality and he is one of the most mystical writers of the Further Reformation

In chapter five Reuver’s Sweet Communion examines Guiljelmus Saldenus regarded by many as one “the old, practical theologians who possessed great ability in the care of the soul.” (p. 201)  Born to godly parents, Guiljelmus was educated by Voetius and later befriended Herman Witsius.  Guiljelmus was also man of great erudition.  His spirituality and piety is best examined in his book de Wech des Levens in which he showed his heart and soul.  Guiljelmus’ piety is one that seeks to explain the nature and power of godliness.  Godliness “has deep roots in the inner life” (p. 208) and this “inner life does not constitute the source for creating godliness” (p. 208) … but “the point of connection for the Holy Spirit, the point where he reaches and touches the heart.” (p. 208)  Four Guiljelmus, the life of faith mandates that the boundaries between true faith and counterfeit are delineated; intimacy with God is “familiarity or sweet friendship with God and his Son Jesus Christ” (p. 212) and heavenly joy; and longing for heaven prompted by the Holy Spirit and the imperfections of this world.  Guiljelmus’ piety and spirituality is the life of faith whose certainty of salvation is established by inherent fruit; fellowship is rooted in joy and emotional experience is desirable and common to all true believers.

In chapter six Reuver’s Sweet Communion presents Wilhelmus à Brakel, a child of prayer.  Wilhelmus was both influenced by godly parents and by professor Voetius.  Wilhelmus can be best described by his militancy defending the rights of the church, his loyalty to the church, and his “combination of dogmatic capability and pastoral, experimental disposition.” (p. 233)  His most famous work is Reasonable Service which was not a systematic theology but a popular statement of doctrine with pastoral implications.  He wanted to build the church.  His main spirituality believing fellowship with Christ was also called a covenant of marriage.  Also there are the themes of love for God and love for Jesus, reflection and contemplation.  Wilhelmus was able to connect “his systemic interests with both pastoral and mystical attitudes” (p. 257) and introduced believing fellowship with Christ and the claim that contemplation must be rooted in Christ.

Finally, in chapter seven Reuver’s Sweet Communion invites us to view the spirituality of the learned and gifted Herman Witsius.  Both a professor and a minister, Herman stated that “knowledge of the truth of the gospel provides enjoyment.” (p. 262)  Raised by godly parents, Herman was also influenced by Voetius particularly the synthesis if pietas and scientia. Herman’s spirituality sows continuity with the medieval mystical tradition particularly the Augustinian-Bernardian tradition.  Various themes attest to this spirituality.  These are taste and contemplation when Herman affirmed that being admitted to the inner precincts of the heavenly academy is accomplished by “seeing and tasting in drawing near to God;” (p. 268) faith and love, the former consisting of knowledge, assent and love and while the latter “kindled in love of God’s amicable qualities” (p. 271) and both intimately bounded up; meditation to be of essential nature; union with Christ in connection with the Holy Spirit; and starlight and sunlight which imply that godly people receive enlightened understanding.  Herman was a mystical theologian inspired by Bernard in which faith and love are to be interwoven.

Reuver’s Sweet Communion has documented the Dutch Further divines’ spirituality and mysticism in a significant and substantial manner through writings, ministries and experiences.  His foremost contribution here is that true doctrine can be married to personal faith, a testament that highlights the sources and richness of Reformed spirituality.

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Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars


Image result for called to the life of the mind“You don’t need to go to seminary.  Jesus never went to seminary.”  I still hear the echo of these words stated to me by an ministry aspiring young man.   This is a young man I recognized as gifted by the Lord.  This is young man I enthusiastically encouraged to acquire sound biblical and theological education.  This is a young man whose religious tradition views theological education as somehow alien and with great suspicion.  Upon reflection of this encounter, I went ahead and read some small books that speaks to the importance of education and the essential necessity of cultivating the life of the mind in the service of Christ.

American philosopher and theologian and former President at Fuller Theological Seminary Richard J. Mouw wrote a small book entitled Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars (Eerdmans, 2014) that makes some salient points in regards to the anti-intellectualism winds that blow from some particular places in American evangelicalism today.  While directed to the evangelical scholar community and not at the church, I will attempt to review some of its main points and close with some critical and practical questions.  My hope is that potential ministers, church leaders and Christ followers will be encouraged to cultivate the life of your mind and not just your heart.  After all, Scriptures invites us and exhort us to do so. Luke 10:27: And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:30; Matthew 22:37).

Called to the Life of the Mind begins by Mouw’s personal testimony of his journey into the world of Christian scholarship.  Mouw recalls the ‘simple Gospel’ emphasis and its implications.  Messages were as follows:

  • “You don’t need exegesis, you just need Jesus!” (p. 1)
  • “Education is a good thing only if you get the victory over it.” (p. 1)
  • “The only school any Christian needs to attend is the Holy Ghost’s school of the Bible.” (p. 1)

Mouw narrates that while he was in college he fell in love with the liberal arts.  But then as an evangelical preacher’s son he was worried.  “I worried much that not only was I disappointing my family’s hopes for me, but I was also rebelling against the plans that the Lord himself had for my life.” (p. 3).   However, an encounter with a guest speaker who insisted that “Christians must insist that our intellectual life is infused with faith” (p. 3) inspired Mouw to pursue ‘a lifelong commitment to Christian scholarship.” (p. 4)  Called to the Life of the Mind offers some lessons and wise words regarding the value, dichotomies, meaning, perils, pitfalls, victories and dilemmas that Christ followers who commit to the life of the mind may face in their journeys.

Called to the Life of the Mind underscores some of the accusing voices that Mouw faced as he was to enter the intellectual life.  “They were Christian voices from my past, and they spoke the familiar language of that long line of preachers, Bible teachers, and family members. You have compromised with the world, this voice said.  You have followed ways of thinking that are not fitting for a child of God.” (p. 5).  After much struggling, Mouw was grateful for those voices and for the need to keep in dialogue with them because he acknowledged that there is a spiritual struggle and because of the tendency of the intellect to favor the wrong side of this struggle.  Faithful cultivation of the life of the mind (knowledge) go hand in hand with living a life that pleases the Lord (experience).  Called to the Life of the Mind acknowledges that assuming that loving God implies having, gaining and mastering certain concepts of God can be very elitist because “not everyone in the Christian community needs to be seriously involved in intellectual pursuits.” (p. 10)  The crucial thing is for the Christian community to recognize and encourage some people to cultivate the intellectual disciplines.  The church needs good teachers and scholars.

Called to the Life of the Mind insists on the need for the Christian to do practical exercises (pragmatics) that seemingly may look unrelated at first to the Christian life but that actually would someday contribute to the growth and spiritual formation and maturity of such.  And equally, Called to the Life of the Mind asserts that “a sustained and disciplined intellectual life has also value apart from its pragmatic results.” (p. 15).  Cultivating the life of the mind in itself is a good thing.  Called to the Life of the Mind calls out the false choice between withdrawal or takeover when engaging the culture and to “doing the best we can to be an influence for the good without actually gaining any sort of cultural control.” (p. 19) Called to the Life of the Mind reminds us that we are finite and fallen beings and thus must “take a humbly modest approach to human knowing” (p. 23) heeding the Christian message that we are “tempted to arrogance and self-centeredness.” (p. 23)  Called to the Life of the Mind calls us to “live in the tension between epistemic humility and epistemic hope” (p. 26) lest we fall in the temptation to use knowledge in a triumphalist tone “moving from separation to an attempt at domination.” (p. 26)  Called to the Life of the Mind reminds us that the task of scholarship is a communal task.  Historically speaking, intellectual communities have been undergird by spiritual virtues.  Likewise, evangelical scholars today take a vow “to nurture a healthy tradition by a shared commitment to creative teaching and scholarship.” (p. 33)  Called to the Life of the Mind urges Christian higher institutions to become safe spaces for intellectual explorations and reminds us of the diversity of gifts in academic communities.  Called to the Life of the Mind urges evangelical scholars to acknowledge hopes and fears and its accompanying “frequent encounter with loneliness.” (p. 47)  evangelical scholars should procure communal involvement and consider appropriate “to invoke the support of the everlasting arms” (p. 47), a spiritual support system the church do not seem eager to develop.  Called to the Life of the Mind claims that critical thinking can be one way to serve the Lord and urges evangelical scholars to be “lovers of created reality,” (p. 56) by honoring, celebrating and beholding creation.  Called to the Life of the Mind urges evangelical scholars to Christ-like suffering and self-sacrificing collegiality by observing and practicing   the spiritual virtues of “humility, faith, self-denial and love” (p. 65) and by displaying “the kind of patience that is capable of tolerating complexities and living with seemingly unconnected particularities without giving into to despair or cynicism … a Christ-like ministry.” (p. 71)

Called to the Life of the Mind is a succinct yet meaningful reflection and advice to evangelical scholars by a premier and influential leader in the American evangelical academy and seminary community.  One reads Called to the Life of the Mind and senses the voice, dilemmas and challenges that only a seasoned scholar and administrator has experienced.  For that I commend Richard J. Mouw.  And while Called to the Life of the Mind is directed at evangelical scholars one can certainly use it and read it as an occasion to ask some questions to the evangelical churches and their leaders as follows: Does one’s faith requires sacrificing one’s intellect?  Do our churches provide safe places for intellectual explorations and for the cultivation of intellectual virtues, dispositions and habits?  How can our churches nurture a spiritual support system for the preparation of scholars and good teachers for the proclamation of the Gospel?  How can our church leaders promote an environment that holds in tension hope and humility?  Perhaps, the young man’s claim that attending seminary is unnecessary since Jesus never went to seminary would be unnecessary if some of our places of worship and their corresponding traditions create and cultivate a space and a culture where one’s faith can actually be married to the pursuit and development of the intellect.  Faith and reasons are friends rather enemies, albeit the latter is the maid of the former.

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Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love


Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love 

(Crossway, 2015) by Fred Sanders

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Wesley on the Christian Life begins by making two assertions: first that “evangelicals inside of Methodism are well aware that the Methodist movement has become what it was once a reaction against” (p. 15) and second that “Wesley’s kind of stirring” (p. 15) is needed because “his message is medicinal for much that ails us all today” (p. 15). Regarding this latter point, Wesley on the Christian Life states of Wesley:

He perceived the inherent unity of things that we have, to our harm, learned to think of as separate, or even as opposites. He saw that holiness of heart and life was internally and necessarily linked to the free forgiveness of sins. He saw the connection between justification and sanctification, and was able to communicate it powerfully. He was possesses of one central faith, that man is justified by faith and perfected by love. (p. 15)


The task of Wesley on the Christian Life is two-fold: (1) to introduce Wesley’s theology and spirituality and (2) “to recommend (with a few caveats) a generally Wesleyan approach to living a balanced Christian life.” (p. 15). Before delving into these purposes in 10 chapters, the author (a Wesleyan theologian) of Wesley on the Christian Life is fully aware of the following: the wide range of voices and perspectives of who was Wesley and of its accompanying multiple interpretations (So Many Wesleys, So Little Time) and of the following: that many ignore or revise parts of Wesley they do not like and that Wesley was able to cross lines and mixed traditions that are today rarely combined.


The author of Wesley on the Christian Life, one who got saved in a Methodist youth group, presents the warmhearted evangelical Protestant John Wesley. His approach is as follows:

His teaching on the Christian life trades heavily on being born again, on deeply felt heart religion, on justification by faith alone, on awareness of original sin and total dependence on God’s grace, on active cultivation of spiritual disciplines, and on striving for growth in knowledge and grace. His view of the Christian life is fed by the great tradition of Christian orthodoxy and is crowned by an experiential, evangelical Trinitarianism. (p. 18)

Wesley on the Christian Life closes its introduction by acknowledging the role of Charles Wesley as supporting witness and by underscoring that Wesley “was above all a preacher and a pastoral theologian” (p. 21), one whose field of expertise can be called ‘practical divinity’.


Chapter 1 of Wesley on the Christian Life briefly describes John Wesley’s life and character. The aim here is to present John Wesley as a spiritual guide. Chapter 1 of Wesley on the Christian Life narrates his early life, the background of his grandparents (nonconformists or dissenters from the Church of England), his evangelical conversion at Aldersgate, his role in the 1740s revival, the ways he built and organized the Methodist movement and facets of his personal life particularly his marriage (a disaster).

Chapter 2 of Wesley on the Christian Life focuses on John Wesley’s evangelical conversion at Aldersgate. The aim here is to present why John Wesley considered that Anglicans in the 1700s were almost Christians: namely, his theological convictions guiding the doctrine of justification and regeneration. Chapter 2 of Wesley on the Christian Life explains in detail Wesley’s conversion at Aldersgate, his theological convictions regarding salvation by faith and his challenge and call for the church in his time to live and embrace Scriptural Christianity.

Chapter 3 of Wesley on the Christian Life explores John Wesley’s approached to Christianity: heart religion. The aim here is to present John Wesley’s view of Christianity as heart religion and defend it against misunderstandings. Chapter 3 of Wesley on the Christian Life states the reasons for Wesley’s view: a spiritual decline in eighteenth century England that call for a focus on regeneration and justification; the human problem is a heart problem; his indebtedness to George Whitefield and Puritanism; the impact and relationship of heart religion to singing and hymnology; and the transition from holy temper to holy mercy one that causes John Wesley to affirm that “mere knowledge is confessedly too week” (p. 101) and one that causes John Wesley to call (writing to Wilberforce) for the abolition of slavery in England. “It was heart religion that brought down slavery” (p. 100).

Chapter 4 of Wesley on the Christian Life examines in what ways the first epistle of John defined John Wesley as a theologian. The aim here is to present why 1 John was John Wesley’s favorite book. Chapter 4 of Wesley on the Christian Life cautions about the danger of a ‘canon within a canon’; states the fact that 1 John called the attention of John Wesley because in this epistle he found “a portrayal of the Christian life as fellowship with God” (p. 105); help us understand Wesley’s theology by reading it as ‘John first, then Paul’ or ‘John plus Paul’ and Wesley’s drawing from Protestant and Catholic traditions for his Protestant doctrine of holiness.

Chapter 5 of Wesley on the Christian Life delves into John Wesley’s explanation of the role of justification by faith for both conversion and as the basis for sanctification. The aim here is to present how John Wesley sough to affirm article eleventh of the Thirty-Ninth articles of the Church of England while guarding it from or against antinomian understandings. Chapter 5 of Wesley on the Christian Life describes various events that shaped John Wesley: namely, his reading and reaction to James Hervey’s work Theron and Aspasio which was indebted to Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification; his sermon entitled ‘The Lord of Righteousness’ preached as a reflection on the disagreements that led to division in the church and his troubled engagement with the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (due to his intuition that it can led to believers shielding themselves from the demands of the law resulting in antinomianism).

Chapter 6 of Wesley on the Christian Life describes John Wesley’s articulation of the doctrine of grace and it marries aspects of forgiveness and empowerment. The aim here is to describe John Wesley’s holistic doctrine of grace. Chapter 6 of Wesley on the Christian Life describes the following: John Wesley’s doctrine as ‘first grace, then law’; John Wesley’s outline of his nomophilic doctrine of grace as seen in the table of contents of the Standard Sermons and in the principles derived from his exposition of the Sermon of the Mount and that his doctrine of grace permeates his preaching (which led to evangelical awakening in the eighteenth century) and which includes “the power of God for transformation” (p. 170).

Chapter 7 of Wesley on the Christian Life focuses on John Wesley’s articulation of the means of grace. The aim here is to state and explain that John Wesley’s goal for ministry was “to bring the soul into personal contact with the gracious God” (p. 173) by God’s appointed means of grace. Chapter 7 of Wesley on the Christian Life delves into John Wesley’s calls for balance between the Moravians’ theological presuppositions (meaning their underestimation of the means) and others’ overestimation of the means of grace; Charles Wesley’s singing of John Wesley’s means of grace; the danger of lumping together the means of grace and the spiritual disciplines and John Wesley’s exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines which includes: prayer, searching the Scriptures, the Lord’s Prayer, meditating and Christian conference.

Chapter 8 of Wesley on the Christian Life tackles John Wesley’s teaching that Jesus ‘saves to the uttermost’ also called in the following ways; entire sanctification, Christian perfection, and perfect love. The aim here is to present John Wesley’s vision of the perfect life. Chapter 8 of Wesley on the Christian Life acknowledges that this is perhaps the most controversial teaching and the one that separates the Methodist from the Calvinist-Evangelical wings of the Revival and then provides Wesley’s definition of sanctification and whether it can be completed; examines the principle of real change; Wesley’s characterization of the benefits of union with Christ; explains what is Christian perfection; elaborates on the major objections to Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection and lays out for the reader a Reformed critique and commendation (J.I. Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit) of Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection.

Chapter 9 of Wesley on the Christian Life delves into John Wesley’s articulation of catholicity meaning that “a Christian’s life could not live out in isolation from the universal church” (p. 219). The aim here is to present the catholic spirit of John Wesley. Chapter 9 of Wesley on the Christian Life describes the great tradition of Christian spirituality; Wesley’s admonition against triumphalism and narrowness in his sermons and Wesley’s efforts at an ecumenism that reached “across time, through the great tradition” (p. 235) and Wesley’s cooperation across the Calvinist-Arminian divide. Spurgeon, a Calvinist Baptist, stated that “Wesleyanism wasn’t the main danger of his, or any, age. The main danger is Christians failing to be wide awake, failing to be fully Christian” (p. 239-240).

Finally, chapter 10 of Wesley on the Christian Life briefly explain the Trinitarian character and pattern of John Wesley’s theology and how it undergirds his spirituality. The aim here is to present the Trinitarian theology of John Wesley. Chapter 10 of Wesley on the Christian Life begins with an appreciation Wesley’s trinitarianism; focuses on the gospel-centeredness and experientially-based character of Wesley’s trinitarianism; shortly notes the Trinitarian theology of Methodism in Charles Wesley’s hymns and cites evidence in Wesley’s sermons that “true religion is Trinitarian” (p. 250).


There are two things that I appreciate about Wesley on the Christian Life. One is the potential for learning (and for retrieving the Christian tradition for the renewal of the church) that the theology of John Wesley has for the contemporary American evangelical church. The other thing that I value about this biography is the practical character and identity of John Wesley. We may disagree about particular and core doctrinal issues. But we need to treasure that practical theology and divinity as well as practical concerns of the Anglican minister who is celebrated and esteemed not only by the Christ followers and disciples of Wesleyan, Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches worldwide but also by any Gospel-lover and serious student of the Scriptures and church history who should be wholeheartedly grateful for Wesley’s thinking on what it means to live as a Christian.

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faith alone

Faith alone – sola fide – is one of the five rallying cries of the Reformation. In Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification (Zondervan, 2015), Thomas Schreiner insists that sola fide still matters today “because it summarizes biblical teaching” (p. 15) and because “it accords with the Word of God” (p. 15). Misunderstanding of this doctrine does not mean that one ought to surrender it for it is a vital theological truth. We are to be cautions and aware that “our efforts at guarding the gospel do not become more important to us than cherishing the life-giving freedom and joy the gospel provides to us” (p. 17) and keep in mind that “doctrines are maps and model, not mathematical formulas” (p. 17) thus “we must avoid, then, relying on simplistic appeals to sola fide, or condemning without conversation or understanding those who reject the term” (p. 17).

In Faith Alone section 1 (chapters 1-6) a tour of church history of the scriptural witness on sola fide is conducted. In Faith Alone chapter 1 we encounter definitions of key terms such as forensic, transformative, imputed and infused righteousness and a description of how justification by faith is alluded to by several of the early church fathers. It cannot proved that the early church denied this truth for “even a cursory tour of some of their writings indicates that they frequently upheld the truth that we are justified by faith rather than by works” (p. 36).

In Faith Alone chapter 2 we are told about what Martin Luther taught about justification and sola fide. Luther viewed justification as “the Master and prince, the lord, the ruler and judge, over all kinds of doctrine, which preserves and governs the entire church doctrine and sets up our conscience in the sight of God” (p. 41). His views on the theology of sin, the role of law of God, imputation and not impartation of Christ’s righteousness, good works and the new Finnish interpretation of Luther are easily understood.

In Faith Alone chapter 3 revisits Calvin’s teaching on justification, necessary and crucial because of sin, God’s demands of perfect obedience and the futility of works for righteousness. Calvin affirms sola fide; faith as a gift of God, one that is ‘living, active, and vital” (p. 56) and justification as forensic providing although not as the foundation upon which man stands firm before God. Calvin underscores that it is in union with Christ that the believers enjoy these benefits.

In Faith Alone chapter 4, we are reminded that the Council of Trent not only rejected sola fide but also stated that “faith cooperates with good works and increases our justification” (p. 65). Trent treats justification as a process that calls for inherent righteousness. Schreiner is admits the changing nature of the Catholic Church and the variety of the beliefs of individuals but recognizes the improbability of change due to the practices of catechisms and sacramental theology.

In Faith Alone chapter 5 we get to see the thinking of John Owen who is very pastoral in his affirmation of sola fide, the relationship between faith and obedience, the forensic nature of justification and the importance of union with Christ; of Richard Baxter’ whose concerns with antinomianism somehow separated him a bit from his confessionally Reformed brothers; and Francis Turretin whose justification is grounded on covenant theology.

In Faith Alone chapter 6, the thought of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley on sola fide is explored. Schreiner affirms that Edwards did not depart from the Reformational understanding in his views on justification, faith, and perseverance. Wesley’s concern with sola fide as leading to antinomianism is recognized although we are told despite mixed reviews that Wesley believed that we are saved only through the merits of Christ and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

In Faith Alone section 2 (chapters 7-16), we go on a biblical and theological tour of sola fide.

In Faith Alone chapter 7 we learn that the phrase ‘works of law’ does not refer the boundary markers that divide Jews and Gentiles (the New Perspectives on Works of Law) but to the entire law. Working through Romans, Galatians, Philippians 3:2-9 and other Pauline texts, Schreiner affirms that Paul stresses that justification cannot be obtained by works but by faith alone.

In Faith Alone chapter 8 touches upon the prominent role of faith in the NT. The Synoptic Gospels illustrate the central role of faith, something not to be “confined to mental assent to truths” (p. 117). Various verses in Acts support the primacy of faith and the Pauline letters underscore the centrality of faith and trust.

In Faith Alone chapter 9 the phrase ‘faith of Jesus Christ’ in Paul’s letters is examined. Schreiner indicates that the debate can be clearly seen in the English versions of NET and HCBS. Contrary to the ‘faithfulness of Christ’ Schreiner prefers an objective genitive and therefore supports (and finds more persuasive) the traditional phrase ‘faith in Jesus Christ,’ a dispute that is important for “it fits with the idea that we are saved by faith alone and not by our accomplishments” (p. 132).

In Faith Alone chapter 10 we are right away introduced with various views that have questioned the importance and centrality of justification. Schreiner indicates that his aim is not to defend justification as the center of Paul’s theology but to emphasize that it plays a crucial in Paul’s theology. Schreiner defends justification’s importance by responding to critics such as N.T. Wright and offering insights from parallel passages in the NT. Schreiner underscores that there is no need to have justification and participation as competing with each other and close this chapter by briefly touching upon justification as exposed by Duke Divinity Douglas Campbell in his Deliverance of God and then rebuts his main arguments by exposing inconsistencies.

In Faith Alone chapter 11 examines the noun ‘righteousness’ and its verbal forms. Schreiner examines the plural and singular uses of the term righteousness noting that it speaks of salvation and deliverance, that it cannot be separated from the notion of covenant while including also God’s judgment.

In Faith Alone chapter 12 we are told that justification in Paul is fundamentally eschatological. Schreiner scripturally demonstrates that the time when justification occurs is at times in the future, in the past and at vague. Justification can be both future and past. ‘Believers in Jesus Christ are now justified through faith in Jesus Christ … still, they look forward to the day when the declaration will be announced publicly and to the entire world … justification is an already but not yet reality” (p. 157).

In Faith Alone chapter 13 considers whether God’s righteousness is transformative or forensic. Schreiner presents and explains the biblical verses in favor of transformative righteousness. Then, biblical evidence is provided as to the forensic understanding in both the OT and in Paul (a declarative understanding of righteousness, counted as righteous, righteousness denoting a status, righteousness by faith). Objections to these being forensic rather being declarative are dealt with always having in view that the former serves as the basis of the latter and that they are inseparable though to be distinguished.

In Faith Alone chapter 14 argues that the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ includes “the idea of right standing with God” (p. 170) particularly in soteriological contexts. God’s righteousness is not only revealed in the gospel where God’s love and holiness are underscored but is also a gift. Schreiner shortly responds to objections that advocate God’s righteousness as being transformative and that God’s judgment is not only a verdict (particularly justice to the poor) that is effective and executive but also one that involves deliverance.

In Faith Alone chapter 15 takes on the notion of imputation which means that “Christ’s righteousness is counted or credited to believers” (p. 179). Using the biblical texts of Romans 4:1-8; Galatians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9 and Romans 5:12-19, Schreiner summarizes the fundamental objections to imputation as found in the writing of N.T. Wright and argues in favor of imputation.

In Faith Alone chapter 16 asserts that while justification is by faith alone meaning that our works do not count or warrant our justification it does not follow that faith is lifeless or death (pointing out to James 2:14). Schreiner tours Matthew, John and Paul and finds that as in James that there could and it is indeed a kind of faith that is ‘bare’ and ‘empty’ and therefore “doesn’t embrace and love Jesus, and in the final analysis it proves to be no faith at all” (p. 192). Schreiner insists that the Scriptures presents a saving faith that is living and active. As it relates to sola fide, we are reminded by the NT witness that “good works are necessary for final salvation, yet these works don’t compromise salvation by faith alone” (p. 199). “True works always leads to works, to a changed life. There is no such a thing as cheap grace in the Bible, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said” (p. 206).

In Faith Alone section 3 (chapters 17-21) contemporary challenges to sola fide are discussed.

In Faith Alone chapter 17 closely looks at some of the most recent discussions between Protestants and Catholics on sola fide. Schreiner investigates the teaching of justification as it accords to the New Catholic Catechism. Schreiner then describes, analyzes and evaluates the joint declaration on justification by Catholics and Protestants (particularly Lutherans) and the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document clarifying the meaning of the latter one while adding the objections of Anglican minister and theologian J.I. Packer and addressing and responding to the perspective of Lutheran-turned-Catholic and founder of the First Things Journal Richard John Neuhaus, who claimed that sola fide was merely a “sixteenth-century formulation and does not represent pure biblical truth” (p. 225). Nonetheless, Schreiner cites Protestant-turned-Catholic individuals who know evangelical theology well although reject the Protestant view of sola fide. These individuals include Scott Hahn, a Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary alumni and Christian theologian, apologist, founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Robert A. Sungenis another apologist who has written critiques directed at justification by faith alone. At the end of this chapter, Schreiner recognizes the difficulties inherent to agreements on justification particularly for its resulting ambiguity and especially for its undermining of imputed righteousness. However, Schreiner is quite convinced that both Roman Catholic and Evangelicals can collaborate and cooperate on social issues thought understanding that at the end of the day agreeing on justification will remain far from any concord.

In Faith Alone chapter 18 shortly retells the story of former evangelical leader Frank Beckwith’s re-conversion to Roman Catholicism and considers his views on justification (whose claims is that the Protestant view of justification was not shared by the early church fathers; is a process; that works are not merely an evidence for justification and that infusion and imputation cannot be separated, the latter being a product from nominalism). Schreiner responds to these objections, acknowledge Beckwith’s gifts as a scholar and states that Beckwith’s moves constitutes a return to Rome.

In Faith Alone chapter 19 takes on a second challenge to sola fide, namely: the New Perspective of Paul in N.T. Wright, whose central claim is that “Paul’s main concern wasn’t legalism but the ethnocentrism, the racial superiority of the Jews” (p. 24). Schreiner views three polarities in the thinking of N.T. Wright, namely: “that justification is primarily about ecclesiology instead of soteriology … that Israel’s fundamental problem was its failure to bless the world whereas Paul focuses on Israel’s inherent sinfulness … [and] that justification is a declaration of God’s righteousness but does not include the imputation of God’s righteousness” (p. 244) and discusses each point supporting a soteriological character of justification, calling out Wright’s false dichotomy in Galatians and underscoring Wright’s misunderstanding of ‘works of the law’.

In Faith Alone chapter 20 examines yet another aspects of the Wright’s New Perspective on Paul, namely: his “discussion about the sin of Israel” (p. 253). Schreiner argues that that the main problem with Israel is not that they failed to bless the nations (instrumentally, true indeed according to Scripture) but that “the focus is on Israel’s idolatry and concomitant failure to do the will of the Lord” (ontologically, they are radically evil) (p. 254). Schreiner reviews God’s plan for Israel; points out Wright’s rejection and interpretation of imputation and pitting of legal declaration against moral character and succinctly explains and responds to Wright’s claims that as a judge in a court God cannot give his righteousness to a defendant. Schreiner is grateful to Wright for his scholarship and contributions to clarify biblical teachings. However, he stands with the firm conviction that “Wright’s view of justification needs to be both clarified and corrected, for our sure hope for eternal life is the righteousness of God that belongs to us through our union with Christ” (p. 261).

In Faith Alone chapter 21 serves as a concluding remarks to the work covered in the entire book itself. Schreiner focuses on the importance of saving faith, one that is more than mental assent and recognizes that the glory is to God alone while calling us to recognize that “our faith doesn’t ultimately save us, for salvation is of the Lord” (p. 262). Justification by faith alone takes into account Christian experience and Christian history. Faith does not qualify us for or constitute our righteousness but “unites us to Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness and our only hope on the Day of Judgment” (p. 263). Justification reveals the grace of God through the history of the church in the lives that have been transformed as well as underscores the undeniable historical facts that often at times the church has been guilty of horrifying sins in this fallen and broken world. Justification by faith alone is a wonderful biblical doctrine because, as the author states, despite our struggles with sin, our confidence does not rest in us but in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.

I am quite appreciative of Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification What the Reformers taught … and Why It Still Matters for three reasons. First, this is a quick and easy read where one can begin to understand the significance and meanings of this foundational and biblical doctrine. Second, I am thankful not only for Schreiner’s command of the historical, biblical, theological (and even at times brief exegetical points) and contemporary challenges to sola fide, but also for his candor, gracious, rigor, humility, and honesty with which he engages this profound and important topic. Finally, I am deeply appreciate for here is work that addresses a difficult and at times misread and misunderstood doctrine with a high view of Scripture and in a non-confrontational and invitational manner. After reading Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification What the Reformers taught … and Why It Still Matters, I remained convinced that sola fide is way too significant for the church to be dismissed or ignored. But then more importantly, reading Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification What the Reformers taught … and Why It Still Matters has fueled my interest and passion for once again opening and re-reading the Scriptures and serving the Christ’s church persuaded by the Spirit that salvation is by Grace alone, for Christ’s alone and for the glory of God alone.

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Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom

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Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom 

(Crossway, 2015) by Carl. R. Trueman

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Luther on the Christian Life is an eye-opening view of the life and theology of the Father of the Protestant Reformation and German Augustinian friar Martin Luther. The author Carl Trueman, a Presbyterian and therefore not a Lutheran, claims Martin Luther for the whole church of Jesus Christ and presents here a solid piece of scholarship yet accessible to and readable by contemporary readers.

Luther on the Christian Life right from the introduction acknowledges the immense debt that Western Christianity owes to the German Reformer while considering the problems that readers of Luther confront in contemporary society. First, dramatic sound bites are tirelessly, relentlessly and frequently echoed in phrases such as ‘theologian of glory,’ theologian of the cross,’ and justification by grace through faith alone,’ ‘the hidden God and the revealed God,’ ‘the bondage of the will,’ and ‘the epistle of straw.’ These are powerful, theologically-rich and worthy of broader discussion and debate for some while for others a cause for joy and celebration. The problem is that familiarity with these phrases does not mean understanding them. There is “evangelical propensity to reinvent heroes of the past as modern-day evangelicals … Luther was not a modern American evangelical … Luther and his world are deeply alien to the sensibilities of modern evangelicalism” (p. 22-23). Second, there is the common claim that Luther “was not a systematic thinker” (p. 23), a claim based on the fact that he did not write a systematic theology.   The issue here is that people who like to quote Luther need to consider the greater and overall context of his theology to make justice to what Luther intended or meant to say. Third, there is a critical need to acknowledge the differences between the early/younger Luther and the late/older Luther (post-1525). Not having so can lead the modern reader to ignore or miss the impact and significance of events particularly upon the preservation of the gospel for future generations. We as modern readers must make an effort to pay attention to these three problems lest we fall in the trap of owning the familiar evangelical mythology of a Luther who by all standards would look upon some of our core beliefs and practices as alien and at best unrecognizable.

Luther on the Christian Life is a fascinating and commendable account of the German Reformer for the author’s approach. We are reminded here that Luther was no mere theologian who entertain abstract ideas but a man who “lived a dramatic Christian life” (p. 26). The author informs us that “Luther was a man of real flesh and blood; he was a son, a priest, a pastor, a preacher, a politician, a controversialist, a depressive, a man who was to stand more than once at the grave of one of his beloved children. He baptized babies, performed marriages, heard confessions and presided at funerals. All of these things shaped his theology. Indeed, he wrote theology from the position of being immersed in the mucky reality of everyday life” (p. 26).

Luther on the Christian Life at the outset makes clear that it does not intend to neither “interact extensively with the vast and ever-growing scholarship on Luther” (p. 26) nor “offer significant critique of Luther” (p. 26). These caveats are enormously appreciate. In addition, one can quickly admire the author for opening himself as to the reasons why he considers the German Reformer a formidable conversation partner and “a worthy subject of personal study” (p. 28). Luther on the Christian Life consists of eight chapters. Here is a brief word on each chapter.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 1 invites us to a closer look at Luther’s life. After providing a brief narrative of Luther’s early life, we are informed of his existential and theological struggles. “How could he, knowing how sinful he was, possibly stand in such proximity to a holy and righteous God?” (p. 33) Luther was a pastor and professor of theology. His exegetical work on Psalms and Romans altered his theology. The transformed Luther denounced the abused of indulgences. The Heidelberg Disputation and the Leipzig Debate were foundational to his theological thinking and had an impact beyond the intended aim (merely academic). In the year 1520 Luther penned his famous three great treatises: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church; The Freedom of the Christian Man; and An Appeal to the German Nobility. Luther on the Christian Life shortly cites the events leading to the Diet Worms and his excommunication, his clash with Erasmus (from which Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, his marriage to Katherine von Bora and his call to the nobles to suppress the Peasant’s War. Luther’s conflict with Huldrych Zwingli is also describe for it is foundational to Luther’s theology. Luther on the Christian Life chapter 1 concludes by noting Luther’s later years and events that tarnished his reputation.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 2 expose us to Luther’s most foundational theological concepts. The Heidelberg Disputation underscores Luther’s denouncing of the influence of Aristotelianism on Christian theology. Part of the theses associated with this disputation underscore Luther’s definitions of the theologian of glory and the theologian of the cross. This glory-cross antithesis would lead Luther to redefine love, particularly making a distinction between human and divine love. Other theological concepts explain here include: justification by grace through faith and its particular Luther’s understanding in terms of simul justus et peccator “simultaneously righteous and sinner” (p. 71); Luther’s division of Christ’s office as mediator as priest and king and its resulting provocative statement in The Freedom of the Christian Man which states: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (p. 72) and his advocacy for the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ a concept that would directly strike at medieval piety.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 3 reveals to us Luther’s appreciation for God’s Word preached. It is in the Word that we find the incarnate and crucified Christ today. It is in the corporate context of the church that we find the Word preached.   Contrary to popular appeals who present Luther and his 95 theses as a clean break from the Middle Ages, scholars have documented the positive continuity between late medieval theology and Luther’s Reformation thought (e.g. the absolute and the ordained power of God and the nature and function of words as determining reality). So when God speaks, that speech creates reality. The Word of God is creative. The content of preaching is Law and Gospel. The preacher’s task is “destroy self-righteousness and point hearers toward the alien, external righteousness of Christ” (p. 92). Luther’s preaching reminds us that we are not unique in terms of our status before God. “There are only two ways to approach God: by law or by gospel” (p. 96). There are also only two ways a person cab before God: “a person is under wrath or under grace” (p. 96).

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 4 explain to us that Luther defined and characterized the Christian life as liturgical. The Word of God was silenced consequently leading to the intrusion of fables and nonsensical hymns and the worship was presented as something offered to God. Luther pursued a reform of the medieval liturgical tradition. This primarily included formal catechisms and catechizing. Luther’s understanding of the Christian life underscored that we do not need “something more than the Bible” (p. 113). What we need is the Word of God. Luther’s model of Christian education for pastors should focus on the “preaching and teaching on the basics of the Christian life because such truths are in a sense the whole of the Christian life. Church should intentionally shape their liturgies to reflect their theological convictions” (p. 114). The calling of the church is to teach about God by the doctrines as laid out in the doctrines in the catechism. The theology of the cross ought to determine the Christian life and what the church ought to teach and preach.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 5 shows us how Luther’s view of how God’s Word works in the lives of individuals. “The Word addresses us at the core of our being; learning it is never a purely cerebral or rote exercise. It grips our souls, drives us to despair and lifts us up to the very portals of heaven” (p. 28). Luther finds in David the paradigmatic experience in the Christian (oratio, meditation, and tentatio in Latin). The latter of this (also called Anfechtungen) represents a “peculiar existential struggle, a kind of seesaw between despair and hope” (p. 123). It is here where Luther breaks with medieval piety. This notion includes the role of the devil whose task is to cultivate despair and whose main strategy is to create confusion between law and gospel.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 6 take us on a journey towards Luther’s understanding of the sacraments. Luther’s high view of baptism, its meaning and efficacy would have been alien to most evangelicals today. Baptism has an objective reality. God is the agent in baptism. For Luther, the Mass was central for “it makes Christ and his promise more real, more present, to the Christian” (p. 150). Luther maintained the real presence of Christian in the elements. The Mass had a pastoral function and was a pastoral tool in Luther’s day where life expectancy was shortened. The Mass helped the Christian who feared death to fix his gaze upon God. Luther’s sacramentalism points to the power of the gospel and to the corporate nature of the church.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 7 challenge us to consider how Luther treats intrinsic righteousness. The central question here is what is the place of sanctification in Luther’s theology? After situating Luther’s theological contexts and times, one who “very confident of the Reformation outcome and very confident that the simple preaching of the Word could do it all” (p. 162). Luther’s position on righteousness derives from his 1519 sermon “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” Alien righteousness is the one that the believer received from Christ (imputed upon the believer) and proper righteousness “involves the slaying of the flesh and the crucifying of wicked desires, coupled with the performance of good works for our neighbors” (p. 162-163). These two righteousness are rooted in Christology. Luther deals with the problematic assumptions that alien righteousness would lead to proper righteousness and to an ethic of love. Luther’s Parish visitations in 1527 and controversies with Johannes Agricola of Eisleben on the role of the law and its explicit teachings from the catechisms helped the German Reformers dealt with the rising antinomian and Christian love. We are reminded here that Luther’s theology was a work in progress when trying to grasp a deeper understanding of the role of personal holiness something usually undermined because of the Luther’s unilateral emphasis on grace.

Luther on the Christian Life chapter 8 presents us with Luther’s revolutionary vision and thinking on real life. Luther’s theology revolutionized thinking in the public sphere, earthly callings, marriage and family. Luther denounced the captivity of the institutional church which made a hierarchical distinction between the sacred and the secular. For Luther, “all Christians are priests” (p. 178). Luther “parallels the ministry with the calling of the secular magistrate and offers a point of clear distinction with significant implications: as the minister’s tools are Word and sacrament, so the secular magistrate’s tools are rod and sword” (p. 179). Herein lies Luther’s idea of the two kingdoms. There is the spiritual and secular spheres. Luther insisted that “all earthly callings become legitimately spiritual when done in faith” (p. 179). In addition to the civil magistrate, Luther also viewed marriage as that paradigmatic and pedagogical, analogically illustrated in the Bible by Christ and the Church (His bride), that far transcends any earthly calling. Luther loved children and often spoke of the catechetical faith that a believer needs as a little child is in need of instruction and as trust, humility and attitude that one must have before God.

Luther on the Christian Life concludes with a reflection by the author. “Luther’s great stress upon the priority and objectivity of God’s revelation” (p. 196) is the first lesson that has captivated the author of Luther on the Christian Life. The author was also impressed by Luther’s emphasis on existential struggles and by his sense of humor. This is an insight for Protestant theologians have not often been known for their laughter. Luther knew life as tragedy yet the foolishness of God exposes life as comedy.

Reading Luther on the Christian Life has enriched my life. I say this for three reasons. First, Luther on the Christian Life is an eye-opening text for the Father of the Protestant Reformation that will push you to go the primary sources. Second, the one thing that makes Luther on the Christian Life intriguing and irresistible that while we come to understand and appreciate how some of our beliefs and practices may be alien (and I am deeply appreciative of Trueman’s emphasis on context – when none of the traditional accusations are glossed over – although it may not sufficient given the purposes of this book) we are at the same time welcomed to see the man as he really was, a man who struggled existentially, a family man, a teacher, a leader etc. a view of his multifaceted role, one whom the public does not associate or relate well when they hear of theologians. Third and final, I want to commend this work because it is accessible to church leaders and lay people. One of the things that I always have in mind when reading books is my people, the people in church. Can they read it? Yeah, I know. There are many today calling for the renewal of the church. And I applaud that. I celebrate that. However, their writings are often directed at their own peers (nothing wrong with that with me as I am a theology fan and reader). Nonetheless, people in our pews and in our aggressively post-Christian context need to be introduced to the theological giants in a language and vocabulary that they can understand, relate to and appreciate so that they ultimately love the gospel and give glory to God and Luther on the Christian Life helps greatly in that endeavor.

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Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible


Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible 

(Crossway, 2015) by Leland Ryken

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I must confess that I was not always a fan of great literature. In fact, I would admit that I used to be one of those students who fall asleep when confronting the big texts. Yes, I was one of them who saw the great texts as too hard (perhaps cumbersome) to understand and even boring or irrelevant to contemporary situations and let alone to real-life experiences, dilemmas and daily struggles.

However, all of this changed sometime during my Christian journey I started questions about the Faith. I read the Bible and signed myself for every Sunday school class and even enrolled and graduated from a locally-based church Bible Institute. It was not enough. I prayed and searched continuously for ways to understand and express my faith outside of the conventional four walls and beyond the celebrated preaching guest or the much beloved church pastor. I began to read voraciously and during that journey I found all kinds of writers who were able to articulate the Christian Faith and for that matter the entire Holy Scriptures in ways that engaged and interacted with other literary works that spoke of human existential struggles. It is during this time that I found a series of writers who had a deep appreciation for literature while having a high view of Scripture.

Wheaton College English Professor Leland Ryken (now retired, Emeritus) is one of those writers that for some years now I have been secretly and closely following and reading. I have fallen in love again and again with not only the Bible but also the classics. Ryken’s work has helped me cultivate a taste for the literary world in a Christian perspective.

Some of the works I am appreciate for offering me an entryway into the Bible, the arts and literature are the following: How to Read the Bible as Literature (Zondervan, 1985); Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Baker, 1990); Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible (Baker, 1993); Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2003); The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Wipf and Stock, 2005); The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing (Waterbrook Press, 2002); Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature (Baker, 2012) and Christian Guides to the Classics (Crossway, 2014) which introduces us to the following works: The Devotional Poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Milton; Milton’s Paradise Lost, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Dickens’ Great Expectations, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Augustine’s Confessions, Homer’s The Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth among others.

Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible (Crossway, 2015) is Leland Ryken’s most recent publication. This is a sequel to Ryken’s A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible (Crossway, 2014) and one that includes parts of Ryken’s Bible Handbook (Tyndale, 2005) and The Literary Study Bible (Crossway, 2007).

Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible begins by laying out several reasons as to why literary forms of the Bible. Each book of the Bible follows a common format. For each book, there is the following” an orienting section, generalizations of the book that underscore its identity or genre to be explored; where relevant, topics, problems and obstacles, a chart outlining the book of the Bible, a section indicating literary genres, forms, and techniques and a final segment entitled ‘Literary Forms and Religious Vision’.

Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible continues to emphasize the book nature of the Bible by explaining its anthological meaning. “The broadest literary thing that we can say about the Bible is that it is a book …. If we ask what kind of book the Bible is, the answer is that it is an anthology – a collection of diverse works written by separate authors … the very name Bible (Greek biblia) tells us that the Bible is an anthology, inasmuch as the word means ‘little books’. An anthology of “little books” can appropriately be thought of as a small library” (p. 13). Ryken explains that the Bible can be organized by leading events (creation, covenant, exodus, conquest of the promised land, Israelite monarchy, exile and return, the life of Christ, beginning of the Christian church and the end of human history) or by clusters of books and its dominating genre or common designation (Genesis-Deuteronomy, Pentateuch-history and law; Joshua-Esther, Historical Narrative; Psalms-Song of Solomon, Poetry and proverb-wisdom literature; Isaiah-Daniel, Major Prophets; Hosea-Malachi, Minor prophets etc.). Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible affirms the uniqueness of the Bible by commenting on the fact in it “three different authorial impulses and types of writing converge: the theological or religious, the historical, and the literary” (p. 16). Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible also notes the diversity of genres, literary techniques and authorial temperaments that the Bible exhibits. Among the stylistic preferences that biblical writers shares (taking into accounts exceptions) Ryken underscores the following: preference for the concrete over the abstract, realist, a preference for simplicity of style and for the brief unit rather than the long and elaborated one, a knack for capturing what is universal in human experience, affective power, a prevailing seriousness or gravity (Latin gravitas), a confrontational quality, a dramatic impulse, aphoristic flair (p. 19-20).

Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible is a helpful book. It is critical not only to know the contents of a particular book in the Bible but also its forms. “In any piece of writing, there is no content without the form in which it is expressed. Without the story or poem, for example, there is no message. The content of the Bible does not exist in disembodied form, it is all embodied in a myriad of literary forms” (p. 10). Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible does exactly that for each book of the Bible. To me this is fascinating, provocative and inviting because it not only places before our own eyes the shape (the forms) of each book of the Bible but also aids our interpretations of them thus giving us greater insight (the substance) into it. Now, this is extremely significant for it will facilitate the faithful reading and understanding of God’s Word.

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The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision

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The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision 

(Zondervan, 2015) by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson

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Driven by Puritan theologian and Dutch divine William Ames who in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity affirmed that Theologia est Scientia vivendo Deo meaning “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (p. 7), The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision confronts one of those elusive and false dichotomies that has shaped the life of the church, namely: “Can a Christian minister be both a pastor and a theologian?” (p. 7) This is described as a crisis of identity due to the claim that “we’ve lost touch with the ancient traditions of the church” (p. 9).

The authors here are the founders of the Center for Pastor Theologians whose mission is to “help pastors provide intellectual leadership to the church and to the church’s leaders” (p. 10). The underlying assumption is that “pastors aren’t viewed as theologians, but as practitioners” (p. 10). The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision make the case that pastor theologian are a rare species since they “no longer traffic in ideas” (p. 11). The pastorate is not viewed as an intellectual calling. This underscores a division of labor between theologians and pastors that does not have historical precedent. Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy and Nathaniel Taylor were all pastor theologians “who combined spiritual urgency with profound learning” (p. 12). Of course this was a time when the word ‘theologian’ was synonymous with pastor. However, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision informs us that nowadays this is not the case for “theology has become ecclesially anemic, and the church theologically anemic” (p. 13), a reality that has led to a new division of labor where “pastors aren’t theologians and theologians aren’t pastors” (p. 14). Despite this predicament, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Visionenvisions and advocates “for a return of the pastor theologian who has a shepherd’s heart and a pastor’s primary vocational identity, yet who functions as an intellectual peer of the academic theologian and, as such, produces theological scholarship” (p. 14-15).

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision proceeds from chapters 2 to 9 to resurrect the paradigm for the pastor theologian. Chapter 2 consists of a historical survey that examines the legacy of the pastoral theologian and underscores the division of labor between clerical and nonclerical theologians. After introducing the experiences of British theologian and scholar N.T. Wright (Tom) Wright, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision provides an account of the relationship between the church, the pastorate and theological scholarship through five major periods, namely: Apostolic Fathers to Constantine (90-300), Constantine to the monasteries (300-600), monasteries to the universities (600-1200), universities to the Reformation (1200-1500), and the Reformation to the Enlightenment (1500-1750). Theologians here are described and examined under three headings, namely: clerical, nonclerical and monastic. Chapter 3 continues the historical survey by documenting how theologians from the Enlightenment to the present ended up in the academy. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision points out that the Enlightenment in Europe and the Revolution and the Second Great Awakening led to the “tragic divorce between the theologian and the pastor” (p. 42).  On the one hand, under the upheaval of the Enlightenment and its ‘new science’ theories the church was part of the problem and not the solution leading the university to be instruments of the state rather than being in the service of the church; to the undermining of the Bible as a sacred text and to the dethroning of theology as the queen of the sciences. On the other hand, the American Revolution and the Great Awakening led to the divorce of the pastor and the theologian due to the ensuing urbanization and secularization of American culture, the resulting egalitarian impulse and the founding of evangelical divinity school obviously shaped by the cultural shifts. The pastor theologian was replaced the professor theologian, a shift that was accompanied by the institutional structures of the university and its cultural and intellectual prestige.

Chapter 4 examines the challenge of theological anemia of the church. After noting the role of the theologian in the church, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision points out that the evangelical church has lost its way not because of the absence of contemporary theologians and scholars but because “pastors, not professors, are the theological leaders of the church” (p. 57). The local pastors is not only no longer endowed with the theological capacity it once enjoyed but also is no longer able to be a “broker” of theological truth, a position not fully embraced by the authors here since it represents in their view a ‘demotion’ and one that leads pastors to be mere middle-management position. Thus, the task of theology is up to the academy and not the pastoral community, a mistaken belief that has delayed the church from experiencing theological recovery. Chapter 5 examines the challenge of the ecclesial anemia of the church. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision addresses the popular claim that evangelical theology is too removed from the needs of the local church. Two challenges related to this claim are the diverging social locations and diverging theological methods of the academy and the church. The former highlights the different pressures, needs and vocational priorities that the pastor and the theologian have. The latter describes the different questions that the pastor and the theologian face particularly exacerbated by the academic guild-specific rules that govern evangelical theology and the hostile culture that undergirds the modern university and the resulting lack or discouragement of theological engagement on explicitly Christian matters that are of utmost importance to the local pastor.  

Chapter 6 proposes a taxonomy of the pastor theologian. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision proposes the pastor theologian as local theologian, popular theologian, ecclesial theologian. The local theologian “is a theological astute pastor who ably services the theological needs of the church” (p. 81). The popular theologian “is a pastor who writes theology” (p. 83) and whose writing is “an effort to help other pastors and the laity better understand the importance of relevant issues in theology” (p. 84). The ecclesial theologian is “a local church pastor who views the pastoral vocation from theological vantage point” (p. 85) and “who provides theological leadership to God’s ecclesia” (p. 86). Chapter 7 provides a vision of the pastor theologian as ecclesial theologian. The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision expands on the previous chapter by highlighting eight characteristics of the ecclesial theologian’s scholarship and identity. The ecclesial theologian (1) inhabits the ecclesial social location; (2) foregrounds ecclesial questions; (3) aims for clarity over subtlety; (4) theologizes with a preaching voice; (5) is a student of the church; (6) works across the guilds (7) works in partnership with the academic theologian and (8) traffics in introspection. Similarly, chapter 8 offers ten practical steps as they relate to the ecclesial-theologian paradigm. The local pastor is urged to pursue the vision of the ecclesial theologian by following these ten strategies: (1) getting a Ph.D. (reasons for such endeavor are provided); (2) building a staff that values theology; (3) getting networked (a case study of a church is presented here); (4) guarding study time with a blowtorch; (5) reading ecclesial theology and good literature (another case of teaching pastor of provided here); (6) urging pastors to refer to their workplaces as their primary study place; (7) building study-and-writing leave into the pastor’s schedule; (8) recruiting a pastor-theologian intern (a case study is presented here); (9) earning buy-in from church leadership; and (10) letting the necessity of love trump your love of truth. Chapter 8 concludes by stating that “theology serves the church” (p. 122) and that “all our scholarship ought to drive us deeper into our love for God and his people” (p. 122). Finally, chapter 9 urges students, pastors and academics “to seriously consider the church as the best place to satisfy both their theological and ecclesial impulses” (p. 19). Grounded by the claim that “churches won’t rise above the theological level of their leaders” (p. 123), The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision offer some advice to three constituencies, all of which are simply urged to be aware of the present division of labor between the academy and the church. First, professors are asked to embrace and hold out the vision of the ecclesial theologian. Second, pastors are asked to embrace their intellectual gifts for the “church needs pastors who are capable of connecting – with robust intellectual integrity – the deep truths of God and our contemporary context” (p. 127).  Third, students are asked to “take seriously the need for, and believe in the possibility of the ecclesial theologian” (p. 128). A prayer to God closes this chapter. The appendix of The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision offers an excellent survey of the ratio of clerical, nonclerical and monastic theologians in order to orient the reader to the larger narrative of the pastor theologian” (p. 133).

Reading The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision is an enriching experience for three reasons. First, I was quickly reminded of three little, yet significant books that echo similar pastoral and theological themes, namely: Piper and Carson’s The Pastor as Scholar and The Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry, Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology and Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Second, I was alerted of the illuminating role that church history plays in today’s contemporary challenges. Finally, while I am content to witness a group of God-exalting and Gospel-loving pastor theologians who are committed to sound biblical study, theology, church history, I am equally joyful and hopeful (as a teacher of clergy and lay leaders) that this conversation will remain a courageous sign and beginning of a generation of Christ leaders who are courageous enough to retrieve the catholicity of the church for the renewal of the church by resurrecting the ancient vision of the pastor theologian.

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Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World


Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World

(Eerdmans, 2014) Edited by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue and K.K. Yeo

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Some denounced the ills of the attractive and seductive forces of the prosperity gospel particularly the embrace of business and market-oriented models. Others decried the silence and extremely passive role of the church regarding contemporary issues particularly justice. Both have a high view of Scripture. Still others deplore the anti-intellectual, ahistorical and worldly condition of the Christian church particularly due to its high rates of biblically illiteracy and permanent flirts with culture. All three seek to retrieve and honor the historical Orthodoxy of the Christian Faith as laid out primarily in Scripture but also steeped in tradition particularly in the creeds and the confessions. All seek to be God-centered rather than man-centered. However, all three can miss a greater and broader reality. They may not be attentive to the global shape of the faith. Some may be aware of the global character of Christianity but not of its implications.

Jesus without Borders aims “to move beyond mere observation of world Christianity and into the realm of actually reading the Bible and thinking Christianly together in light of these realities” (p. 3). Jesus without Borders is the first text in the Majority World Theology series. Its goal is to deal with the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.Jesus without Borders is a collaborative approach where eight leading scholars from around the world discuss what Christology looks like in their region. Jesus without Borders interrogates each of these eight authors as to “the relationship between Christology of the Chalcedonian Definition and their contextual Christological observations and proposals” (p. 5).

Jesus without Borders can be divided in two parts (two halves). The first part (chapters 1-4) is written by theologians, “reflecting on Christology as an enterprise that united philosophy, history, and cultural anthropology with reflection on Scripture” (p. 6). The second part (chapters 5-8) is written by biblical scholars, “reflecting on Christology through deeper interaction with specific biblical texts freighted with Christological significance” (p. 6).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 1 Kevin J. Vanhoozer “reflects on Christological development in the West over the centuries, and considers what kind of continuity is important for contemporary Christians seeking to talk about and worship Jesus in the same way that early Christian did” (p. 6). Vanhoozer begins by defining Christology as “living to follow Jesus Christ” (p. 11) after the English Puritan William Ames who defined theology as “the doctrine of living to God” (p. 11) in his work The Marrow of Theology. Vanhoozer continues to cite Andrew Walls to underscore both the marriage of theology and missiology and the urgent question of whether Western Christology was simply a product of its “Fall” into Hellenistic philosophy or the evangelization of Hellenism and therefore a deepening of the ecclesial understanding of Jesus. The shape of Western theology is best understood by focusing on Christology particularly looking at the person first and then the work (following Bonhoeffer here). Western theology can be understood in a deeper way by revisiting the Council of Chalcedon and considering its metaphysical strengths and restraints. Vanhoozer then traces the views of Western theologians who have worked to modify, preserve and reject two-nature Christology. These fall into two alternatives: the Jesus of history and the Jesus of moral value. Vanhoozer shortly explains two nineteenth century (Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albert Ritschl) and three twentieth century responses (Kenosis, the Jesus of history in Edward Schillebeeckx and the Christ of Myth in John Hick) to Chalcedon. Paul Tillich and Alfred North Whitehead followed by offering a Christology grounded in existential philosophy (being and substance) and becoming and process respectively. Conversations in contemporary Western Christology have focuced on the humanity of Jesus Christ (this one consisting in faith, fellow feeling and falllenness); the narrative identity of Jesus Christ (Hans Frei’s call for history-like narratives); focal points in the narrative of Jesus Christ (T.F. Torrance on the incarnation, Moltmann on the crucifixion, Wolfhart Pannenberg on the resurrection and other theologians’ focus on the ascension); analytical philosophy which redefine definitions and clarifies distinctions to demonstrate the coherence of concepts (Thomas V. Morris’s The Logic of God Incarnate) and Christology as lens for viewing other doctrines and domains (Barth’s doctrine of election, Robert Jenson’s doctrine of God’s very being meaning metaphysics, and R. J. Holmes’s ethics). Vanhoozer closes this chapter by underscoring that development of any future global theology must be “live in the tension between continuity with the church’s doctrinal tradition on the one hand, and, on the other, opennesss to new experiences and understandings of CXhrist arising out of the particular contexts of suffering and hope” (p. 29). Vanhoozer also states that “church history is the story of contextualization as the gospel encountered new frontiers … [thus] … it is no longer simply a matter of the gospel entering new contexts, but rather of the intersection of contexts, including some that have already received the gospel” (p. 29). Vanhoozer makes three suggestions about the development of any future global theology, namely: that (1) “what is normative in Chalcedon is not a particular metaphysical scheme but the underlying biblical ontology, not the particular concepts but the underlying judgments that they express (p. 30); that “while the Bible alone has magisterial authority, the early catholic consensus has ministerial authority insofar as it displays biblical judgments. It thus provides pedagogical directions and an important opportunity for global theology to display catholic sensibility, which is to say a concern for doing theology in communion with the saints” (p. 32) and that “Western Christology is ultimately a matter of regional, perhaps even masterpiece theater that, while not providing an exhaustive description, nevertheless affords previous insight into the identity of the main protagonists of the drama of redemption” (p. 33). Vanhoozer final sentence is that “Christology requires a plurality of tongues – languages, vocabularies, and concepts. Yet whatever language or conceptual scheme Christian speak and think, let them confess in line with the Chalcedonian (ontological) grammar” (p. 35).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 2 Victor I. Ezigbo “discusses the history of Christology in Africa, considers and critiques contemporary proposals, and then offers his own suggestions for a biblical Christology relevant from Africans” (p. 6).  Right at the outset, Ezigbo asserts that “an African Christian Christology should pass both the test of ‘Africanness’ and the test of ‘Christian-ness” (p. 37). Ezigbo argues in this chapter that African Christian Christology: should use Africans’ contexts as an indispensable source; “should learn from Christological statements of the earliest councils and should not be in contradiction with the understandings of Jesus Christ that are expressed in Scripture” (p. 38). African Christian can learn two lessons from the Christologies of the ecumenical councils: contextualization and the danger of imperial romance. Ezigbo then considers and evaluates three Christological models that embody presuppositions underlying Christological discourses in sub-Saharan African Christianity: Neo-missionary Christologies, Ancestor Christologies and Revealer Christologies. Revealer Christologies is the one that offers African Christian “the opportunity to commit to Jesus’ critique and the redirection of their views of him, God and humanity without disregarding their contexts” (p. 58).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 3 Timoteo D. Gener “assesses the available proposals on offer regarding what it means to see Jesus through Asian eyes, and suggests that as members of a minority faith, Christians in Asian are best served by thinking about Christology through a missiological lens” (p. 6). Gener describes the Asian (Church) setting as one affected by the triple realities of poverty, religions and cultures. Gener makes the case for Christologies in the New Testament by underscoring the reality of four Gospels which denotes “a plurality and diversity in our views about Jesus while at the same time giving parameters to these views” (p. 64) and one that embody the reality of contextualization. Gener approaches Asian Christologies by both probing what the Scriptures reveal about Jesus Christ and by incorporating the human experience. Gener appropriates Latin America evangelical theologians models for missiological Christology and argues that doing Christology in Asian “is a process of translation and enculturation of the Word (Jesus Christ)” (p. 69). Some of the Christologies in Asia that offer promising missiological engagement include the following: Jesus fully human; the Witness-Reception of Jesus Christ amid Asian religions and Christ and supernaturalism in popular piety (which includes Jesus as Lord of the Spirits and Jesus among Folk Catholics).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 4 Jules A. Martínez-Olivieri “wraps up the first half of essays of examining Christological trends in Latin America, and arguing that the region is an ideal place to bridge the gap between Jesus’ heavenly and earthly identities” (p. 6). Martínez-Olivieri reviews common threads of two theological movements in Latin America, namely: Catholic liberation theology and Protestant Christology. After briefly noting the background of liberation theology, Martínez-Olivieri explains the theological method in liberation theology. Martínez-Olivieri then traces the trajectories of theological production among Protestants in Latin America. One relates to the historically Protestant churches who is represented by theologians such as Rubén Alves, Emilio Castro, Julio de Santa Ana and José Míguez Bonino. The other trajectory is associated with the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana and is represented by theologians such as C. Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar and Emilio Antonio Nuñez. Martínez-Olivieri employs Bonino’s faces of Protestantism to supplement, enlarge and enrich the trajectory of Protestant theology. These are the liberal face, the evangelical face, the Pentecostal face and the ethnic face. This trajectory is one guided and shaped by a soteriology that embraces liberation. Protestants emphasize salvation as “communion with God through Jesus Christ, maintaining that the God of the Bible is a God who reconciles people and transforms societies” (p. 87) and as liberation of the captives which defines Jesus Messianic vocation. In short, salvation is personal and societal. In the third part of his essay, Martínez-Olivieri presents a concise overview of contemporary Christologies in Latin America by focusing on Catholic and Protestant approaches. His thesis is that “Christology in Latin America moves from a focus on the history of Jesus and its soteriological significance toward an account of Jesus the Christ who calls for participation in the kingdom of God” (p. 87). Right at the outset Martínez-Olivieri quickly cites the heavy hitters or the giants of Latin America or what he deems the most mature treatments of Christology (Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino) and then states that despite there is no systematic Christology monograph yet there are some fine introductions, namely: Nancy Bedford’s La porfía de la resurrección: Ensayos desde el feminismo teológico hispanoamericano; Alberto García’s Cristología: Cristo Jesús: Centro y praxis del pueblo de Dios, Antonio González’s The Gospel of Faith and Samuel Escobar’s En busca de Cristo en América Latina. The contribution of Latin American theology particularly with liberation theology centers on the historical Jesus or what Martínez-Olivieri refers to as ‘ascending’ or ‘from below’ trajectory. The life and work of Christ here is the work of Leonardo Boff although Martínez-Olivieri informs us that Sobrino’s Cristología desde América Latina: Esbozo a partir del seguimiento del Jesús histórico is a more complete outline of Christology from a liberation perspective and touches upon soteriology particularly as it relates to specific historical and political contexts. The primary metaphor at work here is the kingdom of God. In addition to this liberation Christology, Martínez-Olivieri expounds on Latin American Protestant Christology by asserting that while “the confession that Jesus is the one unbegotten Son, the Logos, surely provides the ontological presupposition on which Christian faith delves into the mystery of God … the systematic perspective, to approach Jesus as the Christ of God via the historical particularity of Jesus as the Christ of God via the historical particularity of Jesus as the man Nazareth” (p. 93) is equally legitimate and even necessary. Martínez-Olivieri proposes that Christology needs to be evaluated in holistic perspective (following the work of Bedford particularly her advocacy for Christologies to be understood in Trinitarian terms and the need to avoid ‘toxic Christologies’. Martínez-Olivieri underscores Christology and the limits of creedal orthodoxy in Latin American particularly the tendency to embrace abstraction that lead towards making the doctrine of Christ “susceptible to historical indifference” (p. 96). Finally, Martínez-Olivieri stresses that Latin American theologian approach the soteriological question of Jesus’ death on the cross in a historical and theological manner. Martínez-Olivieri is consciously aware of Latin America’s experiences of “violent colonials, political Christendom, dictatorships, civil wars, discrimination, exclusion and poverty and thus” (p. 99) and thus ultimately claims that animates a “transformative Christology that avoids the practical and discursive dualisms between a heavenly savior and an earthly liberator,” (p. 99) a challenge that equally leads to the advocacy of the unity of Jesus Christ, the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith and of exegesis and dogmatics.    

In Jesus without Borders chapter 5 Yohanna Katanacho “reads the gospel of John as a Palestinian, with a particular interest in its relevance for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He argues that forcefully that John depicts Jesus as establishing a new world order that precludes approaches to Christology that exclude either Palestinians or Jews” (p. 6). Katanacho claims that many have made the Chalcedonian Christ an exclusive one by stressing the ontological dimension at the expense of the functional one and by not addressing the full humanity of Christ particularly its ethnicity. Therefore, Katanacho proposes to read “the scriptural story of Jesus of Nazareth combining the human and divine spatiotemporal realities from a functional point of view” (p. 105). To make this case, Katanacho focuses on how the gospel of John deconstructs major elements of Pharisaic Judaism which include the following: the ‘new beginning,’ holy space, holy time, holy experience, holy communion and holy land. While acknowledging that the incarnation is a central theme in the gospel of John, Katanacho identifies the new beginning in the first sign, the wedding at Cana in John 2:11. “God started his work in the first Testament with a couple, and now he starts a new work with another couple in a wedding. Weddings in first-century Jewish culture symbolized God’s relationship with Israel. Water is the important element that Katanacho focuses on in this story for in John 1 we witness the waters of baptism; in John 2 the water turning into wine; in chapter 4 Nicodemus must be born from the water and so forth. In addition, Katanacho continues to emphasize the means of cleansing when there is no water. Certain themes or words discussed include the following: the ‘hour’ which “becomes the indispensable foundation for the new world order, or the messianic age” (p. 109) and the cross. The point here is that it in addition to his birth and incarnation, the humanity of Jesus can be understood through the hermeneutical lens of the hour and cross. Following this discussion of ‘the new beginning’, Katanacho considers ‘holy space’ by looking at John 2:1 – John 4:54 particularly the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman in which case “Jesus tells Nicodemus that the presence of the Spirit of God is not limited to a specific place (John 3:8)” (p. 111) and where Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman “denies the monopoly as to the true place of worship of the Pharisaic Judaism of his day because the true worshippers do not emphasize the place of worship by the nature of worship” (p. 111). Holy time is another central element seen by two signs that take place in the Sabbath, namely: the healing of the crippled person in John 5 and the healing of the blind man in John 9. That Jesus performs these signs on the Sabbath implies that He is not only God but also announces that the Sabbath as an eschatological reality “cannot be found apart from the work of Christ” (p. 112). A fourth element present in the gospel of John is holy experience. In John 5 Jesus, the new Moses, recalls the exodus and the wilderness traditions. Jesus is the center of the Passover. “In John, Jesus is the source of life, whether the life of liberation from Egypt of the life that is associated with maintaining Israel in the wilderness” (p. 114). Katanacho considers ‘holy land’ as yet another central element. The people of Israel are rooted in father Abraham and their liberation takes place because they are chosen by God in connection to Abraham. In the gospel of John Jesus makes the case faith commitment not descent is what defines true Abrahamic sonship-daughtership. This reality includes Palestinian and Israeli Jews. The community of Christ is made up of followers, the free ones that have accepted Jesus and are born of the Spirit not necessarily the members of the synagogue. Parochial ethnocentrism dies not define the community of Jesus but “those who, like the seed of wheat, die and are reborn into the community of peace and brotherhood” (p. 116). Finally, Katanacho explains ‘holy land’ from a Christocentric point of view. John 10 states that Jesus is the door and the shepherd. These are images that speak of Jesus “leading the going in and out of the sheep and finding pasture” (p. 117). Katanacho help us see the connection of John 10, Jesus as the shepherd, to the Promised Land in the book of Numbers. Jesus is the New Testament Joshua who “is not only interested in the land but is also interested in the people of the land. Instead of killing the inhabitants of the land he is willing to die in order to save them. Katanacho also help us see the connection of John 10, Jesus as the door, to the Old Testament particularly Ezekiel 33:21 – 37:28 where we read of bad shepherds and then of a new David who will be a new shepherd. Katanacho closes by pointing out the similarities between John 1 and Genesis 1-2 in terms of a new creation and by re-stating that the gospel of John “presents a new world” (p. 119) that deconstructs major elements of Pharisaic Judaism and reconstructs them in relation to Christ” (p. 119).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 6 Aída Besançor Spencer “takes a closer look at New Testament passages relating to Mary, and then considers and critiques the approach to Mariology and Christology in Latino communities” (p. 6). Besançor Spencer approaches Christology from a Latina feminist evangelical perspective by focusing on the relationship between Mary and Jesus and intercession. Besançor Spencer seeks to “esteem Mary but not deprecate Jesus” (p. 124). Besançor Spencer highlights the priority of the Christian family in the Latin American Christian culture. Besançor describes how devotion to Mary replaced devotion to mother goddesses especially Artemis of Ephesus; explains why veneration of Mary is not necessary because Jesus is the intercessory according to 1 Timothy 2:5-7; shows how Mary models humility as disciple though with limitations and finally discusses the importance of authority. Besançor Spencer closes by highlighting different aspects found in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) which depicts the conquering Mary, the suffering Mary, and the liberating Mary.

In Jesus without Borders chapter 7 Andrew M. Mbuvi “considers the sacrificial system and its usage in 1 Peter in relation to Christ, offering a close examination of the book from the perspective of an Akamba reader” (p. 6). Mbuvi seeks to respond to the following two questions: “how the Petrine community would have understood the person and the work of Jesus given the letter’s rather strong usage of cultic imagery and language” (p. 141) and “how this Petrine perspective would fit with Chalcedon formulations of the person and work of Jesus Christ” (p. 141). Mbuvi underscores the work of Kwame Bediako who writes of European ethnocentrism that denigrated the African religion and its resultant eradication of religious tradition that characterized the African missionary encounter. In fact, Mbuvi quickly mentions the three primary colonial and postcolonial reactions to the western missionary enterprise in Africa and then surveys African theological scholarship regarding Christology. Mbuvi then proceeds to discuss Christology and Cultus in 1 Peter by noting that the all-encompassing understanding of holiness here fits well with the African experience since the African religious perspective and that the Western notion of salvation as largely and heavily individualistic contrasts “with the African notion of salvation in the community by overcoming the spirit world” (p. 150). Mbuvi closely surveys the metaphors in 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 3:1822, 1 Peter 4:6, Christological images able to demonstrate that when “interpreted from an African perspective, can be fruitfully understood while being appropriated differently from the common Western readings” (p. 159). Mbuvi concludes by revisiting the creeds particularly Chalcedon. Mbuvi aptly and succinctly states that since creeds “were prompted by the encounter of Christianity with Greco-Roman culture and religion” (p. 161) leading then Christologies to be “from the very beginning the products of the encounter of the gospel message with different cultures, then one wonders whether there is need to revisit the creeds themselves, given the more recent Christian encounters within African, Asian, and Latin American cultures” (p. 161).

In Jesus without Borders chapter 8 K. K. Yeo “concludes this collection with an essay that sheds light on the challenge of unity and diversity in New Testament Christologies, and also proposes a Christology that reflects on the image of God from a Chinese perspective” (p. 6-7). Right at the outset K.K. Yeo acknowledges that the contributors Jesus without Borders face two issues, namely: “the unity and diversity of biblical Christologies” (p. 162) and “the meaning and task of theology” (p. 162). After briefly surveying the landscape of biblical Chinese Christologies, K.K. Yeo approaches the unity-diversity issues of biblical Christologies and that of Chalcedon; discusses the ontology of Christology “as contextual Christologies from the Majority World move forward to a global Christology and finally presents an ecumenical discourse “through a distinctly Chinese Christology of renre(a person who loves) that helps us to understand Christ(ians) as the image of God” (p. 163) by attempting to write and embody “a fully Christian-biblical and fully Chinese-cultural Christology” (p. 163).

Reading Jesus without Borders is an eye-opening encounter for three reasons and an empowering experience for two reasons. First, Jesus without Borders is an eye-opening encounter because Western Christianity particularly its troubling Christendom legacy, its growing prosperity theology and especially its American evangelicalism (certainly alien at times to its Protestant Reformers) is being prophetically and legitimately denounced for often being rooted and driven by presuppositions and ideas that negate biblical fidelity and doctrinal integrity. Second,Jesus without Borders is equally eye-opening encounter for while much of the writing and education that matter in Christian theology nowadays is done by theologians and pastors in countries such as the United States and the old centers of power (Europe), Christianity is playing its major role in the Majority World. The massive shift of Global Christianity is inevitable. It is happening in front of our eyes. Third, Jesus without Borders is an eye-opening encounter because we ought to be thankful that the Lord has prepared and equipped real and serious scholars and men of God who are not only deeply concerned about cultures, but also about the work and the person of the main character behind their cause and calling, namely: Christ (Christology, its study). Jesus without Borders is an empowering experience because it facilitates and invites towards a richer and deeper discussion that engages text and context, Christ and culture by honoring the Scriptures. Finally, Jesus without Borders is personally empowering and I will add liberating because it reminds us of not only the practices, struggles and issues that our global neighbors face as they practice their faith but also brings us often to the painful and joyful realization that current American Christianity have much to learn from our global brothers and sisters and possibly even be renewed by their missionary and missional understanding of the God of the Scriptures.

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