Book Review: Jim Turner, So-Called Christians

So Called ChristiansTurner, Jim. So-Called Christians: Healing Spiritual Wounds Left By The Church. Greenville, South Carolina: Ambassador International, 2014.157 pages, pb., $11.99   Link

Jim Turner is a pastor with more than 25 years of experience in a variety of church settings. He works with ChurchOneNow, a ministry focusing on “rebuilding unity and restoring relationships” for people who have been hurt and spiritually damaged by their experience in the church. Turner claims that more people have been hurt by the church than World War Two; as many as 37% of un-churched Americans say they do not attend church because of a negative experience.

The goal of So-Called Christians is to meet the suffering caused by the church head-on and offer some healing to people who have genuinely been damaged by Christians. The first two chapters of the book describe the problem of the church as an “autoimmune disease.” By this Turner means the Church is destroying itself. He uses to 1 Cor 1:10-13 and argues the Church today destroying itself with schisms. He jokingly “translates” 1 Cor 1:13 as “Is Christ divided? Was Charles Stanley crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of John Piper?” (34). Later in the book he calls this “doctrinal snobbery.”

In contrast to the divisive nature of the Church today, Jesus’ prayer for the Church is unity (John 17). In chapters 3-5 Turner describes the biblical idea for the church. Paul’s ideal for the Church is having one mind, unified around the idea of Jesus. Turner therefore examines the virtues in Col 3:12-14 as traits of Christ that would promote unity in the church if they were consistently practiced. He also examines the unity resulting from having the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2) and draws several applications to relationships within the church.

In Chapters 6-7 Turner begins to deal with the boundaries defining “Christian.” He makes a distinction between a “matter of conscience” (drinking a beer or smoking a pipe), a “doctrinal distinctive” (local church government, sign gifts, day of worship), and “essential Christian doctrine” (clear moral absolutes and defining doctrines of the faith). Anyone reading this book will likely fill in their own issues in each of those categories, but the idea that there are some things a Christian must reject and must accept is clear. It is the middle category (“matters of conscience”) where judgment and division happen.  He uses the example of contemporary worship here and advises we not “argue over opinions” (citing Roman 13). It is important, however, to accept the fact that my liberty might be a stumbling block to another Christian. A person who “exercises their liberty” in a matter may need to limit themselves so that they do not cause a brother or sister to stumble (85). This is an excellent point, but I wonder how far Turner is willing to push his principle of not judging in “matters of conscience.” The examples he gives are fairly straightforward, but there are other issues that are much more difficult and culturally sensitive.

Chapters 8-10 discuss the doctrinal lines defining Christianity. For the most part, Turner is a conservative evangelical and includes a twenty-four page article from Norman Geisler on the essential doctrines of Christianity. He has a summary of “essentials” drawn from the classic Christian creeds. Following Geisler, he divides these between items necessary to be saved (Trinity, human depravity, deity and humanity of Christ, necessity of grace and faith, Christ’s atoning death and his resurrection) and items that are not necessary (virgin birth, ascension, Christ’s present service and his second coming). Lest you think he is some sort of Rob Bell, Turner is clear that Geisler’s list is correct, but he would not separate from a brother in Christ for misunderstanding the virgin birth or the second coming. His point in this section is that a “loving defense of the truth maintains unity” (122).

There are several things missing from this book. First, I would have liked Turner to be even more forthright about the real problem facing the church today.  Like the church at Corinth, the real heart of our divisive spirit is sin and pride. Since he is writing to people who have been hurt, I suspect that he avoids calling disunity a sin, but that seems to be what Paul would have said to Corinth.

Second, and more perhaps critically, the book does a great job dealing with the solution, but Turner does not deal with any specific, controversial issues. For example, I agree many people stop attending church because they were “judged” by people in a local church. But in my experience, doctrinal issues are rarely the problem. In the modern American church it is very easy to find out what a church believes, simply check their website and you will likely get all the mission statements and doctrinal affiliation information you need. The people I meet who have been wounded by the church are people who have a lifestyle that just does not work in the typical evangelical church. The teenager with several tattoos and piercings who attends a typical church wearing his Slayer t-shirt and a dog-collar is going to be judged by the homeschool kids in youth group. I know of several situations where parents did not want their kids attending youth group because “those kids” were in the group, so this scenario is not far-fetched at all.

Third, sometimes hurt Christians have deep personal sins resulting in a harsh attack by the local church. The book does not address the hurt people have when they are attacked by a well-meaning (or just mean) person over a sinful lifestyle. For example, there are homosexual Christians who are in fact judged harshly by some churches and made to feel so uncomfortable they walk away from the church entirely. How can a church “love the sinner” while “hating the sin”? This is a real problem in contemporary American churches, but this goes beyond Turner’s stated goals for this book. Nevertheless, the harsh attitude towards sinners from the more conservative branches of the American Church need to be addressed and there was opportunity for Turner’s book to do just that.

Conclusion. Turner’s book was written from his personal experience in the Church and his commitment to being the Church as it is described in the New Testament. This is not a scholarly book filled with detailed exegesis; it is a heartfelt reflection on the Word of God as he observes the destructive power of divisions in the church.

NB: Thanks to Jim Turner for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Books to Challenge the Thinking Christian

Karen Swallow Prior recently posted a list of Classic Literary Works to Challenge the Thinking Christian. The top four are all visions of the not-to-distant future dystopias, and are among my favorite books.

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
  • Areopagitica by John Milton

I thought I would add a few, perhaps obscure books for the “Thinking Christian” to read. These are books challenging the Christian to think more deeply about the nature of faith and the problem of evil. I would include Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World and maybe Crime and Punishment on my list, I probably would not have included The Road since it is not particularly on religious / spiritual themes (although it is an excellent novel, read it!) I ought to have The Handmaid’s Tale here, but frankly I have not read it. I think Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, The Forever War, and Atlas Shrugged (or The Fountainhead, your choice) are good books on politics, but do not really address “spiritual” issues.

Like Prior, I have an interest in dystopian novels; for some reason these sorts of “what if” novels tend to range toward spiritual issues. But sometimes these books treat spirituality in ways most (evangelical) Christians would find shocking. As I look over the list, these are not “Christian” books at all, but will push the Christian to think about their faith more deeply.

Here is my list, no particular order. I am sure there are other novels I have omitted, feel free to suggest them in the comment section below.

The_Brothers_KThe Brothers K, David James Duncan. This book is a vague retelling of the Brothers Karamazov as a coming of age story in the late 60s. It follows the four Chance brothers as the react to the rapidly changing world of small-town America. Their father is a minor league baseball pitcher who suffers an injury, cutting short his career. Their mother is a devout Seventh-Day Adventist who struggles to keep the family together.

Silence, Shusako Endo. Written in 1966, this historical novel describes the Jesuit mission in Japan in the seventeen century. Most Christians are wholly unaware of the Jesuit mission to Japan or the persecution of Hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) during the Edo period.  During this time, Christians were forced to step on a fumi-e, an image of Jesus or the virgin Mary; those who refuse were tortured and executed. Tracing the steps of a Portuguese missionary, this book explores the problem of the silence of God when his people suffer. Although the topic is disturbing, this is one of the most moving books I have ever read.

Night WeiselNight, Elie Wiesel. This 1958 book is something of a memoir of Wiesel’s experience as a teen in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1944–1945.  The English translation is only 116 pages, and is perhaps the most difficult book I have ever read. The overwhelming silence of God during Wiesel’s experience destroys his faith

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self Help Book, Walker Percy. Anything by Walker Percy is worth reading, but this 1983 is different. It is a collection of thought experiments and short humorous vignettes. The book strikes me as Robert Anton Wilson meets Pascal.

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell. Like Silence, this book concerns a Jesuit mission to an unreached people, although in this novel Father Emilio Sandoz is sent to an alien world to bring the gospel to an unknown race of beings. Innocent actions have grave consequences, and Sandoz suffers horribly before returning to Earth. The book questions God’s existence and the nature of faith as the priest must come to terms with his own humiliation and subsequent anger with God.

A_Canticle_for_Leibowitz_cover_1st_edA Canticle for Lebowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.  This book was written in 1959 and was winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is a post-apocalyptic novel with a twist. The world is slowly recovering from hundreds of years of dark ages after a nuclear war while members of the order of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz faithfully copy the sacred texts. The texts are not Christian Scripture however, but science and technology carefully stored by Isaac Leibowitz. The book His posthumous Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was completed by Terry Bisson. Canticle is a commentary on the relationship of church and state, faith and science.

Small Gods, Terry Pratchett. A fantasy novel takes place in Pratchett’s Discworld and like other books in that (very large) series, this book is satire and biting commentary on organized religion. In this world, the size and power of the god is dependent on how many “true worshipers” follow the god. The Great God Om has the largest religion, but has very few real followers (he must manifest himself as a turtle). I absolutely love the fact that the biggest religion had the smallest god, because no one practicing religion was really worshiping the god! To me, that is very preachable.

Hitchhiker's GuideThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, Douglas Adams. This is a bit of a cheat, but read all five books of this trilogy. In fact, skip the movie until you have read the books twice and listened to the radio programs and played the Infocom text adventure. Then you can watch the movie. Since Adams was a self-described “radical atheist,” it might seem strange to include him on a list of books Christians ought to read. Adams is an entertaining writer who has a way of expressing complex theological problems with humor. Anyone who has read these books is already thinking about the Babel Fish (a twist in the teleological argument for the existence of God).

There are probably others I ought to include on a list of “good literature everyone should read,” but these would be my additions to the thinking Christian’s library. I love Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (or anything by Murakami for that matter), but his themes are not particularly theological.  Most people who know me are wondering why I did not include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, but oddly enough that novel has less theology than some of his later ones. Several Arthur C. Clarke books could be included here (the Rama books, Childhood’s End, etc.)

What is a book you read that challenges you to think more deeply about matters of faith?

 

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 3.1 (2014)

jesot1The Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 3.1 (2014) has several interesting articles, including:

  • Nathan Lovell, “The Shape Of Hope In The Book Of Kings: The Resolution Of Davidic Blessing And Mosaic Curse”
  • Matthew R. Akers“The Soteriological Development Of The ‘Arm Of The Lord’ Motif”
  • Silviu Tatu“Making Sense Of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20)”
  • Andrew Witt “David, The ‘Ruler Of The Sons Of His Covenant’ (מושל בבני בריתו):  The Expansion Of Psalm 151 In 11QPsa”

The Journal also has a nice collection of book reviews (including two from me).

A PDF copy is free at the JESOT website, printed copies will be available through Wipf & Stock. The first two issues (Vol. 1) are available in the Logos library.

Book Review: Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski, Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch (Part 2)

Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001.  (Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts, the first is here.)

Part three of the book collections five articles which deal with exegetical details of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Jason M. Zurawski discusses the passage in 4 Ezra the state of the present world is a consequence of Adam’s sin (“The Two Worlds and Adam’s Sin: The Problem of 4 Ezra 7:10-14”). In 4 Ezra 7:74 the author claims God is in control of all things via his initial, foreordained plan. But 7:10-14 seems to state the opposite, Adam’s sin resulted in hardship and evil in the world. Zurawski argues this “complication is more apparent than real” since it can be reconciled with the rest of the book by understanding that God made the world difficult in the first place and Adam was the first to fall into the traps of the world (105). In the book, Ezra thought the world was made only for Israel, but Uriel explains “this world was never intended as the inheritance of the righteous.” This stands in contrast to 2 Baruch, where the world was filled with toil and evil only after Adam’s sin.

Daniel M. Gurtner studies “Eschatological Rewards for the Righteous in Second Baruch.” Baruch’s readers live “between two worlds,” the present evil world where the Temple has been destroyed and the future Paradise that was created for Israel (114). The writer of 2 Baruch exhorts his readers to persevere through their present tribulation because they will receive divine blessing in the future. The specific blessings are “presented in familiar Second Temple terms” (111) such as afterlife and a world to time, a Paradise where there is no suffering, heavenly bliss and a heavenly Jerusalem, complete with a new temple.

In a related article, Jared Ludlow explores “Death and the Afterlife in 2 Baruch.” Because of the view of death in 2 Baruch, the book is an “exhortation to good works, a nondescript ethical liked which may have more in common with Jewish tradition than Christian” (116). After Adam’s sin, the realm of death was prepared (23:4) and after death a soul will face final judgment (books, scales, fire). The judgment is on the basis of the righteousness of the individual, and every secret thought will be exposed (89:3). The final state of the righteous is a crown of glory and a glorified transformation.

Basil Lourié contributes a technical article on the problem of “The Calendar Implied in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Two Modifications of the One Scheme.” After surveying the chronological notices in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra he concludes both books are using a 364-day calendar and both books conclude their revelation on Pentecost, the day Moses received the Law. The difference is that 2 Baruch begins his sequence on Wednesday, resulting in 31 interval days in the book (as in Jubilees), while 4 Ezra begins the year on Sunday, resulting in 33 interval days (as in 3 Baruch). Lourié suggests that if Rev 1:10 is an initial revelation on a Sunday and the series of sevens are taken as seven days, then the interval days in Revelation also work out to 31. This requires the three non-seven visions to be single days, and ignores the seven thunders in Rev 10:3. Since John is told to not write what the thunders said, Lourié’s scheme may have merit.

Finally in this section of the book, Carla Sulzbach focuses on Jerusalem in these books (“The Fate of Jerusalem in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: From Earth to Heaven and Back?”) Sulzbach observes that Baruch is in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, while Ezra is living in Babylon some thirty years later. This difference in perspective may affect the portrayal of the city as well as the eschatology of the books. In both books “Jerusalem has become cosmicized and elevated,” but this process was already underway in the later prophets (143). The city is developed upwardly, toward Heaven, and conflated with the Land and Temple.This is especially true in 4 Ezra 10, where the prophet encounters a mourning woman who is transformed into an eschatological Zion.

The final part of the book proposes to study 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch in their Social and Historical Settings. James Charlesworth’s article “4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Archaeology and Elusive Answers to Our Perennial Questions” has two related themes. First, he argues both authors could have written from the vicinity of Jerusalem between A.D. 70 and 135. There is evidence of a Jewish “large Jewish settlement” at Shu’afat which was occupied between the two revolts. The site has well-constructed mikvoth and five ink wells were found in the upper level of a building. At the very least this implies the site could have served as an administrative center and possibly other literary activity. His point is that Jerusalem was not depopulated nor were Jews banned from the city after A.D. 70., so it is at least possible these books were written within sight of the destruction of the city. The second point he makes in this article is perhaps more controversial. Charlesworth argues 2 Baruch knew at least the pessimistic theology of 4 Ezra, if not the book itself. To support this view, he shows that the implied author of 4 Ezra did not have answers for the destruction of the Temple and did not even think a future messiah would provide much hope. The messiah in 4 Ezra rules for 400 years and then dies; Charlesworth takes this as an implicit rejection of the messianic hopes leading to the revolt. 2 Baruch, on the other hand, provides an answer. The fall of Jerusalem was a punishment for sin; therefore the message of the book is “keep the Torah.” Charlesworth recognizes this suggestion cannot be proven, but offers it as a matter for ongoing discussion.

Stephen Pfann’s fascinating article (“The Use of Cryptographic and Esoteric Scripts in Second Temple Judaism and the Surrounding Cultures”) begins with Ezra’s instructions to five scribes in 4 Ezra 14 as he dictated 94 books: the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible and 70 secret books, kept for the “wise among your people (14:26). Pfann sees this practice as similar to the use of Cryptic A script at Qumran and elsewhere. The article offers an overview of cryptography, but concludes that this script was used at Qumran for texts esoteric documents reserved for the elite members of the community, possibly to be read alongside the Bible itself (194).

The last article in the collection seems to be outside the focus of the volume. In “Apocalyptic as Delusion: A Psychoanalytic Approach,” J. Harold Ellens offers an assessment of the psychology of apocalyptic movements in general, calling the “psychotic Jewish worldviews” (209). He moves quickly from Second Temple documents like 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch to modern “gurus” like Jim Jones and David Koresh, and even Adolf Hitler an examples of delusional and communal psychosis. Finally, he thinks Jesus’ apocalyptic thinking fits the DSM IV criteria for delusion, including megalomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, especially in his belief he would return to judge the world (208). He concludes “it is clear that a generalized delusional ideation had pervaded an entire community of people in the Jesus Movement, in 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Qumran Community, the Maccabees, and the followers of Bar Kochba” (209). The collection of essays would have been just as valuable if this essay were left out.

Conclusion. The essays in this collection are an excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion of these two important Second Temple apocalypses.

 

NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Book Review: Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski, Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch (Part 1)

Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001. Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts (part two).

The essays in the first part of the collection focus on how 4 Ezra relates to other texts in the Apocalyptic Tradition. Veronika Bachmann demonstrates how 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) are both rooted in traditional ways of thinking about the history of the world in her article “More than the Present: Perspectives on World History in 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers.” Both works have a view of history consisting of a series of ages, although the focus is on the present evil world and the coming world promised to the righteous. Yet neither book is escapist, the readers are to affirm this world’s realities and live righteous lives (17). As such, both works emphasize the sovereignty of God. The Book of the Watchers is closer to the category of “sapiential wisdom” since the book stresses a good creation. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, is more “apocalyptic wisdom” since it is looking forward to an “other-worldly Jerusalem” (31).

Since the Qumran literature was written well before the destruction of the Temple and 4 Ezra just after, Bilhah Nitzan traces some development by comparing five specific apocalyptic ideas in his essay “Apocalyptic Ideas in 4 Ezra in Comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Both works hold a deterministic concept of history that attempts to explain the origin of evil, although the Qumran literature is more hopeful concerning the future punishment of gentiles. Both certainly look forward to judgment on the wicked, but 4 Ezra sees this as the work of God alone (not the righteous). One methodological problem with the essay is that the Qumran literature is a collection rather than a single book. It is difficult to know why a copy of 4Q Pseudo-Ezekiel appears among the Dead Sea Scrolls—did the community value the book because they agreed with it? The non-sectarian documents may not reflect the views of the community, although I think Nitzan is right to judiciously conclude that resurrection of individuals was widely held in the Second Temple period.

Laura Bizzarro’s essay compares the fifth vision in 4 Ezra and Daniel 7, specifically the meaning of the Eagle and the Lion (“The ‘Meaning of History’ in the Fifth Vision of 4 Ezra”).  She finds the fifth vision to be consistent with other Jewish apocalypses: history is linear, with an absolute and imminent end. 4 Ezra is adapting and updating the language of Dan 7 in order to predict the coming judgment of Rome in the near future. In Dan 7, the eagle image was used to describe wicked Hellenistic kings leading up to Antiochus, 4 Ezra “updates” the image to refer to the Julius-Claudian dynasty. The lion in 4 Ezra refers to the “defeat and annihilation of the eagle,” suggesting the “end of the Roman empire and the end of history” (35).

The second part of the collection compares 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, to Early Christian Literature. In his article,“The Woman Who Anoints Jesus for his Burial (Mark 14) and the Woman Who Laments her Dead Son (4 Ezra 9-10) – Twice the Same Person?”, Andreas Bedenbender argues the Gospel of Mark is implicitly dealing with the fate of the city of Jerusalem and this pericope treats the death of Jesus and the loving relationship of Jesus and Zion (46). Specifically in Mark 14, the breaking of alabaster bottle of perfume is an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the woman herself is an allegory for Zion. The perfume is nardos, a word only appearing in the LXX Song of Solomon, a marriage context. Her action therefore means something like “if you are really the messiah, then act now and save the city from destruction” (45). As Bedenbender points out, this is “highly speculative” but points to several hints in Mark’s gospel as well as parallels to the grieving woman in 4 Ezra 9-10 to support his claim.  This article was fascinating to me since I covered much the same ground in Jesus the Bridegroom, 174-6. As I pointed out there, the real problem for 4 Ezra as an example of a marriage metaphor is that the son/bridegroom is not the focus of the section, rather Zion as a grieving mother.

Calum Carmichael examines 4 Ezra’s view of creation as a model for understanding John 1-5 (“Days of Creation in 4 Ezra 6:38-59 and John 1-5”). That John models his Gospel on Genesis is well-known, although what his point in doing so was is not always clear. John reworks the creation story on a way that would be understood by his highly literate Hellenistic Jewish audience (51). Carmichael does not think the “pessimism of 4 Ezra is a negative counter-statement to the confident, triumphant claims of John’s Gospel,” although they “share a common pool of ideas about the created order” (60).

Eric F. Mason examines how Psalm 104:4 is used in Hebrews and compares it to 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra (“2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Three Approaches to the Interpretation of Ps 104:4”). In the Hebrew Bible the verse refers to the power and majesty of God, yet the trajectory in the Second Temple Period was to read the verse as a description the creation of angels from wind or fire. Mason doubts use of this verse in Hebrews 1:7 has anything to do with the creation of angels, although Jubilees 2:2-3 and 2 Baruch 21:6, 56:11 may allude to Ps 104:4 as a description of angels. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, uses Ps 104:4 to underscore God’s incomparable dominion—God is able to transform his servants into fire or wind.

The final article in this section of the book Rivka Nir challenges the consensus view that the Epistle of Baruch was a Jewish composition. Her article, “‘Good Tidings’ of Baruch to the Christian Faithful (The Epistle of 2 Baruch 78-87),” argues the letter is best understood as a Christian composition “pervaded with Christian symbolism” (93). The Letter describes itself as a letter of “doctrine” and “hope.” While doctrine is a fair translation of the Syriac, she contends the translation “scroll of hope” is “baseless,” the word ought to be rendered “good tidings” or even “good news.” It is the very word used for Christian gospels. To support her contention, she points out the metaphors in 77:13-16 can all be applied to Christ: A lamp, a shepherd, and a fountain. While all three are developed from the Hebrew Bible, they are thoroughly Christianized in the Gospel of John (for example). In addition, the imminent expectation of the end of the ages is more like Christian apocalyptic than Jewish since it is looking forward to resurrection into a new world. The poem in 85:10-11 is “pervaded with Christological imagery” (79). She hears a faint echo of Jesus’ calming the sea in this poem and observes that the image of a “safe harbor” is common in early Christianity, especially among the Syrian fathers (83). The Hebrew Bible describes the “resting place” of God’s people as a return to the Land of Canaan, not a safe harbor. There is no hope for the restoration of the Temple or sacrifices, and even the commands to “remember the Law” are generic (no purity laws, no circumcision of food laws). I find her arguments persuasive, although the article falls short in explaining how a Christian composition became attached to 2 Baruch. Likely as not it was added by the Syrian Christians who preserved 2 Baruch itself, on the analogy of the expansions to 4 Ezra.

The review will continue in the next post.

Book Review: Michal Beth Dinkler, Silent Statements: Narrative Representations of Speech and Silence in the Gospel of Luke

Dinkler, Michal Beth. Silent Statements: Narrative Representations of Speech and Silence in the Gospel of Luke. BZNW 191; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013. 261 pp. Hc; $140.00. Link to De Gruyter

This monograph is a revision of Dinkler’s Ph.D dissertation completed in 2012 at Harvard Divinity School. She was one of François Bovon’s last students and his guidance is evident in this fine study of silence in Luke’s Gospel. Dinkler proposes to study “the complex ways that narrative intersections of speech and silences can be useful touch-points for how the Lukan narrative attempts to shape its readers” (5). She follows John Darr in arguing the goal of Luke’s Gospel is to persuade readers to become believing witnesses, and intentional silences in the text are powerful rhetorical elements used by the author to achieve this goal.

DinklerSince this is a revised dissertation, it necessarily begins with a review of previous literature on the rhetorical function of silence. While there are quite a few studies on silence in ancient literature, New Testament scholarship has scarcely recognized their value for reading the Gospels. One recent exception is Bruce Longenecker’s Hearing the Silence (Cascade, 2012), which was published at the same time as Dinkler’s study. Both books examine Luke 4, although Dinkler looks at the whole Gospel of Luke.

Dinkler highlights three main features of silence. First, silence is multivalent (8). When a writer includes silence, the readers fill that silence with something. Silence therefore can express shame, fear, admiration or domination (9). Multivalent typically implies a saying (or silence) is open to several interpretations. Since it is the reader who supplies the interpretation, I initially wondered to this approach to silence opens the door to a full reader-response approach to the text. In practice, this is not really the case. In the examples she studies in detail, it seems as though the narrator has led the reader to understand a silence with a certain range of meanings.

Second, the meaning of silence of contextually is determined (11). Ironically, silence can be considered a speech act since it is some kind of a response. But the meaning of the silence may be shaped by historical and social contexts. Like unpacking a metaphor, something left unsaid may be interpreted in many ways. Her example “shut the door” might be a request, or a warning, depending on the context. The narrator may provide clues for how the silence should be understood, but there are significant examples in Luke where silence is left open-ended, almost inviting the reader to fill in the gap.

Third, since silence has this illocutionary force, it is rhetorically powerful (12). Just as a powerful speaker will use pauses and silences for the rhetorical impact, so too a writer can make a point more powerful by omitting speech or letting characters remain silent, allowing the reader to interact with the text on a deeper level. Perhaps this is why most readers miss the rhetorical impact of literary silence, they simply read over a gap without noticing it is there! For example, Dinkler discusses the gap between Jesus’ childhood and the introduction of John the Baptist between chapters two and three. Most readers would move from one section of the book to the next without pausing to wonder what the point of a long silent gap in the life of Jesus might mean.

After some clarification on literary categories of narrative, narration, plot, characters, and themes, Dinkler proceeds to survey instances of silence in the Gospel of Luke. She focuses on how silence relates to speech, since “what is unsaid relates to want is said” (43). Sometimes silence is explicit, employing vocabulary like σιγάω or σιωπάω. But there are other examples where Luke as the narrator is silent. She cites Luke 23:9 as an example (46). When Jesus refuses to answer Herod, is this an act of defiance or silent acceptance of his fate? Luke does not make this clear with additional narration, allowing the reader to ponder the reason Jesus is silent before his accuser. Another example of silence in Luke is a character who ponders something in their heart (Luke 2:19, using συμβάλλω) or marvels silently about some event (Luke 11:14, using θαυμάζω).

Chapter 1 surveys silence in Luke’s prologue (1:1-4:13). In each of the sections of Luke surveyed by Dinkler, she begins with a few observations on the implied dialogue between the narrator and the reader. In any good storytelling, the narrator offers some information, but leaves much unsaid. This silence in the narration invites the reader to enter into the story and perhaps fill some of those gaps. As she showed in her introduction, silence is multivalent yet contextually determined. Two examples will suffice in this first section of Luke. Jesus’ first words are in Luke 2:49: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” Since these are the first words Jesus says, they are extremely important, yet they are rather cryptic and left unexplained. Jesus does not explain them, and the narrator is silent as well. The interpretation is left to the reader (59).

A second, subtle silence is the chronological gap between the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3. The narrator introduces Jesus as a boy and simple states he grew in wisdom and stature, but then jumps ahead to the ministry of John the Baptist many years later. A hero-story might fill this gap with an account of the training the hero received. A modern film might use a montage scene with background music. Dinkler suggests this narrative silence functions similarly to the silencing of Zechariah, it substantiates the prophecy of John’s future ministry (Luke 1:16-17, 76-78). This silence functions to “exert narratorial reliability, orient the reader, and stimulate readerly curiosity” (61).

The most obvious example here is the silencing of Zechariah. Usually this silencing is taken as a punishment for unbelief, standing in contrast to Mary’s belief. Dinkler as points out, silence in this context can be read as a proof of God’s omnipotence. Gabriel says he will silence Zechariah and he does; God will give a child to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and he does. Since silence is multivalent, this instance of silence can be both negative (punishment) and positive (proof of God’s power). Again, the emphasis is on building the confidence of the reader in the narrator’s reliability.

In chapter two, Dinkler surveys silence in Luke 4:14-9:50. Jesus is presented in this section as a divinely appointed authority whose speech causes others to act. Dinkler points out that with the exception of the Crucifixion, all of the hostility between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in Luke’s Gospel is conversational combat (91). She points out that in Greek novels these sorts of conflicts usually turn violent, but that is not the case here. I wonder if this is unique to Luke’s gospel, since the other three gospels have the same sort of verbal sparring between Jesus and some religious authority. While some react to Jesus’ words with increasing hostility, the disciples often react with confusion.

What is remarkable in this section of Luke is the contrast between Jesus’ increasing reputation and his command for silence. Using Luke 5:12-16 as an example, Jesus heals a leper and commands him to tell no one how he was healed. Nevertheless, “news spread about him all the more.” This is another example of the narrator introducing a question without offering an answer. Why does Jesus demand silence? Why do people not obey that command? This is a well-known problem in Mark (the so-called Messianic Secret). Dinkler recognizes the possibility this is a “vestigial element” taken over from Mark, but suggests rather Luke is purposefully using the command of silence to reveal Jesus’ identity more clearly.

The best example of silence in this section is Jesus’ meal with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Simon’s inner dialogue and Jesus’ response invite the reader into a hidden conversation the others in the story cannot know. This silent dialogue creates a dramatic irony since Simon (and the reader) knows what he thought, thus proving Jesus to be exactly what Simon initially thought he could not be, a true prophet of God (129). The story ends with more silence: when Jesus pronounced the woman’s sins forgiven, the audience wondered “who is this man who even forgives sins?” Neither Jesus nor the narrator answer this question, it is up to the reader to supply the answer. Based on Dinkler’s introduction to rhetorical silence, I wonder how silence can be multivalent in this case. Luke has carefully brought the reader to this point in the narrative and is asking them to answer “who is this then?” There is only a narrow range of answers possible (a true prophet, for example). The silence in this case is rhetorically powerful, demanding an answer from the reader, but the answer to the question has to be the one Luke led the reader to give.

Chapter three covers the lengthy the central section of Luke’s gospel (9:51-19:27). The structure of this section has been described as a “travel narrative” since Jesus starts out for Jerusalem in 9:15 and does (eventually) arrive there in 19:28, but the various geographical notes Luke makes in the section do not strictly conform to a real journey. After mentioning briefly several suggestions for solving this puzzle, Dinkler points out all but two of the geographical references in the central section are accompanied by some kind of verbal utterance (136-7). It is conversation that moves the journey forward.

One of the most important features of this central section of the Gospel is Jesus’ parables. Twenty of the twenty-four parables in Luke appear in these chapters, and not surprisingly, what is not said in a parable is just as important as what is said (148). The narrator is often silent, using gaps, delays, open endings and internal monologues in the stories in order to deepen Jesus’ speech related teaching. “Every parable that contains an inner monologue,” Dinkler says, “can be read as a cautionary message: one’s response to God matters” (154).

Her key example in this chapter is Luke 14:1-6, the Pharisees’ silence before Jesus. At a Sabbath meal Jesus asks the Pharisees and teachers of the Law if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? They remain silent (v. 4a) and Jesus heals the man. He asks them again how their own legal rulings applied to healing on the Sabbath, yet they still have no reply (v. 6). Their refusal to dialogue with Jesus is striking, since Greco-Roman symposia featured this sort of philosophical debates (161). This silence may not be hostile; they may simply have had no answer. In fact, when the religious leadership speaks in the rest of the central, it is “feeble, fruitless speech” (163). This is ultimately demonstrated at the Triumphal Entry, when the Pharisees demand Jesus to silence his disciples (19:39-40). [As an aside, Dinkler’s chapter titles include 19:28-44 in the central section, the introduction, however, makes the break after 19:27 (48). It is difficult to know where to put the Triumphal Entry, since it is a translation from the central section into the Passion narrative.]

Finally, there are several significant examples of silence during Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem, his passion and resurrection (Luke 19:45-24:53). These chapters are remarkably rich in dialogue, as the charts on pages 170-1 make clear. Dinkler describes the Temple conflicts as “verbal duels” and a ‘war of words” (171). Most significant for the theological and pastoral themes of the Gospel is the disciples’ descent into a silence they have chosen (175). When the arrest of Jesus finally occurs, the disciples are sleeping and do not testify to the words they have received from Jesus. They retreat into “self-protective silence” and do not speak until after the resurrection, and then only after the women and two disciples bear witness to the resurrection (178).

When Peter does speak, it is only to deny he knows Jesus. The climax to the denial story is Jesus’ silent gaze (22:60-61). When Jesus turns to look at Peter, the reader does not know if this is a compassionate look, forgiving Peter, or a look of condemnation for his denial. Luke does not explain, once again leaving this to the reader to decide. Dinkler argues this silent gaze is a trigger for Peter’s memory of Jesus’ words to him predicting his betrayal. Since everyone who reads Luke’s gospel will know Peter is a leader of the church, the silence that triggers memory of Jesus’ words is an important theological (pastoral?) point.

Perhaps the most important silence in this section of the Gospel is Jesus’ own silence before Herod (23:6-12). Jesus responds briefly to Pilate, but before Herod Jesus is absolutely silent. But there is more silence in the story, since the narrator does not tell us what Herod asked Jesus (v.9, he “plied him with questions”). Is Jesus’ silence disdain for Herod? Luke does not tell us, opening up several possibilities for the reader (194). After briefly looking at several common explanations, Dinkler points out the obvious: silence is the opposite of Jesus’ behavior elsewhere in the Gospel. He talks with everyone and anyone (demons, sinners, tax-collectors, women, Pharisees, Sadducees, even Pilate!), but now he chooses to be silent. This is the third trial (the Sanhedrin, Pilate, then Herod), each time Jesus becomes more silent (compare 22:67-9 and 23:3). His silence in his final trail functions as other silences have in the book, to call to mind the words of Jesus.

Conclusion. Dinkler’s study is an excellent introduction to a neglected aspect of narrative study. While it seems obvious, the rhetorical power of silence has been overlooked and Dinkler’s study fills that gap for students of the Gospel of Luke. Her concluding chapter ties her observations to the main theological themes of the Gospel, the Divine plan and Human Response, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, and Discipleship. Luke wants to encourage the reader to become the “ideal disciple” who hears and does the word of God.

 

NB: Thanks to De Gruyter for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Mark Harding and Alanna Nobbs, All Things to All Cultures

Harding, Mark and Alanna Nobbs. All Things to All Cultures: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2013. 426 pp. Pb; $50.00. Link to Eerdmans

This collection of essays was sponsored by the Australian College of Theology and all the contributors have some connection to that institution or Macquarie University. The book is a companion to The Content and the Setting of the Gospel Tradition (Eerdmans, 2010). Like that earlier volume, All Things to All Cultures sets Pauline literature into a Greco-Roman context in order to illuminate the letters and theology of Paul. This is not intended to be comprehensive, nor do the authors agree on all aspects of Pauline studies. Each essay is a self-contained unit and includes a very helpful “recommended reading” list. There are two short appendices by Paul Barnett: “Paul and the Book of Acts” and “A Tabular Analysis of Paul’s Asian Epistles.”

The first four essays focus on introductory issues. Murray Smith provides an overview of recent developments in Pauline studies in “Paul in the Twenty-first Century.” Since there is an avalanche of scholarly interest in Paul in the last 30 years, Smith must work very hard to provide an overview of main contours of the current “debates” in a mere 33 pages (including 212 footnotes)!  The largest section of the essay is of course dedicated to the development of the New Perspective on Paul and the subsequent responses to Sanders, Dunn, Wright and others.

Harding and NobbsComparing the Letters of Paul and the book of Acts, David Eastman presents a basic chronology of Paul’s life (“Paul: An Outline of His Life”). This is always a controversial topic since there are a limited number of “fixed dates” from which to develop a chronology. Eastman dates the Damascus Road experience to 33/34 and the Jerusalem Council to 50/51. He takes Gal 2:1-10 as the same events of Acts 15. Eastman gives a wide range (62-68) for the death of Paul since the traditions concerning his death are unclear. He provides a chart comparing his chronology to other recent scholars (p. 52).

In some ways Cavan Concannon’s essay, “The Archaeology of the Pauline Mission” is unmanageably broad. The archaeology of Corinth or Ephesus would fill a much larger monograph. He therefore focuses his attention on brief surveys the four “Pauline” cities and then to specific topics for each city that specifically illuminate the letters of Paul. For Thessalonica, Concannon examines associations and sacred laws, for Philippi he focuses on Romanatis of the city. For Ephesus he limits his discussion to slavery and cultic practices. Finally, for Corinth he examines the place of women and the poor. This is an excellent strategy, although in each case there is little more than a sketch. Concannon does provide copious footnotes to relevant literature.

Finally in the first section of the book, Brent Nongbri examines the “Pauline Letter Manuscripts.” This is perhaps the least controversial element of Pauline studies, although Nongbri does comment on several competing theories for the development of collections of Pauline letters. The order and content of these collections vary and may have some bearing on current developments in “canonical” interpretation.

The next three essays unpack the Jewish, Greek, and Roman contexts of Paul’s mission. Since the work of Stendahl and Sanders in the late 1970s, the Jewish context of Paul’s theology has become one of the most intensely examined areas in Pauline Studies. Paul McKechnie’s “Paul among the Jews” offers a survey of the life of Paul that deals with the problem of Saul’s conversion. Did Paul “reject Judaism” and turn to Christianity? Relying primarily on Acts, McKechnie lays out the evidence that Paul remained more or less Jewish throughout his career. I found that this chapter lacked a strong conclusion, although the thesis seems clear (Paul remained a Jewish Pharisee). Some will find his presentation problematic since he relies so heavily on Acts, with very little reference to Paul’s letters.

While Christopher Forbes examines “Paul among the Greeks,” he is not concerned with the common question of influence (“was Paul a Stoic?” or “did Paul get baptism from the Greeks?”). Paul must have had some sort of “secondary education” that might be described as “Greek” and his “broad engagement with Greek culture is obvious in his letters” (p. 135). The chapter argues that Paul’s engagement of the Gentiles resonates with the view from the Hebrew Bible that Gentiles would become a part of Israel in the eschatological age.

James R. Harrison’s “Paul among the Romans” engages the issue of anti-imperialism in Paul’s thought. After a short introduction to the current debate Harrison focuses primarily on Romans. While Paul does recommend submission to the government, he does not give any sort of accolades to the Emperor typically found in Roman literature. In addition, local churches are “benefactor communities” that do not accept the benefaction of the Empire. He concludes that Paul was “anti-imperial” when he counters the Augustan claim on peace by pointing out that the peace comes only through the sword (p. 174).

The third set of essays in the book cover the Pauline Letters in canonical order. Each chapter offers some basic background material and an overview of the letter, usually with some sketch of the contribution of the specific letters to Pauline Theology. For example, Michael Bird’s concise summary in “The Letter to the Romans” is an excellent overview of the letter. If there is some classic introductory problem, the author of the chapter briefly summarizes it and offers an opinion. L. L. Welborn sorts out the various problems associated with the two letters to the Corinthians, identifying letters A-H (“The Corinthians Correspondence”).  Greg Forbes (“The Letter to the Galatians”), for example, argues for an early date for Galatians (A.D. 48, before the Jerusalem Council). Murray Smith leans toward 2 Thess being the earlier of the two letters (“The Thessalonian Correspondence”).

Ian Smith has the formidable task of covering the four Prison Epistles (“The Later Pauline Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon”). Authorship and provenance for these letters are notorious problems. After surveying the options, he concludes that all four are written by Paul during the Roman imprisonment. Mark Harding sees the Pastoral letters are pseudegraphical and are designed “to actualize living tradition and cause it to speak to a new situation not originally envisioned” (p. 349, “The Pastoral Epistles”).

In the final chapter of the book Timothy J. Harris writes a short Pauline Theology. As Harris confesses, to write anything on Paul’s theology is “ambitious” and even “perilous,” but to attempt it in a mere 38 pages will leave most readers looking for more. After a short orientation on method and sources, Harris describes Paul’s theology as a “conversion of a worldview” (p.360), but a conversion that is thoroughly Christocentric. It is through Jesus and the cross that God has chosen to deal with the problem of sin. Harris summarized the “Pauline Meta-narrative” as “creation, redemption, and the fullness of time” (p. 369). He briefly interacts with the New Perspective as well as Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God. His summary of Paul’s theology certainly resonates with the New Perspective (especially N. T. Wright), but every writer on Paul must deal with the challenges stemming from that perspective.

Conclusion. I find this to be a very helpful overview of the main issues current under discussion in the world of Pauline Studies. As with all books that attempt to survey a huge area of study, this book is occasionally too much of a sketch to satisfy. A similar sized text could be produced on Pauline Theology and a second volume on the literature. Nevertheless, I would recommend the book for use in a seminary class on Pauline literature and theology because it provides an overview of the landscape without getting distracted by the details.

One problem for this book is that it was published about the same time as N. T. Wright’s massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God. There are many themes in Wright’s book that find expressing in All Things to All Cultures for two reasons. First, the writers have interacted with Wright’s earlier views, but this is to be expected in any book dealing with Paul written in the twenty-first century. Wright’s emphasis on reading Paul’s worldview, for example, is well-known and appears several times in this book simply because that is an excellent way to read Paul. Second, the theological portions of this book often cite the same secondary literature that Wright has read;  they are all reading the same sorts of writers, so there is some similarity. In short, this book should not be overlooked as an introduction to the literature and theology of Paul in the rush to read and dissect Wright’s work.

One Additional Note:  This book appears as part of a collection of books in a sixteen-book Pauline Studies Collection on offer from Logos Bible Software. The collection is in “pre-order” status at the moment. Every book in this collection is worth reading; highlights include Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Reading of Justification in Paul, Richard Hayes, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, Brevard Childs, The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus, and Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme. The whole set is 5300+ pages and works out on pre-order to less than $17 a book. I have most of them on my shelf already!

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