Beth Gerhardt’s New Book: The Cross and Gendercide (Gupta)

EGMy Northeastern Seminary colleague Elizabeth Gerhardt has written a very interesting new book called The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls (IVP, 2014). Beth is a very capable social ethicist and has lots of hands-on experience working with women and girls who have suffered from abuse of all kinds. This book is a fantastic effort to provide a theological rationale for resisting this kind of violence and taking this problem seriously, especially as a concern of the global church. In the book, she especially draws from the cross-theology of Luther and Bonhoeffer. Here is a quote that captures the spirit of her work:

The power of the cross crushes the idolatry of power that leads to the denigration of women and girls and crushes the ideologies that keep women and girls from realizing their full potential as human beings with dignity. The language of the cross is freedom and promise that has real meaning for working to end systems that enslave mind-numbing numbers of women and children (111).

I hope this book receives a wide reading and helps to bring this topic to the table of discussion for churches and that many are impacted by her cogent reading of the implications of a proper Theologia Crucis.

Last Thoughts – Bart vs. Bird – Was Jesus the Real Deal? (Gupta)

Bart EhrmanBirdPicWell, I have to face the reality that I am moving (by car!) 2500+ miles from New York to Oregon in about three weeks. So, I am trying to wrap up a number of review-series posts I have started. I apologize if I am just kind of skipping to the end on these, but c’est la vie, right?

Today, then, it is my final thoughts on Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and Mike Bird (et al) on How God Became Jesus. I did not get a chance to comment on Chris Tilling’s essays, but just wanted to say that I agree with Tilling that Ehrman should have interacted with Bauckham. Either this was an oversight, an underestimation, or just an inexplicable omission.

OK, first Bart. Did he accomplish something here? Probably some yes but mostly no. On the bright side, Bart is a fresh thinker. You can’t put his thoughts into a camp or box and that is a good thing because he is doing some original thinking. I appreciate his historical spadework – he “gets” the Greco-Roman world of religion, but I am not so sure you can flatten out Jewish religion in the way that he has done. He so waters down Jewish monotheism that it looks almost like a pagan Zeus-at-the-top pyramid of deities wrapped in Semitic garb. Hardly. Still, the best “lasting” idea from his book is for Christians to always think – it is not enough that we say “Jesus is God” – we need to actually think through what “divinity” means and what exactly it is that makes him God.

Now, the downside. His is not an academic book that encourages serious engagement. It is more like an invited lecture series where someone “tests” out their ideas. Except, this is a book and yet so many of his ideas are either lacking evidence or he is very selective in his “proofs.” Secondly, Bart claims to be a neutral historian, but he likes to start almost every chapter with a kind of “I used to be a stupid fundamentalist, but — ha, ha — I am now an enlightened agnostic, a person who knows that Christian apologetic overconfidence is pompous, but somehow my agnostic overconfidence is cool!” This gets very irritating, because we are seeing two Barts whispering in the readers’ ears. One says, “I don’t care what you believe, Christian or not, just get the data right and believe with open eyes.” The other Bart whispers, “But just know I, your teacher, can’t find any good reason to think these Christian writers knew what they were talking about. Silly Christians.” I wish he would have picked one agenda and stuck with it. I did not find his anti-evangelical taunts offensive, they just seemed superfluous, ineffective for whatever rhetorical purpose they were meant to serve.

Confession: I am using Bart’s book as a textbook for my NT Christology course, and I genuinely hope students will take his arguments seriously and engage his evidence as rigorously (and openly) as his logic and evidence merits. But after reading the book, I am not optimistic regarding what will come of it. But here is where Bart shines – he always leaves you asking more questions about the complexity of Scripture and Christian origins. That is worth the thought, but is it worth paying him money? I’ll let you decide (sorry students).

Sidenote: I know the proceeds from his blog-money go to charity. I couldn’t find any kind of statement in his books that the royalties go to charity. But if they did, I would be much more likely to require his books as food for thought and thoughts for food!

OK, now Mike Bird’s edited volume, How God Became Jesus. Let’s start with the weaknesses. Anytime you rush over the holidays to write a book and get it to print, its not going to be War and Peace. There is a bit of repetition, and there is some unevenness in how contributors approach the response book – some were trying to refute Bart directly, but others were summarizing Bart and trying to supply a kind of balancing evidence. Some were more gracious to Bart and “neutral,” others were more attacking. Some took a mood of academic seriousness, and others treated this opportunity as a kind of guild-permitted roasting of Bart. So, I didn’t know when to underline a key historical point, and when to laugh out loud. I guess that could be simply a feature of different personalities coming together.

But is it all worth it? I know there has been some grumbling and grousing about the response book. Anyone that knows Mike Bird (and Simon and Craig et al) knows that they don’t yearn for fame and/or cash. So, I am happy to extend the courtesy of assuming good intentions.

What about the information – do they refute Bart well? Some contributions more than others, but I found especially strong work from Mike’s monotheism reflections as well as Craig Evans’ archaeological evidence about the burial of the crucified. They do not make a kind of slam-dunk case against all of the things Bart raises, but the dialogue between these books is very helpful and rewarding in my opinion. This was a fun and illuminating exercise!

[Postscript: I did not review the post-New Testament discussions on either side as I am not as up to speed on these debates]

The Historical Riches of Princeton’s Free “Theological Commons” (Gupta)

It has recently come to my attention that Princeton Theological Seminary has archived thousands of older theological works and made them freely available online. Since I am writing on 1-2 Thessalonians, I did a quick search and found dozens of 19th and 20th century commentaries – for free! Some are still well known and respected (e.g., Eadie, Plummer), but others are less known, and yet still insightful.

One might think that commentaries from such a long time ago have little to contribute to ongoing exegetical discussions, but I was struck by the fact that these men (sadly only men have I found so far) knew their ancient history and their Greek. Also, they regularly demonstrate a kind of wit and eloquence all too often missing in our so-called “productive” culture. Here is a quick word from Eadie on Paul’s language of the labor (kopos) of love (1 Thess 1:3).

Kopos is earnest and toilsome service, into which the whole heart is thrown, travail of soul, often self-denial and exhaustion…The noun kopos comprises all the labour which belongs to Christian love. This love, the image of Christ’s, is no ordinary attachment, resting on the slender basis of mere professional fellowship, but is embodied in travail, and busies itself in kindness of all shapes, in the doing of which it spares no pains and grudges no sacrifice” (36-37); John Eadie, 1877

Review: Burke’s Secret Scriptures Revealed (Skinner)

Burke BookAmong those with interests in the non-canonical Christian literature, Tony Burke is well known for his scholarly writings and his blog devoted to exploring the Christian Apocrypha. This volume, which Burke describes as his “dream project” (vi), is a superb introduction to a broad range of early Christian, non-canonical texts. The book consists of seven chapters of unequal length and a short appendix listing resources for further study (pp. 153-56).

Chapter 1 (“What are the Christian Apocrypha?”) is more than a simple introduction to the subject at hand. Burke situates the study of the apocrypha in the modern Western context of media hype, defines a number of key terms, and demonstrates why these texts are important for our study of early Christianity. Particular attention is given to problems with our current terminology (viz., apocrypha, non-canonical, hidden, secret) and how the use of a given term can unwittingly influence the direction of a discussion. We all know that the terms you choose and how you define them are key to discussing literature such as this, especially among audiences that privilege canonical texts. As I have noted elsewhere, many Christians are quick to dismiss as valueless, all non-canonical material. What is striking about this chapter is the way in which Burke describes both the apocrypha and his task. He writes with the passion and infectious enthusiasm of someone who genuinely enjoys his topic of study.

After introducing readers to the foundational questions, Burke uses Chapter 2 to introduce the tools and methods necessary for studying the Christian apocrypha. Included in the overview are texts and translations, historic discoveries such as Nag Hammadi and Oxyrhynchus, monastic libraries, and the apocrypha in art, literature, and drama.

The next three chapters survey non-canonical writings about Jesus’ life (Chapter 3), passion and resurrection (Chapter 4), and early church legends after Jesus’ departure (Chapter 5). These chapters constitute the substance of Burke’s primer as they introduce students to specific texts and their contents. One emphasis that continues to appear throughout the book is the role these writings play in our understanding of history. At the end of Chapter 4, Burke notes, “[T]here is likely little in these texts that can be considered historical—at least not in the sense that these texts provide additional information about what really happened…But the value of these texts lies not in what they say about Jesus, but in what they say about Christians, about how they used early Christian figures and events to discuss and debate new developments in the lives of their communities” (99). These three chapters are succinct and substantive at the same time. This is the portion of the book from which students will glean the most information about the actual content of the Christian Apocrypha.

Chapter 6 (“Myths, Misconceptions, Misinformation”) looks briefly at nine myths and misconceptions related to the apocrypha: (1) The Christian Apocrypha were all written after the texts of the NT, or were all written before the texts of the NT; (2) The Christian Apocrypha are ‘forgeries’ written in the names of the apostles; (3) The Christian Apocrypha were written by Gnostics; (4) The Christian Apocrypha claim that Jesus was not divine; (5) The Christian Apocrypha are bizarre and fanciful compared to the canonical gospels; (6) The Christian Apocrypha were written to undermine or replace the canonical texts; (7) The Christian Apocrypha were enormously popular before their suppression by a powerful minority in the church; (8) The Christian Apocrypha are being used to rewrite Christian history; (9) Reading the Christian Apocrypha is harmful to one’s faith. This chapter is a thorough coverage of ideas that circulate among popular audiences, and thus helps Burke connect with his intended, non-specialist audience.

Chapter 7 consists of a very brief (3 page) conclusion to the work.

Several features of this book stand out in my mind. First, the material Burke covers is grouped by subject matter rather than date, an arrangement that will likely prove useful for non-specialists. Second, his writing style is clear, engaging, and at times, even humorous in places. Third, at the end of each major section there is a textbox providing information for further study. What I most appreciate about this book is that Burke writes with the skill of an expert and the communicative ability of a great teacher. He ably accomplishes the aim of writing an introductory text for the non-specialist. I definitely plan to require this textbook the next time I teach the non-canonical literature!

Book Notice: Release of Mark Taylor’s NAC 1 Corinthians Commentary (Gupta)

TaylorThough it apparently released in April, I just became aware that the latest volume in the New American Commentary Series has been published, 1 Corinthians by Mark Taylor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have ordered the book and I hope to do a review later in the summer.

While I have found the quality of volumes in the NAC series a bit uneven, some of the volumes  – like Garland on 2 Corinthians or Blomberg on Matthew – are outstanding, ones I recommend to students regularly.

You can find an interview with Taylor re: his commentary here. More to come.