ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Hilber, John W. Ezekiel: A Focused Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. 2019

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 28•20

9781498294218Hilber, John W. Ezekiel: A Focused Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781498294218; Pages: 268

By this work, Hilber has demonstrated how to write commentary for pastors and teachers who are the major consumers of Bible commentaries. Many commentaries very technical the ordinary pastors and students of the Bible. On the other extreme are commentaries who compromise exegesis for detailed suggestions for application. What is unique about this commentary is that it has a proper balance between exegesis and application; and is not too technical for the non-specialist.

What makes this a very user-friendly commentary is its structure. In the short introduction, the author gives us an overview of the Book of Ezekiel. He also offers some advice on how to divide the book into ‘teachable units.’ This is followed by suggestions on how to apply the text to the context of the preachers and their listeners.

He divides the Book into teachable units. The key themes of each unit are presented in the form of bulleted lists. He then presents the specific context of this passage in the wider context of the Book of Ezekiel. In the section that follows titled ‘Interpretive Highlights’ comments on the significant verses are given. So, we don’t have comments on all verses and words or phrases! Only what is essential for our understanding of the key themes of the passages are discussed. Besides these, all units also have a section called ‘Theological Bridge to Application’ where the key themes of each unit are seen in the light of the larger Biblical theology. In the last section, titled ‘Focus of Application’ the author makes broader suggestions as to how that particular section speaks to contemporary situations that we live in.

This indeed is a commentary where the reader gets what they need to preach and teach without having wade through mind-boggling details. Every reader would long for similar volumes from Hilber on other books of the Bible.

Voelz. Mark 8:27-16:8 Concordia Commentary, 2019

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 24•20

Voelz MarkVoelz, James W., and Christopher Wright Mitchell. Mark 8:27-16:8. Concordia Commentary?: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2019. ISBN: 9780758639554.

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The ‘Concordia Commentary series’ is indeed the most magisterial commentary series of this decade. The latest addition to this most esteemed series is by Voelz and Mitchell on the second part of the Gospel of Mark. This is the sequel to Voelz’s work on Mark 1:1-8:26 that came out in 2013. The disputed verses of Mark’s Gospel (16:9-20) is done by Christopher W. Mitchell. Like all its predecessors, this is also an equally commanding interpretation of the Gospel.
Voelz and Mitchell have reconstructed the Greek text which they have translated with detailed notes on the text and translation. This is followed by notes on the important grammatical points. To add to the richness of the volume further, there is a section on the Greek of Mark. This pattern is followed in every passage! Then comes the verse by verse exegetical comments on the Greek text. A number of excursus makes it still more invaluable.
A critical review is beyond the scope of this note; students and scholars will certainly be stunned by the depth and authority of this commentary.

Sarisky. Reading the Bible Theologically, 2019

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Apr• 06•20

Sarisky, Darren. Reading the Bible Theologically. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

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This book is yet another contribution to the discussion on how to read the Bible. It deals with the question if it is valid for the reader to bring their own theological framework to their reading or not?

The readers will certainly benefit from the detailed treatment of the contrary views of scholars presented here: between those who argue for a neutral, purely objective reading of the Bible and those who argue for a theological reading of the Bible. The book is trying to answer the crucial question of whether the readers should distance their faith from their reading of the Bible or not.

The author has clarified that the God-belief he talks about is Trinitarian, the Trinity that reveals itself to the humans through the text. On the outset, he also clarifies that the theological reading that he proposes is different from what most scholars hold. In his own words: ‘What this book does is to suggest that theological reading can be conceived differently than it usually is, as an interpretive response that inevitably results from thinking theologically about the reader and the text, thus challenging readers to reconsider their self-conception, their view of Scripture, and how both impinge on interpretation’ (p. 4).

One of the many valuable contributions of this book is the thorough survey of the ‘Literature on the Nature of Theological Interpretation’ (pp.16-26), a great treat for the student and the scholar as well.

He finds support for his view in the writings of Saint Augustine whom he considers as a model for the Hermeneutics of Restoration. He has attempted to convince the readers that the ‘theological reading’ he proposes is not an Eisegesis, but it is still bringing the meaning from the text rather than reading into it. He also discusses Descartes and Spinoza in building up his arguments.

The book is highly technical enough to intimidate novices and students, but experts on the subject will find it as a treat!

 

Luchetti. PREACHING WITH EMPATHY (2018)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 20•19

Luchetti, Lenny. Preaching with Empathy: Crafting Sermons in a Callous Culture. The Artistry of Preaching Series. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018. ISBN: 9781501841729. Pages: xv+98

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Our world is turning increasingly apathetic. Our individualistic culture is making us more and more insensitive to the feelings and needs of others. In other words, we live in a world with high empathy deficit. Contrary to apathy, empathy i9781501841729s the ability to feel what others feel and know the viewpoint of others. Luchetti argues that in our callous culture, preachers need to be more empathetic in order to connect with the people in the pew and to connect them with God.

Luchetti begins with an exploration of the nature of God. He affirms that the very nature of the Holy Trinity is empathetic. The three persons in the Trinity are related empathetically. Moreover, the incarnation of the second person of Trinity is evidence that God is an empathetic God. Jesus is the supreme example of an empathetic person.

Having laid the theological foundation, he moves on to a historical survey. He points out to two examples of empathetic preaching—John Wesley and Martin Luther King Jr. He also examines the practices of these two models of empathic preachers.

Having convinced us of the need for empathic preaching in our culture of apathy, Luchetti concludes with some suggestions in two areas. How to cultivate empathy in preachers and how to bring empathy into our preaching.

Empathy is now a big catchword in the corporate world. Dozens of books are being written on how to cultivate empathy to improve customer relations, marketing, etc. However, there are no resources about the what, why and how of empathy in preaching. Luchetti has filled that lacuna through this title.

Cone. Black Theology and Black Power, Orbis, 2019

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 01•19

Cone, James H. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018. Pages: 174+xxxiii. ISBN: 9781626983083

James H. Cone published his book, ‘Black Theology and Black Power’ in 1969. It is now 50 years since the first edition c9781626983083ame out of the press. This edition is to celebrate that moment, so the publishers calls it the 50th anniversary edition.

The new element is the introduction written by Cornel West. West has surveyed the various historical events that might have shaped Cone’s thinking. He also highlights some salient streams of Cone’s thinking.

The book is a reprint of the 1989 edition. So, those who are still stuck with the 1969 edition and missed the 1989 edition will benefit from the ‘Preface to the 1989 edition’ written by Cone himself. This is the part of the book where Cone reflects on the influences on his life. First, the influence that Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights movement on him. However, very soon that was challenged by his lenience towards Malcom X.

In this preface, Cone also reflects on the limitations of his book. First, he admits that he was not aware of the sexist language that he used in the first edition in 1969, but he allowed it to remain in the 1989 edition. He also admits that the book is heavily influenced by his Western theological education as well. Thirdly, he also admits that his work failed to see the struggle of the blacks in the wider context of similar struggles globally. However, he concludes that, ‘Despite its limitations, I hope that Black Theology and Black Power will remind all who read it that good theology is not abstract but concrete, nor neutral but committed. Why? Because the poor were created for freedom and not for poverty.’ And with the few limitations this work is still historic, and the momentum it created still carries on.

Blanton, P. Gregg. Contemplation & Counseling (IVP Academic 2019)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 05•19

9780830828654Blanton, P. Gregg. Contemplation & Counseling: An Integrative Model for Practitioners. Christian Association For Psychological Studies Books. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780830828654. Pages: 213.

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Interest in mindfulness is on the rise everywhere. It has been promoted world-wide across the religions and cultures. It is commonly held as a purely mental practice without any religious significance. Though it is areligious nature is true, it has originated in Buddhist/Hindu practices. Various forms of mindfulness have been integrated to psychotherapy, wellness training etc.

In the first place, Blanton offers us an evangelical critique of the practice of mindfulness and its use in Christian counselling. Mindfulness is centred on human self and with human effort. It thus ignores the relationship with the living God.

As an alternative Blanton offers contemplation which is God-centred and God enabled. The mindfulness and Christian contemplative practices are quite different from each other. He explores the history, theology and various traditions of contemplative practices in Christianity.

The major contribution of this book is his proposals for the therapeutic use of contemplative prayer in Christian counselling. He offers eleven fundamental interventions and a four-stage process. These proposals are drawn from his own practices.

In addition to the novelty of the subject, one will be impressed by the wealth of literature that Blanton had dived into in writing this book. Readers will be enriched by the insights on contemplative prayer, the insights from neuroscience and history of Christian spirituality that this book offers.

Lowe. Ecologies of Faith (2018)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 07•18

Lowe, Stephen D., and Mary E. Lowe. Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press,US, 2018.

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Online education, particularly theological education is on the surge in the recent years. One of the major concerns in this regard has to do with spiritual formation. Since 9780830852055the online education takes place in virtual space, there is practically very little physical presence or face to face contact between teachers and learners and between learners. This book by two online educators help us to understand the challenges and possibilities of spiritual formation that is possible in the digital age.
The book develops around the concept of ecology—that interdependence and connectivity between entities and the environment that guarantees nourishment, growth and support.
In the first part, the authors elaborate on the concept of ecological motifs in the Bible including the agrarian parables of Jesus. Then using Paul’s metaphor of the body, the ecology of faith within the body of Christ and how it enriches faith and spiritual formation is explained.
The authors then discuss how growing in faith is possible in digital ecologies as well. The social networks are not enemies of spiritual formation. But the connectivity that they offer enhances sharing of faith and spiritual formation. The authors rather persuasively argue that social networks have great power of reciprocal influence. The authors argue that the reciprocal connections between Christians who are connected to Christ are possible in any environment real and virtual. Digital natives are not aliens but they are very much part of the body of Christ.
One of the chapters explore the use of the Greek preposition SYN (with) with Christ in Paul’s letters. The various passages analysed indicates that every Christian have a vertical connection with Christ. It is this vertical connections that supplies all the spiritual nutrients that every Christian need. However, this connection can only be activated through engagement with other Christians who have the same connection. This leads to exploring ecological connections to other Christians in Chapter 10. Paul used the same ‘SYN connection’ to describe the relationship between Christians as well. So, the authors explorate the ‘horizontal syn-compounds’ in the Epistles to Philippians chapter by chapter.
This book does not merely make a case for online education but helps us to imagine online theological education in a new way. We should not discount online education as something where information is dispensed. Online education could also be a great agent of spiritual transformation. This means that just as in face-to-face education context, online education also need to ensure that student-student, faculty-student connections should happen in addition to connecting knowledge to real-life situations.
These ecological connections are not limited to the campus or the online set up. The authors explore Paul’s use of the Greek word ALLELON (one another) to suggest that Christians need to stimulate spiritual growth by connecting to the spiritual ecology of their churches as well. This is the main concern of chapter 11. The authors explore the reciprocal connections across a wide spectrum of sources: for example, in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Pauline epistles and the Old Testament covenants. They argue that, ‘Online learning environments offer a unique opportunity for the kind of reciprocal interactions Paul describes, Bronfenbrenner studied, Bonhoeffer practised.’
Another intriguing chapter is on ‘Ecological Sanctification’, a concept that may be altogether new. The Lowes argue that sanctification is ecological. They note the difference between the ideas of holiness in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament associates holiness with quarantine—keeping away from all that defiles a person. However, in the New Testament, holiness is rather ‘contagious.’ Jesus makes clean by touching, sharing the table with those who are not considered holy. This is true of the gospel and faith because they grow by contact with each other. Holiness is not attained individually. The process of sanctification happens in a network of relationships including online networks.
In the last chapter, the authors use illustrations from cosmology and nature urging us to think about spirituality in ecological terms. The interconnectedness and not individualism is foundational for spiritual growth.
This work is full of insights on Christian faith and spirituality that any online or offline educators need to know. The book will help online educators to plan and to carry out online theological education with spiritual formation as its central goal.

Wrogemann. Theologies of Mission, 2018

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 13•18

Wrogemann, Henning. Intercultural Theology, Volume 2: Theologies of Mission. Inter-Varsity Press,US, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-8308-5098-3. Pages: xx, 454.

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9780830850983This is the second volume of the trilogy on Intercultural Theology by Wrogemann, translated from German by Karl E. Bohmer.

A wide spectrum of mission theologies are represented here. In his search for mission theologies, Wrogemann has gone beyond what is documented in books and journal articles. He also identifies and discusses, mission theologies performed through presence, art, preaching and a whole range of other forms of expressions. In order to set the tone of his work, the author first presents to us the case of Ali, Pakistani Christian who never wrote any theology, nor preached. Ali’s contribution was only to be present among a discriminated Hindu community in his Isalmic country and share his life with them. He also presents the painting by a Dalit Christian Woman artist from India. This woman artist from a discriminated community, too had a vision of mission coloured by her experience of Jesus and her own self-understanding.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part is titled, ‘Developments in Mission Theology in the Twentieth/Twenty-First Centuries.’ This is a survey of mission studies beginning with Gustav Warneck. This section presents the various theological themes (Salvation-Historical, Promise Theology, etc), significant conferences (World Missionary Conferences, Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, etc.) and significant scholars.

The second part is titled, ‘Theologies of Mission in the Plural: Confessional and Contextual Profiles.’ Here we find mission theologies of various confessions. These include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, North American Protestantism, Anglican, and Pentecostal. The third part, ‘Continents, Context, Controversies’ discusses mainly the various contextual issues. Some of the significant contextual issues are liberation, poverty, power, health and healing, conversion, etc.

In The final part, ‘Mission as Oikumenical Doxology: A New Theological Approach’, the author proposes that mission as ecumenical praise of God should aim at ‘a holistic praxis.’ The main argument being that mission is doxology. Mission not just leads to the praise of God, but the very foundation of mission is the praise of God.

The volume is undoubtedly impressive. The sheer breadth of time and depth of themes dealt with is what makes it invaluable. This surely is the must-read for teachers and students of mission published in the recent times.

Kleinig HEBREWS, 2017

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 25•17

Kleinig, John W. 2017. Hebrews. St. Louis: Concordia Pub House. Pages: 815, ISBN: 9780758616036.

9780758616036This commentary follows the pattern of other titles in the same series. The tradition of the series where scholarship is brought to the level of the pews continues in this volume too. It has to be noted that the same author wrote the commentary on the Book of Leviticus in this series as well. Leviticus and Hebrews share many concepts, imageries and language.

Kleinig presents to us an almost word-by-word commentary of the Book of Hebrews. Each section provides deep insight into the text. Each section has a fresh translation, textual notes, word studies, theological themes, etc.

Kleinig argues that the Book of Hebrews is a written sermon.

The detailed introduction which precedes the commentary has discussions on the audience of the Book of Hebrews, the date, etc which is part of any standard commentary. Besides these standard elements, Kleinig offers the readers a detailed rhetorical analysis of the book. He has a section on the rhetorical character of the book and another on the rhetorical techniques used. He also offers a discourse analysis of the book. Another noteworthy feature of this commentary is that it has a treatise on how the Book of Hebrews uses the Old Testament.

This is in every sense a monumental work on the Book of Hebrews hitherto published. The scholars and the pastors will be ever grateful to the author and the publishers for this great achievement.

Visit the publisher, Concordia Publishing House for more titles.

Smith. Evangelical, Sacremental, and Pentecostal, 2017

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 04•17

Smith, Gordon T. 2017. Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three. InterVarsity Press. Pages: 135, ISBN: 978-0-8308-5160-7.

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9780830851607The general trends show that the contemporary church is mostly post-denominational. This means that for most people denominations and traditions do not matter much. Moreover, the charismatic movement has brought the churches closer to each other since there is the ‘unity of the spirit’ felt across denominational barriers. Many free and independent traditions are getting much more disciplined and organized in their worship, thus slowly warming up towards the liturgical traditions. It is in this context that the book by Gordon Smith becomes very relevant. The title exposes the main argument: ‘Evangelical, Sacramental and Pentecostal. Why the Church Should Be all Three.’

Smith presents his arguments in six chapters. In the first chapter, he exposits John 15:4: Jesus’ command to abide in him. Then he explores how the evangelical tradition, the sacramental tradition and the pentecostal tradition understand this principle of ‘abiding in Christ.’ While the evangelical tradition experiences the abiding through the teaching and preaching of the Word of God, the sacramental tradition does the same through the sacramental actions of baptism and the Lord’s supper. The Pentecostals understand it as the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and the indwelling of the Spirit in the life of the individual. Smith goes on to conclude that, ‘all three in tandem are the divinely appointed means by which God’s people live in union with Christ.’

In the second chapter, he establishes that all three, the Word, the Sacraments and the experience of the Spirit, are equally important for the Church to be truly Church. This leads the reader to the third chapter where he explains the three distinct understandings of the ‘grace of God.’ The three traditions have different understandings of the concept of the grace of God and the appropriation of it. However, he suggests, ‘that whether one comes to this question from a sacramental, evangelical, or pentecostal heritage and perspective, the bottom line remains: ‘… the biblical witness and the historic witness of the church consistently call the church to be a fully orbed embracing of the vital means by which the grace of the risen and ascended Christ is made present in the life of the church.’

In the next three chapters, he goes on to explain what is characteristic of each tradition. Then in the last chapter, he concludes with some observations and suggestions. First of all, he observes that ‘the Spirit, the Word and the sacramental life of the church’ are housed within the Christian community. Secondly, he suggests that the three festivals of the church namely, Advent-Christmas-Epiphany offers us three distinctive perspectives of grace. He suggests that these festivals must be used to give ‘focussed attention to the three expressions of grace of the ascended Christ in the life of the church.’ Thirdly, he critiques the modern trend of downplaying the importance of the worship space. This happens by replacing the pulpit with a lectern or a barstool, communion being very casual, etc. He suggests that ‘the visual dimensions of worship complement the words spoken and the prayers offered.’

His last observation and suggestion have to do with Christian initiation. In his opinion, Christian initiation has three aspects. First, a focus on the preaching and study of the Word. Secondly, the invitation to baptism. Thirdly, chrismation, the anointing with oil which represents the ‘intentional appropriation of the gift of the Spirit.’ He suggests that a baptism service should have all these three elements.

He concludes as his title suggests that, ‘… the Christian would be evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal. And the evidence of such would be that they live with a deep and resilient joy, the fruit of a life lived in dynamic union with the ascended Christ.’

Smith’s analysis of the three traditions is quite innovative. He does convince the reader that though these emphases are distinct they are not disuniting, but have tremendous potential for unity. I think this work is a great contribution towards ecumenical discussions in our generation.