ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

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.

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.

Sunquist. GOSPEL AND PLURALISM TODAY, 2015

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - May• 24•16

Sunquist, Scott W., and Amos Yong (eds.). The Gospel and Pluralism Today: Reassessing Lesslie Newbigin in the 21st Century. Missiological Engagements. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-8308-5094-5. Pages: 238

9780830850945This volume is the outcome of the annual Missiology Lectures (November 13-15. 2015) held at the Fuller Theological Seminary. The book deals with three distinct aspects of Leslie Newbigin’s life and work. First, it deals with the impact of his book THE GOSPEL IN A PLURALISTIC SOCIETY (1989) on missiology and missional practices. Secondly, it deals with various aspects of pluralism in the West. Thirdly, discussions on how Newbigin’s work influenced missiology.

It is not the purpose this review to offer synopses or critique of each essay in this volume. However, a listing of the contents may help the readers.

1. Introduction: The Legacy of Newbigin for Mission (Scott W. Sunquist).

2. Newbigin in His Time (Wilbert R. Shenk).

3. Newbigin’s Theology of Mission and Culture After Twenty-Five years: Attending to the “Subject” of Mission (William R. Burrows).

4. Community and Witness in Transition: Newbigin’s Missional Ecclesiology Between Modernity and Postmodernity (Veli-Matti Karkainen and Michael Karim).

5. Holistic Theological Method and Theological Epistemology: Performing Newbigin’s Plurality of Sources in the Pluralist Context (Steven B. Sherman).

6. Honoring True Otherness in a Still-Antipluralist Culture (Esther L. Meek).

7. Pluralism, Secularism and Pentecost: Newbigin-ings for Missio Trinitatis in a New Century (Amos Yong).

8. Evangelism in a Pluralistic Society: The Newbigin Vision (Carrie Boren Headington).

9. What Does It Mean for a Congregation to Be a Hermeneutic? (John G. Flett).

10. Asian Perspectives on Twenty-First-Century Pluralism (Allen Yeh).

In his introductory essay, Scott W. Sunquist presents us with a snapshot of Newbegin’s life and factors that influenced his life and thought before he sheds some light on how the book came into being.

A remarkable contribution is an essay by Wilbert R. Shenk who assess Newbigin against the background of his own time. This article is a very important contribution to the volume since it introduces the novice and the expert to the historical, political and theological currents that influenced his thought. However, Shenk has ignored how Indian nationalism, the various socio-political currents in India as well as the emergence of the new church movements influenced Newbegin. When Newbegin entered India where he spent almost all of his active life as a missionary and church leader, India was just five years away from freeing itself from British colonial rule. Independence was guaranteed by its actualization was delayed by World War II. Moreover, independent church movements (notably Pentecostal movement by Indian leaders) had their established their presence in South India for almost four decades. Not only Shenk but also other presenters as well fail to assess the influence of the realities of the host country on him.

However, this volume is a remarkable and useful contribution to missiology in the 21st century.
Link to publisher