Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

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.

Haughey. BIOGRAPHY OF THE SPIRIT. Orbis, 2015

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 08•16

Haughey, John C. A Biography of the Spirit. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2015. Pages: 220 ISBN: 978-1-62698-122-5

Haughey_Biography_of_SpiritThe title of the book is rather amusing especially when we realize that the author has in mind the third person of the Holy Trinity. It may be possible to write a biography of the second person of the Trinity since he ‘walked on talked’ on earth in his incarnation. However, Haughey has defined biography as the data of one’s life. In the case of the Spirit, this data is found in observing nature and gathering insights from science where the Spirit is active. So, the book takes the form of day-by-day observations and reflections of nature and science.

He argues that we need the ‘complement of pneumatology’ to comprehend nature and the complexities that science is able to discover. So he goes on by reflecting on nature, science and sometimes scriptural truth as he ventures to find the life of the Spirit in all these realms of life.

His conception of Spirit is non-gendered, so throughout the book, he describes the Spirit as ‘It’ though he doesn’t deny that the Spirit is a person.

The reflections are arranged day-by-day in a dated sequence. Each page is like a guided tour through God’s world and Word where we discern the life of the Spirit.

O’Murchu, ADULT FAITH, 2010

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 02•14

Murchu Adult FaithO’Murchu, Diarmuid. Adult Faith: Growing in Wisdom and Understanding. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2010.

The book begins with the personal note sketching the author’s own intellectual and spiritual growth. Brought up in Catholic Ireland, he questioned the imperial mindset imposed by the culture that one grows in. In his case, three factors influenced this growth—Television, which brought in the visual experience of a wider world, writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and exposure to other cultures.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one is a deconstruction of all that inhibits ‘adult appropriation of faith.’ The second part is an attempt to reconstruct. In this part the author tries to define or redefine what it means to be an adult and then how to appropriate religious faith as an ‘adult.’ He tries to explain how evolutionary factors impact the new understanding of being human.

The presentation of his thoughts are clear and very well structured. Each chapter ends with three summaries. First the ‘Conventional wisdom’ which keep people trapped in the old mind set. Secondly, what he calls ‘embedded codependency’ or the factors that keep people subjugated. Thirdly, ‘adult empowerment’ the new awareness of the responsible adult, or what is expected of an adult as defined.

The book argues that adult is not someone who plays by the rules of the game dictated by a patriarchal structure. But the working definition of adult used in this book is largely based on the concept of ‘protean self’ popularized by Robert J. Lifton. A protean adult is not just mature biologically as often considered but one who grows and adapts according to the ever changing world and even value systems.

However, such evolution is often hampered by codependency that is imposed by the patriarchal mindset which enslaves people. ‘Codependency’ is a term coined by Melody Beattie in 1987 to explain behaviour where one person ‘let another person’s behaviour affect him or her.’ Codependent people is unable to challenge the person who controls their life and even go to an extent of justifying or protecting their behaviour which has negative impact on their life. Thus the codependent people remain subjugated by the person/system that they ought to disagree with.

The possibility of being a ‘protean adult’ and the reality of ‘codependency’ seems to be the warp and woof used to weave the thoughts in the book.

The book re-examines almost everything that many of us accept unquestioning. The author points out to new possibilities of being responsible adults in relation to religious beliefs, rituals, nature, learning and a whole lot more. The book that begins with ‘being’ an adult ends with thoughts on how the protean adult signs off from this world. The last chapter is titled: ‘When Adults Die Gracefully.’

This book is a great synthesis of scholarly reflections from many disciplines: biology, theology, ecology, pedagogy, behavioural science and so on. It questions existing systems and ‘liberates’ human mind. However, many readers will remain suspicious and cautious with the questions it raises and the liberation it offers.

Irvin, History of the World Christian Movement. Volume I and II (2012)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Mar• 25•13

Irvin, Dale T., and Scott Sunquist. History of the World Christian Movement. Volume II. Modern Christianity from 1454-1800. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2012. pages: xv+503. ISBN: 978-1-57075-989-5.

Irvin, Dale T., and Scott Sunquist. History of the World Christian Movement. Volume I. Earliest Christianity to 1453. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2010. pages: xvi+519. ISBN: 978-1-57075-396-1.

These books are part of a three volume project. The third one is in the offing.  Volume I which traces the history of Christianity from its origins to 1453 AD. The year 1454 has been a watershed in the history of Christianity. The second volume picks up the story from that point and takes us to 1800. The authors frankly admit that the reason for stopping at 1800 is simply that the story so far told in great details made it too long and the two ceHistory of World Christian Movementnturies to follow (19th and 20th) will need another volume for themselves. So, this means that we have the story of Christianity of 400 years in a volume that has taken 474 pages excluding indices and Introduction.

Volume I is presented in six parts covering the period from the beginnings to the emergence of the Christian movement  in the East around 1453 AD.

These volumes differ from other histories of Christianity written by European/American scholars in intentionally trying to be less Eurocentric. It tells the story of Christianity in Asia, Africa, Europe and America which had become a world religion by 1500 AD. The project is born out of a decade of research and many consultations held over this period. The outcome of the decade-long research and consultations is a work that is extensive, highly enjoyable reading packed with facts in great details. It is not the story of the Western missions but the struggles and achievements of the people in their own turfs.

The second volume is organized into three parts: Part I. 1454 – 1600 AD; Part II. The Seventeenth Century and Part III. The Eighteenth Century. In telling a non-Eurocentric story of the growth of Christianity world-wide, it tells us how Christianity re-entered Africa and encountered an ancient Christianity in India and so on! Every significant cultural and political developments that happened in Europe that has bearing upon world Christianity has been analysed.

A highly readable, user-friendly scholarly work of great depth and insight. Dale T. Irvin is professor of world Christianity and President of New York Theological Seminary while Scott W. Sunquist is Dean of School of Intercultural Studies at the Fuller Theological Seminary.

Heagle. Justice Rising (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Mar• 15•11

Heagle, John H. Justice Rising. The Emerging Biblical Vision (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010). ISBN: 978-1-57075-884-3

This book is the fruit of more than 42 years of experience of the author as a pastor, professor and campus minister. The book identifies fear and violence in response to it as the main issue that our times. The right way to respond to violence in our society  is not with vilonece but being transformed by a vision of justice that the Bible offers. Heagle offers us a  “critical, historical, and theological evolution of the meaning of biblical justice and peacemaking.”
He accepts the fact that there is violence in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures but there is also an emerging ethical consciousness which moves from retributive justice to restorative and transformative justice. This means that violence was a form of justice making for the primitive people but this does not mean that it should be so for our days.
The first few chapters prepares the ground as the author discusses the reasons for the presence of various forms of injustice in our modern consciousness and the wrong notions of jutice that prevail. He then sketches the evolution of this new biblical conscious beginning with the Sinai covenant, through the changing role of the Redeemer, the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah to the self-giving mission of Jesus Christ. This vision of emerging consciousness of justice sketched so vividly for us in this book is captured by its title, “Justice Rising. The Emerging Biblical Vision.”
The book moves on from this theoretical description of the evolution of this notion of justice to our contemporary world. Heagle challenges us to come to a change of heart and attitudes as we understand this unfolding vision of justice and peace making. This change in our thinking and our behaving has to take place at the level of our religious institutions as well.
In a world where fear of violence guides our daily life and this fear leading us to justify or use violence as a means of securing justice for ourselves and our communities, this book is an altar call to repent.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 15•08

Yong, Amos. Hospitality and the Other. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008)

Our age is characterized by encounter of religions in a number of special ways. In the first chapter of this book (Between Terrorism and Hospitality. The Encounter of Religions in the Twenty-first Century) Amos Yong presents three scenarios rather chosen arbitrarily where inter-religious encounters take place. The first of these is Sri Lanka where the conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils is going on for more than twenty-five years. Our age is characterized by encounter of religions in a number of special ways. In the first chapter of this book (Between Terrorism and Hospitality. The Encounter of Religions in the Twenty-first Century) Amos Yong presents three scenarios rather chosen arbitrarily where inter-religious encounters take place. The first of these is Sri Lanka where the conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils is going on for more than twenty-five years. Secondly, the situation in Nigeria where Muslim and Christian faiths are at loggerheads. Finally, the United States the majority Christian population is forced to engage in a discourse on the role of their own faith and that of other competing faiths in the increasingly pluralistic scenario. Each of these case studies also describes responses by Christians in each of these situations. Yong concludes from these case studies that Christians need to “articulate a multifaceted theology of religions and theology of interreligious engagement that more adequately underwrite the broad range of practices required for a complex post-9/11 world of many faiths” (p. 37).

The chapter 2 (Performing Theology. The Interrelationship between Christian Beliefs and Practices) where the author discusses the theoretical interconnections between beliefs and practices provides the background for investigating the relationship between Christian theologies of religion and Christian interreligious practices. This survey has provided a pneumatological perspective on the performance of Christian theology in a religiously pluralistic world. He argues that beliefs and experiences, doctrines and practices, theologies and performances are interrelated. The pneumatological approach means that the Christians will adopt a variety of practices and would speak a variety of languages in line with the variety of the pluralistic audiences that they witness to. Simply put his approach is “many tongues equal many practices” which he tries to test in chapter 3 and 4.

In Chapter 3 (Performing Theology of Religions. Christian Practices and the Religions) Yong three approaches to pluralism: traditional exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralistic theologies of the religions and their corresponding practices are elaborated. In the course of this, significant scholars like John Hick, Raimon Panicker, Aloysius Pieris and the like are presented and discussed.
Yong goes on to develop a pneumatological theology of hospitality as an interreligious praxis in Chapter 4 (Performing Hospitality. Towards a Pneumatological Theology of Interreligious Engagement). He presents us a very exhaustive treatment of hospitality as practiced by Jesus, the early church and ancient Israel in order to show the centrality of this approach to the stranger in the Bible. This hospitality, Yong argues can be discerned in Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, which embraced the many ancient near eastern cultures. Christianity, which he chooses to call the “religion of the Melchizedek” (inferred from the Book of Hebrews) is one of hospitality. Melchizedek offered Abraham hospitality according to Genesis.

Drawing heavily on the recent writings on hospitality Yong argues that the best interreligious approach would be to be hosts and also to be guests in a multi-religious context. Accepting hospitality (being guests) and also offering hospitality (being hosts) is a pattern that Jesus, the Apostles and the early church practiced. That is the model that the author tends to present to us.
Yong’s proposal is certainly an eye-opener. In the wake of religious violence on a global scale and has become a daily reality in countries like India where it taken the form of persecution, these thoughts demands a fresh hearing.

Rynne. GANDHI AND JESUS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 14•08

Rynne, Terrence J. Gandhi and Jesus. The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008) p. ix, 228. ISBN: 9781570757662.

The author begins with the assumption that though “Jesus was nonviolent to the core” as Norbert Lohfink puts it, the Christian Church hasn’t embraced the non-violent Jesus. Rynne points out three reasons for this. First of all the Christian culture believed in the redemptive violence, and secondly the spirit of retributive justice and thirdly the Christian Systematic theology has taken violence as given for humans. The Christian Soteriology is rooted in violent terms: God the father demanded the sacrifice of his son. Rynne helps us to appreciate the nonviolent Jesus better through this work.

Rynne, Terrence J. Gandhi and Jesus. The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008) p. ix, 228. ISBN: 9781570757662.
The author begins with the assumption that though “Jesus was nonviolent to the core” as Norbert Lohfink puts it, the Christian Church hasn’t embraced the non-violent Jesus. Rynne points out three reasons for this. First of all the Christian culture believed in the redemptive violence, and secondly the spirit of retributive justice and thirdly the Christian Systematic theology has taken violence as given for humans. The Christian Soteriology is rooted in violent terms: God the father demanded the sacrifice of his son. Rynne helps us to appreciate the nonviolent Jesus better through this work.
In this book Rynne presents us a fresh reading of Gandhi’s Satyragraha. He also presents four Christian theologians who have embraced a non-violent Jesus. Thirdly he reformulates what it means to be saved in terms of non-violent power and not in terms of violent sacrifice.
In the first chapter the takes us through the life and thought of Gandhi in order to understand Gandhi’s Hindu beliefs and also the western influences on his thought. Under these influences Gandhi gave Hindu concepts like moksha, ahimsa and tapasya fresh relevance for politics and society. Jesus influenced Gandhi’s thought through the Sermon on the Mount at a very early age. In a similar way, the works of Leo Tolstoy also influenced him deeply. The second chapter deals in details with Gandhian Satyagraha. The author studies both words that constitute the word “Satyagraha”; Satya (truth), Agraha (holding firmly) and the words associated with “Satyagraha” like Ahimsa (non-violence), Tapasya (Self-suffering), This study leads him to conclude that Satyagraha is more than pacifism. It differs from pacifism in three ways at least. While pacifism is refusal to participate in war, Satyagraha is non-cooperation with the whole system that “supports a state built on militaristic assumptions and principles”. Secondly Satyagraha fights against and overcomes the causes underlying war. Thirdly, Gandhi’s understanding of violence was different. He understood violence on a continuum, violence and nonviolence intertwine; humans have to make their own judgments regarding violence and nonviolence. Not only that Satyagraha was different from pacifism it also offered a “moral equivalent of war”. In Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, Hitler’s persecution of Jews, Japanese invasion of Chinese and German conflict with Czechs, Gandhi proposed non-violent cooperation to check aggression. He believed that nonviolence is an alternative to war; people responding to violence with non-violence could effectively check war.
In Chapter three he presents four Christian theologians who embraced non-violence as central to Christian discipleship. The first is C. F. Andrews whom he calls a Christian Satyagrahi, the second being John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) a Mennonite theologian, Bernard Häring (1912-1998) a Redemptionist Catholic priest and Walter WInk (1935-) a professor of biblical interpretation. He concludes that all these four theologians have rejected the model of salvation, which projects the picture of a violent God.
He goes on to chapter four which explores the root causes of the theology of salvation, which promotes violence. This is Anselm’s theory of satisfaction of the wrath of God. He argues that Anselm’s model gives a misleading picture of God and promotes a theory that is not biblical. Anselm pictures God as “the lord of the manor, infinitely above us, infinitely ready to take offense, caring only about the restoration of order, Nonetheless in our day, it is a repulsive image of God” (p. 143). He finds Anselm’s satisfaction theory unbiblical since it presents God as a judge while the New Testament presents a reconciling and loving father. The satisfaction theory is fundamentally ahistorical since it cuts the link between Jesus’ life and his death. For Anselm, salvation is located in the mythical transaction and his focus is on the death of Jesus and not on his life. This model which has influenced most of Christian thinking focus also on sin from which we are saved and ignores human suffering in the present. Rynne observes that “the gospel included liberation from oppression, healing of the sick, love between equals, hope for the future for those without hope, and a call to discipleship to bring the kingdom to others” (p. 145). There remains the need to rethink Christian doctrine of salvation, and to formulate a soteriology that serves our time. This soteriology should have historical consciousness, should deal with personal and social evil, and must have a link between the life of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
The author then goes to propose a model of Christian salvation in the light of Gandhi’s Satyagraha in the last chapter. He does so by examining the main aspects of salvation theology in the light of the theologies of the four Christian theologians he mentioned earlier and Gandhi. He prefers a Christus Viator model over a Christus Victor model though some aspects of both models overlap with each other. While the Christus Victor model projects a Christ the Victor in the battle against evil, Christus Viator model that presents Christ the sojourned, the pioneer recognizes that there is much more work to be done in history and that the struggle against evil continues.
Rynne would not say that in order to understand the non-violent Jesus we need to rethink not only Christian Salvation theology but many other aspects of our beliefs. The book has immense relevance for our discussions on violence especially in the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) being observed by the WCC. It is even more relevant in the context of Iraq war, US involvement in Afghanistan, fight against terror. In all these, the popular thinking is that Christians have turned against the rest of the world. It is time that the Christians do some serious introspection and this book will be of immense help in this regard.


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 11•08

Tamez, Elsa. When the Horizons Close, Rereading Ecclesiastes. (Trans. Margaret Wilde; . Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books), 2000.

In the words of the author, this book is, “More than a classical commentary, it is a proposed way of reading the scripture for our hopeless times.” (p. vi). Thus the work under review is a rereading of the book of Ecclesiastes from a particular position regarding its date, composition, and the reader’s own particular ideological position. In the words of the author, this book is, “More than a classical commentary, it is a proposed way of reading the scripture for our hopeless times.” (p. vi). Thus the work under review is a rereading of the book of Ecclesiastes from a particular position regarding its date, composition, and the reader’s own particular ideological position. The book has an introduction and the commentary that follows is arranged in three parts in addition to a prologue and epilogue. In each section the author first comments on the whole section and each subsection by way of synthesis before making verse by verse comments. The book also contains an appendix of sayings and proverbs from Latin America that reflect the complexity of life and popular wisdom. The author says she has arranged the booked around the theme “Take it all Together.” Key to the reading the book of Ecclesiastes the way the present author does is the date of the book. Tamez dates this book around second half of third century BC against the background of the Ptolemaic empire based on Alexandria. Her reconstruction of the times of the author of the book is also important for the present reading. Tamez identifies the particular position of the biblical author by looking at “the world not narrated by Qoheleth.” The world that the Ecclesiastes describes is one of frustration, toilsome labour, etc. The biblical author denies that there is anything that is new. See, Ecclesiastes 1:9-10. Tamez discovers that behind this blatant denial is the key to the mind of the biblical author! As a reader she goes a step further and reconstructs the Ptolemaic world, its achievements, struggles and the changes it has brought in various areas. She describes the newness in the areas of military tactics, politics, agriculture, economics, etc. However, why did the biblical author refuse to admit these facts and affirm that there is no newness under the sun. Ecclesiastes questions this newness by denying it because it fails to effect human fulfilment. Tamez identifies the author with one of Palestinian aristocracy in Jerusalem. He is someone who takes a position different from that of his contemporaries who supported the “globalisation” of the Ptolemaic empire. The author of Ecclesiastes points out the futility of the “globalisation” which demands a lot of human sacrifice. He finds hard work useless if there is no enjoyment and gathering wealth meaningless while there is no security that one can keep it. The reading of this book becomes very relevant to our times if we are able to see the Ptolemaic world as Tamez has seen. She argues that the “Globalisation” of the Ptolemaic empire not only caused frustration and hopelessness in its subjects especially the group that the sage who authored Ecclesiastes represents but also this is a period when utopian hopes were crushed, and hopes of changes were not really there. Adding to the frustration is the concept of time that the Ecclesiastes holds. Tamez contrasts the world view of Ecclesiastes with that of the Apocalyptic and Prophets. Tamez suggests that the apocalyptic and prophetic literature looked at future with its horizons widening. Unlike other traditions of the Old Testament, in this book we do not see any reflection on the historical past of Israel, no eschatology as far as future is concerned and the present is considered as “meaningless.” This is why Tamez would like to call this as a vision where the horizons are closed. She observes that in Ecclesiastes view of history is in a “comatose state.” Tamez seems to assume a linear development or evolution of Israel’s theological concepts. In this linear schema she places the Book of Ecclesiastes in between the Messianism of Isaiah and the Apocalypticism. Both of them had widening horizons beyond the frustrations of present reality. In contrast, Ecclesiastes can not see anything beyond the present reality, he can not see a future with Messiah or a new age different from this present age dawning. This is why he exhorts his people to eat, drink and find enjoyment in the present. Based on this essential presuppositions Tamez offers her reading of this ancient canonical text. This makes her reading of Ecclesiastes so relevant and meaningful to her own context of Latin America particularly and the developing countries in general. Her opening remarks sums it all: “The Book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes has become timely again today, when horizons are closing in and the present becomes a hard master, demanding sacrifices and suppressing dreams.” (p. v). This reading thus makes sense to our days. When we are offered an utopia for our hard labour many of us would like to do hard work and sacrifice our own happiness. Creating wealth becomes of paramount importance but no one thinks of how one is going to enjoy it or whether it is secure. Many of the important aspects of life and human existence that we forget to ask is brought to focus by this biblical author and Tamez is able to relate it our times; since she sees a direct relationship between Ptolemaic empire and challenges of our own times. Tamez has not dealt with many of the critical questions that are so crucial to the particular reading. For example, the date of the book is considered to be in the Ptolemaic period, the second half of third century BC. However, though the main body of the book does not deal with such crucial questions the author is not unaware of them; she discusses them in notes. She is aware of the early Persian dating as well as the late second century dating, but concludes without any discussion that even an early Persian dating will not alter her reading of the text. But why did she chose a third century date over against the other possible dates is not explained? Does this mean that she has chosen a date that would facilitate a particular reading? If so it is sad and unfortunate. A similar lacunae is found in her conclusion that the entire work is framed by the almost identical statements found in 1:2 and 12:8. For this she has to consider that the work ends with 12:8. Though this is an important conclusion, Tamez does not seem to care to tell the reader her reasons for such a conclusion. The concluding section does offer a widened horizon, and future which is beyond the present. How did those who gave the final shape to this amazing book read reality? This is the dimension lacking from Tamez’s work. In her rereading of Ecclesiastes, Tamez takes the ideological position that the present frustrations are the result of free market economy. Unemployment, discriminations of all sorts, lack of solidarity, all these make us feel that the horizons are closed. Tamez believes that it is the ideology of capitalism that has caused the present frustration in our world. She thinks that capitalism discourage us to have hope in any other than the hope it offers. In other words, it crushes the utopian hopes. If so, does the alternative namely, socialism offer a widening horizon?. Or does frustration go away from human lives when we change our ideology? Tamez’s position would fail to answer these questions because the reason for human frustration and disappointment is elsewhere. However, this is by all means a great experiment in reading the books of the Old Testament to speak to the contemporary situations. This book is commendable not only as a new way of appropriating the message of an ancient book for our times but also as a methodological guide for our approach to Old Testament books.