Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies


Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 04•16

Jones, E. Allen, et.a. (eds.) Ecclesia and Ethics: Moral Formation and the Church. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016. ISBN: 9780567664006. Pages: 212.


This volume is the outcome of a series of webinars organized by a group of Ph.D. students in University of Saint Andrews (Scotland) in 2012. Though fifty scholars presented papers, only 13 of the papers are selected for publication in this volume. They are divided into three sections as: Part I, ‘Biblical-Theological Foundations for Ecclesial Ethics’; Part II, ‘Virtue Ethics, Character Formation, and Ecclesial Ethics’ and Part III, ‘Exegesis and Application—Scripture and the Praxis of Ecclesial Et.hics.’ Unlike many other anthologies of this kind, most of the titles of the articles are explicit.

In the first article, Dennis P. Hollinger argues that creation is the starting point for any discussion on ecclesial ethic. So, goes on to explore five paradigms from the creation narrative that provides frameworks for ecclesial ethics. In the same section, Michael J. Gorman moves to the New Testament in his article titled ‘The Cross in Paul: Christophany, Theophany and Ecclesiophany.’ He ventures to establish that the Cross of Christ is not only the revelation of the identity of Christ, but also of God and of the Church.

Brian Rosner’s essay also has to do with Pauline thought—‘The Church as Temple and Moral Exhortation in 1 Corinthians.’ He zeroes down on the Temple imagery in the Corinthian correspondence to explore its significance for Paul’s moral exhortations.

The last article in the first section also has to do with Pauline moral theology: ‘Learning from Paul: Centred Ethics that Avoid Legalistic Judgementalism and Moral Relativism.’ Mark D. Baker begins with his own struggles as a Christian in deciding ethical boundaries. First of all, he surveys the situation in Galatia that Paul dealt with in the epistles. Then using inights from the work of missionary anthropologist Paul Hiebert, he seems to conclude that churches are not supposed to build fences around them but dig wells so that people can drink from the ‘well of Jesus.’ He actually calls not to think in terms of strict water-tight categories as ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the like.

The second part, ‘Vritue Ethics, Character Formation, and Ecclesial Ethics’ has two articles. The first is by Stanley Hauerwas—‘Habit Matters: The Bodily Character of Virtues.’ This describes how Thomas Aquinas developed Aristotle’s idea of habit. The second article comes from N.T. Wright titled, ‘Paul, Ethics and the Church.’ This in fact is based on Wright’s own book ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God.’

The third part, ‘Exegesis and Application—Scripture and the Praxis of Ecclesial Ethics’ has seven articles. In the article titled ‘Did Saint Paul Take up the Great Commission?: Discipleship Transformed into a Pauline Key’ Nijay Gupta suggests that discipleship is not the only way to express Christian obedience. Writing as an insider S. Min Chun suggests that all is not well with the Korean church. The article, ‘An Ethical Reading of the Story of Gideon Abimelech for the Korean Church’ is about a number of scandals that the Korean churches faced in the recent years.

Mariam J. Kamell attempts to provide a picture of the community relationship in James 4:1-12 in her article, ‘Pride and Prejudice: Community Ethics in James 4:1-12.’ John Frederick’s article is quite interesting as he deals with the issue of Christian blogging in the light of Paul’s vision of morality. The title is explicit: ‘Discerning, Disarming and Redeeming the Digital Powers: Gospel Community, the Virtual Self and the HTML of Cruciform Love.’

Similarly, the title of the eleventh article is also self-explanatory: ‘De Manibus Gladius Corporalis Ablatus Est: Absolute Pacifism in the Early Church and Its Relevance in the Twenty-First Century.’ Another article based on Old Testament is the last but one by Michael Rhodes titled—‘Follow Us as We Follow Moses’: Learning Biblical Economics from the New Testament’s Appropriation of Old Testament Narratives, Practices and Liturgies.’ His main argument is that New Testaments appropriation of the Old Testament themes regarding wealth and prosperity is indicative of the relevance of Old Testament ethics for contemporary Church. The detailed title of the last article makes its intent explicit: ‘You will Fill Me with Joy in Your Countenance: Engaging the North American Ecclesial Context with a Narrative Ethical Reading of Acts 2:41-47 and 4:32-35.’ Hume makes the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) the central focus of this article.

The wide spectrum of themes, approaches that this volume presents is what makes it valuable. Equaly important is that the volume presents a wide range of established scholars as well.

Jensen. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 2013.

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 04•13

Jensen. God, DesireJensen, David Hadley. God, Desire, and a Theology of Human Sexuality. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

Jensen’s work on human sexuality falls in to seven chapters as:
(1) Scripture and Sex: Narratives of Desire
(2) God and Sex: Holy Desire
(3) Christ and Sex: the resurrection of the body
(4) Eschatology and Sex: Making all Things New  (5) Lord’s Supper and Sex: A Sumptuous Banquet
(6) Vocation and sex: living in light of desire
(7 )Ethics and sex: flourishing desire
It is complete with index and bibliograpy. However, a book such as this which covers so much of biblical material should have a scripture index as well.
The author invites us to join him in his journey of exploring the the theme of human sexuality through the Bible and Christian traditions by the rather ‘puzzling’ opening statement: ‘Sex is an expression of Christian faith.’ Throughout the book we see an attempt to liberate the notion of sex from its traditional understanding and also to critique its distortions and misrepresentations in modern consumer culture. It is thus a double-edged sword wielded against the conservative Christian view of sex as well as against the distorted views of sex that the contemporary secular society promotes.
Certainly sex for the author is not just the act of making love but it is broader than that. It is this broader view of sex which has to do with desire, intimacy, etc. that allows him to see the theme of sex in the various aspects of Christian faith. He takes the Bible as a narrative of desire and maps the theme of desire throughout the Bible. In his exploration he disagrees with many popularly held Christian notions. For example, the author doesn’t agree with the popularly held notion that in the risen body the sexual attraction disappears though there will be sexual difference. He affirms that, ‘Sex in its ambiguity, is neither left behind in the resurrection nor consummated as the chief activity of heaven; rather it is redeemed in the risen body of Christ who gives us new life.’
He critiques the modern north-American consumer culture that promotes sex as being about possessiveness, that involves violence and deprived of real joy. He also takes in to account modern realities of life in shaping his views on sex. For example, his views on sex before marriage. The average age of marriage is now around thirty which is much higher than the medieval times where age of marriage and puberty was very close. The Christian doctrine of sex within marriage is framed against the background of this social reality. His new broader view of sexuality allows him to advocate sex before marriage, but consider sex outside marriage as dangerous because sex has to be celebrated within a framework of covenant.
Even though many may find it diffcult to accept all the views of the author, any reader will be highly impressed by the thorough research that has gone behind this work. This book on a  topic that is a taboo for many Christians is well articulated and engages anyone’s mind. The author’s engagements with ancient authorities on the topic is highly impressive.

Harper. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality…. (2013)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 27•13

Harper, Kyle. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pages: 304. ISBN: 9780674072770.

Harper. From Shame to Sin

There are works that have studied the sexual morality of the Greco-Roman world. This book is different to the best of the reviewer’s knowledge, the only book that tells us how the sexual morality of the Roman empire was transformed by Christians and Christianity. It is also a good treatment on the development of the Christian theology of human sexuality and how it became the norm for the Western cultures.

The book is divided into four chapters: ‘1. The Moralities of Sex in the Roman Empire’, ‘2. The Will and the World in Early Christian Sexuality’, ‘3. Church, Society, and Sex in the Age of Triumph,’ ‘4. Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World.’ In the concluding section the author sketches briefly the view on sex in the periods that follows.

The main argument is that Christianity transformed what was considered as just shameful act in the Roman world to be considered as sin. Sex thus has to do with righteousness, God’s order in the world, and individuals free will.

The book is based on meticulous research on the classical sources, especially classical literature both Christian and non-Christian. The book argues that the ‘Christianization of sexual morality’ began later than the second century contra to previously held by many scholars. It surveys the period from the second century to the period of emperor Justinian. Though many books have focussed on the same-sex eros, this is the one book that moves its focus from that theme to focus on prostitution or ‘porneia.’ The author also argues that the Christian ‘invention’ of the free will is the factor that decided the sexual morality of the ancient world by fourth-fifth century.

In chapter 1, the author portrays the sexual life in the Roman empire in the second century by analysing the classical literature of the period. This the author does by analysing the Greek romantic novel of the period structured around a heroine by the name Leucippe. The second chapter follows a similar methodology to see how early Christian thinkers were re-interpreting and critiquing the sexuality of the secular society following a Pauline line of thought. The source that is under scrutiny is the the work by Methodius titled ‘Christian Symposium’. The third chapter looks at how the Church after the conversion of Constantine attempts to control the sexual morality of not only of its adherents but also of non-adherents. This process thus leads to legalization of Christian sexual morality as the morality for the empire. In establishing this argument, the author takes us through the thought world of Saint Paul, John Chrysostom and the like. Chapter 4, ‘Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World’ reviews some classical romances where the Christian values of sexuality and chastity are upheld. Through this the Christian ideas of human sexuality, especially virginity were trying to transform the culture of the ancient Roman world.

Here is a wonderful contribution to the study of the history of human sexuality. This diachronic treatment of human sexuality is well researched and a must-have title!

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.