ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Im, Global Diasporas, 2014

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 16•15

Im, Chandler H., and Amos Yong. Global Diasporas and Mission. Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2014.

9781908355638This book has in three parts discuss the implications of the global Diasporas for Christian mission in the 21st century. This is part of Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series (volume 23). The first part deals with the historical and biblical perspectives of Diasporas. In the second part the ethnic and regional developments are discussed. In the last and third part we find six articles on the missional implications of the Diasporas.

In the first part, ‘Mission and migration: The Diaspora Factor in Christian History’ (Andrew F. Walls) and ‘Global Christianity and Global Diasporas’ (Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo) deals with the historical aspects of migration. In ‘My Father Was a Migrant Aramean: Old Testament Motifs for a Theology of Migration’ (Knut Holter) and ‘Migrants as Instruments of Evangelization: In Early Christianity and in Contemporary Christianity’ (Werner Kahl) the authors deal with the OT and NT perspectives respectively.

In the second section (Ethnic and Regional Developments) nine essays deal with the migration and Diaspora of various nationalities in different part of the world. For example, the Chinese and Filipino migration all over the world. The Japanese Diaspora in Brazil, South Asian Diaspora in the Persian Gulf, Korean Christian Diaspora in the US, Polish immigrants in Canada, etc. This section also deals with specific issues of some of these Diaspora situations. For example, identity and ecumenical partnership of immigrants of African origin in Germany, and the experience of the migrants in the Native  British Church etc.

The third section deals with the missional opportunities that migration provides. The Diasporas do presents missional opportunities for the churches at their destination. As Jenny Hwang Yang has pointed out in her article the Christians at the host countries are apprehensive of the immigrants and even see them as a threat.

Though, the book has covered almost Diaspora situations two significant lacunae has to be pointed out. First of all, the South Aisan Diasporas in Europe, Africa and North America are left out. The second largest immigrant group in the US is Indian but there is no essay devoted to it. The only article devoted to South Asian Diaspora has to do with their presence in the Persian Gulf. (‘South Asian Diaspora in the Persian Gulf’ by T.V. Thomas.). However, the situation in the Persian Gulf is different from other Diasporas. These are not Diasporas at all since none of them will be able to stay longer than their work permits allow. Unlike, in the West, in the persian gulf, the host nations have no live Christian traditions to minister to them. The laws of their host nations (all of them Islamic) restrict their religious freedom. This is very different from the situation in Europe and North America. However, there is a very strong presence of South Asians in other parts of the world, for example Anglophone Africa and Europe. One third of South Africa is people of Indian origin. How did they impact South Africa? These questions have significant missional implications.

Secondly, the book focusses on the missional opportunities the Diaspora presents to Christians in the host countries. However, the Diaspora also has opposite effects in their native countries which has to be studied as well, though it probably outside the scope of the present volume. The immigrants support various political and religious organizations who oppose Christian mission in their native lands. For example, the largest recipients of foreign funds in India are Hindutva outfits who oppose Christian mission and has been behind many anti-Christian activities. Most of the funds are remittances by Indians living abroad.

In spite of these gaps the books opens our eyes to the reality which often gets ignored. The essays convince the reader that Diaspora is not an accident but very much part of God’s plan for salvation of whole mankind. It also challenges us that we need to see it so and not as a threat. A very timely work, indeed an eye-opener!

 

Das. Galatians 2014 (Concordia Commentary)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 18•14

Das, A. Andrew. Galatians. Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014

Das GalatiansBeing a seminary professor and pastor lay leaders and pastors approach me to recommend a commentary that they can use for their teaching and preaching. Though I have a list of commentaries ready, I find myself at a loss as to what to recommend. There are scholarly commentaries but they are too detailed, require knowledge of biblical language and critical skills. Then on the other end of the spectrum are very simple but shallow treatments of the biblical text. However, this commentary on Galatians by Andrew Das fills this gap as it is aimed at pastors but is very scholarly—where current biblical scholarship is presented in a ‘non-threatening’ way!

Here we have a commentary which trained academics will cherish and pastors and lay persons without much training will love to read. It is amazingly detailed. The commentary on the six chapters of Galatians are presented to us in 656 pages! For example, the detailed discussion on the fruit of the Spirit runs many pages. The explanation of ‘love’ in this passage has taken up two full pages with ten footnotes documenting modern authors and ancient writers. Each verse, and word is so thoroughly treated and the reader gets the feeling that there is no leaf that is not unturned.

This includes a very sumptuous introduction that deals with topics that widen the readers’ understanding of the situation in Galatia that Paul addresses, Pauline chronology, rhetorical analysis of the epistle, etc. Besides this there is a detailed up-to-date bibliography, scripture and subject indices. Non-academic readers will find the three-page glossary of terms a blessing. Besides the commentary there are a number of excursus that are really a treat for the learners. Look at a sample: ‘Modern Perspectives on Conversion’, ‘The extent of Paul’s Arabian ministry’, ‘The metaphorical and social context of Galatians 4:1-7’, ‘The elements of the cosmos’, etc.

This easy to read but profound commentary on Galatians will be welcomed by both academics and lay persons as ‘The Commentary on Galatians’ for many years to come!

Pagola, JESUS AN HISTORICAL APPROXIMATION, 2009

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Sep• 05•14

Pagola, Jose Antonio. 2009. Jesus, an Historical Approximation. Miami, Fla.: Convivium Press.

This is the English translation of Pagola’s book on Historical Jesus originally published in Spanish in 2007.  Studies on historical Jesus are plenty but Pagola’s work stands out among them as he attempts to reconstruct Historical Jesus from a faith perspective.
To quote: ‘In any case, an encounter with Jesus is not the fruit of historical research or of doctrinal reflection. It only happens through personal commitment and faithful following.’
Though Jesus re9781934996096constructed through historical research is not essential for our faith, the faith demands that we use the methods available to us to have a better understanding of his historical dimension and his concrete human life. Pagola argues that this is required because Jesus Christ was incarnate in our history and he is a person of history.
However, Pagola’s work is not just a pious retelling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. But throughout this book he interacts with other Jesus scholars and sifts in an immense amount of insights on the Roman and Jewish world of first century produced by contemporary scholarship. The result is: ‘a profound and extensive scholarly theological reflection about Jesus’ as the blurb claims and any reader would discover. It is certainly a feast to the mind and to the heart!

See also: Pagola, Jose Antonio. The Way Opened Up by Jesus: a Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. 1st ed. Convivium Press, 2012. Pages: 256. ISBN: 978-1-934996-28-7.

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.

Griggs, PELICAN IN THE WILDERNESS, 2014

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 10•14

CASCADE_TemplateGriggs, Robert W. A Pelican of the Wilderness. Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014.

This is not an academic book and thus doesn’t really qualify to be reviewed on this site! However, this is a book that every academic should read! This is about a pastor who holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School, University of Minnesota and Andover Newton Theological School who suffered severe depression to the extent of attempting suicide. So, this is a ‘must-read’ for all academics for a reality check and see where they are heading. There is a second reason for reading this book. In this autobiographical account Griggs has woven his academic knowledge and personal experience into a beautiful fabric. That is what makes Walter Brueggemann comment on the blurb that, ‘Robert Griggs has deftly transported them (the Psalms) into his own story of depression, anguish, and recovery of health, life, and faith.’

This is not just about Psalms. As the title indicates Griggs tells us how many contemporary American films helped him in his recovery. Thus he benefited from two resources that is available to all of us. The ancient text of the Psalms still maintain the power to help us cope with our present day realities of pain and joy. Then there is quite a lot of wisdom in the contemporary world as well. This comes in the form of books that interpret for us the modern society, culture and religion. Griggs has compiled a very useful bibliography as well as a filmography—a list of films that helped him.

With all the degrees and experience of serving the same church as pastor for twenty-six years Robert Griggs had lot of knowledge and helped a lot of people. However, he discovered in the Psych Unit that he is dried up—literally, because the chemicals that help people to keep their balance (like Serotonin and Norepinephrine) had dried up in his brain. These had to be replenished through rest and medications. He had to be trained to cope with life with the help of his doctors and fellow inmates over a period of five weeks that he was in the ‘loony bin.’ He had to readmitted for another week because he seems to have ignored the lessons he learnt.

In his depression he was like a ‘pelican in the wilderness’ (Psalm 102:6). He borrows the language of the Psalms to understand and cope with his situation. And he comes out of it finally as the prophetic fulfilment of the words of another psalmist: ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). In the process of narrating his story Griggs also helps us to understand the importance of making choices, struggles with issues of faith, hope etc. This story aptly illustrates what Brueggeman describes as ‘disorientation’ and ‘reorientation’ in the Book of Psalms: ‘From Pulpit to Psych Unit’ (first chapter) and ‘From Psych Unit to Pulpit’ (last chapter). For any academic this gives a very useful, helpful break from the daily encounter with the ‘heavy stuff.’

Vanhoye. A DIFFERENT HIGH PRIEST (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 03•14
9781934996201Vanhoye, Albert. A Different Priest: The Letter to the Hebrews. Miami, Fla.: Convivium Press, 2011.

Though it is popularly known as “the letter to the Hebrews,” Scholars were divided if this book is a sermon or a letter. It seems to show the characteristics of both. Vanhoye has a very simple solution to this debate. According to him the book is a homily and the writer is an itinerant preacher. However, the sermon is written down and sent to Christian communities far and wide by adding epistolary material (13:22-25) after its conclusion (13:20-21). Take the epistolary intrusion away, it is a great sermon.

This understanding of the book as a homily from beginning to end is the basis of the rhetorical analysis of in the present work. Being a homily, it is rhetorical in nature. However, the rhetoric of the book of Hebrews is not very much in line with that of the Greco-Roman world. Vanhoye argues that the author/preacher has Judaeo-Hellenistic education. However, his rhetoric style is very much Semitic in style.

Albert Vanhoye is a French Jesuit who taught scripture in a number of schools and is a noted biblical scholar on the Book of Hebrews. He was appointed Cardinal by Pope Benedict xvi in 2006. This book is the fruit of his many years of work on the study of Hebrews.

Hamilton Jr. What Is Biblical Theology? (2014)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 18•13

Hamilton Jr., James M. What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

9781433537714Hamilton proposes a new method of doing biblical theology. In his opinion most of the biblical theologies that are written enforces a modern, rationalist world-view on the bible which mutes the biblical authors. The conservative scholars, those who stand for the unity and coherence of the Bible also used the tools and methods use by those whom they oppose. Both are wrong because they failed to see the world-view of the biblical authors.

In his opinion, biblical theology is done by sharing the world-view of the biblical authors and by trying to understand the scripture in that perspective.

The author’s convictions are deeply rooted in the divine inspiration of the Bible. This leads him to argue that the biblical authors share the same world-view. In other words, there is only one world-view that is shared by all the authors, though they lived in different places, different times and addressed different issues. That is the bible’s one story.

His treatment of biblical theology follows a three-fold pattern. To quote, “The rest of it falls into three parts: the first sets out the Bible’s story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols to summarize and interpret that story, and the third considers the part the church plays in that story. So the three parts of the books can be put in to three words: story, symbol, and church.

This book is innovative in its approach to biblical theology. Its attempt to navigate a third way between the “liberal” and the so called “conservative” biblical theologians let in a lot of fresh air. However, the assumption that all the biblical authors share one world-view ignores the multiple voices (sometime even contradictory but certainly complementary) that we find in the Bible. Moreover, though this method very well can accommodate the narrative sections, the poetry of the Bible and especially the wisdom tradition seems to fall out of its scope.

Estes. Job, 2013

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 18•13

Estes, Daniel J. Job. Teach the Text Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.Print

I was always at a loss when a pastor approached me for recommendations on the ‘best’ commentary. The ‘best’ in my list (as a seminary professor) were the highly academic ones filled with details that doesn’t really help pastors to prepare their Sunday School lessons or pulpit ministry. On the other hand, the ‘simple’ ones were too simple and shallow. The need for a commentary series where the technical details are kept to the essential minimum so that the pastors are not bogged down but still based on sound and contemporary scholarship is met by the Teach the Text Commentary Series. I haven’t had a chance to look at the other commentaries in this series except the one on the Book of Job. However, judging from this book under review, I can surely say that this series fills that great need.

The commentary is structured in such a way that all the academic issues in the study of the Book of Job are touched upon but in a non-intimidating way. Only those details that have some bearing on the preaching or teaching the book of Job are dealt with.

The commentary on each passage/chapter of the book of Job is divided into three sections as: ‘Understanding the Text’, ‘Teaching the Text’ and ‘Illustrating the Text.’ In the first part all that are necessary for a proper grasp of the passage are dealt with. This includes the context of the text, its historical and cultural background, etc. This takes the form of an almost verse by verse commentary. Key themes of each section are also dealt with. Suggestions as to how to teach the text follows. In the third section (Illustrating the Text), we find suggestions on how to relate each theme of the passage to the present context. For example, the author suggests that the stock market crisis of 1929 or something similar to that may help us to understand the magnitude and serious of the calamities that are reported in Chapter 1 of the book of Job. Then illustrations on the major themes of each section from literature, films, art etc are also suggested.

A simple introduction to the background of the Book of Job is useful. It looks at all the important critical questions like the place of Job 28 (the Poem on wisdom), the question if the Elihu speeches are later interpolations or not, etc. Detailed discussions are not allowed in order to avoid distractions and the author goes straight to suggestions on how the book in the present form (canonical shape) could be used for preaching. The question of the historicity of the book is also touched upon. However, the author suggests that the uncertainty on this issue need not deter anyone in appropriating in for teaching and preaching. The author concludes that the book could be historical or imaginative. However, this should not hinder preaching the book to contemporary audience; Since, ‘in the Bible, the Holy Spirit employed both historical narrative and imaginative literature to teach divine truth….’ The book is very well illustrated with photographs of places, people and archaeological artefacts that are related to the book of Job. Its layout along with the colour photographs makes it really attractive.

The book is complete with an index of scripture passages. The bibliography and the the scanty but annotated endnotes is for those who want to venture beyond what the book presents. Thus it is simple, but rich. It is a nourishing commentary: lean but wholesome; strikingly simple and pastor-friendly.

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!