ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Gonzalez. GOD’S REIGN AND THE END OF EMPIRES

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 24•13

Antonio, Gonzalez. God’s Reign and the End of Empires. Miami, Florida: Convivium Press, 2012. pages. 365. ISBN: 978-1-934996-29-4

Here we have a great work on social theology which is contemporary, incisive and amazingly relevant for the world that we live in. This work of social theology helps us to focus on the threat of globalization and seeks biblical alternatives. Though Christian faith communities have voiced their concerns about the adverse effects of globalization a comprehensive social theology was lacking. This work is a great contribution to fill th

Gonzalez. Reign of God

Gonzalez. Reign of God

at lacuna. In the chapter ‘Problems of the Global Village’ the author opens our eyes to realities of globalization. Globalization creates and maintains poverty and inequality besides causing serious threats to our ecology, democracy, etc. thus threatening our life and existence. Gonzalez strongly believes that globalization is not going to solve any of our problems but will not only worsen it. However, in stating this he is not ignoring the positive aspects of globalization.

In the context of globalization which poses a serious threat to human life and existence he moves on to find a biblical basis to formulate a social theology. In the second chapter he goes to analyse Genesis 3-11 to give a biblical diagnosis of the problems that plague humanity. However, this is not limited to the time of Genesis but a diagnosis of the contemporary world as well. In the third chapter the author continues his biblical analysis through the rest of the Old Testament. Though Genesis 11 ends with gloom, the call of Abraham is the light at the end of the tunnel as Abraham is presented as the figure-head of a new humanity. The analysis that begins with the call of Abraham and goes through

the rest of the biblical traditions concludes that, ‘The biblical alternative to poverty and injustice consists in something quite exceptional, namely, the formation, on the margins of the system, of a different kind of society, one over which God reigns directly. This society will be radically egalitarian and truly fraternal and, as such, will be an alternative that is unique and yet highly attractive to all the earth’s peoples, who will be invited to make a final pilgrimage toward it.’ (p. 105).

In chapter 4 he looks at solution that Jesus Christ offers to all these ills. Faith in Jesus Christ solves what the Mosaic religion could not solve. The reign of God is experienced through the people transformed by their faith in Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus has tremendous relevance for our society. However, Jesus’ message of social transformation lost its thrust as the church spiritualized its message as time went by.

In the fifth chapter titled, ‘The Messianic Communities’ the author first of all gives us an overview of the Roman world and its social stratification. This part is basically a re-presentation of the work of E. Stegemann. The Roman society was a highly stratified one. It was dominated by a small (5% of the population) of the social elite. Social mobility was minimum and social violence at the highest. It is into this society that the Christians entered with a message of the Reign of God. This was possible because the proclamation of the reign of God did not end with the ministry of Jesus but continued on through the preaching of the Apostles and the early Church.

The early church was not composed of entirely of poor people nor of rich. But it was a mixture of all the different social strata of the Roman world probably excluding the ruling class. He argues that the Christian communities as the household of God were organized structurally different from that of the Roman world. ‘It was not a structural change decreed from the palaces of the emperors; rather it was one brought about immediately and from the grassroots.‘ (187). These were communities that challenged the social and gender barriers of the Roman world.  However, these were not utopian ideals nor limited to the early church alone. But persisted throughout history among various groups to the present. They certainly pervaded the first three centuries of Christian history.

In chapter six he presents that the transformation that was brought out in the Christian communities were not limited to these communities but was meant to be universal affecting the entire society as well. However, by the advent of ‘Contantinism’ or the nationalization of the Church, the Church gained political power but lost the power that the Reign of God gave to the believing communities. Though the general picture is one of gloom, there were always believing communities who lived out the ideal that Jesus had established. The transformation of the society without power and political influence. He also ends with a positive note that the signs of the times also indicate that the biblical ideal doesn’t belong to the past but is highly possible in our own days.

The author argues that the time is ripe now for such communities to continue. The dream of the transforming communities where the reign of God is experienced is possible because the signs of our times points in that direction. This is the concern in chapter seven titled, ‘The signs of our Times.’ The new popular economy, the relevance of non-violence that has been discovered by contemporary movements, the new forms of dissidence that is possible in the network society all indicate the possibility of emerging new communities away from power structures.

Chapter eight thus leads to clarify his proposals. The solution of alternate communities is defined mostly in negative terms. It is not communitarianism, not biblicism, not ecclesiocentrism and certainly not sectarianism. It is building a new world up from the grass-roots up. Gonzalez is optimistic that such a project is possible and it is for our day and not for future.

This is an English translation of the Spanish work by the same title.

Limburg. PSALMS FOR SOJOURNERS (2002)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Apr• 09•13

Limburg, James. Psalms for Sojourners (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) pages xiii, 128.
James Limburg is known for his two major works; the commentary on Psalms in the Westminster Bible Companion Series and that on Jonah in the Old Testament Library Series.
Psalms for the Sojourners is a simple introduction to the book of Psalms without  intimidating jargons and does not require any specialized training in the area. Limburg takes examples of each type of Psalms and illustrates the relevance of each of these poems. In this book Limburg has very aptly closed the gap that is there between Psalms scholarship and the ordinary person in the pews. The most commendable thing is that he does it without compromising valuable academic insights but also not being very patronizing.  In fact he harnesses scholarship for the service of those sojourners. Sojourners for Limburg are those who consider their life as a pilgrimage. He believes that the Psalms, “… address the days of our own lives, in times of hurting as well as times of happiness, helping us to learn how to pray and also how to praise.”
The message of the Psalms are made very clear and is significance for all of us in the modern world is evident in this treatment of selected Psalms. The style is anecdotal. The author tries to bring his point home by referring to stories from his life and of others. Such real life illustrations makes the message so relevant and something from which the readers can not run away from.
The format of this small book is as inviting  and unthreatening as its content. All those who love the Bible and particularly the Book of Psalms will find it reading this book exciting, relieving and building.

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.

Engelbrecht. CHURCH FROM AGE TO AGE, (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 02•13

Engelbrecht, Edward A (Ed.). The Church from Age to Age. A History. From Galilee to Global Christianity. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. Pages lviii, 976. ISBN: 9780758626462

Church from Age to Age

This book on the history of the Christian Church is a collection of contributions from a number of authors with an introduction by famous historian Paul L. Maier.

This spans the history of the Christian Church beginning with Jesus and Apostles to the modern era, practically to 2011! The book draws its contents from portions from the CHURCH HISTORY SERIES of the Concordia Publishing House. However, all these thoroughly revised in the light of the reviews of the individual books in the series published in various academic journals and brought up-to-date.

The authors are academics and history professors from the non-catholic traditions; so one gets a Protestant perspective of the history and more than that a treatment which focusses on the non-catholic mission and history. Going through the list of authors one is convinced that this is also an American perspective of history as practically all of them are located in the academies of North America.

One is impressed by comprehensiveness and the evident neutrality in the selection of the themes, persons and topics that are presented in the book. This doesn’t mean that the authors are neutral in their presentation (pure objectivity is a mirage!) but the editors have made sure that all that has happened and are significant for our understanding of the the Christian Church is included in this volume. So, we will find the Popes and Patriarchs as well as Pat Robertson and Paul Yongi Cho! It is so vast and comprehensive that it begins with pre-Christian origins in Galilee and so contemporary to include the Arab Spring!

It has a detailed 27 page time-line of the major events that shaped the Church and the world that the Church is called to witness. There are sixteen maps that reflect modern scholarship and cartography. The four appendices add further value to the volume: ‘Popes and Rival Popes’, ‘Major Councils’, ‘Bishops, Archbishops and Patriarchs of Constantinople’, and ‘Assemblies of the World Council of Churches’. A bibliography divided according to the various periods of Christian history is an added boon to students and teachers alike!

The size of the volume is intimidating (976 pages) but it is justified by what Paul L. Maier says in the ‘Foreword’: ‘… this is a large book because it has a huge story to tell.’ If there is any book recently published that I would recommend confidently on the history of Christianity it will be this: A comprehensive one-volume, text-book. My hope is that the publishers will come up with updates of this volume at least every five year.

Pagola. WAY OPENED UP BY JESUS (2012)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Dec• 04•12

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.

This is not an exPagola. Matthewegetical commentary but a homiletical one. This means that the readers will not find lengthy discussions on the background, critical issues, theology, lexical or word studies here. It is based on the simple, plain message of the scripture. In his treatment of the Gospel of Matthew, Pagola first of all shows the reader what a given passage means. Then he goes on to show us how these passages challenge the modern Church and its adherents. It offers in-depth, incisive critique of our modern society.

For example, the focus of the commentary on Matthew 16:13-20 is not a study of the concepts or words but narrows down to the question of Jesus: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The commentator suggests that this question should not be understood philosophically or theologically. It is not on the identity of Jesus but about the identity of those to whom the question is directed. ‘… that question, more than a test of our orthodoxy, is a call to a Christian way of life.’ Then he goes on to explain that Christian way of life expected from our modern world. Or, take for example his treatment of Matthew 5:13-16 where he sharpens the focus on being the salt of the earth. Then he helps us to understand how the Church could add more flavour to our world, the world where the driving force is profit and with corruption at its foundations.

Don’t expect a verse by verse commentary of the entire book of Matthew. This is a commentary based on selected passages. The basis of selection is those passages that ’emphasize the Good News of God proclaimed by Jesus, an inexhaustible source of life and compassion for all.’ Not only the passages selected but the passages omitted will show us that the Pagola like to present the book as a book of hope that challenges the modern believer. For example, 11:12-124 which has condemnatory tones are included, especially woe sayings against the cities.

This is not a surprise anyway; in the introduction, Pagola has already stated that his purpose in life is, not ‘…to condemn, but to liberate. I do not feel called by Jesus to judge the world, but awaken hope. He has not sent me to quench a flickering flame, but to light a candle of faith that is trying to ignite.’ This does not explain why the significant portion of the passion narrative 26:1-27:38 is left out as well as some other passages that are not condemnatory at all.

This book is of great value for those who would like to know the contemporary significance of the Gospel of Matthew. Pagola’s analysis of the contemporary context is thorough and incisive. Those who struggle to bridge the gap between the world of Jesus and of our own from the pulpit will find this extremely helpful.

Wilkinson. BETWEEN GOD AND GREEN (2012)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 09•12

Wilkinson, Katharine K. Between God and green?: How Evangelicals are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. pages: xviii+234. ISBN: 978-0-19-9895885.

In popular perception of outsiders, Evangelical movement is unconcerned about social issues and environmental care. However, this book busts that myth! Wilkinson has not only established that the evangelicals are in the thick of creation care and related issues but also suggests that they are the crucial factor in the movement at least in North America. She suggests that their role is very important for the climate and environmentaWilkinson. BETWEEN GOD AND GREENl issue of our world. Without their continuing engagement, the world could be a lot more hotter and unlivable than now!

In this book, Wilkinson charts the history of evangelical engagement with environmental issues beginning with the history of the movement itself. It also documents the present state of the movement. The author is however, an outsider but who moved with the evangelicals for the purpose of her research only. So, by all means this is not hagiography by a devoted evangelical but considerably objective.

The appendix where we find the nine crucial documents that has to do with evangelical environmental care adds to its value.These documents are:

1. ‘On the Care of Creation. An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation’ (1994)

2. ‘Oxford Declaration on Global Warming’ (2002)

3. ‘Sandy Cove Covenant and Invitation’ (2004)

4. An Excerpt from ‘For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility’ (2004)

5. ‘Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action’ (2006)

6. ‘An Urgent Call to Action: Scientists and Evangelicals Unite to Protect Creation’ (2007)

7. ‘Principles for Federal Policy on Climate Change’ (2007)

8. ‘A Southern Baptist Policy on Climate Change’ (2007)

9. ‘Vineyard Churches: Seven-Year Plan for American Evangelicalism’ (2009)

In addition, a four-page long list of names and affiliations of the key players of the evangelical movement in various aspects of creation care are given. This will help the students to trace their works and widen the horizon of their study on the topic.

This certainly is the best documentation ever published on the evangelical climate care.

 

Jacobson. SOUNDINGS IN THE THEOLOGY OF PSALMS (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 24•12

Jacobson, Rolf, (ed). Soundings in the Theology of Psalms: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780800697396.

This volume of eight essays by noted Old Testament scholars is the outcome of the ‘Book of Psalms Section’ of the 2008 SBL meeting in the expanded and revised form. However, the papers of the SBL session were complemented by other solicited essays and reprint of Walter Brueggemann’s essay. This volume also has an ecumenical flavour since scholars from various traditions like Wesleyan, Catholic, Baptist, and Lutheran have joined the group that is predominantly Reformed.

 The first essay by Walter Brueggemann is a reprint (‘The Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function’). Based on Paul Ricoeur approach Brueggemann suggests ‘the sequence of orientation-disorientation-reorientation’ to understand the use and function of Psalms.

 In the second essay, Harry P. Nasuti (‘God at Work in the Word: A Theology of Divine-Human Encounter in the Psalms’) argues that just as the description of God is a valid theological method in approaching the Psalms, an equally important method is to see the relationship between God and the believing communities. He argues that this relational aspect underlies the approaches that highlight ‘righteousness’ and the ‘righteous’ as the focal point of the Psalms.

Jerome F.D. Creach in his essay ‘The Destiny of the Righteous and the Theology of the Psalms’ argues that concern for the life and the destiny of the righteous  is a common theme of the Psalter that allows it to be read as book. Moreover, this theme also provides the theological context for other themes such as reign of God, justice and peace. The exploration on the methodolody and themes of the Psalter continues in the essay by J. Clinton McCann Jr. ‘The Single Most Important Text in the Entire Bible: Toward a Theology of the Psalms.’ He very convincingly argues that Psalm 82 is ‘crucially important for understanding the Psalms and especially for beginning to move toward a theology of the book of Psalms.’ He takes his cue from Dominic Crossan who remarked that, Psalm 82 is ‘the single most important text in the entire Christian Bible.’ He also suggests that in the context of violence, injustice and inequalities that we witness in our world today, Psalm 82 is very relevant for our times.

Violence and curses in the Psalms are the concerns of some of the essays as is the case of the essay by Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford ‘The Theology of the Imprecatory Psalms.’ She argues that the so called imprecatory Psalms are very much part of the Jewish and Christian canon. ‘We cannot summarily dismiss the imprecatory psalms and banish them to the periphery of the canon. They are integral part of the words of the Psalmists, rendered by their inclusion in the canon as the words of God and embraced by millennia of the faithful as part of the Scripture.’ Her persuasive arguments in favour of the imprecatory psalms end with how they can be incorporated in our worship.

 The same tone is maintained in the essay, ‘Saying Amen to Violent Psalms: Patterns of Prayer, Belief, and Action in the Psalter’ by Joel M. LeMon. He helps us to understand the violent imageries of the Psalms. This essay explores the ethical implications of the Psalms that have violent tones.

 The last two essays are again on the methodology of doing a theology of Psalms. In ‘“The Faithfulness of the Lord Endures Forever”: The Theological Witness of the Psalter’ Rolf Jacobson suggests that the dominant vision of the Psalms is the faithfulness of the Lord.  His essay is to elaborate on this theme which he thinks plays the central role in the Psalter. He explores the semantics, genre of Psalms where this theme is used, faithfulness as experienced in the history, means of God’s faithfulness, etc sufficient to convince us that the theology of Psalms can be centered around this.

 In the last essay ‘Rethinking the Enterprise: What Must Be Considered in Formulating a Theology of the Psalms?’ Beth Tanner, helps us to understand the whole enterprise of biblical theology in general and theology of Psalms in particular. Tanner begins with the nature of Biblical Theology and the ways of doing it. She affirms that, ‘… at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the biblical theological enterprise has become contextual, and thus canonical, transitory and pluralistic.’ She also insists that in doing a theology of Psalms its poetic nature should be given due place. She goes on to insights from neurosciences about the role of poetry in human emotions and behavior should be considered in doing the theology of Psalms. ‘The Psalms reach places in both the brain and the heart that other genres do not.’ Tanner’s explorations thus are really daring!

 This volume like other titles in the series pushes the edges of Psalms study further towards new horizons. All the essays are equally illuminative and take the readers to a new level of understanding the Book of Psalms, fresh, insightful and innovative.

Bornstein. Social Entrepreneurship (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 19•12

Bornstein, David, and Susan Davis. Social entrepreneurship. What everyone needs to know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. pages: 147. ISBN: 9780195396331.
This book falls into three parts: “Defining Social Entrepreneurship”, “Challenges of causing change” and “Envisioning an innovative society.”
In the first part the authors try to define Social Entrepreneurship by providing us a historical sketch of the movement. The emergence of the movement, the pioneers and what it tries to achieve are presented here. We also get a clear picture of this by way of comparing and contrasting it with business entrepreneurship and activism. In this section the authors also explain its relationship to democracy.
In the second part, the various challenges that the social entrepreneurs have to face are discussed. The challenges fall into two major areas. The first is finding the capital and the second is finding talented workers. The authors discuss how to overcome these hurdles financial and human resource hurdles.
In the third part, the authors have their suggestions about how educational institutions can nurture social innovators. It also discusses  how governments can engage with the social entrepreneurs. The symbiosis between business and social entrepreneurship is another crucial topic discussed here. The social entrepreneurship can also influence journalism.
This is simple but all in one book on social entrepreneurship. Everything one need to know about social entrepreneurship and how to get involved is presented in a nutshell.

Helseth. FOUR VIEWS ON DIVINE PROVIDENCE (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 17•12

Helseth, Paul Kjoss, William Lane Craig, Ron Highfield, and Gregory A. Boyd. Four views on divine providence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011.

Four Views on Divine Providence has appeared in the ‘Counterpoints. Bible and Theology’ series of Zondervan edited by Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers. Four leading theologians of our day have contributed the four dominant views on Providence prevalent now.

Paul Kjoss Helseth has written on the view that ‘God is Causes all Things’ (Reformed tradition) and William Lane Craig on “God Directs all Things” (Molonism), Ron Highfield “God controls everything” (Resotorationist) and Gregory A. Boyd on “God Limits His Control” (Open Theism).

This is not just presentation of four views by four scholars but interact with each other. The view of one scholar is critiqued by the three others so that the readers get a fairly good view of the issues involved as the other titles in COUNTERPOINTS series try to do.

Dennis W. Jowers, General Editor has contributed the Introduction and the Conclusion. In the introduction he elaborates on the scriptural foundations for the doctrine of providence before he moves on to give us historical view on this doctrine. This is where the novice is introduced to the debates, disputes and all that happened in the past. He divides the historical presentation into six periods as: (1) The anti-Nicene period (AD 70-325), (2) Post-Nicene period  (AD 325-787), (3) The medieval period (AD 787-16th century), (4) Early modern period that is from Reformation to the seventeenth century, (5) The Enlightenment Period, (6) the Post Enlightenment period (from nineteenth century to the present.)

The volume ends with an essay by the General Editor (Dennis W. Jowers) where he summarizes the positions of the contributors. This is a very useful section as he brings out the areas of agreement and areas of disagreement between the four contributors.

The volume is where anyone who want a comprehensive view of this doctrine should begin. This is comprehensive, interactive and leaves the readers to make up their minds on the issue.

Lim. OXFORD HANDBOOK OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 14•12

Lim, Timothy H., and John J. Collins. The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxford University Press, USA, 2010.

This compendium of essays by noted scholars brings to us the most up-to-date scholarly works on various aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A panel of thirty experts drawn from all over the world has written on almost all possible topics in this area, divided in to eight parts: (1) Archaeology of Khirbet Qumran and the Judaean Wilderness, (2) The Scrolls and Jewish History, (3) Scrolls and Sectarianism, (4) The Biblical Texts, Interpretation, and Languages of the Scrolls, (5) Religious Themes in the Scrolls, (6) The Scrolls and Early Christianity, (7) The Scrolls and Later Judaism and (8) New Approaches to the Scrolls.

Most of the essays take stock of the previous scholarship before they take their deviation to new directions on the topic. This feature of this book helps even novices too have a diachronic view of each area or topic. In instances where the past scholarship is not detailed, allusions and useful bibliography help to complete the picture. Those who are coming back to the field after a break will find these essays filling the gaps and taking them to the growing edges of the field.

This is the most useful one-volume scholarly work on the Dead Scrolls hitherto available and will be valued by students and teachers in the discipline greatly. Its value as a textbook for course on the Dead Sea Scrolls invaluable!