Science… for Her!

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Science… for Her!, Megan Amram (Scribner, 2014) $13.99

When I first received the advance copy of Science… for Her! by Megan Amram, I was excited and eagerly looked forward to reading it. Amram has been listed as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Hollywood & Entertainment,” Rolling Stone’s “25 Funniest People in Twitter” and has been a writer for NBC’s Parks & Recreation. With a strong resume like that, buzz had been building around the book since it was first announced. Science? And Feminism? From a rising star of a comedy writer? How could this ever go wrong?

Science… for Her! is one those rare events in publishing where a reader will periodically wonder whether they have had a stroke. Put another way, a reader who persists in reading this book will not only learn absolutely nothing valuable about science or even life, but will run a high risk of losing brain cells with consumption. Amram’s pedigree as a comedy writer falls shamefully flat – not only is it not funny but I found myself recoiling repeatedly in horror. This book is what you would get if you gave a tape recorder to a pot smoking 7th grade drop-out who got drunk at a party. Anyone who reads this book will likely feel a mixture of pity and concern for the mental health of Amram (and her immediate family) – especially when she advocates using meth for dieting or discusses gas as not just “the stuff that comes out of your fetid butthole. It’s also the stuff that is in your oven and you can kill yourself with it. It’s honestly a beautiful way to die.”

More, her supposed “biting gender commentary” does nothing for anyone involved in gender studies except frustrate them as she intentionally get things wrong and makes jokes that would get her booed off even the scummiest of nightclub stages. The book is supposed to be satire, but fails at this. It is supposed to make us as a society question how we are perpetuating a shameful misconception that girls “aren’t good at science” but fails at this also. Rather than say anything of substance, Amram intentionally(?) gets science, scholarship, and common sense shamefully wrong.

On Marie Curie – a world reknown chemist and the first woman to win a Nobel Prize: “Real butterface. Because of the radiation burns. Real butterradiationburnsonherface.”

On rape: “It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. Being beautiful is asking for it! If you truly didn’t want to be raped, you would gain forty pounds and/or come out as a lesbian.”

On space: “Space is mostly a vacuum. We sure know about those, ladies! But don’t be fooled, it’s not the type of vacuum that makes your life worth living and gives you the sense of purpose that you get from cleaning your family’s house that your man owns. It means there are very few particles floating around and it’s mostly just empty space… There’s no air in space, which is okay because humans can live without air for like, three years or something. Or wait, I’m thinking of changing your oil.”

I’m not sure where exactly Amram’s education went wrong here, who she bought off, or how much she had to smuggle across the border, but this book is both forgettable, disgusting, and terrible at the same moment. If anything – and I feel I am being more than fair in this assessment – this book is an excellent addition to the collection of aspiring writers because it will remind them that no matter how terrible they are with grammar or general knowledge, how lacking they are in humor, or how ignorant they are of basic 4th Grade science – someone out there will publish their terrible, terrible, just god-awful book.

Randall S. Frederick was previously a high-school science teacher. He now writes for The Huffington PostThe Good Men Project, and Sexuality & the City.

Fortress Press Commentary on New Testament

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The New Testament: Fortress Commentary on the Bible, ed. Margaret Aymer, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and David A. Sanchez (Fortress Press, 2014) $50.00

As a seminary student, I would regularly look for Fortress Press works to use in my papers and exegetical assignments. Their stable of scholarship – including N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, and rising star Tommy Givens – is exemplary and typically accessible.

This commentary truly shines where it examines and parallels the texts in ancient context, the interpretive tradition, and contemporary discussion. Students as much as religious leaders will appreciate that each book pauses to intersect these three lenses, keeping them continually relevant to the reader. Each lens distinguishes the book’s current, conventional reading and infuses it with new historical insights instead of presuming that current perspectives in scholarship are the “right” way to read the text or focusing on how to read the literature itself to the neglect of it’s import.

At times dense with substance, in-text references and data, interscriptural parallels and extrabiblical callbacks, this commentary is not for the general reader. More, because the commentary is published by Fortress Press, there is a heavy bend towards Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian thought from the contributors (not to mention the intercultural approaches of the authors). These are the appreciable and hallmark assets of Fortress’ commitment to academic and theological scholarship, but not as accessible to those who are not aware of the bends a particular author might take. Supplementary chapters like “Rootlessness and Community in Context of Diaspora” or “Situating the Apostle Paul in His Day and Engaging His Legacy in Our Own” may very well help the reader catch up, as they discuss the post-Exilic periods and the New Perspective, but there is still a strong presumption on the part of the authors that situates this commentary somewhere between “serious lover of scripture” and those who are fluent in the debates taking place today. Put another way, this compact volume is a joy for those wanting to be challenged to stretch and grow with the texts.

The commentary is complemented by the Fortress Commentary on the Old Testament and Apocrypha. Together they are surely an invaluable asset to anyone working with scripture on a regular basis – student or pastoral leader and, candidly, this will be my next acquisition as I am thoroughly impressed with the current volume and eager to begin comparing the notes between the volumes.

Additional Contents

  • Reading the Christian New Testament in the Contemporary World, by Kwok Pui-lan
  • Negotiating the Jewish Heritage of Early Christianity, by Lawrence M. Wills
  • Rootlessness and Community in Contests of Diaspora, by Margaret Aymer
  • The Apocalyptic Legacy of Early Christianity, by David A. Sanchez
  • Jesus and the Christian Gospels, by Raymond Pickett
  • Acts as a History of the Early Church, by Demetrius K. Williams
  • Situating the Apostle Paul in His Day and Engaging His Legacy in Our Own, by Neil Elliot

Randall S. Frederick is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes for The Huffington Post, The Good Men ProjectState of Formation, and Theology & the City.

Rebuilding the Feltboard World of Childhood

The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Baker Academic, 2013) $35.61

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For those paying attention, Joel B. Green (newly appointed Dean of Fuller Seminary’s School of Theology) has become the preeminent name in collecting great scholars of New Testament studies under one cover. His previous titles are a compendium of established names or those destined to become “The” expert on any given subject. The World of the New Testament proudly joins Green’s previous works, offering profound yet digestible essays rivaling if not exceeding seminary offerings.

From chapter 25 & 26, “Jewish Identity, Beliefs, and Practices” by Archie T. Wright and “Jewish Education” by Kent L. Yinger

A strength of The World of the New Testament is the collection of essays on Judaism. This is, one imagines, thanks to the work of N.T. Wright’s energetic effort towards refocusing our understanding of Christianity’s indebtedness to Second-Temple Judaism. Archie Wright’s essays, however, fall short as he focuses on the tried-and-true summary of Jewish identity based on temple, purity rituals, and diet. This is a large and tragic flaw in the collection. An astute reader would have hoped for more attention to the ways that post-exilic prophetic writings constructed Jewish identity, rather than the strong whiff of Pharisaism present here. I’m sure there is a joke to be made about how Archie and N.T. are at opposite ends, but I’ll bypass that cheap shot. Moving on, Yinger’s essay on Jewish education is quite sharp (thought painfully brief), summarizing methodology, the role of the family, and the rabbinic anachronistic effort to find personal and national identity as a literate race.

From chapter 31, “Homer and the New Testament” by Thomas E. Philips

Philips focuses on the indirect influence of the Homeric epics on the New Testament period by first pointing out their prominence in constructing societal expectations, then the individual’s pursuit of “honor.” By illuminating these key points, Philips conclusively dismisses all efforts to write Homer back into biblical sources while also affirming a classical education which might be able to extract more from Homer as NT studies move forward.

From chapter 39, “Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus” by Mark Wilson

While reading The World of the New Testament on geography, I found myself wishing that a book such as this had been available when I was much younger. Before attending seminary, the best I could find was a gap-filled pictorial of Paul’s missionary journeys with elementary sketches of what Jerusalem “may” have looked like. Wilson’s essay on Syria, Cilicia, and Cypus not only gave a great summary of where Paul went – what the cultures were like, the local trades and so on – but also explained why Paul was “led” to these “obscure” places. In reconstructing the culture, a wealth of new insight begins to flesh out what the challenges and strengths of the Early Church were so long ago.

All told, I can hardly imagine a greater supplement to introductory New Testament studies than Green, et al.’s The World of the New Testament. This truly has become one of my great summer reads, keeping me fresh on my theological studies while unpacking much of what I have already learned in seminary. While I am not a fan of Green in the classroom, finding him insulting and dismissive (why do the great minds of our time feel a need to beat those below them?), his expansive knowledge permeates this work in a way that makes the mind light up. In the last month, I have become inseparable from The World of the New Testament — it is what I have read when I lay down, and what accompanies me across the city during idle moments. Unlike other academic works which seem tedious or horribly dry, each of the essays here are entirely accessible and is a a treasure for those seeking to better understand Christian scripture.

Randall S. Frederick is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes for The Huffington PostState of Formation, and Theology & the City.

Reading Theologically

Reading Theologically: Foundations for Learning, ed. Eric D. Barreto (Fortress Press, 2014) $14.00

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How we read scripture is potentially one of the most divisive issues in theological studies. The essays that Eric Barreto, assoc. prof. of New Testament at Luther Seminary, collects here are by no means a replacement for graduate study of hermeneutics at seminary, but he certainly offers an excellent introduction to those seeking to determine whether seminary is for them.

Each chapter engages topically with how we read scripture (basically, meaningfully, biblically, generously, critically, differently, digitally, and spiritually) and what the interaction of the lenses have to do with one another. As Barreto says in his introduction, theological reading “is about the formation and cultivation of a particular posture towards texts, whether sacred or profane. Reading theologically is not just about building your academic skills, but about your formation as a ministerial leader who can engage scholarship critically, interpret scripture and tradition faithfully, welcome different perspectives, and help lead others to do the same. That is your call as a student of theology.” (11)

With these words, Barreto locates the primary (though not exclusive) audience of his book – new seminarians and those discerning a call to ministry. As a recent graduate of religious studies, I wish I had read something like this to make the transition into my program easier!

But the “average reader” won’t feel left out. Any member of a church – laity, Sunday school teacher, or interested pew-sitter – will find here a collection of approachable. All of the chapters are directed to and for those in “community” with people of faith, how to understand fellow parishioners, how to articulate what you see in scripture in an informed way, and how to encourage fellow believers toward something more than passivity. At under 150 pages, Reading Theologically offers an excellent opportunity for students new to theological discussion.

Randall S. Frederick is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. He writes for The Huffington Post, State of Formation, and Theology & the City.

Culture According to de Botton

The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton (Pantheon Books, 2014) $26.95

NewsAlainEmbedFounder of the School of Life, Alain de Botton’s latest work The News: A User’s Manual aspires to be “the ultimate guide for our frenzied era” of news and is a good introduction to seeing news outlets as culture-making machines.

De Botton excels at presenting competing ideas and showing how both have equal merit. One of his recent works, How to Think More About Sex (2012), is an excellent summary of how culture presents ideas around sex and how individuals express that with each other. Surprisingly, he concludes that work by suggesting that Christian morality can “redeem,” even “save” pornography from it’s excess. That he is an avowed atheist of the loose French variety, and names Christian morality as the main suppressor of art, beauty, and sex further emphasizes this claim.

In reading his previous works, I have been impressed by how even-handed and fair he is. Which is why, knowing de Botton as a keen observer and precise writer, he disappoints with The News by creating hypothetical scenarios and broad cultural critiques rather than engaging with the world as it is. This may have served him well in the past while discussing religion and sex, but The News succumbs to it’s own grand vision of shaping a reader shaped by information informed by the reader. Think of the book as holding up a row of mirrors to one another. The reader walks through and, for a moment it is perhaps fun, perhaps disorienting, until higher functioning brain activity reminds them that this is a parlor trick. As a (sometimes) journalist, I found myself wishing he would have explained either more of how newsroom decisions are made or interviewed editors and journalists rather than focusing on his own pseudo-objectivity, inflating the reader’s sense of self, or congratulating the reader for looking down their nose at another. Case in point, in the middle of the book he discusses financial reporting and states:

It isn’t only the scale of the economic machine that can silence us, but also its complexity. On a miniscule percentage of the populations of developed economies have any solid understanding of the workings of the economic system they exist within. Most of us will struggle to grasp quite what might be going on within essential terms like arbitrage, Basel 1 and 2, cyclically adjusted current budgets, price/earnings ratios or quantitative easing. As we follow financial events in the news, we may ask, and not for the first time: ‘What is the growth rate of money?’ ‘How do hedge funds operate?’ ‘What does the LIBOR rate determine?’… Those kindly commentators occasionally employed by news organizations to help us with our confusions certainly try hard to offer us explanations, but perhaps because the concepts that dizzy us lack connection with anything in our day-to-day lives, their explanations have a habit of leaching from our minds just hours after we have heard them. (130-31)

In a chapter titled “Celebrity,” de Botton educates the reader on ancient hero-worship practices before naming the way that envy cripples individual expression. Then he makes a telling statement:

Too many random reminders of other people’s success may simply terrify us into inactivity and unwittingly prevent us from putting any single plan into practice. In order to achieve anything on our own, we need to be free for extended stretches from the psychological pressures exerted by news of others’ feats. We require periods of inner seclusion and calm if we are ever going to finish off something worthwhile: that is, something that we may ourselves one day be envied for. (173)

de Botton makes a case in each of the six areas of examination – politics, world news, economics, celebrity, disaster, and consumption – that it is insecurity which compels us to have our favorite 24-hour news source in the background, to constantly check social media to see what friends are up to, and to somehow form our own identity in light of the deluge. Some, like Noah, become despondent and retire to happy hour. Others, like the children of Noah, gradually forget What Happened and move out to their own entitlement.

Still, de Botton is true to form in that he raises incisive and implicit questions. Do we really want the news to tell the truth? Or would we prefer to self-medicate with distraction? These are good questions, and he excels at framing them in a digestible way. But as a former journalist, I can’t help notice that de Botton dwells on identity formation instead of “the hard news” of an event. In concluding the work, he notes that individuals select their news sources to assist in identity construction but does not really dwell on his initial inkling that news outlets actively seek to shape their audience. Notice the contrast between his initial thoughts and conclusion.

The news knows how to render its own mechanics almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. It fails to disclose that it does not merely report on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own often highly distinctive priorities. (11) 

Far from helping us develop a rich and complex individuality, ‘personalized news’ might end up aggravating out pathologies and condemning us to mediocrity. Imagine how personalization would have worked for, say, Marie Antoinette – someone temperamentally squeamish about distressing Political news and who would have been drawn to turning up the dial on Fashion and Entertainment… Personalization would be an improvement over the current editorial system if, and only if, users had a highly mature and complex sense of what sort of news they needed to hear. But this would require them, before they could be let anywhere near the dashboard used to program the news-stream, to get to know their own souls extremely well. (244-45).

One critiques the newswriter for failing to present their effort to shape an audience, the other critiques the audience for being incapable of properly choosing to know that which is best for them. In like kind, de Botton’s The News: A User’s Manual offers six poor case studies in areas of news which likely interest us but fails to explicitly disclose the kind of person it seeks to create – the self-knowing contemporary individual whose individual pursuits and preferences create a bubble of individualized self-actualization “ready” to take the world as it is… but who is entirely unprepared to notice others.

Randall Frederick is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He has just finished his second M.A. at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes for The Huffington Post, and does religious consulting.

Raised Voices

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, (eds.) Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro (White Cloud Press, 2013) $16.95

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Lane and Okoro’s intent with this collection of essays was to show the diversity of Christian women’s voices around the perennial issues of sex, embodiment, and faith. While the novitiate reader will be enthused to see their (likely) represented in the diversity of 41 essayists, there is little here that has not already been addressed more directly elsewhere.

Patience Perry in the essay, “Crafting Bonds of Blood” for instance focuses on how menstruation unifies women but is also a social concern. “In the case of tampons, we directly expose the vaginal tissue to these toxic chemicals, fragrances, and synthetic fibers where… [then] upon removal, feminine products linger indefinitely in a landfill or oceanic gyre (floating pollution which has accumulated in each of the five oceans) along with their plastic wrappers, strings, and applicators, since they are not biodegradable.” An important issues, to be sure, but in an essay asking for transparency and forthright language in religious and cultural communities so as to celebrate the feminine presence, it is curiously ironic that Perry goes on to describe her menstruation “as my Moon Time. That way, I acknowledge the cycles of life and death.” As an educated white male, I’m sure whether to celebrate her call to social responsibility while also shaming women for using feminine products, or note how she prioritizes of the “natural” female spirit which “operates in accordance with nature. AWESOME” as women “intuitively and hormonally respond to each other. It’s like we’re wolves. COOL” or whether I should become part of the patriarchal system that reminds these idealists that there are alternatives to completely charting a new course for women- be they Christian or otherwise (59).

Specifically, one of the recurring issues with this book is the way that the essayists, like Perry, seek to “take back” male-dominated language, and with it theological and social space. As someone who works in cultural dialogue, I find these conversations at times rewarding, exciting, inventive, and parochial if not frequently confusing. Both men and women forget, at times, the sociological function of language. Words have meaning and though languages can be shaped and reformed over time, a sudden decisive break (even a shift to or borrowing from a competing social narrative) is more problematic than the cunning linguist might allow. Put another way, the language games of these authors who seek to “speak for ourselves” are, in many ways, a problem for patriarchal religion as much as their intended audience. We might envisage a feminine Jesus, but two millennia of tradition – including the four commonly accepted primary gospels – specify that Jesus was born and died a male. But as “Joiner essayist Alena Amato Ruggerio writes, “Joining makes you an equal” (131). Simply speaking or writing validates your work with scholars. In many ways, the collective conscious of these essays says that tradition, heritage, and scholarship do not matter. Indeed, none of the essays with their generous headshots and blank pages exceeds 8 pages of work. Though they intend to subvert scholars and overhaul an entire global faith system with diverse cultures, they do not commit themselves to any kind of scholarship or sensitivity. By “joining” they exhibit that signature trait of postmodern America – the belief that to have an opinion warrants accolade. In the shadow of Betty Friedan, N.T. Wright, Maryann Meye-Thompson, Harold Blount, or Gustavo Gutierrez, these essays seem like nothing more than random blog posts.

Still, the essays here find traction with the neophyte to Christian Feminism and raise many important concerns for American Christian women. If you have a high-schooler who is considering a more serious role in religious life, this would be an excellent gift or book to suggest for them to read. K.D. Byers writes that “the church fails to teach her daughters how to ask good questions” and that women can only become “the disciples and prophets God seeks to raise up when we move beyond the answers of our youth and embrace the questions” that these essays raise (103). What is most appreciable about Talking Taboo is that it is raises awareness on many of the concerns American women have each time they approach their local church – Will they be allowed to share the details of their lives in an honest way? Will their sexuality be valued? Are they alone, or are there similar-minded women? Will the leadership of the church welcome their contributions and honor their time? It will surely provide new concepts and new language to help those involved in religious dialogue to better understand one another’s perspective.

Randall Frederick is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He has just finished his second M.A. at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes for The Huffington Post, and does religious consulting.

Women Are People Too

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of WomenSarah Bessey. (Howard Books, 2013) $14.99

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copyIn recent years, there has been a backlash against egalitarianism and Christian Feminism emerging from what could be described as the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the Church. Fortunately, the voices coming from the other side have been equally loud, calling for mutual submission in the household and full participation of women in ministry. In this conversation, Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist (2013) stands out. She addresses the Church’s treatment of women with the end goal of “exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.” At first, I thought this subtitle seemed almost satirical, but in light of the more outspoken complementarians who have published recently, it is perhaps more warranted than my initial impression would have allowed.

Bessey’s gentle and humble tone sets her book apart. From the very first pages, it reads as a letter from a dear friend. In a debate which is fraught with conflict, mud-slinging, and name-calling, Bessey looks for the positive, encouraging women to live into their God-given potential. Rather than spending time debunking arguments on the other side (as many egalitarians do with Wayne Grudem and John Piper), Bessey spends most of the book talking about what women have done, and are currently doing in service to God, the Church, and the world. Her book reminds me of The Junia Project in that it seeks to equip and empower rather than to argue.

The core of Bessey’s argument is that her Feminism is a response to what she cares the most about—following Jesus. The best way for Christians to pursue women’s equality is for us to pursue Christ. “We must remember that all of those efforts are ultimately frustrating, sometimes even misguided, without Christ” (184). Moreover, Bessey makes the claim that “the Feminist Agenda” is, indeed, God’s agenda, because God cares about justice.

Nothing changes in a true, God-lasting way when we use people or push agendas or make finger-pointing arguments or accusations of heresy. The justice we are seeking is God’s justice—justice that leaves no one out, no one left behind. His justice breaks chains, rids the world of injustice, frees the oppressed, cancels debts (184).

As a young woman working for a church, Bessey’s writing speaks to me though I am perhaps not her intended audience, as she debunks the myth that church work is the ultimate calling. However, as a woman and a Christ-follower, I have wrestled with the questions that Bessey wrestles with in her pursuit of Jesus. As such, Bessey’s experiences and hopes resonated with me. The only thing I would change about this book would be to use gender-inclusive language for God. I understand that within the Christian world, understanding God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our bread and butter but using masculine pronouns for God becomes a stumbling block for some Jesus Feminists as they seek to understand God at work in their lives.

More than anything, I hope that young and old women read this book and feel empowered to pursue God’s calling on their lives. I hope that my seminary professors, who have done so much to encourage my pursuit of ministry, read it and keep doing what they are doing. I hope that complementarians read it, and, at the very least, hear Bessey’s prophetic voice to begin reconsidering their positions.

Naomi Wilson is the Director of Christian Education at Faith Presbyterian Church of Valley Village, nestled between North Hollywood and Studio City in beautiful sunny Southern California. She loves coffee, sunshine, books, and running.

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God is Red: A History of Christianity in Communist China

God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, Liao Yiwu. (Harper One 2011) $14.99

God Is RedIn God is Red, historian Liao Yiwu tells the story of Christian missionary workers and the house church movement throughout the twentieth century in China under totalitarian government. For his previous writings, Liao has been imprisoned and his books banned. “But what if we, as a nation, collectively lose our memory of the past?” Liao asks.

This question haunts the entire book, a fear that is reminiscent of Orwell’s perennial classic. Liao delves “into the past and present experiences of a particular group of people in search of clues about China’s future,” interweaving and linking several interviews conducted in the Yunnan province of southwest China between 2002 and 2010. Albeit a particular story about Christianity in China, God is Red takes on the political dragon to record the country’s moment of faith crisis in the wake of a push for modernization.

Readers will find this an easy book to get lost in: Liao recounts the interviews cleanly without losing the humor, as well capturing the Chinese way of telling a story poetically,

I followed Brother Yang, clutching both hands in front of my chest, tears streaming down like raindrops. I tell you, I wasn’t overcome with grief. I felt grateful. For the first time in my life, I didn’t think about myself or about human beings. I was thinking about God, who is above us, above all living things, above the highest mountain, above Erhai Lake. My parents gave birth to me, but God gave me life. I didn’t know that before. Cancer helped enlighten me, giving winder to my heart, which had been downtrodden in the mud, and made it fly and feel the bliss of heaven. Continue reading

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A Thicker Jesus

A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, Glen H. Stassen (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012) $25

a-thicker-jesusFrom my days at Fuller Theological Seminary, I so enjoyed the perspective taught and embodied by Dr. Glen Stassen.  His ethics course and seminal text, Kingdom Ethics, gave useful language for budding young seminarians like myself on how the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount must infuse every part of our ethical decisions.  His stories about marching with Dr. King inspired me about the value of civil disobedience and political actions today.  His teachings on just peacemaking, gender roles, and the death penalty deeply guided me into the methodology of forming ethical convictions with the narrative of Scripture as a framework. And more than that, his faithfulness as an educator and a follower of Christ gave life to his teachings and proved an authentic model of deeply reflective pastoral engagement in the world through the power of the living Christ.

Though it had been years since my time with Dr. Stassen, I was eager to dive into his newest text, A Thicker Jesus and the book did not disappoint. I was immediately struck by how helpful this text would be for the field of practical theology as it matures as an academic discipline.  As a academic, Stassen only wants to deepen the conversation about Christian discipleship rather than water down any convictions for the sake of accessibility.  Stassen’s work serves as a robust text for defending a Christian ethic of incarnation and engagement in social inequalities.  Building upon the shoulders of his major influencer, theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stassen propones that one of the primary challenges for the Church today is to confront secularism with a costly discipleship that will provide the resources for renewal and revival. Incarnational discipleship, as defined by Stassen, will represent three spheres: a thicker interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth, the holistic sovereignty of God, and the Holy Spirit moving the church to what Stassen calls a “repentance from ideological entanglement.”  I could not agree more.  He looks to utilize such a formula as a model to help resolve some of the many challenges facing the Church in the 21st century.  Heroes of the faith throughout Christian history, in his assessment, all share the common trait of a ‘deep and specific interpretation of the apostolic and biblical witness to Jesus Christ.’ Continue reading

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Lamin Sanneh: Culture, Translation and the Life of Faith

Summoned from the Margins: Homecoming of an African, Lamin Sanneh  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2012) $24

Summoned from the MarginsMy claim is that no one language can substitute for the truth of God, that as children of God we learn and speak the language of faith always imperfectly and provisionally, and that the divine perfection is beyond cultural advantage or disadvantage.

This is the heart of the book, Summoned from the Margins, by Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity at Yale University.

Born in Gambia, trained at Edinburgh and Harvard universities, Dr. Sanneh has made the transition from Islam to Christianity, from Methodist to Catholic, over the space of half a century. His book is the exploration of a conversion from unlikely places to unimagined ones: summoned by a Savior to a religion about which he had little knowledge, and a marginal one in a society where the everyday came into tangible contact with, and was largely dictated by, Islamic thought.  Along the way, Dr. Sanneh explores how Christianity dialogues with Islam, and why the two religions often clash in dialogue, coming as they do from two paradigms that often speak past each other.

Following a post-secondary education in The Gambia, Sanneh decided to apply for the full scholarship offered to students at that time by the United States government for enrollment at an American university. He arrived in Virginia in 1963 into the turmoil and conflict of the civil rights movement. “…Nothing in our background prepared us for America: we had no value system to deal with race, and no fund of personal experience to draw on for understanding or self-preservation.” Nevertheless, he continued on in pursuit of his studies, realizing along the way that his interest in history matched up with his religious interest. Continue reading

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