Reason #78 Why I Dislike Evangelicalism

Fred Clark, blogger at Slacktivist, has recently posted an interesting piece about white-evangelical Christianity. This snippet sums up one of many problems I’ve come to have with Evangelicalism:

It is not progressive Christianity, but mainstream white evangelicalism that is “reluctant to talk about our enslavement to sin.” It is reluctant to do so because it is unable to do so. And it is unable to do so because it has, itself, become one of The Powers That Be — or, at least, it has become their faithful servant.

There’s a hole in white evangelicalism’s understanding of sin, death, evil and spiritual bondage. … It’s the blind spot that allowed America’s first great theologian to write “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” before sitting down to a meal cooked by his slaves. Or the blind spot that allowed America’s first great revivalist to preach salvation from sin while simultaneously working to overturn the colony of Georgia’s ban on slavery.

In other words, white-evangelicalism pretty much doesn’t give a crap about the problem of institutional, corporate sin. It turns a blind eye to our enslavement to the principalities and powers (e.g. racism, patriarchy, and nationalism are all good examples). But hey… it’s not like we worship a guy who was executed on the basis of bullshit charges that were drummed up simply because he railed against the moral, religious, and political authorities. Even if we did, that has nothing to do with structural and institutional forms of evil, right?!

It’s an interesting piece which has generated a lot of good comments, so head on over and give it a whirl.

Quick Book Review: Iesus Deus – The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God

jesusgodTitle: Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God

Author: M. David Litwa

Bibliographic info: 208 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy.

This book looks at how early Christians “imagined, constructed, and promoted Jesus as a deity in their literature from the first to the third centuries CE.” Litwa contends that the early Christians applied to Jesus various traits of divinity that were already prevalent in ancient Mediterranean culture. He says that “many other Christian writers–including those of the New Testament–consciously or unconsciously re-inscribed divine traits of Mediterranean gods and deified figures into their discourse concerning Jesus. The result was the discursive deification of Jesus Christ.”

Litwa provides a synchronic approach to this topic, focusing on specific texts as “individual ‘moments’ of Jesus’ deification in early Christian literature.” He surveys six ways in which Christians from the first century through to the third century utilized Mediterranean notions of deity to reveal the importance of Jesus. The moments that he looks at are Jesus’ conception,  childhood, benefactions, transfiguration, resurrection, and ascension.

The chapters of this book are:

  1. “Not through Semen, Surely”: Luke and Plutarch on Divine Birth
  2. “From Where Was this Child Born?”: Divine Children and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
  3. Deus est iuvare: Miracle, Morals, and Euergetism in Origen’s Contra Celsum
  4. “Light Was That Godhead”: Transfiguration as Epiphany
  5. “We Worship One who Rose from His Tomb”: Resurrection and Deification
  6. The Name Above Every Name: Jesus and Greco-Roman Theonymy

It is important to note that Litwa is not suggesting that the early Christian faith in Jesus’ divinity was the result of a process that evolved over time from more exposure to Greek culture. Instead, Litwa is simply showing how earliest Christianity wasn’t solely influenced by the Second Temple Jewish milieu out of which it was born, but that there was also some Hellenistic influence in there as well. By focusing upon several key events of Jesus’ life as depicted in the Gospels, Litwa wants to show how the authors of the Gospels employed language and forms that derive from the Greco-Roman concept of deification.

This is an engaging comparative study that sheds light on the evolution of early Christianity and shows how certain concepts associated with Jesus (e.g. divine birth) fit into the Hellenistic context of the ancient Mediterranean culture.

 

Great Book on the Eucharist

jesuseucharist

Yesterday I started and finished reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by Brant Pitre (2011). This book was quite fascinating and it is rare that I come across a book that I can’t put down. I’ve never really studied the Lord’s Supper to any depth and–as my calling it the “Lord’s Supper” instead of the Eucharist may indicate–I’ve always held to a Zwinglian kind of view that sees it as a symbolic memorial (moreso out of default than anything). Pitre, however, has provided a very helpful study which goes a good way to revealing the real substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The author is himself a Catholic (as one may have guessed by the preface from Scott Hahn), but I didn’t find the book to be simply an apologetic just for the Catholic “Transubstantiation” view. Instead, Pitre’s elucidation of the Lord’s Supper in this book could perhaps be compatible for any Christian church that adopts some form of the “Real Presence” view (e.g. Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans), though maybe not the Reformed branch which seems to hold a spiritual presence of Christ but not one of substance. Keep in mind, though, that I have a pretty rudimentary knowledge of the different theologies of the Lord’s Supper, so maybe this book isn’t compatible with a non-Catholic Transubstantiation view.

There were a few minor questions that I had arise while reading the book, e.g., considering the emphasis placed upon the Gospel of John in Pitre’s argument, I find it curious as to why did the author of the Gospel neglected to include the actual institution of the Lord’s Supper at the last Passover.

Nevertheless, despite any minor quibbles I had with the book’s argument, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the topic. Now I am gonna go read Sergius Bulgakov’s The Holy Grail and the Eucharist.

Book Review: Jesus, Gospel Tradition, and Paul in the Context of Greco-Roman Antiquity

jesusgospeltraditionsTitle: Jesus, Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquity: Collected Essays III

Series: WUNT 303

Author: David E. Aune

Bibliographic info: xii, 549 pp., 63 pp.

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

David Aune has been a Professor at the University of Notre Dame since 1999 to the present (and held a few other teaching positions prior to that). This is the second collection of Bovon’s studies, with the first volume being Apocalypticism, Prophecy and Magic in Early Christianity: Collected Essays (2006). While this earlier collection of Aune’s work consisted on twenty studies originally published between 1981-2006, this current volume contains twenty-two studies focused on the Gospels, Jesus traditions, Acts, Paul, and the Pauline epistles (originally published between 1981-2006). This review will provide a brief summary of each chapter.

The first study was one of the most interesting ones of the volume. It is on the meaning of Εὐαγγέλιου in the inscriptions of the canonical Gospels. Aune begins by providing a lexical overview, the use of euangelion in Paul, Mark, and second century Christianity (the Didache, Ignatius’ epistles, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and 2 Clement). Then the study delves into into the Gospel subscriptions and inscriptions, and the development of the fourfold Gospel canon.

The second study looks at genre theory and the genre-function of Mark and Matthew. Aune examines the paratextual features of the Gospels (e.g. subscriptions, superscriptions, and incipit) as these provide important clues for determining how the authors and recipients of the texts understood them. Aune concludes that Mark is a parody of ancient biography and Matthew is a transformation of Mark. He says that “Mark is an episodic text based on linking earlier oral and written gospel tradition into a relatively large-scale narrative that functions as a complex genre with an ideological function”, and that, “The genre of Mark was transformed by Matthew (unaware of its parodic character) by the addition of features more typical of Graeco-Roman biography that had been avoided by Mark.” (55).

The third study discusses the forgiveness petition in the Lord’s prayer in Matt. 6:12, Luke 11:4a, and Did. 8:2, with each of these extent versions of the Lord’s prayer being said to have “emerged from the practice of private prayer in particular Christian circles where they were shaped over a number of years” (59). The fourth study then tackles the Lord’s prayer in relation to the concept of apocalyptic.

The fifth study looks at the logion of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38b/Matt. 26:41b), with the question hoping to be answered being whether this dominical proverb reflect the ipsissima vox jesu? Aune explores the relation between the Markan version and the hortatory saying which precedes it (“keep awake and pray, that you do not enter into temptation”). He concludes that, “It is like that the paraenetic character of the dominical proverb in Mark 14:38 and Matt 26:41 did not belong to the earliest stratum of the pre-Markan passion narrative, but was added when the passion narrative was formulated for use in a liturgical context in the early church.” This study also includes an examination of pneuma and sarx in Pauline thought, with the question being raised of where the religio-cultural context for this anthropological duality comes from. Is it found in Hebrew Bible or is it more of a Greek thing? Or a syncretistic combination of both?

The sixth and seventh studies both examine the Gospel of Luke. The former looks at Luke 1:1-14 and whether it is a historical or scientific Prooimion; the latter looks at Luke 20:34-36 and asks the question of whether it is a  “gnosticized” logion of Jesus. Aune’s hypothesis is that Luke 20:34b-36 is derived from another source rather than extensive redaction of Mark.

The eighth study looks at dualism in the Gospel of John and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is followed in the ninth study with a look at Christian beginnings and cognitive dissonance theory. This chapter includes an interesting discussion on the failed prophecy in the Chabad-Lubavitcher movement, a widespread messianic movement of Orthodox Hasidic Jews, where even after the death of Rebbe, many still thought he was the messiah. Here Aune demonstrates how cognitive dissonance theory “is capable of explaining the sequence of events associated with the beginnings of Christianity, particularly with regard to the fact that Christianity ‘went public’ so soon after the crucifixion of Jesus” (179).

The tenth study assesses the historical value of the apocryphal Jesus traditions. And the eleventh study is on Jesus and Cynics in first century Palestine, with the question being asked: did Jesus “consciously pattern his behaviour and his teaching under the influence of cynics?” (288). Aune interacts with Gerald Downing, a scholar who has presented perhaps the most focused case for the affirmative to this question. Aune, however, finds several issues “which make such a comparison extremely difficult”, but nevertheless notes that “the formal similarities between the anecdotes or chreiai attributed to Jesus and the Cynics are striking and deserve detailed study” (218).

The twelfth and thirteenth studies are both on oral tradition, with the former being a (long) prolegomena to the study of oral tradition in the Hellenistic world, and the latter looking at oral tradition in relation to the aphorisms of Jesus. Here the function, morphology, types, and forms of the aphorisms are identified, and the chapter concludes with an eighteen page appendix that catalogs the aphorisms of Jesus.

So far all the essays have directly related to the study of Jesus traditions. The fourteenth study, which discusses Jesus traditions and the Pauline letters, provides a bridge to the second part of the book that contains eight studies on Pauline studies.

The fifteenth and sixteenth studies both examine Pauline anthropology. The first looks at two Pauline models of persons: (1) an irrational behavior model (drawn from popular Hellenistic thought); and (2) an apocalyptic macrocosm-microcosm model (that has analogies in early Judaism). The second of these two studies looks at the anthropological duality in the eschatology of 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10.

The seventeenth study is on the human nature and ethics of Hellenistic philosophical traditions and Paul. The eighteenth study tackles the judgment seat of Christ in 2 Cor. 5:10 (also discussing Rom. 14:10, 2:1-3:8, and 1 Cor 6:1-11 along the way). This is followed in the nineteenth study by a look at Paul, ritual purity, and the ritual baths south of the temple mount (see e.g. Acts 21:15-27). The twentieth study is on Romans as a logos protripikos, followed by the twenty-first study which is on recent readings of Paul relating to justification by faith. And, finally, the twenty-second study provides us with a study on Gal. 3:28 and the problem of equality in church and society. Aune says: “In the long history of Pauline interpretation in the church, it is remarkable how frequently in the last century and a half that the ideology of gender hierarchy has obscured and downplayed the role of Phoebe the deacon and patron of Paul (Rom 16:1-2), or turned Junia, the apostle, into a male figure (Rom 16:7).”

All in all, this volume is an impressive series of studies on Jesus and Pauline traditions that ably shows how the author has furthered the study of the New Testament and early Christianity.

Quick Book Review: The Gospel of John and Christian Origins

gospeljohnoriginsTitle: The Gospel of John and Christian Origins

Author: John Ashton

Bibliographic info: 208 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy.

The author of this fine volume, John Ashton, has written a couple of studies on the fourth Gospel, including Understanding the Fourth Gospel (Oxford University Press, 1991; 2nd ed. 2007) and Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford University Press, 1998).

The chapters in this book are:

  1. Moses
    Excursus I: The Gospel Genre
  2. Consciousness of Genre
  3. Chief Priests and Pharisees
  4. The Essenes
    Excurcus II: The Johannine Community
  5. The Situation of the Gospel
  6. The Apocalyptic Background
    Excursus III: The Changing Gospel
  7. The Mission of the Prophet
    Excursus IV: The Prologue: God’s Plan for Humankind
  8. Human or Divine?
  9. The Johannine Christ

In this book Ashton emphasizes how the fourth Gospel’s accentuates revelation of the now glorified Christ and that, in fact, “the Gospel represents a deliberate decision to supplant Moses and to replace him with Jesus, thereby substituting one revelation, and indeed one religion, for another.”

The four excursuses set out to show that “the Gospels are not to be thought of simply as Lives of Christ”“that the Gospel of John was not written as a continuous composition over a short stretch of time but went through at least two editions”, “that it was composed by a member of a particular community for the benefit of his fellow members”, and that “the main theme of the Prologue is not creation (as is generally assumed), but God’s plan for humankind.”

I particularly liked the fifth chapter in which Ashton approaches the Gospel of John from a historical perspective, examining the circumstances surrounding the Gospel’s composition and the Johannine community. The seventh and eight chapters deal with John’s adaptation of Jewish traditions, specifically in regards of Jesus fulfilling the prediction of a Moses-like prophet (ch. 7) and the Jewish traditions of Wisdom and the Son of Man (ch. 8). The final chapter sums it all up by comparing John to the Synoptics. Johannine scholarship is one of the areas of NT studies that I am least familiar with, but this was definitely a useful book that helped shed some light on the Gospel’s making and meaning.

Book Review: The Nonviolent Messiah

nonviolentmessiahTitle: The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition

Author: Simon J. Joseph

Bibliographic info: 240 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy.

The book is separated into three parts: ch. 1-4 address issues concerning Jesus, Q, the Gospels, and the nonviolent aspects of Jesus traditions; ch. 5-9 then gives a chronological reevaluation of Jewish messianism and a case for a messianic Jesus; and ch. 10 discusses texts and themes to be found in Q. There isn’t an obvious line of progression or unifying theme to these chapters, but the overall key thrust of the book is that that the nonviolent teachings of Jesus are authentic Jesus tradition and, furthermore, that this should be used as a criterion of authenticity in historical Jesus studies. Joseph says that “if Jesus was consistently nonviolent, then violent Jesus traditions would have little to no claim to being authentic. Jesus’ nonviolence would thus provide us with a key to authenticating Jesus traditions.” And the author does see Jesus as being consistently nonviolent, saying that Jesus “did not advocate a militant, revolutionary, let alone violent response to Roman rule.”

The first chapter contains a good summary of why I still adhere to the Two-document hypothesis (2DH) and (its corollary) Q. While I know Goodacre has revitalized the main alternative to this hypothesis, which Joseph labels as the FGGH (Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre hypothesis), I personally think the 2DH does a better job at explaining the data than the FGGH and, let’s face it, the 2DH is undoubtedly still the prevailing solution to the Synoptic Problem in the academy. On the subject of Q, Joseph says:

The FGGH does not easily, let alone compellingly, explain Luke’s redactional activity, or the distinctive and coherent themes found in Q., including its identification of Jesus as “the One Who Is To Come,” its Deuteronomistic theology, prominent interest in Wisdom, repeated use of the rejected prophets motif, and its notable non-use of the term Christos. … much of Q, especially its instructional material, is arguable coherent, authoritative, dominical, canonical, and authentic Jesus tradition. There is, in other words, and for our present purposes, no “dispensing” with “Q.”

In the rest of the chapters, Joseph deals with a multitude of related issues such as the violence in the Hebrew Bible (and the New Testament), the term “messiah”, Jesus’ eschatological teachings, influences from 1 Enoch (the Book of Parables and the Animal Apocalypse) and the Adamic framework of the Messiah in this Enochic literature, and other interesting features.

One interesting conclusion of Joseph’s is that while Jesus consistently taught nonviolence, it was the Q community who later added a violent eschatology to Jesus’ repertoire. However, while I can be persuaded of the usefulness of a criterion of nonviolence in historical Jesus studies, it has a noticeable pitfall in that you can not press it too far. Why? Because if a nonviolent Jesus is the starting point and I then deem a Jesus tradition to be incongruous with that, it may only be incongruous in my mind. For instance, one of the chapters in this book discussed the eschatological teachings of Jesus in relation to his nonviolence and it seems to almost assume that these stand in stark contradiction to one another. Yet it is entirely plausible, in my mind at least, that Jesus’ accent on nonviolence and the violent eschatological aspect of his teachings did not appear contradictory to him. Perhaps Jesus thought, as one could argue the author Revelation did, that violence is the prerogative of Yahweh and thus is acceptable if it comes from the hand of God (or, in this case, the eschatological Son of Man imbued with Yahweh’s authority).

All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. It has a goldmine of information buried inside the copious footnotes and comes with a very extensive bibliography. Each of the chapters were very interesting and I hope this book gets the reception that it deserves. It provides a great jumping point for discussion of violence in the Judaeo-Christian biblical tradition and persuasively argues that nonviolence was a distinctive part of Jesus’ teachings.

Quick Book Review: Paul in the Grip of the Philosophers

paulgripofphilosophersTitle: Paul in the Grip of the Philosophers: The Apostle and Contemporary Continental Philosophy

Editor: Peter Frick

Bibliographic info: 192 pp.

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Fortress Press for the review copy.

This collection of studies shows how Continental philosophers (e.g. Kant, Mendelssohn, Spinoza, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Fichte, Heidegger, Žižek, Derrida, Vattimo) have made of the apostle Paul, with the intent of helping the reader of the apostle Paul find their orientation in the discussion on him vis-à-vis Continental philosophy.

For those not entirely sure what is denoted by “Continental philosophy” I wrote out a brief explanation of it here.

The introduction lays out the gist of how Continental philosophers have employed Paul:

[Continental philosophers] use Paul as if his thought is a quarry from which they can pick up a few useful stones for their own ideological buildings. … Continental philosophy uses the voice of Paul, but does not always give him his own voice. Continental philosophy changes the voice of Paul to say things that Paul may not have been willing to say.

The chapters and their respective authors are as follows:

  1. Neitzche: The Archetype of Pauline Deconstruction (Peter Frick)
  2. Heidegger and the Apostle Paul (Benjamin Crowe)
  3. Paul of the Gaps: Agamben, Benjamin and the Puppet Player (Roland Boer)
  4. Jacob Taubes–Paulinist, Messianist (Larry Welborn)
  5. Circumcising the Word: Derrida as a Reader of Paul (Hans Ruin)
  6. Gianni Vattimo and Saint Paul: Ontological Weakening, Kenosis, and Secularity (Anthony Sciglitano Jr.)
  7. Baidou’s Paul: Founder of Universalism and Theoretician of the Militant (Frederiek Depoortere)
  8. Agamben’s Paul: Thinker of the Messianic (Alan Gignac)
  9. Mad with the Love of Undead Life: Understanding Paul and Žižek (Ward Blanton)
  10. The Philosophers’ Paul and the Churches (Neil Elliott)

I will not go into a detailed looked at each chapter, though I will say that I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Neitzche, Heidegger, and Baidou. In fact, all of Continental philosophers could be said to follow a trajectory or tradition that has Nietzsche as a key forebear. Frick shows how a key dilemma for Nietzsche in regards to Paul was his understanding of sin. Frick takes up the taske of looking at the “Nietzschean antagonism” against Paul’s dialectic of sin vis-à-vis its exegetical, theological and philosophical nuances.

This is definitely an interesting approach to the apostle Paul. If your into Pauline studies, then I would recommend you read this and expand your understanding of how Paul has been appropriated by various thinkers.

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