Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 1

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon.[1]2014. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (Goto Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My kids have a hard time understanding first that today’s culture differs dramatically from the postwar culture that I knew growing up and that people actually enjoyed life back then. Life mostly revolved around family and church. Almost no one had psychological problems, although we all knew about battle fatigue, alcoholism, and suicide. Virtually everyone wanted the American dream and expected to participate in it. What we did not know what how fragile the economic assumptions were that allowed the American Dream to be a reality.

Introduction

In their book, Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (H&W) date the end of Christendom to 1963 when the blue laws in Greenville, South Carolina changed to allow the Fox Theater to open on Sunday (15). H&W have no interest in bemoaning or explaining the passing of Christendom and the American Dream, but rather focus on articulating what it means for the Christian church to delink itself from the cultural assimilation that began with Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in AD 313 (17).

The Task of the Church

In other words, while I might bemoan the task of supporting and raising kids in a period of downward mobility when neither the church nor the schools have my back, H&W focus on the how the church can articulate more fully its biblical mandate in a postmodern context. Unlike the modern church, which strived to explain the Bible to modern people in modern terms, they write:

“In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity [in support of Christendom], but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people.”(21)

Our task in the church is not to transform the Gospel for the world, but first to transform ourselves by being faithful to the Gospel (22). It is the world, not the Gospel, that is being transformed.

The Challenge

The need to abandon Christendom could not be greater, as H&W write:

“If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the ‘Ultimate Solution’ [a la Adolf Hitler] and Christians here [in America] to embrace the [use of the atomic] bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world [and compromise our basic Christian values].”(27)

Buying into Christendom may mean Sabbath rest on Sundays while businesses are closed, but at what cost?

The Church

H&W see the church as fundamentally a political organization that allows the Christian to interpret the world for what it is. (38). They write:

“Witness without compromise leads to worldly hostility. The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers.”(47)

Not being willing to remain silent in the face of evil is in every generation a political decision. To do so as a group project is inherently political.

Organization

H&W are on the faculty of Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Lawand

Willimon is a Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry. They write in seven chapters:

  1. “The Modern World: On Learning to Ask the Right Questions
  2. Christian Politics in the New World
  3. Salvation as Adventure
  4. Life in the Colony: The Church as Basis for Christian Ethics
  5. Ordinary People: Christian Ethics
  6. Parish Ministry as Adventure: Learning to Enjoy Truth Telling
  7. Power and Truth: Virtues that Make Ministry Possible”(ix-x)

These chapters are proceeded by a foreword and Preface, and followed by an Afterword and index.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I have outlined a few key points and summarized the book. In part two, I will endeavor to engage their arguments in more depth.

In Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon outline an approach to a post-Constantine church from perspective of the church and Christian ethics. The text is engaging and is often cited as a follow up to John Howard Joder’s The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), which they frequently cite.

Footnotes

[1]https://divinity.duke.edu/faculty/directory. @Stanleymemelord

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Introducing a Sophisticated Jesus

Review of Geisler
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran.  2009.  The Apologetics of Jesus:  A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters. Grand Rapids:  Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the cherished myths of the modern era is that modern people are not only more sophisticated technologically than ancient people, they are also morally superior.  This idea is widely believed, but seldom seriously evaluated.  Moral progress is held to be obvious, in part, because of the abolition of slavery and the extension of new rights to other disadvantaged groups. The nexus of this belief is that freedom of the individual, a God-given right according to the U.S. Constitution, makes choices available through the advancement of science and consequent greater wealth.  But what if ancient people were actually more sophisticated than moderns, just lacked the technology?

Introduction

In their book, The Apologetics of Jesus, Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran paint an extremely sophisticated picture of Jesus, as articulated in the Gospel of John.  Geisler and Zukeran note, for example, that the Bible pictures God as a god willing to reason with us. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD (Isaiah 1:18 ESV).  After all, apologetics mean to offer a defense (11).  If we are created in the image of a reasonable God, then perhaps the Son of God would also be someone able to turn an argument.  The Apostle Peter admonishes us:  in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). Humility requires a God willing to argue a case, not force one.

Organization

In fact, Jesus tailored his arguments to his audience (185).  Geisler and Zukeran make this point in laying out chapters devoted to 8 apologetic methods, including:

  1. Use of Testimony,
  2. Use of Miracles,
  3. Use of the Resurrection,
  4. Use of Reason,
  5. Use of Parables,
  6. Use of Discourse,
  7. Use of Prophecy, and
  8. Use of Arguments for God (7).

Four additional chapters place these arguments in context:

  1. Jesus’ Allege Anti-Apologetic Passages,
  2. Jesus’ Life as an Apologetic,
  3. Jesus and the Role of the Holy Spirit in Apologetics, and
  4. Jesus’ Apologetic Method (7).

These 12 chapters are preceded by a brief introduction and followed only by a series of chapter notes.

Parabolic Apologetic

Especially interesting is Geisler and Zukeran’s discussion of what they refer to as parabolic apologetics—using a story to convey a truth (197). Characteristics of this method include:

  1. Use of the story form,
  2. It teaches through an indirect approach—the audience affirms the point before realizing they themselves are in focus,
  3. The logic is a fortiori—a truth from everyday life applies also to spiritual matters,
  4. The parable uses self-discovery to give the audience a sense of ownership of the message,
  5. The parable is sensitive to those caught in sin (188-89).

I would enjoy teaching this book to an adult group to develop a greater command of its contents. Having said this, I have a suggestion. Instead of focusing on the apologetic techniques, it might be more effective to start by classifying audiences (types of atheists or personalities or age or economic groups) and work back to the techniques that Jesus used to address them. Although I have not seen this done in the apologetics literature, an audience-focused approach might prove easier to apply in evangelism.

Assessment

The myth of moral superiority of moderns over ancients clearly cannot be resolved in a brief review.  It is a subject, however, worthy of further inquiry. If in the fullness of time God chose the ancient world to pay a visit, perhaps, he did so not because the ancient world was more needy, but perhaps because the ancient world possessed emotional and relational intelligence which allowed it to follow the conversation better than subsequent periods like our own [1]. Geisler and Zukeran’s contribution to this discussion is to suggest that Jesus is not the country bumpkin that some critics have inferred.

Footnotes

[1] For example, the ancient world practiced many things that we find intolerable, but the ancient world did not possess nuclear and chemical weapons or use them the way that we do.  If you wanted to murder someone, you had to make a moral decision and get your hands dirty.  Greater efficiency in hiding a crime does not relieve one of responsibility but it may limit its public discussion.

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Beamer Remembers 9-11

Beamer remembers 9-11Lisa Beamer with Ken Abraham. 2002. “Let’s Roll! Ordinary People Extraordinary Courage.” Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Some days cast a shadow.

For anyone worked close to the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001, the story of Flight 93 is personal. How close to an airliner crash site is safe? Who says that a terrorist will even hit their target? After my mom called me on that Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. to talk about the Twin Towers, I sheltered in place in my office at the foot of Capitol Hill until they turned the lights out around 2 p.m. and I left for home. At that point, I drove through the ghost town that Washington had become, over the Fourteenth Street Bridge into Virginia, and past the Pentagon, which was still burning. The only cars on the road were police vehicles.

Introduction

Lisa Beamer’s book, Let’s Roll,is a Christian memoir written by the wife of Todd Beamer, a passenger on Flight 93 which was hijacked by terrorists with the intent of crashing the plane into the U.S. Capitol building. The back cover reads:

“[Lisa] offers a poignant glimpses of a genuine American hero—his growing-up years and their marriage and last week together. She talks candidly about the devastating day her children learned their daddy had died, the birth of her third child, and how she’s found the codependence to go on in the face of such tragedy and loss.”

Prior to 9-11, planes were hijacked now and then, but only to divert the plane to another destination. This implied that the best strategy for passengers to survive on a hijacked was to relax and enjoy the flight. The idea that a jet liner might be used as a suicide bomb was unheard of, unimaginable.

The Choice

Four planes were hijacked on 9-11, each by a team of terrorists. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City and another crashed into the Pentagon Building in Northern Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington DC. The loss of life was staggering.

The fourth plane, United Flight 93 out of Newark, New Jersey bound for San Francisco, was late in being diverted. Because of this delay, passengers on the flight learned over their cell phones about the fate of the other three flights while they were still over Pennsylvania. Consequently, they realized that they had a choice: do nothing and surely die or fight to regain control of their plane and possibly live. Todd Beamer was one of the passengers who decided to fight.

Going Out on Faith

As the hijacking unfolded, Todd called United Airlines to report the takeover and spoke with Lisa Jefferson who asked him for a few details. Sitting next to a flight attendant, Todd reported:

“[there are] 27 passengers in coach, 10 in first class, five flight attendants, and no children that he could see. ‘He told me that three people had taken over the place,’ said Lisa, ‘two armed with knives and one with a bomb strapped around his waist with a red belt. The two with knives had locked themselves in the cockpit.”(200)

Lisa spoke with Todd for about 15 minutes. As the hijackers realized something was up, they began rocking the place back and forth to throw off their pursuers. Todd told her:

“’We’re going to do something…I don’t think that we are going to get out of this thing.’ Todd said, ‘I’m going to have to go out on faith.’ He told me that they were talking about jumping the guy with the bomb.”(211)

At around 10 a.m., Lisa overhead Todd talking with someone else. He said: “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll!”(214) The plane was 15 to 20 minutes away from Washington. The cockpit recorder records dishes crashing and screaming. The terrorist piloting put the plane into a dive. Then, impact.

Assessment

I read this book in a single setting. Because I go into tears just thinking about these events, writing a review posed a challenge. Nevertheless, if you want to read about Todd Beamer’s life and the events of 9-11, Lisa Beamer’s Let’s Roll is a page-turner.

Beamer Remembers 9-11

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Gehrz and Pattie Illumine the Pietist Tradition

Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie II, The Pietist OptionChristopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III. 2017. The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those of us who spent our youth in rural America, today’s landscape looks fundamentally different. International trade, inspired by the demise of the Bretton-Woods system, undermined local economies previously based on agriculture, manufacturing, and mining and left them without a solid economic base. The interstate highway system, television, Wal-Mart, and the internet all conspired to drive out what remained of local cultures. In postmodernism local churches and their denominations have suffered their own tsunami that has left many Christians and their pastors wondering how to respond.

Introduction

In their book, The Pietist Option, Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III (hereafter G&P) write:

“Why ‘option’? As I’ve written elsewhere, we’re talking about a kind of ietism doesn’t happen accidentally; it requires a conscious choice to respond to God’s grace. The Pietist option is to opt in to a distinctively hopeful way of coming back to Jesus growing to be more and more like him, living at peace as part of his body, and fulfilling his mission in service to others.”(9)

What is curious about their discussion is that pietism is not so much a movement or a revival as a rediscovery of the New Testament (NT) “Hebrew anthropology”,my term for the holistic view of faith that had over the years been corrupted by Greek dualism. If mind and emotions are inseparable, then we cannot respond to the Gospel with one or the other, as is so frequently assumed—a different approach is required. G&P work hard to help the reader rediscover what is essentially ancient Christianity. They call it Pietism.

What is Pietism?

G&P write:

“Some identify Pietism with shared practices (personal devotions, small group meetings, evangelism, charitable work) or share emphases (conversion, right feeling, and action prioritized over right belief, ecumenism, a greater role for the laity). There’s something to both approaches, but we want to propose something a bit different: Pietism share certain instincts.”(5)

G&P summarizes these instincts as follows.

The first instinct focuses on relationship—“We know God more through prepositions than through propositions.” In other words,“we experience life in, with, through, under and for God.” The term,“dead orthodoxy,” is more what they mean by propositions.(6)

The second instinct has to do with community—“We’re better together than apart.” (6)

The third instinct is experiential—“Christianity is both less and more than we think.” G&P expand on this saying:“Pietists who live in, with, and for the person of Jesus probably feel his presence more than they think about the idea of Christ.” (7) They differentiate Jesus the person from Christ the Messiah, believing in both but focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

The fourth instinct takes seriously the eschatological reality of God—“We always have hope for better times.” (8) If the future is in Christ, then Jesus should inform everything we do today.

Organization

Gehrz is a professor of history at Bethel University in Saint Paul; Pattie is the senior pastor at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota. They write in divided into two parts:

“Part One: Christianity in the Early Twenty-First Century

  1. What’s Wrong?
  2. Hoping for Better Times

 Part Two: Proposals for Renewal

  1. A More Extensive Listening to the Word of God
  2. The Common Priesthood for the Common Good
  3. Christianity as Life
  4. The Irenic Spirit
  5. Whole Person, Whole-Life Formation
  6. Proclaiming the Good News.”(vii)

They begin with an introduction—“Come Back to Jesus”—and end with a benediction, appendix, suggestions for group discussions, notes, and two (names and scripture) indices. Through their book, the names Spener and Francke come up repeatedly (see references below).

Assessment

Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III’s The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity is a helpful book for anyone who has wondered about the Pietist tradition. Virtually every denomination in America has been influenced in some way by this tradition, yet that influence remains hard to pin down. G&P try their best to sort out this enigma and, taken as a whole, their short book provides ample light.

References

Spener, Philip Jacob. 1964. Pia Desideria(Orig. Pub. 1675). Ed. and Trans. By Theodore G. Tappert. Philadelphia:  Fortress.

Sattler, Gary R. 1982. God’s Glory, Neighbor’s Good: A Brief Introduction to the Life and Writings of August Hermann Francke. Chicago: Covenant Press.

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Yoder: Apolitical Jesus Unbiblical, Part 2

John Yoder, The Politics of JesusJohn Howard Yoder. 1994. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a young person I expressed my Christian faith most publicly when I registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. This stance surprised my family and many close friends, but I firmly believed that as a Christian I could take no other position on such an unrighteous war, in spite of my prior ambition to become a career military officer. Because of the military draft, every young man my age had to make up his own mind about the war. To my eighteen-year old mind, Jesus provided obvious political leadership that many others apparently missed or ignored. To me, it is ironic that John Yoder wrote the first edition of The Politics of Jesusat roughly the same time (1972) and in view of the same set of circumstances.

I surveyed Yoder’s arguments in part one of this review. Here in part two I turn to examine his core arguments in greater depth.

Jesus and a Social Ethic

Yoder asks: “Is there a social ethic” [in Jesus’ ministry]? (11) He goes on to observe:

“Jesus did not one to teach a way of life; most of his guidance was not original. His role is that of Savior and for us to need a Savior presupposes that we do not live according to his stated ideals.”(18)

For most of us who thought that “what would Jesus do?”(WWJD) is a serious template for life, Yoder’s observation is provocative. If this seems hard to fathom, consider the basic premise of any social ethic—society has a right to survive (5)—seems at odds with my own stance as a conscientious objector. To view Jesus as a serious political contender, one needs to address this dilemma. Is being a savior at odds with social survival?

God will Fight For Us

One of the core arguments for Jesus being apolitical is that both Herod and Pilate over-reached their authority and were somewhat delusional in putting Jesus to death for sedition. Why would Pilate go so far as to release a known zealot[1] and send Jesus to the cross in his place? Was Jesus a real political threat? (49)

Yoder offers two arguments for why Jesus posed a political threat to Herod and Pilate. The first argument that first century Jews believed that God would fight on their behalf, as he did in the Exodus experience (Exod 14:13; 77) and on many occasions recorded in the Books of Joshua and Judges. Unlike today when people downplay the existence and work of God in human events, Jews and gentiles like looked for and feared divine intervention. Jesus’ miracles provided interim proof of this exact sort of intervention and his claims to be a messiah (e.g. Matt 26:64) would have taken seriously.

Jesus as Advocate for Year of Jubilee

In his second argument, Yoder argues that the Gospels as a whole support the idea that Jesus advocated a year of Jubilee (Lev 25), quite likely 26 AD. This implied:

“The jubilee year or the sabbath year included four prescriptions: 1. Leaving the soil fallow; 2. The remission of debts; 3. The liberation of slaves, 4. The return of each individual of his family’s property.”(60)

In my mind, the prominence of Isaiah 61 in Jesus’ call sermon (Luke 4) and the Beatitudes (Matt 5) makes it most likely that Jesus advocated jubilee:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;” (Isa 61:1-2 ESV)

Here the phrase, the year of the Lord’s favor, is a reference to the year of jubilee.

Can you image the stir that debt forgiveness would have if advocated by a politician today? Think student loans and mortgages. The advocated would not need to advocate violence in order to be considered both an enemy of every lender and be taken very seriously by debtors. The fact that the Lord’s Prayer includes—”forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”—is not just another turn of phrase in Yoder’s eyes, but a firm reminder of Jesus’ radical theology.

What Kind of Role Model was Jesus?

Yoder goes about this task of “stating it” that proves difficult because as an academic writer he must chase down many misconceptions about Jesus’ ethics. Chief among these is the church’s traditional focus on the spiritual content of the New Testament (NT) and a de-emphasis on political elements. So Yoder asks whether NT authors, principally Luke, Paul, and the author of Revelation, understood and embraced the thrust of Jesus’ social ethic. What of Jesus’ legacy did NT authors treat as exemplary?

Yoder sees the thread running through the NT being the tension between effectiveness and obedience (233). NT authors do not see Jesus’ teaching and modeling of social behavior—hanging out with sinners—as being exemplary (unlike later Franciscans). Rather, Jesus is our role model primarily in being obedient unto death. Forgiveness, enemy love, humility, patience, charity, and servanthood all leave room for God to act decisively in our lives—a kind of mini exodus event. Yoder writes:

“We are left with no choice but to affirm that the General Epistles in which the popular thought pattern of the earliest church has undergone least reflective analysis, and the liturgical elements embedded in apostolic writings which testify to the coming age, are restatements in another key of the same kind of attitude toward history that we found first in the more organized writings of the Gospels and of Paul. A social style characterized by the creation of a new community and the rejections of violence of any kind.” (242)

Obedience does not preclude effectiveness (a cause and effect phenomena), but the priority is clearly on obedience.

Assessment

John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus is an intensely interesting read for an academic work. Social activists in the church will likely find this book required reading, but even evangelicals will want to be aware of the arguments being put forth.

Footnotes

[1] Zealot is the wrong term for Barabbas, as Yoder explains. The term only came into use after Menachem’s uprising in 66AD (56).

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Yoder: Apolitical Jesus Unbiblical, Part 1

John Yoder, The Politics of JesusJohn Howard Yoder. 1994. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The myth of an apolitical Jesus is alive and well for several reasons, starting with the observation that political candidates have traditionally chided at being labeled anti-Christian. Jesus’ own admonishments to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) and to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”(Matt 22:21 ESV) also give credence to this view. In spite of the widespread acceptance of this apolitical interpretation of Jesus’ ministry, it is hard to point to anyone who has seriously studied first century politics in Israel. Consequently, when I ran across a reference to John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, I quickly ordered a copy.

Introduction

Yoder starts with a provocative claim:

“that Jesus is, according to the biblical witness, a model of radical political action’ which is ‘now generally visible throughout the New Testament [NT] studies, even though he biblical scholars have not stated it in such a way that the ethicists have had to notice it. This ‘stating it’ is all the present study tried to do”(2).

Yoder goes about this task of “stating it”that proves difficult because as an academic writer he must chase down many misconceptions about Jesus’ ethics. Chief among these is the church’s traditional focus on the spiritual content of the NT and a de-emphasis on political elements. So Yoder asks whether NT authors, principally Luke, Paul, and the author of Revelation, understood and embraced the thrust of Jesus’ social ethic.

Yoder sees his own task having two distinct parts. He writes:

  1. “I will attempt to sketch an understanding of Jesus and his ministry of which it might be said that such as would be of direct significance for social ethics…
  2. I will secondly state the case for considering Jesus, when thus understood, to be not only relevant but also normative for a contemporary Christian social ethic.”(11)

In other words, Yoder sets out to understand what Jesus said and did focusing on his social ethic (author interpretation) in the context of scripture (canonical interpretation) and, then, to apply it in our postmodern environment (reader interpretation).

Background and Structure

John Yoder (1927-1997) was a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (Catholic) who wrote from an anabaptist perspective and has written a number of other books. He writes in twelve chapters:

  1.  “The Possibility of a Messianic Ethic
  2. The Kingdom Coming
  3. The Implications of the Jubilee
  4. God Will Fight for Us
  5. The Possibility of Nonviolent Resistance
  6. Trial Balance
  7. The Disciple of Christ and the Way of Jesus
  8. Christ and Power
  9. Revolutionary Subordination
  10. Let Every Soul Be Subject: Romans 13 and the Authority of the State
  11. Justification by Grace through Faith
  12. The War of the Lamb”(v-vi)

These chapters are preceded by prefaces to the first and second editions, and a list of abbreviations and followed by indices of the names and scriptural references.

“In 1992 media reports emerged that Yoder had sexually abused women in preceding decades, with as many as over 50 complainants. The Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary acknowledged in a statement from 2014 that sexual abuse had taken place.”[1]

What Does Political Mean for Jesus?

In making the case that Jesus is a political animal, not just another rabbi, Yoder looks closely at Jesus’ introduction in the Gospel of Luke. Luke is an interesting choice here, because Luke is a gentile writer and presumably writes for a gentile audience. Yoder looks particularly at Mary’s Magnificat (1:51-53), Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (4:1-13), and Jesus’ call sermon in Nazareth (4:16-30). Yoder goes further, but I will limit myself to these three passages.

Magnificat or Call to Arms?

Yoder draws attention to these verses in Mary’s Magnificat:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53 ESV)

How would a Roman audience hear these words? Consider the words—strength, scattered, brought down, sent away—these words suggest power today, not in the by and by. Yoder observes that in citing these words Mary sounds like a Maccabean—a Jewish revolutionary movement active from 167-160 BC,[2] not someone auditioning to front a praise band.

 Satan’s Temptations of Jesus.

Satan tries Jesus with three temptations—turn stones into bread, worship me, throw yourself off the temple. The first temptation suggests economic power; the second would make Jesus a king, albeit a vassal king under Satan; and the third would make him an instant celebrity, a kind of first century Evel Knievel—a stunt artist. In his book on these temptations, Henri Nouwen (2002) describes them as challenges typically faced by Christian leaders. Leadership is, of course, inherently political.

.Jesus’ Call Sermon in Nazareth.

In his sermon, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-3, which is a messianic passage. Yoder highlights these verses:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Luke 4:18-19 ESV)

We normally focus on proclaiming the Good News and the recovery of sight of the blind, but setting captives free sounds like the storming of the Bastille, which set off the French Revolution. Yoder focuses on proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, which would remind a Jewish audience of:

“That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.” (Lev. 25:11 ESV)

The Jubilee year is the occasion when all lands are returned to their original owners, irrespective of unpaid debts. Can you imagine that all the owners foreclosed on during the Great Recession suddenly being given their homes back? Or all unpaid student loans being forgiven?

Yoder makes the case that Jesus is reminding the Jews of their obligation to practice the Jubilee, which would immediately make him the target of every lender in Israel, but also account for his instant popularity among the people—a highly political act.

Assessment

In part one of this review I have given an overview of Yoder’s arguments. In part two I will look at his core argument.

John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus is an intensely interesting read for an academic work. Social activists in the church will likely find this book required reading, but even evangelicals will want to be aware of the arguments being put forth.

 References

Nouwen, Henri J.M.  2002. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Howard_Yoder.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccabean_Revolt.

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Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

James Plueddemann, Leadership Across Cultures
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The top book reviews on T2Pneuma.net have been familiar over a long period of time. James E. Plueddemann’s  Leading Across Cultures has been the leader since it  posted in 2014.

T2Pneuma. net first appeared online in September 2013.

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Title Views Date Topic
Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture 80

 

3/31/2014

 

Missions
Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection. 67

 

7/19/2016

 

Interpretation
Nouwen Describes Leadership Challenges  64

 

10/3/2017

 

Leadership
Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 53

 

5/3/2016

 

Spirituality
Benner Cares Spiritually Through Dialogue—Part 1 33

 

8/17/2015

 

Spirituality
Gilbert Simplifies Family Systems Theory 29

 

3/18/2015

 

Counseling
Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1 27

 

6/22/2015

 

Interpretation
Nouwen: Be Mastered by the Holy Spirit. 27

 

3/24/2014

 

Faith
Murrow Invites Churches to be Man-friendly 25

 

4/29/2015

 

Mens issues
Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 3 21

 

4/20/2015

 

Interpretation

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

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Hunter: Celtic History Defines Missions

George Hunter: The Celtic Way of Evangelism George G. Hunter III. 2000. How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Anthropology intersects theology in ways that can be unfamiliar and fascinating. Take the concept of the soul, which loosely translates into the modern concept of identity. Your soul consists of body, mind, and spirit, but it also includes those you are in relationship with—including God. Yet, you may find yourself in relationship with people that you have never met, like unfamiliar family members and people that inspire you. For me, Saint Patrick falls into this latter category.

Introduction

George Hunter’s book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, begins with a startling premise:

“Most Western Church leaders would never guess that ancient Celtic Christianity could show the way today [to evangelize postmodern (‘neo-barbarian’) people] for two reasons. First, they assume that no expression of ancient Christianity could be relevant to the challenges we now face. Second, they assume that the only useful stream of insight is, by definition, confined to Roman Christianity and its Reformation offshoots.”(10)

When I first read this statement about Celtic Christianity, I was dismissive—having Irish blood in me, I am not accustomed to hearing much of anything positive about Ireland, its language (Gaelic), or its history. Hunter changed my mind about all of this.

The Story of Saint Patrick

I knew, however, that Saint Patrick (Fifth century AD) was the first successful evangelist in Ireland—before Patrick, the Irish were believed to be unreachable barbarians. His success was not anticipated because Patrick, as a teenager sixteen-year old, was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. For the next six years he worked as a slave caring for his master’s cattle in the Irish wilderness. Later, he escaped and traveled abroad to study to become a priest. Much later, he returned to Ireland as the church’s first missionary bishop and evangelized the Irish out of love for them. His love of the Irish was obvious and his evangelism focused on offering hospitality. In the end, Patrick and his companions planted more than seven hundred churches in Ireland (Hunter 2000, 13-23).

Celtic Versus Roman Evangelism

Saint Patrick approached evangelism in Ireland differently than the typical “Roman”approach. Hunter writes:

“Bluntly stated, the Roman model for reaching people (who are ’civilized’ enough) is: (1) Present the Christian message; (2) Invite them to decide in Christ and become Christians; and (3) If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship. The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American evangelicals are scripted by it!…

[by contrast the] Celtic model for reaching people: [is] (1) You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith. (2) Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship. (3) In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit.”(53)

The first church that I interned in employed the Roman model and the second employed the Celtic model, where ironically Spanish, not Gaelic, was the primary language spoken.

Contextualization

In the second church where I interned, the attitude towards church differed fundamentally from the first church. The first church was a steeple church built in the 1950s who had trouble adapting to the changing culture of the community around it, which was increasingly Hispanic and Korean. As the Angelo congregation grew older, the church experienced a financial crisis with the death of each member, but the form of worship and the ethnic makeup of the congregation did not change and new members primarily entered the church on their own volition. The second church met in a business park, added a Hispanic service, and frequently met off-campus in the community, growing primarily through addition of members who became acquainted with the congregation through its community outreach.

In discussing indigenization or contextualization, Hunter observes that “The Christian faith never exists except as ‘translated’ into a culture.”(77) This translation is often a literal translation into the local dialect, but it also entails understanding the cultural experience of God. In the Irish case, this meant that priests needed to cut their hair differently, to emphasize the immanence of Christ more than God’s transcendence, to build churches out of wood rather than stone, and to grow closer to nature, which recognized the Irish proclivity to experience God’s creation.

In Briton, earlier efforts to offer a Roman version of Christianity quickly went apostate once Roman domination was removed, in part, because it did not resonate with local culture (79). Hunter defines culture “as the learned pattern of beliefs, attitudes, values, customs, and products shared by a people.”(100) Defined as such, it is easy to see why the attitude of millennials towards church differs fundamentally from boomers—they differ culturally from their parents in substantive ways.

Outline

Hunter writes in seven chapters preceded by a preface and followed by notes, bibliography, and an index. The chapters are:

  1. “The Gospel to the Irish
  2. A New Kind of Community, A New Kind of Life
  3. To the Picts, the Anglo-Saxons and Other ‘Barbarians’
  4. The Celtic Christian Community in Formation and Mission
  5. How Celtic Christianity Communicated the Gospel
  6. The Missionary Perspective of Celtic Community
  7. The ‘Celtic’ Future of the Christian Movement in the West”(v)

From this listing it is obvious that Hunter covers more ground than can be summarized in a short review.

Assessment

George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism, which I read in seminary and again for this review, touched me deeply when I first read it because of my Irish roots and ignorance of them. As a seminarian, I quickly realized that the institutional church that I was part of mostly followed the Roman style of evangelism and Roman attitude towards those outside the church. While I coveted working in the Roman system, it never quite fit my call to ministry. As such, reading Hunter’s book introduced me to the ministry that I had done ever since. Thus, for me, this was an important, life-changing book.

Hunter: Celtic History Defines Missions

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Schmemann: Life is Sacramental

Review of Alexander Schmemann's For the :Life of the WorldAlexander Schmemann. 1973. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy.Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What makes the majesty of God real to you?

In a mechanistic, materialist culture, such as ours, how do you look past the physical world on Sundays to worship an immanent and transcendent God? Presumably, the causality works in reverse, but our true feelings are frequently revealed by our tepid response to calls for money, time, and effort. For postmodern people, the majesty of God is often illusive.

Introduction

In his book,For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann writes:

“…the very purpose of this essay is to answer, if possible, the question: of what life do we speak, what life do we preach, proclaim, and announce when, as Christians, we confess that Christ died for the life of the world? What life is both motivation, and the beginning and the goal of Christian mission?”(11-12)

Schmemann sees Christians falling into two camps, those that focus on the spiritual life and theose that try to make life better through social justice (12-13). This is, however, is a false dichotomy. Schmenmann remarks—“Man is a hungry being. But he is also hungry for God.” (14)—and he sees his mission as:

“…to remind its readers that in Christ life—life in all its totality—was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist.” (20)

In the sacraments, both aspects of our hunger come together and become inseparable.

Outline

Schmemann writes in seven chapters preceded by a preface and followed by two more chapters occupying an appendix. The chapters are:

  1. “The Life of the World
  2. The Eucharist
  3. The Time of Mission
  4. Of Water and the Spirit
  5. The Mystery of Love
  6. Trampling Down Death by Death
  7. And Ye are Witnesses of these Things

Appendix

  1. Worship in a Secular Age
  2. Sacrament and Symbol”(v)

Schmemann was a former dean and professor of liturgical theology at St. Vladmir’s Orthodox University in Crestwood, New York.[1]

Secularism as Tepid Faith

An important motif in his writing is the influence of secularism, which he views as a Christian heresy that has forgotten its roots and refuses to worship God. (7, 118) His emphasis on worship in defining secularism is interesting because the problem is not unbelief, but failing or refusing to recognize God’s majesty, a kind of tepid faith.

Schmemann’s attitude about faith is strikingly similar to that of James, who writes: Even the demons believe– and shudder!” (Jas 2:19 ESV) Or maybe the Apostle John when he writes about the Church at Laudicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!”(Rev. 3:15) Schmemann’s definition of secularism comes close to the definition of a nominal or cultural Christian. Still, Schmemann sees secularism as a religion having its own faith, eschatology, and ethics—the erosion of a sense of transcendence among Christians suggests that secularism also practices evangelism (99).

The Eucharist

Schmemann sees the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, as a communal journey to join with Christ in heaven (28). He writes:

“When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.”(37)

Sign and sacrament are inseparable in this journey because he defines a sacrament as a “visible means of the invisible grace.”(135) Schmemann’s discussion of the Eucharist is his longest chapter and it spills over into his appendix.

Baptism

Schmemann reminds us that baptism in the early church followed preparation that could continue for as long as three years, similar to today’s seminary studies. In the Orthodox tradition, the baptism service had three parts: “the exorcisms, the renunciation of Satan, and the confession of faith.”(69) While exorcism is no longer a part of most baptisms, renunciation of evil as an abstract concept and confession of faith is still part of most adult baptism services. (Theology and Worship Ministry Unit 1993, 406-409)

Schmemann continues:

“The exorcisms mean this: to face evil, to acknowledge its reality, to know its power, and to proclaim the power of God to destroy it.”(70-71)

While many postmodern American flitch at the idea of evil as something other than the absence of good, Schmemann was born in 1921 and experienced the horrors of World War II first hand in his native Estonia.

Assessment

I first read Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World as I took a worship class during seminary and gladly re-read it to prepare this review, in part, because I enjoyed his treatment of liturgy. This is a book written for seminarians, worship leaders, and pastors who may find it challenging to read. Nevertheless, it is worth the time and effort.

Reference

Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. 1993. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Footnote

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Schmemann.

Schmemann: Life is Sacramental

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Hart Argues History to Inform the Present

Review of Davide Bentley Hart's Atheist DelusionsDavid Bentley Hart. 2009. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The old saw goes: you cannot argue someone out of a position that they were not argued into. Apologetics is accordingly most useful in convincing oneself of the reasonableness of views that you already loosely hold. For critics who engage primarily in slander, correcting the veracity of arguments propping up such slander does not normally lead to retraction of the slander so much as the advancement of new arguments of similar veracity, particularly when political or financial incentives motivate the slander. Even weakly argued slander can imperil loosely held faith so the apologist is bound to remain fully employed.

Introduction

David Bentley Hart opens his book, Atheist Delusions, with these words:

“What I have written is at most a ‘historical essay,’ at no point free of bias, and intended principally as an apologia for a particular understanding of the effect of Christianity upon the development of Western civilization.”(ix)

Hart’s concern about bias is interesting because quickly proceeds to outline his decision criteria for establishing historical truth:

“It may be impossible to provide perfectly irrefutable evidence for one’s conclusions, but it is certainly possible to amass evidence sufficient to confirm them beyond plausible doubt.”(ix)

Again, this is interesting because Hart begins playing by postmodern rules of argumentation—a modern writer might appeal to objective truth (or rationality) at this point, which would invite derision from postmodern critics.

Central Argument

As an historian, Hart focuses on using the past as a vehicle for understanding the present, writing:

“This book chiefly—or at least centrally—concerns the history of the early church, of roughly the first four or five centuries, and the story of how Christendom was born out of the culture of last antiquity. My chief ambition in writing it is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome.; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred up on the human person…”(x-xi)

What struck me in the middle of this lengthy essay was how much paganism of these first centuries of the church resembled the anxiety that we see every day in postmodern culture.

The Mythology of Modernism

Through the lens of historical observation, Hart furthermore chips away at the mythology surrounding the modern period. He writes:

“…what many of us are still in the habit of calling the ‘Age of Reason’ was in many significant ways the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value; that the modern age is notable in large measure for the triumph of inflexible dogmatism in every sphere of human endeavor (including the sciences) and for a flight from rationality to any number of soothing fundamentalisms, religious and secular; that the Enlightenment ideology of modernity as such does not even deserve any particular credit for the advance of modern science; that the modern secular state’s capacity for barbarism exceeds any of the evils for which Christendom might justly be indicted, not solely by virtue of the superior technology, but by its very nature…”(xi-xii)

Hart’s comment about barbarism is particularly interesting because today’s culture is quick to forget about the millions killed by the National Socialists and by various Marxian governments in our time yet obsesses about the thousands killed during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition hundreds of years ago, where the historical veracity of various claims requires close scrutiny that is almost never offered.

Faith in Choice

An important critique that Hart examines at length is the postmodern obsession with personal freedom. He writes:

“…there is no substantive criterion by which to judge our choices that stands higher than the unquestioned good of free choice itself, and that therefore all judgment, divine no less than human, is in some sense an infringement upon our freedom. This is our primal ideology. In the most unadorned terms possible, the ethos of modernity is—to be perfectly precise—nihilism.”(21)

This observation is damning in its implications for the banality of our time. Freedom defined in terms of market choice for goods and ideas leaves no philosophical room for God, the development of personal character, or even the organization of communal activities, present or future. Inherent in this focus is an assumption that individual making choices has the resources required to make them and society is eager to provide them. Focusing on choice accordingly leaves decisions about everything else up to whoever is powerful enough to enforce them. Even the choices offered today may disappear quickly as a lack of interest in the future may lead one to eat one’s own seed-corn or to trade away one’s own freedom in the rush to consume.

Outline

Hart writes his book in 17 chapters divided into four parts:

  1. Faith, Reason, and Freedom: A View from the Present
  2. The Mythology of the Secular Age: Modernity’s Rewriting of the Christian Past
  3. Revolution: The Christian Invention of the Human
  4. Reaction and Retreat: Modernity and the Eclipse of the Human(vii-viii).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by notes and an index.

Assessment

David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions is an interesting read for the historically sensitive and philosophically astute. Hart offers commentary on current cultural controversies that both enlightens and challenges one to probe deeper, if for no other reason than to understand his voluminous vocabulary.

Hart Argues History to Inform the Present

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