Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life

Douglas J. Schuurman, Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life. Eeerdmans, 2004. 190 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8028-0137-1.

Douglas J. Schuurman's Vocation: Discerning our Callings in Life has become my favorite book on Christian calling. The term calling tend to be associated with those who become pastors, ministers, staff positions in the church. Martin Luther and John Calvin brought forth the original idea that all Christians are called. These leaders thought of two types of callings. There is the general calling to follow Christ and there is the specific calling of serving God in all our callings: work, marriage, church, community, and other spheres. Schuurman thinks this idea has fallen on hard times. He seeks to recover this Reformation teaching for our day. He does not accept everything about the Reformation view of calling, but critiques its weaknesses and adds current information to make it more applicable.

The author explains his purpose: "My primary aim in this book is to develop a contemporary articulation of the classic Protestant doctrine of vocation. This doctrine and the religious impulse it reflects have had a profound influence upon the way many Christians understand and integrate faith and life, but in recent years core aspects of Protestant vocation have come under assault by our culture and by non-Christian and Christian thinkers alike" (xi). A few years ago I presented a paper on Librarianship as Christian Ministry at a national conference. During my research I read research that showed that 50%  or more religious librarians thought the concept of librarianship as a calling was not helpful or did not believe it. Many Christians think only ordained ministers have a ministry. Some of us, however, still think that the Protestant doctrine of vocation is still an important concept. It helps to provide meaning to our work.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I was having a conversation on the idea of calling. We observed that we knew of multiple people who felt a call to ministry and went to school to receive training. After training they went back to their "secular" jobs. We wondered about this. We know of many who hate their jobs. They do not like what they do. They do not see their work as connected to their calling as a Christian. The teaching of calling or vocations helps us from living fragmented lives. It gives us a purpose for living. God created the world and declared it good. We participate in His work when we love our neighbor and meet human needs.

Vocation includes seven chapters. In chapter one the author argues why he think the Protestant doctrine of vocation is still a useful concept. He notes that this teaching of vocation comes from both "the Lutheran and Reformed wings of the Protestant Reformation" (4). According to this teaching "all relational spheres--domestic, economic, political, cultural--are religiously and morally meaningful as divinely given avenues through which persons respond obediently to the call of God to serve their neighbor in love" (4).

The author provides biblical support for the doctrine of vocation in chapter two. He states there are two "primary meanings" for vocation in the Bible. The first is more general; it is the call to "become a member of the people of God and to take up the duties that pertain to that membership" (17). Second, is "God's diverse and particular callings--special tasks, offices, or places of responsibility within the covenant community and in the broader society" (17). In addition, the author states how vocation is associated with both providence and gifts. The author notes how the Apostle Paul use of calling and gift "interchangeably. . . implies ...or suggests that gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. . . are also callings" (30). He also shows how the Bible speaks of callings to secular spheres.

In chapter three the author provides a theology of vocation. He describes different religious affections that are necessary for fulfilling our vocation. These affections are dependence, gratitude, obligation, and meaning. The author notes, "God's call to devote everything we are and do to Christ and to service of God and neighbor brings unity to our lives. Paid work, home life, recreation, friendships are all particular callings in response to this one call" (66). I appreciate his emphasis that calling is not connected only to paid work. In addition, he discusses "helps" for helping us to discern and fulfill our vocation.

The author in chapter three responds to critiques on the doctrine of vocation. In the first part of the chapter he lists the proper uses of vocation. Some of these are serving the common good, promoting good, restraining evil, and shalom. He notes, "shalom is a condition of wholeness, of health and flourishing to the fullest extent" (80). In the second part of the chapter he responds to critiques of vocation. One of these is turning work into an idol. Another one is feeling an obligation to only those under our charge. A third accusation is that it emphasizes self-love. A fourth charge is that it acts as a cover for injustice. The author does a good job in responding to these charges showing both the strengths and weaknesses of the critique.

Chapters five and six cover more about career choice and long-term decisions. These are topics most people think about when they hear the topic vocation. The author provides much wisdom in these chapters. The author shows how our society in different from society in the time of the Protestant Reformation. For example, we have more freedom in choosing a career or a mate. One problem with our society is the emphasis on self-fulfillment. He also disputes the bull's eye view of calling. The idea that God has only one particular person or job for us. Another problem is the belief that to "have a calling [one] must hear God's voice and see tangible signs of God's presence" (127). The author does not believe that it is not possible for God to do this, but that in the majority of the chases He does not work this way.

Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life is an excellent book for those who want to integrate their faith in their life. I have underlined something in almost every page of this book. I think this is my third time to read it. It has been very encouraging each time I have read it. There is not much I disagree with in this book. It helped me to see that my work is a calling from God, but it is not the only calling I have. God provides us with gifts for all our callings. He also put us in places where we are to serve Him and our neighbor. If you are looking for a book to provide meaning to your work and life, you might want to give this book a try.

Other books on Calling and Vocation I have read that I would recommend are Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We should be edited by Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass; Here I am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing? by Quentin Schultze; Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor by Ben Witherington.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Darkness IS My Only Companion

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is my Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006.

The death of Robin Williams recently caused some discussion on mental illness. There are many myths that circulate about mental illness and those who suffer from it. For example, much reference was made to that popular saying, "Know Christ, Know Peace; No Christ, No Peace." I find that the implication that people who suffer from mental illness is because they do not know Christ is completely false. Even devout Christians suffer from mental illness. Another false idea is that if these people pray more and read their Bible, the problem will go away. I find these simplistic answers increases the suffering of those who struggle with mental illness. Mental illness has physical causes which these myths seem to ignore.

An alternative source that seeks to educate those who suffer from mental illness and those who love and care from them is an excellent book by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is my Only Companion. McCreight has a Ph.D from Yale University, is assistant priest at St. John's Episcopal Church and teaches at Albertus Magnus College. Not long after the birth of her second child, the author experienced severe depression that was on and off for several years. After five years, she was diagnosed as manic, and therefore, bipolar. In other words, sometimes she was manic, other times she was clinically depressed. After several years, she and her doctor "finally stumbled upon the right 'cocktail'" for her brain and she has "steadily improved." By both her experience and knowledge, the author speaks authoritatively on the subject of mental illness. She is also a trained theologian who can speak as a Christian on the topic.

McCreight states that after her diagnosis she tried to find books to answer the questions she had, but she was unsuccessful. Some of her questions were: "Does God send this suffering? If so, why? And why this particular kind of suffering? Why, if I am a Christian, can I not rejoice? What is happening to my soul?" Since she was unable to find a book which answered her questions, she decided to write one herself. This reader is glad she did. She notes: "Most of the books answered scientific questions, which were in themselves not uninteresting to me. However, I wanted a book that would ask not purely scientific questions about these illnesses and sets of symptoms but religious questions, and not just any religious questions but a specifically Christian set of questions. What is the problem of  of suffering and evil viewed from the Christian gospel? How therefore might a Christian respond in the face of mental illness? How is the soul affected by the disease of the mind, indeed of the brain? Does the Christian tradition offer resources for coping with mental illness and for explaining its origin and healing? (12). The author addresses these questions throughout the book. Even people not suffering from mental illness but experiencing trials and difficulties will benefit from this book. There are some similarities between physical and mental illness. It is hoped that sometime soon people will see that severe mental illness is a serious disease with serious consequences. It is hoped that we will try to better understand the disease and provide the support people need who struggle with this illness.

Darkness is my Only Companion is divided into three parts and thirteen chapters. In the first part (chapters 1-6) the author describes her struggle with the illness. She discusses mental illness in a general way and how it affected her personally. She includes theological reflections on the illness and her experience. In part two (chapters 7-11) McCreight explores more thoroughly the theological questions she had. She discusses how prayer and scripture assisted her struggles. The author analysis of the relationship of faith and emotions was quite helpful and interesting. In part three (chapters 12-13) the author provides helpful instruction for family, friends, and clergy. The last chapter discusses methods of choosing the right therapy and treatment.

This excellent book provided much help in this reviewer's own question. How was this author suffered from manic-depression able to work a job? What are some the major types of treatment for those who suffer from severe mental illness? Should patients take medicine? What happens when the individual must be hospitalized? Should Electroconvulsive treatment ever be done? How to prevent suicide in the patient? These and many other questions I had was addressed and answered by this book.

One important point to make is that there is no generic case of mental illness. Some individuals might not be able to work a regular job. Different individuals will experience mental illness differently. We should never judge one person based on the experience of another person. I am always worried when I write about mental illness it will cause someone to suffer more.

Darkness is My Only Companion is a reference to Psalm 88: "My friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion." The author refers to Scripture often in this book. The book clearly shows that as an Episcopalian, she has been helped by prayer, tradition, community, and written prayers. This is an excellent book to learn more about mental illness and how to support others who suffer from this illness.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is the Reformation Over?

Is the Reformation Over?: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Baker Academic, 2005. ISBN: 0-8010-2797-7.

I was not sure what the book was about by reading the title. Were they saying the issues of the Protestant Reformation no longer exist. I am not assuming that there was only one reformation by using it in the singular. I understand that there were many Reformations: Catholic, Zwinglian, Lutheran, Calvinian, AnaBaptist, British. Do the issues that that divide the Chucrh no longer exist. This made me interested in what this book might want to say.

The subtitle provides a little more information: "An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism." What does that mean? So I picked up this book not sure of what I would get. One thing I did know is one of the authors of the book. Mark Noll is well-known as an excellent and thorough scholar. He recently wrote, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. My respect for Noll grew after reading this book. I think he shows great understanding and charity in evaluating Roman Catholicism according to evangelicalism. Some evangelicals might thought he went too far in his charitable view. I know some evangelicals who have told me that Noll is too Catholic which would surprise Noll. Please forgive me for not mentioning Nystrom more, but I am unfamiliar with her work and am not sure how much this book is shared by the two authors. All the book said that she was a freelance writer.

I found it interesting that the book is dedicated to J. I. Packer. It would be difficult to doubt the evangelical credentials of Packer. He, however, has received criticism with his work in Catholic-Evangelical discussions. An interesting part of the book is some of the responses by more conservative evangelicals like R. C. Sproul.

Is the Reformation Over? is a historical work which Noll is greatly qualified to accomplish with the knowledge of his historical work in other writings. It was very surprising how relations between Protestants have changed so much since World War II and Vatican 2. It was also encouraging to see Catholics and Protestants working together instead against each other. The authors in this book basically argue that relations between Catholics and Protestants are not like they "used to be."

The authors state that "by asking if the Reformation is over, we mean to use the classic ideals of the Protestant Reformation to measure contemporary Catholic Christianity. Sola scriptura (the Bible as supreme authority), sola fide (salvation by grace alone through faith alone), and the priesthood of all believers . . . were Protestant rallying cries" (15). The authors state that this book is intended to evaluate contemporary Roman Catholicism based on this criteria. In the conclusion the authors argue that the question of the book is not an easy question to answer.

The book includes an introduction and nine chapters. Chapter one offers historical evidence that the relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants have changed. For example, they participate in mission efforts together. Chapter two looks at the conflict between the two groups in the 1950s. The authors suggest reasons why the situation has changed more recently in chapter three.

The next four chapters is meant to "inform" the readers of many of the dialogues and agreements between Protestants and Catholics since Vatican 2. Chapter four gives a history of these ecumenical dialogues. Chapter five provides a guide and commentary on the Catholic Catechism. This was a most helpful chapter. It showed the core beliefs of Catholics and how much of this can be accepted by evangelicals. The authors believe that the Catechism "is the best pace to look when seeking to understand what the Catholic Church teaches and what Catholics believe. As mentioned earlier, much is the Catechism would be supportive of the evangelical tradition. In addition, the authors show what teachings Evangelicals can accept and others they will have problem accepting.

Chapter seven informs the reader of negative reactions to the ecumenical dialogues and agreements. After describing evangelicals less informed about what Rome teaches. The authors describe leading evangelicals who should know better. For example, the authors state that after the first Evangelicals and Catholics together was signed, R. C. Sproul said, "I am convinced as were the Reformers, that justification by faith alone is essential to the gospel and that Rome clearly rejects it" (187). This is after different groups of Protestants and Catholics have agreed on the definition of justification. There were also pressure put on evangelical signers of the document. Some of these signers later removed their names from the document. Noll even notes that he was one of the signers.

An additional bonus to the book is that it included an annotated bibliography. This would be helpful for someone who wants to go deeper in the subject. In the last chapter the authors wrestle with their question, "Is the Reformation over?" Their answer is it basically depends. They answer both yes and no. In addition, they suggest that this might not be the most important question.

I loved this book. It is one of the best books I have read on Roman Catholicism from the perspective of an evangelical. I admire Mark Noll's skills even more after reading this book. This book is well-researched and the authors make extra effort in being as objective as possible. A similar book that addresses the issues of this book from a Catholic perspective is William M. Shea's The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America.   

Friday, August 8, 2014

Postmodernism 101

White, Heath. Postmodernism 101: A First Course for the Curious Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006.

White begins his book by asking the question, "Why read about postmodernism?" In answering this question he gives his motivation for writing this book. He kept hearing about postmodernism in various Christian "circles." There were Christians who wanted to understand these discussions, but did not know "what postmodernism was." Other Christians knew about it and wanted to "think more deeply" about how it could be applied to current Christian thinking. They were unable to do this without further knowledge.

White thought he could help different groups of Christians by writing this book. In Postmodernism 101 he seeks to explain what postmodernism is what issues it raises for Christianity in the twenty-first century. The author identifies himself as an evangelical Protestant in the introduction. He has written the book, however, for all types of Christians who have questions about postmodernism. White is a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He earned his doctorate at Georgetown University.

Postmodernism 101 is a quick and easy read. It is only 176 pages but it reads much shorter. The prose and presentation of ideas a are quite clear. The author uses many illustrations and examples to illustrate his points. He does a good job in explaining key ideas and people associated with postmodernism. His explanations how a certain postmodern idea affects Christianity is quite helpful. This book is meant for the reader with little or no knowledge of postmodernism. The author includes an annotated bibliography for further reading at the back of the book. This is a good first book to begin reading about postmodernism. Another good point of the book is how the author compares pre-modern, modern, and post-modern thought.

The book includes seven chapters: "Why read about postmodernism?; "Premodern and modern minds;" "The postmodern turn against reason;" "Truth, power, and morality;" the self; "language and thought;" "inquiry and interpretation;" "culture and irony;" and "history and hope.

In the chapter on premodern and modern, he narrates the transition "from authority to reason." This is characterize by resisting traditional authorities like the Church. In addition, he notes, "faith in the power of reason is the central pillar of the modern worldview" (37). It is quite ironic that it is faith in reason. In our own times, people are losing faith in reason. Like Chesterton said, it is believers who are defending reason. The next chapter describes how postmodernism makes a "turn against reason." Postmodernism believes the modern project has failed.

The chapter on "truth, power, and morality" describes the denial of absolutes by postmodernism. It is thought that absolutes give people power over other people and this power is used to abuse others. The author thinks this denial of moral absolutes is troubling. He gives reasons for the necessity of moral absolutes.

One of my favorite chapters was the one on "inquiry and interpretation." The author notes, "for postmoderns, no knowledge is fully reliable and no concepts are absolutely indispensable. The reader is probably aware of the many attacks against foundationalism and certainty. Many Christians have accepted these critiques. Another postmodern idea is that everything is a text and needs to be interpreted. The author spends much time in the chapter on how postmodernism effects the way we think about interpreting the Bible. One aspect is the postmodernism emphasis that there are multiple meanings in the text. This actually agree with the pre-modern view of multiple senses in the Bible. This is one of the longer chapters in the book.

Postmodernism 101 is written as an introductory guide to postmodernism. It is written at a level that the beginner should be able to understand the concepts explained. The annotated bibliography will be useful for the reader who wants to go deeper.




Monday, August 4, 2014

Contending for the Faith

Wood, Ralph C. Contending for the Faith: The Church's Engagement with Culture. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2003. 218 pages. ISBN 0-918954-86-x

Ralph Wood in his book, Contending for the Faith: the Church's Engagement with Culture argues that churches must witness to the post-modern world. He believes that we are living in an "anti-cultural era: an era that is rejecting, with increasing vehemence, even the most basic requirements of life together and life before God" (1). He thinks the world is being "rebarbarized." The church can play a role in Christianizing the culture as it did in the Middle Ages. It can at least act as salt and culture to the culture. Wood notes, "The argument of this book is that Christian existence itself requires a culture: a realm where the most fundamental practices and doctrines of the church can be inculcated" (1). A the title implies the Church needs to engage the culture. One definition of engage is to "become involved in." The Church must not isolate itself from its culture. It must work within the American culture strengthening and transforming it.

Wood's goal is not to duplicate the work of H. Richard Niebuhr's, Christ and Culture. He is not going to offer one of the responses listed by Niebuhr. He thinks Niebuhr's book assumes that we live in a "Monolithic" culture. Wood thinks this is not true. Instead, the culture is "an immensely varied and dependent thing" (1). There are many cultures. He thinks the Church is called to create its own culture. He notes, "I will argue, in fact, that Scripture and Tradition provide the church with a distinctive kind of existence--with unique ways of birthing and dying, of becoming youthful and of growing old, of marrying and remaining single, of celebrating and sacrificing, of thinking and imagining, of worshiping the true God and protesting against false gods--and that these distinctive beliefs and practices constitute the church's own culture" (2). He denies that he is trying to create a Christian ghetto--Christian isolation from culture. Instead, the church will offer a culture that will revitalize the world. For example, the present culture seems to affirm death as shown in abortion and euthanasia. The Church will witness to the affirmation of life.

Ralph C. Wood is University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University. He is the author of The Comedy of Redemption: Christian Faith and Cosmic Vision in Four American Novelists, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ Haunted South, and Chesterton: the Nightmare Goodness of God, and other published works.

The book includes ten chapters. Some of the major themes addressed in this work are: the Church and culture; alternatives to the current culture; problems with 'evangelical engagement with culture; Church's Colleges; "Creating a Christian Educational Culture;" skepticism and sentimentality; truth, beauty, and goodness; Christian Romance; faithfulness and piety.

Wood argues that the "church can best engage its individualist American culture precisely by seeking to remain uncompromisingly faithful to the community-centered Gospel" (78). This is in contrast to the failed liberal Protestantism that said the church must accommodate its message to the liberal culture. The author thinks we need something like the twentieth century Catholic revival and something the like the work of the Inklings--C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and others. The author argues that writes like these and the fiction of Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor have been "a source of theological vitality for evangelicals. Thousands of them have found, through Catholic figures such as these, that their own scholarly and church lives have been given theological rigor and depth" (81). This has been shown even in the work of Wood which has majored on Catholic authors like Flannery O'Connor.

In chapter five, Wood describes the challenges facing the Church's colleges. He describes the works of Burtchaell and Marsden which have documented the secularization of colleges and universities. Wood notes, "without rootage in Christian thinking--faith seeking understanding, the good of the intellect--Christian piety and morality eventually die, though they may thrive for a while" (87). This seems to imply that our culture is living on borrowed time. How long will the culture collapse because it has been separated from its Christian roots?

Another point made by Wood in this chapter are the importance of a Christian vision of education. He notes, "One evident result of an unabashedly Christian vision is that it enables the liberal arts to flourish as often do not in more secular settings" (91). Wouldn't it be better to champion the liberal arts in Christian colleges and universities than abandoning them like the secular universities?

In other chapters Wood argues for the importance of religious liturgy. In the context he discusses the importance of beauty and holiness in the context of worship. He also shows how even the "ugly" can be a vehicle to worship God. What we look as disfigured could be a picture of Christ. This reminds me of my reading from Nouwen this morning. He spent time working with the mentally handicapped. Many will not see a purpose for those severely handicapped, either mentally or physically. Nouwen tells how God uses these people to show Christ's love. They even teach us how to love. How often do the values of the world determine our own values? Why do we think people that are wounded are of less value than the successful and powerful in the world's eyes?

Wood's Contending for the Faithful is a good read. It shows how the Church can be more beneficial to the culture by being true to its own teaching. However, the main purpose to being faithful is to glorify God. As the Westminster confessions says that our first duty is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Wood tries to lead a path between liberalism and fundamentalism. This book is written mainly for evangelicals. In it Wood encourages them to retrieve Catholic tradition, liturgy, and culture to revitalize their own tradition. It provides good advice on engaging the postmodern culture of our day.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Art of Reading Scripture

The Art of Reading Scripture edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. 334 pages. ISBN 0802812694

In the introduction, Davis and Hays note, "The difficulty of intepreting the Bible is felt not only in secular culture but also in the church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Is the Bible authoritative for the faith and practice of the church? If so, in what way? What practices of reading offer the most appropriate approach to understanding the Bible? How does historical criticism illumine or obscure Scripture's message? How are traditional readings to be brought into engagement with historical methodologies, as well as feminist, liberationist, and postmodern readings? The church's lack of clarity about these issues has hindered its witness and mission, causing it to speak with an uncertain voice to the challenge of our time. Even where the Bible's authority is acknowledged in principle, many of our churches seem to have lost the art of reading it attentively and imaginatively" (xiv-xv).

These questions led the Center of Theological Inquiry (Princeton, New Jersey) to assemble fifteen scholars and pastors to meet "periodically over four years" to study these questions. They name this conversation "the Scripture Project." The project came up with nine principles of interpretation of Scripture. These nine "Theses" is described at the beginning of the book. Each of the essays address some or all of these principles. Here they are:

1. Scripture truthfully tells the story of God's action of creating, judging, and saving the world.

2. Scripture is rightly understood in the light of the church's rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.

3. Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New.

4. Texts of Scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that Scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.

5. The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.

6. Faithful interpretation of Scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God's redemptive action--the church.

7. The saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret and perform Scripture.

8. Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.

9. We live in the tension between the "already" and the "not yet" of the kingdom of God; consequently, Scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh rereadings of the text in light of the Holy Spirit's ongoing work in the world.

This volume gathered some of the best biblical interpreters of our day. The group includes Gary A. Anderson, University of Notre Dame; Richard Bauckham, University of St. Andrews; Brian E. Daley, University of Notre Dame; Ellen F. Davis, Duke Divinity School; Richard B. Hays, Duke Divinity School; James C. Howell, Methodist Pastor; Robert W. Jenson, Center of Theological Inquiry; William Stacy Johnson, Princeton Theological Seminary; L. Gregory Jones, Duke Divinity School; Christine McSpadden, Episcopal Priest; R. W. L. Moberly, University of Durham; David C. Steinmetz, Duke Divinity School; and Marianne Meye Thompson, Fuller Theological Seminary. These authors do not all agree with each other. However, they are unified by the Scripture Project and the Christian faith. They provide many different perspectives that will enlighten the reader. It is like going to a feast with many different dishes. I felt my faith challenged and engaged by these essays.

The book includes four parts: reading and teaching the Scriptures; "A Living Tradition;" "Reading Difficult Texts;" and "Selected Sermons." Some of the themes of the essays: teaching the Bible confessionally; the authority of the Scripture for the church; reading the Scriptures as a "cohereent story;" Patristic exegesis; model interpreters; Scripture reading and postmodernism; "embodying Scripture in the community of faith, and others.

There are many positives to this volume. I like the emphasis of reading the Scriptures in the context of the church. The authors accept the work of historical criticism but they want to go beyond it. They believe the scriptures is the book of the church. It is to be interpreted by the church. In addition, I like the emphasis on the multiple senses of the Scriptures. Readers will learn much here that can enhance their reading and teaching of Scripture.

One might think that because of the scholarly nature of the book that it is written for scholars. It is definitely not. I found the essays quite readable and enjoyable. I think the general adult reader should not have a problem of reading these essays. I especially like how these writers interpret the hard tasks of scripture like the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. There is much wisdom here in helping us to be better interpreters of Scripture. It was also helpful to see how Jewish scholars can help us interpret the Old Testament and make even the New Testament come alive. I might not agree with everything in this volume, but I agree with a lot of it. I found myself haven a deeper appreciation of Scripture from reading ths volume.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation

The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals & Postliberals in Conversation edited by Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996. 298 pages. ISBN: 0-8038-1869-3

The Nature of Confession was one of Christianity Today's Book of the year. It brought together Postliberals and Evangelicals to discuss issues they agreed on and differed. It including many of the leading theologians of our day: Alister McGrath, Miroslav Volf, George Lindbeck, Rodney Clapp, David Clark, George Hunsinger and others. IT includes six parts: (1) Introduction; (2) Evangelical critiques; (3) "Realism and Foundationalism; (4) "The Bible & the Church;" (5) "Theology and the Christian Life;" (6) "Putting the Postliberal Model to Work." The last part includes a panel discussion with Lindbeck, Hunsinger, McGrath & Fackre. There is really only two negative critiques by McGrath and Volf. I was disappointed by McGrath's essay, but I was impressed by Volf's essay. I think it is a more effective critique. This is despite my being an admirer of McGrath's work. I was even dissapointed with his comments in the panel discussion.

A common theme in these discussions is a conversation with the project of postliberalism as connected with George Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine. Lindbeck is surprised by this since he says the true founder of postsecularism is Hans Frei. Another important Postsecularist not part of the conversation was Stanley Hauerwas. The occasion for this book was a conversation held at Wheaton College dedicated to discussing postliberalism and evangelicalism.  This conversation concentrates much on a critique of foundationalism.

George Lindbeck begins the panel discussion my listing six points. First, he thinks comparing evangelicals and postliberals is "like comparing apples and oranges. Postliberals happen to be a collection of individuals engaged in what science calls a research program, whereas evangelicals are members of communities, institutions, movements that are historically associated with inerrancy controversies on the one hand and conversionist revivalism on the other" (246).

Second, the project of postliberals is "an attempt to recover premodern scriptural interpretation in contemporary form" (246). This can be taken in a couple different ways. First, it can operate on the basis of multiple senses of Scripture. For example, the five senses of Thomas Aquinas. Second, the Scriptures are a book of the Church. It needs to be interpreted in the context of the Church and Christian tradition. Another important implication is the importance of community. This would also urge a resistance to excessive modern individualism.

He points out that this research program "overlaps . . . with goals that a number of evangelicals have" (247). He suggests recovering "both the Reformation and Catholic heritages" (247). In other words, it aligns with attempts of evangelicals to renew the faith by retrieving the Catholic tradition.

In his fourth point he seems to respond to McGrath's critique about a lack of substantial theology coming from this project. He thinks this critique is "misplaced." He notes, "It's misplaced because the research program is one regarding methods of reading Scripture, not specifically regarding the development of any single theological outlook. If I do theology, it's Lutheran theology in the Lutheran confessional tradition" (247).

In his fifth point he describes his realization of his differences with evangelicals in his interactions with them. He knew it before, but it became more obvious at the conference. Lindbeck notes, "I'm much more creedal than most of the people here. I place more emphasis on creeds, confessions and dogmas. I'm sacramentally realistic in a way that free church people are not. I have much higher ecclesiology than most of the people here" (247). I think this is changing with evangelicals. More evangelicals are seeing a need for creeds and confessions. They are also drawn to liturgy and Catholic tradition. Many are trying to create a sacramental view of life.

In his last point, he notes that Hans Frei is the true founder of postsecularism.

There are many excellent essays in this volume. I especially enjoyed the many different critiques of foundationalism. Some of the essays responded to what they thought were misinterpretations. For example, Jeffrey Hensley showed how postliberalism does not have to be interpreted an anti-realists. George Hunsinger presents an evaluation of the debate between Carl Henry and Hans Frei. He shows how evangelicals and postliberals can learn from each other. It is hoped that this conversation will help both evangelicals and postliberals to understand each other better.