Vindicating the Vixens: a book review.

One of the challenges for many readers of the Bible is that it was produced with an Ancient patriarchal culture, so therefore it tends to tell most of it’s stories of men or from men’s perspectives. And even when the stories of women are told, their stories have often been obscured, and skewed from centuries of androcentric readings. So, we are told: Eve caused the fall, Sarah’s use and rejection of Hagar is blamed for the tension in the Middle East, and we wonder just what did Ruth uncover on the threshing room floor?

9780825444135In Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified and Marginalized Women of the Bible, Sandra Glahn has compiled essays from seventeen evangelicals from varying church traditions reexamining notable women of the Bible who have oft been maligned by biblical interpretation. Kregel Academic, the publisher tends to be on the conservative end of biblical scholarship. While these essays don’t speak in one voice (Glahn notes in her  preface that contributors disagree on various issues including women’s preaching), they are each committed to hearing the voice of God in the marginalized, and the dialogue is respectful (while there are complementarian’s in the mix, these are soft complementarians that accept and value women’s scholarship and theological contributions). Proceeds from this book were donated to International Justice Mission.

The book is divided into three sections with an introductory essay on the “Hermeneutics of Her” by Henry Rouse. Rouse sets the table with six interpretative questions which give us a framework for wrestling through difficult biblical texts: (1) what does the text actually say? (2) What do I observe in and about the text? (3) What did the text mean to the original audience? ( 4) What was the point? (5) What  truths in the text are timelessly relevant? (6) How does the parts fit the whole? (23-26). Rouse also notes the value of reexamining our interpretation of women in the text, because though we have a Great Tradition of two thousand years of biblical interpretation, that tradition is fallible. Reexamining passages with new eyes will either confirm of convictions or allow us to see with new eyes. This is a good framing essay, and obviously with far reaching implications beyond the ‘women in the Bible.’

Section 1 examines the women in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.  Carolyn Custis James writes an essay on Tamar, Eva Bleeker explores the Rahab story, Marnie Legaspi describes the ‘so-called’ scandal of Ruth, and Sarah Bowler describes the victimhood of Bathsheba by David (and makes some pretty incisive observations about their significance for the way power dynamics often play out in our own age (see #metoo if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Timothy Ralston closes out this section with an impassioned essay for protestant evangelicals to recover the prominence of the Virgin Mary which the Scripture tells us about (the 4th most described figure in the New Testament).

Section II gives a survey of the sexualized and vilified and marginalized women of the Bible. Glenn Krieder defends Eve from the charge of being the ‘Mother of all seducers” (rather, both men and women share in culpability for human sinfulness). Eugene Merrill and Tony Maalouf explore the characters of Sarah and Hagar, respectfully. Ron Pierce dismantles the charge that Deborah was only called by God because ‘the men wouldn’t stand up (the narrative praises and affirms Deborah, Barak, and Jael). Christa McKirkland holds up the example of the prophet Hulda, and Sharifa Stevens describes how the  virtue of courage is manifest in Queen Vashti’s refusal to the King Ahasuerus.

Finally Section III explores some new Testament images of women: The Samaritan Woman at the Well (Lynn Cohick), Mary Magdalene (Karla Zazueta) and Junia (Amy Peeler). Each of the essays in this section explore how the interpretive tradition maligned and distorted the biblical image of these women.

This is a really solid collection of essays, and not overly technical. It engages the Bible, the theological tradition and current scholarship. I appreciated the honest, yet reverent wrestling with difficult passages and the ways each author labored to recover a portrait of women in the Bible and restore it. This is really solid. I give this five stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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When You Just Can’t Forgive: a book review

Forgiveness and justice are two gospel threads, though, in many theologies, one often short-shrifts the other. Either grace is emphasized to the exclusion of justice, or justice, in the form of care for the marginalized, is stressed while grace remains opaque. In Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach, Dr. Bryan Maier holds up the importance of both, explicating the power of forgiveness and God’s heart for justice, in a pastoral and counseling context.

9780825444050Maier has a doctorate in psychology from Wheaton College and is associate professor of counseling and psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary. He approaches the topics of forgiveness and justice as a professor, a counselor, and a pastor who has walked with people through difficult things.

From the outset, it should be noted that this treatment on forgiveness is limited by a focus on interpersonal forgiveness, and not corporate forgiveness (13). So while Maier does envision justice, he is not so much talking about social justice, i.e., a response to systemic issues and institutional dynamics that impact communities, but individual and personal injustices (e.g. abuse, adultery, etc.).  However, he does speak realistically about the nature of sin and the way individual people are affected by evil. He validates the experience of victims and warns us against easy forgiveness.

After reviewing contemporary clinical models which describe forgiveness (chapter 1), Maier sharpens our understanding by offering 3 boundaries around the construct of forgiveness and 4 contours of a Christian approach to forgiveness. He asserts forgiveness is a response to a moral violation (i.e. no moral wrong, no need for forgiveness), that forgiveness is not simply a cognitive reframe (choosing to see reality differently) or empathy for the offender (33-40). Maier asserts instead that forgiveness, in the Christain sense: (1) is derived from divine forgiveness—Christ and his cross, (2) does not have personal healing as its primary goal, (3) is other-centered, focused on the offender, and (4) is active, not passive (41-43).

These four characteristics describe much of what follows in the rest of the book. Unlike a lot of contemporary forgiveness literature, Maier doesn’t think forgiveness is about making the victim feel better about themselves by letting go of the hurt. Instead, forgiveness is about the offender recognizing their error and repenting. Thus, forgiveness is not something to offer flippantly, or the appropriate response if the offender is unrepentant.  Resentment and anger may actually be our appropriate response in the face of ongoing sin. Maier writes:

Interpersonal sin is an assault on justice and the God of justice. Feelings of resentment or legitmate anger are both a logical and appropraite response to injustice. Resentment is logical if it is defined as merely an emotional reaction to what has already been recognized cognitively—that is, that an offense has been committed and the offender is not repentant. Resentment defined this way is also appropriate because God Himself reacts to sin with such strong affectively laden legative feelings. (53)

We forgive because God forgave us, and God’s forgiveness should typify our behavior (cf. Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12); Nevertheless, just as God’s forgiveness of us requires our repentance, so our forgiveness of others ought to require their turning from their sin (64). God keeps score (chapter 5). So while Christians ought to always be ready to forgive, forgiveness is not the Christian response to ongoing injustice.  Anger with the state of things is, just as creation groans toward redemption (Romans 8:22-23).

Several biblical resources are helpful in this regard. Maier commends Romans 12:9-21, which brackets out vengeance as a Christian response. God himself will repay the evil done to us (80). He also recommends praying imprecatory Psalms (those Psalms where the enemies of God’s people suffer for the evil they’ve wrought), as comfort and assurance that justice will be done (96). He also describes a counseling session where his patient drew comfort from the book of  Revelation, because of its assurance that in the end, someone pays (82).

Maier goes on to describe the reality and benefits of forgiveness and to describe the benefits of forgiveness and justice and counseling.

What I found most beneficial about was how Maier confronts cheap forgiveness. I have personally been taught, and have taught others, to define forgiveness therapeutically and subjectively. I’ve thought of forgiveness as not letting the wrong done to me poison my soul. In Maier’s model, forgiveness is about setting the relationship right. This can only be done if the offender is repentant and trust is rebuilt. This deals objectively with the world of relationships.

I also appreciated the validation of anger, not just as an appropriate response but as a motivating factor in our work against injustice. I do not know an activist who isn’t angry, and I’m glad for it. Anger and resentment at injustice are meant to move us to action, to set the world to rights. Maier names these as important and legitimate responses in a world where all creation groans toward redemption (Romans 8:22-23).  In fact, I think this book may have changed my thinking a little bit about what forgiveness means, when to offer it and when to hold out.

In terms of a ministry aid, I think Maier offers some sound advice for pastors and counselors,  in walking people through the process of forgiveness. He uses the Bible judiciously, holding up the ideal of forgiveness without slighting victims of profound evil. By pointing to repentance as the normative standard for forgiveness, Maier doesn’t make light of sin, while still holding out the possibility of reconciliation and redemption. I give this book four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic and Ministry in exchange for my honest review


Getting Me to the Greek: a book review

Whenever I review a resource on New Testament Greek, I begin with the admission:  my Greek is terrible. In seminary I took two years of Hebrew and only learned enough Greek to scrape out an exegesis assignment. Greek was the language of philosophy. Hebrew was the language of poets and prophets. That is a huge difference.

9780825444791But of course Greek is also the language of the New Testament, and despite my linguistic preference, the words of Jesus are coded in Koine. So when I preach through a New Testament passage, I find myself struggling through translating it (often with assistance from Bible Software with its virtual stack of lexicons). I am no expert. I do little more than play in the language, but I have picked up a few things along the way about Greek verbs and syntax and how the language functions.

I don’t know much (♬but I know I love you . . . ♬) and to read New Testament Greek, I need help. All kinds of help.  Kregel Academic publishes a number of student aids designed to help people like me who struggle with Greek. I previously reviewed The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek (2012)  by Douglas Huffman. That book offered a nice beginners summary of Greek grammar, syntax and a good discussion of how to sentence diagram. Now a new ‘Handy Guide’ delves into deeper waters. The Handy Guide to Difficult and Irregular Greek Verbs: Aids for Readers of the Greek New Testament is designed to help us strugglers to wrestle through difficult vocabulary. Jon C. Laansma and Randal Gauthier have compiled a resource to help students of Greek move beyond the basics and begin reading.

This is a ‘handy guide’ and short. It is an 80 page paperback booklet which you can put inside the cover of Nestle-Aland28 to use as a reader-aid on the go. The booklet divides into two parts. Part I lists difficult and irregular verbs (difficult & irregular, from the perspective of beginners) in (usually) their indicative forms from most frequent (>200x) to least frequent (>10x), with a brief translation. Part II, provides an alphabetical list of verbs with their compounds (including forms that only appear once or twice in the New Testament)(27).

Laansma and Gauthier aim at enabling readers to identify the principle parts of various verb forms: (1) present & imperfect, (2)future active & middle, (3) aorist active and middle, (4) perfect and pluperfect active, (5) perfect and pluperfect middle and passive, (6) aorist and future passive). So if you locate a verb in the list (in its indicative, dictionary form), you will discover each of the six forms (or the forms that appear in the NT), with most common tenses in bold font. So when you encounter a strange form (to our eyes), their Part II gives us an at-a-glance reference to the verb forms.

This is pretty useful little book for students, working pastors or those struggling through reading the New Testament devotionally. I give this four stars. – ★★★★

Notice of Material connection, I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Leading Change Through Learning Change: a book review

How do we effect change at a congregational level? What does it take to transform community? Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor provided leadership to Riddler Church Renewal, a personal and congregational transformation process out of Western Seminary, working with pastors and congregations in the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA). They developed a transformational model which is based on organizational theory, family systems, adaptive leadership, neuroscience, and biblical principles. In Learning ChangeHerrington & Taylor, along with seven pastors who participated in the Riddler Church Renewal Process present the insights they’ve gleaned from their research.

Learning ChangeHerrington and Taylor’s co-contributors include: Michael DeRutyer, pastor of Midland Reformed Church in Midland, MI; Drew Poppleton, former pastor of Heartland Community Church in Lafayette, IN and current Ph.D. candidate at Fuller; Nate Pyle, pastor of Christ Community Church in Indianapolis, IN; Chip Sauer, pastor, Community Reformed Church of Charlevoix, MI; Jessica Shults, pastor of Standale Reformed Church in Grand Rapids; and John Sparks and Brian Stone, former co-pastors of Haven Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal unfolds in four sections.  In part one, they outline their approach and make the case that transformation of a congregational system starts with personal transformation in the life of its leader. Poppleton writes, “In the beginning, I looked outward and assigned blame to the congregation. As it turns out, the problem was not them. I was waiting for others to change and complaining when they failed to do so. I needed to stop worrying about the speck in their eye and focus more on the log in my own eye. I needed to focus on the only person I could change: me”(47). This focus on personal development is explored throughout the rest of the book. The contention of Herrington & Taylor, et al. is that it as a leader begins to change, the congregational renewal they long for becomes possible.

In part two, they outline four core values for leaders to work on: Integrity, Authenticity, Courage, and Love. It is as leaders learn lifestyles of Integrity (conformed to God’s design), share our true selves, take risks and commit to loving those in our charge that communal transformation begins to happen. Part three discusses mental models which enable us to shift our thinking about discipleship, personal responsibility, the power to change, problem-solving and systems thinking. Finally, part four provides ‘additional tools’ for personal leadership development.

There is a lot of good insights this book, and the authors draw on a huge range of resources from sociology, organizational leadership, discipleship, spiritual formation, and systems thinking. The leadership books I appreciate most are all focused on personal development, which is front and center here. The chapters are organized for leaders’ and lead teams’ use. Each chapter closes with suggestions for practice and reflection and links to resources from Riddler Church Renewal for going deeper (plus chapter bibliographies for additional resources).  The contributors each illustrate their chapters with anecdotes from their own ministries. but they speak with a unified voice about how personal transformation.

This is a really solid approach to personal and corporate transformation. As I read this book, I was confronted with areas I still need to grow in, in my own leadership. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic & Ministry in exchange for my honest review.

Reading the Prophets of the Apocalypse: a book review

Evangelicals have a history of misinterpreting the apocalypse. Some of us mine the ancient texts for clues to our march toward destruction. Some of us throw up our hands and prefer to speak of the eschaton in general terms.

9780825427619Kregel Academic has these helpful exegetical handbooks which walk pastors and students through a genre of Scripture with some suggestions for digging deep into the text—studying, interpreting and proclaiming. I have reviewed a previous volume of the Old Testament Exegetical Handbooks before in a related domain,(Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 2014). But Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is different because there is no apocalypse section of the Old Testament but  it is in parts of the prophetic books and extrabiblical literature. Richard Taylor highlights where apocalyptic appears in the Prophets (especially the latter half of Daniel and Joel but also passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Malachi) and other Apocalyptic literature (e.g. The Book of Enoch, Jubilees, 4th Ezra, 2nd Baruch, the Testament of Moses, etc).

Taylor is the senior professor of Old Testament at Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His research interests include Aramaic studies and Syriac literature. He is well acquainted with these texts and the thought world of the Ancient Near East.

As with the other Kregel handbooks, Taylor walks readers through the exegetical process necessary for understanding and teaching . Chapters one through three provide background, orienting us to apocalyptic literature. Chapter one discusses what apocalyptic  is, what are its distinctives, and what we know and don’t know about the Jewish communities which produced it. Chapter two examines major apocalyptic themes in biblical and extrabiblical sources and discusses the characteristics of the literature in more detail (e.g. literary expression, revelatory content, dreams and visions, symbolism, pseudonymous authorship). We see in the apocalyptic literature a developed angelology, dualism, cataclysmic, Divine Judgment and eschatological hope. Chapter three discusses preparing for interpretation (such as understanding metaphor and knowing what linguistic resources and secondary literature are helpful).

Chapters four through six describe the exegetical process, and how to preach from these texts, respectively. Taylor focus is on helping exegetes come with the right orientation toward the text. So he helps us attend to the genre and metaphorical language, to look for interpretive clues and a focus on the macrostructure instead of minutia. He also warns us of the pitfalls of ignorance, misplaced certainty, our tendency to manipulate certain details (to make our current experience fit the text, or read the signs of the times)(128-131) In chapter five Taylor walks through an exegetical and homiletic outline for Daniel 7. The final chapter examines sample texts, Daniel 8 and Joel 2:28-3, discussing difficulties, structure, and application.

As with the Prophets volume, this book is great for students and working preachers. I have used the Kregel Prophets volume in my own personal study and in communicating about the text. This resource helpfully augments that.  I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review

I Love to Tell the Old. . .Old, Old Story: a book review

Preaching from a narrative text is different from preaching Paul’s epistles. In Preaching Old Testament Narratives, Benjamin Walton (professor, former pastor and president of Preaching Works) focuses on the skills and hermeneutical approach needed to preach from Old Testament narratives well.  Sensitive to story, Walton shows preachers how to craft a message which takes into account the genre and connec9780825442582ts with the congregation.

Walton likes three letter abbreviations and his methodological approach involves a series of them. First, he advises preaching from a CUT (complete unit of thought). This is roughly equivalent to what exegesis books and homiletics professors mean when they say, “determine the pericope,” but Walton observes that CUTs are larger  for narrative texts (perhaps a chapter or two) than say your typical epistle pericope (34).  Once you determine your CUT, you interpret it with an eye for its OTM (original theological message)—what the passage was communicating about God to its original hearers. Once you figure that out, you explore how it speaks to people today. This is your THT (take home truth). Finally, you depict the THTs with PPAs (picture painting applications) which make the truth of God’s word vivid for congregants context (165).  Along the way Walton offers great tips on how to craft and deliver a compelling message (i.e. writing the sermon and delivering it), and connecting Old Testament narrative to Christ’s redemptive work.

There is a lot that is commendable about this book. Walton’s approach is similar to Haddon Robinson’s Big Idea preaching but he is more sensitive to narrative than Robinson. Narrative texts make their points implicitly and indirectly and sometimes take a couple of chapters to do it.  If you are going to preach story well, it is helpful to have a sense of how story works. Walton is aware of this, helping preachers attend to the story in their exegesis and their delivery.

This doesn’t mean that this a hermeneutically heavy handed book. There are footnotes to Shimeon Bar-Efrat and Tremper Longman discussing some distinctives of the genre, but Walton never delves too deep into the characteristics of Hebrew narrative (i.e. doublets, type scenes, reiteration of events, etc). His approach is accessible to non-scholars, though is respectful of the interpretive gifts of literary approaches to the Bible. There is more to be said about narrative interpretations, but Walton gives enough of the goods to get young preachers on their way.

He also has tons of practical advice of how to craft and deliver sermons. A lot of what he commicates can be gleaned from other preaching books, but Walton focuses on how to do this with a narrative text. He doesn’t advise three-point sermons, alliteration or bullet points. Instead he helps preachers pay attention to the shape of story, and the way it communicates its theological message and take home truths (without devolving into moralism).

I give this book four stars and recommend it for young preachers and any preacher who wants to hone their craft. I love narrative but picked up some helpful stuff here. I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review

Ironing Out Syntax: a book review

Most books are meant to be read. Other books, like this one, help you to read. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament is designed to “assist readers of the Greek new Testament by providing brief explanations of advanced  and intermediate syntactical features of the Greek text” (7). Charles Lee Irons, the current director of research administration at Charles Drew University and an ordained Presbyterian pastor, compiled this resource “to encourage students, pastors and others to devote themselves to reading large portions of Greek New Testament, and ideally, all of it” (8).

syntaxironsPicking up where parsing tools, readers editions, readers lexica, and Bible software leaves off, Irons aims to iron out difficult syntax and text critical issues. A Syntax Guide follows closely critical editions of the 27th and 28th Editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.

The guide is comprehensive with more than six-hundred pages of textual notes, plus indexes. Though it is not exhaustive, because Irons focuses solely on advanced issues. Some verses are skipped past without any comment and with other verses, Irons comments on a single word or phrase. Still there is enough here to give an intermediate student of Greek an at-a-glance aid to translating and understanding the passage before her. A mid level grammar (i.e. Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics), a critical apparatus and a good lexicon will unearth all the essential lexical issues with greater detail than this; however, what Irons has done is provide a quick resource for students and readers of the Greek New Testament, with references to the lexicons (most often BDAG),  grammars and other resources for those who want to dig deeper.

Most importantly, this is a small book–about the same size of your Greek New Testament. You can take this and your Nestle-Aland to Starbucks and make serious headway on the text, instead of bringing a whole library of heavy text books with you.   Anyone who has wrestled out a translation of Greek as sermon prep, for a paper or devotionally will benefit from this resource. I give it four stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.