Kingdom Living Today
Kingdom Citizens, by John Driver (Herald Press, 1980, 160 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Robert W. Lyon, professor of New Testament interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.
The author, of Mennonite heritage, has given us a first-rate introduction and study guide to the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the book we see clearly the concerns of the peace church tradition and its modern expression focusing on the church as community, living out the features of Jubilee. It is all done without special pleading.
Driver writes with a deep concern for the continued viability of the church, which may be summarized, in his words: “If the Christian church wants to survive the remaining years of the twentieth century as a messianic community which points to the kingdom, it has no other alternative than the one which the primitive apostolic community took: begin with the righteousness of the kingdom which is summed up in the Sermon on the Mount” (p. 41).
The value system that comes to expression in the Sermon is so radical that attempts to graft it to common systems of values result in a repudiation of it. The Sermon is an alternative, and Driver attempts to set forth that alternative in clear and irenic terms.
The opening chapter sets the Sermon on the Mount within the framework of Matthew’s gospel; the author works especially with the material preceding the Sermon to show how Matthew describes the messianic king as servant, healer, and one who invites people to a new way. The key is repentance—a returning to the roots of the nation’s salvation. A second, brief (too brief to be more than marginally helpful) chapter attempts to treat the various ways the Sermon has been handled throughout the history of the church. The rest of the book is an interesting and significant commentary on the Sermon, which reveals the author’s concern that the church live out the “missionary visibility of the messianic community” (p. 101). Each chapter concludes with a number of questions to be used in group discussion. The questions are themselves a significant part of the book.
Occasionally, very occasionally, the book is marred by facile equations as when (p. 127) he speaks of “insurance” and “savings” as examples of our concern and anxiety for tomorrow (Matt. 6:34). Also, though very rarely. Driver lapses into unnecessarily emotional language (“absolutely ridiculous.” p. 43).
This is a timely book representing what may very well be the coming to life again of the old radical life of the early church. The amount and weightiness of this whole genre may be the most significant happening on the evangelical scene today.
Jesus’ Authentic Parables?
Through Peasant Eyes: More Lucan Parables, Their Culture and Style, by Kenneth E. Bailey (Eerdmans, 1980, 208 pp., $15.95), is reviewed by David M. Scholer, associate professor of New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Kenneth E. Bailey’s Through Peasant Eyes is a sequel to his Poet and Peasant: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (1976).
Bailey’s major point is that the original Palestinian character and theological meaning of the parables is often lost to us because of our cultural distance. A professor at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon, Bailey proposes to close this gap by interpreting the parables with reference to present-day Middle Eastern Arab culture (in isolated conservative villages), 24 Syriac and Arabic translations of the New Testament from the second century to the present, several relatively unknown Arab Christian commentaries from medieval to modern times, and literature contemporary with the New Testament. He also stresses the importance of the literary structure of the parables and emphasizes what he has described as the “parabolic ballad.” Bailey believes that what he recovers are the authentic parables of Jesus of Nazareth.
While aware of the problematic character of his approaches, Bailey assumes that the Middle Eastern culture reflected in his sources is in basic continuity with first-century A.D. Palestinian culture. He argues, correctly, that we all make cultural assumptions in reading the parables; thus, he pleads, why not make the ones he suggests since they are plausible and probable?
Nevertheless, uncertainties do remain. The proper context for interpreting the parables of Jesus is certainly first-century Palestinian Judaism and the prophetic-theological intentionality of Jesus. Bailey believes his methods get us to this context, but he offers too little by way of historical and methodological controls. Further, he consciously sets aside the redactional issues of the intention of the Lucan evangelist. However, the task of interpreting the parables as we have them in their written gospel contexts does not allow for such comfortable simplicity. Bailey’s “parabolic ballad” appears rather strained as he applies it to the text as we have it.
Bailey’s treatment of ten Lucan passages does provide much of interest and value in interpreting the parables. The book is engaging and should be consulted. Apart from the serious cautions already noted, however, one can also question the details and “features” in many places. For example, in his discussion of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) Bailey makes much of the Middle East culture in terms of the phrase “he beat his breast” (pp. 153–54). However, what is pertinent here was already noted, for example, by Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (second ed., p. 143), from ancient sources. Bailey’s discussion of the phrase “have mercy on me” makes a useful lexical point, but overplays its significance.
Although this book makes no significant contribution to Lucan studies, it should be consulted in studying the parables, but always with caution and testing with reference to other studies and commentaries.
Romans In Scholarly Debate
Commentary on Romans, by Ernst Käsemann (Eerdmans, 1980, 427 pp., $22.50), is reviewed by J. Julius Scott, Jr., professor of Bible and theology, Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.
The Epistle to the Romans has attracted the expository skills of the small and the great alike. Ernst Käsemann is one of the greats. The professor emeritus of New Testament at Tübingen has been among the leaders of German biblical scholarship since midcentury. In a 1953 lecture he altered radically the direction of subsequent research into the life of Jesus. In this volume, a translation of the fourth German edition (1980), he brings the fruits of his lifetime of study to bear upon Paul’s premier epistle.
Käsemann’s methodology dictates that “nothing from historical scholarship that seems essential is to be withheld” (p. 7). Consequently, the commentary is filled with references to relevant historical, cultural, and theological data from the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds, references to and interchange with contemporary scholarly debate, as well as discussions of the grammatical and theological elements of the text.
The commentary proceeds with a section of discussion that centers on what Käsemann believes to be the major theological issues, the most important being the righteousness of God. He recognizes the centrality of justification in Paul’s thought but departs from past understandings of the term, seeing it rather in contrast to the “general Jewish intensification of the Torah” evident in such sources as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Käsemann writes from a theological perspective quite different from that of American evangelicalism. The format and style of the volume make it difficult to read, yet it is informative and provocative. Earlier editions have already secured the work’s place as a standard among German works on Romans; this translation will do the same for it in the English-speaking world.
Getting The Idea Across
Biblical Preaching, by Haddon W. Robinson (Baker, 1980, 224 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by Kent Hughes, pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois.
Prior to becoming president of Denver Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in 1979, Haddon Robinson served for 19 years as professor of homiletics and chairman of the pastoral ministries department at Dallas Theological Seminary. This would suggest that what he has to say about preaching should be of note. Biblical Preaching, the Development of Expository Messages does not disappoint.
The present regrettable tendency to imagine expository preaching to be little more than the stringing together of verse-by-verse homilies finds no support in the author’s scheme. Robinson believes each exposition must be built on a single exegetical idea which, through the use of developmental questions, must then become the homiletical idea. This, he argues, is the essential task of exposition. Specifically, he says, “Because the homiletical idea emerges after an intensive study of a passage and extensive analysis of the audience, getting that idea and stating it creatively is the most difficult step in sermon preparation.” Robinson believes preachers should think, and that is the overall theme of the book.
The virtues of Biblical Preaching are several. Robinson writes with a clear, bright style, which is well because he believes that for the preacher “clarity is a moral matter.” His wide acquaintance with homiletical literature and pastoral writings is evident, not only from his well-argued thesis, but from the abundant illustrations and vignettes that will delight the homiletical heart. Robinson is something of a phrase-maker himself; for example, “… sermons spoken in a stained-glass voice”; “A mist in the pulpit becomes a fog in the pew.”
Robinson’s sermonic method is remarkably complete, though it is confined to less than 230 pages. The exercises at chapter ends should prove helpful to homiletical teachers as well as those who would like to refresh themselves in the basics. Biblical Preaching will be a welcome addition to many pastors’ libraries.
Moneythink In America
Wealth Addiction, by Philip Slater, (E. P. Dutton, 1980, 210 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by Reed Jolley, a pastor of Santa Barbara Community Church, Santa Barbara, California.
In the midst of world-wide recession, the affluent Occident continues its quest for the “good life.” Four of our nation’s bestselling books teach the reader how he or she can become wealthy in spite of coming hard times. The business sections of local newspapers are replete with advertisements promising double-digit interest rates to even the short-term, small investor. College students are giving up their love (?) for the liberal arts, opting instead for marketable degrees. Against the current fiscal mentality stands Philip Slater with his latest book, Wealth Addiction.
Wealth Addiction is something of an economic pot pourri, including everything from an explanation of what money is (an unreal entity) to a psychology of economics and a humanistic plea for simple living.
In the first chapter, “What Is Money?,” Slater points out the irony of Western man’s desire to accumulate cash. Money is “symbolic” and has no real value in itself. Its purpose is to make barter more efficient. Hence, the more people seek after money, the less valuable it becomes. Slater implies that if collectively we forgot about procuring cash we all would become wealthier. In spite of this Zen logic the author sounds almost prophetic when he writes, “Money was meant to be our servant. But when we depend on servants too much they gradually become our masters, because we have surrendered to them our ability to run our lives.… [The important question is] do you rule money or does money rule you?” (pp. 14–15).
Slater’s central thesis is clear: wealth is not nearly as delectable as Madison Avenue would have us believe. With wealth comes control, and when one is able to control his social cosmological environment, novelty is squeezed out of life and boredom results.
Slater develops this when he challenges our addiction to ownership. This addiction, like our desire for money, tends to reduce freedom, spontaneity, and enjoyment of life. “An owner is simply a servant with as many masters as he or she has possessions” due to the necessities of cleaning, repairing, protecting, and so on. The essential issue, says Slater, is not what we own but “how we spend our time.”
Instead of owning, we are advised to become renters. This, Slater maintains, is both economically more efficient and frees the individual from wealth addiction. Certainly this is poignant advice for Christians whose master told his disciples to travel lightly (Matt. 10:9–10).
Although Slater makes his points well, he could be cited for generalizing and trying to include too much in a single volume. At times the flow of the book is confused: Is it a psychological treatise? A plea for simplicity? An introduction to economics? In spite of this shortcoming, Slater’s thesis desperately needs to be heard in the midst of the cacaphonous roar of Madison Avenue. The acquisition of wealth and goods requires the acquiescence of the person. As the author puts it, “There is no halfway with Money-think. If you want to accumulate a fortune, you have to concentrate on it every waking hour, to the exclusion of all else.”
The Screwloose Lectures, by Larry Richards (Word Books, 1980, 168 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by David Ewert, professor of New Testament, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.
The title of this book is obviously a takeoff on C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Beyond that the two books have little in common. The subtitle, “Studies in the Ethics of Hell,” at first made me wonder how anyone knew so much about hell that he could write an entire book on it. As it turns out, Richards has written a book on ethics from the perspective of hell.
The author imagines Screwloose, a field supervisor in the “Department of Temptry,” giving a course of lectures in the “Underworld University” to a class of demons who are preparing to sabotage God’s kingdom. In 18 lectures this sly professor from “Hell Central” shows Satan’s emissaries how to bring about confusion in ethical thinking among Christians and in this way get them into the clutches of the Evil One.
The lectures fall into three major divisions. Part I deals with the “psychology of ethics,” in which Screwloose suggests that in order to confuse God’s children they should be made to believe that if they know God’s will they will automatically do it. When they discover how impotent they are, they are in the Devil’s snare. Or, they might try to confuse Christians about their emotions. Yet another way of gaining effective control over Christ’s followers is to encourage them to express their natural drives (especially the sexual urge), on the assumption that what’s natural must be right, and repression is unhealthy.
A very subtle way of trapping the saints is to get them to focus on beliefs rather than Christian deportment. Debate over the minutiae of beliefs conveniently keeps them from following Christ. Or, if believers can be made to think that the Christian way is too demanding, their wills will be effectively paralyzed. In short, when people have confused “perceptions,” they are sitting ducks for the Devil’s hunters.
Part II contains seven lectures on how to confuse Christ’s followers with respect to the Bible’s teaching on God, freedom, authority (the Bible’s “chain of command,” for example, becomes an occasion for oppression), truth, guilt, forgiveness, and love—the language of ethics, in other words.
Part III deals with contemporary ethical issues, such as capital punishment, homosexuality, women’s liberation, and abortion.
Richards provides a penetrating analysis of the ethical dilemma in which great masses of American Christians find themselves. The book is highly instructive and comes down hard on some of the gross misconceptions about the Christian life.
This reviewer found himself responding positively to the author at almost every point. The one chapter with which I disagreed seriously was the one on capital punishment. To suggest that the Devil gets Christians under his power when they grow soft on capital punishment reflects, in my thinking, a bit of the same kind of ethical confusion that Richards so ably combats in the rest of the book.
Aside from that, the book is fascinating reading and deserves wide circulation.
Human Love: Divine Love
Gateway to Heaven, by Sheldon Vanauken (Harper & Row, 1980, 288 pp., $9.95), is reviewed by David G. Lalka, assistant professor of English, Columbia Bible College, Columbia, South Carolina.
Sheldon Vanauken, who gave us the remarkable Severe Mercy, is a gifted writer. This new novel displays again a sensitive treatment of love, marriage, and commitment to the God of glory as it reveals the crisis of love and commitment in the marriage of Richard and Mary Vallance.
Vanauken structures the book as the journal record of major events in the lives of Richard and Mary. These journals are the larger chapter divisions of the novel. Vanauken introduces each chapter with a portion of a long letter Richard is writing Mary at the height of her turmoil about love. His narrative technique is unique and adds variety. At one moment, we see things through Richard’s mature, deliberate eyes; at other moments, the events come to us with the lightness and urgency of Mary, the girl-woman-wife. Despite its clarity and inventiveness, the whole tends toward tedium, and the final chapter is nearly a “tacked-on moral” of the sort familiar in morality plays.
Christian faith is not an afterthought. Gateway to Heaven is a thoroughly Christian novel. It does not parade faith before the reader as a sideshow freak but allows him to see it as the breath of life, the call to glory, the gateway to heaven it was designed to be. Though the whole proceeds from Christian presuppositions, it is in the chapters of resolution that Vanauken polishes gems of insight. Responding to Mary’s questions about lesbian love, her father says: “If the God we believe in has a word for you, He will certainly not speak it to me. It is, you see, your question.” Richard’s observations about commitment are pointed: “If a commitment ends when the one who gave it falls in love with somebody else, then it never meant anything in the first place.… Commitment is a gift requiring an act of the will.” Mary’s conclusions about morality are perceptive: “When morality begins to disintegrate, you are getting pretty far from the source: God.…”
Speaking about his novel, Vanauken remarks: “quite apart from being a love story, Gateway to Heaven is conceived to be a tale of high romance, which may loosely be taken to imply ladies fair and knights on quest and roast dragon for dinner.” The novel is high romance, a deep and penetrating treatment of love apart from the clichés of thrillers like Love Story. It captures the special glow and deep imagination of Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. If a reader weathers the book’s slow development, Richard and Mary’s too-easy lifestyle, the unrealistic life of Oxford students and Oxford dons, curious travels to Provence and Hawaii, then he may find reward in the sudden dawning of the book’s greater symbolism. Richard becomes the God of grace and mercy who gives Mary, the shackled sinner, “wings” with mutual commitment in love. Mary’s love endures the earlier temptations to other loves (alternative commitments—sin) in Pauline, in her vision of Mercia, and falling captive to the dazzling beauty of love for Dierdre. As each Christian is called to high and lasting commitment in the demands of God’s love, so Mary, in her decision to leave Dierdre, returns finally to her first love. Richard, who, patient and merciful, receives her with forgiveness. The lessons are marvelous; the symbolism is weighty.
Gateway to Heaven exemplifies fine writing: A Severe Mercy established Vanauken’s gift. Yet the novel is tedious, unrealistic, and at points nearly boring. If one endures, however, he may experience great reward when the novel’s symbolism opens to him. That moment may be worth all the others.
Interpreting The Interpreters
The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description, by Anthony C. Thiselton (Eerdmans, 1979, 484 pp., $22.50), is reviewed by William A. Dyrness, professor of theology, Asian Theological Seminary, Manila, Philippines.
In what may be one of the most significant recent theological books, Anthony Thiselton, senior lecturer in biblical studies at the University of Sheffield, has provided us with a competent and lucid discussion of the newer hermeneutical discussions from an evangelical perspective. Though filled with complex argumentation and laced with names (the bibliography runs to 22 pages), Thiselton’s work shows a rare mastery of material and he never loses the thread of his argument. The result is one of the most highly readable surveys—both critical and sympathetic—of hermeneutics since Schleiermacher.
The author’s thesis is simple. In understanding the text of Scripture one must take into account both the horizon of the text and that of the interpreter. Older treatments of the grammatico-historical method dealt with the former; newer discussions have focused on the latter. The reader’s own pre-understanding—his prejudices and traditions—must be taken into account if he is to avoid reading his own views into the text. Thiselton assumes, however, that “the Bible can and does speak today in such a way as to correct, reshape and enlarge the interpreter’s own horizon.”
Thiselton has chosen Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein for stress because each emphasizes a philosophical description of the process of understanding and language use.
The chapters on Bultmann, which amount to a lucid contribution to our understanding of that theologian, show his indebtedness to nineteenth-century Lutheranism understood in relation to the neo-Kantian dualism between nature and history. Heidegger provided the conceptuality for this problem, though he did not set “the terms of the problem.” This framework then determined the shape of Bultmann’s preunderstanding and the necessity of choosing between facts about God and acts of God.
Gadamer helps us see interpretation as a creative event wherein the interpreter responds to a comprehensive and involving reality, as in a game or festival. He further defines our preunderstanding as traditions that form our horizon, which we seek to fuse with the horizon of the text in the event of understanding. This, Thiselton believes, may help us see the value of systematic theology (the end process of tradition) for exegesis, but may endanger the necessary distance between the two horizons.
The analysis of Wittgenstein is Thiselton’s most original, and probably the first application of language analysis to biblical hermeneutics. He exploits Wittgenstein’s grammar of concepts to show how New Testament language is polymorphous, wherein meaning is dependent on actual life situations. These contexts—Sitze im Leben—can be understood as different language games that express particular situations. At one place, for example, truth may be understood as fact, in another as faithfulness. So “we cannot ask questions about the ‘New Testament concept of truth’ outside a given context or language game.”
Along the way we are treated to shorter discussions, which are no less illuminating. Against Boman and Whorff, Thiselton notes that language serves rather than shapes cultural outlooks. Of liberation theology he asks whether past meaning is not sometimes evaporated in the horizon of the present. Though refreshingly appreciative of newer discussions, as for example Via and Crossan’s work on the parables, Thiselton is careful to point out their limitations: “They encourage a selective or partial interpretation.”
In sum, Thiselton has placed us in his debt by helping to clarify older issues and bringing newer issues to light. This book cannot be neglected if the current state of hermeneutics is to be understood.
The Christian Life. An excellent introduction to the evangelical faith that will help many a newborn Christian is Welcome to the Family (Inter-Varsity), by William W. Wells. Believing God for the Impossible (Here’s Life), by Bill Bright, is a call to supernatural living, explained in simple, helpful terms. A new edition of William B. Oglesby’s With Wings as Eagles (Abingdon) has appeared; it is a study of Christian maturity. Live Your Faith (Pelican), by Russell M. McIntire, is a collection of essays on aspects of the Christian life. Tyndale House has produced a fine three-volume set on Christian living called Growing Stronger: Basic: Growing Stronger: Advanced; and How to Grow Strong Christians, which is a leader’s guide to the other two books. All are by John C. Souter. Charles L. Allen offers The Secret of Abundant Living (Revell). What the Bible Teaches about Christian Living (Tyndale), by Gilbert Kirby, is a look at down-to-earth Christianity. The Promise of Paradox (Ave Maria), by Parker J. Palmer, is a celebration of contradictions in the Christian life, written in a mold reminiscent of Thomas Merton. Soul Friend (Harper & Row), by Kenneth Leech, is a unique blend of spirituality and psychology that radiates the love of Christ.
Two collections of spiritual classics are: A Great Treasury of Christian Spirituality (Carillon Books), compiled by Edward Alcott, and The Guideposts Treasury of Inspiration (Doubleday).
Discipleship.The Discipleship Series (Here’s Life) consists of four volumes dealing with basic discipleship: The Discipleship Series Leader’s Guide, The Discovery Group, The Discipleship Group, and The Leadership Group. NavPress has made available Essentials of Discipleship, by F. M. Cosgrove, Jr. Invitation to Discipleship (Advent Christian General Conference. Box 23152, Charlotte. N.C.), by David S. McCarthy, extends the offer to begin living as a disciple of Christ. The Dynamics of Discipleship Training (Zondervan), by Gary W. Kuhne, instructs how to be and to produce spiritual leaders. You Can Make Disciples (Word), by Gene Warr, shows how to do that. Successful Discipling (Moody), by Allen Hadidian, examines every aspect of disciple making. Bill Ligon offers a long overdue alternative to extremism in Discipleship: The Jesus View (Logos), which is very helpful. A seventh edition of the ever-popular The Lost Art of Disciple Making (Zondervan/NavPress), by Leroy Eims, has recently appeared.
Finally, a specialized look at theological education for the eighties appeared in Discipling through Theological Education by Extension (Moody), edited by Vergil Gerber. It is a valuable source book for this developing ministry.
Christians in Politics.Christian Political Options (AR-Partijstichting, Dr. Kuyperstraat 3, 2514BA, Den Haag, Netherlands) is an enlightening collection of essays delivered at the centennial of the oldest Christian democratic party in the world, the Dutch ARP. Christians Organizing for Political Service (AJP, Box 5769, Washington, D.C.), by James W. Skillen, is an excellent manual on how to get started. Nationhood: Towards a Christian Perspective (Latimer House, 131 Banbury Rd., Oxford, England), by O. R. Johnston, is a theological look at national existence. Frank Morriss looks at The Catholic as Citizen (Franciscan Herald).
Modern Nihilism.The Master Thinkers (Harper & Row), by André Glucksmann, is a trenchantly anti-Marxist treatise by one of the founders of the French “new philosophy.” The Testament of God (Harper & Row), by Bemard-Henri Lévy, scorchingly confronts Marxism with the Bible. Klaus Bockmühl offers a Christian response in The Challenge of Marxism (InterVarsity). Sacred Cows (Zondervan), by J. A. Walter, is a refutation of modern idolatry. Will Men Be Like Gods? (Franciscan Herald), by O. F. Dudley, is a new edition of a 1924 book (introduced by G. K. Chesterton) rejecting humanism. Morality: Religious and Secular (Oxford Univ.), by Basil Mitchell, is a learned and convincing rejection of modern amorality. Technology and the Future (Wedge), by Egbert Schuurman, is a brilliant rejection of modern technocracy.
Economics.The Christian Entrepreneur (Herald Press), by Carl Kreider, is a plea for Christian economic nonconformity. Capitalism and Progress (Wedge/Eerdmans), by Bob Goudzwaard, is a carefully handled analysis of the modern belief in human progress that underlies capitalism. The Christian in Industrial Society (InterVarsity), by Sir Fred Catherwood, will probably cause “big buck” Christians to squirm a good bit. Labour of Love: Essays on Work (Wedge) and Work and Religion (T & T Clark/Seabury), edited by Gregory Baum, are symposia that discuss labor from a Christian point of view.
Scientific Thought. Three recent antievolutionary works are: King of Creation (C.L.P.), by Henry Morris; The Other Side of Evolution (Williams Brothers, Box 35, LaVergne, Tenn.), by Jon G. Williams; and Science and God in the 80’s (Harvest House), by Harold J. Sala. Sociology and Human Destiny (Seabury), edited by Gregory Baum, is a helpful collection of essays.
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