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I’m not particularly a big fan of Heidegger, but this is a good introduction to one of his major ideas.

For a while, I’ve been thinking about doing a series on book reviewing. It’s something I’ve been known to do in semi-prolific proportions. It’s also something that my interest and capacity for is waning.

Book reviewing was a way of keeping my free time under guardians and managers until the date of resuming school. Since the fullness of time is at hand, it’s time to set aside what is essentially hobby. Throughout the fall, I’ll still be reviewing books on pretty much a weekly basis. But, come January and Ph.D studies, I don’t imagine that will be the case.

Before getting there though, I wanted to pass on the insights I’ve gained in being an active book reviewer for the past few years. Think of this as a way of kind of “reviewing book reviewing.” If you’ve seen the show on Comedy Central called Review, this is kind of like that (minus most of the mayhem though).

If you’re looking to get started or just do what you like to do better, this series is for you. I can’t say I’ll cover everything, and much of what I might say could be found elsewhere. For that reason, I’m going to focus more on my experience and what I learned, rather than best practices for reviewing books (which are widely available).

If you think of it triperspectivally, which is my preferred mode, you could roughly outline the series this way:

Normative

Under the normative perspective, I would talk about the norms for reading and reviewing well. This would includes topics like:

  • How to Read a Book (well)
  • How to Interact With a Book
  • How to Organize Your Review

There may be more, but you can see how to some extent, there won’t be much I say here that you couldn’t find in another reviewers archive or in a full length book.

Situational

Here, the focus is more on the context of reviewing itself. A key consideration is how to get review books. Rather than a single post (which I think I’ve done in the past). I’m going to go publisher by publisher, focusing mainly on the ones I’ve worked with:

  • Baker Books
  • Baker Academic
  • Brazos Press
  • Crossway
  • Eerdmans
  • Fortress Press
  • IVP Academic
  • Kregel
  • Moody
  • New Growth Press
  • P&R Publishing
  • Thomas Nelson
  • Wipf & Stock (includes Cascade, Pickwick)
  • Zondervan

There are certainly more publishers out there you can connect with, but these are the primary ones that I have worked with. I’ll explain what the publisher is about, how I got connected, and you can see what I’ve reviewed from them.

Also considered under this perspective is cross-posting your reviews to sites like Amazon and Goodreads. I’ll explain what I do, and talk about reviewing for other outlets beyond your own blog or website.

Existential

In this final perspective, the focus is on what I do as a reviewer, what I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made, etc. This is the part of the series that will be most unique. You can probably find the information in the other perspectives elsewhere around the web. You may find other people who have had similar experiences to me in reviewing books, but hopefully what I’ve learned in the past few years doing this regularly will be helpful to you. If nothing else, at this point, it is the main reason for doing this series in the first place.

Given all this, and the ability of a triperspectival analysis to start from any perspective, where do you think I should start? I’ll go off comments here and Twitter and decide what to start with next week. Until then…

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A long time ago, in a blog post far, far away, I mentioned I would do a review series on N. T. Wright’s Paul and The Faithfulness of God. 1 I went back and forth about whether to actually go through with it over the summer. But, as I was reading it, and finally finished it last week, I’m now ready to review. I thought about still just doing a concise review, but I think it’ll be too concise if that’s all I do.

Today, we’ll start, and you can refer back to the table of contents to see where we’re headed. We’ll get our feet wet with the first two chapters in the first part of the book. The focus is on establishing a context for Paul’s world. Much of the ground is retreading and expanding on Wright’s exposition of the New Testament world in the first volume in this series, The New Testament and The People of God (or when you’ve been reading Wright too long, NTPG).

Return of The Runaway?

Interestingly, Wright decides to set his opening context by an extended look at Philemon. He compares Paul’s letter to similar letters written by Pliny. This comparison leads Wright to conclude:

[T]he heart of this difference between Pliny and Paul is a difference of master. Two roads have here diverged. Something has happened, at the heart of Rome’s empire, that has made all the difference, not only to the social world but also to the world of power within which that society lived. Paul the Jew, whose controlling story had always included the narrative whereby the living God overthrew the tyrant of Egypt and freed his slave-people, had come to believe that this great story had reached its God-ordained climax in the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, who according to multiple ancient traditions would be the true Lord of the entire world. In being faithful to his people, God had been faithful to the whole creation. Paul lived under the authority of this ‘lord’, this ‘Messiah’, and devoted himself to making that authority effective in the lives of the communities that had come to share that same faith. Because, however, this ‘Messiah’ and ‘lord’ was the crucified and risen Jesus, this ‘authority’ itself had been radically redefined. Because of Jesus, Paul understood everything differently—God, the world, God’s people, God’s future, and in and through it all God’s faithfulness. It is that world of difference, intersecting with the world of Pliny but radically transforming it, that the present book now aims to explore (22).

Wright then digs further into Philemon in order to introduce the broad contours of Paul’s worldview and its similarities and differences with other worldviews in the first century. Wright notes, ““The study of Paul’s worldview leads to a striking, dramatic conclusion: this worldview not only requires a particulartheologyto sustain it, but also requires thattheologyitself play a new role, integrated with the worldview itself. (30, italics original)” This more or less sets the trajectory for the book which will do the historical background research to sketch out Paul’s worldview (parts I & II), then underlying theology (part III), and how that impacts Paul’s aims in his context (part IV).

Since he is dealing with the interface of history and theology, Wright reassures readers, “This book is part of a project in which I have tried to avoid collapsing either into the other, have tried to avoid history becoming a slave of theology or vice versa. The fact that I have been accused of failure in both directions indicates to me that I may be getting the balance somewhere near right, though presumably not completely (67).”

In wrapping up this chapter, Wright summarizes his purpose in writing:

The argument of the present book is that when we use the worldview method I have set out above, and thus bring a larger ‘thick description’ of Paul and his mindset into play alongside and as a way in to a fresh analysis of his central theological concepts, we find a fresh coherence. More specifically, we find that we can understand the deep and organic links between the history of Paul, and of his letters and his churches, and the theology which he articulated in those letters. We will not need to collapse the one into the other, whether theology into history, as with some of the sociologists, allowing the slave to come back and dictate his own terms, reducing Philemon to a mere puppet in his own house, or history into theology, as with some of the preachers and guardians of orthodoxy, allowing the slave back as long as he’s bound hand and foot and told to mind his manners in future. And, just as Paul’s way to a reconciliation between master and servant was through a complete identification with them both, reaching out either hand to embrace them so that they were to be united in him, with anything owing in either direction put down to his account, so the way of reconciliation between history and theology, between Christian Origins and the Question of God, comes to rest in this volume on Paul as the announcer and embodier of God as the faithful one, faithful to creation and faithful to covenant, the God whose faithfulness came to life and walked and talked in Palestine and died on a Roman cross to reconcile God and the world. The cross, indeed, will be central to our project here, both structurally and thematically, and part of the underlying and implicit proposal will be that Paul’s understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death, while having of course other and better known highlights than that which we find in Philemon, may help us wrestle too with the question of reconciliation between the two elements of our split world (70-71).

Like Birds Hovering Overhead: The Faithfulness of the God of Israel

To begin sketching Paul’s worldview, Wright starts with his Jewish context. Importantly, he notes:

This chapter needs to adjust, perhaps even to correct, the balance in Part III of The New Testament and the People of God, which was designed as the equivalent introduction for this book as well as for Jesus and the Victory of God. Because I had Jesus particularly in focus at that time, and because I was heavily concerned then with the Jewish context for understanding Paul, I concentrated almost all that section on the Jewish world of the first century, giving particular attention in chapter 7 to the Pharisees and the movements of revolt, which remain extremely important in the present volume, and then to the elements of Israel’s worldview (story, symbol and praxis) in chapter 8, finishing with the two chapters, which remain foundational for the present volume, on Israel’s beliefs and hopes (chapters 9 and 10). The point of writing those chapters there was to avoid having to do so here, so I shall not repeat them, but refer the reader to them as part of the necessary preliminary work for the present book (77).

Then, frustratingly, he says, “In my mind’s eye I see the whole of NTPG Part III as though they were physically part of this book, perhaps as a kind of microdot within the running head for every page, and I encourage readers to do the same (77).” So, while this is a 1500 page book, you need to go back and read his other 400+ page book to have context. Not really, having read both this summer, it was helpful to be able to recall much of NTPG while reading PFG.

As far as the topic of this chapter goes, Wright says.

I hope in particular to bring out the way in which the faithfulness of Israel’s God functions as a theme throughout so much of the period. This was particularly so, I suggest, for the Pharisees, generating and sustaining a complex but essentially single narrative, the long and often strange story of God’s faithfulness which would—surely, they believed, it would!—work out finally in deliverance for Israel and justice and glory in the wider world. ‘Like birds hovering overhead,’ wrote Isaiah, ‘so yhwh of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it.’ The echoes of Deuteronomy 32, a vital chapter in this great story, are clear, and picked up too at various points in the Psalter. We should be prepared to hear, underneath echoes such as these, the soft, slow beat of hidden wings, brooding over the dark waters to bring creation itself to birth (77-78).

The bulk of the chapter then is an exposition of the Pharisees. Additionally, Wright looks at the praxis that was most important to them (Torah), as well as the supreme symbol in their worldview (the Temple). This latter point is where Wright expands most on previous work:

The point of the Temple—this is where I want to develop considerably further what was said in the earlier volumes—is that it was where heaven and earth met. It was the place where Israel’s God, yhwh, had long ago promised to put his name, to make his glory present. The Temple, and before it the wilderness tabernacle, were thus heirs, within the biblical narrative, to moments like Jacob’s vision, the discovery that a particular spot on earth could intersect with, and be the gateway into, heaven itself (96).

All the other symbols of ancient Israel and the second-Temple Jewish world gathered around this majestic, potent building, and from it they took their meaning and power. This was where the great narratives clustered, too, the stories upon which the Jewish people had already been living for centuries before Saul of Tarsus came along, narratives that had developed fresh resonances in the years immediately before his day and would, through his agency, develop significantly new ones as he told them around the world in a radically reworked form (and, he would say, as he worked on constructing the new ‘building’ around the world). These are stories about Israel’s God, about his name and his glory; stories about who this God is in himself and his actions, stories about his power and his faithfulness, about his powerful wings hovering over his people to keep them safe. They are Temple-stories because they are God-and-Israel stories, and vice versa (100).

Helpfully, Wright points to the work of G. K. Beale and John Walton on the significance of the Temple in the Jewish worldview.

Wright spends the rest of the chapter examining the idea of Israel living in a “continuous story.” This leads to rearticulating a popular theme in his writing: Israel remains in exile during the first century, awaiting deliverance. To support his case, Wright traces how the story of the people of God was retold through Scripture, the Second Temple literature, and the literature post AD 70. He then circles back to reinforce his case for Israel’s mindset during the first century to be one of exile.

Wright then details the worldview, theology, aims, and beliefs of first century Pharisees. The short version is present in his conclusion:

The worldview of a first-century Pharisee has thus come into focus. Living somewhere on the spectrum between the extreme and possibly violent zeal of the ardent Shammaite and the extreme and possibly flexible caution of the ardent Hillelite, the Pharisee was passionately concerned about the ancestral traditions, particularly the law of Moses and the development of that into oral law, and about the importance of keeping this double Torah not simply because it was required, or in order to earn the divine favour, but because a renewed keeping of the law with all one’s heart and soul was one of the biblically stated conditions (as in Deuteronomy 30) for the great renewal, the eschaton and all that it would mean. It was what constituted the appropriate and faithful response to the faithfulness of Israel’s God, invoking the protection of the divine bird hovering over Jerusalem. Personal piety, and personal hope, were firmly held within the ongoing story of the life and hope of Israel as a whole. The controlling stories, fleshed out in symbol and praxis, gave the essential body to the theological soul of monotheism, election and eschatology (195-196).

To move through the different concentric circles: the Pharisaic worldview was about the whole business of being human; of being a Jewish human; of living in a Jewish community; of living in a threatened Jewish community; of living with wisdom, integrity and hope in a threatened Jewish community; of living with zeal for Torah, the covenant and above all Israel’s faithful God within a threatened Jewish community (196).

Hopefully this gives you a feel for the first two chapters. Next week, we’ll run through the next three in this part of Wright’s book.

Notes:

  1. Thanks again to Fortress Press for the review copy!

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Stephen Westerholm opens Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme saying, “Those of us brought up, not simply on the letters of Paul, but on a distinctive way of reading those letters, do well to engage with those who read Paul differently (vii).” He then explains that his short work (which is under 100 pp.) will engage with scholars who are asking fresh questions when it come to Paul and justification.

When I think of people obsessed with “freshness” when it comes to Paul, I think immediately of N. T. Wright, who uses the word roughly once every 10 pp. in Paul and The Faithfulness of God. While Westerholm doesn’t confine himself to interacting with Wright, he is definitely a scholar on his radar.

While this book is new, much of the material is not. Westerholm aims to update and make more accessible earlier work he has done (viii). In particular, he is drawing on two key journal articles and a conference paper.

Chapter 1 explores the difficulties that come with bringing Paul into our modern context. Krister Stendahl is the scholar whose fresh questions have provoked controversy here. Chapter 2 turns to the “Jewishness” of Paul’s doctrine of justification and E. P. Sanders’ work figures prominently.  Chapter 3 turns to questions of how much Luther’s understanding of justification might be read back into Paul’s. Heikki Raisanen is the one asking questions here and the Finnish/Luthern school of theology is the result. Chapter 4 moves to the king of freshness himself, N. T. Wright. Specifically, Westerholm is probing Wright’s definition of righteousness as “covenant faithfulness.” This chapter alone is about a quarter of the book, and stands at the heart of Westerholm’s study.

After wrestling with Wright, Westerholm moves on to investigate the role of the works of the law and comes in contact with James Dunn’s work on the subject. Chapter 6 takes on Douglas Campbell’s massive work The Deliverance of God, which itself questions Western theology’s “obsession” with what Campbell calls “justification theory.” Westerholm offers brief pushback before wrapping up with a concluding chapter which summarizes his concerns and points “in a nutshell.”

Overall, this is a valuable little book. One weakness might be that I wish it were longer and containted more sustained interactions. However, that isn’t really Westerholm’s aim. If accessibility is the goal (and for Westerholm, it is), then this book hits the mark. For people who are not familiar with the major names asking significant questions about how we understand Paul, this is an excellent little primer. Even for people who are, this is a thought provoking read in which a scholar demonstrates the willingness and ability to listen to different scholarly accounts of Paul and then thoughtfully and gracefully interact with them. We would do well to have more works in the vein.


Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking A Pauline Theme. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, November, 2013. 112 pp. Paperback, $15.00.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy!

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Labor Day is in its twilight, which means summer is officially over. Technically, there are three more weeks. Less technically, this is now the third week of the school year, which by most standards means summer is long gone.

Geographically, I live in Florida, so summer is more of a state of mind that never really goes away. I mean, I’ll be wearing shorts and flip flops on days off for at least 3, maybe 4 more months, and then its Christmas.

All of this is a convoluted way of re-entering into regular blogging, thus ending my summer off. I usually take a month off, but I decided to make it 3 this year. There were several reasons for this. I needed break and I didn’t feel like blogging constitute the main ones. In addition, I had a fairly massive researcher project which took up any conceptual space I had for blogging. 1 In the end, I thought it best to just wait until I felt like blogging again, and well, here we are.

Since I haven’t had too much to say, I thought I’d give you a rundown of the summer. We’ll go month by month.

June

I had high hopes for June, but for some reason also decide to take a month off coffee after mildly abusing it all through May (8 shots a morning to be exact). All went well for the first few days and then I started having withdrawal symptoms. Mainly I felt really weird (i.e. dead inside) and had no motivation to do anything. One thing I didn’t feel was tired, but I just didn’t feel like doing anything (which was a problem given the aforementioned research project). I recanted giving up coffee and tried to get back to work.

In the midst of all this, my wife’s twin sister and husband came to visit and we had some quality family time (including a trip to Sea World). I made it back to a Rays game for the first time in 10 years, and also despite my defensive driving skills, got into a car accident. It was low impact, but also in the pouring rain. Not my fault, thankfully, but I needed some body work done. I surprised myself with how un-stressed I was through the entire deal. Not the best way to end the month, but then again, June wasn’t the best month.

July

Unlike June, July was much more what I envisioned for a summer break. I establish a bit of a routine and flow with the research project, made it back to another Rays game, and did some very spiritually formative reading.

Mid-month, I turned 30, and Ali threw me, what I thought would be a family dinner, but turned into a surprise party, which included my parents down from Knoxville. The next day, we got away for a beach weekend on the Gulf Coast and managed to not get incredibly sunburned.

By the end of the month, I was starting to feel energized for the fall, which is good because I had teacher orientation. My car finally got its body work done, and I had my second rental car experience. At the end of orientation, Ali and I went back to the beach for an anniversary weekend. We had originally planned on taking a stay-cation (which is more exciting when you already live in Orlando), but decided to just take a long weekend and sit around the beach. It was glorious.

August

Technically, the beach weekend overlaps into August since our anniversary is on the first, but because of our departure date, it was equal parts July and August. I had been frustrated at the beginning of the week because my car was not ready for our trip like the body shop had promised. So instead, we took Ali’s Sentra. The last time we had taken Ali’s car on a trip was when I totaled my first Camry in 2009. We were picking up a new one in Tennessee during our Christmas visit.

Ironically then, this turned out to be the farewell trip for Ali’s car since she totaled it two days after we got back. She was thankfully already braking before impact and wasn’t hurt at all. It was unfortunately for our insurance rates later this fall, her fault. More importantly, we were able to replace the car in under a week and now, hopefully done with car issues for a few months/years 2

Mid-August I would have started Ph.D studies at Southern, but because the orientation for that was the same week as orientation at the school I teach at, I deferred to January. It is only mildly disappointing and instead mostly a relief. I would have taken on too much and run myself into the ground otherwise. Now, I can get a flow going with classes I teach before adding in a class I’ll take.

As far as the rest of August goes, school has gone well in the opening weeks. I am enjoying it more so than this time last year. I’m finding myself enjoying teaching music more and more and have several new students for the fall. September-October are I think my favorite months, so for the moment at least, optimism is running pretty high. Football is basically a bonus at this point. But oh, how great a bonus it is!

Notes:

  1. If you’re curious, and you’re probably are, my summer job was creating book summaries of N. T. Wright’s Christian Origins and The Question of God, which effectively condensed the 3700+ page series into about 800-900 pages of money quotes that chart his argument. I think I’ve read enough Wright for the time being.
  2. I failed to mention earlier my car also had $800 worth of repairs that had to be done unrelated to my accident. At least my battery that died was under warranty.