Book Reviews

Goldingay’s The First Testament on Jesus Creed


Scot McKnight invited me to respond to questions about John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament, The First Testament.

Here are my responses just posted on Scot’s blog, Jesus Creed.

Enjoy.

Full disclosure, I also endorsed the book (see quote on the back cover).  I think it’s a great translation.

Sinai and the Saints

IVP has just come out with a new book which could be very helpful to people trying to figure out how to understand the laws of the Old Testament, Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community by James M. Todd III.

IVP asked me to give an endorsement, and the first half of it ended up on the back cover.  So, I thought I’d include my full endorsement here, for any one who’s interested.

“Many readers of the Old Testament struggle to understand all those random, bizarre, strict, and oppressive laws.  What’s a Christian to do?  Start by reading James Todd’s Sinai and the Saints.  Todd offers his readers engaging stories, provocative insights, and a compelling interpretation that offers a way forward, one that makes sense of the Law, and helps people understand it in light of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.”

Here are the other endorsements that appeared on the back cover:

“The failure to understand the relationships of the old covenant to the new is probably one of the most important areas where Christians need good help–and they will receive good help here.”  – Peter Gentry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Anyone grappling with how to approach the laws of Exodus to Deuteronomy from a Christian perspective will find this book an invaluable introduction.” – T. Desmond Alexander, Union Theological College.

I hope you can check it out.

 

Kierkegaard: A Single Life

As we were driving down the highway recently as a family, I informed my college-age sons that a recent album (Reflektor) released by one of their favorite bands (Arcade Fire) was inspired by Soren Kierkegaard’s work, The Present Age. In his interview with Rolling Stone, band front man Win Butler speaks of how relevant Kierkegaard’s writing is today, “It sounds like he’s talking about modern times…He’s talking about the press and alienation, and you kind of read it and you’re like, “Dude, you have no idea how insane it’s gonna get.”  This quote comes from Stephen Backhouse’s new biography of the Danish Christian/existentialist/philosopher entitled Kierkegaard: A Single Life.(p. 205).

I had to read Kierkegaard as a freshman in college in my Western Civilization class (I think it was Fear and Trembling-but it’s been 36 years), and while I found some of his ideas compelling, most of it went over my head.  But over the past few decades, I’ve come across his writings in various places, perhaps most recently in Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer (see my blog and Backhouse’ discussion, p. 197), so when I saw this new biography from Zondervan, I happy picked it up.

I was not disappointed.  Backhouse is a Kierkegaardian scholar who can write for a more popular, non-specialist audience, moving easily between anecdotes of a man who life was largely tragic and encapsulations of his profound writings and philosophy.

While it took awhile for his writings to gain traction in broader circles, his impact goes way beyond Arcade Fire and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to include Franz Kafka, Karl Barth, Charles Williams (friend of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers), Thomas Merton, Albert Camus, Richard Wright, FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr (although the often-cited link between Kierkegaard and Frederick Nietzsche seems rather tenuous).  Backhouse’s final chapter detailing these influences makes fascinating reading.

Soren Kierkegaard’s goal to “reintroduce Christianity into Christendom” seem tragically appropriate today.  Here’s a journal entry, “A modern clergyman [is] an active, adroit, quick person who knows how to introduce a little Christianity very mildly, attractively, and in beautiful language, etc.–but as mildly as possible.  In the New Testament Christianity is the deepest wound that can be dealt to a man, designed to collide with everything on the most appalling scale–and now the clergyman is perfectly trained to introduce Christianity in such a way that it means nothing…How disgusting!” (p. 171-172).

Kierkegaard’s views profoundly challenge me as a seminary professor in my occupation of training “clergymen.”  God help us reintroduce Christianity into Christendom.

The King and the Land by Stephen Russell

Stephen Russell’s new book, The King and the Land: A Geography of Royal Power in the Biblical World (Oxford, 2016), discusses the various ways the rulers of Israel and Judah used geographic spaces to assert their power.   It’s an interesting look at an under-studied topic in the realm of Old Testament research.

Russell begins by examining how Solomon built his temple in a Phoenician style (see 1 Kings 5:21-28; 7:13-45), which was consistent with his pattern of expanding his power base by engaging his neighbors through intermarriage and trade.

In chapter two, he observes how Solomon’s father, David, used the purchase of the land of Araunah (2 Sam. 24) to emphasize his special relationship to YHWH, which was a common pattern among ancient Near Eastern rulers.

His third chapter looks at Jehu (near and dear to my heart–the subject of my doctoral dissertation) and his decommissioning of the temple of Baal (2 Kings 10:18-28). Russell concludes that, while Jehu’s pious deed was celebrated in the biblical record, his power was limited in comparison to ancient Near Eastern rulers.

His fourth and fifth chapters discusses how Absalom (in the gate; 2 Sam. 15:1-16) and Hezekiah (with his tunnel; 2 Kgs. 20:20) helped legitimate their power within their social contexts.

Baruch Halpern says, “Well worth reading.”  Thomas Romer declares, “A must read for everybody interested in the question of kingship in the Bible and the ancient Near East.”

Particularly for those of you who share my interests in these issues, I hope you’ll check out The King and the Land.

(I have known Stephen Russell since he was a student at Penn in the early 1990’s.)