Book Reviews

The Reformation Commentary, Dead White Men, and Make-Up

The newest addition to IVP’s Reformation Commentary on Scripture (vol. 5) just came out, on the books of 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, edited by my BTS colleague Derek Cooper, and his colleague, Martin J. Lohrmann.

This is an impressive work (740 pages) which has been in the works for almost 8 years.  Many of the commentators included in this volume have never been translated into English (from Latin).  There is a lot of wisdom contained here, which was previously inaccessible to most modern readers.

Obviously, since this book focuses on the OT, and particularly the historical books, I may be more excited about it than many of you all, but for pastors, teachers, and scholars it contains many gems of Scriptural insight.

The commentators include the usual suspects (Jacobus Arminius, John Calvin, and Martin Luther), as well as some lesser known names (Johannes Bugenhagen, John Mayer, and Konrad Pellikan), each of whom are important Reformation figures and who commented extensively on the historical books of the Bible.

In addition to literally thousands of quotations from commentators, and three indices (Author, Subject, and Scripture), there’s an extremely helpful, forty page appendix giving paragraph sketches of Reformation era figures and works (686-725). If one wanted a quick introduction to the Reformation’s major figures, this appendix would be a great first stop.

For those of you who are thinking, but hasn’t the Western church read enough of these “dead white men“?  Yes, great point.  We desperately need to be reading more scholars from other parts of the world, who can open our eyes to new perspectives, many of which are closer to the thought and mindset of the ancient Near Eastern world than our own.  But these Reformation scholars still offer us profound insight on our own story, particularly for those of us who come from a Protestant tradition.

I’m looking forward to using this resource as I work on my 1, 2 Kings commentary for the Story of God commentary series for Zondervan.  (If you like this section of Scripture my co-authored textbook on the Historical Books comes out in July.)

While it will take me a long time to fully appreciate all the wisdom here, I smiled as I read these comments on the face-painting on Jezebel before her brutal death (2 Kgs. 9:30-8–thrown from a tower, trampled on by horses, consumed by dogs, who defecate her remains in a field), which is part of the Jehu narrative, on which I wrote my dissertation. When these guys talk about “face-painting” it’s not painting butterflies on the cheeks of little girls at a fair, but the general practice of using make-up.  John Mayer observes that Peter Martyr Vermigli condemns the practice of face-painting, along with Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustine, “It is practiced to allure men, and it changes their natural face into something artificial. But rather than bettering the face, it actually mars it” (p. 444).

Do you agree with these reformers about the use of make-up? 

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Jesus Behaving Badly?

“I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ easily the most dominant figure in all history.”H. G. Wells.

Since my wife Shannon is on staff with InterVarsity, she occasionally receives free books from InterVarsity Press.  She received a recent package of books on Saturday, but since she had just left for 9 days in Nigeria, I decided she wouldn’t mind if I opened it for her.

What did I find?–Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (the book, not the person) written by Mark L. Strauss.

Several close friends said, “Dave, IVP just sent me this book about Jesus.  They stole your idea!  You should get a cut.”  While I appreciate their concern for me and my intellectual property, the whole “X Behaving Badly” meme predates me by a long time.  (I wrote God Behaving Badly which came out in 2011.)

Strauss uses the Wells quote at the beginning to show how everybody loves Jesus, which is sort of the problem.  Most people (except Old Testament professors) think that God in the Old Testament is the one who behaves badly, while everybody loves Jesus.

But as Strauss shows, there’s a lot of problems with what Jesus says and does.  We all know about him over turning the money-changers tables, but he also cursed a helpless fig tree, he sent a herd of pigs to drown in the sea, he encouraged people to cut off hands and pluck out eyes, he spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture, he told his followers to hate their parents.  Jesus appears to be judgmental, provocative, chauvinistic, racist, anti-environmental, and angry.  Jesus really did behave badly.   How do we make sense of this Jesus?

If any of these behaviors of Jesus are problematic for you, you should definitely check out Strauss’ book.  The tone is similar to that of my own in God Behaving Badly, casual academic, for a general audience.  I appreciated his relevant comments about the Greco-Roman background to the Gospels.  He brings his scholarly insights to bear in a light, engaging manner, without overwhelming you with footnotes and references.  He tells personal stories, where we get a glimpse into his family and a sense of how engaging he must be as a teacher.  I really enjoyed reading it.

I must confess that it took me longer to figure out the cover of the book than it should have.  I just didn’t imagine the table looking like that.

Which story about Jesus do you find the most troubling?    

Jefferson, Selma, and the Ordinance of 1784

As we remember MLK’s march for voting rights fifty years ago, it’s interesting to go back further in our history, we can wonder how the story of race in the US might have been very different, and how a march in Selma, Alabama might not have even been necessary if one man from New Jersey hadn’t been sick over 230 years ago.

I had never heard of the Ordinance of 1784, but I learned a little about it as I was recently reading Pulitzer Prize winning author, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012).  (If you enjoy presidential history, you’ll love it. It’s a great read.)

Jefferson is a bit of a conundrum when it comes to the issue of race and slavery. He most famously wrote that “all men are created equal…” in the Declaration of Independence, and yet he owned hundreds of slaves. He argued for the abolition of slavery, but only freed a few of his own. He was almost certainly in a long-term relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and probably fathered several of her children.

In 1784, the new US government was trying to determine how to govern the territories generally to the west of the Thirteen Colonies, as the expectation that they would eventually become states and join the union. Jefferson drafted the ordinance, he was kind of the “go to guy” for this sort of thing.

The fifth article of the ordinance essentially said that after 1800, none of the newly formed states that were formed from these territories would have slavery or involuntary servitude (Meacham, 173).

As the congress debated the fifth article, they voted to remove it by a margin of only one vote.  Unfortunately for Jefferson and other proponents of this fifth article, a member of the New Jersey delegation, who apparently would have voted to keep it in the Ordinance, was sick in bed.

Future states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, home of Selma, would not have been slave states after 1800 if this fifth article had passed.  It didn’t, and they became slave states.

Jefferson wrote, “Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment” (Meacham, 173).  Two years later, he was expressed a similar sentiment, but slightly more positively, “The voice of a single individual would have prevented this abominable crime; heaven will not always be silent; the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail” (from Wikipedia).

Obviously, even if slavery were not allowed in these post-Thirteen Colonies Southern states, racism would likely have still continued unabated.  Since the Selma March for equal voting rights was still necessary a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation.  But it’s hard not to imagine that things could have been very different, but for the absence of one person’s effort as Jefferson so eloquently put it.

This story convicts me to not be like that guy from New Jersey in 1784, but like those marchers in 1965, and like even the confusing Thomas Jefferson, to do something to advance racial equality.  We haven’t fully overcome yet, but we are slowly making progress.

The Good Shepherd: An Endorsement

The 23rd Psalm must be the best-known, most-loved psalm, or perhaps even poem, in the world.

Kenneth E. Bailey, author of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, has written a book tracing how readers have read and interpreted the psalm: The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament (IVP). See top image.

Here is my endorsement, which appears on the back cover:

“Kenneth Bailey refreshes the souls of readers with deep textual insights and helpful contextual background to safely shepherd readers through the thousand year story of Psalm 23, making several stops along the way in the Prophets, before settling into the Gospels where he deftly introduces us to a fresh understanding of the Good Shepherd. Anyone who loves the 23rd Psalm will love this book.”

I felt honored that my endorsement appeared alongside those of Gary Burge, Tremper Longman III, and Christopher Wright (the latter two have gracious agreed to endorse my next book), but curiously, the British publisher for the book (SPCK) decided to omit one of the four IVP endorsements from their back cover (hint: the one dropped wasn’t from Longman, Burge or Wright). See bottom image.

IVP generously sent me two copies of this book (one as an IVP author, one as an endorser).

In addition to endorsing the book, The Good Shepherd, I always endorse the person known as the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11).

I hope this book restores your soul.