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Colloquium 30.1 (1998)

BOOK REVIEWS

 

ROMANS: SACRA PAGINA SERIES, VOL 6

Brendan Byrne (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1996)

503 pp. ISBN 0814658083

This commentary on Romans, part of an international Catholic series of New Testament commentaries, will take its place among the great Römerbrief expositions this century has seen (eg., Karl Barth, C. E. B. Cranfield, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Ernst Käsemann, Otto Kuss, Heinrich Schlier, Ulrich Wilckens). Taking into consideration that Paul’s Letter to the Romans has been the most influential Jewish writing in the Christian tradition, this fresh translation together with its very specific explanation crowns the impressive work of Professor Byrne who teaches New Testament studies at Jesuit Theological College, within the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne, and is a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome since 1990. On the dust cover usually thrown away by librarians the author sums up his own methodology and view:

This commentary adopts a literary-rhetorical approach, viewing the letter as an instrument of persuasion designed to transform readers through a celebratory presentation of the gospel. Reflecting upon the fate of Jews and Gentiles, Paul wins his audience to a vision of a God who always acts inclusively. The God who, in the person of Israel’s Messiah (Jesus), has acted faithfully to include the Gentile peoples within the community of salvation, will not fail to see the eventual inclusion of Israel as well. In the victory of grace displayed already in the risen humanity of Jesus, the original design of the Creator for human communities and for the world begins to come true.

The comprehensive introduction (1—36) deals first of all in an instructive way with recent interpretations of Romans focussing on new approaches and including the approach taken by this commentary (3—8). Equally instructive is the second part in which Byrne goes to some length to answer the question, "Why Paul wrote to Rome" (8—19), dealing with Paul’s own situation as well as with the Christians in Rome, and discussing the form of the letter as an instrument of persuasion. The third part continues this discussion under the heading, "Paul’s rhetorical task" (19—26). After a rather detailed outline of the structure of Romans (26—28) and a brief treatment of two important further issues (ie. "The Integrity of the Letter" [29]; "Paul and Israel" [29—31]) the introduction concludes with a very good general bibliography (31—36). This general list together with numerous lists "for reference and further study" at the end of most sections shows the range of works (written in languages such as English, French, German and Italian) a person has to study and/or consult in order to produce such a masterpiece. Indexes at the end of the book (465—503) allow access not only to those works but also to biblical passages, ancient writings and selected subjects.

The wealth of Byrne’s interpretation, reflections and notes cannot be presented in this review. Instead of leading potential students through the whole commentary and all essential problems of Romans I draw their attention to just two crucial passages, ie. 1:18—32 and 13:1—7 (63—79, 384—393). In the former it is the interpretation of the "striking statement, ‘God gave them up’ " (v 24; v 26; v 28)" (64) which is of great significance for the understanding of "human sin", "divine wrath" and "human sins". "The vices listed later in the passage are not factors calling down the wrath of God. They are manifestations of a situation of wrath already present." (66). In the light of this the author throws some new light, ancient and modern, on the "debate concerning the ethics of homosexual practice, the treatment of homosexuals both within and without the Christian church, and the emotions and moral dilemmas aroused by the AIDS epidemic" (70).

With Romans 13:1—7 "the reader is confronted by perhaps the strangest and most controversial passage in the entire letter" (385). In explaining it, Byrne takes us back to his introductory remark that "a plausible historical setting for the present instruction can be found in the civil unrest among the populace of Rome that came to a head in the late 50s centring upon abuses in the collection of taxes" (386). As a former student of Käsemann and a current member of organisations such as Amnesty International and the Council for Civil Liberties I agree with the following reflection.

The unqualified injunction to be submissive to worldly authority, along with the rationale accompanying it, has been one of the most influential passages of Romans down the ages. Theologies of Church-State relations have been erected upon it, and autocratic governments or those who have supported them have demanded civil obedience in its name. Believers who have found it necessary to resist or seek to overthrow civic power in certain of its historical manifestations have found the passage at best an embarrassment, at worst something to be rejected in the name of the broader claims of the gospel (398).

In conclusion, this commentary should be ordered by all research libraries and theological colleges. It should be studied by everyone seeking access to Paul’s anthropology, soteriology, and theology. Even those who have already studied one or more of the great commentaries on Romans will undoubtedly gain a deeper understanding of this early Christian document.

Michael Lattke

 

HERETICS: THE OTHER SIDE OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY

Gerd Lüdemann, trans. by John Bowden (London, SCM, 1996)

335 pp. ISBN 0-335-02616-4

This book, a translation from the German Ketzer: Die andere Seite des frühen Christentums (Stuttgart: Radius Verlag, 1995), is a very provocative attempt to destroy the wide-spread view that "early Christianity was marked by great harmony, and heresy only emerged at a later stage" (back cover of the paperback edition). The author is Professor of New Testament and Director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies at the German University of Göttingen, where other great theologians such as Walter Bauer and Ernst Käsemann taught and inspired generations of students.

Supported by almost one hundred pages of scholarly notes (229—321) and accompanied by a selective bibliography (322—328) with an index of authors (329—334) and a short subject index (335), the book is divided into ten chapters. Ten is also the highly significant number of "Golden Words" (219—220) which should be quoted here in full as the author’s own summary of his historical-critical insights.

1. The view of the Bible as the Word of God or as Holy Scripture belongs to a past time. Today it hinders understanding. The Bible is the word of human beings.

2. The idea of the sinlessness of Jesus belongs to a past age. It hinders understanding of the human being Jesus. Jesus is either fully a human being or not a human being at all.

3. Jesus proclaims the unknown God and his rule. He understands, measures and lives out the tradition by love, which first allows us to live in a human way, open to the world and indeed reasonably, in the freedom of the children of God, and to remain true to God’s creation.

4. As the first Christian, Jesus remains the criterion for what is Christian in the Bible, in history and in the present.

5. The church is the community of people who have been touched by Jesus, who celebrate his coming and seek the truth.

6. The heretics of the second century, men and women, are at least as close to Jesus as the orthodox, and must be welcomed back into the church.

7. In the conflict between the church and truthfulness, truthfulness has the priority.

8. In theology and the church there is a need to turn from phraseology to reality in order to survive.

9. Theologians must keep learning to say ‘I’, and if need be to contradict the tradition.

10. A fragment of religion which has been experienced and recognised is worth more than an orthodoxy which is fully known. A tiny ray of the light of Jesus in my life is more important than any orthodoxy.

I agree with many of these ‘words’ and I also agree with many details, which put flesh to the bones of the author’s summary, particularly in ch. 2 ("Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian of Carthage, the Most Important Heresiologists in the Early Christian Period", 15—26), ch. 3 ("How the Heresiologists Became Heretics, or, The Jewish Christians of Jerusalem in the First Two Centuries", 27—60), ch. 4 ("The Only Heretic of the Earliest Period, or, A Human Paul", 61—103), ch. 5 ("Heresies over the Legacy of Paul", 104—147), and ch. 10 ("The Christianity of the First Two Centuries, Jesus, and Ourselves", 209—218). In this final chapter Lüdemann not only presents his personal view of "What Jesus wanted and did" (210—213) but also connects the "criterion" Jesus with the topics of chs. 3—9, ie. the Jerusalem community, Paul, the heirs of Paul, Marcion (on ch. 6, 148—169), the Johannine circle (on ch. 7, 170—183), the Apostles’ Creed (on ch. 8, 184—192), and the New and Old Testaments as Holy Scripture (on ch. 9, 193—208).

In the extensive endnotes, which follow three appendices (containing a passage from Justin, III Corinthians, and the Letter to Rheginos from Nag Hammadi, 221—228), the reader finds some fine "Excursuses on the State of Research" which are listed (ix) in the table of contents (v—ix). Among these digressions we find a discussion of "False information about authors in early Christianity" and a new assessment of the old problem of the ‘Arch-Heretic Marcion’.

At the beginning of the book, after the preface (xi—xii), Lüdemann presents a rather autobiographical "Explanation" to his readers (xiii—xiv) which he concludes as follows: "I would like once again to show curious Christians their Christianity as something strange, in order to direct their attention to what is really Christian, to Jesus as hardly anyone still knows him today" (xiv). More important is his "Introduction" on "Method and Interests" (1—14), in which he outlines his "idea of a secular church history, developed in connection with the thinking of Franz Overbeck" (8), deals extensively with Walter Bauer’s "truly memorable work" Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (9—12), and describes in a succinct way the "structure of the present book" (12—14) which should find many readers among those who are interested in the history of Early Christianity.

Michael Lattke

  

HOW I HAVE CHANGED: REFLECTIONS ON THIRTY YEARS OF THEOLOGY

Jürgen Moltmann, ed., trans. John Bowden, London : SCM Press, 1997

130 pp. ISBN 0334027071

 

To celebrate the seventieth birthday of Jürgen Moltmann in June 1996, a number of his theologian friends gathered in Tübingen to reflect together on changes in their theology over the past thirty years. This book records what was said at the symposium, as well as the television discussion which followed, and a reflection by a well-known journalist. Participating in the symposium were Jürgen Moltmann and his wife Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Eberhard Jüngel, Dorothee Sölle, Johann Baptist Metz, Norbert Greinacher, Jorg Zink, Philip Potter and Hans Küng.

A spirit of camaraderie permeates the symposium. The participants are good friends, familiar with the theological journeying of their colleagues, although not always in agreement with their theological positions. There are, however, some common elements threading through responses to the theme, "How I have changed". Firstly, there is clear agreement that at the deepest level of Christian faith they have not changed, while, on the other hand, their many and varied experiences have contributed to the development of ideas, understanding and judgement. Küng’s reflection, "The centre of my theology has remained constant, but the horizon has constantly changed" (85) sums up a characteristic common to all.

A second area of agreement is that Christian theology must grapple with the question of God in a world of suffering and injustice — as Metz remarks succinctly: " ... the one who hears the resurrection of Christ in such a way as to forget the cry of his passion has not heard the gospel, but a kind of victory myth" (p.100). In this light, it is Sölle’s contention that we need to revise our concept of God, and she herself is attracted to "a mystical understanding of the knowledge of God from experience" (27). This theme of mystical theology is echoed also by Jüngel, Moltmann and Zink.

Another element common to the participants in the symposium is a commitment to the ecumenical endeavour. "Concern with our own tradition", says Moltmann, "must not hinder incorporation into the world-wide ecumenical community" (21). For theologians such as Zink and Küng, ecumenism is situated within the broader concept of interreligious relationships. A point of interest here is that for some theologians the achievement of the ecumenical goal is not always associated with the work of the World Council of Churches.

A criticism that has been levelled at this exchange amongst such eminent theologians is its lack of reference to the impact of historical criticism. In the Foreword to his translation, John Bowden compares the present symposium’s apparent retreat from biblical criticism with the importance given to the Bible in earlier theological conversations. Hans Küng takes up the same criticism — "I have been somewhat shaken that no one in this colloquium has spoken of historical criticism. ... I can understand this centre (Jesus, the Christ) after the Enlightenment, only in the light of historical criticism" (84, 85).

Another comment that can be made is that while the text presents an interesting account of the way in which various experiences have helped to shape the distinctive theologies of the symposium’s participants, there is no clear and positive affirmation of the need to change, where "change" is interpreted as conversion (metanoia) or a transformation of one’s individual thinking into a broader, more corporate vision. Perhaps the context was too limited to allow for this.

The book is both interesting and enlightening. The deeply personal and honest accounts of their theological journeys give us a welcome insight into the minds and hearts of people who might otherwise remain, for most readers, on the dizzy heights of intellectual achievement.

Margaret Jenkins

 

THE COVENANT MAKERS: ISLANDER MISSIONARIES IN THE PACIFIC

Doug Munro and Andrew Thornley, eds. (Suva: Pacific Theological College & The Institute of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, 1996)

xii, 321pp. ISBN 98200201268

This is an impressive and welcome collection of essays about indigenous missionaries within the Pacific. It is impressive because of the range covered by the authors and the way in which they have contributed to the retrieval of little known aspects of the complex story of the spread of Christianity. It is welcome as an additional contribution to a small but significant body of published work on this under-researched area.

There are fourteen chapters with a helpful introduction including a comprehensive bibliography by the editors surveying the historiography of Pacific Island missionaries. The collection gives "proper recognition and ‘voice’ " (p.5) to Islanders, quoting from them where possible. In one essay, edited by Charles Forman, Turakiare Teauariki, a Cook Islander, recounts his own work in western Papua. Sione Lautukefu, who made a significant contribution in highlighting the work of Islander missionaries, in what was his last writing, surveys the training, work and impact of London Missionary Society and Methodist Polynesian workers in Melanesia. He distinguishes the differences between the missionaries from the island groups identifying the negatives and positives of their many-sided contributions.

Pacific Islanders were easily exploited by European missionaries and in some cases taken to situations where their deaths from malaria, misunderstanding or violence were almost inevitable. Featunai’i Litua’ana recounts the "blood, sweat and tears" of Samoan missionaries in southern Vanuatu, 1839—60, when foundations were laid for later missionary success at considerable cost. The uninvited missionaries had unexpected and sometimes disastrous impact, the fifteen LMS visits to Vanuatu bringing epidemics which contributed to the hostility of local peoples.

Steve Mullins and David Wetherell point to the complex interaction of Christianity and colonialism in the Torres Strait islands and "New Guinea" and the ambiguities associated with the work of the LMS teachers. If the male missionaries have been largely ignored in Pacific writing their wives have been virtually invisible. Jeanette Little has recovered the work of Mary Kaaialii Kahelemauna, a Hawai’ian, both as wife and missionary in her own right. The fragmentary nature of sources make the retelling of such stories very difficult.

Michael Goldsmith, writing about Alovaka Maui from Tuvalu, Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka on Dominikoa Alebua a Catholic catechist on Guadalcanal and Winston Halapua on John Auvuru Shaw, an Anglican Solomoni in Fiji, have used oral history effectively to supplement the written records. This points up the importance of using this methodology to retrieve similar stories before it is too late.

Visibility is given to the missionaries in Max Quanchi’s "Imaging of Pastors in Papua" where he points out the Eurocentrism of the eye behind the camera. The accompanying photographic essay leaves out the captions "demanding that readers interpret the image" (172). While the viewer is forced to interpret the photos it is a pity that the captions are not given in another place so that, where possible, those appearing are named to enhance their visibility.

Andrew Thornley in writing about the early Tahitian Missionaries in Fiji provides a revisionist account which restores these pioneers to a place of greater prominence than they have received. Papa Aratangi examines the work of the Tahitian teachers at Mangaia in the Cook Islands indicating the way in which they challenged the traditional religion and introduced a new set of beliefs. Doug Munro looks at the role of Samoan pastors in Tuvalu contrasting the negative European perspectives of their dominance with the Tuvaluan acceptance of them into village affairs.

John Broadbent points to the difficulties Catholics had in training priests in Polynesia because of their failure to take the culture into account as their starting point. In contrast, Vitori Buatava indicates the greater success with of Roman Catholic in Fiji.

This is a very satisfying collection ranging across the Pacific coming from the pens of seven Pacific Islanders and eight Europeans including academics and non-academics, Protestant and Catholics. It reflects critical insights and appreciative understanding and highlights the importance of ongoing research and publication in this area.

Allan K. Davidson

 

THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION: AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE

Steven M. Sheely and Robert N. Nash, Jr. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997

116 pp. ISBN 068001536

The multiplicity of English versions of the Bible and of "study bible" editions is evident at any Christian book store. Sheely and Nash aim to enable readers to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different versions.

The book is geared to the popular market, to readers who see the need to explore the issues. The publisher’s back cover description of the book as "accessibly and engagingly written" is apt. That it "will serve as an indispensable tool to all those who approach the study of the Scripture in the English language" is an example of the marketing language that the authors criticise!

The range of material in the book is commendable, providing data on the development of the Bible, the task of translation, a discussion of versions (more than half the book) and finally guidelines in choosing one. Any reader will find the work useful and stimulating. Commendable is the comprehensive cover of contemporary English versions (from the KJV up to the 1996 New Living Translation, but just missing the 1997 debate on the inclusive-language NIV).

The opening chapter (12 pp.) outlines the formation of the Bible and early versions and the history of the English Bible. Simplifications are unavoidable, but some statements reflect dated understandings and errors, eg. of the decisions of Jabneh (Jamnia), and the development of the LXX. Their description of the "Apocrypha" is misleading, and they appear to say that the masoretes had done their work "by the time of the New Testament" (p. 24). There are misleading statements regarding the Wycliffe Bible being completed after Wycliffe’s death (in fact it was a second edition) and the impression is given that Tyndale was put to death for translating the Bible per se (the Coverdale Bible was published a year before Tyndale’s execution!).

Chapter 2 (8 pp.) is an overview of translation: choosing the text and the philosophy of translation. The writers divide translations into three categories, "verbal" (an odd term; to be preferred is "formal"), "dynamic equivalent" and "paraphrase". One could wish for more understanding of the "theoretical foundation" that they allude to later under the American Bible Society’s "common language" versions. They ask: "Do we try to reproduce the ancient words themselves, translated into their modern equivalents? Or do we attempt to reproduce the thoughts and ideas of the ancient text, translated into their modern equivalent?" (p. 25). They appear to gloss over the role of syntax and sentence structure in conveying meaning. Unfortunately, this imprecision runs through subsequent evaluations and mars what is otherwise a useful work.

Two chapters describe and evaluate "Verbal Translations" (30 pp) and "Dynamic Translations and Paraphrases" (32 pp.). An appendix is a helpful annotated list of versions, but there are no cross-references or index to the evaluations.

The comments are rightly personal, with critical observations concerning marketing (52, 59, 79—80). Unfortunately, again there are statements that reflect either hurried writing, poor editing or misunderstandings. For example, there is no recognition of the common messenger formula when they complain that "the powerful Old Testament formula, ‘Thus says/saith Yahweh/the Lord’ has become a rather insipid, ‘This is what the Lord says’ in the NIV" (44—45); they find "surprising" that the New Jerusalem Bible has "young woman" in Isaiah 7.14, and so "does not support" Catholic doctrinal positions (53); they refer to verse reordering in the NEB as being the result of "an eclectic Greek text" and then cite Genesis 26:18 and Jeremiah 15:13—14 (74); the impression is given that the UBS Greek NT 4th edition and the Nestle-Aland 26th are different texts (80); and they fail to recognise that the difference between the Living Bible and the New Living Bible in Genesis 1.1 is not that the latter is "more formal" but a different understanding of syntax (81).

The book ends on a high note, with a practical last chapter (15 pp.) on "Choosing–and Using–a Translation". The check list of questions facilitates working through the marketing maze. For that alone the book is worth its price.

John Olley

 

 

COMMITMENT TO GOD’S WORLD: A CONCISE CRITICAL SURVEY OF ECUMENICAL SOCIAL THOUGHT

Ans van der Bent Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995

xii, 242pp. ISBN 2825411620

Ans van der Bent, the author of this most useful text, is well placed to supply his readers with a fascinating insight into the history of the churches’ ecumenical engagement with contemporary social, political and economic realities. The author, for twenty-five years a staff member of the WCC, has gathered together a wealth of first-hand experience, and an intimate knowledge of the primary material and leading personalities involved in the evolution of modern ecumenical social thought. The text is enlivened throughout with anecdotal and editorial comment from behind the scenes. These additions rescue the text from ever becoming a turgid historical exposition.

The author clearly identifies the two major discourses which predominate throughout his survey: those churches which hold that the gospel mandates an active involvement in the social discourse, and those which just as fiercely believe, that the gospel mandates no such role or at most a limited one. Van der Bent rightly reminds his readers that any reconciliation of such sharply held positions can only occur in the light of historical investigation. He fears that perhaps the churches are in danger of forgetting and thus not preserving what he calls their "ecumenical memory".

The first four carefully constructed chapters are devoted to narrating the historical developments which marked out the contours of the modern ecumenical movement’s engagement with social thought. Subsequent chapters address in detail such themes as human rights, religious liberty, peace, disarmament, racism and other critical issues. The author achieves his aim of "inter-relating a vast number of ideas, concerns and commitments in order to make a relatively coherent and consistent whole accessible to readers interested in the development of ecumenical social thought" (viii).

One chapter is devoted to Roman Catholic social thought. The author’s account of the history of the Exploratory Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX), a committee which operated from 1968—80 and which was jointly responsible to the Vatican and the WCC, provides in microcosm an intriguing and insightful investigation of the theological, psychological and historical difficulties, which the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC experience in relationship to each other. The author clearly and with sensitivity articulates the nuanced concerns of both groups.

Readers will find two very useful appendices. An extensive bibliography, helpfully divided under thematic headings, lists the many official primary and secondary sources essential for any research into the historical evolution of the major themes of ecumenical social thought. A second appendix provides a list of all the WCC meetings and international gatherings between 1924 and 1991. A brief summary is attached to each entry.

Ans van der Bent’s book is refreshingly free of theological bias and polemic. Readers will, however, want to refine the author’s conclusions in the light of their own theological perspectives and ecclesial experiences. This reviewer was slightly irritated (or challenged) by an occasional lapse into over simplification: for example, "For almost two millennia the church — and after the Reformation, the churches — showed little concern for the well-being of society" (xi); and "By its very nature the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is oriented towards the past and reluctant to accept much change and innovation. This conservative theology tends to ignore the reality of evil and to minimise the effects of deception, injustice and upheaval in society and politic" (163).

This book should find a place in any respectable theological library.

K. Long

 

 

TOWARDS EXCELLENCE IN MINISTERIAL EDUCATION

Robert L. Woodruff (Canberra, St Mark’s National Theological Centre, 1993)

216 pp. ISBN 0909446083

 

There are significant difficulties in reviewing a book published four years ago. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that research done for this book was completed almost a decade ago. The dated nature of both research and basic assumptions concerning ministerial education in Australia makes the first chapter of this book frustrating reading. However, it is worth persevering through these early pages to reach the more useful and interesting research data and proposed model for evaluating and developing ministerial and theological education in Australia.

It is historical interest to note how far ministerial education has come over the past decade. Some of Robert Woodruff’s real concerns have, thankfully, begun to be addressed. Ministerial education is more contextual, focussed on change, integrative and consultative than it was ten years ago. However, only small steps have been taken in some of these areas; the gap between the church and the wider Australian culture is still most evident. Thus, the importance of the need for further change — and assistance in enabling such change to happen — are critical for ministerial and theological education entering the next millennium. This is where Woodruff’s book becomes significant and a useful tool for churches and colleges interested in evaluating and improving the way in which ministers might be prepared for the twenty-first century. The research detail is interesting. The "ultimate goal of the [research] was to discover the relevant issues in curriculum decision making for ministerial education, and to propose theory which provides adequate information for ministerial education decision makers" (p.122). Data was collected (through questionnaire and interview) which indicated how and what decisions were made about curricula. Colleges and churches open to a high level of change — and having an understanding of that change — were then analysed. Issues which hindered a high understanding and high level of change are identified. The final chapters offer a process, based on an educational model of evaluation, for assessing and developing programmes.

In this era of constant change, it is helpful to find such change being encouraged and facilitated. While some readers may wish to debate some of Woodruff’s assumptions about theological education, all those involved in decision-making within theological and ministerial education colleges will find his model well worth exploring.

Sarah Mitchell

 

 

THE RECONCILIATION OF PEOPLES: CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCHES

Gregory Baum and Harold Wells, eds, (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997)

ix, 195pp. ISBN 2825412171,

Gregory Baum and Harold Wells have done us all a great service in editing this valuable selection of writings in the question of reconciliation and the healing of wounds inflicted by ethnic conflicts in our contemporary world. For readers in both New Zealand and Australia, where efforts to effect reconciliation between the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of both countries are meeting with continued difficulties, the successes and failures of those around the world who have travelled or are travelling similar paths have much to offer by way of concrete ideas, pitfalls to be avoided, and reflection on the deeper meaning and significance of the whole endeavour.

Very wisely, the book opens with a theological examination of the concept of reconciliation, primarily from a biblical perspective. This enables the reader to situate the subsequent accounts of a variety of attempts at the reconciliation of peoples within their proper theological context. The author of this opening essay, who is also co-editor of the book itself, stresses that reconciliation, like justification which underpins it, is ultimately God’s free gift to us: it is not something which we can earn by our own efforts, or manufacture for others solely through our own hard work.

The scope of the essays in the book is indeed very wide. We read of the early work of the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa, the Rapprochement Centre in the West bank, the Ecumenical Dialogue on Reconciliation in Belgrade, and the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland. There are also studies of the churches’ involvement in the ongoing quest for independence in Quebec, the continued tensions in Fiji, and the tragedy of Rwanda. There are also accounts of attempts to heal the still painful wounds of the Second World War, particularly in Germany and Poland.

The reading of these essays may well give rise to conflicting emotions. It is encouraging and inspiring to see how seriously and how practically Christian men and women from all traditions are committing themselves to the work of reconciliation. It is consoling to see that, in many places and in many ways, their efforts are meeting with success. At the same time, it is disconcerting to have to confront the fact, as these essays do, that Christians have also been the cause of division and hatred, either actively or through acquiescence in what their leaders and governments have done or are doing. When we read of evidence that points to the active involvement of some church leaders in the genocide in Rwanda, or are confronted with the accusation that the churches have at time "motivated fanaticism and violence" in South America (65), we must, with both deep sadness and a determination that things must change, acknowledge the tragic truth that the history of the Christian church is indeed an ambiguous one. In the light of this, one very hopeful sign for the contemporary churches, and one which this collection of essays highlights in a number of ways, is surely the readiness, particularly on the part of church leaders, to publicly acknowledge their past and present mistakes and actively seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. The church is not just called to be a facilitator and promoter of reconciliation; it is also called to enter deeply and humbly into the very reality it seeks to foster in the world in which it finds itself as a servant.

One important theme to emerge in this book is the need for us to listen to each other’s stories, and to allow ourselves to enter into the other person’s reality and appreciate their perspective. As Gregory Baum points out in his concluding reflections, this can only happen through a process of conversion, which he defines as a "change of mind and heart" (189).

Anyone interested in the world of reconciliation between peoples will find this book a useful addition to their library, one which will confront, challenge and encourage. As a concluding reflection, I found myself wondering whether, in the ‘in-house’ area of ecumenical discussion and collaboration between the various Christian traditions, there might not be a great deal to learn from the experiences gathered together in this valuable collection.

Tim Costelloe

 

 

THE COURAGE TO LIVE: A BIOGRAPHY OF SUZANNE DE DIETRICH

Hans-Ruedi Weber, (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995)

178 pp. ISBN 2825411566

 

"If you were a boy, what would you do?" With these words Hans-Ruedi Weber opens his biography of Suzanne de Dietrich. De Dietrich was fifteen a the time this question was put to her. "I would become an engineer", she responded, probably more from a desire to escape from home than from any feminist aspirations.

Suzanne do Dietrich was born in 1891 into a wealthy industrial family from Alsace. The youngest of seven girls, she was born with a congenital disability which caused increasing suffering but did not prevent her living a full life. With no male heirs to work in the family business she was permitted to go to Lausanne to study. A brilliant student she became only the second woman in French-speaking Europe to complete an engineering degree. While still a student at Lausanne, and then Geneva, she became involved in the Student Christian Movement and the associated "foyer" or "welcome room" for foreign women students.

Passionately involved in the ecumenical movement from these student years, she later worked with the World Student Christian Federation and the World YWCA, and as a founding staff member of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute in Bossy. Through two world wars and the following periods of reconstruction de Dietrich remained deeply involved in the work of ecumenism and reconciliation.

Weber first met de Dietrich at Bossy in 1948 when she was responsible for the training programme there. As one who knew her over a number of years as a colleague the author tells her story with sensitivity, understanding, and affection. At times he intrudes into her story his own ideas, particularly when the re was disagreement between the two, as regarding bible study methods for illiterate people (148—149). But this is a well-researched biography in which the author interviewed many of de Dietrich’s acquaintances and made use of her extensive correspondence covering the long period between 1907—81, in addition to her published and unpublished works.

The biography follows the tensions in her life regarding her vocation. Should she live her faith by working in the industrial world for which she had studied, or should she direct her skills towards enabling Christian people in secular occupations to think through the implications of Christian faith in the modern world? Her belief in the ministry of the laity, and their needed to be suitably equipped for such ministries, was a driving passion. This biography could therefore be useful to some readers by helping them revisit the conclusions of past decades on the issue of lay ministry. The author maintains that the ministry of the laity and ecumenism were a priority for de Dietrich, paramount to feminism. Perhaps this interpretation could be challenged, taking into account her personal achievements, her support for foreign women students and her work with the YWCA and the WCC.

If she had been a boy Suzanne de Dietrich might have become an engineer; as a woman of faith and intelligence and courage this biography reveals her to have lived a life committed to unity and reconciliation. These are issues still on the Christian theological agenda today, making this a book well worth reading.

Alison Longworth

 

 

LISTENING IN — A MULTICULTURAL READING OF THE PSALMS

Stephen Breck Reid (Nashville, Abingdon, 199)

108 pp. ISBN 0687011949

The Psalms have long been an integral part of Judeo-Christian worship. Consequently, the issues of how one understands and utilises them has maintained prominence in discussions concerning religious liturgy. Stephen Breck Reid provides a fresh look at the Psalms within their historical context providing a broader understanding of their meaning and significance. This context can assist the reader in employing them to deepen personal devotion. It also has implications for corporate worship life and general day-to-day circumstances. In attempting to achieve this contextualisation Reid describes what he calls the conflictual self, the authoritative self and the contextual self.

Reid begins by discussing the process of conflict between the psalmist and the enemy or "other". He likens the lament form of many Psalms to "blues" music which expresses the cognisance and the emotion of a person faced with threat. Specific Psalms are addressed and analysed to assist in understanding. He makes the helpful observation that the enemy or "other" can be an identification of threat which is either external and internal to the person. Translating this into contemporary culture Reid links the problems of sexism and racism with the idea of "enemy" or "other". He argues that these Psalms give us a structure by which we can address these social ills.

In order to describe what he means by the authoritative self Reid examines some Royal Psalms. Here he points out the nature of empowerment and disempowerment in terms the psalmist understood. The emphasis for Reid is on the empowerment which derives from relationship with God in spite of personal circumstances. This power allows God to be a "way-maker" for people and through people. The exercise of power is directly linked to the dispersion of justice and, hence, the nature of God. He concludes that this must echo in the life of God’s people. There is a framework here for relating to the disenfranchised of society.

Finally, all these concepts are grounded in the idea of the contextual self which highlights the need for human beings to both have, and exercise, memory in order to live for the future. The most significant issue Reid deals with here is that of displacement, where the writer of particular Psalms senses a transplanting of self to another place either literally or in a spiritual sense. It also identifies the notion of the absence of God as a part of this experience.

Overall this book is a very helpful attempt to observe, critically evaluate and present the Psalms (with specific citations and analysis) as a framework for the coherence of both anthropological and theological understanding. Although this analysis points up obvious benefits for the use of these Psalms in personal devotion the usage of the material in corporate worship is left to the readers’ imagination. Despite this, the book provides a firm basis for each reader to contextualise the message of the Psalms in order to deal with important issues such as disempowerment, displacement and conflict.

David J. Cohen

 

REVIEWERS

Professor Michael Lattke, University of Queensland

Sr Margaret Jenkins, Yarra Theological Union

Revd Dr Allan Davidson, Lecturer in Church History, St John’s College, Auckland

Revd Dr John Olley, Senior Lecturer in Old Testament, Murdoch University and Principal, Baptist Theological College of Western Australia

Revd Dr Kevin, Lecturer in Church History, University of Notre Dame,Australia

Revd Dr Sarah Mitchell, Principal, United Theological College, Sydney

Revd Fr Tim Costelloe, Lecturer in Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame Australia/Murdoch University

Revd Alison Longworth, Bunbury Regional Uniting Church Parish

Pastor David Cohen, Mandurah Church of Christ

 

  

 

BOOKS RECEIVED

 

Eric Osborn, Tertullian, first theologian of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) ISBN 0521590353

Derek Tovey, Narrative Art and Act in the Fourth Gospel (Sheffield; Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), ISBN 1850756872

Vashti’s Voices: A journal exploring theolgies for a just future, no 2/1 Spring 1997 Margins and Thresholds, published by Women’s Resource Centre for A National Feminist Network [NZ]

Harold J. Recinos, Who comes in the name of the Lord?: Jesus at the Margins (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 0687010020

Henry H. Knight III, A Future for Truth: Evangelical Theology in a Postmodern World (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 068700960X

Steven M. Shelley and Robert N. Nash Jr., The Bible in English Translation: An Essential Guide (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 0687001536

Callum G. Brown, Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 0748608869

R. Po-Chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal 154—1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 0521440416

Jana L. Childers & Lucy A. Rose (comp. & ed.), The Abingdon Women’s Preaching Annual, Series 1-Yr. A (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 0687057094

Rueben P. Job, A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader (Nashville, Abingdon, 1997), 0687057019

G. Curtis Jones & Paul H. Jones, Illustrations: Stories from Life for Preaching & Teaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 0687015456

B. David Hostetter, Prayer for the Seasons of God’s People: Worship Aids for the Revised Common Lectionary (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 0687336015

R. Maurice Boyd, The Fine Art of Being Imperfect (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 0687459095

J. Ellsworth Kalas, Parables of Jesus (Nashville, Abingdon, 1997), 0687056217

Duncan Forrester, The True Church and Morality: Reflections on Ecclesiology and Ethics (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997), 2825411930

Phillip Potter & Thomas Wieser, Seeking and Serving the Truth: The First Hundred Years of the World Student Christian Federation (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997), 2825412104

Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 0687058872

John M. Drescher (comp. & ed.), Invocations and Benedictions for the Revised Common Lectionary (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) 0687046297

Shannon Jung et al., Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) 0687016061

Robert L. Randall, Walking Through the Valley: Understanding and Emerging from Clergy Depression (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) 0687014638

Paul Harvey and The Edge Ministries, Retreats from the Edge: Youth Events to Build a Christian Community (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) 0687075815

Peter Lock, All Things Anew: God and Sexuality and the New Mathematics (Largs Bay, Adelaide: Queen of the South Press, 1998), 0958686815

James W. Moore, Attitude is your Paintbrush: It Colors every Situation (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1998), 0687076706



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