Mary E. Mills
(Aldershot: Ashgate Publishers, 2001) 270 pp. ISBN 0-7546-1580-4
Mills is a Lecturer in Theology at Heythrop College, University of London, UK. The book consists of an opening chapter that outlines her approach, three major sections (Parts I, II, and III), and a conclusion.
Acknowledging her indebtedness to John Barton’s understanding of how the Old Testament is to be read, especially in the area of ethics, she takes issue with traditional, one-dimensional applications of Old Testament morality by modern readers. Rather, it is argued that account must be taken of a plurality of meaning in the text; that it is necessary to enter into the world of the ancient writers. This is not to say that "moral boundaries" cannot be drawn from the OT, but that a simplistic transference of its moral values to present-day ethical questions is wrongheaded.
Mills claims that narratives have a close connection with morality: "Stories may be said to have a mimetic function, in that they produce in their symbolic world of text, situations which reflect actual human experience of life in society. … The reading and interpretation of narratives challenges the reader to reflect on personally held beliefs and values."
In developing a hermeneutic for reading Old Testament narratives, Mills proposes a "triangular context of cosmos, community and person". "Cosmos" refers to the world in which action takes place. That is, people’s actions are to be measured against the cosmic framework, the most fundamental aspect of which is the purposeful and powerful creator God. "It is through his own choice of lifestyle that a man gains either reward or punishment from the Lord." This cosmic level of morality gives the reader a framework by which he might choose between good and evil.
"In the Old Testament the concept of ‘community’ is attached to being ‘Israel’," pointing to the fact "that the Old Testament is concerned not with individuals as such but as members of a social group, shaped by its values and committed to furthering its growth and well-being". In this regard, the contractual relationship between Israel and God is fundamental. The Israelites understood themselves to be heirs to the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants, and within this framework learned how to act appropriately.
The OT attributes to persons "the capacity for self-awareness and so the capacity for taking responsibility for individual actions". Each person constitutes a mini-world in him/herself, establishing moral values and measuring ethical activities.
Part I: Morality and Character explores the aspect of "person" by examining three Old Testament narratives that focus on Abraham, David, and Esther respectively. Part II: Morality and Plot investigates "community" in the stories of Ruth, Jonah, and Joseph. Part III: Morality, Time and Place explores "cosmos" in the structuring of narratives in relation to time and space in Genesis 1-11, the book of Daniel, and the book of Job. One chapter only from each of the three Parts will be reviewed.
From the stories of Abraham in Genesis 12-24 Mills lists several possible moral interpretations of this character that have been proposed. Reading the raft of stories synchronically, it is usual to picture Abraham as a model of faith, self-possessed, silent, resourceful, taking risks in the certainty of personal belief. However, many of the stories present him in a more negative light, especially if the individual stories are viewed diachronically. As a result Abraham has been variously described as a pious man, a comic character, a trickster, a character in a tragedy, a savage parent, and an unworthy husband.
Within this presentation of "incoherence", the narrator makes very few overt comments on Abraham’s moral character, and so all the more is left to the reader to draw personal lessons. Mills judges that in the case of Abraham the topic of moral person relates to the two fronts of the cosmic and the community in opposed ways. She appears to accept the view that Abraham is both "a saint in his piety and a savage in his parenting". The reader may come to a more positive evaluation of Abraham’s morality, but in any event will draw conclusions from the stories in Genesis 12-24 relative to his/her own moral education.
The story of Ruth is one of three plots explored by Mills to exemplify the role that community plays in delineating moral vision and proper behaviour. As in previous chapters, this story demonstrates the inter-relatedness of cosmos, community, and person, but it is the aspect of community that here is paramount. God is not an active participant, as such, in the events of the book of Ruth. However, the cosmic underlies all that happens in that the story shows the overshadowing presence of God’s intervention in the world of human affairs. Individual persons move the plot along, but "the fate of the group takes precedence over individual figures". Each character is part of a social group, and personal morality is defined by the values held by that group.
The family or household is the social group in the book of Ruth. Central is the concept of hesed, both human and divine; because individuals observe Old Testament directives concerning family loyalty, protection of widows, levirate responsibility, etc., God, in loyalty, blesses them and the book ends on a happy note. The reader learns or is reminded of the blessed outcomes for those who observe the accepted moral standards of Israelite society.
Mills’ consideration of Genesis 1-11 in Part III: Morality, Time and Place examines "the narrative uses of time-sequence and place setting in establishing meaning in a story. … This dimension of existence will deal, in particular, with the role of the divine and supernatural in expressing moral attitudes constructed by human beings living in social groups." The whole cycle of stories begins with God’s cosmic activity and thus undergirds all evaluations of person and community. The legal nature of the complex is seen in God’s clearly stated intentions for his creation, and consequently ethical or unethical behaviour either aligns or transgresses those divinely appointed boundaries. There is a close link between creation order and human moral behaviour.
In God’s world order, time and place run together. In the sequence of stories Urtime, giving way to historical time in the introduction of the patriarchs from Genesis 12, is linked with various places – Eden, the ark, the city of Babel, etc. Moral issues for modern readers arising from Genesis 1-11 include those of the importance of gender, oppression in society, and pride.
In her closing chapter Mills’ practical concern comes to the fore. In her contention that biblical narratives do not contain "one unchangeable message to be discovered", she argues that there is a plurality of different readings of each text, and therefore a diversity of moral deductions to be drawn from each. However, this "does not mean that no over-arching values are to be found in the narrative nor that the text produces deceitful or frivolous ideas of little long-term significance". It is difficult for Mills to specify what these moral guidelines may be since the whole process is so individualistic, but throughout the monograph, for herself, gender issues are of great significance.
Building on the foundational plank of critical studies that the Bible must be read against its own environment and on recent interest in reader response criticism and Old Testament ethics, Mills has produced a worthwhile contribution. It is clearly written and would be of benefit to interested laymen/women and scholars alike. Readers will be challenged by her persuasive reasoning, but many will remain uncomfortable with the atomizing results of such an approach. While modern scholars are more cautious than their classical Liberal predecessors tended to be in proclaiming the assured results of their scholarship, they will still search for a greater consensus of opinion than this book proposes concerning the application of Old Testament moral standards to the modern day.
Anna L. Grant-Henderson
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002) xxi, 178 pp. ISBN 0-8146-5387-1
The sense of being part of a group is probably one of our most common human experiences and cravings, such that those who voluntarily exclude themselves are regarded as aberrant (a person like Howard Hughes comes to mind) or very holy (hermits). Groups of all sorts and at all levels of society will usually define themselves by those who are included, for example a football club. But the opposite is sometimes the case when a group fundamentally defines itself against those who are excluded, either permanently or temporarily, for example the Ku Klux Klan. Religious groups, too, must define themselves if they are to have any communicable meaning. The dilemmas and difficulties that this raises form the context of this book.
In her introduction, Dr Grant-Henderson sets out her programme, "to examine texts and books in the Hebrew Scriptures that appear to support the claim that people other than Israelites are acceptable within the worshipping community" (p. xvii). Her ultimate objective, though, goes beyond an historical or literary concern. She is intent on relating this concern to the challenges with which the contemporary Church is faced (p. 141). The questions she raises are both pertinent and urgent, and her contribution to the discussion is likewise. A preliminary discussion concerning universalism is well done and provides a most useful setting for her work which is restricted to a definite period in the Biblical story, as well as to a selected number of Biblical books or passages. At the end of the book, she returns to this topic.
An important aspect of this work is the author’s acknowledgement that the Bible presents different, even conflicting, theological messages or perspectives which, she insists, should not be reconciled. The author sees these in a positive light, for such a situation enables succeeding generations of writers/redactors to develop new insights into God’s revelation, and readers to encounter the prophetic challenges that these new insights offer.
Isaiah 56:1-8 (the first chapter) is the foundation text for her argument and her exegesis of this passage is comprehensive and carefully elucidated, and enters regularly into dialogue with the insights of other scholars. She tentatively proposes that the author, or more accurately perhaps, the redactor, of Trito-Isaiah is addressing a post-exilic situation whose major focus is to oppose the exclusivist policies of Ezekiel and Ezra/Nehemiah. In the course of this discussion, she adapts the term ‘oxymoron’ to mean a radical change of meaning which Trito-Isaiah gives to a particular theological understanding, such that it overturns the previous meaning. I found this unhelpful, since in ordinary speech, an oxymoron is a contradiction in terms which is not the case here. Rather, she is proposing that Trito-Isaiah is taking earlier themes and words and giving them new meaning which may even be contrary to previous usage.
Because this passage is central in the discussion, I suggest that the actual text should be laid out before the reader, along with some evaluation of various English translations and a formal contextual and structural analysis of the passage. It appears that the NRSV is the underlying English translation so that the references to the Hebrew seem somewhat arbitrary, or intrusive. Dr Grant-Henderson sets out her argument here in considerable detail, namely that this opening passage of Trito-Isaiah has both a positive aspect, in that it proclaims a ‘fresh’ theological understanding, and a negative one, inasmuch as it challenges a ‘received’ tradition.
There follows a more widely ranging consideration of Isaiah 56-66, in which she argues for the view that this section of the book of Isaiah is a literary (and theological) unity. While rejecting the proposition that Isaiah 56:1-8 and Isaiah 66:17-24 act as ‘bookends’, she does see them related: the former as ‘prologue’ and the latter as ‘culmination’ of Trito-Isaiah’s main theme. She discusses the final section (Isaiah 66:18-24) extensively, especially Isaiah 66:19-21, and points to the links between Isaiah 56:1-8 and Isaiah 66:17-21.
Having presented Trito-Isaiah in this new light the author turns to Isaiah 40-55, and passages from 1 Kings, Micah, Zechariah and Isaiah of Jerusalem. Her studies in this chapter give point to the phrase in her introduction, "the texts that appear to support the claim" to inclusiveness, for she judges these texts, contrary to generally accepted understanding, to be basically ‘exclusivist’. Probably this section needs more detailed discussion for it to be entirely convincing. Relevant, too, are issues concerning the distinction between ‘universalist’ and ‘inclusivist’.
The next ‘voices’ are the books of Ruth and Jonah. These she interprets as presenting an ‘inclusivist’ understanding so that ‘foreigners’ and not simply ‘resident aliens’ may become part of the worshipping community of Israel. The frequent use of this term, "the worshipping community", however, led me to realise that ‘Israel’ is not clearly enough defined. I suggest that a more precise definition of "inclusive" and "exclusive" would be both vital and productive.
On the other hand, the last of the ‘voices’ she studies are those of Ezra/Nehemiah and Ezekiel. These, of course, are the main "exclusivist" texts. A number of issues in these books are addressed by the author - notions of "separation", who are those designated as "foreigners", what groups are involved in the debate.
The final chapter is entitled "Conclusions and Implications for Today". The proper use of the Bible, an image of God that does justice to God as a relational being and the example of the early Church as discerned in the Gospel of Matthew are the major themes which the author underscores. An Appendix tabulates relationships and connections between Trito-Isaiah and other texts, and other information including the redactional growth of Trito-Isaiah. A Subject Index and an Index of Biblical Texts is included.
On a couple of occasions, the author refers to another commentator’s opinion and indicates both agreement and disagreement. I find myself similarly ambivalent about this book. At times the sequence of thought is very difficult to follow; the aim in comparing various opinions of a number of commentators needs to be clarified so that it is more succinct and, therefore, effective. At other times, however, when the author’s direction is clear, the discussion becomes compelling and quite fascinating. She dates Trito-Isaiah to 400 BCE or even later. It seems then that the question needs to be asked about the dating of the other texts which are important for her argument. The dates of the ‘historical’ persons, Ezra and Nehemiah (itself still a contentious issue) seem to be confused with the date of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and possibly Chronicles. Granted that the return to the land began to take place with the victory of Cyrus towards the end of the sixth century BCE, it seems necessary to explain why the post-exilic voice of Trito-Isaiah is not heard until the end of the fifth century, or even later.
Another difficulty I encounter in this book is to determine who is its implied readership. The book oscillates between the professionally academic (shown, for example, by its copious footnotes, the often intensive and detailed dialogue with other academic writings, the comprehensive bibliography), and the obvious desire to be pastorally relevant and contemporary. She says, for example, "We not only want people to see how important it is in the past but also its significance for us today" (p. 35). The frequent use of Hebrew words is very useful for a student, but for the interested reader, who knows no Hebrew, it might well be frustrating. For example, the statement, "The hiphil of awb(to come, hiphil = to bring) suggests they are not yet in Jerusalem" (p. 25), true as this might be, cannot be enlightening for such a reader. I was left to wonder whether this was originally some kind of thesis which now needs more adaptation to a wider readership, since the whole topic and the associated issues are so important and the author’s treatment so challenging. I noticed that footnote 12, beginning on page 51 seems to be incomplete. I commend this book for its contemporary relevance and obvious scholarship.
Joseph Sobb, S.J.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002) 329 pp. ISBN 0-8028-4438-3
Rudolf Schnackenburg’s The Gospel of Matthew provides a translation of the 1985 (Matt 1:1-16:20) and 1987 (Matt 16:21-28:20) German editions. These two volumes are combined into one, which comprises a short introduction of thirteen pages, followed by 297 pages of commentary and 29 pages of indices.
Schnackenburg places the origins of the Gospel in "a large city church made up of Jews, Greeks and other groups of people," most probably Antioch in Syria (p. 5), at a time after the destruction of the temple, probably sometime between AD 85-90. There is a special relationship between Matthew’s church and Peter: "Peter is the normative apostolic authority for Matthew’s Church" (p. 8). The Gospel is written primarily for catechesis within the community.
Schnackenburg views the confession of Peter in Matt. 16 as the turning point of the Gospel. This is indicated by the phrase in 16:21, "From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go on to Jerusalem and undergo much suffering" (cf. the wording of 4:17). From this verse onwards, the second part of the Gospel "recounts Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem under the weight of his passion, as well as his activity there" (p. 2).
While there are a number of explicit references to secondary materials in the commentary and an informed reader will detect that Schnackenburg is very familiar with many of the debates in the secondary literature, most of the commentary is set out as exposition. It is usual that when other positions are stated, they are either rejected by assertion, or reasons for their rejection are given. Take for example, the comments on the triple form of the commissioning of the disciples in 28:16-20: "Attempts have been made to explain this triple form according to various patterns: on the model of the baptismal liturgy, on that of the enthronement schema ... These attempts at an interpretation are not satisfactory" (p. 297).
Schnackenburg often derives significant insights by comparing the current text of the Gospel with what he understandings to be its sources: Mark and a sayings source. He occasionally refers to the opportunity to reconstruct the ipsissima verba of Jesus, although he comments on the text of Matthew (and quite rightly in a commentary on Matthew). One such example might be the comments on the institution of the Lord’s supper on pp. 266-67. Two shapes of the tradition are discernible: the Pauline-Lukean and the Markan-Matthew. But "we shall follow Matthew’s transmission and understanding".
Schnackenburg’s treatment of the brothers of Jesus is interesting. He concludes: "Even some more recent Catholic exegetes incline towards the prevailing Protestant view that tradition spoke of Jesus’ actual brothers and sisters. But is this tradition historically reliable? Probably even Matthew was not better informed on the matter. It would present serious difficulty for the Catholic notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The question is in need of still further discussion, both hermeneutically and dogmatically" (p. 138).
Schnackenburg is prepared to question the historicity of other parts of the account (e.g. he lists four ‘historical improbabilities’ in Matthew chapter two, p. 20), although at other times he defends the historicity of the account, as he does the event of the last supper (p. 266).
For Schnackenburg, Matthew largely uses materials that are available to him in his sources and traditions: "It can be seen that the passages just indicated are individual logia skillfully woven together by Matthew, also from the material of tradition" (p. 93). Yet there are times when the hand of the evangelist is visible, as in the parable of the wedding banquet: "This much discussed parable, explained in many different ways in the history of interpretation, was developed by Matthew from a much simpler narrative" (p. 213).
While Schnackenburg is prepared to admit the Gospel has eschatological overtones in many places, he appears reluctant to allow the full impact of the apocalyptic passages. As he says of Matthew 24: "To attempt to read apocalyptic ‘signs’ into the text, that is, data of future history enabling a calculation of the moment of the end, is to fall victim to an outmoded way of thinking or to a new fanaticism" (p. 238). Yet one wonders whether an essential element of Christianity has been lost by turning away from the strongly eschatological and yes, at times apocalyptic vision found in these and other sayings of Jesus. Nor would every reader be content to understand Jesus’ comments to Peter in Matt 16:13-20 in the following terms: "The foundation of the church, in this image, is not Peter’s faith, or Jesus’ messianic dignity, but the person of Peter himself" p. 159. Yet these and other matters on which various readers will find to differ should not give the wrong impression. The vast bulk of the commentary is founded on serious scholarship, and almost all would agree with the calm and well informed exposition that forms the bulk of this commentary. It is good that this work has now become available in English.
Robert K. McIver
Steven M. Bryan
(SNTS 117; Cambridge: CUP, 2002) 278pp. ISBN 052181183X
Steven Bryan (Dean of Studies and Instructor of New Testament at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology) presents a well written and soundly argued account of how Jewish traditions concerning judgment and restoration were creatively reworked by the historical Jesus. The gist of Bryan’s thesis is that Jesus appropriated numerous traditions about Israel’s restoration and national judgment which were reinterpreted as occurring simultaneously in his own ministry. In this sense there is a strong affinity with the aim of Bryan and John Riches’ book, Jesus and the Transformation of Judaism, where Riches endeavours to show that Jesus used Jewish religious concepts by maintaining a core-meaning but transformed them by deleting certain conventions and substituting them for others. Bryan’s approach is somewhat similar, and on the whole, more successful.
The indebtedness to Ben F. Meyer, E. P. Sanders and N. T. Wright is unmistakable at numerous junctures with Bryan identifying Jesus within the matrix of Jewish restoration eschatology. In terms of methodology, Bryan employs the criteria of authenticity in a conservative way arguing that the criteria are unreliable as negative tests of authenticity. Borrowing from J. A. Sanders’ "prophetic criticism" and M. Fishbane’s "inner-biblical exegesis" Bryan intends to show how Jesus used sacred traditions against the views of his contemporaries by setting forth a competing interpretation of those traditions.
The highlight of the book is the excursus on "Jesus and the End of the Exile" and is a must-read. Bryan takes N. T. Wright to task on his view that there was in second-Temple Judaism an all pervasive belief that the Jewish nation was still languishing in a state of on-going exile. Though appreciative of Wright’s argument, particularly in affirming a continuing sense of being-in-bondage, Bryan nevertheless exposes several deficiencies of Wright’s arguments. The only point I demur on is his preference for a "Conquest" typology over an "Exodus" one. I think the later is clearly more dominant in second-Temple literature and certainly influenced both Jesus and the New Testament writers.
Bryan then delves into a discussion of the expected sign of national restoration. The Sign Prophets (Egyptian and Theudas) in their respective activities were attempting to provide evidence for a forthcoming restoration patterned after the Exodus/Conquest. In contrast, the only sign Jesus would endorse was the "sign of Jonah" (Lk 11:30) which would be the appearance of a prophet preaching repentance and warning of national judgment. What Jonah was to the Ninevites the Son of Man would be to "this generation".
In chapter 3, Bryan argues that Jesus put forth a new understanding of national judgement and election. On the issue of pre-restoration repentance in particular, Bryan disagrees with Sanders and Wright as to whether repentance of sinners (i.e. those considered outside the covenant community) was really regarded as a possibility. He thinks that Sanders has treated texts that speak of national repentance as if they were talking of individuals. In several writings there are some sins, such as apostasy, with no opportunity of reprieve (Jubilees and Psalms of Solomon are investigated). Bryan also disputes Wright’s notion that repentance was calling the nation to abandon revolutionary zeal, something tax collectors and prostitutes would not be likely to naturally possess. Here Bryan is a fresh corrective to Sanders and Wright, but I find it hard to contest that in second-Temple Judaism there was some sense in which morally erring Jews could repent of their sins and be restored, which several texts overlooked by Bryan do suggest (e.g. Sir 17.24; Wis 11.23; 1 Enoch 40.9; T. Gad 5.7; Matt 3:7-9). Of course Bryan may respond that these texts are not related to restoration eschatology per se, but John the Baptist arguably saw moral reform as a pre-requisite for wayward Jews entering the kingdom (Q 3:7-9).
A treatment of the role of Elijah and the remnant comes to the fore in chapter 4. Jesus saw in the ministry of John the Baptist a real remnant being created and becoming the vanguard of Israel’s restoration. Bryan’s examination of the Elijah material (Mark 9:11-13) fails to produce a fitting solution to this exegetical enigma. Although Bryan draws attention to the problems inherent with other suggestions, I remain unsure whether his view that the restoration of all things achieved by John refers to: (i) John’s call for a return covenant faithfulness; and (ii) being caught up in the end time affliction of the Holy Ones. Restoration appears, to me at least, to encompass a somewhat broader category of expectation.
In chapter 5, Bryan joins in on the debate between Jacob Neusner and E. P. Sanders concerning why the Pharisees had an emphasis on purity. He rejects Neusner’s view that it was the attempt to imitate the purity laws of the Priests. Conversely, he demurs from Sanders that it was unrelated to the Temple. Bryan sets forth his own view that there was a definite nexus between Temple, Land and People with the practice of purity being inextricably bound up with Israel’s restoration which the Pharisees regarded as the presupposition to the eschaton. In contrast, Jesus believed that the constitutive elements of the purity code were no longer operative in the new eschatological hour that was dawning.
In the sixth chapter Bryan contends that Jesus’ critique of the Temple was targeted at a mistaken focus on God’s inviolable election and the Temple’s failure to presently be the eschatological Temple, resulting in a symbolic pronouncement of judgment and Jesus’ intention to build a non-physical Temple. Accordingly, Jesus does not attack one aspect of the Temple (cultic sacrifice or corruption) but its whole operation. The chapter is let down by the fact that he confines discussion of the view that Jesus critiqued the Temple for being a rallying point for Jewish nationalism to a mere footnote.
The book overall is a sterling attempt to identify and appreciate how Jesus fits in and departs from Second-Temple Jewish restoration eschatology. Bryan’s chief project, to demonstrate that the components of realized eschatology articulated by Jesus do not obviate the reality of a coming national judgement, must be judged a success. Last of all, the book is also a fine example of how historical Jesus research should be done.
Edited by Perry Schmidt-Leukel (with Thomas Joseph Götz OSB and Gerhard Köberlin)
(St. Ottilien: EOS-Verlag St. Ottilien, 2001) 179pp. ISBN 3830670699
This book brings together the papers presented at the Third Conference of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies held at Benedictine Archabbey of St. Ottilien, near Munich, Germany in 1999. These have been slightly revised for publication, together with an introduction added by Perry Schmidt-Leukel. The title of the book Buddhist Perceptions of Jesus is somewhat misleading, as the overall theme is really that of Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and the conceptions that Buddhists have of Christianity. There are reflections on the place of Jesus in Buddhist thought and some attention to Buddhist perceptions of Jesus, but these are combined with considerations of the nature and principles of, and the values and attitudes required for mutual inter-religious dialogue and understanding.
There is no sustained attention to Jesus, and where perceptions of Jesus are the focus, this are not the historical Jesus, but the figure and teaching of Jesus as encountered in a reading of the Gospels (the Sermon on the Mount comes in for favourable mention at least a couple of times) and, especially, the Jesus of the Church’s creeds and doctrine, that is, as one contributor puts it, "as the theologically-conceived God incarnate, crucified to redeem mankind from the debt of its sin" (Kern, p. 37). Another contributor, referring to a dialogue between a German Buddhist and a Lutheran clergyman at the beginning of the twentieth century, states that the dialogue never really reached "an evaluation of Jesus, and that is characteristic of the whole Buddhist-Christian encounter" (Usarski, p. 110). Though some interesting shafts are sunk, this statement summarises the papers in this book as well. The question that might fruitfully have been examined is why is this so?
I confess that I come to a reading of this book out of a very limited understanding of Buddhism, and no knowledge or experience of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. However, an implicit answer to the question of the comparative neglect of Jesus in Buddhist-Christian dialogue may lie in the somewhat negative and polemical approach to Christianity apparent in early Buddhist encounter, fuelled by defensiveness, suspicion and (in some parts, such as what was Ceylon) the experience of colonialism, that this book documents. The book describes and gives instances of Buddhist polemic, but also indicates that denigration of Buddhism came from the Christian side as well. A further answer might be that a certain amount of preliminary attention may need to be given (as it is in the book) to other issues, such as Buddhist conceptions of God, before a Buddhist can attend to the Christian understanding of Jesus. There are hints in the book that Buddhist encounters with Jesus, mediated through a reading of the Gospels and removed from the context of dialogue with a Christian understanding of Jesus, yield more positive assessments, though naturally Jesus is interpreted in Buddhist categories.
In the first chapter, Schmidt-Leukel outlines the basis of Buddhist-Christian dialogue by examining the dynamics of forming an understanding of another religion out of "auto-interpretation" (understanding one’s own religion) and "hetero-interpretation" (understanding the other’s religion out of one’s own preconceptions). Both of these may be altered and refined by dialogue and engagement with adherents of the other religion. He sets the scene with a brief historical overview of the interaction between Buddhism and Christianity, and discusses the contribution of each of the contributors. He also gives a sketch of some Buddhist criteria for evaluating other religions. This provides a useful introduction to the papers that follow, and to the praxis of Buddhist-Christian dialogue in general.
After the introductory chapter, the book is divided into three parts each representing a context within which different types of Buddhism and thus Buddhist-Christian encounters emerge. These contexts are: (a) China and Japan, (b) Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka and Thailand), and (c) Europe (Germany). A final, and fourth section gives two Christian responses.
The three contextual sections each comprise two chapters: an historical look at an aspect or aspects of past Buddhist-Christian encounters, and a contemporary consideration, often focusing on the work of one or two leading Buddhist thinkers. These latter contributions are the more interesting but are very varied, ranging from, for instance, a philosophical consideration of "Jesus in contemporary Japanese Zen", through to more personal discussions of the approach to Christianity by the Thai Ajarn Buddhadâsa by a disciple and friend (Santikaro), and a survey of the portrayal of "Jesus in Recent Buddhist Writings Published in the West". The papers providing the historical surveys suffer somewhat from being of a compressed nature, and are of rather mixed quality. Of necessity they are selective, and tend to present the views of one or two leading exponents, or a couple of the main points of Buddhist critique of Christianity. One contributor resorts to providing somewhat lengthy quotes from the work of a Singhalese Buddhist to give a "flavour" of the nature of the polemic. The relative lack of analysis, and the selective and compressed nature of the material provide a somewhat disjointed and unfinished quality to these historical papers.
As regards the doctrine of the incarnation, the papers show that there are two main difficulties Buddhists face. One is the way in which Jesus is to be understood as both God and human, and the other the claims to uniqueness, both ontologically as "the only Son of God" and as a redeemer. Both Shizuteru Ueda (through the lens of Japanese Zen) and Santikaro Bhikkhu grapple with these issues in interesting ways. Santikaro sees the exemplary nature of Jesus’ life as the key, both in the way he can thus act as a "redeemer" and the way in which he can be a complete expression of God or "Dhamma" (i.e. Nature-Truth-Natural "Law"), and in this he may be compared to (or equated with) the Buddha. Ueda’s conception is more difficult to grasp, and it would no doubt help to be better versed in Zen, Nietzsche and Heidegger than is this reviewer. But in grappling with the locus, the "where" (or in Japanese, "Basho") of Jesus Christ in the "and" of "God and man", he is wrestling at depth with the question of the absoluteness of Christian claims in a world of plural religious beliefs, and providing some interesting categories of Japanese Zen thought to attempt a way forward. Notto Thelle provides a stimulating Christian response, inviting Buddhist scholarship to "leave Buddha behind for a while" and venture on a understanding of Jesus using the central Buddhist category of Tathagata or "one who reveals the true nature of reality" (p. 153).
The editor warns that the contributions, except that by Santikaro Bhikkhu, were written by people who have English as a second language. However the writing is, for the most part, fluent and the papers read well. There are one or two small idiosyncrasies: if Santikaro’s constant references to Thailand as "Siam" had a reason other than simple anachronism, an explanation is required; and it is a distraction that the entire text of footnotes is in italics (and makes identifying the titles of books more difficult). A number of spelling mistakes and typographical errors may have been avoided with better proofreading; and in the last sentence of Kern’s paper (p. 41) a line, or some lines, appear to be missing.
All in all, this book provides some worthwhile discussion of, and pointers to, the ambience within which Buddhist-Christian dialogue should be conducted. It lays some groundwork for further work on Buddhist perceptions of Jesus.
Joan L. Mitchell
(New York & London: Continuum, 2001) viii, 152 pp. ISBN 0826413544
In 1950, the Cambridge New Testament scholar R.H. Lightfoot wrote a small book on the Gospel of Mark which included a chapter on the ending of Mark’s Gospel (The Gospel Message of Saint Mark [Oxford: Clarendon, 1950]). A man ahead of his time, Lightfoot argued that the Gospel had no lost ending and that Mark 16:8 was precisely the place the evangelist intended to finish his story. Moreover, Lightfoot suggested that the women’s fear, flight and silence at the empty tomb was an entirely appropriate response to an epiphany, an act of God. Only the modern incapacity to appreciate what R. Otto called "the terror of the holy" prevented contemporary readers from recognising the legitimacy of the women’s response in the face of the ineffable and utterly unprecedented action of God. Since then, Lightfoot’s views on the women’s response have gained little support. While most readers of Mark now consider 16:8 the real ending of the Gospel, making various attempts to interpret it, few have been persuaded by Lightfoot’s positive reading of the women’s response to the message of the resurrection. These days the most popular view is that, in the end, Markan women as well as men fail dismally to comprehend the good news of Jesus Christ; in the words of the Markan scholar Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, all prove to be "fallible followers" in desperate need of conversion.
Joan L. Mitchell’s study of the women in the Markan resurrection narrative is an exception to this modern trend. While not as positive as Lightfoot’s thesis (strangely enough, Mitchell makes no reference to it), Beyond Fear and Silence argues that Mark 16:8 is an artfully constructed and rhetorical ending to the Gospel that demonstrates, not the failure of the women disciples historically, but rather their authenticity as witnesses to the resurrection. The women’s silence echoes both that of Jesus in the Passion narrative and also that of the men disciples throughout the Gospel. Mark, suggests Mitchell, has deliberately suspended the women in fear and silence in what she calls "a daring turn to the reader" (p. 82). Its purpose is evangelical: "to coax the hearers of the story to a performative response that the historical disciples whom these story characters represent can no longer continue" (p. 97). The three women witnesses thus stand in the space between the eyewitness generation and the next generation: "a liminal space or threshold that hearers and readers must cross to faith in the risen Jesus" (p. 21).
In arguing for this reading, Mitchell has much to say about disciples within the overall Markan framework. Peter’s mother-in-law and the women followers at the cross are linked at the beginning and end of the Gospel by their service (diakonia) of Jesus which signifies their discipleship (1:31; 15:40-41). The Syro-Phoenician lures Jesus from his prejudice against Gentiles and, in so doing, "turns a metaphor of exclusion … into a metaphor of inclusion" (p. 110). The pericope of the woman who anoints Jesus summarises the good news, revealing that the cross is really about kingship not death (14:3-9). The women disciples are contrasted with the men disciples who are given considerable focus in the Markan text.
Mitchell’s focus is on the literary shape of Mark’s Gospel, rather than its historical background (though Mitchell is not unaware of this dimension) and her study illuminates the subtle narrative and rhetorical techniques of the Gospel. Literary echoes, doublets, intercalation, chiasms all reflect Mark’s recent oral past, in her view. Aware of Mark’s rhetorical strategy, Mitchell explores the Markan motifs of silence, silencing and secrecy through the text, and examines the way fear operates within the narrative. All these aspects cast light on what Mark is doing by ending his Gospel with fear, flight and silence. Thus the ending is read from a literary perspective in the light of the whole, and vice versa. These sections of Mitchell’s book are well worth a careful reading.
At the same time, Mitchell makes extensive use of North American feminist biblical theory in reading the Markan text. Her indebtedness to Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza is reiterated at a number of points. Indeed Beyond Fear and Silence moves (sometimes awkwardly) between exegetical insights and hermeneutical statements, the latter lacking the sense of freshness and energy that the former possesses in abundance. One wonders why a "liberation hermeneutic" needs to be spelled out so laboriously when the point being argued is fundamentally exegetical. This is not to deny the importance of recognising the bias in all interpretations, but a turgid hermeneutic in the style of Schüssler Fiorenza is hardly necessary to establish that women characters have been side-lined in biblical interpretation or to argue that the "spice-bearing women" possess a crucial role in the Markan text as witnesses to the resurrection. Mitchell would have succeeded better in expanding the exegetical sections with more detailed argument and compressing the hermeneutical theory. The impression gained is that Mitchell has deliberately opted for a "women’s reading" of the text that places the female rather than male characters as central. How can such a collapse into relativism challenge patriarchal readings that consciously or unconsciously marginalise women in the Gospel? One would have assumed that Mitchell is wanting to establish a more substantial point and challenge misogynist interpretations as fundamental distortions of the biblical text.
Mitchell’s particular brand of feminist theorising does seem to intrude unhelpfully when she speaks of the Gospels’ wrongful tendency to "heroicize Jesus" (p. 29). She argues that a feminist reading "decenters interpretation from Jesus and his men followers", giving attention instead to the "women disciples" who are "of equal importance" (p. 97). These are puzzling statements from a theological point of view. Elsewhere in the book, Mitchell has clearly grasped the nature of Markan Christology and the definitive theological role of Jesus as the Beloved Son whose person and work, death and resurrection embody the reign of God. Mitchell is clear in asserting that, from the viewpoint of soteriology, Jesus’ maleness is not ultimately of significance. Yet here Jesus is identified simply as another male character in the Markan text, capable of being cast into (inappropriate) heroic categories. Surely the change in focus needs to move from the overly close identification of Jesus and the men disciples to an equally insistent concern with Jesus and the women disciples. Grave injustice is done to Jesus’ identity, in Mark’s understanding, if he is only to be viewed as another male character. His divine identity as the Beloved Son is of equal importance and places him beyond simple gender categories. His theological significance is for men and women alike: while standing with them, he also stands over against them in the Markan Gospel.
Beyond Fear and Silence is written to appeal to a wider audience than the learned, scholarly élite. Technical terms are explained and subjective experience employed to expound the Markan text. The endnotes are minimal but helpful. Mitchell is clearly concerned to communicate the insights of biblical criticism as much to lay people as to clergy and scholars. She succeeds well in this endeavour. Oddly, despite her allegiance to the Schüssler Fiorenza model of biblical interpretation (which, by its results, is largely negative about the usefulness of the Bible for women), Mitchell’s conclusions are remarkably positive. Mark’s Gospel is, for the most part, exonerated from the kind of prejudice that has characterised its interpreters. One might well disagree with Mitchell’s conviction that the other Gospels have been guilty of marginalising women’s witness (including the Gospel of John!), but her focus of attention is a welcome one. Too often the Bible and its interpreters are grouped together under the same stern feminist judgement. Mitchell is sensitive to such issues of interpretation and clear about where the real problem lies.
This is a good book, well written and eminently readable. In addition to the endnotes, it contains a good bibliography (though the omission of Lightfoot is regrettable), an index of ancient sources and an index of names. Although there is no subject index, this is an easy book to negotiate, with short chapters, and material on various issues is not hard to find. Admittedly, Mitchell’s creative reading of Mark’s Gospel is somewhat diminished by the hermeneutical jargon but otherwise it is an impressive reading of the Gospel, useful for students of Mark at whatever stage of their journey.
HERMENEUTICS IN DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA
(Bern: Peter Lang, 2002) 277 pp. ISBN 3906769070
Tarmo Toom was born in Estonia. He has studied theology in Baptist seminaries in Switzerland and in the United States of America, and received his doctorate in historical theology from The Catholic University of America. He teaches historical theology at John Leland Center for Theological Studies, Falls Church, Virginia. This book is volume 4 in the series International Theological Studies: Contributions of Baptist Scholars, edited by Thorwald Lorenzen.
In this volume, Toom analyzes the biblical hermeneutics of Augustine, focusing on the original first three books of De doctrina Christiana. Toom begins by pointing to two earlier works of Augustine. In Contra Academicos, Augustine had defended the possibility of attaining certain knowledge. In De magistro, he had discussed the complex relationship between words and signs and argued that true knowledge comes only through the illumination that is the gift of Christ, the inner Teacher. Toom then turns to De doctrina Christiana, showing how in this work Augustine develops a biblical hermeneutics that is, in its very essence, a Christological theory.
One of the keys to Augustine’s work is the distinction he makes between God who is to be enjoyed (frui) and all of God’s creatures that are to be used (uti) as means to God. Even the humanity of Christ is a means to God, something to be used as the way to God. In Jesus we find the Wisdom of God who has adapted herself to our weakness. The incarnate Christ, according to his humanity, is to be used as the way to our homeland and according to his divinity is that homeland itself. The Scriptures, like the humanity of Christ, are to be used. They refer to something beyond themselves. Their reference is to the higher reality that is to be enjoyed, the life of union with God in Christ.
For Augustine, then, the Scriptures are signs that point to a reality. In order to interpret the Scriptures properly it is necessary to know the reality to which they refer. Augustine sees the saving work of God in Christ as the overall reference of the Scripture. In the light of this overall reference, he specifies two fundamental criteria for the interpretation of the Scriptures. One is the rule of faith. Through the rule of faith, centred on the incarnation, the clear overall meaning of the Scripture, as understood in the church, becomes a fundamental criterion for interpreting more difficult texts. The second criterion is the double commandment of love for God and one’s neighbour. Augustine sees the fulfillment and goal of the Scriptures as love for that which is to be enjoyed (God) and love for those who are called to enjoy God with us. A sound interpretation of Scripture will give rise to caritas. The Scriptures are not the final telos, but as something to be used as a means to the telos, with the caritas that abides (1 Cor 13:13). So for Augustine, the regula fidei and caritas are the key hermeneutical criteria for interpreting the sacred text.
In one of his chapters, Toom presents a technical study of linguistic signification in the ancient world. This forms a context for his treatment of Augustine’s science of signs. Building on his predecessors, Augustine provides his own science of signs that provides a comprehensive approach to biblical interpretation, covering both literal and figurative senses, and the unknown and ambiguous references of the biblical texts. One of Augustine’s principles for knowing when a text should be interpreted figuratively rather than literally is that anything that in a literal reading cannot be related to the love of God and neighbour or to the rule of faith is to be interpreted figuratively. Another principle is that of absurdity: whenever something is absurd when interpreted at a literal level, its meaning should be sought at a figurative level. In other words, it should be interpreted in the light of the Christ event.
The title of the book reflects what Toom sees as one of the central ideas of Augustine’s text. This is the analogy between the human word and the divine Word. The inner word or thought needs to be "clothed" in sound, to become a spoken word, if it is to communicate to others. This provides a limited but useful analogy for understanding the way the eternal Word of God is "clothed" with humanity in order to bring revelation and salvation to the world. Augustine is convinced that the science of signs is to be understood in the theological context of the incarnation and the two nature of Christ. The fundamental sign is the humanity of Christ, which in hypostatic union with the divine nature, enables us to know God. The biblical signs reflect this structure and are to be interpreted in the light of it. A Christian interpreter of the Scriptures reads the words of the text in the light of Christ the Word.
I find Toom convincing. His fundamental claim is that Augustine adopted a thoroughly theological approach to biblical hermeneutics. There is a symbiotic relationship between Augustine’s christology and his interpretation of the Scriptures. The biblical words are signs pointing to the res, the reality of God’s saving love manifest in Christ. The biblical signs are the means by which in a post-Fall world we can get to know our ultimate goal which is God. The attitude we need to adopt in interpreting the Scriptures is to take on the mind of Christ, the humility of the one who emptied himself and took the form of a slave.
The author of this book is convinced that the knowledge of Augustine’s hermeneutics and his theory of signs is truly beneficial for contemporary exegetes and theologians. He believes that De doctrina Christiana should be included in every course that teaches biblical exegesis. After reading this book I was convinced about the first of these claims. I found much that is relevant in Toom’s analysis for my own work as a theologian. And I think that the second claim is warranted as well, at least in the sense that I think every student of exegesis should be exposed to the main lines of Augustine’s approach. For these reasons I think this is a useful book for theological libraries and for theologians and exegetes.
Hughes Oliphant Old
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 514pp, ISBN 0802847757
This important, massive book is the fourth of an intended seven volume series covering preaching from the time of Moses to the present. Old points out that this is a pivotal volume because with the Reformers came a "refocusing of preaching, a rethinking of its purpose and a reevaluation of its relation to the worship of the Church" (p. 1) — in short, a reformation of preaching itself.
Though there is a discernable variation in the quality of writing between chapters which in itself is understandable, this is still a remarkable work. Despite its volume title, alluding as it does to the period of the Reformation, it covers both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It has an amazing breadth (or ecumenical) perspective and depth of research examining the Protestant Reformers and the preachers of the Catholic Reformation, followed by the Puritans and Anglican preaching of the next century. Further, the author surveys seventeenth century Protestant preaching in Germany, France, the Netherlands and concludes with a fine chapter on the elaborate baroque preaching of the court of Louis XIV of France.
Old clearly has a thesis in mind, a thesis that he advocates very strongly throughout — which in itself becomes both the strength and weakness of his approach to the subject. He views good and worthwhile preaching to be always (and only?) expository and prophetic, to be in (what he terms) "plain style". He also seeks to show in what way preaching has been considered to be part and parcel of worship. His overall intention is apparently to encourage that kind of preaching today. He is self-consciously American and Protestant (and I guess Reformed in theology), and it is largely to that equivalent audience to which he passionately speaks.
Old’s first chapter, on the Reformers, is exceptionally well written. He begins with Luther whom he speaks of as "a prophet who had a very distinct message for a very definite time" (p. 7). After a brief introduction on Luther’s Christocentric thinking and preaching, the writer singles out particular sermons to summarize — a method he employs frequently with the major preachers with whom he deals. In this case he analyzes Luther’s early Sermon preached at Erfurt on the journey to Worms, 1521; the Christmas Postil, 1522; his Catechetical Sermons, 1528; his Sermons on the Gospel of John, 1537.
In this way Old presents both the thought and the expository method of the Reformer’s preaching — showing particularly Luther’s concern for the centrality and the application of the Word. For Luther, the purpose of preaching is, above all, to glorify Christ and, secondarily, to serve the welfare of God’s people. In that way, Old argues, quite understandably, preaching is worship because it is doxological in its intent. This is followed by a helpful section on Luther’s theology of the Word in which Old shows that the Reformer held the Scriptures to be authoritative and held that preaching in itself was an act of worship — for both preacher and congregation.
This is followed by equally informative and well-argued sections on Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Bucer and the other pastors of Strasbourg, Brenz, Calvin and the English Reformers.
Old is again particularly strong on the Puritans. "Puritanism produced profound preaching," he says, "It engendered a popular revival of preaching, especially of biblical preaching" (251). With this introductory comment we see again his thesis coming to the fore. Old summarizes and discusses at length the preaching of differing but important Puritans: Perkins, Sibbes, Preston, Goodwin, Manton, Watson, and Flavel. He seeks to demonstrate his conviction that the real concern of the Puritans was the deepening of the experience of worship and their belief that preaching was the primary means God had given for the reforming of the heart and life of believers. "Listening to the Word of God was at the center of true Christian worship. … It led the congregation in the glorifying and enjoying of God" (p. 329).
These two major and lengthy chapters (being half the book), together with a section on John Donne and the last chapter on the Age of Louis XIV, are the strongest in the present volume. Here we sense a thoroughness and a certain compatibility. Here we sense Old working from his own Reformed Protestant platform of understanding. And though Old is certainly appreciative of Catholic preaching in the seventeenth century, for example, and of others he would not agree with theologically, it seems to me that he does not reach the same profundity in these chapters. One reason, perhaps, is that holding so strongly to a clear and limited idea of what defines good preaching does not seem to allow Old to judge others by their own definitions, to take them from their own understanding first. In a sense, and I wouldn’t push this too far, they appear prejudged. One example must suffice.
It should be said that chapter 4 is an entirely adequate survey of Anglican preaching in the time of the Puritans. It is important in that it introduces baroque culture and its complex relationship to the preaching of the period. Old shows that the preachers, such as Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, Robert South and John Donne, were very concerned that their preaching appear learned. This may be the case. But with this comment Old distances these men from his personal concept of what preaching is all about: "plain style", prophetic and expository.
Old’s examination of Donne’s preaching seems too biased from that perspective. He describes him as "a preacher who made an art of preaching, a poet who brought to the pulpit an exquisite linguistic refinement" (p. 338). There is truth in this assessment, of course, as is clear from even a cursory reading of Donne’s sermons. But is that all there is to Donne? I doubt whether he should be reduced to that. The author then outlines Donne’s views of minister, the Word, the place of preaching in worship and clearly warms to him, saying at one point for example, "The very sound of the preacher’s words evoke the mystery of creation" (p. 345). Old discusses Donne’s Festal Sermons and his Prebend Sermons showing not only the preacher’s thought but also his style and method.
It seems incongruent to me, then, that Old can conclude on this particular preacher by stating that because for Donne grace was not irresistible it needed to be supported by eloquence (p. 359)! It is questionable whether that was really the reason for Donne’s personal use of poetic and graphic language. Old later comments generally, "There is an interesting correlation between the Arminian approach to the ministry of preaching and the baroque approach to the art of preaching. For the Arminian the preacher’s ministry was to persuade, or even more, to stir up the Christian to live a Christian moral life. … The art of doing this was eloquence" (362). The implied criticism seems unwarranted to me. Surely we discern eloquence in the overtly Reformed preaching of Whitefield and Spurgeon in later years? Surely Reformed preachers seek to persuade! Their style is different, but it remains just that - style, in the service of persuasion.
It seems to me that generally there is a lack of critical engagement in Old’s approach to the subject. He surveys and describes extremely well, he sets the whole subject into the wider context of ecclesial history and theology, but he does not engage. Some comments seem naive or simply strange: he calls the Reformers "a team" (p. 90), for example. He claims rather sweepingly that the preaching of the Reformers was received "with joy and enthusiasm by those who heard them" (p. 130). He admits that some aspects of the Counter Reformation (as Old insists on calling it despite present consensus against this) "are a bit disturbing to an American Protestant" (p. 168). He equates Paul’s use of ‘prophecy’ with ‘preaching’ in 1 Corinthians 14 (p. 261), a view that doesn’t really hold water except in Reformed exegetical circles. And so on.
Despite the problems that I have intimated (and, given the size of the work, they are few), this is an excellent book. As a survey of preaching in the two centuries covered it is probably unequalled in the English language. It should be read by anyone interested in the Reformation and the subsequent century or in preaching. What is needed now is a volume devoted to critical engagement with some of the ideas that surface in Old’s treatment.
RELIGIOUS RESPONSES TO A MODERNISING SOCIETY
(Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002), xi, 347pp. ISBN: 0199249229
Rowan Strong’s impressively researched book examines in depth the history of the Episcopal Church in Scotland from 1792, when it first achieved legal toleration, until the end of the nineteenth century. It is, in one respect, a story with a happy ending, for between 1851 and 1900 the numbers of its adherents almost tripled. In another respect, however, the picture is perhaps less rosy, as the Church had become increasingly anglicized and more British, losing much of its traditional liturgy and distinctive "Scottishness". After many vicissitudes it finally prospered, but perhaps at the expense of its soul.
The book is divided into seven chapters, with the first being an overview of Scottish Episcopalianism from the mid-sixteenth century until 1900. Then follow three chapters, the core of the book, detailing the Church’s history in the North-East of Scotland ("Rural Episcopalianism"); in the Highlands ("Gaelic Episcopalianism"); and in the burgeoning cities of nineteenth-century Scotland ("Urban Episcopalianism"). There follows an interesting chapter on the theological divisions within the Church, between the Evangelicals and those whom Strong - acknowledging the anachronism - calls the Anglo-Catholics, which can be profitably compared with what was happening in the Church of England at the same time. The penultimate chapter examines the role of the aristocracy, whose wealth was viewed as perhaps the only source of funding available to resolve the chronic need for church building. The final chapter draws all the threads together in an effective way.
The six decades following toleration was a long period of struggle for the Scottish Episcopal Church, partly for internal reasons relating to such issues as recruiting sufficient and acceptable clergy, particularly in the Highlands, and partly because of the enormous social and economic changes which Scotland underwent and which included a massive population shift to the central industrial belt of the country and away from the Church’s main bases in the north. Chapters two and three focus on the North-East and the Highlands respectively, where some of the major problems for the Church were highlighted. Congregations tended to be small, as witnessed by the fact that in 1851 the Episcopal Church had seventeen more congregations than the Roman Catholics (134 to 117), yet attendances on census day were 43904 for the former and 79723 for the latter. Whatever the size of congregations, they still needed to be serviced by clergymen. The North-East was the Church’s heartland, where it largely serviced the poor and the working classes. Strong has an interesting section on how, in the 1860s, the Church’s rivalry with Presbyterianism was played out with the formation of congregational schools that were open to the latter’s children. Hopes that the schools would help to diminish Presbyterian hostility were largely fulfilled, but expectations of widespread conversions were not.
In the Highlands, Strong points to the lack of Gaelic-speaking clergymen as a major reason for the Church’s struggles in that region, as well as to major economic changes and emigration (as an example of the latter, in 1852 300 Episcopalians emigrated to Australia from Appin, severely weakening one of the Church’s Highland strongholds). What strengthening in membership occurred in the region was primarily the result of incoming English Anglicans, the product of a new Highland tourism, but this augmenting came at the expense of traditional Gaelic cultural traditions. In this respect, the Episcopal Church faced the same problems as the other Scottish Churches, and, indeed, as the various denominations in Ireland and Wales also, for, as Strong notes, the social and political elites of the "Celtic fringe", who were "the decision-makers in the churches", increasingly appropriated English culture, speech and attitudes. The Scottish Episcopal Church survived this cultural onslaught, but at the expense of many of its indigenous traditions.
In his chapter on cities Strong focuses on Glasgow, which had all the problems of a nineteenth-century city environment - unchurched masses, immigration and social dislocation - writ large. The Episcopal Church started at a disadvantage, having only two congregations there at the end of the eighteenth century. At a time of political turmoil, and newly legitimised, it is understandable that the Church’s leaders were socially and politically conservative and this loyalism lasted long into the 1820s. Strong suggests that the repressive climate may have discouraged "any innovative religious response to the new urban masses" (p. 159), but if so this position corresponded neatly with the bishops’ own socially conservative views. They were, claims Strong, reluctant to face the major issues of working-class urban life. Indeed, he writes, "Theirs remained a socially conservative, even timid, voice, throughout most of the century, and certainly during the first half of it" (p. 160). This eventually led to criticism from within the Church—coming mainly from urban middle-class professional adherents—who thought that the Church should develop a more missionary spirit. While Strong accepts the validity of this criticism, he offers some defence of the Church’s leaders by pointing out that other larger denominations were equally slow to recognise and to attempt to deal with the new problems of a mass urban society. In sum, Strong attempts to modify the traditional view that the Episcopal Church comprised mainly a social elite who possessed little evangelistic enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the Church missed the bus; despite the enthusiastic efforts of individual clergymen in the mid-century decades, by the time the power of the bishops was diluted in the 1870s it was too late. The working classes were already increasingly alienated from all forms of religious persuasion. The success of the Church in increasing its numbers resulted more from its appeal to the middle classes than to the working classes.
This is a very long book (with one page for approximately every ten adherents to the Episcopal Church in the late eighteenth century), full of detail and suitable, perhaps, mainly for the expert in Scottish ecclesiastical history. The archival research underpinning the book is very impressive. It will stand without doubt as the definitive account of the Scottish Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century.
(Nedlands WA: University of Western Australia Press, 2001), xii, 232pp. ISBN 1876268689
The history of the Anglican Church in Western Australia has hardly been explored by professional historians. In one sense this is surprising, given that it is a history chronologically coterminous with European settlement and that it was by far the most important of all religious communities in this most isolated of British colonies. In another sense, this neglect is expected given the overwhelmingly secular presuppositions of historians raised in Australian universities where religion was absent as an academic discipline. So, in Australian historiography religion has been reduced to a monochromatic sectarianism by historians confident that that was all there was to it. This reductionist interpretation is, thankfully, under increasing challenge in some Australian histories being written today. As the work of one scholar who has for some time upheld the validity of religion as a serious subject for Australian historians, this book is a welcome, though necessarily limited, addition to a new examination of Australian society that no longer overlooks religion.
Tonkin is aware of the pitfalls of such a history centred around a major institutional edifice such as St George’s cathedral in Perth. It could too easily have become the history of a building and be turgidly focused on denominational inward concerns that have been the bête noir of church history in the past. But Tonkin has used the motif of the cathedral to focus rather on the people and community for whom it provided an identity as Anglicans. Their history from European settlement in 1829 until the present day is encompassed in this work. This is a history of a diverse group of people and their involvement in wider Perth society. However, Tonkin is not able to entirely escape an institutional focus and in the latter sections of the work the book does rather become limited to an analysis of the work of successive deans and bishops. These chapters on the later twentieth century are rather more exclusively clerical in focus which is unfortunate for the overall aim of the book as a social, rather than an institutional history.
Tonkin charts how the conformable, mildly Evangelical Anglicanism of Perth was increasingly challenged by innovative Anglo-Catholicism among the clergy and some lay followers. The crux of this change was centred on the ministry of Dean Frederick Goldsmith (1888-1904). Goldsmith’s cautious ritualism was assisted by having a new cathedral to play with from 1888. Goldsmith began a tradition of deans who were mildly Anglo-Catholic or just innovative in liturgical or social ministries. Deans, in Tonkin’s view, were the major figures of influence in the history of the congregation, many of them having a major civic position in addition to their ecclesiastical one. But these men usually experienced more or less tension with their respective bishops, culminating in the public opposition of Dean David Robards to Archbishop Peter Carnley’s ordination of women priests. Tonkin valuably covers this piece of recent Anglican history by helpfully giving an accurate presentation of the chronology of the events and by sympathetically treating both protagonists as having the public conviction of their beliefs.
Notwithstanding the power of the clergy, St George’s was an Anglican cathedral congregation which was home to leading laity who were powerful members of Perth society. Indeed, the cathedral continually experienced tension between its parochial and diocesan roles. Particularly in the later nineteenth century the cathedral’s other function as a parish church gave opportunity for power by laity who were not afraid to use their influence in the name of the moderate but rather old-fashioned religion they espoused. If there were more men than women in this history it is an accurate reflection of the masculine dominance of the institutional structures of the church for most of the period this history covers. Tonkin is well aware that powerful laity such as Alexander Forrest and Winthrop Hackett were as influential in the church as they were in society, and both in the name of the ‘muscular’ moderate Evangelical Anglicanism they espoused. It becomes clear from Tonkin’s work that the alliance of the Anglican Church with the state was a paradigm that remained influential well into the twentieth century in Perth at least.
However, more attention could have been drawn to the way in which women were structurally subordinate in the church for most of this history, resulting in their ‘disappearance’ from many of the church records Tonkin worked with. But this is not the same thing as their absence from influence within the congregation. Perhaps other, less official sources might have given a better picture of the life of Anglican women in these earlier periods of the cathedral congregation? One example of this is the work of Deaconess Dorothy Genders whose work in the 1930s and 40s was rather thinly dealt with (p. 98).
The University of Western Australia Press are to be congratulated on the attractiveness of this book. The pages are of good quality paper, with wide margins and a pleasing typeface. It is lavishly illustrated with black and white photographs, and there is a thorough index which includes themes as well as persons and places. As usual, the end-notes do not facilitate the consulting of notes by the reader, but this should be attempted as Tonkin has used them to frequently expand the points made in the text.
Notwithstanding its limitations as a history of one, albeit major, Anglican institution this is a work whose significance goes beyond that partial focus. In writing a sympathetic but critical history of St George’s cathedral, Tonkin has also provided studies of major West Australian Anglican figures in its bishops, deans, and some laity. This is a work that helps to bring the history of Anglicanism in Western Australia more up to date and, in doing so, provides a springboard for more wide-ranging critical work to be done.
John Gascoigne (with the assistance of Patricia Curthoys)
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) xiii, 233pp. ISBN 0521803438
Associate Professor John Gascoigne (University of NSW) offers here a fascinating and thorough study of the influence of Enlightenment thinking on European Australian history to the mid-1800s. His book, says Gascoigne, argues that in the Australian setting Enlightenment and Christian values often mutually confirmed the impulse towards promotion of the ideals of improvement (p. 14).
It should be borne in mind that the title theme primarily concerns the British Enlightenment, in which a better relationship was maintained with Christian values than on the continent. In England, early promotion of the sufficiency of human reason and attempts to marginalize Christian thinking, and biblical theology in particular, were successfully countered by men like Bishops Berkeley and Butler. There were also numerous scholarly vicars who maintained a serious interest in science and often contributed by quality research to the new learning without compromising their religious commitment. This was also the case in Australia, as the author shows. In Europe there were significant differences. In France especially, a greater hostility prevailed between the Enlightenment and Christian values. The Encyclopedia (published mainly from 1750-1772) under its brilliant editor Denis Diderot, promoted a ‘natural’ and secular religion, and ultimately a Deism entirely subject to human reason. Voltaire and Rousseau were among the many contributors whose writings in their different ways analyzed the whole range of human thinking. Traditional Christianity was likely to be blamed for its social morality, and belief in revelation often portrayed as the enemy of scientific thought. They were not challenged with any great effect by serious Christian thinkers, especially when after a bitter campaign the most effective defenders of orthodoxy, the Jesuits, were suppressed in France in 1764.
The planning of a penal colony at Botany Bay was led by an elite steeped in Enlightenment thinking. They had lately been much influenced by ideas from the American Declaration of Independence, and would soon be wrestling with the more radical challenges of the French Revolution and its concepts of human rights. Within Australia there were the direct Christian-Enlightenment influences by local clergy, as mentioned, continuing the traditions of their homelands. Among many others were Reverend John Lillie in Tasmania, botanist Rev. William Woolls, and celebrated geologist, Rev. William Clarke, one of those who discovered gold years before Edward Hargraves. When he showed specimens to Governor Sir George Gipps he was brusquely told, "Put them away Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut." Only some clergymen were comfortable with the idea of a connection of the Enlightenment with Christian values. Rev. Henry Fulton criticized John Macarthur who "betrayed the influence of the Deists" . Dr W. B. Ullathorne some years later, as Vicar General of the Catholic Church in Australia, accused Fulton himself of promoting Enlightenment infidelity.
More influential sources of Enlightenment ideas in early European Australia were not clerics at all. They included thinkers going back a century to John Locke, and also contemporaries like Tom Paine and Jeremy Bentham. As Gascoigne shows, these two were frequently quoted by colonists, and Bentham’s influence was direct from as early as 1802. The next year he wrote a work attacking the unconstitutional powers of the governor "of the Penal Colony of New South Wales". The title of his pamphlet asserted that such powers constituted "the oppression of British Subjects" and contravened Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus and numerous other laws and rights. The grounds on which he based this assault were chiefly the absence of two rights: representative government, and the separation of powers. The governor’s powers were appropriate for those subject to military rule and for convicts, but "were not binding on free settlers, who had the right to be consulted in the formulation of the laws by which they were governed" [40f]. These were not esoteric philosophical concepts. In a well-argued case, Gascoigne credits Bentham’s pamphlet with encouraging among free citizens of NSW, including John Macarthur, an anti-government belief that the decrees of governors did not apply to them. In our only successful revolution, the Rum Rebellion, Macarthur had an important role in urging Major Johnston "instantly to place Governor Bligh under arrest", as happened on 26 January 1808. From his forthcoming book Michael Duffy argues that Bligh was arrested because he was not a man of honour [SMH, 25,1, 03]. True as this may be, Gascoigne’s explanation that it was seen as a case of military despotism over free settlers seems more persuasive. Sympathy with Johnston on this ground and attempts to link his actions with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 may have helped him as in the event he was merely cashiered for a potentially capital offence (p. 42ff.).
Gascoigne examines many contexts for Enlightenment themes. The advancement of science is one, especially in its application to the land. Achievements like the remarkable improvement in merino wool quality are well treated. Learning to cultivate lands and soils so different from those of Europe was much more difficult. It required a considerable "unlearning" process, also well summarized. The need for agriculture to take into account times of low rainfall and of more serious droughts is still with us.
Transportation of convicts is examined under more than one heading. Australia offered the convicts opportunities that prompted a number of them — the Irish in particular — to write home to their families urging them to migrate to this blessed land. But the cruel treatment of convicts continued to cause serious concern. The Molesworth committee — inspired by Benthamite principles — met in 1837 to study the entire matter. Invited to speak before it when it was learnt he was back in England, Dr Ullathorne made a contribution well deserving of attention. An outcome of the Molesworth report was the appointment of reformer of prison policy, Alexander Maconochie, to Norfolk island where he successfully inaugurated a system of rewards as well as punishments. Sadly he was accused of treating the convicts too leniently. Not long after, transportation was abolished.
On the related theme of immigration a surprising omission is discussion of the migration of free women to Australia from the 1830s. Many were virtually forced into prostitution on arrival. The extraordinary achievements on their behalf of Caroline Chisholm, both in Australia and then in England, where she established her Family Migration Loan Society in 1854, are not mentioned. They should be. Few women in the world during the 1800s compare with her social achievements.
In his final chapter Gascoigne turns to the theme of Race and the Limits of ‘Improvement’. As often throughout, he gives a valuable insight into the presuppositions of European Australians. Benighted preconceptions doomed many genuinely well-meant public policies towards the Aborigines. A typical instance was Governor Macquarie’s 1814 plan to provide small farms of ten acres with hut and farming implements to any adult Aboriginal wishing to become a settler (p. 156). European settlers were often disappointed that Aborigines were uninterested in being employed on farms. In all jobs their tradition of "going walkabout" from time to time was also seen as a defect. Only graziers were satisfied with Aboriginal workers. Their skills as trackers enabled them to find stock when there were no fences. The same skills gave Aboriginal police great value to the settlers’ police forces, although often employed against their own people.
The expectations of Europeans, as Gascoigne shows, were often based on ideas such as the "stadial" theory. Combined with the Enlightenment idea of progress the theory was that it is "normal" for humans to ascend a ladder from hunter-gathering to grazing, to tilling the soil and so on, to the ultimate: being exactly like Europeans. Most missionaries had similar preconceptions (p. 157). Like others, they assumed that along with Christianity the Aborigines would imbibe an English or European way of life. Some believed that all primitive peoples accepted some kind of "Great Spirit" concept. That Aborigines had no equivalent terms worried them, and few missionaries recognized their spirituality. All found conversions difficult. The sight of groups of Aborigines living in squalor on the outskirts of towns convinced some Europeans that the best approach would be to protect them from such contact. Archbishop Polding’s inputs to a Select Committee looking into the conditions of the Aborigines in 1845 are quoted, including his rejection of the idea of employing them in agriculture, and his refusal to affirm stadial theory (p. 168). Polding’s direct input into the mission of the Italian Passionist Fathers was far from felicitous. He chose to establish them on remote South Stradbroke island in 1843 to be well away from the influence of European Australians. He forbade the missionaries giving the Aborigines any food, to avoid making them dependent on handouts. Three or four years later the priests got back to Sydney starving and in rags. Ironically, in the absence of the food supplies the prelate had promised, only the generosity of the Aborigines had enabled them to survive.
The book is well produced and relatively short with 172 pages of text, but the double pages of close, small print are challenging. This is a pity because the content reveals excellent research and maintains a high standard.
Edited by Clive Erricker and Jane Erricker
(London and New York: Continuum, 2001) xix, 252pp. ISBN 0826449484
"I come before the spiritualite; Two cardinals, and byshoppis fyve" (1441 Pol. Poems (Rolls), Oxford English Dictionary). Language evolves. The use and understanding of the word "spirituality" demonstrates this very clearly. Although in the fifteenth century it referred to the clergy, today the word has multiple meanings and its use ranges from the field of religious belief to the world of business. Clive Erricker and Jane Erricker claim that "the challenge of the spiritual is the most significant we face in our contemporary world" because spirituality is ultimately political (p. xv). In this collection, Erricker and Erricker link spirituality to a sense of "belonging" in society (p. xv). With such deliberate openness, the editors hope to illustrate different dimensions of spirituality across a wide spectrum that includes a selection of twentieth century writers and several diverse communities, each with its own unique socio-cultural, religious and political context.
In the first part of the volume, six writers are examined in relation to their histories, the major themes in their writings and their influence. According to Clive Erricker the writers were chosen because they "question our presumptions of human progress by recourse to spiritual visions that do not accommodate themselves to religious, scientific or economic orthodoxies" (pp. 4-5).
In the first essay of the collection, Ursula King focuses upon the Christ mysticism of the Jesuit biologist and palaeographer Teilhard de Chardin. In the present climate of environmental crisis and the drive towards sustainability, Teilhard’s understanding of mysticism, as the transformation of the spirit through an engagement with world, offers "a new spirituality and mysticism to help us shape a fresh global vision and social ethic for the greater unification of humankind" (p. 29). Shirley du Boulay introduces the life and thought of the Benedictine monk Bede Griffiths who, after moving to India, was drawn into a dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity. Whilst critically aware of the distinctiveness of each religious tradition, Bede believed that we must move beyond human rationality "into a deeper unity of being in which all conflicts are resolved" (42). The contribution of the Cisterian monk, Thomas Merton, is considered by Danny Sullivan. Although there has been a tendency, particularly in Protestantism, to oppose and contrast the contemplative, mystical vision with the prophetic voice, through his life and writings, Merton shows that such a dichotomy cannot be sustained. Prayer and peace cannot be separated whether campaigning for social justice or promoting interfaith dialogue.
The life and work of Kiddu Krishnamurti is discussed by Clive Erricker. Originally chosen by Annie Besant to be a world teacher, Krishnamurti broke with the Theosophical Society. Krishnamurti challenges our understanding of human consciousness in that he declares that consciousness is "both the product of fragmentation (as a conceptualisation based on difference), and the creator of fragmentation" (p. 71). The sixth study by Geshe Thupten Jinpa is of the Dalai Lama. From a Buddhist perspective, the Dalai Lama expounds a spirituality with a strong ethical component. The Dalai Lama makes a distinction between religion and spirituality where spirituality is related to "those qualities of the human spirit–such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony–which bring happiness both to self and others" (p. 81). Aware of the distinctiveness of each religious tradition, the Dalai Lama is a strong advocate of inter-faith dialogue which he sees as important if the different religious traditions are to contribute positively and constructively to world affairs. The life and works of Carol Christ, a founder of the "Goddess Movement" are reviewed by Ruth Mantin. Personal narrative plays an important role in Christ’s feminist spirituality. Through her theology, Christ alerts us to the correlation between language and power, embodied spirituality, the importance of rituals, sacred spaces and our relationship with the earth.
In the second part of Contemporary Spiritualities, spirituality is considered in its communal context. Aware of the difficulty of examining communities from the outside, the information for these essays is drawn from materials published by the respective communities about themselves as well as from interviews with their members. Although the communities examined vary, they are commonly characterised by "a concern with human dignity" or caring and a "sense of belonging"(pp. 113-14).
Clive Erricker examines a monastery of the Thai Buddhist Forest Retreat Order that has been established in the United Kingdom. Although it cannot be claimed that a contemplative, monastic lifestyle is totally unfamiliar in the British landscape, the Thai Buddhist Forest Retreat Order brings philosophical presuppositions (karma and merit gained through generosity) and religious practices (the alms round) which are not usual in its new environment. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON, is reviewed by Anna S King. She observes the developments that have occurred as ISKCON has matured as a religious organisation. Whilst keeping the love and service of God central, there has been a shift from "community to congregation" with ashrams evolving into centres for "education, worship and mission" (p. 147). In addition, there has been an increasing involvement and support from local Hindu communities.
In contrast to the missionary zeal of ISKCON, Richard Stevick looks at the Amish, a community who define themselves through geographical, socio-cultural and religious isolation. Rooted in the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation, the spirituality within these communities is lived and communicated through a strong family life. The Amish communities stand as a witness to "the ideal of giving up one’s right, will and pride to God’s will, to divinely appointed leaders and to the community of faith" (p. 168). David D Daniels III examines tarrying, a central ritual characterising African American Pentecostal Church spirituality. With its roots in Biblical and contemplative practice, this "calling on the Lord" through the repetition of "prayer-words" was a subversive liturgical practice through its passionate and exuberant embodiment of prayer at a time when rationality and order were privileged in worship. Tarrying, as a form of communion with God, was linked to deliverance and hence, had strong associations with slavery, disenfranchisement and powerlessness. However, in the twenty-first century, tarrying has lost its centrality and has tended to be more of a metaphor as Black American spirituality redefines itself through a shifting of emphasis to other criteria such as social justice.
Liam Gearon looks at the global ecumenical community of Taizé. This community provides a model for the interrelationship between contemplation and social action. Love is at the heart of the spiritual ethos of Taizé, a love that is manifested in action. Reconciliation is a key component in the spirituality of Taizé. The Khoja Shi’a Ithnasheeries are examined by Clive Erricker. Erricker observes that these Shi’a Islamic communities are difficult to find and that a person needs to meet a member of a community to locate them. This capacity to integrate into a wider society raises the dilemma of assimilation and the tension involved with maintaining those values and practices that create a distinctive spiritual identity and community. The Khoja Shi’a Ithnasheeries are demonstrating that communication, particularly through the internet, is vital for integrity.
Whereas in each of the other studies, a particular link with some sort of ultimate reality was implicitly or explicitly present in the understanding of spirituality, the last community examined by Jane Erricker is a street community held together by place and daily interactions. Jane Erricker argues that the feelings present in the spirituality of different religious traditions are also found in everyday life. She claims that "everyday spirituality is a delicate, dynamic web of relationships which, while appearing fragile enough as to be almost unseen, is nevertheless sufficiently strong to support a community" (p. 226). The conception of spirituality as embodied in this street community tests the limits and validity of using spirituality as a descriptor.
The quality of the presentations found in Contemporary Spiritualities differ in quality. "Mysticism and contemporary society: some Teilhardian reflections" by Ursula King and "The Dalai Lama: dimensions of spirituality" by Geshe Thupten Jinpamended are excellent. For those who might wish to follow up with further research, the endnotes are incomplete in the essay, "In the realm of the deathless: the Thai Buddhist Forest Retreat Order". The essays in this volume would be useful for stimulating discussion in a study group.
Each of the essays in Contemporary Spiritualities has demonstrated to varying degrees the link between spirituality (as used in the context of each essay) and its socio-cultural, religious and political environment. That spirituality has not been formerly defined is both the strength and weakness of this volume. This has enabled the selection of a range of subjects and allowed a nuanced understanding and use of the term in each essay. At the same time, without criteria that might be derived from a formal definition, there is little structure for a meaningful evaluation of the spiritualities presented. Moreover, it is questionable whether spirituality can be delineated solely by a sense of belonging without including an intentional moral and ethical component. Perhaps in presenting this volume, Clive Erricker and Jane Erricker have pushed the boundaries too far in the use of the word spirituality and our language and horizons of meaning will need to evolve.
Alister E. McGrath
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 172 pp. ISBN 0631228144
Most know of Alister McGrath’s expertise in historical theology and of the ability of this Oxford Professor to produce significant texts as regularly as the appearance of a new John Grisham novel. In this book he moves into the realm of a futurist. He does so with all the right warnings such as predicting that the future of Christianity is a risky business. His motivation is clearly his perception that all is not well in the household of faith as evidenced by the fact that more Anglicans attend church in Nigeria than in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia combined. This motivation leads to a particular strength of the book: it truly has a broad perceptive and interacts with what is happening in Europe, America and Australia. However, herein is an acknowledged weakness: it is a Western perspective. One is left wondering if such a futurist perspective should not originate from a region of the world where Christianity is on the move.
The book is part of a Blackwell series which seeks to engage the broadest range of readers. These readership aims may have led to it not being particularly profound in a predictive sense. Yet, it still has a real place in this genre. It addresses the right issues, and does so in an interesting and stimulating manner.
In the opening chapter McGrath argues that Western Christianity was traumatised in the twentieth century by events such as Nazism. The predicted Christian century did not eventuate. This resulted in the 1960’s in a crisis of confidence. There was an impatience with the ways of the past and "a sense of ennui with existing ideas and values". It is in this context McGrath understands the "Death of God" movement. And he insightfully outlines a failure of the mainline church. As Christian writers were swept along by this felt need to be relevant and therefore to eliminate the transcendent or mysterious from Christianity, the West looked elsewhere for spirituality. It looked towards New Age. Theological leaders didn’t really understand the sixties’ cultural surge and they created a Christianity which would be regarded as "laughable" in 2000. This is a position John Drane also usefully explores in the 200th Annual C.M.S. Sermon. He suggests the church has been so busy listening to the academy, it has failed to hear the popular voice. While it was appropriate to counter the "Death of God" movement it didn’t hear the transcendent voice of the Beatles. Mainstream Westerners followed the Beatles. This does raise the obvious question with future ramifications: whose voice primarily influences the issues that are addressed by contemporary theology today?
In chapter two where McGrath examines Globalization and the reshaping of Christianity today, he continues his criticism of liberal Christianity. Now he is concerned with North America’s fixation with liberation theology. He claims that this was an academic movement that had a heart for the poor, but stated it in terms which the poor couldn’t understand or appreciate. It appeared "bookish, intellectualist and out of touch". Ordinary people turned to Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism and Latin America is now a stronghold for those two traditions. McGrath does have a disdain for liberalism, but irrespective of one’s theological perspective, or the generalisations in this book, his point is well taken. The future of Christianity cries out for a theology that is people-centred not just idea-centred.
McGrath posits an economic factor for the decline of Christianity in Western Europe. Could Christianity be more healthy in America because of the market orientated nature of its culture? Americans are at home with market analysis and have happily applied this to the church (for example the work of George Barna). Identifying and meeting the needs of the parishioner is a natural consequence as is a competitive and entrepreneurial spirit. While Europeans may find this approach unattractive McGrath posits that it "offers some food for thought" as European Christianity considers its future.
In chapter three McGrath interacts with "New Ways of Being Church". He holds that denominations are a European thing and are declining in America. To the rejoinder that not all are declining, he agrees that those that are theologically conservative, evangelical and consumer aware are holding their own. However, he argues that even evangelicals in America shop around for an evangelical church, rather than making a choice on denominational lines. And this is fair comment even for Australia. Many evangelicals would say, "I am an evangelical first, and a Baptist or Anglican second".
McGrath reflects on Drane’s book The McDonaldization of the Church which is based on the work of sociologist George Ritzer. Ritzer identifies four characteristics of the McDonaldization process: efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. Drane explores how the four key motifs can be seen at work in many highly successful churches. While McGrath writes the "Victorian bureaucracies" of United Kingdom denominations could do with increased efficiency and organisational change, he appreciates that the marketing model may at times conflict with core values of the Christian faith. As well he is aware of Drane’s own critique of this McDonaldization movement. While it has a place, and may well attract seekers to the church, other seeker "cultures" would be turned off by it. Those exploring postmodern spirituality are unlikely to find it appealing. From this chapter one senses a call to the church to consider its theological underpinnings, its willingness to implement strategic organizational platforms, and at the same time to be aware of the limitations of management models.
The examples that McGrath then explores of churches that have responded to the challenge of the twenty-first century are the community churches such as Willow Creek and the cell church. He believes belonging is the key as the church again seeks to become the centre of the village. He says Melbourne’s Waverley Christian Fellowship and Sydney’s Hillsong are making the transition to being cell based churches. The frustration of this chapter is that ultimately McGrath is not a futurist as far as the nature of the church is concerned. While highlighting the issues, the way forward is rather predictable. And for all the good that Hybels (Willow Creek) and Rick Warren have brought to Australia it is hard to find strong models of these churches operating here. The reason may well be that in America 60% of people have a contact with the church, while in Australia 15% may have some contact. A Hybels’ church in America can by its nature draw people to it by its program and ministry. In contrast, if the church is to have a future in Australia and Europe we need to ask how do we go to the people, the marketplace? That task is much more difficult and the answers no doubt will ultimately come from home-grown practitioners and not imported models or the assessment of theologians. In this context McGrath’s apologetic book Bridge-Building is a good and helpful complementary read.
In chapters four and five McGrath considers some of the challenges for the future church and which denominations are most likely to survive. The challenges include Islam and Fundamentalism. In meeting the challenges he states that there is not a significant role for the World Council of Churches because many view it as liberal and bureaucratic. The unity will be found at a much more basic grass roots level, between those who have a love of the gospel and a mutual respect for each other. Outside of Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicalism mainline denominations will struggle unless their nurture is theological orthodoxy and they are open to change. Similar assessments have been proffered by other futurists in recent years.
Chapter six is of special interest for theological colleges. McGrath asserts academic theology is hanging from a thread. It is marginalised, enlightenment shaped and has no real connection to experience or spirituality. It is not holistic. He longs for the "organic" theologian: one who is accountable to the church, not simply his conscience or college; one who interacts with culture and does not laugh at it; one who is supportive of the community of faith in his or her theology and is an apologist in that the church is equipped to take its worldview into the community. It is an exciting and well argued challenge. So for McGrath, good theology is not just a knowledge of European theology, but an interaction with the community of faith and one’s culture. It raises the question as to whether today’s theological student is as much aware of the thought-systems of say Buddhism, as that of Barth or Pannenberg. If McGrath’s analysis is correct, then this book is certainly good theology.
In conclusion the strength of this book lies in its readability and its broad evaluation of the concerns facing Christianity. For me it was most helpful in articulating some of the issues, and offers a foundation for those who wish to pursue further reflection in the area.
(Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, 148; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002) xii 318pp.ISBN 3-16-147746-4
"The task of this study … is an investigation of the relationship between the pneumatology and soteriology of the Fourth Gospel along the lines of W/wisdom" (p. 1). It begins in the introductory chapter with a very fine review of scholarly research on salvation, wisdom and the Spirit in John. This is thorough and sets the stage for what follows. While noting that a large number of scholars see salvation in John as possible only after Jesus’ death, understood primarily as a vicarious sacrifice, a view to which the author at first seems ideologically wedded, it becomes clear as he proceeds, that he acknowledges that according to John eternal life/salvation was available during Jesus’ ministry. The reviewer had argued this in his book on Johannine christology which receives very full discussion in the review (The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Structure and Issues [Beiträge zur biblischen Exegese und Theologie 23; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2nd edn., 1992]). I found it interesting that I was so closely identified with Bultmann, although the major difference is not noted, namely that Bultmann saw John treating as mythological what I argued was essential to the cognitive aspect of faith, namely the Son’s pre-existence and coming.
My work becomes one of the major foci of attention in what follows, along with that of Felix Porsch (Pneuma und Wort: Ein exegetischer Beitrag zur Pneumatologie des Johannesevangeliums [Frankfurter Theologische Studien 16; Frankfurt: Knecht, 1974]). "Both Porsch and Loader present a two-stage model of John’s pneumatic soteriology - Porsch on pneumatological grounds, Loader on christological. The seminal work of Porsch (but also that of Loader) has been seriously neglected … Neither has anyone serious engaged with Loader" (p. 34). He presses me on the issue of "information": "Jesus (and his revelation) does not impart ‘information’, yet … Loader mentions that the work of the Spirit-Paraclete includes the giving of ‘information’" (p. 29). The context of my comments about "information" in relation to Jesus is that while John employs an information model, its primary focus is not information (i.e. about the heavenly world, what he has seen and heard, etc) but the offer of a relationship. The "information" given by the Spirit after Easter is a bringing to remembrance what was already there. He asks: "Does Loader imply that the cognitive aspect of salvation only comes into being after Easter?" My answer: no. Bennema goes on to press, however, for a clearer articulation of the role of the Spirit during the earthly ministry and its soteriological role, a role I and others (including Porsch) had not addressed.
Bennema is seeking to expand a proposal of Max Turner, who supervised this thesis, that the link of Spirit and Wisdom is the key to the major question of how this comes about, already during Jesus’ ministry. He lists me incorrectly as among those who, like Thüsing, allegedly argue that the Spirit is not soteriologically active during Jesus’ ministry (p. 30). Turner is arguing that salvation is available during Jesus’ ministry, but that it is only partial. The questions being raised are important for understanding the fourth gospel. Was what Jesus offered partial or inadequate during his ministry according to John? What was added by the cross? Did the addition complete what was inadequate or add significantly to what was already the gift of eternal life? How did John envisage that the eternal life was appropriated during Jesus’ ministry?
Bennema formulates his thesis as follows: "First, the Spirit creates a saving relationship between the believer and God, i.e., bringing a person into such a relationship with the Father and Son, through the mediation of saving wisdom which is itself present in Jesus’ revelatory teaching. Second, the Spirit sustains this saving relationship between the believer, Father and Son, through further mediation of wisdom that enables the believer to manifest discipleship (as an ongoing belief-response)" (p. 37). "Jesus, as Wisdom incarnate, is the source of salvation, in that Jesus’ revelatory teaching contains saving wisdom/truth that leads to eternal life, and the Spirit is the agent of salvation, in that the Spirit functions as the disclosing or interpretative power of saving W/wisdom" (p. 38).
The second major chapter consists of a review of Spirit, Wisdom and Salvation in Sapiential Judaism, covering Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, and Qumran. Among the diverse streams of thought the author discerns that "‘salvation’ in sapiential Judaism has both relational and cognitive aspects, in that saving wisdom is acquired cognitively in relation to Wisdom and Spirit, and leads to a relationship with Wisdom/God" (p. 94). The author suggests "that the possession of pneu`ma be understood in terms of various degrees of intensity and quality rather than absolute categories of ‘having’ it or not" (p. 95). This then provides a basis for seeing salvation as "sufficient increase in measure and difference in quality of endowment of pneu`ma and W/wisdom. In other words, "salvation" can be understood as an intensification of that work of the Spirit that is already immanent to a person, namely the mediation of life and wisdom, and this saving work of the Spirit was sometimes/often experienced as bringing new qualities of understanding, life and relationship with God" (p. 96). So the Spirit and Wisdom are at work both in creation and in salvation. I was surprised that the conclusions make no mention of the link between Wisdom and Torah, which the author does note in the treatment of Sirach and Qumran (see also Baruch, Philo, Similitudes of Enoch), especially because of the way the gospel presents Jesus in images drawn from these traditions which assume an identity of Wisdom and Torah.
Chapter 3 seeks to develop a model for Johannine soteriology. It begins by arguing that the gospel has a dual focus, evangelistic and pastoral, incipient and abiding faith. It identifies a number of motifs which describe the coming of the Son. Again Bultmann, Loader, and Scott are lumped together as representatives of those who affirm that the revealer reveals only that he is the revealer. I would rather want to affirm the author’s summary as representing my own view: "Jesus reveals the identity, character and mission of the Father and the Son, as well as the nature of the relationship between the father and the Son" (p. 118). I find the conclusion convincing that "Jesus’ salvific mission is to reveal the identity and work of the Father and Son, and the nature of the relationship. … People who encounter Jesus and his revelatory teaching need to respond - to accept or reject Jesus and his saving revelation. To sustain salvation one must continue to adhere to Jesus and his teaching" (p. 122). He goes on to argue the similarity to the way Judaism understood wisdom revelation and response to it (pp. 122-23). A faith response includes both a cognitive and a relational aspect. through it one enters a saving relationship. Discipleship is about sustaining this relationship.
The author has developed a model that creates a problem for those who argue that salvation/life is available only after the event of the cross (pp. 142-43). If Jesus is acting like Wisdom, then clearly this eternal life is available in the person of Jesus during his earthly ministry. "It seems that the disciples had, at times, a sufficient, though not perfect, understanding, and that they had an adequate belief-response and were in a life-giving relationship with Jesus" (p. 144). His answer, consistent with my own, is that Jesus’ going to the cross was in order to make the life which the historical Jesus had in himself more widely available through the giving of the Spirit (p. 144). It is not surprising that I find the argument convincing; but it is also a new and creative contribution because it addresses the question: how, neglected in much previous work, including my own, and explains the coming to faith on the analogy of and standing under the influence of the wisdom tradition. I think even more could be made of this by focusing for instance on the way wisdom/Torah imagery is developed and exploited in the gospel.
Chapter 4 addresses the role of the Spirit in the coming to faith. This is not difficult in relation to the post Easter period, because there are relatively fulsome references especially in the last discourses.. The author begins by arguing that according to John at Jesus’ baptism he was endowed with the Spirit, "an empowerment of revelatory wisdom in order to reveal God" (p. 166). I think this stands in tension with the identity of the Logos from the beginning. Does John really imagine that Jesus obtained the revelatory wisdom only at his baptism? Does that do justice to John’s ontological claims about Jesus as the Logos? I doubt that John reflects such an adoptionist stance, but there is a tension, nevertheless. The coming of the Spirit in the baptism I would see as symbolising that the Father gives the Spirit without measure to the Son and has authorised him from the beginning.
The author exegetes the encounter with Nicodemus as indicating that the Spirit is the "life-giving cognitive agent, as the agent of life-bearing wisdom and understanding" (p. 180). The discussion of the life-giving water in John 4 makes more direct links with the wisdom/Torah tradition. The author resists the argument that the water, the Spirit, could only be available after Easter; because it is clearly available during Jesus’ ministry (p. 186). The "living water" refers to both Jesus’ revelatory word and Spirit at the same time, i.e., both before and after Jesus’ glorification (pp. 186-87). Similarly he interprets John 6 as referring both to the pre- and post-Easter Jesus.
In his conclusion he again lumps Porsch and Loader together, arguing that we "play down the work of the Spirit in Jesus’ ministry" (p. 210). "Loader’s model essentially implies that the Spirit has no soteriological role in the revealer-envoy christology (because life is fully available in the person of Jesus), and according to the Son of Man christology, the soteriological work of the Spirit only starts after Jesus’ glorification in its role as Paraclete" (p. 210). I find this an oversimplification and misunderstanding of my position, which stands in tension with the footnote 215 which comments: "Although Loader claims that the Spirit was present and effective through Jesus during his ministry, ... he does not explain how." This is more accurate but also valid in what it identifies as needing more attention. "Our main disagreement with Loader is not so much about content but about timing" (p. 210). His disagreement with Turner is that the latter speaks only of experiences and foretastes of salvific life during Jesus ministry, which Bennema rightly judges as "too weak" (p. 211).
The final chapter looks at the last discourses, the distinctive image of the Paraclete and its background, and the salvific role envisaged for the Spirit. Again, the primary argument with Loader is Loader’s lack of attention to how the Paraclete does its work both after and before Easter. Loader, himself, sees the strength of the argument as lying in the focus of Bennema on the work before Easter.
This is a fine piece of scholarship, carefully researched, well versed in the secondary literature. As one whose work was rather centrally in the spotlight, I am heartened that his own investigation reaffirms my thesis about salvation in John, especially about its basis in christology rather than in the event of the cross, important though this is for John (but not as something before which no adequate faith or salvation was possible). He might have offered some discussion of what role vicarious atonement does then play in John - it is certainly in his tradition. While at times he does not represent my contribution as accurately as I would like nor differentiate it sufficiently, nevertheless I think the case is well made that my own work and that of Porsch needs supplementing by more focus on the wisdom tradition and he certainly develops this well in a way which addresses the "how" question, in relation both to the pre- and post-Easter period and shows the importance of pneumatology in this context. This is a very useful piece of research.
Dr Nancy Ault, Lecturer in Practical Theology, Murdoch University, Perth.
Michael Bird, Doctoral student in New Testament, University of Queensland.
The Revd Ross Clifford, Principal, Morling Baptist College, Sydney.
The Revd Dr Denis Edwards, Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Catholic Theological College of South Australia.
Prof. Michael Durey, Professor of History, Murdoch University, Perth.
The Revd Fr John Hosie, Lecturer in Australian Religious History, Union Theological Institute, Sydney.
The Revd Prof. Dorothy Lee, Professor of New Testament, Uniting Faculty of Theology, Queen’s College, Melbourne.
The Revd Prof William Loader, Professor of New Testament, Murdoch University, Perth
Dr Robert McIver, Senior Lecturer, Avondale College, NSW.
The Revd Dr Stan Nickerson, formerly Principal, Queensland Baptist College of Ministries, Brisbane.
The Revd Dr Michael Parsons, Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Baptist Theological College, Perth.
Fr Joseph Sobb, Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Catholic Institute of Sydney.
Dr Rowan Strong, Senior Lecturer in Church History, Murdoch University, Perth.
The Revd Dr Derek Tovey, Lecturer in NT, St John’s and Trinity Methodist Colleges, and Auckland University, NZ
|Information for Contributors|
Unless otherwise stated, Copyright © ANZATS Ltd
Back to Colloquium Home