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Colloquium 37.1 (2005)

 

YOU HAVE NOT SPOKEN WHAT IS RIGHT ABOUT ME

TEXT AND CONCEPT ANALYSIS IN THE ROYAL PSALMS

MARK: STORYTELLER, INTERPRETER, EVANGELIST

LIGHT FOR THE CITY: CALVIN’S PREACHING, SOURCE OF LIFE AND LIBERTY

PENITENCE, PREACHING AND THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION

LUTHER AND CALVIN ON OLD TESTAMENT NARRATIVES:

KARL BARTH AND THE PROBLEM OF WAR AND OTHER ESSAYS ON BARTH

KARL BARTH’S THEOLOGICAL EXEGESIS:

OUR FATHER

O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING

FEMINIST THEOLOGY

ISLAM IN AUSTRALIA

 

REVIEWERS

 

BOOK REVIEWS

 

 

YOU HAVE NOT SPOKEN WHAT IS RIGHT ABOUT ME:

INTERTEXTUALITY AND THE BOOK OF JOB

Yohan Pyeon

(New York: Peter Lang, 2003) 239pp. ISBN 0820456527

Written as a doctoral thesis under the direction of James A. Sanders, this book seeks to make a contribution to the debate regarding the literary integrity of the book of Job and the message of the book as a whole (7, 56). In particular the author examines two levels of intertextuality between the speeches of Job and his friends in Job 3–14. From this he draws conclusions with regard to the purpose of God’s afflicting Job in Job 1–2 and the meaning of what he calls the ‘crux passage’ (212) of the book of Job, namely Job 42:7–8 (and hence the title of the book).

The two levels of intertextuality examined in Job 3–14 are the responses between the speeches on a synchronic level, seen in the employment of words, phrases and ideas taken from previous speeches (the first level of intertextuality); and the references to earlier biblical texts employed in the speeches of both Job and the friends, that is a diachronic reading between the speeches and earlier texts (the second level of intertextuality). Pyeon acknowledges that recent scholarship has explored the first level of intertextuality, but maintains that the second level has not been adequately examined, so this becomes a particular focus of his study. Indeed his emphasis is on investigating these two levels of intertextuality together to show how these speeches critique and argue with one another.

In analysing the speeches with regard to the second level of intertextuality, Pyeon in places uses R. Hays’ seven criteria to test scriptural allusions (Echoes of Scripture in the letters of Paul, 1–33), in particular those of availability, volume, recurrence and thematic coherence (though in Job’s speeches this takes the form more of negating or realigning the previous meaning) to establish degrees of allusion or echoes of earlier texts. He also moves beyond this to explore how they are used in the present context in Job. Behind his analysis of the second level of intertextuality also is Sander’s hermeneutical triangle of older texts alluded to, present sociological and historical context addressed, and the hermeneutics by which the presentations are made in the present text.

From his analysis of both levels of intertextuality together, Pyeon concludes that the debate between Job and his friends is really about divine righteousness. Indeed, the purpose of God’s afflicting Job in Job 1–2, according to Pyeon, is not really to test Job’s piety but to instigate the dialogue about the moral nature of God or divine righteousness reflected in the ensuing disputes between Job and his friends, so that a newer understanding of God can be attained. For Pyeon the dynamic of the debate between Job and his friends has to do with the friends simply citing and applying unchanged pre-exilic traditions (e.g. Job 4:3–4 alludes to Isa 35:3–4; Job 4:8 to Hos 10:13; Job 5:17 to Ps 94:13; Job 5:18 to Hos 6:1–2; Job 8 to Ps 1; Job 11 to Amos 9:1ff and so on) as solutions to Job’s predicament, and the rejection of this by Job who also cites and alludes to earlier traditions but transforms them to reflect his own experience now (e.g. Job’s reversal of Genesis 1 in Job 3, and his reapplication of Ps 8:5–6 in Job 7:17–18).

In light of Job 1–2 the status quo knowledge of the friends regarding divine righteousness is shown to be irrelevant and misguided for Job’s situation. And in Job’s questioning of these views the author raises the issue of a new understanding of God’s righteousness appropriate to the context of Job’s situation, or on another level the situation of post-exilic (5th to 3rd century BCE) Israel when the book of Job was written. The mostly prophetic pre-exilic traditions concerning God’s righteousness cited unchanged by the friends might have been appropriate in pre-exilic times for collective Israel, but, as Job’s speeches show, they are not appropriate for the situation of the post-exilic period with its focus on the individual. What is appropriate in the new situation is the transformation and even inversion of earlier traditions, as seen in Job’s speeches, to raise questions about, and put forward different views of, divine righteousness appropriate to the new historical context and experience. Hence the author through the dialogue, Pyeon argues, sets God free from any past creed or doctrine concerning him since what divine righteousness is changes in different historical settings. Pyeon interprets Job 42:7–8, therefore, to mean that the friends did not speak what is right because they applied earlier pre-exilic traditions and texts unchanged without consideration for the new context which thus rendered them false; and Job was right "not because what he said was universally right regardless of times and settings, but because he was sensitive to the specific setting and keenly recognised the context" (214), i.e. the context of post-exilic Israel.

Pyeon’s analysis of Job 3–14 in chapters 3–9 of his book is careful, clear and well argued. For each speech he gives a translation and exegesis; an analysis of how each speech picks up on words and phrases from previous speeches, not only from the speech immediately preceding but from all texts that go before including Job 1–2, to show how each speech responds to prior material (first level of intertextuality); analysis of earlier biblical texts alluded to and how they are used (second level of intertextuality); and a final interpretation that draws together all the preceding points.

The strength of this book lies in its systematic study of the use of earlier texts in the speeches. And its primary contribution is to bring out clearly an aspect of the dialogues between Job and his friends that has been touched on by scholars but not focussed on in such a deliberate way and with such emphasis, i.e. the way in which the friends simply cite earlier traditions and texts with continuity of meaning whereas in Job’s speeches earlier texts are taken up but transformed and inverted. His drawing out of the implications of this in terms of raising questions about views of God accepted in the past that simply don’t do justice to present experience is also helpful, and has constructive implications for the use of biblical texts in contemporary contextual theologising.

However, in some ways this book is incomplete. Pyeon emphasises that the debate in the speeches is about divine righteousness, but although he shows quite clearly how the friends are wrong in their view of divine righteousness in the context, he skirts around Job’s view of divine righteousness in the Job speeches in Job 3–14. He emphasises that in Job’s view God’s intention and motivation is unclear, that God’s ways are obscure, and that for Job God is beyond any knowledge open to human comprehension. Therefore, for Job, to limit God’s righteousness to formulations from the past is false, for God is God (203, 207). However, although Job touches on this in his speeches in his desire to encounter God, Job in these speeches is very definite about God’s lack of justice and righteousness, rather than God’s unknowability. Surely that God is beyond any knowledge is not clear, at least to Job, before the Yahweh speeches of Job 38–41. Thus Pyeon seems to be reading Job 38–41 back into Job’s speeches in Job 3–14 here. Therefore, in order to really address the issue of God’s righteousness and the new understanding of it, as Pyeon claims is debated in the dialogues between Job and his friends and is really the issue of the author of the book, the whole book of Job, including especially Job 38–41, would need to be explored in terms of the two levels of intertextuality in the same detail as has been done here in relation to Job 3–14 only. This would also need to be the case for Pyeon to achieve his overall goal of contributing to the literary integrity of the book of Job and its message as a whole. Thus, Pyeon’s contribution to Job studies is rather more limited than some of his claims that overstep the limitations of this study with its focus for the most part on the first cycle of speeches between Job and his friends.

Suzanne Boorer

TEXT AND CONCEPT ANALYSIS IN THE ROYAL PSALMS

Randy G. Haney

(New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 244 pp. ISBN 0820450840

It has been encouraging to see the Psalter emerge as an area of renewed research interest in more recent years resulting in an increasing number of fresh approaches. Randy Haney makes a useful contribution to the discussion with this book. As the title suggests his approach is based on the combination of a specific textual and interpretive approach to the understanding and appreciation of the Royal Psalms. Although Royals Psalms are the focus of this volume it would be interesting to employ Haney’s ideas in the analysis of other types of Psalms as well.

To begin with Haney explains his approach to the text of Royal Psalms. There is a significant emphasis placed on the importance of appreciating the text as a whole even though his approach also involves precision textual work with individual words, short phrases or verses. In working from a whole text approach Haney emphasizes the importance of recognizing and understanding various trappings with which the reader may approach the text. Haney describes his approach stating that it is aimed at "…how to read, interpret and explain the ‘text concept’ of three RPss (2, 110, 132) in the HB with a specific focus on the structure analyses of the texts and the concurrent reconstruction of their sub-textual conceptualities" (5). This clearly denotes the two-pronged approach taken. A helpful aspect of the book in framing the issue is the suggestion of a series of questions which provide a starting point for Haney’s approach as he describes it. Essentially these questions are aimed at exposing textual issues and, most importantly, the accompanying "concepts" behind the texts of Royal Psalms.

In order to orient the reader Haney then presents a relatively short and yet surprisingly broad survey of approaches to researching the Psalms in general and Royal Psalms in particular. His major criticism of many traditional approaches is what he perceives as attempts to force meaning onto the text. He cites the messianic interpretation of Royal Psalms as a typical example of this. However, he also fairly points out the helpful aspects of each contribution in building a more complete picture of what the Psalms can mean.

Haney considers the identification of Gattungen as worthwhile and yet agrees with the view that there is no clear "Royal" form. Rather, he sees these Psalms as addressing the subject of kingship. In regard to the Sitz im Leben, again the usefulness of research in this area is acknowledged. However, the speculative nature of much of this work is identified as a weakness. For Haney the issue always returns to the text in its present form and what arises from this material rather than speculations regarding genre or historical context. It is worth noting at this point that Haney provides extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography containing departure points for further research on any or all of these issues.

If readers are not aware of some issues within the text such as the identity of the "king," the usage of "I" and "we," and the relationship between the notions of divine and human kingship, then again this background section provides invaluable material. In highlighting these issues Haney is careful to emphasize that questions regarding these details are not so much to do with issues of history or culture, but rather, about concepts which gave rise to the texts in the first place. While this part of the discussion is clearly labelled as retrospective it is critical to his theoretical foundation as it provides a number of jumping off points for his "text and concept" approach. While I find this retrospective helpful there is no discussion of the canonical issues in regard to Royal Psalms. An inclusion of canonical issues in the retrospective would have provided another valuable perspective on "concept analysis" when dealing with Royal Psalms.

Haney describes his approach early in the book but does not provide a specific definition until much later saying, "The difference in the specific text and concept exegesis that will be used herein is that the ‘concept’ presupposed and operative in and controlling the text itself will be reconstructed" (71). In saying this he again emphasizes that in this approach the text is "master." This is described as "infra-textual." In attempting to identify the concepts in the texts Haney acknowledges that discussion concerning the psalm’s original context may be helpful but should not lead the reader to impose historical-cultural structural considerations on the text. In contrast the goal is to allow these "structures" to arise from the text itself.

Following the establishment of a theoretical basis for "text and concept analysis" three psalms are examined in detail. Psalms 2, 110 and 132 are chosen as clear examples of Royal Psalms, at least in content, and the analysis takes on an ordered and logical progression. This gives the reader a clear understanding of how "text and concept analysis" works out of the text and facilitates ease of comparison between the three analyses.

The analysis begins with the Masoretic text as the raw material. First, the "surface structure," as Haney describes it, is identified. From this he then derives a number of conceptual indicators followed by an exploration of how these interrelate within each Psalm. To aid the exploration Haney relies on his series of questions, posed earlier, which are aimed at teasing out "concepts" from the text itself. While the emphasis here is on discovering concepts, issues concerning other textual and structural matters are duly acknowledged. However, again canonical issues are not considered at this point.

Following these detailed analyses a helpful summary of the interrelationship between the concepts generated by the three Psalms is provided. Some additional information about the form of Royal Psalms is also offered as a way of framing the concepts. Two examples of Haney’s "concepts" are the idea of the king as YHWH’s deputy and the notion of Israel as an elected entity. He argues that these, among other concepts, lie underneath the surface of the text. They also form a conceptual linkage between the three Psalms analysed.

Haney offers a valuable contribution to research in the Royal Psalms and in doing so provides a fresh perspective. His theoretical basis and methodology are clearly articulated and then demonstrated in the analysis of the three Psalms. For a serious student of the Psalter, and Royal Psalms in particular, this book offers some valuable insights. Haney demonstrates an awareness of most other perspectives on these Psalms but remains unashamedly focussed on the text as his starting point.

David Cohen

 

MARK: STORYTELLER, INTERPRETER, EVANGELIST

Francis J. Moloney

(Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 224pp. ISBN 1565635132

Marcan scholarship is experiencing an avalanche of commentaries, dissertations, monographs and articles being published in the present. In the last four years I have counted no less than fourteen commentaries published on Mark. One particular study evaluated here is Francis Moloney’s book on the theology and narrative craft of the second evangelist. The book is a fine sequel to Moloney’s commentary on Mark (The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002]) and this volume enables him to explicate points he only touches upon briefly in his commentary.

In chapter one, Moloney examines the "The Author of Mark in History" and surmises that the tradition attributes the Gospel to a figure remembered as "Mark", though which "Mark" he was (e.g. John Mark) is not certain (9). In terms of provenance, Moloney is deliberately broad, believing that the Marcan Gospel was composed somewhere in the Roman empire (12).

Chapter two addresses "History and Theology" and is probably the most disappointing chapter of the whole book. I can’t help but feel that a greater evaluation of Mark’s relation to the Jesus tradition was needed in order to get a fuller picture of the Marcan gospel in the setting of early Christianity. To his credit, Moloney splits the horns of the history or theology dilemma by acknowledging that there is no such thing as uninterpreted history and Mark is interpreting real events for his readers (27-28). Moloney is rightly critical of redactional studies of Mark which frequently bring their own agendas to the text, though he still acknowledges that Mark is a deeply theological thinker (30-31). It is in the narrative critical method that Moloney wishes to engage the most and it is the method he regards as the most fruitful for exploring Mark. He wisely cautions against the direct importation of literary methods into NT study since there is no such thing as a "virginal reader" of the text (35).

"Mark’s Story" is the title of chapter three, and there Moloney presents the contours of the plot of the Gospel, while chapters five and six essentially trace the narrative landscape of Mark.

Chapter six is entitled "Mark the Interpreter of Jesus of Nazareth" where he examines Jesus’ message of "the kingdom of God" (126-30) as well as various Christological titles (though he acknowledges the drawbacks of such a method, 126). Here three highlights are worth noting. Moloney, rightly in my mind, pays considerable attention to seeing the cross as providing the crucial component in defining Jesus’ messiahship since, "It is on the cross that Jesus is the Christ" (136). Second, any meaning assigned to the title "Son of God" should appropriate both Jewish and Greco-Roman backgrounds for the term (137-38, 151). Third, I find wholly convincing Moloney’s suggestion that the Son of Man does not represent an end-time figure as much as he is a symbol of suffering and vindication (146). N.T. Wright has argued similarly in Jesus and the Victory of God. This chapter is not a thorough treatment of the Christology of Mark as one finds in Harrington (Mark: Realistic Theologian, 1996) or Kingsbury (The Christology of Mark’s Gospel, 1983) but is a worthwhile contribution to the debate and a highlight of the book.

In chapter seven Moloney broaches the subject of "Mark the Interpreter of the Christian Community". To be sure, ever since I read Bauckham’s book The Gospel For All Christians (1998) I have remained highly sceptical about whether there was or if one could even prove the existence of a "Marcan Community". I think such terms should be put in inverted commas since they will always remain hypothetical entities. Furthermore, I am not sure whether it is my Protestant bias or Moloney’s Catholic bias, but I didn’t find his many references to eucharistic themes in Mark’s Gospel very convincing.

Lastly, chapter eight concerns "The Good News of the Gospel of Mark" which is a fair attempt to show the contemporary relevance of Mark for contemporary readers.

If I had to pick one significant flaw in what is otherwise a very fine book, it would be the lack of analysis of Mark’s eschatology. One gets the feeling in reading this book (as well as many other Marcan studies) that Marcan theology = Marcan Christology. I would suggest that eschatological, specifically apocalyptic motifs, colour the framework of the story more than Moloney allows for and are worthy of considerably more attention.

In terms of being a Marcan theology, the book is certainly a worthy successor to Ralph Martin’s Mark: Evangelist & Theologian (1972) since it is more up to date with scholarship and applies narrative critical methods. Moloney’s book is also a slightly longer volume than Telford’s Mark (1995) in the New Testament Guides series. Moloney’s commentary on Mark and its accompanying volume on the theology of Mark are essential reading for everyone engaged in Marcan studies.

Michael Bird

 

LIGHT FOR THE CITY: CALVIN’S PREACHING, SOURCE OF LIFE AND LIBERTY

Lester de Koster

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2004) 139pp. ISBN 0802827802

It is widely recognised that the European Reformation was largely an urban phenomenon; that reform was initiated and took root in cities. This new work by de Koster and the following by Anne Thayer are on the significant subject of the city in the Reformation period and just before. They are both good contributions to our understanding and throw a great deal of light on the subject, yet in the last analysis Light for the City is not as convincing as Thayer’s work.

In Light for the City de Koster claims that a city, for Calvin, is nothing short of the kingdom of Christ realised on earth, a community of elected citizens living out the faith together. And while that certainly has an element of truth, he seeks to show that John Calvin preached in order to establish a city, "Nothing else. Nothing less" (xvii). The author’s commitment to this rather extreme view is bolstered by his adamant and repeated claim that Calvin was not interested in "saving souls" (as De Koster puts it); he was exempt from pouring his energies into this by the predestination of God. "Calvinism aims at the creation of Cities – with the destinies of souls long ago decided" (xx).

The professor emeritus at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, goes on to elucidate his central thesis in terse, fresh and lively writing that really illuminates the reformer’s life and the centrality of preaching in his career, and the significance of the sermon to civic reform. De Koster has a great many fascinating insights into the reformer’s thought and the dynamic of his ministry. He has marvellous short chapters on Calvin’s letter to Sadoleto, on paradox in Calvin’s more systematic thought, and on what the reformer thought to be "good" or "sound" doctrine. The book is excellent in its ability to affect profoundly the way we "see" Calvin in a clearer way.

Yet, having said that, it has several weak and disappointing characteristics. First, its central thesis that Calvin’s only task was to create a city has to be questioned. It forces him to read the Institutes as if Book 4 on civic responsibility is its climax, for example. An examination of his sermons (for instance on Micah) shows clearly that Calvin was genuinely concerned to see people relate to God as Father, to come to him in faith through Jesus Christ. In those sermons, for instance, I have discovered that Calvin relates the prophet’s failure to the divine failure in bringing rebellious people to himself. Calvin’s God was more vulnerable than we sometimes suspect.

Second, there is an overemphasis on predestination as a controlling doctrine in Calvin’s thought. This has often been argued, but generally is no longer seen as viable. Third, though de Koster admits that "For Calvin the Word addresses normatively – from the pulpit – both Church and state, both the personal and the social" (34), he refuses to separate the two realms of God’s government in the reformer’s thinking. This suits his thesis, of course, but Calvin himself clearly separates them while maintaining their closeness.

Fourth, de Koster has a disturbing way of joining "Calvinism" (or "Calvinists") with "Calvin" as he writes on the reformer’s understanding and social practice. He does this as if the following movement ("Calvinism") reproduced Calvin’s thought and praxis, which on examination is an unlikely equation as it stands. And, finally, de Koster has the habit of speaking about "democracy" and "the West" as if the terms were synonymous with the kingdom. If nothing else, recent events have surely shown us otherwise.

The volume, though short, is worthwhile for those wanting to have a fresh look at Calvin. Noticeable by its absence in the bibliography is Cottret’s Calvin, which gives a more realistic and a less doctrinaire apologist approach. De Koster’s work has the hallmark of someone who has a deep acquaintance with the reformer, but, for me, it seems an acquaintance from a somewhat skewed, confessional perspective.

Michael Parsons

PENITENCE, PREACHING AND THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION

Anne T. Thayer

(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002) 240pp ISBN 0754606627

Anne Thayer’s work is an excellent new study on the place of penitence in the period around the beginning of the Reformation itself and contributes significantly to the question of why the Reformation took root in some areas and not in others.

As Owen Chadwick, The Early Reformation on the Continent (Oxford: OUP, 2001), simply puts it, "The Reformation began in towns." He suggests that this should not really surprise us as the Reformation was connected with higher education, which in the sixteenth century could only be had in towns. However, a considerable amount of scholarship on the subject indicates that the controversial question of why the Reformation began in towns may not be so easily dismissed. Some have highlighted social concerns as contributory to this (see works by Bernd Moeller and Thomas Brady, for example), while others (for instance, Alister McGrath) have more broadly generalised. There has been a vociferous line of approach (most notably, Steven Ozment and, lately, Euan Cameron) that has prioritised theology itself, of course. It is this last line of argument that Thayer’s book resurrects, and in that it makes a valuable contribution.

Thayer’s argument is straightforward and convincing. She understandably claims that Luther and his contemporaries had been brought up on the medieval penitential message and that that message itself had had different emphases in different locations throughout Europe. In some areas the message had been more positive than in others – more positive in the sense of emphasising the mercy of God to undeserving sinners. In other areas, the penitential system had vigorously stressed the need for the penitent to contribute to their own salvation in satisfaction. Thayer’s task, then, is to show that the Reformation with its inherent appeal to trust in God alone for salvation was more likely to take root in the more demanding areas where people were most despondent.

Thayer argues her thesis by employing printed model sermon collections of the period to show what emphases were dominant in certain areas at the turn of the century. Her first major chapter outlines these collections and suggests why and how she chose the several that she has. The next chapter clearly shows the pervasiveness of penitence in the preaching models and demonstrates the similarities between them. "There is a vital integrity to the entire penitential process. Contrition, confession and satisfaction, the three responsibilities of repentant sinners, to which the priest adds absolution, form its stages. No stage is separable from the others; the process as a whole issues in forgiveness" (50).

Chapter 4 then takes the sermon collections and categorises them into three groups according to where each preacher answers the question, "Where and how in the penitential process does the preacher understand forgiveness to take place? (97). According to Thayer, the rigorists stress contrition and satisfaction over confession. The moderates give pastoral stress to the element of confession. The absolutionists centre forgiveness on the absolution given by the priest. This is a clearly reasoned argument, based squarely on a close examination of the sermons and is a fascinating account of medieval penitential preaching. Thayer acknowledges that these divisions are not monolithic, that each contains a range of emphases. And this nuanced approach is one of the strengths of the book.

Chapter 5 develops this by exploring Luther’s refutation of the penitential system which on the face of it appears to be aimed at the rigorist interpretation in which the penitent is encouraged to believe "that deep contrition can be powerful enough to completely satisfy for sin" (103). According to Thayer’s reading of some of Luther’s crucial early works, it is this type of penitential preaching with its resultant stress on satisfaction that the reformer so adamantly refutes by his emphasis on salvation through Christ alone.

There is a great deal to commend this work. It is a carefully argued thesis that admirably refuses to generalise. For example, she is careful not to say that it was religion alone that caused the Reformation to be accepted in certain places and not in others. On the other hand, Thayer is thorough enough in her argument to be convincing that religion (and notably the medieval penitential system) was a primary factor (likely, the primary factor) in the acceptance and rejection of evangelical ideas.

This is a book that should be read by anyone interested in the late Medieval period and/or the early Reformation in Europe. The argument of the book needs to be supplemented by equally serious academic study of individual cities in the period to see whether it can be sustained and to fill in further details. This work, however, is excellent. I would be surprised if the argument can be seriously contested.

Michael Parsons

 

LUTHER AND CALVIN ON OLD TESTAMENT NARRATIVES:

REFORMATION THOUGHT AND NARRATIVE TEXT

Michael Parsons

(Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 2004) 329pp ISBN 0773465251

This is not your usual piece of academic writing. It is an engaged and engaging suite of essays, with an unmistakeable concern for pastoral issues. At the same time, it is a notable piece of scholarship, with well over 300 secondary titles cited, well over 1000 footnotes, and an impressive first hand acquaintance with the writings of Luther and Calvin. The variety and depth of reading is unusual. Parsons is not only at home with Luther and Calvin’s commentaries and the now voluminous literature on them and their theology, but is also thoroughly acquainted with the contemporary Old Testament scholarship of Brueggemann and Sawyer and their ilk.

The breadth of theological perspectives being tapped here is necessary because Parsons is convinced that if we are to recover the narrative heart of the stories of the Old Testament we will do well to pay attention to how, in their very different context, the Reformers read them. He does not argue, of course, that the latter were narrative theologians before their time. They wrote from a rounded covenantal perspective very different from that of post-modern writers. But in a quiet and lucid manner we are encouraged to enter their remarkable world of pastoral and scholarly concern and see where it takes us. The intention is not to criticize their approach, but to let it speak for itself. Each chapter is then followed by a brief theological reflection.

The author does not make it easy for himself. The stories chosen for scrutiny are among the most existentially and intellectually difficult in the entire Old Testament. This reminds us, incidentally, that the issues we struggle with today were almost always there in fullest measure fifteen generations ago. We drop in, therefore, on Luther and Calvin trying to make sense of Jacob’s "antagonist" at the Jabbok, for example, or of the unendurable ‘testing’ of Abraham in the sacrifice of Isaac, and the rape and sexual violation stories involving Dinah, Tamar and Bathsheba.

The introduction sets out the dynamic, inter-personal way in which the Reformers understood Scripture. It was no formal text or body of doctrine for them. The author quotes David Steinmetz approvingly: Luther "made the past real by making it local" (10). The assumption was that God spoke as relationally and directly through the Spirit to the preacher and believer in Wittenberg or Geneva as to the patriarchs or prophets.

The Flood narrative, for example, shows the Reformers struggling with the text’s imputation of passion to an utterly transcendent Lord, Luther being the readier to concede that God "has been changed from an angry God to a merciful one" (21). Though he cannot accept that God can grieve in a human way, through the Holy Spirit this is how God has chosen to appear to us. Calvin, on the other hand, tends to see such references to emotion on the part of God as mere imagery.

Few preachers, either, would fail to benefit from an engagement with the next chapter on Jacob at the Jabbok. How can the eternal God be "overcome"? (for both Reformers are clear that the "man" or "angel" in the story is indeed God). Luther’s primary emphasis, on our strength being in weakness, is complemented with his puzzling if alluring emphasis on God ‘playing’ with us, until we realize that faith alone will help. Parsons wonders if this introduces a capricious element to our understanding of God. I suspect, however, that in sixteenth century parlance it doesn’t have this modern connotation. Rather it means a game is played with quite strict rules, rather like the "race" the apostle Paul would have us run.

This, however, is a minor quibble. Generally, Parsons is well aware that Calvin deploys a more discursive rhetoric than Luther, who revels in paradox and the wildest of language at times. A delight ahead for all readers of this book who are not acquainted with both Reformers’ commentaries is how strong the metaphorical and symbolic component is in their arguments. Only those who have never read him can see Calvin as a relentless logic-chopper.

The chapter on Jonah, too, throws a fascinating light on the interplay of text, context, and theology for the Reformers’ exegesis. Luther writes in the wake of the trauma of the Peasants’ War to encourage his followers when they see how God plucks the prophet out of the whale, and how the sailors and then Nineveh as a whole were transformed by Jonah’s witness. In the chapter on Abraham and Isaac, Parsons again underlines the strongly experiential dimension to Luther’s exegesis, as Abraham is tried beyond human strength. He experiences God’s demand that he sacrifice his son as unpredictable and tyrannical, and as contradicting the promise that Isaac will perpetuate his name through his descendants. The issue is resolved – but not in any glib way – by his sense of the utter priority of God’s covenant promise, whatever happens. (Once again the image of God "playing with us" recurs).

Mention must be made, too, of the very original chapter on how Luther saw himself in the role of Noah, as the lonely prophet who stands against virtually the whole world. Then come the final chapters on gender issues. Chapter 10 makes no bones about the offensive nature to us of early modern understandings of rape as an offence against the honour of the family, especially the father or husband. Jacob therefore emerges as the primary victim in Dinah’s case and David in Tamar’s. The violation of the women is a secondary matter. Nor do the women escape accusations from the Reformers that their own curiosity or over-confidence may have facilitated the offences. Calvin’s dreadful comments about Tamar "squatting in her filth" (199), are particularly hard to take. As Parsons comments, both Reformers direct attention away from the actual crime against the women to their search for a theological strategy to account for God’s passivity.

Thus in relation to Bathsheba, God is represented as the schoolmaster, rod in hand, who punished David and brings him to his senses, and the fate of Uriah and Bathsheba herself appears to be much less important. Neither Calvin’s concern for discipline nor Luther’s for personal penitence appear in the best of lights here.

The brief and modest conclusion points up the enormous distance between us, culturally and theologically, and the Reformers, while re-emphasizing that the way in which the latter embraced the narrative form enlivened and, as John Thompson implies in his Introduction, humanized their theology (iii). God is always the chief "player" in the narrative, yet the focus is on real human beings like us. Luther and Calvin, Parsons concludes, are "essentially pastoral theologians".

Whether or not one agrees with this last comment, every good theological library should possess this book. It is great to see Australasian theology producing works of this quality. Not many may read it from beginning to end, but one suspects that many will use it as a reference tool, and a preaching companion, because each chapter stands on its own robust feet. Parsons’ quiet preference for Luther over Calvin slips out occasionally. It asks more questions than it answers, theologically and exegetically, and pastorally. That is surely a good thing. It opens up, moreover, a reverent but definitely non-deferential dialogue with two of our great exegetes from the past. Alertness to their blind spots may even nudge us to see our own.

Peter Matheson

 

KARL BARTH AND THE PROBLEM OF WAR AND OTHER ESSAYS ON BARTH

J. H. Yoder

M. T. Nation (ed.) (Eugene: Cascade, 2003), xii, 188pp. ISBN 1592443575

The laborious task of compiling out-of-print or unpublished essays, editing and then presenting them in some sort of meaningfully coherent order is often regarded as the poor (perhaps even illegitimate?) cousin of genuine scholarship. And yet, as this new book by Mark Thiessen Nation shows, it is indeed a truly scholarly task that can serve to breathe new life into primary textual research. John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite scholar whose influence has reached far beyond the confines of his Anabaptist circles, was a prolific and brilliantly incisive theologian, but whose indifference to his own personal achievements has always rendered ‘Yoder Studies’ a somewhat arcane science. As Stanley Hauerwas said in a tribute on the occasion of Yoder’s death in 1997, "You have to work to read a lot of what John wrote, not because he wrote obscurely but because he found a way to publish in the most obscure places". It is precisely for this reason that Nation’s freshly edited compilation of some of Yoder’s most insightful commentaries on Karl Barth is so welcome.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is a reprint of Yoder’s classic 1970 essay, "Karl Barth and the Problem of War", and the second is a selection of Yoder’s other essays on Barth’s ethics and his (supposed) free church ecclesiology. The 1970 essay is so well known and, according to Hauerwas, simply the best analysis of Barth’s understanding of non-violence yet undertaken, that it could suffice simply to register thanks to Nation for re-presenting it here to a new generation of scholars. In a global political climate that is once more seeing international military conflict within religiously-inspired paradigms of "good-versus-evil", however, Nation has done an even greater service. On the one hand, he reminds us that, as was the case in 1970, there is an urgent need for "a new Christian appraisal of the problem of war" (7); on the other, he encourages us to believe that, led by the examples of Barth and Yoder, there is indeed a proper Christian involvement in politics that, entirely unparadoxically, is motivated by a single-minded obedience to the Word of God.

According to Nation, the first piece in the second section, "The Pacifism of Karl Barth" (ET 1968), "serves as a summary of the [entire] book" (x). I take it that what he means by this is that the essay discusses both war as a general ethical topic (parallel to Part I) and, through the exposition of such texts as Rechtfertigung und Recht, Christengemeinde und Bürgergemeinde, and the Dogmatics, the basis for Barth’s broader social ethics (parallel to Part II). Once again, the re-publication of this essay 35 years after it first appeared in English is of immense benefit.

I would add as a rider to this, however, that the essay is more successful in its treatment of Barth’s "near pacifism" (132) than it is in its discussion of his wider socio-political concern. Perhaps, however, this qualification is the key both to the book’s strength and its weakness. As a commentary upon Barth’s theology and social ethics the book falls short, for the simple reason that Yoder’s own deep commitment to free church non-violent Anabaptism leads him to see things in Barth that simply are not there. We should not forget that Yoder was not so much an expositor of Barth but rather a brilliantly insightful (albeit sympathetic) critic.

On the positive side, however, such a partisan reading of Barth tells us a great deal more about Yoder than he would ever have wished to say about himself. And so curiously, while the various essays in this book appear at first glance to be a Yoderian ‘take’ on Barth, they can perhaps better be read as a Yoderian ‘take’ on Yoder, through the vehicle of his own Barth-commentary.

Having said this, of course, the insights into Barth’s ethical theology with which Yoder—through Nation—confronts us, are compelling. In the previously-unpublished 1978 essay, "The Basis of Barth’s Social Ethics", Yoder presents what Hunsinger has referred to as "brilliant", "penetrating" and yet ultimately "shortsighted" arguments. According to Yoder, Barth’s radical socialist politics finds its counterparts in practical pacifism (136–40), disestablishmentarian (or free church) ecclesiology (141–42), a nonconformist social ethic (145-46), and a sectarian Protestant view of the secular realm (140ff). One might disagree, as Hunsinger does, that all these themes are indeed to be found in Barth. Nonetheless, Yoder does the Church great service by reminding it that the social implications of the gospel accrue first to the community of faith – "judgment begins at the household of God" – and only then to the world at large.

The other two essays that appear in print for the first time in this book – "Behold My Servant Shall Prosper" (1980), and "Karl Barth, Post-Christendom Theologian" (1994) – are similarly instructive, if not so much for Barth studies then certainly for the present global and ecclesial context. The first essay, which takes as its starting point CD IV/2 but in reality is an appeal for Yoder’s own form of ecclesiology, asks us "in what positive ways servanthood contains the material for a social ethic" (154). The latter essay in particular strikes an especially timely chord when read in the midst of the Christian West’s present-day "war against terror". In it, Yoder contends that Barth was (and the Church should be) post-Constantinian because of a thoroughgoing pre-Constantinianism. Because "the faith community is epistemologically prior to the wider world", the Cross and Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, must be normative for the members of the covenanted community, and not the dictates of "Christian America" or the "free world" (185, 187–88).

All in all, Nation’s thoughtfully compiled selection of Yoder’s essays is timely and of broad appeal. Barth scholars may find little that is genuinely new, but they will undoubtedly be challenged – more likely provoked! – to think anew about both the basis and outcomes of his ethical theology. Those who are serious Yoder scholars are also likely already to know the essays, even the previously-unpublished ones – but a fresh edition that finds creative synergies between papers written 31 years apart ("The Pacifism of Karl Barth" was first published in French in 1963) should in itself guarantee an enthusiastic reception.

The greater significance of Nation’s book, however, lies elsewhere. Its importance is not so much the impetus that these essays may give to Barth studies or Yoder studies, but the encouragement that they will hopefully be to theologians and Christians in general to address the world in which we live – not only with the salvific, but indeed also with the social claim of Jesus Christ.

Mark R. Lindsay

 

KARL BARTH’S THEOLOGICAL EXEGESIS:

THE HERMENEUTICAL PRINCIPLES OF THE RÖMERBRIEF PERIOD

Richard E. Burnett

(Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001) xv, 312pp. ISBN 3161476778

Many who have read Barth’s prefaces to the various editions of his Romans have been struck by some of the audacious statements found there. Barth writes, for example, that were he forced to choose between the historical-critical method of biblical investigation and "the venerable doctrine of inspiration" he would without hesitation choose the latter – The Epistle to the Romans (London: Oxford, 1968), 1. In the preface to the second edition he says that, "Intelligent comment means that I am driven on till I stand with nothing before me but the enigma of the matter; till the document seems hardly to exist as a document; till I have almost forgotten that I am not its author; till I know the author so well that I allow him to speak in my name and am even able to speak in his name myself" (Romans, 8).

In answer to critics who suggested that he ‘theologised’ the epistle, Barth was later to claim, "My sole aim was to interpret Scripture…I felt myself bound to the actual words of the text" (Romans, ix). Evidently, then, Barth’s understanding of the task of biblical interpretation differed significantly from that of many of his contemporary (and present) readers.

In an attempt to make comprehensible Barth’s understanding of the hermeneutical task, Richard Burnett has produced an excellent and thorough study of the hermeneutical principles adopted by Barth during the early period of his career. Burnett’s method is an exhaustive examination of five draft prefaces to the first edition of the commentary in which Barth elucidates the hermeneutical principles adopted in the work. He has structured the main substance of his study around a pivotal sentence from first preface draft. Barth begins by stating that his commentary is an attempt to read the Bible in a manner different to the prevailing theology of the late-nineteenth century, that is, "more in accordance with its subject matter, content, and substance, focussing with more attention and love upon the meaning of the Bible itself" (Burnett, 277). A notable feature of Burnett’s book is the inclusion of the first available English translation of the prefaces together with a discussion of their historical background. Although this material is presented in appendices to the main body of the work, readers will benefit from reading it first since it forms the foundation of Burnett’s discussion.

In a chapter which sets Barth’s early work in its historical-hermeneutical context, Burnett, building on the claim of Hans-Georg Gadamer that Barth’s first edition of the Römerbrief was "a virtual hermeneutical manifesto", advances the thesis that "an important part of Karl Barth’s attempt to break with liberalism was his attempt to overcome the hermeneutical tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher" (4). According to Burnett, Barth’s problem with the Schleiermachian tradition was twofold. First, Barth objects to the reduction of hermeneutics to what he called "historicism and psychologism" with the result that that written by the biblical author can be wholly explained in terms of historical and psychological categories. This leads to Barth’s second concern, namely, that once this principle is adopted, the author himself (in this case, Paul) becomes the object of scholarly study rather than the true subject matter towards which the author speaks.

Burnett shows that Barth’s objections to the Schleiermachian tradition were grounded in his "discovery that the being of God precedes human questioning" (41), which is, of course, of a piece with his theological realism. For Barth, this meant that the fundamental hermeneutical problem was not that of human understanding, but of the being of God. Thus, the endeavour to establish general hermeneutical rules which are then applied to the study of Scripture amounts to an attempt to define a priori the being of the subject matter under consideration, which, in the case of God particularly, is precluded by God’s sovereign freedom. According to Burnett, therefore, Barth sought to reverse the procedure by granting special honour to the particularity of the subject matter under discussion. Instead of reading the Bible like any other book, Barth attempted to read any other book as he read the Bible: biblical hermeneutics are not so much "a specific application of general hermeneutics but the pattern and measure of all others" (51). Burnett is careful to note that Barth was not rejecting general hermeneutics per se. His primary concern was to repudiate the manner in which the Schleiermachian tradition had used the concept of a general hermeneutics to "narrow or limit the scope of interpretation, to restrict and distort what a text might actually say in light of its controlling object" (53, Burnett’s emphasis).

In the third chapter of the book Burnett examines what he considers Barth’s most important hermeneutical principle: "to read the Bible in a way that is…more in accordance with its subject matter, content, and substance" (65). In this, Barth was following in the footsteps of his mentor Herrmann from whom he had learnt to focus on the subject matter. But whereas Herrmann had identified the subject matter of theological inquiry as faith, Barth identified it as God: God himself, the free and sovereign God was the subject matter, theme and content of the Bible. The claim that God is the subject matter or theme of the Bible implies, of course, that this theme is a single, indivisible whole. Burnett notes correctly that Barth did not come to this conclusion as a consequence of abstract philosophical inquiry, but (rather ironically) as a result of his experience of reading the Bible.

From this hermeneutical principle comes Barth’s primary hermeneutical rule, the idea that the whole of the Bible must be interpreted in accordance with its parts and that its parts must be interpreted in light of the whole (78). In addition, Barth gave the whole priority over the parts, insisting that interpretation – not only of the Bible but of any text – had first and last to do with interpreting the whole of a text and not merely its parts (83). Thus, while Barth agreed with his peers that the ‘theological’ sense of Scripture could not be adequately determined apart from the historical, grammatical and literary sense, he also insisted that the latter could not be adequately interpreted apart from the former. Burnett argues therefore that "whatever Barth’s understanding of the exegetical task, it was not something he perceived as less rigorous or demanding than his contemporaries understood it to be but something more rigorous, more demanding" (82).

The fourth and fifth chapters of Burnett’s work pick up Barth’s concern to focus "with more attention and love upon the meaning of the Bible itself." In his early preface drafts Barth accuses the Schleiermacherian tradition of being inattentive and loveless with regard to the biblical authors, more concerned to interpret the author rather than the author’s words in light of the subject matter to which they bore witness. Barth does not want to stand apart from the author, as it were, or to focus his attention on learning about the author. Rather he wants to stand with and alongside the author, "participating with the author in the subject matter" (126). He is not opposed to the incorporation of historical and psychological insights into the understanding of Paul, but "his Römerbrief is a tour de force against all such attempts to reduce the content of Paul’s message to such insights" (137).

Burnett writes that, "Barth’s goal is simply to stand as close to the author as possible, not in order to look at him, much less to get inside him psychologically, but to look in the same direction his words point, from exactly the same angle or vantage point, as it were" (193). To take this stand beside an author is for Barth a relationship of faithfulness with the author. The attempt to interpret an author ‘"in abstracto,’ that is, apart from that which he by the very act of writing or speaking has obviously sought to make himself understood, Barth later described as an act of ‘shameless violence’ against the author, something fundamentally dehumanising" (191). Such a charge against the Schleiermacherian hermeneutical trajectory was laden with irony, since the object of the empathetic tradition of interpretation was precisely to honour the particularity of the author. Ultimately, for Barth however, unless the author is understood on the basis of the subject matter about which he writes, he is not genuinely understood at all (205).

The notion of participation in the subject matter is particularly important. Barth rejected the presupposition that the interpreter could approach the Bible from a position of scientific objectivity. Because Jesus Christ is the hermeneutical key of all Scripture, it is only by participation in him that true interpretation can occur. "Far from any non-participatory, distancing of oneself, interpretation requires the most intense form of participation and personal engagement. Far from taking up a position of disinterested neutrality or non-partisanship, it requires quite the opposite" (115).

Furthermore, participation in Jesus Christ posits a simultaneity between our world and that of the biblical authors which transcends historical distance. As interpreters think with the author about the subject matter to which his words attest, not only do they begin to penetrate to the meaning of the text for the author and their initial audience, but they also find themselves confronted by the same divine reality in their own world and time. This is the meaning of Barth’s reference regarding Calvin in his preface to the second edition: "For example, place the work of Jülicher side by side with that of Calvin: how energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears" (Romans, 7).

Throughout the Römerbrief period Barth refers positively to Calvin’s exegetical practice. Burnett suggests that the most important thing Calvin taught Barth was "to focus on the text itself" (252). It is likely that no systematic theologian since Calvin has displayed such a commitment to biblical exegesis as Karl Barth.

Burnett’s book brims with insight into Barth’s hermeneutical method and serves as a solid defence of his exegetical practice. Bruce McCormack has recently described it as a "landmark in the history of interpretation of Barth’s hermeneutics" and as such, "must reading" for those seeking to understand what Barth was seeking to achieve in his commentaries (Bruce McCormack, "The Significance of Karl Barth’s Theological Exegesis of Philippians" in the 40th Anniversary Edition of Barth’s Epistle to the Philippians, vii). The work exhibits exhaustive familiarity with its subject, as well as comprehensive engagement with the issues involved not only with Barth’s hermeneutics, but also with those he sought to overcome. As such Burnett’s book should interest not only Barth specialists, but anyone interested in hermeneutics or movements in modern theology generally. Biblical scholars and preachers would also benefit from reflection on those principles which Barth brought to his study of Scripture.

Michael O’Neil

 

OUR FATHER

Alexander Schmemann

(Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002) 93pp. ISBN 0881412341

O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING

Alexander Schmemann

(Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003) 115pp. ISBN 0881412384

Russian priest, theologian, Eastern Orthodox Christian leader and Dean of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York, Fr Alexander Schmemann was born in Estonia in 1921. He devoted his entire life to the promotion of Orthodox Christianity. Amongst his many other duties and responsibilities Schmemann worked with Radio Liberty for more than thirty years. During this time he broadcast nearly 3000 talks to Soviet Russia via a fifteen-minute program entitled Sunday Talk. Many of these talks have been transcribed, translated and published as a three-volume series entitled Celebration of Faith (SVS Press, 1991-1995). The radio program itself was aimed not only at secret Christian believers but also at people who were dissatisfied with the Marxist-Leninist atheistic worldview and were seeking spiritual inspiration to fill the void in their lives. Schmemann’s weekly program attracted a wide audience of admirers, especially members of the Russian intelligentsia such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Our Father and O Death are two more volumes of transcribed and translated talks delivered by Schmemann during these last three decades of his life. Our Father contains scripts from eight broadcasts on the Lord’s Prayer. Not surprisingly the style is kerygmatic and references to Russian writers including Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are sprinkled throughout. For Schmemann the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer is inexhaustible, calling humanity to what is important and ultimate. It does not represent an idea about God, but knowledge of and communion with God.

Against reductionist philosophies and sociologies the Lord’s Prayer is humanity’s reference to that which is higher and spiritual; to the ultimate destiny and eternal home of humanity. It is a petition for help to ascend beyond darkness, evil, pettiness, superficiality and turmoil. Schmemann understood the kingdom of God as the encounter of humanity with God, and Christians pray that this encounter may take place now, here, today. It was also clear to him that the petition "thy will be done" is the ultimate yardstick of faith for he was convinced that the worst betrayal of God lies in the constant substitution of our will – our self-will – for the will of God.

His explanation of the meaning of "daily bread" included theological reflections on the relationship between humanity and food. I found these to be particularly insightful and they can be found outlined more extensively in the first chapter of his For the Life of the World (SVS Press, 1963). Schmemann understood the final verse of the Lord’s Prayer as referring to "the evil one", that is, the evil person; the one who lives by evil. No doubt the Soviet context which he addressed would have offered ample testimony to the power of people committing evil deeds. Ultimately, the Lord’s Prayer is an epiphany of that spiritual world for which humanity is created.

O Death contains scripts from nine broadcasts on the themes of death and resurrection as well as appendix entitled "Trampling Down Death by Death", the sixth chapter in his For the Life of the World. The first four sermons were delivered consecutively, while the remainder were presented on different occasions during the Lenten and Paschal seasons. Once again the style is kerygmatic and references to Russian writers including Pasternak and Soloviev are included.

Schmemann wrestled with the ‘question’ of death and believed that humanity approached death in two distinct ways: either idealising the other world beyond the grave while truly belittling this world and its life, or else rejecting any possibility of eternity and in so doing reducing itself to an accidental, transitory and temporal occurrence de facto. Christianity, he asserted, could not be reduced to either for Christ himself proclaimed neither. Christ himself struggled with death, refusing to acknowledge it and to come to terms with it, and thus he wept at the grave of his friend. Schmemann reflected on Wisdom and Pauline excerpts related to the origin and nature of death. His message would have been strengthening for many of the ghettoized and repressed Christians in the Soviet Union living daily under the spectre of death.

These two compact volumes are excellent companions to The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann 1973-1983 (SVS Press, 2000). It is unfortunate, however, that the dates of these broadcasts are not given, although this is small criticism. These are simple yet attractive publications almost free from even the slightest typographical error and nicely illustrated. The occasional endnotes of the translator in O Death were quite helpful, often adding context, and hopefully this will be the same with any forthcoming volumes. Yet having made these brief remarks concerning style and presentation I wonder how one could really review a collection of sermons. For the power of oratory – so important to homiletics – is absent in a transcription. I can only imagine, reading between the lines and meditating on Fr Alexander’s words, that his sermons would have disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed: two categories of people both with whom I share an affinity. I would commend these publications to anyone interested in gaining further insights into the thinking and religious experience of one of the truly remarkable figures of modern-day Orthodox Christianity.

Anastasios Kalogerakis

 

FEMINIST THEOLOGY

Natalie K. Watson

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) 110pp ISBN 0802848281

Feminist Theology is a short publication by Natalie Watson, tutor in church history and ecclesiology at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford. The book is divided into two sections. The first section is the author’s introduction to feminist theology. The second section is an annotated bibliography. Despite its brevity, this work is a valuable contribution to feminist theology.

Section One comprises two chapters. Chapter One, Scripture and Tradition, grounds the text within the Christian story. Watson understands feminist theology as asking "critical questions of all endeavours of doing theology" (ix). She sees part of the feminist theological task as: "the critical, contextual, constructive and creative re-reading and re-writing of Christian theology" (2). For her, feminist theology is ever-increasingly contributing to mainstream theology.

Beginning with feminist scholars’ treatment of Scripture, Watson highlights three principles for the feminist interpreter struggling to engage with the Bible. She focuses on the reader in relation to her/his background, on the text and its construction and on the context of both biblical writing and reader. This chapter introduces the reader to biblical principles of key feminist scholars Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Watson notes Schüssler Fiorenza’s goal of wrestling with biblical texts through use of a four-pronged hermeneutics of (suspicion, remembrance, proclamation, creative actualization) and Ruether’s goal of broadening her sources beyond "canonical" texts.

When discussing Tradition, Watson notes, among others, the Bavarian laywoman Argula von Grumbach who in the 16th century believed in her call to read and interpret Scripture and whose pamphlets supported Reformation goals. As well, Watson mentions 18th century Quaker women whose full participation in ministry and advocacy for peace kept women’s voices to the fore. While not "feminist," such women, Watson claims, are "important as predecessors and foremothers who prepared the way for the development of feminist theology proper" (22). Watson concludes Chapter One by suggesting four influential factors in the burgeoning of feminist theology: the Second Vatican Council, liberation theology, the Movement for the Ordination of Women and the secular feminist movement.

Chapter Two, Themes in Feminist Theology, engages directly with Christian themes and traditional theological concepts. Watson begins with a helpful clarification of terms such as patriarchy, gender, sexism and kyriarchy. In Chapter One, Watson refers to Christian feminists struggling with ways to treat difficult biblical texts. In Chapter Two, the focus is on "What can be done with theological themes/topics developed via patriarchal lenses and male scholarship?" Whether engaging with the Bible or theology, Christian feminists pursue the creation of theological concepts that will offer women "liberation and transformation" (28).

Throughout Chapter Two, Watson briefly addresses, from a feminist stance, questions of male ‘God-language’, the maleness of Christ, anthropology, sin and salvation, Mary and the saints, the church, eschatology, ethics, diverse contexts of feminist theologians, post-Christian feminism and critiques of feminist theology. Watson reflects first on the meaninglessness for women of much God-language and asks, "What does it mean to speak about God in the light of women’s experiences of suffering and injustice, but also of love and joy?" (30). Then, drawing on a range of feminist scholars, she challenges the emphasis on Jesus’ "maleness" as central to women’s marginalization. In speaking of women’s anthropology, Watson explores ways in which women’s bodies might be reclaimed "to embody the Christ in many different ways" (38). For her, "being-in-relation" is the medium of healthy human community. When considering the person of Mary, Watson points to various ways that feminist theologians have been reclaiming Mary as one – freely making choices, siding with the poor, exercising courage. Readers are challenged to remember Mary, not by imitating her, but by living with comparable strength.

In the challenging section on Church, Watson illustrates ways that feminists have dreamed about new ways of being church. Focusing on Letty Russell’s Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church, Watson commends Russell’s "open ecclesiology" (47). After brief reviews of eschatology and ethics, Watson illustrates the wide diversity within feminist theologies. Whether pointing to white American, black American or lesbian experiences of feminism, Watson highlights the need for women to know and be known as "subjects" contributing to theology. Then, in the section on "post-Christian feminism," Watson indicates the ambiguous feminist experience of Christianity which has provided both space for women’s growth and ironically also oppressed them. In this context, former Christian feminists (e.g. Mary Daly, Daphne Hampson) are cited as women for whom "space" in Christian religion no longer exists. The chapter concludes with several strong critiques addressed to feminist Christian theology.

Section Two of Feminist Theology consists of an annotated bibliography. Contributors range through North American white, black and Hispanic to Latin American, Asian, African, British and European feminist theologians. Theologians from various Christian traditions, as well as some from Jewish backgrounds, are included. Works included are given in the same order as themes treated in Section One. Books include those by a single author as well as edited collections of essays/articles/papers. Biblical and theological texts are covered. Writings from early feminist theologians mingle with contemporary feminist theologians.

The length of description given for each entry varies, possibly reflecting the author’s greater familiarity with some works, yet the range of items included under each thematic heading is often extensive. Suggestions are offered about the level of difficulty of a particular book or of any prior knowledge required for a helpful grasp of another. Judgements are made about certain books as "key," "useful" or "the most comprehensive" in their field. In sum, the range of bibliographical texts illustrates the major changes that have occurred over three decades in regard to the emphases and interests of feminist theologies.

As one who has taught several courses in feminist theology, I highly recommend this book. For the teacher, it reminds one of newer interest areas in the field. It also usefully includes a short section on critiques of feminist theologies. For the student, it signals seminal feminist theological works and provides a good introduction to feminist theology. The student would, however, need to supplement this text with further feminist resources. For the researcher, the bibliography arranged under selected headings indicates a range of useful resources. For the interested enquirer, the book offers a critical and helpful introductory overview. I believe that Feminist Theology will find a welcome home on the shelves of personal and institutional libraries. Natalie Watson is greatly to be thanked.

Helen Bergin

 

ISLAM IN AUSTRALIA

Abdullah Saeed

(Crows Nest : Allen & Unwin, 2003) 231 pp. ISBN 1865088641

There are now a number of books on the market that introduce Islam to the general reader. Two features of Abdullah Saeed’s Islam in Australia make it the ideal choice for Australian readers. Firstly it describes Islam as it is practised in Australia. Even those with a knowledge of Islam may know more about the forms it takes in Afghanistan or Iraq than in their own country. While any understanding of Islam is undoubtedly desirable, as part of understanding global affairs, it is arguably more important to be informed about the religious beliefs and practices of people in one’s own country. For it is clear that Muslims and others need to know and become more comfortable with each other. History, right up to the present day, is replete with examples of ignorance leading to fear that in turn leads to violence. And although there is little that most individuals can directly do about international situations, each of us can be involved locally. To do so effectively requires a good knowledge base. Additionally the Islam portrayed in the media (both quality and popular) and in most readily available books is far removed from that practised in Australia. This brings me to the second strong feature of this book: if we are to contribute to peace among the various peoples of the world, globally or locally, we must avoid generalisations and stereotypes.

One of Saeed’s most consistent points in this work is that Islam, in Australia and worldwide, is pluralistic. In so arguing he is challenging distorted accounts of Islam that are almost universal. Even prominent academics, with specialist knowledge of the history of religions, continue to publish popular works that present Islam as a monolithic faith, instead of the polymorphous cultural phenomenon that it is. And because the contemporary practice of Islam is still being negotiated in many parts of the world, such stereotypes are a major obstacle to resolving social and political problems. For example, it is neither accurate nor helpful to suggest that all Muslims believe in a concept of "holy war", such as that expressed by Osama bin Laden and his followers. More broadly, it is not much more helpful to suggest that there are two types of Islam, moderate and extremist, good and bad.

There are, of course, some beliefs and practices common to Islam. And Saeed gives a clear account of these. A chapter on "Islamic World View", for example, briefly outlines common Islamic beliefs about the creation of the universe and of human beings, about the purpose of life and about life after death. The chapter "Essential Beliefs and Practices" details the more commonly recorded Islamic beliefs – in God, the prophets, the scriptures, etc., and practices such as daily prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. Here, as throughout the book, Saeed gives us the benefit of his local knowledge. For example, because of council restrictions the call to prayer is not made outside Australian mosques. Though more congenial for non-Muslims living in the area, it means Australian Muslims must check regularly published prayer times. Similarly, observing the dawn-till-dusk daily fast during the month of Ramadan is more difficult for Muslims living in countries like Australia, where they are a minority.

Because one of Saeed’s central concerns is to record the diversity of Islamic belief and practice, the chapter entitled "Unity and Diversity" is crucial. Here he sketches three basic tiers or levels of belief – where there is unanimous agreement, broad agreement and difference. It never ceases to surprise me how rarely this basic point is ignored in most accounts of what Muslims do or do not believe. Saeed also briefly describes the differences between Sunnis and Shi‘is, and a range of theological and legal schools. Once again, local information is provided to illustrate the general point. This includes some interesting observations about conversion to Islam and varying levels of commitment to Islamic ideas, values and practices. On the last point Saeed "guesses" that 30 to 40 per cent of Australian Muslims are strongly committed, while a similar proportion are not. Most distinctively and usefully Saeed includes in this chapter his analysis of trends within Australian Islam. He distinguishes between traditionalists, neo-modernists, neo-revivalists and liberals. While acknowledging that even these categories could be further sub-divided, they do enable him to refer to, and sometimes detail, the range of positions adopted by Australian Muslims with respect to particular contemporary issues. So, for example, he considers the views typically held by the different groups on the role of women in family and society.

The remaining chapters further illustrate the diverse ways that Islam is practised in Australia. There are interesting chapters on such themes as the life cycle of the individual, sacred times and places, community leadership, food, schools and women. In two final chapters Saeed addresses the issue of the perception of Islam and Muslims in Australia and the question of commitment to fundamental Australian values. His tone remains frank and irenical. Without denying the possibility of tension in some quarters and on some issues, Saeed convincingly argues that Australian Muslims as a group are loyal and engaged participants in contemporary Australian society.

The publishers enhance the work by varying the layout to suit the material: sub-headings, dot points, diagrams, tables and a short glossary are usefully provided. The inclusion of firsthand statements from some Australian Muslims, in boxed sections, is another worthwhile feature of the book. One shortcoming is the lack of a list of suggestions for further reading. All we are given is a list of Saeed’s major demographic and sociological sources, not something most readers need. A future edition would benefit from a list of reliable works on Islam beyond Australia, and specifically on Islam and global politics.

I was at first disappointed that Saeed does not contribute much to the complex questions surrounding the relationship between Islam and the rest of the global community. He does refer to the terrorist actions that occurred on September 11, 2001. But his analysis of what led to it is very limited. On further reflection, however, I realised that this initial judgement was wrong. For a start, as suggested above, the book is virtually a case study of how Islam can peacefully exist within a pluralist society. Moreover, Saeed’s careful delineation of the multiple expressions of Islam, and his numerous illustrations of how this affects the way that Islam is practised, equips his readers with vital tools for tackling this challenging matter. Receptive readers of this book will never again ask why (all) Muslims act in certain ways. Rather they will begin by inquiring into the relative level of the belief or practice in question, and further inquire about the range of views held by Muslims. So although it is primarily a book that promotes a better understanding of Islam in Australia, a task that it clearly achieves, Islam in Australia also provides readers with a firm foundation for understanding Islam’s position in the world today.

Stephen Downs

 

 

REVIEWERS

 

Michael Bird, PhD student, University of Queensland.

Dr Suzanne Boorer, Lecturer in Old Testament, Murdoch University, Perth.

Revd David Cohen, Head of Biblical Studies, Baptist Theological College, Perth.

Dr Stephen Downs, Dean of Studies, Catholic Theological College of SA, Adelaide.

Anastasios Kalogerakis, Registrar, St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Redfern.

Dr Mark R. Lindsay, Affiliated Lecturer, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge.

Revd Dr Peter Matheson, Fellow of the Department of History at Melbourne University.

Revd Michael O’Neil, doctoral student, Murdoch University, Perth.

Revd Dr Michael Parsons, Head of Christian Thought, Baptist Theological College, Perth.



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