Review: Introducing Theological Method by Mary M. Veeneman

This last Friday I gratefully received a review copy of Mary M. Veeneman’s book Introducing Theological Method: A Survey of Contemporary Theologians and Approaches (2017) from Baker Academic. I so enjoyed the volume that I nearly read it straight through from the moment it arrived at my doorstep. (I’m not sure what this says about me or about the quality of the writing, but I’m going with the quality of the writing rather than simply my drive to read 🙂 ).

Veeneman’s writing is both engaging and enlightening as she offers numerous approaches through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century of theological methods. She covers ressourcement and neo-orthodox theologies (Avery Dulles, Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg), theologies of correlation (Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan), postliberal theologies (George Lindbeck, Hans Frei), evangelical theologies (Millard Erickson, Stanley Grenz, Kevin Vanhoozer, Clark Pinnock), political theologies (Johann Baptist Metz, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone), feminist theologies (Elizabeth Johnson, Delores Williams), and closing with discussions of responses to religious pluralism and comparative theologies. While I have engaged many of these authors in my readings over the last number of years there were several whom I had not (notably Dulles, Metz, Cone, and Williams).

One aspect of this volume that belongs very near to my own work is that of the place of hermeneutics in theology or even the hermeneutics of theology. The values, senses, meanings, significance, signs, etc. of theological confession, development, and methodology belongs inextricably attached to one’s hermeneutic. It is likely my own interests in Biblical interpretation as such that also drives my interests in theological interpretation (not meaning just of Scripture, but of such things as the use of theological language, its context/s, and its meaning and function).

From my own readings of these authors (not likely as extensive as hers), Veeneman seems to have managed to been charitable in her descriptions of their methodological contributions without necessarily contradicting or negating them. This does not mean she has not offered critiques of the various methods and various authors engaged. Her work critically engages, but does so in a fashion to allow the reader of her work to do their own assessment toward considering ways to construct theologies within their own contexts. This makes the volume helpful for students of theology as way of introducing both significant theologians, theologies, and their methods of theological development.

This also serves as a call for myself to note the many ways which may still remain open for future theological developments as a conversation always in process. I particularly regard this as being the case given my own sense of desire to work as a constructive Pentecostal theologian who works for the benefit of the wider Church and indeed for the world (as Christ in, over and soon-coming to the world).

What one will not find in this volume is a list of “how-tos” for developing any particular theological method. Instead, the survey of the various approaches allows for a considerably diverse picture of the landscape of contemporary theological methodologies each with different foci and contexts. The diversity of voices represented might provide some small sampling toward a wider consideration of ways of doing theology for its readers even if missing many voices as well that simply have not written or are less well known.

Finishing this volume, I found myself already adding several of the recommended books to my own Amazon wishlists. I would personally consider using this volume should I teach my independent study course on “Readings in Theology” again in the future as a way of introduction to the contemporary theological landscape toward our own attempts at theologizing.

1 Kings: For the Person in the Pew (A Review)

Jim West
Photo courtesy of Joel Watts and Facebook. 🙂

Jim West (ThD; Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology) has written an easily read commentary on the entirety of the Old Testament of which I have reviewed his commentary on 1 Kings. West has proven himself to be a capable scholar of the ancient Near East, but more importantly of the texts of Scripture and as a preacher of said texts. He has written extensively on Scripture (including this commentary series covering the entirety of the Bible) and is perhaps one of the foremost and most prolific of bibliobloggers today. West shows considerable concern for the average church goer in his writing of this commentary both in the use of language, brevity and pastoral injunctions.
the-person-the-pew-commentary-series
West here offers some of the most concise and on-point comments of any commentary I’ve read on 1 Kings. He writes with the skill of an artisan even as he limits his own comments to a minimum. Where he becomes prosaic is in the quoting of other commentaries (sometimes at length), but even more so in his not to be missed excurses (on such topics as suicide and theodicy) which offer delectables neatly prepared for consumption to those wanting more.
Several of the features which make this volume less helpful would firstly include the choice of translation (the RV) which is all but out of use by the Church and uses unhelpfully antiquated language. While West claims it is perhaps “one of the best ever produced” this offers little consolation to the contemporary reader in the pew who neither is likely to use it or to understand its language (and if they prefer such dated language likely already prefer the KJV).
Several other features which would greatly benefit this series: listing the excurses on the table of contents page, including a bit more detail in the introduction, and indicating the chapter being discussed somewhere on the page. The introduction at least offers a very basic indication of West’s ideas about the text, but could perhaps use some further boiling down of the overall theological themes of 2 Kings. On passage number citations, if one stops reading and then takes it up again it takes some searching to find the correct chapter/passage.
One final lamentable feature of this series: West opts too often to refer to deity as “God” even when the very point being made is to be made by using the divine name YHWH (Yahweh, or even as his translation of choice has it: LORD). This seems to be all to common a mistake (and not a trifling one) in commentaries of all varieties. While this may be missed by many readers “in the pew” it continues to validate notions of the generic sense of “God” rather than specifically the God of Israel, YHWH, who makes and keeps covenant by that name and whom the writers are specific to point to by that name. A point which he seems to understand when he points clearly to Yahweh as God on pages 122-123.
On page 117, West improperly states that there would be no more raising of the dead after Elijah until the time of Jesus. Though he must have written the commentary covering 2 Kings 4 where one encounters Elisha raising the Shunnamite’s son.
Overall, West is to be commended for producing among the most readable commentaries on 1 Kings and thus deserving of a wider readership. His work highlights throughout its pages many key ideas and could likely inspire further reflection upon the text proper. One cannot but help to hear the word of a preacher speaking as a prophet of the LORD and calling the community to faithful obedience in the voice of Jim West’s many comments. May this commentary bear fruit in the Church.

Pioneering Movements: A Book Review

As one who is supervising the writing of a Master’s thesis over the course of this year on the topic of church planting, I was thrilled to receive a review copy from IVP on the notion of pioneering movements. What is especially helpful about this volume is its practical application to the multiplication (and not simply addition) of those participating in the job of planting churches and the planting itself.

PictureAddison, Steve, Pioneering Movements: Leadership That Multiplies Disciples and Churches (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 192 pp, paperback, retail $16. ISBN 9780830844418.
As one who is supervising the writing of a Master’s thesis over the course of this year on the topic of church planting, I was thrilled to receive a review copy from IVP on the notion of pioneering movements. What is especially helpful about this volume is its practical application to the multiplication (and not simply addition) of those participating in the job of planting churches and the planting itself.
This volume is the third one for Steve Addison (Movements that Changed the World and What Jesus Started) and it presses his work yet further offering a genuine proposal for creating church planting movements rather than simply planting churches ourselves. The key move forward for this volume is the specific implementation of training believers (however new to Christ they might happen to be) on how to plant churches and how to train others to plant churches. It is intentionally a movement that does not entail professionalization, but focuses instead on the enablement of all to carry forward the mission of Christ into the world.
A brief outline:
Addison opens with a brief discussion of the role and nature of the “apostle” in the Biblical text. He makes a case for apostolicity that functions to establish churches and develop others who will also establish churches and follows this with his own journey as an “apostle” and one training other “apostles” to plant churches and train others to follow (pp. 15-35).
Addison goes on to a short summation of the work of Jesus who himself focused on training others to release into the work of planting churches (pp. 37-46). He follows this up with a short (and helpful) summation of the work of Peter to do likewise as he had been commissioned by Jesus (pp. 47-59).
He shares numerous stories (historical and contemporary) of church planters and church planting movements which range from Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia Pacific, South Asia, China, Europe, the Islamic world, and North America. I found these numerous contexts to offer a multiplicity of motivational accounts from such diverse backgrounds (among the planters) and contexts, but with each following unique trajectories to see church planting movements established. This was a potent way to make the case for the methodology proposed by the intermingled methodological chapters.
Among his methodological chapters are such things as the proper relationship between the “church” and “missionary bands”. These should neither become confused with one another nor should either dominate they other, but they must work in fellowship with one another (no small task in the lived reality of people in the midst of redemption).
He goes on to describe five levels of “movement leadership”: (1) seed sower, (2) church planter, (3) church multiplier, (4) multiplication trainer, and (5) movement catalyst. These are not simple steps where one is intended to progress along from one to the next or like a ladder being intended to climb to the “top”. Instead, these simply function as various roles which must be filled as part of the move toward creating a church planting movement rather than simply planting churches. There is not really a linearity to the movement either. One might discover that their gifts are best used in one particular area rather than another, but each of these must be present to generate the church planting movement (pp. 95-108).
His marks of a church entail: recognized local leaders, habit of giving, Lord’s Supper is regularly celebrated, baptizing new believers, training to share the gospel, studies in basic discipleship completed, studies in church formation and self-recognition as a “church”. He does also hint multiple times when arguing for “self-governance” of all church plants that they must practice their own discipline as a part of their life as a church. To count as a “movement” this must become self-replicating to at least the “third generation” where a church that has been planted, has reproduced itself and that reproduction has also reproduced itself.
This volume was simple to read and offered a very basic introduction to how one might begin to work toward a church planting movement. It offers advice on simple ways of sharing Christ (such as asking, “What would be your miracle that I can pray for?”), training others to share Christ, and points to resources for just such training. Addison also offers a number of maps and charts/graphs throughout this work which offer helpful examples to visualize what he is describing. At times, it seemed this was almost more of a marketing scheme to acquire further resources (eg, the “Discovery Bible Study”), but the resources are actually offered freely and this is basically a form of an inductive study of Scripture which calls for accountability in putting into practice what has been heard in the text of Scripture.
He closes the volume with a discussion of the many reasons a person might not either do the work of church planting and multiplication by asking numerous questions rooted in actual experience among church planters that cover such issues as health, money, people issues, family, and persecution. With such realities one cannot simply think to put their hand to this work without counting the cost.
Addison’s approach is certainly friendly to a more Pentecostal/Charismatic approach as it presumes one lives in the gifts of the Spirit and expects miraculous answers to prayer. He also seeks to keep church planting movements from becoming over-reliant on outside resourcing (whether human or financial) which I find helpful against the likes of “The Gospel for Asia” methodology which seems to me a reversion to an earlier almost colonial form of missions focused on outsiders paying insiders to pastor and plant churches. This is emphatically opposed by Addison (much to his credit though he never names this organization specifically and I only offer it because of its impact via K. P. Yohannan’s book Revolution in World Missions).
Overall, I would commend this book to pastors, missionaries and church planters globally. I intend to give away copies myself since I see this as a launching point for working to advance churches being planted globally and the good news being shared with all of creation.
_________________________
*I received a copy of this book to review from IVP (for which I am grateful), but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this volume.
 

Old Testament Commentary Survey (5th Ed.) – A Review

Longman Survey 5thNow in its fifth edition (the first published in 1991), Tremper Longman III (PhD Yale University) “Old Testament Commentary Survey” (Baker Academic, 2013) offers a helpful updated appraisal of commentaries on the OT. I am thankful for the review copy that Logos provided for me and am delighted to recommend this volume as an essential tool in discerning how best to select volumes to consider for building a commentary library of the Old Testament. The accessibility and search-ability of the Logos version made reading and reviewing a volume like this one far easier especially given the heavy use of abbreviations (which were all hyper-linked to pop-up when the cursor was placed over them).
Who has Longman written for: “This guide is for anyone, layperson or minister, who desires to buy a commentary. It lists a number of works available for each book of the Old Testament, briefly summarizes their emphases and viewpoints, and evaluates them. This guide will be especially helpful to seminary students beginning to build the reference library that will be crucial to their preaching and teaching ministries” (p.2). Arguably he meets this aim for his targeted Evangelical audience.
There are a number things worth mentioning about this volume. One, Longman’s own criteria for recommending a commentary or not recommending it. Two, its already being out of date once it is published because of the current proliferation of commentaries and the need to be concise.
First, his comments regard several specific criteria that loom large throughout:

  • Evangelical issues
  • critical perspectives in light of “Evangelical” tendencies
  • theology
  • ancient Near Eastern context
  • readability
  • insightfulness

I wonder if any future update might better clarify Longman’s own understanding of “Evangelical”? He uses the term throughout this volume but never offers even a cursory summation of just what he means by it. Perhaps a brief explanation would better orient future readers as to what he means. Otherwise it seems based upon a simple acceptance that if one has uttered the “shibboleth” of “Evangelical” somehow they are sharing common knowledge and therefore stand on common ground. But in this highly diverse contemporary milieu of “Evangelicalism” found in the U.S. context (which it is supposed Longman has primarily in mind) it would perhaps go further to clarify his sense of the term even in broad brush strokes (e.g., issues of inspiration and authority of Scripture, canonical appropriation of any given text of Scripture, etc). Some of these are latently implied. For instance, when Longman seems to propose that engagement with the NT plays into this. This is how I understand his appraisal of “critical” perspectives that he deems to differ with “Evangelical” tendencies.
His own expertise (ANE and theology) is paramount in his appraisal process and thus might best explain why he focuses on such as criteria worth mentioning throughout. On his comments pertaining to readability, one wonders if he has done any readability tests (there are many available) or is he simply commenting on what he regards as highly readable. How does this align with average readability among laypersons and ministers? Or is this just a highly subjective proposal based upon his own judgment of what constitutes being “readable”? Finally, it might be beneficial if there were a comment or two explaining what he deemed “insightful” in the volumes he states are such*. Perhaps this is asking a bit much of a book that covers a LOT of ground in making such recommendations already, but he has already offered some comments on particulars in certain volumes. Why not explain if it pertains to such issues as authorship, theology, genre-classification, exegesis, etc.?
This second issue (involving all such published reviews of other literature) is not against Longman who has done a fantastic job since the first printing of aiding the layman, pastor and scholar alike (within the broad tent of Evangelicalism) in trying to wade through the multiplicity of commentaries on the market. This critique is inherent to the form of literature. For instance, Daniel Block’s excellent commentary on Deuteronomy (NIVAC, 2012)–though I understand from conversations with him that he will be able to also publish a stand-alone with Eerdmans (?), the total absence of the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary series (fifteen of which have been published since 2001), or Paul Shalom’s highly regarded recent contribution “Isaiah 40-66” (ECC, 2012)–a series which shows great promise to the scholar and yet the series is not even mentioned for review despite volumes also published on Exodus and two on Psalms.
Longman offers a terrifically insightful study of commentaries by describing whom each volume (and set) might best be appropriated: L(ayperson), M(inister/seminarian), or S(cholar). He ranks each by half-star increments (from 1/2 to 5 stars) with five stars being his strongest endorsement. He bases it on the aforementioned criteria and specifies within the commentary how one might understand his rankings: “One or two stars indicate that the commentary is inferior or deficient, and I discourage its purchase. Four or five stars is a high mark. Three, obviously, means a commentary is good but not great. I also use half stars in order to refine the system of evaluation” (p.2). He does not rank his own publications, but does include brief discussions of them. Certainly he understands well the writing of commentaries as he himself has written many in different series on top of being an editor for several. His own commentaries are listed together in Appendix B on p.153:

  •   Job. BCOTWP. Baker Academic, 2012. 496 pp.
  •   Proverbs. BCOTWP. Baker Academic, 2006. 592 pp.
  •   “Ecclesiastes.” In Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. A. Konkel and T. Longman III. CsBC. Tyndale, 2006. 400 pp.
  •   Ecclesiastes. NICOT. Eerdmans, 1998. xvi/306 pp.
  •   “Song of Songs.” In Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. A. Konkel and T. Longman III. CsBC. Tyndale, 2006. 400 pp.
  •   Song of Songs. NICOT. Eerdmans, 2001. xvi/238 pp.
  •   Jeremiah, Lamentations. UBCS. Baker Books, 2008. xvi/412 pp.
  •   Daniel. NIVAC. Zondervan/Hodder & Stoughton, 1999. 313 pp.
  •   “Nahum.” In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary. Ed. T. McComiskey. Vol. 2. Baker, 1993. Pp. 765–829.

Several humorous side comments are offered throughout, but here are several of note which speak to Longman’s own eschatological perspective (or at least away from those which he would self-identify):

  • For instance on Cooper’s commentary on Ezekiel in the NAC series, Longman writes: “This commentary is informative on a basic level but not too profound or thought-provoking. It adopts a dispensationalist and premillennial approach, which I personally find difficult to accept. So if that is your view, add a star. LM[two stars]” (p.108, bolding mine).
  • Or Baldwin’s commentary on Daniel (TOTC): “Baldwin is a balanced and sane exegete, which is important to note in a commentary on a book that attracts some wild ideas. ” (p.111, bolding mine–it would be interesting to hear some of the “wild ideas” he might have had in mind as he wrote this).

Anyone looking to gain free digital access to a number of other commentary reviews (including taking into account Longman’s own) should visit bestcommentaries.com.
________________
Longman was my second reader for my M.Div.Honours thesis and had commented in his formal review about my own “insightfulness”. Perhaps this is my own curiosity showing in that he did not comment on the specifics of what he found insightful in that work. FWIW, he gave me very high remarks and grade. 🙂

The Future of Biblical Interpretation: A Book Review

Future of Biblical InterpretationThanks to IVP Academic for providing a review copy of Porter, Stanley E. and Matthew R. Malcolm, eds., The Future of Biblical Interpretation: Responsible Plurality in Biblical Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 176pp.
I offer the following review of this volume:

The Bible encompasses a plurality of voices, not only in genre but in perspective. And not surprisingly, interpreters of the Bible have generated a plurality of interpretations. How might biblical scholars work responsibly with and within this plurality? And what are the future directions or possibilities for biblical hermeneutics?
The essays in The Future of Biblical Interpretation originated in a conference held in honor of Anthony C. Thiselton, who is well known for his important work in hermeneutics and New Testament interpretation. After an opening essay by Thiselton on “The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics,” the contributors look at the issues from a variety of angles—theological, scriptural, kerygmatic, historical, critical, ecclesial and relational. The result is an engaging conversation exploring responsible and productive interpretation of the Bible. A must-read for anyone seriously engaged in biblical scholarship today. [the preceding is from IVP Academic, see their press release: HERE]
CONTENTS:
Introduction
Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm
1. The Future of Biblical Interpretation and Responsible Plurality in Hermeneutics
Anthony C. Thiselton
2. Biblical Hermeneutics and Theological Responsibility
Stanley E. Porter
3. Biblical Hermeneutics and Scriptural Responsibility
Richard S. Briggs
4. Biblical Hermeneutics and Kerygmatic Responsibility
Matthew R. Malcolm
5. Biblical Hermeneutics and Historical Responsibility
James D. G. Dunn
6. Biblical Hermeneutics and Critical Responsibility
Robert C. Morgan
7. Biblical Hermeneutics and Relational Responsibility
Tom Greggs
8. Biblical Hermeneutics and Ecclesial Responsibility
R. Walter L. Moberly
Conclusion
Stanley E. Porter and Matthew R. Malcolm

Porter and Malcolm are to be commended for this very fine (and brief) volume. The contributors are all well-regarded in their own rights and many of the contributions offer helpful proposals for responsibility in Biblical interpretation. Essentially this volume proposes a sort of responsible “concordant polyphony” of interpretation (p.10). How these divergent voices are to be held in a sort of harmonic tension is another issue (as the editors note in their conclusion). The variant voices offered here tend toward a plurality of approaches to interpretation rather than simply a plurality of interpretations.
Chiefest of the contributions, from my perspective, were Anthony Thiselton’s open-ended suggestions for the future of Biblical interpretation and Richard Briggs’ Scriptural responsibility. Thiselton astutely notes that one cannot know the direction of Biblical interpretation despite seeing the directions it has taken and is taking. He thus refers to “future possibilities” rather than “future directions” (p.24). His “possibilities” are worth mentioning: (1) a genuine confluence between general hermeneutics and actual exegesis of Scripture, (2) the call to engage the text of Scripture as “Other” rather than simply self-reflection, (3) an equal weighting of the voices of Scripture, (4) a move beyond the greatest extremes of interpretive theory, (5) continued appropriation and development of Speech-Act Theory, and (6) a proper use of literary theories in hearing the voice/s of Scripture.
Briggs’ chapter proposes “four specific theological construals of Scripture that might productively frame Christian wrestling with hermeneutical plurality: two testaments, in a creative set of theological tensions, as a means of grace, and held together dialogically as the communicative acts of the one God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and also the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (p.69). This is his manner of proposing a Christian reading of the Scriptures we hold by faith and confession. He argues it is not a responsible reading that thinks one should read apart from their commitment of faith to God in Christ as confessed by all the Church everywhere. This is, to my thinking, imperative for Christian interpreters of Scripture. Walter Moberly seems to offer a similar stream of thought within the framework of “canon”. His contribution might equally offer a helpful aim for understanding responsible Christian interpretation of the texts gathered and affirmed as authoritative for and by the Church.
Along a similar trajectory is Malcolm’s contribution. He argues for a “primed” and “faithful” interpreter (pp.81-84). This is understood to be an interpreter who holds the public confession of Christ as Lord as central to responsible interpretation of Scripture. Tom Greggs (Relational Responsibility), more specifically, speaks to a Protestant hearing of Sola Scriptura grounded in his understanding of the ecumenical creeds of the early centuries.
Less helpful contributions by James Dunn (historical responsibility) and Stanley Porter (theological responsibility) are also worth mentioning. (My appraisal of their work may be tangential to my own perspective on other related issues). Dunn offers a fine reminder of the situatedness of the Biblical texts (or any text for that matter) as well as of the interpreter. This is a necessary reminder. He does, however, seem to offer essentially his own (once again) offering of a re-reading of Paul in the strain of the “new perspective”. In this sense, I find him helpful and unhelpful. His methodology being helpful, his conclusions less than. Robert Morgan (Critical Responsibility), likewise, argues from a more thorough-going historical-critical perspective from within his own understanding of a NT theological perspective particularly with regard to the descriptions of the Jesus of history and Christ of faith.
The reason I do not find Porter’s chapter to be as helpful as others might be his (seemingly) over negative appraisal of theological interpretation in its contemporary trending. He argues for a “Biblical hermeneutic” against simply a “Biblical interpretation”. The former referring to the broader notions of theory and the latter to specific approaches to the text (or at least that is how I understand his approach). Hermeneutics is broad (entailing the interpreter as well), while interpretation is supposedly narrow and involves “processes and techniques” (p.31). I appreciate his attempts to delineate the two, but perhaps this is nuancing in ways others here have not and might themselves find unfruitful. Following his trajectory, he proposes a theological hermeneutic against a theological interpretation. Again, I find certain aspects of his approach to be helpful, while also seeming to be overly critical apart from a genuine appraisal of specifics. [Perhaps what is really needed is my own further interaction with other writings of Porter to better grapple with his approach]
Perhaps one of the most poignant comments for many of those who might make use of a volume like this was Walter Moberly’s personal narrative interwoven within his discussion of Ecclesial Responsibility:

“the way the Bible is taught in divinity schools and seminaries in the US…[is] not fit for [the ecclesial purpose of producing] future leaders of churches who will spend much time reading and interpreting Biblical texts, can finish their studies and still be relatively clueless about how to handle these texts well in the situations in which they find themselves” (p.134, referring to the comparable appraisal of Dale B. Martin, Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal [Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox, 2008]).

That is a danger, all too real, that it would be hoped The Future of Biblical Interpretation might aid in remedying in part by at least raising the imperative questions of (as the subtitle claims) responsible plurality in Biblical hermeneutics. This is a welcome volume that should be incorporated into hermeneutic reading requirements for graduate level courses in Biblical hermeneutics and it is a fine praise to the tremendous contributions of the scholarship of Anthony Thiselton.
_____________
See what other reviewers have to say:
Nate Claiborne
Jim West (forthcoming)