Monday, July 27, 2015

The Nine Lives of DET, pt. 1

Modern theology has demythologized the old yarn that cats enjoy nine literal lives, New Age philosophy notwithstanding.
Carpe diem! You only live once.
The particularly modern emphasis would treat the "nine lives" trope as metaphor: Instead of deferring their deepest hopes for eight lines yet to come -- recall the old quip about "catnip in the sky, by and by" -- our feline friends should reinterpret the myth, existentially, to focus on the multiple possibilities for authentic existence in this life. (I will not engage here -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- the perennial debate about whether and how the scope of the general resurrection might encompass our animal companions.)

In his amazing book, Death, the Riddle and the Mystery, Eberhard Jüngel argues that, somehow, our temporal existences as a whole will be resurrected into eternity. Or we might frame the matter as some process theologians do: God subjectively remembers the life events and experiences of all actual entities, incorporating them into the ever-expanding chronicle of all temporal experience within God's own life. If either of these claims are true, God will remember for all eternity everything any of us has ever written -- including anything I myself have written (shudders...). This claim implies no hubris on our part but, rather, entails great humility, for all our posts will live on in the divine memory side-to-side with everything Donald Trump has ever tweeted.

At any rate, today our little blog turns nine years old. And (for some inexplicable reason) I was given the assignment to draft a "whimsical" recollection to mark this austere...I mean, auspicious occasion. So there you have it. Whether for the sake of the ages, or just to entertain and enlighten you during a brief interlude in our slowed-down summer publishing schedule, I offer nine highlights from our archives, one for each year of our operation. You might think of each one as a vignette of eternity; or, barring that, maybe just as something cool somebody once wrote.

Year 1. A Portrait of the Editor as a Young Man.

As everyone knows, DET is the brainchild of W. Travis McMaken, at that time an MDiv candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, though now he elects to subcontract a great deal of the writing and, in general, the more annoying tasks of blog production. Because theological inquiry is a communal endeavor )etc., etc., etc.) Travis is as taciturn about the mysterious origins of this blog as he is about what his actual first name is. But we have intriguing hints from the maiden post from July 27, 2006. Recall what was going on in those heady days. George W. Bush -- or perhaps Dick Cheney, depending on your perspective -- was President. Most prominent national Democratic as well as Republican politicians were still on record opposing same-sex marriage. At that point, there had only been, perhaps, only three or four big-screen reboots of the Spiderman franchise.

Into those heady days emerged this manifesto. What can the reader of this new blog -- which, as a lone-wolf operation at that time, was called "Der Evangelische Theologue" -- expect to find?

Only God knows. There will be no ranting. There will be no posts (at least I hope there will be no posts) laced with a prophetic posturing or displaying a savior complex. There will likely be little discussion of politics (my grandmother always taught me not to discuss religion and politics in polite company, and since I’m discarding the bit about not discussing religion, I’m going to try to stick to not discussing politics). Also, with any luck, this will be the last mention of ‘postmodernity’ (which I like to call ‘hypermodernity,’ but there won’t be a post on that either).

Uh-oh. I suspect I myself have violated, numerous times, the gag order against politics and ranting. Ah well....

The scene at DET has been chill, but hasn't been without controversy -- the central controversy being " Why is your blog’s name in German?" There are two answers:

First, one acquires a certain amount of intellectual cachet when one uses another language in conspicuous ways and far be it from me to surrender credibility that might be obtained through academic posturing. Second, I am currently studying German and one likes to show off knowledge that one has recently gained.

No comment.

Year 2. Come, Let us Reason Together

One of the exciting projects at DET over the years has been the Karl Barth Blog Conference, which has drawn in stimulating and sometimes fundamentally sound essays from multiple contributors. (This was in fact my own entree into writing for the blog.) Alas, the KBBC as an ongoing project is no more, and yet, like Jeff Bridges' "Dude", the KBBC still abides -- now in the form of book, produced by our editor along with our prolific friend-of-the-blog, David Congdon, that grew out of contributions from the fourth and final conference. From this index one can cull listings for this very satisfying triptych:

Barth and Bavinck
Barth and Bonhoeffer
Barth and Bultmann

But "Barth and Brunner"? Nein!

Check out this post announcing the first KBBC in 2007.

Year 3. Et Tu, Torrance?

Australian theologian Benjamin Myers is a legend within the (admittedly somewhat narrow) world of theo-bloggery; his wit and insights have set standards for posts that are clear, concise, compelling. (Hmm, do I foresee a TED Talk on "The Three C's of Blogging"?) But can he err theologically? Our position, respectfully submitted is, yes. Check out this post from year three, wherein Travis challenges Ben's interpretation of Thomas F. Torrance. (There seems to be a virtual torrent of interest in Torrance these days, for example in posts by the inveterate theo-blogger, Bobby Grow).

A propos of Ben Meyers' worry that Torrance's realist and objectivist epistemology construes a God who would be a prisoner of divine self revelation -- and thus the secure possession of the church -- Travis has this to say:

Torrance everywhere emphasizes the personal nature of the Christian’s relation with God and Christ, and so I would suggest that one must understand Torrance on these matters through an emphasis on personal encounter between God and the Christian or church. This encounter is one that occurs again and again in the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus it is one that is permanent.

Tune in for our next installment, gentle readers, where I will highlight three posts from years four to six.



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Friday, July 24, 2015

Stumbling along Witherspoon Street - the highlight of my time at the 2015 Barth Conference

A week after the massacre of nine black people by a white racist killer with a gun during the Wednesday evening Bible Study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I found myself walking along Witherspoon Street in Princeton with several hundred other people.


I was up in New Jersey from North Carolina for the Barth Conference, but I was using that as an opportunity to visit my parents who live in a town a couple miles away from Princeton. It was on the Tuesday evening of the conference when I was visiting with my folks when my father told me about a march in honor of the Emanuel Nine starting at Mt. Pisgah AME Church on Witherspoon, ending in Palmer Square along Nassau Street. I knew I had to go. There wasn't much inner conflict within me, although I would be missing the Will Willimon lecture I was looking forward to. I knew I had to go.

I had attended Princeton Seminary, I had grown up in Central New Jersey, this part of the state was my home, I had worshiped at Mt. Pisgah a handful of times as a child and young adult. I knew black friends of mine who were crying out, "too long!" and knew that I as a white man could no longer chose to be an indifferent witness to the continual abuse of black bodies. I had to go, I told myself, I had to go and stand in solidarity with those who had been murdered, I had to go if I the words "Black Lives Matter" were to be anything more than a slogan or a catchy hashtag. And so I went to Witherspoon Street.

Leaving from Princeton Seminary's campus, I caught up with Willimon on the steps of Stuart Hall and apologized for missing his lecture and gave him the reason why. He looked at me, shook his head, and said, "I guess that's why we study old Barth, huh?" He patted me on the back, walked up the stairs, and I headed downtown. When I got to Mt. Pisgah I was disappointed by what I saw. Arriving about 15 minutes early, all I saw were old, earnest looking white people. But a crowd soon gathered, far more diverse than I had imagined it would be. There were the Unitarians, there were the black baptists, there were the local evangelicals, there were the members of the Reformed synagogue a town over.

We began to march, several hundred of us, up Witherspoon Street. I saw Princeton Theological Seminary people among the crowd, students and faculty alike. There was John Boopalan, holding a sign. There was Martin Tel and his young son. There was a man from the Barth Conference, Asian America from Arkansas originally, studying in Aberdeen, big fan of Barth. He told me he was there, "because it was the right thing to do." We trudged up the road singing "We've Come This Far By Faith." Hard song to sing without accompaniment, but it was sung from the heart. I overheard one black woman talking to another right before we got on our way, "I'm sick and tired of that damn We Shall Overcome. Those days are over. We need a new song."

We arrived at Tiger Park in Palmer Square, which is right across the street from Nassau Presbyterian Church, and then a short ceremony began. Most of the speakers were black women, from Mt. Pisgah AME Church. This shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. Powerful words were uttered. We prayed. Never in my life have I ever been in the midst of so much public prayer, unabashed Christian prayer, done in "Jesus' name" outside, in the open air. Some in the crowd were uncomfortable. Frankly, I was uncomfortable, because such public uttering of faith was far outside of my middle class, white Presbyterian comfort zone. That wasn't a concern of the Mt. Pisgah AME Church people though. "Our mission is to change the world for the better, in the way that God intends. God does not intend for black bodies to be brutalized." And so we prayed.

The park was packed. Young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and nones. Singing and carrying signs, words exchanged, "tonight cannot be a one off!", "we must continue the struggle!". What did this mean? "We must continue to speak out, continue to stand against injustice, continue to resist all forms of racial hatred that deny the humanity and agency of our sisters and brothers of color, in particular black people." We lit candles. We were challenged to, "not leave in the way we came in." We prayed. And then we were dismissed. But that was not the end. A man sang loud, "lean on me!" and then several hundred people joined in. We sounded awful. It was divine.

Before too long I will hopefully write up another post about my more academic reflections on my time at Barth Camp. But for now, I want to sit and think a bit longer on that walk down Witherspoon, and that gathering in Tiger Park.

I guess that is why we study old Barth, huh?

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, it’s been more like two months than like a fortnight, but oh well. Things happen. There are classes to teach, books to read (and write), etc. The good news is that we’ve had some great posts since the last link post, both here at DET and in the wider theological interwebs at large. So sit back, buckle-up, and get ready for this batch of links!

First, here’s what we have been up to here at DET:


And here’s what you may have missed in the theo-blogosphere:


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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What I Learned at Barth Camp 2015

Last week I attended the annual Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary -- which some of us on social media affectionately call "Barth Camp." (Actually, I should clarify I attended Barth Camp part one, as this conference was followed immediately by a conference geared for pastors.) The theme of the conference was Barth's interpretation of Gospel texts and the rota of speakers included experts in systematic theology, ethics and biblical studies. It was was a wonderful event with superb and serious papers and much food for rumination in the weeks and months to come.
New Jersey is bigger than it looks on a map.

Happily, if you weren't able to go, the plenary papers can now be viewed online through the seminary's online streaming channel. I won't try to summarize these talks here, though I have pages of hurriedly scribbled notes. What I offer you instead, gentle readers, is just a few personal impressions from the experience:

On this trip I rode buses from Western Massachusetts to New York City and from New York to Princeton. In this process I learned that New Jersey is much, much larger when one is riding a bus than it seems on a map. I learned that the New Jersey Transit system website is written in some language, apparently, that non-locals are unable to decipher.

I learned, moreover, that folks in New Jersey like to eat their hoagies (that's mid Atlantic for "grinders," if you speak New Englandese, or subs if you're from anywhere else) with mozzarella sticks and french fries inside the sandwich! DET contributor Henry Coates, my intrepid pedagogue in all things New-Jerseyan, led another companion and me to Hoagie Haven -- and possibly also to a slightly shortened life-span.

I learned from Beverly Gaventa (Baylor; formerly PTS) and Richard Bauckham (Cambridge) that there are, indeed, biblical scholars who aren't afraid to talk shop at a theology conference. From both of them I got the message that reading Barth better will entail reading the Bible better -- and probably a whole lot more than many of us would care to admit. I learned from Bauckham, further, that Barth pretty had much of his Christological game on already by the time he wrote his commentary on the Prologue to John's Gospel, based on lectures he gave in 1925-26. I also learned from Gaventa that we should take the Evangelist Luke as a serious theologian and that, in the book of Acts, Jesus might just be more present than many scholars have tended to assume since the time of Hans Conzelmann. In what seemed to be a major concession to the Lutherans she proposed the stunning thesis that Jesus can be both in heaven and on earth at the same time. I also learned that she, as we say in Massachusetts, is wicked funny.

From Karlfried Froehlich (PTS) I learned that the Issenheim altarpiece, a print of which hung above Barth's work desk, is way more fascinating and theologically complex than I possibly could have realized. As Froehlich peeled back the foldable leaves of this masterpiece panel by panel (metaphorically speaking; it was actually a slideshow) and attempted a careful exegesis of its rich images and symbols, he illustrated a profound truth: In art, as in theology, we navigate sea after sea of interpretation; the process of questioning the meaning of what we see -- or think we see -- never ends. (That might not have been exactly the point at which he was driving, but it was part of my takeaway from the presentation.)

I learned from Willie Jennings (Duke) that, as a would-be disciple of Jesus I just am that rich young man who backed away from the Savior's radical agenda. Even if I'm not in the one percent, I'm still not off the hook because, even in my unconscious aspirations, I've internalized the idolatrous ideal figure of the successful bourgeois white man that our society worships.

Sociologist Max Weber taught us that
Presbyterians work so hard not to save
themselves but, ironically, because they cannot
.
From Daniel Migliore (PTS) I learned how the gracious host welcomes traveling theologians to his house and podium. (Unfortunately, I had to skip out of town before I could hear his own lecture.)

I learned from Eric Gregory (Princeton University) that, while Augustine and Barth might not exactly be kissing cousins, they do at least belong at the same family reunion of historic Christian ethicists. He confirmed my suspicion that Christian thought still has a tough row to hoe in the realm of contemporary academic ethics -- in other words, don't expect Peter Singer to give a ringing endorsement of Barth's interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable anytime soon. Gregory also told me that he likes to co-teach courses with Jeffrey Stout. Wouldn't you like to sit in on some of those class sessions?

I learned from Bruce McCormack (PTS) that being a theologian may entail taking personal risks, showing courage and opening up something of one's own vulnerabilities to public scrutiny. Where else in the humanities are you going to learn a lesson like that? In papers that covered similar terrain, McCormack and Paul Dafydd Jones (University of Virginia) explored the depths of Barth's Christology and soteriology and drew out stunning conclusions for our understandings of the problem of evil, human destiny and the nature of God -- the God who, according to Barthian logic, personally endures and suffers the very contradiction posited by God's election of finite and sin-prone human creatures.

From the Rev. Fleming Rutledge I learned to further disabuse myself of the stereotype that Episcopal priests don't know how to preach and don't value the homiletical arts. As she pointed reminded us, white ministers, in particular, cannot flinch in the wake of events like the shooting in Charleston from naming racism as a demonic evil and shining the light of the Gospel into that darkness. To my delight I learned she's also a fan of the work of William Stringfellow.

I learned that Presbyterians work hard, a lesson we might have gotten from Max Weber a century ago. This fact was confirmed for me by observing the diligent efforts of the seminary faculty and staff and the able efforts of Kait Dugan and the rest of the Barth Center staff to keep the conference on track.

I learned that Jürgen Moltmann (Tübingen) is not only a world-class theologian and passionate advocate of social justice cause, but he is also a wonderful human being with a deep pastoral concern for individual human beings. Moltmann's comments about his personal relationship with and prayers and advocacy for Georgia death-row inmate and theologian Kelly Gissendaner brought tears to my eyes and the entire room to its feet. (The Moltmanniac has blogged the video and transcript of these remarks here.)

Last of all, from bivoc pastors, seminary profs, students, inquisitive laypeople and fellow theo-bloggers what it means to pursue the theological life simply because one loves it. Because one just has to do so. One friend flew from Michigan; another from Sioux Falls; another, a highly motivated undergrad, drove from Chicago. All were welcome, and as far as I can tell, a good time was had by all.

Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece (ca 1516), an image of which hung
above Barth's desk, is a
Church Dogmatics unto itself.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Karl Barth Conference 2015: A Sneak Peak

The annual Karl Barth Conference in Princeton begins this Sunday, and I'm excited to say I will be attending for the first time and also presenting a paper at one of the concurrent sessions. (It's not too late for you to go too. Registration is still open.)
The conference theme is "Karl Barth and the Gospels: Interpreting Gospel Texts."

The Barth Center and other organizers clearly have gone all out this year. The participation of Jürgen Moltmann, in particular, marks this event as a special one.

About 20 years ago, early in my theological studies, I heard Professor Moltmann speak at Emory University. What he said then was prescient for what the churches and organized religious communities more broadly face today. In the mid-1990s, the mainline churches were first beginning to grapple with the decline of denominationalism in the United States. The contours of this downward spiral are even sharper today, as the media analyze the precipitous growth of the "Nones" and sociological studies are confirming the rapid secularization of North American society. What Professor Moltmann told us back then was that the churches needed to quit obsessing about institutional declension and seek first the Kingdom of God.

Amen.

* * *

As I said, this conference should offer feast of insights for theologians and Barth scholars. Take a gander at the roster of plenary speakers:
  • Jürgen Moltmann—“Predestination: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Election of Grace”
  • Eric Gregory—“‘The Gospel within the commandment’: Karl Barth on the Parable of the Good Samaritan”
  • Willie Jennings—“A Rich Disciple? Karl Barth on the Rich Young Ruler”
  • Paul Dafydd Jones—“The Riddle of Gethsemane”
  • Karlfried Froehlich—“Karl Barth and the Isenheim Altarpiece”
  • Bruce L. McCormack—“The Passion of God Himself: the Cry of Dereliction in Barth’s Theology”
  • Beverly Gaventa—“Reading Karl Barth’s Reading of the Road to Emmaus”
  • Richard Bauckham—“Karl Barth’s Interpretation of the Prologue to John's Gospel"
  • Daniel L. Migliore —“Barth, Balthasar, and the Parable of the Lost Son”

I also am exited for the chance to hear Fleming Rutledge preach at chapel service. Sadly, though, I have to skip out of town before Professor Migliore's talk.

* * *

In addition to the plenary lectures, there will be two sessions, on Monday and Tuesday afternoon, with seven concurrent speakers each -- a notion which sort of makes my head swim. Now by popular demand (well, actually, only one person demanded it, but it happens to be a significant person in this particular case), here is the abstract for my paper.

The Good Samaritan as Anonymous Christian:
Barth’s Christological Exposition of Luke 10:25-37

How might Christian ethics today remain Christ-centered while honoring the full humanity of the social outcast or the non-Christian other? This constructive essay explores this question through a close reading of Karl Barth’s exposition of the “Good Samaritan” parable, the capstone of his discussion of Christian life as the “Praise of God” (Church Dogmatics I/2, par. 18.3). Though Barth wrote no complete ethics of revelation that matches the lengthier discussions in vols. 2 through 4, Geoffrey Bromiley notes that par. 18 (“The Life of the Children of God”) foreshadows key themes in those treatises. After discussing the first commandment as the foundation of the Christian life (18.2), Barth explores how believers might fulfill the second commandment to love the neighbor without lapsing into works righteousness or getting enmeshed in the notion of an abstract love imperative. In the Samaritan we encounter the neighbor as an event of grace, who embodies the fallen humanity assumed by the Son of God in the incarnation. This parable, which upends the lawyer’s self-justifying question, presents the paradox of discipleship: God commands what we as sinners are unable to accomplish, and thus personally fulfills the commandment in Jesus Christ. Moreover, as the religious other (not as the ecclesial insiders, the priest and Levite), the figure of the Samaritan suggests a way that those outside the visible churches may become “parables” (to anticipate Barth’s later language) of Christ’s humanity, thus drawing believers more deeply into an authentic life of praise to God. The paper suggests some ways this paradigm might apply to contemporary praxis.


I conclude with a quote from Barth that elaborates the main claim in my paper:

As the Bible sees it, service of the compassionate neighbor is certainly not restricted to the life of the Church in itself and as such. It is not restricted to the members of the Church who are already called and recognizable as such. It is not restricted to their specific action in this capacity. Humanity as a whole can take part in this service. The Samaritan in the parable shows us incontestably that even those who do not know that they are doing so, or what they are doing, can assume and exercise the function of a compassionate neighbor (Church Dogmatics I/2, p. 422).

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Barth and MacIntyre on Tradition – More from Kimlyn Bender

Kimlyn J. Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).*

Barth’s Gifford Lectures from 1937 and 1938, published as The Knowledge of God and the Service of God According to the Teaching of the Reformation, receive – in my humble opinion! – far too little attention these days. So I was very pleased to see that Bender’s eleventh chapter takes them as its theme. It is a good and useful chapter, which I appreciated especially for the way it contextualizes the Gifford Lectures historically, as well as Barth’s contribution to them. This leads Bender into a number of interesting sub-conversations about natural theology in general, what it means for theology to be not only “a science” but “a peculiar science” (emphasis mine, p. 318), and the place of theology in the modern university.

The piece of the chapter that I want to highlight for you below has to do with the place of tradition in theology. Bender here brings Barth and Alasdair MacIntyre into conversation. Bender highlights shared ground between these two thinkers, which is important, but I will emphasize the dissimilarity (you are reading a blog, after all – go get Bender’s book if you want the whole story). As always, bold is mine.

Barth and MacIntyre have serious differences in material commitments and what they propose to set over against the modern project, not least the difference between MacIntyre’s Aristotelian and Thomist retrieval and synthesis and Barth’s own staunch Reformed and Protestant vision. Barth would have little sympathy for placing Aristotle once more at the center of the theological project, and perhaps even less for thinking of the task of theology solely in terms of the retrieval and extension of a tradition, which, to Barth, could once again be seen as the domestication and confusion of divine revelation with the historical medium of its appearance and transmission. . . . Barth would also be suspect of a tradition that placed at its heart the inculcation of virtues. . . . In short, . . . Barth’s concerns with MacIntyre’s project would perhaps not differ very much from those he expressed regarding Roman Catholicism.

. . .

Barth differs from MacIntyre in that he ultimately does not locate the compelling power of a tradition within the tradition itself, or even on the winsomeness and compelling nature of the form of its social embodiment. Here he differs not only from MacIntyre, who focuses especially on the first, but also from Hauerwas, whose emphasis is on the second. In other words, Barth refuses to locate the ultimate power of the Christian tradition within the tradition itself, or to locate the compelling power of the gospel solely or primarily in the truthfulness of its communal life as church. For Barth, the ultimate power of the Reformation argument he is making in his lectures rests in the end not in the intrinsic winsomeness of its presentation and in its ability to outnarratve its rivals, nor even in its social embodiment in a community of witness. (p. 347–48)

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Academy of Parish Clergy Books of the Year for 2014 (Part 2)

A week or so ago we posted part one of the Academy of Parish Clergy's Books of 2014, and seeing as we are well on our way into June it is best that we post part two!

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Published by Intervaristy Press. Amazon Link

Many church leaders define the successful church as one that has grown rapidly to high levels of attendance and membership. Smith and Pattison ask us to question our adoption of this secular standard. They consider whether speedy growth is healthy for individual Christians, our relationships, and our communities. Pastors who have not experienced fast congregational growth will be encouraged by this call to a more organic focus on long-term commitment, compassion, community, and Sabbath rest, in through which we reconnect with the journey of Jesus and the early Christians.

The Good Shepherd: a Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament, by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by IVP Academic. Amazon Link

This is not just another book about Psalm 23, but an interesting exegetical exploration of the Good Shepherd theme from the Psalm through the Prophets to the Gospels and beyond. This rich, well researched study considers historical, rhetorical, and theological issues. Bailey is an expert in Middle Eastern culture. This volume is fascinating reading, and it will provide excellent support for a sermon series on the Good Shepherd.

Reading the Parables, by Richard Lischer, Interpretation Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church series. Published by Westminster John Knox Press. Amazon Link

Richard Lischer's volume on the parables of Jesus is destined to be a classic text, sought out by scholars, pastors, and interested laypeople alike.  Lischer offers a grand over view of the various theories propagated by scholars on what exactly is a parable and how to read them, offers his own synthesized interpretation of individual parables, and emphasizes the need to experience the parables from the point of view of the poor. The final chapter of the book is a virtuoso tour through the history of parabolic interpretation as Lischer leads his reader on a conversation with the Saints of the church, from Augustine to Julian of Norwich, John Calvin to Martin Luther King, and the men and women of Solentiname, bringing their various readings of the parables into conversation with each other. Parish Clergy need to read this book to refresh them theologically as well as put new life into their sermons or Bible studies. Seasoned pastors will find this book refreshing. Students will find this book helpful as they learn how to read and understand the parables better through the guidance of a seasoned professor of preaching, theologian, and pastor. Lischer skillfully shows how the parables speak to real lives of people and are not to be seen as something foreign to our day and age. The parables are for the community of believers of all times and places.

Invasion of the Dead: Preaching Resurrection, by Brian K. Blount. Published by Westminster John Knox Press. Amazon Link

This little book is giant in nature. In short yet perceptive order, Blount is able to challenge  basic assumptions of the nature of the Cross and the mystery of the resurrection. Parish clergy will sharpen their focus and understanding of the Cross / death / resurrection of Jesus in a confused and cluttered culture. Here, in the mystery of the resurrection and not in the suffering of the cross alone, will one hopefully find the meaning of life and purpose. Practically, Blount challenges his reader to remember that Easter is not the only time to preach on resurrection. This may seem like obvious advice, but for the working pastor it can be difficult to find ways to connect visions of resurrection with the practical realities of ministry. Blount, thankfully, offers models that pastors can adopt to their own preaching ministry.

Convictions: How I learned what Matters Most, by Marcus J. Borg. Published by HarperOne. Amazon Link

A manifesto for progressive Christians, whom Borg challenges to "follow Jesus in life today." We felt it a fitting touch stone to the life and academic career of Marcus Borg, who died early in 2015. The Christian life is becoming passionate about God and participating in God's passion for a different kind of world, here and now. This is vintage Borg, and a worthy addition to any progressive pastor's study.

Reference Book of the Year


Deuteronomy, by Deanna Thompson, from the series "Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible." Published by Westminster John Knox Press. Amazon Link

Deanna Thompson has published what I think personally is the ideal commentary, the platonic model of what a commentary should and can be. Extremely well written, challenging, not afraid to ask questions of the text and of its reader, enlightening, and perhaps most helpfully to busy pastors, theological, not exegetical, in nature. And here is a huge plus--it is readable!. This book invites us to think through Deuteronomy as Christians, and that's important. Dr. Thompson has provided us with a book that makes preaching through Deuteronomy not only an intriguing possibility, but something I personally want to do. This is a good book. You should buy it and tell your pastoral colleagues to buy it as well.

Book of the Year


The Church According to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ, by James Thompson. Published by Baker Academic. Amazon Link

This is the best book on the church I've ever read. James gets rid of the buzzwords, of the jargon that contaminates present popular commentary on the church, commentary that we perhaps being constantly mocked on our facebook pages, and goes back to the source, the writer who talks more about the church than any other author in the New Testament. He allows us to think of the church with and through Paul. Academic, yes, but readable. It is written in a way that pastors can and should engage for the purposes of pastoral ministry. We think in order to do, and in how we think and in what we do, we are able to be. Thompson draws attention to the fact that Christians are called to be the Church. This is an important book, and should pastors engage with it and Paul's vision of the community called to be conformed to Christ, our selection committee feels strongly it will be of great benefit to our churches, and more importantly, the people we are called to serve.

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