Salvation as Restoration of Human Nature

“Through his sin Adam perverted human nature by causing humanity to lose the ‘glory of God,’ which corrupted our reflection of God’s image. Salvation is not a further diminution of human nature, for we do not simply leave our bodies behind us as our souls float up to heaven. Rather, salvation is a restoration of human nature as God intended it. He raises believers from the dead bodily, just like Christ, by restoring their participation in divine glory with Christ.”

– Ben Blackwell, Reading Romans in Context, p. 112.

Book Review: Language for God in Patristic Tradition (Wrestling with Biblical Anthropomorphism)

Mark Sheridan has truly given the world a gift with his51lXsMiBYDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ recent publication, Language for God in Patristic Tradition, published by IVP Academic. I’ve used the book as a resource for a previous post – Cassiodorus on the Violence in Psalm 137 – and am thrilled to now offer a full review. During my time as a graduate student, I became very interested in patristic theology and hermeneutics. I was always particularly interested in how they dealt with biblical “anthropomorphisms” which might conflict with a classical theist’s view of God as un-changing, all-knowing, and more. With this book, Sheridan expertly navigates the reader through the interpretive strategies of the early church Fathers as they wrestled with our sacred texts.

The explicit goal of the book is to show how ancient Christian theologians understood the problem of certain presentations of God that attributed human characteristics and emotions to the divine and to detail how they dealt with it. To accomplish this task, Sheridan provides the reader with plenty of primary texts from patristic writers along with detailed expositions of their interpretations. He continually draws on authors such as the Alexandrians, Clement, Origen, Didymus, Chrysostom, and more. The heart of his discovery: there is a widely used double-criterion for interpreting the difficult texts of Scripture: 1] It must be useful to humans (since it was written by God and preserved by the Spirit for the spiritual maturity of the church) and 2] it must be “worthy of God” – that is, it must be read in light of certain truths about God that were already known. The early Christians drew some of their criteria for what is worthy of God from Plato and other Greek philosophers but also, and primarily, from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Three case studies are offered in the book to illustrate how ancient authors used this hermeneutical strategy:
A. The Creation Story (saturated with anthropomorphisms)
B. The Story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar (which seems to condone adultery)
C. The Conquest Narratives of Joshua (which seems at odd with Jesus’ life and teachings)

The case studies show that the early Christians were not shy about addressing the problem of the divine nature as presented in problematic texts. I particularly enjoyed the way that the Church Fathers interpreted the violent conquest stories in light of the divine love of humanity revealed in Jesus Christ. The two criterion led them to allegorical interpretations – readings that would not be considered appropriate to a historical-grammatical exegete. However, these theological readings (interpretations made in light of their understanding of the nature of God) are often beautiful and perhaps more faithful to the overall narrative of Scripture than modern alternatives. Sheridan also offers a chapter on how the Church Fathers read the many disturbing images in the Psalms – an interesting and incredibly fruitful exercise.

I’ve been an outspoken proponent of theological exegesis for years now and found myself encouraged by the data presented in this book. I was happy, and a little surprised, to see just how much the patristic writers used the revelation of Jesus as an interpretive tool – something I have advocated for as well. Sheridan has clearly mastered this material and the result is an interesting, engaging, and convincing presentation of the interpretive strategy of the early church writers when it came to problematic texts in the Scriptures. Lastly, his very precise and brief appendix on the presuppositions, criteria, and rules employed in Ancient Christian Hermeneutics is worth the price of the book itself. It will be standard reading for all of my classes that discuss the different methods of interpretation throughout Christian history.

I highly recommend this book for:
– courses on the patristic writers or on hermeneutics in general
– those interested in patristics or hermeneutics
– those troubled with “problem texts” in the Scriptures
– those interested in the way we use language to speak about God
– preachers
(In his foreword, Thomas C. Oden writes, “This book will keep the preaching pastor out of a whole lot of trouble. Constantly in biblical teaching we use human language to speak of God, knowing very well that God transcends human speech. We may stumble over the Bible’s words if we are unaware of how profoundly the classic Christian tradition has examined this question. This book gives the ordinary reader access to that wisdom.” I couldn’t agree more.)

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.

Are We Unintentional Gnostics?

*We might be Gnostic if:

  1. We find ourselves talking about heaven as an escape from this world, especially if we don’t need a resurrection of our bodies
  2. We think that a happy marriage (or other successful Christian goal) is achieved by attending a special seminar and learning the “secrets”
  3. We think that taking care of this world (ecology) is a waste of time because it is going to hell in a hand basket anyway
  4. We think that the goal is to know about Jesus rather than follow him
  5. We spend all of our time in the New Testament, ignoring the Old Testament

Do you agree that these are good litmus tests for whether Christians have been influenced by Gnosticism?
Do you think most churches in America are influenced by Gnosticism?

*quoted from Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious, and Cultural Perspectives on Christ, p. 171. See my complete review of the book here.

Changes to Cataclysmic!

Hello faithful readers!

There are some changes coming to your favorite blog. As you may have noticed, there hasn’t been much content on Cataclysmic for the last few months. Good news: there are plans to change that. Those plans involve re-branding Cataclysmic as a new blog called “Cruciform Theology.” All of our older posts will still be here and our content will remain somewhat similar.

Cruciform Theology will be a place for myself (and others) to write and discuss on the various ways that a Jesus-centered theology intersects with biblical scholarship, politics, ethics, pop culture, and other academic disciplines. We will also continue to post book reviews as publishers continue to grace us with free books.

For right now, please excuse the construction on our website. We are currently reorganizing everything. You can still get to our blog from the old link, but our main URL will now be Bookmark it! As well, all posts will be sent out on our new twitter account: @CruciformTheol.

We’re excited for this new season at the blog and hope that you will continue reading along with us and sharing our posts on social media and with your friends and family!

Book Review: Rediscovering Jesus by David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, & E. Randolph Richards

I recently read a new book from IVP Academic entitled “Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious, and Cultural Perspectives on Christ” by David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, & E. Randolph Richards. 9780830824724Let me begin this review by putting my cards on the table: I am a fan of David B. Capes. He was my professor at Houston Baptist University and was also part of my master’s thesis defense panel. Thus, my original interest in reading the book was due simply to his participation in the project (plus, it’s hard to pass on a book with positive reviews from Michael Gorman, Nijay Gupta, and Scot McKnight). However, as I read the book I quickly forgot about my personal connection to one of the authors and found myself deeply engaged in a beautifully written, biblically sound, and theologically informed book on the person of Jesus.

The premise of the book is that we all have an idea of Jesus’ identity that is partially formed by many factors: different parts of Scripture, certain traditional teachings, and even our own personal biases. As the subtitle suggests, the authors attempt to introduce the reader to the various unique biblical, religious, and cultural perspectives of Jesus of Nazareth. The genius of this book is found in its three-fold structure for each perspective. First, they look at each book, religious, or cultural perspective as an individual work and ask “What does this picture of Jesus look like?” The explicit goal is to not let other texts or theological commitments influence the observation of the image of Jesus presented in these unique perspectives. Second, they expand on how each particular portrait of Jesus is different than other images of Jesus. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, they ask “Who would we say that Jesus is if this were the only picture of Jesus that we had?”

I found this third task to be the most illuminating part of the book. While I am committed to understanding Jesus both canonically and theologically, I have always believed that there is so much more to learn about Jesus if we would just let certain texts stand by themselves first, before we try to make a composite image of the person and work of Jesus.

The book is divided into two parts: Jesus in the Bible (Mark’s Jesus, Matthew’s Jesus, Luke’s Jesus, John’s Jesus, Paul’s Jesus, The Priestly Jesus, The Jesus of Exiles, and The Apocalyptic Jesus) and Jesus outside the Bible (The Gnostic Jesus, The Muslim Jesus, the Historical Jesus, the Mormon Jesus, The American Jesus. and the Cinematic Jesus). Each chapter ends with a bibliography for further reading and a handful of discussion questions. The bibliographies are typically top-notch, but I found some of the discussion questions to be lacking.

Bottom line: there is a lot to like about this book. The treatment of the four Gospels is a fine example of excellent scholarship communicated at a popular level. However, as the authors got into the other New Testament literature, I sometimes felt as if they let a surface-level reading of the text overly emphasize differences between pictures of Jesus in the Gospels and other books. For Paul, I couldn’t avoid feeling that the authors sometimes let a simple reading of the text highlight differences that perhaps are not as significant as they first seem. (I would recommend Daniel Kirk’s “Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?” as a resource that reconciles the apparent “differences” between the Pauline literature and the Gospels). I had the same feeling for their treatment of Jesus in Revelation, again thinking that they sometimes overplayed the difference between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of Revelation. To be fair, this is an explicit part of their project (highlighting certain differences), but I think the differences between the pictures of Jesus are still significant enough even with recognizing scholarship that undercuts some of the “apparent” different pictures of Jesus throughout the New Testament. Let me be clear, these criticisms are the result of an intentional attempt to find something lacking in this excellent work. The book is consistently engaging and always well-informed. I found the second part of the book just as fascinating and imagine that for many lay-people these would be the most impactful chapters. It is easy to disregard how much our view of Jesus has been influenced by American values and various forms of art.

I highly recommend this book for audiences of all sorts. I can see myself using it as a supplementary textbook to a course on Jesus or the Gospels. I can also see this material being implemented in a local ministry setting at a book study or Bible study. Do yourself a favor and go order a copy while I leave you with a short video of the three authors discussing their work:

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an unbiased review.