August 20, 2011

New Releases Scheduled for Zondervan Academic

I had a chance to peruse Zondervan Academic's new 2011-2012 catalog this morning, and came across a number of interesting offerings.

Darrell Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts, the second volume of their Biblical Theology of the New Testament series of which Kostenberger's John volume was the first.

Two new volumes in the ZECNT series:
David Garland, Luke (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
Eckhard Schnabel, Acts

Also of interest was a new Counterpoints series volume:
Four Views on the Apostle Paul, edited by Mike Bird, with contributions from Thomas Schreiner, Douglas Campbell, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Mark Nanos. This one promises to be worth a read, as it offers some broad perspectives and brings them into dialogue. (Though we have to wait until July 2012 for this one.)

Also of some interest are two volumes, For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. These are two respected theologians and seeing their opinions side by side should be interesting. Though it isn't clear from the catalog if they actually interact with each other, which would really make for a constructive dialogue.

Another noteworthy offering is Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel.

August 19, 2011

John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah

I have been reading Mike Bird's excellent Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question recently, and have thus been thinking about Jesus' identity as the Messiah. For those who don't read much academic theology, it may come as a rather jarring surprise to know that the dominant current in Jesus studies over the last century has largely rejected the idea that Jesus considered himself to be the Messiah, or at least held it with great suspicion. This is especially surprising since it is one of the dominant themes of all four gospels. But regardless, this denial of Jesus' own Messianic consciousness has been wide-spread, and is relatively close to a consensus view among many mainstream academics. Bird, in his book, sets out to make a sustained case for Jesus' Messianic role and Messianic consciousness through explicating his teaching and actions. And I've found his presentation both helpful in understanding Jesus and his aims better and also quite convincing in its overall argument that Jesus was self-consciously Messianic.

But one area that Bird doesn't address very fully (it's a relatively short 170 pages of text, so it is obviously a rather "trim" treatment of what could be otherwise voluminously investigated, so this isn't a criticism so much as a proposal) is Jesus' relationship with John the Baptist, in what seems to me to be a pretty solid piece of evidence for Jesus' Messianic consciousness. John's role as the forerunner to Jesus is prominent at the outset of all four Gospels, and his message is quite consistent as one of repentance, coming judgment, and expectation of one who will follow/come after him. Though I don't think John ever explicitly names this coming one as the Messiah, many aspects of his preaching seem to fit well with this type of expectation. And where I think this plays into Jesus' consciousness in that even though John and Jesus had close ties, Jesus possibly even starting out as one of John's disciples and certainly holding John in high esteem, there is a fundamental difference in their preaching and eschatological posture: John preached a message of expectation and preparation, while Jesus focused on a message of arrival and fulfillment. It seems clear that Jesus saw the kingdom coming decisively in his ministry and person, and this fundamental difference between Jesus and John points pretty clearly toward a self-conscious decision on Jesus part: otherwise, why wouldn't he maintain the forward-facing posture of John? Instead, Jesus ministry was typified by gathering the outcasts, healing the broken, touching the poor, and announcing God's judgment as centered around people's response to him. Where I admit weakness in my argument is on the question of the exact parameters of Jesus' self-understanding: does this demonstrate a specifically "messianic" self-consciousness, as opposed to a kingly or prophetic one. I believe it does, but I need to investigate more fully. But I'm pretty sure there is some promising areas for study here.

The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament

IVP's "black dictionary" set has rightfully met with wide acclaim. The New Testament set, which is already complete, consists of four substantial volumes, The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, The Dictionary of the Latter New Testament and Its Developments, and The Dictionary of New Testament Background. Each one of these volumes is filled with outstanding contributions by leaders in their field. Authors include the likes of Larry Hurtado, Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight, F. F. Bruce, I. Howard Marshall, Craig Evans, and Craig Keener. And the articles are substantial, usually filling numerous dictionary pages. This one-volume compend is a distillation of the four New Testament volumes into one large volume. They did this by selecting various articles from each of the four individual volumes that would best serve for a more introductory volume. This means they have included an article on each book of the New Testament, as well as what the editors determined to be the most helpful of the other articles. I have no doubt that a careful review of what was included and what was omitted would result in various quibbles about what should have been deemed essential, but I can easily say that they have created a spectacular and affordable resource. And, to my mind, one of the best features is that they have essentially left the articles in their original form. That is, they haven't created summaries or abbreviations of the individual entries, but left them as they were originally written, so the level of scholarship is still high, and only the article selection is curtailed. In all, I'm happy to enthusiastically recommend this resource. It is an outstanding place to start and at the same time a thorough and updated resource on many important topics.

Karl Marlantes, What It Is Like to Go to War

In this reflective memoir, Karl Marlantes, writer of the widely acclaimed Vietnam War book Matterhorn, takes a probing look at his own experiences of going to war, and of coming home again. Because it is more of a series of reflections than a continuous narrative, I will review it in kind, with some impressions and appreciations. First, Marlantes' book is honest, sometimes brutally so. And I think this is one of the keys that makes it work. The reader gets the distinct impression that he has carefully worked and reworked his memories until they come out as honestly and completely as possible. Even though at times this means recounting memories of his own brutalities in war. But along with these sometimes tortured memories come candid memories of his own emotions, impressions, and motivations that help bring the experience of war to life. They also guarantee that war isn't glorified, and neither is the warrior. Instead, we meet the brutality along with the valor.

A second impression one gets is that these are carefully analysed reflections. He has quite obviously held his own experiences, indeed his own person, under the light of careful scrutiny. This means the narratives and accounts he relates are thick descriptions of events, filled out with his own psychological analysis about not only what he and those around him experienced but why. And this also means he often extends his reflections beyond his own experiences, through an analysis of why, to a discussion of what we might constructively draw from them. One key example that comes up repeatedly in the book is the experience of coming home. He recounts many of the difficulties of going from a life-or-death struggle in the jungles of Vietnam, where you are dealing death in a god-like fashion, to being rapidly transported via helicopter and airplane, back to your family and friends in everyday society in a matter of hours. And that jarring transition is made without reflection, significant preparation, or guidance. He recommends greatly increasing the debriefing and processing time for returning veterans, both before and after they come home. At one point he recommends returning to the WWII practice of returning home by ship, to give the decompression process time to happen. And he says so much more about this key issue of reintegration. It alone makes the book a compelling and worthwhile read, and has given me renewed respect and concern for our current crop of returning vets.

Last, in my unsystematic collection of reflections, I would say this book is vivid. It takes you not only into the battles but into the very experiences of being there and the psyches of the soldiers involved. The horrors of war are unavoidable, and an honest account like his helps keep us from sugar coating the experience and practice of war. He also raises interesting questions regarding the modern practice of war, with drone pilots dropping death by day and having dinner with the family "after work" in the evening. The psychological effects are hard to fathom.

Marlantes writes well, with carefully crafted words and deeply reflective ideas. I hope this book gains a wide readership, as it has brought home to me a fuller understanding of the exercise of war and also a much deeper appreciation for the men and women we commission to carry out war on our society's behalf. Thanks to the Amazon Vine program and the publisher for the advanced review copy.