“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of a mind,” Noll writes in his opening sentence. That is a controversial umbrella statement, of course, but the evidence is there. Written in 1994, Noll provides ample evidence at the outset of his book that the “life of the mind” is not a prized virtue among modern North American evangelicals (broadly defined). Those of us who have spent time with this particularly broad group of Christians probably already know this. Noll’s book asks why this is the state of things.
Sometime in the 70’s people began to suspect that Paul was a Jew. Scholars like E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James D. G. Dunn have since championed a particular way of understanding what Paul has to say principally in reference to his Jewish upbringing, context, and interlocutors. The strange thing is that it does not appear that modern day Jews took this very seriously. If he was a Jew, then he was a very marginal and disloyal one. This silence is perhaps what makes Daniel Boyarin’s book, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity such an interesting and fresh way of looking at Paul. For Boyarin, Paul is not a marginal Jew, he is a radical Jew.
Christians in my world are not known for their poverty. Which is strange because Jesus said crazy things like “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), and a host of other things about renouncing possessions, giving to the poor, etc. and his life was consistent with these teachings. But we live in a different day and age, myself and most everyone I know were born into relative affluence. What do we do about this? Do we find ourselves in the position of the rich young ruler who is told by Jesus to “sell all your possessions and give to the poor?” Perhaps.
Later in life Merton would repent from this [sectarian] attitude and embrace a radically ecumenical perspective. It is for this reason that he would later disassociate himself from his early autobiography, describing it as “the work of a man I have never even heard of.” There are lots of reasons and developments in Merton and in Catholicism for this change of heart. Other people could do a better job at tracing all that out. Merton’s own struggle with the ecumenical question—from skepticism to embrace—makes me want to engage with my own. And so here goes.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code vividly depicts the Council of Nicaea as a chaotic shouting match in which several ‘Gospels’ were rejected. This may have been the first time many ever realized other ‘gospels’ were produced at all. What do we make of this? If not through some inane conspiracy, how did the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament get to its present form? What of these other ‘gospels’? These are questions about which Christians should have a basic understanding, and Lee McDonald’s book aims to help.
Anyone who enlists pacifism as a badge of honor in some pollyannaish sentiment of good will is an idiot. (Full disclosure: I had to look the proper way to spell pollyannaish.) At the same time, the caricature of Christian “pacifism” as weak-willed, emasculated hippy-religion is equally false. Anyone sincerely interested in investigating the various ways in which Christians conceive, argue for, and practice non-violence would do well to start here. I hope that people read this book (or my representation of it) with an open, generous, but critical eye.
In the church I grew up in we prided ourselves on restoring the New Testament Church. This was a way of saying that the way we did things in our church was intended to be a copy in all things essential of the church as it we see it in the New Testament. We fought one another over the minutiae of this project, like whether the early church had one or many communion cups, but we never seemed to bother too much over whether they had things like air conditioning or a/v systems.
There are a set of Christian writers, poets, theologians who I trust because they are a combination of depth, clarity, and an even-handedness that produces insight. Rowan Williams is among them. And yet one need only look at this man’s majestic eyebrows to know that he is going to bring some extraordinary wisdom. You don’t get eyebrows like that without wisdom.
I’m behind on my reading this week, so I’m posting a book sketch my friend, Chris Woodrow, wrote for me. Given the difficulties Christians face in reconciling the Bible with the wealth of scientific information I think this book seems like a good starting-point for conversations. Disclaimer: Chris did me a huge favor in writing…