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The Ways Forward in Biblical and Religious Studies

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OCTOBER 2013 VOL.60

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Feature

Religion Update

The Continuing
Fascination with Jesus
By Kristin Swenson

The scandal of Reza Aslans Zealot: The Life and Times of


Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, July) is not so much in
what he says but that so few people have heard it before.
Public reaction to the book (especially after Fox Newss
interview by Lauren Greencringe-worthy, as several
commentators said) demonstrates not only the difficulty
biblical scholars face in translating the fruits of their research
for nonspecialists but also the necessity of doing so.

hat Jesus lived in


the very real human
conditions of firstcentury Mediterranean history, that he
left no writings of
his own, and that the biblical
testimonies are not objective
eyewitness reporting are axiomatic in biblical scholarship. This is not to say that
Aslans book offers nothing
new. It does, in casting a different angle
of light on the revolutionary who was
executed in Roman Judea through
thought-provoking interpretation of
Jesus historical context (as a Jew whose
God-given land was under heretically
foreign occupation) and of particular
terms and texts, including the Greek
lestes, which Aslan explains as bandit
a zealot in context. Not everyone will
agree with each detail of Aslans argument, but its hard not to admire the
books balance of scholarship, sensitivity,
clarity of writing, and compelling narrative. Whatever one thinks of Aslans
Zealot, the response to it highlights our
widespread and enduring fascination
with the man from Galilee.
We are in a religion-soaked world
entering into a new cycle of interest in
Jesus, notes Mark Tauber, senior v-p and
publisher of HarperOne. Judging from
new and forthcoming titles, its the his-

torical Jesus that continues


to dominate the discussion.
(Tauber promises that next
year Bart Ehrmans How Jesus
Became God, Amy-Jill
Levines Short Stories by Jesus,
and Fr. James Martins Jesus
will add to the conversation.)
THE WORLD OF
JESUS
Reza Aslan anchors his book
in Jesus religious and political context,
something Selina OGrady explores
broadly and deeply in And Man Created
God: A History of the World at the Time of
Jesus (St. Martins, Mar.). OGrady escorts
readers across countries and continents,
through Rome, Egypt, Syria, Judah, Parthia, Babylon, India, and China, circling
back to Europe, Rome, Jerusalem, and
finally the world of one peripatetic Paul
(who has inspired his own spate of books
this season; see Now Its Pauls Turn, in
this issue). OGradys engaging narrative
illuminates the religiously vibrant and
politically complex world that Jesus
inhabited.
How ancient systems of empire
affected and informed Jesus life and the
gospel message is a fruitful question for
contributors to Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not:
Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph
B. Modica (IVP, Apr. 2013). Following

two articles on the topic in general, succeeding chapters focus on individual biblical books. McKnight (profiled in this
issue) and Modica conclude, in the volumes characteristically confessional
tone, that despite the historical Roman
context, it is finally the kingdom of Satan
that the New Testament opposes. To
claim that Jesus is Lord is to place oneself
in the servitude of an Emperor of a radically different kingdomone which has
no equal, now and forever, the editors
write.
Craig A. Evans sees a more concrete
historical conflict at work in the evolution from a historical Jesus to the Christ,
namely competition between the family
of Jesus, on the one hand, and the family
of [the Jewish priest] Annas and their
aristocratic allies, on the other. In From
Jesus to the Church: The First Christian
Generation (Westminster John Knox
Press, Feb. 2014), Evans shows that
while that conflict proved fatal to Jesus
and others, it shaped the generation that
distinguished the religion of Jesus followers from Jesus own religion.
WHO WAS HE?
In the decades following Jesus death,
people continued to debate his identity
and significance. Even among believers,
then as now, there was more than one
answer to the question. Who Do People Say
I Am?: Rewriting Gospel in Emerging Christianity (Eerdmans, Sept.) is Vernon K.
Robbinss effort to show how the canonical gospels tried to tell about the man
they believed to be divine, as well as how
the other gospels, not finally included in
the Bible, witness to the variety of ways
that people thought about Jesus. The
books rich information makes for slow
going, but readers will be rewarded with
more than passing knowledge of how
such noncanonical books as the gospels
of Thomas, Judas, and Mary and the
Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas
shed light on early ideas of Jesus and the
shape of an evolving Christianity.
As intriguing as the noncanonical gospels have proven to be, the most titillating questions about the historical Jesus
W W W . P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY. C O M 1

Religion Update
orbit around his sexuality. If
a man, how much a man?
Anthony Le Donne balances
strong scholarship with sensitivity as he lays out the
possibilities in The Wife of
Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals (Oneworld,
Nov.). This is an eminently
readable book for nonspecialists and specialists alike
that contributes to the discussion with clarity and candor even as it
challenges readers to ask what it is about
ourselves that we might learn from our
curiosity and concern.
Similarly, Andrew T. Lincoln allows a
whats-the-big-deal question to hover
throughout his Born of a Virgin? Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology (Eerdmans, Nov.). He takes readers
through the origins of and scriptural basis
for belief in Marys virginity, asks how
such early Christian conceptions as original sin and Jesus fully-human-and-fullydivine nature affected Christian commitment to the doctrine, and notes the challenges our knowledge about reproduction
and DNA pose. Finally, Lincoln encourages believers to consider new ways to
think about the old creeds.
DEFENDING THE FAITH
How to manage faith-challenging information and its logical conclusions is an
inevitable result of historical Jesus
research. Joseph A. Besslers A Scandalous
Jesus: How Three Historic Quests Changed
Theology for the Better (Polebridge, Apr.
2013) provides a history of historical
Jesus research and shows how those efforts
are themselves historic, as theyve created a series of profound social, political,
and theological impacts that have continued to shape and reshape our world. Following a detailed overview of key players
and moments in the trajectory of historical Jesus research, Bessler admits discomfort with what its implications do to the
old mainline churches, but is finally
optimistic about embracing models of
faith that go beyond official claim of right
belief and supernaturalism.

| Feature

Others are less optimistic.


Roger Lundin, editor of Christ
Across the Disciplines: Past, Present, Future (Eerdmans, Oct.)
sought contributors for the
book who strive to cultivate
the life of the mind for the
sake of the Body of Christ.
He explains, [T]he chapters... become more confessional and apologetic in tone,
as they set out to sketch specifically Christian responses to modern
intellectual practices and thought. Naturally, some contributors come across as
suspicious of knowledge that might
undermine received Christian theology
and tradition, as for example John Webster: Curiosity happens when intellectual activity is commanded by crooked
desire. Others seek new ways to manage
discomfiting information. Katherine
Clay Bassard describes a kind of redemption that does not seek to rewrite the
facts or truth of history but to reinvest
those truths with new meanings and significance.
Its understandable that some scholars
respond to historical Jesus research with
anxiety and defense; after all, the stakes
are high. Michael F. Birds Jesus Is the
Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (IVP, Mar. 2013) seeks to reclaim an
original messianic message for the gospels. For [w]here the claims of messiahship are denied or threatened, there
emerges a Christology, a Jesus, different
from the one received in the gospel and
in the four Gospels! Birds explanation
of how the Greek christos evolved into a
proper name will surely put off readers
who know the term as a title, and not
everyone will agree with how Bird defines
Jesus messiahship. Others will applaud
Birds efforts to clear what they perceive
as a scholarly slight against Jesus as the
Christ. Its hard to imagine that anyone
will disagree that Jesus messiahship is
crucial to Christian theology.
Still others will keep looking for ways
to integrate the fruits of a rigorous and
open-minded intellect with the dynamic
nature of a living faith. David Crumps

2 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

Encountering Jesus, Encountering Scripture:


Reading the Bible Critically in Faith
(Eerdmans, May) displays such an effort.
Crump writes of a revelatory moment
when after struggling to reconcile the
academic with the spiritual, it hit him:
If my Christian faith had led me to a true
relationship with Jesus Christ, then the
Christ I now know by faith is the true
Jesus of history. While it borders at
times on the mystical and is selfconsciously tautological, Crumps
argument for the coexistence of reason
and faith bears an appealing tone of
authentic personal encounter, humility,
and confidence.
Novelist and poet Jay Parini wrestles
less mightily with the scholarship than
with how whatever we might hear or
know of Jesus (from biblical portraits to
modern archeology) can make sense
outside of literalist readings and
traditional Christian paradigms. In Jesus:
The Human Face of God (New Harvest,
Dec.), Parini writes of what he calls the
gradually realizing kingdom of God,
which is neither hostile to scholarship nor
anxious about belief. Most crucially,
[Jesus] wished for us to experience a
change of heart... a deepening into
fundamental layers of awareness that
transforms and transports us, brings us
into contact with profound realities.
Honest scholarship admits its limits
and is more powerful for it. In Zealot,
Aslan writes that after Jesus death
something extraordinary happened.
What exactly that something was is
impossible to know. Jesuss resurrection
is an exceedingly difficult topic for the
historian to discuss. What we do know
is that it wasnt the end. Whatever one
believes or doesnt about Jesus the man or
Jesus the Christ, we can be sure that our
questions about him will continue to
invigorate hearts and minds, generating
many thoughtful books in the years to
come. 

Swenson is the author of Bible Babel:


Making Sense of the Most Talked
About Book of All Time (Harper Perennial, 2011).

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Religion Update

Feature

Now Its Pauls Turn


By Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

Books that probe more deeply the writings of the Hebrew


Bible, the New Testamentespecially the letters of Paul
and writings outside of both the Hebrew and Christian
canon are plentiful this publishing season. The flood of
biblical studies books includes new perspectives on Paul,
as well as approaches to biblical criticism, religious violence,
the Psalms, and the nature and character of the canon.
Michael Mauldin, senior v-p and executive editor at
HarperOne, says, What constantly surprises me is how
much that is old and established in the field of biblical
studies can still seem fresh and new to the general market.
People are drawn to scholars who can take material that is
very familiar and make us see it with new eyes.

COURTESY TO N.T. WRIGHT

THE QUEST FOR PAUL


ing the contours of Pauls
While books on the historical Jesus
theology as it developed
dominated the general market a
out of his engagement
decade ago and are still drawing
with these worldviews.
interest (The Continuing FascinaSince this 1,700-page
tion with Jesus, this issue), a spotstudy of Pauls theology
light now is trained on the Apostle
could not contain all of
Paul. Most religion publishers have
Wrights research on Paul,
at least one book devoted to this proFortress is also publishing
vocative, enigmatic, loved, and often
a collection of Wrights
hated writer some call the founder of N.T. Wright
essays, Pauline Perspectives
Christianity. Orbiting in a galaxy all its
(Nov.), that chronicle the evolution of his
own this fall is N.T. Wrights Paul and the
thinking about Paul over the past 35 years,
Faithfulness of God (Fortress, Nov.; reviewed
as well as Paul and His Interpreters (Feb.
in this issue), the monumental two-book
2014), a companion to the two-book set of
fourth volume in his series Christian OriPaul and the Faithfulness of God, in which
gins and the Question of God; the new
Wright provides an in-depth survey and
book was more than 10 years in the makprobes the major contributions to Pauline
ing. Wright, former bishop of Durham
studies over the past 50 years. As Fortress
and professor of New Testament and Early
publisher Will Bergkamp observes,
Christianity at St.
Whatever the trends [in biblical studies
Andrews Univerpublishing] are right now, I think we can
sity, explores the
safely say that one of the trends next year
entire context of
will be engagement with this significant
Pauls thought
book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
and activity
According to InterVarsity Press associJewish, Greek,
ate publisher, editorial, Andrew T. Le
Roman, cultural,
Peau, Wrights book is going to domiphilosophical,
nate. All else will be as small moons orbitr eligious, and
ing this gas giant. In another galaxy far
imperialtracaway from Wright, though, a number of
4 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

what Le Peau calls smaller moons light


the skies of Pauline scholarship, including
IVPs Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of
Divine and Human Agency in Salvation
(Sept.), in which Preston M. Sprinkle,
biblical studies professor at Cedarville
University, attempts to bridge the gap
between old and new perspectives on
Paul. Sprinkle finds buried in the Old Testaments Deuteronomic and prophetic
perspectives a key to turn the rusted lock
on Pauls critique of Judaism. In a new
introduction to Paul and his letters, All
Things to All Cultures: Paul Among Jews,
Greeks, and Romans (Eerdmans, Nov.), editors Mark Harding, Australian College of
Theology, and Alanna Nobbs, Macquarie
University, gather 13 contributions that
set Paul in his first-century context and
illuminate his interactions with Jews,
Greeks, and Romans, exploring the ways
these encounters influenced him. In
Accompanied by a Believing Wife: Ministry
and Celibacy in the Earliest Christian Communities (Liturgical, Oct.), acclaimed New
Testament scholar Raymond Collins
probes Pauls urgings to remain unmarried and the ways in which the earliest
Christian communities interpreted and
developed Pauls teachings on celibacy.
BEYOND PAUL
In October, Fortress releases the seventh
edition of its popular introduction to the
New Testament, Anatomy of the New Testament by Robert A. Spivey, D. Moody
Smith, and C. Clifton Black. The newly
revised edition draws on recent literary and
historical scholarship to discuss key interpretive issues in New Testament studies.
IVPs mammoth, award-winning Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Oct.), edited by
Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and
Nicholas Perrin, returns in its second edition. According to IVPs LePeau, this is
no mere revision but almost entirely written afresh.
Following up on his bestselling Misquoting Jesus (250,000 copies sold), Bart
Ehrman, in How Jesus Became God (HarperOne, Mar.), explores the multiple
Christianities that emerged early in the
Christian movement and helped shape it.

Feature |

Aug.), the follow-up to their To Each Its


Own Meaning (WJK, 1993), Steven L.
McKenzie and John Kaltner, editors,
explore recent developments in, and
approaches to, biblical criticism since
1999.
The New Testament contains such different kinds of writing and
reflects such a diverse cultural
and religious background that
reading its various texts can be
challenging. Warren Carter
and Amy-Jill Levine introduce
three aspects of New Testament
study in The New Testament:
Methods and Meanings (Abingdon, Nov.).

bestselling Hebrew Bible scholar Walter


Brueggemann finds striking correlations
between the destruction of Jerusalem in
587 B.C.E. and the catastrophic crisis of
9/11, says Eerdmans senior editor Allen
Myers. The book charges that the characteristic U.S. ideology of exceptionalismchosenness, entitlement, privilegemust be countered by prophetic
realism and truth-telling.
In Hebrew Bible studies, the Psalms are
making a comeback. Weve responded to
a renewed interest in the Psalms with
books from major scholars, says WJKs
Ratcliff. Patrick D. Millers The Lord of the
Psalms (WJK, Nov.) attends to the Psalter
as a window into the character of God,
both for ancient Israel and contemporary
persons. Bernd Janowskis Arguing with
God: A Theological Anthropology of the Psalms
(WJK, Oct.) demonstrates what the
Psalms can reveal about ancient Israels
understanding of what it means to be
human. And doing for David what many

DAN SEARS

In John, Jesus, and the Renewal of Israel


(Eerdmans, Nov.), Richard Horsley and
Tom Thatcher approach the Gospel of
John as story, examining the ways the oral
communication of Jesus as prophet
prompted renewal of community and
resistance to imperial powers in the early
Christian movement. Reading
the Epistles of James, Peter, John,
and Jude as Scripture by David
Nienhuis and Robert Wall
(Eerdmans, Nov.) offers fresh
readings of the so-called Catholic epistles, arguing that the
letters are intentionally
designed and theologically
coherent. Westminster John
Knox executive editor Robert Bart Ehrman
A. Ratcliff says, The ferment and experimentation that have so characterized
biblical studies in recent years show no
sign of slowing down. In New Meanings
for Ancient Texts: Recent Approaches to Biblical
2013-421-PW Religion Update_Layout 1 10/2/13 11:12 AM
Criticism and Their Applications (WJK,

Religion Update

THE FIRST TESTAMENT


In the Hebrew Bible, prophets regularly
warned Israel that if it continued its arrogant and selfish ways, God would punish
the nation. In Reality, Grief, Hope: Three
Page 1
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W W W . P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY. C O M 5

Looking Outside the Bible

Religion Update

| Feature

The monumental work of James Charlesworth in the 1980s


in publishing noncanonical scripture provided new translations and access for scholars to writings that the ancient rabbis and early Christian priests chose to exclude from the
Bible as we know it today. Yet the commentary in these volumes often emphasized the value of the texts--many written
in Jewish communities and dealing with Jewish matters--for
the Christian community and its self-understanding.
Now a mammoth three-volume set,
Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings
Related to Scripture (Jewish Publication
Society/Univ. of Nebraska Press, Dec.),
edited by Louis H. Feldman, James L.
Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman, brings
together for the first time in a single collection all of the outside books of Judaism, gathering portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the biblical apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and the writings of Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.
According to Ellen Frankel, editor emerita at JPS, The
idea for this book probably emerged in 1994 when I was
working with Larry Schiffman on his book, Reclaiming the
Dead Sea Scrolls, and he mentioned that it would be great to
have an edition of the extracanonical books of Judaism for a
Jewish audience. Frankel renewed the conversation in 2001,

scholars have done for Jesus, in The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented
Hero (HarperOne, Oct.) Joel Baden (profiled in this issue) exposes an ambitious,
ruthless, flesh-and-blood man who
achieved power by any means necessary.
Finally, drawing on his many years of leading archeological digs in Israel, Lamontte
Luker offers An Illustrated Guide to the Holy
Land for Tour Groups, Students, and Pilgrims
(Abingdon, Nov.)
BETWEEN THE
TESTAMENTS
Over the past 20 years or so, Elaine Pagels,
Bart Ehrman, and others have drawn wide
attention to the less familiar books outside
of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, once unknown to a general audience,
that played significant roles in late Judaism
and developing Christianity. Thirty years
ago, renowned Princeton professor James
Charlesworth released the first volume of
his now classic, epic two-volume collection
of noncanonical writings that illustrate the

and the two eventually enlisted Feldman and Kugel, as well


as 75 contributors from around the world, to put together
what grew into three volumes of translations of 154 primary
textsthough the editors did use existing translations of
texts where available and accuratealong with introductions
and detailed commentaries.
Most Jews dont have access to these texts and dont
understand the significance of these texts, especially as the
writings provide a larger picture of Second Temple Judaism,
Frankel says. Although one of the hardest tasks the editors
faced was choosing what original texts to include, they eventually selected only those that were Jewish in origin and
focused on questions related to Judaism. In addition, the
editors specified that the commentary on each text had to
focus on the Jewish significance of that text, she adds.
The most radical feature of the set is the table of contents, Frankel observes. The texts are organized according to
the order of the Hebrew Bible so that readers can see the ways
that each text interacts with or comments on material in the
Hebrew Bible. The narrative that emerges in Outside the
Bible is thus the story of Tanakh, she says.
Outside the Bible richly illuminates the ancient Jewish practice of wrestling with its sacred scriptures and illustrates the
dynamic process by which rabbis formed the canon of Jewish
scripture. 
H.LC.

ongoing development of late Judaism and


often influenced early Christianity. In the
first volume of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments
(Doubleday, 1983), Charlesworth provided
new translations of important Jewish and
Hellenistic primary texts such as 1 Enoch,
Sibylline Oracles, Testaments of the Twelve
Patriarchs, and Apocalypse of Daniel. In
the second volume, The Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the Old Testament and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical
Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenic Works (Doubleday,
1985), Charlesworth included fresh translations of such influential wisdom writings
as the Odes of Solomon, the Letter of Aristeas, Jubilees, and legends such as the Life
of Adam and Eve. Now Eerdmanss Old
Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical
Texts, edited by Richard Bauckham, James
Davila, and Alexander Panayotov (Nov.), is
the first of two volumes supplementing
James Charlesworths classic work with virtually all surviving texts prior to the rise of

6 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

Islam, responding, according to senior editor Myers, to burgeoning interest these days
in noncanonical Scriptures. In Secret Scriptures Revealed (Eerdmans, Dec.) Tony Burke,
co-editor with Brent Landau of the forthcoming two-volume New Testament Apocrypha (Eerdmans, Mar. 2014), offers a new
introduction to the Christian Apocrypha.
The decisions of early communities to
include some writings in canonical collections and exclude others continue to
generate conversations in biblical studies.
John Walton and Brent Sandy take up
issues of the transmission and composition of Scriptures and examine the ways
we think about the reliability of Scripture
in Lost World of Scripture (IVP, Dec.).
The flood of biblical studies books continues to surge, and at the center of these
cascading waters is the return of Paul to
the center of conversations in many biblical studies circles.

Carrigan is the author of The Wisdom of


the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

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Religion Update

Feature

The Legacy of Liberal


Christianity, Reassessed
By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

News of liberal Christianitys pending demise has been


greatly exaggeratedat least according to publishers who
see a tradition in transition with much left to offer in a
shifting religious landscape.

ainline Protestant
denominations and
their 50-year decline
have been back on the
radar since last years
dire wakeup call in
Ross Douthats Bad Religion (Free
Press). But how to revive these
venerable institutions isnt the
only question new books are taking up. Authors are also re-embracing the
intellectual and spiritual tradition, especially its concern to reconcile faith and
reason. Theyre doing so by probing its
roots and charting its future for readers
underwhelmed by human-centered secularism, rigid theologies, or politicization
of the faith.
Trends suggest that liberal approaches
to faith, which flourished in the 19th and
20th centuries by galvanizing social
reform movements and delivering alternatives to fundamentalism, might be ripe
for resurgence or reinvention. Pope Francis, for example, has won the hearts of millions with his generous style and focus on
serving the poor. A new breed of evangelicals, depicted in The Evangelicals You
Dont Know by Tom Krattenmaker (Rowman & Littlefield, Apr.) and The New
Evangelical Social Engagement, edited by
Brian Steensland and Philip Goff (Oxford
Univ. Press, Dec.), is looking beyond
wedge issues, championing human rights,
and rallying behind environmental causes.
There are impulses out there that are
wanting to restate the liberal tradition,
says Eerdmans editor-in-chief Jon Pott,
and are trying to revive acquaintance
with its roots.

Sojourners in this milieu need


a compass, and authors are
equipping them by reinterpreting a faith tradition in which
tolerance is a virtue, free will is
assumed, and science is no
threat but rather a valued partner for interpreting scripture
and applying it responsibly.
Some mainline clergy, long
presumed to be dull establishment pillars,
are reclaiming the rebel mantle that
marked their abolitionist forebears, and
Jericho/Hachetteis giving them a platform.
Example: Nadia Bolz-Weber, a tattooed
Lutheran pastor who got sober with Jesus
help and calls his disciples as some real
fuck ups, reflects on death and resurrection through the lens of her life in Pastrix:
The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and
Saint (Sept.).
The Jericho imprint was started to
provide space for these voicesthe liberal, progressive, emergent, etc.to be
heard, says its publisher, Wendy Grisham.
We have listened to one side of Christian
opinion for many, many years, but that is
not a conversation.
REASON VS. FAITH?
But reclaiming the liberal tradition isnt as
simple as dressing up biblical stories with
figurative interpretations and anecdotes
from the trenches of life and ministry. In
the 21st century, writers are also debating
whether the classic liberal penchant for
rationalistic faith is what todays religion
needsor if it needs instead to make room
for mystery. Classical liberalism really
had no use for anything that looked spiri-

8 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

tual or mystical, says Bruce Epperly,


author of Loosely Christian (Patheos Press,
Aug.) and a blogger on trends in progressive Christianity at patheos.com. But now
many of us believe the [spiritual] practices
are really how you encounter the God of
which you speak.
The mystical-versus-rational debate is
playing out in new books. In Reinventing
Liberal Christianity (Eerdmans, Sept.),
Theo Hobson argues that liberal Christians need to accept themselves as a people
marked by ancient, cultic, largely nonrational rituals. And the quest for a middle
way between secularism and fundamentalism runs through the pages of Kelly
Beseckes You Cant Put God in a Box:
Thoughtful Spirituality for a Rational Age
(Oxford Univ. Press, Nov.).
Other authors are updating classical
defenses of the liberal method. Douglas
Ottatis Theology for Liberal Protestants
(Eerdmans, Sept.) provides part one in an
as-yet-unnamed systematic theology
series. Michael Langfords The Tradition of
Liberal Theology (Eerdmans, Jan. 2014)
gives readers an intellectual tour across
time, from Justin Martyr to Frederick
Temple, while making rationalist cases
against original sin and for salvation outside a narrow path.
To revisit liberal Protestantisms potent
influence on American society, Oxford has
been unpacking poignant slices of history,
especially at the intersections of arts and
culture. One example is historian Elesha
Coffmans The Christian Century and the Rise
of the Protestant Mainline (OUP, May),
which tracks the movements early 20thcentury momentum through the lens of its
flagship magazine, the Christian Century.
Liberal Christianity is sure to face more
questions. In balancing mystery and rationalism, how much of what happens on
Earth gets attributed to a supernatural
deity? Do tolerance and respect for personal
experience extend to conservative Christians? Such questions need to be worked
out in public conversations, Epperly says,
and books are a good place to start.

MacDonald is the author of Thieves in the


Temple.

Feature

Religion Update

Books foster understanding, cooperation

Different Faiths,
Side by Side

By Diane Reynolds

In our increasingly global society, books that compare and


illuminate the worlds faiths can prove useful tools in
fostering tolerance and cooperation. Today, with events in
the Middle East still at center stage, understanding Islam
in the context of other faiths dominates the field.

ays Amy Caldwell, executive


editor at Beacon Press, There
are still so many stereotypes out
there and misunderstandings,
and although Muslims represent a growing section of the
U.S. population, they are still often
branded as terrorists. Beacons Sons of
Abraham (Sept.), co-authored by Orthodox rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam
Shamsi Ali, is aimed at fostering better
understanding. Caldwell describes the
book as part personalthe authors
explain their journeys from prejudice to
pushing for acceptance of the other, and
part theological, locating points of similarity between Judaism and Islam, as
well as raising the hot-button issues,
theological and otherwise.
Wm. B. Eerdmans has produced a
number of books in recent years comparing Islam to other faiths, including
2009s A Common Word: Muslims and
Christians on Loving God and Neighbor,
edited by Miroslav Volf, Ghazi bin
Muhammad Talal, and Melissa Yarrington. According to Anita
Eerdmans, v-p of marketing,
the book consists of essays in
response to an open letter a
number of Muslim leaders had
published in the New York
Times to acknowledge the differences between those two
faiths but also emphasize the
areas of commonality. Now
Eerdmans has published The

Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran by Anton


Wessels (Sept.). Certainly as the many
conflicts in the Middle East stay in our
news headlines every day, there will continue to be great interest in trying to
understand the dominant faith traditions
of the region, Anita Eerdmans notes.
For Westminster John Knox editor
Dan Braden, a book such as John Wogamans What Christians Can Learn from
Other Religions (WJK, Mar. 2014) can
help close the gap between Muslims and
non-Muslims: Understanding Islam has
become especially relevant, because,
whether intentionally or unintentionally,
the U.S.s war on terrorism and [statements by] irresponsible news outlets
have generated dangerous misconceptions and generalizations. The book
covers a gamut of traditions from Hinduism to Buddhism to Islam, even covering
atheism. Beacons Caldwell says including atheism as a system of understanding
the universe is another trend in comparative religion books.
THE BROADER
VIEW
Some comparative religion
books take a novel approach.
Can we understand different
faiths through objects or pictures or a word? Some publishers say yes and will soon
release books that describe the
major religions through a thematic lens. S. Brent Plates A

History of Religion in 5 Objects (Beacon,


Mar. 2014) examines how religions
around the world use the same five
objectsbread, stone, incense, drums,
and crossesthat correspond to one of
our senses. In the last two or three
decades, ideas of lived religion have
become paramount in religious studies,
says Plate. With my book, Im saying
religion is an experience, and a sensual
experience at that. We cant understand
how religion is lived if we dont understand how it is sensed.
Likewise, The Ox-Herder and the Good
Shepherd by Addison Hodges Hart (Eerdmans, Oct.) moves in a nontraditional
direction by examining the 10 ox-herding pictures of Chinese Zen master
Kakuan Shien and comparing them with
the teachings of Christ as the Good Shepherd. In a similar if more cerebral vein,
David Bentley Harts The Experience of
God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale,
Sept.) finds common entry into various
faith traditions by examining how each
understands the concept of God.
Yale University Press and others are also
focusing on specific faiths. According to
Jennifer Banks, religion acquisitions editor, Editorially, were developing projects
that look at individual traditions in the
context of a multifaith world. What does it
mean to commit to a given faith when there
are so many spiritual paths available to
people today? The more traditional interfaith focusJewish-Christian relations
can be found in Christians and Jews Faith to
Faith: Tragic History, Promising Present,
Fragile Future by Rabbi James Rudin (Jewish Lights, Oct.), just out in paper to capitalize on interest in interfaith relations
under the newly elected Pope Francis.
WJKs Braden expects an increase in
comparative religion as a subcategory. As
geopolitical crises related to religion continue to flare up, he says, interest in learning more about how the different faiths
compare and relate to each other will continue to grow. At a grassroots level, he
says, young people are increasingly questioning the misconceptions that popular
culture is feeding them; these young
people and students are seeking truth.
W W W . P U B L I S H E R S W E E K LY. C O M 9

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Religion Update

Feature

Mormon Studies
Grows Up
By Jana Riess
Well into the 1990s, academic and university presses published very few books related to the study of Mormonism.
With the notable exception of the University of Illinois Press,
which dominated the field in the 1980s and 1990s, only a
handful of scholarly books about Mormonism were
released each year.

hats hardly the case


anymore as the field
of Mormon studies
continues to blossom. Leading the
way is Oxford University Press, which so far in
2013 has released updated
editions of two of its classic
titles: Philip Barlows Mormons and the Bible: The Place of
the Latter-day Saints in American Religion
and Terryl Givenss The Viper on the Hearth:
Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy. Senior editor Theo Calderara says both
are perennial sellers and foundational
books in the field. He notes that while
Oxford publishes in all areas of religious
studies, its Mormon studies list is certainly
one of the top three in terms of average
sales. Not only have we had quite a few
breakout hitsMassacre at Mountain
Meadows [2008] is one of the 10 bestselling
religion books weve published in the last
20 yearsI would be hard pressed to
think of a book in this area that has sold
disappointingly, and that kind of a track
record is very rare indeed.
Calderara points to two new titles on
Oxfords fall 2013 list: Stephen Webbs
Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians
Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (Oct.)
and J.B. Hawss The Mormon Image in the
American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Nov.). There are several other Mormon acquisitions in the pipeline, including Paula Kelly Harlines The Polygamous
Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women (June 2014).
Sales have been strong for other presses

with Mormon titles, including historian John Turners


2012 biography, Brigham
Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard/Belknap Press), which
has sold over 10,000 copies
so far in cloth. Joyce Seltzer,
senior executive editor of history and contemporary affairs
at Harvard University Press,
has signed Turner to write a
book on the Mormon understanding of
Jesus and says she has her eyes open for
future acquisitions in the field.
Editors report that Mormonism is
becoming better integrated into broader
narratives of American history and religion. Elaine Maisner, senior executive editor at the University of North Carolina
Press, says that Mormon studies is still a
relatively small subfield within religious
studies, but Mormon studies points to
larger questions about religion and religious freedom. UNCs backlist title The
Politics of American Religious Identity: The
Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle
(2004) has become a classroom favorite,
and its author, Kathleen Flake, was named
in September as the inaugural occupant of
an endowed chair in Mormon studies at
the University of Virginia. Maisner has
acquired Flakes next book, Mormon Matriarchy: A Study of Gendered Power in Antebellum America, for publication in late 2014
or early 2015.
Other books have demonstrated particular interest in the Mormon historical
experience with Native Americans: for
example, the University of Utah Press has
just released Todd Comptons A Frontier

12 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K L Y O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian


Missionary (Sept.). It is the most recent
publication in Utahs growing list in
Mormon studies, headed by editor-inchief John R. Alley. And Mormons play a
part in Anne Hydes Empires, Nations, and
Families: A History of the North American
West, 18001860 (Univ. of Nebraska,
2011), which won the Bancroft Prize in
American history and was nominated for
a Pulitzer.
While much of Mormon studies has
had an historical bent, other disciplines
come into play as well. More attention is
now being paid to womens studies, as
evidenced by Kofford Books March 2013
publication Mormon Women Have Their
Say, co-edited by Claudia Bushman and
Caroline Kline. Mormon studies has
been and is still dominated by men and
male-centered discourse, says Loyd Ericson, managing editor at Kofford. With
this book, our hope is to draw in more
feminist approaches to Mormon history
and thought for publication.
Another growing area of scholarship is
explorations of Mormonisms sacred texts.
In the spring of 2012, Princeton University Press released Paul Gutjahrs The Book
of Mormon: A Biography as part of its Lives
of Great Religious Books series. Brigham
Young Universitys Neal A. Maxwell
Institute for Religious Scholarship is
ramping up its publications, including
Mormons Codex: An Ancient American Book
by John L. Sorenson (Sept.). While the
institute has been known for apologetic
works, acquisitions editor Morgan Davis
says, Going forward, our intent is to publish a growing number of titles beyond
apologia.
Insiders see such movement beyond
apologia as a sign of the young fields
development. Mormon studies seems to
be emerging from its awkward teenage
years, says John Hatch, acquisitions editor at Signature Books, now maturing as
a field of study more rooted in responsible
academic inquiry, both from Mormons and
non-Mormons alike.

Jana Riess is the author of Flunking


Sainthood. 

Feature

Religion Update

Scholarly and popular works find a growing audience

Books on Buddhism
By Joshunda Sanders

As the Buddhist community in America continues to grow,


and readers who are not necessarily Buddhist are drawn
to Buddhist ideas and practices, publishers have found
success promoting translated classic titles along with
general, concise introductions that can both appeal to a
general audience and be used in the classroom for religious
studies courses. Although the big general trade houses
publish some Buddhist titles, the more substantial and
esoteric books are usually the province of specialty and
scholarly publishers.

ydia Anderson, marketing manager for


Wi s d o m P u b l i c a tions, says one of the
p u b l i s h e r s m o s t
important recent
titles was Nagarjunas Middle
Way (May). The book is the
second in Wisdoms Classics
of Indian Buddhism series.
The first book, Divine Stories,
was published in 2008 and the third is
still in development, Anderson says.
Anderson says she has noted an
increase in the number of dissertations
being published about Buddhism, as
well as a growing number of undergraduate courses specifically about Buddhism or Eastern and Asian religions.
Even though Buddhism isnt yet one
of the major religions in America, theres
a growing audience for it, she says, and
thats true regardless of the format in
which the books are sold. Wisdom publishes the Library of Tibetan Classics,
hefty tomes that sell well in both print
and digital editions. People are wanting
to have these teachings nearby, in the
academic world and in the home, says
Anderson.

A BROAD APPEAL
Oxford University Press,
which has published Buddhist
titles as part of its popular
Very Short Introduction
series, aims its books at both
students and general audiences, says editor Theo Calderara. Very Short Introductions are enormously popular
with professors who can assign
them as a single weeks worth of reading
in a classmixing and matching the
books to cover myriad topics, he says.
The latest, Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short
Introduction (Oct.), is an indication, I
think, of a hunger among readers to dig
more deeply into Buddhism. Other
books soon to be published by OUP
include Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern
Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science (Dec.)
and Mindful America: Meditation and the
Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and
American Culture (spring 2014).
Yet even recognized scholars in the field
are publishing concise introductions and
overviews to attract both general and academic interest. That was the case for Donald S. Lopez Jr.s From Stone To Flesh: A Short
History of the Buddha (Apr.), published
with the University of Chicago Press.

PRESERVING SACRED
TEXTS
Shambhala Publications acquired Snow
Lion about a year and a half ago, growing
the market for the Buddhist publishers
backlist significantly, says Steven Pomije,
marketing communications manager.
Now, along with our mainstream
Shambhala titles, we are the largest publisher in the West of serious academic
works on Buddhism. The depth of our
title base continues to grow as we repackage and reissue older Snow Lion titles.
Sacred texts, which have a more limited audience, are part of that. New
releases include the Dalai Lamas From
Here to Enlightenment: An Introduction to
Tsong-kha-pas Classic Text The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
(Feb. 2014) and Opening the Treasure of the
Profound: Teachings of the Songs of Jigten
Sumgon and Milarepa (Oct.). Pomije says
that the publisher has ramped up directto-consumer e-marketing, including
title-specific e-announcements, e-newsletters, and more e-catalogues. Close to
100,000 people now receive our e-promotions each month, he says. And perhaps not surprisingly, its our academic
and Snow Lion titles that benefit most
from these direct pushes, as many of
these titles are just not being picked up
at your neighborhood bookstore. The
press is also working with Random
House to place its books in Randoms
catalogues.
On the more popular front, Shambhala
will soon publish its first book on mindfulness for parents, Sitting Still Like a
Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and
Their Parents) (Dec.). And Everything Is
Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution by Diane Hamilton, a professional
mediator and wife to a former Utah
Supreme Court Justice, is scheduled to
be released next year. Says Oxfords Calderara, Whether the focus is on Buddhist philosophy, texts, history, ritual,
or lived Buddhism, we see an audience
for work in this area from across the
spectrum, from scholars to students to
lay Buddhists, to folks who are just
curious.

W W W . P U B L I S H E R S W E E K L Y . C O M 13

Religion Update

Feature

In a media-soaked world, books look at how our


spiritual lives and faith communities are affected

Technology, Pop
Culture, and Religion
By Joshunda Sanders

We live in the age of new media and the kingdom of pop


culture, and a new crop of books looks at how those
spheres intersect with religion. These titles allow readers
to step back from the broader culture and gain perspective on what it means to be both digitally and spiritually
connected.

eve seen more and


more titles dealing
with digital
media, says Rodney Clapp, an editor with Wipf and
Stock. In November, its Cascade imprint will publish TheoMedia: The Media of God in the
Digital Age. Clapp says it is one of the first
books of its kind to look at Gods media
like the burning bush of the Old Testamentin comparison to the blogs and
other digital media of today. Author
Andrew Byers writes on his blog, Hopeful Realism, Many of us are stumbling
along amidst the tweets, status updates,
podcasts, and blog posts, wondering if we
have ventured into a realm beyond the
scope of biblical wisdom.
In an age of media saturation, Clapp says
looking at the proliferation of digital media
in a theological context is significant.
Even though technology is such a driving
force in our culture, people havent wanted
to think too hard about it, he says. But it
is such a part of everyday life that hopefully
people will take time to consider how digital media affect our religious lives.
THE SPIRIT OF CULTURAL
SHIFTS
Books like Shaping a Digital World: Faith,
Culture and Computer Technology by Derek

Schuurman and Popcultured:


Thinking Christianly About Style,
Media and Entertainment by
Steve Turner, both published in
June by InterVarsity Press, and
iGods: How Technology Shapes Our
Spiritual and Social Lives by
Craig Detweiler (Brazos, Nov.;
reviewed in this issue) offer religious scholarship that looks at the faith
implications of our collective cultural
shifts.
Detweilers iGods engages with the
titans of our technological age and social
media companies, says Bryan Dyer, marketing manager for Baker Academic and
Brazos Press, while Popcultured offers a
Christian framework for analyzing shifts
in comedy, film, music, and more. Are
we equipped to deal with all the media
were surrounded by, or do we just succumb to the spirit of the age? Turner
asked in an interview with PW. His book
examines the blurred boundary between
what used to be known as high culture
and mass culture and how Christians have
responded historically. The danger is that
popular culture is so accessible, theres the
temptation to use film clips in sermons or
for Christians to get obsessed with culture, Turner says. But its equally dangerous if they dont tackle it at all.
Publishers like Patheos Press, an
imprint of Bondfire Books, have used the

14 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K L Y O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

advantages of e-book publishingwhich


allows for shorter publication lengths and
faster turnaroundto engage readers in
technological and popular culture topics,
says Bondfire Books executive editor Patton Dodd. Dodd is also the author of The
Tebow Mystique: The Faith and Fans of Footballs Most Polarizing Player (2011), the
first e-book published by Patheos Press.
We wanted to say something at length
about a popular culture phenomenon that
was being written about in a superficial
way or didnt pay sufficient attention to
the religious aspect of the phenomenon
in magazine or newspaper articles, Dodd
says. I thought it warranted 10,000 to
15,000 words of treatment, and e-books
make that possible.
The Tebow Mystique was published
shortly after Tebow was named a starter
for the Denver Broncos. The timing garnered media coverage daily for a couple of
weeks, a feat that wouldnt have been possible with just a few op-eds, Dodd says.
Patheos Press has also addressed popular
culture in titles like The Hunger Games
and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses and the Kingdom of God (2012) and Not Your Mothers
Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing
Pop Culture for the Better (May). Bondfire
published scholar Kelly Bakers recent
title, The Zombies Are Coming! The Realities
of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture
(June). E-books allow authors to express
their ideas at their natural length, Dodd
says. Being timely, but also being
thoughtful and comprehensive, is something unique to the e-book landscape.
Carey Newman, director of Baylor University Press, which published Appletopia:
Media Technology and the Religious Imagination of Steve Jobs (Aug.) by Brett Robinson
(profiled in this issue) says that the press
is nimble in responding to cultural shifts
while also being a champion of enduring
scholarship. I dont sit out with my surfboard, only looking for the next big
wave, Newman says. We try to look for
enduring scholarship in an age of the disposable and the nearly free and the instant.
Great books are the marriage between
great ideas and relevant ideas are and a
lasting investment, Newman says.

Moral Man and Immoral


Society
A Study in Ethics and
Politics
ReInhold nIebuhR
With a New Foreword by
Cornel West

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History, Literature, Theology

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The Rhetoric of the Gospel, Second edition

A Feasting on the Word


Commentary

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Gospels and Acts

CynThIA A. JARvIS & e.


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An Introduction to the
new Testament
M. euGene boRInG

Feasting on the GospelsMatthew

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new Meanings for


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Womens bible Commentary, Third edition

Arguing with God

STeven l. MCkenzIe & John


kAlTneR, edS.

lAPSley, edS.

Translated by Armin
Siedlecki

A Theological
Anthropology of the
Recent Approaches to
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vISIT booTh # 1604 1605 AT The 2013 MeeTInG oF The AMeRICAn ACAdeMy oF RelIGIon And
SoCIeTy oF bIblICAl lITeRATuRe FoR TheSe And oTheR neW TITleS by WJk.

Religion Update

IN

Profiles

Profile

Veronica Mary Rolf

Following the
Light of Julian
of Norwich
Veronica Mary Rolfs relationship with
Julian of Norwich, the 14th-century mystic, began on 91st Street and Fifth Avenue
in Manhattan. A theology teacher at the
Convent of the Sacred Heart quoted Julians
most famous lineAll shall be wellto
Rolf in a time of crisis. Then a young
Broadway performer and dancer, Rolf
found comfort in the words of this woman
who seemed worlds away. I was in crisis a
lot, because I was doing eight Broadway
shows a week and doing ballet shows, and
running myself ragged, Rolf says. And I
was trying to live out my Christian faith in
the world of the theater.
Years later, Rolf placed Revelations of
Divine Love, Julians reflections on 16 mystical visions of Christs passion, on her
nightstand. She has continued to refer to
it throughout her career as she trains and
directs actors around the globe. Julian
asked all the big questions I was going
through growing up, Rolf recalls. I loved
how she confronted fears, and I was in awe
of her total trust in Gods unconditional
love. Her probing mind and largeheartedness made her appealing. Julian became
my mentor and guide.
Rolf later moved from New York City
to Berkeley, Calif., where she lives with
her husband of 42 years. In addition to
working at Berkeley Repertory Theater,
she began a lecture series on the history of
Christian mysticism. Rolf was thrilled
when her students also showed interest in

Julian of Norwich. Everyone wanted to


know more about the woman, and I realized I did, too, she says. Rolf quit her
work in theater to immerse herself in the
history and drama of the 14th century.
The result is Julians Gospel: The Life &
Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis
Books, Oct.).
The first part of the book delves into the
history surrounding Julians life as a cloistered nun in 14th-century England who
experienced a series of visions of Christ
and began to write about them; the second
part delves deeper into Julians reflections
through a chapter-by-chapter commentary. The text consists of Rolfs original
translation of Julians reflections from the
Middle English. She tells the essential
Christian message of Gods unconditional
love, but in a womans voice and point of
view, Rolf says. I think thats a voice we
need to hear, especially in our churches
today. In her translation, Rolf lets stand
some Middle English words, syntax, and
phraseology, viewing these as textured
entry points into Julians voice, both physical and spiritual. She adds, Julian breaks
open the gospel. She startles you.
Rolf hopes that her historical look at
Julians life will help draw readers into
Julians spirituality and story, so they will
better understand her. Its a drama of the
soul, Rolf says. Julian wanted us to go
through what she went through to realize
what she realized. Then we can start to
look at the fact of revelation in our own
lives. 
Kerry Weber

Mark Larrimore

Job Through the Ages

Mark Larrimore was still in high school


when he had his first experience with the
Book of Job: he had a bit part in Archibald
MacLeishs play J.B., a dramatization of
the Bibles famous rumination on suffering. I didnt get to be Job, or God, or
Satan, or any of the friends, but I was the
messenger who brought all the news of the

16 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K L Y O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

deaths of Jobs family, Larrimore says.


Now Larrimore is
a messenger of a different kind as the author of The Book of Job:
A Biography (Oct.). As part of Princeton
University Presss Lives of Great Religious
Books series, The Book of Job is not a biblical commentary but a reception history
that traces how philosophers, rabbis, poets,
and others have interpreted Job through
the centuries. Larrimore, a philosopher at
Eugene Lang College The New School for
Liberal Arts, says he is interested in the
presentation and conversation about Job.
How people address Job in different
eras, Larrimore suggests, reveals as much
about the interpreters themselves as about
Job. For example, centuries ago there was
much hand-wringing about why God
gets into a wager with Satan in the first
place. Is God playing dice? And early rabbis were often nervous about the question of whether Job was Jewish.
Today, if anything, the ambiguity of
Jobs religious identity is part of the books
appeal. Because Job has a relationship
with God outside of the covenant, it makes
him a quintessentially modern figure,
Larrimore explains. Job stands alone facing God, and I think thats true of many
modern religious people.
In fact, Larrimore notes that the Book
of Job has taken on a literary life of its
own apart from the rest of the Bible. In
some Great Books courses in colleges, Job
is the only thing they read from the Bible.
This is in direct contrast to earlier generations, when people said, This book is
really hard to understand! Good thing we
have the rest of the Bible to help us make
sense of it.
Both classical and modern interpreters
have roundly criticized Jobs friends, who
are infamous for their unhelpful advice, but
Larrimore believes we should be careful of

Profiles |

this. Although the friends appear clueless


and limited, Larrimore says there is no textual evidence that they ever leave Jobs side,
and this constancy in itself teaches us something.
Larrimore cites the later chapters of the
Book of Jobthe theophany when God
calls attention away from human experience and toward the rest of creationas
particularly relevant to contemporary
thinkers who approach the book with a
holistic, environmental sensibility. His
own next book, as yet untitled, is related
to this; it explores human ethics in the
context of broader moral communities,
which includes animals, plants, and rocks.
Jana Riess

Molly Worthen

Evangelical Paradoxes
There is nothing like teaching religious
history at a world-class university that
happens to be in the Bible Belt, says
Molly Worthen, assistant professor of his-

Religion Update

tory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


The diverse student body of Baptists,
Mormons, atheists, and everyone in
between constantly challenges Worthen
to rethink her assumptions. This fresh
perspective informs her second book,
Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in
American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, Nov.), which examines the dialogue and debate between religious
authority and secular reason that has
shaped modern evangelical doctrine.
Worthen grew up in a secular family,
but became interested in spiritual thought
during her college years. Curious about

the history of humanitys speculations


about the supernatural, Worthen spent
one summer living with an obscure
Russian Orthodox sect in rural Alberta,
attending their five-hour worship services
and learning to slaughter chickens. This
exceptional real-life experience fed her
fascination with how people translate
abstract theology into real life. Her later
work as a freelance journalist (she has
written for the New York Times, Slate,
Christianity Today, and other publications)
sharpened her interest in the history of
those religious traditions that are most
influential in America today, particularly
evangelicalism.
Apostles of Reason is different in scope
from Worthens first book, The Man on
Whom Nothing Was Lost (Houghton
Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), a political biography of Yale professor Charles Hill. Her
first book considered politics and history
through a single lens; the new one is
broader. Worthen approached the diver-

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Religion Update
sity of American evangelicalism by
including all Protestants who have circled around a shared set of questions
about how to connect with Jesus, reconcile faith and reason, and live out their
religion in an increasingly pluralistic
world, she explains. Worthen then
examined core samples of the most
influential traditions to see how they
answered those questions.
Asked if any particular evangelical
movement most strongly illustrates her
assertion of deep-rooted paradoxes in
evangelical beliefs and behaviors,
Worthen mentions younger believers
who have turned to Catholic monasticism
in recent years. These new monastics,
Worthen says, are looking for a firm
source of authority that the average
evangelical megachurch doesnt provide.
On the other hand, these same seekers are
individualistic Americans who resist following a single religious authority and
instead tend to pick and choose teachings.
The paradox, says Worthen, is this: the
more they pursue historical, hierarchical
traditions like Catholicism, the more
radically evangelical they often become.
Worthen takes nothing at face value;
her probing scholarly approach allows her
to turn an idea around and examine it
from all angles. A core finding, for examplethat evangelicals escalate their
opposition to modern biblical scholarship
with every new scientific or historical discoveryis interesting on its own.
Worthen, however, doesnt stop there.
She goes on to uncover the sincere belief
behind the opposition, by people who
see themselves as the most faithful disciples of both Christ and the
Enlightenment. Apostles of Reason is
Worthens intriguing examination of the
ways in which evangelicals have tried to
craft an approach to knowledge that balances the opposing authorities of religion
and secular reason.  Sheila M. Trask

Scot McKnight

Bible Politics

If someone were to tell you, The Bible


has nothing to do with politics, would
you believe them? Most likely not,

| Profiles

because it seems
that today stances
on various issues
from every political perspective come
undergirded with proof texts from the
Good Book. Still, the question remains:
what does the Bible have to do with politics? According to New Testament
scholar, historian, and author Scot McKnight, quite a lot.
When he hears young evangelicals say
things like, Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not,
McKnight explains to them what they are
really saying. They are surprised by all
the politics involved [in the New
Testament]they just werent aware.
Combining his dedication to the study
of the New Testament with his passionate
views on faith and politics, McKnight
worked with co-editor Joseph B. Modica
and several prominent scholars to produce IVP Academics collection of essays,
Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating
Empire in New Testament Studies (Apr.).
Reared Baptist, McKnight always took
this Christian view at face value. Then in
seminary he came across Ronald J. Siders
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. From
that point on, McKnight was on a trajectory toward Anabaptism. I am more
Anabaptist today than ever, he says,
which means I believe that the heart of
the Christian commitment is in the
church and not in the political sector.
Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not interprets
the New Testament in its Roman political context. McKnight argues that over
the past two decades, such empire criticisma method of New Testament
studies aiming to place Jesus life and
ministry within the Roman political
contexthas emerged in reaction to
scholars own political views. Specifically
in the U.S., McKnight and his co-authors
found an uncanny connection between
the [critics] personal politics and the

18 P u b l i s h e r s w e e k l y o c t o b e r 7 , 2 0 1 3

amount of empire criticism [they] find in


the New Testament.
And while McKnight says he is not
nave enough to think anyone can escape
their own politics when reading the New
Testament, he believes the multiauthor
approach he and Modica took in putting
together this critical evaluation of empire
criticism provides perspective. In the end,
they concluded, empire critics were
stretching the evidence, he says.
Even though it is his academic conclusion, it does not sit well with McKnights
spirituality. As an Anabaptist, I want
empire criticism to be trueit fits with
what I already believe, he says, which
means I believe the Christians calling is
to first and foremost follow Jesus regardless of political implications. As a historian, however, he says, as I watched
empire criticism grow, I thought we were
seeing far more politics at work than is fair
to the evidence. There lies the moral of
the story for McKnight. We need to
become more conscious of the influence of
our own politics on the way we read the
Bible, he says.
Still, McKnight believes Jesus Is Lord,
Caesar Is Not bears not only exegetical
value but also political force. This book
helps us see the kinds of politics at work
in the New Testament and how Christians
can follow Jesus in our pluralistic world
today more effectively. For McKnight
that means pledging allegiance to Jesus
and, as a result, engaging social, moral,
and political issues from a different starting point, a different lordship.

Ken Chitwood

Johnny Bernard Hill

Turning Rage
into Action
Johnny Bernard
Hill, a Morehouse College graduate

Profiles |

raised on the edge of a Southern plantation, knows the power in remembering


ones roots. He grew up poor in the back
hills of Georgia with his seven sisters, surrounded by tobacco fields his ancestors
had worked as slaves. It is a story he tells
in Prophetic Rage: A Postcolonial Theology of
Liberation (Eerdmans, Nov.; reviewed in
this issue), a scholarly look at how theologians and Christians in the pews can use
the power of memory to work for global
freedom from poverty, apathy, and violence.
The book defines prophetic rage as the
right remembering of history that
reveals how past constructs and systems
have led to current reactions. The very
key to redeeming or overcoming the
problems of hopelessness or despair in the
Western world, Hill says, may very
well rest in the hands and experiences of
formerly enslaved black bodies in the
U.S.
Now assistant professor of philosophy
and religion at Claflin University in
South Carolina, Hill has always felt
deeply committed to issues of human
rights and social justice, he tells PW.
Hills previous books have compared the
social justiceoriented theologies of
Martin Luther King Jr. and retired
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
and examined the status of the black family in American life. His third book, The
First Black President: Barack Obama, Race,
Politics, and the American Dream
(MacMillan) was published in 2009. I
believe all of that led to this current
work, Hill says. It took about five years
to write Prophetic Rage, which he wanted
to be reflective and academically rigorous.
Its about not just black liberation, but
how those movements fund other movements around the world and how marginalized communities can organize for progressive change in their communities, he
says.
The result is a book that reflects the
cultural challenges of Western life in the
50th-anniversary year of the March on
Washington and the 150th anniversary of
the signing of the Emancipation
Proclamation. In the aftermath of the

Religion Update

death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida


teenager fatally shot by George
Zimmerman, Hill says a new horizon of
voices is bursting open through social
media, where the oppressed have some
say in their global political context
through cyberspace, injecting a new wave
of justice.
Hill is currently working on an interfaith gathering and coalition, Building a
World House, as well as writing his fifth
book, a memoir titled If I Had a Nickel.

Joshunda Sanders

Joel Baden

King Davids
Feats of Clay
Mention King
David to most people, and youll only
hear good things. He was the handsome
boy who defeated the giant Goliath; the
warrior who bested jealous King Saul,
winning the hearts of the people; the man
who became the pious second king of
Israel; the author of the Psalms. But in
The Historical David: The Real Life of an
Invented Hero (HarperOne, Oct.; reviewed
in this issue), Joel Baden, a Yale Divinity
School professor, probes the historical evidence, revealing that the Bibles proDavidic overlay obscures a series of events
that reveal a David who achieved and
maintained power by any means necessary, sometimes in a less-than-heroic way.
Baden was heavily involved in the
Jewish youth movement in high school
and traveled to Israel almost every summer. Being Jewish remains an important
part of my identity, Baden says, and it
probably doesnt hurt that I teach at a
Christian divinity school, where one is
always conscious of ones religious standing. His commitment to Judaism led
him into biblical scholarship, and it
introduced him to the rabbinic writings

that approach the Bible as an infinitely


deep text, one for which there will never
be a lack of questions or possible answers.
Baden did his undergraduate work in
Judaic studies at Yale, and his graduate
studies in Semitic languages and Hebrew
Bible at the University of Chicago and
Harvarda robust background for a
critical scholar. While many of his current students are not interested in critical
readings per se, Baden says he aspires to
make people aware that their views of the
Bible are beliefs, not objective facts; faith
claims rather than historical claims.
Understanding the historical David
allows us to see what sorts of ideals we
have imposed on David over the millennia, and thereby to recognize more clearly
what we value as a culture.
The two figures who loomed largest for
Baden, with his Jewish background, were
always Moses and David. He notes that
there is more about them in the Bible
than almost everyone else combined. The
problem with Moses is that, from a
critical perspective, there isnt much to be
said in the realm of history. But, he adds,
David is, to my mind, the only figure
from the Hebrew Bible for whom there is
a full enough story to make a narrative,
and whose historical existence is accessible
enough to conjecture as to what his life
may have been like.
The Historical David isnt intended as a
Jewish reading of the text; the essence of
critical scholarship, Baden says, is the
giving up of any preconceived approaches
to the Bible. While hes not trying to
make any faith claims in the book, Baden
expects that there might be some
backlash from those with particularly
strong faith commitments to the
traditional understanding of what David
represents, especially as the model/
ancestor of the Messiah, Jewish or
Christian.
While some are likely to see Badens
approach to David as an attack on a
keystone of faith, his respectful
presentation is not about debunking faith
in the virtue of Davidits about
provoking thought.

Chana Thompson Shor
w w w . p u b l i s h e r s w e e k l y . c o m 19

Religion Update

Books in

Review
Paul and the Faithfulness of
God
N.T. Wright. Fortress, $89.95 trade paper
(1,700p) ISBN 978-0-8006-2683-9

ccording to acclaimed New Testament scholar Wright (The Resurrection


of the Son of God), most works on Paul focus
on his ideas of salvation and justification as
the centerpiece of Pauline theology. In this
magisterial study, the former bishop of Durham passionately challenges those readings
of Paul by exploring the ways that Pauls
theology develops out of, and in conversation with, the competing cultural, philosophical, and religious views of his day. In
Parts I and II of his provocative book,
Wright painstakingly examines the Jewish,
Greek, and Roman contexts in which Paul
struggled to develop his thought; in Parts
III and IV, Wright closely reads Pauls letters
to illustrate how Pauls theology evolved in
response to these influences. Out of this
engagement with his world, Paul develops
three categories central to his theology:
monotheism, election, and eschatology:
one God, one people of God, one future for
Gods world. Wright concludes: Paul was
doing theology because the life of Gods
people depended on it, depended on his
doing it initially for them, then as soon as
possible with them, and then on their being
able to go on doing it for themselves. All
Pauls theology is thus pastoral theology.
(Nov.)

iGods: How Technology


Shapes Our Spiritual and
Social Lives
Craig Detweiler. Brazos, $16.99 trade
paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-58743-344-3

etweiler (A Matrix of Meanings), who


teaches communication at Pepperdine
University, in Malibu, Calif., examines
todays technology, from Apple to Instagram, and its impact on Americans spiritual lives. He knows the literature, organizes
it as a good information curator should, and

Reviews

cites the provocative and deeper thinkers


such as Jaron Lanier and Kevin Kelly. He
does forget that not everyone is on Facebook
and that smart phones are common but not
universal, which is understandable given
that he teaches and so is surrounded by the
wired generation. The balance between
theological reflection and simple background reporting could be better tuned.
Most of todays technology writers dont
understand the lure of iDols. An excellent
conversation starter recommended for classroom use; Detweiler has made a solid contribution to the growing literature about
religion and technology. (Nov.)

Prophetic Rage: A Postcolonial Theology of Liberation


Johnny Bernard Hill. Eerdmans, $25
trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-80286977-7

he title of this ambitious text from Hill


(The First Black President), an associate
professor of philosophy and religion at Claflin University, suggests that the book might
contextualize current trends in social justice
and theology. Instead, it capitalizes on the
50th anniversary of the watershed March on
Washington and the re-election of President
Barack Obama as opportunity for reflection
on how theologians and Christians consideror fail to considernotions of
empire and nihilism. Hill grew up in the
South on the edge of a plantation, which
suggests that his working-class roots might
be fueling his rage, but the anger to which
the title alludes is not made clear. Prophetic
rage as Hill defines it has to do with right
remembering of a brutal past and how its
legacy continues in the present. Hill repeats
parts of his personal story in almost preacherlike fashion throughout the book. He also
offers brief calls to action to help the black
community and others who are marginalized. (Nov.)

The Historical David:

The Real Life of an Invented


Hero
Joel S. Baden. HarperOne, $26.99
(320p) ISBN 978-0-06-218831-1

ith a Jewish sensibility and a critical


scholars eye, Yale Divinity School

20 P U B L I S H E R S W E E K L Y O C T O B E R 7 , 2 0 1 3

Professor Baden sifts out the myth and political spin from the biblical evidence that
shows that King David was a subjugating
usurper who unseated the popular and able
King Saul. After explaining the traditions
underlying Davids idealized character (e.g.,
the attribution of Psalms to Davids hand,
the tendency of later works to tidy his
record), Baden opens up the text to the lay
reader. He presents the plausible historical
events leading to Davids claiming of the
throne, the nature of his reign, and, somewhat speculatively, the significance of Solomons succession. That the biblical account
of Davids rise to power is a political apologyan answer to the contemporary
charges against him, which included implication in murders and regicideis not news
to those familiar with critical Bible scholarship. Badens offering, however, is notable as
part of a recent trend, even in traditional
circles, to view critical scholarship as essential to general Jewish religious self-understanding, rather than as an academic or
potentially subversive exercise. (Oct.)

Religion Without God


Ronald Dworkin. Harvard Univ., $17.95
(192p) ISBN 978-0-674-72682-6

or years, the Christian Right has been


arguing that secular humanism, an
ethical and humanistic system of viewing
the world without reference to God, should
be considered a religion. Now, from the
opposite direction, Dworkin (Justice for
Hedgehogs) argues the same. In his last book,
the late Dworkin, an atheist, believes that
atheists share with theists a strong ethical
sensibility as well as an appreciation of aesthetics that opens them to a sense of awe and
an experience of the sublime that is similar
to religious transcendence. He also asserts,
in what is no doubt music to the ears of
Christian evangelicals, a belief that the two
assumptionsthat a god does or does not
existseem on a par from the perspective of
science. Although it will possibly outrage
such fellow atheists as Richard Dawkins,
who want to keep a distinct demarcation
between religion and atheism, Dworkins
characteristically well-argued book raises
many provocative questions worthy of further discussion. (Oct.) 

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