When in Romans by Beverly Gaventa

9780801097386In Pauline scholarship circles it is fairly well known that Beverly Gaventa is working on a commentary on Romans for the WJK New Testament Library series. Over the last decade or more she has published close to twenty essays on various parts of Romans and most recently her presidential address at the 2016 SBL gathering was on Romans 13. Most of these essays are in edited collections which often are not cheap to obtain. Therefore this little book - and it is little, only 128 pages - When In Romans is a welcome and (also) accessible introduction to Gaventa's reading of the letter. It is dependent on the research she has been doing, evidenced by many of the footnotes pointing to the various essays she has published, but is written for a wide audience.

What excites many about Gaventa's work on Romans, is that she sees Paul as an apocalyptic theologian and so reads Paul apocalyptically, which no commentary of Romans, at least post-Lou Martyn's Anchor Bible commentary on Galatians (1997) has yet to do. At some point, fellow apocalyptic Pauline reader, Douglas Campbell, will also provide a commentary on Romans and it will be interesting to see how the two will compare. I think there will be lots of overlap, but also differences, for example Gaventa is not convinced by Campbell's suggested reading of Romans 1-3. (One place to find a brief description of Campbell's reading can be found in his contribution to Four Views on the Apostle Paul).  

In the four brief chapters, with introduction and conclusion, that make up When In Romans, Gaventa shows amazing grasp (as of course you'd expect) of the letter. She makes the letter come alive and demonstrates how it connects together - too often, as she points out, we read it in sections or as set of individual verses. Gaventa's reading is theo-centric and Christo-centric, it sees the plight of humanity as cosmic and the solution of the gospel as equally cosmic and universal. She reads Paul's not just for what he said, but also for how the church today might hear him. The only bit of the letter that isn't really addressed is Romans 13, but see above and note that she is beginning to give attention to that bit of the letter (partly to say we shouldn't read it in isolation from the rest of the letter!)

 If you struggle with Romans, if you remain unsatisfied with the other readings out there - from the likes of Dunn, Wright, Moo and co. - Gaventa offers (I think) the beginning of a much more satisfactory and helpful reading of this the most famous of Paul's letters. When In Romans is a wonderful little book that can be read fairly quickly, but will benefit from re-reading. It will certainly help me when I next come to preach or teach on Romans. If you know people who can handle the likes of Surprised by Hope or When God Became King by Tom Wright, they will have no problems in reading When in Romans and it will be to their benefit. This book certainly whets the appetite for her longer treatment when it finally appears, and suggests it will be a landmark study;  she will do for Romans, what Martyn did for Galatians. 

Book Review: Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany by Andrew Walker

Hres.9781625641618 Andrew Walker, Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany, ed. by Andrew D. Kinsey (Cascade, 2015), 322pp.

Last year Andrew Walker was honoured with a long overdue set of essays representing his contribution to theology and congregational studies (my review of that book can be found here). Walker is most famous for his work Restoring the Kingdom (4th ed., Guildford Eagle, 1998), which was a landmark study of the 1970s and 80s house church movement, but he has also been an influential voice amongst those seeking to explore issues of church and culture, writing and editing a number of helpful works, alongside overseeing the influential Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King's College London. This new collection of essays spans his career and gathers together a number of his harder to find pieces of work into one place.  

The title of the book is borrowed from the title of an auto-biographical piece which appeared originally as a chapter in Charismatic Renewal: In Search of a Theology (SPCK, 1995) and is now reprinted in this collection. It tells the wonderful account of Walker's growing up a Pentecostal, his experience of the Holy Spirit, and his eventual journey into the Russian Orthodox Church in his late 20s. He tells of how although he left the Elim church, he never completely left Pentecostalism.

The book is as such a gift because it offers us a way of engaging with one particular thinker and guide over 45 years, as he witnessed the growth of the 'new' churches and the wider charismatic movement, alongside the wider questions in the 1990s of what kind of church would survive and flourish in the twenty-first century - for Walker only a 'deep church', that is attuned to the impact of modernity and able to suitably resist it. Walker is an astute observer and interpreter of both church and culture.

Twenty-six different pieces of writing - journalistic pieces, academic essays, interviews - cover Walker on charismatic Christianity, C. S. Lewis, the Orthodox church and church and culture. This demonstrates that Walker is something of a polymath - growing up a Pentecostal, but becoming part of the Orthodox later in life and a reader and interpreter of Lewis. 

This is a treasure chest, with so much to enjoy. An extra bonus is what appears to be pretty much a complete bibliography of Walker's publications, which the festschrift lacked. The book should mean that the work of Andrew Walker will continue to help the church reflect and seek ways in which it can be faithful to its Lord.

Book Review: The Nazareth Manifesto by Sam Wells

51FJOxDFczL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Samuel Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto: Being with God (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 328pp.

The Nazareth Manifesto took a fairly long time to write. Its first origins are back when Wells was ministering in Norwich in the late 1990s and read a book which introduced the language of working for, working with and being with. However it wasn't until he arrived as Dean of Duke Chapel in 2005 and beginning to understand the mission of the church (in the context where mission was almost entirely as working for) that the book began to be developed. He delivered a lecture in 2008 called 'The Nazareth Manifesto' in which the key argument of the book was outlined and this eventually became the first chapter in Living With Enemies, a small book which was part of the series called Resources for Reconciliation. Alongside this came sermons, two of which bookend The Nazareth Manifesto, which showed the importance of being with in scripture. The Nazareth Manifesto is the expanded argument explored theologically and ethically, written in first few years as vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which itself has its own particular mission.

The simple argument is this is Wells' attempt to argue for the importance of being with over working for for theology and the way the church lives out its mission. Like his earlier work God's Companion's, Wells uses the tactic of overwhelming the reader with his argument, both in theory and practice, so that you are left finding it very hard to disagree with him. The Nazareth Manifesto even has two chapters at the end in which Wells seeks to deal with his critics before they even get a chance to write their reviews. Wells wants to show the impoverishment of a theology and ethics of working for and as such the argument of the book is in some ways an 'exaggeration', but he says (in a footnote), that 'if I thought there was the remotest chance of my proposals being widely adopted I might speak differently' (p.19).

Wells grounds the importance of 'with' in the gospel, in fact, he says 'God with us' is the gospel. The story of scripture is the story of God's desire to be with us, and only within this 'with' can we speak of a 'for.' The book offers a re-reading of the doctrines of the Trinity, creation, incarnation, atonement, pneumatology, ecclesiology and eschatology through the lens of 'with'. The book also seeks to re-read the Bible's narrative - creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, and church - with with as the central concept. 

Wells writes in usual style, which is both academic and sermon, theology and example. He uses the story of The English Patient as a means of making an early point that what is wrong with the world is not mortality but isolation, in other words, we are too busy trying to overcome death, that we miss the importance of being present: Laszlo leaves Elizabeth to try and save her, instead of being with her at the moment of her greatest need. Later he uses the stories of God's Hotel, the lives of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and George Bell, and story of Stuart and Alexander in Stuart: A Life Backwards. Each of these stories is a means of Wells exploring what being with looks like not as an abstract idea, but as the story of a life.

At the centre of the book is the parable of the Good Samaritan (ch.6) and the doctrine of the Trinity (ch.8). These are the most important chapters. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Wells re-reads the parable not as one about how we help those in need, but as one in which we are the person lying in the ditch needing help, and the unexpected stranger saves us. Everything about Christian mission says we go to help others, Wells suggests that Christian mission is about finding out we need to receive the mercy of others. Later he speaks of the way that those deemed poor are also rich and those deemed rich are also poor, being with another person is about discovering both the poverty and riches that make up our lives. The chapter on the Trinity outline eight aspects that God is with God: presence, attention, mystery, delight, participation, partnership, enjoyment and glory. This is fullest description of being with without sin and it is this that Jesus invites us to discover (so ch.9).

The book leaves you examining your own life and the life of the church in which you belong - am I shaped by for or with, is our church shaped by for or with - and the book is a means of offering the means of discovering how we might transition from for to with. It also asks the question of overseas mission agencies/societies, are they too heavily about working for and working with and do they take seriously simply being with? When the church is full of different kinds of community mission through night shelters, food banks, toddler groups, cafes, parish nursing, street pastors, etc, The Nazareth Manifesto offers a means of examining what we are about, both in terms of theology and in practice. Wells believes that at the heart of God and the gospel is with and to be the church we must learn to be with God, with one another and with our neighbours and the stranger - this where the kingdom, this is where the glory of God is found.

Every minister in training should read it. Every church considering a new, or reviewing a current, project should read it. 

Brian Brock, Captive to Christ, Open to the World: On Doing Christian Ethics in Public

41c4BTU4VRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Brian Brock teaches Christian ethics at Aberdeen. He is the author of Singing the Ethos of God: The Place of Christian Ethics in Scripture (Eerdmans, 2007) and Christian Ethics in a Technological Age (Eerdmans, 2010). He has also written in the area of disability theology, most recently editing Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader (2012) with his colleague John Swinton. Captive to Christ, Open to the World is a little book, 140pp and is a series of interviews with Brock over a range of ethical questions with concern for the environment, politics, medicine, the university. The interviews begin with discussions of Brock's work on scripture and technology, before broadening out into wider issues. The interviews have been edited by Kenneth Oakes who provides an introduction. 

The book offers an insight into the task of being a Christian ethicist in the church, but also in a secular institution. The book is difficult to summarise because its mode of interview means the conversation moves in different directions, but there is, on almost every page, a gem of an observation or thought to ponder, which is rooted in day to day living. What Brock does in this book is engage with concrete issues of policy and practice in conversation with the Christian tradition, Augustine, Luther, Barth and Bonhoeffer being the key thinkers. By concrete I mean if this book had an index you would find references to Obama, Donald Trump, Robert Murdoch, Burger King, the Iona Community, James Hunter, Stanley Hauerwas, Jean Vanier, amongst others. This is no abstract treatment of ethics, but is rooted in his experience of being a parent of child with a disability, of living and working in Aberdeen, of being an academic within a university.

One thing Brock seeks to explore is how the church cannot simply be a contrast society (p.39). He is critical of this stance. For Brock there is much more tension in our how the church is located and participates in the world. He also wants to be much more real in acknowledging that the church 'doesn't really contrast much at all' (p.79). Brock offers a less adversarial view of the world, and more humble view of the church, arguing for the importance of listening over judging. 

This is an exciting little book, which demonstrates the role the Christian ethicist can play, both in the church and in the wider public. Brock is concerned to see his students and the church to think through arguments Christianly, that is, to show how and why theology matters. Its interview style allows us to see a little of how Brock thinks. Where monographs are the norm, there is perhaps space for this kind of book. Brock bigger books are not easy-reads and so Captive to Christ is also welcome in helping translate his arguments there in a more accessible manner. Time will tell whether Brock becomes the next Hauerwas (both are bald white men from Texas), but regardless Brock's contributions will be worth paying attention to.

Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography by Douglas Campbell (Eerdmans, 2014)

9780802871510The first thing to say is Doug Campbell is to be congratulated on the length of his new book, at under 500 pages it is half the length of his otherwise wonderful The Deliverance of God (DoG). Framing Paul is still not a short book, because likes it predecessor, Campbell once again seeks to make his argument as thorough and tight as possible. Framing Paul seeks to solve the issue of when, where and why of Paul's letters. Campbell reconstructs the life of Paul from the letters that are present within the Bible. Like the pre-history to DoG, Campbell has been working around these questions for a long time. Over the years he has published several articles that seek to anchor the life and letters of Paul in history and has had a working timeline for well over a decade. As a student of Campbell's at King's in the early 2000s, much of what the book argues was already in place then, although Campbell has continued to fine-tune the argument in the years following.

Campbell's language of 'framing' (borrowed from Derrida) indicates that his aim is to discover the 'Pauline story that frames the letters' (p.12), that is, the Pauline biography that gives rise to the letters' occasions. Too often Pauline scholarship operates with no overarching frame, no account of how the letters are related to one another, the order they come in and the underlying account of Paul's life which explains their contingency. Campbell's argument is that a biography, that arises out of the data in the letters, and at the same time explains them, this will 'ground all subsequent interpretative work on Paul rather more accurately and firmly than hitherto has been the case' (p.404).

Campbell argues that to construct Paul's biography we must begin with his letters and leave to one side the account of Paul's life in the Book of Acts. We must begin with the primary data. Too many Pauline scholars too readily accept the account in Acts or work with an approach that borrows both from Acts and the letters as equal sources. Campbell's approach builds on that done by John Knox and John Hurd.

Campbell argues that ten of the Pauline attributed letters are authentic over against many who claim only seven are. He argues for the greater inclusion of 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians amongst Pauline scholars. He disputes the Pauline authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, although not without serious consideration, that is, he subjects them to the same methodology he uses with the other letters. How he constructs the order of the letters will cause much debate. He argues for Galatians to be written in the same year as Romans and close to 1 and 2 Corinthians. The years being 51-52AD. This is fairly novel for both arguing that Galatians is not the first letter Paul wrote and for placing many of Paul's letter much earlier than is usually suggested. Romans and the Corinthian correspondence share references to the 'collection' for Jerusalem, while Galatians and Romans, both have the Jewish 'teachers' (Lou Martyn's terminology) as the circumstances for their occasion. This brings these four letters close together.

Through the long biographical account in Galatians and Paul's brief mention of his escape from Damascus, Campbell argues that we can anchor Paul firmly in history, specifically through the reference to King Aretas, which can dated to 36AD. Campbell also includes Philippians in same time frame as the other letters already mentioned, here he argues that the reference to the 'palace guard' in Phil 1.13 is not a reference to Paul being in Rome (so a late date for the letter), but Paul 's imprisonment in Corinth.

Campbell's study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians argues that these are the earliest letters of Paul we have. Back in the early 2000s, Campbell had previously been arguing for locating 1 Thess. amongst the Rom-Gal-Cor-Phil letters, but in Framing Paul he claims this is the earliest letter of Paul we have. These two letters to Thessalonicia he argues were written in early 40s, on the basis of the reference in 2 Thess 2.3-4 to the Gaian crisis where Gaius planned to erect a statue of Jupiter in the temple at Jerusalem; Gaius was assassinated 41.

Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon he also argues were written close together, but while many suggest a late date, Campbell argues for them being written in the year prior to Romans et al. The chapter on these three letters is the longest in Framing Paul, which is perhaps understandable considering that in terms of Ephesians and Colossians they are disputed. Campbell argues that these letters come following his second and very important visit to Jerusalem and before the year of crisis which engulfs him in 51-52. Ephesians, Campbell claims, is the lost letter to the Laodiceans (Col 4.16) and should be renamed accordingly.

Framing Paul provides another ground-breaking work to follow DoG. Both books set out to re-write how Pauline scholarship should be undertaken. This latest book will no doubt generate as much conversation as DoG, some probably very critical. Campbell is nothing but provocative, although arising out of serious study and convictions. He suggests at one point, if his account is correct, Bibles and New Testaments should be re-ordered to reflect the order the letters were written in. Framing Paul gets into some heavy technical discussion, which makes the book tough going at points, but its result - its account of Paul's life and letters is exciting and provides much needed coherence to those of us who seek to teach and preach in churches which likewise are occasional and contingent. Framing Paul ends with some suggestion that Campbell will provide a sequel, which having established an epistolary biography, will engage with Acts. Hopefully further down the way, like Tom Wright, Campbell can also write a more accessible account for a wider audience.

Book Review: Contesting Catholicity by Curtis Freeman

UnknownCurtis W. Freeman, Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor, 2014), 466pp.

This is a very very good book and this is indicated by those who have commended it - Sarah Coakley, Ephraim Radner, Carl Braaten, David Tracy, Gerald O'Collins , Robert Louis Wilken and fellow Baptist, Paul Fiddes. This may well be one of the most important books written by a Baptist, both for its vision of Baptist life for Baptists and also for its vision of the church for those of other traditions.

The book tells something of Freeman's theological pilgrimage to becoming an 'Other Baptist.' The term 'Other Baptist' having its origins in being the only box Freeman felt he could tick in a list of various types of Baptist. There is something then of the confessional nature in the book. In Freeman's usage it describes a Baptist who is catholic, one who is seeking to chart a way beyond fundamentalism and liberalism. Freeman defines an Other Baptist as one in which there may well be:

frustration with both lukewarm liberalism and hyper fundamentalism; a desire to confess the faith once delivered to all the saints, not as a matter of coercion, but as a simple acknowledgement of where they stand and what they believe; a recognition of the Trinity as the centre of the life to which they are drawn; a longing to be priests to others in a culture of self-reliance; a hope of sharing life together that is not merely based on a common culture or determined by shared interests; a commitment to follow the teachings of the Bible that they understand and being open to receive more light and truth that they do not yet understand; trusting in God's promise of presence in water and table; a yearning for the fulfilment of the Lord's prayer that the church may be one.' (p.26)

The book demonstrates the influence of James McClendon and to lesser extent Stanley Hauerwas, both of whom have played very important roles in Freeman's journey to Other Baptist-ness. Another of reading the book is as one very long footnote to the "Manifesto" that Freeman, McClendon and others published in 1997, which was a cry for Baptists, particularly in North America, to a more radical way of being Baptist and catholic.    

Contesting Catholicity comes in two parts. The first part sets out what Freeman understands as the 'sickness'  in Baptist life. The sickness largely being an individualism, which has its roots in modernity, rather than Baptist beginnings, and is pervasive amongst Baptists, whether fundamentalist or liberalist. Freeman sees in postliberalism, and the work of Hans Frei and George Lindbeck, a faith that is best expressed as a 'generous orthodoxy' (Frei's phrase), which moves beyond the rigid positions of fundamentalism and liberalism.

The second part of the book explores what a theology for Other Baptists looks like in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, the doctrine of the church, the reading of the Bible, the Lord's Supper and the practice of baptism. Freeman demonstrates a real gift of narrating the way Baptists (in Western Christianity) have thought through and lived out their theology, moving freely across four hundred years of history. In this way Freeman follows his teacher McClendon in a way of doing theology that is embodied, not abstract, and that is rooted in local church communities. The voice that resounds throughout the book (one I had not come across before) is of a Baptist pastor and theologian named Carlyle Marney, active in the 1950s and 60s, who Freeman sees as articulating the basis and direction - a Baptist pilgrim road as it were - for Other Baptists. One of the things I most enjoyed about the book is the way Freeman does his theology largely through narrative (pointing to the influence of McClendon and Hauerwas).

Reading the book I found myself saying 'this is me'. I am an Other Baptist, or at least seeking to be. The book in many places was a means of confirmation rather than an initiation into a new way of being Baptist, but this may reflect that my reading habits in the last ten years have been from a similar shelf to Freeman - Hauerwas and Fiddes especially. If you're a signed up catholic Baptist, what there is to enjoy here is the clarity of the argument, the depth of the reading and analysis and done in a way that is particularly Baptist, but at every point with a catholic vision and intention. Freeman is writing theology for the whole church, not just the Baptist branch. Miroslav Volf's 1998 work After the Likeness put John Smyth (and Baptist theology) on the radar for a new audience, Freeman provides a form of sequel in which Smyth and those who have followed in his tracks are the central characters in 'a dissenting movement within the church catholic' (Fiddes).

The message to Baptists then is stop being anti-catholic whether aggressively or with indifference, because if we are not an expression of catholicity, then, if not going too far for Freeman, (and to borrow a phrase from Hauerwas), 'your salvation is in doubt.' The message to everyone else is you need to take us Baptists as offering a catholic tradition and vision that sits alongside others and so is contested. Freeman certainly provides a rich description of that catholic baptist tradition and vision and for that we must thank him.

I read this book over three nights, such was the pull of its narrative and its possibility of being an 'Other' Baptist, it now deserves to be read again, more slowly. I hope many others will do the same.

Book Review: Deep Church Rising by Andrew Walker and Robin Parry

Walker_Parry.DeepChurchRisingAndrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising: The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy (SPCK / Cascade, 2014)

Deep Church Rising is the culmination of Andrew Walker's work. It follows on from his earlier work of Telling the Story (1996) and the edited volumes Different Gospels (1993 [1988]) and Remembering Our Future (2007). Walker with assistance from Robin Parry argues that the future of the church must be a 'deep' one, one that looks to the great traditions of the church as part of its history and future. They are concerned that there is a Third Schism taking place, which looks to set separate Christianity from its theological moorings, that casts doubts on the traditional doctrines of the Trinity, incarnation and resurrection. In their sights are the likes of Don Cupitt, John Robinson, John Hick, Maurice Wiles and Shelby Spong and the more widely read Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, representing in past the wider impact of modernity and postmodernity. Walker and Parry claim we have lost, or are in danger of losing, the gospel and the response is therefore a vital recovery which they call 'Deep Church'. A Deep Church response, they say, is in the practice of right belief, right worship, right living sourced in scripture and tradition and made possible through an intentional catechesis.

The book has three things to say. First it seeks to articulate the dangers the church is facing - the privatisation of belief, worship as entertainment, ethics without telos - all of which threaten Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxis. The faultline on which a possible third schism may occur is precisely a too 'thin' Christianity which has unwittingly wed itself to a consumer age. The target in the authors' sights are (I think) both a liberal Christianity, which wants to jettison key doctrines and an evangelical charismatic Christianity that is too dismissive of the deep catholic traditions of the church. The second is to offer a defence of a catholic Christianity rooted in creeds, sacrament, and catechesis. The future of the church is one that takes seriously the doctrine of the church as articulated in Nicaea, one that takes seriously the celebration of the eucharist, one that takes seriously the catechesis of Christian faith and practice. Walker and Parry argue that where these are marginalised, we have lost the plot, experiencing a gospel amnesia. Thirdly it is a clarion call for a church renewed by the past, a church that has the deep resources which shape its worship and mission to enable it both to survive and flourish. 

The book can be read as an extension of Walker's early forays into 'deep church' or perhaps as a more systematic presentation of deep church. I think while I enjoyed Remembering the Future more as a book, within it were some helpful and creative attempts to explore the implications of a deep church theology, Deep Church Rising offers a more coherent description of its message. The title is an interesting one, is this a signal to a church that needs to rise from its past or is it a statement that the Deep Church movement (that feels too strong a word) has legs. At one point Paternoster had a book series called Deep Church, (commissioned by Parry), but as far as I know it only had three titles: The Gospel Driven Church; Evangelicals and Tradition; and Remembering Our Future. Walker was going to contribute a fourth, and Deep Church Rising is probably that book. The call for a more 'catholic' future for the church is one that has other advocates, for example see the work of James K A Smith and Baptists Steven Harmon and Curtis Freeman, amongst others.

The church should be grateful for Walker (see forthcoming collection of essays Wisdom in the Spirit in his honour) in several ways, this book is one of them and hopefully it will be widely read and find an 'Amen' in those who do.

Book Review: A Brief Theology of Sport by Lincoln Harvey

9780334044185Lincoln Harvey, A Brief Theology of Sport (SCM / Cascade, 2014), 130pp.

In the last couple of years, perhaps partly related to the 2012 Olympics, there has been a flurry of theological reflection on sport in the UK - see special journal editions of Studies in Christian Ethics 25.1 (2012), Anvil (2012) and Practical Theology 5.2 (2012) and Rob Ellis' study The Games People Play (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Amongst this work comes Lincoln Harvey's A Brief Theology of Sport. The title of Harvey's work is a deliberate echo of his theological teacher Colin Gunton's work A Brief Theology of Revelation, who's theology has an indelible mark in this work. The title both highlights the book's key strength and its key weakness. Its key strength is its readability, Harvey's argument is easy to follow, doesn't get weigh down in footnotes or immaterial 'academic' side notes. Its key weakness is it sometimes feels too brief, the reader is left wanting the implications of theological claim to be developed. This might not be a weakness, for in leaving the reader something to do, Harvey offers a good "sermon", in that, he does not to do all the work of application, but lays the ground for others to explore what it means for our discipleship and practice. We must also stress that the title is clear that what Harvey is doing in his book is making a theological argument, which is important when we can too quickly jump to practice. Harvey believes that sport can have a theological rationale in the doctrine of creation.

The book comes in two parts. The first part explores sport within religion and within the Christian tradition. Harvey recognises the ubiquitous-ness of both sport and religion and that they are often intertwined. In terms of the history of the church it has a mixed relationship with sport. For the early church, sport was too embroiled in religious activity of other gods, later sport became a means of supporting the crusades, before being frowned upon by Puritanism, and then from Victorian times onwards, sport becomes a means for evangelism. Harvey demonstrates the popularity of sport, the general negativity from the church, but the occasional 'instrumental use' where it suited the church's purposes.

The second part explores what sport is and then provides two chapters which establish sport within a Christian doctrine of creation. Harvey's argument is that sport exists in and for itself. He writes, in what is a good summary of his argument: 'Sport is not worship. Worship is the liturgical celebration of who God is with us. Sport is the liturgical celebration of who we are by ourselves' (p.94). In this he separates sport from all other activities that 'is not worship' (p.96). Sport is unique in only being for its own sake and 'not directed to the glory of God'. That is a big claim! I wonder how those engaged in the theology of the arts, drama or music might respond, should we see sport like them, or is sport unique?

Chapter 9 offers 'seven avenues for further thought'. Here the brevity is frustrating as Harvey teases us with what in a longer study may well receive at least a chapter each. The seven avenues are rules, competition, idolatry, sport and war, professional sport, gender and sport and good and bad sports. In identifying the problem of idolatry in sport, Harvey identities the sin, but offers no remedy. In discussing professional sport, he argues that 'true sport is amateur sport, professional sport a corruption' (p.105), which begged for further ethical reflection on how Christians might respond or participate in professional sport, which dominates our lives. It is in this section, in a footnote, that a key question is asked of Harvey. Harvey writes that just as sex should not be professionalized, either as porn or prostitution, and so the question is begged (asked by a friend), is his ongoing attendance at the Emirates Stadium to watch Arsenal play football not the equivalent of watching pornography (p.109ff.). The final avenue in terms of good and bad sports felt also tantalising, Harvey suggests some sports could not be defended on theological grounds and some sports will be more faithful (my word) theologically.

In the concluding comments, Harvey highlights what its like to go to the football on a Saturday and church on a Sunday. The argument of the book is that properly understood they should not be in competition, but I wonder if they are more in competition than Harvey allows. He recognises the problems of supporting Arsenal, but appears to live with them, rather than identifying possible ways to subvert or confront them. I wonder if football or other sports shape a person's life much more than a Sunday morning in church.

Harvey is to be congratulated in opening up sport for theological reflection and laying down some key ground work and further lines of thinking. It deserves to be widely read, especially by the avid sport followers in our churches. This reader is left asking for Harvey to help us engage further, developing the lines of thought intellectually, imaginatively and practically (see the introduction to Sam Well's Learning to Dream Again).

Book Review: Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul edited by Chris Tilling

Tilling_Front_thumb[3]Chris Tilling (ed.), Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul: Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell (Cascade, 2014), 341pp.

It is now five years since Douglas Campbell's mammoth The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Reading of Justification by Faith (Eerdmans, 2009) appeared. Campbell criticises both old and new perspectives on Paul, for what he sees as a commitment to particular renderings of justification by faith. He offers a fresh reading of Romans, in particular Romans 1-4. In the last five years a number of reviews have been published, many critical of Campbell's work (see here).

This collection of essays is an opportunity to engage Campbell's work from a number of perspectives, getting to the heart of many of Campbell's claims in Deliverance. For those put off by the length and complexity of Campbell's argument in Deliverance, Beyond Old and New Perspectives provides a different way of getting to grips with Campbell's thesis and its implications. It is fair to say that Campbell has some friends in this book, as well as those who want to test and ask questions of him as well. 

Campbell is first and foremost a New Testament scholar, but he also has strong theological instincts and an eye for historical theology. Tilling has lined up a range of interlocutors - Alan Torrance (systematic theology), Graham Tomlin (Luther), Warren Smith (historical theology), Robin Griffith-Jones (Classics), David Hilborn (theology), Kate Bowler (church history), Brittany Wilson (New Testament), Scott Hafemann (New Testament), Curtis Freeman (evangelical theology) and himself. Great to see Freeman, a Baptist theologian, writing favourably of Campbell's thesis. Campbell himself contributes four chapters and offers short responses to each of the other chapters as well. The book also reprints in an appendix two of James Torrance's important (at least for Campbell) essays on covenant theology.

The book favours Campbell and his argument, at no point is he put on the ropes. Here perhaps it might have been different if Campbell was put up against his colleague at Duke, Richard Hays, or Tom Wright or three of his most critical reviewers Francis Watson, Barry Matlock or Grant Macaskill. As far as I know Hays has nothing in print that responds to Campbell's work. Wright on the other hand (I understand) will offer a response in Paul and his Recent Interpreters (see also footnotes in Paul and the Faithfulness of God).

The book demonstrates where Campbell has refined his argument in places in the five years since publication, perhaps most notably he now suggests Romans 1.18-32 is an example of parody rather than speech in character. Campbell has also since 2009 begun to situate his argument as Athanasius versus Arius (Campbell reading Paul Athanasiusly), contending that how we read Paul is not just matter of exegesis but of the gospel in its entirety. I would have like to see have seen Campbell respond more directly to Brittany Wilson's presentation of Beverly Gaventa's work (he chooses not to name Gaventa at all in his short response). The chapters by Bowler and Freeman demonstrate how pervasive particular presentations of the gospel that Campbell wants to challenge, are within Western Christianity. Campbell, Tilling and others who are supportive of his project have a huge task in shifting hearts and minds. 

At the end of this year Campbell will publish Framing Paul, which sets out his views on how to construct Paul's biography from his letters and he is halfway through a theological commentary on Romans, tentatively titled The End of Religion.

Chris Tilling has put together an excellent book that sets out the Campbell stall and brings it under scrutiny in ways that help clarify and push the debate further. Long-term readers of this blog, will know I am big fan of Campbell's work. It offers to my mind the best construal of Paul's theology, especially of Romans. So for those who have never read Campbell, or who are yet to be convinced, I recommend giving Beyond Old and Perspectives on Paul a read.

Book Review: Honey From the Lion by Doug Gay

1530373_10152172033911323_478623739_nDoug Gay, Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the Ethics of Nationalism (SCM, 2013)

With the deafening silence amongst Baptists on the question of Scottish independence, save the one lone voice of Stuart Blythe, crying out like a voice in the desert, that the church engage, Doug Gay's book is a welcome and timely contribution. Baptists please read!

Honey from the Lion is a work of political and practical theology. We need more of this type of work - that is theologically rigorous, but wanting to shape practice within church, academy and other political institutions. We need more of this type of work when big political questions are before us. Doug Gay's book is not an academic exercise, he genuinely cares about the decision before the Scottish peoples and wants especially Christians to think theologically about the choices before them.  

The book is written for a wide audience, but this is not a work in the 'popular' sense. Some effort will be needed as Gay engages with the multiple disciplines of history, bible, theology, contemporary politics and even some economics! 

The book argues for the possibility of a good nationalism against those who only have bad things to say about it (often amongst Christians). Before Scotland is the opportunity to shape a good nationalism, a nationalism that offers a society shaped by love and joy, freedom, justice and equality, and addresses issues of land and law and is both complex and peaceful (chapter 3). This kind of nationalism must renounce imperialism (a nationalism of domination), essentialism (a nationalism of biology) and absolutism (a nationalism that recognises it is under God). In a footnote, Gay says that his aim is 'not to suggest "baptizing" nationalism, but to ask what kind of nationalism, baptized people could support' (p.81n).

If the first half of the book sets out a theological account of 'better' nationalism, supported by an ecumenical political theology and the Christian idea of a society, the second half finds it focus in the Scottish question. Gay traces the history of Scotland from the beginnings of the United Kingdom to its present experience of devolution and then notes, as Scotland as held more power over its governing, what has worked well and not so well. The next chapter argues that now is the moment to 'call time' on the United Kingdom for four reasons: one, the persistent problem of England-dominating discourse; two, a political problem that English MPs dominate the UK parliament, and whilst devolution has reduced this democratic deficit, it still remains in particular areas and matters; three, a cultural problem that Scottish culture has been marginalised; and four, the problem of economics, in this most hotly contest of areas, Gay suggests that an economically independent Scotland, may not be a richer one, but could well be a more equal one. The final two chapters before the conclusion, see Gay's argument for what an independent Scotland might look like and the place of the monarchy and perhaps more importantly that of the church within a new Scottish constitution.

Gay makes a persuasive argument that independence may be the best thing for both Scotland and for what will be the rest of the United Kingdom. Scottish independence could pave the way for a renewal of politics. However we may feel or vote (if we're Scottish) on the question of independence, Doug Gay has provided a helpful book for the Christian to reflect theologically on how the church might engage with these issues and play a part what the decision may be. At the very least, Gay's book argues that the church cannot remain silent and must be involved, offering a distinctive Christian idea of society, albeit one with a post-Christendom voice.

I hope Gay's book is widely read by many, not least, Scottish (and may be even some English [and Welsh and Northern Irish]) Baptists.