Monday, December 28, 2015

Books of the Year: 2015

Last year I never got around to writing my books of the year post. But it's back this year after a year off! This year, most of my reading covered the church of the first four or five centuries focusing particularly on Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine. I did find some time to fit in a few other books as well, some of which are represented.

5. Framing Paul by Douglas Campbell


When you read Campbell you know you are going to get vigorous, well explained, interesting proposals. That certainly is the case here. His discussion of the use of statistics related to style in the determination of authorship is excellent and several of his proposals are very interesting, particularly his identification of Ephesians as the letter to the Laodiceans.

4. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies eds. Susan Harvey and David Hunter


I came into the year with a minimal background in early Christian studies. This handbook was extremely helpful as I was gaining my bearings. Each essay is very informative and the bibliographies are up to date. It's a must own reference for anyone who wants to learn more about the first five centuries of Christianity.



This was a very nice, helpful book on a difficult topic. Middelton provides an overview of martyrdom in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions. He also provides helpful framework for understanding and discussing the modern phenomenon as well.

2. Paul within Judaism  eds. Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm


I love Pauline studies, and it makes me sad that I don't get to read nearly as much as I'd like in this area. I'm very glad that I did get to read this edited volume. The contributions were consistently of a very high caliber and it helped open up a new way to see Paul. I am not completely convinced yet of the Jewish portrait of Paul presented in this volume but it's not one that can be easily dismissed. I look forward to further engagement with this viewpoint when my time eventually frees up.

1. First Principles by Origen


My apologies to all of the Augustine fans out there, but I found Origen to be the most brilliant and enriching figure to engage with from the first five centuries of Christianity. On First Principles is the most systematic presentation of his thought, though it is from an early period, and some of his thinking did develop as he aged.


Now for the books that came out in 2015 that I'm most excited about but haven't read yet.


5. First Isaiah by J.J.M. Roberts


The time was ripe for a full scale critical commentary on First Isaiah and I think J.J.M. Roberts is up to the task. I'm looking forward to picking this volume up sometime soon.

4. The Work of Theology by Stanley Hauerwas


The more I work on writing my theology the more acutely aware I am of how difficult it is, and how difficult it will be to move past the descriptive phase. I am so grateful that a gifted theologian like Hauerwas would write this book at the end of his career.

3. I Still Believe eds. John Byron and Joel Lohr


I definitely am not a fan of devotional/inspirational Christian literature. I don't think this work will fall into the trap of superficiality or sappiness. I have a deep respect for several of the contributors to this volume and I hope it encourages me as I expect some of them have struggled with doubt in similar areas to my own.

2. Becoming the Gospel by Michael Gorman


No single scholar has impacted the way I live more than Michael Gorman. I expect this book to be the fullest expression of Paul's view of the Christian way of life.

1. Paul and the Gift by John Barclay


That this is number one should be a surprise to no one. Barclay is a gifted scholar and I look forward to deepening my understanding of Paul's view of God's grace.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

You can read the text here.

In this section Paul writes very personally to the Thessalonians. It's overflowing with love and concern for their spiritual well being.[1] Paul missed the Thessalonians very badly and really wanted to visit them, but Satan blocked his path. Not only did Paul care about them, but they also were the evidence of how well he fulfilled his calling before God. If they remained faithful, then he was faithful to his calling and would be deemed victorious by God on the last day. The positive report he had heard buoyed his confidence that he would be vindicated.[2]

Paul wanted to come himself, but when he couldn't make and also couldn't wait any longer he sent Timothy, who was well known to the Thessalonians to check in on them and to encourage them to stay faithful to Jesus. Following Jesus changed a lot of relationships for the Thessalonians and made participation in the common life of their city difficult.[3] This was something Paul warned them about. They were each others family now, and so was Paul, from whom they were separated. It was hard on both of them.[4] He knew it would be hard, so he sent Timothy to encourage them and to find out how they were doing.

Timothy brought back good news. The Thessalonians had stayed faithful,[5] and were full of love for one another and for Paul. This news brought Paul much relief through the trials he continued to face as he traveled around proclaiming the gospel, joy that he regularly expressed in prayer on their behalf. He also regularly asked God to allow him to return to see them once again.

Paul then shifts into a prayer of thanksgiving where he also prays for continued growth on the part of the Thessalonians. While Paul was not there long, he gave the Thessalonians a pattern of love to follow (a pattern he continued to demonstrate in this letter), and he urged them to follow it. Their love was the demonstration of their loyalty to Jesus and would bring about their vindication on the last day.

For one additional note. Gaventa has some nice comments on applying the passage on pp. 47-48. I want to quote a couple here as they are worth reflecting on.

"...this text emphasizes the vulnerability of the Christian preacher or teacher. The connection forged with those who are congregants or students is such that church leaders are themselves highly susceptible if those in their "charge," so to speak, turn aside." (p. 47).

"Paul may be speaking hyperbolically when he says "we now live, if you continue to stand firm," but he reveals something central to Christian faith and life. This is not an arena in which the rejoinder, "What I believe is my own business! can be recognized and respected." (p. 47-48).

"Because of God's actions, the apostles and the Thessalonians are irretrievably connected with one another." (p. 48).

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[1] Both Gaventa and Fee underscore this point very well.

[2] Gaventa deems Paul's confidence to be profoundly bold.

[3] So Malherbe.

[4] Malherbe notes that Paul's emphasis on his aloneness throughout this passage signals empathy for the Thessalonians and their newly isolated status.

[5] All three commentaries are consistent in affirming that Paul means faithfulness throughout this section and not just faith, if understood to refer to assent only.