Book Review: Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)

Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)Every so often a book comes along and truly rewrites the paradigms of a field. Some twenty-five years ago, David Noebel penned such a book, titled Understanding the Times. In this 900-page tome Noebel outlined the clash between competing worldviews – ways of viewing and interpreting the world – which were occurring throughout in the late 20th century. The original edition of UTT was one of the most popular and influential books ever on culture and worldviews from a Christian perspective, transforming how many people understand the battle of ideas taking place in our times. But the contours of major worldviews have changed since 1991 and the world has changed along with them. To address this new worldviews context, Jeff Myers, in conjunction with David Noebel, undertook a substantial revision of Noebel’s classic work, now called Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries and Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 510pp.). Continue reading

Book Review: The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel

Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel (Boer)In The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel, Roland Boer offers an economic study intended to bring contemporary social science into dialogue with the world of Ancient Israel. Focusing on the allocation and extraction economic patterns in ancient Israel and the historic interplay between these institutional systems, Boer argues that a Marxist analysis of the economic and social world of ancient Israel reveals a sacred complexity of economic institutions and activities which existed in tension with one another. As correlative arguments, Boer pushes back against postclassical assumptions of a proto-market economy in ancient Israel, advocates for a broader application of social scientific research to biblical studies, argues for an integrated understanding of the sacred and secular in Israel, and in contrast to numerous contemporary studies contends that a complexity of institutions formed the basis of ancient Israel’s economy. Central to this study are the five building blocks of ancient Israel’s religiously regulated sacred economy—subsistence survival, kinship households, patronage, estates, and tribute exchanges—and the three regimes in which these foundational institutions developed—systems of subsistence, palatine, and booty. Continue reading

Book Review: Fields of Blood (Armstrong)

Fields of BloodFor many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” Continue reading

A (Free) College Education for Everyone?

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.
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Magdalen College, Oxford

You may have heard that last week President Obama announced an initiative to provide “free” community college education for qualifying students, tentatively defined as those maintaining a “C” average in school. As noted several months ago here at Conciliar Post, the status quo of the American education system needs reform, as the overall monetary and policy prioritization of K-12 education has done relatively little to effectively educate America’s youth and prepare them for their future vocations.1 Few deny that something needs to change in education, though conclusions as to just what that something is remain debated. The purposes of this article involve neither rehashing these concerns nor reacting to our President’s particular proposal—for actual details are scant at this point.2 Rather, this article considers the generalities of “free college education” for everyone, just one part of the greater “education question” that faces our nation. To these ends, I reflect on three questions concerning the cost, need, and implications of a program offering “free” community college education. Continue reading

Book Review: Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods (Ed. Fiensy and Strange)

Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Early Mishnaic PeriodsA longstanding problem for those attempting to study early Christianity involves the obscurity of the first centuries of the Common Era. Though nearly constantly reflected upon and studied since those years faded into the past, there remain numerous gaps in our understanding of the world and context of Jesus and his earliest followers. Unfortunately, this fact becomes especially noticeable when examining conceptions of how Second Temple Judaism and those living in Ancient Palestine impacted the subsequent shape of early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. To help address this gap and to introduce the recent textual and archaeological findings from this important period comes Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods: Life, Culture, and Society: Volume One (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), edited by David A. Fiensy and James Riley Strange. Continue reading

Book Review: The Joy of the Gospel (Pope Francis)

The Joy of the GospelFew people alive today are more popular and polarizing than Pope Francis. No one seems sure quite how to respond to the Bishop of Rome, nor are they sure whose side (if any) he is taking in ongoing theological and cultural debates. Sensational media claims about Francis “revolutionizing” the Catholic faith are overblown, to be sure, but Catholics of a staunch traditionalist bent also right in noting that the current successor to Peter is no mirror image of his papal predecessors. It was thus with great anticipation that I read Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, if for no other reason than to engage the Pope on his own terms. Continue reading

Parable of the Prodigal Son: Luise Schottroff

This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Luise Schottroff

Luise Schottroff

Having surveyed Hultgren and Rohrbaugh’s perspectives in our two previous posts, we now turn to feminist scholar Luise Schottroff’s interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son found within The Parables of Jesus. In this work Schottroff embeds her feminist critique of oppression and patriarchy within the interpretive hermeneutic of the socio-historical method.[1] She employs the socio-historical method with the understood purpose of explaining the details of the text and providing a foundation from which to understand the social function of that text.[2] For Schottroff, parables cannot be understood as allegorical accounts with purely metaphoric meanings and interpretations.[3] Rather, she argues that parables should be understood as a contextually situated literary form that presumes a response by those who hear the narrative and gives rise to a resulting action.[4] Simply put, even with our modern reading of parable narratives “a response is always part of a parable” in Schottroff’s reading.[5] Schottroff also displays a strong critical awareness of several hermeneutical assumptions within New Testament interpretation that she argues need to be critical analyzed and rejected in our modern context, including the assumption of Christian superiority over other religions, dualisms in theological construction, assumptions that provide the foundation for notions of guilt, sin, and suffering through violence, and the common Christian perception of the ‘duty’ to maintain the social status quo and its structures of power.[6] Further, Schottroff emphasizes the importance of rediscovering the Gospel of the Poor within the words and parables of Jesus and rejecting any and all reasons for ignoring or interpreting the words of Jesus that concern domination and poverty other than the proclamation of the Gospel of the Poor.[7] As Schottroff embeds her methodological framework with both a feminist awareness as well as socio-historical methodology, she pays a great of attention to the context of those who would have first been exposed to the literary parables of Jesus, especially their socio-religious context with regard to Torah and their eschatological expectations concerning not the coming kingdom of God, but regarding the ‘nearness’ of God speaking now.[8] To sum Schottroff’s methodological focus, we see that she writes as one critically aware of the traditional socio-historical method, as one fully embedded in the feminist critiques of traditional patriarchal interpretations and methodology, and additionally gives special care to a renewed eschatological understanding that emphasizes the action that results from the delivery of the parable. Continue reading