Review: Talking Doctrine

26116052Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet is a collection of essays culminating from nearly two decades of intentional inter-faith dialogue between Evangelicals and Mormons. The collection essays are diverse and address a wide assortment of topics that are traditionally associated with the Mormon-Evangelical discussion. Accordingly, the book is helpfully organized underneath two general section headings: (1) the nature of the dialogue and (1) specific doctrinal discussions. It is here that the conversation begins.

The opening section of Talking Doctrine helpfully sets the tone for the conversation ahead. The reader is first brought into the background and context of the project. It is here that the reader encounters the charitable character exhibited in the exchange. The tone is respectful and cordial despite the clear theological differences. As an Evangelical who appreciates inter-faith dialogue and worldview analysis, I found this first section of the book to be an exciting and appropriate demonstration of how responsible exchange should be facilitated. However, I also found myself a bit concerned with the soft-handed approach of some of the Evangelical contributors.

The subsequent section turns more pointedly towards the specific doctrinal differences traditionally witnessed between Mormons and Evangelicals. This interaction was helpful and appropriately modeled. Although, as someone who interacts with Mormons with some level of frequency, I would be hard-pressed to believe that the Mormon contributors of this volume represent the theological convictions of the missionaries that knock on my door. Still, the honest and candid conversation about the trinity, grace, the origins of mankind, the nature of God, deification, and authority are well worth the price of the book—especially if you engage in similar conversations regularly.

Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation is a valuable book if for no other reason than it models the effectiveness of a relationally driven inter-faith dialogue. If compassion for people and understanding of worldview are absent from our efforts to pursue truth, then our efforts will ultimately fail. There will inevitably be several points of disagreement throughout the book for both Mormons and Evangelicals, both in methodology and affirmation, but the book has undoubtedly accomplished what it intended to accomplish. If you are in the market for an up-to-date exploration into some of the similarities and differences between current theological trends shaping Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity, the present volume is a suitable entry point.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

 

Book Review: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

8103566James D. G. Dunn is no stranger to the world of Early Christianity. In fact, it has been said of Dunn, “Anyone who is interested in the rigorous study of early Christianity and who has not engaged with the works of James D. G. Dunn is not really interested in the rigorous study of early Christianity” (The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins, 2004). Dunn is Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. He received an M.A. and B.D. from the University of Glasgow and a Ph.D. and D.D. from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of numerous books, including, The Evidence for Jesus (1985), Romans 1-8 & 9-16 in the Word Biblical Commentary series (1988), Jesus Remembered, Christianity in the Making, vol. 1 (2003), Beginning from Jerusalem, Christianity in the Making, vol. 2 (2009), as well as the present volume and the subject of this review: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence (2010).

Everything that I have read by Dunn has been well-written and thoroughly engaging. He is consistently both scholarly and accessible to the average reader, and Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? displays the marriage of these two realities well. Though it must be said that the content within may not be easily welcomed by conservative evangelicals. The book begins with a brief introduction where Dunn reveals his conversation partners—Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado—and builds the case for his investigation with a number of sub-questions that become the focus of the subsequent chapters. The thesis of the book is also laid on the table twofold: (1) for the first Christians worship of Jesus was a way of worshiping YHWH, and (2) the contemporary worship of Jesus now witnessed is only possible or acceptable within what is now understood as a Trinitarian framework (p. 6).  In Chapter one Dunn examines the language of worship in the New Testament as applied to Jesus. He concludes that there is no real concrete evidence that worship language, as applied to God, was ever directly applied to Jesus. According to Dunn the worship language found within the New Testament was never explicitly directed at Jesus, rather it was directed at God for Jesus (p. 27-28). Chapter two carries much of the same theme of ambiguity as Dunn examines at the practice of worship in relation to the person of Jesus (i.e. prayer and sacrifice). Dunn writes, “in earliest Christianity, Christ was never understood as the one to whom sacrifice was offered, even when the imagery of sacrifice was used symbolically for Christian service” (p. 56).

As Dunn moves toward the topic in closer detail, chapter three addresses the topic of monotheism, heavenly mediators, and divine agents. This was an interesting chapter and most readers will likely find it to be a highpoint in the book. Dunn examines Paul’s reframing of the Shema, the divine personification of Spirit, Wisdom, and Word in light of the early Christian claims about Jesus, as well as exalted human beings such as Moses, Elijah, and Enoch. Dunn historically concludes that none of these entities were treated as a rightful recipient of worship, and thus either was Jesus to the first Christians. The final chapter is the heartbeat of the book and crucial to Dunn’s thesis. If the reader is able to read only a single chapter from the book this is the chapter to read. In chapter four Dunn address a number of stimulating topics related to the proposed question of the book, such as Jesus’s view of monotheism, the New Testament texts that appear to refer to Jesus as YHWH (i.e. 1 Corinthians 8:6; 15:24-28), as well as related issues within the Fourth Gospel and Revelation. As the book concludes Dunn warns the reader of the dangers of an oversimplified answer to the question. It’s not that simple according to Dunn. So, did the first Christians worship Jesus? Dunn concludes, “No, by and large the first Christians did not worship Jesus as such . . . so our central question can indeed be answered negatively, and perhaps it should be” (p. 150-151).
As stated above, everything that I have read by Dunn has been well-written and thoroughly engaging. He is consistently scholarly and accessible to the average reader, and Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? displays the union of these two realities well. Nonetheless, the content within this book may not be as easily welcomed by conservative evangelicals. Still, Dunn will make you think long and hard about your reading of Scripture and history. While I would largely align myself in opposition to Dunn’s conclusion, and in full disclosure did so prior to reading the book, I personally discovered many benefits in his contribution to this ongoing conversation. Consequently, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence is a commendable book, and I am certain that it will be enjoyed and discussed often by the interested reader.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: Handbook of Religion

18652917Finding a reliable resource that surveys the religious landscape of this contemporary world is a daunting task. Not because there is a lack of resources, but because there is a lack of good resources. In fact, the options for such resources are almost beyond count, but the content therein is often mediocre at best. This is true across the board for all faith systems who actively seek to engage other religious worldviews. However, with the release of Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices (Baker Academic, 2014), the once difficult task of sifting through growing mountains of possibilities for useful information has become a whole lot easier for the Christian. Handbook of Religion is a comprehensive compendium of Christian engagement with the various manifestations of religious belief around the world. This type of book is nothing new to the market, but the judicious execution and intentionality interaction of this resource are unique beyond anything else currently available.

Handbook of Religion opens with a strong introduction to properly orient and familiarize the reader with the Christian engagement of other religions. The book is then divided into four subsequent sections: (1) World Religions, (2) Indigenous Religions, (3) New Religious Movements, and (4) Essays. First, the “World Religions” section seeks to interact with some of the major world religions from a Christian perspective (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam). Each major world religion is discussed in detail, including interaction with the history, beliefs, and practices of the religious system. Moreover, specific chapters on each major religion are dedicated to Christian contact, theological exchanges, current issues, and adherent essays. Second, the “Indigenous Religions” section seeks to interact with some of the native religions around the world. This section follows the same format as the prior, but the religions are discussed geographically as opposed to with specified titles (i.e. India, China, Europe, Africa, Oceania, etc.). Third, the “New Religious Movements” (NRM) section seeks to interact with some of the more recent religious phenomenon around the world (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Satanism, Atheism, etc.). This section, like the prior two sections, follows the same chapter format of discussion. Lastly, the “Essays” section provides a number of useful essays concerned with religious engagement with broader social issues (i.e. science, gender, violence, human rights, environment, etc.).

Handbook of Religion is prosperous in the execution of the intended goal for several reasons. First, the breadth of interaction in this resources reaches every corner of the earth—literally. It is easy to find resources that engage the major world religions from a Christian perspective, but rarely will the reader encounter a comprehensive look into the indigenous religions. This will better prepare the sensitive reader to serve in these areas. Second, the vast diversity of contributors to this volume is incredibly valuable for the reader. A total of fifty-five of the top religion scholars in the world, representing a broad spectrum of Christianity and other religious faith systems, contributed to this volume under the editorial guidance of Terry C. Muck, Harold A. Netland, and Gerald R. McDermott. Third, the inclusion of an “Adherent Essay” brings balance and insight where balance and insight is needed. Fourth, each essay concludes with a brief bibliography. This will help the curious reader investigate deeper as interest arises. Fifth, the generous number of “Study Aid” sections throughout the volume bring the reader in contact with helpful charts, maps, timelines, and sidebar discussions. I personally found the timelines to be extremely helpful when examining the history of the religions, and I think the reader will as well. Lastly, the layout of the volume is extremely user-friendly. This may not seem like a big deal for most, but the content on a page is only as good as it is able to be consumed by the reader. If the content is a burden to consume it is nearly useless. This volume delivers solid and digestible content in an inviting and engaging environment—a combination not often seen, and rarely executed well.

Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices may appear as just another mediocre world religion textbook from a Christian perspective, but don’t let your presumptions lead you astray. This volume is comprehensive in scope and judicious in examination. Muck, Netland, and McDermott have assembled an appropriate team for the task of this resource and the reader will benefit greatly from having it on their bookshelf. Normally a review on a book of this caliber would conclude with a recommendation to pastors, teachers, and students, but this would be highly misdirected. If you are a Christian living in this world and engaging those around you, this book should be in arms reach of your nightly reading chair and consulted often.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.