Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: "Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes" by Kenneth E. Bailey

Here is the scoop:

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians
(PTME) is classic Kenneth E. Bailey. You have lucid exposition, plenty of rhetorical analysis, usage of Syriac and other ancient sources, sound cultural analysis and excellent application. In fact, it probably will stand out as one of the better resources available on 1 Corinthians in years to come. The list of positive reviews on the back of this book reads like a who's who in Biblical studies.


I just am not sold 100%. Don't get me wrong--PTME is great. It is a real achievement. But so many things send up warning flags to me as I read it. Here are a few:

1) Rhetorical analysis of the Bible, by nature, is tricky business. Almost anything can fit some poetic structure. It becomes almost too easy to say, "Paul is speaking in *insert some form of poetic prose here*. Kenneth Bailey does this throughout the ENTIRE book. I am just not sold. There are more than a few times where I just do not see the parallelism. I think he stretches it too far.

2) His uses of Jewish tradition often seem to be anachronisms, read back into the text.

3) Bailey tends to take his experiences in the Middle East and read them back into the text. He does this, for instance, in his analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 when he mentions men praying with their head uncovered. It's a good stab at a tricky passage, I suppose. But I feel extremely uncomfortable reading my experience today back into a nearly 2000 year old document.

So get the book. There is so much gold to find within the pages and so many fresh insights that there is no reason not to pick it up. However, when you do, read cautiously and with discernment.

*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a review.*

Friday, January 20, 2012

Justification: Five Views Review

Ever have one of those conversations that just won't end? Like you can't wait for it to be over and yet it just drags on and on. You look for ways to get out and eventually, you just have to groan and get through it.

I really feel that way about the whole justification debate. It just keeps going and going. People keep fighting over it and writing different perspectives on it.

You have the Reformed position on one side and the New Perspective on another side and the mediating position and the Catholic position. They keep quoting the same passages and making reference to Second Temple Judaism and after a while the weary reader just wants to step back and say, "Uh, can we move on yet?"

The whole thing is a shame because justification is a central doctrine for the Christian faith. If we miss the mark on this thing we can go into some dangerous territory such as salvation by works.

Which is why I sometimes get frustrated with books like Justification: Five Views. It isn't that the contributors aren't fantastic. You have Michael Horton, James Dunn, Michael Bird, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, and Gerald Collins and Oliver Rafferty. It is like a dream team of theologians coming together to debate justification. You know the essays are going to be, for the most part, solid (with the odd exceptions of Karkkkainen's and Collins/Rafferty's).

The problem is that at the end of the day, there is almost no progress made in the debate. There simply is not enough room in each essay to cover the topic well. This is a complex debate and, sadly, there just isn't enough room to cover the topic well. Worse, the reader can get the impression that each view is equally, possibly, correct. There can be no real exegesis done and most of the time we are left with summary statements. But then again, I suppose the five views books are really just supposed to be introduction. As an introduction, the book does ok.

But at times it just seems like it makes an already long conversation go longer. Take that for what you will.

I mentioned above that Karkkainen and Collin/Rafferty's chapters were not quite up to par. Let me be a bit more forceful--they are not good chapters. While the first three contributors do a really good job given the restrains the second half of the book is just weak. Karkkainen does no exegesis and Collin/Rafferty's chapter is a weird mix of a historical overview and an autobiography. I had no feel for what the contributors actually believed. It was just baffling and sadly, they lower the overall quality of the book.

So should you buy the book? Believe it or not, I think the answer is yes. Why? Because, to date, there is no book I am aware of that provides a side by side look at each view. For those who are "up" on the conversation, there is some clarity provided--I found it beneficial. I think those who have not read much in the justification debate are going to walk away a bit confused at points but will find it overall useful.

So let the conversation continue...and continue...and continue...
 *I received a review copy from IVP Academic in exchange for a fair review*