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Perspectives on Paul | Ernst Käsemann

The cover of Kasemann's Perspectives on PaulErnst Käsemann (1906-1998) was a German theologian who earned his doctorate under the supervision of Rudolf Bultmann. Perspectives on Paul is a collection of seven essays which are based on four lectures he gave in America along with three additional articles. Each focus (as you might expect) on an element of Pauline theology.

As with any fifty year old theology book, it’s not enough to read the author’s argument—you have to understand what the author is reacting against. This is especially true here since, “[c]ontroversy is the breath of life to a German theologian, and mutual discussion is the duty of us all” (60). Käsemann’s sparing partners include Hans Conzelmann and Krister Stendahl. As if anticipating Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism (which was published a full decade later), Käsemann argues strongly for a view of justification which is fundamentally individual—over against Judaistic interpretation of the law. On the basis of Pauline thought, Käsemann argues that the justification of the sinner—not salvation history—is the centre of the Christian proclamation.

His words are eloquent.

Salvation never consists in our being given something, however wonderful. Salvation, always, is simply God himself in his presence for us. To be justified means that the creator remains faithful to the creature, as the father remained faithful to the prodigal son, in spite of guilt, error and ungodliness; it means that he changes the fallen and apostate into new creatures, that in the midst of the world of sin and death he once more raises up and fulfils the promises we have misused. (74-5)

Perspectives on Paul reminds the reader why Käsemann is one of the key Pauline interpreters of the twentieth century.


Käsemann, Ernst. Perspectives on Paul. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Phenomenological Research Methods | Clark Moustakas

The cover of Moustakas' Phenomenological Research MethodsPhenomenology is a philosophical perspective which has been co-opted by diverse professionals to serve as a qualitative research method. Clark Moustakas details, in his concise book, how to develop and execute a phenomenological research project.

Following Cresswell and Poth‘s recommendation, I chose this book along with van Manen’s Phenomenology of Practice as two key texts to further my understanding of phenomenological research methods. Unlike van Manen, Moustakas focuses more on research methodology than the philosophy itself. In fact, the chapters which situate method in philosophy are dense and challenging to understand without deeper philosophical background. (I was fortunate to have read van Manen’s book first.)

The strength of Moustakas’ book is his detailed yet straight-forward description of the actual process of phenomenological research. Moustakas centres almost exclusively on the original transcendental phenomenological vision of Edmund Husserl and describes how to apply his vision to modern research questions. This involves the epoche and reduction along with imaginative variation which prepares the researcher to create a synthesis of textural and structural descriptions of the phenomenon.

This book, along with van Manen’s Phenomenology of Practice, should be in the toolbox of every phenomenological researcher.


Moustakas, Clark. Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1994.

Phenomenology of Practice | Max van Manen

The cover of van Manen's Phenomenology of PracticePhenomenology is a philosophical tradition first described by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). Phenomenology eschews post-event theorizing in an attempt to return ‘to the things themselves.’ Using a method called the reduction, phenomenologists bracket out all post-hoc interpretation and attempt to see the actual phenomenon in its prereflexive immediacy.

The philosophers that followed Husserl (Scheler, Stein, Heidegger, Patočka) expanded, challenged, and modified Husserl’s thought, giving it legs that in turn inspired existentialists like Sartre and de Beaurevoir and more language-based philosophers like Gadamer and Ricoeur. Still, phenomenology was first-and-foremost a philosophical way of understanding the world.

This changed in the early 1950s when various professional university faculties began to approach their own fields phenomenologically. Now psychology, pedagogy, medicine, and other fields were explored using phenomenological reduction.

Van Manen’s book is brilliant in a couple different ways. First, he offers an evocative look at the philosophy of phenomenology before transitioning to qualitative research methods. This grounds the reader in the right perspective from the start. Second, this book is a phenomenological text in itself. Van Manen writes evocatively, conveying a sense of wonder about the world.

Phenomenology of Practice is no simplistic follow-these-steps-and-produce-a-phenomenological-study guide. It’s far more valuable than that. This book will awaken the philosopher-researcher’s desire to do phenomenology both in an academic setting as well as in daily life.


Van Manen, Max. Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-Giving Methods in Phenomenological Research and Writing. New York: Routledge, 2016.

The Vorrh | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The VorrhIn the heart of Africa lies the Vorrh, a primal forest from which the world was created. The Vorrh is not a place to be wandered into lightly—it changes people, erasing memories.

The Vorrh appealed to me because the premise echoed Vandermeer’s gripping Southern Reach Trilogy. Furthermore, Vandermeer’s blurb on the back cover said The Vorrh “is unlike anything I’ve read.” I had to find out for myself.

B. Catling, a poet, sculptor, painter, and performance artist turned novelist, has created a compelling surrealist fantasy. It’s a world where an orphan cyclops raised by robots lives alongside historical figures like experimental photographer Eadweard Muybridge and French author Raymond Roussel. At times it reminded me of some of Michael Ende’s Mirror Within the Mirror stories.

Speaking of Muybridge leads me to my only criticism of the book. Some of the plot threads refuse to coalesce. I finished the book thinking that Muybridge’s narrative could have been a separate novel without effecting the primary narrative of The Vorrh. I have read that in his sequel, The Erstwhile, Catling has tightened his storytelling. I can hardly wait dive back into Catling’s vision.


Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

An Evangelical Christology | Bernard L. Ramm

The cover of Ramm's An Evangelical ChristologyNineteen eighty-three was a frightening time to be an evangelical theologian. Liberal, existential, process, and liberation theologies (to name a few) put pressure on conservatives to respond, but many felt untrained for the specialized tasks of redaction, form, and textual criticism. Evangelicals had two choices: ignore or engage. Ramm chose to fight.

An Evangelical Christology is two books rolled into one. On the one hand, Ramm states with clarity the various elements of Christology. The further into the book you read, however, the larger the second purpose looms: this book is a manual for war. It is never enough for Ramm to state what he believes—he defines his views as opposed to liberal theology, especially that of Rudolf Bultmann.

The overall method Ramm uses to fight back is revealed in the subtitle: “Ecumenic and Historic”. Ramm begins with the classic creeds—Apostolic, Nicene, Chalcedon, etc.—and shows how evangelical christology stands in line with church history (and how his liberal opponents have forsaken their birthright).

The strength of this volume lies in Ramm’s clear exposition of the classic elements of Christology (although I am always frustrated at how most Christologies, this one included, virtually ignore Jesus’ three years of earthly ministry). The weaknesses are twofold:

  1. The battlelines have been redrawn. As culture has shifted from a modern to a post-modern worldview, the war between conservative and liberal theologies seems almost quaint. Ramm’s 1983 battle against the forces of liberalism now reads more like a history of theology.
  2. Ramm ignores his own situatedness. This comes to the surface (ironically? hypocritically?) when he discusses why John’s gospel is different from the synoptics. Ramm wisely asks, “What kind of gospel would John write if he lived in Ephesus about thirty years and carried on a Christian dialogue at a high level in its most sophisticated community? He would write a gospel . . . that would reflect his effort to reframe the original Christian message to make it most effective to his audience in Ephesus” (145). Ramm understands that the writing of John’s gospel was situated in the cultural river (a John H. Walton phrase) of his day yet understands himself as somehow transcendent to the culture of modernism which led him to war in the first place.

The apostle John once brought Jesus a concern: a person outside Jesus’ group of disciples was going around exorcising demons. Jesus replied, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50 NRSV). An Evangelical Christology would have been a much stronger book had Ramm laid down his weapons and sought to learn from the strengths of his theological interlocutors.


Ramm, Bernard L. An Evangelical Christology: Ecumenic & Historic. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1999.

Fargo Rock City | Chuck Klosterman

The cover of Klosterman's Fargo Rock CityI resonate with Klosterman’s musical obsession despite being one generation removed. Sure, he’s only two years older than me, but when he was listening to Mötley Crüe, I was into Michael W. Smith. It wasn’t until the early 90s that I started obsessing over albums and liner notes.

In Fargo Rock City, Klosterman pays tribute to the genre he loves—lovingly called “hair metal” today. The narrative is a trip through musical and personal landmarks that defined the pre-grunge era.

Klosterman’s penchant for ridiculous arguments is on full display in this critical tour of 1980s heavy metal. He also makes a surprising number of astute musical observations. (For example, he presents an unorthodox yet logical argument for why Bush signalled the death of Grunge.)

If you long for the days of Def Leppard, Poison, Skid Row, Bon Jovi, and especially G’n’R, this book is for you.


Klosterman, Chuck. Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta. New York: Scribner, 2003.

The Discourses | Symeon the New Theologian

The cover of Symeon's The DiscoursesThe man was intense!

One the eve of a rebellion, when the monks under his supervision ran to the Patriarch of the city to get relief from their severe Abbot, Symeon spoke to them:

I cannot endure to be silent about the things I have seen, about the wonders of God I have known by fact and experience. Rather, I testify of them to all others as in God’s presence, and say with a loud voice, “Run, all of you, before the door of repentance is closed to you by death. Run, that you may take hold of it before you depart this life; make haste that you may receive it, knock, that your Master may open to you before you die, and that He may show himself to you.” (349)

Symeon was not only severe. In a compassionate moment towards those who insufficiently fasted during Lent, he said:

[God] it is who in great generosity gives crowns to the zealous and duly rewards their labors, and also in mercy and loving-kindness grants forgiveness to the weaker. (181)

Symeon was driven by a vision of God that would not let him relax. Having experienced the inexpressible light of God, he was compelled to urge the people around him to press on towards that light.

My biggest struggle with Symeon (and all the ancient Orthodox saints) is their spirit-flesh dualism and extreme asceticism. They are constantly preoccupied with escaping the material world which God deemed “very good” and validated by becoming incarnate. That said, Symeon’s passion and insight into the spiritual condition made the struggle worthwhile!

Symeon’s Discourses are deep devotional material. Written for those in a monastic life, they are still relevant today for those with a passionate commitment to Christ.


Symeon the New Theologian. The Discourses. The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters. Translated by C. J. deCatanzaro. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980.

Catch the Fire | Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse

The cover of Wilkinson and Althouse's Catch the FireSoaking prayer is a relatively new phenomenon. Participants are brought together in a worship setting. They then lie down, often with pillow and blanket, as worship music is played. During this time they rest—soak—in the Father’s love. Leaders of the meeting don’t pray verbally, although they may lay hands on the soakers for a time.

Soaking has a purpose beyond the appeal of a new spiritual experience. Those who soak believe that they are being filled with the Father’s love in order to  express that love to others. Soaking has an altruistic motive which aligns with the vision of Catch the Fire churches: “… to walk in God’s love and give it away, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.”

There are two roots to soaking prayer. Classical Pentecostals spoke of being “slain in the Spirit.” This occurred when someone receiving prayer fell over under the Spirit’s power. The Catholic tradition, especially with Francis McNutt, rejected the violent language of Classical Pentecostals and preferred to speak of “resting in the Spirit.” This aligns with Catholic contemplative tradition. The purpose of resting in the Spirit is to receive healing.

In Catch the Fire, sociologist Michael Wilkinson and theologian Peter Althouse share the results of an extensive study of the soaking phenomenon. The book is methodologically rigorous and theologically generous. It was written not to support or criticize, but to understand and explain.

If you are interested in what is happening in the charismatic renewal, this is your book.


Wilkinson, Michael and Peter Althouse. Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and Charismatic Revival. DeKalb, IL: NIU Press, 2014.

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