First and Second Samuel | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's First and Second SamuelThe books of Samuel describe a critical shift in the life of Israel.

When the book begins, Israel had suffered through a series of increasingly impotent judges. The loose confederation of tribes increasingly wandered from God and did what seemed right in their own eyes. Into this world Hannah struggled and conceived a child—Samuel. When the book ends, Israel is a monarchy under the rule of King David, the second of two Kings Samuel anointed.

Here is the critical shift: Israel has gone from being a nation under YHWH to a nation under human kings.

Brueggemann’s commentary is excellent. He presents a close reading of the story of Samuel, Saul, and David with an eye for detail. All the political nuances which might escape the casual reader of scripture are brought to the forefront for consideration.

In Brueggemann’s reading, the heroes and villains of scripture are no one-sided caricatures. They are complicated, as human beings always are. David is no mere Sunday School hero—he is at the same time politically shrewd and spiritually attuned. He is human, warts and all.

The Interpretation commentary series is not overly technical. I would encourage any thoughtful Christian with a love for scripture to pick up this gem and read it alongside the text.

Brueggemann, Walter.  First and Second Samuel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

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.

Feed Or Be Fed | Donald Gee

Donald GeeWe do not need to be fed on the Word, we need to feed on the Word: a big difference. If I was still feeding my children in their teens with a spoon, then something would be drastically wrong.

—Gee in Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, 215.

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.

Divine Solidarity | Serene Jones

Serene JonesBecause God, in the Incarnation, takes on our full humanity, we can be certain that on the Cross God took in Christ’s suffering and death, profoundly and completely. This means that in the midst of our suffering, God similarly (by adoption) takes on the full weight of our human plight and bears our traumas fully, in solidarity with us.

— Jones, “Practical Theology in Two Modes,” in Bass and Dykstra, eds., For Life Abundant, 204.

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