Tag Archives | essays

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.

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community | Wendell Berry

The cover of Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom and CommunityWendell Berry sees the world through a different lens. An accomplished poet, essayist, and novelist, he chose to ignore the lure of literary New York to stay rooted in his Kentucky farm.

Rooted is an important idea for Berry. If more people were rooted in their land, they would want what’s best for it. In our global age we have traded in the local concrete for the global abstraction. As Berry reminds us, “abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found” (23).

Berry’s rootedness extends beyond his physical location. He has developed strong, firm, and often contrarian opinions which he is not ashamed to publish. For example, take his thoughts on economic growth:

Unlimited economic growth implies unlimited consumption, which in turn implies unlimited pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. (xvii)

Try his views on war:

War is obsolete, in short, because it can no longer produce a net good, even to the winner. (77)

Berry on Christian government:

Jesus would have been horrified by just about every “Christian” government the world has ever seen. He would be horrified by our government and its works, and it would be horrified by him. (115)

In the 8 essays (along with the superb preface, “The Joy of Sales Resistance”) which make up this volume, Berry speaks the truth as clearly as he sees it. You can either disagree with him and offer counter arguments, or agree and examine your own lifestyle. One thing is impossible: when it comes to Berry, you cannot be neutral!

—Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (New York: Pantheon, 1993).

Just Another Minute | Marsha Boulton

The cover of Boulton's Just Another MinuteJust Another Minute picks up right where Just a Minute left off. It’s the ultimate bathroom reader for Canadian history buffs. Like its predecessor, it’s filled with short 3 to 5 page essays loosely fitted into categories such as “Sports” and “Transportation and Communication”.

Since this is the second book in the Trilogy, many of the more famous Canadian icons have already been covered. Fortunately, the lesser-known characters have lives just as interesting as their more famous counterparts.

My one irritation with this book was the section entitled, “Herstory”. There are interesting stories of women as well as men in each of the five other categories. It seems somewhat pejorative to isolate these seven stories as “Herstory”. Perhaps this was the politically correct thing to do in 1997.

If you enjoyed Just a Minute, you’ll enjoy Just Another Minute.

—Marsha Boulton, Just Another Minute: More Glimpses of Our Great Canadian Heritage (Toronto, ON: Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, 1997).

A Better Hope | Stanley Hauerwas

A Better Hope was my first introduction to Stanley Hauerwas, and I’m sure it will prove to be the start of a long fruitful journey. In this audaciously subtitled book, Hauerwas has collected 14 of his essays in one place.

If you haven’t read Hauerwas before, he’s an American theologian with a reputation for never backing down from a fight—which is mildly ironic given his devotion to pacifism. In these essays, though, he has set out to provide hope instead of just tearing down. Like the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, you can only write so much judgment before you must present a new vision.

This was a great introduction to Hauerwas because many of the essays are surveys of or reactions to other scholars he’s interacted with. It’s like a buy-one-get-one-free deal. You learn Hauerwas’ views while in the process discovering people like Rauschenbusch, Niebuhr (both of them), Yoder, and Jenson.

My only criticism of this collection is its randomness. In the Introduction and Table of Contents he tries to provide a framework to relate the diverse essays, but the topics are too diverse to wrap up so neatly. It would be better to understand this as a simple Hauerwas miscellany.

While I enjoyed and learned a lot from every essay, one in particular stood out: “Worship, Evangelism, Ethics: On Eliminating the ‘And'”. In it, Hauerwas laments the dumbing-down of modern corporate worship. One moment I was chuckling to myself:

“I come to the garden alone” are not appropriate words to be sung in corporate worship, no matter how meaningful some people may find the hymn.

Then immediately following that I was humbled and convicted:

Part of the difficulty is that Protestant Christians, evangelical and mainstream alike, have lost their ability to make such judgments. They have done so, moreover, because they debased their worship in the name of evangelism and moral uplift.

That’s the sort of depth you get when you read Hauerwas. I can hardly wait to dive deeper into his works.

On Tremendous Trifles | G. K. Chesterton

This book shares a lot in common with the Seinfeld—they’re both essentially works about nothing (at least nothing we’d consider worth considering). Tremendous Trifles is a collection of short essays on the things most of us wouldn’t pause to think twice about.

In Chesterton’s able hands, topics such as the detritus in one’s pocket or the magnificence of a blank canvas (otherwise known as a ceiling) reach sublime heights. It’s wonderful to think that the most meaningless items in life are worth (at least) 1,250 words and a column in the local newspaper.

Some might accuse Chesterton of excessive indulgence. You either love his verbose style or hate it. I enjoy slowing down to the leisurely pace he sets.

Since there are numerous editions of Tremendous Trifles around, I should make a few notes about this Hesperus edition. The binding holds together well, the text is crisp, the cover’s cleanly designed, and there’s handy fold-overs on the front and back cover to mark your place. This is the sort of quality paperback that makes you want to buy the rest of the publisher’s set.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.

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