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Unity and Solidarity | Ernst Käsemann

Ernst KasemannFor Paul, unity in the body of Christ does not mean the sameness of all the members; it means the solidarity which can endure the strain of the differences—the different gifts and different weaknesses of the different members.

—Käsemann, Perspectives on Paul, 3.

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.

Formation and Reflection | Lewis S. Mudge & James N. Poling

The cover of Mudge & Poling's Formation and Reflection

How is academic theology related to actual, living communities of faith? (155)

This is the question which the essays in this volume attempt to answer. As academic theology, influenced by postmodern deconstruction, has moved away from talking about God to talking about the possibility of talking about God, the academy seems more and more removed from the actual life and practice of the local church. Practical theology could be the bridge to reunite the two. The question is how.

The essays in this book are challenging to read. Each contributor is a respected author in their own right, bringing their own conceptual frameworks and peculiar language to the conversation. The range is broad. The essays cover historical theology, theological pedagogy, postmodern philosophy, hermeneutical theory, and liberation theology.

An interesting feature of this book is its unity—the contributors were able to read each other’s essays and update their own before the final printing. The back-and-forth between the authors helps to situate their viewpoints.

Edward Farley’s lead contribution, “Interpreting Situations: An Inquiry into the Nature of Practical Theology,” is particularly helpful in focusing the volume. If theology is an interpretation of history (tradition and scripture), then practical theology must be an interpretation of the situation. Why is it that we have libraries worth of material on biblical hermeneutics and tradition criticism, but no rigorous framework to guide the interpretation of the present?

This collection of densely argued essays demonstrates how difficult practical theology is to define, let alone to do. However, if we want to reunite orthodoxy and orthopraxis, then the effort is more than worth the reward.

Mudge, Lewis S. and James N. Poling, eds., Formation and Reflection: The Promise of Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987. Reprint, 2009.

The Spirituality of the Psalms | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's The Spirituality of the PsalmsThe psalms are disturbing if you read them—all of them. It’s easy to take the familiar comforting ones at face value:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-2 ESV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1 ESV)

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:6 ESV)

If that’s all we read then the psalter is a gentle almost pedestrian song-book. If we dig a little deeper, however, things begin to get strange:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2 ESV)

Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21-22 ESV)

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock! (Psalm 137:9 ESV)

If we want to take the entire psalter seriously, it’s clear that we need more than romantic notions about God’s gentleness and protection. In Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann offers a framework for understanding the whole book of Psalms. While not every psalm can be fit into a neat category, the majority of the psalms can be viewed in one of three ways:

  1. Psalms of Orientation (e.g. Psalm 8, 24, 33, 104, 133, 145). These are the psalms we are most comfortable with. These are psalms of gratitude for God’s ordering of life. These psalms reflect life the way it is expected to be: full of blessing for the saints. These are psalms where the Torah is celebrated and the God of creation is praised. Brueggemann draws on the scholarship of Sigmund Mowinckel who notes that these psalms are not only responsive but generative: they generate, in part, the reality they celebrate. “Worship is indeed ‘world-making'” (19).
  2. Psalms of Disorientation (e.g. Psalm 13, 35, 74, 86, 95, 137). These psalms are the reaction of the faithful to God when the world they knew was broken. These are psalms of lament that move and deepen the faith of the worshiper. When Jerusalem, the city of God, falls to Babylon, you don’t sing Psalm 23—you respond with the virulence of 137. Whether the content is ethically pure or not, the words reflect the pain of a people engaging with their God in world-shattering circumstances.
  3. Psalms of New Orientation (e.g. Psalm 29, 47, 93, 97, 98, 99, 114, 148, 150). These are deeper versions of the orientation psalms. Disorientation is now past and the singer praises God for salvation. This category includes the victory hymns of Yahweh. Miriam’s song in Exodus 15, although not part of the book of Psalms, is a great example.

Overall, Brueggemann’s tripartite understanding of the book of Psalms is very helpful. While no schema will ever contain the rich diversity of the psalms (as Bruggemann himself acknowledges), the movement from orientation to disorientation to new-orientation is not only evident in the psalms, it is fundamental to Christian life.

Brueggemann’s bias against royal ideology and deuteronomic faith is evident here. When he speaks of the orientation psalms, he is quick with a disclaimer:

In using these psalms, we must be alert to the slippery ways creation faith easily becomes social conservatism, which basks in our own well-offness. … They may also serve as a form of social control. (20, emphasis his)

While he is correct with his warning, it seems disingenuous to read the caution note before understanding character of these psalms. Furthermore, he offers no corresponding warning for the psalms of disorientation. If the orientation psalms can lead to self-satisfied oppression of the poor, surely the disorientation psalms can lead to self-satisfied rebellion against the rich!

Spirituality of the Psalms is a both a theologically acute and pastorally insightful way to integrate the whole of the psalter into the believer’s daily life of worship.

—Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002).

Ready for Love | Ulrich Luz

Ulrich LuzWhen the deeds of love do not include one’s entire possessions, it is because one’s heart is not ready for love.

—Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7, trans. James E. Crouch (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 337.

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