Each Wednesday throughout these forty days of Lent we’re sharing devotional excerpts from recent or forthcoming Eerdmans books. Today’s reading comes from N. T. Wright’s The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today.

We hope you will be challenged and uplifted by this selection — and by each of our 2015 Lenten Midweek Readings

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The Way of the Lord

The Way of the Lord

The road from the Jordan to Jerusalem lies through the desert.

A wise old Jewish writer, about two hundred years before the time of Jesus, put it like this: ‘My child, if you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.’ Or, as the Gospel writers might see it, after their description of Jesus at his baptism: ‘If you really are filled with the Spirit, you should expect to be led into the wilderness.’

You are never far from the wilderness when you’re in the Promised Land. Just a few miles to the south or south-east, or to the north-east across the Jordan, and you’re out in the desert. When the Israeli soldiers go into that desert, they drink a pint of water every hour just to stay healthy. From the top of the Mount of Olives itself you look west over Jerusalem itself, with its vines and fig trees and other signs of fertile life, and east down to the Dead Sea; and between you and the Dead Sea there is desert, wilderness. The rain comes up from the Mediterranean, falling on the hills of Judaea up to and including Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. From there on eastwards it’s all dry, except for the occasional storm that sends flash floods down the wadis to the Dead Sea. When you’re in Jerusalem, the wilderness is just over the next hill.

From at least the time of the letter to the Hebrews, the wilderness has been used in Christian writing as an image for the dark side of the spiritual journey. Conversion, baptism, faith — a rich sense of the presence and love of God, of vocation and sonship; and then, the wilderness. If you come to serve the Lord, get ready for the temptation. If you want to go from the Jordan to Jerusalem, get your desert boots on. Nor is this simply like saying that if you want to learn to play Mozart you will have to practise your scales, or that if you want to speak German you will have to learn your irregular verbs. That’s part of it, but it’s much deeper. Christian writers of all sorts, throughout the centuries, have insisted that it is part, a necessary part it seems, of the Christian pilgrimage that at some stage, perhaps at several stages, we shall be called to travel through the wilderness:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.

The wilderness comes in many shapes and sizes, just as the deserts of Judaea and Sinai are by no means uniform. I used to think of deserts as simply miles and miles of flat sands, punctuated by the odd oasis; but the wilderness that surrounds the Promised Land comes in many forms. There are huge crags, like Masada, the last bastion of the revolutionaries after the fall of Jerusalem, an enormous barren rock to the south-west of the Dead Sea. There are gullies and crevasses, great rocky outcrops and hidden valleys. Walk a mile or two off the road and you could get lost quite easily.

The wilderness of the spiritual journey is much like that. For some, it is simply a sense that everything has gone very dry. There is no delight in prayer or reading the scriptures. Going to church has become boring and futile. The sacraments seem a pointless ritual. Where before there was a sense of God’s presence as a loving parent, gently nursing and guiding, or of the wise prompting of the Holy Spirit, there now seems to be a great emptiness. The story of Jesus, once so full of interest and stimulation, the scrap-book of the life of a new best friend, seems dull, and even the story of the cross and resurrection has apparently lost its power to sweep the heart. This is the common experience of many, many Christians at some stage in their pilgrimage. Tragically, some at once conclude that what happened at the Jordan was all a delusion, a passing phase, that there really is no Jerusalem to go on to. Others wander blindly without hope, and stumble by accident — or was it an accident? — back on to the right path. But the way of Christian maturity is to recognize the desert path for what it is — another mile on the road called ‘Faithfulness’ — and to tread it with obedience and patience:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Week-2

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and docent of ecumenics at the University of Helsinki, Finland. The third volume, Creation and Humanity, in his seminal five-part series on theology for the pluralistic world will be published on April 3, 2015.

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My five-volume series, A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World, seeks to pursue a new vision of Christian theology for the third millennium. It conceives the nature and task of Christian systematic/constructive theology in a way that engages widely the cultural, ethnic, sociopolitical, economic, and religious plurality of our world. While my theological vision is robustly Christian in its convictions, building on the deep and wide biblical and historical traditions, it also seeks to engage our present cultural and religious diversity in a way that Christian theology has not done in the past. The topics discussed include the traditional doctrinal loci from Trinity and revelation to Christology and eschatology. At the same time, the series is set apart by the way in which it addresses a wide range of issues and topics related to specific challenges faced by our contemporary, globalized world, which are lacking in all other systematic theological works — including violence, war, inclusivity, sexism, work, economy, biotechnology, and colonialism.

In this new paradigm, the best of the Christian tradition along with the most recent, so-called contextual or global theologies — say, feminist, liberationist, and post-colonial interpretations, as well as those coming from Africa, Asia, and Latin America — are invited as equal conversation partners. A particularly important part of that widening circle of dialogue partners is a detailed and sustained dialogue with the teachings of four living faiths beyond Christianity — namely Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Each Christian theological topic is put in a comparative conversation with relevant insights, contributions, and challenges of other faiths. That discussion also includes a careful investigation of the relationship between science and religion with regard to each tradition, as well as the influence of scientific “naturalism.” For the benefit of those Christian readers who are not familiar with teachings of those four living faiths, a basic orientation is provided in each case.

Creation and Humanity

Finally — as if the agenda were not already wide enough — natural (and behavioral) sciences are also called upon to offer their insights. This happens particularly in the most recent volume, Creation and Humanity, as well as in the final volume, Community and Hope (forthcoming). Cutting edge physical, cosmological, and neuroscientific theories, along with the philosophy of mind, inform, guide, and challenge the theological reflection. With the focus on the doctrine of creation and theological anthropology, Creation and Humanity also pays special attention to the topics of divine action in a world subjected to scientific study, environmental pollution, human flourishing, and the theological implications of evolutionary theory — with regard to both cosmos and humanity.

While each of the five volumes can stand on its own feet, so to speak, and can therefore be read as an individual work, the finished series will also provide a comprehensive, dynamic, and innovative discussion of all the major theological topics dealt with in more traditional summas. The order in which these topics are presented, however, is as convention-shattering as many other aspects of the series. Two volumes have already been released before the current third one, namely Christ and Reconciliation (2013) and Trinity and Revelation (2014). The forthcoming volume four, Spirit and Salvation (2016), discusses  pneumatology (Holy Spirit) and soteriology (salvation), and the last one, Community and Hope (2017), eschatology and ecclesiology.

Another way of describing what this five-volume series in constructive theology is attempting is to speak of a “theology for the post-world,” that is, for the post-modern, post-colonial, post-Christian, and post-whatever world! In this “new world,” old foundations or values are not to be taken for granted. Diversity is preferred over sameness, exploration over certainty. Although some may see these developments as a threat to theology, they can also be taken as opportunities, new openings! For Christians and followers of other religions living in this kind of confused, ambiguous, and exciting context, A Constructive Theology for the Pluralistic World seeks to offer an inviting and engaging theological vision.

Watch our Author Interview with Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen on Eerdmans TV, read previous guest posts by Kärkkäinen on his book Trinity and Revelation and on “Theology for the Post-World,” and click here to order Creation and Humanity.

Wesley Hill, assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and regular columnist for Christianity Today, gives fresh perspective on Paul’s teaching about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit in his new book Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. Watch our interview with him below:

 

About Paul and the Trinity:

Paul and the Trinity cover

Paul and the Trinity

Paul’s ways of speaking about God, Jesus, and the Spirit are intricately intertwined: talking about any one of the three, for Paul, implies reference to all of them together. However, much current Pauline scholarship discusses Paul’s God-, Christ-, and Spirit-language without reference to trinitarian theology.

In contrast to that trend, Wesley Hill argues in this book that later, post-Pauline trinitarian theologies represent a better approach, opening a fresh angle on Paul’s earlier talk about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit. Hill looks critically at certain well-known discussions in the field of New Testament studies — those by N. T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and others — in light of patristic and contemporary trinitarian theologies, resulting in an innovative approach to an old set of questions.

Adeptly integrating biblical exegesis and historical-systematic theology, Hill’s Paul and the Trinity shows how trinitarian theologies illumine interpretive difficulties in a way that more recent theological concepts have failed to do.

Click to read Five Questions with Wesley Hill here on EerdWord or to order Paul and the Trinity from our website.

Welcome once again to Eerdmans All Over, a Friday roundup of all the Eerdmans-related news, reviews, interviews, and other interesting online content we can gather in a given week. 

New Releases

The Story Luke Tells

The Story Luke Tells
Justo González

The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology
Anthony C. Thiselton

News from Eerdmans . . .

  • It’s been a quiet week at William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

. . . and Elsewhere

Paul and the Trinity

“I expect it will turn a few heads in the biblical studies guild because it so obviously offers a new way forward. But it should also shake up a few settled conventions in contemporary constructive trinitarian theology, delivering some new tools that systematic theologians would be foolish to ignore.”

Have we missed any news, reviews, or other online miscellany dealing with Eerdmans books or authors from the last week? Please let us know in the comments. You also can post items on our Facebook timeline, mention us on Twitter (@eerdmansbooks), or write to us directly: webmaster@eerdmans.com.

RachelinReview2

This coming Sunday, I have two big events on my calendar:

  1. Go to church.
  2. Watch the Oscars.

Were I not an Eerdnerd, it would be the most natural thing in the world for me to draw a big black line in my mind between these two activities.

But I am an Eerdnerd, and — thanks in part to the work of authors like Roy Anker and Sara Anson Vaux — compartmentalizing isn’t really an option for me anymore.

Like Neo in The Matrix or that creepy little kid in The Sixth Sense, I see theology (and philosophy, and ethics) in every movie I watch.

Roy Anker sees it in movies like The Thin Red Line and Dead Man Walking. Sara Anson Vaux sees it in movies like Gran Torino and American Sniper.

Me? I’m a mom. I haven’t seen any of those “grown-up” films. But I see it in The Lego Movie. And in Despicable Me.

And — especially — in Disney’s Frozen.

Maybe you’ve heard of it?

You might have thought Frozen was just about sister power and impossibly tiny wrists, but nope. When viewed through the lens of Lutheran theology (which is how I see the world, in case you were wondering), it’s a stunning, if accidental, allegory for Christian faith and life.

Bear with me here. I will explain.

Elsa is Everyman. She’s you. She’s me. (Only blonder and skinnier and with a flawless complexion. Sigh.)

At the beginning of the movie, she is as innocent as Adam and Eve before the fall. She has the capacity to do great evil but is unaware of her vulnerability.

After the fall — I’m not making this up; there actually is a fall — comes knowledge. Elsa becomes aware of the darker side of her agency — her “sinful nature,” if you will — along with its inherent destructive power.

Roy Anker's Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies

Roy Anker’s Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies

Like Adam and Eve, she hides — not in the garden but in her room. Like Adam and Eve, she covers her nakedness — not with fig leaves but with kid gloves. Like Adam, Eve, and every other member of fallen humanity, she’s both impossibly beautiful and impossibly broken.

Her loving parents impose rules upon her and upon their entire household to keep her destructive powers in check, attempting to protect both her and those around her. (Sinai, anyone?) And Elsa responds by becoming the strictest, most uptight legalist one could imagine — “the good girl” she “always has to be.” She also falls prey to the sister sin of legalism: hypocrisy. “Conceal, don’t feel,” she tells herself. “Don’t let them know.”

All the while, Anna (whose name literally means “grace”) keeps knocking and knocking, inviting Elsa into fellowship and freedom. Does this remind you of anyone else who “stands at the door and knocks”? Hmm . . .

In the fullness of time — as happens to so many of us Everypeople — Elsa realizes that following her parents’ rules and trying hard to be good are ultimately pointless endeavors. Obedience won’t fix her. Her destructive power is far beyond her ability to control it with good behavior alone.

So — like so many of us do, especially as young adults — she just quits trying. She throws off the shackles of her parents’ organized religion — the gloves that hide her shame, the sharp crown placed on her head in the church at her coronation — and just lets it all go. She abandons her family, her home, her responsibilities, and her holy calling so she can run off into the wilds and do her own thing. And, for a while, she feels better. There’s no one out there to make her feel guilty, and, since everything else around her is frozen too, her Snow Queen-ness doesn’t set her apart as anything out of the ordinary.

Grace isn’t done with her yet, though. Elsa may have barricaded herself in her ice palace on the North Mountain, but Anna is coming for her, carried along by Kristoff. (Helpful hint here, Disney: if you don’t want people doing this sort of thing to your movies, you might seriously want to consider not naming a character “Christ-bearer.”)

Anna meets the Snow Queen where she is, bringing a message of repentance (“we can head down this mountain together”) and hope (“you don’t have to live in fear”). But Elsa, despite having ears to hear, won’t listen to her sister’s message. She spurns Anna’s offer to help and sends her away stricken, smitten, and afflicted. (Sorry . . . a little inside joke for my fellow Lutherans. I couldn’t help myself.)

Sara Anson Vaux's The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood

Sara Anson Vaux’s The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood

This moment of rejection and violence marks the beginning of Anna’s passion, but not the end. Her decision to rescue Elsa, whatever the cost, sets off a painful chain of events that culminates in her losing her kingdom, her friends, and her life. Yet, even when she has the opportunity to let twelve legions of angels Kristoff step in and save her, she chooses to run not to the righteous but to the sinner — to the person who has rejected and lashed out at her. She runs to Elsa. To Everyman.

And here’s where it gets really Lutheran. On her own, Elsa is incapable of thawing anything. She can’t do it. She simply doesn’t have it in her. No amount of “being good” can bring her the goodness and rightness she craves. With or without gloves, she can’t live “hand in hand” with grace. Yet when she’s saved by the self-sacrificial grace of her sister, everything changes for her. She finds the seed of something new deep inside her — pure love.

She’s still the Snow Queen, but now she’s the Spring Queen, too. Simul justus et peccator. Simul frozen et unfrozen.

So there you have it folks: one Lutheran’s view of Frozen. I’m no expert at this kind of thing. (Roy Anker and Sara Anson Vaux both do it much better. Read their books if you don’t believe me.)

This Sunday as I watch the Oscars, though, my mind will be filled with a multitude of questions:

  1. How much double-sided sticky tape does it take to keep all those ladies from falling out of their dresses?
  2. How much do I want EBYR illustrator Torill Kove to win her second Oscar for best animated short film? (Answer: a lot.)
  3. However am I going to console my children if “Everything Is Awesome” doesn’t win for best song?
  4. Most significantly: how many of this year’s best (and worst) films may also contain moments of heavenly transcendence hidden in plain view?
Rachel Bomberger

Rachel Bomberger

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About Rachel in Review:

Life for this pastor’s wife and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether written for board-book-munching babies or distinguished professors emeritus, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life and faith as I actually experience them.

Come along with me as I read life, live books, and put the two together. Things around here may occasionally get a bit random, but with a little luck, they’ll never be boring.

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