Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: When the Church Hid the Author of Hebrews

Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the HebrewsPriscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews by Ruth Hoppin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ruth Hoppin provides a compelling and convincing case that Priscilla is the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is an engaging read. She presents the evidence as an attorney would in front of a jury, the readers functioning as the jury.

Ruth brings in evidence from within the letter, from related writings in the Bible, from other literature of the time, archaeology (in particular the Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran, and the Essene sect), politics, sociology, history, anthropology, psychology, religious practices, literary analysis, and early church traditions. She argues persuasively, discussing and then countering arguments that might be made against Priscilla as the author.

When all the evidence is laid out, the only author that fits the profile is Priscilla.

Why was the identity of the author "lost?" The author was "lost accidentally on purpose." We don't have to go far in Christian history to understand why it was better, for the sake of broad acceptance of the letter, to hide the true identity of the author.

I truly enjoyed reading this book. I happen to accept Ms. Hoppin's arguments, but even if you ultimately do not, there is much in here in regards to the society and history around the latter half of the first century AD that I did not know before and should prove useful in reading and interpreting other New Testament texts.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Another Look at the Upper Room—Part 5—Concluding Comments

This series began with the question of what Jesus' "example" in the Upper Room pointed to. Was the example the specific act of washing his disciples' feet? Or was it something else, of which washing feet was yet a smaller illustration?


In Part 1 I discussed my personal background as it relates to these questions, and then framed a broad trajectory that I saw in response to them.


In Part 2 I provided some Ancient Near East cultural background from Kenneth E. Bailey to help place the story of the Upper Room in better context to help us understand how surprising, radical, and truly disturbing Jesus' actions were to the disciples.


In Part 3 I discussed the actual event of Jesus washing his disciples' feet and how this action undermined all human concepts of hierarchies and power. I suggested that the point of washing feet wasn't merely about humble service but a lesson on how Jesus' friends are to continue his work of destroying all power structures that place one human being above another.


In Part 4 I discussed how Jesus reconstructs what true, God-sanctioned power looks like, in opposition to the false power that human beings crave and admire. God's power is not found in might, force, or threats, but in humble, self-sacrificing love that honors the choices each individual makes. (Note: honoring choice does not mean agreeing with or approval.) This power is "weak" in the eyes of humans because it cannot coerce or manipulate. It can only persuade through genuine actions founded in integrity of character.


The story of the Upper Room is about power, but not the kind that pops into our human minds. It is about the power of the gospel to redeem, restore, and transform individuals and communities. Part of the power of the gospel is the power to deconstruct and dismantle existing, human power structures. The other part of the gospel is the power to reconstruct communities based on mutual love and respect, without hierarchies, where no one is above another in authority or power. The only leader is Jesus, working through his Holy Spirit. Apostles, teachers, prophets, evangelists, etc. are not to be understood in terms of authority and leadership structure, but of function. There is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.


All too quickly the Christian church derailed by setting up structures and systems. In our (limited human) minds we cannot conceive of a situation in which a mission can go forth and perpetuate without some kind of system in place. We set up committees and appoint leaders, all for very good reasons. But what if the miracle of the gospel's power and endurance, if humans had let it be, was that it didn't need any systems or structures to continue and finish its work?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Book Review: Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & SaintPastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all who are tired of trying to measure up to and maintain "standards of Christianity," whether these standards are couched in terms of behaviors or beliefs, Nadia has a word for you: the grace of God allows you to stop striving for perfection.

For all who are feel broken and unwanted, Nadia has a word for you: the grace of God says you are a precious child of God.

In this book, through her own life of addictions, brokenness, and subsequent redemption and restoration, Nadia recounts the grace of God at work in her life. In numerous examples of people she has encountered and works with, she reveals that the power of grace cannot be overcome by evil.

The strong current running through all the chapters is grace and redemption. It is about a surprising grace, a grace that works mysteriously and unexpectedly, working beyond the fences that Christianity so often builds around herself.

These are stories of power and defiance. The gospel is not a message of passivity and niceness, but one that stands ground against evil, tragedy, and despair. The power of the gospel is the power the redeems and transforms the ugliness of the world into God's new creation. The power of the gospel is power that defies the powers of evil by holding on to the promises of redemption and restoration in the midst suffering.

This book is likely to be a challenging read to those who lean toward conservative theology and evangelicalism. It will be a challenge to anyone who considers the use of profanity (of which there are plenty in this book) to be "sin."

Nadia challenges Christians to stop pretending to be people they are not. She challenges Christians to be who they are, with all the faults and blemishes, because the power of God working in the problems of real lives is the gospel that will be heard by many who have tuned out "traditional church as usual."

(This review is based on an advance review copy supplied by the publisher through NetGalley.)

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