Book Write-Up: Bible Studies on Mark, by William Boekestein

William Boekestein.  Bible Studies on Mark.  Reformed Fellowship, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

William Boekestein pastors the Immanuel Fellowship Church, which is located in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  His book, Bible Studies on Mark, goes through the Gospel of Mark, reflecting on stories and sayings of Jesus that are presented in that Gospel.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Boekestein says that he will focus primarily on the Gospel of Mark, rather than what other Gospels present.  Occasionally, he does quote other Gospels, and he seems to have a rather harmonizing approach to the text, treating all of the Gospels as consistent and as containing the same Christian message.  Boekestein interprets the Gospel of Mark in reference to his larger Christian theology, which includes seeing the Kingdom of God as a spiritual kingdom and Jesus being God incarnate.  There are biblical scholars who argue that such themes are foreign to the Gospel of Mark.  Boekestein does not usually highlight what is distinct to the Gospel of Mark itself, as the stories that he discusses are found in the other Gospels, as well.  Overall, though, Boekestein comments on the stories and sayings of Jesus as they appear in the Gospel of Mark.

B.  The book was a thoughtful and an engaging read.  I agree with Jason Van Vliet’s statement on the back cover of the book that “Boekestein dishes up a delicious and nutritious spiritual meal.”  A recurring point that I appreciated was that we should not idolize people’s approval.

C.  There were parts of the book that made me wince.  On pages 74-75, Boekestein states: “When churches really begin to imitate the apostles, they find themselves dealing with the occult, with drug addicts, pedophiles, homosexual offenders, pornographers, and the like (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).”  Boekestein was saying this in the context of discussing the church’s war against spiritual darkness.  Perhaps he could have made this point without demonizing homosexuals, many of whom are good people coping with a sexual orientation that they did not ask for.  Moreover, in my opinion, Boekestein also should have highlighted sins that left-wingers condemn, such as greed, exploitation, and oppression.

The book also displays a Christian anti-Judaism stance (which is critical of the Jewish religion, not the Jewish people).  That made me wince, since there were Pharisees, such as Hillel, who said beautiful and spiritual things, and rabbinic literature has its share of edifying insights.  Perhaps Boekestein felt that he was being faithful to the ideology of the Gospel of Mark, and that could be, though there are interpreters who highlight the continuity between Jesus and Judaism in the Gospel of Mark.  The book would have been better had Boekestein acknowledged that Judaism taught good things while saying that there was corruption within its midst, as occurs in many religions.

On page 128, Boekestein states that “Thoughtful reflection on hell should rattle a believer out of sinful self-absorption.”  There was some fire-and-brimstone in this book, and I do not fault Boekestein for that, since there is fire-and-brimstone in the Gospel of Mark.  Boekestein’s focus in the book was not on fire-and-brimstone.  Still, I question whether thinking about hell is a psychologically healthy way to become less self-absorbed.  I can somewhat understand Boekestein’s point: that thinking about hell can get our minds off ourselves and our own glory and shake us out of self-absorption, but it can also lead to a lot of fear.  Plus, why do believers have to worry about hell, when Jesus has saved them?  Boekestein says that thinking about hell can encourage believers to witness to others, but he also seems to imply that believers, on some level, should have some fear of hell.

On page 135, Boekestein states: “Sadly, those who with an unbelieving heart do such ‘big-ticket’ activities as worshiping, tithing, witnessing or volunteering will still hear Christ say those dreadful words: ‘I never knew you’ (Matt. 7:23).”  Wouldn’t that lead to people second-guessing themselves when they try to do the right thing?  Is that really necessary?

D.  Boekestein writes from a Reformed perspective, which holds that God must spiritually resurrect people from spiritual death for them to believe.  At times, this allows Boekestein to take parts of the text seriously, such as Jesus’ statement in Mark 4:11-12 that he is telling parables to confuse unbelievers.  Boekestein explained that passage well.

E.  There were occasions when this book taught me something, in terms of information.  This was particularly the case on page 160.  On that page, Boekestein addresses the question of whether Jews were allowed to execute people in first century Palestine.  He says that they could and cites a secondary source.  Although there are scholars who assert the contrary, perhaps there were different rules at different times.  In any case, Boekestein provides a piece of the puzzle.  Also on page 160 is a quotation of Augustine, who says that Christians submitted to the pagan emperor Julian out of obedience to God.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.  My review is honest!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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