Book Write-Ups: The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People; Reformation Commentary on John 13-21; Every Leaf, Line, and Letter

Here are some reviews of IVP review books I was sent. The reviews will be succinct. These will be the last IVP review books that I review in a long time. I enjoy them, but there are other books that I want to read, without necessarily having to blog about them. In the near future, I will review R.A. Denny’s The Alchemy Thief, but that will probably be the only book review that I write in a long time.

A. Matthew S. Harmon. The Servant of the Lord and the Servant People: Tracing a Biblical Theme through the Canon. IVP Academic, 2020. Go here to purchase the book.

As the title indicates, Harmon goes through the concept of the “servant of the LORD” throughout the Bible. What stands out in my mind is his interaction with the scholarly argument that the New Testament rarely applies Isaiah 53 to Jesus, questioning whether Isaiah 53 was even significant in and formative of early Christianity. The reason that this stands out to me is that it was an issue that one of my advisors wanted me to engage in my M.Div. thesis, which argued that Isaiah 53 predicted Christ. (This was Harvard Divinity School, where such a thesis would be controversial.) Harmon contended that, indeed, the New Testament was significantly influenced by Isaiah 53.

B. Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 13-21. IVP Academic, 2021. Go here to purchase the book.

Like the other books in this series, this one quotes Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist, and pre-Tridentine Catholic interpretations of biblical passages. In this case, the passages are John 13-21. John 13-21 is a fruitful section of Scripture. There are passages about God giving believers whatever they request in Jesus’s name, Jesus’s promise that the disciples will do greater things than Jesus did, the promise of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’s statement that the disciples will be able to forgive and retain sins. I was edified in reading the book, but all I remember at this point is the interpretations of how the disciples will do greater things than Jesus did: that it applied to the first century apostles, not believers afterwards. I guess these Reformers were not Pentecostals.

The glossary in the back refreshed my memory about some things that I read in the previous Reformation Commentaries’ glossaries. For example, Henry VIII did not become a Protestant simply because he disliked his wife and the Catholic church would not grant him an annulment. Rather, he had an Old Testament reason for the annulment: “Believing his marriage cursed as it transgressed the commands in Leviticus against marrying a brother’s widow…” (What about Levirate marriage?) That was the official reason, but then I read in E. Michael Jones’s Barren Metal that Henry VIII was not even consistent in this stance.

C. Timothy Larsen, ed. Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present. Go here to purchase the book.

Various scholars contribute to this book, which primarily concerns the interpretation and application of the Bible in eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century America. There are a couple of chapters that go outside of the United States, such as one on charismatic renewal in 1960’s Britain and New England, and another on evangelicalism in a global context. I will not go through each chapter but rather will comment briefly on select chapters:

Kristina Benham, “British Exodus, American Empire: Evangelical Preachers and the Biblicisms of Revolution.” Mark A. Noll, “Missouri, Denmark Vesey, Biblical Proslavery, and a Crisis for Sola Scriptura.”

I include these chapters together because both highlight a tension in attempts to apply the Bible. On the one hand, the Bible encourages submission to authority. Romans 13 comes to mind. The Bible also appears to condone slavery. On the other hand, the Bible condemns authoritarianism. American revolutionaries and abolitionists drew more from the latter strain of thought. How they sought to reconcile their views with the former is where they become interesting. One abolitionist, for example, sought to explain Leviticus 25’s statement that Israelites can hold non-Israelite slaves in perpetuity by referring to the circumcision of non-Israelite slaves in Exodus 12: when they are circumcised, they become Israelites and thus can be released on the seventh year, like Israelite slaves. Maybe, but does that not make Leviticus 25’s statement meaningless and unnecessary? Unless, I suppose, Gentile slaves in Exodus 12 could choose to remain uncircumcised.

Jonathan Yeager, “Faith, Free Will, and Biblical Reasoning in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards and John Erskine.”

Edwards did not see humans as automatons as much as I thought, and Edwards leaned, somewhat, towards a Catholic view on justification. At this time, I lean heavily onto the “Christ’s imputed righteousness” model, since my own moral thoughts fall dramatically short from where Christians say they should be. But there are a variety of views out there. That is why I cannot be dogmatic in sharing a canned “Romans Road” or “Way of the Master” Gospel with people.

Mary Riso, “Josephine Butler’s Mystic Vision and Her Love for the Jesus of the Gospels.”

Josephine Butler stressed the significance of suffering in spirituality. Such a message does not resonate with me currently, since things are going fairly well in my life: I take Zoloft, I have a job, and people there seem to like me, or at least they act like they do! The same incel (not violent incel, but just incel) feelings are still present, but I am living with them. Of course, there are other people who are suffering, and I should try to cultivate empathy. (Note: This is why I hate blogging. I write a thought, fear that people will call me self-centered, then feel a compulsion to qualify what I am saying, resulting in a jumbled mess.) Anyway, where this chapter resonated with me was when Riso started talking about Butler’s alienation from organized Christianity, particularly the doctrine of hell.

Timothy Larsen, “Liberal Evangelicals and the Bible.”

Larsen critiques Vernon Storr, a liberal evangelical Anglican in the early twentieth century. This chapter is effective in showing how Storr’s liberal evangelicalism is inadequate: Storr believes the Bible is errant and stresses its human aspect, with the result that he cannot provide a solid authoritative basis for Christian doctrine or theology. Larsen, however, seems to go to the opposite extreme, acting as if the Bible lacks problems and even seriously entertaining conservative attempts to reconcile how many animals went onboard Noah’s ark. Larsen has one humorous insight, though: when he observes that Storr appeared embarrassed when a biblical prophecy actually was fulfilled! Storr’s proposed approach to the Bible was essentially to look at the main idea rather than the details of biblical passages. That may be one way to reconcile the apparently problematic nature of the Bible with Christian faith, but it makes the Bible boring. One reason I like to read the Bible is to figure out why it says what it says, as it says it: it provides unending intellectual stimulation. If all I can get from the Bible is “be nice to people,” then it would be a dull book.

Malcolm Foley, “‘The Only Way to Stop a Mob’: Francis Grimke’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance.”

Francis Grimke made a lucid and compelling case against lynching in the South. This may seem obvious, but if you read and listen to white nationalists, you get the impression that lynching was understandable because it was carried out against rapists. Grimke provides an effective counter-point to that position. Foley also notes James Baldwin’s observation that, notwithstanding southern whites’ condemnation of miscegenation, there were white slaveholders who had children by their black slaves. White nationalists can retort “But that doesn’t mean miscegenation is right,” but that inconsistency in white Southern culture should be addressed, somehow, considering the importance of anti-miscegenation arguments in defenses of segregation.

John Maiden, “‘As at the Beginning’: Charismatic Renewal and the Reanimation of Scripture in Britain and New Zealand in the ‘Long’ 1960s.”

Maiden talks about how charismatics were discontent with the overly intellectual nature of evangelicalism and sought (maybe even had) an emotional Spirit-filled faith. These days, the intellectual content of Christianity appeals to me. I am hanging onto my faith like a thread, but I can still enjoy Charles Hodge, with his dispassionate approach! When it come to the charismatic movement, I feel, as I long have, that either God is leaving me out, or that charismatics are too dogmatic about God’s views, or that charismatics show Christianity to be too “real” for my comfort.

Catherine A. Brekus, “The American Patriot’s Bible: Evangelicals, the Bible, and American Nationalism.”

This chapter is nauseatingly and predictably woke, but its critique of the American Patriot’s Bible does highlight nuances in American history and thus is an effective critique of “Christian right” conceptions of U.S. history. In my view, the secular humanist progressive conceptions are problematic, too.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. 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. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also 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.
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