In the Shadow of Empire

Richard Horsley, editor, Westminster John Knox, 2008

My most recent fad in biblical reading is on the perspective of empire as key to understanding the biblical text. ‘Issues of imperial rule and response to it run deep and wide through most books of the Bible’ (p 7). There is the double need: to see the theme of empire in order to understand the biblical text, and to see the nature of our response to that theme in our own culture and story. ‘The principal biblically based celebrations of both Christian churches and Jewish synagogues all focus on imperial oppression and G-d’s deliverance of the people. Passover commemorates the exodus from hard bondage under the pharaoh in Egypt. Hanukkah celebrates G-d’s deliverance of the Judeans struggling to resist the first attempts by a Western empire to suppress the Israelite-Judean traditional covenantal way of life.

Christmas celebrates the birth of a peasant child as the true ‘Saviour’ of a people who had been conquered and laid under tribute by Caesar, whom the whole world had already acclaimed as the ‘Saviour’ who had brought ‘peace and security’ to the world. It also commemorates the Roman client king’s dispatch of counterinsurgency forces to massacre the innocents in order to check the deliverance movement before it got started. Good Friday and Easter remember Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion by the Roman imperial rulers followed by his vindication by G-d as the true Lord and Saviour, as opposed to the imperial ‘lord’ and ‘saviour’. In the Shadow of Empire traces this theme closely in the stories of Jesus, in the writings of Paul, and in the books of Matthew, Acts and Revelation.

—Vern Ratzlaff, pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada Read more ›

The Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This summer I had a chance to go to Berlin, so I decided to brush up on some Bonhoeffer reading. I decided to go back to Discipleship, a book to which my seminary students often respond with enthusiasm.

The excellent editorial introduction to the new edition places this book in the broad scope of Bonhoeffer's work, defending the view that it represents his mature theology.

I first read The Cost of Discipleship as a much younger man, not trained to read Euro-American texts as embedded in a culture of white supremacy.  Even learning that Bonhoeffer criticized the National Socialist agenda and the German Christians, I little awareness that his work addressed race issues.

What a difference the decades have made, not only for my reading, but also for Bonhoeffer scholarship.  This time, working through Bonhoeffer's arguments revealed his theological agenda challenging the dominant structures of theologians and churches of his day which had accommodated the doctrines of Aryan racial superiority. Read more ›

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney, Little, Brown & Co, 2009

Sherman treats his characters with respect and love, yet is gently honest about their shortcomings. His description of life on the reservation is painful, and funny. The self-deprecating nature of the protagonist, Arnold, AKA “Junior,” makes his character very likable. His description of his fellow residents of the reservation also reflects some of the known issues for native peoples in many parts of our country.

He says that the worst thing about being poor is the inability to help those you love. He talks about his best friend, Oscar the dog, becoming critically ill. His parents cannot take him to the vet, because they don’t have the money to.  He hates the powerlessness that comes from not being able to affect a change in your circumstances.

“…I can’t blame my parents for our poverty…it’s not like my mother and father were born into wealth. It’s not like they gambled away their family fortunes. My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.”

He discovers that his textbooks are older than he is, and becomes angry that the opportunities on the rez aren’t anywhere near those elsewhere. His teacher convinces him that if he doesn’t get away from the limitations of the rez his life will be no different than that of generations of Spokane Indians. So he decides to go to the public school in the town nearby that is all white. Read more ›

Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich

Dean G. Stroud, Editor, Eerdmans, 2013, Eerdmans

This small book is potent. During the decisive early years when everyone and every institution had to express a Nazi orientation and perspective, these sermons were preached by pastors who knew what was at stake. Dean Stroud’s remarkable 50 page introduction gives the background for the sermons and provides the context for the church struggle. Stroud, emeritus professor of German Studies at the University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, pays particular attention to Nazi rhetoric and language and its conflict with Christian rhetoric and language and shows how every sermon faithful to Christ left the pastor open to arrest and worse. Besides well known preachers like Bonhoeffer, Barth and Niemoller included are courageous sermons by others like small-town pastor Paul Schneider, who became the first pastor martyred by the Nazis.

Discernment about what was going on was essential. It still is.

“Throughout the Reich, the Church Struggle took place in both pulpit and pew. Preaching in Hitler’s shadow was risky business. But always Jesus Christ was real and uncompromising in his claim on preacher and congregation alike. “ (p. 48)

—Kyle Childress, pastor, Austin Heights Baptist Church, Nacogdoches, TX Read more ›

Louis Weil, Liturgical Sense: The Logic of Rite

New York, New York: Seabury Books, 2013. 140 pages. Kindle Edition. ASIN B00BFJXY4E

Written in particular for priests and other worship leaders in The Episcopal Church, Liturgical Sense: The Logic of Rite focuses on historical developments in the theology and practice of presiding at the Eucharist, with special attention to how the Eucharistic rites and rubrics of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church represent a significant if not complete recovery of early Christian liturgical celebration in general and presiding in particular.

I am aware of no other book, anywhere, that provides so clear and thorough while also brief a review of the history of the pivotal changes in how Western Christians, ecumenically and worldwide, have approached celebrating and presiding in worship beginning in the second half of the 20th century.

“The liturgy is the common prayer of the Church . . . [o]ur common faith is nourished through that very commonality . . . and . . . by placing us on familiar ground, to remind us . . . of what God has done from Creation to this very day.” (Kindle Location 1380)

—Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church Read more ›