Theology Feed

God and the Pandemic

God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its AftermathGod and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath by N.T. Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick read. The first few chapters weren't as substantive, but the last two were filled with good bits.

The book includes some interesting and provocative reflections on the doctrine of God ("Might we then say that God the creator . . . has no appropriate words to say to the misery when creation is out of joint?"), which then lead to fascinating ideas in pneumatology and ecclesiology. The church should be present where people are in pain and our first task is lament.

In his final chapter he expressed some of what have been my concerns in recent months. He calls the church to take safety seriously and not do stupid things, while at the same time lamenting that the church is being left out of its traditional role of being present with sick, dying, and grieving people. He also worries that "faced with a major crisis, [the Church] has meekly followed what seems to be a secularizing lead." That we have reinforced the idea that worship is a personal hobby we share with like-minded people.

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Proverbs and Ecclesiastes: A Theological Commentary

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.(Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible)Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. by Amy Plantinga Pauw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been using this commentary while teaching a church Bible study on the Wisdom Books. This has been a very helpful guide, particularly in Ecclesiastes. Pauw brings to her commentary a rich theological understanding of the tradition, so that the ancient Hebrew work is in dialogue with Augustine, Luther, Kierkegaard, Barth, and Niebuhr, while also drawing insights from a wide set of references including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the poems of Wendell Berry, and the philosophy of Martha Nussbaum.

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Virus as Summons to Faith

Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and UncertaintyVirus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty by Walter Brueggemann
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"These dangers, however, are not decisive for what is possible or for what is required in the world. Thus war, pestilence, and famine are finally seen as accountable to the creator God, who presides even over such disasters. Virus is thereby robbed of its capacity to disorder daily life. In effect, these texts decisively change the subject from disaster to the rule of YHWH. Such a changed subject revises how we may live in the neighborhood when it is under threat."

Finished in early April, this book might have been most helpful then. But it seems to me not to deal as substantively with the current ambiguities and uncertainties of the crisis as well as I had hoped. Some of the best parts of the book are prayers he has written between the chapters and which I'm certain I will use liturgically. And, as always with Brueggeman, some lines and paragraphs that will be useful for preaching.

But I felt that theologically and biblically it didn't give me the meat I need right now. N. T. Wright has also released a book on the pandemic, which I have preordered but won't arrive until July.

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Four Quartets

Four QuartetsFour Quartets by T.S. Eliot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending . . ."

I often battle insomnia and even moreso in recent weeks with it occurring almost every night. In the wee hours of this morning I decided to start Eliot's Four Quartets and didn't put it down. I regret not having read it before, but it is also fitting for the time in which we live.

A time when we are having trouble making sense of time. When we wonder if our past is forever past, what our future might be, and how long this present full of waiting and suspension will last. These four poems are about "the still point of the turning world." Melancholic, humble, and hopeful reflections on time.

Back in college I read The Waste Land but have only since then read an Eliot poem or passage here or there when it appeared in some anthology or book. Recently I read The Year of Our Lord 1943 which focused on a handful of Christian thinkers trying to make sense of the crisis of the Second World War and to imagine what might come next. Eliot was one of the thinkers featured in the book and much attention was paid to this book. So, since I've been bingeing poetry this pandemic, I ordered it to read. And am quite grateful I did.

Of course, I should end this review with the most famous lines from the book,

"All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well."

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Reason for Being

Reason for Being: A Meditation on EcclesiastesReason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes by Jacques Ellul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"In the midst of a crisis, a person finds himself undetermined in such a way that his freedom can function."

Ellul the humanist explores this most philosophical of biblical books finding in it important messages for twentieth century human life. Here is a good summary of some main points:

"But the first step in wisdom consists of recognizing wisdom's vanity, acknowledging its limitations. We must live, work, and find joy within this understanding to which Qohelet invites us: no wisdom can enlighten us, or enable us to organize things so as to understand the world and history. No wisdom can establish a scale of moral values . . . . True, no wisdom or meaning exists; all the same, we will live; all the same, we will act; all the same, we will be capable of happiness and hope. The only true wisdom we can aspire to consists of the perception that no wisdom is possible. On that basis we must construct our lives, beginning at that negative point."

There is much to commend itself in this book, particularly in the midst of our current global crisis. But I thought the book could have used some serious editing. A more concise presentation of its points would have been a better read.

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The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of CrisisThe Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis by Alan Jacobs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some months ago this book was reviewed in The Christian Century and I put it on my to-read list. Last week looking for some work-related books to order, I saw this on the list and thought "That might be relevant to our moment" so I ordered it and have already finished it.

The book focuses on five thinkers--Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis, and Simone Weil--as they imagined what the future should be like after the Second World War. The key idea was that "miseducation had left the ordinary citizens of Western democracies in helpless thrall to the propagandistic machinations of unscrupulous nationalist movements," so they reimagined what education could/should do. A key theme was that they were critical of the technological fixes so fascinated upon by many in the West.

Jacobs is clear at the end that the changes these folks imagined did not occur. In many ways, it is a pessimistic book.

I did find some ideas that might be helpful to our current moment, and I did order one Auden book and one Eliot book that I haven't read. Also, there's one really excellent Bonhoeffer quote in the book.

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The Religious Affections

The Religious AffectionsThe Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"God's nature or divinity is infinitely excellent; yea it is infinite beauty, brightness, and glory itself."

I'd read parts of The Religious Affections, particularly the good Part 1, before and had been looking forward to this spring reading the entire book. But it is really not the type of writing I can focus well on at the moment, so about 160 pages in, I'm abandoning it for now.

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Finally Comes the Poet

Finally Comes the PoetFinally Comes the Poet by Walter Brueggemann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A powerful and vivid description of the art of preaching. With interesting comments on the task of listening, engaging in conversation, and building communion. His unpacking of a few biblical stories is quite good, but then he is the greatest living commentator on the Old Testament.

This book was a gift from a retired minister whose newborn granddaughter's funeral I did this winter.

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Whispered words

Here are a handful of sentences and phrases from the first chapter of Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki's The Whispered Word that particularly resonated with me:

  • Even as we speak, God is calling all worlds, and thus even our world, and ourselves with it, into being.
  • To exist is, by definition, to be receiving a word from God.
  • God's creative word is given as invitation and as promise.  As promise, it suggests that which is truly possible for the emerging reality; as invitation, it calls that reality toward precisely this invited becoming.
  • God's word to us encounters the realities of our distant and immediate past with the possibilities of what our immediate and distant future might yet be.
  • God's creative word meets our condition, emerging quietly and most often unnoticeably in the midst of who and where we are.
  • There is no situation, no matter how dreadful, beyond the creative and transformative power of God.  The word of God is incarnational, clothed in the flesh of the past, but offering the possibility of a new future.
  • There is never a moment when God does not offer a formative word.
  • It's as if God has created us not as individuals unto ourselves, but as participants in a world; we are created for one another.
  • We are never addressed by God as if we were the only creature in the universe: We are addressed by God as a living participant in the fullness of God's creative work.
  • Because the word takes in all our circumstances, the word offers us that which we can really become; it is an achievable word, and to that extent it is an empowering word."