Monthly Archives: May 2009

Sometimes Repentance Isn’t Enough

Here is the fifteenth in a series of Bible studies that presents the Bible as being on the side of pacifism.  This essay, “Sometimes Repentance Isn’t Enough”, takes up the story of Judah’s “boy king,” Josiah.  Josiah follows a long line of corrupt kings characterized by injustice and idolatry. During his kingship, the scroll of the Law is discovered in the dusty corners of the Temple. When it is read to Josiah, he realizes its importance, repents, and seeks to reform Judah in line with the demands of Torah.

Josiah meets with some success, but ends up killed on the battlefield with the task uncompleted. His successor moves the nation back on the track of corruption and within a few years Judah’s temple and king’s palace lie in ruins.

The failure of Josiah’s reform shows just how far Israel had moved from the expectations of Torah, and marks the end of the nation-state as the possible channel for God’s work of blessing all the families of the earth. From now on, it is God’s people in faith communities separate from state domination that fuel the outworking of the promise.

Josiah’s main accomplishment, in the end, was to recognize the Law scroll for what it was and to bring back into the community this essential resource. When the nation-state falls, Torah provides the orienting point that enables the people of the promise to sustain their identity.

Johanna W. H. Van Wijk-Bos. Making Wise the Simple: The Torah and Christian Faith and Practice

Johanna W. H. Van Wijk-Bos. Making Wise The Simple: The Torah In Christian Faith And Practice. Eerdmans, 2005.

Van Wijk-Bos, professor of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has written a helpful and important, if somewhat frustrating, book on a Christian appropriation of Old Testament law.

I greatly appreciate Van Wijk-Bos’s sympathetic reading of Torah and her deep concern for faithful Christian living. She helps us better understand how from the start Torah was rooted in God’s healing mercy–not legalism and fearfulness. She writes as a Christian, but with high regard for the Jewish tradition. While the scholarship is deep and sound, the writing is accessible, clear, and generally engaging.

However, the book’s organization seems fragmented and the book doesn’t follow as coherent a flow of logic as might be desired. It’s impact is lessened by its scatteredness.

Overall, though, Making Wise the Simple makes a strong contribution on a vital theme.

Book Review Index

G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship.

G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. InterVarsity Press, 2008.

I read this book because it is one of the few I know of that addresses what I see as a hugely important and interesting theme in the Bible–idolatry. While I like Beale’s basic argument, that we become like the things we give our highest loyalty to, I found the book quite a disappointment. I would not recommend it except for those with a strong research-kind of interest in biblical teaching on idolatry.

My main criticisms have to do with Beale’s very narrow sense of what idolatry is about–he minimizes the social dynamics of idolatry linked with nationalism, ethno-centrism, religious exclusivism, and various other ways idolatry and violence and injustice connect. He approaches the Bible with great reverence, but seems oblivious to many of the core elements of the Bible’s critical stance towards imperialistic social institutions and the role these institutions play in turning people and their religiosity against the true God.

Book Review Index

Is Pacifism Ever an Idol?

Critics of pacifism, especially (ironically) some from within the broader peace church community, often warn that too much of an emphasis on pacifism can become idolatrous. This sermon, “Is Pacifism Ever an Idol?”  presents a biblically-based argument that, when properly understood, pacifism is one commitment that can never be idolatrous.