29 February 2012

Better late than never?

I meant to mention the Ash Wednesday Declaration last week, but life intervened in the form of a couple of tight deadlines. Hence the title of this entry. Though, on reflection, the title could also apply to the declaration itself since theologians have been calling attention to the religious implications of the environmental crisis for several decades now. But, judging by the list of eminent signatories, concern for our impact on the environment has at last made it on to the agendas of the upper echelons of a number of mainstream churches.

The preamble reads:
Climate change and the purposes of God: a call to the Church
The likelihood of runaway global warming, which will diminish food security, accelerate the extinction of huge numbers of species and make human life itself impossible in some parts of the world, raises questions that go to the heart of our Christian faith.

What should our relationship be with God as both the origin and the end of all things? How do we balance our energy and material consumption with the needs of the poorest communities, and of future generations and other species? How do we sustain hope in the midst of fear and denial? How can we encourage global cooperation, challenge unsustainable economic systems and change our lifestyles? These fundamental questions prompt this urgent call to the Church.

28 February 2012

Long on Hebrews

Another book review:

D. Stephen Long, Hebrews, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)

Stephen Long has made a valuable contribution to the Belief series of theological commentaries on the Bible. In it, he argues that the letter to the Hebrews is particularly important for contemporary readers because of the way it integrates doctrine, ethics and politics, and because of its metaphysical sophistication. We live in a world that has been flattened and disenchanted by the forces of secularism, but Hebrews reminds us of the world’s complexity. It also teaches us to read Scripture in light of Christ’s strange victory.

The commentary works through the text of the letter in a verse by verse manner. While not as detailed as some commentaries that focus on every nuance of the Greek text, Long surveys the major theological themes of the letter and examines them in some detail. The themes he focuses on are neatly summarized by his fivefold division of the letter: God Speaks (1:1–2:18); Christ: Faithful and Merciful High Priest (3:1–6:20); Priesthood and Sanctuaries (7:1–10:39); Finding Yourself among the Saved: Faith and Endurance (11:1–12:12); and, Concluding Parakl─ôsis and Theophanic Vision: Pursue Peace and Holiness (12:14–13:21).

There is a tremendous amount of helpful material in his commentary on the text. But I was particularly impressed by his ‘Further Reflections’ sections. These are two- or three-page asides in which he deals with the relevance of sections of the letter to particular contemporary theological issues. So, for example, he offers a very useful study of Protestant gnosticism and modernity. Other topics covered include infant baptism, canonicity, ‘Judaizing’, perfection and deification, the politics of the priest-king (a particularly interesting section in which he proposes Hebrews as a biblical alternative to Plato’s philosopher-kings), and apocalyptic.

Long’s commentary is not a substitute for a careful analysis of the text, but it does serve as a valuable theological complement to such an analysis. This will be a valuable addition to the library of every serious student of the New Testament.