I have heard two sermon series on the Song of Songs, both of which used the book as a sort of guide or example for dating, marriage, and sex. Both of...moreI have heard two sermon series on the Song of Songs, both of which used the book as a sort of guide or example for dating, marriage, and sex. Both of them left me unsatisfied and thinking that the preachers were not doing justice to the poems. Likewise, many translations of the Bible seem to be hopelessly obscure to anyone without a commentary.
So it's refreshing to read two translators who have taken the plunge and made a commitment to a particular interpretation. Even if they may get things wrong (the beloved or the brothers may not be speaking these particular lines, e.g.), at least the result is comprehensible and quite beautiful. I actually feel like I basically understand the Song of Songs.
The translators see the poems as a back and forth expression of sexual love between the Shulamite and a shepherd. It is full of fantastic, constantly merging imagery, creating a fragrant landscape in the full bloom of spring and abounding with wild animals, spices, fruits, and exotic locations. The Blochs see Solomon's presence in the poems as roll play between the lover and the beloved. The most controversial thing they say is that the lovers are not married.
A very nice work. There is an introduction and an epilogue, Hebrew script on the page opposite to the English, and a lengthy verse-by-verse commentary that is mostly comprehensible, though a little on the learned side. I was more interested in just what is going on in the episodes rather than the various meanings of a particular Hebrew word.(less)
Lewis finds a niche for himself in these essays on the Psalms. He is no Biblical expert, he says, but the commentaries of Biblical scholars often fail...moreLewis finds a niche for himself in these essays on the Psalms. He is no Biblical expert, he says, but the commentaries of Biblical scholars often fail to consider the questions of the average reader of the Psalms, questions that Lewis himself has. So Lewis writes his own thoughts in hopes of "comparing notes" with other students like himself. Of course, as one goodreads reviewer has already pointed out, there are hardly other students like the brilliant Lewis.
How can someone who is a sinner himself ask so confidently for God's judgment on others? What are we to make of the cringe-worthy psalms of cursing? Why does it seem that many of the psalms reflect no belief in the after-life? Why would God, unless he were vain, demand to be praised all the time? How can the psalms have a second meaning beyond that of its original intention? Lewis addresses these questions honestly and beautifully.
What I appreciate about Lewis's approach is that he brings us to the original singer of the particular psalm within its original context without immediately assuming a New Testament interpretation. Thus, mention of salvation almost invariably refers to rescue from danger or sickness, not salvation from sin. (Although, as he points out later, such an interpretation is legitimate for the Christian.) The psalmist's desire for judgment is a desire for a righteous judge to take up the cause of the oppressed; our own hesitancy to pray for such a thing is centered on our well-founded awareness that we are sinners and that we want mercy, not judgment. When a particular psalmist says that no one praises God from the grave, Lewis does not try to invent a convoluted explanation of why the psalmist did in fact expect to be in God's presence when he died; he did not have this hope, Lewis says, because God had not yet chosen to give a clear revelation of this reality, and Lewis goes into a discussion about how God wanted to teach his people to desire him, not an afterlife.
Lewis's take on the inspiration of scripture may find disagreement from those who believe in the infallibility of the Bible. His approach to the psalms and the scriptures as a whole allows for a much greater presence of humanity with all its proneness to errors, ignorance, and even sin. Thus, Lewis condemns the cursing psalms while still finding that God wanted them in the canon. After all, they teach us that injustice done to the individual not only wrongs him, but arouses hatred within him.
I will not go into Lewis's approach to second meanings in the psalms, except to say that he explains well and accepts the multiple layers of meaning within the psalms. The last essay is a beautiful description of the presence of Christ in the psalms. I also won't go into Lewis's explanation of why the psalms demand praise from us, except to say that it's a classic and a must-read.(less)
A collection of conversations and letters, this short work provides a good devotional stressing the practice of being aware of God's presence continua...moreA collection of conversations and letters, this short work provides a good devotional stressing the practice of being aware of God's presence continually throughout the day. The Practice of the Presence of God is available for free online.(less)
This book is primarily a comparison between the Enuma Elish and several fragmentary creation myths of the Babylonians with Genesis 1-2 and a few other...moreThis book is primarily a comparison between the Enuma Elish and several fragmentary creation myths of the Babylonians with Genesis 1-2 and a few other Old Testament passages.
Chapter 1: Enuma Elish. My primary reason for purchasing this book was to read this myth, and I wasn't disappointed. Heidel precedes it with a helpful summary to orient the reader. The story itself celebrates the ascension of Marduk to the position of king of all the gods, a title awarded to him for his victory over the mother of all the gods Tiamat, who represents the primordial salt water whence everything else came into being. From her carcass, he creates the sky and the earth. He then creates the moon, the stars, and the planets. Finally, from the blood of Kingu (Tiamat's consort/general of her armies), Marduk creates man. The myth concludes with the celebration of Marduk's victory and the recital of his fifty names.
Chapter 2: Related Babylonian Creation Stories. These are framgentary but interesting stories that add details to the Enuma Elish or give alternate accounts.
Chapter 3: Old Testament Parallels. Heidel considers the similarities of the Babylonian stories with Genesis 1-2 primarily, but includes other Old Testament passages. His conclusion is that the similarities are definitely there but that they are overblown, and the differences between the two accounts are more striking.(less)
What I love about Richard Foster is that he is steeped in the story of the church. He is not bound within the narrow constraints of a particular strai...moreWhat I love about Richard Foster is that he is steeped in the story of the church. He is not bound within the narrow constraints of a particular strain of Christianity but seeks to know what the Spirit of God has been doing since Pentecost. What results is a rich book on prayer, exploring a variety of kinds of prayer that I would not expect. Some of the chapters I have my doubts on (the prayer of contemplation, the prayer of authority), but they challenged me to stretch.(less)
A thorough, scholarly work. From early republic to Christianity, the authors trace out the history of Roman religion. An excellent job of maintaining...moreA thorough, scholarly work. From early republic to Christianity, the authors trace out the history of Roman religion. An excellent job of maintaining the complexity and the Roman-ness of Roman religion and of resisting the urge to make unfounded statements based on theories of how all religions develop. Almost all of my preconceptions of Roman religion (many based on short summaries of Roman religion) were refuted.
My only problem with the work was that the authors take a lot of knowledge for granted. They do not go through the Roman gods and tell who they were, nor do they describe the worship of Lares or define what a genius was. A good work but most suitable for graduate students. Look elsewhere for an introduction.(less)
Simplicity, says Foster, is far more than getting rid of household clutter. It starts with inner simplicity, a state of awareness of and communion wit...moreSimplicity, says Foster, is far more than getting rid of household clutter. It starts with inner simplicity, a state of awareness of and communion with God. It means learning to have a single focus--hearing his voice and obeying. It entails simplicity and truthfulness of speech. It has as its goal the ability to serve others, to give more of one's money, time, and talents. Foster moves on from individual simplicity to simplicity in the church and then from there to its impact on the world. He recognizes the complexity (oddly enough) of applying simplicity to society and helpfully gives concrete examples to get one's creativity flowing. An excellent, extremely convicting book, and much-needed in a culture of affluence, waste, and unhappiness.(less)
A beautiful, skillfully composed autobiography of Merton's journey into Christianity and then into a Trappist monastary. The author's insights into Ch...moreA beautiful, skillfully composed autobiography of Merton's journey into Christianity and then into a Trappist monastary. The author's insights into Christianity, Communism, World War II, and the world in general are often stunning and cutting. Good Christian writing. Some interesting comments that come to mind: Merton sees World War II as the natural result of his own sin; he says that we are all called to be saints, and that just one can change the course of this world, that Communism would utterly fail if Catholics just followed their calling to love the poor, and he writes that the highest calling of all Christians is to contemplate God and to share the overflow of his love with the world.(less)
The way we often view time in our culture, says Webber, is that it is always running out, always linear, never enough, but for the Christian, it can b...moreThe way we often view time in our culture, says Webber, is that it is always running out, always linear, never enough, but for the Christian, it can be a rhythm of remembrance of the great events of salvation. Even more than that, we can live these events, become joined with the Christ of these events, and so have our spirituality formed by his Spirit.
For a Protestant who had never really celebrated anything besides Christmas and Easter, this was enlightening and even devotional. I have become excited by it and am looking forward to celebrating the Christian calendar this year.
A good summary, from Webber himself:
"Advent is a time to wait. Christmas is a time to rejoice. Epiphany is a time to witness. Lent is a time for repentance and renewal. The Great Triduum is a time to enter death. Easter is a time to express the resurrected life. After Pentecost is a time to study and evangelize."(less)
I really appreciate the honesty that Enns brings in his approach to the Bible as he deals with modern evidence that many evangelicals are uncomfortabl...moreI really appreciate the honesty that Enns brings in his approach to the Bible as he deals with modern evidence that many evangelicals are uncomfortable with. The first section, which is on seeing much of the Old Testament in its Ancient Near Eastern context and as a reflection of that context's customs and ideals, seemed hardly very controversial to me, but then again, I've already read a good deal about the issues discussed. The second section, on theological diversity in the Old Testament, was not very satisfying because it seemed to leave a lot of unresolved questions. The third section, on the sometimes odd interpretation on the Old Testament by New Testament authors, was very good and enlightening. Enns approach throughout the book is to see the Bible as incarnational in the same way that Jesus was/is, that is, that it is very much human as well as divine.
I know that Enns got into trouble for writing this book, but I am glad that he produced it. Even if one doesn't agree with him, it is good to at least hear out an unorthodox view from a believer.(less)
If you know nothing about the history of Christianity, then read another book and then come back to this one. Not an event-by-event account of the chu...moreIf you know nothing about the history of Christianity, then read another book and then come back to this one. Not an event-by-event account of the church in time, it instead follows movements and developments of thought. Williams' language is almost poetic, at times dense, but definitely unique. Learned, theological, and chiefly concerned with the co-inherence of God and man, Williams presents the story of Christianity like no one else.(less)
This book has probably helped me most in my understanding of Genesis 1-11. (Since I was interested just in this part of Genesis, I read Sarna's commen...moreThis book has probably helped me most in my understanding of Genesis 1-11. (Since I was interested just in this part of Genesis, I read Sarna's commentary only to that point.) Viewing these chapters in a non-literal, non-historical way, Sarna nevertheless draws very meaningful teaching about God and his work. Most from my tradition (Presbyterian Church in America) will not agree with him, but I found it enlightening for my questions.(less)