Category Archives: Book Reviews

Of Games and God

Of Games and God

For any of you interested in a Christian take on the current Video Game culture, I just came across this recently published book by Brazos. It is written by Kevin Schut, a communications expert and an enthusiastic gamer himself, offers a lively, balanced, and informed Christian evaluation of video games and video game culture. He expertly engages a variety of issues, encouraging readers to consider both the perils and the promise of this major cultural phenomenon. The book includes a foreword by Quentin J. Schultze.

Of Games and God

It’s cheaper to buy it on if you actually want to purchase it. But the above link gives a good deal of easy access to information about the book. Here is the link.

Kevin has also written a good article over on Relevant Magazine’s site called Do Video Games Cause Violence?

Here’s a concluding excerpt that I think we can all agree with:

Do bloodthirsty games encourage me to be bloodthirsty? Am I less sympathetic to the oppressed after playing video games? Am I buying into attitudes and ideologies that I should not, attitudes that glorify destructive acts, inflicting pain and causing death?

The answer may not always be yes, and so the violent video games may be simply OK or even possibly beneficial. But we should always be prepared to think through our game-playing. Unexamined ideas, actions, beliefs and mind-sets can impact us; conscious engagement makes a difference. War, pain, danger, suffering and excitement will always be part of the human condition while we still live. Many video games reflect that reality. Will we use those games to grapple with or to glorify violence?

Book Review: The Modern Search for the Real Jesus

Amazon Link: The Modern Search for the Real Jesus

The Modern Search for the Real Jesus


The Modern Search for the Real Jesus is an introductory survey of the historical roots of “Gospels Criticism,” as it has been done since the enlightenment. The book is written by Robert B. Strimple. The basic outline of the book starts in the 18th century and develops the first stages of Gospels Criticism, which has come to be known as the “Old Quest” for the historical Jesus. This quest was basically terminated with the likes of Albert Schweitzer and some rationalist critics who saw the “Old Quest” as fundamentally flawed in its approach to the historical nature of the Gospels themselves. Then, finally in the 20th century, Rudolf Bultmann appeared and gave a ‘watershed’ theory that would ultimately result in a “New Quest” for the historical Jesus. If I could summarize the book into funny categories, I would divide Strimple’s history of ‘Modern’ Gospels Criticism into these three basic categories: 1) Finding your own personal Jesus, 2) Burning everyone’s Personal Jesus, and 3) Solo Fide (Only Faith) – Jesus doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, that is how I felt after I read through the book and processed the basic thought patterns of each transformation of Gospels Criticism. Ultimately, instead of trying to summarize what each person said and thought, the most important thing to understand about Gospels Criticism is that everyone basically subscribed to three principles of history: 1) Any historical work can never be sure, it is only ‘probable’ that something happened, 2) If we cannot see it duplicated today, then it never could have happened in the past (i.e. – no miracles, resurrections, etc.), and 3) Every effect has to have a sufficient cause. Given these three principles, it should become clear that any ‘divine’ activity is strictly prohibited from being ‘known’ in history.


The full worth of this book should be seen in the comprehensive understanding that is given to every figure addressed throughout the book. Each person’s primary methodology in Gospels Criticism is clearly explained with the practical implications laid out for each. I especially enjoyed all the comments by Strimple throughout the book that he set in parentheses (). It became clear, after reading the first two parts of the book, why Strimple divided the various critics into the areas noted above. The “Old Quest” really was obsessed with creating Jesus in their own personal image. Then the “Old Quest” ended in flames with the old critics being called on the carpet for making Jesus in their own image. Finally, the last portion of the book, resolved the events of the burning of the old quest by showing how Bultmann and his disciples embraced the fruits of rationalistic historical criticism – since you really cannot know anything about the ‘historical’ Jesus, a radical faith (without Jesus) is the only real means of finding personal fulfillment in studying the Gospel writings.

One of the more helpful aspects of understanding the “Old Quest” is what Strimple calls their ‘apologetic’ purpose. The very first two critics Strimple mentions saw themselves as apologists for Christianity given the new era of rationalistic enlightenment. In their sincerity, they saw themselves as making Christianity palatable for a modern person who didn’t know what to do with all the miracles and faith claims of the Bible. But this of course lead these early critics to deny the very heart of the good news of Jesus – that he not only died for sins but that he was resurrected from the dead and lives today in heaven, at the right hand of God, saving people from Satan, death, and sin through the work of his Spirit. That is where the liberal critics step in. Knowing that most of the things that were important to historic, orthodox Christians were now gutted from the Gospel accounts, these liberal critics sought to reconstruct Jesus into a ‘real’ historical figure that people could actually appreciate and follow after – since after all, everyone knows that Jesus had to be a great guy – even though his followers added all that non-historical data to his life in the Gospel accounts. But in the end, they only made Jesus look like themselves (i.e. – a deist, a Hegelian, or a liberal protestant) Strimple, in effect, captures the heart of each Gospels critic as he traces their work through to their ultimate conclusions. This leads us to the last two sections of the book.

Strimple very clearly lays out the downfall of the “Old Quest” by means of the skeptical “radical” critics and the climactic work of Albert Schweitzer. Thus, the downfall of the “Old Quest” can be categorized by two claims from the ‘fire-starters’ noted above: 1) The Gospels were heavily influenced by followers of Jesus, so much so that they are primarily theological works, not historical work. 2) The “Old Quest” critics ended up reconstructing the life of Jesus to look a lot like their own worldviews, which was essentially the same thing the “Old Questers” were accusing the Gospel writers of doing to Jesus! This second claim is one of the only positive things that Albert Schweitzer gave to the history of Gospels Criticism.

Finally, in the last portion of the book, Strimple gives us a very helpful picture of the Bultmann’s thinking and how he and his disciples proceeded to embrace the ultimate futility of the modern Gospels Criticism movement. First, I would like to note the partial ‘breath of fresh air’ that I experienced when reading the sixth chapter on Martin Kähler, the supposed forerunner to Bultmann. Kähler’s work, while not affirming the inerrancy of Scripture, seemed to be thoroughly affirming of orthodox Christian doctrine and faith. But, in the end, his impact on Gospels Criticism was not revival. It was instead food for thought that pushed Bultmann to the conclusions that he drew. Strimple strongly presents the ultimate foolishness of Bultmann’s existential and a-historical conclusions about the Jesus of history. Recalling my third section title in the summary above, Bultmann basically proposed that faith is the only means for a person to be justified in seeking out a life of ‘authentic existence.’ This is the concept of ‘solo’ fide – only faith – where Bultmann concluded that knowing the history of Jesus didn’t matter. Instead, what the Gospel writers were trying to accomplish was to show their reads how to live a truly authentic life. And that authentic life could come in any form, not just Christian religion. Thus, it was the ‘left-wing’ disciples of Bultmann who really ‘got it’ and carried out Bultmann’s conclusions to their ultimate end – ‘who cares about Jesus anymore, we just want an authentic existence!’


I found only two negatives in this survey of Modern Gospels Criticism: 1) Strimple did not always connect the three parts together very clearly as he structured the book into chapters. Yes, he made it clear why he segregated the book into the three parts, but as I read, the information was sometimes so much that I did not always track with who came first and why someone influenced another person. It might just be the case that undertaking any such survey like this is always prone to that weakness. 2) Though I attribute this second issue to when Strimple wrote the book, I would have liked to have seen a fourth section covering what has more recently been called the “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus. The book dates itself by not addressing anything beyond what has taken place directly after Bultmann.


The Modern Search for the Real Jesus is a short, yet comprehensive, book that will accurately introduce a well read student of the Bible to the historical roots of Gospels Criticism. I say ‘well read’ because the book contains several references to the German language and also deals with fine distinctions and critical methodology. This book is primarily going to benefit someone seeking to be a pastor or Bible scholar, both of whom will run into these methods and conclusions in much of the scholarly commentary work done on the Gospels today.

Book Review: Mark as Story by David Rhoads

Amazon Link: Mark as Story by David Rhoads

mark as story


The primary purpose of the book, Mark as Story, by Rhoads, Dewey, and Michie, is to give a full introduction to reading the Gospel of Mark as Narrative or Story. This means that one should not first of all read mark as “history.” Instead, the authors recommend that the Gospel of Mark should be read (1) independently of other Gospel accounts, (2) while avoiding modern cultural assumptions, and (3) without reading in modern theological conclusions such as systematic formulas of the Trinity or Jesus’ Hypostatic Union. A full translation of the text of Mark is also provided in the book with particular emphasis on word and phase repetition, even to the point of maintaining the Greek word order where proper English allows. But the “bread and butter” of this book is contained in the literary analysis of the entire Gospel. In subsequent chapters to the translation, the authors provide detailed outlines and examples of how to understand the Gospel’s (1) Narrator, (2) the Cultural and Geographical Settings, (3) the Plot Lines, and (4) the Characters – such as Jesus, the Judean Leaders, and the Disciples of Jesus. Lastly, Mark as Story concludes with an afterword and two helpful appendixes. The afterword addresses how to read the Gospel of Mark with integrity, seeking to let the story of Jesus have its way with us and “work its magic” by using our imagination to read the story the way it was originally intended to be read by the first century audiences. The two appendixes are there for the more serious study of the Gospel, providing the reader with the proper tools and directions of what to look for when reading and re-reading the Gospel with several different questions and analysis points in mind.

Areas of Agreement

Keeping in mind that the authors of Mark as Story only intended this book to be a literary or narrative explanation of the Gospel of Mark, the reader must not misconstrue the fact that the Gospel of Mark contains accurate historical information about the first century, Jesus, and Jesus’ followers and enemies. The lack of historical analysis of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story is appropriate in the fact that the authors’ stated intentions were not to address this Gospel as “history.” Therefore, if one reads this book with the understanding that the authors are not denying the historical data that is found within the Gospel of Mark – let the reader understand – this book might be extremely helpful to the more conservative or evangelical reader.

In the literary analysis of Mark’s Gospel, multiple key subjects are highlighted and brought to the table by the authors: (1) the coming of God’s rule/kingdom, (2) the persecution that is associated with following God’s way, and (3) the work of Jesus to restore and change the way things are in world. These, along with other similar theological conclusions, are to be commended in the authors of Mark as Story. The general structure of Mark’s Gospel tells the story of God’s in-breaking rule and kingdom through the coming of Jesus and the persecution and rejection that is bound to follow those who seek after God’s way. This is something that other scholars have called inaugurated eschatology. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection inaugurate both the Kingdom of God and the Great Tribulation that was spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. By following the literary analysis provided in Mark as Story, one will come to a much deeper understanding of how important it was to the first century Christians who read or heard the Gospel of Mark while they were facing the wicked persecution of the Roman Empire in the mid to late decade of 60 A.D. It is with this clear structure that much of the Gospel of Mark can be cogently understood and read in its proper first century context.

A final and strong area of agreement is the fact that all Christians need to understand the literary side of Mark’s Gospel in order to better perceive the lessons and meanings that Mark intended his readers to receive as they read his Gospel account. By learning to read and understand plot lines, narrator functions, and cultural and geographical settings, the reader of Mark’s Gospel will have the ability to pick up on and imagine themselves in the story of Jesus as he brings God’s rule into this world and encourages all his followers to tell about God’s rule where they live and work. And while character analysis is an important feature of this Gospel, it is the conclusion of this reviewer that holding only to a literary reading of Mark’s Gospel will ultimately leave several character traits lacking, especially in the person and work of Jesus. This will be addressed in the next section that follows.

Areas of Disagreement

Many things could be said about the translation of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story, but an area of disagreement needs to be pointed out. Translating Mark in a word-for-word fashion is not the most effective way of getting the story of Mark across to the interpreter of Mark. Though this reviewer understands why the authors translated in this fashion, the overall translation was harder to follow in many areas given that Greek word order (which was emphasized in the translation) is non-existent for first century Greek grammar, especially as it relates to English grammar which demands word order for comprehension. But this is a minor disagreement and the translation can stand for the purposes of the authors’ literary analysis in bringing to light various patterns and repetitions in the Gospel of Mark.

Getting back to the Character analysis provided by the authors of Mark as Story, this reviewer cannot help but express his primary and strong disagreement and reservations with how certain aspects of Jesus’ character were described in the second to last chapter of the book. This is where a historical reading of the Gospel, along with a first century Christian understanding of Christology and Soteriology must be understood while reading Mark’s Gospel. Even though the authors believe that a literary analysis should exclude reading Mark as “history,” they do affirm the need for some cultural background to be understood in terms of Mark’s audience in the first century. Unfortunately, this is where several off-handed remarks are made by the authors of Mark as Story. For example, while it must be agreed that the Gospel of Mark does not need to address every theological meaning of Christ’s death, one cannot conclude with the character analysis that because “Jesus [was] already pardoning sin” that “his death is not needed to make forgiveness possible.” And later, in the same section, they conclude that Jesus’ statement about his “blood of the covenant” is not about sacrifice for sin, but merely a covenant sacrificial idea. But this assumes, once again, a certain view of modern theological interpretation that the authors of Mark as Story have so glaringly warned against. The first century Christian audiences would have had much more information about Christian theology than the authors of Mark as Story are willing to admit. While more examples could be given, this should stand as an adequate example of the types of problems that occur in the character analysis portion of the book.


Mark as Story is a valuable literary reading of Mark’s Gospel and should be commended to those seeking to study the Gospel of Mark in a deeper way with proper literary hermeneutical guidelines. While looking out for the areas of disagreement, much can be gained from both the translation and the literary analysis of the Narrator, Setting, Plot, and Characters provided in the book, Mark as Story.

The NEW Jesus Storybook Bible – Deluxe Edition

Jesus Story Book Bible DELUXE

Zondervan is releasing the Jesus Storybook Bible in a new deluxe edition that comes with three audio CDs of all the stories being narrated by David Suchet.

My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories to our children and I highly recommend you consider this edition of the book if you have older children that are learning to read along with their books. Audio stories with books can be very joyful and educational. Please let us know what you think about this book if you have read the first edition to your children and family.

Review of Biblical Literature – 11/21/2008

Hector Avalos
Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence
Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens

Bob Becking
From David to Gedaliah: The Book of Kings as Story and History
Reviewed by Marvin A. Sweeney

Jason Beduhn and Paul Mirecki, eds.
Frontiers of Faith: The Christian Encounter with Manichaeism in the Acts of Archelaus
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Roland Boer, ed.
Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies
Reviewed by Timothy J. Sandoval

Susan Brayford
Reviewed by Jan Joosten

Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch
Studying the Old Testament: A Companion
Reviewed by Steed Vernyl Davidson

Stephen K. Catto
Reconstructing the First-Century Synagogue: A Critical Analysis of Current Research
Reviewed by Birger Olsson
Reviewed by Jonathan Bernier

Nicola Denzey
The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women
Reviewed by Paul Dilley

Deborah L. Ellens
Women in the Sex Texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy: A Comparative Conceptual Analysis
Reviewed by Naomi Steinberg

Richard A. Horsley
Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea
Reviewed by Lester L. Grabbe

Paul Joyce
Ezekiel: A Commentary
Reviewed by Corrine Carvalho
Reviewed by Steven S. Tuell

Adriane B. Leveen
Memory and Tradition in the Book of Numbers
Reviewed by James W. Watts

David R. Nienhuis
Not by Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon
Reviewed by Patrick J. Hartin

Matthew B. Schwartz and Kalman J. Kaplan
The Fruit of Her Hands: A Psychology of Biblical Woman
Reviewed by Corinne Blackmer

Jan G. van der Watt, ed.
Identity, Ethics, and Ethos in the New Testament
Reviewed by H. H. Drake Williams III

Géza G. Xeravits and József Zsengellér, eds.
The Book of Maccabees: History, Theology, Ideology (Papers of the Second International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books, Pápa, Hungary, 9-11 June, 2005)
Reviewed by Pierre Keith

Review of Biblical Literature – 11/15/2008

Ward Blanton
Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament
Reviewed by Clare K. Rothschild

Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem
 Reviewed by Craig L. Blomberg

Katherine J. Dell
Opening the Old Testament
Reviewed by Bill T. Arnold
Reviewed by George Heider

Brad E. Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore
Israel’s Prophets and Israel’s Past: Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic
Texts and Israelite History in Honor of John H. Hayes

Reviewed by Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Jens Kreinath, Jan Snoek, and Michael Stausberg, eds.
Theorizing Rituals: Issues, Topics, Approaches, Concepts, Annotated Bibliography
Reviewed by Brian B. Schmidt

Daniel A. Smith
The Post-Mortem Vindication of Jesus in the Sayings Gospel Q
Reviewed by William Arnal

Fred Strickert
Rachel Weeping: Jews, Christians, and Muslims at the Fortress Tomb
Reviewed by Samuel Thomas

Emily Teeter and Douglas J. Brewer
Egypt and the Egyptians
Reviewed by Roxana Flammini

Ben Zion Wacholder
The New Damascus Document: The Midrash on the Eschatological Torah of
the Dead Sea Scrolls: Reconstruction, Translation and Commentary

Reviewed by Gregory L. Doudna

Jürgen Zangenberg, Harold W. Attridge, and Dale B. Martin, eds.
Religion, Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Galilee: A Region in Transition
Reviewed by Christoph Stenschke

Review of Biblical Literature – 11/8/2008

Kevin L. Anderson
‘But God Raised Him from the Dead’: The Theology of Jesus’ Resurrection in Luke-Acts
Reviewed by Ron Clark

Paul Barnett
Paul: Missionary of Jesus
Reviewed by Don Garlington

David A. Brondos
Fortress Introduction to Salvation and the Cross
Reviewed by Ron Clark

Donald Capps
Jesus the Village Psychiatrist
Reviewed by Pieter F. Craffert

Robert R. Ellis
Learning to Read Biblical Hebrew: An Introductory Grammar
Reviewed by Max Rogland

Alec Gilmore
A Concise Dictionary of Bible Origins and Interpretation
Reviewed by Jan G. van der Watt

Thomas L. Leclerc
Introduction to the Prophets: Their Stories, Sayings, and Scrolls
Reviewed by Bo H. Lim

Andrew T. Lincoln and Angus Paddison, eds.
Christology and Scripture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Reviewed by Mark Elliott

Theo A. W. van der Louw
Transformations in the Septuagint: Towards an Interaction of Septuagint Studies and Translation Studies
Reviewed by Francis Dalrymple-Hamilton

Grant Macaskill
Revealed Wisdom and Inaugurated Eschatology in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity
Reviewed by Brian Han Gregg

Frank J. Matera
New Testament Theology: Exploring Diversity and Unity
Reviewed by Udo Schnelle

Sarianna Metso
The Serekh Texts
Reviewed by Ian Werrett

Ela Nutu
Incarnate Word, Inscribed Flesh: John’s Prologue and the Postmodern
Reviewed by Larry D. George

Alexander Samely
Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought: An Introduction
Reviewed by Joshua Schwartz

Klyne R. Snodgrass
Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus
Reviewed by Ernest van Eck

David E. S. Stein, ed.
The Contemporary Torah: A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation
Reviewed by Linda S. Schearing

Marvin A. Sweeney
I and II Kings: A Commentary
Reviewed by Ernst Axel Knauf

John S. Vassar
Recalling a Story Once Told: An Intertextual Reading of the Psalter and the Pentateuch
Reviewed by Philippus J. Botha

Gary Yamasaki
Watching a Biblical Narrative: Point of View in Biblical Exegesis
Reviewed by David R. Bauer
Reviewed by Helmut Utzschneider

Review of Biblical Literature – 10/13/2008

Edward Adams
The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and Its World
Reviewed by Lorenzo DiTommaso

William Sanger Campbell
The “We” Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character
Reviewed by Jean-François Racine

Andrew D. Clarke
A Pauline Theology of Church Leadership
Reviewed by Stephan Joubert

Benjamin Fiore
The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus
Reviewed by Korinna Zamfir

Bas ter Haar Romeny, ed.
The Peshitta: Its Use in Literature and Liturgy: Papers Read at the Third Peshitta Symposium
Reviewed by Robert A. Kitchen

Daniel Hillel
The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures
Reviewed by Norman Habel

Werner G. Jeanrond and Andrew D. H. Mayes, eds.
Recognising the Margins: Developments in Biblical and Theological Studies
Reviewed by Peter R. Rodgers

Matthew Levering
Ezra and Nehemiah
Reviewed by Ralph W. Klein

R. J. R. Plant
Good Figs, Bad Figs: Judicial Differentiation in the Book of Jeremiah
Reviewed by Mark Brummitt

Fernando F. Segovia and R. S. Sugirtharajah, eds.
A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament Writings
Reviewed by Jonathan A. Draper
Reviewed by Hans Leander

Robert B. Stewart, ed.
Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue
Reviewed by Christopher Heard

Ilse Wegner
Eine Einführung in die hurritische Sprache
Reviewed by Ignacio Marquez Rowe

Stephen Westerholm
Understanding Matthew: The Early Christian Worldview of the First Gospel
Reviewed by David C. Sim

The N.T. Wright Project

Some students from Princton Theological Seminary have started a research project for the purpose of studying the foundational works of theology by N.T. Wright. Here is their description of the project:

Rarely in the course of our seminary study do we have the opportunity to study theologians whose work is currently transforming the life of the church. Tom Wright is one such theologian, and a small group of us at Princeton Theological Seminary, together with one of our professors, Ross Wagner, have decided to spend this semester immersed in Wright’s work. We hope to carefully read some of his most foundational writings and to engage each other through this blog on the issues and ideas which emerge from this study. From time to time we will have guest authors from a wide spectrum contribute, and we also invite those of you in church, parachurch, or seminary communities to read and respond to our blog posts as a way of keeping this project closely grounded in the church today. Welcome and enjoy!

I encourage everyone to keep up with this blog, especially if you don’t have the ability to read Bishop Wright’s works in full by yourself. These students will be summarizing and analysing and discussing much of what he has written and I think we will all benefit from their work. May God bless this project!

Review of Biblical Literature, 10/3/2008


The Review of Biblical Literature is a publication of the Society of Biblical Literature (