EFAC Australia

Spring 2020

Book Reviews

In affluent Australia today there is very strong support for environmental virtue, in particular for action to counter the perceived threat of climate change - primarily by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This raises questions of public policy and cost. For the Christian it also raises the big question of what faithful stewardship of God's created world actually means, in practice.

My book Responsible Dominion sets out to do two things in grappling with the stewardship question:
  • challenge some green Christian waffle which has been published over the last 15 years, and suggest that a Christian approach should not only respect God's handiwork in creation - the focus on green and aesthetic aspects, but also encompass a practical understanding of the earth's resources, which are no less his handiwork. Furthermore it asserts that those resources are needed to give all the 6.5 billion inhabitants a standard of living comparable with ours.
  • challenge the basis of secular environmental ideology, which is fundamentally pagan and contemptuous of Christian priorities which understand humankind as made in God's image. That of course doesn't stop it being picked up by Christians and retailed into the churches, as it has been.
The substance of the book looks at what is practical and sustainable in relation to land use, agriculture, forestry, minerals and energy.

Book review: Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church; Thomas C. Oden, Baker, 2006, 272p $US17.99

Oden's latest book is key for anyone interested in the renewal of Protestant mainline churches. As a resource, it chronicles the recent history of the renewal and confessing movements in the US and Canada and celebrates their coming together, theologically and organisationally, in what Oden terms a "new ecumenism of orthodox Christian teaching after the collapse of modernity" (208). Oden includes evangelical groups within the renewal movement, but downplays their contribution in favour of "classical ecumenical teaching" (208). In "boring but important" chapters Oden provides examples of orthodox theological statements and of legal argument relating to the trust of property according to the discipline of the church. He helpfully discusses the place of discipline, and of church and civil courts.

For orthodox Christians, the book is a great encouragement. Oden records the perseverance of faithful groups with few resources in the face of plain unfaithfulness by well resourced denominational leaders pursuing their own agendas (16). He names the way denominational headquarters have marginalized these groups by calling them fundamentalists, old-fashioned, exclusive or obstructive. He gives a clear call on theological and prudential grounds to stay and steward God's great heritage in the mainline (27-34). However, unity must be based on truth, and heresy disciplined (103-119). Amiable separation with entitlements is urged for those who cannot assent to doctrinal foundations. An excellent chapter (179-196) on confessing and its noble history challenged me to make this more integral to church life.

Book Review: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, 2006

Richard Bauckham is a distinguished academic, a prolific author, and Professor of New Testament at St Andrew's University in Scotland.

In his latest book he works through the evidence of the four Gospels, and the writings of Papias [fl. 98-117 AD], in the context of various kinds of writing and historiography in the first century. He claims that the notion of eyewitness was recognised in the writing of history and in the writing of 'lives' of famous people in the first century, that it has good claim to be authentic, and that this kind of eyewitness account forms the substance of the four Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Richard Bauckham applies this theory in great detail to the gospel of John, which he claims is the witness of John the elder of the church in Asia [not John son of Zebedee].

The significance of this claim must be seen against the background of Gospels' scholarship over the last 100 years. The key questions to ask is: what was the source and focus of the theological creativity which produced the Christian movement and which is reflected in the four Gospels? There have been three answers to this question over the last century.