Monday, August 04, 2008

Why theology books change your life

Or philosophy books. But the point I'm trying to make is that the books that really, really change our lives are ones that deal with ideas and thoughts and direction and focus. Not some of the insipid, "practical" books that most of us read more than anything else.

So here is a theology book that I recommend. Not unreservedly: I have serious issues with some of the methodology and conclusions Jeremias draws. But this is a book that has the capacity to change the way you look at some of the events, teachings, and background of the New Testament.

I disagree with the historical-critical method that Jeremias uses. The reality is that the HCM is almost like a background computer program running behind much of what he says. He assumes the truth of the HCM, and doesn't seem to question it.

Which should come as no surprise for a mainstream New Testament theology book first printed -- in English -- in 1971. The HCM has become something of a rotting carcass in religious studies, but it remains around, and will for a while.

I also disagree with some of Jeremias' work which seeks to posit what would have been the spoken Aramaic which he believes underlies certain New Testament texts. After all, we have a Greek text, but we have no original Hebrew (or Aramaic) texts. (Despite the fact that Origen, Eusebius, Irenaeus and others speak of the gospel of Matthew as having been written in Hebrew, the texts are lost).

So obviously I disagree with huge portions of this book. But I walk away from it with a renewed appreciation for the meaning and depth of God as Father in Jesus' teachings, for the complexity of the post-Easter appearances of Jesus to His disciples, the uniqueness of Jesus' manner of speaking, and the eschatological nature of Jesus' teachings and ministry.

This book is out of print. I hope someone rescues it from the oblivion to which it has fallen. But in the meantime, find a used copy, and enjoy. For that matter, everything I've read by Jeremias is worthwhile.

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