Book Review: The Gospel of the Lord by Michael F. Bird

51-Q4LemSWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you haven’t started following Michael Bird’s scholarship (he blogs here and has been writing books at an astonishing pace), you need to as soon as possible. Bird’s latest book, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, is a tour-de-force of scholarship concerning the formation of the Gospels. His writing is engaging, witty, and incredibly thorough. The book is an explanation of the historical process which took place from the time of Jesus’ Kingdom announcement to the circulation of a collection of books describing Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. The result is a “must-read” work by all who are interested in the “what, why, how, and where of the Gospels.”

Bird covers five main topics in the course of his writing: the purpose and preservation of the Jesus tradition, the formation of the Jesus tradition, the literary genetics of the Gospels (including the Synoptic Problem and the Johannine Question), the genre and goal of the Gospels, and the significance of a fourfold Gospel. For each topic, the reader should expect Bird to summarize and critique an impressive amount of historical theories and scholars and then offer his own scholarly and thoroughly evangelical conclusion. Each chapter is also followed by a helpful and interesting Excursus on a related topic (such as patristic views on the order of the Gospels or the non-canonical Gospels).

Bird occasionally goes after some “sacred cows” of scholarship, such as when he attacks the merit and purpose of the idea of positing communities behind the Gospels (such as a Markan community or a Johannine community). He interestingly notes that few historical/literary scholars do this as a way of interpreting other ancient authors. However, for the most part Bird helpfully lays out the majority opinions in the world of scholarship and then carefully crafts his own tentative conclusion. I was particularly impressed with his handling of the Synoptic problem and his explication of the historical and theological significance of the fourfold Gospel [see: Fourfold Gospel].

In the end, perhaps the highest praise I can give this book is to say that it stands in my mind as a close cousin to N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. Bird mentions in the introduction that reading JVOG was a turning point in his life – it was also the moment in my life which sparked an interest in the study of the historical Jesus, an interest which has shaped my faith and theology in endless ways. I can confidently say the same about Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord - this is a book sure to clear the way forward for continued and thoughtful thinking about the historical tradition, both oral and textual, which stands behind the Gospels.


Note: I received this book from Eerdmans in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Cyril of Alexandria’s “Canon within the Canon” – What is yours?

Cyril of Alexandria was the church father who argued tirelessly for an orthodox Christology which could genuinely call Mary the Theotokos. He struggled against Nestorius, who allegedly attempted to inappropriately distinguish between the actions and experiences of the divine Son of God and the human Jesus. Against this teaching, Cyril fought to the death to preserve the unity of the divine and human in the Incarnation. For Cyril, the perfect union of God and Man in the Incarnation was the heart of soteriology – the truth of how God has saved humanity.

When one reads Cyril they find that he has a collection of “pet texts” that he references often in order to explain key passages of Scripture or to defend certain doctrines. For Cyril, his “go-to” texts consisted of John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:14-17, and (as I argued in my thesis) Romans 5:14. It’s not hard to see why – all of these verses emphasize the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God and its salvific implications. Thus, no matter what text or doctrine Cyril is dealing with, a quick and steady reference to these texts helps put the issue in his overall theological context. As an example, see my post on Cyril’s theological reading of Luke 10:23-24.  

I wonder if this practice, of developing a “canon within the canon” of sorts, is a helpful example for Christians wishing to faithfully interpret Scripture and understand key doctrines. In fact, I would suggest that most Christians already (perhaps subconsciously) interpret Scripture and various theologies in this fashion.

I know that I have a few “go-to texts” that I immediately think of when pondering exegetical or theological issues: John 1:14-18, Hebrews 1:1-4, Galatians 1:3-4, and Philippians 3:20-21. Those who know me can easily see why/how these texts work in my thinking: I consistently emphasize Jesus as the clearest and fullest picture of God (John 1:14-18 and Hebrews 1:1-4), I also have a fairly apocalyptic eschatology (Galatians 1:3-4), and I think Christians should focus more on the future resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:20-21). Thus, one of my first questions when thinking through an exegetical or theological issue is often: “How does this fit with an understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus as the perfect revelation of God’s character and will?”

I’m interested in whether you have some “pet texts,” what they say about your theology, and whether you think that this practice is ultimately helpful or harmful. So:

 Do you have “key texts” which function for you as a “canon-within-a-canon”? 
What do you they say about your theology?
What dangers are there to employing such an approach to exegesis/theology?

Coming Soon: Patristics Carnival XXXVVI – All Saints’ Day Edition!

November 1 will bring the next Patristics Carnival in celebration of All Saints’ Day.

All-Saints-Day-icon-1

If you have written or read any great posts on the church fathers in the past couple of months please let me know so I can include them!

You can comment on this post, email me at mike@fc3.org, or tweet me at @mike_skinner.

Thanks!

Scot McKnight on the Politics of Jesus

“Roman politics is about power and domination and might and force and coercion and the sword. The politics of Jesus is about sacrificial love for the other even if that means death from the sword. Lording it over others is the way of Rome; serving others is the way of Jesus. The lords of the empire are for Jesus lordless lords. Those are two stories at work in two politics, and the politics of Jesus counters the politics of Rome.”

- Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy, 61. (review coming soon!)

Karl Barth on the Cruciform God

“In being neighbor to man . . . He does not need to fear for His Godhead. On the contrary . . . God shows himself to be the great and true God in the fact that He can and will let His grace bear this cost, that He is capable and willing and ready for this condescension, this act of extravagance, this far journey. What marks God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend. . . . God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble.”

- Karl Barth, CD IV/1:159