For this week’s BookNotes newsletter I thought I’d do something a little different. Rather than writing about a bunch of books, I thought I would just talk about them. Below is a homemade, cell phone video, live from the bookstore. It’s a mostly impromptu presentation – part lecture, part sermon, part infomercial — adding my voice to the conversations about Attorney General Sessions’ glib comment about Romans 13.
As you will hear, I wasn’t happy with the way this came down, but I don’t think it is that odd to say that the Bible teaches that we should (whenever possible, the big unspoken caveat) obey the government, since the state is God’s good gift to us and the rule of law is something to be underscored, appreciated, strengthened. I doubt if Mr. Sessions himself would make a firm idol out of obedience to the law no matter what and only the rarest person doesn’t appreciate that sometimes we simply must resist the government gone haywire. From Polycarp to Bishop Cranmer, from the Boston Tea Party to the Underground Railroad, from Bonhoeffer to Corrie Ten Boom, from Martin Luther King to Phil Berrigan, civil disobedience has a long and valid foundation in the Biblical teaching that “we must obey God rather than man.” (Acts 5:29) From the midwives who saved Moses to Daniel to Peter to Paul (who wrote Romans 13, by the way) –not to mention our Lord and Savior – crossing paths with the authorities and ending up on the wrong side of the law, is a cost of discipleship.
And so, I thought it might be helpful to affirm the rule of law, think about a Biblical view of the state, and offer some resources for thinking well about civil disobedience and resistance and speaking up. I think most of the books I mentioned are pretty non-controversial (well, most, anyway) and I hope you enjoy listening to me as I highlight them off the cuff. Please ignore the times I stammered a bit… I really was winging this spiel.
Since I didn’t give the prices during my little book talk, I’ll list the titles and prices below. They are all 20% off here, and you can, per usual, order on line by using our secure order form page. Or give us a call or send an email.
I tell a bit about these books in the video so I’ll keep my written remarks brief. Please know, too, that there are so many others I could have mentioned. This goes 15 minutes as it is… let us know if you want other suggestions. Sorry for this goofy opening picture…
For starters, too, since I suggest a few commentaries on Romans, I thought I’d link to two brief articles for your consideration about reading Romans 13 in the broader redemptive context of the full letter to the Romans. For instance, see the clear-headed, succinct statements of New Testament scholar Michael Gorman here. For a more frothy rebuttal to Mr. Session’s misappropriation of Romans 13, check out “To Hell with Romans 13” by my friend Brian Walsh. As anyone who knows Brian will attest, he loves and respects the Scriptures almost as much as anybody I know. Don’t be alarmed by the title of this sermon – he, of course, means to critique bad interpretations and the weaponizing of a few lines of Romans to justified injustice and privilege the status quo since. That’s what we have to send packing. Paul himself was writing to a beleaguered faith community who he was teaching how to be non-conformed to the evils and injustices of their imperial context under the boot heel of Rome, so using some principle from the 13th chapter to bolster injustice simply won’t do and should be an affront to anyone who cares about good exegesis and faithful witness.
Anyway, here’s my rather moderate plea to do some reading about Romans, about the state, and about how to speak out well, drawing on the wonderful new book by Kathy Khang called Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up (IVP; $16.00.)
I start off my talk with some suggestions for ordinary folks to read a few commentaries on Romans. I suggested these.
Romans 8 – 16 for You Timothy Keller (The Good Books Company) $22.99 We like this whole on-going series of Bible lessons that have some helpful application points. This is obviously the second volume of a two-volume pair on Romans. Get Romans 1 – 7 for You as well.
Paul for Everyone: Romans Part Two – Chapters 9 – 16 N.T. Wright (WJK) $18.00 We highly recommend the whole set of the “New Testament for Everyone” series as Wright offers creative translations, keen insights capturing the Older Testament echoes, helpful information about the social context, good Kingdom theology, and some helpful illustrations. Don’t forget, at least, Paul For Everyone: Romans Part One
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Romans John Stott (IVP Academic) $20.00 As I explain in the video, the entire Bible Speaks Today series is a standard, go-to recommendation for us. They are mature and thoughtful, but not tooo critical or scholarly. Stott was the editor of the NT portion of the BST series and they are just so reliable, thoughtful, and relevant. He handles Romans 13 thoughtfully with good balance and insight. Highly recommended
I didn’t describe other Romans commentaries but we have plenty, from the straight-arrow, rigorous (Douglas Moo in the Eerdmans NICNT series is magisterial but his NIV Application Commentary is more accessible for ordinary Bible teacher or preachers) to some that are particularly insightful about the epistle’s political background and anti-Imperial message such as Neil Elloitt’s The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire. Many of us are awaiting next year’s Romans Disarmed by Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, coming eventually from Brazos Press.
I also suggested that it would be wise just to study the life and teachings of Paul. There’s so, so much, but I gave a quick shout out to Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright (HarperOne; $29.99.) I think the impressive, passionate scholar Douglas Campbell’s recent Paul: An Apostle’s Journey (Eerdmans; $22.00) sure looks great. And you really should know Reading Paul by the aforementioned Michael J. Gorman. (Cascade; $22.00.) I really should have mentioned that one last night, since I linked to his Facebook post on reading Romans 13 in context.
After suggesting a dive into Paul, and Romans, I suggested that we study up on a Christian view of the state. I hope you didn’t mind my insisting that we stop taking our cues from secular political theorists or popular culture or our political party of choice but allow the Word of God to illumine our thinking about government and its task.
I named these:
God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today N.T. Wright (SPCK) $18.00 These are lectures given by the great New Testament prof on justice, government, public life, political theology and faithful civic engagement. This was published in England (where Wright goes by Tom rather than N.T. on his more popular level books. This is a great collection, highly recommended!
The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life Vincent Bacote (Zondervan) $11.99 I love this little volume in the “Ordinary Theology” series. He doesn’t cover Romans 13 much, but offers keen insights on public life, pluralism, and various postures and strategies for being “in but not of” the world as we take up our duties as Christian in society and as faithful citizens.
One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics Bruce Ashford & Chris Pappalardo (B&H) $14.99 This is a small hardback written by two very sharp Southern Baptist thinkers who have studied Kuyper, pluralism, law, and understand much about the framework of a Christian view of political order. There’s a lot of meat here for a small book.
The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Introduction James Skillen (Baker Academic) $24.00 My goodness, this overview of how the best thinkers of the Christian West have thought about politics and the state, down through the ages, is brilliant. He is helpful in showing how many have a core conviction about the state being God’s good gift, but many (perhaps influenced by some sacred/secular dualism or some private/public or church/world dichotomy) fail to develop a robust, Biblically-rooted political theory.This is a must for anyone serious about having an informed Christian perspective.
A Covenant to Keep: Meditations on the Biblical Theme of Justice James Skillen (The Center for Public Justice) $12.95 We are so glad to still have a few of these books around, first published by the Christian Reformed Church, solid Biblical reflections and a few nice case studies of people of faith serving as public officials. These Scriptural reflections emerged from Skillen’s work as founder of the Center for Public Justice, a non-partisan think tank for the development of Christian citizenship in light of a Biblical vision of society and the important but limited calling of the state.
Five Views on the Church and Politics edited by Amy Black (Zondervan) $19.99 Those who follow BookNotes know that I’ve commended this recent “Counterpoints” book often. Nice to see the debate and dialogue between a Lutheran, a classic black church activist, a Roman Catholic, a Mennonite, and a Dutch Reformed Kuyper guy (our friend James K.A. Smith.)
Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny (IVP Academic) $20.00 I gave a quick shout out about this one, too, as it so helpfully allows a variety of good thinkers across a range of views to debate. There’s a Roman Catholic in the consistent, Catholic social teaching tradition, a Baptist, an Anabaptist, a principled pluralism view of the Kuyperian sort, and a social justice, mainline denominational view.
I Pledge Allegiance: A Believers Guide to Kingdom Citizenship in 21st Century America David Crump (Eerdmans) $24.99 Oh man, what a book, feisty, challenging, important. I offers a good study of the Kingdom of God, and it isn’t cheap or simple. I noted that there is a very good chapter on civil disobedience, with this New Testament professor telling of his own involvement in non-violent direct action and the solidarity he felt with those with whom he was arrested. Ron Sider calls it “a must read.” If we are going develop a more singular devotion to Christ and His Kingdom without being co-opted by the political powers that be, we will need this sort of tough thinking. Good discussion questions, too, make this a great study resource for engaged readers.
Jesus for President Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw (Zondervan) $19.99 What a wild and creative book with edgy artwork and colorful illustrations and eccentric, youthful design. More importantly, it shows how the Bible offers an alternative story to the story of economic growth, nationalism, and military might and calls us to embody a counter-cultural community which testifies to the King who rides a donkey (not a warhorse) and whose political victory comes through a nonviolent act of suffering servanthood. Agree or not with the “anti-institutional” tone of this, it is Biblically-rich, capturing an important theme in the Bible. I wish I had said more positive about it in my little video talk as it really is worth reading.
Jesus vs. Caesar: For People Tired of Serving the Wrong God Joerge Rieger (Abingdon) $19.99 Time was running out on my little book talk so I didn’t say much about this, but it is a powerful, liberationist critique of mammon, power, and how the gospel always puts us in conflict with the principalities and powers. I tend to find great value in this strong critique but was frustrated a bit by some of his zealous overstatements. Still, it is true that many of us say we are following Jesus but we are deeply complicit in a violent Empire and we simply must learn to say no to the death-dealing ways of the status quo. Could it be that many who talk about religion in public life are actually serving a false God? Wow.
Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up Kathy Khang (IVP) $16.00 I ended my video presentation with an invitation to read this thrilling new book. I described it too quickly, but hope you picked up how thrilled we are to have such a resource and how much I’m enjoying it. I really, really hope many consider it as it is wonderfully written and offers both serious Biblical and spiritual insight, lots of anecdotes, and good strategies and guidance. Khan has worked in campus ministry with IVCF and has previously written a book for Asian American women rising to leadership positions (More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations, Relationships, Leadership and Faith) which of course we stock. Kathy Khang is an voice we should listen to.
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