Three Micro Book Reviews

Midrash on the Juanitos: a didadtic novella
by Russell Rathbun
Cathedral Hill Press, 2010; 146 pages

I am an unapologetic fanboy of Rev. Russell Rathbun — his writing, his preaching, his church, and his friendship.  (Full disclosure: Russell and I are working on a lectionary-based preaching website that will launch next month.)  I endorsed his first book by calling it “A Confederacy of Dunces for Christians,” and I still think it’s an under-appreciated satiric gem.

His latest is, as the title suggests, a midrash on 1, 2, and 3 John.  But this midrash is no straightforward commentary, but instead along the lines of the ancient rabbis, whose midrash, the narrator admits, “makes my head and lower abdomen move around.”  If you give yourself over the Russell’s book, you will end up knowing these three bo0ks of the New Testament better, but you may not be able to explain why or how.  It’ll likely be more of an existential knowing.  And, even though you’ll find it disturbing at times, you’ll be better for it.

The Role of Women’s Experience in Feminist Theologies of Atonement
Linda D. Peacore
Pickwick Publications, 2010; 254 pages

I will admit that, as a male theologian, I sometimes struggle to criticize feminist theologies, just as I do to criticize the theologies of other marginalized and formerly marginalized groups of which I’m not a part.  The worry, of course, is that in developing a critique of one of these theologies, I am not privy to part of that group’s experience and thus actually giving in to some ethno- or androcentric prejudice.  In this book, Linda Peacore, an evangelical feminist theologian (and classmate of mine at Fuller Seminary) has gone to the very heart of my predicament, exploring how the experience of being a woman both strengthens and weakens feminist critiques of traditional atonement theologies.  Linda writes,

How has a particular view of women’s experience shaped feminist understandings of sin and, therefore, views on atonement?  One finds that feminist theologians endorse a subjective model of atonement largely resulting from their view of sin, which is based on an understanding of women’s experience.

Too subjective, she concludes.

This book will be especially interesting to some readers of this blog because it is feminist theologies that have been used by emergent thinkers like Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren (and me) to inspire our own critiques of penal substitution.  But, in fact, the much ballyhooed line, “cosmic child abuse,” was not coined by Chalke or McLaren, but by Rita Nakashima Brock in her 1988(!) book, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power.

Peacore, for her part, has an entire section on “Divine Child Abuse” that merits close examination, as does her entire book.

God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World
by Dean Nelson
Brazos Press, 2009; 224 pages

Nelson is the director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, and he’s written a book about sacramentalizing the world.  By that I mean he intends to deconstruct the traditional lines between sacred and profane, between the “official” sacraments of the church and the sacraments in which we actually partake everyday.  Paying attention and using our imaginations are what Nelson recommends we do in this practical and anecdote-filled book.  Recommended for use in small groups.

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