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Book Corner June 2011


Three Summer Snippets
Books by Volf, Roy and Jenkins

Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl



Summer Snippet #1
Allah:  A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf.   HarperOne,  2011

Miroslav Volf’s work is written as he says “about the extraordinary promise contained in the proper Christian response to the God of Muslims for easing animosities and overcoming conflicts.” (2).   This if followed by set of two assertions.  The first is a list of what perspectives Volf works from and the second is a list called “Hot and Spicy,” which includes statements that he will pursue in this work.
His statements are more than provocative.  Perhaps one of the most significant is #2:  “What the Qur’an denies about God as the Holy Trinity has been denied by every great teacher of the church in the past and ought to be denied by every orthodox Christian today.  I reject the idea that Muslim monotheism is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.” (14).
In his desire to secure a shared monotheism as point of dialogue and peace-making, Volf’s work is laudable.  However, there is much more ground to be covered and remains unaddressed in terms of the relationships that exist between the Cross and the Trinity and what these mean for his Muslim-Christian dialogue.  More arguments have yet to be made by Volf about the scandal of the Cross as it positively affects the ecumenical dialogue he seeks so fervently.


Summer Snippet #2
Holy Ignorance:  When Religion and Culture Part Ways by Olivier Roy.  Columbia University Press. 2010

This is an articulate and knowledgeable work by Olivier Roy, a professor of social and political theory at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.   Roy has authored many excellent works in the area of political Islam.
Roy raises several intertwined issues: globalization and its effects on religious communities; secularization and fundamentalism and the changes in religious communities when wrenched from their cultural moorings.
 This book deftly weaves all of these together.  Roy says: “There is a close link between secularization and religious revivalism, which is not a reaction against secularization, but the product of it.  Secularism engenders religion.  We are not witnessing a religious comeback, but a transformation….It is the relationship between religion and public life that is changing, for religious revival in the public sphere no longer takes on the form of cultural visibility but becomes a display of religious “purity” or of reconstructed traditions.” (p.2-3, 5).
This work should be required reading in many circles.


Summer Snippet #3
Jesus Wars:  How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years.  HarperOne,  2010.

Jenkins’ work is humorous, historical, informed and a thoroughly researched work which looks at all the players in the fifth century Christological debates over the nature(s) of Jesus Christ.  The various chapters have helpful lists of such items as key council meetings; names of important rulers, theological terms theologians and important scallywags.
An example of these useful lists is the Appendix to Chapter Two:  Some Early Interpretations of Christ. ( p. 69ff).   One term still used today is “Docetists.”  Jenkins says simply, “Early belief that Christ represented only an illusory shape taken by a purely divine being: he had no real human nature.  Christ’s sufferings on the cross were illusory.” (p. 70) While not everyone is a fan of lists, (see Umberto Eco’s abilities on this score in an earlier review), the definitions are comprehensive and fill out the chapter’s discussion well.
Were I setting the beginning curriculum in systematic theology, I would make this text required reading. Jenkins’ humorous and readable style makes accessible a fine piece of scholarship.