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Book Corner February 2008

Three Spring Picks:
American Islam, Christian Empire Violence and Preaching

Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl                                   

 

American Crescent:  “A Muslim Cleric on the Power of His Faith and the Struggle Against Prejudice, and the Future of Islam in America.” By Imam Hassan Qazwini. New York:  Random House, 2007.  PP. 282

            This work is authored by a Shia cleric who was born in Iraq and immigrated to America in 1992.   He is 44 years old and the leader of Dearborn, Michigan’s Islamic Center.  The book is a useful introduction to an Islamic leader and his faith – in America.  What nuances this work is the fact that he is Shia, that part of Islam constituting about 15% of Muslims, most of whom are Sunni.

            Generally stated, Shia beliefs emerge from a key dispute in the foundational days of Islam, as they favor the hereditary rather than communally approved (not blood related) leadership lineage in Islam.  Even so, the work is a good introduction to Islamic perspectives.  One appendix features the “Principles of Islam,” another “Americans Ask About Islam:  20 Questions,” and another rare list, “The Twelve Revered Shia Imams.”  In this latter appendix, we read that the twelfth imam went into occultation…” (262)  This means the imam is in a state of ‘hiding’, only to reappear at the end of the world.

            Imam Qazwini has a good sense of ministry and faith.  He carefully documents his efforts to involve himself in significant ways in American political and religious life.  He is no stranger to the White House or to inter-religious dialogue. 

His comments on the lack of religious dialogue between Islam and Christianity are highlighted, ironically, by his own words:  “Whereas Christian doctrine focuses on correct belief, orthodoxy, Islamic doctrine focuses on correct actions, orthopraxy.”  (92)  This statement alone is worth many vigorous conferences and dialogues between Christians and Muslims about the connection of these realities in their faiths.

 

 

“There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ,” Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire, by Michael Gaddis.  California:  University of California Press, 2005. PP. 397

            This is a stunning tour de force of scholarly expertise which focuses on “violence, its reality, its perceptions, and its consequences…. [concerning] the Constantinian empire, the Roman world of the fourth and fifth centuries.’ (ix, x)

            Gaddis examines the various ways Christians and pagans, Romans and other groups used violence to secure power, ensure correct doctrine, overcome other gods, sanction ecclesial and secular power and use faith perspectives to underwrite these motives and actions.

            This book can serve as an excellent refresher course on the battle of different heresies, the way ecclesial and secular powers talked and fought and how the pagans often became the mild-mannered ‘good guys’ caught in the middle.

            Some of the topic areas Gaddis covers include: “Persecution and Martyrdom from Diocletian to Constantine; “Religious Discourse, Political Discourse and Christian Identity in the Century after Constantine,” and “Problematizing Episcopal Power.”  (from select Chapter sub-headings).

            One of the more interesting, and undoubtedly recognizable concepts, is one Gaddis quotes from contemporary legal anthropologist scholar, Laura Nader:  “This strategy of “coercive harmony,” . . . was the natural course for an imperial system that valued hierarchy, authority, stability, and unity above all.  The exercise of power cloaked itself in the language of paternalistic concern, pedagogical discipline, and therapeutic medicine—behind which lurked a potential for violence no less lethal for the high-minded motives of its perpetrators.” (7)

            This work is an excellent way to help the reader make connections between the ecclesial and political nature of ‘then’ and now.

 

 

Thinking Theologically by Ronald J. Allen.  From “Elements of Preaching” Series.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2008. P. 97

            This work is one in which this reviewer finds great delight!!  It is an overview of the different types of theological perspectives – vis-a-vis systematics and history– which have informed preaching over the decades.

            Allen cuts the historical homiletical pie in several different ways to produce a comprehensive picture of what it means for the preacher to “think theologically.”  The four main sections are:  Theology and Preaching; Theological Movements in the Enlightenment Tradition; Theological Movements that React Against the Enlightenment and Theological Movements Arising from Contextual Concerns.

            One of the concluding appendices contains a table which looks at:  Basic concerns of this theological family; Attitude toward the Bible; Basic theological method and Purposes of preaching.  It takes these categories and applies them to each of the following theological perspectives:  Liberal, Mutual Critical Correlation, Process, Evangelical, Neo-orthodox, Post-liberal, Confessional, Radical Orthodoxy, Otherness, Liberation and Ethnic.

            The reader is immediately addressed with the obvious question – Where am I located in these descriptions?  This small work has more to ponder and integrate into one’s preaching life than works five times its length.   If this homiletician were grading this book on a scale of what constitutes the best in homiletical writing, this merits an A+