on 6 June 2011
I suppose I should acknowledge some degree of trepidation in making a few remarks in relation to Lloyd's latest book. First of all I should note that this, like absolutely every other review ever written, is inevitably a highly biased piece of prose, but I hope that my recommendation is nonetheless helpful to others. I first heard Lloyd speak on 22 May 1988, and it would be no exaggeration to say that this was a pivotal moment in my life. I still recall whole sections from that talk from time to time, and cannot underestimate the profound impact this author has had for me. Secondly, this book already has the ringing endorsement of Professor Walter Brueggemann, who kindly gave the forward, so if Brueggemann has already trodden here I had better take my shoes off. Needless to say, I agree with Brueggemann that this is a book that is "important", "challenging" and "to which sustained attention must be paid".
Pietersen's present work is composed of three quite different sections, which for a popular work of just over 200 pages, is quite some squeeze. For the most part I feel that he has struck the right balance of tone and brevity to present the breadth of scope to a popular audience, with sufficient footnoting to direct the reader to more scholarly treatments. There were one or two areas where I felt that the degree of pruning was agonisingly harsh, which I have commented on more fully below.
Part One is an account of the history of the interpretation of the bible, presented either side of the Constantinian crisis, which invested the early church with Imperial power and began a long and harmful conflation of church and state, resulting in kings and ruling elites robing themselves in the language and trappings of the church, and the church correspondingly losing its prophetic and subversive voice. This led to the domestication of the unruly people of the kingdom of God and the reduction of the message of the gospel to one of solely other-worldly post-mortal significance. Little wonder such a church had no place the for Spirit! Pietersen's account covers many of the principal people and movements, and while I would have loved to dwell longer on some of the other radical interpretive communities, than just the sixteenth century Anabaptists, I think his choices have sensibly shown the key choices and trajectories in a few swift strokes. For me I would have preferred a longer treatment on how a hermeneutic of Christendom actually contributed to the adoption of the accepted, although unbiblical, foundations of ecclesiology and theology both before and after the protestant reformation, but there is only so much that can be covered in a short work.
Part Two is breathtaking in its scope. Lloyd looks at the entire bible from Genesis to Revelation, pausing to observe how Christendom has avoided the tough questions that the text presents and re-telling some of marginal stories that are, so often, glossed over in the formal lectionaries of denominations or the even more narrow informal lectionaries of new churches. In this section we find some of Lloyd's best work, such as his incisive exegesis of the parable of the shrewd steward (Lk 16). I would have loved to have read more on a post-Christendom reading of texts such as 1 Tim 2:11, but I imagine this was yet another hard choice for limited space.
Part Three is the shortest, and draws the themes together in a twofold call to read the bible afresh for the inner work of Spirituality and the outer work of Mission. In both fields he reminds of us of the centrality of Christ, the necessity of the Spirit and the challenge of reading in community. He touches on Wink's notion of transforming bible study, in which we are as much read by the text as reading it, and makes a case for such a reading to be informed by scholarship not naively divorced from it.
In summary this is a book which should get a far wider reading than it is perhaps likely to do. It defies categorisation both in terms of genre and theological position, which should be a strength, but alas often leads to a diminished audience. Pietersen presents a hermeneutic which is more honest to the actual text than many on the evangelical branch of the family will feel comfortable with, but more faithfully committed to the actual canon as it has been received than many of a more detached scholarly persuasion. Finally his strong challenge to encounter the prophetic, subversive and sustaining text, in a post Christendom context is one which may put off those looking for a tamer read, but one which I wholeheartedly recommend.
simon [dot] nash [at] jerseymail [dot] co [dot] uk
on 2 July 2013
Pietersen work starts with a good and deep description of the problems of Chrisendom, this is as deep as it gets. Parts two of this book consist of a simplistic overview of the bible in which Pietersen constantly reads his own agenda back into the biblical text rather then starting with the text itself and the culture around it. Thus he comes up with a biased conclusions of reaction in his final part of the book. Pietersen in the hunt for a post-chrisendom reading far too easily dismisses traditional readings. He is right that it is wrong simple to that these as given without any critique at all, but to dismiss them as totally wrong and insist on a totally new reading is unhelpful. This is a constant theme throughout the book, resulting in Pietersen suggesting new ways of doing mission and inter-faith dialogue which are good but he seems to suggest in place of traditional means of mission which clearly have here place in the church. There are some good thoughts and helpful conclusions, but he is far too quick to assume he is right and everything about Chrisendom is wrong.