Blessed to be a Blessing

Theology

In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians – Graham H. Twelftree

Twelftree’s work on exorcism among early Christians is as deep as it is wide. His book surveys the varying perspectives on Christian exorcism, and its practice among the New Testament through 200 CE. He states his thesis early 51EUUbKCP1L__SS500_on in the book, “Hence I have two principle aims in this study. My chief aim is to determine the place as well as to describe the practice of exorcism among early Christians reflected in the New Testament documents. Secondarily, I will attempt to explain the variety of approaches to exorcism in the New Testament Canon.”[1] To do this he describes and discusses exorcism and exorcists during the first century, including Christian and Non-Christian. Then, he takes a chronological approach to examining what writers of the New Testament have to say about the practice among early Christians. Finally, he considers extra-Biblical sources including the Apostolic Fathers and critics of Christianity to examine their views of the practice up to the year 200 CE.[2] After his vast historical study, Twelftree comes to the conclusion that, “I am obliged to recognize that it (the New Testament) has provided the church with a range of options for understanding and dealing the demonic.”[3] The early Christians were “remarkably restrained”[4] in their interest and imagery of exorcism and that when techniques are discussed it stands in contrast to other ancient sources for its “extreme brevity.”[5] Twelftree’s final conclusion is that the New Testament writers believed “exorcism was a confrontation between the divine and the demonic in which the demonic was defeated”[6] and the defeat was not through any power from the Early Christians but “because they brought about a confrontation between Jesus and the demonic.”[7]

The major strength of Twelftree’s book is his depth of content and research. This is not just a survey of mentions of exorcism in the New Testament but a deep study of the social-historical context and views on exorcism of many different groups during the time that he research. He often includes detailed translation notes and information from other writers and commentators that give solid scholarly depth to his work. It is also to his strength that he limits the scope of his study to 200 CE and focuses on just the early Christians so that the reader can get a picture of early Christian history that is not influenced by stores and traditions that came after 200 CE whose historicity is sometimes doubted. One weakness in his writing is his frequency of offering conclusions based on small amounts of evidence and including conjecture in his conclusions; practices that “may have been known”[8], inferring conclusions from little evidence[9], grammatical contrasts based on what “could be”[10], and writing “although these important conclusions have a slender base”[11]. Twelftree’s should have left these comments out as they may cause the reader to doubt the author’s confidence in his own work.


[1] Graham H. Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2007, 29.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Ibid. 293.

[4] Ibid, 294.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 295.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 41.

[9] Ibid, 61.

[10] Ibid, 70.

[11] Ibid, 76.


In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History – R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. E.d.

The Goal of In Defense of Miracles is to present a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach to understanding whether or not God has worked in history through miraculous events. The book is organized into a four part structure of chapters written by different authors, “commissioned because of their expertise in each case.”[1] The editors begin with the case against miracles and then the parts explore different approaches to understating miracles. Part two deals primarily with the philosophical problem of the possibility of miracles. Part three discuss the ideas surrounding miracles and the ideas of God’s involvement in creation. Part four presents case studies for specifically Christian miracles. The 51HXKzpq0KL__SS500_major premise of the book comes in the conclusion, the fact that after observing and discussing miracles in philosophy, history, theology, science, etc… the case for miracles stands. The authors believe that the case they have laid out to defend miracles in these disciplines is not just for the intellectuals but for everyone. “In our view, the case for miracles is strong and needs to become better known outside the academy.”[2]

The major strength of the book is the editor’s multi-disciplinary approach. Their goal was to create a comprehensive work and they accomplished it. Their approach leaves no area untouched as they survey many disciplines. The scholarship and authors are very thorough and knowledgeable in their topics. I specifically appreciated how each author takes the space in their chapter to answer counter points or arguments that may be presented from opposing viewpoints. This helps make the book practical for apologetics and even devotional thought. The major criticism of the book is that it seems to be entirely focused on being a rebuttal for David Hume’s Of Miracles from 1779. The editors write in the introduction, “In many respects, the chapters by Hume and Flew set the agenda for the rest of the book.”[3] This seems to make the book feel dated. There must surely be a better work against miracles to respond to since 1776. I believe that the book would reach a wider audience if the authors did not specifically intend to address Hume and Flew in every chapter. Aside from that organizational issue, the book may be too scholarly for some. The language and concepts may be too academic for individuals outside of the academic circle. The authors need to take time to explain complex concepts so that readers can have a conversation across disciplines without needing higher education in each. Overall the book is well-researched and full of helpful information to serve as a primer for a multi-disciplinary study of miracles.


[1] R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press. 1997, 25.

[2] Ibid, 280.

[3] Ibid, 19.


Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining Truth – John C. Cavadini e.d.

Cavadini is the editor of the series of papers presented in Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity. He writes in the preface, “The essays in this collection originated in the annual year-long seminar on Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity held in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.”[1] The papers all revolve around miracles in the ancient world. Cavadini presents them first by tracing the history of the problem of miracles and continuing through 51pymBF-e1L__SS500_the Biblical period, post-Biblical period, and drawing on both Testaments as well as Jewish sources. Although they explore different ideas surrounding miracles ,”in the end, all of the essays explore ways in which miracles stories, both biblical and postbiblical, invite us into the realm of the imagination as itself a locus, and in some cases a privileged locus, of truth.”[2] This is the ultimate thesis of Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity; to explore the miracles and how the invite the reader into imagination.

The strength of this collection of papers is in the scholarship. The academic work presented is of the highest quality and writers present their information in a way that acknowledges multiple academic disciplines as they explore the miracle texts of their individual papers. The papers bring to life not only the theological points of their miracle texts but the social and historical developments surrounding the events and interpretations throughout history. I personally found the Cultural and Social Questions Checklist[3] to be particularly helpful in understanding miracles from a multi-disciplinary point of view. The collection of papers does have a downside, the fact that it is a collection of papers. Honestly, I see no reason for this publication other than the fact that they wanted a collection of all the papers presented for the 95-96 seminar on Miracles. Each stands alone and there is no interaction between chapters and thus no development of a main idea or thesis. The individual papers have development and purpose but the book seems as if it lacks direction.


[1] John C. Cavadini, Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining Truth, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1999,vii.

[2] Ibid, ix.

[3] Ibid, 39.


Healing in the Bible: Theological Insight for Christian Ministry – Fredrick J. Gasier.

Healing in the Bible by Fredrick J. Gasier is a conversation between the healing stories of the Bible and our modern world. Gasier approaches the healing texts with a different method than most scholars. He does away with the typical methodologies of critical exegesis and thematic study to use a case study approach Imageof what he calls “a hermeneutic of appreciation”[1]. The case study method attempts to consider each text individually and how it contributes to the overall theme of healing in the Bible. Gasier’s thesis is presented on page 5, “The goal of this book is to explore the ways in which the Bible amplifies the claims and promises of both Testaments – “I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26); “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23) – and then to think about all of this in our own cultural perspective.”[2] Healing in the Bible is more of a conversation with scripture than a conversation about scripture.

Gaiser’s strength is in his method of developing his thesis. Considering each text by itself makes his work very approachable and understandable. In general, his reflections tying the ancient healing texts to the modern world are refreshing. Discussing the texts and miracles without a fight over worldviews or apologetics puts more focus on the text and allows for appreciative reflection regardless of one’s view of the text or miracle. There is something for everyone in this approach. However, his strength is also his weakness. The case study approach makes his book feel like he does not ultimately get anywhere, like meandering around scripture with nothing to prove. It is hard to understand exactly what one is to take away from the book as a whole. Some readers will be turned off by the amount of speculation and opinion Gaiser includes in the chapters, specifically in chapter 11 where he draws too heavily on what he calls Israel’s “radical monotheism”[3]. Overall, Healing in the Bible is insightful and well-developed. 


[1] Fredrick J. Gaiser, Healing in the Bible: Theological Insight for Christian Ministry, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010, 4.

[2] Ibid, 5.

[3] Ibid,148.


Evil and the Justice of God – N.T. Wright

The problem of Evil is a big deal.  I make no claims to understating it before or after I read Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright but I think he may have helped point me in the right direction.  In the aftermath of events such as 9-11, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquakes in Pakistan and Kashmir, Wright set out to add to the conversation about the problem of evil in a world ruled by a Just God.  He admits that he will not

“solve” the problem and that solving the problem is not even his primary task (11) but he wishes to point to signs of God’s New World on the basis of Jesus’ victory on the cross and his resurrection.

Evil and the Justice of God is a relatively short book (165p).  What he lacks in length he makes up for in the time I had to spend reflecting and processing what he wrote.  Wright’s book is intended to be read by all Christians and his language and length makes it accessible to anyone with interest in the subject.  The book is laid out into five chapters.  In the first he outlines the problem and describes it as deeper and more serious than the world usually takes it.  Chapter two deals with the Old Testament and God using Israel as part of the solution.  Chapter three shows how the Gospels present Jesus as God’s rescue plan for the world.  In chapter four, Wright discusses the hope Christians might have imagining a world without evil.  Chapter five deals with our present responsibility in relation to the problem of evil.

Wright puts out some interesting philosophical ideas in regards to the problem of evil and surmises that the problem cannot and has not been fixed in the way that Modernism has proposed; a philosophy rooted firmly in the steady march of an assumed doctrine of progress (22).    He comes to the conclusion that the world either a). ignores it when it doesn’t hit us in the face, such as not rocking the economic trade boat because human rights would stifle business, or b). act surprised when something evil does happen, and c.) react to it in immature and dangerous ways; “Just as you cannot eliminate evil by act of congress or by a philosophical argument, so you cannot do so with high explosives (28).”  He says we often project evil on to others, generating a culture of blame and claiming that we are all victims of (insert choice evil here) or we internalize it; neither is healthy.  He concludes that we must not soften the blow and we must name evil for what it is and take responsibility for it.  The most powerful idea I took from this chapter was that we often turn the problem of Evil into an “us” vs. “them” game when in reality, “the line of evil runs through all of us because of the fall.”  There is evil in the world and we can not ignore it.  “Evil may still be a four-letter word. But so, thank God, is Love (41).”

Chapter two looks at how God deals with evil in the OT.  At the tower of Babel (Gen. 11) he confronts it, judges it, and keeps it from having its desired effect.  The Flood (Gen. 6-7), one of the most depressing events in the OT, is a “reminder that God hates evil and what it does to his creation, that he can and sometimes will take steps to stop it in its tracks (50).”  The Fall (Gen.3) shows again that God judges evil and will not allow man to live forever in a fallen state.  The OT shows us that God will ultimately contain Evil and not let it have full run of his creation and he foreshadows deliverance in his Servant of Isaiah 40-55.

In Chapter three Wright takes us to the foot of the cross and proposes that at the cross all human systems and evil put Jesus on the cross and in the grave but it was not enough to keep our loving creator from bursting forth new life out of the deepest darkness.  “Evil at all levels and all sorts had done its worst and that Jesus throughout his public career and supremely on the cross and dealt with it, take its full force, exhausted it –(that’s) why the, of course, death itself had no more power (89).”

Four and five give practical applications to the previous content.  Wright wants us to envision the world as God intends it to be; full of love, justice, beauty, and peace (102) and work toward redeeming it now as much as we can.  As the people of God we now partner with him in his restoration of all creation until it reaches a climax with the return of Christ.  He believes that we can partner with God through prayer as in Romans 8, Holiness, living presently by the rule of what will be in the future, and in Politics and empire.  “Medical care, education, work on behalf of the poor – all these are signs that Jesus is Lord and that the powers of the world are his servants (123).”  The most personal application Wright gives for us is that of forgiveness; forgiveness through the cross and forgiveness for each other, just like Jesus taught and lived.

Wright says the central point of his book “is not only that in the new world God himself will be beyond the reach of the moral blackmail of unresolved evil, but that we shall be as well (143).”  Not that we have to wait for the second coming but it will be the ultimate end.  Until then, the Cross has transformed us into God’s agents in the world, and it is our joy and responsibility to be a light in the darkness.

I cannot answer all or many of the “Problem of Evil” questions, all I can do is pray that he gives me understanding and thank him for the grace and work of Jesus on the Cross.  Still, I see that maybe God has not done away with evil entirely in the world because it would take an act of de-creation counter to his character to get it out of his creation.  But, he did start the process of creating anew with the Resurrection and victory over Evil and Death on the Cross.

Give this one a read, if you do, let me know what you think.  Blessings.

N.T. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.