Basil of Caesarea. By Stephen M. Hildebrand. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. xx + 204 pp., paperback. $26.99 (review originally published in the Fall 2014 edition of the Criswell Theological Review).
This new work on Basil of Caesarea is part of Baker Academic’s Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Spirituality series, which already includes books on Athanasius and Vincent of Lerins. The author, Stephen M. Hildebrand, professor of theology and director of the theology graduate program at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), has previously authored The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea and translated Basil’s famous work On the Holy Spirit into English, which qualifies him quite well for this task.
In terms of related works, this book resembles Philip Rousseau’s 1998 work, Basil of Caesarea as well as Andrea Sterk’s 2004 book Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church, which deals in part with Basil’s monasticism. That said, Hildebrand’s book is unique in that it looks holistically at Basil’s monastic vocation and his work as a theologian. Hildebrand writes, “The overarching argument that I try to make here is that Basil’s whole theology and spirituality emerge organically out of his simple desire to live a life faithful to the gospel” (p. xvi). He adds, “It is easy for us to divide and separate what Basil did not. His trinitarian thought, for example, is one thing, his ascetic and spiritual thought, another. But it was not so for him” (p. 165).
Given this thesis, Hildebrand’s work is divided into eight balanced chapters. In the opening chapter, he narrates Basil’s monastic journey that includes the ascetic influence of his family and also his awakening to monasticism as an adult. In chapters 2 and 3, Hildebrand discusses Basil’s doctrines of man, creation, and Scripture; while in chapters 4 and 5, he lays out Basil’s trinitarian thought. Chapters 6 and 7 overlap nicely as the author deals with Basil’s view of Christian discipleship, which was largely a monastic experience. Finally, in chapter 8, Hildebrand shows how Basil appropriated tradition—both theological and monastic—to develop his own thought and practice.
This book has a number of strengths. The first of which is the methodology of studying Basil’s monasticism and ministry and his work as a theologian in an integrated manner. This approach has surely given us a more accurate picture of the fourth-century monk-bishop and it ought to be emulated in the study of other church fathers who are often studied theologically but in a contextual vacuum. Second, and also related to context, Hildebrand has helped us grasp Basil’s trinitarian thought—and especially his pneumatology—by clearly laying out the thought of his theological opponents Eunomius and Eustathius (chap. 5). This approach not only offers Basil’s opponents a fair hearing, but it provides greater clarity for grasping the theological terrain of the fourth century. Finally, Hildebrand’s work in chapters 6 and 7 offers a simple but comprehensive view of Basil’s monastic vision and theology. The claim that Basil’s view that authentic Christian discipleship was an ascetic experience in community was well supported in these chapters.
I have two brief critiques. First, though Hildebrand does a good job of capturing Basil’s monastic experience, one element that could have been expanded upon more was Basil’s service as a monk that included caring for the poor, sick, hungry, and stranger, particularly through the ministry of the basileas (“new city”) complex outside of Caesarea. Basil was indeed a monk-bishop living in a community engaged in mission. Second, it is unfortunate that Hildebrand cites an older article from Mendietta who refers to Eustathius’ view of Scripture as “Puritan,” “Protestant,” and “biblicism” (p. 93), which Hildebrand uses to contrast Basil’s practice of interpreting Scripture in light of the tradition of the church. Not only are these terms anachronistic, but it is an unfair caricature of Protestants who surely read Scripture within tradition, including many who do so happily and deliberately. Ironically, evangelicals who hold to the functional authority of Scripture in the thought and life of a believer would be quite pleased with how Hildebrand presents Basil’s high value of Scriptural authority—that which characterizes Christian leaders and that defines his monasticism (pp. 138, 161).
In summary, I appreciate this holistic look at Basil’s life, vocation, and thought. I recommend it to students of church history, Patristics, theology and monastic studies as an excellent resource for understanding Basil and his times.
One of the great things I love about being a professor is that I get to read for a living. That is, I get to continue learning, growing, and developing. In 2014, I had the privilege to read some new books and some old ones and here is a brief summary of the best of my reading.
Among the old books (older or less new) most of my reading was centered around early Christian and medieval monasticism and the intersection of Christian mission—research that I am doing for a forthcoming manuscript on missionary monks (publisher to be named later). On this quest, I particularly enjoyed William Harmless’ Desert Christians, which is a rich and thorough introduction to the context and backgrounds, historical development, and texts of early monasticism. I also appreciated Marilynn Dunn’s The Emergence of Monasticism (2003), a standard scholarly introduction to the phenomenon of ascetic movements within the church. Focusing on more specific missionary monks, Clare Stancliffe’s St. Martin of Tours and His Hagiographer (1983) successfully separated legend from history by examining Sulpicius Severus’ sacred biography of Martin. Two books from my doctoral mentor Thomas O’Loughlin--St. Patrick: The Man and His Works (1999) and Discovering St. Patrick (2005)—also gave rich insight into early Ireland and Patrick’s writings toward a more accurate read of who Patrick was and what he accomplished as a missionary-bishop.
Among the new reads, my reading was divided between (surprise, surprise) mission, theology, and history. In mission books, I greatly appreciated Scott Sunquist’s Understanding Christian Mission (see review HERE) as it was framed by the motifs of suffering and glory and was also enriched by the author’s great abilities as a historian of mission. In theology, I recently read Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy (review HERE) that attempts to reshape our understanding of the kingdom of God as well as renew our love for the church. Also in theology, Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians (review HERE) was refreshing as he wrote a wonderful treatise on the heart behind and the how of theology. In history, I enjoyed John Fea’s winsome work Why Study History? (review HERE) which challenges the reader to gain a renewed love for this area of study in the humanities that has practical, life-long value. Finally, in history and theology, I was privileged to digest Stephen Hildebrand’s Basil of Caesarea (review forthcoming) which rightly discusses Basil’s theology in the context of his life as a monk-bishop if fourth century Asia Minor.
I am grateful to these authors for their scholarship and in some cases the publishers who provided the book at no cost. Here’s to reading, learning, growing and worshipping God with heart and mind in 2015.
Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory. By Scott W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. xiv + 447pp., hardcover, $34.99 (note: originally published in the Criswell Theological Review in Fall of 2014).
Understanding Christian Mission is the latest work by historian and missiologist Scott Sunquist, who presently serves as dean of the school of intercultural studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Sunquist’s previous works include A History of Presbyterian Missions, 1944-2007 (2008) and A Dictionary of Asian Christianity (2001); however, he is most well known for editing (with Dale T. Irvin) the important two-volume History of the World Christian Movement (2001, 2012).
Sunquist’s aim is to offer an up to date introductory level textbook on Christian mission for use at the seminary and graduate level. In that regard, it resembles a number of books that have been published recently including Stanley Skesret’s Comprehending Christian Mission (2012), Timothy Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions (2010), and the forthcoming Introduction to Global Missions (2014) by David Sills, Jeff Walters, and Zane Pratt. Though a new book, Sunquist is clearly influenced by past missiologists such as David Bosch and Leslie Newbigin and, like Newbigin, frames his missiology in a Trinitarian perspective. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the book is the argument that suffering and glory are the predominant motifs in Christian mission.
Understanding Christian Mission is broken down into three fairly equal parts: history, theology, and practice. What distinguishes this work from Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions is that Sunquist does not begin with a biblical or theological foundation; rather, in part 1 (five chapters) he starts with a narrative of mission history. That is, he tells the story of mission and then theologizes about it in the second part. While innovative, this approach highlights Sunquist’s strength as a historian of mission and he certainly pays forward the work already done in History of the World Christian Movement. In part 2, Sunquist takes just three chapters and articulates a Trinitarian theology of mission devoting a chapter each to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s role in mission. Like Tennent, he argues for an increased understanding of the Holy Spirit in mission. Though helpful, this section does not move beyond the Trinitarian missiology championed since the mid-twentieth century. In the final part, Sunquist devotes five chapters to the practical work of mission today with special emphasis on the church in mission, evangelism, urban mission, global partnership, and spirituality in mission.
This work has a number of strengths. First, as noted, among recent introductory mission texts, it has the strongest historical foundation. I think Sunquist’s choice to begin with the narrative is a fresh approach and he is also able to later illustrate some theological and practical principles by referring back to the historical section. Second, I think Sunquist made good choices in what to emphasize in the practical chapters in part 3. Given the increasingly urbanized world we live and serve in, it makes sense to give an entire chapter to urban mission (chap. 11) and to craft a theology of the city. Also, given the diverse global church and that mission is now from everywhere to everywhere, it was good for Sunquist to discuss global partnership in mission and to lay out a theological basis for partnership based on the Trinity, the Lord’s high priestly prayer, the body of Christ, the model of the apostles (pp. 375-79). Finally, I applaud Sunquist for keeping evangelism (chap. 10) central to his understanding of mission.
While I appreciate Sunquist’s dedicated chapter on evangelism and his key chapter on urban mission, it seems that his “outline for urban missional engagement” (pp. 363-69) lacks a deliberate evangelistic focus and the short-section on church planting (p. 364) is more aimed at social needs than proclamation. Related, I was a bit troubled that in the historical section of the same chapter (pp. 359-60), Sunquist seems to praise the leaders of the early twentieth-century social gospel movement for their urban focus. While mission has always been in word (kerygma) and deed, the social gospel certainly de-emphasized the spiritual and eternal implications of the gospel.
In summary, Sunquist succeeds in showing that suffering and glory are key themes for understanding Christian mission. The author’s references throughout the work to his own active participation in mission only lend credibility to his claims and remind us that the academic study of mission must be regularly infused by mission practice. I happily recommend this book to students and colleagues as a great resource for reflecting on and participating in mission in the twenty-first century.
I was grateful to read McKnight’s latest book as I enjoy his biblical scholarship and his very engaging and often fun writing style. In this work, he aims to offer fresh insights to our understanding of the kingdom of God, particularly for a younger generation that seems committed to “kingdom mission” but not necessarily the mission of the church. He succeeds in arguing that there shouldn’t be a false dichotomy between kingdom and church and invites the reader into a renewed love for the church. If I could take Scott McKnight to dinner at Gino’s East or his favorite deep-dish establishment in Chicagoland, this is what I would want to talk about, beginning with some critiques and then some affirmations.
First, in the opening chapters, McKnight discusses the skinny jeans and pleated pants generations. The latter tend to see the kingdom as more soterion and spiritually oriented; while the former seem more excited about good works and the “greater good” regardless of whether the gospel is proclaimed. This dichotomy seems a bit overstated and is largely located within the evangelical church in North America. Yes, millenials, GenXers, and boomers in North America have thought about the kingdom in light of their concerns and times. But what about the perspectives of Latin American, African, and Asian theologians thinking about the kingdom amid political instability, HIV/AIDS, tribalism, civil war, and hunger? I think these global perspectives would have enriched the discussion greatly.
Second, while I resonate with McKnight’s celebration of and love for the church in light of the kingdom, his conclusion that “it is reasonable to say that the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom” (p. 206) seems to go too far. In chapters 6 and 7, he argues toward an integral relationship between the kingdom and the church but in his final chapter (“kingdom theses”), he equivocates the two with this statement. Throughout the book, McKnight converses with George Eldon Ladd’s kingdom theology (the apparent official representative of pleaded pants theology) but he clearly breaks with Ladd with this last claim. Contra McKnight, I would affirm with Ladd that “the church is not the kingdom; it is only the people of the kingdom . . . the church witnesses to the kingdom through proclaiming God’s redeeming acts in Christ . . . the church is the instrument of the kingdom [and] . . . the church is the custodian of the kingdom through its proclamation of the gospel throughout the world” (cited in Glasser 2003:226).
On the positive side, McKnight rightly argues that the kingdom is shaped by the values, ways, and teachings of its King Jesus. Thus, kingdom work does not include the benevolent, “greater good” actions of those who do not follow Christ. Though noble, Gandhi’s work should not be deemed kingdom work. McKnight’s lifelong conviction to think and believe biblically—a strong impetus for this book—comes shining through here.
I also really liked McKnight’s assertions about kingdom living in chapter 10. That is, because of the kingdom—in the now and because of the not yet—believers “are marked by industry, by intention, by simplicity, by wisdom, and most especially by generosity” (p. 178). I was especially challenged and moved by McKnight’s admonition to pursue deeper fellowship with other members of Christ’s body.
The most impactful chapter of the book for me was chapter 11 where McKnight expounded on kingdom hope. As I read (too much good stuff to summarize; just read it), I longed to sit in the presence of the Lord at his banqueting table and to live in a place where there is “justice and the end of injustice, provision for the poor and the end of impoverishment as well as rich exploitation, the end of foreign rule and the establishment of divine home rule, forgiveness of sins and a people marked by holiness and worship of the one true God . . . and peace” (p. 192). This future hope leads me to pray more fervently “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth at is in heaven,” to act and live in anticipation of the coming kingdom, and to persevere in global mission because of this kingdom hope.
Thank you Scott McKnight and I hope we’ll have that pizza someday.