Pastor’s Bookshelf: Hannah’s Child, The Powers That Be

In addition to weekly posts about the sermon, I’m going to start providing brief updates and summaries of books I’ve read! This’ll probably happen every month or so. Part of this blogging practice is for me to keep myself accountable… I’ve been meaning to read intentionally more over the past few months! I feel this helps me better serve Concord as a pastor as I preach and do ministry. So in writing new posts about reading, you can also take a peek into what has shaped me in my studies.

Anyways, here is a brief recap of two interesting books I recently finished…

Hannah’s Child by Stanley Hauerwas

I often reference Stanley Hauerwas in my preaching. He’s a professor at Duke Seminary and one of my favorite authors. In Hannah’s Child, Hauerwas writes a memoir of his life as a child in working class rural Texas, a promising university student, and eventually a career academic theologian. Hauerwas was raised most of his life in the United Methodist Church and talks about how this impacted his life’s trajectory.

The title Hannah’s Child is loosely based off the story of Hannah and her child Samuel in 1 Samuel. As in scripture, Hauerwas’ mother promised to dedicate her child to God’s service. This has deep connections with a central question he wrestled with most of his life: how do you be a Christian in our world? Hauerwas also details his life’s struggles in a brutally honest way, perhaps most notably his marriage to someone with a severe mental illness. He was also named Time’s “Best Theologian” in the early 2000s, and had to navigate a more public life as an “expert” on Christianity. Hauerwas’ argument is that the church must always be a holy witness in our world. That doesn’t always come easy, and requires us to be committed for God’s service.

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The Powers That Be by Walter Wink

I always dig into Wink’s articles and video lectures anytime I preach or teach about violence and peace in the bible… so I figured I would read this book since I hadn’t before! The Powers That Be offers readers a paradigm shift for how Christians are called to take Jesus’ words seriously about being peaceful and forgiving. In our world, it is so common to response in-kind to things like hatred, anger, and physical violence. When someone hits or insults us, we almost always hit or insult them back.

Wink offers many compelling theological and biblical arguments for why nonviolence is the way to go in following Jesus. Perhaps most notably, Jesus commands us to “turn the other cheek” in the Gospel of Matthew. As Wink dives into the ancient Greek language and meanings of words, he talks about what this would sound like to Jesus’ audience back then. Jesus uses the word antistenei, which has its linguistic roots in military battle. Stenei was a verb to describe when two armies would systematically march towards other and engage in a horrendous bloodbath. To add the prefix anti- to this root word means that Jesus commands us not to respond as our oppressors or enemies do. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Stop marching towards one another like a bloodthirsty army!” We should stop drawing our swords and instead be more creative in addressing worldly evil. Jesus famously offered the cheek response, as well as offering up our cloak and going the second mile.

I found The Powers That Be to be a very convicting book. Hitting and fighting back are so common in our culture. We think we can kill or hurt our way into a better world. In reality, the gospel teaches us that the only way to truly be saved is to be like Jesus. We often think that bombs, guns, and physical force will give us true security, but salvation is found in Christ alone. His redemption is truly the only way our world can ever change.

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