Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Book Review- Biblical Critical Theory

In Biblical Critical Theory Christopher Watkin focuses on how the story of the Bible seeks to make sense of the current culture we find ourselves in. For decades Watkin was reading books about how the Bible and culture intersect. He never felt he found one that accurately described what he read in Scripture and saw in culture, so he wrote this book. Watkin shares with the reader that he will begin in Genesis and walk through the entirety of Scripture to help the reader understand how to view the world through the lens of the Bible. In the 600+ pages Watkin is able to highlight the word of God and contrast how God’s word invites us to view culture around us. 

Understanding the complexity of integrated Biblical Truths, Watkis comes up with a unique way to explain these. For example the Bible teaches that Ultimate reality is absolute and personal. Watkins employs a technique called: Diagonalization that allows him to present two Biblical truths and connect them to an overarching truth of God. The diagonalization of the example would be that God is: absolute personality theism. Some might view diagonalization as a compromise but this presents “a positive and viable third way” for us to view Scripture. Watkins invites the reader to think of complex Biblical truths by using this method throughout the entire book. For the person who enjoys visual examples, there are great illustrations to visually explain these. 

Throughout the book the author brings in a variety of different Scripture passages to help explain the point(s) he is making. Watkins writes at a level where scholars and laymen can both understand his concepts. The book could have been high and lofty but Watkins has made it acceptable to basically anyone with a desire to better understand the world they live in through the lens of God’s word. The dedicated reader will appreciate how Watkins highlights how Christ is the heart of the Bible through an example of the metro system in France. Watkins likens the truth of Jesus to the metro system in Paris and advocates for Jesus as the heart of the Bible. 

Throughout the book Watkins brings in the historical culture that the original audience would have experienced when Scripture was written to them. This helps the reader to understand what was taking place for the original audience. But the author doesn’t leave the historical study there. He then takes time to help the reader understand the original purpose of the passage in light of our current culture. This is done through personal examples, short stories, and Marvel movie references. Watkin is able to speak of culture while living in culture and loving the Word of God. It’s obvious that Watkin is a student of the Bible and culture (it appears in that order.).  Finally the reader will be impressed by the ability of Watkins to have a grasp on the entirety of Scripture. It seems that Watkins is fluent in forms of Biblical literature. He can look at Israel’s past, the coming of Christ, Pauline literature, and Eschatology. One can appreciate how Watkin doesn’t shy away from passages or concepts that are difficult to understand. 

As I think about my evaluation of the Critical Biblical Theory I’d like to begin with the storngs points I found in the book. Looking at the entirety of the book I think Watkin invited me to understand culture through the lens of Scripture. As a, husband, father of three children, friend, and pastor, I can start to view the world through a variety of lenses. I can succumb to the problems my children are encountering. I can complain to my friends. I can miss the plan God has laid out for us. Watkin gave me a fresh reminder to view the entirety of my life through the lens of the Bible. I know it might sound simple but I think his writing style invites the reader to think deeply about the world around us. I liked that I found myself talking with my wife and friends about this book. His writing caused me to look at dates with my wife, my time at the gym, and reading the Bible differently. 

In addition to that, another strong point is his ability to span different eras of authors to help articulate the point he is making. When we think about how culture is rapidly changing we have to take into consideration how the authors before us viewed culture. Watkin is able to reflect on how others viewed the culture they lived in and weave that into his thought process. As a reader, you can tell Watkin reads wide and deep. The way he integrates thoughts from different authors added a special treat to the book; just like mashed potatoes are better with butter. I liked seeing what authors had shaped him. And found that their influence in this book was a reminder of how wide and deep our Christian faith is. 

Thinking about the entirety of this book I do think there are some weaknesses that can be addressed. The one I will focus on is how there are parts of the book that are difficult to understand. I can tell that Watkin understands what he is writing about but there were times where I had a tough time understanding the primary point he was trying to communicate. I think the reading level is appropriate for our level but I share this point because I was talking with my best friend about this book. He made a simple comment on how the introduction was tough to get through but the book got better and better. I agree with that comment. I was a tough nervous about a 600 page book but think the book got better and better. There were times I had to re-read sections to make sure I was understanding what he was writing. 

An overall observation of the book is that Watkins does a good job incorporating the multiple diagrams in the book. I appreciate his intentional effort to insert these. Watkin seems to understand that readers learn in different ways. The diagrams broke up the text and help the reader to see concepts presented in a different mode. This was especially helpful for the diagonalization examples that were presented throughout the book. But only that. The book contained examples that helped us understand how God interacted with mankind and how that was starkly different than how others god related to people. 

Thinking about what I learned from this book several things come to mind and one I’d like to write about. On page 185, Watkin introduced us to: The n-Shaped Dynamic. The idea of this way of relating to God is similar to the majority of ancient pagan religions. The concept is that we offer something to the god and returns our action with a blessing. This is a concept that I had never known or considered as I read the Old Testament. The best part of this dynamic is when Watkin flipped the concept to: The u-Shaped Dynamic. I think way to flip the script was a genius idea. I had thought about God serving us (think John 13 when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples) but this idea helped me to see it throughout Scripture. I enjoyed how Watkin continued to present this idea throughout Scripture and return to this idea. 

The second lesson I learned from this book comes on page 289. I had never thought of Samuel holding the roles of: Prophet, Judge, and Priest. I know he held all the roles but Watkin highlighted how no one in the Old Testament has held all three roles since Moses. And that after the death of Samuel, no one will hold all three roles until the arrival of Jesus. This is something that will preach and help the church I serve understand God’s word more fully. In addition to this, I really appreciated his sumamry of Keller’s arguement for the letter to Corinth. I have yet to preach through the book of Corinthians and will be using that material when I do. 

I was talking with a friend this week and said something to the effect of, “This book has 200 quotes I can use in a sermon. The one thing I would like to see in this book, if I have to have a suggestion for improvement, would be to have parts of the book translated down so I could use this book in a small group setting. It has all the elements of being practically used in the local church and impacting culture! 

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