I like to think of New Testament studies as an enterprise that focuses initially on the first century in its Jewish and Greco-Roman aspects but then moves, quite naturally, through the historical experience of the church and into our own time. While I value the distinction between exegesis (meaning for the first writers and readers/hearers) and hermeneutics (interpretation for today), it can become ossified. When that hardening happens in the church, we tend to lose our vital connections with the believers who have gone before us, and we usually lose as well something of the fullness of the texts we are considering. Fortunately, we can detect major trends within New Testament studies today away from myopic investigations of small issues "back then" and toward more holistic treatments of the great questions that have gripped humans of all ages. Even secular-minded students of biblical literature these days (who surely have much to teach us) are more open than before to treating the New Testament as a religious book in which thought, practice, and ritual merge. Still, the volumes I comment on below all come from Christians and practicing Jews. This is not because I think the approaches and results of the authors are necessarily better than those offered by agnostics and atheists, but because I want us to claim the fine scholarship that exists within religious communities, and not dismiss it as second-rate because it is co-mingled with conviction. Three of the books (by Bradshaw, Hurtado, and Johnson) examine the New Testament with an eye toward worship as key to our understanding of the earliest churches. Anglicans especially will want to take note of such studies, which are growing in number.
1. Borg, Marcus J., and N. T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. xi + 288 pp. $15.00 (paper).
This is a popular book styled as a debate. While it doesn't do full justice to the nuances of either scholar's thought, it serves as a fine introduction to contemporary research on the historical Jesus. It deserves a wide reading and commends itself to church leaders who will be asked to identify resources for evaluating the diverse views of Jesus now circulating in the media. Borg and Wright, both in the Anglican tradition, are friends-theirs is a cordial debate-and were in fact both trained at Oxford by the same professor, George Caird. Many North Americans have now become familiar with Borg's volume Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, in which he argues that Jesus was a non-eschatological wisdom and prophet figure who was named as Messiah by his followers after the resurrection even though he did not consider himself to be this royal figure. Borg, along with J. D. Crossan and R. Funk, has pioneered the Jesus Seminar. Wright is extremely prolific, having written a good deal on Paul as well as Jesus. His best-known work is probably Jesus and the Victory of God, where he takes a more traditional view of Jesus' belief in a future kingdom of God and argues for his messianic self-understanding.
2. Bradshaw, Paul F. The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy (Second Edition). New York: Oxford, 2002. xi + 244 pp. $19.95 (paper).
In this revised and enlarged version of his 1992 classic, Anglican liturgical scholar Bradshaw does not set out to offer guidelines for the study of the New Testament as such, but in many places he does just that. The first seventy-two pages of his book touch directly upon New Testament material and scholarship, emphasizing the Jewish roots of Christian worship. Yet also in some of the later chapters, such as "The Evolution of Eucharistic Rites," Bradshaw offers astute commentaries on current studies by both liturgists and biblical specialists as they focus upon meal rituals in the New Testament. This cautious and balanced work typifies the new cooperation now developing across scholarly disciplines. …