One-Year Blogiversary (Of Sorts)

I’ve noticed that many bloggers write posts for their blogiversary, and I wanted to do the same. However, I had no idea how to determine when my blogiversary was. Like many in my generation, my first foray into blogging was as an angsty teen (and I was a heathen, I might add!) through the medium of Xanga (if you had a Xanga, comment and tell me about it!). Well, about halfway through undergrad I got saved. And I continued to blog on and off in essentially the same way. But I never blogged very regularly – sometimes I’d write a few posts a months, and sometimes I’d blog pretty regularly for a few months and then not post at all for many months.

That all changed exactly one year ago – the day on which I posted my first book review. In this past year, I’ve posted 60 book reviews and published 154 posts in total. And so, I’ve decided to commemorate September 21 as my blogiversary. Since my blogging in this past year has been mainly driven by book reviews, it’s also a perfect time to reflect on the “life” of book reviewing.

A year ago I had no idea that publishers send bloggers free books to simply review them on their blogs. My introduction to the world of reviewing for free books was actually through an email from Westminster Books announcing that Crossway had given them advanced electronic copies of Kevin DeYoung’s then forthcoming book, Crazy Busy, to pass on to some who would be willing to review it. Having no idea that bloggers can get free (print) review books, I thought I had received a windfall of a good fortune (I mean, providence. of course.). A few weeks later, Zondervan Academic announced a blog tour for Michael Bird’s then forthcoming Evangelical Theology and I was chosen. I couldn’t believe it – a big, print, systematic theology book.

Through these two experiences I connected to a few “big time” reviewers and discovered that this was a thing – that there were bloggers who could get pretty much any book they wanted for free (at the end of this post I’ll link to some helpful posts for those who want to get started in book reviewing, or current reviewers who would like to write better reviews). Well, being the bibliophile that I am, this was one of the most exciting revelations of my life and I jumped right on the reviewing boat. It took a few months to build my “cred” a bit – initially I mainly joined blog tours, signed up for official blogging programs, and suffered some digital review copies. I didn’t even try direct requests because I knew they’d get rejected without a decent history of reviews and subscribers/traffic.

And so, my pickins were slim – and this is almost always the case when you first get started. Though most of the books I reviewed in the early days were good books, a lot of them I would not have reviewed if it wasn’t for the fact that I was jumping on every review book I could get – like I said, when you first start out you usually don’t have a lot of options, and you need to build up your review history and blog stats. But within just a few months, I hit a turning point – 1) I started sending direct requests to publishers for books I really wanted and was actually getting some of them; and 2) I found myself with way more books than I could comfortably handle in a timely manner. And so, I got pickier about what books I requested and accepted for review. Whereas I started out pretty much reviewing every book I could get for free, I now only review books I really want to read – if it’s a book I wouldn’t purchase or at least try to procure from the library, I’m not going to review it.

This policy has worked well thus far, but I’ll have to get even pickier soon. I’ve averaged 5 reviews a month in this my first year, but I’m going to taper off big time as I get ready for formal education. While I initially started reviewing to get free books (which is pretty much why we all start, but it’s still not a good idea), I came to appreciate it for the way it forces me to read slower, think harder, and interact more with what I read. But it still doesn’t change the fact that reviewing takes time and is not always easy if you want to review well. But besides the personal benefits mentioned above, another reason why I will continue writing book reviews is that I find great satisfaction when my reviews help those who are considering whether to read/buy a book.

While I will continue to blog book reviews, I anticipate that this next year will see less reviews and hopefully more interactions with books and more original content.

Resources for Reviewing (these are from some of my favorite bloggers that regularly write book reviews. When I’m trying to decide whether to read a book, I always look to see whether these guys have reviewed it.)

  • Obtaining Review Books” by Nick Norelli. I call Nick the “Grandaddy of book reviewing,” and I always refer people to this post when they ask me how they can get review books.
  • How to Write a Great Book Review” by Aaron Armstrong. Aaron’s Canadian. His reviews and articles are a great example of common grace :P
  • Reviewing the Life of Book Reviewing” by Nate Claiborne. This is a series Nate just started, and with the way it’s planned, it’s going to be very comprehensive and very helpful, covering in detail how to obtain review books, how to read, interact, and write good reviews, as well as lessons Nate has learned throughout his years of prolific reviewing.

Book Review – From Messiah to Preexistent Son (Aquila Lee)

Aquila H. I. Lee. From Messiah to Preexistent Son (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009. 388 pp. $40.00.

AILeeThis book is a revised version of Aquila Lee’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Aberdeen under I. Howard Marshall. Originally published in 2005 by Mohr Siebeck in the prestigious monograph series WUNT II and retailing at $147.50, this reprint by Wipf & Stock at a much more accessible price is a blessing to all who have a scholarly interest in early Christology.

With a conviction of strict Jewish monotheism and timing that’s basically in agreement with the “Early High Christology Club,” Lee’s thesis in this study is that “at the root of the pre-existent Son Christology lies the early Christian exegesis of Ps 110:1 and Ps 2:7 (the catalyst) in the light of Jesus’ self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission (the foundation)” (34). Lee’s study pays attention not just to Jewish precedents for early Christology but also to contributions by members of the early Christian community because of the overemphasis on the former in recent scholarship, thereby offering a more balanced account of the origin and development of early Christology.

After an introductory chapter, Chapters 2 and 3 looks at Jewish traditions concerning intermediary figures, examining whether these traditions provided the real precedent in the early church for viewing Jesus as a divine, pre-existent being alongside God. Chapter 2 concerns “personified divine attributes” and investigates how the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, and the Name of God were understood in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Here Lee helpfully points out the ambiguity and lack of scholarly consensus concerning the term “divine hypostasis” – whereas some (like Ehrman in his recent book How Jesus Became God) use it to designate a semi-divine being separate from God, others use the term to mean nothing more than a literary personification of an attribute of God. Lee pleads for a clear distinction to be kept between “personified divine attribute” and “divine hypostasis” and cogently argues that Wisdom, Word, and Name were understood as the former and not the latter in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.

Chapter 3 deals with Jewish speculations about exalted angels and a pre-existent messiah and argues that these beings did not blur the distinction between God and intermediary beings, but that like personified divine attributes, they “offered the Second Temple Jews a variety of religious language to speak about God’s presence, manifestation, and action in the world without calling into question his transcendence and uniqueness” (85). Therefore, it’s most likely that there was not a concept of a pre-existent messiah prior to Christianity for the early church to readily apply to Jesus. Both these chapters demonstrate that Second Temple Judaism was strongly monotheistic.

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Emphatic Evangelicalism

Though not explicitly about the Trinity, the below quote from Sanders’s The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything was one of the most impactful for me. Up until fairly recently, I was the kind of reductionistic evangelical described below. Probably largely as a subconscious response to the Christless/cross-less moralistic/deistic “Christianity” so popular in American evangelicalism, my theology was all about the cross. And I didn’t realize for a time that if you’re only about the cross, your faith is actually anemic, not robust and healthy like you might think. Sanders puts it well. Conservative evangelicals, take heed.

Bible, cross, conversion, heaven. These are the right things to emphasize. But in order to emphasize anything, you must presuppose a larger body of truth to select from. For example, the cross of Christ occupies its central role in salvation history precisely because it has Christ’s preexistence, incarnation, and earthly ministry on one side and his resurrection and ascension on the other. Without these, Christ’s work on the cross would not accomplish our salvation. But flanked by them, it is the cross that needs to be the focus of attention in order to explain the gospel. The same could be said for the Bible within the total field of revelation, for conversion within the realm of religious experience, and for heaven as one of the benefits of being in Christ. Each of these is the right strategic emphasis but only stands out properly when it has something to stand out from.

When evangelicalism wanes into an anemic condition, as it sadly has in recent decades, it happens in this way: the points of emphasis are isolated from the main body of Christian truth and handled as if they are the whole story rather than the key points. Instead of teaching the full counsel of God (incarnation, ministry of healing and teaching, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and second coming), anemic evangelicalism simply shouts its one point of emphasis louder and louder (the cross! the cross! the cross!). But in isolation from the total matrix of Christian truth, the cross doesn’t make the right kind of sense. A message about nothing but the cross is not emphatic. It is reductionist. The rest of the matrix matters: the death of Jesus is salvation partly because of the life he lived before it, and certainly because of the new life he lived after it, and above all because of the eternal background in which he is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. You do not need to say all of those things at all times, but you need to have a felt sense of their force behind the things you do say. When that felt sense is not present, or is not somehow communicated to the next generation, emphatic evangelicalism becomes reductionist evangelicalism.

Fred Sanders. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 15-16.

 

“New Testament Studies”: 60th Anniversary

Jennifer Guo:

This is a huge blessing to lone NT geeks without institutional access!

Originally posted on Larry Hurtado's Blog:

The respected journal, New Testament Studies, the official journal of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (Society for New Testament Studies) is now in its 60th volume.  To celebrate this, the editor (Prof. Francis Watson) has chosen “key research published in NTS over the past 60 years,” a selection of articles published in the journal across this period, and the publisher (Cambridge University Press) has made them available free online until 31 December here.

I’m pleased and honoured to have my recent article included in that selection:  “Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies?  ‘Orality’, ‘Performance’ and Reading Texts in Early Christianity,” New Testament Studies 60 (2014):  321-40.

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Book Review – The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Fred Sanders)

Fred Sanders. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 256 pp. $18.99.

sandersEvangelicalism is inherently Trinitarian and has robustly Trinitarian roots and history; yet the contemporary expression is marked by a tacit unawareness of God as Trinity and the Trinitarian nature of our great salvation. There’s both a conscious aversion (rooted in thinking that the doctrine is too complicated to understand and that the finer details are irrelevant) and a subconscious neglect (in the rightful evangelical focus on the saving work of Christ, we wrongly forget about the Father who elects believers and sends Christ, and the Spirit who applies redemption to the believer and unites him to Christ).

In The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Dr. Fred Sanders convincingly demonstrates that “the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself” (9), and that the Trinity changes everything because the Trinity and the gospel are connected. A systematic theologian specializing in Trinitarian theology, Sanders brings his scholarly expertise to the masses in this accessible, popular-level book.

Because the gospel is Trinitarian, evangelicals as gospel people are by definition Trinity people, whether or not they think so. It only makes sense that if the gospel is inherently Trinitarian, the most consistently and self-consciously Trinitarian movement of Christians would be the movement that has named itself after the gospel, the evangel: evangelicalism.

(Sanders 10)

 

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Book Log: August 2014

In August I was a renegade book reviewer – I read two non-review books! While I do enjoy the book reviewing life and find great joy when I’m told that a review was helpful and/or someone bought a book upon reading my review, the reality is that reviewing takes time – not just the time it takes to craft a review, but also because I read review books more slowly than non-review books. So in August I could no longer resist the desire to just plow through a few books :)

  1. A People’s History of Christianity, One Volume Student Edition - Dennis Janz, ed. This is condensed from a seven-volume series from Fortress Press, and there is also a condensed two-volume version. Unlike most church history texts which focus on the “movers and shakers,” A People’s History of Christianity presents a perspective from the ordinary Christians. All those interested in the history of Christianity should interact somehow with this series because of the unique, cutting edge approach it presents. Full review at Grace for Sinners.
  2. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral PerspectiveDavid Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, ed. I finished this book in August, but I had actually started it in June. This volume, like many have been saying, is the definitive resource on definite atonement (more commonly known as “limited atonement”). All who cherish this doctrine need to own this volume. It’s obviously a big book and semi-academic, so some might need to take a long time to get through it, but it will be worth it! Don’t lose heart. Though valuable as a reference, I highly encourage reading the whole book because the strength of this volume is its comprehensive nature; many of the arguments have been made before, but it’s the diversity of perspectives and comprehensive picture presented that is the distinguishing strength of this volume. Those who do not hold to the doctrine of definite atonement but value engaging with opposing perspectives need this book as a sparring partner. Full review here.
  3. 1 Samuel for You - Tim Chester. The latest in the God’s Word for You series from the Good Book Company, 1 Samuel for You presents accessible Christ-centered exposition with devotional/practical application. I highly recommend this book for all lay Christians. Full review here.
  4. Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and TheologyRobert Letham. In my experience it seems that apart from the Reformed, who tend to see union with Christ as the center of soteriology, the majority of Christians seem to neglect this doctrine, unaware of its importance. I was pretty excited to read this short text by Letham because it’s widely praised, but I found myself underwhelmed. I didn’t review this book so I’m unable to put my finger on the reason or give specific examples, but I think part of the reason might be because of how short this book is and the wide range of perspectives it covers. I also found some repetition (e.g. a certain illustration utilizing electricity showed up in multiple chapters), and sometimes the book felt disjointed. I have not read enough books on this topic to be able to recommend a better volume, but I do plan on soon reading two other widely praised volumes on union with Christ: One with Christ by Marcus Peter Johnson and Union with Christ by J. Todd Billings. I’d recommend those interested in reading up on the topic to search for reviews of these two books, because I do not know if/when I will review them.
  5. Are You the One Who Is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question – Michael Bird. I did not review this book and wasn’t even planning on reading it this past month, but upon reading in the preface to Jesus is the Christ that it was a follow-up to this volume, of course I had to read this book first. What providence that I already owned it :) Anyway, this is an excellent historical Jesus study that argues for Jesus’s messianic self-consciousness. Bird’s command of Second Temple literature is quite impressive. For a summary of the book, see Christopher Skinner’s review in RBL.
  6. Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels – Michael Bird. A follow-up to Are You the One Who Is to Come, Jesus is the Christ is a Christology study whereas the earlier title is a historical Jesus study. This volume goes gospel by gospel showing the messianic Christology within each. Highly recommended for anyone looking for an accessible book on the gospels, or specifically, the (messianic) Christology of the gospels. Full review here.
  7. Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship – Bruce Ellis Benson. Part of “The Church and Postmodern Culture” series from Baker Academic, this volume looks at the topic of art from a philosophical and theological perspective. Through a deconstruction of modernist conceptions of art and a reconstruction drawing on the work of continental philosophers such as Chrétien, Gadamer, Marion, and Derrida, Benson presents a paradigm for the arts in which we are all artists, improvisers in God’s image in all that we do, as His living works of art. This is a great book for anyone interested in philosophy who also has an interest in the arts in general and/or the relationship between the arts and the church. Full review here.

 

Book Review – Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Michael Bird)

Michael F. Bird. Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 219 pp. $18.00.

jesusI grew up an atheist in an unreligious home and never had any exposure to Christianity. Once in a while when I did hear the name “Jesus Christ,” I assumed that Christ was Jesus’s last name. To most evangelicals, however, the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah is perhaps the most obvious fact about our Lord; it’s akin to saying that Bird is the Conan-esque Australian biblical scholar. Duh. Of course he is. But in the (critical) academic world of Jesus/Gospel studies, it’s commonly argued that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah; rather, “the identification of Jesus as the Messiah is something of an ad hoc addition to the tradition, made in order to indicate that Jesus is a person of some importance in the divine plan” (3).

In Jesus is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels, Michael Bird argues that “the designation of Jesus as Messiah is not a late, secondary, or dispensable category applied to Jesus. The messiahship of Jesus comprises the primary framework in which the sum of all christological affirmations in the Gospels are to be understood, that is, all Christology is a subset of Messianology” (4). A follow-up to Are You the One Who is to Come: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, this book offers a narrative and theological look at the messianic Christology of each of the four canonical gospels whereas the earlier title is a historical Jesus study that argues for Jesus’s messianic self-understanding.

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Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Kostenberger & Patterson)

Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011. 896 pp. $46.99.

invitationBiblical hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible) is one of the most important topics for the Christian – not just for seminary students, pastors, and those in vocational ministry, but for lay Christians as well. Because hermeneutics is taught in Bible college and seminary, perhaps I can say that it’s even more important for laypeople to pursue. Bad hermeneutics and false teachings are rampant, and lay Christians need to be equipped to rightly handle the word of truth. All believers should be encouraged to read a book on hermeneutics and/or be trained in the discipline early in their Christian life to set up good habits for lifelong study of the word, whether through a church Sunday School course, campus ministry training, or even in individual discipleship if formal training groups are not available/possible. Long-time professors Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson have written a comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics that would serve well in the classroom, in lay training courses, and for individuals looking for an in-depth guide to the interpretive process.

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology is designed to teach “a simple method” for interpreting the Bible (23) that involves preparation, interpretation, and application. The introductory chapter is devoted to preparation and sets the stage for the book by addressing issues such as the need for skilled interpretation and the cost of failed interpretation. Chapter 1 also provides a brief survey of the  history of biblical interpretation and an introduction to the hermeneutical triad. The concluding chapter is devoted to application and helps the student bridge the principles learned in this book to the real world of teaching, preaching, and applying the Word. Here the authors offer tips and resources for study, as well as a guide to sermon preparation for each biblical genre (including major mistakes often made, advice for how to preach from that genre, and a sample lesson/sermon from a text in that specific genre).

Everything in between (14 chapters) is dedicated to the hermeneutical triad of interpretation, which proposes that in interpreting any passage of Scripture, one should study the historical background, literary context, and theological message. This practice of studying Scripture is not new, but the terminology is used in this book for the first time. Part 1 opens with one chapter addressing the first element of history, moving from the primeval period of the Old Testament through the end of the New Testament period, covering the Second Temple period in between. Relevant extrabiblical primary sources are also covered, such as apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Part 3 in one chapter addresses the third element in the triad, that of theology, and covers biblical theology, New Testament theology, and the use of the Old Testament in the New. In between these two chapters lies not just the bulk of this section, but the bulk of the entire book – twelve chapters on the second element of the hermeneutical triad, literature.

Unlike many hermeneutics books which move from general to special hermeneutics, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation moves from special to general. Accordingly, Part 2 on literature moves from canon to genre, then finally to language. Because of the importance of the overarching storyline of Scripture on the interpretation of individual sections, Part 2 begins with a chapter on the OT canon and a chapter on the NT canon. Then a chapter is devoted to each of the different types of biblical genre (OT narrative, poetry and wisdom, prophecy, NT narrative, parables, epistles, and finally, a chapter specifically devoted to the book of Revelation), providing nature and characteristics of the genre, sample exegesis of a passage, and guidelines for interpreting the genre. Finally, the chapters on language cover topics such as the basics of biblical Greek and Hebrew, the basics of Greek syntax, discourse analysis,  exegetical fallacies, and interpreting figurative language.

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation is the most comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics that I’ve seen. It is the ideal text for a layperson looking for an in-depth, comprehensive introduction to hermeneutics (background knowledge isn’t required, but you’d need to like or at least be undaunted by big books). This would also be a good text for a church adult Sunday School series in hermeneutics, or any other serious lay training course whether in a church or parachurch context. Finally, I think this book would also make a great textbook for introductory hermeneutics courses in Bible college and seminary. Each chapter begins with chapter objectives and a chapter outline and ends with key words, study questions, assignments, and chapter bibliography, facilitating classroom use as well as self-learning.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review – From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, ed. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 704 pp. $50.00.

fhAs the doctrines of grace (more commonly known as the “five points of Calvinism”) are being discovered, embraced, and cherished by scores of YRRs (or neo-Puritans, neo-Calvinists, neo-Dortians, or whatever your preferred designation/stripe), they are still generally disliked (and often misunderstood) by a majority of Christians. And perhaps all the other four doctrines combined don’t cause as much trouble as the middle petal – “limited atonement.” This no doubt has at least a little to do with the misleading designation, and as the subtext of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her implies and several of the contributors explicitly state, perhaps it’s time to call this flower (or at least the middle petal) by another name.

Overview
Long before its release this book was anticipated to become the definitive resource on definite atonement, and now, almost a year after its release, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her is living up to the hype. Boasting a veritable who’s who of contributors (e.g. Haykin, Trueman, Motyer, Schreiner, MacLeod, Letham, Piper, etc.), this volume consists of 23 chapters in four parts addressing definite atonement from the historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.

By beginning with church history, we recognize that all contemporary reading of the Bible on the atonement is historically located. We are not hostages to past interpretations, nor do we need to pretend there is such a thing as tabula rasa (blank slate) exegesis. By carefully attending to Scripture, we seek to submit ourselves to what God has said. By moving from exegesis to theology, we claim that the diverse biblical parts demand the patient work of synthesis to portray the theological whole. By concluding with pastoral practice, we aim to show the implications of the Bible’s teaching for the church’s ministry and mission. So while the discipline of doctrinal thinking is never less than the ordering of all that the Bible has to say on a given subject, it is also much more.

(Gibson & Gibson, 38)

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Book Review – Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship (Bruce Ellis Benson)

Bruce Ellis Benson. Liturgy As a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013. 160 pp. $19.99.

liturgyLiturgy as a Way of Life is part of “The Church and Postmodern Culture” series from Baker Academic under the editorship of James K. A. Smith. The aim of this series is to “bring together high-profile theorists in continental philosophy and contemporary theology to write for a broad, nonspecialist audience interested in the impact of postmodern theory on the faith and practice of the church” (from series preface). I was drawn to this particular title because the arts have always been a huge part of my life – from playing classical piano and participating in choirs, plays, and musicals throughout my youth (all prior to my Christian conversion) to leading musical worship and participating in a performing arts ministry as a Christian. However, this book is not specifically aimed at people like me; it was written for everyone, not just artists in the usual/technical sense.

In Liturgy as a Way of Life, Wheaton philosophy professor Bruce Ellis Benson contends that we are God’s works of art and that God calls us all to be artists (though not necessarily in the technical sense). Using the concept of improvisation with jazz music as the model, Benson demonstrates that our very lives ought to be seen as art and that we ought to live liturgically.

Ultimately, my goal here is to explore the deep and interpenetrating relationship of life, art, and worship, though not with the intent of merely sketching some theory about their relationship. Instead, it is about working out a way of life that can be properly termed “liturgical.”

(Benson 17)

 

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