Jonathan T. Pennington
Baker Academic, 2017. 352pp.
In another of Pennington’s writings (STR 6/1 – summer 2015, p. 57), he creates an overview of this book: “The Beatitudes and the entirety of the Sermon are inviting us in to a way of being in the world that transforms us and promises us true human flourishing now and ultimately in God’s kingdom. This is not just an unreachable ideal on the one hand nor an earning of one’s salvation on the other. It is an invitation to grace-based, God directed, Spirit-empowered, kingdom oriented virtue, or what Matthew calls “righteousness” (which is defined as “whole person behavior that accords with God’s nature, will and coming kingdom”).”
Baker Academic would be wise to split this three-sectioned book into separate volumes – each could reach a different market.
- What world did Jesus inhabit? A combination of Second Temple Judaism (wisdom literature) and Graeco-Roman virtue tradition. Jesus did not live in America of the 21st century.
- What message did Matthew encounter in the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus as Philospher/King, greater righteousness (towards God’s people, towards God, and towards the world), and singular Devotion to God which is heartedness based. Flourishing that is righteousness, based in wholeness (makarios, asher, teleios).
- What does salvation have to do with human flourishing? Everything!
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Simply put, we will all preach on the Sermon on the Mount at some point in our lives. Pennington helps to sort out the various approaches over the centuries. His well argued approach relates to the idea of glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. Virtue ethics set in biblical cement helps us anchor our lives beyond the often “obligatory prayer for salvation” that provides only a half-salvation.
- This is an academic text, with footnotes on every page – you can expect to learn something new. (If you like Augustine and Dale Allison, you are going to like this book)
- Greek and Hebrew are both used (not transliterated but using the original language script) – you can brush up on your languages or call a Greek buddy.
- This is about flourishing, the new buzz word – you can find out what people are talking about.
- A history of interpretation of the Sermon is outlined – you can expound with confidence.
- Trigger words from the academic community are included – get an evangelical perspective.
- This is an artist placed in an academic’s box – you can enjoy logic, an occasional outside the box statement, and a pastor’s heart.
This is a book of “rubber that meets the road” theology—encounter morality in terms of obligations and prohibitions being swallowed by the freedom giving capacity for happiness through Christian Virtues.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Reviewed by Ron Baker.