Friday, October 7, 2011

Christian Century Fall 2011 Books Issue: Hitchhiker's make the list!

The fall, 2011 books issue of The Christian Century has listed A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus as one their ten "take and read" books in New Testament, with a brief review by Beverley Roberts Gaventa of Princeton:
The contents of this book live up to the advertisement in the title. Fisk introduces the academic study of Jesus and the Gospels through the conceit of a college student's journal while traveling through Israel. The journal entries include such diverse items as accounts of conversations with biblical scholars, sticky notes from primary sources, quotes from Monty Python and a recipe for making a volcano. Along the way "Norm" struggles to reconcile his faith with his findings in a journey that many will recognize as their own.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nijay Gupta, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University, describes my book as "narrative therapy." Here's the relevant paragraph (with italics added).
I think what Fisk understands is that most “backgrounds” books are boring. Also, they don’t engage directly in the personal challenges of faith, the questions that are raised by the mystery of who Jesus is and what he was doing in his life on earth. “Norm” illuminates our thinking not simply by answers discovered, but also in the eagerness to explore every nook and cranny of the Holy Land while reading every bit of the Gospels. This is, in a sense, “narrative therapy” for real students who need to “explore” their own doubts when they engage in historical Jesus studies.
And here's my favorite bit (though I'm pretty sure the tobacco in Norm's hookah was narcotics-free):
You can tell that Fisk is not interested in comfortable, quick, or easy answers. The book points towards a sense of owning the complexity in such a way that faith continues to be an adventure. There is no taming Jesus in faith, there is no taming Jerusalem (today, right now), there is no end to the exploring. And…there is a lot of fun to be had on the way (some of it involving narcotics?).
Nijay writes with a nice touch. Still to come are his "ruminations on the genre of the Gospels." Looking forward to that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Butler professor has kind words for Duke basketball fan

Also posting today about Hitchhiker's is James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis. Since my school, Duke, hung on to beat Butler for the national title in 2010, I wouldn't blame James if he tried to even the score. :) He plans to blog about the book's details throughout the week so come back for updates and my response. Meanwhile, his initial assessment includes this remark:
This is a book about exploring the intersection of faith and scholarship, and about learning to live with ambiguity and uncertainty. The first reaction of many people of faith when confronted with critical Biblical scholarship is indeed panic. And so Fisk’s sharing of such reactions, and description of the discovery of a better way, it refreshing and helpful.
UPDATE: Professor McGrath's posted part two on Tuesday (10-4). I much appreciate his attention to matters of pedagogy and to our need to honor the student's journey.
Norm’s journey serves as a helpful reminder of the fact that we all “see from somewhere” . . . And while some of us may try to stick to “just the facts” in our teaching, . . . many of our students will still be interested in whether it is possible to both study and follow. Fisk puts it this way: “Norm…refuses to choose between curiosity and conviction” (p.7). But Norm himself puts it better: “Could I be rigorously honest with the evidence and thoughtfully faithful to the tradition?” (p.16).

Reviews of Hitchhiker's Guide from opposite sides of the globe

The "blog tour" for A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus posted two new reviews today.

John Byron
, of The Biblical World, posted here. Byron is Associate Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. This excerpt near the end of his review was particularly encouraging:
Finally, what also makes this book unique, as well as useful, is the honest way in which Norm is allowed to wrestle with the tension between faith and history, between fact and tradition. Fisk does not duck the questions that historical inquiry raises about Jesus and the gospels. Through Norm, he thinks out loud about the implications of a faith that is not always able to find the security of historical moorings. He doesn’t provide any easy answers. Readers are given the materials they need to work with, but they are left to wrestle with the answers for themselves. I think this is the way it should be.
Also blogging today was Michael Bird, over at Euangelion. Bird is Lecturer in Theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. Although I winced when I read the word "cute," I'm glad that Michael thinks the book approaches familiar questions in a fresh way.
I have to confess that this really is a clever and cute little introduction to Jesus. Intro’s to Jesus/Gospels are fairly bountiful, so it takes a bit of straining of the grey matter to come up with something new. Fisk has done just that in this book.
I'm expecting more blog posts throughout the week, so stay tuned!

Friday, September 2, 2011

An October Blog Tour

As it turns out, fifteen (!) reviews of my book will be posted to Baker's blog site between October 3 and 7: I am profoundly grateful for the attention these scholars will be giving to "Norm" and his quest. Here's the current list of participants.

Michael Bird (PhD, University of Queensland)
Blogs at: Euangelion
Dave Brumley
Blogs at: This Pilgrim Land
John Byron (PhD, University of Durham)
Blogs at: The Biblical World
Tripp Fuller
Blogs at: Homebrewed Christianity
Timothy Gombis (PhD, University of St. Andrews)
Blogs at: Faith Improvised
Nancy Janisch
Blogs at: Conversation in Faith
Mark Goodacre (DPhil, University of Oxford)
Blogs at: NT Blog
Matthew Montonini
Blogs at: New Testament Perspectives
Michael Gorman (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary)
Blogs at: Cross Talk – crux probat omnia
Jon Synder
Blogs at: Bookleenex
Nijay Gupta (PhD, University of Durham)
Blogs at:
Amy Sondova
Blogs at: Backseat Writer
James McGrath (PhD, University of Durham)
Blogs at: Exploring Our Matrix
Jacob Sweeney
Blogs at: Jacob Sweeney’s Blog

Joshua Walker
Blogs at: Bring the Books

Thursday, September 1, 2011

John Byron on Hitchhiker's Guide

John Byron, New Testament professor at Ashland Theological Seminary, weighed in on my book today. He likes it, and he'll be blogging about it in October. Can't wait. In the mean time:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Three reviews of A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus

Reviews of my new book are trickling in. So far so good.

For starters, on June 20 Publishers Weekly posted a very positive review of Hitchhiker's. It would make "Norm" (the main character and "author" of the book) happy. He might pretend to be offended when he reads that he is "sometimes the lovable goof but more often a serious student." But yeah, PW pretty much nails it.

Then there’s a nice blog entry by Professor Benjamin Reynolds, posted on June 7 over on his excellent Divinity United. Ben has given the book a careful read, for which I'm most grateful, and he understands very well the kind of hybrid book it is: part Jesus studies, part Gospel genre analysis, part travelogue, part faith journey. He sees that the book is not only a quest for Jesus but also a quest to understand what sort of books the Gospels are. To my delight, Ben plans to make the book required reading in a course this fall.

Third, just this morning New Testament scholar Ben Witherington posted a review on his influential blog, The Bible and Culture. Turns out he likes the book. A lot. I can't resist quoting a few sound bytes from the review:
The greatest compliment I can give to a book is, that I wish I had written it, and this book falls into that category. It is that good.

This book is full of good critical thinking and discourse, and as such can serve as a good conversation starter. It has also got a lot of fresh new insights into key texts as well, which surprises even me who has read far too many books on the historical Jesus.

The book is well researched, interacts with many of the major players in the historical Jesus discussion, comes to carefully reasoned conclusions, and doesn’t fudge the evidence.
I'm particularly grateful for Ben's commendation since the book fails to interact explicitly with his own substantial body of work about Jesus. Insert awkward pause here.

As for criticism, Ben wishes the book had more on the significance Jesus attached to his death, and more on his messianic self-understanding. Fair enough. I actually think Norm ponders Jesus' self-understanding and messianic calling quite a bit. (See pages 109, 132, 135, 142, 147, 156-7, 162, 165, 168-70, 196-201, 212, 224-27.) But I agree: it should probably have been more prominent and systematic. And Ben is certainly correct that I say relatively little about how Jesus' death brought salvation (see pp.237-40, 254-55). Here I'd point out only that the Gospels (unlike other parts of the New Testament) are similarly reticent on the matter (see page 252), a point that counts in my mind in favor of their historical reliability.

Ben is likewise correct that the book fails to do justice to the Son of Man sayings. (See pages 135, 156, 168-70, 172-6, 179, 242-43.) Most unsatisfying for Ben is the way I handle the Son of Man coming on the clouds from Daniel 7. But here I'm puzzled. I think Ben has in mind the sequence on pages 172-75 which presents the view of N. T. Wright and Scot McKnight in which the coming of the Son of Man is understood to refer to Jesus' heavenly exaltation. But Norm is actually attracted to an alternative view (as am I), the one held by James Dunn and Ben Meyer (see pages 176-78). So I think Norm and Ben are on the same side of this debate.

Finally, although the book’s title indicates that it is about Jesus, it is also very much an exploration of the nature of the Gospels: what kind of books they are and how their authors managed to blend historical fidelity with artistic creativity. (See, e.g., pages 77-79, 91-99, 130, 188-89, 217-221, 256-57.) The title of Ben’s review might suggest, however, that the book focuses exclusively on the so-called Third Quest for Jesus. I am hopeful it will also spark fruitful conversations about the nature of Scripture.