Book Review is a "News Update" over at The Living Church

OK. I am filled with envy. Tobias Haller's book, "Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality" has been "reviewed" by Dr. Ephraim Radner and the whole thing considered a "News Update" by the Living Church.

Then again, maybe I'm not so envious. Reviews are not news, and The Living Church knows that. The news is that Radner and one supposes TLC really really really don't like the content of Haller's book and more the content of Haller's existence.

How else to explain a review that goes on at some length to show that (i) the book is thin - short, made up of "several articles" from his blog and odds and ends of sidebars, callout paragraphs and vague discussion questions, (ii) not nearly scholarly enough, being "a mishmash in terms of sequence," "not particularly novel," lacking in "studied consideration of the topic in terms of Scripture and tradition," (iii) thin logically, blog like, with out "scholarly fundation," and (iv) is mostly a "handbook for pro-gay advocates in the church."

On this last point Radner graciously senses that the "book does its job well." But on all other maters, "a tissue of "maybe" is what Radner finds. The rousing conclusion of all this is that "One sorry side effect that has come from the migration of theological argument to the debates of the blogsphere...is just the loss of context for the extend kinds of scriptural reflection reflection that Pope John Paul II in fact offered in the addresses collected in
Theology of the Body. The arguments over same-sexuality and marriage deserve such continued reflection. Haller's book will have its uses, but not in that context."

The problem is that Tobias So the nub of Radner's problem with Haller's book is that his writing moves beyond reflection to engagement with the issues "on the ground." The book is not scholarly and reflective, it is topical and active. Haller is alive and well, a priest of the church, speaks engagingly and might actually make sense to people thinking through some of the issues about same-sexuality in the Church. He is therefore dangerous. So the news is, dear friends, that Tobias is dangerous.

No, maybe I am indeed envious. I've always wanted to be considered dangerous. My friends have all the fun. How else to explain the wry wisdom of Haller's blog posting on the doings in England?


  1. Thanks, Mark. I guess I must "rate" to draw this kind of fire. I'll respond to some of Ephraim's notes in due order. I'll just note here that "maybe" is really all we need -- especially when the traditionalist side can only offer a "maybe not." The attorney for the defense need only provide for "reasonable doubt" to gain the acquittal, and as even Ephraim appears grudgingly to admit, I offer rebuttals to all of the standard arguments... and my goal is to convince the jury, not the prosecution!

  2. I wonder what Radner thought of "Or Selves, Our Souls & Bodies"? I expect, if he read it at all, he dismissed it as he dismissed Haller's excellent "little" book.

  3. If anyone is interested in a real review of Tobias' book, I recommend tracking down Charles Hefling's review in the Winter 2010 issue of the Anglican Theological Review.

  4. That the likes of moi, a humble pew-warmer, with little or no formal study of theology except Scholasticism from over 50 years ago, get to participate in theological conversation on blogs, is surely proof that we have come to a sorry, sorry pass.

    And what does it say about Tobias' book that it makes great good sense to moi? Not much in its favor, I fear.

  5. My favorite word in that whole review is "purportedly," as in

    "[Haller] limits the meaning of biblical texts to realities that purportedly have nothing to do with modern homosexual partnerships and understandings (e.g. to cultic prostitution and idolatry)."

    Is that what people really think modern homosexual partnerships resemble? My oh my.

  6. I am reminded, after reading Radner's vast review, of the frustrations of a fellow (traditionalist, if you like the term) blogger, who finally, after a long discussion on sexuality, threw up hands by saying something like this:

    "The problem between us is this: I do theology from the top down. You do it from the bottom up!"

    Do the "facts on the ground" (as dear Tobias likes to describe them) trump the voluminous scholarship and the theologies and assumptions of the tradition? And should they? Put another way, does theology belong to the "scribes and pharisees" or to the rest of us, too?

    There was a carpenter from Nazareth who once seemed to think it does. . .

    Good show, Tobias!

  7. Thanks all, for your support. I'm in the midst of another project, and so deferring my own response to Ephraim -- though I do have a few things to clear up, such as his misrepresentations of Malina and Gagnon.

    I am most appalled, however by his dismissal of the "love hermeneutic" since it seems to me to be, not "Liberal Protestantism" but the one employed by Jesus and Paul, to say nothing of Augustine's explicit praise for that approach.

    Ephraim seems more at home in the ivory tower of post-Enlightenment scholarship, sorting other people's opinions into piles and carefully weighing them (or maybe not so carefully?), than in the wholesome atmosphere of primary engagement with the texts in a patristic fashion, and in a way that ordinary people might be able to follow the argument...

    (word verification = rechid)

  8. Outside of the condescending tone of Radner's writing, the sheer irony of his central point is remarkable. Radner says that one can't really form a coherent thought through the constraining medium of the blog.

    So here we have one of the members of the Anglican Communion Institute, whose very existence grows entirely out of the internet and whose printed tracts originally appeared as web posts telling us that Tobias' work is thin because it first appeared on the internet.

    One could say that reasoning behind the Federalist papers was constrained by the limitations of the printed tract, meant as it was for popular consumption.

    One could say that Paul's reasoning is constrained limited as he was to the conventions of the epistle.

    One could also say that this argument put forward by one the original "three guys and a web site" is beyond comprehension.

  9. Kahu Aloha11/2/10 5:50 PM

    Both the incumbent Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury are certified and degreed scholars and I don't know whether the world is necessarily a better place as a consequence. We can't all be eyes or feet according to Paul. How sad when we fail to see the gifts which others with different experiences bring to the discourse.

    If I remember the Gospel lesson of a few weeks ago correctly, I believe the leaders of the synagogue in Nazareth took offense when the decidedly non-scholar Jesus, son of a mere carpenter, dared to comment on the Prophet Isaiah.

  10. Between Haller and Radner, my money is on Tobias, if for no other reason than that I can at least follow his arguments. I have tried to read Radner on other occasions and came away frustrated rather than enlightened. If one wishes to persuade, one must first communicate. Since our church structure allows people other than academic theologians to vote on things, communication skills with ordinary people tend to come in handy here. In my book, that's not a bad thing.

  11. Mark, you're correct that a book review is not a news update. Nor was this review a Web exclusive, as it was prepared for our print pages.

    The same is true of Christopher Seitz's review of the last book by Brevard Childs, which preceded this review by one day.

    We are working on an overdue and thorough overhaul of the site.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.