The Glory of Kings

I read The Glory of Kings a couple of weeks ago, and just wrote the following review, which I thought that I would also post here.

Having been an appreciative reader of James Jordan for over a decade, the prospect of this festschrift was an exciting one. This book is a wonderful showcase of the fecundity and breadth of Jordan’s theological and biblical vision, with stimulating essays covering a wide range of subjects.

Although a few of the essays will contain material that may be quite familiar to those who are deeply acquainted with the work of Jordan and Biblical Horizons, even those who have such an acquaintance will be impressed by the amount of new exegetical and theological insight that they encounter in these pages.

Rusty Reno, in his foreword, characterizes Jordan’s vision as one of ‘scriptural realism’, one which attends to the concrete particularity of the biblical text, most especially the biblically articulated cultic life of Israel, producing a powerful antidote to abstract theologies that hover a few feet over the text. Anticipating a point concerning particularity and universality that Richard Bledsoe makes in his essay, Reno’s observation here gets to the heart of the power of Jordan’s approach. The essays in the book itself are testament to the way in which Jordan’s theological vision inspires readings of the text that are all the more universally relevant on account of their close attention to the particularity of the text.

The main body of the book is split into four sections, devoted to Biblical Studies, Liturgical Theology, Theology, and Culture. The first and, by some distance, the longest of the book, I found the Biblical Studies section the most rewarding. Since my first reading of a couple of the essays within it, I have found myself returning to them to assess their claims more closely. Tim Gallant’s essay on Romans 11, questioning Jordan’s preterist reading of the passage (although Jordan takes a preterist reading of this passage, Jordan is a partial, rather than a full preterist), is a very strong and original contribution to the discussion, raising a number of issues that I will be pondering for some time. Peter Leithart’s theological reading of the incest prohibitions of Leviticus 18 is typically thought-provoking piece, suggesting a number of connections that I suspect that I will explore in the future, not least of that between the pattern of sacrifice and that of marriage. Perhaps one of my favourite chapters in the volume, Toby Sumpter’s essay explores the father-son and sacrificial themes in the book of Job. Perhaps the greatest strength of Jordan’s work is not in his interpretation of particular passages, but in the manner in which he alerts you to themes, symbols, structures, types, and motifs that enable you to read the Bible more deeply for yourself (it is not without good reason that his most important book is called Through New Eyes). While there are many exegetes and biblical theologians who have given me greater insight into particular passages, no other theologian has had as profound an effect on the way in which I read the whole Bible. The essays in this section both clearly exhibit Jordan’s influence in this respect, and continue his work, highlighting themes that unlock far more than the passages whose interpretation was primarily in view.

Perhaps my only significant disappointment with the volume was that the section on Liturgical Theology is so brief. It is my conviction that it is in this area that some of Jordan’s greatest contributions to Reformed theology are to be found, and it would have been good to see it receive more attention. However, when presented with such a rich banquet it seems rather ungrateful to complain about the smaller size of one of the courses.

Jeffrey Meyers’s chapter on the Reformed confession of the doctrine of election in the sixteenth century is a brilliant and able study. I hope that it is extensively read. In the final section, devoted to Culture, Richard Bledsoe’s essay relating the thought of Jordan and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy was a pleasure to read. Even though few if any readers will agree with everything that Bledsoe suggests, there is ample food for thought here, and much to spark the reader’s imagination. Once again, as with much of Jordan’s work, the great value of Bledsoe’s approach lies less in the particular suggestions that are made than in the way that it provides us with means by which we can learn to read history for ourselves.

There were a couple of points where I was a little disappointed not to encounter more probing engagement. For instance, C. Kee Hwang’s essay raised the very important issue of the relationship of Christ to eschatology, yet I feel that it missed the opportunity to probe the particular character of Jordan’s eschatology in its relationship to his Christology. While most eschatologies that stress the Christological connection tend to present Christ as a figure who profoundly disrupts the linear character of history, Jordan’s eschatology does not do this to anything like the same degree. I would have loved to have seen this explored a little more. I was also slightly disappointed that Jordan did not put up more of a defence for the position of his that Douglas Wilson questioned in the final chapter on sports. While sports in general may be worthwhile and valuable means of character formation, there are several aspects of particular prevalent sports cultures and of the supposed masculinity that is associated with these that I find deeply troubling. I would have liked to see Wilson or Jordan challenge some of these more directly, especially as they have significant influence in certain ‘Reformed’ (in the broadest possible sense of the word) contexts.

Perhaps one of the greatest evidences of my enjoyment of this book is that it prompted me to invest in three other books (Jordan’s The Handwriting on the Wall, Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, and Peter Leithart’s The Four) and a complete 4 DVD set of James Jordan talks on MP3. I highly recommend this book and suspect that I will not be only one whose interest in the thought and influences of Jordan is either greatly reinvigorated or initially sparked by its reading.

Have you read the book? If you have, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, My Reading, Reviews, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Glory of Kings

  1. Jeff Meyers says:

    Nice review, Alastair. Thanks for your kind words about my essay, too. I do wish we would have had a few more essays on Jim’s liturgical theology. What we really need is a book that collects some of his semi-published essays and make them available to a larger audience.

    • Thanks, Jeff. I hope that someone compiles a book like that at some point in the future. So much of Jim’s work doesn’t receive the wide audience that it deserves on account of being scattered in semi-published newsletters, out-of-print books, or in less accessible online contexts. A few volumes collecting a well-ordered selection of some of the most important pieces would be a great service to many who couldn’t easily obtain them otherwise.

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