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Fall 2004    Vol. 33 No. 2    pp. 215–217 

Book Review

Beautiful upon the Mountains: Biblical Essays on Mission, Peace, and the Reign of God

Mary H. Schertz and Ivan Friesen. Elkhart, IN; Scottdale, PA and Waterloo, ON: Institute of Mennonite Studies; copublished with Herald, 2003. 268 pages.

Reviewed by Duane K. Friesen

Beautiful upon the Mountains is the seventh in a series of books on Studies in Peace and Scripture sponsored by the Institute of Mennonite Studies. The series contributes to the relatively limited number of studies, especially in English, on what the Bible means when it speaks of shalom and eir?n?, and how these terms relate to other considerations like justice, integrity, and salvation. The latest volume includes essays written by fourteen Anabaptist biblical scholars addressed to a scholarly audience (six on Old Testament texts and eight on New Testament texts). The essays present an impressive array of evidence that, through the diverse individual witnesses in the biblical canon, we can trace a common thread of God’s reign which calls us to participate in the mission of proclaiming and practicing peace. These are themes expressed in the paradigmatic text of Isaiah 52:7 (NRSV), “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ ”

The authors employ a number of methodologies in the study of the text. Through a careful grammatical analysis of the Hebrew text, Perry Yoder challenges modern translations of Genesis 9:6 which suggest that a human agent is to shed the blood of a murderer. Gordon Matties shows how the Psalms subvert the militarism inherent in the Davidic monarchy. Worship that grounds security in God’s reign is a “political, polemical act” of nonviolent resistance that embraces the transforming {216} power of God among the weak and marginal. Wilma Bailey shows that God’s judgment of the nations in Isaiah and Micah does not lead to punishment but to transformation. Ivan Friesen places the four servant songs of Isaiah in the canonical context of God’s call of Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. In his literary analysis of Jonah, Douglas Miller calls for both an “inward” reading that concerns Jonah’s personal call, and an “outward” reading that focuses on the pain and suffering of the world, including the whole creation. In an analysis of Zechariah 1-8, Ben Ollenburger introduces the concept of “epistemic circularity” to raise the philosophical question of what we can say we “know” when we bring to the text a prior “set of convictions” about what “peace” and “mission” mean. Dorothy Jean Weaver develops the theme of “sheep in the midst of wolves” in the narrative of Matthew’s mission theology. Gary Yamasaki explores a reading of Luke 2:8-14 that interprets the narrative from the point of view of a “hearer” rather than a “reader.” Willard Swartley examines the theme of peace and mission by interpreting the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 in the light of John 20 (“as the Father has sent me, so I send you”) within the political context of Jewish/Samaritan relationships. In her analysis of Romans 5:1-11, Reta Finger shows that “having been made righteous by God” (the heart of the Gospel) necessarily includes breaking walls of hostility between groups in the church as well as loving enemies beyond church boundaries. Jacob Elias shows that the “new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 includes personal, social, and cosmic dimensions that cannot be split apart if one is to proclaim and live the whole gospel. A similar holistic vision is argued by Tom Yoder Neufeld in his exegesis of Ephesians 2:11-22. Yoder Neufeld argues that Christians cannot make peace without Christ, which establishes boundaries for the community and at the same time engenders a passion to overcome division and break down walls. Erland Waltner shows how mission and peace are fused in 1 Peter in a vision of a hopeful community which is empowered to forgive, witness, and serve in the midst of a violent and hostile world. And finally, Loren Johns explains (by helping us understand the nature of apocalyptic literature) how to read Revelation as missional to its core, an invitation to engage in nonviolent resistance against the idolatry of empire in view of its Lamb Christology.

Using Richard Hays’ list of four tasks that are essential to interpreting the Bible for ethics (the descriptive, synthetic, hermeneutical, and pragmatic tasks), these essays very thoroughly do the descriptive/exegetical task, and demonstrate well how three concepts—mission, peace, and the reign of God—can synthesize biblical theology. {217} The book only minimally engages the hermeneutical task, and the pragmatic task (application of the text to our contemporary world) is basically absent, except for a few hints. The burden is left to the reader to answer “What does this mean for us?” I learn much from these essays and appreciate what they do. However, I was disappointed that the writers did not take more risks in stating how the texts apply to living in one of the most powerful and violent empires in world history. Does a kind of enlightenment modernity, an “objective” or “scientific reading,” subvert the spirit of risk, vulnerability, and passionate commitment reflected in the texts themselves?

Duane Friesen
Professor of Bible and Religion
Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas

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