Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda
By Emmanuel M. Katongole, Associate Professor of Theology and World Christianity, with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove D’06
Zondervan, 2009, 176 pages, paperback, $15.99
Reviewed by Mark R. Gornik
In 1994, in the nation of Rwanda, some 800,000 people were killed. Under the labels of Hutu and Tutsi, “Hutu neighbors were told to kill their Tutsi neighbors.” Almost all were given over to death by machete. What makes this story of genocide even more troubling, if that were possible, is that confessed Christians were killing fellow Christians. Indeed, “in a number of instances throughout Rwanda, churches became slaughterhouses.”
The failure of Christianity in Rwanda shines a mirror on all of Christianity. How are we to live in this world as Christ’s ambassadors? How can Christian identity recover its unique identity? How do we face the contradictions present in our practice of faith?
These challenges are critically engaged with prayer, tears, and hope in Emmanuel Katongole’s Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda, written with the assistance of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Katongole speaks from a unique intersection: He is a Ugandan whose parents were from Rwanda, a Catholic priest, a professor at Duke Divinity School, and a pilgrim in life and faith.
One of the key problems in Rwanda, as Katongole identifies it, is the conflation of Christian commitment with other forms of identity. As a mirror, Rwanda can press us to ask, How deeply are our national stories inscribed unknowingly into everyday life and faith? How can the story of Rwanda help us see our captivity to the powers of the age? What story should form us? Such questions are of course deeply connected to our remembering our histories rightly.
“A book about the Rwandan genocide must be a book about bodies,” Katongole offers at the outset. Bodies were physically broken in Rwanda, and the body politic represents a real factor in how events unfolded. It is not enough therefore, Katongole notes, to ask how Christians can make a “difference.” The challenge becomes, how do we “reposition our bodies?” That is, how do we worship God and embrace new possibilities for discipleship where we are in the world?
Following this emphasis on the body, Katongole speaks of “interruptions”—persons who in bodily form understand that keeping the gospel can also mean refusing to accept the assumptions so many take as given. An example he provides is the saint and martyr Sister Félicité Niyitegeka, who sheltered others with her body, and prayed for her killer in the moments before her death. Sister Félicité’s life and body offered a prophetic interruption, the claiming of her identity in Christ before other identities, at the cost of her life.
Discipleship, indeed mission and what Katongole calls the “prophetic posture,” will be discovered only by immersion in the “deep brokenness of our world.” At the point of crying, “How long, O God?”, the church can be resurrected into a living hope.
With his commitment to the gospel of reconciliation, category-changing ways of describing discipleship, and passion for new creation sprouting from the ground up, Emmanuel Katongole is a theologian for our time. Mirror to the Church confirms the power of his voice, life, and insight as a singular one for the church today.
After reading Mirror to the Church, I had a vision of a particular use for this book. It is not just for college or seminary courses, although it is very much that. Nor is it just for all persons interested in reconciliation and the work of the church in Africa, although it uniquely fulfills that role. It is a book we should be giving to new Christians and believers in formation, those to whom we want to introduce and deepen what it means to have an identity shaped by the gospel. Read this book with tears of lament, but also as a call to be witnesses to the gospel.
Mark R. Gornik is the director of City Seminary of New York and the author of To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Eerdmans, 2002).
The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Messianic Psalms
By Sujin Pak, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity
Oxford University Press, 2009, 240 pages, hardcover, $65.00
Reviewed by Craig S. Farmer
In the past 30 years we have witnessed a flowering of scholarship on biblical interpretation in the era of the Reformation. This flowering is due, in no small part, to the work of A.R. Kearns Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity David C. Steinmetz and the students he trained in a nearly 40-year teaching career at Duke. One of the most significant recent contributions is Sujin Pak’s The Judaizing Calvin, a work that reflects the hallmark of the “Steinmetz school”: careful reading of the exegesis of Reformation theologians evaluated in the context of medieval and ancient biblical interpretation.
Pak takes her title from a 1593 treatise, Calvinus Iudaizans, authored by the Lutheran theologian Aegidius Hunnius, who attacked John Calvin’s exegesis (nearly three decades after Calvin’s death) for undermining the biblical basis for the doctrines of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. At issue here was Calvin’s identification of the literal sense of certain psalms with the life of David, even though these psalms were traditionally understood (even by Gospel writers and apostles) as literal prophecies of Christ.
Although Calvin had his defenders, most notably in the Reformed theologian David Pareus, Pak’s work suggests that Hunnius was not completely off the mark in his critique of Calvin. By analyzing Calvin’s exegesis of eight “messianic psalms,” so-called because they are quoted in the New Testament as prophecies of Christ, and by comparing Calvin’s exegesis to medieval interpretations and the interpretations of his older contemporaries Martin Luther and Martin Bucer, Pak shows that Calvin was, in fact, doing something different in his reading of these psalms. Most notably, Calvin wanted to circumscribe the literal meaning of these texts by the intention of the human author. Thus, for Calvin these psalms refer primarily to circumstances in the life of David. This does not mean, of course, that Calvin was trying to de-Christianize the Old Testament, for Calvin continued to read these psalms as lessons in Christian piety and devotion. However, as part of his larger program to de-allegorize Christian exegesis with interpretation that is closely tied to the grammatical and historical sense of the text, Calvin clearly wanted to rein in (not eliminate) christological readings of the Old Testament.
Are we to conclude, then, that Calvin’s emphases on authorial intention, history, and context validate the claim that he has made a clean break with the medieval exegetical tradition, and has laid the foundation for the development of the historical-critical method? Pak is unwilling (thankfully, in my mind) to make such a sweeping claim. She recognizes that Calvin shares too many convictions with pre-modern readers of Scripture to be credited (or blamed) for fathering the modern approach to biblical studies. Like his pre-modern predecessors, Calvin believes that God has inspired Scripture and that good exegesis should edify faith, promote charity, and inspire hope in believers. However, Pak rightly notes that modern exegesis will share many of the emphases developed in Calvin’s exegetical program, even though it may be driven by fundamentally different purposes than those shared by Calvin and pre-modern interpreters.
One of the most important contributions of Pak’s book is her analysis of the nasty anti-Judaism that often accompanies Christian readings of the Old Testament. The pre-modern tradition, in its reading of the messianic psalms, and indeed of the Old Testament prophecies in general, often made the Jews the enemies of Christ, and therefore of the church. This reading strategy continued even in the Reformation-era exegesis of Luther and Bucer.
Is there a way, then, for Christians to read the Hebrew Bible “Christianly” without embracing the anti-Jewish attitudes that have accompanied Christian interpretation of the Bible? Here, Pak offers Calvin’s reading of the Psalms as a possible model. Because of his refusal to read the messianic psalms first and foremost as literal prophecies of the saving events of Christ’s life, Calvin has no need to target the Jews as enemies of the church. Indeed, in his reading David becomes a model Jew who edifies the church and teaches Christian truths. And while Calvin may have abandoned the traditional christological readings, he has not, in fact, abandoned the centrality of Christ in his interpretations of the psalms. As the supreme expression of God’s providential care for the world, Christ remains the focus of these psalms even when they are interpreted in relation to David’s life.
Pak’s brilliant study of the history of exegesis demonstrates how historically oriented scholarship can be in service of the church and its theology. She shows how an engagement with our exegetical forebears can help us learn ways to become more faithful and charitable readers of Scripture.
Craig S. Farmer is the Joel O. and Mabel Stephens Chair of Bible and Professor of History and Humanities at Milligan College, Milligan, Tenn. He is the author of The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century: The Johannine Exegesis of Wolfgang Musculus (Oxford University Press, 1997).