Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: Kuhn's The Kingdom according to Luke & Acts

A short review of Karl Allen Kuhn, The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts: A Social, Literary, and Theological Introduction (Baker Academic, 2015) for NetGalley.

As I've been hunting for a good auxiliary textbook for an upcoming course I'll be teaching on Luke-Acts, I had dismissed Karl Kuhn's new book when I first saw it advertised, thinking it would not be able to provide a solid but accessible introduction to kingdom themes in Luke-Acts and a satisfactory introduction to the overall books at the same time.

I was wrong. I'm now seriously considering this book for that second textbook slot. Here's why, briefly. Kuhn skillfully uses Luke's view of the kingdom of God as his lens for understanding the evangelist's entire work, so the introduction to the overall content of Luke and Acts is gradual, methodical, and easily digested. In separate chapters, he also incorporates the background of both "Israelite Visions of the Kingdom" and Rome as an "Empire of Disparity and Want," repeating this latter description as a refrain throughout the book. Luke's social location as a member of the elite, calling his patron Theophilus and other readers to leave behind their commitments to the elite lifestyle, furnishes him with the narrative artistry he needs in order to tell his kingdom story with such evident pathos and (beautifully explained) rhetorical flair. At times, Kuhn's kingdom themes and the components of Luke's narrative become richly interlayered, so much so that they can be hard to keep distinct; but as Kuhn encourages us as readers, if we remember even some of these themes, he will have accomplished something helpful and enriching. Kuhn's role thus mirrors Luke's, helping readers to see what a life of kingdom-oriented discipleship begins to look like: "Such is part of the bold vocation of embracing the Kingdom in a world gone terribly awry -- it is not simply an unfortunate reality to be endured," but a cause for rejoicing, even in the midst of hardship and persecution.

So why am I still uncertain about selecting this book? Simple: it's the occasional moments where this remains, for all its accessibility, an academic text. Predictably and understandably, for a book from the Baker Academic imprint, words like "agonistic," "Hellenistic," "midrash," "ethos," and "inclusio" aren't explained; though a skilled and careful reader can pick up at least part of these terms' meaning from contextual clues, not all readers will be so skilled or careful -- or so patient. Then, too, Greek words are not transliterated, probably with the assumption that most readers will have at least a cursory knowledge of New Testament Greek. To his credit, Kuhn doesn't assume too much here, offering translations of all the Greek words and phrases he includes. But for my undergraduate students, most of whom will have a NT intro course as their only prerequisite, the un-transliterated language will prove a challenge. So if I do opt for this text, I'm thinking of drawing up and distributing a glossary (just a short page long, able to be fit inside the book) of the Greek and technical English terms employed here. My hope is that such a glossary would allow less advanced students to experience the full benefits of Kuhn's thorough -- and thoroughly enjoyable -- text.

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