Donald B. KRAYBILL, The Upside-Down Kingdom. 25th Anniversary Edition. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003. 311 pp. ISBN 0-8361-9236-2.
Reviewed by David CLOUTIER, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, St. Joseph, MN, 56374

The reissue of K's well-known book updates his exploration of "how the Kingdom of God points to an inverted, upside-down way of life that challenges the prevailing social order" (p. 16). He offers a broad overview of the content of Jesus' ministry, which he enriches not only with significant (yet accessible) historical contextualization but also vivid discussions of how the lessons of the ministry apply in today's world.

The book proceeds in four stages. First, K devotes three chapters to a reading of Jesus' desert temptations as "three right-side-up options" for his ministry: political authority, Torah and Temple piety, and economic miracles. Extensive detailing of the political, religious, and economic scene of 1st century Palestine helps the reader understand the oddity of Jesus' refusals. But what then was the alternative? In chapters 5-7, K. delineates the economic alternative of Jubilee, chapter 8 details Jesus' refusal of the pietisitic options of the Pharisees and the Sadduccees, and chapters 9-11 explain the socio-political reversals involved in inclusion, loving enemies, and exalting the lowly. A final chapter uses the symbols of basin, cross, and tomb to place the final events of Jesus' life in the context of (and as a consequence of) his proclamation of the upside-down kingdom. K. does a fine job allowing the synoptic gospels to provoke us, and his work largely avoids controversies over minutiae which do not affect the larger "story" of Jesus. Inevitably, Catholic readers will notice a certain radical reformation spin to the material, and might ask whether more attention to John's gospel and to the rest of the NT witness would present a fuller picture. Also, all readers ought to notice the challenge involved in K.'s interpretation: if Jesus is proclaiming an upside-down Kingdom, is it entirely antithetical to our ordinary expectations and ways? Or only somewhat antithetical? And who is our "our"? Especially when treating the issues of unrestricted agape and of taking the lowest place, K. cannot avoid a certain equivocation. Is Jesus merely saying the janitor (rather than the full professor) will be tops in the Kingdom? (p. 230) After tantalizing us with a vivid example of the professor and the janitor, K. says not at all: "[Jesus'] eyes twinkle. He's arguing that in the upside-down kingdom, everyone is the greatest!" (p. 231) Similarly, the tension between agape and self-love is softened without helpful resolution. The difficulty is that K. uses the upside-down notion to be highly critical of certain practices, while he allows that other common attitudes should be left alone. K., of course, is wrestling with the perennial problem of living out the gospels, and he should be commended for a thorough and challenging reading of one "big picture."

K.'s book is primarily a synthesis of the original work of other biblical scholars and theologians, and its updating shows a continuing attention to a broad range of scholarship, particularly surrounding the historical Jesus and the social settings of his ministry. Moreover, it avoids the esoteric positions often found in Jesus scholarship, tending toward a broad middle. The second edition not only has a fine bibliography, but also extensive discussion questions and an index of useful websites. Combine these features with K.'s highly readable, informal style, and this text would be of wonderful use in an undergraduate or adult study setting for introducing the historical context and implications of Jesus' ministry.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books