C. Kavin ROWE, Early Narrative Christology, The Lord in the Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009. Pp. 270. $39.99 pb. ISBN 978-0-8010-3591-3.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141

By being attentive to Luke’s narrative sophistication, C. Kavin Rowe seeks to offer a corrective to past Lukan research as well as to offer a constructive attempt to articulate a robustly Christological reading of the Gospel" (9). He appears to succeed at the task.

The matter of appearance arises not from the detailed writing of Dr. Rowe, but rather from the limitations of this reviewer regarding the scholars he critiques as well as competing claims in current research. While the topic gained the reviewer’s full appreciation from the perspective of systematic theology, the particularities of New Testament scholarship stood beyond the reviewer’s expectations. In this regard, the text deserves a review more attentive to the details of Rowe’s research.

At the same time, this review intends to highlight some of the insightful theological perspectives that can be gained by the theologian or doctoral students whose expertise lies elsewhere. The first such gem comes from the author’s attention to the Gospel of Luke as narrative. Professor Rowe reminds the reader that all of the gospels are stories and one should read them as such. With this perspective he warns against the analysis of a word or verse outside the context of the whole story. He insists that the narrative must be allowed to "make the first move" (42). With attention to the whole narrative of Luke’s gospel, the author contends that the evangelist seeks to "tell the human or earthly story of the heavenly Lord. Luke uses kurios, in other words, to unify the earthly and resurrected Jesus at the point of his identity as Lord" (27).

In teaching undergraduates one often simplifies a topic by accenting distinction and difference. The professor may well use Mark’s gospel to illustrate a "low Christology" and John to depict a "high Christology." Employing the overly simplified distinction both the professor and the students may fail to appreciate the nuance and difference employed by all of the gospel writers in their efforts to tell the story of Jesus. Rowe helps the professor remember the nuance and gives the professor some tools to help students gain even more from the Christian Scriptures. The author likewise helps the theologian appreciate low and high Christologies as current theological constructs not on the mind of those who wrote gospel stories.

The biblical scholar and the systematic theologian appreciate the role of Jesus’ relationship with the Father as constitutive of the Son’s divinity. Rowe brings to light the similar role relationship plays in the text of Luke. In accenting the role of the Spirit, the fact that Jesus never exists apart from the Spirit, one can find a convincing basis for Rowe’s claims regarding the divine nature of "Lord" employed by Luke in specific instances to contrast or complete "lord" in its secular meaning. And, at the same time, one can sense a similarity of themes between Luke and John that might too often be overlooked.

The theologian along with the biblical scholar can profit from Rowe’s attention to some of the gospel characters. Rowe demonstrates that individuals like Peter and Martha say more than they actually know. The author identifies this as the "literary technique of dramatic irony" (151). The technique should cause the gospel reader to look more carefully at the characters. In this careful look one might perhaps find oneself, something of one’s own story, a dynamic not unknown to the author of the fourth gospel.

Some of the other "theological" themes underscored by the author make the text valuable for the reader without New Testament expertise. Rowe points out that Luke deconstructs the relationship between power and violence. He notes how Jesus’ identity faces serious threat as human hands seek to negate his identity in a cruel and unjust death. Rowe contends that one can find a certain consonance in the Christologies of Paul and John. Above all he reminds every reader that the characters of history, including the character of Jesus, do not come to us through abstraction. In the telling of the story, and in its attentive hearing, the truths believed by the story-teller often reach beyond the hearer’s initial expectations.

Professor Rowe offers a well-researched and carefully written text that deserves the attention of biblical scholars. Extensive notations and a wide-range of references suggest his expansive and in-depth knowledge of the topic. Without getting lost in the scholarly detail, other theologians can ponder the meaning of Luke’s Christology and its current possibilities for telling the story of Jesus.


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