George HUNSINGER. The Beatitudes. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2015. Pp. 140. $19.95 hb. ISBN 978-0-8091-0614-1. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141.
Invited to receive an award for his work on Karl Barth, George Hunsinger prepared a fitting scholarly lecture on “Karl Barth and Human Rights.” What became the fairly short reflective book, The Beatitudes, the author originally conceived of as a few bullet points on a notecard. The organizers of the biannual Protestant convention in Germany, after all, had only asked him to lead a Bible study on Matthew 5:1-12. However, their expectation for the Bible study called for another formal lecture. Subsequent to the conference he began an extended study of the text employing a Christocentric method of biblical interpretation.
While skilled in contemporary biblical scholarship Hunsinger offers a text, “from faith to faith.” Throughout he follows a pattern of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. At the same time the author demonstrates a clear knowledge and inclusion of the historical circumstances in which Christ located himself. Similarly, Hunsinger challenges contemporary believers to locate themselves in the cultural circumstances of the present.
Perhaps at times packing a bit too much into a particular chapter, or the text as a whole, the book well reflects the author’s concerns for human rights, the environment, non-violence, and religious persecution. With regard to persecution, Hunsinger details the striking number of persecuted Christians today. He likewise calls the church to accountability for its persecution of non-Christians, particularly the church’s history of anti-Semitism.
Reflecting on the circle of the faithful, Hunsinger links the Beatitudes to the church’s sacramental life. In Baptism he emphasizes that believers are made “pure of heart.” The celebration of the Eucharist anticipates the heavenly banquet and serves the church as the sacrament of peace.
As a systematic theologian, and the author or The Eucharist and Ecumenism, Hunsinger incorporates a consistent ecumenical focus drawing on a variety of thinkers. Though a number of Christian theologians might challenge his repeated theological hope that all people will come to “see and acknowledge their crucified Lord,” Hunsinger demonstrates an attentiveness to inter-religious cooperation. His perspective correlates with rather literal interpretations of Karl Rahner’s early theology of the “anonymous Christian.”The Beatitudes offers much more than a quick Bible study. At the same time, the book keeps the biblical text from being relegated to pious reflection for interior comfort. Hunsinger calls the individual and the church to faithful discipleship; faithful to Christ the exemplar and source of strength for living the charter of God’s reign. Finally, the text includes Study Questions prepared by Katherine Douglas as well as scholarly notation should readers want to engage in a rich study of the biblical text.