Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book Review: Following God Through Mark

Ira Brent Driggers
Following God through Mark:
Theological Tensions in the Second Gospel
Louisville/London: WJK, 2007.
Available in the UK via Alban Books for £13.99
Available in the US via for $ 18.96.

In this volume Ira Driggers examines the portrait of God in the Gospel of Mark. In sum, Driggers is concerned with how the Gospel depicts God and what significance this has for a believing audience. His methodology is a narative critical reading that focuses not only on highlighting theological propositions but on the experience that the Gospel creates. He begins by noting a number of tensions based on the disciples who initially follow Jesus and yet misunderstand Jesus, they resist the passion and yet find themselves amidst the passion.

In chapter one Driggers looks at Mk. 1.1-15 and notes a tension in that God acts through Jesus, but God also acts directly as well (e.g. voice from heaven and via Scripture). In chapter two, he shifts to Jesus' relationship with his disciples where in 1.16-20 he argues for two mutualy exclusive explanations about the event on how the disciples choose to follow Jesus of their own volitional will and how they are also "fished by God". Then in chapter three Driggers examines the first half of the Marcan Gospel and identifies how the identification of Jesus with his disciples are thwarted by the disciples' own fear and misunderstanding and God also hardens the disciples directly. This highlights the tension of the Gospel and highlights the mystery of God. Coming to chapter four, he focuses on the second half of Mark and the necessity of the passion. He (again) points out two divergent facts that the passion is due to the blindness and sin of the world and yet it is also grounded in God's ancient promises in Scripture. The disciples' abandonment of Jesus is due to their own self-protection but also part of the divine script. Then in chapter five, Driggers examines the Gospel's conclusion and he suggests that Mark's Gospel jeopardizes the very promises that the narrative itself creates. The tension of the Gospel (created by the failure and fear in 16.8) means the story must carry over into the story of the implied audience whom themselves must break the silence of the women and continue to follow Jesus' teachings on discipleship which the disciples failed to do. It also underscores the fallibility of all disciples and the desperate need for merciful empowerment from a transcendent God. In sum: "The Gospel ends on a note of responsibility and impossibility, pointing hearers not only to the mystery of God but also to the mystery of discipleship" (p. 3). The final paragraph of the book is worth noting: "Given God's action within the narrative often sets the disciples at odds with their commission (if only for the purpose of Jesus' passion), such an assertion of divine fidelity is crucial, particularly for the audience outside the narrative. Although hearers will naturally question their fortitude in the face of opposition, they need not worry about God's faithfulness. Indeed, the opposition itself is, as an emulation of Jesus' own path, a sign of that faithfulness. In this sense the very promise of divine empowerment fosters obedience to the impossibie discipleship task: God and follow the path of Jesus, for God will be with you" (pp. 105-6).

All in all this is a good book on a neglected topic: God in the Gospel of Mark and the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Mark too (M.M. Thompson has written a good book on God in John's Gospel and D.A. Carson wrote his Ph.D thesis on divine sovereignty and human responsiblity on John as well - but it is high time that someone covered in it Mark). The only thing that I don't like about this book is that the apparent tension and the purported contradictions in the story may be due to either (1) paradoxes created by the mystery of God, (2) instances of the complexity that transpires when God intervenes in human affairs, or (3) exist only in the mind of Driggers.

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