Unlocking Wisdom: Forming Agents of God in the House of Mourning. By James Reitman. Springfield, Missouri: 21st Century Press, 2008. 352 pages. Paper, $19.95.
As I recently made my way through Jim Reitman’s new book, I was often reminded of Mortimer Adler’s dictum that a good book is known by its need to be read again. I am looking forward to the challenge of a second reading; because of its depth, Unlocking Wisdom will likely repay several more times through!
The depth of the book should not however discourage a first attempt; gems scattered along the way make a first perusal very much worthwhile. While Reitman, Adjunct Professor at Denver Seminary, accomplished M.D. and ethical writer, must labor to bridge the considerable cultural distance between the biblical books covered in this commentary, Job and Ecclesiastes, and the current reader, he succeeds admirably. Some sample “first-read” insights:
This “two for the price of one” commentary notes the remarkable comparisons between the two wisdom books. By itself, the section covering these correspondences makes the book a worthy purchase.
Unlocking demonstrates a clear progress of thought, worthy of its inspired subject, in the book of Ecclesiastes. Reitman shows conclusively that Ecclesiastes is not a “patchwork quilt” of wisdom sayings, as the book is often understood. I came away from even the first reading with a sense that I actually understand Solomon!
I counted dozens of defenses, grounded in close analysis of the text, against scholarly “cheap shots” often directed at Job and Ecclesiastes.
The book sets a standard in its effort to highlight the relationships and contributions of the sections of the Biblical books. The argument of the text is arranged explicitly, so the student is not left to intuit how the author sees these relationships and contributions.
On Job, Reitman dispenses skillfully with various over-simplifications about the argument (e.g., the problem of suffering of the just), and his very plausible case for “Job as the Agent of God” makes satisfying sense of the turns in plot at the end.
Fortunately for the student who will be looking again at the book, these (and numerous other) insights are cast in very clear prose (only exception: a very few editing irregularities, such as an unorthodox capitalization following semicolons). Other benefits to the serious student include the book’s inclusion of downloadable charts, and its forthcoming Libronix electronic format version. Its scholarly competence, however, is not beholden. It strikes new ground frequently, yet bases its departures convincingly in the text. But while Unlocking manifests current Hebrew scholarship, it does not absolutely require technical skills in order to profit the diligent student.
Reitman’s argument will be especially interesting to readers of this Journal. He finds in Job and Ecclesiastes many intriguing correspondences with a grace theological perspective (e.g., the foundations of a rewards theology in his “agency” motif; likewise a case for justification by faith alone). Numerous footnotes acknowledge authors JOTGES readers will know. But Reitman does not give the impression of being a systematician; the book is completely at home in the progressive revelation offered by these books in their OT settings.
The book closes with some plausible suggestions for use of Ecclesiastes in discipleship with men. To this reviewer, the book will also be indispensible for professional exegetes. Its primary use, however, should be to help remove any intimidation Job and Ecclesiastes might pose to those pastors who would not deny their congregations the riches of these inspired—and inspiring—constituents of the canon of Scripture.
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Denver Rescue Mission