At the beginning of 2022, I tweeted that I wanted to read more books by people who aren’t like me in at least one way, and the good folk at Langham Publishing sent me some goodies. I recently enjoyed Reading Jeremiah in Africa, and today I’m reviewing a New Testament counterpart – Blessed New Humanity in Christ: A Theology of Hope for African Christianity from the Book of Ephesians by Bitrus A. Sarma, a scholar in Nigeria.
This little book is neither a commentary or a monograph, and not entirely ‘academic’ or entirely popular – and that meant that it was, for me at least, a joy to read. Sarma writes as a person of vibrant faith, to his fellow Christians in the continent of Africa, and it is a privilege as a white Brit to be able to peer inside that context and see how God’s Word applies to certain questions in this part of God’s world.Yet this is not a book solely for brothers and sisters in Africa – in fact, it’s something I would definitely have on my desk when preaching from Ephesians, and certainly if I were leading a Bible study or coming up with a small group curriculum.
The balance between styles and modes usually doesn’t work – but Sarma pulls it off, with a book that occasionally tackles some complex theological and textual issues, yet ends each chapter with questions for reflection. I think this is a book that could be added to undergraduate courses/essays on Ephesians (not least to give a non-Western perspective) but also one that could be used devotionally. This is a rare blend – and something I’ll be interested to see if other Langham titles can manage.
Thus far, you might be thinking that I loved this book – but you might have seen my goodreads review, where I gave it just 4 out of a possible 5 stars. This is for two basic reasons. Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t agree with every textual or hermeneutical decision Sarma takes – not that I’d expect to, but sometimes this has some in my view unhelpful practical outcomes. For example, he writes (and I agree with the point) “We must resolve to be the faithful remnants who desire to follow biblical standards of raising cihldren“. This a reasonable comment on Eph. 6:1-3, perhaps particularly in the African context, but it is soured somewhat by a reference to James Dobson, who might not be as helpful or as biblical as some of Sarma’s other referents and conversation partners. Secondly, this book is slightly abrupt in it’s ending – it could have done with a meatier conclusion, perhaps picking up particularly the theme of ‘New Humanity in Christ’ in a closing word.
I would, however, recommend this book. Whilst it purports to offer a book for the African church, it is actually a gift for reading and living Ephesians for the global church. This makes it a helpful resource for anyone preaching/teaching Ephesians, a viable option for personal devotional study, and an interesting thing to add to reading lists where appropriate. I’m grateful to Sarma for writing it with both head and heart engaged, and for Langham’s publishing of it (And sending me a review copy!).