Magazines 2024 Mar - Apr The Gift of the Grotesque: A Christological Companion to the Book of Judges

The Gift of the Grotesque: A Christological Companion to the Book of Judges

01 March 2024 By David Daniels

An extended review of a 2022 book by Daniel J.D. Stulac

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Cascade Books, 2022. 140 pages. $29 (e-book $21)

Bible readers looking for Christ in the Old Testament may be excused for passing over the book of Judges given its repetitive cycle of idolatry, divine punishment, cry for deliverance and divinely supplied rescue, only to descend again into pagan idolatry as soon as the current deliverer passes off the scene. Any lingering doubts concerning human depravity are laid to rest with the litany of moral corruption, violence and political intrigue smearing the pages. And yet, this author believes within the “cyclical void” of Judges, careful readers will encounter glimpses of the crucified God – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Daniel Stulac, assistant professor of Old Testament at Briercrest College and Seminary, says he has not written a “thesis-driven scholarly monograph.” He offers no “new perspective” to ongoing scholarly conversation. Nor is this book a commentary or reference tool. Rather, it is a handbook, a companion to be read alongside the biblical text itself. He hopes to send readers into the pages of the Bible in order to “kickstart a textual wrestling match” between the reader of the “crucified God.” That the book invites textual wrestling is without question. Whether the wrestling is with the biblical text of God or with the Stulac’s understanding of it will rest upon the reader’s own theological convictions. I found myself fluctuating between the two.

The heart of the book is a series of seven theological meditations highlighting key characters and events in the life of a nation that never managed to fully enjoy the promised land because of an incapability of “preserving its distinctive identity as the people of God.” Israel never escaped the seduction of idolatry, for as Stulac says, idols “satisfy the human longing for control, for safety, and for predictability in a bleeding world.” Israel, like the rest of us, craves being in control.

These essays aim at demonstrating the saving presence of Christ in the midst a world of “brutality, feces, slaughter, assassinations, conspiracy, genocide, child sacrifice, rage betrayal, mass graves, gang-rape, corpse mutilation, kidnapping, and civil war” – much of this occurring at the hands of the people known as God’s covenant people. Lest we look with disdain on Israel’s penchant for abandoning God for idols, Stulac reminds us that this is the lot of all humanity. We are all wretched sinners, forever lost and without hope apart from God’s intervention – ultimately accomplished in the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

Brimming with metaphors and allusions to contemporary arts, culture and politics, Stulac’s writing is colourful, gritty and raw – perhaps unnecessarily so at times. In fairness, he did warn readers at the outset: “…you may run across a few sentences that seem opaque, or which disconcert you, or perhaps even revile you.” As the reader of Judges knows, the language is frank and the subject matter is brutally shocking, yet the original authors and subsequent translators of our main English versions carefully avoid unnecessary explicitness. Some readers may wish Stulac had done the same.

Gift of the Grotesque is not a casual or quick read, and diligent readers will need to pay close attention to follow the lines of argument. Those who do so will be rewarded. Once we recognize ourselves in the mess of this world – we are no different or better than idolatrous Israel – we will realize how hopeless we are apart from God’s intervention.

A primary audience for this book is surely pastors and Bible teachers. The book may prove troublesome for new or untaught Christians, and caution should be used in recommending it to them.

Occasionally I found some comments troubling for their theological trajectory. For example, when discussing the value of reading the Scriptures in line with the early fathers and mothers of the Church, he says the failure to do so leaves only the options of “six-day Creationism and mainline Marcionism both of which are theological dead ends.” Besides adding nothing to the theme of the book, placing a long-held view of orthodox Christians alongside that of a renowned heretic is naive at best and churlish at worst. It is an unfortunate distraction which may turn evangelical readers away from a book that, otherwise, has much that is commendable.

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