Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: Outstanding Resource for Congregational Role Plays on Book of Romans

Occasionally, I write book reviews for the quarterly publication of my seminary alma mater, The Trinity Lutheran Seminary Review. Here's my latest submission:
Roman House Churches for Today: A Practical Guide for Small Groups. By Reta Halteman Finger. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (, 2007. 221pp. ISBN 978-0-8028-0764-9 $15.00 (Paperback).

The letters that comprise most of the New Testament contain essential teachings about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, justification, Law and Gospel, and, in fact, all the central tenets of Christian faith. Yet, much of the preaching and teaching that happens in modern churches, at least in Lutheran congregations, tend to ignore this part of the written Word of God in favor of the Gospels.

That’s probably understandable. Narrative is often more powerful and memorable than exposition, even exposition rooted in real-life situations. The Gospels are narratives that recount “the greatest story ever told.” On top of that, the Gospels, especially Luke, are filled with stories—or parables—from the Greatest Storyteller who ever walked the earth. It’s easier to preach on Gospel texts than it is on the New Testament letter. Yet the letters contain a treasure trove of important teachings that shouldn’t be ignored.

That’s where this impressive resource for creating simulations (or role plays) built around the New Testament book of Romans, comes in. This well-researched volume not only provides extensive background material on daily Roman life and plausible character studies of the individuals Paul addresses by name in Romans, it also provides lesson plans for eight simulations. The simulations are designed to help participants experience the teachings of Romans in more than abstract ways. Each participant plays the part of a person mentioned in Romans.

Finger is Mennonite and occasionally, her reading of characters and Christian doctrine reflect her specific views. (Pacifism as a given of Christian teaching, a notion not accepted by all Christians, is one example.) But that’s no reason not to use this resource.

The groups of people recruited to participate in the simulations detailed in this book would need to make a serious commitment, one requiring several hours of study each week in addition to the hours spent in the simulations and the out-of-character reflective discussions afterward. But for anyone intent on understanding this important book of Scripture, the payoffs in deeper understanding and an enriched faith, the commitment could be worthwhile.

Aided by resources like Jo-Ann Shelton’s As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History, a leader wanting to make Scripture come alive for the earnest Christian, will, I think, find Finger’s book an outstanding tool.

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