Ephesians and All that Jazz: Riffing with Paul: A Transliteration

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

Ephesians and All that Jazz: Riffing with Paul: A Transliteration

Author:

Tom Anderson, foreword by William Jeynes

Publisher:

Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers

https://wipfandstock.com/imprint/resource-2

Publication Date:

July 31, 2020

Format:

Paperback

Length:

130 pages

OVERVIEW

19th-century preacher Alexander McClaren suggested that the biggest thing Christians needed at the time was a renewed understanding of theology, language that stays true to the original ideas but restates them in fresh ways. In Ephesians and All That Jazz, Tom Anderson restates the book of Ephesians’ ideas in an interesting new way. Going passage by passage through the book, Anderson explains each section’s ideas in a series of explanatory paragraphs, describing how they fit in a larger Scriptural context. Throughout, Anderson uses a personal style, as if Paul is writing the notes, giving the Ephesians his own commentary on the letter he wrote to them.

Anderson describes his book as a “transliteration,” an attempt to look at the basic structure of Ephesians and let the Holy Spirit reveal elements of the message which are not explicit but part of its message. He compares this process to jazz music, where musicians take a basic structure and improvise off of it. Robert Gelinas played on a similar idea in his book Finding the Groove, using jazz as a metaphor for living the Christian life. The jazz metaphor makes sense when talking about how to live the Christian life in a graceful and balanced way, but feels a bit odd when the author is talking about interpreting Scripture. It raises questions about whether the author is improvising away from Scripture’s message or trying to add to it in some way. Admittedly, there are times when Anderson perhaps leans in that direction. His ideas are sometimes a bit subjective or go into ideas which may be part of certain Christian traditions but aren’t explicitly talked about in Scripture. Occasionally this happens because he styles the book as if it’s written from Paul’s perspective, which means he has to add biographical details (conversations, moments of insights) about Paul’s life which are not mentioned in Scripture.

However, Anderson also notes that jazz requires “a firm understanding of musical theory,” which to extend the metaphor means that the “transliterator” must have a firm understanding of Scripture and a strong walk with God before considering what is implicit in Scripture. By and large, the book shows that Anderson has that knowledge. He may occasionally go into ideas that Scripture doesn’t explicitly state, but most of his transliterations just rephrase orthodox Christian ideas with different language. Even in the moments where he invents background details or suggests conversations that Paul might have had, Anderson is essentially doing what authors do all the time in novels or plays about Biblical characters: he creates material to flesh out the narrative he’s trying to tell, without steering readers away from the main points. Just like with a novel or play based on a Biblical figure’s life, the book requires a little discernment from readers to distinguish the imagined ideas from the main ideas, but can help them see those main ideas in a new light.

An interesting experiment in Biblical fiction-meets-commentary, which helps readers reconsider and re-engage with Ephesians.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

3.75 out of 5 stars

Suggested Audience

Readers looking for imaginative ways to engage with the book of Ephesians that helps understand the book’s concepts in new ways.

Christian Impact

The author goes passage by passage (and sometimes line by line) through Ephesians, showing readers the Biblical ideas in new language to help them understand the concepts better. The imaginative format he chooses means that the book requires some discernment, and Anderson seems to assume that readers should pray and see how the Holy Spirit speaks to them while reading the book, thus keeping them from being led astray by any ideas he gets wrong. So although the book requires some discernment, it creates an opportunity for readers to understand Ephesians’ concepts in new ways, and to see how the book’s ideas connect to the rest of Scripture.

Ephesians and All that Jazz: Riffing with Paul: A Transliteration


One Response to “Ephesians and All that Jazz: Riffing with Paul: A Transliteration”

  1. Tom’s book—as well as his heart—has been a companion to me in my own personal growth in grace and the Word of God. This work comes highly recommended, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

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