Every year since 2015, I’ve posted a summer reading list in late spring. I deeply enjoy the ambitious feeling that comes from dreaming about what I want to learn about or engage with over the coming months, and I still feel a residue of excitement about the freedom from stressful semesters, even though I’ve now been finished with my undergraduate studies for a while. However, this was a hectic summer, and for some reason, I didn’t manage to publish the reading list. But I still made a list, and even did a passable job at working my way through it. So, here are some reflections looking back at the summer reading list: 2018 edition. For organizational purposes, I’ve divided them up into church history, spirituality, and theology, though the topics explored in these titles do of course bleed into one another.
1. Church History
The last few years have witnessed an upsurge in the publication of titles related to the era of the Protestant Reformation, thanks in large part to the Reformation’s 500th anniversary last year. Out of all these books, I think Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet stands a fairly good chance of enduring as a significant contribution to the study of Luther’s life and work. Roper’s background as a historian of early modern Europe at Oxford gives her the ability to paint a textured portrait of Luther’s world. In the pages of this book, Luther comes across as a gregarious, intelligent, passionate, as well as deeply flawed individual. Roper makes it clear for her readers that she wants to neither idolize or denigrate the German Reformer. Rather, she wants to understand the development of his inner world and the nature of his internal contradictions. This was a vivid, in-depth book that successfully avoided being reductive in its portrayal of its subject, which is something one always hopes for in a biography. Continue reading →
Summer is once again almost upon us. For students and professors, this means a collective sigh of relief—a short but nevertheless real break from grappling with papers and stressing over deadlines. While I may not currently be in school, I still love summer reading lists. There’s something refreshing about the ambition, hope, and unabashed bookishness that goes into making them. Therefore, just as I’ve done for the last few years (here are the 2016 and 2015 lists), I’ve put together a stack of titles to work through before autumn sets in. My eyes are usually too big for my literary stomach, but I figure there’s no shame in failure if that means the summer was still full of great books and interesting conversations. So, without further ado, let’s look at this year’s list:
Three Subjects and a Favorite Voice
1. Wesleyan Studies.
The Cambridge Companion to John Wesleyis an edited collection of essays that gives readers a solid, wide-ranging survey of John Wesley’s life, work, and theological legacy. It also puts Wesley and the rise of Methodism in some historical context by introducing readers to different perspectives on relevant topics like the state of the Church of England in the 18th century, the nature of the British Enlightenment, and examining early Methodism as a movement within the Anglican Church. For those who are curious about the Wesleyan tradition but don’t have much background knowledge, this volume seems like a useful starting point. Continue reading →
Reading the Old Testament with contextual sensitivity and theological depth can be difficult. It’s all too easy for people to assume they already know what the text is saying or to treat the Old Testament as a mere backdrop for the New Testament. University of Notre Dame professor Gary A. Anderson is well aware of these dangers, but he doesn’t let them dissuade him from reading the Old Testament with doctrinal reflection in mind.
On the first page of Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament, he reveals the admittedly ambitious aim of the book: to demonstrate that “theological doctrines need not be a hindrance to exegesis but, when properly deployed, play a key role in uncovering a text’s meaning” (p.xi). In the world of biblical studies, this can be seen as a pretty provocative claim. Some scholars worry this type of approach inevitably overlooks the continued place of these scriptures in the Jewish canon and leads to the error of triumphalistic supersessionism. Anderson himself acknowledges the importance of these concerns, and he reassures readers that his Old Testament studies “take the Jewish character and integrity of the text with utmost seriousness” (p.xii). Continue reading →
*A version of this essay previously appeared at Theologues.com (RIP)
John Muir, a pioneer conservationist whose efforts helped lead to the creation of America’s national park system, spent decades exploring the lands of the western United States, filling up notebooks with his observations. In one of his more reflective passages, he wrote:
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods… Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains (Muir, 1979, p. 235).
From its early days, the environmental movement in the United States has placed high value on the preservation of wilderness. However, within some parts of the Christian world, environmental concerns can be hot button issues. Talk about them too much and you can find yourself potentially being labelled a liberal ‘tree hugger.’ Nevertheless, I want to spend a little time exploring how wilderness is viewed in scripture. Is it always portrayed as desolate, full of danger and without use? Is it ever described in ways more like the reverent language used by John Muir? Continue reading →
Mark McEntire, who teaches at Belmont University (and blogs here), is the author of A Chorus of Prophetic Voices, a wide-ranging and interesting introduction to the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible. In the first pages of the book, he gives a brief history of how scholarship has approached these prophetic texts over the last century in order to give some context for where his work fits into the conversation.
The historical-critical method, masterfully represented by figures like Gerhard von Rad, held sway for much of the 20th century and focused on recovering the historical voices of the prophets, embedding them in historical contexts tied to specific periods of Israel’s ancient history. McEntire finds that:
The great accomplishment of these efforts was the grounding of the Israelite prophets in the earthly world of politics, economics, war, and suffering. Materializing the prophets was an effective antidote to the church’s long-held tendency to spiritualize the words of the prophets and read them as a disparate collection of esoteric predictions of the distant future. (p.1)
However, he also points out that this approach had shortcomings, including the undermining of the unity of larger prophetic works into smaller, isolated pieces as part of efforts to devise hypothetical reconstructions for how these books were compiled into their canonical forms.
The historical approach has recently given way to more literary studies of the prophets, which engage with “the final forms of the scrolls as literary works, recognizing that the last stage of their production is the one most responsible for how we view the whole” and emphasize “the scrolls as unified works of literature that constructed imaginative worlds of their own” (pp. 3,6). An important event that helped shift studies in this direction was the publication in 1978 of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. McEntire tells readers that Brueggemann’s work: Continue reading →