Recent reading and recommendations
June 26, 2009
Here are some books that I have recently read:
The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament (IVP Academic, 2008) by Sandra Richter (Asbury Theological Seminary). This is the perfect introduction to the OT and a joy to read. Dr. Richter is a gifted teacher, judging from this book, and knows well that learning comes by aids, examples, and repetition. She aptly combines the historical narrative approach (Wright) with a classical covenantal framework (Kline), balancing each other’s potential excesses.
A Brief Introduction to Karl Rahner (Herder & Herder, 2007) by Karen Kilby (Nottingham). If we can make “introductions” into a genre of its own, then this is the best introduction that I have ever read. I tried reading Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith as an undergraduate, but it was incomprehensible and tedious (I’m sure it still is). Then I came across his Theological Investigations essays, which are far more accessible and instructive, on a wide range of topics. Kilby is the perfect guide to the major themes across his work and the unifying principles (especially universal grace) which aren’t always worked-out in a fully consistent way and are open to some important criticisms, which she explains. Still, I came away from the book with the great appreciation that Rahner did what he did, even if it is so that we can go beyond him with a more careful articulation than we would have otherwise. Also, of particular note is Kilby’s excellent presentation of Rahner’s sacramentology, which is a definite step beyond Thomas and Trent, in my opinion. It certainly would have made the Reformation a little easier going!
Mary: The Complete Resource (Oxford, 2007) by Sarah Jane Boss, editor. I love the boldness of the subtitle: the complete resource. This is a very handy and informative guide to the history, theology, and culture of the cult of Mary. It is a collection of essays on, e.g., Mary in the NT, Mary in the early fathers, and more specialized essays, such as Francesca Murphy’s essay on von Balthasar’s Marian ecclesiology. The historical surveys are fair and unbiased, and the theological treatments (including a reproduction of Rahner’s essay on the Immaculate Conception) are of a high quality, representing the more worthwhile Catholic work on Mary (unless you think Alphonsus Liguori is the way to go!). The book is very expensive, but I got it for cheap at a used bookstore.
Protestant Thought Before Kant (Harper & Row, 1962) by A. C. McGiffert, with a preface by Jaroslav Pelikan. This is a classic in historical theology, written in the early 20th century. McGiffert was a student of Harnack, to whom he dedicates the book; thus, you can expect a careful attention to historical contingency, while not afraid to make broad claims and interesting conjectures. His viewpoint is largely materialistic and historicist, which actually makes the work more interesting and important, insofar as it clearly exhibits the medieval context of the Reformers and their concerns, something taken for granted today but not in McGiffert’s day. The transition to the Enlightenment is a departure from the Reformers and their standing in patristic and medieval Christendom. This transition is where McGiffert is at his best, and the book is well worth getting for this alone. However, his reading of Luther, especially on Law and Grace, is pitiful and simply wrong (faulting Luther for stark contradictions and antinomianism).
Engagement With God: The Drama of Christian Discipleship (Ignatius, 2008) by Hans Urs von Balthasar. Nothing by von B is “bad.” If I could have written this essay then I would be quite proud of myself. But, I have to say that this was the least interesting thing I’ve read by him. In fact, I can’t even remember any particularly noteworthy points, except stuff that you can find in more detail and better form in his trilogy. Maybe I just need to read it again. It is supposed to be a condensed presentation of his Theological Dramatics (Theo-Drama, 5 volumes), just as Love Alone is Credible is a short presentation of his Theological Aesthetics (The Glory of the Lord, 7 volumes), but the latter book is a far superior work…and I still don’t understand his Theo-Drama (from what I read in Dr. Murphy’s seminar).
Foundations of Dogmatics (Eerdmans, 1981 [volume 1], 1983 [volume 2]) by Otto Weber. I’m still working through the first volume, and I’m highly impressed. So far, he is making a lot of the same points, on method and prolegomena, as found in volume one of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. That, of course, is a good thing.
Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Eerdmans, 1992) by Karl Barth. These are Barth’s lectures delivered in America soon after his retirement in 1962. This book is usually recommended along with Dogmatics in Outline and Credo as good smaller introductory works to Barth’s corpus. I would read Evangelical Theology first. Credo is a bit too difficult for the novice, and Dogmatics in Outline doesn’t quite convey the importance of what Barth’s project is doing. ET, however, has more of Barth explicitly telling the reader what he is doing, why he is doing it, and why you should do it too. You will be a poorer theologian for not having read Barth, and this book will give you a sense of why.
In lieu of reading novels, I watch a lot of movies. You cannot go wrong with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.