Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Top 20 books that have influenced me theologically

Ben Myers over at Faith and Theology has put together a list of his top twenty books that have influenced him theologically. Although these top twenty things are always somewhat arbitrary (especially the order!), and my most powerful theological influences have been personal relationships with mentors, teachers and lecturers, I've still tried taking up his challenge in the following list. Following Ben's lead, the list excludes books from other disciplines (more or less, though such lines can be hazy; I've included a Nietzsche) and is limited to one volume per author.

20. Karl Rahner, The Trinity
19. Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-theology
18. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
17. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
16. T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith
15. Richard Bauckham, God Crucified
14. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
13. Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order
12. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
11. Athanasius, On the Incarnation
10. Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God
10. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
9. John Stott, The Cross of Christ
8. Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator
7. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God
6. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1
5. Augustine, The City of God
4. Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian
3. J. Calvin, Institutes
2. Thomas Cranmer, Book of Common Prayer
1. Holy Scriptures
Have I forgotten something obvious? I'd love to hear which books or people have influenced you. And before I sound too pretentious (or heterodox!), a number of these books have influenced me as I've reacted against them and many remain as yet unfinished but have still been important.


Christian A said...

Thank you Byron, I might see how many of those books I can get through over the summer...

Perhaps, if you could somehow measure the level of influence in arbitrary units and then divide by the number of pages, you'd reach an interesting "influence per page" rating. Suddenly Life Together and God Crucified would soar up the rankings. I might try reading them first ;-)

(And yes, it's me from your EU days in case you were wondering...)

Ben Myers said...

Nice list, Byron -- and I like your liturgical/devotional choices for ##1-2.

Since "Holy Scripture" is really a whole library of texts, it would be interesting to know if any particular biblical text deserves your #1 spot. If I were to include biblical texts on my own list, I'd definitely put the Fourth Gospel at #1.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think I would too.

a number of these books have influenced me as I've reacted against them

An important, if rarely made, point! (I don't mean rare from you, I mean in general) This would also problematize disciplinary boundaries (as you hint at above), as theology as a discourse is often responding to other discourses...

byron said...

Christian - nice thought. Though if combined with Ben's idea, then I suspect that all twenty spots might well be taken by books from the biblical library.

byron said...

Ben - perhaps even without Christian's suggestion, I wonder whether most or all of the twenty would become biblical texts. May I point out that if we're going to be technical, Church Dogmatics is one book in several volumes, and that City of God is twenty-two books! (Even Confessions is thirteen) So I thought I'd define the limits by what is generally bound together and belongs together (this latter criteria is quite fuzzy, I know). Thus, while from one persective the scriptural writings encompass a library of books (sixty-six or more, depending on one's canon - or less, I guess if you're Luther... or Marcion), from another they are quite legitimately viewed and referred to as the Holy Bible. Nonetheless, you're right that some canonical books are more important than others (and that this does not strictly correlate with length). I'm not quite sure what would be #1 for me, though my top five would include: Genesis, Psalms, John, Romans and (whichever of the following I'd read most recently: Hebrews, the synoptics, 1 Corinthians... actually, maybe I should just quit at four).

byron said...

Drew - yes, the discipline boundary thing is difficult, but how to compare the influence of a novel with a systematics? It's hard enough picking between theology books (even though I did break out for Nietzsche - perhaps I should have picked a more explicitly theological work for him: Thus Spoke Zarathustra)

Anonymous said...

some canonical books are more important than others

Aahhh... a road map theory! Some are an 8 lane highway, while others are tiny back streets that you only wander down on a dark and stormy night, and get mugged by a hitherto unsuspected idea.

byron said...

Drew - I hadn't heard it put like that - but it's an interesting image.

joshua said...

suprised Augustine did not rank #3. why calvin over augustine for you?

byron said...

Why Calvin over Augustine? I've only really been reading Augustine this year, whereas Calvin's been with me for a while. But I wouldn't be unhappy to switch them. Institutes also covers more than City of God, so in terms of a single volume it would probably come first, even if I've read more of Augustine than Calvin apart from the two on this list.

Anastasia said...

great list...I could have easily included the bcp and the scriptures, too, of course! Nietzsche is an interesting choice. I definitely included books from outside conventional theology.

michael jensen said...

What a great top six!! and I think many of the others would be in my top twenty.

Since when were you a devotee of the BCP?

byron said...

Anastasia, I've explained why I included Nietzsche here. Thanks for your list.

MPJ - only the top six...? As for the BCP - it's hard to avoid when you use any liturgy (or rather, any written liturgy). Even if the influence has often been mediated through later works, Cranmer is still there every Sunday (and Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday at college).

michael jensen said...

Yes it gets spotty after that... I was hoping Wright and Westphal were phases you were going through ;-)

Though your 14 and 15 are in my unwritten top ten.

byron said...

it gets spotty after that
You mean you're not a fan of Athanasius and Irenaeus? I don't see whom else you might be referring to...

michael jensen said...

well you didn't choose Gunton's best piece, neither Lewis's. And the Bauckham book? hmm.

byron said...

Which Lewis and Gunton and Bauckham would you have picked? I'm particularly surprised you're not a fan of the Bauckham, esp since you also said it would make it onto your unwritten top 10.

michael jensen said...

1, 3, many. Gunton's most interesting by far

byron said...

The One, The Three and the Many - I've heard enough summaries of it for it to have been influential, but haven't yet read it, so thought it might be a little naughty to list it. I often like Gunton (even if he's a tad too harsh on Augustine), but realised as I was compiling my list that Triune Creator is the only book of his I've finished. Otherwise it's just been chapters here and there.

Anonymous said...

I was interested to find that you had included a book by Merold Westphal on your list.
I met Merold when I was doing postgraduate research at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan in the late 1970s.
He gave me a couple of articles he had written (both dated 1971) -(a) 'Hegel, Pannenberg and Hermeneutics' & (b) 'Kierkegaard and the Logic of Insanity'.
I'm not familiar with anything else Merold has written. I don't know if you're familiar with these early articles. Here's a sample.
(a) In view of Pannenberg's emphasis on the inseparability of fact and meaning, M. Westphal contends that, despite his admiration of and indebtedness to Hegel, 'Pannenberg may well be the most articulate anti-Hegelian since Kierkegaard'.
This quotation raises the question, 'How does Westphal interpret Kierkegaard?'
(b) M. Westphal emphasizes that, for Kierkegaard, the question of faith is the question of obedience, the opposite of faith is not doubt but sinful disobedience and the limitations of reason are primarily due to sin. Westphal points out that Kierkegaard's concept of paradox is concerned not with formal self-contradiction but with being 'against the common human understanding and its "immanence thinking"'. Pointing out that 'Kierkegaard affirms that reality is a system for God', Westphal maintains that 'however problematic he (Kierkegaard) may find theological claims ... his affinities are with the eschatological verificationists rather than with the non-cognitivists'.

byron said...

charlescameron - I first encountered Westphal though an excellent little book called Suspicion and Faith: the religious uses of modern atheism. He offers a reading of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud as modern day prophets of sin, with a message that the church needs to first hear with repentance rather than hostility, taking the log from our own eye before we presume to speak of specks in theirs. I included Overcoming Onto-theology because it is a collection of essays that are a little heavier theologically, though to be honest, I've probably got more out of F&S. I've certainly kept coming back to it.

Those early articles sounded interesting. I ran into Merold when I was in NYC last year and had a chat with him. I would love to study with him but I suspect he is getting very close to retirement and may not still be around by the time I get to a dissertation.