Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good books: a meme

I've been memed again. This time Matthew Moffitt from Hebel has tagged me and given me a list of theological book categories. The instructions tell me to:

i. List the most helpful book you've read in this category;
ii. Describe why you found it helpful; and
iii. Tag five more friends and spread the meme love.
I am going to break the rules immediately and amend the first point to read "List the most a helpful book you've read in this category". Here are the categories and my answers:

1. Theology
• Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine
I take it that since "God" is listed (rather dubiously) at #3, this category is for books on the "method" or "how to" of theology. This wouldn't be the top book out of this list of 11, but it was one I enjoyed. I have reviewed it at length here.
Summary: All the world's a stage.

2. Biblical Theology
• Augustine, City of God
The first biblical theology. And the best. I received this as a 21st present from a far-sighted friend (thanks Ben!), who didn't realise that it would help send me to the other side of the world.
Summary: A tale of two cities.

3. God
• Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1
I never promised this would be an easy list. But if you want to get into glories of God, then there are few more profound guides than uncle Karl. Read this quote and then decide if you want to dive into the depths and discover that God is there too.
Summary: God is with us.

4. Jesus
• Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
Although incomplete (and what account of Jesus isn't? Even John recognised as much), this book will push you to really think about what Jesus means for our understanding of God. ‘When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity.’ (205)
Summary: God looks like this.

5. Old Testament
• Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall
A short little book based on lecture notes from students who listened to lectures Bonhoeffer gave on Genesis 1-3. In many ways, these lectures are a model of creative faithfulness to the text, theological exegesis that asks after God and humanity, not just about me or about historical debates or contemporary fads.
Summary: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, through Eden took their solitary way.

6. New Testament
• N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (or for the attentionally challenged, The Challenge of Jesus)
The book that took all the fragments of Sunday School stories and sermon pieces into which the Gospels had shattered and pieced together a picture of a human saviour who wins God's victory for Israel and the world. It took me almost two years to read (in a group), but I am a different person for it.
Summary: God wins.

7. Morals
• Oliver O'Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order
How could I resist? Not an easy book, but one to chew over and digest slowly and repeatedly. It will nourish you for a long time if you are patient with it.
Summary: Ethics is good news and the resurrection is God's affirmation of creation and humanity.

8. (Church) History
• Meredith Lake, Proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord
So I thought I'd pick something a little more contemporary, since this is the (church) history section. Meredith (known to many though her wonderful, though now somewhat neglected blog Faith and Place. If you read the current post, you'll understand why; her love for it has run into some competition) put together a history of the first 75 years of the Sydney University Evangelical Union. Since this was the context in which I cut my theological, pastoral, ministry and leadership teeth, I found the book fascinating. Perhaps a little less riveting for those not from Sydney, but it will really help you understand where many Sydney University Christians (like myself) are coming from.
Summary: And now these three remain: object one, object two, object three...

9. Biography
• Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo.
I must say that I am not much into biographies for some reason, even though I know many people love them. I have enjoyed nearly all the ones I have read, but they have been few and far between. However, this is one that stands out for me because it is almost impossible to walk past Augustine for historical importance and Brown's biography is the definitive one against which others are judged. I read this book in fourth year while writing a thesis on Augustine in order to get some more context for his thought and found it fascinating. In particular, the evocation of the late Roman empire I found quite moving. Augustine lived in the dying days of the West and he knew it (and his greatest work, The City of God was written to address the issue). The image of Augustine dying as Hippo was under seige by barbarians and of his fellow monks smuggling his works out to save them from the destruction when the city fell will stay with me for a long time. In fact, it was a large part of the impetus behind my PhD project (outline coming soon).
Summary: Lord, make me pure, but not yet!

10. Evangelism
• John Dickson, Promoting the Gospel
Dickson combines deep historical knowledge, biblical deftness and theological nous with apparently effortless communication skills. This book will liberate you from the straightjacket of guilt that prevents you from promoting the gospel by showing you all the ways you are already involved in this great privilege. Shunned by some for rejecting the idea that every Christian is an evangelist, that is precisely why I recommend it since that is how the Bible pictures the church, in which each part does its work.
Summary: Not everyone is a mouth.

11. Prayer
• Rowan Williams, Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another
Perhaps a surprising book to recommend on prayer, since it primarily addresses those familiar with meditative prayer. However, it is not limited to this audience, since its foundational message - that we discover Christ through loving our neighbour and prayer is what helps us pay attention - is universally applicable. Perhaps it sounds trite as I explain it there, but this little book is anything but.
Summary: "Everything begins with this vision and hope: to put the neighbour in touch with God in Christ."

I would provide links to each of these books at their various publishers, but I'm lazy. You have fingers. Google hasn't crashed. Do it yourself. I tag the first five people to read this post (which probably means you, unless the comments are filled with people saying that they have completed the task).


Sam Norton said...

OK, I'll bite. Hard one though.

gbroughto said...

A daunting list of authors there Byron, and you are only 8 months into your research! It will be interesting to see what gets added and perhaps deleted after the next couple of years... (sorry Tom etc you'll have to go... 'of these three remain, Karl, Jurgen and Oliver, and the greatest of these is....") - you know, that kinda thing

Matthew Moffitt said...

Nice. Although I reserve the right to repeat some of the books.

Good work changing the rules..I might just make it official.

meredith said...

Hi Byron - interesting list. I have only read the 'attentionally challenged' version of one book on it - so i appreciated your summaries! (And no, i haven't actually read the EU book from beginning to end).

For people not from sydney uni, but interested in similar currents in history, Stuart Piggin's 'Spirit of a Nation' is a good bet. It's a history of evangelical protestantism in Australia from 1788 to the present.

Perhaps the best general work on the religious history of this country, though, is Hilary Carey's 'Believing in Australia: a cultural history of religion.' It has really interesting chapters like 'the european discovery of aboriginal religion' and 'women and the feminisation of religious culture' etc. Fascinating reading.

meredith said...

... I lie. I've also read Dickson's 'promoting the gospel'. I'm not going to accept your tag, though, because I don't think i could actually complete the Meme! All I'd say is that Stott's 'Cross of christ' is amazing.

Anonymous said...

John Dickson and "deep historical knowledge"---you must be joking!

byron smith said...

Anon - no, I'm not. He has a PhD in ancient history that has been published by a major German academic publisher.