Friday, October 12, 2007

Recommended Reading Meme

So, apparently two months ago Travis tagged me to provide a short list of books to which I frequently return and would recommend to all and sundry (especially for their theological merit). Somehow I lost track of that meme.

So here goes.

1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Pay especial attention to the characters of Ivan, Alexei, and Father Zosima. These are the most theologically sophisticated personae in the book. A classic of literature, Dostoevsky's work is a mature and pregnant theological work. For a reading of theodicy in the novel see David Hart's The Doors of the Sea. This book engrafted a strong mystical element into my faith and theology. (The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation is superb.)

2. St. Augustine, The Confessions

Foundational to my own academic path in theology. The Confessions is a classic of understanding the Christian experience. Let Augustine lead you to the heart of faith. That's where all theology begins--at least for one doctor of the Church.

3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

A great work from a great theologian. A small but remarkable treatise of Christian community and the genesis of my concern with ecclesiology. What does authentic Christian community look like? How do individuals fit into and thrive within Christian community? If you have these questions, read this book. You'll get some answers and a lot of ideas.

The next two are more on the academic side but have been integral to my theological formation.

4. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God

The first of Wright's multi-volume Christian Origins and the Question of God. The series intends to be a full-scale New Testament theology. The first volume was especially formative for me due to its use of story (narrative) and worldview as frames for theological questions. Wright's "critical realism" also aided my navigation of critical biblical studies.

5. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, Volume 1: Seeing the Form.

The reason my work has shifted from largely biblical studies to dogmatic theology. Balthasar's aesthetics offered me the paradigm for theology I was looking for. At once modern and ancient--scientific, artistic, and mystical--Balthasar's perception of the theological task, form and content provided me a new space for theology. As I put it to some colleagues while reading the volume, Balthasar is the first theologian I have read who makes me want to pray.

Honorable mentions. Among the many other books I might recommend, my recent reading of Charles Williams's Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church really impressed me. For a basic overview (theological interpreted) of Christian history and the history of Christian thought, it is really a fine little book. In the same vein, I would recommend much of C.S. Lewis, especially Mere Christianity, The Last Battle, and possibly The Great Divorce. I'm sure there is more Lewis I could recommend, but that is what comes to mind just now. Also, I would suggest soaking up as much of John Donne's and George Herbert's poetry as possible. Finally, Luke Timothy Johnson's work has influenced me greatly. I recommend especially Living Jesus and Scripture and Discernment.

Happy reading. I think I've run out of theo-bloggers, but I'll broaden it to include other fields of study. So, most influential books in your area (or just for you personally). With that amendment--Emily, Chris, and Jason--tag, you're it!