Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Top Ten Books 

I have been blogging for just over one year now and I thought that it might be worthwhile at this stage to give a list of my top ten favourite books from the past year, with a very brief comment on each one. There are many books that I feel bad about leaving out of the list, and would probably include were I to think about this a little more. Honourable mentions go to books like Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy, Jeff Meyer's The Lord's Service, Geoffrey Wainwright's Eucharist and Eschatology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together, René Girard’s The Scapegoat or The Girard Reader, Oliver O'Donovan's The Desire of the Nations, James Torrance's Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace Ralph Smith's Paradox and Truth, Keith Mathison's Given For You and Mark Horne's The Victory According to Mark. Many more could be mentioned. Some of the books on this list may surprise some people. Maybe not. Either way, my chief reason for choosing them is the effect that they have had upon my thinking. There are many books that I love, despite disagreeing with them in various ways. A good book, in my estimation, is a book that stimulates you to think. These books are probably the books that have prompted me to think more than any others over the last year. Were I to choose a list of books to recommend to someone else, it would probably be different from this list. One's impression of a book is often a result of when you read it and where it left you when you finished it. There are some books that have deeply impressed me this last year that would would have barely had any impact on me two years. There are also some books I have read this past year that would have left a deep impression on me two years ago, but hardly affected me when I read them over the last year. One final thing. I have determined only to choose one title from any one particular author for the top ten list. #10 — Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy After WritingI found this book incredibly thought-provoking. It was this book that particularly stimulated some of my posts on Scripture and truth. Whilst there are a number of areas in which I differ from Pickstock’s position, I found this book immensely enjoyable. I found her defense of the doctrine of transubstantiation particularly helpful. Whilst I am not ultimately persuaded, she does give an extremely good argument and also identifies and criticizes some of the crass forms of transubstantiation that Protestants usually choose to attack. #9 — Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner (eds.), The Federal Vision The Federal VisionI have included this book on my list, chiefly because of two essays that it contains: James Jordan’s ‘Merit Versus Maturity: What Did Jesus Do for Us?’ and Peter Leithart’s ‘”Judge Me, O God”: Biblical Perspectives on Justification’. You will have to go a long way to find two essays as good as these on their respective subjects. To be honest with you, I have yet to come across any better treatments of these subjects. I am, however, a little disappointed that some of the material in an earlier draft of Leithart’s essay was left out. The other essays in the book are excellent and well worth reading, although it would be unfair to compare them to the standard set by Jordan and Leithart. #8 — Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy For the Life of the WorldI choose this because, although The Eucharist and possibly Of Water and the Spirit are better books, For the Life of the World was my first exposure to Schmemann’s writings. I find Schmemann incredibly insightful. As a theologian of the Eastern churches, he has the refreshing and sometimes annoying habit of accurately pinpointing the blindspots of much Western theology (including my own). Whilst I have my differences with Schmemann’s position, I have learned more from him than many tomes of Reformed systematic theology on the sacraments. #7 — Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia Ascension and Ecclesia Few doctrines are as neglected as that of the ascension of our Lord. Douglas Farrow’s treatment of this doctrine is scintillating and brilliant and I highly recommend it. This book is also indispensable for anyone thinking through ecclesiology and the theology of the Eucharist. #6 — Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein Theology After WittgensteinQuite apart from being an invaluable introduction to the work of Wittgenstein for the uninformed like myself, Kerr demonstrates that Wittgenstein’s thought has important implications that need to be taken on board by contemporary theology. This is good training in the hermeneutic of self-suspicion. So much theology has unthinkingly operated in terms of philosophies that are hostile to the Christian faith that we need to learn how to disabuse ourselves of their errors. This book made me far less trusting of myself. I think that, from a Christian, that should be taken as a high recommendation. #5 — Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul This book has revolutionized the way that I read Paul. I used to think in terms of Paul the prooftexter, now I think more in terms of Paul the poet. It was tough choosing between this and The Faith of Jesus Christ. #4 — John Zizioulas, Being As Communion Being As CommunionThis book is one of the titles that seem to be nigh on ubiquitous. Again and again, I see different authors footnoting it or referring to it. Not without reason. It is hard to overhype this book. Zizioulas has given us a breathtakingly profound treatment of personhood, the Trinity, the Eucharist and the Church. This is a book that I will still be rereading in fifty years time. #3 — Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader The Hauerwas ReaderI find Hauerwas one of the most insightful theologians around today. I have found him incredibly helpful on a whole range of subjects. Before reading Hauerwas I viewed ethics as a theological afterthought. Hauerwas changed all of that for me. Hauerwas presents ethics, not as an isolated string of dos and don’ts, but as something to get excited about, something which is integrally related to the gospel. This is something that I will always be grateful to him for. I have appreciated a number of Hauerwas’ books, but this is #2 — N.T. Wright, The Letter to the Romans The Letter to the RomansWright’s commentary is a stunning achievement. I had wondered how Wright would treat Romans as a whole book. I had read sections of The Climax of the Covenant that dealt with individual passages, but I was still waiting and hoping to see Wright pull off a convincing reading of the book as a whole. I was not disappointed. In so many places the exegesis runs so smoothly that one wonders how anyone could challenge his reading. The commentary is accessible and is written with Wright’s characteristic fluidity and good humour. In my opinion, it is the best place to start if you are trying to understand Wright’s thought on Paul (rather than What St Paul Really Said). Whilst I do differ with him in some areas, I find his overall perspective on the book quite compelling. In my estimation, it is his best work to date.
#1 — Peter Leithart, Against Christianity
Against ChristianityI have seldom enjoyed reading a book as much as I enjoyed reading Against Christianity. Leithart’s ‘theological bricolage’ is delightfully written and I laughed out loud on more than a couple of occasions. It was reading Against Christianity that prompted me to start this blog. Leithart is wonderfully irreverent and sets light to the tails of many of the errors that afflict the modern Church. We get to watch them as they run. Great stuff. I would appreciate hearing people’s suggestions for good books to read over this next year.

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