Friday, July 08, 2005
I decided that I would rather do this sooner rather than later and so I took up Joel's offer of a tagging. Here goes. How many books do I own? I own approximately 1,500 books. The bulk of these books are theological. I would estimate that around 150 of my books are fiction. There are also a good number of history books (of which I haven’t read as much as I should), and a small selection of books on such subjects as Mathematics, Sociology, Economics and Philosophy. These books look good on my shelves, but I could only claim to have mastered the books on Mathematics. If I were to add my children’s books the number would probably not jump that much; Peter has inherited most of my collection. At present I am living in my parents’ home and my books are almost all stored in my bedroom. The basement, attic, out-kitchen and garage have all been converted to house my father’s library, which probably has about 9,000 volumes, the vast majority of which are theological. In a few months time, when I move to St Andrews, I have to make the hard decision of choosing which books I am going to leave behind. Most of the books in my library are second hand and have been obtained at rock bottom prices. I spend the money that I save in such areas as clothing, transport and holidays on books. Of late I have been buying less in quantity and spending more on quality books. My library could do with a careful weeding; there are dozens of books that I know are absolutely worthless and will never be read. Throwing out a book goes totally against my grain. What's the last book I bought? I have bought a number of books since my birthday a few weeks ago: Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament; Kurt Stasiak, Return to Grace: A Theology for Infant Baptism; Sudhir Kakar, The Inner World: A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India; Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana; Raymond Brown (ed.), Mary in the New Testmant. What's the last book I read? At present I am halfway through Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and am near the beginning of James Jordan’s From Bread to Wine: Toward a More Biblical Liturgical Theology, Stanley Hauerwas’ God, Medicine, and Suffering and Walter Brueggemann’s Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World. I really have no quality reading time at the moment. I read when I can at work and on the bus; I am usually too drained to think when I come back home. I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I almost fell asleep at work today. When I am tired my memory and concentration are appalling and I find it exceedingly difficult to read or study. I hope that things will change when I start at university. I doubt it; my body has not really been able to sustain my appetite for reading since I first got ill about eight and a half years ago. Over the last two weeks I have read Moisés Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible?, Leon J. Podles, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, Gene Wolfe, Soldier of Arete and Kurt Stasiak, Return to Grace: A Theology for Infant Baptism, all of which I would recommend (although I feel that The Church Impotent certainly has its fair share of flaws). What are the five books that mean the most to me? Although I might well choose a totally different set of books were I given the choice again, here is my current selection. I decided that, considering how foundational one’s childhood is for the development of one’s identity, I ought to choose at least one book from my own. Thinking back over my childhood, there are a number of books that really stick out in my memory. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia fired my youthful imagination and I probably read through the series a dozen times. It is hard to beat Lewis, but I think that Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows won a deeper place in my heart than any other children’s book. I first heard the abridged version as a bedtime story and returned to the full version a few years later to read such chapters as ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ and ‘Wayfarers All’. It is impossible to express the unique combination of feelings that this book evokes whenever I see it. I really have to read it again. My well-thumbed copy of the 1989 edition of Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack brings back many memories of early summer mornings, reading under the covers. I grew up in Ireland, where Gaelic football, soccer and hurling were the games that everyone played; cricket was the Englishman’s sport. My deep love of cricket and the countless hours spent poring over the 1,000 or more pages in Wisden’s Almanack solidified my sense of a distinct identity, for better or worse. The fact that I grew up wedged between different worlds, and feeling at home in neither, deeply affects me to this day. It has left me with a difficulty in truly connecting with any single community (which is probably my greatest curse and my greatest blessing) and a tendency to take up residence in the no man’s land that exists between ecclesiastical traditions. For this I can say that Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack means more to me than any book from my childhood. It is my first selection. My first real reading of serious theological works was in the beginning of 2000, when I read Robert L. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. My relationship with Reymond’s work has soured a lot since I first read him, but it is hard to argue that many books have ‘meant’ more to me than his. Reymond was the one who first won me over to the Reformed faith and he presents the form of Reformed theology that I have been reacting against ever since. John Frame’s Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought was also a very important book for me at this time. It sowed certain seeds that came to bear considerable fruit in my thinking and theological development, even though they were partially dormant during my period as a theonomist, when my attention was often elsewhere. However, important though these two books were to me, the book that means the most to me from this period of my life (1998-2001) is probably Thomas Jackson’s three-volume series, The Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers. During the latter part of my teenage years I was at war with my family and with God and all but confirmed my rejection of the Christian faith. It is hard to imagine myself feeling such extreme hatred as I did at that time, but, looking back, I cannot deny that I did. It was towards the end of this time that I was given The Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers to work on. I was struck in a manner that I still cannot explain by the holiness and aspiration of these men. It was at that time that the thaw set in. The results of the thaw were not seen for a little while, but the time came when it seemed as if everything had changed overnight. My father gave me a leather-bound copy of the three volumes. This was a defining point in our relationship. I still have them on the shelves above my bed. They remind me of the power of forgiveness, reconciliation and the overwhelming grace of God. I cannot imagine any book apart from the Bible meaning more to me than they do. They are my second selection. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion are probably the chief reason why my reaction against Robert Reymond never turned into a complete rejection of the Reformed faith. The warmth of Calvin’s writing, and the liberation that I felt when I read him, inspired me greatly at this time. Calvin’s high view of the Church and the sacraments (relative to Reymond and other contemporary Reformed writers) also provided me with an antidote to the low ecclesiology and sacramentology that I received during my studies at Bible college. During this time (2002-2003) I was also greatly helped by Mark Horne’s Theologia website and such books as Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God and John Williamson Nevin’s The Mystical Presence. The Institutes of the Christian Religion are my third selection. Towards the end of 2003 I started blogging. My thinking in 2003 was totally revolutionized by two things. At the very beginning of the year I had listened to John Barach’s talk on Covenant and Election from the 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference. This began an important paradigm shift for me. I spent much of the rest of the year trying to think out all of the implications. In September I read Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity, which reaffirmed and powerfully articulated many of the convictions I had already reached and pushed me forward in many other ways. It was also Leithart who introduced me to such writers as Milbank, O’Donovan, Schmemann, Zizioulas and Hauerwas, writers that have played a significant role in my thinking ever since. Against Christianity was the right book at the right time and it is my fourth selection. My final selection is N.T. Wright’s The Letter to the Romans. I didn’t properly get down to reading Wright until late 2002. In college my friend Sebastian always put in a good word for Wright and kept pestering me to read him. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t really take his advice. I read New Heavens, New Earth and The Myth of the Millennium and little else. I had an unhealthy overemphasis upon partial preterist and postmillennial eschatology at that time. Whilst much of the substance of my eschatology remains the same, I hope that it is kept in a better balance now. My first serious reading of Wright was The Climax of the Covenant. After that I was hooked. I think that I have read almost everything that he has written by now, and I have read a number of his works multiple times. I must confess that my interest has waned a little of late. The flaws seem more apparent. However, I cannot deny how much Wright has done for my thinking. As his Romans commentary was the book that finally won Wright’s astounding theological project its current place in my thinking, it has to be my fifth selection. There was no room for James Jordan’s Through New Eyes. I feel bad about that. I would have tagged Dennis, but I won’t, because he doesn’t want to be. Instead I will tag Andrew, Paul and Aaron.