The time has come, I think, to declare bankruptcy on the whole “500 words per book” idea. I’m about fourteen books behind, and at that point, to even contemplate catching up exhausts me. So, I’m going to list the books I’ve read since the last, and give a, hopefully brief, thought about them.
Believing Three Ways in One God by Nicholas Lash – A good, short, reading of the creed in an explicitly Trinitarian way. This reads like a manual for instruction in the faith for intelligent members of the laity, which is certainly a good thing.
We Become What We Worship by G.K. Beale – A Biblical theology in practice. Beale writes a history of idolatry in the Bible, focusing on the results of idolatry – that the worshiper becomes like what he or she worships. Those who worship the true god, then, grow more and more into his likeness.
Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith – A typical marketing book, focused on the service economy. Reading this, I’m struck by how deeply silly marketing is, or at least business. If neither of those things are silly, then at least business books are. I’ve rarely read one that had an original thought or required much attention at all.
Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper – This got put on the list because of the G.K. Beale book above. I got the first line stuck in my head (“Missions exists because worship doesn’t”) and simply to get it out had to read this book. I think it was my first time but the book definitely deserves the classic place it has as a missiological text. It places quite a bit of emphasis on reading the biblical text, which is fine – it also leaves plenty of room for others to do solid sociological and missiological work.
Jesus Girls ed Hannah Notess – A brief book of personal stories about women growing up as Evangelicals. This aren’t merely “how I escaped those terrible people” stories, and they aren’t all focused on gender. Instead, they are about a refreshingly broad range of topics, and they show a broad range of responses to evangelicalism. Really enjoyable, and fun – though it is a little strange to have a book of essays with such a broad theme, and no bigger picture to push.
In Good Company by James Martin – A memoir of how the author grew to reject secular life and become a Jesuit. This was very strange, especially in light of my protestant roots. Martin grew up as a nominal catholic, and decided to join the Jesuits after being too stressed out at his job at GE. There isn’t really a conversion narrative at all. We don’t read merely a gradualist conversion, but no real change of orientation at all – maybe a growth in grace, but that is almost it. Martin seems to be trying to assure us that life with the Jesuits isn’t so bad after all, and even if it was, it is empirically better than life in the secular world. In a word: odd.
The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclercq – This is an argument that in addition to a scholastic theology in the Middle Ages, there was a monastic theology that was focused on seclusion and scriptures. Forming the monk as perfect, rather than entering the problems of everyday life as the scholastics did. This book was odd to read from a protestant perspective because it acknowledged things that we don’t agree with and that we do, and held them in no apparent contradiction. Christ is lord over all, and the scriptures have huge importance. So far, so good. But, because of these two things, the best thing to do is devote yourself to contemplation in hope of the Beatific Vision. We’re quite a bit away from the priesthood of all believers at that point and I’m not entirely sure if I want to land there. Still, the book was good for providing a vision of an education that wasn’t based on a scholastic model. I think of James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom and wonder if this texts lays out some of the ways that he would like to see the university begin to function.
Defending Constantine by Peter Leithart – This historical argument claims that Yoder, Hauerwas and theologians in that tradition misread Constantine and his historical mission. I tend to think that he might misunderstand Yoder at some points, but Leithart still makes many good arguments for a renewed vision of Christendom. What I find entertaining is the extreme insularity of these arguments – Leithart is arguing for a Christendom with the ability to use political violence and the power of the state while members of the other branch argue for a nonviolent Christendom. Both sides, seemingly, don’t care that almost no-one else could even suggest that Christendom is even an option. Leithart and Yoder, it seems to me, have much more in common than they differ on (though they differ on important matters).
The Question of God by Armand Nichols – This is a comparison of the thinking of Freud and Lewis about God, the universe and everything, refereed by an expert in both men. It seems as though Nichols tips his hand as a theist, thus coming close to invalidating the whole experiment, but I could be wrong in my reading of him. Nevertheless, a bit thin. I’m not sure why I would read this rather than simply read Freud and Lewis myself.
The Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruggeman – A classic book on the interpretation of the psalms (or at least I think its a classic, I could be wrong). He uses the typology psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation to provide a picture to access the psalter. This is a lot of fun, and drove me back to the psalms themselves. Can I ask for more in a book such as this?
Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne – A reread. Since I’m writing these more for myself than for an entirely imaginary audience, I’m going to skip a summary of thoughts here. Sorry.
Faith, Reason, and Revolution by Terry Eagleton – A reread. Since I’m writing these more for myself than for an entirely imaginary audience, I’m going to skip a summary of thoughts here. Sorry.
The Catholic Counter-Culture in America 1933-1965 by James Terence Fisher – Fisher writes on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, as well as other aspects of the radical ‘left’ of American Catholicism in this time. He writes in a very secular mode, which is a little disorienting – seeing Day’s embrace of poverty as a kind of masochism and other practices of piety as merely expressions of psychological difficulties on the part of the individual. This isn’t bad, necessarily, when writing religious history, but it is strange. I tend to think that Day and the others discussed in the book would benefit from a sympathetic view in addition to this one.
The Virtuous Reader by Richard S. Briggs – This is an examination of the virtues required of the reader of the Old Testament text. While not breaking any new ground, necessarily (at least, in what I would expect – he still trumpets the virtues of humility, trust, love and wisdom), he grounds his discussion of the virtues in specific case studies done in the Old Testament text itself, which proves useful in thinking through some of these applications.
There we go! All finished, sigh. Now, all I can do is promise to do better next time. We’ll see how that works.