Snatched from My Bookshelf

One friend of DET has issued an appeal for all of us to communicate more about what we're reading, so to honor the spirit of that request, I thought I'd highlight several books I completed during the past several months, with some mini-reviews.

1. J.I. Packer and N.T. Wright, Anglican Evangelical Identity. These three essays, two by Packer and one by Wright, are aimed especially at the conservative evangelical minority within the Church of England. These texts are a little on the old side and don't reflect developments in England and the Anglican communion worldwide during the past couple of decades, but this book is still worth a read. Packer is, of course, the Reformed, low-church traditionalist, whereas Wright mainly seeks to challenge and broaden how evangelical identity is defined. The book is predictably conservative and a tad grumpy, but both authors are excellent communicators. Here, also, Packer gives a classic take on the marks of the evangelical.

2. Langdon Gilkey, Gilkey on Tillich. Something from the other end of the theological spectrum. The late Gilkey himself, of course, was a significant theologian in his own right: Not many writers could get away with a title like this (Imagine a book titled Jackson on Gilkey on Tillich. Kind of a stretch, isn't it?). Gilkey is justly famous for an article he wrote that pretty much (many would say) dismantled the biblical theology movement. Tillich expert Wesley Wildman finds this book -- and Gilkey's relationship to his teacher as a whole -- to be rather odd; be that as it may, I loved it. By the end of the book I was almost convinced that Tillich was a crypto-Hegelian, with a highly dialectical conception of the threat of nonbeing being somehow integrated into the very ground of being itself, which Gilkey construes in dynamic terms. Repeated references to Whitehead make me wonder, though, if I'm not being led into something of an interpretative rabbit hole.

3. Herman Bavinck, Essays on Religion, Science and Society. The great Dutch, Kuyperian theologian is justly famous for his magisterial four-volume Reformed Dogmatics, but his interests were much broader than confessional Christian theology. These essays, edited by leading Bavinck expert John Bolt, come from near the end of his life (he died in 1921). In these essays, Bavinck offers fascinating analyses of the philosophy of education, the philosophy of religion and the then-nascent field of modern psychology. His political philosophy is a bit on the conservative side (he did, after all represent the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the Dutch parliament), but I loved how he approaches modern political thought as, essentially, a tale of two Genevans, Calvin and Rousseau. He was also a skeptic toward Darwinian evolutionary theory, which was perhaps not the grand slam of a theory a hundred years ago that the mainstream scientific community views it as today; still, Bavinck was very respectful and open in his dialogue with modern sciences. Contemporary creationists and intelligent design proponents might do well to imitate his manner of debate.

4. Richard R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion: A New Introduction. I'm pleased to see this book has been reprinted by Wipf & Stock (You can order it here). This is several decades old, but I think it's highly relevant to revisionist retrievals being done in Schleiermacher studies today. The author is at pains to rescue the modern of modern theology from what he sees as misreading critiques by Barth and Brunner, interpretations that cast a long shadow over the reception of Schleiermacher throughout the 20th century. Rather than offering an overview of FS's work as a whole, Niebuhr offers in-depth forays into several crucial texts -- namely, the Christmas Eve dialogues (a text which, I'll admit, I find incredibly difficult to get into) and the lectures on hermeneutics and ethics. In the second half of the book, Niebuhr offers a compelling reading of The Christian Faith. Schleiermacher, in Niebuhr's reading, construes Christian theology as a positive science that brings to cognitive expression the affective, person-forming faith of its Redeemer, as that faith has been mediated historically through the succession of Christian communities.

There you have it: Four books, two conservative and two liberal. The Force is in balance.

Now what have y'all been reading lately, gentle readers?



Jason Goroncy said…
Thank you, Scott, for taking up the invitation. I like your diverse reading, and you've made me want to check out Gilkey on Tillich. I remember the first time I tried to read Tillich's ST. I found it completely indecipherable, somewhat akin to reading hieroglyphics. The second time through wasn't too much clearer. It wasn't until I read some of his other work, published both before and after the ST - like The Protestant Era, The Shaking of the Foundations, The Courage to Be, Dynamics of Faith, The Eternal Now, and Ultimate Concern - that I started (and do mean 'started') to get a clue as to what Tillich was on (and on about!). I've never found the secondary literature on Tillich to be particularly helpful, but his own sermons - wow, some great stuff there. Anyway, on your recommendation (i.e., on the recommendation of Jackson on Gilkey on Tillich ;-)) I'm look forward to giving this book a chance.
Thanks, Jason. I think Dynamics of Faith was one of the first books of modern theology I ever read, so I think Tillich is partly to blame for the subsequent direction of my live.

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