What Am I Not Reading? Or...My Annual Post-Yuletide Litany of Self Pity

Aside from the cat dying, we had a very fulsome and joyful Advent and Christmastide.
Austen Farrer (1904-1968). Hans Frei complained
that Farrer didn't get Barth right, but we love him anyway.
And in even in that major exception, he was old and suffering and it was something of a relief when he finally passed. It was, as pietists of all stripes like to say, "his time."

Still, the season brought another frustration: What with celebrating virtually all the major and minor festivals embedded in the season, from St. Nicholas Day to the Epiphany; and the horse-and-wagon ride; and all the parties; and the obligatory visits to four or five Santa Clauses (I'm not sure the kid even cares that much about Santa, to be honest; perhaps he's just going along with it to give a witness to our heathen culture); the pageant on Christmas Eve followed by Thai food (What? Doesn't everybody eat Thai food on Christmas Eve?); the Christmas Revels at Harvard University; the Christmas trains at the park; the tour through one of the largest light shows in North America; the two services of Lessons and Carols for Advent and Christmas (Take note, Baptist friends: They are not the same); working through two Advent calendars and one Jesse tree; First Night frivolities (including fireworks and a potty-mouthed Elvis impersonator); the twiddling of thumbs while NOT shoveling any snow this season in western New England -- because global warming is for real, my friends, notwithstanding the dissenting assessments of such climate experts as Sen. Ted Cruz -- with all that stuff going on, I had virtually no time for reading. Or blogging, for that matter. Or even reading blogs -- except, of course, all the fine posts on this website.

At any rate, I was unable to really finish anything since about Thanksgiving, though I started several things and watched lots of 30-year-old conversational French instructional videos on youtube. The best I could manage was to read, mainly on my bus commutes, a few excellent sermons by the 20th century Anglican divine Austen Farrer. Friend of C.S. Lewis at Oxford, Farrer was, as far as I can tell, a competent neo-Thomist philosopher and a somewhat idiosyncratic New Testament exegete; but he was a superb preacher -- more in that mid 20th-century Christianity-as-true tradition rather than the Christianity-as-not-quite-true-but-nonetheless-existentially-meaningful trajectory. Tillich can shake the foundations all he wants, but when Advent comes around, some of us long for a theology that's more realish.

I did manage also to read some of the more apocalyptic bits of the New Testament corpus: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Revelation, Jude and 2 Peter (Try reading through 2 Peter on a Christmas Eve sometimes; there's nothing better to remind you that Advent is not quite over). But most of those texts are considered epistles, and labeling them "books" is a bit of a misnomer. At any rate, Christians get no extra credit for reading bits of the Bible, which we're supposed to be doing all the time anyway, any more than they get gold stars for brushing their teeth.

Though, to my frustration, I didn't finish any books during the past few weeks, I did receive a few. And with the receiving of books comes the illusion one might actually have time to read some of them. So I can at least blog about that. Never let it be said I'm unwilling to talk about a book I haven't yet read; it's a useful skill I picked up at grad school student mixers. Hey, if Ross Douthat can write a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens before actually viewing the movie, I too feel authorized to hold forth in a similar vein about my beloved Christmas books.

There were a few, but I would highlight particular treasures from under the tree this year:

The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther. This is the version that fills vol. 33 of the Fortress Press American Edition of Luther's works. Years ago I owned the paperback edition translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnson. But I lost that one (I think) on an airplane ride out of Atlanta. I can only pray that God, in her providence, deposited it into the hands of a hapless Arminian, perhaps an earnest United Methodist minister, in hopes that she might finally see the light. Of course, this is the German Reformer's great screed against flying-Dutchman-and-humanist-rock-star Erasmus. Some of Luther's greatest work emerged while he was being a jerk, which (apparently) was pretty often. Lately I'm getting sucked back into theological anthropology and atonement theology and, assuming I'm not fired from this blog by the end of the week, you likely will be hearing more about these interests in weeks to come.

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Charles Marsh. This volume has gotten some stellar press and I look forward to diving into it in due course. Part of the buzz on this book is about Bonhoeffer's relationship with his biographer and BFF Eberhard Bethge. I have tremendous respect for Charles Marsh, a fellow native southerner and PK, and await reading this one with eager anticipation.

The Self and the Dramas of History, by Reinhold Niebuhr. "Um, yeah," some of you are saying. "That's, um, a good one." C'mon, fess up: Many of you have never even heard of this book, let alone read it. No worries: This is a Barth-leaning blog and neglecting Niebuhr is almost a point of pride for some Barthians (but none of y'all, of course: You're way to smart for that). Nonetheless, according to Richard W. Fox, Niebuhr's esteemed biographer, this late treatise from the mid-50s, after Niebuhr suffered a debilitating stroke, was one of the theological ethicist's best books. And I have to read some Niebuhr to keep the Barthian inside me honest. Here, again, the central topic is anthropology and Niebuhr bears witness to the impact of Martin Buber's work on his thought. Probably also Brunner is lurking in the background. But I'll report back on that later.

Stay tuned, gentle readers, 2016 is still young and there's plenty of time for me to finish these and a few other fine books in time for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade next November, after which all the craziness begins all over again.



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