(and coffee tables, and desks, and in my bag, and on my iPad Kindle Reader….)
like love to read. Not just the act itself, which tends to calm me, but absorbing information, being challenged, exploring new perspectives. So, periodically, I want to use this blog to share a few things that I’m reading or recently finished.
I’ve heard horror stories of church leaders being disciplined or even dismissed by their congregations for reading the “wrong” things; I’m confident this won’t engender similar controversies. Whenever we encounter ideas or theologies that differ in minor or significant ways from our own, it’s helpful to recall Paul’s actions in Athens (Acts 17):
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued [Greek: "dialegomai," the root of the English word "dialogue"] in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Rather than cloistering himself in an intellectual bubble, Paul immersed himself in a foreign ideology, going so far as to quote their own poets, subverting their poetry in apologetic and worship.
It’s important to note, though, that the only that allowed Paul to do this was his firm conviction in the truth of the Gospel. Paul was centered in scripture, focused on Jesus, and confident in the Gospel. May the same be true for us as we encounter differing theologies and ideologies.
So, that preface in place, here’s a small sample of some things I’ve been reading:
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
Our Church has been using N.T. Wright’s masterful exploration of Christian virtue to shape our Wednesday evening Bible studies. Although I’ve read through this one before, I still find myself challenged by the Biblical to be “transformed by the renewing of my mind.”
The Pastor: A Memoir
Occasionally, the “memoir” genre seems self-serving. Not in Eugene Peterson’s capable hands. Although he’s best known for his writing (particularly his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message), Peterson is first and foremost a pastor. Not a celebrity pastor. Not a rockstar pastor. Just a pastor. He writes graciously and with humility about his extraordinary life, and offers remarkable guidance for young pastors like me. (I quoted this book in my last post)
Jesus and the Victory of God
My wife laughs at me whenever she sees me reading this. She calls it my “boring pastor’s book.” And, to judge a book by its cover, she’s right: it’s the most basic of basic blues, with a simple Orthodox icon of Jesus, and some basic text. Open it up, and it doesn’t look much better: the font is tiny, the pages seem crowded, and the one or two diagrams are crudely drawn. It’s also massive (even in paperback). I read one review by someone who, when he started the book, was a single man with an undergraduate degree; by the time he finished, he was married and halfway through his doctorate. It’s massive. And it’s also brilliant. N.T. Wright examines the (then) current state of “The Quest for the Historical Jesus,” and, with patience and thoroughness, demonstrates how solid history need not be the enemy of careful theology. I’ll post more thoughts when (if?) I finish it.
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
Not theological, or even written from a Christian perspective, but David Eagleman’s exploration of cognition—how the brain works—fascinates me.
I don’t have nearly enough time to indulge in good-quality fiction writing, but when I do, Marilynne Robinson’s works are near the top of my list. Gilead was one of the most beautiful, moving books I’ve ever read. The plot moves slows, intentionally, glacially, but the prose is poetic and powerful. Home is the companion novel to that book. I’m only a few pages into it, but I can’t wait to finish.