A number of weeks ago I posted my list of “Top 20 books” and at the beginning I said I was going to leave the bible off the list because it was in a totally different category. One commentor asked what category I would put the bible in. So, here’s my attempt to answer that question:
The books on the list are all very good books – or I would not have included them. However, none of those books are “my book”. The bible is “my book” as it has become part of my story, or more aptly I’ve become a part of it’s story. I’ve had a long relationship with the bible, better at some points, not so good at others. There was the time when it was just intimidating, then the time when it began to open new worlds, then the time when it became a book of theological data, to becoming a living testimony to God’s work in the world. Lately, it’s become the later and now a story book. The bible is the story book of the Christian family – it’s not something you read once and then put away, it’s something you pull out and read often, because it tells the story of those who went before you. Like the old family stories you read them and tell them over and over again because reading them helps you understand who you are. What makes the bible more than just a story book is that our ancestors in the faith have taught us that God still speaks through these old old stories. For me the bible is something to be wrestled with, to be challenged by, and to see into new worlds with. John Calvin described the bible as the spectacles through which we see God, and I love that description. I do not “believe in the bible” nor am I a “bible believing Christian.” I put my faith in the one to whom the bible points – Jesus of Nazareth and his Father in Heaven and his Spirit poured out in the world. The bible helps me understand where as a follower of Jesus I’ve come from and where, as a follower of Jesus, I’ll be going in the future. The bible excites me, angers me, challenges me, and intruiges me all at the same time.
Even the genuius of Karl Barth cannot compare…
So Ben Myers has posted a top 20 list of the books that have most influenced him… so I thought I’d come up with my list of top 20 most influential books. I am going to exclude the bible from the top 20, not because it hasn’t influenced me but rather because it’s in a whole different category
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics – IV/1-2 (These two books completely shattered my world during my first two years of seminary as they opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking theologically)
- Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry (The best book on Youth Ministry as it doesn’t offer a model, but rather things to think about as one does ministry)
- Andrew Purves and Charles Partee, Encountering God (I’ve only read it once but given that I took a total of 10 classes in seminary from the authors their thoughts have shaped how I think)
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/4 (While not as influential as IV/1-2 this volume on ethics helped me understand how ethics can be intensely situational yet rooted in the command of God. It also reinforced my belief that in ministry its more important to teach people how to think, rather than what to think)
- Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (I took the man for six courses… need I say more?)
- John Franke and Stanley Grenz, Beyond Foundationalism (I read this book during my last year of seminary and I finally felt that I had found my place in the theological spectrum. This book also helped me understand how eschatology integrated into the day to day life of the church as the “orienting principle” for the church’s mission)
- John Franke, The Character of Theology (Similar to the book above, this prequel of sorts helped me get a grasp on how to think about the theological task in a postmodern world)
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom
- Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (I didn’t discover Moltmann until late in my seminary career, but two of the professors who I learned the most from in seminary were shaped by him. While often at odds with Barth, I found him challenging and enjoyed the fact that he stretched me to think of categories in different ways)
- NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (I’m actually in the midst of reading this one, but while I was in seminary and dating Renee long distance I used to spend hours in my car driving back and forth. NT Wright has more free audio available online than anyone else I know so I used to listen to his lectures off of my iPod. Wright helped me get inside the bible the world of the bible and to better understand Jesus’ intensely political message without simply collapsing it into either left wing socialism or right wing moralism)
- Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (I read this book at the end of my time in college and while now I probably wouldn’t get much out of it, I remember really be challenged and yet refreshed by the concept of the discipline of living in grace)
- Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (I’ve read this book twice – first while I was just out of college and again while I was in seminary. While Doug and I aren’t on the same page on everything, it’s given me a helpful way to think about ministry
- Athanasius, Against the Arians (I haven’t read the whole thing, but read significant parts for classes and papers. Really shaped my understand of the atonement as Christ’s whole life, not just his death)
- Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (I only read a short except from this book, but it’s a phrase that I’ve found so apt at describing the world that it’s become a hallmark in nearly every sermon I preach or lesson I teach)
- T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (I feel bad putting Torrance down this low on the list because he should be higher, but alas. This book was my first serious attempt at working through the Doctrine of the Trinity)
- John Calvin, Institues of the Christian Religion (Ditto for Calvin, he shouldn’t be down this low. Once I left seminary I realized how much his understanding of the church and it’s sacraments had shaped my own)
- David Bosch, Transforming Mission (Read this book for Missiology and am still being challenged by it)
- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (This book should be required for every person planning to do ministry in at least the United States)
- Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy (McLaren, like Wright, has shaped me more through his lectures that I’ve listened to than his writing, but I read this book in the midst of seminary and came to a greater understanding of how he thought
- Stanley Grez, A Primer on Postmodernism
- Alister McGrath, Scientific Theology
- Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship
- The Book of Confessions of the PC(USA) – Particularly The Barmen Declaration and The Confession of 1967
So there you have it. The numbering isn’t really right – Bosch and Newbigin would definitely be higher on the list. But, what this list proves is that I’m (1) A total dork (2) Shaped heavily by the Post-Conservative/Neo-Orthodox Reformed tradition
Two interesting readings from today’s lectionary caught my attention.
The first is Paul’s discussion of the righteousness of Abraham in Romans 4. v. 11 in particular caught my attention. “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” While the line “An outward sign of an inward grace” is often credited to Augustine I cannot find it my collection of Augustine’s writings. Nonetheless, a search of Augustine’s works for the phrase “outward sign” leaves no doubt that the principle of the often credited statement is one that is supported by Augustine. (Side note – if anyone knows the reference where this is taken from I’d appreciate it).
What Paul seems to be arguing here is the actual act of circumscision was of no redemptive value in Abraham’s life. Circumscision was a “seal of the righteousness that he had by faith”. Without a doubt I am showing my covenent/reformed background here but if circumscision is a forerunner to the sacraments Paul’s teaching here should shape how we view the sacraments. The sacraments themselves are not of redemptive value. The thief who died on the cross was never baptized nor did he ever recieve the eucharist – but Jesus said “this day you will be with me in paradise”. (I am well aware of the lengthy discussion over what “this day” means but I am choosing to avoid it because it doesn’t really tie in with what I’m trying to say). However, the sacraments are important and in fact essential to the church’s life. As John Calvin points out, we as humans are phyiscal being and it is one thing to hear words, it is another thing to have them physically enacted in our lives. That is what the sacraments are all about. They are physical signs and seals of the grace of God in our lives. Two principles need to be kept in balance here. First is the point that the sacraments are not essential to salvation. A person’s eternal destiny is not in danger simply because they have not received the sacraments. However, in the life of the church the sacraments (which I define as baptism and eucharist) are essential to the life of the community because we as humans need to do more than just hear about God’s grace in our lives, we need to feel it, smell it, and taste it.
The second passage that caught my attention this morning was Matthew 19. This is Jesus’ teaching that only with difficulty will a rich person be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. When he’s done, Peter replies, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Part of what I love about Peter is that consistently through the Gospels he is the one who says what everyone is thinking but no one else will say. While sometimes this gets him in trouble (Mark 8) other times its simply beautifully honest. Matthew 19 is one of the latter cases and for his boldness he receives good news. The line I like the best, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This bit at the end I would think would have great power in the lives of those who suffer for the sake of the gospel. While I personally cannot claim to have suffered much (okay, suffered at all) for teh sake of the gospel, I hope and pray that those around the world who suffer because of their faith will know that when all is made right in the world they will receive a reward a hundredfold what they have given up. God is good.