Sunday, January 01, 2012

Favorite Reads 2011: Theology for Christian Scholars

I don't usually highlight my "professional" reading in these annual retrospectives, but this year I read three theology books that stood out in a unique way. These are books that I would be enthused to give to friends and colleagues. In particular, it struck me that these three books could be very profitably read by Christian scholars from across the disciplines, and each of them would be an excellent candidate for a kind of "One Book, One Campus" program at Christian colleges & universities. Each of them would be sources of renewal for Christian colleges and universities. They would help us recognize wrong turns we've made and unveil problematic assumptions we've unwittingly taken on board. Each of the books also provides a constructive way forward through tensions and challenges that affect the very foundations of contemporary Christian higher education.

So without further ado, I commend to you three important books:

For a couple of months after reading this, I was like the Ancient Mariner, button-holing anybody who would listen and pressing upon them the virtues of this outstanding book. Billings points out the paucity of both "conservative" and "progressive" approaches to reading Scripture insofar as they fail to be rooted in the historical Christian practice of theological interpretation. Billings' prose is clear and accessible for wide audiences, and his argument is irenic without pulling any punches. This book deserves to be read, not just by scholars in biblical studies and theology, but by thoughtful Christians in general--and especially by Christian scholars across the disciplines.

This could be read as a kind of popular, abridged version of Boersma's magisterial book, Nouvelle Theologie and Sacramental Ontology (Oxford). But it is much more than that: Boersma offers a trenchant diagnosis of all the ways that evangelicalism has bought into the flattened, univocal ontology of modernity--and how that finds expression is a new-found affirmation of creation that borders on a forgetfulness of "heaven." His real quarry is the articulation of a sacramental ontology as the only appropriate metaphysic for a Christian understanding of the world. He then explores the implications of this for different spheres of Christian practice (the interpretation of Scripture, worship, and the practice of theology). In effect he articulates a rich, robust Christian "worldview" that could transform how we think about the mission and task of the Christian university (though the latter implication is not his direct concern, but an implication to be worked out).

Certainly the most accessible of these three books, Wright's volume is nonetheless paradigm-shifting for how many people might approach the authority of Scripture. With one eye on debates in the Anglican communion, but also familiar with North American evangelicalism, Wright deftly reorients the conversation around the authority of God and then situates Scripture in the economy of God's relationship to his covenant people. Case studies help picture how this works itself out.