Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 6

This is the last in this series, unless I can come up with something for the 9th and 10th centuries. For the 18th century, my suggestion is Jonathan Edwards' History of the Work of Redemption. I would recommend that you buy the Yale University Press edition, but I also realize that it is out of reach for most of you. So read it in the Banner of Truth reprint, or read it online at www.ccel.org or download it from Google Books. There is an edition on Google Books that is just the History of the Work of Redemption. I think any Reformed pastor should have read at least some of Edwards, and this work is more accessible than some of the more philosophically oriented works.

For the 19th century, I recommend Archibald Alexander's Thoughts on Religious Experience. It is useful treatise, though not as penetrating as Edwards on religious affections. Nonetheless, it it well worth the time to read.

For the 20th century I recommend R. C. Sproul's The Holiness of God. 20th century evangelicalism especially lacks much appreciation for this divine attribute, and Sproul does an excellent job of making clear its importance for the Christian life.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 5

Moving to the 14th century, we move from theology per se to theology and social criticism posing as poetry. That is the Divine Comedy of Dante. A great work of literature, thoroughly informed by the theology of the day. I recommend the Penguin Classics edition translated by Dorothy Sayers, but probably any annotated edition (and there are many available) would do.

For the 15th century, I recommend In Praise of Folly by Erasmus. Yes, I realize that technically this is 16th century, since it was published in 1511. However, it imbibes the spirit of the 15th century, since it shows forth all the various strains of revolt and protest that were beginning to bubble up in the 15th century. There are a number of editions available, both online and in print, and I don't have one to recommend above the others.

For the 16th century there is an embarrassment of riches, and no choice I make will receive any universal approval. However, I recommend Luther's Commentary on Galatians. Kregel Classics has published a nice edition of it in paperback, or if you have Kindle, it is available for $3.19. I recommend this in part because it is the contrary to Erasmus. In part, I also recommend it because it reminds us, if we need reminding, of why there was a Reformation, and why it is still important. You will probably learn more about Luther than about Galatians, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Finally, for this post, the 17th century. Again, an embarrassment of riches, because this was the age of the Puritans. However, as an one who enjoys Tolkien, recognizing that that Lord of the Rings is really a tetralogy (including The Hobbit), I recommend what I call the "sin" tetralogy by John Owen. These are the four works that make up volume 6 of Owen's collected works: On the Mortification of Sin, On Temptation, On Indwelling Sin in Believers, and Exposition of Psalm 130 (on forgiveness of sin). In this day of both legalism and licentiousness, every minister ought to read these by Owen and put them into practice. He will grow in holiness, and avoid many dangers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 4

The 9th and 10th centuries seem to have been difficult days for the church, at least as far as memorable works go. Theological and intellectual investigation had not died, but the published remains of that period seem not to have made it into English form. There are, of course, references to various authors and works from that period in the standard histories, and in secondary literature about the debates. But primary sources translated into English are in short supply. So I will hold off on these two centuries until I have solidified some selections.

For the 11th century, I am tempted to suggest Abelard's Historia Calamitatum (The Story of My Misfortunes), which is available in paperback (you can find it at Amazon). Or you can read it online at www.ccel.org. But instead, I recommend Anselm's Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). It is a far more important work, and is probably not much read any more, nor required much in seminary curricula. It is available online, as well as in a variety of print forms. Of these, I recommend the Oxford World Classics edition, since it contains most of Anselm's major works.

For the 12th century, I recommend Bernard of Clairvaux's essay "On Loving God." This can be found online as well as in print. Of the latter, I recommend the edition in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series. This is devotional writing of the finest sort. It enables us to see a love for God through the eyes of a man from a world very different from ours. The reader of this column are mostly Reformed Protestants; Bernard was Catholic. We are not monks; he was. We live with all the advantages of modern technology; the technology of Bernard's day was little different from that of Jesus' day. But the love for God that we share with Bernard can break down those barriers, and draw us together as members of one church.

For the 13th century, I cannot but recommend Aquinas. More vilified than read in our day, especially perhaps among Reformed types, he nonetheless deserves to be read. I cannot in good conscience recommend reading the entirety of Summa Theologica, but I do recommend a work titled Aquinas's Shorter Summa, published by Sophia Institue Press, and available at a very reasonable price. I think you will find Aquinas much different than you imagined him to be.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 3

As we move into the 6th century, we start moving into difficult territory. The names are much less familiar, as are the works. Here, I would suggest Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. The most accessible edition is probably that published by Penguin Classics and edited by Victor Watts. It is also available online at Google Books in an 18th-century translation by Philip Ridpath, or an early 20th century version by W. V. Cooper at www.ccel.org. Boethius is late-5th, early-6th centuries, having died in 525 or so. But the book was written in the 6th century.

For the seventh century, I recommend Isidore of Seville (570-636) and his work De Ecclesiasticis Officiis. It is available in the Ancient Christian Writers series from Paulist Press. It is an important early work on church offices, both liturgical and ministerial. His best-known work is the Etymologies, which became a standard textbook for the Middle Ages, but I think the smaller work may be of more interest.

For the 8th century, I recommend Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It is by far the best known of his works, and perhaps the best-known work of the 8th century. It is also important for our history as English-speaking Christians. Again, I would recommend the Penguin Classics edition. Earlier translations are available online at Google Books, and at www.ccel.org.

I will return with recommendations for later centuries, but the 9th and 10th centuries are particularly short of important works that are still readily available.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 2

We move now to the third century and beyond. For the third century, I suggest Origen On Prayer. This is a relatively short work. It gives a more positive side of Origen than we are used to seeing. And it is considered one of the classic treatises on the subject. It is available in a variety of forms, some of which are: Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works, published by Paulist Press in their Classics of Western Spirituality series. This seems to be an abridgement. There is also the unabridged form in Prayer; Exhortation to Martyrdom in the Ancient Christian Writers series, also from Paulist Press. It can also be read online at www.ccel.org.

For the fourth century, I suggest Athanasius On the Incarnation. As with the other works from the fathers, it is available in a variety of formats, both in print and online. One edition, reprinted by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, has a nice introduction by C. S. Lewis.

For the fifth century, I suggest Augustine's The City of God. Augustine was the giant of the late fourth and early fifth century. He was a voluminous writer and had a towering intellect. Most people recommend people to read his Confessions. I don't disregard them, but The City of God was written as the Roman Empire was falling apart. It is part apologetics, part systematic theology, part ethics, part biblical theology, part theology of history. It is available in abridged form, but I really think that any minister ought to work through the whole thing. Though many editions are available, my recommendation is the edition published by Penguin Classics and translated by Henry Bettenson.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 1

This and the following series of posts contains a suggested reading list that I first proposed to incoming students at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I suggested that it would be helpful to read broadly through the history of Christian writing, and I intended to give them a list of books, one from each century of the history of the church, as a starting point for that broad reading. I never actually put the list together until now.

Some might expect such a list to focus on "devotional" reading. Over the last couple of decades Paulist Press has published a series called "Classics of Western Spirituality." For those interested in devotional reading, I would direct them to that series. I intended my recommendations to be more eclectic, and also intended more for pastors and would-be pastors than for laymen. The choices are mine, and I will be giving reasons for the choices. Some of the choices have been suggested by friends and colleagues, but ultimately it is my list, and therefore as eccentric as I am.

Through the history of the church, there have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books published by Christian authors. Hundreds of these have survived, and those that have survived, especially from the church's early centuries, are probably all worth reading. However, no one has that much time. So starting with the second century, I am choosing one work from each century to recommend.

The second-century work that I have chosen is Against Heresies by Ireneaus. A number of reasons went into the choice. The work is fairly easy reading. It is fairly short. It also makes the point that even in the early history of the church there was a significant concern for orthodoxy. In our day, there are many scholars, such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels, who consider the rise of orthodoxy in the West to be a primarily political movement, motivated by desire for power and control. Ireneaus is a nice little corrective to that line of thinking. The work is also readily available, either in the Ante-Nicene Fathers set, or online through Google Books, or www.ccel.org.

Rejoinder on the Reading of Scripture

Adam has pointed out that the PCA BCO 57-3 and 57-4 speak of people when admitted into church membership, or when admitted to the Lord's Supper "should make a public profession of their faith in the presence of the congregation." This he likens to "testimonies." As Chapter 57 of the BCO continues, however, it seems pretty clear that this "public confession of faith" means the response to the membership vows, and not to any sundry "testimony."

Are testimonies thereby excluded? Not necessarily. However, my own sense of this is that the session of the church has the responsibility of oversight on such testimonies. Knowing the human tendency to speak at length when given the opportunity to do so, my preference is for testimonies in informal settings, not in the public worship. That, however, is up to the session of the local church. They may allow such testimonies. I also think that if the person intends to read Scripture during his testimony, the session should formally approve it, so that a woman would not be exercising an authority not properly hers.

The fact remains that the public reading of Scripture in the context of worship is by its nature an authoritative act. It is the responsibility of the session to guard that authority.

This will probably not satisfy Prodigal, but it's as much as he's going to get.