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

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