Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Christian Reading List for Atheists

In a day when Christian bookstore shelves are loaded with the likes of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen, it is not surprising if atheists tend to think of Christians as either non-intellectual or outright anti-intellectual. However, it is somewhat surprising that the new apostles of atheism, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, are so profoundly ignorant of the Christian intellectual tradition. In the spirit of enlightenment, I offer the following admittedly eccentric and selective bibliography for the study of atheists (and under-educated Christians) who need to be more familiar with the Christian intellectual tradition.

Many other books could be added, and no doubt better selections are available. I deliberately avoided systematic theologies (except in the case of Aquinas) and tried to stick to more readily accessible material (except for Edwards, which is a tough read). I have also tried to reflect the broadness of the Christian intellectual tradition (though I haven’t included anything from Eastern Orthodoxy, simply because I am not familiar with that tradition). So if I didn't include your favorite book, make up your own list.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. No atheist critic of Christianity has earned the right to be taken seriously if he hasn't read the Bible cover-to-cover at least once. I’m recommending this particular edition for two reasons. First, it is the King James Bible, which is still a foundational piece of English literature. Second, it is really a reader’s edition; no commentary, no cross-references, just clear, single-column text.

Augustine, The City of God. Cultural criticism, systematic theology, biblical exegesis and more under one cover, by one of the finest minds of the Western tradition.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. I recommend the Concise Translation edited by Timothy McDermott. Aquinas summarized in 600 pages. Aristotle placed into the service of the medieval church.

Dante, Divine Comedy. Thomistic theology in the form of epic poetry. There are many good versions available, but I particularly recommend that done by Dorothy Sayers, originally published in the Penguin Classics series.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress. Puritan Protestant theology in allegory. Perhaps the greatest allegory in English literature. Available in many editions.

John Milton, Paradise Lost. “Justifying the ways of God to men.” Protestant theology in the dress of epic poetry. One of the greatest works of English literature.

Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will. Perhaps the finest philosophical theologian America ever produced. Here, a close and careful analysis of man’s choosing. Many editions are available, but the Yale University Press edition, though exorbitantly priced, has a very useful introduction.

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. One man’s journey from status quo British theological liberalism to the Roman Catholic Church. One of the great spiritual autobiographies.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. Classic Chesterton. Perhaps a favorite of mine because his tale so resonates with mine.