Thursday, November 09, 2006
My annotated list of the 20 most influential theological books in my life. This is a meme going around (started on some ELCA blogs, I think).

I suspect this list could change tomorrow; note the suspicious absence of Lewis? C.P. Krauth? I'm not sure Walther would ever make the list for me. I had a pretty good grasp on Law and Gospel by the time I got around to reading it, so I'm not sure how much it "influenced" me. No F. F. Bruce? No N.T. Wright? I must be sick! Oh, wait, I am sick.

20) Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, John Gerstner
This is a funny one. Back in my Pentecostal days, I was all about defending the "gifts of the Spirit" as understood within the Pentecostal paradigm. I knew that John MacArthur was (a) a dispensationalist and (b) opposed to the Pentecostal understanding of the Spiritual Gifts. Ergo (ah! naïve reasoning!), Gerstner's book was advocating the Spiritual Gifts. Needless to say, I was in for a shock. Well, since most of my readers are Lutherans, maybe I do need to say. John Gerstner is a gruff, curmudgeonly old Presbyterian. As an "old school" Presby, he is also a cessationist (i.e., believes the Spiritual Gifts ceased after the completion of the Canon of Scripture, or thereabouts). In the end, the book was about people like Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie, who advocate a position of (basically) anti-nomianism, saying that once a person has believed, it matters not what they do for the rest of their lives. Essentially, Gerstner's book is advocating a form of Lordship Salvation (another peculiarity of American Evangelicalism), which says that once you have professed belief (at which point Jesus is your savior) you must also make him your Lord. Sanctification by works. This book was not exactly influential in a good way. But, on the other hand, it really opened me up to a broader world than my little tiny Pentecostal circle. What it amounted to was that neither position felt intuitively right, to me. And so, we have ---

19) Christ the Lord, ed. M.S. Horton
In this book, a group of Reformed scholars and pastors from the Continental tradition and a couple of Lutherans (Solarblogger being one of them, along with Rod Rosenbladt at Concordia University, Irvine) delimit the Biblical path through the controversy which the above book addresses. In other words, Gerstner, MacArthur, et al, are wrong on the one hand, and Hodges and Ryrie are wrong on the other. Some of you may have run into Rosenbladt's article, "Christ Dies for the Sins fo Christians, too!" on the interwebby. That's from this book.

18) Let God be God, Philip S. Watson
Why do Methodists write such great books on Luther? Anyways, it's must reading for all Lutherans. It's been reprinted!

17) The Last Temptation of Christ, N. Kazantzakis
Yes, I was among those (back in my Pentecostal days) who condemned Martin Scorcese's movie based on the book. I did so because I was an ignorant fool. This is a beautiful, wonderful book, and could be read by any Christian. It is a fictional "life of Christ" viewed entirely through the lens of the Garden of Gethsemane. Yeah, there are some weird parts, and it suffers from the continual criticism that his characters are not Jews, but Greeks with Jewish names, but anyone who says that this book insults or is a threat to Christ or Christianity has simply not read the book.

16) The Two Natures in Christ, Martin Chemnitz
If I had not read this book already, then perhaps Kazantzakis's book would not have been as meaningful (or would have been more offensive?).

15) A Case for Amillennialism, Kim Riddelbarger
Not so much the book, but the lecture series which became the book. Destroyed dispensationalism (i.e., Left Behind theology). Particularly important was Riddlebarger's treatment of Daniel 9, and an article he used by Meredith Kline which completely put the kibosh on the "anti-Christ in Daniel 9" gobbledygook. I have a .pdf copy of Kline's article; any one who wants it can email me.

14) Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes and The Cross and the Prodigal, both by Kenneth E. Bailey
I touched on Bailey's work on the Lucan parables in this post. If you haven't read Bailey, you should. CPH publishes another of his books, Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15. Read them. Read them all. Now.

13) Ein Deutsches Requiem, Johannes Brahms
Oh, wait. That's not a book. How'd that get on here?! Background music while reading?...

12) The Creationists, Ronald L. Numbers
Mark Kalthoff, Professor of History at Hillsdale College, has said of this book (I'm paraphrasing), "No one should be permitted to even TALK about creationism without having read this book." He's right. So-called "Scientific Creationism" is born of less-than-reputable stock.

11) "Because it had not rained," Meredith Kline
HT to Solarblogger, who introduced me to Kline's work. This isn't a book, it's an article. I won't summarize it, but I'll tell you that it's related to #12. Tolle lege!

10) The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, Hans Frei
Oh no. This is one of the books associated with the Seminex debacle. How can a good Lutheran read it??!! Well, first you pick it up, you open the cover, you focus your eyes on the little black marks on the page, and (if you can decipher those little black marks) you read it. That's how.

There is, of course, a certain moment when narrative theology oversteps the bounds, but at its basic, methodological level, there is good prescription here: focus on the story. Isn't this, in actuality, what Lutherans ought to do? Does not the Gospel precede the Bible? That is, we believe the Bible because we first believe the Gospel, n'est pas? There is a point in evangelism where we must get in a person's face and say, "Jesus died for you!" We don't begin evangelism by doing textual analysis. We proclaim Christ crucified. Both of the next books illustrate this point.

9) The Intrusive Word -- Preaching to the Unbpatized, William Willimon
Perhaps the finest preacher in the United States, Willimon is a minister in the United Methodist Church. The only Lutheran whose preaching comes close (and perhaps exceeds on some Sundays, is Cwirla). Sadly, when we moved to the Triangle, Willimon had just left his post at Duke. Dang. Excerpt:

We preachers so want to be heard that we are willing to make the gospel more accessible than it really is, to remove the scandal, the offense of the cross, to deceive people into thinking that it is possible to hear without conversion. This is the great lie behind most of my apologetics, the deceit that it is possible to hear the gospel while we are still trapped in outmoded or culturally conditioned patterns of thought and hearing. How are we extricated from such patterns? Only by being confronted with the gospel. how does the gospel manage to work such power among epistemologically enslaved folk like us? I don't know. It's a miracle.

8) Theology is for Proclamtion, Gerhard Forde
The problem with putting this one on the list is that I know it had a big impact on me, but frankly I can't recall the substance. Too many of my books (95%) are in storage.

7) Real Presences, George Steiner
Well, the title certainly sounds Lutheran, doesn't it? This work is actually a piece of critical literary theory, written against the rise of "reader-response theory" and deconstruction. He argues that language is a God given gift and ought to be respected in the manner that we respect a stranger who enters our house. VERY dense reading, but if you have the courage, very rewarding.

6) The Doctrine of Baptism, Edmund Schlink & Scriptural Baptism, by Uuras Saarnivaara
I usually recommend these two together. Schlink is good but dry. Saarnivaara is an amusing little fictional dialogue between a Baptist and a Lutheran. These, and a personal conversation with R.D. Preus, put me over the top on baptismal regeneration, and infant baptism.

5) The Copernican Revolution, Thomas Kuhn
Kuhn's first book and the one that put him on the map, so to speak. In my master's thesis at Concordia University, Irvine, I took issue with the following statement:

Protestant leaders like Luther, Calvin and Melanchthon led in citing scripture against Copernicus and in urging the repression of Copernicans. Since the Protestants never possessed the police apparatus available to the Catholic Church, their repressive measures were seldom so effective as those taken by the Catholics, and they were more readily abandoned when the evidence for Copernicanism became overwhelming. But Protestants nevertheless provided the first effective institutionalized opposition. (196)
Researching the veracity of this statement (in fact, the statement is wrong) led me all around the theological and scientific world of the 16th century. What fun.

4) The Structure of Lutheranism, Werner Elert
Another one in storage. Two Kingdoms (among other things) came through loud and clear in this one. This was also handy in refuting Kuhn.

3) Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, Werner Elert
The ultimate argument for closed communion.

2) Here We Stand, Herman Sasse
Sola scriptura is not enough to make a Reformation; there must be Sola fide.

1) This is My Body, Herman Sasse
Best book ever on the Sacrament of the Lord's Table.
posted by Kepler at 13:17 |


At 11/09/2006 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy

Why, oh why!, must people always be adding to my interminable book list?

You have totally piqued my interest on Last Temptation. I never considered reading it before because, like you, I was told as a Pentecostal that it would make my little eyes melt.

I have read parts of Riddlebarger's book, though I was already convinced on amillennialism before I bought it.

Willimon, Elert, Sasse, and Numbers have been on my reading list for a long time. You just bumped them up.


At 11/14/2006 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Kepler

Glad I cold be such a book antagonist.


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