Monday, August 5, 2013

Recommended books for Emanuel

So, my friend Emanuel asked me if I could be willing to write a post with presentations of books that have shaped and influenced me. And this I will do; but a few words in advance are in order. The image of pilgrimage has become more relevant to me in my understanding of theology, during the last, say, 5 years. I have read quite a lot of material, always with a look to getting a deeper grasp of the truth of Christianity and existence in general - and there have been deep motivations for this journey in my personal identity, feelings, thoughts etc. In any case: It is a journey; there have been twists and turns that were quite unexpected, I am continuously revising ideas and opinions, and I have ended up in places that I never believed I would.

Therefore I must say, as I often do, that the following thoughts will be revisable, since my process is far from being over. To some extent, they are guaranteed to be revised. But that's also some of the fun of going on an existential journey. (And in any case, the greatest revisions take place whenever you get knowledgable within a whole new field of research.) Well, enough talk; now for the books. I will give the author and title, and simply write a few lines on what it's about, and perhaps also how the book has influenced me. Also, I give a rating, from one to five stars. This list is of course not in any way exhaustive of anything, and there is no particular order here either. Hope you all will enjoy it, still!

Edward Feser - The Last Superstition (XXXXX)
Brilliant book by a philosopher who gave up modern, secular philosophy for the classical, thomistic tradition. In this book he argues that modern materialism and naturalism/scientism are demonstrably false ways of viewing the world, and that the thomistic alternative represents a more rational alternative. This book was instrumental in making me believe in philosophy's deep relevance for theology; it also brought me a whole lot closer to the roman-catholic church, since protestant churches most often do not see the need for philosophy.

Feser - Locke (XXXXX)
Another brilliant book that argues forcefully and rationally that modern liberalism is in deep trouble - and that it will dig itself deeper into the hole if society does not turn to some variety of classical natural law. This is certainly a very challenging book, since it forces us to think deeply about where society is heading, and how we should think about changing this direction.

Feser - Philosophy of mind (XXXX)
Very good book that discusses modern philosophy of mind from an Aristotelian perspective - right in the face of the secular materialist dogma. For a more thorough presentation of philosophy of mind - though a presentation that is very much leaning towards mechanistic materialism - see Jaegwon Kims "Philosophy of mind." These books balance each other quite well. My view goes along the lines of Feser's. I find many features of Kim's view of mind simply unbelievable.

Feser - Aquinas (XXXXX)
A brilliant introduction to the thought of Aquinas. But then again, there are quite a few of them. Feser's stands out by engaging many recent critiques of Aquinas' thought. Generally it seems to me that Aquinas is immensely important in giving us as Christians a thorough introduction to philosophy, as seen from a Christian vantage point.

Brian Davies - Most everything. I could briefly mention his introductory books on Philosophy of religion and his book on the existence of God and the problem of evil.

NT Wright - Everything (XXXXX)
NT Wright is quite simply the most brilliant NT scholar I have come across. He is so informed, he forms intelligent and plausible hypotheses, and he sticks so "darn" close to the text. His multi-volume series "Christian Origins and the Question of God" is what to read. Many pages, but definitely worth the time. His popular books are, well, popularizations of these more scholarly ones. But they are very "pastoral" in nature. Wright has more than anyone else shaped my preaching and my views on the basic shape of early Christianity.

NT Wright - Justification (XXXXX)
This is the book where Wright slams most of the american conservative evangelical community and shows that most have more or less misunderstood what Paul is up to when talking about justification. A brilliant book which made me re-think roman-catholic views on justification. (Basic point: The Lutheran insistence on the forensic nature of justification is well taken, but Paul also speaks of final justification, and this comports more with RC thinking, though they have a faulty view of what justification actually amounts to. It is an act of judgment, not a process of transformation.)

NT Wright and Stephen Neill - History of interpretation of NT, 1850 and onward (XXXX)
While we're at it; this book is also quite informative, and gives a very useful overview of different directions in NT research in the last century and a half. Provides perspective when assessing contemporary research.

Conor Cunningham - Darwin's pious idea (XXXXX)
Very important - and brilliant - book, which shows a number of things, notably: That Dawkins' interpretation of biology often is deeply flawed, according to mainstream scientists working in cutting-edge research. That modern materialism is an ideology which is not supported by either metaphysics, nor natural science. That an orthodox - though often not a modern! - view of Scripture, origins, humanness and so on, can accomodate and even explain modern findings of natural science. This book is a tough read, but so very worth it, if one is working in the field of science and theology.

Christian Smith - From evangelical to catholic in 95 difficult steps (XXXX)
Smith's eminently readable and personal book about his way from evangelicalism to catholicism. Hardly unbiased, but still well researched. Really helps you to rethink both evangelicalism and roman-catholicism.

Jaroslav Pelikan - Riddle of Roman Catholicism (XXXXX)
Pelikan's book is very well researched, and gives a wealth of interesting information on the RC church and how it came to be what it is today. Presents valuable thoughts on conversion, and also a mildly critical attitude towards the RC Church - which is perhaps needed in our times.

Jaroslav Pelikan - Christianity and classical culture (XXXXX)
This is an immensely important book, which I actually haven't read from cover til cover...yet. The subject is very relevant for today's issues in theology, philosophy and society. I should also mention Pelikan's history of dogma, but I believe you're already familiar with it (to other readers: It is a brilliant series).

Alasdair Macintyre - After Virtue; Whose Justice, which rationality; Three rival interpretations of moral enquiry (XXXXX)
These books are really important, and they represent a shattering and incisive analysis of modern-day moral philosophy. After reading the first half of After Virtue, one will not see things in quite the same way ever again.

Oliver O'Donovan - Bonds of imperfection; The Desire of the nations; From Iraeneus to Grotius (XXXXX)
Essential reading for issues concerning theology, church, politics and society.

James D Hunter - How to change the world (XXXXX)
Really important book which challenges a lot of common notions within the evangelical community, on how societies change, and what strategies Christians should employ.

Robert P George - Clash of orthodoxies (XXXX)
Several good essays on important issues regarding life, death, sexuality and natural law, by a prominent catholic philosopher. Check out all his other books too; several of them are quite important.

Lindberg/Numbers - God and nature (XXXX)
Several important essays on the historical encounters between theology and science. Gives an informed scholarly overview of an area that is fraught with myths. Numbers has also written the definitive historical study of creationism as a movement.

James Hannam - God's philosophers (XXXXX)
Hannam's Cambridge doctoral thesis, wherein he shows that it was the medieval age that laid the crucial foundation of modern natural science. Dispels the myth of a singular "Scientific revolution" which separates the medieval from the modern age.

John Henry Newman - Development of Doctrine (XXXXX)
A real classic which tackles an immensely important subject for modern theology; the problem of development. Theology does develop, but what is the nature of development, and what developments are really legitimate? Sheds lots of light in important theological/dogmatic issues, and how they were shaped and came to be, in the context of the early church.

Owen Chadwick - Bossuet to Newman; on development of doctrine (XXXX)
A good book on the issue of development of theology, perhaps THE most important issue in the controversy between catholics and protestants (according to Pelikan). Lash has also written on this issue, but his book his almost impossible to get a hold of!

Kenton Sparks - God's word in human words (XXXXX)
I could have mentioned Peter Enns' "Inspiration and incarnation," it's just that Sparks' book is much better and more thoroughly researched. And well - to evangelicals, this book is something of a bombshell. It goes deeply into the critical issues in OT research, and shows very convincingly that many of the results of critical research really are trustworthy. He argues step by step, and it is easy to follow him. And well; if one accepts his arguments - as I did - it means that one (as an evangelical) must really rethink a whole lot of things. This book had a big impact on me, though I am unsure of what to make of his "hermeneutic of accomodation". See references for more reading on these issues.

Sparks has also written a quite decent book where he discusses more deeply some of the hermeneutical/systematic/moral issues following from modern critical research. "Sacred word, broken word." The book created some controversy in the evangelical camp in the US, I think.

Dennis Lamoureux - Evolutionary Creation (XXXX)
This is a brilliant book by a very competent scholar. Though more precisely some parts of the book are brilliant, and some are...well...less so. The parts that are really good, and that really represented an earthquake in my whole theology, are the ones that discuss "ancient science in the Bible." His hermeneutic solution - the "message-incident" principle is less satisfying, I'm afraid. But this book represents a major step forward in the evolution controversy (though Cunningham's book above is in a whole other league, to be honest).

John Walton - Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology (XXXXX)
To really make sure that Lamoureux's conclusions were sound, I had to read more deeply into the issues he discussed. I. e. I read for instance Stadelmann's "Hebrew conception of the world," which basically confirmed and reinforced what Lam. had stated. In any case, Walton's book on Genesis 1 does the same thing, but it also discusses brilliantly how the text actually should be understood, when taking the Ancient Near Eastern background into account. A brilliant book that raises some profound questions not only about creation, but also about hermeneutics.

Daniel Fairbanks - Relics of Eden (XXXX)
I used to be something of a creationist, but that is a long time ago now. I was very much into the ID movement, and read both Behe, Johnson and Dembski (along with some of the more extreme YECs like Morris). Books that really put to rest my doubts about evolution being a fact about our pre-history, were (among others): D Prothero; Evolution - what the fossils say...; Douglas Futuyama: Evolutionary biology and also another book on creationism; Jerry Coyne: Why evolution is true; Isaak's Counter-creationism Handbook; Strahler's Science and Earth History; Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God. Well, there were more, too. But the nail in the coffin was Fairbank's book, which shows how impossible it is to deny our evolutionary connection with our ancestors, given our present knowledge of our genetic material.

But note: Evolution has happened, but how it happened, and also what metaphysical conclusions may be drawn from it, are quite different issues, though of course related. Again, Cunningham's book is the best guide here. (What would we have done without that book?)

Timothy Ware - The Orthodox Way (XXXXX)
Gives a sorely needed presentation of Orthodoxy. That was important to me, though much is still quite dim and unclear to me about this ancient part of the Church.

John Milbank - Theology and Social Theory (XXXXX)
Haven't read this, but everyone says it's brilliant. Milbank's writing is often contracted and hard to understand. But it runs very deep, so it's worth the effort.

Charles Taylor - Secular Age (XXXXX)
Brilliant, helpful and thorough analysis of why our age is "secular" and what this really means. Taylor has also written "Sources of the self," which is supposed to be really good. Haven't read it. See also Michael Allen Gillespie's The theological origins of modernity, and more references in Taylor's works.

Timothy Bradshaw - Aristotle East and West
Important book which gives an analysis of the interpretation and reception of Aristotle in the Latin and Eastern churches. Havent' read it yet, but I believe this book is crucial for the ecumenical dialogues.

Michael Buckley - At the origins of atheism (XXXXX)
Basically argues that bad theology is responsible for modern atheism. The problem of it all is the acceptance of bad metaphysics, which in time subverts theology from within. As one can understand, this is an important book.

Louis Bouyer - Spirit and forms of protestantism (XXXX)
Interesting and sympathetic analysis of protestantism from the vantage point of a catholic convert.

Fergus Kerr - The twentieth century catholic theologians (XXXXX)
Brilliant and highly illuminating book on modern catholic theology. See references for more reading. Kerr has also written "After Aquinas", which I belive will be very interesting. That book discusses different varieties of thomism. Kerr har also written some other good books.

Noll/Nystrom - Is the reformation over? (XXXX)
Quite good - though sometimes not deep enough - analysis of modern catholicism from an evangelical viewpoint. This book is recommended because of the handy overview it gives over contemporary catholicism and the ecumenical dialogues.

Peter Kreeft - Summa of the summa, Shorter Summa, Summa Philosophica (XXXXX)
Brilliant introductory readings of Aquinas + a handy guide to all the important questions of philosophy. Kreeft gives an important and helpful guide into the area of thomism (a transition that could be very challenging for us modern protestant Christians).

James Barr - Books on fundamentalism + a whole lot else (XXXXX)
Barr has written a lot. "Fundamentalism" is the books that evangelicals should read, and also "Biblical faith and natural theology". Both of these books, but perhaps especially the last one, really changed my views on several matters. (And incidentally led me quite a few steps closer to the catholic tradition, and away from my protestant tradition). Barr was a very helpful bridgebuilder between church and academia.

Rowan Williams - On Christian Theology (XXXX)
Williams has many deep and stimulating thoughts, and is well worth reading. His book on Arius is also really important, I believe. RW has a healthy emphasis on spirituality that is often missing in modern theology. While I'm at it, I should also mention another book in the same vein, i. e. Andrew Louths "Discerning the mystery." I'm sure you're familiar with Louth anyway. He's written lots of interesting books.

Pannenberg - Systematic Theology+Basic questions in theology (I-III)+ Jesus - God and man (XXXXX)
Pannenberg's systematic theology is the best there is, in modern theology. Note that Pannenberg is somewhat critical of classical metaphysics (I'm sad to say). But he gives orthodox discussions of many thorny issues in modern theology, e. g. problems of history and revelation, of Christian faith and natural science etc.

Copleston - History of philosophy (XXXXX)
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Quite simply the best history of philosophy available. So paedagogic and illuminating. Written from a Thomist perspective, though always fair and nuanced.

David Bentley Hart - Atheist Delusions (XXXXX)
Deeply intriguing work which gives an outline of how the church changed western civilization. This book should not be missed. Hart has also written other deeply interesting things, see e. g. his Beauty of the infinite, which is a tough read, but very rewarding (I'm not through it yet).

Radical Orthodoxy - A reader (XXXX)
Excellent set of articles by prominent authors in this highly interesting and challenging movement. The RO movement has also published lots of interesting titles lately. See for instance Milbank's articles, and others, in "Belief and Metaphysics."

Koons and Bealer - Waning of materialism (XXXX)
A good set of articles critical of physicalism/materialism. Some philosophical knowledge is required for the full benefit of these articles. The best book defending a "physicalist" stance, is Melnyk's "Physicalist manifesto." The best critique is the chapter on materialism in Cunningham's Darwin's pious idea.

Lynne Rudde Baker - Saving belief and several others (XXXXX)
A great metaphysicist who goes deep into issues that have to do with science, materialism, teleology, persons etc. Some knowledge of philosophy is required. Michael C Rea's "World without design" is also brilliant and highly important. On the other side of the divide, see Ladyman and Ross: "World without design," and also Rosenberg's "Atheist's guide to reality" (and if you choose to delve into this material, then please do not miss Feser's thorough critique of Rosenberg, as found on his blog).

EA Burtt - Metaphysical foundations of modern science (XXXXX)
Immensely important book which shows how the fathers of modern science framed their findings within metaphysical pictures of the world (which later were to have en enormous influence on philosophy).

Stephen Barr - Modern physics and ancient faith (XXXX)
Barr knows his stuff, being a prominent professor of physics. He argues that modern physics in several ways points in the direction of orthodox Christianity.

William T Cavanaugh - Everything (XXXX)
Cavanaugh writes intriguingly about a whole lot of issues that face the church today; capitalism, secularism, warfare etc. His books are generally easy to read, but see references for more.

Cristopher Kaczor - Ethics of abortion (XXXXX)
Along with Francis Beckwith's book and Robert George's, this is the premier defence of unborn life, from a classical philosophical point of view. The best anthology of articles pro and con is Beckwith/Pojman, Abortion controversy. The best defense of abortion is Boonin's "Defense of abortion."

Bauckham - Everything on the NT, esp. Jesus and the God of Israel and Jesus and the eyewitnesses
Bauckham is a quite brilliant scholar. His books are life-changing.

John Paul II - Theology of the body
Must also mention this, which I perhaps think holds the key to how we as Christians should respond to secular thinking on sexuality. Haven't read it yet, but, well, I do believe it is very important.


Lars said...

What about Charles Taylor? I think you have referred to him a couple of times. I'm reading A Secular Age just now. Very interesting.

leb3s said...

What about the books you recommended to me earlier? Feks Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple