My Three Books: Gabrielle Thomas Edition

Gabrielle Thomas 

22 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

*This is a guest post from Gabrielle Thomas on the three books that have influenced her theology.

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I happened upon Gregory whilst writing a graduate essay and was utterly inspired by his vision of the Christian life. His theology is beautifully interwoven with his practice, resulting in a holistic approach. Whilst this collection hosts some of my favourites, I will happily read anything he wrote.

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Bob’s book is an inspiring tool for reading complicated texts with people on the margins, many of whom have not had the luxury of an education. Having put it into practice myself whilst working alongside those who live on the streets, I can confidently say that his approach works. He has used his PhD and various languages to serve in innovative ways, so I would say that he is an author whose lifestyle has inspired me as much as his book.

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This is a fascinating project in which Rybarczyk compares two traditions close to his heart in order to encourage them to engage in conversations pertaining to unity. He is realistic in highlighting their differences, but overall brings to light some crucial similarities in their respective theologies (albeit not practice). As someone who is passionate about the unity of the Church, I found this a useful and memorable study from which to consider some of my own work.

 

Sincerely yours,
Gabby

Having completed ordination training in the Church of England, Gabby has embarked upon a PhD before moving onto her curacy. Motivated by the challenge of evangelizing in a post-Christendom context, her research is concerned with exploring new ways of expressing the gospel by reconsidering the inspiring vision of human identity as seen through the eyes of Gregory Nazianzen.

My Three Books: Philip Whitehead Edition

Philip Whitehead 

20 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

*This is a guest post by Philip Whitehead on the three books that have influenced his theology.

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

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Growing up in a Reformed (Baptist) church, Calvin was often mentioned extremely positively but never someone I read. Coming to University as an undergraduate, Calvin was often mentioned extremely negatively, but again, never someone I read. During my MA I set aside some time to read the first two books of the Institutes and I got hooked. Calvin combines a true gift of exegesis with a fearless theological and logical boldness and expresses the insights of the Reformation as a rejuvenation of the Church’s ancient and biblical faith. Max Weber was almost completely wrong about Calvin and Calvinism, as is Lord Acton’s portrait of him as a grim dictator – what motivates Calvin is a conviction of the sovereignty of God and the finiteness and provisionality of human wisdom and capacity; leading to a theological method which is surprisingly (for many of us!) humble and reliant upon the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures which testify of him.

2. Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament

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I think I found this book influential not only for its clear and wide-ranging presentation of the New Testament’s teaching on moral and ethical issues, but also as an excellent example of how to do New Testament Theology well. Hays approaches the New Testament informed by the best exegetical scholarship, but doesn’t fall into atomistic treatment of texts. Rather, he looks, author-by-author, at texts as part of an NT author’s bigger picture and message, before attempting a theological synthesis. The result is faithful to the texts and to the canon, and demonstrates the coherence and unity in the NT’s diversity. I find Hays’ specific conclusions on some of the more controversial “moral” issues prophetic in their challenge to some of our present cultural assumptions, and encounter both encouragement and rebuke in this book.

3. D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition

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This is quite a slim volume, which I read in my third year as a theology undergraduate. Karen Kilby recommended it to her Protestant students on the reading list for the module on The Trinity. It really helped finish the process, which began in my Christmas holidays of first year with reading C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”, of convincing me that Church history was my history as an evangelical, and that there was a great deal to learn from those who were in Christ before me. Karl Barth writes somewhere of his discovery that “Church history no longer begins for me in 1517” and reading Williams’ book helped cement that realisation for me. Williams clarifies (and I paraphrase) that ‘sola scriptura’ need not mean ‘nuda scriptura’; not should an enthusiastic and open retrieval of tradition be taken as endangering one’s commitment to evangelicalism. It also means, as Williams points out, that evangelicals can deepen their appreciation of their place in the story of the church and find that Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and yes, even Aquinas, are brothers in the faith.

Sincerely yours,
Philip

Philip is in his second year of full-time PhD study at the University of Nottingham. He was born in Manchester and grew up in Oxfordshire before moving to Nottingham. He studied BA German and History before switching courses to BA Theology at the University of Nottingham, followed by an MA in Biblical Interpretation and Theology, writing a thesis on the imagery used of Israel and the Church in the letter to the Ephesians. He then worked at CapitalOne before returning to full-time study, undertaking doctoral research on a Pauline approach to the Theology of Religions.

My Three Books: Matt Vest Edition

Matthew Vest
The Naming and Circumcision of Christ
1 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Columbus, Ohio

Dear Friends and Family,

 Thanks much to David for this question. I’ve answered the “favorite books” question before, but the “most influential to my theology” question is one I’ve not paused over as much. Five years ago my answers to this would be noticeably different, primarily due to my conversion since then into the Eastern Orthodox Church. In light of that spiritual journey and my work as a young (i.e., lowly) academic and PhD student, moreover, I expect the answers will be different again five years from now.

1) Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Mystical Theology

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Dionysius’ short work is known as a classic of “apophatic theology” for detailing the limits of language and words to the point where we become “actually speechless and unknowing” before the “Cause of all beings.” This process of assertions and denials about the Divine Cause presents a particular challenge in rightly reading the mystical Scriptures. Dionysius’ hermeneutical challenge is to realize the Scriptures as the highest language we can experience, embracing the “divine names” not as intellectual idols of God’s essence but as ways of experiencing His energies. In my small world of reading/study, this liturgical/embodied/apophatic epistemology is a theological landmark.

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We all know the Patristic formulation that Athanasius made so popular: “for the Son of God became man so that we might become gods.” For years I read this from the assumption that man’s “fall”caused the Word of God to take on flesh, but such an assumption seems bound to a framework of immanent reason (and even a “physical theory of redemption”). Athanasius surely has more in mind–namely, presenting the Incarnation as Christ’s “divine manifestation.” Athanasius doesn’t dwell solely on the physical details of Christ’s birth but rather focuses on how the Passion reveals the true nature of his coming through the Theotokos, his life, death, and resurrection. In other words, Athanasius’ understanding of the Incarnation extends beyond the manger to include the whole scope and entirety of Christ’s life and work. What does this mean? Our ways of theologizing must begin with the whole life of Christ–including grasping the Nativity from the vantage point of the Passion–vs inferential theories that gloss the depth of terms such as Incarnation.
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OK, moment of honesty: I can’t list the Hugh’s Didascalicon without also listing Illich’s In the Vineyard of the Text. Illich’s work convinced me the Didascalicon was much more than yet another Medieval treatise on the ars liberalis. Illich revealed in Hugh’s work, rather, an entire theological anthropology bound in embodied, corporeal reading. After reading Hugh/Illich, reading was not reading anymore for me. I’m convinced now that the technological move from “book to text” evinced in the transition from monastic education to scholastic university has rendered a different picture of mankind altogether. Reading Hugh/Illich has blurred the lines between reading/study/prayer–and has convicted me how poorly I practice all three of them.
Sincerely yours,
Matt Vest
Matthew Vest is as the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies for The Ohio State University Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities. Vest holds a B.A. in Moral Philosophy, an M.A. in Liberal Arts, and is currently a Ph.D. student in Theology (University of Nottingham). When out of the library or office, Matthew Vest and his wife, Leah, both enjoy ultra running, craft beer/homebrewing, and chasing after their two wild warrior-toddlers.

My Three Books: Eric Austin Lee Edition

Eric Austin Lee

Feast of St Lucy
13 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
West Sacramento, California

Dear Friends and Family,

David has kindly sent out a call for our ‘My 3 Books’, in the spirit of Theology Studio‘s tradition of asking its interviewee’s which 3 books have had the most profound affect upon them theologically. Such decisions are always incredibly difficult ones, and I could add at least another ten books to this list, but, if one were to have to choose, I think this is where I would start: Practice in Christianity, by Anti-Climacus / Soren Kierkegaard, translated and edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

I first read this during my MA at PLNU, under the direction of Professor Mike Lodahl. It was an exhilarating read, not only for its critique of ‘established Christianity’, but also because this book in many ways sums up Kierkegaard’s thought in a pseudonym that is even ‘higher’ than he is able to personally achieve.  A later book, Practice in Christianity also combines his critical, pseudonomous style with the ‘upbuilding discourse’-style as the latter part of the book consists of meditations on Scripture, much like those found in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses and Words of Love (amongst others). One of my favourite meditations on Scripture is his series of discourses on John 12:32. The creativity and inspiration behind these Scriptural meditations are some of the brightest guideposts in the tradition. For me, primarily, the energy and passion about what it means to be a Christian for Anti-Climacus has shaped a great deal of my own journey: Christianity is not meant to be an easy life, for the way of the Cross is a difficult one, and anything which says otherwise “abolishes Christianity!”

Genealogy of Nihilism: Philosophies of Nothing and the Difference of Theology, by Conor Cunningham (London: Routledge, 2002).

I distinctly remember where I was when I finished this book: on my lunch hour at a Mexican food restaurant in San Diego next to the I-5 freeway. It stuck with me because, when I finished this book, I’d never read anything else like it. Yes, I had just finished John Milbank’s wonderful Theology and Social Theory, but, even though it was one of the most difficult books I had ever read at that point, something about this work really struck me. The combination of very dense philosophy on the one hand with beautiful theological prose on the other, alongside such a variety of sources that I wouldn’t have regularly thought was possible. But beyond stylist remarks, it was Cunningham’s vision of proposing a theological alternative to the logic of nihilism that, contrary to most un-nuanced accounts by his detractors, is not simply one that argues that theology is ‘better’ than nihilism; rather, he shows that both nihilism and theology begin with accounts of nothingness: the former cannot stand upon it’s own edifice and ultimately becomes intelligible, while the latter Christian account is primarily one of gift that, out of nothing, God creates. On the one hand, such a logic is simple, but as it is not a ‘simplistic’ one, it is also the kind of account that takes a lifetime — an eternity, even — to understand, needing constant education (to echo Luigi Giussani). Those who know me will know I’m very indebted to Cunningham’s wide-ranging approach and style, not to mention the fact that he was my Doktorvater, so this book will always stay with me. I return to it often, if just for the bibliography alone!

Plato’s Critique of Impure Reason: On Goodness and Truth in the Republic, by D. C. Schindler (Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

It is hard to imagine that a book on Plato like this exists. I’ve read a lot of scholarship on Plato and Socrates, and while some of it is very good and most of it is rather boring, this book stands out like no other. It is the kind of philosophical book where — and not only because I know the author’s theological commitments and indebtedness to Hans Urs von Balthasar — one can see the theological transcendence brimming from every chapter, without even mentioning Christ or Scripture. It takes a mind attuned to the beautiful to be able to read off of philosophical texts (eg, the ‘book of nature’, so to speak) and see a reality resplendent with the light of the Good, all while still maintaining a high standard of scholarship. All of this is prolegomena to say that D. C. Schindler’s work sums up a recent current to extricate Plato from the usual crude ‘dualisms’ with which he is accused. It can be summed up as a kind of ‘third way’ approach, one that argues not through analytic readings of the typical ‘What is F?’ arguments, but through an interpretation which attempts to order Plato’s works toward not just the Republic, but under Plato’s understanding of the Good itself. In this reading, the reader is reminded that Socrates, as the ‘stand-in’ for the Good, always returns to the cave in order to ‘save the appearances’. It is not a gnostic flight from the flesh into the transcendent forms, but an argument for understanding the particular at all, illuminated by the light of the Good.

Sincerely Yours,
Eric

My 3 Books (or The Post Where I Steal Ideas from The Theology Studio)

David Russell Mosley

Second Week of Advent
10 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Over at The Theology Studio, run by excellent gents Tony Baker and Scott Bader-Saye, they have a virtual bookshelf of books that have most influenced the writing and thought of the theologians they interview. While I certainly do not even remotely put myself in the same category as the women and men they interview, I nevertheless thought it would an interesting exercise to try to determine what books have most influenced me in my theology (since I’ve not published multiple books or journal articles yet I thought more appropriate to talk about what has more generally influenced my theology). Without further ado, then, here are my three books:

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This book served both as my introduction into patristic theology and my introduction into deification. While Cassian himself never uses the language of deification, it was reading Cassian that led me to the Cappadocians, Augustine, Athanasius, etc. Without this book, and Cassian’s understanding of grace, I probably would not be doing my PhD on deification.

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While I admittedly do very little philosophical theology in my PhD, John’s work in TST on the secular confirmed much for me as well as taught a whole new way of talking about society, secularity, and theology.

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I’m cheating a bit here, but really Tolkien’s work on sub-creation, the purpose and place of fairy stories, and his practice of sub-creation in The Silmarillion have significantly influenced how I think about humanity’s role in the cosmos. Without this article and this book I wouldn’t be doing the work on poetry, faerie, and fantasy I’m doing in some side projects and in my PhD.

Next week, I’ll probably do a runners-up list. What about you? What books have most influenced your thinking/theology? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley