Dr. House’s bookshelf: December 2013 edition

My reading has slacked off this month due to travel and several writing projects (unfortunately not ones directly related to my theological publishing ambitions, but the work has to be done). It being Christmas, however, I did acquire some nice new volumes.

This month, on the same day in fact, I finished reading both Wright’s The resurrection of the Son of God and the second volume of Bavinck’s Reformed dogmatics. Wright I had read before and enjoyed it, so I wanted to go through it again before tackling his next volume, Paul and the faithfulness of God. Resurrection is a wonderful work on what I consider to be the true doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. On the second reading I found portions of it somewhat tedious; Wright’s review of the relevant ancient literature is almost exhaustive. On the other hand, his discussion of the Gospels’ account is exhilarating; by the end of it I’m wanting to give a fist-pump “Yeah!” The biggest thing I learned from this reading was how deeply gnosticism has permeated certain wings of contemporary critical scholarship. Wright’s whole aim is to show (1) that by “resurrection,” the church meant the Jesus rose bodily from the grave; (2) that they really believed that it had happened; and (3) that it is the best explanation for the existence of the Christian church. I had not realized that (1) was so widely disputed today. Too many try to explain Easter as “Jesus dying and going to heaven,” by which they mean a “spiritual” resurrection, by which they ultimately mean “nothing really happened.” Wright does a tremendous job of destroying that whole line of thought.

Moving on, I like Bavinck, though not quite as much as a thought I would. His second volume added further weight to a hypothesis of mine: once you’ve read one classic reformed systematic theology, you’ve read them all. While Bavinck is certainly more readable than Hodge and much deeper than Berkhof, I can’t say that I have seen anything that’s really different in this particular volume. The main topic of interest in it is the “decrees” of predestination, and Bavinck takes the standard reformed path; there really isn’t any other one available to him. I still cannot accept the idea that “predestination and foreknowledge are really the same thing.” If that were so, there’d be one word used, not two. A simple substitution in a verse like Rom. 8.29 shows how silly this idea is: “For those whom he predestined he also predestined.” Bavinck tends to lump, well, everyone who’s not a Calvinist into the category of “Pelagian.” Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Also, he tries to do too much with natural theology. Along with his biblical and theological discussion, he’ll quote ancient Greek philosophers as if that proves something; I find this jarring in a reformation perspective. Still, it’s a valuable work of systematics, and I’m sure I’ll refer to it frequently. I plunging right ahead into the third volume; I want to see it through.

For light reading, on my phone I’m going through Immortality and the future by H. R. Mackintosh. It’s part of a large bundle of public domain eschatology books from logos.com I got through community pricing. Eschatology is always interesting, but I haven’t read any for quite a while.

I mentioned this earlier, but from Logos’s Black Friday sale I got a complete set of Schaff’s edition of the Church fathers. This was a bit of an indulgence; these are available for free online, but they are a pain to navigate. As a very long term goal, I’ve decided to attempt to read through the entire set, though I’m not pushing myself to keep any particular schedule and might skip boring parts. The Logos edition is really nice. I’ve got a layout set up where, if I click on a Bible reference in the Fathers, it opens an English translation of the Septuagint (the version they used) as well as other versions for comparison.

And finally, yesterday I purchased Michael F. Bird’s Evangelical theology on Kindle for $5.99. Logos had this in prepub for several times the amount so I passed on it then, but for $6 I’ll give any systematics a whirl. (I’m a little concerned about this development. I’ve got a lot invested in Logos and will always prefer it, but it really needs to do something about its high prices considering the competition it’s getting from Amazon now.) It’s around 800 pages; it will be nice to see if it supports or undermines my other hypothesis, that a good systematics cannot be done in under 1,000 pages. What’s interesting about this one is that the author is a New Testament scholar, not a theologian. (I’m not sure when I’ll start it; I’ve got quite a few other works in the queue first.)

I did it!

Hours before taking delivery of my electronic copy of N. T. Wright’s latest addition to his series, Christian origins and the question of God, I finished reading the first three volumes! As stated before, I had read the third volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God, before, but I wanted to read it again 1) in the light of the two previous volumes and 2) because it is so good. (More on this at a later date.) I’m not sure how long it will take me to burrow through all 1,700 pages of volume four, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I’m not in a hurry; this will (probably) be my next “phone book.” Unlike the resurrection, and unlike most who discuss Wright, Pauline theology is not an area of huge interest for me. I’ll have to wait till I examine the text to determine how high to prioritize it.

NB: This is not an N. T. Wright blog, and I am not a fanboi. (Okay, I am a big fan of his third volume and very envious of how he writes.) Nor am I a detractor. I just happen to be reading through his works now. Just be grateful I wasn’t blogging when I was going through Barth’s Church dogmatics. (Yes, I have read the entire thing, and yes, I am a fanboi.)

Dr. House’s bookshelf: November 2013 edition

I usually have at least two to three theology or biblical studies books going at the same time. The first is a core book in my discipline, systematic theology, which I read on my computer for easy note taking and quoting, as continuing education. The second is a “phone book” I read on my phone, more for fun and (relatively) casual interest and so that I’ll never be stuck somewhere waiting without something to do. The third (and so on) will be on dead tree, for when I’m not wired or my phone is charging, and usually related to something I’m working on. These days I usually read 1,000 to 2,000 pages in theology books each month, which does not count journal articles, class selections, or non-theological books. (Lately I’ve been a little obsessive about measuring these sort of things.)

(Nothing about lupus. It’s never lupus.)

My present core book in systematics is the second volume of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set). Bavinck is an important Dutch theologian from the turn of the (20th) century, recently translated into English. His is a very thorough but relatively advanced work; for example, the chapter on the Trinity, which is where I’m presently at, is probably the most detailed and comprehensive I’ve come across in a systematics of the “survey of doctrines” type. It reminds me of Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, which I see as the most useful (which is not at all the same thing as “best”; it’s not) one-volume systematics. Bavinck is like Berkhof on steroids, though the direction of authorial inspiration is the other way around (Berkhof owes a lot to Bavinck.) Bavinck is better too.

Continuing my N. T. Wright kick, my “phone book” is his The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3). I’ve read this one before on dead tree. I’m reading it again for 1) enjoyment) and 2) to review its ideas now that I’ve completed the first two volumes in the series and am eagerly awaiting the new fourth volume. Wright’s presentation of the rock of Christian belief is exceedingly thorough; “unabridged” or “exhaustive” might be better descriptors. Wright’s case against the opposition’s viewpoint is utterly devastating. Whatever faults he may have (fewer than many), all is forgiven for the greatness of this work.

Both of these I’m reading on Logos via reading plans; I think I’m scheduled to complete them by the end of the year.

Over a short trip this weekend, I just read on dead tree the very brief Christ the Center by (kind of) Dietrich Bonhoeffer. About it I don’t know what to say; it was rather different than I expected. It mostly a survey of the traditional doctrine of the person of Christ from Bonhoeffer’s unique but thoroughly Lutheran perspective. This work was a reconstruction from the notes of students who attended his lecture; his original notes are not extant, and the final part of the series was never given. With Bonhoeffer, one always has to think: what if?

Next up on dead tree is Bread Not Stone by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. I’ve already read her vital work, In Memory of Her. She’s sharp as a tack and definitely makes you think.

On my personal Bible reading, as the year winds down I’m winding up a lengthy reading program. I’m going through my once-a-decade reading of the apocrypha, presently in Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), in the NRSV. To keep it real, I’m also reading the Gospels in the ESV with an eye to evaluating Wright’s thesis against them (in other words: is Wright right?) For next year I want to do something different but am not totally sure what yet. I recently got an English translation of the Septuagint and might give that a go.