Here’s my first post. Let’s see how this goes.
Lately I’ve had the opportunity to start reading several books. While I was in Uruguay I finished two of them, Tom Perrotta’s Little Children and Samuel Wells Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. Other than that I’ve picked up
Rupert Shortt’s God’s Advocates
Kent A. Van Til’s Less Than Two Dollars a Day: A Christian View of World Poverty and the Free Market
John J. Davis’ Three Views on Creation and Evolution
Ben Witherington’s The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism and Wesleyanism
Paul Wegner’s A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods and Results
David E. Fitch’s The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies
Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller
Richard Baukham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
I’m sure there are more that I just can’t think of right now, but it seems that that’s more than enough for now. I’ll start with the two that I’ve finished.
Tom Perrotta’s Little Children is the story of thirty-something parents reflecting on their suburban lives. In almost every case their lives are far from what they’d expected. There’s Todd, the high school/college football superstar who’s become a stay-at-home dad; Sarah, a once sexually ambiguous feminist, now mother of a three year old a girl, with a husband living a secret life on the internet; and Larry Moon, a police officer forced to retire because of mental stress, who is obsessed with a newly freed child molester living in his neighborhood. The thing to keep in mind with this novel is that the title is not merely a reference to the fact that the adult characters are linked to children because they have them or are obsessed with them. These suburbanites are children. There is a point when each character has to come to terms with reality, something they’ve all been avoiding in one way or another. For Sarah it’s that she was not being the mother that she should have been. For Todd it’s that he was still trying to be the prom king who pleases his wife in wholly superficial ways while remaining ultimately unfaithful to her and their son. Not every epiphany is as clear or positive as those two, but I must say that the varying degrees of realization are a healthy representation of real people. Not everyone will be liberated by realization. In fact, things being as they are, many will never realize that their life needs some kind of scrutiny. I would recommend this novel, along with Perrotta’s Election, which intersects with Little Children thematically.
Now Wells’ Improvisation:
This is an interesting book on ethics by a man with pretty close ties to Stanley Hauerwas. In fact, Wells wrote the first doctoral dissertation on Hauerwas’ work. Improvisation encompasses narrative in a considerable way, given that the book is a presentation of ethics using many terms and concepts from the world of improvisational acting. Wells begins by saying that improvisation is not “off the cuff”. We, like improvisational actors, are not stranded on a stage with little or no preparation for the tasks. Improvisation is more about being obvious than spontaneous and unique. I suppose you could say that what Wells is recommending is that the church learn as much about its heritage, from scripture and history, as it can and establish a life that reflects that. This stands against the way that the church has dealt with ethics recently. In my experience people have challenged any and every ethically proposition with the most extreme challenge that can be imagined. Take for example the desire to be non-violent. When someone says that they don’t want to commit an act of violence, even in self-defense, the response is usually, “Well what if someone broke into your home and tried to rape and kill your family?” I suppose that’s a valid question on some level, but not in that situation. In fact, that’s a terrible way to view ethics. If we sit around and imagine hypotheticals that would drive us into a frenzy, we’ll no doubt come to the conclusion that there are no definite expectations put on us in certain situations. But, what Wells tells us is that if we commit ourselves to non-violent living and thinking when someone hasn’t broken into our homes to murder our families, which is the majority of the time for most people, we will be prepared for the crunch situation in which we are challenged to do the right thing. As anyone who has interacted with other people should know, the hardest thing to make or break is a habit. And that is what we are called to do. The koinonia (shared experience) of Acts chapter two was not a spontaneous, heroic manifestation of the Spirit, it was a steady, dependable life-long manifestation of the Spirit’s transformational power. Now, that’s not to say that there are no spontaneous situations where we need the power of God, there are. What Wells is saying is that our responses to those moments is defined by the way we live day-to-day. It’s the juxtaposition of hero and saint. Heroes thrive on those life-changing moments, saints live to serve and suffer over the long haul.
Now to the books I haven’t finished yet:
God’s Advocates– This is a series of interviews with some great minds in theology, philosophy, ethics, politics, etc. on the resurgence of the spiritual in the public sphere today (e.g. Rowan Williams, Stanley Hauerwas, Samuel Wells, Alvin Plantinga, Miroslav Volf, etc.).
Less Than Two Dollars a Day: A Christian View of World Poverty and the Free Market– This is a tremendous book that looks at what market economics is and how it effects the poor.
Three Views on Creation and Evolution– This is a multiple perspective book debating a topic that has become pretty divisive over the last few decades. I’m hoping to find something worth reading.
The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism and Wesleyanism– Witherington sets out to critique three of the most influential ideologies in American Evangelical circles. This is a call to these different traditions within the Protestant church to sola scriptura, a call that is much needed.
A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods and Results– This is a primer on Old and New Testament textual criticism.
The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies– I’ve only read a few pages of this book, but it seems like this will be a defense of post-Modernism in much the same vein as Carl Rashke’s The Next Reformation: Why Evagelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity which was a good book but just didn’t resonate with me because I think that, while post-Modernism detracts from Modernism, it does so in a way similar to a teenager pointing out their parents mistakes; they’re right, but they have their own problems.
The Gun Seller– This is a fantastic novel. It’s part spy novel part comedy. If you like the shows 24 and Scrubs you’ll like this novel.
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony– This is kind of an extension of Kenneth Bailey’s essay Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels (there’s an abbreviated version of this in his Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15). Here’s a link to the essay, which is very provocative: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_tradition_bailey.html
That’s all for now.
Grace and Peace,