My Formative Theological Journey or 5 (or so) Books that Rocked My Theology

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Theology, Things of Faith
English: Old books

English: Old books (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following a brief chat with some other folks engaging in the NuDunker conversation the idea was raised that we should have a summer post that talks about 5 books that have “rocked our theology.” However, I must first make three preliminary points. First, while I am all for this theme, I have also struggled with what books have been “game changers” for my formation. Second, the first one on my list I’m not going to count, obviously it’s the Bible. So my list will be the five books apart from the Bible that have rocked my theology. Finally, over the years I have read so many books I find it impossible to limit it to 5; so I will limit the number of books to about 5 or more accurately, 5 groupings of books. In addition to the texts themselves and explanations, I’ll also provide a bit of a narrative chronology to give a sense of my formative process and the effects these texts had on it.

English: St Mary's College. Part of the University

English: St Mary’s College. Part of the University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next two books I put together because at the time I was reading them simultaneously. After spending several months in Scotland studying, we returned and I accepted a position as Associate Pastor for a small church in Ashland County, Ohio. The current pastor was a close friend and fellow student at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. We shared the same advisor and were working on similar topics (surrounding hermeneutics). The books I was reading were After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre and Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer. At the time I was reworking Yoder’s label of “hermeneutical community” and what it means to be one. I was also immersed in narrative theology at the time and in After Virtue I discovered the significance of community in the development of identity and the shaping of perception. This text led me to begin understanding people and communities in terms of story and tradition. One quote still resonates in my mind when I think of identity: “there is no way to give an understanding of any society, including our own except through the stock of stories which constitute its initial dramatic resource” (pg. 216). What this did for me was to develop a deep appreciation for the value (and necessity) of narrative (especially theological) traditions. When this is combined with the emphasis upon community in interpretation (discovered through Gadamer) it is not long before a conversational hermeneutic is developed as diverse narratives (perspectives) come together to engage in conversation expanding understandings. Gadamer’s criticism of modernity and its methods was essential in my formation and move to a post-liberal perspective (especially in terms of hermeneutics). I should add that there were some minor works that I was also reading at this time that contributed formationally for me. I’ll merely list them: Richard Bauckham’s Bible and Mission, Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition and Nancey Murphy’s Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism.

Having my hermeneutical foundation firmly planted in post-liberal soil, I encountered the works of Clark Pinnock. It began with the open theism conversation, which I found intriguing and refreshing. The pragmatism of this argument began to make sense for me. Regardless of this, the text of his that contributed most profoundly regarded pneumatology, Flame of Love. This text seemed to articulate a theology of the Holy Spirit which incorporated much of what I gleaned from Moltmann, et al and scripture. In this Pinnock poetically articulates an interpretive theology of the Spirit in the form of a credo. It has since become a mainstay in the theology classes I teach.

English: Old Dunkard church Church of the Bret...

English: Old Dunkard church Church of the Brethren, Germantown, Pennsylvania. At 6611 Germantown Avenue (between Montana and Shapnack Streets) Building still there. Church website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By this time I was in full swing of my studies at St. Andrews when I experienced the next major paradigm shift in my theology. This came in the form of my entrance into the Church of the Brethren. The effects of this were brought on by an entire group of Brethren writings of which I’ll simply list the most significant: Brumbaugh’s A History of the German Baptist Brethren in Europe and America (even with his skewed perspective), Durnbaugh’s Fruit of the Vine, Sappington’s The Brethren in the New Nation, Stoffer’s Brethren Doctrines, Mallott’s Studies in Brethren History, Bowman’s Brethren Society and the various works of Eller. Obviously there are more than these but this list represents my immersion into the Brethren and my formal entrance into an Anabaptist-Pietist community.

It was in the first 5 years of the new millennium that I encountered Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion & Embrace. This text fundamentally affected my understanding of salvation as reconciliation to God and others. This work catapulted my theological journey particularly surrounding my understanding of forgiveness and its significance. A few years later Volf published the second part of his argument (End of Memory) that also contributed nicely to my formation.

The final grouping of works that I will include comes from John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas and John Driver. These include Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, Hauerwas’ Better Hope, With the Grain of the Universe, etc., Driver’s Images of the Church in Mission and Radical Faith. Each of these fertilized my growth in Anabaptism and ultimately to a Post-liberal Anabaptism.

I know fully well that I went over my five book limit to which from the start I wasn’t committed to holding. However I feel like I have left out so many other important works from authors like Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Nead, Wright, Smith, Boyd, Hunter, Cavanaugh, Archer and a host of others. I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the contributions of those with whom I have been in theological conversation over the years and how they have challenged me. The truth is that we are all on a journey of formation and even the folks we encounter with whom we most vehemently disagree affect our formation. And so what I value about this little exercise is that it has stirred within me a deep appreciation for the many conversation partners I have had through the years and recognize how God has used them to form me into who I am and what I believe.

  1. abfides says:

    enjoyed the post, not quite beach reading!

  2. Ab Fides says:

    I know you all have you ‘5 books that rocked …’ structure, but I’d enjoy hearing about any books that are currently rocking your theology (not necessarily that the earlier ones stopped rocking). Is there anything that you are reading now that has caused you to re-examine some of the earlier works? What is currently shaping how you see the way forward in the Church (even if they are not ‘church’ books)?

  3. riley says:

    Your place is actually valueble for me. Thanks!…

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